These days, the Spread-Option system is the offense of choice in college football. The last three Champions (LSU, Florida and Texas) all run a version of it, as does a new front-runner for this year’s crystal football trophy, #5 Missouri. The trendy approach is utilized by programs all across the nation, but is also especially prevalent within the Big 10. Both local teams -Illinois and Northwestern- use it; NU even fittingly (and coincidentally) has the phrase “Spread far the fame” in their fight song. Senior skill position players Quarterback C.J. Bacher and Running Back Tyrell Sutton have worked the system productively enough to put themselves on pace to shatter most of the school career rushing and passing records and lead the Wildcats to a 3-0 start. I saw them work the spread on a day when all the elements: steady down pours complementing 96% humidity, did not favor prolific offensive production. The paid attendance was 19,000, but only the die-hards showed up to see NU give Southern Illinois “Purple Nurple,” beating the Salukis 33-7.
The weather was so bad that the dance team had just four “Lady Cats” and the student section numbered less than 100. Luckily, I was comfortably dry in the press box after a commute that required a Wisconsin Dells “Duck” vehicle instead of a car. Flooded roads all over the northern metropolitan area may have halted motorists, but Sutton (17-101, 3 TDs) and Bacher (21-29 passing, 0 INT) had no problem reaching their destinations. “We had the advantage of having some recent experience in conditions like this, and I don’t think it affected us much at all on offense,” Bacher said post-game. “For us to practice wet-ball drills this week was a great advantage for our team,” Sutton added.
Northwestern’s brand of the spread-option relies on a no-huddle and varying the speed that they get the ball off the line of scrimmage. “We know a lot of teams can’t keep up so we try to wear them out during the first series, first quarter, first half and try to play as fast as we can because we condition for it every day. We know a lot of teams aren’t conditioned to come out with the juices flowing, and we try to control the tempo and push the tempo as fast we can,” Sutton added.
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