Before facing Texas Tech’s “Air Raid” offense, then-Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops had to spend extra hours studying film.
The current Arizona coach needed to prepare for an offense that could score 40 points and would happily pass 60 times a game.
Stoops’ work paid off, as Oklahoma’s defense disrupted Tech’s pass-happy spread offense from 2001-03.
Stoops is hoping for the same this week when Arizona opens the 2007 season Saturday at BYU. The Cougars don’t run the same scheme as Tech, but their spread offense contains some of the same tendencies.
The Wildcats, who also are running the spread, are not anticipating BYU to air it as much as Texas Tech. Especially not with quarterback Max Hall getting his first start since his playing days at Mesa Mountain View High four years ago.
Even with heralded quarterback John Beck the Cougars only threw 37 times in a 16-13 loss at Arizona in the 2007 season opener.
The Cougars pride themselves on trying to run the ball out of the spread, but managed only 24 yards on 24 carries against the Wildcat.
“We need to fine tune our game plan and really know what we are doing and really try to anticipate how they are going to attack us,” Stoops said. “They have to run the ball. They are going to look for ways. You have to anticipate what type of moves they are going to make this year as opposed to last year.”
Stoops has been good when it comes to defending spread attacks, going 3-0 last season.
While dissecting the nuances of the spread attacks, Stoops found enough he liked. It’s one reason he brought in Texas Tech offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes to install a spread passing scheme at Arizona.
“I know how tremendously difficult it is when it’s run right and you put the right players in position,” Stoops said. “It can be a really lethal offense. It has been productive against the best teams. We won a national championship at Oklahoma (with a version of the spread offense). I have seen this system work in a lot of different ways.”
Stoops’ defenses at Oklahoma made the “Air Raid” work for every yard.
Oklahoma held the Red Raiders to season lows in first downs (10), rushing yards (10), passing yards (224), and total yards (236). Texas Tech also scored 24 points below their season average during a 60-15 loss in 2002.
“I know coach Stoops’ teams at Oklahoma prided themselves on playing aggressive and creating a lot of turnovers,” Dykes said. “I know we turned it over a bunch every year we played them.”
Texas Tech also scored only 13 points each against Oklahoma in 2001 and 2003.
“They did not give you any big plays. They made you move the ball down the field,” Dykes remembers. “They did a nice job in the red zone. They did exactly what we tried to do and that was to play fundamentally sound football.
“When we played those guys they had great defensive players so they could rush the passer with four guys and they did a great job of covering the passing routes. We completed balls, but we never got big plays.”
Oklahoma had a higher talent level during Stoops’ reign in Norman. But his Wildcats held Utah’s spread offense to its lowest point total of the season in 2004 in Arizona’s 23-6 loss to the Utes.
Utah had future No. 1 draft pick Alex Smith at quarterback in that game.
“We saw a lot of blitzing and a lot of aggressive defense,” Dykes said, about his time at Texas Tech. “As we improved we saw less and less of that.
“Texas, for example, used to play us with a lot of man-to man-coverage. One year I think we threw for 640 yards against Texas. All of a sudden you didn’t see any more man coverage for two or three years. Defenses are constantly going to challenge you, and you have to adjust a little bit.
“We used to see a lot of man, now we see a lot of zone. It varies from team to team.”
Some try to blitz their linebackers, some try to go man, but without talented corners that has often spelled doom.
The Wildcats play with a nickel set – five defensive backs – most of the time against the spread.
If UA’s offense puts a lot of points on the board, it will benefit the Wildcat defense greatly.
“Our offense has improved tremendously and we are thankful of that,” UA cornerback Antoine Cason said. “Our defense will be able to play more aggressively and do some things we have not been able to do in the past. We can take more chances.”
STOPPING THE SPREAD
UA went 3-0 in 2006 against teams that ran spread offenses. The Cats will face all three again this year:
Sept. 1 at BYU UA won 16-13
Sept. 29 Wash. St. UA won 27-17
Nov. 15 Oregon UA won 37-10