Steve Sturm, Football Writer
Brett Bielema needed to make a big first hire with his offensive coordinator selection and I'd say he did a pretty good job. Tony Petersen has been largely successful as a play caller and has a history in the B1G which should be valuable.
Petersen was a talented baseball player as well as a quarterback in college. He was drafted in the 16th round by the Royals in 1986 as he left junior college. He continued to pitch at Marshall but never pursued a pro baseball career after that. Petersen broke in as a grad assistant at Kentucky before returning to Marshall to coach every skill position between 1991 and 1997 before gaining a promotion to offensive coordinator in 1998. He soon moved to Minnesota and was essentially in charge of the passing game at Minnesota until 2006, when head coach Glen Mason was fired. Petersen spent four more years as a position coach at Iowa State, South Dakota and Marshall before he got another shot as a coordinator at Louisiana Tech in 2013. However, his shot didn't last long because head coach Skip Holtz took the play calling duties back from Petersen soon after hiring him. One can hardly blame Holtz, because Louisiana Tech's offense leveled up and they had a successful season. Petersen then moved on to East Carolina in 2016 and did a fine job as the primary play caller. East Carolina's offense was 23rd, 42nd and 57th in the nation in Petersen's three years there. ECU fired its entire staff after 2018. Following a year as an "offensive analyst" at Missouri, Petersen moved on to Appalachian State last year and did a very good job. Appalachian State was 26th in yards per game this year, which is an improvement from their previous ranking of 39th. Again, Petersen switched his focus and ran the ball about as much as a Rod Smith offense would. It was a different sort of offense, of course, but it was a distinctly run-heavy scheme that he inherited as he essentially switched places with Eli Drinkwitz.
These are clips of Appalachian State's games from last year. Notice how everything depends on the defense honoring the run between the tackles. The Mountaineers don't necessarily run the ball between the tackles very often, but by lining up with an offset hback and a tailback on every play, they can keep the linebackers in the box and then create an advantage for off tackle plays. Runs up the middle are still a part of the offense, but the big plays you'll see in these highlights are all on the edge. They don't throw down the middle very often either, but that is also a function of forcing the defense's linebackers and safeties to honor the run. When App State does throw between the hashes, they throw over the top and only if there's single coverage. Then, when you can see Arkansas State bleed out to the edges on third and long, Petersen called a quarterback draw and Zac Thomas walked into the end zone from 60 yards away.
Like Tony Petersen, Ryan Walters has a history of switching schemes to fit his personnel, which should be music to the ears of Illinois fans who watched Lovie Smith force square pegs into round holes for the first two years of his tenure. Walters emphasized in his first media availability that he believes the scheme has to fit the roster rather than the other way around. He showed that versatility last year when Missouri switched to primarily a 3-4 defense from a 4-2-5 stunt front. Missouri fans were largely upset with the change, and its hard to be too excited about the results in hindsight. However, Missouri didn't actually give up as many points as Mizzou fans seem to think given their complaints. Missouri gave up 406.9 yards per game and 32.3 points per game. Those totals are good for 8th in the SEC in yards and 9th in the SEC in points. In 2019, Missouri was 3rd in the SEC in yards allowed and 6th in points allowed. In 2018, Missouri was 10th and 8th in the SEC, respectively. Its possible that Missouri fans had unrealistic expectations for their defense in 2020. Not to mention the fact that Missouri had to play a 10 game SEC-only schedule and had some personnel losses due to Covid.
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