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Ga. Tech transfer Threet gets starting nod

Bill Brink | Thursday, September 11, 2008

Rich Rodriguez had it all planned out.

He would lure coveted quarterback recruit Terrelle Pryor away from West Virginia, where he ran a high-scoring version of the spread offense with quarterback Pat White, and bring him to his new job at Michigan. Pryor, with his speed, athleticism and strong arm, was the poster child for spread offense quarterbacks. He would help usher in the new offense.

But Pryor bailed, instead heading to play for Jim Tressel and enemy Ohio State, and Rodriguez was forced to make do. Steven Threet, a redshirt freshman transfer from Georgia Tech, and junior Nick Sheridan now have the responsibility of learning and running Rodriguez’ offense.

“You’ve got to be patient because they’re young guys and we have to make progress each week,” Rodriguez said after the Wolverines’ 16-6 win over Miami (OH) Saturday. “They will definitely get more confidence as the season goes on.”

The idea behind the spread is to get as many skill position athletes (running backs and wide receivers) in the game as possible and spread them across the field. This keeps the defense from congregating in the box and forces them to play one-on-one more often. The defense is stretched thin from sideline to sideline and has less help making tackles, so a missed tackle can easily result in a big play.

It’s common to see reverses, direct snaps to running backs or quarterback runs because the idea is to get the ball in the hands of speedy players. The play of the spread centers on the quarterback’s ability to work through his progressions well.

“I made some of the right reads this week,” Threet said after Saturday’s game. “I had some difficulty seeing things next week, but I saw them this week.”

Neither quarterback has been great. In Michigan’s 25-23 loss to Utah, Threet completed eight-of-19 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown, and Sheridan completed 11-of-19 with a touchdown and an interception. Against Miami (OH), Threet was 6-of-13 for 63 yards and Sheridan was 4-of-5 for just 40 yards.

Irish coach Charlie Weis said he expects to see both Sheridan and Threet, and possibly Carlos Brown, at quarterback. Brown is a multi-position player who is more of a threat on the ground than Sheridan and Threet but missed time because of a shoulder injury.

“I think they’ll have a Carlos Brown package that we’ll have to practice,” Weis said in his press conference Tuesday. “I think we’ll see [Brown] a little bit at quarterback in this game now that he’s healthy, because the other two guys are more of throwers and this kid is a running back that has played some quarterback.”

A defense has enough trouble covering the spread, but what adds to the confusion is the no-huddle offense the Wolverines use. They approach the line of scrimmage to see what defensive personnel and alignment they are facing, then call a play based on what they see. In this way, they can create mismatches with their skill position players.

Weis met with Rodriguez before the beginning of last season to discuss aspects of the spread offense and said the no-huddle offense intrigued him.

“I thought it was really interesting how [Rodriguez] calls almost every play at the line of scrimmage,” Weis said.

At West Virginia last season, Rodriguez’ offense averaged 39.6 points per game and gained 456.2 total yards per game. Because they had White and running backs Steve Slaton, who now plays for the Houston Texans, and freshman speedster Noel Devine, most of those yards came on the ground.

The Wolverine offense may be similar; so far, no receiver has caught more than eight passes or 64 yards in the first two games combined. Freshman running back Sam McGuffie found his stride against Miami (OH), rushing for 74 yards on 17 carries, but the Wolverines have only averaged 107 yards rushing in their first two games – somewhat low for a spread offense.

Rodriguez has shown no signs of deviating from the Threet-Sheridan rotation.

“We may start off the same way we did last week with Steve and Nick, Steve going first,” he said. “If one guy would emerge and play to the point where it’s just him and he’s playing at that level, that would be good. Our concern is that whoever is doing the snaps can execute the system.”