CFB Chronicles: Offensive Coordinators On The Move
Three major college football programs – Alabama, Ohio State, and LSU — added new offensive coordinators this offseason. These personnel moves will not only affect their overall success in 2017 but will also play a role in shaping the 2018 draft class.
By reviewing these respective coaches in terms of their play calling tendencies and the resulting offensive efficiency, we should gain a better understanding of what to expect in their first seasons.
Matt Canada, LSU
After transforming the Pittsburgh Panthers’ offense last season, Matt Canada instantly became one of the hottest commodities on the college football job market. Featuring a run-heavy attack that averaged a whopping 0.61 points per play, the Panthers finished with the 10th-best scoring offense in the country.
This was both the most efficient season in Canada’s coaching career, as well as one of his most run-heavy campaigns to date. Because of his tendency to favor the run over the pass, the move to LSU should be a smooth transition. This bodes well for Heisman Trophy candidate Derrius Guice who accounted for 49 percent of LSU’s rushing yardage in 2016, taking full advantage when Leonard Fournette missed time.
Senior wide receiver D.J. Chark figures to benefit most from the departure of Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural (117 targets combined), but don’t expect a drastic shift in the Tigers’ offense. Canada is likely to rely on Guice and a strong offensive line, returning three starters from a unit that ranked fifth nationally in Adjusted Line Yards per Football Outsiders.
Brian Daboll, Alabama
Perhaps the most high-profile signing of the bunch was Brian Daboll going to Alabama. Daboll has ties to head coach Nick Saban from their time at Michigan State and brings NFL coaching experience to the Crimson Tide. Because of the differences between the college and pro games, comparing Daboll’s previous coaching tendencies is a bit problematic. However, it’s not totally void of utility.
Comparing Daboll’s first season as OC against the team’s previous season at every stop in his career helps us understand what he has historically tended to change. As OC in Cleveland, Miami, and Kansas City, Daboll shifted to a more run-heavy approach in his first season calling plays. Alabama ran the ball on 61 percent of their snaps last season, so while a dramatic shift in that direction is unlikely in 2017, we should expect the run game to remain a central offensive component.
Rushing opportunity will be split between a bevy of talented RBs – juniors Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris, sophomores Joshua Jacobs and B.J. Emmons, and freshman Najee Harris. Daboll has historically relied on his primary RB – 58 percent market share of rushing yards, per-season, on average – so if Scarbrough remains healthy, he could see a ton of opportunity.
At WR, junior WR Calvin Ridley is in line for a bump in opportunity with ArDarius Stewart, O.J. Howard, and Gehrig Deter vacating 173 targets from a season ago. Underachieving senior Robert Foster and heralded freshman Jerry Jeudy will also factor in.
I expect sophomore QB Jalen Hurts to improve in year two, and it’s clear that both Daboll and Saban want a more balanced, pro-style offense. But Alabama is no exception from the theme we’ve seen so far — a strong offensive line (returning three starters from a unit ranked 13th in Adjusted Line Yards from last season) and talented RBs will likely remain the focus.
Kevin Wilson, Ohio State
Kevin Wilson has a lengthy coaching resume, spanning back to the early-1990’s as the Miami (OH) Redhawks’ offensive coordinator. Having a large sample size is beneficial, but it’s important to remember that offensive philosophies, in general, have shifted since that time, much like we’ve seen in the NFL.
That said, Wilson’s profile indicates a run-oriented, relatively efficient offensive style. He guided Oklahoma’s potent offenses in the mid-2000’s including a BCS Championship in 2008. Now at Ohio State, Wilson has access to a talent pool unlike anything he’s seen since his time in Norman.
Senior quarterback J.T. Barrett, who despite periodic criticism sports an 8.1 adjusted yards per attempt in 36 career games, should serve as a steady hand during the transition. Sophomore running back Mike Weber will slot in as the primary ball-carrier, who despite battling Ezekiel Elliott for touches last season, secured 34 percent of the team’s rushing yardage as a freshman. At WR, expect sophomore Binjimen Victor to emerge after the departure of Curtis Samuel, Noah Brown, and Dontre Wilson.
Wilson’s career numbers align with Ohio State’s profile from 2016 — 59 percent running plays — so expect an up-tempo, run-based offense leaning heavily on Weber and an elite offensive line returning four starters from last season’s top-ranked unit in terms of Adjusted Line Yards.