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The "3 Yards and a Cloud of Dust" Misconception

Many people (mostly in the mainstream media) have recently mentioned that Michigan is abandoning its "3 yards and a cloud of dust" tradition in favor of a "wide-open spread." I will contend that this is not quite accurate, and it involves a misunderstanding of both concepts.

First, the "three yards and a cloud of dust" ideology. It focuses on the run game, and only passing the football when entirely necessary. While teams in the past that favored this philosophy typically featured heavy sets with many tight ends, and relied on a bruising RB to hit the hole hard and gain yards after contact, that is not the only way to run the football effectively.

Now, the "wide-open spread." The implication of this phrase is that the ball goes all over the field (hence "wide-open"). While Rodriguez's spread runs off-tackle, it is easier to get the ball to the perimeter with a quarterback who throws tons of screens, and can stretch the ball downfield. Purdue has a "wide-open" offense Rich Rodriguez has an offense that tries to run the ball 60% of the time (and has actually run for a greater proportion in the past). Michigan didn't use star receivers often enough when they had Mario Manningham and Steve Breaston, so if anything changes in that department, it seems as though it will be for the better.

So, it is plain to see that a spread offense does not necessarily preclude running the ball often, and with effectiveness. Don't be surprised when Michigan runs for far more yards this year than they have in the recent past. If the goal of both offenses is to do the majority of damage on the ground, and pass only when necessary (for example, in 3rd-and-long situations, when behind by a large margin, or to prevent the defense from selling out on the run), is it really that different? Michigan tried to keep the ball out of Chad Henne's hands and in those of Mike Hart as often as possible in their careers. Just because Michigan is going to run more effectively now, I wouldn't expect them to run for a vastly different percentage of attempts.

Finally is the idea that Michigan's philosophy has been a static and unchanging entity that is going to be vastly shattered. Bo Schembechler liked to run. Lloyd Carr liked to run. Rich Rodriguez likes to run. Bo himself even had an option game with QBs like Rick Leach before the pro-style got established in Ann Arbor.

So, next time you hear mention of the "wide-open spread" that Michigan will be using next year, think critically. In the context that it was used, is this an accurate statement? And, if change happens, is it necessarily a bad thing?

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“The "3 Yards and a Cloud of Dust" Misconception”