Project 2014: The Offenses of the Big Ten

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The Maryland Terrapins football team is getting closer and closer to their debut in the Big Ten Conference, and many have wondered how the team’s schemes will fit in the historically more physical conference. While the physical nature of the Big Ten is still present in many of its teams, some others are having a lot of success with more modern offensive styles. Most conference games in the Big Ten will still be won in the trenches, but there’s no reason to think that the Terps can’t have success with their spread-to-run scheme.

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Illinois Fighting Illini

Offensive Coordinator: Bill Cubit
Offensive Style: Spread
Player to Watch: RB Josh Ferguson (Redshirt Junior)

Illinois is the former home of Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, who led the Illini’s offense and quarterbacks from 2005-2008. Last season, they had no problem throwing the ball with senior QB Nathan Scheelhaase, but they ranked 94th in the country in rushing yards per game. They also struggled to score points, ranking 62nd in the country in points scored per game.

The Illini run a spread offense, and sprinkled in some zone-read concepts with the dual-threat Nathan Scheelhaase at quarterback last season. They will look to spread opposing defenses out, and want to have a prolific passing attack. More often than not, they want to pass to set up the run, not the other way around. They are a no-huddle team, but aren’t quite as fast as some other teams in college football.

One of Illinois’ obvious struggles was that they fell behind early in many of their games, forcing the team to move away from their rushing attack in favor of their passing game. Josh Ferguson was their do-it-all back however, ranking 1st on the team in rushing yards and 2nd on the team in receiving yards. He scored 7 touchdowns on the ground, and 4 through the air.

Unfortunately for the Illini, they will lose a large portion of their offensive production in 2014. Nathan Scheelhaase has graduated, and the team will be forced to go with Reilly O’Toole at quarterback. O’Toole is a senior and has experience, but only threw 16 passes last season. He isn’t quite the rusher that Scheelhaase was, so Illinois will need to lean on their running backs heavier in 2014. The leading returning receiver is Martize Barr, who ranked 6th on the team in receiving yards in 2013. It will be a very inexperienced receiving corps for the Illini, who will be looking to improve on a 4-8 record from last season.

Indiana Hoosiers

Offensive Coordinator: Kevin Johns
Offensive Style: Air Raid
Player to Watch: QB Nate Sudfeld (Junior)

While Indiana is one of the worst football teams in the Big Ten, their problems certainly don’t lie in their offense. Last season, the Hoosiers ranked 18th in the nation in passing yards per game, and 30th in rushing yards per game. They also scored plenty of points, ranking 17th in the country in points per game. However, their defense ranked 117th in the country in points allowed per game, leading to plenty of high-scoring losses.

The Hoosiers run a modified version of the Air Raid scheme, made popular by Hal Mumme at Kentucky and brought to new heights by Mike Leach at Texas Tech. Kevin Johns will run a very balanced attack, much unlike Mike Leach, who is known to throw the ball over 60 times per game. The Air Raid part of this offense mostly lies in the passing schemes. You will see a lot of crossing routes and spacing routes, aimed to give the quarterback a quick outlet to his receiver to make a play in space. This is a tough offense to defend, as you can almost never play zone defense against it. If you can match up well against the Air Raid’s receivers in man coverage, you have a chance. One of the biggest parts of the Air Raid is tempo, and the Hoosiers are a no-huddle team. They may not be quite as quick as some other teams in college football, but they do like to push the tempo after big plays.

The Air Raid is known for having quarterbacks who put up monster numbers in a short amount of time. Nate Sudfeld will lead Indiana’s attack in 2014, after seeing action in portions of the last two seasons. He isn’t much of a runner, but has a great arm. He threw for over 2,500 yards in 2013, slinging 21 touchdowns while throwing just 9 interceptions. He also completed about 60% of his passes. Indiana lost their top two receivers to the NFL (Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes), so I would look for the Hoosiers to lean a little more on their ground attack with Tevin Coleman this season.

Iowa Hawkeyes

Offensive Coordinator: Greg Davis
Offensive Style: Pro-Style
Player to Watch: RB/FB Mark Weisman (Redshirt Senior)

The Iowa Hawkeyes have long been known for a smash-mouth offensive style, and it will be no different in 2014. They always boast an impressive defense, while their offense’s job is to simply score enough points to win the game and avoid mistakes. Last season, their rushing attack ranked 50th in the nation, while their passing game ranked 96th. That doesn’t seem too impressive until you see that their defense was 9th in the country in points allowed. That’ll make any offense look good.

Iowa runs a pro-style offense, but they added an interesting twist last season. That twist is the no-huddle. You don’t see too many pro-style teams running a no-huddle attack, but it is becoming more popular around college football. Last season, Penn State and Texas were two of the more notable teams to move to a no-huddle pro-style attack. The Hawkeyes reportedly want to go even faster this season, while still maintaining that ground-and-pound style that they enjoy.

Mark Weisman is the epitome of Iowa Hawkeyes football. He is an absolute beast at 6’0″, 240 pounds, and can play both running back and fullback. Defenses cringe when he carries the ball, as it usually takes more than one man to bring him down. Head coach Kirk Ferentz has a loaded crop of running backs this season, but will surely get Weisman his carries. Expect to see him lined up at both running back and fullback in 2014.

Jake Rudock returns for his junior year as the Hawkeyes’ quarterback after throwing for over 2,300 yards last season. Iowa needs him to be more careful with the football however, as he threw 13 interceptions in 2013. His favorite target will undoubtedly be Kevonte Martin-Manley, who led the team in receiving yards last season. Rudock’s favorite red zone target, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, has left for the NFL, so his 6 touchdown catches from a year ago will need to come from somewhere else.

Michigan Wolverines

Offensive Coordinator: Doug Nussmeier
Offensive Style: Pro-Style
Player to Watch: QB Devin Gardner (Redshirt Senior)

Changes are coming in Ann Arbor, as former Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has made the move to the Big House in an effort to jump-start what was a very stale offense last season. While the Wolverines have long been known for a physical running attack, they ranked 104th in the country in rushing yards per game last season. They threw the ball better, but still were only able to gain the 54th spot in passing yards per game. Hopes were very high for Devin Gardner’s first season as the full-time Michigan starting quarterback, but he ultimately failed to deliver the improvement that was necessary.

2014 is a new season, however, and Gardner will be looking to impress NFL scouts with both his arm and his legs. Doug Nussmeier ran a single-back offense at Alabama, but will likely move to a more traditional pro-style attack at Michigan this season. The Wolverines used a good amount of the pistol formation last season, and expect more of the same as they try to exploit Devin Gardner’s rushing ability. He is the team’s leading returning rusher, as Fitzgerald Toussaint is in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens. The Wolverines are one of the few remaining teams in college football who runs their offense with a huddle.

Nussmeier will lean heavily on the running game this season however, as the team has a number of very talented backs. I’d expect the Michigan running game to improve a lot, and Devin Gardner will surely be a big part of that. They shouldn’t be too worried about Gardner going down either, as Shane Morris is a very capable backup who started against Kansas State in the Wolverines’ bowl game last season. 

Michigan State Spartans

Offensive Coordinators: Jim Bollman, Dave Warner
Offensive Style: Pro-style
Player to Watch: RB Jeremy Langford (Redshirt Senior)

Coming off of their Rose Bowl victory last season, the Michigan State Spartans will look to improve on what was a surprisingly potent offensive season for them. Michigan State has long been known for their strong defenses and rushing attacks, but QB Connor Cook sparked life into the Spartans’ passing attack last season. The team ranked 59th in the country in rushing yards per game, and 85th in the country in passing yards per game. That doesn’t look great until you see that their defense ranked 3rd in the country in points allowed.

Connor Cook had a great season, one in which he progressively got better and better with each game he played. He threw for over 2,700 yards last season, and had 22 touchdowns and just 6 interceptions. His Rose Bowl game was amazing, as he threw for 332 yards and 2 touchdowns. He will only continue getting better, especially since the Spartans return RB Jeremy Langford for his senior season. Langford ran for over 1,400 yards last season and scored a mammoth 18 touchdowns on the ground. After the team lost leading WR Bennie Fowler to the NFL, expect to see more and more of Langford in this offense in 2014.

The Spartans run a pro-style attack similar to the one run by the Wolverines. They huddle after every play, and are not worried about going fast. They do not employ the read-option with Connor Cook, opting to get their rushing yards with their running backs out of single back and I-formations. It is a smash-mouth offense that employs excellent offensive line play. If you aren’t a disciplined defense, you will have serious problems with this offense.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Offensive Coordinator: Matt Limegrover
Offensive Style: Multiple
Player to Watch: RB David Cobb (Senior)

Running the football is the name of the game for the Golden Gophers, and they do it very, very well. Last season, they ranked 37th in the country in rushing yards per game, while they were 118th in passing yards per game. Don’t let those numbers fool you, as the Golden Gophers are on the rise. They fell to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl last season, but have improved in each season that Jerry Kill has been at the helm. They’ll look to have a more balanced attack this season, but don’t be surprised if David Cobb is in the NFL come 2015.

While Iowa, Michigan, and Michigan State run the football out of traditional pro-style formations, Minnesota likes to do it in a wider variety of ways. They will employ a huge number of formations, from single-back and I-formations to pistol and shotgun formations. Their quarterbacks are always a threat to keep the ball, opening up lanes for their talented running backs. They huddle on every play, looking to keep the ball as long as possible. David Cobb is a great downhill, physical runner who rushed for over 1,200 yards last season and will aim to do even better in his senior season.

After splitting time at quarterback with Philip Nelson last season, Mitch Leidner is now the full-time starting quarterback for Minnesota. Nelson was the leading passer and the third-leading rusher on the team in 2013, but Leidner possesses the better rushing ability of the two quarterbacks. He ran for over 400 yards last season and scored 7 touchdowns on the ground. He also threw for over 600 yards in relief of Nelson. The read-option will certainly be an even bigger part of Matt Limegrover’s offensive attack, and designed quarterback runs are popular in this offense as well. One thing is for sure: they love to run the football. You will normally never see a Minnesota quarterback attempt over 20 passes in a game.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Offensive Coordinator: Tim Beck
Offensive Style: Multiple
Player to Watch: RB Ameer Abdullah (Senior)

Much like Minnesota, Nebraska’s offense relies heavily on its power rushing attack. They like to run the ball in many different ways, including with their quarterbacks. Last season, they ranked 19th in the country in rushing yards per game and 98th in the country in passing yards per game. Normally this would be enough for them to have a good season, but their highly-touted defense vastly underperformed.

Ameer Abdullah will play a huge role in this offense in 2014 after rushing for over 1,600 yards last season. Imani Cross is a great secondary running back who ran for 10 touchdowns last season. Tommy Armstrong will be the Huskers’ starting quarterback this season after splitting time with both Ron Kellogg III and Taylor Martinez last season. Kellogg III and Martinez have both graduated. Like Martinez, Armstrong is a very talented dual-threat quarterback who likely boasts the better arm between the two.

Nebraska runs a multiple offense that likes to run the ball out of many different formations. They use their quarterbacks in the run game a lot, with read-options and pitch options along with designed quarterback runs. They’ll run from under center and from pistol or shotgun formations. Tom Osborne revolutionized football at Nebraska with his triple-option offense out of the I-formation, and they have some of the same principles still in place today. They are a no-huddle team, though they don’t often go with a ton of tempo.

Northwestern Wildcats

Offensive Coordinator: Mick McCall
Offensive Style: Spread
Player to Watch: RB Venric Mark (Redshirt Senior)

Northwestern has enjoyed good success on the football field over the last few seasons, and it all starts with their spread-to-run offense. Last season they were hit hard by a season-ending ankle injury to Venric Mark, and were only able to manage 5 wins. They ranked 63rd in the country in rushing yards per game, and 72nd in the country in passing yards per game a year ago. Those numbers certainly suffered due to Mark’s absence, as he is one of the most explosive players in the Big Ten.

2014 will see QB Trevor Siemian become the full-time starter after splitting time with QB/WR Kain Colter over the past two seasons. He isn’t the runner that Colter was, but he has a great arm, throwing for over 2,100 yards last season. While the read-option won’t be as important as it has been over the last few years, the Wildcats have to find ways to get the ball in Venric Mark’s hands. He ran for just 97 yards last season before breaking his ankle, but was able to rack up over 1,300 yards in his 2012 campaign.

Northwestern runs a spread-to-run attack that also utilizes some tempo. They’ll normally go without a huddle, looking to exploit holes in tired defenses. They rely heavily on the inside zone running game and quick passes to the 3-4 receivers that are split wide at any given time. Defenses will likely find that playing zone against the Wildcats isn’t a good idea, as Trevor Siemian has the arm talent to find holes in any zone.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Offensive Coordinators: Tom Herman, Chris Warriner
Offensive Style: Spread
Player to Watch: QB Braxton Miller (Senior)

Ohio State boasts one of the country’s most potent offensive attacks led by one of the country’s most exciting players in QB Braxton Miller. Last season, they ranked 5th in the country in rushing yards per game, and 91st in the country in passing yards per game. Any team with Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde on it can be expected to put up huge numbers on the ground. The Buckeyes will have to replace Hyde this season, but having Miller back for one more season should help with that.

Braxton Miller threw for over 2,000 yards and ran for over 1,000 last season, all while missing three games due to injury. The Buckeyes will likely lean on him to account for the majority of their offense this season, as they lose Carlos Hyde and his 1,521 rushing yards this year. Miller will be looking to improve his arm, as that has long been his achilles’ heel. However, there is no doubt that he will once again be one of the most exciting players to watch in all of college football.

When Urban Meyer took the head coaching job at Ohio State, he brought with him the spread-option offense that he made famous with Dan Mullen at Florida. Tim Tebow ran their offense to perfection, leading Florida to national prominence. Mullen took the offense to Mississippi State, where Dak Prescott is a popular Heisman Trophy candidate this year. Meyer brought it to Ohio State, where Braxton Miller has had wild success with it.

It’s an offense built on a strong inside zone running game, with read-options and play-action passes off of that. The difference is that the running is done out of pistol and shotgun formations, and Meyer’s offense goes fast. The Buckeyes utilize a no-huddle with some tempo, and they want to go even faster this season. Look for Braxton Miller to have complete control of this offense, and to be better with both his arm and his legs.

Penn State Nittany Lions

Offensive Coordinator: John Donovan
Offensive Style: Pro-style
Player to Watch: QB Christian Hackenburg (Sophomore)

2014 sees James Franklin take over the football program in Happy Valley, and his offense should be very good right off the bat. He’ll bring a more physical nature to the Nittany Lions’ pro-style attack, but will also have a great weapon at the quarterback position for the passing game. Last season, Penn State ranked 58th in the country in rushing yards per game, and 38th in the country in passing yards per game.

In 2013, the Nittany Lions used a no-huddle offense to go along with their pro-style attack, but James Franklin will be moving Penn State back to a huddle in 2014. Christian Hackenburg is one of the best quarterbacks who people haven’t heard off, as he burst onto the scene as a true freshman last season. He threw for over 2,900 yards in 2013, and ran the no-huddle offense very well. He threw for 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, good numbers considering how young and inexperienced he was. 

Hackenburg does lose his favorite target at wide receiver, Allen Robinson, this season. Robinson accounted for over 1,400 yards through the air last season, and caught 6 of Hackenburg’s 20 touchdown passes. He will be playing on Sundays for the Jacksonville Jaguars this season. The Nittany Lions will go to a number of talented but inexperienced wideouts this season, so Hackenburg will need to make good reads and put the ball in good spots for his receivers.

James Franklin has long employed a version of the West-Coast offense. This is a pro-style attack predicated on short and intermediate passes and a good running game. However, with Hackenburg’s arm talent, you should see a good number of vertical passes as well. The Nittany Lions return both parts of their two-headed attack at running back this season, Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton. Zwinak ran for over 900 yards last season, while Belton ran for over 800. Zwinak accounted for 12 touchdowns on the ground, and Belton scored 5 times on the ground and twice through the air. This attack will be crucial for the Nittany Lions this season, as Franklin has expressed the need to have a powerful ground attack in 2014.

Purdue Boilermakers

Offensive Coordinator: John Shoop
Offensive Style: Pro-style
Player to Watch: WR DeAngelo Yancey (Sophomore)

Darrell Hazell’s first year as the head coach of the Boilermakers was a dismal one. Purdue mustered just one win all season, and their offense was absolutely horrible. They ranked 125th in the country in rushing yards per game, and 80th in passing yards per game. They are a team that was constantly behind in games, and could rarely use the running game that Hazell and offensive coordinator John Shoop wanted to get going.

Hazell brought a true West-Coast offensive scheme with him to Purdue, and they believe that they have found their future at the quarterback position with Danny Etling. Etling started the final 8 games of the Boilermakers’ season last year, and finished with over 1,600 yards passing, 10 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. He did all this as a true freshman on a team without a whole lot of weapons around him.

One of the more exciting players for Purdue in 2014 is WR DeAngelo Yancey, who was also a true freshman last season. He has a chance to rack up big yardage this season, after finishing last year with over 500 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns. He will be helped out mightily by having a quarterback with a year of experience under his belt, and an entire offense that has had time to learn John Shoop’s system.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Offensive Coordinator: Ralph Friedgen
Offensive Style: Pro-style
Player to Watch: RB Paul James (Redshirt Junior)

Maryland fans should be very familiar with the offense that Rutgers will run in 2014, as it will be coordinated by former Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen. While Ralph said that he’d like to run some option plays in his offense, it looks like they’ll stick to what they’ve run over the past few years, the pro-style. In 2013, the Scarlet Knights ranked 102nd in the country in rushing yards per game, and 60th in the country in passing yards per game. Friedgen will be tasked with turning around what has been a very stale offense over the past few seasons.

Gary Nova will be the starting quarterback for Rutgers this season, after throwing for over 2,100 yards a season ago. His job will be to become much more efficient, as he threw 18 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 2013. His favorite target should be Leonte Caroo, a very talented junior receiver who caught 9 touchdowns in just 10 games last season. The running game will be key for this team, and it will be led by Paul James. James ran for over 800 yards last season, despite being absent from 4 of the team’s games. In Rutgers’ wins over Norfolk State and Eastern Michigan last season, James ran for 3 touchdowns.

Wisconsin Badgers

Offensive Coordinator: Andy Ludwig
Offensive Style: Pro-style
Player to Watch: RB Melvin Gordon (Redshirt Junior)

Wisconsin enters 2014 in the second year of the Gary Andersen era, after Bret Bielema took his hard-nosed running style to Arkansas. While the head coaches have changed, the offense hasn’t. Wisconsin still wants to run the ball down the opposing defense’s throat, and they have some great pieces in place to do that. Last season, the Badgers ranked 8th in the country in rushing yards per game, and 96th in the country in passing yards per game.

Melvin Gordon leads the Badgers’ rushing attack into 2014 after an incredible sophomore campaign last season. 2013 saw him run for over 1,400 yards and score 12 touchdowns on the ground. If you think that’s impressive, James White ran for over 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns. White has since moved on to the NFL, so it’s Gordon’s time to shine.

Joel Stave returns as the Badgers’ starting quarterback after throwing for over 2,400 yards last season. He slung 22 touchdowns while throwing 13 interceptions as well. He’ll lose his favorite target, Jared Abbrederis, as he will be playing his football for the Green Bay Packers in 2014. But as long as the Badgers have Melvin Gordon in the backfield and the defense that they normally have, the passing attack isn’t too worrisome.

So, how do the Maryland Terrapins fit into all of this? First, let’s recap the type of offenses that exist in the Big Ten:

Pro-style: 7 teams
Multiple: 3 teams (including Maryland)
Spread: 3 teams
Air Raid: 1 team

Let’s also recap who runs a no-huddle offense and who doesn’t:

No-huddle: 7 teams
Huddle: 7 teams

Now, if we were to do a similar offensive preview for Maryland, here is how it would look:

Maryland Terrapins

Offensive Coordinator: Mike Locksley
Offensive Style: Multiple
Player to Watch: WR Stefon Diggs (Junior)

Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley runs an offense that is most similar to the ones run at Minnesota and Nebraska. His main goal is to spread the defense out in order to run the football with both his running backs and his quarterback. Last season, the Terrapins ranked 85th in the country in rushing yards per game and 50th in the country in passing yards per game.

Stefon Diggs is the undoubted star of this Maryland team, as he racked up over 500 yards receiving last season despite being absent from the team’s final 5 regular season games after breaking his leg against Wake Forest. He only continues to get better after his stellar freshman campaign, and has taken College Park by storm. He will be joined once again by Deon Long, who also had a very impressive season before breaking his leg against Wake Forest. Long had accounted for over 400 yards through the air before missing the final 5 games of the regular season.

C.J. Brown returns for his final season as the quarterback for the Terrapins, after passing for over 2,200 yards and rushing for over 500 last season. He accounted for 13 touchdowns through the air and 12 on the ground. He missed two of the team’s games with injury, and missed a large part of two other games for the same reason. He is working to improve his passing this season, as he wants the Maryland passing attack to take full advantage of the plethora of talented receivers on the roster.

Mike Locksley runs his offense out of many different formations, and likes to run the ball out of each one of them. He will run counters, inside zone, outside zone, read-options and inverted veers as part of his very diverse rushing attack. His passing attack strongly resembles a pro-style one, with a good number of vertical passes to take advantage of Deon Long and Stefon Diggs’ speed. Offensive line play will be key for the Terps this season, as they may start two true freshman at their two offensive tackle spots.

So, as you can see, the Maryland offense fits just fine into what the Big Ten already has. They are one of three teams who run a Multiple offense, and also fit into some of the spread offenses. These offenses have been able to have success in this conference, so Maryland should be just fine. They are an offense built on running the football, which is what the Big Ten does best. With some improved offensive line play, the Terps should be able to have a lot of success in their new conference.

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About the author


Zack Kiesel   

Terps Analyst

Zack is a full-time college student working towards a career in law and politics. The Owings Mills native focuses most of his efforts on football recruiting and individual coach and player pieces. He has previously written Terps game recaps for ACCSportsNation.


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