Tiller has watched offense spread

Purdue coach has put his own twist on 4- and 5-wide sets, with QB Painter at reins

December 28, 2006|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,Sun Reporter

Orlando, Fla. -- The exact origins are difficult to trace.

Maybe it started to catch on at the University of Wyoming in the late 1980s, where former coach Dennis Erickson left his playbook, a hodgepodge of X's and O's in a one-back spread offense scribbled inside.

It probably was conceived before that, though, an idea Erickson borrowed from the late Jack Elway, who tried to develop "the perfect offense" while an assistant at Washington State in the early 1970s.

One thing is certain. Purdue coach Joe Tiller was part of the evolution - and the success - of the spread offense, a scheme in which four- or five-wide receiver sets are used. What complicates Tiller's modern version is his occasional incorporation of the option, which isn't usually featured in a typical spread offense and adds an extra challenge for Maryland when the teams meet at 8 tomorrow night in the Champs Sports Bowl.

Maryland defensive coordinator Chris Cosh called Tiller a "pioneer" of the spread offense.

"He brought to a historically three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust [offense] in the Big Ten, he brought the spread offense - no backs, one back - and made that the norm and kind of made everybody take note," said Cosh, whose Terps were ninth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in total defense. "You've seen it all over the country now."

Tiller, who is in his 10th season at Purdue, said he gets too much credit as an innovator. He, Elway and Erickson all crossed paths early in their careers as the concept began to emerge. Tiller called Elway "the father of the spread offense at the collegiate level," but the two were assistants together at Washington State from 1971 to 1973.

John Elway's father used it when he was head coach at San Jose State, where Erickson was an assistant for three years. Tiller joined the staff at Wyoming as an assistant the season after Erickson left, and the new staff continued to use it.

"As coaches we always beg, borrow and steal from one another and the same is true with this offense," Tiller said. "We feel like we continue to learn more about the offense as we're around it."

Since then, it has grown in acceptance, and Purdue enters tomorrow's game with the top passing offense in the Big Ten and the league's top receiver in junior Dorien Bryant. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Curtis Painter leads the conference in total offense with 295.2 yards per game, but in this particular scheme, the quarterback makes a lot of short throws and doesn't require super arm strength to be successful.

Still, the Boilermakers have thrown the ball 57 percent of the time this season. Three receivers have caught at least 50 passes.

"These receivers have more passes thrown their way than Miss America has," Cosh said. "You can't just focus on one guy."

Bryant led the Big Ten with an average of 74.4 yards and 6.1 receptions per game.

"That's one of the good things about our offense," Painter said. "We've got a lot of guys in the receiving corps who can make plays. They've made plays all season long and really have done a great job. That's what makes our offense tough to defend sometimes."

Tiller said he likes the offense because it forces teams to defend the field laterally as well as vertically, and it doesn't require "dominant offensive linemen." The "bubble screen," he said, is just an extended handoff, like a lateral, which is what many of his designed throws are.

"If you're accurate, and you have a good head on your shoulders, you can think and process information quickly and get the ball to the right guy, you really don't need a cannon for an arm," Tiller said. "I think it's an easier offense to play in and it's an easier offense to execute."

The Boilermakers' pass offense was the best in the Big Ten with an average of 293.7 yards per game. Painter said it's not too difficult to learn, but that he did benefit from a redshirt season to learn from Kyle Orton, who upheld the program's tradition of strong quarterbacks.

"It's certainly an honor to be mentioned with some of these guys," Painter said. "I was fortunate enough to be here with Kyle Orton and learn under him my freshman year. ... He was a guy who was always in here late night hours watching film. I think that's the biggest thing I took from him."

Tiller said the offense is a scheme he would use regardless of whether others had picked up on it.

"It's very attractive," Tiller said. "I think it's even more so today than it was 20 years ago, maybe even 10 years ago. The offense certainly has become popular. Now in our conference everyone runs some form of it. It's filtered down to the high schools. It's fun, and that seems to be very important to the youth of today, that they can have some fun while they're doing this football thing."

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

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