Spreading the wealth: Blue Raider offense excels under first-year offensive coordinator
The Middle Tennessee football team has found success with the spread offense under new offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner this season, lighting up the scoreboard and sporting a 2-1 record.
“I’ve always been in the spread; I’ve always coached in it,” Faulkner said of his offensive background. “I was a quarterback in the spread offense really similar to what we’re doing now.”
The Lilburn, Ga. native played his college ball at Valdosta State and Texas A&M-Commerce, where he threw for just under 10,000 career yards and garnered an honorable mention All-American selection in his sophomore year at Valdosta. He threw for 3,941 yards and 44 touchdowns that season and led the Blazers to a 14-1 record and a spot in the Division II National Championship Game.
Before arriving at MT, Faulkner served as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Murray State in 2010. In his only season coaching the Racers, the offense broke 27 school records and ranked among the nation’s elite in multiple categories.
In 2011, Faulkner served as quarterbacks’ coach for a Blue Raider football team that could not quite get over the hump, starting the season 0-3 and finishing with only two wins in 12 games. Even though the offensive scheme remains basically the same, MT’s on-field success tells a different story this year.
“We try to run the ball a little differently than we did last year; we try to get a little more vertical, more play-action pass,” Faulkner said. “We just have to continue to grow.”
Faulkner has specific strategy for the team’s success this year.
“One thing we believe is we want to spread the ball around and try to utilize our playmakers and each kid’s direct skill set. [Another] thing we believe in is running the ball first. Even though we are a ‘spread offense,’ we want to be physical.”
MT is also running a “spread offense” with the ground game. Four Blue Raider running backs have double-digit carries and two of those players have rushed the ball more than 30 times. The depth in the backfield has produced 584 yards on 127 carries and five touchdowns, ranking them 41st in the NCAA in rushing, averaging 194.7 yards per game.
“We want as many guys to touch the ball as we can. To us, it doesn’t really matter who it is…they just want to play and win…for each other,” Faulkner said.
Having as many players touch the ball as possible seems to be paying off. Over the course of the first three games, the Blue Raider offense has averaged 420 yards from scrimmage.
Unlike the running game, the passing game seems to be a one-horse show as quarterback Logan Kilgore has found his favorite receiver in wide receiver Anthony Amos. The senior receiver has 21 receptions for 300 yards and three touchdowns. Kyle Griswould ranks second on the team with 10 catches.
However, just because Amos has the most catches for the most yards does not mean Kilgore is not spreading the ball around. Four other receivers have an average of 12 yards or more per catch.
In the spread offense, there are usually four receivers on the field with the addition of a running back. Most defenses do not have enough personnel to cover every receiver, so either there will be one receiver open or there will be wide open holes for the run game, thinning out the opposing defense. A quarterback running a spread offense will often call audibles at the line of scrimmage, depending on the way the defensive is arranged to catch opposing teams off guard, and Logan Kilgore is no exception.
“[Kilgore] has free reign, for the most part, to check in and out of plays,” Faulkner said of his junior quarterback. “I want him to be an extension of [the coaching staff] out there…if it’s a run…and there’s an uncovered receiver, [Kilgore] is going to check the pass and throw it to him.”
MT faced a tough road match up at Georgia Tech last Saturday and an even tougher matchup against University of Louisiana-Monroe at home this Saturday.
“We respect all of our opponents the same, no matter what they’ve done or what they haven’t done. You’ve got to respect the process; anything can happen on a Saturday afternoon. We’ll worry about Monroe [next] Saturday night. We respect them all the same and treat them all the same. We’ll give them our best effort,” Faulkner said.
ULM embarrassed the eighth-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks in their first game of the season but has since lost their last two games to the Auburn Tigers and the Baylor Bears. Both games were relatively high-scoring and were decided by three and five points, respectively.
Monroe’s game against the Blue Raiders will be the Warhawks’ first Sun Belt game. MT currently sits at 1-0 in conference play, tying Louisiana-Lafayette for the top spot in the Sun Belt.
The Blue Raiders classified winning the Sun Belt as a top priority for the 2012 campaign, and the coaching staff has worked to prepare its players for the road ahead.
“It’s a mentality…that we’ve tried to create since the season ended last year. [Our] mentality is to just be a physical, tough football team,” Faulkner said. “Our job is to protect the football and figure out a way to score one more point than our opponent.”