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Diving Into the Details :: Parsing Into the Words of Texas Tech Offensive Coordinator, Neal Brown

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Last weekend, LAJ's Don Williams talked with new Texas Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown regarding the offense. That particular day, I only had time to post a quick FanShot of the story, but promised to go into more detail at a later date. I thought we might take this article quote by quote and dive into some questions at the end.

First things, first. I took the time to chart at what appears to be the only lengthy recent video from the 2008 Troy Trojan's football team, which was apparently their first drive in a game against LSU, that ultimately led to a touchdown. Troy eventually lost the game, 31-40 and it was Brown's first year as an offensive coordinator, as well as the first year for their quarterback. I'll explain some of my abbreviations: SG = QB in shotgun; Rec = Receivers; 2 Rec L = 2 receivers lined up on the left side; Empty RB = Empty Backfield; Rec trips L = Receivers trips left. If you have any other questions or if I've gotten something wrong, let me know.

Play 1: QB SG; 2 Rec L; 2 Rec R, Empty RB, extra lineman at TE spot: pass complete for 8 yards
Play 2: QB SG; Rec trips R; RB to L, 1 Rec to L: pass incomplete
Play 3: QB SG; trips right; Empty RB; 2 Rec to L: pass complete for 4 yards
Play 4: QB SG; 2 Rec L; 2 Rec R; RB to L: pass complete for 12 yards
Play 5: QB Pistol; 1 RB behind QB; 1 RB behind LG; 2 Rec L; 1 Rec R: play action fake, pass incomplete
Play 6: QB SG; Rec trips L; 2 Rec R; Empty RB: pass complete for 24 yards
Play 7: QB SG; RB to R; 2 Rec L; 2 Rec R: pass incomplete
Play 8: QB SG; RB to R; 2 Rec L; 2 Rec R: pass complete for 9 yards
Play 9: QB SG; Rec trips R; 2 Rec L; Empty RB: pass complete 5 yards for 1st down
Play 10: QB SG; Rec trips R; 1 Rec L; RB to R: pass incomplete
Play 11: QB SG; Rec trips R; 1 Rec L: Penalty, no play
Play 12: QB SG; 2 Rec L; 2 Rec R; RB to R: run for 13 yards
Play 13: QB SG; 2 Rec L; 2 Rec R; RB to R: pass complete for 13 yards
Play 14: QB SG; 2 Rec L; Rec trips R; Empty RB: pass incomplete
Play 15: QB SG; 2 Rec L; Rec trips R; Empty RB: pass incomplete
Play 16: QB SG; 2 Rec L; Rec trips R; Empty RB: pass complete for 9 yards
Play 17: QB SG; Rec trips L; 2 Rec R; Empty RB: pass complete for 7 yard TD

We'll be using this film as a bit of a comparison to what we know in regards to the Air Raid offense.

 

Now that we've taken care of some of the details, let's get to some of Brown's comments regarding the offense after the jump.

Empty Backfield:

The Raiders will use some empty-backfield formations, something Leach almost never did. Brown said he used empty sets three to five plays a game in his last job — offensive coordinator at Troy University, which finished third in the nation in total offense last season.

"It wasn’t a deal where we got in it and stayed in it a bunch, but we definitely will utilize it some,’’ he said.

I should preface everything by saying that this single drive against LSU isn't necessarily indicative of what's going to happen or of Troy's entire 2008 season. I think what it does say is that there may be something to learn from this and that despite what some are saying about the offense changing completely, Brown and Tuberville might be telling the truth.

In any event, by my count, Brown called 8 plays where there was an empty backfield. Now, I'm sure that this had something to do with LSU being a demon against the run in 2008 (18th in the nation) and Brown wanting to exploit what he thought was the vulnerable part of the LSU defense.

What I think this offensive play-calling speaks to is the idea of Brown calling and the quarterback executing what the defense gives him, which is what Leach taught his quarterbacks to do. Williams makes the point that Leach almost never ran an empty backfield, and this may be a significant difference. Leach always felt that the running back was one of the more important positions on the team and liked having a running back in the game as a quick out or to help block. Although the video has quite a bit of empty backfield sets, I tend to think that this was more circumstance than anything else and not standard operating procedure for Brown.

Running Back in a Pod:

There might be plays in which the Raiders line up with four receivers bunched to one side, with running back Baron Batch stationed in a pod behind three wideouts.

I don't think we saw this once in the video, but then again, I wasn't paying that close attention nor do I know the Troy personnel.  I think this will be a new formation for the Red Raiders.

Quarterback Audible:

Tech quarterbacks will be allowed to switch from one play to another at the line of scrimmage, but won’t have the broad latitude that Leach gave them.

"Part of (the reason), he was here a long time, and those guys were on the same mind frame,’’ Brown said. "The guys we have at quarterback are smart, but I want to be careful about putting too much on them. I want them to be playing and not thinking. I don’t think either way’s wrong. There’s just different ways to do it.’’

In what Brown described as "the triple option,’’ Taylor Potts or Steven Sheffield would come to the line with three possibilities: Throw a quick screen to the three- or four-wide side; throw a slant, an out route or a fly pattern if there’s one-on-one coverage to the other side; or — if the linebackers empty out — run a quarterback draw.

I don't see this as being a huge deal. I think that sometimes when you gave the quarterback an awful lot of latitude that it tended to result in even less opportunities to run and as quarterbacks matured, they started to rely on the run a bit more, at least that was the case with Harrell and to a certain extent Potts over the course of the year. In any event, I don't think that Brown wants to completely neuter his quarterbacks, but rather limit their options.  And there are a number of times in the film where the quarterback makes a call at the line of scrimmage.  There's latitude that's going to be given there, but not quite the same amount of latitude that Leach gave his quarterbacks.

Motion:

Leach seldom used motion, but Brown will incorporate it a little bit more.

"We won’t be a huge motion team either,’’ he said, "but we’ll have a wrinkle or two of motion each week. It’s not going to be a deal where we’ll motion every play.. I don’t believe in that either.’’

Not one time during this offensive series did Brown utilize motion. If we learned anything, it's that Leach didn't like to use motion, but motion could be used as a tell as far as a defensive alignment. Towards the end of last year, especially when Potts was at the helm, Leach used motion in order to give Potts a bit of an idea as to whether or not the defense was in man or zone coverage, which I think made it easier for Potts to recognize where he needed to go with the ball. I tend to think that Brown and Leach are essentially on the same page in terms of motion. They'll use motion as a wrinkle (i.e. running Harrison Jeffers in motion or some other receiver for a quick hand-off), but ultimately they would prefer not to have to use it, but if they have to, then so be it.

Wide Splits:

In the Leach era, announcers and opposing coaches made frequent reference to the offensive line’s wide splits. Brown said the usual line splits at Troy were about 3 feet, the ones Tech has used at about 4 feet. Now he guesses they’ll be somewhere in between.

"We’re going to be as wide as we can and still be able to run the zone,’’ he said, referring to the Raiders’ bread-and-butter rushing play.

In looking at the film, it appears that the splits are as wide as Brown states. I would tend to think that they'll shorten up a bit, but if we're talking about a difference of 6 inches, then I'm not too concerned about that.  I think it's a misconception in that the wide splits would disappear and if that does happen, then obviously, we can look forward to a ground based attack.  Brown has been consistent in the fact that he wants to keep the wide splits, something that I think is crucial to having a successful running game in the spread offense.  Brown said it to Willilams and he also made sure to tell the crowd at the recruiting dinner in DFW that the wide splits would remain.

Looking to the Sideline:

Brown said he won’t use a system that Troy used at times in which all 11 offensive players looked to the sideline at the line of scrimmage.

"We won’t do that here,’’ he said. "The skill guys may, but the O-line won’t.’’

I'll be honest, I could care less about aesthetics. I know that this is a touchy subject with a lot of people, whether or not the entire Texas Tech offense will look to the line of scrimmage to get the offensive play. Honestly, I could give two shits as to whether or not just the quarterback gets the play or the entire team. Again, to me, it's superficial aesthetics and if the team is more successful and the offense is more efficient then I could care less. I get that it looks silly and it's aggravating to see other teams do it, but at least in my opinion, this is unimportant.

To satisfy the masses to hate for the whole offense to look to the sideline, it appears that Brown is just going to have the quarterback or the skill positions look to the sideline for the play. Whatever gets the job done. If the team plays better with just the quarterback looking over, then I'll take it. If the team plays better with the entire offense looking over, then I'll take it.

Summing It Up:

It's been repeated a number of times here on DTN, there's really no way to really know until after the spring game and truthfully, that's probably only an indicator.  It's going to take a few games or even a full season to really know how the offense is going to perform and whether or not the offense is as efficient as we've known it to be.  Sometimes, I think we (and I'm including myself here) tend to over-analyze words.  Considering DTN is in written form, I think that this response is natural, but when Tuberville said he was going to keep the offense the same, I tend to believe that he meant the spread offense in general, which I think he has done. 

Of course, Tuberville also said that the offense would not change, and that's not entirely the truth.  The offense will change.  The only thing that could have kept the offense the same would have been if Tuberville hired Mike Leach as his offensive coordinator and kept the rest of the gang intact.  If there's one thing that I think we've all been able to agree upon, it's the idea that Leach was a completely unique coach that cannot be replicated.  That's a high compliment.  That doesn't mean that Tuberville and Brown are not trying to put his own stamp on the team and run a similar version of the spread.

**ASIDE:  Pouring over someone's quotes is certainly advantageous at times and I don't mean to discredit anyone here for reading a person's quotes and trying to translate the meaning.  A perfect example is this years Saga of Mike Leach, where myself, London Raider and a number of readers and contributors found numerous discrepancies in what the administration said.  The fact that we have a smart group here at DTN makes me proud in that collectively, we analyze the written word, especially when you consider writing to be somewhat of a lost art.