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July 7, 2010

Ten scheme changes to watch in 2010

Numerous coaches are fond of saying results are about players, not about schemes. In other words, "It's about the Jessies and Joes, not the Xs and Os."

Nevertheless, coaches do change things around at times in an effort to wring more wins out of their talent.

To that end, here are 10 scheme changes we'll be most closely watching this season.

NOTRE DAME
The change: From a "traditional" pro set to a spread offense
The change: From a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 set
The buzz: One new coach can lead to a lot of changes, and Brian Kelly is a perfect example. He has installed his version of the spread, and also has switched the Irish to a 3-4 defense. Kelly doesn't ask his quarterbacks to run as much as "normal" spread quarterbacks, but the offensive tenets remain the same. Notre Dame was an effective passing team under Charlie Weis, and the Irish should become even more prolific under Kelly. Kelly also is a big believer in a fast-paced attack; he wants to run as many plays as possible. While the offense shouldn't have any issues switching schemes, the same can't be said for the defense. The Irish have lacked playmakers on that side of the ball; are there enough playmaking linebackers on the roster? And even with the switch to the 3-4, there's a lack of depth on the line. The one positive about that is that the lack of depth would've been termed "severe" if the Irish had remained a 4-3 team.
TEXAS
The change: From a version of the spread to a pro set
The buzz: The Longhorns weren't a true spread team, but they used a ton of zone-read plays the past few seasons, when Colt McCoy was quarterback. With McCoy gone to the NFL, coaches smartly realized they needed to change the offense to better fit Garrett Gilbert, who is more of a prototypical dropback passer. Unlike McCoy, who always was in the shotgun, Gilbert will line up under center and occasionally will have a fullback behind him. Texas coaches also plan to use an H-back more, and blocking schemes were changed in the spring in an attempt to get better run blocking. Expect a more physical Texas line this fall, which means you can expect the Texas running backs to be the determining factor in how much success the Longhorns enjoy this season.
GEORGIA
The change: From a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 set
The buzz: Raise your hand if you're already tired of hearing about Georgia's scheme change. Just as we thought -- a lot of raised hands. Still, there's no question that new coordinator Todd Grantham, who had been the Dallas Cowboys' defensive line coach, will be in the spotlight this season. The Bulldogs were 10th in the SEC in scoring defense last season, when they didn't force many turnovers. The hope is that putting four linebackers on the field makes this a faster and more productive unit. A big key is whether former E Justin Houston can adapt quickly to an outside linebacker role. Other concerns are whether there is enough quality depth at linebacker and whether there's a legit nose tackle on the roster. If everything breaks right for the Bulldogs, they should challenge for the SEC East title. If it doesn't, they could finish fourth in the division.
HOUSTON
The change: From a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 set
The buzz: Houston's offense should be the most productive in the nation, even with coordinator Dana Holgorsen gone to Oklahoma State. If new defensive coordinator Brian Stewart -- who spent last season with the Philadelphia Eagles as a defensive assistant after a two-season run as Dallas' defensive coordinator -- can improve his unit from "bad" to "mediocre," Houston will win Conference USA and conceivably could challenge for a BCS bid. The Cougars were atrocious against the run last season, when they lacked playmaking linebackers. That could mean it's going to take them a while to catch on to this new scheme, what with more linebackers now on the field.
TEXAS A&M
The change: From a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 set
The buzz: Back in prehistoric times -- you know, when A&M was really good -- the Aggies were known for their attacking, aggressive 3-4 defenses. "The Wrecking Crew" defense usually lived up to its nickname, wreaking havoc on opposing offenses with their linebackers. Coach Mike Sherman is trying to revisit those halcyon days by switching to a 3-4 scheme. New coordinator Tim DeRuyter oversaw some aggressive and opportunistic 3-4 units at Air Force. One problem this season might be a lack of enough talented linebackers. Then again, Von Miller should find the new scheme a huge boost -- and Miller is a guy who had 17 sacks last season.
MICHIGAN
The change: From a 4-3 defense to a 3-3-5 set
The buzz: Coach Rich Rodriguez had some solid defenses at West Virginia using the 3-3-5, and after two seasons of watching the Wolverines bumble and stumble on defense, he obviously decided to give up the ghost and switch to the 3-3-5. One problem: The secondary is extremely young and lacks depth, which could make things mighty interesting this season. On the other hand, Michigan's linebackers struggled mightily last season and Rodriguez's 3-3-5 asks them to make fewer reads, which -- theoretically, at least -- should lead to more production. While there are five defensive backs, two of the safeties will line up near the line of scrimmage, meaning the Wolverines will have eight men in the box. Michigan gave up 171.9 rushing yards per game last season, and coaches think the scheme change will help that number go down.
GEORGIA TECH
The change: From a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 set
The buzz: The new coordinator is former Virginia coach Al Groh, and his attraction to the 3-4 is an old one. Coach Paul Johnson has had great success with his version of the option, and Groh says the 3-4 is a huge plus when it comes to stopping offenses that look to spread out opponents. "It provides different options to play against all of the spread formations that we are dealing with," Groh said. "When you have four players [linebackers] standing up and able to make adjustments, it gives you more options than if you only had three linebackers standing up." Tech could have some depth issues at linebacker this season, but those gradually should ease.
VIRGINIA
The change: From a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 set
The buzz: One of the more interesting things here is that the new coach is Mike London, who had been the Cavs' defensive coordinator under Groh before a two-season stint at head coach at Richmond. Thus, a former coordinator who oversaw a successful 3-4 is changing to a 4-3. Also interesting is that teams that use a 3-4 often have trouble finding enough good defensive tackles. That's not the case for the Cavs, whose starters at tackle -- Matt Conrath and Nick Jenkins -- are two of their better defenders. Indeed, the Cavs' tackles are better than their linebackers.
LOUISIANA TECH
The change: From a "traditional" pro set to a spread offense
The buzz: New coach Sonny Dykes is a disciple of Mike Leach, and while Louisiana Tech isn't going to become Texas Tech, the Bulldogs are going to throw it a heck of a lot more than they did under former coach Derek Dooley. Under Dooley, the Bulldogs were more of a power running team, which made them stick out in the wide-open WAC. Dykes' offense is more in line with what others use in the league. On the one hand, it should lessen the pressure on the defense because the Bulldogs will more be more equipped to win some shootouts. On the other hand, the old Bulldogs offense was enough of an anomaly in the WAC that opposing defenses had to change their focus when they played Louisiana Tech.
THREE OTHERS TO WATCH: Illinois (dumping spread for a more conventional pro set); UTEP (from a 3-4 to a 4-3); Wyoming (from a 3-4 to a 4-3).



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