Homer Smith & The Spread

Editor’s note: Due to length, we’ve divided this into three parts:
Part I: Background & Early Career
Part II: Speaking of Quarterbacks
Part III: On this page

The spread is the hot thing in college football, so we decided to ask the offensive legend about the offense.

“It is here to stay, and it will get better than it has been,” Coach Homer Smith said.

Why is the system so good? Improved blocking schemes are just one of the many elements.

“Along the way, coaches learned the center didn’t have to look between his legs to snap the football to the tailback like they did in the Single Wing,” Smith said. “It makes an unbelievable difference, because in the shotgun with the center with his head up—the center is a full strength blocker. In the Single Wing, he was quite an ineffective blocker.

“So, with the quarterback running and the center blocking, you’ve got better running than you had in the old Single Wing.”

And the spread is all about the quarterback running. Without effective quarterback runs, the system falls apart.

“The spread implies the quarterback handling the ball, and doing some if not a lot of the running,” Smith said. “Just spreading receivers doesn’t do anything. As a matter of fact, every time you spread a receiver and he gets covered by one man, the advantage goes to the defense. If you spread too far, they will just push you into the sidelines—that is death to the offense.

“The Spread is the quarterback running, with the pass threat occupying a defender for every receiver that spread.”

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According to Smith, this arrangement makes it difficult to play a safety in pass coverage deep over the middle.

“If the quarterback is handing off to a running back then there is a tackler for the running back, plus a safety man for the pass defense. But if the quarterback is running, and everybody else is occupying a defender, then the counterpart of the quarterback is not playing safety, but he is up there getting ready to tackle the quarterback when he runs off tackle,” Smith said.
“So, the spread with a running quarterback makes it really difficult to play a traditional safety man to stop post patterns and crossing routes. It forces teams to man-for-man type coverage.”

What can a defense do?
So can teams defeat the spread? Yes, but get ready for more man-to-man defense. This will require stronger, bigger and faster defenders, who master technique. Defending the spread puts greater pressure on your safeties. They will need to be half-safety and half-linebacker to make the plays.

Coach Smith provides a bit more technical information on how to defend the spread:
“A defense must do what a defense always has to do, whether it is to defend the Wishbone or Pro-passing, it has to match the shape of the offense. It has to have counterparts over on the defense in somewhat the same shape as they are on offense.

“What this means is that in the spread, they have to get good defenders across the front who can cover all of these receivers. Defenders who can go back in coverage or can come up on runs.

“Someone will have to watch the quarterback for the run, but if the quarterback moves back to pass then that person could drop back into coverage and be like a robber or maybe even a safety. It will take that kind of position on defense to get the quarterback under control.

“Everyone is going to have to learn to play man-for-man pass defense…It means defenders are going to have to push receivers outside. Once you get them to the outside, you can cover them. But you can’t let them be crossing across the middle with individuals trying to cover them man-to-man.”

Part I: Background & early career