How the smashmouth spread stopped the Bison dynasty

North Dakota State favors complexity and development in their program on both sides of the ball. Against a good smashmouth spread team in James Madison that served them well on defense but poorly on offense.

Read about it at Football Study Hall.

The dilemma of matching explosive, spread offense with a disciplined D is one that Matt Rhule will have to navigate at Baylor and that Herman has done well to handle thus far in his coaching career.


  1. Cameron

    I disagree with your narrative as offenses needing to become simpler and defenses needing to become more complex. In each case, they are becoming more condensed.

    An offense that runs half as many play concepts but runs them with several RPOs built in does not become “simpler”. Smaller play book, sure, but you’ve also expanded the complexity for each individual play.

    Then on defense, you start running fewer defensive concepts but make them more nuanced to deal with those same RPOs. Again, smaller play book, but great complexity for each call.

    On each side, they are becoming simpler and more complex in the exact same ways: fewer calls, greater complexity in each.

    • ianaboyd

      Well, it just depends on who and what you’re talking about in terms of what’s simpler or what’s more complex.

      For instance, an RPO heavy team is probably teaching a lot less technique to their players because a few techniques go a good deal further thanks to the option tactics. For the QB his post-snap process might be getting a good deal more complex on run plays.

      I think RPOs and the spread make things much simpler for everyone on offense, except potentially the QB.

      On defense, everyone is becoming a QB because now they have to have answers to all the option tactics and know how to respond after the snap to a lot more.

      The trend I’ve noticed is that it’s getting easier to play young guys on offense and harder to do so on defense.

      Also I don’t think teams necessarily need to go the spread-RPO route, it’s just an easier way then many to achieve good results. Michigan for instance…they’re more traditional and complicated but Harbaugh is good at it and I think that gives them an advantage. I think that’s also sorta true for ND St. Overall I think we mostly agree, it’s sort of a semantical or perspective criticism you’re making.

      I’m not disputing your points, just trying to defend the language I used.

      • Cameron

        I think I’m seeing where you are coming from, and I think it is rooted at looking things from more of the secondary’s perspective. There, things may be evolving to be more complex for the defenders.

        From a trenches standpoint, nothing has really changed. For example, in the big run shown in the article, the NDSU DE blew his assignment big time. Pro-style, spread, veer, etc., DEs are all taught the same technique in that situation. “If the tackle goes inside of you, do NOT fly up field: You are about to get hit by a guard or optioned.” Maybe the DE gets optioned less a decade ago, but the same rule applies regardless of the offense you are playing against.

        But maybe you’re pointing out there’s a lot more things the DE will have to react to after that initial trigger of “tackle went inside.”

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