One of the best-known football mantras is “Defense wins championships.”
Through the first two weeks of the high school football season, local offenses have mastered the spread and read-option to challenge that notion.
“It’s like you have to defend 12 guys,” said Salado coach Brent Graham. “Back in the day, you didn’t have to account for the quarterback running the football unless it was a bootleg.”
The 11 teams the Herald covers put up a combined 710 points in the first two weeks, 217 more than the same span last year. Teams averaged 35.5 points per game, compared with 23.5 per game to start 2012.
Salado quarterback McLane Carter threw for 613 yards and eight touchdowns in Friday’s 75-67 loss at Lorena. Copperas Cove’s Manny Harris threw for 516, then 337 yards, and Temple quarterback Chad President had back-to-back 300-plus-yard performances in the first two weeks. There were 17 100-yard rushing performances and 10 200-yard passing performances.
Out of the spread, Belton running back Kavan Johnson ran for 211 yards in his team’s 56-46 loss to Stony Point.
“We try to use everybody we can,” Johnson said. “If you have the good runners ... you put them out wide and let them run. If you have good running backs in the backfield, you’re going to feed them in the hole and see what they can get. ... Wherever the hole is, that’s where you’re supposed to go.”
Expanding on traditional north-south attacks, spread offenses utilize the entire width and length of the field, creating big-play opportunities and wide running lanes, and necessitating more open-field tackles.
Belton’s formations can clear up-the-gut gaps and free up receivers, Johnson said. Stony Point’s swarming defense allowed cutbacks for big gains.
“They’re fast,” Johnson said. “They’re moving, so they can’t slow down very well.”
The spread might force defenses to use more risk, intelligence, athleticism and disguised blitzes, Belton coach Rodney Southern said. Belton focused on limiting receiver Justin Gamble’s production, but left other areas exposed.
“Defense now has got to be successful, but the definition of success may be a little different,” Southern said. “It may be holding teams to 30 versus 10. People used to want to go in and say, ‘We want to pitch a shutout this week.’ That’s hard against anybody nowadays.”
In modern formations, versatile quarterbacks often line up in the shotgun, opening their field of vision, Southern said.
“Our quarterback’s not just coming in zone reading,” he said. “He’s got a zone-read, he’s got a bubble screen, and he’s got a backside slant. He’s got three plays. Which one are you going to take away?”
Graham is coaching his team to control gaps and make open-field tackles.
Asked if defenses still win championships, he said:
“Absolutely. In today’s day and age, you got to be able to score points. ... You see that in teams that are deep playoff teams. They’re able to get the ball back for their offense, so that’s our goal.”
Defensive-minded Harker Heights coach Jerry Edwards said as defenses start to adapt to the zone-read, offenses are bringing tight ends back into formations.
“Offenses go up tempo to get you tired and to make mental mistakes, not to outscheme you,” he said.
Dominating time of possession is important to Edwards, who runs an old-school power offense.
“If you ask a defensive coach, they would prefer a grind-it-out type team,” he said.
“Your best defense is a good offense. I’m a pound-it-and-ground-it kind of guy.”