Prep football preview: Offenses evolving, points aplenty

Prep football preview: Offenses evolving, points aplenty


Prep football preview: Offenses evolving, points aplenty


When Reed outlasted Carson, 47-39, in last season’s Division I North championship game, longtime football fans could have been forgiven for wondering where all that offense came from.

Doesn’t “defense win championships,” as one of the sport’s oldest expressions goes? Why were the league’s two best teams combining to score 86 points and have three players easily eclipse 100 yards rushing? Especially in a championship game played on a cold, blustery night?

As it turns out, though, the Div. I North championship game, while providing an above-average display of offense, was really not that far out of the ordinary in the rapidly-evolving world of high school football.

Nationwide, yardage totals have steadily risen for at least the past 10 years. And, according to one comprehensive study, the state of Nevada is one of the nation’s scoring leaders.

The game, as it always has at every level, continues to evolve and change. Offense is in. More coaches than ever are looking to open up the field and get the ball to their best athletes any way they can.

Twenty or 30 years ago, scoring 39 points would have been enough to win most high school football games. Now, it’s not surprising to score that high and still come up a touchdown short.

The spread

There’s no single reason for the increased offensive output at the high school level. It’s more a case of some bigger and some smaller factors, often influencing each other.

But there’s one major change in the way the game is being played that cannot be denied — the rise of the spread offense and its variations.

The spread can be run at any level, does not require overwhelming size or a large roster and relies on simple principles to put constant pressure on the defense. By literally trying to spread the field and create open spaces, offenses are looking to exploit mismatches and give their best athletes room to maneuver.

The result, when run with efficiency, is an offense that constantly challenges defenders to make the correct read and to tackle well in open space. When those things don’t happen, the yards and the points can pile up.

“I think you have a lot of really athletic kids, and that’s the whole purpose of the spread: Allowing you to put them out in space and take advantage of their athletic abilities,” Reed coach Ernie Howren said. “I also believe kids are smarter today in their grasping of the spread concepts.”

Variations on the spread can be seen on Friday nights in Northern Nevada. Reed’s spread-option offense — which has helped the team break 40 points 30 times during its three-year run as the Division I North champion — is probably the most well-known. But smaller schools can adopt spread-like tactics, as well. Fallon, for one, attacks out of a Pistol-like offense that has many spread characteristics.

“It’s really just trying to spread the field, get the ball to the athletes in space and let them go make plays,” said Fallon coach Brooke Hill, whose team scored 47 or more points in its first eight games last season. “You couple that with your quarterback now running, and you really still get a two-back system. Ten years ago, you didn’t have to account for the quarterback in the run game. Now, you’ve really got to account for that guy. That’s changed the dynamic of the game.”

Not everyone in Northern Nevada is running a spread offense, of course. There are still plenty of schools, especially in the smaller divisions, where power-running games or more traditional quarterback-under-center offenses are in place.

But whatever the offensive game plans are, they seem to be working. A study earlier this year found that Nevada ranked fourth in the nation in average combined points per game in 2013, with 53.74 points scored per game. Nevada trailed only Texas (55.48), Arizona (53.93) and Oregon (53.85) in the rankings, which covered all 50 states and Washington, D.C. The data came from more than 77,000 11-man football games.

“Those teams that run the Wing-T and understand the Wing-T concepts — they’re just as scary as any spread team that you would face,” Howren said.

The athletes and the tech

Today’s average high school football player is better prepared, has a broader understanding of the game and is likely in better overall shape than his counterparts from 30, 20 or 10 years ago.

Year-round conditioning and specialized summer camps also have become a norm, and players are taking advantage of it. Talk to area football coaches and they will tell you that today’s players are in shape throughout the year, have a solid background in diet and nutrition and are so well-versed in the game that picking up new concepts or executing tricky plays is not a huge challenge.

It’s that last part that has helped spur the rise of offensive numbers nationwide over the past 10 years. At its basic level, defense is still about reacting. But offense, based on timing and precision, is still more about execution. The quicker a team can become comfortable with a precision offense — the spread, for instance — and make it second nature, the more the results will show on the scoreboard.

“The athletes are (better) trained, with all the time we put in,” Damonte Ranch coach Shawn Dupris said. “The schemes and the systems are able to be in place because of (extra work), mainly in the summer.”

Technology also has played a role. The era of waiting many days to finally receive grainy game film is over for most teams. Better video technology and specialized services devoted to high school sports have combined to make it possible for players and coaches to often have easy — and quick — access to individual plays and entire games.

That sort of review process is vital for both sides of the ball, but is especially helpful for offenses looking to break down parts of a play at very specific points.

“I think that’s really stepped up,” Dupris said of the technological options available. “When we were playing, with the VCR tapes, it would take you two hours to watch 20 clips. Now, you can go from film to film to film in two seconds. We tell (players) all the time: ‘You guys don’t understand the luxury you have.'”

The changing game

That offensive numbers are up at the high school level is a reflection of the changing nature of football at every level.

The game is faster in 2014 than it was in 1994 or 1974. Offenses are running more plays, out of more formations, than ever before, with the overriding modern philosophy being, “Attack the defense.” Three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust seems quaint when it’s common to see a simple fake handoff out of a spread formation result in a 25-yard gain.

In the NFL, scoring has increased to 23.4 average points per team per game in 2013, compared to 20.8 in 2003 and 18.7 in 1993. At the NCAA Division I level, scoring also has been on the rise, from 24.4 average points per team per game in 1993, to 26.9 in 2003, to 29.4 last season.

And that trend has filtered down to the high school level, where a study found that high school teams increased their per-game rushing yardage from an average of 181.9 yards in 2006 to 193.7 in 2013, along with increasing their average passing yardage from 104.8 to 122.3 in the same span.

The influence trickling down from the professional to the collegiate to the high school level is not much of a surprise with television. More games at more levels on more channels are available than ever before. A player can play on Friday night, watch college football all day Saturday, then gorge on the NFL on Sunday and Monday. And what they’re seeing, more often than not, is fast, efficient, cutting-edge offenses in action.

“These guys are learning it in high school, watching it in college (games) and watching it in the pros,” Howren said. “Anytime they turn on the TV, there’s a (offensive) lesson somewhere in there where they can learn something.”


Six games between Division I North teams finished with 90 or more combined points last season:

Sept 27: Reed 64, Carson 26

Oct. 4: Spanish Springs 61, Hug 34

Oct. 18: Reed 59, North Valleys 40

Nov. 1: Reed 63, Spanish Springs 28

Nov. 8: Carson 55, Spanish Springs 42*

Nov. 15: Reed 53, Galena 44*

* playoff game


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