Good Riddance to the Boise State Offense
I am going to skip over doing some long and elaborate proof of why and how the offense we have run for the past six years has stunk. The bottom line is that it has been mostly bad to mediocre for most of Petersen’s tenure. Yes, the stats were good in 2016 and the team scored a lot, but it was a fragile offense that fell apart against USC and Alabama, in particular.
But quickly, let’s look at Chris Petersen’s offense over the years at UW in the most bottom-line way possible.
In order to do this, I am focusing on scoring per game versus conference opponents. It filters out the FCS games and other “cupcakes”. The data below includes the raw averages as well as the conf rank.
2014: 26.2 ppg (9th)
2015: 29.0 ppg (10th)
2016: 43.0 ppg (1st)
2017: 33.6 ppg (3rd)
2018: 25.0 ppg (9th)
2019: 25.4 ppg (8th)
That’s…not good. The scoring average through six seasons is about 30 points per game. But four out of the six were below average, because 2016 was such an outlier. And the conference’s defenses, as a whole, were pretty atrocious in 2016, outside of UW and UCLA.
The simple fact is that the offense has been plain old bad in four out of six seasons. That is under two different OCs, with three different starting QBs. The only season that the offense passed for good we had an elite offensive head coach (Jeff Tedford) serving as an offensive analyst and shadow OC.
It is also notable that in the vast majority of losses over the past five seasons, the defense played well enough to win the game and the offense let us down. That’s THE REASON Petersen’s W/L record against winning Power Five opponents was so pedestrian. The offense held the Huskies back almost every time.
So, Petersen’s warmed over 2008 Boise State offense was bad. I don’t have a great deal of faith or confidence in Bush Hamdan to engineer something better from scratch, but I also don’t really know what he can do without Petersen dictating playbook, style, etc.. So rather than focus on Hamdan’s potential replacement, I wanted to take a little time to expand on the kinds of principles and ideas that a great offense is built on in the current college football environment.
What Principles are Top Offenses Built On in Today’s Game?
I researched this question extensively and wrote a couple articles about it 18 months ago for SB Nation’s Football Study Hall site. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I think they are quite useful and informative. They are linked below.
The TL;DR version is as follows:
Five core principles:
1. QB as a run THREAT — he doesn’t have to be a primary ball carrier
2. Optionality — whether these are QB read runs, option routes, RPOs, or all of the above
3. Simplicity — make decisions easier for the QB: think basketball point guard rather than chess master; get young talent on the field earlier
4. Space — spread the field horizontally by formation and force the defense to defend vertically with route combinations and the threat of downfield passes
5. Pace — practice fast and play fast, though running a full-time hurry up/no huddle isn’t necessary
Finally, each of these principles have synergies with other principles, which create layers of benefits and advantages.
So What Does that Look Like in Practice?
I recently did a Twitter thread on the offenses that I like most that embody all (or most of) the principles above. Here are the examples I cited:
HC Ryan Day and OC Kevin Wilson have elevated Urban Meyers foundation and created a versatile spread system that leverages a mobile QB and elite skill talent. It probably isn’t the best template for the Huskies, due to the fact all of UW’s current and known future QBs are pocket passers, with the exception of Garbers. And even Garbers isn’t a terror as a dual threat.
Coach O shocked me (and plenty of others) by hiring Joe Brady from the Saints and letting the young assistant completely remake LSU’s passing game using RPOs married to traditional West Coast concepts. Burrow has been great, but the offense creates easy reads and LSU always has crazy skill talent. The result has been absolutely magnificent. Burrow can run just enough to use RPOs that include the QB draw and he is completing an absurd percent of his passes (adjusted completion percentage of 85%!!) while JaMar Chase has been an absolute beast as a sophomore WR. Brady came from the Saints but is atypical of NFL coaches due to how innovative he is, particularly in the RPO game. That owes to his time spent working for Joe Moorhead at Penn State. And Sean Peyton is probably one of the top two or three offensive head coaches in the NFL.
The Knights run a fusion of Josh Heupel’s Air Raid offenses and Art Briles’s “Veer and Shoot” (Briles is a horrible human being and I revile everything about him and his time at Baylor, except for his offense). It is relentlessly up-tempo and puts incredible pressure on defenses. It doesn’t require a running QB, but having a guy who can be at least somewhat of a threat helps. UCF’s OC is Jeff Lebby, who coached under Briles at Baylor and is also his son-in-law.
HC Mike Norvell is on his third OC in three seasons. His coordinators keep getting poached for good reason: the Tigers’ spread features a rugged gap-based run game that creates great opportunities to throw the ball when the defense focuses on stopping the run. For those of you who haven’t watched Memphis play, you should. He was also Todd Graham’s offensive coordinator for four seasons at Arizona State, when ASU was generally very strong on offense.
This one is obvious. Lincoln Riley’s offense is relatively simple and completely deadly. As Riley says, “if your offensive system isn’t QB friendly, you need a new offensive system.” The proof is in the pudding: over the past three seasons his QBs have been Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, and Jalen Hurts. Each very different and all of them succeeded to a pretty unprecedented degree.
The offense itself is based on the Air Raid and features an economy of concepts in both the run and pass games. But it looks absolutely nothing like a Mike Leach offense; the Sooners run the ball often and more effectively than they did when they ran the Wishbone in the 80s. The counter (often with two pullers) is their primary run concept and they averaged over 8 yards a carry on that play in 2018. Another interesting aspect of the offensive approach is that Riley and his staff create new wrinkles and sometimes whole new plays every week to attack their opponents’ specific coverage and run fit rules.
Back to Generalization
Coach Lake has said he is going to look at the kind of offenses that he has trouble defending. He has said he wants an offense that is aggressive and tough too. Taking the principles I described above and the specific offenses I highlighted, I think what we should see is an offense that bases out of a spread look and spreads the field more than the Huskies have in recent years. It should then utilize an economy of running schemes (like 3-4, rather than the 7-8 we saw under Petersen), hopefully mostly gap-based (power, counter, buck, dive), and heavily utilize RPOs and play action. It should be simple enough to install and learn to get contributions out of young skill position players before they are in their third year in the system and should also make decisions easier for the QB (point guard vs. chess master).