Hoo Preview ’09: The Spread

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Al Groh has used pieces of the spread previously.

Several years ago when I was doing radio I was talking with a guest about what was wrong with the Virginia basketball program under former coach Pete Gillen. He said Gillen doesn’t know what kind of offense he wants to run. I grew up on Big East basketball watching Gillen and his run-and-gun, press and trap game, which he brought to Charlottesville. But mid-way through his tenure Gillen went away from his up-tempo style and attempted to play more of a half-court game. It didn’t fit – the change had a negative impact on recruiting, the coach and more importantly Virginia basketball never really has recovered.

The state of the Virginia football offense at the end of 2008? Transition. But it’s a transition that has been ongoing since Groh arrived in 2001. Virginia deployed a modified version of the West Coast offense, using a passing game designed to continually put pressure on opposing defenses as well as a power running game to sustains long drives. Bill Musgrave, Virginia’s first offensive coordinator under Groh was well versed in the West Coast system and appeared to be the perfect choice to implement the plan.

But there was a wrinkle. Musgrave returned to the NFL following the 2002 season and Groh elevated Ron Prince to the coordinator job; Virginia continued its West Coast approach with minor tweaks along the way. In 2004 Virginia used a dominant offensive line to produce a dominant running attack. To compensate for an undersized Marques Hagans, Virginia went to a hybrid spread offense in 2005 to open the passing and running lanes and improve the QB’s visibility. With Jameel Sewell at the helm Virginia experimented with the read option in 2006 and expanded the process in 2007 by moving toward the spread game. Last season, the Cavaliers toyed with a pass-based, Texas Tech type spread system that was abandoned when the two quarterbacks that were supposed to run the offense left the team. My belief is that Groh has wanted to go with more of the spread look for quite some time.

Frankly, the problem with Virginia’s offense for eight years has