The Spread Comes With Major Risks To QBs


Published: August 22, 2008


The spread offense is flashy, sexy, and racks up miles worth of yards. It’s also dangerous and flat out risky to run health wise against top of the line defensive athletes and defensive units. The spread promises points but also promises injuries. Is it worth the gamble every year?

Since the inception of the spread offense at Oregon in the winter of 2005 when Mike Bellotti hired Gary Crowton to be the new offensive coordinator the Ducks seem to be going through QBs like they grow on trees.

When Crowton arrived at Oregon there was high hopes for to be Senior Kellen Clemens. With the spread installed, Oregon fans were hoping to see the better than average runner Clemens outside of the pocket. See him run the option and shred defenses. They got that right away from Clemens and the new offense brought by Crowton. Clemens broke a 50+ yard run against Houston in the very first game, which showed he was more than capable of running the spread. Even better news was the Ducks became a powerhouse rushing team. The Ducks ran for 134 yards a game in their first year with the spread. Nothing special but it was a start for a program that had just made the transition.

The Ducks started the season off hot winning the first three games by an average margin of victory at 16.6 points while the team averaged 40.6 points a game. Impressive scoring numbers for a Duck team who had trouble scoring the year before. Then the Ducks met USC. Clemens was knocked out of the game early and it gave a glimpse of the offense without the senior at the helm. The spread couldn’t beat the ultra fast USC defense and the even faster USC offense. The Ducks eventually lost the game even after Clemens was able to come back from injury.

The Ducks won their next three games in similar fashion to the first three. Blow out wins with high scoring numbers by the Ducks. Then they hit another fast and aggressive defense, Arizona. Down went Clemens again, but this time, for good. Clemens broke his ankle and the Ducks struggled to move the ball. Then his replacement, Dennis Dixon was knocked out of the game. The team was left with one QB in Brady Leaf and was forced to start prepping a wide receiver to become the backup. The Ducks eventually pulled out a victory but it was costly. The team had to move on but the offense was never the same. Before Clemens went down the Ducks were scoring 36.4 points a game. After, the Ducks averaged 32.7, which was helped largely by a 56-14 blow out win over the Beavers.

In 2006 the Duck’s had no major injuries sustained to the QBs. Dixon was roughed up from time to time and in particular the Oklahoma game which required Dixon to miss a few snaps here and there. However, the Duck’s opponents seemed to have caught up to speed on defending the spread and the Ducks struggled to move the chains like they did the previous year under Clemens. Scoring was an issue as well for the mighty spread offense Oregon was running. Oregon averaged 34.5 points in 2005 and in 2006 it dropped a whole five points to 29.5 a game.

After a terrible second half of the season and an even worse bowl game appearance, the Oregon program and Offensive Coordinator Gary Crowton agreed to part ways. The Ducks brought in Chip Kelly to replace Crowton in 2007 and instantly got a new look spread offensive focused on being balanced but being aggressive in the running game. The Ducks quickly picked things up and like in 2005 the Ducks offense appeared unstoppable. The Senior Dennis Dixon was able to utilize his speed and run zone reads to perfection and the Ducks soared to new levels on offense. They were dubbed the toughest offense to stop by many college football experts.

Then during the middle of the season Nate Costa, the back up and heir apparent to Dixon, tore his ACL. Done, shut him down, there goes the future of the program for the year. It doesn’t seem like a major injury at the time as Costa has yet to take any snaps so far in the season. A few weeks later though, Costa’s injury becomes the worst injury of the year. In what looks like a meaningless scramble against ASU late in the ball game Dixon was popped in the knee and fell awkwardly to the ground. It looked bad when it first happened but later seemed minor as Dixon ran off the field and into the locker room to skip the probable post game celebration.

The next week the Ducks saw the severity of the injury as they faced yet again another fast, aggressive, and tough defense from Arizona that knocked Dixon out for good. Down goes Brady Leaf right after him against Arizona and later against UCLA for good. Down goes Cody Kempt against OSU for good and Oregon is left with Redshirt Freshman Justin Roper and defensive players who last played QB in high school.

Going into this new season the Ducks loaded up on QBs in hopes to never see the injury plague again at the quarterback position. Yet once again the injury bug is back as Nate Costa goes down with a knee injury to the same knee he tore his ACL in last season. Duck coaches don’t know the damage that is done yet, or they simply are not saying anything but it’s clear Costa will have his work cut out for him to see the field against Washington on August 30th.

What’s worse is that Oregon is already lining up with other injuries. JC transfer Jeremiah Masoli has suffered a wrist injury that’s preventing him from playing 100 percent and true Freshman Chris Harper has had shoulder problems all fall camp long and can’t throw a ball farther than 15 yards without floating it down field. That leaves the Ducks with Roper and the other true Freshman Darron Thomas with the latter being a long ways away from starting material. Oh, and have I said the Ducks have yet to even play a game this season?

I love the spread, I really do, but after hearing about the Costa injury it got me thinking. Is the spread offense worth the risk we are taking every time we take the field? Since we’ve started using the spread the Ducks have lost a QB to injury nine times at least by my count (KC vs SC, KC vs UA, DD vs UA, DD vs ASU, DD vs UA, BL vs UA, BL vs UCLA, CK vs UCLA, CK vs OSU). That’s nine times in 26 games under the spread. The Ducks have lost a QB in 35% of their games!

What about other teams though? It can’t simply be just Oregon can it? Nope, last year alone West Virginia lost Pat White to an injury, Florida had Tim Tebow play almost an entire season with injuries, and Hawaii lost Colt Brennan for a game. The list goes on and on and even goes back years. The spread is fun, sexy, and scores a lot of points while piling on enough yards each year to reach the moon it seems. But, it’s putting quarterbacks into situations that risk major injuries across the board and even putting an end to a team’s national championship hopes.

I am not saying I am against the spread offense but I am starting to realize using the spread offense than something like the west coast offense presents a team, and in our case Oregon, a risky situation where it seems at one point in the season you will loose a quarterback to an injury.

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