Both Steve Spurrier and Mike Leach have been refered to throughout their careers are mad scientists because of their ability to engineer explosive pass offenses and exploit almost any weakness of a defense (Spurrier was able to do this much more effectively at Florida when he consistently had better caliber quarterbacks). By creating unfavorable matchups or stretching zone defenses both coaches are able to move the ball seemingly at will.
Leach runs an offense that emphasizes the ability to put the ball anywhere on the field at anytime. He likes to go deep early and often and make 3rd and 8 conversions look easy. Here is a simple example of Mike Leach giving the quarterback the ability to read the defense and overload zones:
This is a play that Texas Tech ran against Iowa state last year. The quarterback approaches the line and is able to read pretty quickly that the defense is going to be playing a cover 2 zone defense but they are using man coverage on the widest receivers on both sides. The quarterback is then able to immediately know that he will only have to watch two players on the defense to decide where he is going with the ball and within a second of the snap, he should know exactly where he is going to throw. The quarterback will be reading the outside linebacker and safety on the left side of the field.
Here is the same play with the receivers in their routes. As you can see, the outside receivers had man coverage from the cornerbacks, so they simply ran streak routes down the sidelines to clear out the zones underneath. As soon as the wide receiver on the right side begins to fly down the sideline the safety on the right side has to start to move towards the sideline to keep his cornerback from being stranded one-on-one with the offense’s number 1 receiver. When the safety on the left side sees his fellow safety vacating the middle he knows that he will have to cheat over and take the slot receiver on the left if he runs a vertical seem. Therefore, the safety on the left will begin to backpedal anticipating the slot receiver running vertically since that is how his comeback route initially looks. The outside linebacker on the left side will also see the start of the comeback and read it as a vertical which tells him the safety should have the slot and he has to move towards the line to cover the drag route coming from the right side.
The quarterback is now able to read the outside linebacker on his left side moving toward the the underneath drag route and he can see the safety on his left slowly stepping backwards to honor the possiblity of the vertical route from the slot receiver. The quarterback now knows after the first two steps the defenders make that he is going to throw the ball to the slot as soon as he begins to make his cut to comeback. You can see in the diagram exactly how the offense is able to cause defenders vacate their zones and open up holes. The beauty of this play is that if the safety on the quarterback’s left reads this play correctly the second time this play is run and moves toward the slot the offense is at even more of an advantage. The slot receiver has the ability to read the safety and run the vertical route if the safety reads the comeback:
Here the safety on the offense’s left reads the comeback and comes flying up field to undercut the route, the slot receiver reads this and fakes the comeback and then turns his route into a skinny post. At this point the quarterback sees that his receiver will be wide open running down the middle of the field unless the safety on the right moves to the middle of the field to cover him. This then leaves both his wide receivers in single man coverage with no help over the top, the ideal makings for a big play. Mike Leach gives his quarterback the ability to throw a deep ball to the sideline and give his receivers a chance to make a big play. The worst case scenario here is that all downfield receivers are covered and the quarterback will check down to the running back and toss the swing route out to the side, this gives the running back the ability to get the ball in the open field and try to make the first linebacker miss.
Steve Spurrier’s offense is predicated on loosening up zones and tricking certain players into making incorrect reads, thereby leaving holes in the zones for quick passes.
In this example, from South Carolina’s spring game a few years back (seen here, Spurrier calls it “5 semi”), the defense is in a very traditional 4-3 defense running a conventional cover 2 with a 4 man rush. The quarterback sees the cornerbacks apporaching the line right before the snap and knows that he has a cover 2 with the cornerbacks playing the flat areas. He also knows that the safety is responsible for any thing deep on his half of the field so the safety will be very cautious to come up the field unless he is sure that the receiver is commiting to an underneath route. In this case the quarterback knows that the gap in the zone will occur between the linebackers and the safety on the left side.
Here you can see that the slot receiver running the quick out draws the cornerback outside. The outside linebacker on the offense’s left does not see the wide receiver on the outside once the receiver starts downfield and immediately focuses on the running back coming out of the backfield to the flats, as the running back crosses the linebacker’s face the linebacker moves upfield vacating his hook-to-curl zone. The wide receiver locates this vacancy as soon as he comes out of his break and moves at the vacancy then immediately looks for the ball, knowing it will have to be delivered quickly before the safety can realize there is no deep threat on this play and move up to cover the receiver.
Another staple of the Spurrier offense is trick plays. Here is an example of a trick play Spurrier ran against Mississippi State. He had set up this play by running wide receiver screen successfully a few times earlier in the game.
Here the defense is in man to man coverage with one safety over the top. The offense knows this as soon as the wide out on the right side goes in motion to left and is followed by the cornerback. The quarterback is going to throw a wide receiver screen to the widest receiver on the left side and the motion man and tight end are in charge of picking up the cornerbacks as they read the screen and fly up field. The running back is going to come to the line and pretend to pick up the defensive end but he will slip off this block and run a fly route down the right sideline. The wide receiver that caught the screen is going to turn and throw the ball to a wide open running back. This works because the entire secondary reacts to the screen and the safety is tricked into thinking the running back is actually blocking the defensive end in a pass protection scheme. The result looks like this:
Both of these coaches are great offensive minds and have their own area of specialty. Leach has the ability to score from almost any area of the field by exploiting whatever the defense gives him. Spurrier has the consistantly hit on short passes and then catch the defense sleeping or being overly aggressive and score at crucial points in the game.