Thursday, December 14, 2006

Can a dual QB system win a championship?

The Florida offense has followed a strikingly elementary formula for just about all season long, and despite the simplicity of it, the equations "Tim Tebow = Run, Chris Leak = Pass" has led the Gators to a championship in what some believe is the nation's toughest conference, and a birth in the BCS title game. But one has to wonder in this modern era of football how a team that does not have just one guy taking all of the meaningful snaps can still win so many games.

The one comparison that most Ohio State fans can easily identify with was the Stanley Jackson/Joe Germaine QB carousel in 1996 and 1997. Jackson, the fleet-footed run-and-gun veteran at times played a bit of second-fiddle to the younger, hotshot pocket QB with a baby face, but no baby game. In those two seasons, the Buckeyes were a combined 23-4, including arguably one of the greatest wins in school history, the 1996 Rose Bowl comeback against Arizona State. However, in both of those seasons, Ohio State lost the game of the season to Michigan, and, in 1996, cost themselves a chance at a National Championship because of it.

However, Florida is in a reverse situation of those Ohio State teams. Tebow, the youngster, is the one who is relied on much more heavily to make plays with his feet than the senior gunslinger Leak. Also, Tebow came to this Florida team seemingly destined for greatness, unlike Germaine, a Junior College transfer from Arizona, that didn't even get looked at by ASU. Tebow was a consensus 5 star recruit out of high school, and he was going into an offensive system in which he could thrive under Urban Meyer. Imagine a bigger, faster, better Alex Smith. Now imagine that, playing around much more talent than Smith ever had. The sheer thought of it will be enough to keep defensive coordinators sleepless for weeks on end in the not-so distant future. Chris Leak, on the other hand, has played like a slightly more mistake prone Troy Smith this season, and was even in the hunt for the Heisman trophy until his debacle against Auburn. At just 1 inch shorter and 8 pounds less than Smith, Leak is incredibly comparable to Troy. Although he is not nearly the scrambler that Troy is, Meyer's run-and-shoot system has allowed Leak to take full advantage of what limited athleticism he has.

So, if both of these Gators quarterbacks are so one-dimensional, then how is it that they are still so successful when only one of them is in the game at a time? In the 111 snaps this season which have not resulted in handing the ball off, Tebow has rushed the ball 79 times. To put that in mathematical terms, Tebow runs the ball 71% of the time. That's a stat that would make Michael Vick proud. This is opposed to Leak, where on plays where he isn't handing it off, has actually taken less rushing attempts than Tebow (74) in roughly four times as many plays (403). It seems almost painfully obvious that when #15 is in the game, the opposition should be stacking eight in the box, and dropping into coverage when #12 enters. Obviously, what I just stated is the reason why 90% of teams that have a QB by committee end up going nowhere fast.

The most evident reason behind the success of the team this year seems to be the spread offense. In the majority of modern spread offenses in college football (those in which there is an emphasis placed on mobile quarterbacks and speed at the skill positions), there are two main goals that are accomplished, those are: 1) Spread out the defense, thus creating more room for the athletes to make plays, and 2) Create mismatches in the passing game. Since Tebow is only a true freshman and hasn't yet proven he can be a legitimate threat with his arm, Meyer is simply coaching to his two quarterback's strengths, and when he needs to use them, the defense can not solely focus on the air/ground attack, because if they do, then Chris Leak can still run in open space, and Tebow can still hit the open guy. So how does Ohio State stop them? Well, as the saying goes, you have to fight fire with fire. Or, in the case of this, you have to fight speed with speed. Against some of the fastest defenses in the SEC, the Florida offense was relatively stagnant, and the games were uncharacteristically close for a top team.

With all of the close calls Florida has had this season, I don't see a team like the 2002 Buckeyes that played down to the level of their competition to win games, I see a team that showed some huge vulnerabilities to teams with fast defenses, but were able to win due to a mix between their defense's talent, and the mediocrity of their opponents' offenses.

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