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Arizona football: Difference between UA, UO offenses a blur

2012-09-20T00:00:00Z 2013-11-13T19:32:51Z Arizona football: Difference between UA, UO offenses a blurRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
September 20, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Chip Kelly and Rich Rodriguez first met 13 years ago, as far as both men can remember, on a football field in Clemson, S.C.

If a torch was passed from the spread-option innovator to acolyte, nobody saw it. If it marked the start of a beautiful friendship, neither man is willing to admit it.

"I think it was just going to practice," Kelly said this week. "I think it was made more of than it is."

Coaches "share" ideas all the time, whether it's intentional or accidental. Teams borrow from others on a daily basis, whether it's running a drill that's worked at other schools or running plays that looked good on somebody else's game tape.

Kelly acknowledged Rodriguez's influence in an interview earlier this week but was careful to differentiate between Oregon's offense and that run at the UA.

Kelly, then a New Hampshire assistant, visited Rodriguez at Clemson in 1999. But the offense he would soon develop was its own thing, albeit with a few similar plays.

"Unless you were in the room with Knute Rockne and those guys back in the day," Kelly said, "you took it from somebody."

Regardless, there aren't two more similar offenses in the Pac-12 Conference.

Arizona and Oregon will take the field Saturday night in Eugene, Ore., boasting the same kind of spread-option attacks.

Rodriguez, the UA's first-year coach, doesn't need to look at game tape to know that Oregon and Arizona run similar stuff. He doesn't need to recall his first meeting with Kelly - or, for that matter, recall how many times he has watched Oregon for ideas - to know the way the two teams play.

"We are probably closer, philosophically, to Oregon than most teams out there that run a shotgun spread type of system," he said.

Here's a look at how Arizona's read-option system and Oregon's "Blur" compare.

Similarities

• Both spread you out. Arizona and Oregon both line up in the spread formation, typically with four receivers. The goal of the spread is to create 1-on-1 matchups between offensive players and defenders. Though there are dozens of different versions of the spread - Arizona ran a version of the "Air Raid" passing attack from 2006 to 2011 - the Wildcats and Ducks attack defenses similarly.

"It would be closer to a lot of other comparisons in the spread," Rodriguez said. "I've said many times, if you see one spread, another spread can be completely different."

• Neither huddle. The Wildcats and Ducks both run no-huddle offenses designed to tire out and frustrate opposing defenses. Both programs practice at breakneck speeds in order to play fast, and prize speed over size on the recruiting trail.

Rodriguez pioneered the no-huddle attack while at Glenville (W.Va.) State 20 years ago. The read-option, a key to both offenses, was born when the team tried to run out of the shotgun formation without huddling. Kelly ran many of the same concepts at New Hampshire, where he served eight seasons (1999-2006) before moving to Oregon. UNH's offenses averaged more than 30 points per game in his final four seasons.

"They will push the tempo, and if they get a big play they will come right back and play the same play over again. They won't let you substitute defensively," Rodriguez said. "(Kelly's) done a really good job of it. He has a lot of fast guys playing fast."

• Quarterbacks rule. No read-option offense can operate without a capable quarterback. Rodriguez's attacks have featured signal callers prominently, from Clemson's Woody Dantzler and West Virginia's Pat White to Michigan's Denard Robinson.

Kelly's system made a small-school star out of New Hampshire's Ricky Santos, and turned Oregon's Dennis Dixon, Jeremiah Masoli and Darron Thomas into household names.

It's no surprise, then, that Arizona's Matt Scott and Oregon's Marcus Mariota are among the most dynamic players in the Pac-12. The two quarterbacks have combined for 17 touchdowns in their first three games.

"I think," Kelly said, "we both have good QBs."

Differences

• The run-pass splits. Three games is a small sample size, sure, but Rodriguez seems to have embraced the pass in his first year at the UA. The Wildcats have thrown on 104 of their 250 plays this season, a 41 percent clip that's likely to grow in conference play. By comparison, the Ducks have thrown 38 percent of the time.

Arizona often uses different personnel: Through three games, the team has used a tight end/H-back who can also pass-block. Oregon, by comparison, plays one true tight end and tends to bunch its players together more.

"When I look at them on tape, I don't say, 'I'm looking at us,'" Kelly said. "We run some plays that are the same."

• There's a language barrier. The two programs use completely different terminology on offense, and have very different philosophies when it comes to signaling in plays. The Wildcats' backup quarterbacks use hand signals - and decoys - to send in plays. The Ducks, meanwhile, have developed a posterboard system that includes nonsense words and pictures of everything from cars to "SportsCenter" anchors.

• Personnel. Fair or not, Oregon can do more with its offense because it has better skill-position players. Two Ducks backs, Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas, rank in the Pac-12's top five in rushing. Thomas has put up 228 rushing yards this season despite carrying the ball just 12 times. Mariota, a freshman, might be the most talented quarterback Kelly has ever coached. That doesn't count receivers Keanon Lowe and Josh Huff or tight end Colt Lyerla, or any of the dozen or so skill-position players capable of taking over a game.

Kelly "always does really neat stuff," in part because he has talent that can pull it off. Arizona must, for now, utilize Scott, tailback Ka'Deem Carey and players who were recruited to run a different system.

It won't be long before Arizona's offense looks even more like Oregon's. Or whichever team the Ducks borrowed it from.

"I think Chip will be the first to tell you, 'We do what we do,'" Rodriguez said.

On StarNet: Join the Star's Wildcats football beat reporter, Ryan Finley, today for a live chat about the team and the upcoming game. The chat begins at noon, or you can submit questions ahead of time at: live.azstarnet.com

UP next

• Who: No. 22 UA at No. 3 Oregon

• When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

• TV; radio: ESPN; 1290-AM, 107.5-FM

Star reporter Patrick Finley contributed to this story.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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