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1998 American Football Monthly Coordinators of the Year© More from this issue
Sure it is easy to coach one of the best offenses in the country when you have All-American Tim Couch (7 NCAA, 14 SEC and 26 school records) as your QB. But to dismiss the accomplishments of the UK offense and the staff that led it as purely the play of Couch would be a failure to look deep into the system that has produced huge numbers at every stop over a 11-year period.
1998 American Football Monthly offensive coordinator of the year Mike Leach (currently the OC at the University of Oklahoma, hired by Head Coach Bob Stoops to bring some flash into the Sooner offense) worked with UK head man Hal Mumme to perfect the short-controlled passing game known as the "Air Raid," and 1998 was one season the Wildcat fans won't soon forget and many SEC defensive coordinators would like to.
In 1998, UK' s offense was at the top of almost every conceivable national category. Kentucky ranked second nationally in passing offense (412.2 yards per game), third in total offense (534.2 yards per game), and eighth in scoring (37.9). In the SEC, the Cats were first in scoring offense (37.9), passing offense (412.2 yards per game), passing efficiency (155.3 rating), total offense (534.2 yards per game), first downs (292), and time of possession (32:55). While these numbers are mind-numbing, that the Wildcats successfully protected their QB on 95.5 percent of all passing plays is even more impressive given that teams went into the game vs. Kentucky looking for Couch and company to throw it all over the field.
Leach describes the AirRaid offense as "a controlled passing game that works to spread out the field for both the pass and run. It is designed to get the ball in the hands of all receivers and running backs. We have a 'spread the wealth' philosophy to force the defense to cover everyone."
"We used a three or four WR basic set, and were about 50/50 one-back vs. two-back," he said. "The one thing that we strove to improve on was recognition of what the defense was giving us. We consistently spent practice time making certain that our quarterbacks, running backs, offensive linemen, tight ends and wide outs recognized the defense and reacted accordingly within our plan of attack (to go after the weakness)."
When you throw it well, one of the misconceptions that can arise is that you do not run the ball at all. In 1998, Kentucky averaged four yards per run and its top two backs (Derek Homer and Anthony White) led the SEC in total yards from scrimmage (rushing and receiving) for any league tandem. "We never once have gone into a game with a predetermined idea of pass versus run, " Leach said. "We simply take what they are giving us." For example, last year versus LSU, UK ran for 182 yards and the next week ran for over 200 against Georgia.
Leach acknowledged that the run is crucial to the system's success. "If they (the defense) is going to give you the run, you absolutely have to take advantage of that situation or the other team will not respect that portion of your game and limit your options. We work on three basic areas: up the middle, outside and draws."
The 1998 Kentucky offense was exciting for the fans of the Cats (over 40,000 traveled to the Outback Bowl to watch them against Penn State) and Oklahoma Sooner faithful are anxiously awaiting Leach and his troops getting after the Big XII.
If you're a defensive back, linebacker or defensive lineman and blow an assignment during practice at Florida State, you'll surely hear the unmistakable voice of defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews heading towards you full-speed and full-volume. He will let you know in no uncertain terms that you screwed up, but two minutes later, he'll have his arm around you making you smile. Any defensive player who has stepped onto the field at FSU during the past 15 years has learned one thing: "Coach Andrews will get after your butt, but you're one of his and he loves you too," they will say.
1998 was supposed to be a so-called rebuilding year for the Seminoles. Gone to the NFL were stars Andre Wadsworth, Sam Cowart and Darryl Bush. Yet, 1998 American Football Monthly defensive coordinator of the year Mickey Andrews, currently heading into his 16th season as the DC at Florida State University, brought together a young group that by year's end were playing as well as possibly any defensive attack he has ever had at Tallahassee.
"Going into the year we thought we were maybe a year away," Andrews said. "We had so many great players we had to replace and some of the new guys had played some, but hadn't really shown that they could play up to the level we needed them to play at to be successful . . . but, you've got just got to give credit to the seniors, to the guys who stepped up, who not only led the way, but dragged a few guys with them."
As an All-America WR and DB at Alabama for Bear Bryant, Andrews is positive that the Bear's boot camp-like practices and concern for his players has shaped the coach he is today. "You didn't just go to practice, you went to war; it's not only about surviving, it's about becoming better because of it, " Andrews said.
In 1998, FSU's defense was just outright nasty and at or near the top of almost every national statistical category. The Noles ranked first in total defense (214.8 yards allowed per game), and second in total points allowed (11.5 per game), and rushing defense (79.8 yards per game). The scary thing is FSU got stronger as the game went on, allowing only 45 points in the second half of all 11 games combined (25 total in the crucial fourth quarter).
The Seminole defense has been known for the pressure it has put on its opponents. Andrews said, "we play an agressive 4-3, attacking the line of scrimmage at the snap. Our idea is to play football on the opponent's side of the ball, take away the run by disrupting their blocking schemes, make them throw, and go after the passer hard... we want to force the offense to make decisions... our front four is the heart and soul of our defense."
His boss, Bobby Bowden, says, "I've got the best defensive coordinator in America and I just let him coach. Since I got Mickey, I never really cared much about sticking my nose in the defensive huddle."
Bowden did not ascend to his perch as one of the deans of the college game without being a pretty wise owl. He knows that he has got a "good one" in Andrews and does everything he can to keep him around. Consider this one simple fact that gives Mickey Andrews one of the most secure jobs in all of America. In the first eight years Bowden was at FSU, he won 10 games in a season three times (1977, 1979 and 1980). In the 15 years since Andrews arrived (1984), FSU has recorded 12 consecutive 10-win seasons and an amazing 12-straight campaigns ranked in the top four in the national polls.
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