NFL game fits Spurrier just fine
By By Stan Torgerson / sports columnist
Aug. 13, 2002
John Madden said something on a Monday night football broadcast during the recent Houston Texans-New York Giants game that caught my ear.
He and Al Michaels were talking about Steve Spurrier and his chances of becoming a successful a coach in the NFL, as successful as he had been at Florida.
"Football has been changing," Madden said. "In the past coaches always used the pass to set up the running game. Now more and more coaches are realizing they have to using the running game to set up the pass."
In other words the pass is becoming the most used weapon in football, the backbone of a team's offense and more and more coaches in pro football are seeing it that way. If you can't successfully pass the football you can't win consistently by just having a strong ground game.
Madden argues that the forward pass was the key to Spurrier's success in college and it will enable him to win in the pros. Three yards and a cloud of dust is out. Forty passes a game more or slightly less is in.
We went to the record book and it appears Madden was right.
Last year's Florida team (10-2) gained 1,346 net yards rushing the football but picked up 4,457 yards throwing it. That's three-and-half times more. The Gators gained 84 first downs rushing but 194 passing. More than double.
In 12 games Spurrier's team threw 464 passes or slightly less than 40 per game. They completed 299 of them. That's about 65 percent.
We compared those stats with Mississippi State, a team not famous for its aerial game. The 'Dogs (3-8) won only three games last year, gained 1,415 yards on the ground but only 2,364 through the air, over 2,000 less than Florida. They had 86 first downs rushing, only 93 passing. MSU threw only 355 times, 109 less than UF and completed only 187, That's 112 under the Florida mark.
So then we turned to Ole Miss. With Eli Manning at quarterback you'd expect they would have gaudy passing statistics. In fact, they're better than the Bulldogs, but they are not gaudy.
The Rebels running totaled 1,587 yards, 241 more than the Gators. But even with Manning under center they gained only 2,978 yards through the air, nearly 1,500 behind Spurrier's team. In first downs Ole Miss earned 105 on the ground, 141 by passing, 53 less than Florida. Ole Miss threw 417 times and completed 263. Obviously Spurrier liked his quarterbacks to throw deep while the Rebels liked the short pass better.
One final look. LSU won the Western Conference and the overall SEC title. They too passed, and passed deep. The Tigers had 1,840 rushing, 3,578 passing, had 88 first downs on the ground and 155 through the air. They threw the ball 411 times, six less than Ole Miss but gained 600 yards more.
Madden may have something there. If he's right, the quarterbacks are more important than ever. Perhaps we should take a second look at the SEC's potential for 2002.
The league's standout quarterbacks are Manning, Rex Grossman of Florida and Casey Clausen of Tennessee.
In 2001 Manning completed 63.5 percent. Grossman completed 65.6 percent of his passes. Clausen had a 64.1 percent completion rate. Every prediction we've seen has Florida and Tennessee among the nation's best, partly because of their situations at quarterback. But if Madden is correct, the Rebels are being underrated.
If coach David Cutcliffe turns Manning loose, and he may well do that with the receiving corps Ole Miss has coming back, Manning is going to win games another team might not lose. If one of the talented running backs on the Reb's roster has the ability to set up the passing game, Ole Miss could be better than the third place in which the coaches' poll said they would finish.
There are two other quarterbacks who command some respect although they are not in the Manning, Grossman and Clausen class.
One is Alabama's Tyler Watts. He threw 172 times last year, completing 94 or 54.7 percent. Good but not up to the top three.
The other is Jared Lorenzen at Kentucky. His completion record last year was 57.2, really somewhat amazing since he played with a bad team which won only two games and a team which will be equally bad this year. This kid has pro possibilities, but it won't because of his college years, but rather in spite of them.
If Spurrier is right, then Madden is right. And if Madden is right the coaches who still want to primarily run the ball are not necessarily wrong. Just old-fashioned.