The first time Alex Neutz observed Jeff Quinn’s hurry-up, spread offense was when Florida faced Quinn’s Cincinnati squad in the Sugar Bowl and it left a favorable impression. The ball was snapped within seconds and the entire unit appeared on the same page.
“Everything was clicking,” said Neutz, a senior wide receiver from Grand Island. “It was so organized and fast.”
While the tempo of the University at Buffalo’s offense is to Quinn’s liking, the efficiency the last three seasons has been lacking.
When Quinn arrived, players were in awe at the tempo of the spread, but that hasn’t turned in to an avalanche of yards and points. Now with his most experienced offense, Quinn has made it clear the pace of the scheme will increase a few notches, which is promising news for those who believed Quinn left his gentlemen-start-your-engines offense in Ohio.
“At the end of the day I want good, effective, efficient offensive execution,” Quinn said. “Where I feel where our comfort zone is as an offense and our players as an offense is to be able to change the tempo and the pace of the ball being snapped.”
The success of the spread starts under center, where the Bulls have had questions in each of the last three seasons. In Quinn’s first season in 2010, the Bulls averaged a Mid-American Conference low 14.2 points a game and were 11th in total offense (297.7 ypg.) as quarterback Jerry Davis struggled with the spread concepts. Davis gave way to then true freshman Alex Zordich. In 2011, Quinn brought in Cincinnati transfer Chazz Anderson, who was more comfortable in the system but increased the Bulls’ scoring (22.2 ppg) and total offense (365.2) numbers only slightly.
Last year, Zordich began the season as they starter before suffering an injury, which cleared the way for redshirt freshman Joe Licata to start the last four games. But Buffalo ranked next-to-last in the MAC in scoring (21.2) and 10th in total offense (375.8) in 2012.
So much of the spread’s success will be determined by the learning curve of Williamsville native Licata, who is taking snaps with the first team in spring practice. Quinn said Licata has improved his speed and quickness and could be assimilated into the run game. Zordich rushed for 501 yards a year ago. Coming into Licata’s second season with talent that believes it is in concert with Quinn’s blueprint, the Bulls’ offensive speed should increase. Quinn said he’s still installing packages to the spread.
“We’re almost there,” Neutz said. “The first couple of years, I don’t think we were at the speed Coach Quinn wanted us to be, the speed that really confuses the defenses the way it was meant to confuse them. This year, we’re getting the snaps off quick and it might be faster than what we do in games. We’re on the verge of what he expects out of us.”
In terms of efficiency, the Bulls have to finish the job in the red zone, where they scored on just 69.4 percent of their chances and ranked just ahead Massachusetts and Bowling Green in the MAC for 11th. They scored 19 touchdowns; league champion Northern Illinois scored 50. East Division champ Kent State scored 30.
“We have to have a finishing mentality and put points on the board,” Quinn said. “We did not produce enough points. It’s about taking care of the ball and finishing.”
Converting third downs is also pivital. Only Eastern Michigan’s 33.2 percent was worst than UB’s 33.9 percent clip on third down.
“That’s going to allow us to really expand our offense,” Neutz said. “I think we found ourselves in some third and longs last year that slowed the offense down and made us take a step back and not really run the no huddle. If we can get four or five yards on first down, I think our offense can really be explosive.”