Around 2001, when Miami was winning the BCS National Championship over the Nebraska Cornhuskers, a drastic shift was taking place around college football. Urban Meyer accepted the head coaching position at Bowling Green. Rich Rodriguez left Clemson to become the head football coach at West Virginia, and Mike Leach was in year two at Texas Tech.
Leach’s Air Raid offense moved the Sooners up from 101st in points per game to 6th in a single season. By 2005, Pat White was throwing for 6,000 career yards and 56 touchdowns as quarterback of the Mountaineers. Urban Meyer’s stay at Bowling Green was only two seasons, where they were 3rd in points per game in year two. Meyer then moved on to Utah where he guided Alex Smith to scoring 42 total touchdowns and a 12-0 record. In 2004, the Utes were 3rd overall in scoring.
Meanwhile, Miami dominated college football for three seasons, 2000-2002, with a pro style offense. While Meyer, Rodriguez and Leach were coining the phrase spread offense, Miami stayed true with the I-Formation and 21 personnel offenses that made the ‘Canes famous in the 80’s and 90’s.
When Brock Berlin took over as quarterback in 2003, there was an obvious issue. Pro style offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski struggled to fit the scheme to Berlin’s abilities. Berlin was a shotgun, spread quarterback who excelled with space to throw and with spacing routes. The Florida transfer was used to the Fun & Gun not the I-Formation. Berlin threw 12 touchdowns with 17 interceptions in 2003 and saw improvement as Miami went with more shotgun sets in 2004.
By 2005, Texas was winning the National Championship with Vince Young running the ball from the shotgun and quarterback position only a few short years after being an under center team with Priest Holmes and Ricky Williams toting the rock. The times were changing and teams were adapting to the multiple wide receiver sets, the inside zone read option made famous by Urban Meyer and Chip Kelly (Oregon Ducks).
The Gators and Coach Meyer still used a tight end, but he was more of a flex / h-back type than an old school in-line tight end with his hand down. The Gators won the BCS National Championship in 2006 and 2008 in a spread set using plays like QB Power and the Triple Option Shovel concept while keeping the passing game fairly simple for 2007 Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Tim Tebow.
Why coaches stopped using two TE sets
While Meyer and Chip Kelly continued to use a tight end, the idea of smash mouth football and two tight end sets was really being reserved for Stanford and the Big Ten. The rest of the country was quickly adapting to what they saw winning the major bowl games, and what the high school coaches were doing. High school big shot coaches like Gus Malzahn, Art Briles and Hugh Freeze were high school head coaches that got onto coaching staffs on the backs of state championships, spread concepts, and big-time recruits.
As the high school coaches started to evaluate rosters, coaching staffs, and schemes- it made sense to line up in 10 personnel and run what was being ran on Saturdays. As a high school coach we are limited at most schools in how many coaches we can pay on staff which usually limits the quality of assistant coach you can hire. If I only have 5-6 assistants I have to judge whether or not it makes sense to have one coaching tight ends.
From there, now I have no coach for that “hybrid” kid. My roster decision as a head coach was to use him as an h-back when I’ve had bigger staffs. When I have smaller staffs he’s an inside wide receiver opposite of my slot receiver. I can have one wide receiver coach working with four different positions (both outside receivers and both inside receivers) which makes players easier to plug-and-play and the scheme easier to teach.
Why two TE sets are coming back
Two tight end sets are starting to come back into popularity. In Super Bowl LIII, the New England Patriots edge the L.A. Rams 13-3. Tight end Rob Gronkowski caught six balls for 87 yards, and the Patriots top two running backs ran for 5.2 and 6.1 yards per carry and a touchdown in the victory. The Pats used two tight end sets against both the Rams and Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game.
Why did the Pats go back to the two TE sets? Because defenses are built to stop 20, 10 and 11 personnel schemes that feature smaller players spread out wider. When you have a Gronkowski type that can line up in the slot or in-line as a hand down tight end you have a personnel and size advantage. “Gronk” was not only a soft handed receiver, but also a tenacious blocker. The smaller defenders of the Chiefs and Rams were pushed around by the two tight end sets and it kept their defense off balance and from being able to sub.
With all of the talk of run-pass options and the Air Raid over the past decade, the newest secret weapon will be using two hybrid type tight ends who can both block and line up in the slot. David Njoku served as a mean weapon for Miami in the slot catching RPO bubble screens in 2016 for the ‘Canes. Christopher Herndon IV was underutilized in this same role but served as a great blocker on plays like split zone for Miami in 2017.
Brevin Jordan and Will Mallory are the future of the two tight end set at Miami and Larry Hodges and Michael Irvin II will add depth at the position. Dan Enos has always liked to use multiple tight ends an in an ACC built to stop more spread based teams like Clemson, FSU, and now UNC- Miami could be on to something if they’ll stay true to the multiple tight end sets against smaller defenders.
What the defense sees
The offense sees two versatile weapons but the defense sees extra gaps and a pair of players that are taller than their cornerbacks and faster than their linebackers. They see an elite athlete in Brevin Jordan who can catch a bubble and break tackles or out run their safety on a corner route. They will be dictated to by the offense, especially if Miami can cue up the tempo while not having to sub either tight end off of the field.
Adding extra gaps can be important in the run game. D.C.’s are forcing schools who have recruited smaller players to move into the box and defend against larger linemen and tight ends. The threat of the pass is still there. Plays like Stick, Mesh, 6, and solid rub routes like slant-arrow or the very basic but deadly dig-flat are still available, too.
Ace doubles in 12 personnel
In a standard 2x2 Ace set with two tight ends, you’re going to force most of the spread defenses out of their comfort zone. First, many are playing two high safeties in this era of football. Now one will have to roll into the box. You’re also going to force someone to play an under front (Sam down as a 7 and a nose “front side”).
Ace doubles in 12 personnel
One of my favorite formations as an O.C. is a 2x2 set with a winged TE and a slot receiver. Imagine if the slot was a big, fast, physical player and the winged TE could play in the passing and running game. Defenses are going to have to spread out larger defenders or be out sized by both Mallory and Jordan.
Ace Trips H-Wing in 12 personnel
When an offense puts in two tight ends and can run trips with passing or running success, it can be deadly. Where the Iowa’s and Wisconsin’s go wrong is they don’t have the speed of Miami at outside receiver. Also, their tight ends are more in-line and less likely to be flex players who can run in space.
In the image above, the defense is forced to put a safety in the box to defend the run rather than a linebacker and the hope would be that a running back can muscle up a safety better than a linebacker.
Pros and Cons of two TE’s at Miami
There are pros and cons to running two tight ends at Miami. For the pros, the ‘Canes can get two very athletic players on the field at the same time. Defenses are always scheming how to get their best, most athletic 11 on the field at once. Now the offense can do the same with Jeff Thomas, K.J. Osborn, Mallory and Jordan plus Deejay Dallas as potential receivers. It could help in the run game by creating gaps the defense has to defend and by putting smaller players in a run-first conflict.
The cons are simple. Miami has had a weak offensive line the past few seasons and two tight end sets will close down the box and allow teams to play a run-first defensive ball game. It also takes away space for Lorenzo Lingard, Dallas and Cam’Ron Harris (or Davis) to run. When a speedy slot is out wide the defense has to adjust and put a linebacker over him (like Miami’s Striker) and a safety back off of him thus putting three over two to one side. With a tight end it might not be as imperative if the defense feels their guys can run with Jordan (good luck).