Bill O’Brien took over as head coach at Penn State early in 2012. O’Brien was challenged in a number of ways. He had to succeed Joe Paterno. He had to deal with fallout from the nightmare of the Jerry Sandusky situation. He had to keep players from leaving. And O’Brien had to fix an offense that had finished 95th in yards and 110th in scoring.
O’Brien brought a no-huddle offense from his time with the New England Patriots. He had to teach the new system to his players. He had to make his QB an expert in the system, as well as trying to hone his passing skills. O’Brien was working with former walk-on Matt McGloin. There is a lot to admire about McGloin, but he’s not physically gifted and isn’t the most skilled passer. O’Brien faced a major challenge.
McGloin went from being a below-average QB to leading the Big Ten in passing yards and TDs. PSU went 8-4. The team finished 53rd in yards and 62nd in scoring. That may not sound great, but remember how they finished in 2011. O’Brien did a phenomenal job with McGloin and the offense. O’Brien wasn’t able to do everything he wanted and he didn’t have great personnel, but the foundation was laid. PSU adjusted to the no-huddle attack pretty well. The team finished 2nd in the conference in plays per game, a key stat for up-tempo teams.
O’Brien learned the no-huddle offense early on in his college days. He then worked on it while in New England. One of the people who helped the Patriots with their no-huddle attack was then Oregon coach Chip Kelly. O’Brien and Kelly have been friends for years, since both were small college assistants in the northeast. They don’t run the same system. Kelly’s is purely based on college football. O’Brien’s is a combination of what he learned under Ralph Friedgen in college and what he picked up while working for the Patriots. There are plenty of similarities in the two systems.
I think we can look at what Penn State did in 2012 for some idea of what Kelly might do with the Eagles.
The Oregon offense was run heavy. The Ducks ran the ball 685 times. They threw 373 passes. Think about that for a second. Oregon was 65-35 run to pass. That sounds great, but isn’t practical for the NFL. It worked there because you could build up a a big lead on teams like Arkansas State, Tennessee Tech, Fresno State, or Washington State and then just run the ball relentlessly. Offenses in the NFL must be more balanced, or err on the side of throwing.
Penn State ran the ball 475 times and threw it 456 times in 2012. That is great balance. I don’t know that Kelly will be able to even pull that off, but it is much more likely than what Oregon did.
It is also interesting to study PSU since you had O’Brien going in there with a new system. Kelly ran an established system in Oregon. I went back and studied tape of both offenses to see how well each ran the no-huddle attack. There is no question that Oregon ran it better. PSU did have some very good moments. Their NASCAR package (really fast) was effective and the team was 10 to 12 seconds from one play being over to the next snap. When just going at a normal no-huddle pace, PSU was 15 to 20 seconds from a play being over to the next snap.
We don’t yet know how much no-huddle Kelly will use in the NFL. It is expected to be a big part of the offense, but the NFL is so different than college football that I think Kelly will have to see how things work and then make adjustments. Kelly’s goal is to attack and wear down his opponents, but when the no-huddle struggles, teams can wear down Kelly’s defense. It is likely that Kelly will mix in normal pace with no-huddle and also have a super-fast tempo that he uses occasionally.
PSU’s scheme was very different from Oregon in that it involved no designed QB running. McGloin was a passer. He would scramble on occasion, but even then his first instinct was to find a receiver to get the ball to. McGloin was used on QB sneaks, but that is it. PSU’s offense really did look like an NFL offense. The primary personnel were 2 TEs, 2 WRs, and a RB. They would align in a variety of ways. The offense featured a workhorse WR, Allen Robinson, and a workhorse TE, Kyle Carter. Robinson had 77 receptions and 11 TDs. Carter had 36 receptions and 2 TDs (while missing 2 games).
The offense threw plenty of short passes so that WRs and TEs could get RAC yards. The offense would also throw down the field in order to stretch out the defense and keep the Safeties from crowding the LOS. PSU had a workhorse runner in Zach Zwinak. He is a 230-pound RB that attacks downhill. He finished the year with 1,000 yards on the nose. Bill O’Brien originally intended Bill Belton, a smaller player and former QB/WR, to be the key runner. Injuries hurt him and Zwinak seized the job.
Oregon used smaller runners in Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas. They combined for 2,468 yards. The PSU run game was methodical. Oregon’s was explosive. Oregon spread the ball around in the pass game. There were 8 players with 19 or more receptions. Thomas led the way with 45 catches. There was no workhorse receiver.
PSU snd Oregon each ran a no-huddle attack. They each primarily used 2 TEs, 2 WRs, and a RB. From there, things got very different. It may seem somewhat odd we’re talking more about PSU here than Oregon, but that template feels much better suited to the NFL. O’Brien took college concepts and adapted them in a way that fits the NFL game. College football and the NFL are moving toward each other schematically more than ever, but there still are differences.
I think one of Steve Spurrier’s big mistakes was assuming that what worked so well for him in college would work for sure in the NFL. Confidence is good, hubris is bad. Look back at the offensive staff Spurrier put together for his 2002 team:
HC/OC/QB – Steve Spurrier (Florida grad)
OL/Asst OC – Kim Helton (Florida grad, experience as NFL OL coach)
RB – Hue Jackson (first NFL job)
WR – Steve Spurrier Jr (need I say more)
TE – Lawson Holland (from Florida staff)
Asst QB – Noah Brindise (Florida QB & from UF staff)
Asst OL – John Hunt (from Florida staff)
Spurrier loaded up with his buddies and headed off to the NFL to showcase his system. Chip Kelly loaded his staff with veteran coaches from all over. Some he knew, others he didn’t. He hired a strong OC in Pat Shurmur, who knows the NFL inside-out. Kelly hired a QB coach in Bill Lazor that has a good track record.
Kelly is not going to force his offense on the NFL. He will take bits and pieces, but he’s smart enough to know that just because it worked in the Pac-12 doesn’t mean it will work in pro football. Kelly will adapt. The Skins, by the way, never finished inside the Top 20 in points or yards in Spurrier’s 2 seaons there.
If you go back and study Kelly’s career, he has changed offenses a few times. One of his biggest strengths is the fact he keeps an open mind and isn’t married to one single concept or style. New Hampshire was built around RB Jerry Azumah when he was there. Then the offense was built around QB Ricky Santos. Oregon has adapted to a variety of QBs and RBs. Oregon is always among the national leaders in rushing. The passing game has been more erratic. It has been ranked as low as 98th and as high as 39th. The offense always scores points and the team wins. Kelly finds a way to make it happen.
Kelly and O’Brien stay in touch, mainly through texting these days. I don’t know that Kelly has talked to him much about what he should do in the NFL, but it would not surprise me in the least to find out that Kelly studied some of what Penn State did to get ideas on a more NFL-centric version of the no-huddle, spread attack.
There aren’t a lot of great videos of the Penn State offense to check out, but here is one. This is actually a cut-up of Illinois LB Michael Buchanan against PSU. You can see the kinds of run and pass plays that PSU used in 2012. This isn’t necessarily what Chip Kelly will do, but it is one possibility. This is the NFL version of some Kelly concepts.
One other thing to consider is that McGloin ran this offense. Both Nick Foles and Matt Barkley could run this offense. If Michael Vick is the QB, there will be some QB running, but if Foles or Barkley win the job, this is what we might be watching.
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A reminder…the Eagles Almanac is being put together as we speak. My lengthy write-up on how Chip Kelly is the Megan Fox of coaches should be reason enough to support the project.
Okay, that’s what I wanted to write, but Megan’s attorneys convinced me it wouldn’t be all that wise. Instead, you’ll have to settle for just good football talk.