College football is putting on the brakes.
Where once tempo was king and the only thing most offensive coaches wanted to talk about was packing as many snaps as possible into each game, plenty of college football teams are moving over to the slow lane. There are still schools that want to put the defense at a disadvantage by going fast, but more and more teams are moving to a formational-based approach which relies on trickery over tempo.
Either approach can be effective, and the underlying idea of both is the same -- keep the defense from being able to identify what’s coming and line up appropriately. South Carolina defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson knows which he’d rather avoid.
“The biggest headache is not having the right amount of people on the right side of the field so probably just the shifting and all that kind of stuff,” Robinson said.
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And that’s exactly the direction the Gamecocks offense is headed if all of their preseason talk is to be believed.
“I think it’s a different thought process,” USC offensive coordinator Kurt Roper said. “You watch tempo teams and they are largely (in the same formations most of the time), and they are moving. Then you watch other teams that are using motions and personnel packages, that does slow it down a little bit. You have to pick your poison.”
The Gamecocks move toward formational diversity follows a trend in college football, where offensive coordinators like new LSU hire Matt Canada are drawing praise for their creative pre-snap alignments and movements. It’s something Roper would have loved to do a year ago but was unable to for a multitude of reasons, the biggest being a revolving door at starting quarterback and finally settling on a true freshman at the position and being in the first year installing his offensive system.
“There are a lot of things that we introduced (last year), but were not game ready,” Roper said. “You just don’t carry because in the heat of the battle because (you wonder), ‘Are they going to be able to execute it?’”
This year, starting quarterback Jake Bentley is fully steeped in the team’s offensive playbook and almost everyone around him has more experience in the system. Bentley consistently has expressed his excitement about the offense’s “creativity” this fall.
“We are doing a lot more formations and stuff so it’s going to be a fun year throwing the ball,” wide receiver Chavis Dawkins said.
The versatility of wide receiver Deebo Samuel and tight end Hayden Hurst also greatly increases South Carolina’s formational flexibility, Roper said. Ideally, Roper would like to come into each week able to run the same play out of five different formations, which would make life tough on opposing defenses.
“A defense, the first thing they look at is, ‘What formations do we have to line up against and what plays do they run from those formations?’” Roper said. “The more you have, the more they have to work … so the more formations you throw out there the better.”
It also helps on a play-to-play basis on game day. Last season, opposing defensive coordinators could look at the Gamecocks offensive personnel group and have a good idea of what was coming because South Carolina was so limited in its offensive diversity.
Now, the defensive coordinator “is not sitting there listening to personnel and knowing what formation I am in,” Roper said.
What exactly will South Carolina be throwing at opponents this year? That’s a closely guarded secret, of course, being practiced now in closed workouts, but there are some clues. Hurst estimated that the Gamecocks have used formations with two or three tight ends on 75 percent of their practice snaps. South Carolina also will line up with Bentley under center rather than in the shotgun more than it did last year if the practice work is any indication, several players have said.
“It’s crazy,” Hurst said. “We have mismatches everywhere I feel like.”
Bridge to boundary
A look at offensive formation terminology:
Flip (Don, Double, Dice, Deuce, Dud, Dos, Pro, Ton, Trey, Toy, Tommy and Trio)
RT (Don, Double and Trey)
Twins (Double and Ton)