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Offense of the Future

Offense of the Future

Sept. 19, 2000

By Todd Lamb Assistant Sports Information Dir.Wake Forest Game Program – September 16, 2000

When current Clemson coach Tommy Bowden and his staff were at Tulane, their offense received one of the highest compliments from one of the greatest football coaches of all time.

Former Stanford University and San Francisco 49ers’ head coach Bill Walsh had seen Bowden’s offense in action in November 1998 in a game at the U.S. Military Academy between Tulane and Army.

“We knew he was at the game, but we didn’t get a chance to talk with him,” remembered Rich Rodriguez, who served as the offensive coordinator for the Green Wave and now conducts the offense for Clemson.

The following Monday morning, Bowden received a call from the man that guided the 49ers franchise to five Super Bowl victories.

“He was at the game and didn’t get a chance to come to the dressing room after the game,” Bowden said. “He liked the things we were doing on offense. The conversation was related to what we were doing at Tulane and our offensive philosophy – our running attack, how we attack defenses and things like that.”

“Coach Walsh has said some nice things since then that have been very flattering and we’ve had a lot of good comments on it,” Rodriguez said. “It was nice to see our offense being recognized on the highest level.”

Walsh had just written a book – “Finding the Winning Edge” – and told Bowden that his offensive tendencies were similar to where he thought that offenses in the NFL were headed:

* Teams will huddle only when the clock is stopped.

* Team will use single-word audibles.

* The timing between the quarterback and the receiver will be more defined.

* The quarterback will receive direction from the coach at the line of scrimmage. Because the ball can be put into play at any moment, the defense must commit itself with its front and coverage.

* Substitutions will enter the game when the whistle blows and go immediately to the line of scrimmage.

* The quarterback will look to the sideline the instant the whistle blows on the previous play to see which personnel combination is entering the game. The designated coach indicates the formation to the quarterback and whether he should audible his own play or will receive a play call from the coach.

* The quarterback will have even more latitude in audibling at the line of scrimmage.

* The need to protect the quarterback will be even greater because of the fact that the defenders will be larger, stronger and faster and able to hit harder.

Less than one month after that conversation and guiding Tulane to an undefeated regular season, Bowden accepted Clemson’s offer to become coach of the Tigers.

As Clemson fans have come to realize, the offense employed by Bowden in Tiger Town, which is essentially the same one viewed by Walsh in the Tulane-Army game, shares many of these traits.

Clemson’s up-tempo, no-huddle offense has created problems for opposing defenses and has kept them on edge.

“You want to put as much pressure on the defense as possible and the way to do that is to make them defend the width and length of the field,” Bowden indicated. “The best way to make them defend the width of the field is to put guys outside.”

The Bowden offense typically puts three, four and sometimes five receivers on the outside of the field and Bowden half-jokingly says the only option his team will employ is the choice of the quarterback to which receiver will get the ball.

In almost contradictory fashion to how the offense appears, Bowden insists he wants the team to run the football.

“We’ll try as hard as we can to look for a running play every down and if the running opportunity is not there then we have to have the ability to throw,” he said.

Rodriguez, who has been working with this type of offense since his days as the head coach at Glenville (WV) State College in the 1990s, echoed coach Bowden.

“We work as hard or harder on the running game,” he said. “The difference with us is that we are not afraid to go ahead and throw it 60-70 times if that is what we need to move the ball. On the flip side, we’ll run it 60-70 times as well depending on how the defense plays us.

“Nowadays, defenses are pressure oriented and like to blitz a lot, so we are going to throw it a bunch. That is the difference between us and some other teams that try to get balance. They don’t want to throw it and don’t like to throw it. We don’t mind throwing it every snap. We are flexible enough to be able to do it.”

Defensive coordinators across the country say their primary objective is to stop the run, so offenses have to be able to throw the ball to be able to move the ball down the field.

Bowden said to look at Penn State in its first two games this season or look at what Clemson did in its season opener to see what he was talking about.

“Penn State’s running game was stopped, but could they throw it?” Bowden asked. “Defense dictates the flow.

“I wasn’t going to throw the ball against The Citadel when they gave us all those running opportunities. We ran for 236 yards and passed for 222 yards. We could have sat there and thrown the ball 50 times and gone for 400 and rushed for 50, but that is what they gave us.

“I do feel like if you can run the football when the opportunity presents itself, you are going to win football games, but to win, you can’t run when the numbers aren’t there to run.”

Bowden insists there is no ideal balance between rushing and passing yardage he wants his offense to shoot for during a game.

“There is only one statistic we are interested in and that is the score,” he said. “Offenses score and defenses stop the score. How you score is irrelevant whether you run or pass. The defense dictates whether you run or pass, not the offense.”

BYU threw for 447 yards and beat Virginia while only running for 93 yards while Florida State only ran for 57 yards against BYU in the Pigskin Classic yet took to the air for 318 yards.

The Clemson offense features multiple wide receivers and yields a productive rushing game. Last year, in the first year of the Bowden-Rodriguez offense, the Tigers passing attack averaged 403 yards a game, while the ground game averaged 151 yards. The improvement in passing yardage bettered the previous year’s output by nearly 100 yards per game.

It is an offense that in the staff’s final year in New Orleans posted the nation’s only 300-yard passing and 200-yard rushing attack on its way to an undefeated season. Tulane scored 40 or more points in seven games that season, including each of the last five regular season games.

Rodriguez said that with so many multiple defenses, offenses must go with the numbers.

“If the numbers are there to run it, you’ve got to run it. If the numbers are there to throw it, you’ve got to throw it,” he said. “A lot of people talk about it, but do they do it? We try to do it on every snap. It is easier for us to adhere to that because we call our plays so quickly and our tempo is so fast. Our kids understand our tempo and that is a big plus for us.”

The Tigers were learning the offense last year and the philosophy helped Clemson improve six spots in the ACC standings from 1998 to 1999 and earn a trip to the Peach Bowl. Clemson was the first school in ACC history to jump six places in the league standings. After a 6-6 finish that earned Tommy Bowden ACC Coach of the Year accolades, expectations are high at Clemson for even greater success.

“I feel very comfortable with what we are doing and I like what we are doing,” Bowden said. “I think we will eventually get better at it as we recruit players to fit this system and our players become knowledgeable enough with it.”

The promise of taking a step towards the next level has everyone in Clemson excited.

“What I’m excited about is when we get the highest talent level to match our system, I think we will be something special,” Rodriguez said. “We have talented players, but many were recruited for a different system.”

As for the Clemson offense being the offense of the future?

“I think we have enough flexibility and have researched the offense enough that it can be successful at all levels,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t know if we are ahead of the game. I think we are ahead of where we were last year and where we were two years ago. I think we have to constantly try to keep it on the cutting edge, but you still have to have players that will execute.”

“I don’t know,” Bowden added. “I think that is better for someone else to decide. Someone like Coach Walsh.”