Scheme changes at 10 schools aimed at putting players in a better position to succeed

Mike Huguenin
Yahoo! SportsJune 26, 2012

Every coach in every sport will tell you it's more about the Jimmys and the Joes – i.e., the talent – than it is about the X's and O's – i.e., the coaching.

Still, having innovative thinkers on the sideline does pay off in the long run.

In that vein, here's a look at 10 teams (listed alphabetically) that have made scheme changes from last season. Most have new coaches. But there are some where the coach is looking to shake things up and improve his chances of winning. The bottom line for all of them: They're trying to put their Jimmys and Joes in the best position to make plays.

[Also: Presidents committee expected to sign off on a four-team playoff]

Arizona offense and defense

The change: From pass-heavy version of spread to run-heavy version of spread on offense and from 4-3 to 3-3-5 on defense
The buzz: Arizona had one of the best passing attacks in the nation last season, ranking third in pass offense at 370.8 yards per game. The Wildcats were 114th in rushing, though, at 94.5 yards per game. Expect much higher rushing totals and much lower passing totals this fall as new coach Rich Rodriguez fine-tunes his read-option version of the spread. QB Matt Scott looks to be a great fit for the offense, and RB Ka'Deem Carey should be successful as well. The offensive line returns all five starters, but those guys will have to get used to different blocking schemes. The wide receivers are rather nondescript and will be asked to block a lot more than in the past. Rodriguez was able to convince defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel to leave West Virginia and head to the Pac-12. Casteel is a big-time proponent of the 3-3-5 defense. One issue: Arizona returns just one full-time starter in the front six. In addition, the secondary was a sieve last season, allowing 298.9 passing yards per game (119th nationally). Other than CB Shaquille Richardson, there is no proven talent in the secondary, which means there is a risk in putting one more defensive back on the field. In the long run, Casteel should make it work. This fall, though, it could get ugly at times.

North Carolina defense

The change: From a 4-3 to a 4-2-5
The buzz: UNC was known for having a number of big-time linemen and linebackers under previous coach Butch Davis. Well, the new defense lessens the importance of linebackers a bit and makes the secondary even more important. One concern for this season: The secondary is the weakest link on the roster. New coordinator Dan Disch arrives with new coach Larry Fedora from Southern Miss; Southern Miss saw a wide variety of offenses in Conference USA, and Fedora and Disch actually will see less of a variety in the ACC. UNC is used to getting a lot of pressure from its ends; in the new scheme, the "bandit" – a hybrid end/linebacker – is a guy who must apply consistent pressure. The interior of the defensive line should be strong this season, and LB Kevin Reddick is a potential All-American. The secondary will be the issue this fall.

Ohio State offense

QB Braxton Miller should be an excellent fit in Ohio State's new spread offense. (AP)
QB Braxton Miller should be an excellent fit in Ohio State's new spread offense. (AP)

The change: From a pro-set to the spread
The buzz: Ohio State never has been known for its cutting-edge offensive schemes, but it certainly never has hurt the bottom line. This fall, though, the Buckeyes move into the 21st century with new coach Urban Meyer's version of the spread. QB Braxton Miller looks to be an excellent fit for the offense; he is both fast and tough as a runner. The big problem this season: There is zero proven offensive skill-position talent around Miller, and the line has been rebuilt as well. Defense will have to carry the day this season. But Meyer is going to get the type of guys he needs for his offense sooner rather than later. As for those who say the spread can't work in the Big Ten? Think of how successful Joe Tiller was at Purdue running a pass-heavy version of the offense, and Michigan's offense certainly wasn't the problem when Rich Rodriguez, whose offense closely mirrors Meyer's, was the Wolverines' coach. Meyer is going to recruit vastly more talent that Tiller was able to, and Meyer's emphasis on defense always has been much stronger than Rodriguez's. The Buckeyes are primed for another successful era.

Pittsburgh offense

The change: From spread to pro-set
The buzz: Man, you have to feel for senior QB Tino Sunseri (his dad, Sal, is prominent on this list, too). As a sophomore and a first-time starter, Sunseri ran a pro-set attack for then-coach Dave Wannstedt. Last season, new coach Todd Graham installed a version of the spread, and Sunseri struggled. Now Sunseri is heading into his third season as the starter and is back to a pro-set attack, thanks to new coach Paul Chryst, who had been offensive coordinator at Wisconsin. The pro-set fits Sunseri best; while he has some mobility, he is not a dangerous runner and is at his best when he can use play-action, which he should be able to do to his heart's content this fall. Chryst won't have the offensive line to replicate his punishing ground games at Wisconsin, but the line that is in place is much better-suited for his offense than Graham's.

Tennessee defense

The change: From a 4-3 to a 3-4
The buzz: Sal Sunseri (Tino's dad) was hired away from Alabama to be the Vols' new coordinator; Sunseri had been the Tide's linebacker coach. He has installed a 3-4, which should help alleviate some of the concerns that arose because of a lack of linemen. The Vols also will show some 4-3 looks, but there's no question Tennessee has more depth at linebacker than along the defensive front. One issue, though, is whether the ends can hold up in the new scheme. Jacques Smith could blossom as a pass-rushing linebacker, and the defensive front – in theory, at least – will be fresher because guys won't have to play as many downs. The Vols' secondary has a lot of potential, so if the front seven does its job, the defense could be even better than it was last season, when Tennessee was 28th overall. But the Vols also were 69th against the run, and that's the one area that must improve.

Texas A&M defense

The change: From a 3-4 to a 4-3
The buzz: A&M was excellent against the run (12th nationally, 101.9 yards per game) but horrendous against the pass (109th nationally, 276.3 yards per game) last season. New coach Kevin Sumlin brought in Mark Snyder, who had been coordinator at USF, to oversee the defense, and Snyder has scrapped the 3-4 in favor of the more conventional 4-3 as the Aggies move into the SEC. It's an interesting move and not just because A&M doesn't seem to have the sheer number of 4-3 linemen needed to be effective in the SEC. The move, though, was made for the long-term, which means Aggies coaches need to reel in some more guys for the defensive front on the recruiting trail. A&M's pass rush should be fine this fall. Everything else is a mystery, though. And as for the secondary that routinely was torched last fall, all four starters are gone.

Texas Tech defense

The change: From a 4-2-5 set to a 4-3
The buzz: Another year, another scheme change for the Red Raiders' defense. Tommy Tuberville is entering his third season as Tech's coach and Art Kaufman will be his third defensive coordinator in that span. Yes, Tuberville will have had a different defense in each of his three seasons; the first two didn't go all that well defensively. The Red Raiders were last in the nation in rush defense last season and that had to eat at Tuberville, who made his bones as a defensive coordinator. The hope is that by moving to a 4-3, the Red Raiders become stouter against the run. Truthfully, the biggest problem is that the Red Raiders aren't going to be able to sign as many stud defenders as Tuberville is used to having, meaning the X's and O's drawn up on the sideline are going to be vital. This season's team has a paucity of returning talent in the front seven; the good news is that the offense, as it was in the days of Mike Leach, should be quite potent.

UCLA defense

The change: From a 4-3 to a 3-4
The buzz: New coordinator Lou Spanos had been linebacker coach with the Washington Redskins and had been an NFL assistant since 1995. He installed the 3-4 during the spring, which should give a nice group of linebackers more chances to make plays. The defensive line will be a storyline all season. The former staff did a nice job of reeling in some big-name big guys; now is the time for them to produce. A big question is how much time touted freshman DT Ellis McCarthy is going to receive. Former DE Brandon Willis emerged from spring atop the depth chart at nose tackle, but he is listed at less than 280 pounds. Can he hold up in the middle? UCLA's pass rush was an embarrassment last season (just 14 sacks), and the hope is that with more speed on the field, more pressure can be applied to opposing quarterbacks.

Washington State offense

The change: From spread to the "Air Raid" offense
The buzz: The "Air Raid" is a variation of the spread, just an extremely pass-happy version. New coach Mike Leach took what mentor Hal Mumme did at Kentucky and some other stops, then added to it. While the offense seems complex, it really isn't. Certain receivers are expected to be in certain places at certain times against certain defenses, and it's the quarterback's job to get the ball to the receiver most open. The pieces look to be in place for Leach, specifically at quarterback (Jeff Tuel) and wide receiver (Marquess Wilson, though the coach supposedly was irritated at times during the spring by Wilson's work habits). Heck, Washington State's offense was productive last season; it was the defense that was the issue. It should be that way again this season – and that means Leach should feel right at home, since that's the way it was for most of his tenure at Texas Tech, too.

West Virginia defense

The change: From a 3-3-5 to a 3-4
The buzz: Former defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel generally worked magic with less-than-stellar talent. How will new coordinator Joe DeForest fare? WVU not only is getting rid of Casteel's 3-3-5, it is entering a much tougher league. It would have been interesting to see how WVU's 3-3-5 would've worked in the offense-minded Big 12. As it is, DeForest (who arrives from Big 12 foe Oklahoma state) has a lot of work to do because WVU lost a number of key contributors off last season's defense, which ranked 33rd overall nationally. WVU also will use some 4-3 sets, but the lack of a proven pass rusher is going to be a story to follow. WVU likely would've struggled a bit on defense this season anyway; the scheme change may make things worse because the players are going to have to adapt.

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