College football spread offenses: Who spreads defenses out the most?

Bill Snyder, master of the spread. - Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

60 solo tackles, no assists.

Each Sunday during the college football season, I go through each FBS box score to pick out oddities, trends, great (or terrible) performances, etc., and I occasionally come across something that startles me.

On September 7 in Lubbock, Texas Tech beat Stephen F. Austin, 61-13, in a mostly unremarkable "decent team whips FCS opponent" affair. Jace Amaro caught eight passes for 142 yards, and Tech's two freshman quarterbacks had a solid game, but for the most part this game was less than memorable.

But SFA's defensive stats caught my eye: The Lumberjacks did not record a single assisted tackle. Not one.

The word "spread" has come to describe about 38 different styles of offense in college football. If you line your tight end up detached from the line, you're a spread. If you utilize mostly four wideouts, you're a spread. Hell, if your quarterback lines up mostly in the shotgun, you're a spread. These all have kernels of truth in them, but at this point, the spread has mostly lost its meaning. Saying a team runs a "spread" offense tells you almost nothing about what kind of offense the team actually runs.

At its heart, though, the spread ethos is about putting playmakers in space and giving them room to make plays. It originally developed as an underdog tactic of sorts, as a way to spread out and harry more talented defenses and hopefully force some mistakes. But there is a certain level of tactical superiority to the idea, and after a while, a lot of the most talented teams in the country began to employ more and more spread tactics.

But who actually spread you out the most in 2013? Whether a team is actually doing it well or not, the spread is designed to create numbers advantages and get the ball-carrier away from a mass of tacklers. That often leads to solo tackles. So which offensive systems led to the most solo tackles?

First, we'll test this method by looking at full-conference results. (I'm also including average Off. and Def. F/+ ratings for each conference, just in case there's some correlation to be made there.)

Conference Solo Assist %Solo Avg. Off. F/+ Avg. Def. F/+
Big 12 5906 1471.0 80.1% +3.5% +6.1%
Pac-12 7011 2171.5 76.4% +7.8% +7.8%
Sun Belt 4082 1354.5 75.1% -7.3% -8.7%
Big Ten 6386 2199.0 74.4% +3.3% +4.3%
ACC 7587 2616.0 74.4% +2.0% +4.5%
AAC 4958 1759.0 73.8% -2.6% +0.7%
Mountain West 6704 2456.5 73.2% -1.2% -6.4%
SEC 7350 2725.5 72.9% +8.6% +6.0%
Conference USA 6970 2859.0 70.9% -7.1% -5.0%
MAC 5929 2962.0 66.7% -8.3% -8.9%

The correlations here are minimal. The three best conferences in college football were the two at the top of this list and the one third from bottom. The two worst conferences were third from the top and at the very bottom. This seems relatively well-separated from any conversations about quality. It also seems to make general sense; the Big 12 and Pac-12 are indeed home of a lot of the country's most well-known spread offenses, and even though teams like Texas A&M, Auburn, Ole Miss, and Missouri thrived using variations of the spread last season, the SEC is still considered one of the more old-school, pro-style conferences in college football. (Meanwhile ... what happened to you, MAC? I don't even know you anymore.)

So let's go to the team list. Which teams created a style that led to the most solo tackles? No. 1 might surprise you.

Offense Solo Assist %Solo Rk Off. F/+ Rk
Kansas State 596 79.5 88.2% 1 14.4% 14
Texas Tech 721 103.0 87.5% 2 12.3% 20
Arizona State 758 129.0 85.5% 3 17.7% 11
Baylor 700 135.0 83.8% 4 20.5% 4
Indiana 582 113.0 83.7% 5 14.0% 16
Purdue 451 93.0 82.9% 6 -14.6% 113
Temple 531 112.0 82.6% 7 -0.2% 63
Fresno State 700 151.0 82.3% 8 9.9% 27
Wake Forest 475 106.0 81.8% 9 -12.9% 112
Syracuse 637 144.0 81.6% 10 -5.6% 83
Miami 532 121.0 81.5% 11 17.3% 12
Ole Miss 643 153.0 80.8% 12 5.3% 41
UL-Lafayette 569 139.0 80.4% 13 -1.5% 66
Georgia Tech 616 151.5 80.3% 14 8.3% 31
West Virginia 548 136.0 80.1% 15 -7.2% 92
Nevada 632 157.0 80.1% 16 3.5% 48
UCLA 635 158.5 80.0% 17 14.4% 15
TCU 508 127.0 80.0% 18 -7.9% 94
Texas State 513 129.0 79.9% 19 -18.6% 120
Oklahoma State 598 151.5 79.8% 20 10.2% 26
Colorado 535 137.0 79.6% 21 -6.7% 87
Georgia State 461 119.0 79.5% 22 -14.8% 115
Memphis 515 135.0 79.2% 23 -11.8% 107
Washington State 544 143.0 79.2% 24 1.5% 54
Kentucky 508 136.0 78.9% 25 -3.3% 74
Offense Solo Assist %Solo Rk Off. F/+ Rk
California 620 166.5 78.8% 26 -6.7% 88
Penn State 562 151.0 78.8% 27 -3.1% 72
Troy 555 150.0 78.7% 28 0.3% 62
Hawaii 575 156.0 78.7% 29 -8.9% 98
Clemson 655 178.5 78.6% 30 13.0% 19
Iowa State 572 159.0 78.2% 31 -5.1% 81
Idaho 611 170.0 78.2% 32 -17.4% 117
Arizona 652 183.0 78.1% 33 10.4% 25
Oregon State 596 169.0 77.9% 34 6.5% 36
South Carolina 583 167.0 77.7% 35 20.2% 5
Florida 499 145.0 77.5% 36 -8.9% 99
Florida International 466 135.5 77.5% 37 -24.0% 124
Missouri 623 182.0 77.4% 38 13.3% 17
Middle Tennessee 567 166.0 77.4% 39 -4.9% 79
Florida State 562 165.0 77.3% 40 21.5% 3
Kansas 521 153.0 77.3% 41 -18.5% 119
UL-Monroe 475 140.0 77.2% 42 -11.2% 104
North Carolina 584 173.0 77.1% 43 6.8% 35
Louisville 569 171.0 76.9% 44 11.8% 23
SMU 531 164.0 76.4% 45 -2.8% 71
Boise State 640 198.0 76.4% 46 3.9% 47
Akron 481 153.0 75.9% 47 -14.7% 114
Oregon 572 183.0 75.8% 48 20.0% 6
Ohio State 609 197.0 75.6% 49 22.1% 2
Florida Atlantic 512 166.0 75.5% 50 -7.9% 95
Offense Solo Assist %Solo Rk Off. F/+ Rk
Northwestern 542 176.0 75.5% 51 -2.1% 67
Michigan 535 175.0 75.4% 52 5.3% 40
Georgia 547 180.0 75.2% 53 18.7% 8
Washington 603 200.5 75.0% 54 12.1% 22
Southern Miss 438 147.0 74.9% 55 -19.8% 121
Pittsburgh 499 167.5 74.9% 56 0.6% 58
Western Kentucky 526 177.5 74.8% 57 -5.5% 82
UNLV 560 190.0 74.7% 58 -5.7% 84
Maryland 510 174.0 74.6% 59 -3.6% 75
Navy 597 204.0 74.5% 60 8.2% 32
Tennessee 490 168.0 74.5% 61 -6.8% 89
East Carolina 603 208.0 74.4% 62 7.4% 34
Wyoming 522 181.0 74.3% 63 -4.0% 77
Army 551 193.0 74.1% 64 -2.7% 70
Rice 601 211.0 74.0% 65 -2.4% 69
Auburn 627 224.0 73.7% 66 19.5% 7
Oklahoma 552 202.0 73.2% 67 12.2% 21
Connecticut 450 166.0 73.1% 68 -11.9% 109
Wisconsin 522 193.0 73.0% 69 9.5% 28
South Florida 380 141.0 72.9% 70 -20.5% 123
Mississippi State 555 206.0 72.9% 71 2.9% 50
San Diego State 546 203.0 72.9% 72 -10.8% 102
Boston College 496 185.0 72.8% 73 2.9% 49
USC 557 208.0 72.8% 74 6.5% 37
Houston 529 198.0 72.8% 75 -2.3% 68
Offense Solo Assist %Solo Rk Off. F/+ Rk
BYU 630 237.0 72.7% 76 2.8% 51
Iowa 547 207.0 72.5% 77 0.5% 60
Texas 590 225.0 72.4% 78 4.1% 46
Northern Illinois 635 242.5 72.4% 79 4.2% 45
Texas A&M 539 206.0 72.3% 80 24.0% 1
Central Florida 495 191.0 72.2% 81 16.4% 13
New Mexico 483 193.5 71.4% 82 0.6% 59
Nebraska 536 218.0 71.1% 83 0.4% 61
UTSA 459 187.0 71.1% 84 0.9% 56
Minnesota 511 209.0 71.0% 85 -3.2% 73
Tulane 482 199.0 70.8% 86 -11.6% 105
Virginia 540 228.0 70.3% 87 -11.9% 108
San Jose State 505 214.0 70.2% 88 9.0% 29
Buffalo 527 226.5 69.9% 89 -6.6% 86
UAB 459 199.5 69.7% 90 -4.8% 78
Vanderbilt 513 223.5 69.7% 91 1.4% 55
Louisiana Tech 465 204.0 69.5% 92 -15.1% 116
Alabama 466 207.0 69.2% 93 17.8% 10
Illinois 476 212.0 69.2% 94 5.7% 39
Miami (Ohio) 407 184.0 68.9% 95 -25.9% 125
New Mexico State 498 225.5 68.8% 96 -12.8% 111
Bowling Green 538 244.0 68.8% 97 5.9% 38
Air Force 474 219.0 68.4% 98 -1.1% 64
South Alabama 466 217.5 68.2% 99 0.7% 57
Kent State 441 207.0 68.1% 100 -7.0% 90
Offense Solo Assist %Solo Rk Off. F/+ Rk
Cincinnati 520 251.0 67.4% 101 2.3% 53
Colorado State 552 268.0 67.3% 102 -3.7% 76
Marshall 527 257.5 67.2% 103 8.6% 30
Michigan State 513 255.0 66.8% 104 4.8% 43
Tulsa 466 232.0 66.8% 105 -12.2% 110
NC State 514 256.0 66.8% 106 -9.7% 100
Utah 456 228.0 66.7% 107 5.1% 42
North Texas 506 260.0 66.1% 108 -5.0% 80
Rutgers 438 230.0 65.6% 109 -7.1% 91
Central Michigan 401 211.0 65.5% 110 -11.8% 106
Duke 523 279.0 65.2% 111 7.5% 33
Toledo 435 233.0 65.1% 112 2.6% 52
Notre Dame 416 223.0 65.1% 113 11.6% 24
Arkansas State 517 282.5 64.7% 114 -8.2% 96
Stanford 483 266.0 64.5% 115 13.3% 18
Western Michigan 392 220.0 64.1% 116 -18.3% 118
Ohio 463 265.0 63.6% 117 -9.7% 101
Eastern Michigan 404 235.5 63.2% 118 -11.2% 103
LSU 423 260.0 61.9% 119 18.0% 9
Utah State 515 326.0 61.2% 120 -7.4% 93
Ball State 428 276.5 60.8% 121 4.7% 44
Virginia Tech 444 287.5 60.7% 122 -5.9% 85
UTEP 419 286.5 59.4% 123 -8.6% 97
Massachusetts 377 264.0 58.8% 124 -19.8% 122
Arkansas 334 268.0 55.5% 125 -1.5% 65

Here are the top 15 games in terms of Solo Tackle Rate.

1. Texas Tech vs. SFA: 100%
2. Nevada vs. BYU: 98.6%
3. Ole Miss vs. Texas A&M: 98.2%
4. Temple vs. UConn: 98.0%
5. Kansas State vs. TCU: 98.0%
6. Kansas State vs. Texas Tech: 97.9%
7. Temple vs. Louisville: 97.9%
8. UConn vs. Temple: 97.8%
9. Navy vs. Western Kentucky: 97.6%
10. North Carolina vs. Georgia Tech: 97.4%
11. Texas Tech vs. Oklahoma State: 97.2%
12. Texas Tech vs. Texas State: 96.7%
13. Clemson vs. Syracuse: 96.6%
14. Syracuse vs. Pittsburgh: 96.4%
15. Texas Tech vs. Kansas State: 96.1%

Obviously defensive style could come into play here; a team that plays a soft, wide zone could swarm to the ball and make assisted tackles more than a Michigan State type that puts its defensive backs on islands more frequently. But we're looking at offenses here, so even if you played Michigan State, you only played them once in 12-13 games. That's not going to impact that sample all that much. This measure tells a whole lot more about the offense's design than a given defense's.

For the most part, this list makes sense. You've got spread stalwarts (Texas Tech, Baylor, Indiana, Ole Miss, West Virginia) at or near the top, and you've got teams with grind-it-out identities (Arkansas, Stanford, LSU) at or near the bottom.

But the list is not without surprises. Notre Dame getting that close to the bottom of the list was a bit startling to me -- obviously the Irish aren't a hurry-up, no-huddle specialist, but I would have expected them to finish more toward the middle. Meanwhile, spread stalwart Texas A&M actually had a lower rate of solo tackles than Texas.

The most interesting team on the list might be right at the very top, however. Kansas State was the most spread-'em-out team in the land according to this method. That seems quite strange, at least until you read what Mike Nixon wrote about KSU back in 2012.

No matter what the defenses throw at them, the Wildcats can adjust and exploit the holes of the defense. Mixing in a balance of traditional offset I-formations, single-back two tight end formations, several three-, four-, and five- wide spread variations, and even a dose of the Wildcat, KSU creates endless headaches for opposing coaches.

Even better yet, the Wildcats are extremely balanced in their run/pass splits out of each formation. While some teams become extremely predictable when they line-up in particular formations, KSU seems to do an incredible job of self-scouting to ensure they do not fall into any formation tendencies and become predictable. Whether it’s a strong play-action game out of the offset I-Formation or running a quarterback lead draw out of a shotgun spread formation, the Wildcats make sure opponents are threatened across the board in every formation they show.

The Air Raid gets the attention, but KSU creates a spread ethos in a way that includes a lot of tight ends and fullbacks (and about two good receivers). The Wildcats are incredibly unique, and considering they ranked 14th in Off. F/+ in their first year after Collin Klein left, it appears they know what they're doing.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Football Study Hall

You must be a member of Football Study Hall to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Football Study Hall. You should read them.

Join Football Study Hall

You must be a member of Football Study Hall to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Football Study Hall. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9341_tracker