FOOTBALL TALK WITH OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR JIM HOFHER

Part 2 of a 2-part series

72 Hen, GoHens.net special correspondent
March 3, 2010

This is the conclusion of our interview with Coach Hofher. In this part we focus on the spread offense and coaching philosophies.

GoHens: OK, let's move away from the recruiting questions and talk a little about the spread offense. What is it about the spread offense that you like the most?

Hofher: The spread offense is a good way, at the moment, for an offense to attack a defense. There are a lot of things that come into play. For example, the hash marks in college are different than the hash marks either in high school or in professional football. The hash marks can dictate in many ways your use of formations. They can also dictate what defenses will do because of how much they have to defend on the wide side of the field. In general terms it is tougher to defend large spaces than it is to defend small spaces.

Before going any further about he spread offense let me talk about spread formations. They are different. Spread formations or the shotgun really tend to expand the alignment of the defense. So by its very nature, spread formations are going to make defenses defend bigger spaces. The more they have to defend, the more difficult it is for them to defend.

"...you can be a great running team in the spread or you could be a great passing team in the spread."

The spread offense isn't always an offense that always throws the ball. It's really quite the contrary. The greater space you can create can help your running game. The players that you have determine how you morph the spread. Some spread offenses are very option oriented. Some spread offenses are very pass oriented. There is a big difference between the spread offense at Florida and the spread offense at Texas Tech. However, many of the formations are the same. So what a coach does is morph his offense according to the skills of your offense and maybe in particular to the skills of your quarterback. So you can be a great running team in the spread or you could be a great passing team in the spread. It just depends on what your talents are.

GoHens: Keeping to this line of thought, let me ask you about spread sets. At the start of last season I noticed that we were using the widest line splits that I have ever seen at Delaware. Did that change toward the end of the season or did I just get used to those splits?

Hofher: It didn't change. Those line sets are part and parcel to the schemes that we run. If you look at the best spread offense teams in the country, you will see everything. Some teams use wider splits. Some are closer. Some teams have linemen in down stances. Some have linemen in two point stances. It seems as though every team has a different opinion about their line splits.

GoHens: On running plays last year, it seemed to me that we were much more effective on quick hitting plays than on the hesitation play that we used particularly in the beginning of the season. In fact as the season went along, it seemed that the hesitation hand-off seemed to be used less and less. Am I correct on that?

"...it can take as much as a year to examine what we did well versus what we should eliminate."

Hofher: No, I wouldn't necessarily say that. We have a variety of different metrics in which we can measure both our pass game and our run game. This evaluation is still ongoing. We are measuring every play and every group of plays. We were probably more efficient in some aspect of our running game in certain schemes than we originally thought. When you install something new, it can take as much as a year to examine what we did well versus what we should eliminate. So as we study the film from last year and see the things that we did well, our job is to incorporate more of the things we did well and to eliminate what we didn't do very well.

GoHens: There is a question that continues to come up on the GoHens website. With the No-Huddle Offense, why is it that we don't snap the ball before the defense gets set? Why don't we do this at least several times each game?

Hofher: When we line up we can see if a blitz is coming and we might change our original call. Sometimes the defense might be out of position where a different play would work better. However, there are more times than you know that we made a singular call and ran the ball. There is a difference between being quick and being in a hurry. Sometimes being quick can create errors because offensive football is assignment football. Another thing is that there is always a weakness in the way a defense lines up. By taking your time you can make assignment adjustments to take advantage of that weakness. The weakness could be a particular position or personnel. The weakness could be in an open space. In this day and age, with what we call zone blitzing, there is always a hole somewhere. You would always like to see where that blitz is coming from. There are clues, by alignment, from the defense that it's coming.

Let me ask you a question. Do you know what team has won the most games in the NFL since 2000?

GoHens: I don't.

Hofher: The Indianapolis Colts. In fact they are the only team in NFL history to win at least 12 games for 7 consecutive years. If you watch that team, they motion very little. They shift very little. They would like to see the opponent's defensive alignment and then either stick with the play or change the play. But they do very little in terms of trying to be too quick. They would rather see where the defense lines up. They would rather see where the weak spot is in the defensive alignment.

GoHens: Coach Keeler said that we had done a lot of preseason work featuring Josh Baker and that we had planned for him to have a major role in last year's offense. Looking back, was there a lesson to be learned spending so much time game-planning around the skills of one player?

Hofher: Oh, I don't think Coach Keeler was intimating that the entire thing changed drastically. You know Josh Baker is a very highly talented football player. What he allowed us was quite a bit of creativity. But it could never really be exposed due to the fact that he got injured eight minutes into the first quarter of the first game. As coaches you plan for everything. We did have an extensive amount of plans from a creative standpoint to take advantage of his terrific skills as a blocker, as a receiver, as a runner. We certainly had practiced using Josh quite a bit but not at the expense of having a coaching plan where there were other players that were counted on to contribute. There is no single player that you solely rely on and then if something happens, like it did with Josh, you have to throw the baby out with the bath water. It just means that you go to your next plan.

GoHens: I think that Pat Devlin is an excellent ball handler. Most people only talk about his passing but in my opinion is he an excellent ball handler. Earlier in the season we seemed to take more advantage of his fake hand-offs and let him run the bootleg a little bit. Then in the last three games of the season, we seemed to get away from that even though it appeared that it would have worked on a number of occasions. Am I correct about this, and if so, why did we get away from this?

Hofher: I wouldn't necessarily agree that we got away from it. Every week an opponent brings its own set of challenges. They show us things that they are willing to defend. They show us things that could be available. On offense, so much is numbers-driven. By that I mean does the opponent have a lot of players in the middle of their defense, or a lot of players to the left or right of their defense? Are they playing one extra player somewhere? So the question that offensive coaches are dealing with is, where are the numbers in our favor. So if your perception is that there were things available for Pat to do that we didn't do... Well, if it was available to be done we would have been foolish not to have done it. In reality it's pretty well thought out, what is available for us to do? If an opponent wants to take something away, they will. It's our job to have an answer of where to go next.

We needed to do a much better job in the end, particularly against an outstanding football team. I'll use Villanova as an example. Last year they were one of the better defenses in all of I-AA football. Still there were things available in the passing game that we were able to take advantage of. We passed for 407 yards. If we had run for 407 yards and scored the same amount of points would that have made the average fan any happier? The bottom line is that there was a reason why we attached them the way that we did.

GoHens: Well, I know that everyone is happy about the play of Pat Devlin. Earlier you mentioned that you morph your offense around the players on your team and especially around the talents of your quarterback. Having said that, what area of our offense needs to make the most improvement in order for your schemes to reach their full potential?

"We ran the ball 53% of the time and threw the ball 47% of the time. That is the closest balance that existed in the Colonial."

Hofher: Well, regardless of how it occurs, we have to become a better unit at capitalizing when we get scoring opportunities. We all know that we would like to become more efficient in our run game. We are continuing to identify, even now, where we think we can get better, what we need to change, what we need to continue to do so that we can become a better team when we choose to run the football.

Now, we ran the football more than we passed the football in 2009. We simply need to be better at it. We ran the ball 53% of the time and threw the ball 47% of the time. That is the closest balance that existed in the Colonial. But you don't need to be balanced for balance's sake. You need to be efficient and effective if you do choose to run it and you need to be efficient and effective if you choose to throw it.

GoHens: Now, this question is going to fly in the face of some of the things that I have already asked you. We know that Pat is the #1 quarterback. We know that it is the ultimate job of the offensive coordinator to coach the offense to score points. On the other hand building depth is important in such a rough sport. On the GoHens.net website, we always get questions about building depth at the quarterback position. If Pat were to miss a game or two due to injury, wouldn't it be good if our #2 quarterback had some meaningful game experience?

Hofher: It all depends upon who your back-up player is because everything needs to be personnel-driven. What you do with your schemes needs to be tailored around who you think can do the job the best. Game situations determine when a back-up player gets playing time. So playing time for a back-up quarterback depends partly on game situations but also on whom your back-up quarterback is. Last year our back-up quarterback at the start of the season was Sean Hakes. Then midway through the season our back-up quarterback was a true freshman. So, you know, you don't experiment during a game. You can experiment during practice.

GoHens: I feel a little uncomfortable asking the next couple of questions but I feel that I need to because they come up all the time by posters on our website. The first question is about predictability. Sometimes it seems to the fans that our offense gets too predictable. Now, before I ask the question let me quote something that was said by the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens when there were complaints that his offense was becoming too predictable. He said, "We have to do something out of our comfort zone in order to get the defenses out of their comfort zone". Then the coach went on to say that we might start using more trick plays or gimmick plays then we have used in the past. It seems like teams like UNH and Towson, to name a few, use these types of plays against Delaware. However, it seems like we don't use these types of plays very often. Am I correct and if so why don't we use these types of things ourselves?

Hofher: Everybody makes a studied, educated decision when they choose to be in a spread or when they choose to be under the center as to how it fits the players they have. And then it's what's your inventory, what's your menu of offense from those alignments. And make no mistake about it, everything has to be driven by the skills of the players.

GoHens: Do we practice plays that are out of the norm for us? Do we have plays that are what you might call "gimmick" plays?

Hofher: Absolutely. Absolutely.

GoHens: I have been wondering. In the spread offense, can we even have a draw play?

Hofher: There are different ways that you can run a delayed play in a spread offense. In a conventional offense, where the quarterback is under the center, you have the ability to run a delay or run a draw. It's a lot different when you are in the shotgun, as is the case with most everything. Staffs make decisions as to what we gain by being in the shotgun versus what do we relinquish by being in the shotgun. What can give you a delay play in the shotgun is different than what you can run if you are under center. In the shotgun, most spread teams are more apt to run screens than they are to run a draw.

GoHens: Some posters on our message boards are of the opinion that we could make better halftime adjustments. There are a lot of armchair quarterbacks on a message board. And we are not in the locker room but would you care to give your opinion on that?

Hofher: Well, again, that's why there are message boards. Fans create interest and have passion for Delaware football. Let me say that we have a very competent group of players and coaches here but adjustments simply do not occur at halftime. Adjustments occur throughout the game. They occur all the time. When an offense comes off the field, either following a score or following a punt, there is significant conversation that goes on. This is a time when adjustments might be made. Go Hens: Coach, this will be my final question and it is a three-part question. The first part is, what are the players doing now? The second part is, what are your goals for spring practice? And the final part is, what is the difference between spring practice and pre-season practice?

Hofher: All great questions. - At the moment, the NCAA limits what our players can do on a weekly basis to 8 hours per week. Weight room work under the observation of our strength coach (Jason Beaulieu), agility work or running workouts also under Jason's direction with our coaches involved can add up to 8 hours. Or you can choose to use 2 of the 8 hours each week in a classroom setting. All of those hours are accounted for on a NCAA form. So right now our players lift on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. They have running workouts on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. They have to have one day a week off when there is no lifting or running. So we are very limited, as is every team, during this time period. We can not use a football in anything we do if it is under the instruction of coaches.

"...the object in the spring is to work on fundamentals of the position, introduction or installation of key schemes or key plays, development of young players, development of your team leaders and chemistry."

Once we get to spring football, we are allowed 15 days of practice of which 3 of the 15 have to be with a helmet only. So that leaves you with 12 days where there can be contact. One of these 12 days is usually the Spring Game. So really that leaves only 11 practices of real football. So that's really not a lot of time. So the object in the spring is to work on fundamentals of the position, introduction or installation of key schemes or key plays, development of young players, development of your team leaders and chemistry. Those are among the things you would like to get accomplished in the spring. You're not trying to get yourself ready to play a game. You develop these things in the spring by going live against a defense. What we try to evaluate is how much and where has that veteran player improved or how much has that young player learned?

There are a number of differences when we get to pre-season football. Obviously, we have more time. We have two-a-day practices. We have no interference with classroom work. It's all football, for about three and a half weeks. We are starting to get the team ready for the season but more specifically for the first game opponent. Perhaps you might have your eye down the road to your second or third opponent. During this three and a half week stretch, there is an entirely different temperament because there is the inevitability that you are getting ready for a game.

GoHens: Thank you Coach Hofher for spending some time with me and the readers of GoHens.net.

Hofher: You are very welcome and I appreciated it.

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