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Is The Spread Offense Killing College Football?

Quarterback Tyler Huntley #1 of the Utah Utes runs with the ball in a game against the Washington Huskies at Rice-Eccles Stadium on September 15, 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – College football is supposed to be the place where exciting offensive play happens all across the country on fall Saturday’s. There are exciting plays that come from the spread offense such as zone reads, jet sweeps, quick passes, and a lot more that can lead to huge plays.

The University of Utah was one of the early adopters of the spread offense under Urban Meyer. The Utes lost two games between 2003 and 2004 en route to winning a Fiesta Bowl, producing a Heisman finalist, and producing an exciting branding of football.

However, count KSL Sports’ Scott Mitchell as not a fan of the spread offense.

“I hate the spread offense,” Mitchell said on KSL’s Unrivaled. It is the rage across all of football, but it is killing football.”

Mitchell does not like the spread attack because it is dumbing down the football and it was something he noticed when he returned to the state a few years ago.

“When I came back to Utah and I am looking at BYU and Utah, I am just going ‘these offenses are pathetic,'” Mitchell said. “This is awful, terrible offensive football, so when I came back I thought ‘maybe it is just me and I know football too well.'”

Mitchell also coached high school football for a bit and he used schemes and plays from Mitchell’s days in the NFL and at Utah and those alleged more difficult schemes were easily picked up by the younger players.

“I started coaching high school kids and implemented a lot of the philosophies with our teams in high school. Guess what? They worked,” Mitchell said. “These were high school kids and maybe this is over their head and too complicated but it is not that complicated and brilliant.”

It can be done at any level to have complex routes and offenses that have multiple options that do not rely on only getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hand quickly on short patterns.

Kyle Whittingham Is A Defensive Coach

Mitchell recently had a conversation with Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham and he came away with some thoughts on college offenses, and specifically with the Utes. Everyone knows Whittingham is a defensive coach and Utah has had an endless rotation of offensive coordinators which has led to the offense being just good enough. That is likely a key reason that the Utah offenses run the way they are.

In addition to so many new offensive coaches, there is a sign within the football practice facility that reads: “We play great defense, we play great special teams, and we take care of the football on offense.”

That just shows where the priorities are with University of Utah football, and it is not an offense that is all that great with the plays that are used.

“I was talking about schemes, and what happens in spread offenses is that the ball never goes very far down the field,” Mitchell said. “It is a screen, bubble screen, quick slant, and it’s this zone read type of play. When we throw the ball, we threw it past the line of scrimmage and down the field more. ”

Spread Offenses Are Not Complex But Can Work

The short passing game and getting the ball to playmakers is a key element to the spread attack as offenses are spreading the field horizontally and not vertically down the field. That is what Mitchell is referring to with offenses being boring in the play calling which has short, non-descript, and basic routes.

However, when done properly it can be vastly effective and that is what KSL Sports’ Alex Kirry says when referring to Utah State this past year.

“The Aggies are a great example of scoring 55-60 points a game, which they did last year, with one of these new-fangled offenses. It has to do with the personnel,” Kirry said.

A lot of this has to go back to what are priorities for the Utes and it is not offense. There are good athletes on Utah’s roster but it is how they are used that is an issue in relation to its success.

“I agree with you Scott, that the University of Utah has not had the offensive coaches, and I see where the priority is with the Utes,” Kirry said. “Gimmicky stuff does bother me but just saying the offense ‘is not good’ is not good enough and I think Utah might just be really bad on offense.”

Mitchell’s is that maybe it is time for Utah to start to go away from the spread attack and use an offense that uses more downfield passing to be successful and open up the running game which should be its strength this year. The Utes offense has not been consistently great in over a decade so why not make some changes and put a bit more priority into the offense with a refreshed scheme.

Tune into KSL’s Unrivaled every Monday through Friday, 7-9 p.m., or download the KSL NewsRadio app to subscribe to the podcast.