By David Coleman
The News Sports Writer
NEDERLAND – Everything old is new again.
The Nederland Bulldogs under Larry Neumann’s staff has had a formula to win games. They run the ball and play solid defense. When he started his tenure in Nederland 20 years ago, that meant running an I-formation offense with a tailback, a fullback and a tight end.
Then, as with seemingly the entire football world, things morphed into the spread about 10 years ago before coming full circle back to the I-form in the past two years. According to Neumann, that’s more about adjusting the offense to the personnel rather than any grand changes in philosophy.
“Here, we’ve always been driven by personnel,” Neumann said. “We’ll always be driven by personnel. That can change drastically, even from week to week. Sometimes, we get a heads-up on it, but sometimes, we just have to roll with it. We’re going to try and give our personnel their greatest chance for success. We’re going to apply what we know to make that happen. That’s what drives it.”
Two years ago, in its last year in the spread, Nederland averaged 26.8 points per game on offense. Under the direction of quarterback Dionte Forney, the Bulldogs gained 2,00 0 yards rushing (182 per game) and 1,401 passing (127 per game).
Troy Benjamin gained 875 rushing yards while Trevin Sonnier rushed for 15 TDs. Forney completed 52.8 percent of his passes for 823 yards with six TDs and six INTs.
Then-sophomore Carson Raines started a handful of games that season, throwing for 367 yards and two TDs while tying Forney with six INTs. Having experience running both offenses has really helped the Nederland offense this year.
“He’s experienced both,” Nederland offensive coordinator Monte Barrow said. “Carson is the kind of athlete you can put the spread in for. We dabbled in it before Ryan Sampere came in here. He was a lot like Carson in that he threw from the run maybe better than he could from the pocket.”
With a returning tailback in Benjamin and a QB with some experience in Raines, Nederland decided to switch back to its more familiar offense last season. The Bulldogs didn’t see many improvements in production, averaging an identical 26.8 points per game and losing four yards of total offense off its average, gaining 305.2 total yards per game.
This year, though, everything has come together. The Bulldogs are averaging 30.8 points per game and 319.5 yards of offense. Nederland’s point total is the second-highest its averaged in the past 10 years next to 33.7 ppg in 2004. It’s also 15 yards per game more than last season, the biggest jump in total offense from one season to the next since Nederland went from 254 yards per game in 2009 to 309 in 2010.
“We’ve had figure out what needed to be there and not overload our players,” Barrow said. “It’s not a plethora of plays we throw at them. We try to keep it simple and just run a bunch of different formations. It’s called different ways, but the line only hears it one way. The receivers only have one little piece that changes its key, but the assignment stays the same. In high school football, when you limited on the number of hours you have to work, that has to be a priority for you as a coach.”
This year, that improvement has been most apparent in the running game. Nederland is averaging over 200 rushing yards per game for the first time since 2006 and just the second time in the last 10 years.
The offense’s versatility has stemmed in large part from the offensive line. Assistant coaches Jae Stoker and David Crommett have melded their zone blocking and man blocking schemes to create a line that can do a little bit o everything.
One of the keys to all this is our lineman can block in two different ways,” Neumann said. “It was a philosophy change when we went to the spread. Now, we’ve evolved to where we can do two different philosophies with our line. We can do some of the old stuff, lining up in heavy, two tight sets. We can also zone block with the spread stuff. Our line coaches have done a great job applying those techniques to the style we have. I don’t know many people who can say their offensive lines do that.”
Installing the new playbook didn’t happen overnight. Even though the offense was run before, the players currently on the team had never run it. That meant the coaches had to adapt the language they used with the spread to what they were doing with the new I-form.
That has caused a few harmless hiccups from time to time.
“I called a play two weeks ago that was how we used to call it,” Barrow said. “It was the same play. Coach (Brian) Spell didn’t catch it, because that’s how we used to do it. In our two-back system, when we went to exclusively spread, we changed all our terminology. When we went back, we didn’t change the terminology, because we didn’t want to confuse us. It was harder on us (coaches) than the kids.”
The offense Nederland is running is also not entirely its old look. Barrow and the rest of the coaching staff have strived to take the best things about the spread and use it in this new set, along with the new formations.
That also means keeping the ability for Raines and the offense to check with the sideline for audibles based on how the defense lines up.
“That was the number one thing we said when we went back to this offense,” Barrow said. “We didn’t want to handcuff ourselves just because we’re going back to the line of scrimmage and maybe see what the defense is doing. That’s something you think more of in the spread, but it’s been a big piece for us.”
BULLDOG BITES: Controversy only matters when a team loses, usually. But, Dawson’s final play of regulation had lots of questions about it from fans. The Nederland coaches didn’t see anything illegal about the substitution bringing a kicker onto the field. But, the illegal shift penalty being a dead ball foul was news to Neumann. It all has to do with whether a team has huddled or not before the penalty. If the offense breaks the huddle, goes to the line and has an illegal shift called, it’s a live ball foul, meaning the play that follows the shift can stand if the opposing coach declines the penalty. If the team does not huddle, though, the shift results in a dead ball foul, meaning the resulting play didn’t happen. … Nederland had a few first against Dawson in the box score. First, it was the first time all season that the Bulldogs failed to rush for at least 100 yards in a game. Nederland rushed for 82 yards against Dawson. Its previous low was 111 yards against Vidor in Week 4. Dawson’s 382 yards of offense was the most Nederland’s defense has allowed all season. However, Dawson ended up rushing for just 3.81 yards per carry. There were five times this season that Nederland allowed more yards per carry. …The Bulldogs did pass a threshold with the 22 points they scored against Dawson. Nederland now has 400 points this season. It’s the first time since 2004 they’ve hit that mark and just the seventh time in school history. The school record is 480 points scored in 1999, when the Bulldogs went 11-2.