Dissecting the Spread

Architect of Texas Tech's high-octane offense, coach Mike Leach reveals QB Graham Harrell's progressions in DOUBLE SLOT RIP Y-CROSS
August 10, 2008

TALK ABOUT theroad less traveled. As an undergraduate at BYU in the early 1980s Mike Leach(above) played rugby, not football. He ventured into coaching only afterearning his law degree at Pepperdine. "I was broke, so I went the routetaken by so many people just out of school," Leach says. "I got anotherdegree." In addition to being the coach of a club team in Finland, hisearly jobs were assistant positions at then Division II Cal Poly, a juco calledCollege of the Desert and the NAIA's Iowa Wesleyan. Among the programs thathave influenced him: the prodigious passing attack of BYU ("Jim McMahon maybe my alltime favorite quarterback," Leach says) and the wishbone as it wasrun by Air Force ("I like the way they get the ball to every skillposition").

Since Leachbrought his spread attack to Texas Tech in 2000, the Red Raiders have led thenation in passing five times and broken 190 NCAA, Big 12 and school records. Asa junior last season Graham Harrell led the country in passing yards with5,705, completed 71.8% of his attempts and threw for 48 TDs.

Asked to diagram atypical play, Leach selected Double Slot Rip Y-Cross, a four-receiver, one-backset, and broke down Harrell's progressions (numbered 1 through 5, right). Lastyear Tech ran this play 56 times out of various formations, completing it 36times and averaging 14.8 yards per catch.

4 SAY THE Willgoes to H, and the Mike flies out to the side where Y is running—although thatwould require a great deal of anticipation right at the snap—and the strongsafety comes down to help cover Y. Then we'd look to Z [wide receiver], who'sgoing to take an inside release against the corner, push it to 10 yards, stickhis toe in the ground, sell the post for five yards, stick his toe in theground again. He can settle at the top of the post, but he wants to settle inthe first hole he comes to or, if it's man coverage, keep running. If Y iscovered, there's a natural hole there.

5 EVEN THOUGH thiswould be ridiculously hard for a defense to do, if the Sam flies underneath theZ and the corner's taking away the outside, there's nobody to cover F [runningback], so the quarterback goes to him. F is also a safety valve. Sometimes thequarterback doesn't have time to go through all five reads. He may be on hissecond read, the guard gets beat, and he has to move out of the pocket. If theQB gets in trouble, he knows F's in the flat.

2 Y [SLOTRECEIVER] wants to run under the Sam [strongside linebacker] and over the Mike[middle linebacker] and sit in the first hole he comes to. If the defense is inman coverage, Y wants to keep running. If Y gets to the sideline, he wants tobe 18 to 22 yards deep.

3 NOW THAT thefree safety is covering X, if the Will [weakside linebacker] and the Mike godeep with Y, then there's nobody to cover H [slot receiver], who's running whatwe call a shoot route. Then the ball should go to H.

1 X [WIDEOUT] isgoing to outside release; the corner's going to run with him. If the freesafety stays on the hash mark, the quarterback wants to put the ball on theoutside shoulder of X. If the free safety comes off the hash to cover X, whichis likely, then the quarterback's eyes go to Y.


Leach emphasizes that Harrell doesn't wait until he hasset up in the pocket to start his progressions. "Presnap, he's got an ideawhether he's going to be able to throw it to X," the coach says. "Ifthe corner's way off, he knows his chances aren't very good. So at the snap, ifthe corner's off or the free safety comes off the hash, he knows he's done withX, so he goes to Y. If there's no hole there [for Y], he should be on H byabout the time he's set up. So he really only has two more reads to take careof.

"I think there's a misconception about thespread—that's it's based on some level of trickery. It's really not. If you'reany good at football, it's based on execution.

"The advantage you have is that your peoplepractice [the spread] more than the other guys can practice defending it. Sothe question becomes, can the defense make these choices faster than we can getthe ball to somebody who's single-covered and running a route with goodtechnique? It's asking a lot for a defense to process all that in a splitsecond."

And what if they can?

"Well, then," Leach says, "it's seconddown."


Tech's linemen are spaced two to four feet apart, whichis twice the gap of more conventional offenses and forces the defensive endsfarther outside. "It gives the defenders more space to get in," Leachsays, "but it gives us more time to react. They have to go farther to getto the quarterback. Yes, we've got more space to cover if they're stunting, butwe get to watch it for longer."