Sun, Sep 28, 2003 - Page 24 News List

Texas Tech absorbs plenty of criticism over its old offense

By Troy Phillips  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , FORT WORTH, TEXAS

Minutes after holding the nation's No. 1-ranked offense to three touchdowns, North Carolina State's players hooted and hollered in the locker room on Saturday.

The atmosphere changed when stat sheets were floated around the room.

"It was like everyone stopped," NC State defensive end Mario Williams told a local newspaper. "They had 586? Wow. Mouths fell open, but the stats didn't mean anything as long as we won the game."

North Carolina State won 49-21 despite a school-record 586 yards passing by Texas Tech quarterback B.J. Symons and the Red Raiders' 681 total yards. For Tech, which leads the nation with 439.3 yards passing a game, it was another day of inflated numbers but with a deflating result, one that has again stirred debate over the merits of fourth-year coach Mike Leach's eye-popping spread offense.

The Raiders (2-1) won't be changing their look today when they visit Eli Manning and Mississippi (2-1), another team that loves the airball but values a ball-control running game. Leach, whose offense cranked out nine victories a year ago, is steadfast in his philosophy.

Turnovers and special-teams mistakes helped undo Tech against North Carolina State, but Leach's Vegas-style offense always draws the most scrutiny.

"You can't break your [offensive] package," said Leach, comparing his adherence to a system with any other coach. "That would be stupid. You invest a lot of time to get good at something. When you're throwing your best pitch, you're at your best."

Tech's offense, hatched years ago at tiny Iowa Wesleyan when Leach first worked with former Kentucky coach Hal Mumme, is a frequent topic of football dissection. The system first copied the old BYU spread, which Leach learned in the early 1980s as a player under Lavell Edwards.

At Iowa Wesleyan and later at Valdosta (Georgia) State and Kentucky, Mumme and Leach directed those offenses to numerous league and national records. Leach installed the system for a year at Oklahoma (1999) before taking his first head coaching job at Tech in 2000.

The quirky offense incorporates risk-taking on fourth down, even at one's own end of the field. It holds that seven points trumps three in nearly any situation, the faster the better. It pays little credence to time of possession, which most coaches deem critical in resting a defense or managing the clock in a tight game.

"To me, it's why God gave you four downs. You use them," said Mumme, who was fired at Kentucky after the 2000 season and is now head coach at Division I-AA independent Southeastern Louisiana. "In a normal game, say you have to punt eight times. What if you gave a kid like B.J. [Symons] three more extra [fourth] downs? The way we look at it, you end up making some big plays you normally wouldn't because you punted."

Leach's offense spawned highly productive college quarterbacks in Kentucky's Tim Couch, Oklahoma's Josh Heupel and Tech's Kliff Kingsbury. All were recognizable names.

That's because Leach's system utilizes every receiver -- running backs included -- without featuring one or two. A regular game rotation includes eight to 10 players catching passes, running routes or blocking.

Leach, who is 25-17 at Tech, takes the most heat for his offense, with claims that he ignores balance between the running and passing games and sets the tone for a flawed recruiting agenda that neglects defense.

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