By Mike Kuchar
Editor’s Note: Herb Hand returns for a fourth year to the Commodore coaching staff as offensive line coach. This past season, the Commodores finished with a 9-4 record- one of the best in program history- including a bowl victory against NC State. Prior to accepting the Vanderbilt position, Hand worked three years at Tulsa, serving as assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and line coach. Hand helped guide Tulsa to consecutive GMAC Bowl appearances behind one of the NCAA's most explosive spread offenses. Before joining Tulsa, Hand spent six successful years at West Virginia, serving as tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator under Coach Rich Rodriquez. Hand helped the Mountaineers to three Big East Conference titles and five straight postseason bowl games during the span, including a 38-35 victory over Southeastern Conference champion Georgia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl. X&O Labs Senior Research Manager Mike Kuchar spent some talking with Hand, who has been involved in spread systems since 1999.
MK: What has been one of the more productive formations you’ve used in the run game recently? What advantage does it give you offensively? What problems does it present to the defense?
HH: We have had a lot of success running the ball with formations that present the defense with broad blocking surfaces by using Tight Ends and H-backs. We feel that those personnel groupings give us the ability to create leverage advantages in alignments to run the ball with a variety of schemes (split zone, power, counter, sweep) while also forcing the defense to account for them in the passing game.
MK: Have you shifted your preference in personnel groupings? At West Virginia you were more of a 10 and 20-personnel team. Is talent level the priority in selecting the right personnel or is it more about presenting as many "different pictures" to the defense as possible?
HH: Here at Vanderbilt, we are a personnel driven pro style offense – what that means is we want to get our best players on the field and put them in position to make plays. We also want to be very multiple in how we use our personnel. We want to have the ability to present the defense with a nontraditional formations and alignments from traditional personnel groups. An example we use is lining up in an empty backfield with 22 personnel on the field. Our philosophy is to get our best 11 on the field and our offense is flexible enough to allow for the use of multiple personnel groupings based not only on production of the players but also on what formations might give the defense the most problems on any given week.
We’re constantly changing guys throughout the game and we use motions to create leverage advantages or matchup advantages. It is a lot more of a pro style offense than a spread offense. We do have some spread components, but we’ve been able to marry up a lot of those spread concepts with pro concepts. We want to recruit athletes and use those guys in a variety of different ways so that we can keep defenses on their heels.
For additional information about the run game differences between the two schemes, click here to join the Insiders.
MK: Explain your three base run schemes.
HH: We run a power and counter, which are our Gap schemes. We run inside and outside zone plays, which are in our Zone concepts and we run a variety of Pin/Pull sweep concepts, which fall in the G category. With our G schemes, we might pull our play side tackle and guard, our tackle and center or our center and guard depending on the scheme and the defensive front. We also have some auxiliary runs such as our speed options and speed sweeps which are like zone schemes and reverses, draws and traps as well.
MK: How much Pistol have you been running compared to being in straight shotgun formations? What is your thought process on which one has been more productive for you? Are there any run schemes that you prefer to be in just one of these formations? Why?
HH: We have not used any Pistol concepts in our run package at Vanderbilt but have researched the formation and understand the benefits and liabilities of employing that particular set. The obvious benefit in using the Pistol is that it does not give the defense any pre-snap tendencies based on your RB’s alignment regardless of whether you are running the ball or if your back is involved in pass protection. Personally, I feel like the pistol is effective in downhill runs like power or inside zone schemes and it also presents problems to the defense when running inside zone read concepts especially when the defense is using gap exchange techniques based on the RB’s alignment in the shotgun. The biggest consideration in using any formations is determining what works best for you and your players – whether running out of traditional shotgun alignments or Pistol alignments, as long as you are fundamentally sound and your players and coaches believe in what you are doing you can have success.
Teams that have run the Pistol offense, such as Nevada, have had tremendous success with it because it is what they do exclusively. It’s a solid concept because there is no pre-snap tendency you are giving the defense. Defenses now are designing their blitz packages to where the offset back is. In the Pistol, there is no offset back so it makes it a little more difficult to scheme up blitzes. The bottom line is what can you execute? What can your kids execute? Do your kids believe in the system? What kind of answers do you have if/when the defense is presenting problems?
For a look at the changes Coach Hand has made to his tempo expectations, click here to join the Insiders.
MK: In a previous conversation, you mentioned you’re using more of a "gap concept" run game more than "zone concept" run game. What are some reasons behind this?
HH: I wouldn’t necessarily say that we are using one concept more than the other – we have the ability to use whatever concept gives us the greatest opportunity for success on any given week or any given drive. We believe in preparing our guys to run both Gap and Zone concepts versus any type of alignment that the defense presents us with so that it will allow us to easily make in-game adjustments as well as forcing the defense to have to fit both scheme concepts.
For an in-depth look at the changes Coach Hand has made to his Zone Read scheme, click here to join the Insiders.
MK: As a veteran with significant experience coaching the spread offense, what are some things that coaches can expect to see offensively this season that are becoming more en-vouge in this offense? This can relate to play concepts, tempo, personnel groupings, identifying personnel mismatches, etc.
HH: I think that more teams will try to employ a variety of tempos in an attempt to dictate the pace of the game. One thing that we are starting to see a lot more of is nontraditional formations and unbalanced formations that create conflicts for defenses. The ultimate goal of any offense is to get the ball in the hands of a playmaker out in space and the only limit in achieving this goal is the creativity of offensive coaching staffs. As long as what you are doing (a) is fundamentally sound, (b) your players can execute their assignments with precision and efficiency and (c) has answers to problems that defenses can present, then let it rip and have some fun.
MK: Coach, it was fun just talking ball with you. We appreciate your time.
HH: Love what you’re doing for the football community. Keep up the great work!
What You're Missing:
Join X&O Labs exclusive membership, the Insiders, and gain full access to Coach Hand's interview including:
Why he feels that tempo is not just about "going fast."
Adjustments that Coach Hand has made in the read zone game including RB and QB alignments, RB entry points and adjustments in blocking schemes.
Why Tight ends and H backs are the most important offensive players on the field.
The impact of the sugar huddle and which plays to use in it.
How many formations and schemes should be carried into each weekly game plan.
Why he doesn’t feel there is a need for the Pistol formation in Vanderbilt’s offense.