Monday, March 27, 2017

Feature Image courtesy of WVUSports.com

By Dave Ackermann (The Orchestrater)

Yes, some were shocked and saddened by the announcement that O-Line Coach Ron Crook was departing for the same position at the University of Cincinnati, (however, those of us that analyze and report on WVU football knew that something else had to be in the works). And as we thought, it has now definitely been confirmed.

For this writer, when Bruce Feldman broke the news on twitter that WVU and Dana Holgorsen were bringing back Jake Spavital as Offensive Coordinator, it was obvious that some things had immediately fallen into place. It explained why Ron Crook went packing to Cincinnati and Joe Wickline was taking over the offensive line.

The more important question that will need to be answered in the future is: will Jake Spavital take over the “play-calling” from Head Coach Dana Holgorsen? Many are speculating that this will be the case.

But before offering opinions, lets look at some history supported by statistics:

Jake Spavital joined Holgorsen’s WVU staff in 2011 as Quarterbacks Coach. He was not the offensive coordinator or even labeled co-offensive coordinator. But he was probably the most knowledgeable person on the staff that understood Dana Holgorsen’s high powered air raid offense. His job was to help then WVU quarterback Geno Smith to better understand the complex offense. Lets look at the results:

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WVU QB Geno Smith (Rob Christy/US Presswire)

In 2011, Smith completed almost 66% of his passes (65.8) for 4,385 yards and 31 TD’s; with only 7 interceptions on 526 attempts. WVU had 406 rushing attempts for 1,622 yards (of which 56 were by QB Smith for <-33> yards). WVU’s pass to rush ratio was 57% passing to 43% rushing.

In 2012, Smith completed a little over 71% of his passes (71.2) for 4,205 yards and 42 TD’s; with only 6 interceptions in 518 attempts. WVU had 449 rushing attempts for 2,271 yards (of which 66 were by QB Smith for +151 yards). WVU pass to rush ratio was 54% passing to 46% rushing.

As one can see, these statistics are not very dissimilar at all, with the exception that Smith’s passing completion percentage improved by 5 points and his rushing attempts went up by 10 for an improvement of some 180 yards to the positive.

In neither year, did WVU have a 1,000 yard rusher. Spavital does get credit for QB Smith’s performance as his position coach. Dana Holgorsen gets all the credit for the offensive performance, calling his own plays; but one wonders what role did Jake Spavital really play in play calling, if any? Why do I ask this question? Well, if one looks at the 2013 offensive statistics, the first year without Spavital, you begin to understand.

In 2013, QB Clint Trickett completed only 53% of his passes (52.8), for only 1,605 yards and 7 TD’s; (with 7 interceptions on only 233 attempts). Now Paul Millard did get 169 attempts (for 1.122 yards) and Ford Childress 63 attempts (for 421 yards) which somewhat explains the deficiencies. But even combined, the completion percentage is just over 54% for 3,148 yards (but now with 16 interceptions on 465 attempts). Rushing attempts were really not increased (420) for 1.799 yards, but all three quarterbacks went for negative yards rushing (<-122>) in total. Pass to rush ratio changed greatly (passing 52% while rushing 48% of the time), much closer to 50/50. In addition, WVU had a 1,000 yard rusher in Charles Sims (1,095 on 202 attempts) for the first time in several years.

So does all this mean that WVU might have done better with Spavital still on board? Not really, there are just too many differences in the teams and quarterbacks, players and skill levels. After all, Trickett did not enjoy a spring football practice (arriving for Fall practice as a graduate transfer). But one could possibly say that with Spavital, the quarterbacks might have done better in performance.

While Spavital was preparing Geno Smith for the NFL at WVU, things were going offensively crazy for coach Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M. He unleashed a true freshman QB named Johnny Manziel who would quickly be renamed “Johnny Football” and lead the Aggies to an 11-2 season. Manziel would complete 68% of his passes for 3,706 yards and 26 TD’s; with 434 passing attempts and only 9 interceptions. But Manziel also rushed for 1,410 yards (the Aggies leading rusher) on 201 carries adding 21 more TD’s to his personal credit while on the way to winning the Heisman Trophy.

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) reacts during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012. Texas A&M won 29-24. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) reacts during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012. Texas A&M won 29-24. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Why then, would Sumlin need to hire a new Quarterbacks coach following that performance. Well the answer is somewhat easy, Kliff KIngsbury left Texas A&M to accept the head coaching position at Texas Tech and so Spavital was offered the position of Co-Offensive Coordinator (with Clarence McKinney) and quarterbacks coach. Johnny Football was “hell on wheels” on the football field; the trouble was, he was also “hell on wheels” off of the football field. Could it be that Sumlin was looking for a younger mentor to not only tutor his explosive QB and help call plays, but to also get some reigns on the young man?

Let’s look at what Mr. Spavital did as Co-OC and quarterback coach at Texas A&M in 2013:

It had to be a very different job being the position coach for Johnny Manziel (Johnny Football). In 2013 Manziel completed almost 70% of  his passes (69.9) for 4,114 yards and 37 TD’s; (with 13 interceptions on 429 attempts). But Johnny Football was also the leading rusher for the second straight season on that 2013 team, rushing 144 times for 759 yards and responsible for 9 more TD’s rushing. So passing yards went up by some 400 yards but the rushing yards for Johnny Football dramatically decreased (almost by half). So after a season that saw the Aggies go 9-4, Manziel would go on to declare early for the NFL draft, and become the number one draft pick for the Cleveland Browns.

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Texas A&M QB Kenny Hill (courtesy espn.com)

In 2014, Head Coach Sumlin promoted Jake Spavital to Offensive Coordinator. It would be a real challenge breaking in a new QB (between Kyle Allen and Kenny Hill) and starting a rebuild. Both quarterbacks played but it was much like Clint Trickett and Co. following Geno Smith at WVU; multiple TAMU quarterbacks combined for 3,971 yards passing and 39 TD’s; but attempts went up to 513 with 15 interceptions. Quarterback rushing numbers amounted to only a couple hundred yards combined with only 1 rushing TD between them. Rushing was by committee and did a total 1.973 yards and 20 TD’s. The important stat here is the Aggies went 8-5 (3-5 in conference) and the fan base was getting frustrated. In fact, on Nov. 4th, 2014 (note that this is during the season) Michael Tagleinti, Chief Writer for bleacherreport.com covering the Texas A&M Aggies wrote a scathing article blaming Spavital for the offensive woes of the team and calling for his replacement as OC.

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Texas A&M QB Kyle Allen (courtesy lockerdome.com) 

In 2015, Kyle Allen took the full-time reigns at quarterback with the transfer of Kenny Hill to TCU where he sat out the 2015 season. After only a few games including sloppy and close wins over UCLA and Auburn, the fire Jake Spavital crowd became very active again and Matt Watty of SBNation.com wrote an article in support of Spavital, stating in so many words that while he was not Kliff Kingsbury he was doing a good job. He referred to 2014 and Kenny Hill’s passer rating of 164 and claiming it was equal to Johnny Manziel. He also pointed out running back issues and offensive line issues in the current 2015 season as well as a downgraded offensive line performance from the Manziel years. Finally, he pointed out that the receiver corps was very young an inexperienced.

It was a season where three quarterbacks would see action but Allen got the majority of the snaps when healthy (160  for 283 passing attempts for 2,210 yards and 17 TD’s with 7 interceptions). Kyler Murray slung it 121 times completing 72 passes for 686 yards and 5 TD’s with 7 interceptions. Jake Hubenak got 75 attempts completing 40 passes for 389 yards and 1 interception. Combined the quarterbacks passed for 3,295 yards and only 25 TD’s. While the Aggies had a 1,000 yard rusher in Tra Carson (1,165 yards), the team would only get 12 rushing TD’s and the record was 8-5 (4-4) in conference.

So, It was on or about January 3rd, 2016 that head coach Kevin Sumlin announced the mutual agreed departure of Jake Spavital from the staff at Texas A&M and that a search would immediately begin for his 4th offensive coordinator after taking over the Aggies program.

Many felt that Spavital was used as a “scape goat”, similar to other replacements made on the defensive staff the previous season by Sumlin. There were some early rumors in 2016 that Holgorsen and WVU were considering hiring Spavital back to the staff at that time, but California Head Coach Sonny Dykes would ultimately end up hiring Spavital as his new Offensive Coordinator (as announced by Fox Sports on February 12th, 2016).

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Cal OC Jake Spavital (Courtesy Calbears.com)

At Cal this past season, Spavital had an explosive offense that passed the ball on average 52 times a game and ran it 34 times a game and their no huddle hurry-up offense averaged 86 possessions per game.

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Cal QB Davis Webb (Courtesy Calbears.com)

QB Davis Webb completed almost 62% of his passes (61.6) for 4,295 yards and 37 TD’s; with 620 attempts and only 12 interceptions. He averaged 359 yards passing and 3 passing TD’s per game. The offense averaged only 154 yards rushing and one TD per game, for a combined average of about 27 points per game (again no 1,000 yard rusher at Cal last season). The trouble was that the defense allowed 5.2 TD’s per game or about 38 points per game.

So while Spavital was somewhat redeemed as an Offensive Coordinator, the 5-7 (3-6) record cost head coach Sonny Dykes his job and the rest is history. It was a good sign that the Cal administration appointed Spavital the interim head coach position while the search for a new head coach persisted.

At any rate, Spavital has matured since departing WVU in 2013, so much that it is obvious that he has the stats and performance to be the next young whippa-snapper offensive coordinator and could get a head coaching job in the not to distant future, with continued success. WVU and Dana Holgorsen’s program just may be the best place to be to get that done.

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WVU QB Will Grier (Courtesy WVUSports.com)

Consider that with Spavital on staff, one could reasonably expect Dana to finally give-up play calling. Spavital will inherit a 5 star top quarterback in Will Grier, who will become eligible this year after transferring from Florida. While Grier could not play in 2016, he was allowed to practice with the team and should have a solid understanding of Holgorsen’s offense. Spavital arrives at WVU with a returning 1,000 yard rusher in Justin Crawford and two other highly rated backs (Rs So Kennedy McCoy and So Martell Petteway). who while they are young, have gained valuable experience this past season.

He will inherit a receiving corps that loses their top receiver in Shelton Gibson (declared for draft), however, the cupboard is far from bare with Rs Sr Ka’Raun White, and juniors Javon Durant, Gary Jennings and Ricky Rogers as returning Wide Receivers. The Offensive Line will lose some Seniors but maintain several starters and back-ups in what could be a solid unit. Tight End and Fullback also has depth and experience.

In short, Spavital is a perfect fit for Holgorsen beginning a new 6 year contract; this could also be a perfect storm offensively for the Mountaineers in 2017. Watch this space for further updates.

All statistics used in this article were gathered from SR CFB (Sports Resources)

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