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June 15, 2011

Scheme changes may do these teams good

Change is constant, as programs look for new styles on offense and defense in hopes of better fortunes. This offseason was no different. Following is a look at 10 big scheme changes at some prominent schools.

Clemson's offense

New coordinator Chad Morris arrived from Tulsa and installed an offense that is closely aligned with that of friend/Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn's in that both are predicated on stretching the field horizontally and vertically while pushing the tempo.

Like Malzahn, Morris gets peeved when he hears his offense labeled as a version of the spread. To him, it's more of a run/play-action attack. The attack uses a lot of motion and formations, but it's rooted in a downhill running game that sets up play-action passes.

It's obviously worlds different from Mike Leach's spread, and it's different from Rich Rodriguez's spread because Rodriguez's is based heavily on zone running. The Malzahn/Morris running philosophy is based much more on power-running, I-formation principles; they just don't do it out of the I, instead choosing to confuse and deceive linebackers and safeties with all sorts of window dressing.

New starting quarterback Tajh Boyd won't remind anyone of Cam Newton, but Boyd will be a running threat in this attack. All of the horizontal action in this offense, along with some good options at the skill positions, should create some openings for Boyd.

But there are questions about Boyd's ability to execute with consistency and precision. This offense should be improved from Clemson's 2010 unit, but there could be sputters as Boyd adapts and develops.

That said, most Tigers watchers are excited because they know their offense will have an identity -- unlike last season.

Florida's offense

Charlie Weis has arrived from the NFL with his pro-style attack, which means an end to Urban Meyer's version of the spread. Meyer's spread helped the Gators win two national titles, but last season's offense was mediocre and struggled to produce in the red zone.

Expect a variety of looks from Weis, from two-back/two-tight end sets to empty backfield/four-wide sets.

The key for Weis is finding a quarterback. But can senior John Brantley, who played poorly in 2010, do what is needed? He was ill-suited for the spread because no opponent worried about him on the option. He ran a pass-happy attack in high school, and coaches were happy with his grasp of the offense during spring drills.

There also are potential issues at receiver (there is no proven go-to guy) and running back (is there a feature back on the roster?). In addition, the line will have four new starters, and two of the projected starters have been extremely injury-prone in their careers (junior tackle Matt Patchan and senior guard James Wilson).

The bottom line: Florida may lack the personnel to take full advantage of Weis' attack in 2011.

LSU's offense

Despite an offense that ranked 11th in the SEC and 86th nationally (341.3 ypg) in 2010, LSU still won 11 games. Coach Les Miles knew he had to improve the attack, especially if the Tigers hope to fulfill the national championship aspirations many have for them. So, Gary Crowton is out (to Maryland) as offensive coordinator and Steve Kragthorpe is in.

The offense may not look radically different. Kragthorpe has switched the terminology so that the players won't have a steep learning curve. The biggest area of improvement should come at quarterback, a position that Kragthorpe oversees.

The onus is on Kragthorpe to make senior Jordan Jefferson a steady force; Jefferson's career has been marked by inconsistency. The passing attack must go from awful (last in the SEC, 155.6 ypg with 10 touchdowns) to average if the Tigers' BCS dreams are to be realized.

There is a good group of receivers, but they have been underutilized the past few seasons. That should change.

Michigan's offense

This will be one of the most-watched scheme changes in the nation. Rich Rodriguez's spread offense is out, and new coach Brady Hoke is known for a West Coast-type of look. Michigan will be focused on man blocking and being able to run the power game.

That said, new offensive coordinator Al Borges says he's never had a quarterback quite like Denard Robinson and that he will play to Robinson's strengths.

The Wolverines could be in shotgun as much as 50 percent of the time, and use rollouts and designed quarterback runs. But the new staff will not run Robinson 30 times a game and expose him to being injured. Too often last season, Robinson got dinged up from excessive use: The reigning Big Ten Player of the Year came out of 10 of 13 games last season.

Look for a blend of some of Robinson's highlight-reel stuff of last season along with a heavier emphasis on throwing out of the pocket. The staff also wants to get more help from the running backs.

Nebraska's offense

Bo Pelini promoted Tim Beck from running backs coach to coordinator to inject some life into a Huskers attack that ranked last in the Big 12 in passing (150.6 ypg) last season under Shawn Watson.

The offense really bogged down late in the season, scoring 20 or fewer points in four of the last five games.

Look for Nebraska to run more of an up-tempo, no-huddle approach, which will look similar to the 2007 Kansas offense that Beck helped install. That season, the Jayhawks won the Orange Bowl over Virginia Tech.

The Huskers figure to execute lots of short, quick throws in space to a collection of speedy receivers.

Still, don't be surprised if there remains an emphasis on the ground game.

Pittsburgh's defense

Pittsburgh coaches say the defense is "multiple," as they don't like to label it. But the scheme preferred by new coach Todd Graham is a 3-4, which is a change from the pro-style 4-3 that Pitt ran -- and ran well -- under Dave Wannstedt.

It's not a "traditional" 3-4 set. One outside linebacker acts like a stand-up defensive end, and the other is a hybrid linebacker/safety. The idea is that both outside 'backers have the versatility to shift the defense from a 3-4 to a 4-3 to a 3-3-5 or a 4-2-5 without a substitution, if the coaches so desire.

Texas' offense

Both sides of the ball for Texas feature new coordinators, but all eyes will be on the offense under Bryan Harsin, the former Boise State coordinator.

He must amp up a Longhorns attack that ranked eighth in the Big 12 in total offense (382.5 ypg) and 10th in scoring (23.8 ppg) last season.

Look for the offense to be balanced, with a lot of motion and shifting.

That will be a stark contrast to the offense favored by former coordinator Greg Davis. His philosophy was to line up and run it, with no disguise. Harsin's offense is all about disguise and using multiple formations before the snap to gain mismatches in the run and the pass.

Harsin's Broncos attack ranked second in the nation in total offense (521.3 ypg) and second in scoring (45.1 ppg) last season. It also featured a downhill rushing attack, one that averaged 200.2 yards per game.

Texas Tech's defense

Say hello to Chad Glasgow, the Red Raiders' third defensive coordinator in as many seasons. Texas Tech's 3-4 alignment is out, and Glasgow -- who had been TCU's safeties coach -- has installed the 4-2-5 scheme that the Horned Frogs have used under Gary Patterson. Tech ranked 93rd in the nation in scoring defense (30.9 ppg) last season.

The new scheme will play to the Red Raiders' strengths, masking a lack of depth at linebacker and playing to depth at safety. The 4-2-5 is a speed defense that should fare well in a Big 12 conference that has a heavy flavor of spread offenses. The "extra" safety can drop into coverage or cheat toward the line to help against the run.

Utah's offense

Kyle Whittingham is hoping new coordinator Norm Chow -- who ran UCLA's offense the past three seasons -- can rev up what had become a stale offense.

The Utes had run an offshoot of the spread but now will utilize mostly a pro-style set with the quarterback taking snaps under center about 85 percent of the time. Chow also will mix in some play-action.

The area Whittingham wants bolstered the most is the ground game. Chow knows running isn't a strength for quarterback Jordan Wynn, so Wynn won't be asked to do it often in this West Coast-flavored attack.

West Virginia's offense

New coach Dana Holgorsen has begun to install his potent version of the spread that helped Oklahoma State rank No. 1 in the nation in total offense (520.2 ypg), No. 2 in passing (345.9 ypg) and No. 3 in scoring (44.2 ppg) last season.

A stodgy offense cost West Virginia a BCS bowl in 2010, as WVU lost four times despite the defense not yielding more than 23 points in any game.

Holgorsen trained under Mike Leach, so look for him to flood the field with receivers and make defenses adjust on the fly. But unlike Leach, Holgorsen makes an effort to run the ball on a regular basis. Still, the Mountaineers' offense will have an aerial flavor, which should please quarterback Geno Smith, who wasn't a good fit in the old spread attack.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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