LUBBOCK, Texas -- The statistics prove that no one in the country provides more offensive yardage than Texas Tech under head coach Mike Leach. Last year, they led the nation in both total offense and passing offense. The Red Raiders averaged 582 yards a game in total offense and 475 yards a game in passing offense.
Texas Tech may be slightly under the radar when it comes to recognition on a national level, but they command the respect and attention of every defense they play. A lot of college offenses now run some form of spread offense and believe in the passing game, but none have had the consistent results like Leach. What makes his success even more impressive is that he has done it every year in the tough Big 12 conference and with different quarterbacks.
On our visit to Texas Tech we wanted to identify the specific things that make Mike Leach and his offense unique and so difficult to defend.
It All Starts At The Top
The Texas Tech offense starts with Leach, who serves as the offensive coordinator. The most important thing is that it is his scheme and he has great confidence and command of the package.
Leach has a "Let it rip" attitude and is not concerned with the fear of failure like a lot of coaches. An example of this is his desire to go for it on 4th down. In 2002, he went for it 40 times on 4th down and in 2003, he went for it 34 times. This is unusual, but it fits into his aggressive attitude and shows his confidence. Asked why he goes for it on 4th down so often, he simply says "I think we can make it."
Leach's path to the coaching profession was a little different than most coaches. He graduated from BYU in 1983 with honors, but did not play college football. He then went to Pepperdine Law School and finished in the top third of his class. His first Division I-A job was at Kentucky as offensive coordinator in 1997. In 1999, he went to Oklahoma with Bob Stoops and became the head coach at Texas Tech in 2000. He has led Tech to four straight bowl games and has an overall record of 31-21.
What Makes Tech Unique
The biggest reason Leach is so successful is because he has made a total commitment to the passing game. Because of this Texas Tech has a solid identity and focus in their offense.
They have the confidence to live or die passing the football and because of that they execute extremely well. Most coaches strive for balance in their offense and as a result, have to focus and practice a much broader package, sometimes spreading their players and execution thin.
Last year, Tech averaged 60 passes a game so it is obviously not a balanced attack, but this actually works in their favor. In practice, they spend virtually all their time focusing on fundamentals related to the passing game. From the time they hit the practice field until they leave, the ball is in the air and the emphasis in on throwing, catching and protecting the quarterback.
It takes great confidence in your scheme to be able to take this approach, but the players appreciate it because they can focus on execution.
Practice -- What's Different
When you watch Texas Tech practice, it doesn't seem as structured as most college practices. They do not stretch as a team and unlike most practices, there is not a horn blowing every five minutes to change drills. The bottom line is that the cosmetic appearance of practice is not as important to Leach as it is to some coaches.
Although not as structured, it is impressive to watch Texas Tech practice and you quickly see why it is so successful. The ball is always in the air and what the Red Raiders practice is what you see them do in a game. They work on every phase of their package every day and in most passing drills, there are four quarterbacks throwing and every eligible receiver catching on each snap.
There is great detail given to fundamentals in all phases of the passing game. Wide receivers, for example, work every day on releases versus different coverages, ball security, scrambling drills, blocking and routes versus specific coverages.
Tech gets an amazing amount of repetitions in practice and most importantly, it doesn't waste reps practicing things they don't do in a game.
When you first study Texas Tech, it gives the appearance of being much more complicated that it actually is. The Red Raiders obviously spread the field, use multiple formations and have the ability to get the ball to all their skill players, but what makes them unique is their execution.
The key is how they package their plays and keep it simple for their players. Leach says the biggest problem he sees with offenses is "that they have too many adjustments on the same play or that they have too many plays rather than getting good at the ones they have."
Tech does a great job of running the right play versus certain defense and being able to execute it. They also gain alot of yards after the catch and on screens.
Right Plays vs. Right Defense
The biggest difference between Texas Tech and most college teams is the flexibility the quarterback has in changing plays at the line of scrimmage. The QB has the freedom to check anywhere on the field and at anytime. The quarterback makes his check based on the numbers and leverage of the defense and this keeps Leach from running bad plays into a specific defense.
Not many college coaches give the quarterback that much responsibility but Leach encourages it in his system. He would rather the QB check the play at the line of scrimmage rather than run a bad play. Sometimes he will only signal the formation from the sideline and the QB calls the specific play at the line.
This is important because Tech sees a lot of different defenses from week to week and it is almost impossible to game plan and anticipate what changes an opponent will make.
It is amazing how well Leach prepares the quarterbacks and the authority he gives them during the game. For example, over 90 percent of Tech's running plays were checked to at the line of scrimmage. A lot of talk has been made about Tech's QBs being labeled "products of the system" but I promise you the experience they get in this system is a positive as they prepare for the NFL.
The most impressive package in the Tech offense is their screen game. They execute a wide variety of screens to both the running backs and wide receivers. They throw between 12-15 screens a game.
When you watch Tech practice it is obvious why they have success in the screen game -- they devote a lot of individual, group and team time to the execution of those plays. They practice their screens full speed and both the lineman and WRs go live to get the timing and execution down. Everyone has a screen package, but no one practices it as much or executes it as well as Texas Tech.
Another unique aspect of the Texas Tech offense is the unusually wide splits the offensive line takes. They start at three feet and get even wider, which is different, particularly for a passing team.
They do it for three reasons:
Widens defense to create running lanes for backs.
Widens defense to create passing lanes for QB.
Widens outside pass rusher to increase his distance to QB.
Tech is a difficult team to pressure and they do a great job of pass protection.
Tech does an amazing job of spreading the football around equally to all its skill players. This makes it impossible to focus on defending one or two specific receivers.
Mike Leach has been successful moving the football everywhere he has coached. The reason is not because he has unusual formations or plays, it is because he has a commitment to the passing game and as a result of this, he out-executes opponents.
What makes Texas Tech unique is their screen package, their big splits and the flexibility the quarterback has at the line of scrimmage to change the play. The key is that the scheme looks confusing to the defense and gets them off balance, but it really pretty simple to execute. When you visit with Leach and watch Texas Tech practice, you see why he is so successful.
Bob Davie is an analyst for ESPN and his Football 101 is a weekly feature on ESPN.com during the season. Send in your Football 101 questions for Coach Davie to answer.