In a perfect world, we could find something we like, and stick with it forever without having to change the slightest thing. Wouldn’t that be great? Comedians could memorize one or two shows’ worth of jokes, and simply use repeat them every time they grab a microphone, as if on autopilot. Lawyers could get acquainted with one set of laws and simply perform at work from memory as opposed to having to research the newest modifications to those laws. And football coaches could run the same plays over and over again without having to get creative (I’m talking to you, Steve Addazio).
But that’s not how life works. Things change all the time. Big things, small things, medium things, important things, trivial things, anything, really. Other than death, taxes, and Will Muschamp losing games he shouldn’t, there are absolutely no constants in the world. Comedians constantly have to find new material, often working with what recent events give them. Lawyers are always rushing to teach themselves about the continually changing laws, or they are required to attend conferences to have somebody else do it for them (and that’s a shout out to my dad, because he’s the one who flies around the country speaking at these conferences). And as we learned with Steve Addazio and then Will Muschamp, if you try to do the same damned thing every play, your team is wholly screwed (blunt, sure, but true).
Let me take you back to 2005, when Urban Meyer, and more importantly in this case, Dan Mullen arrived in Gainesville. Mullen was the last competent offensive coordinator Florida has had, and he was the reason the Gators’ offense clicked throughout Meyer’s tenure. Meyer’s three best offenses came under Mullen, in 2006-2008 (and you could argue that 2005 was Meyer’s fourth best offense from a coaching standpoint, because the 2009 offense was only as good as it was due to sheer talent) and that’s far from a coincidence.
Part of the reason Mullen was so successful was that he would add a new wrinkle to the offense almost every week. First it was the installation of a fullback to the offense, then it was the Tebow package, the Andre Caldwell reverse, shovel pass, and so on. Mullen frequently had something new for each (somewhat tough) opponent, and more often than not, it became a permanent staple in the offense. The other thing Mullen would do exceptionally well was adjust his play-calling based on the looks from the opposing defense. If the defense stacked the box to stop the Tebow run, Mullen would punish them by throwing over the top with four wideouts. If the defense stayed back to try to stop the bomb, Mullen would move the speed to the backfield by swapping speedy wideouts like Louis Murphy for speedy running backs like Jeff Demps, and torch them in the option game.
The well coached and talented offense will defeat the well coached and talented defense every single time for the simple reason that the offensive personnel knows what is going to happen and the defense doesn’t. Because Dan Mullen always stayed one step ahead of opposing defenses, the Gators were able to run teams out of the building. How good the other team’s defense was became immaterial once Mullen settled in with his play calling.
And so the task falls on McElwain to do the exact same thing Mullen once did in Gainesville- always be one step ahead of the opposing defense.
With McElwain and (and his current offensive coordinator/Alabama OC successor) Doug Nussmeier calling the plays for the Crimson Tide, Alabama went 72-9. That’s doing something right. Or lots of things right.
McElwain has a history of simplifying the offense to benefit less than stellar QB’s, and it usually pays off in spades. Cases in point: John Parker Wilson (2008), Greg McElroy (2009-2010) and AJ McCarron (2011). Of those three, only McCarron’s playing career remains alive today, if by the slimmest of margins. And the one year McElwain coached McCarron was his freshman year. So there you have two moderately talented QB’s, and a sophomore QB starting for the first time; that’s a less than rosy way to summarize his quarterback situation at Alabama, but that’s probably how he would summarize it, too, if you fed him truth serum.
What he did have at Alabama were running backs, and good ones at that. Glen Cofee, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddy Lacy made game planning so much easier for McElwain- just give them the ball and get out of the way. Every now and then, he’d call for a pass because you kind of have to, but more often than not, it would be a safe throw just to get his QB some confidence and to get the defense to back off. There would eventually come a time in every big game where his QB would have to make a big play through the air, and his QB would make that big play every single time (having Julio Jones for three years certainly made it easier). But having to make one big play a game is a lot easier than having to make ten of them, which is what some college QB’s are expected to do in various offenses…
The point is this. McElwain is one of the best at exploiting mismatches, utilizing what he has to the best of his ability and picking on opponents’ weaknesses. We know he’s good at game planning, and calling a game’s opening drive. But the opening drive is not the only drive of the game, and just because he has a new QB coming in doesn’t mean he can ever try to hide him. In order to really win at Florida, he will have to do more than just call a game to best suit the personnel he has. He will have to do all in his power to constantly keep the defense on its heels, all while making sure that he’s running plays that he knows his offense is capable of executing.
How will he compensate for having a young offensive line? What will he do if the defense crowds the box and dares Will Grier to throw if the offensive line is getting manhandled? What will his game plan be to free up DeMarcus Robinson if teams double team him?
How he’s able to answer these questions, and more like them, on the fly will go a long way