A quick glance at the University High offense reveals traits found in pass-friendly schemes at all levels of football: shotgun formations, multiple receivers and a breakneck tempo.
But at the core of the Cubs’ scheme lies a physical, inside running game anchored by a veteran offensive line.
Led by four seniors — Chris McGehee, Robert Gandy, Marshall Berg and Peyton Cabaniss — the UHS offensive line bullied its way through District 7-2A competition en route to a 10-0 regular season.
Junior center John Trusty and sophomore guard Garrett Brumfield also paved running lanes for a UHS attack that averages nearly 240 rushing yards per game and features a two-time 1,000-yard rusher in Nick Brossette.
“Regardless of how good your backs are, none of that matters if you don’t do a good job up front,” said UHS coach Chad Mahaffey. “If you’re moving guys back, then you give yourself a chance to be successful.”
The Cubs, seeded sixth in the Class 2A playoffs, will face a special challenge when they host Ferriday (5-5) at 7 p.m. Friday. The Trojans defense relies on confusion through a mixture of speed, multiple fronts and a heavy dose of blitzing.
“It’s important for us to recognize the front, trust our blocking rules and not get caught chasing guys all over the place” Mahaffey said.
“We try to keep our rules simple so when the bullets are flying you’ve got to trust in what you’ve prepared for during the week.”
But adjustments are nothing new for the UHS offensive line. Perhaps the biggest change came when Mahaffey arrived at UHS before the 2010 season. His first step was to install a no-huddle, spread offense. His goal was to implement a style that would wear down defenses.
The offense’s pace, however, can be just as detrimental to offensive personnel who aren’t physically prepared.
“We emphasize tempo and sprinting to the ball so we can identify the defense and get going,” Mahaffey said. “The line has to make a conscious effort to hustle to the ball because if we’re waiting on linemen to get set it’s going to slow us down.”
To prepare for the new offense players on the offensive line participated in junior varsity and varsity competition. Hours upon hours were also spent on conditioning and weight training, developing the combination of size and mobility Mahaffey demands from his players in the trenches.
But Mahaffey still had his concerns.
“I didn’t think the line was a weakness (last season), it was certainly a question mark,” he said.
But the revamped line emerged as the centerpiece of the 2011 offense. Brossette was the biggest beneficiary, boosting his rushing totals to 1,151 yards and 24 touchdowns. The Cubs averaged just more than 42 points a game and reached the 50-point mark in four games in their first undefeated regular season since 1988.
“What we do is try to play fast and play physical,” Mahaffey said. “I think the guys have bought into it and they’ve enjoyed it.”