Mitchell mixes it up on offense

Mitchell’s Alec Lambert, left, is getting more opportunities to throw this season as the Mustangs work to bring more components to their offense. Coach Scott Schmitz says Mitchell’s passing has improved “by leaps and bounds.”

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Mitchell’s Alec Lambert, left, is getting more opportunities to throw this season as the Mustangs work to bring more components to their offense. Coach Scott Schmitz says Mitchell’s passing has improved “by leaps and bounds.”

Mitchell's offense has done some strange things the first two weeks of the season.

There have been offensive formations with two or three wide receivers. The quarterback has dropped back to pass in the shotgun.

What in the name of the wing-T is going on with the Mustangs?

Mitchell, which has long favored a run-oriented attack, is starting to shuck its roots with more passing so it will not be as predictable.

So far, the new-fangled approach has produced some not-so-predictable results. The Mustangs are averaging 14 passing attempts per game, eight more than their average the previous two seasons. Alec Lambert, who took over as the starting quarterback, has thrown for 309 yards, including 181 in last week's 41-30 victory over Ridgewood.

"Before, we've been run, run and then we throw when we have to," Mitchell coach Scott Schmitz said. "But I've stressed that we need to be more balanced, and our passing game has improved by leaps and bounds."

The overhaul in the Mustangs' offensive philosophy belies their reputation. Schmitz started Mitchell's program in 2000 and coached nine seasons (2000-08), leading the Mustangs to three consecutive playoff berths (2002-04). When Schmitz returned two years ago, he continued with his old-fashioned approach on offense, relying on a solid wall of linemen trapping and pulling defenders into submission with a slew of running backs banging away behind them.

That brutal concept helped the Mustangs go 6-4 each of the past two seasons, but late-season slumps cost them a shot at the playoffs.

Now, 3 yards and cloud of dust has turned into 18 yards and a trail of vapor.

Mitchell is averaging 364 yards (154.5 rushing, 209.5 passing) and 32.5 points per game. But don't start calling Mitchell Air Schmitz just yet. After all, the Mustangs still run the ball 70 percent of the time.

It's what the Mustangs do when they put the ball in the air that has produced big-time results.

"We have tremendous guys out of the backfield and a number of receivers with great hands," Schmitz said. "They've really meshed well into what we want to do on offense. We've basically just revamped some things. My son, Andy, is calling the offense, and he's added some new wrinkles that allow us to attack in a lot of different ways."

The transition was smooth because of the personnel. Lambert, a junior, has emerged as a steady passer, completing 57 percent of his throws. Nate Boler has showed off his versatility with 124 yards rushing to go along with a team-leading 140 receiving.

"When I first came here it was strictly a run offense," Lambert said. "But they have a lot of trust in us to throw the ball more. I think it's really helped us become more explosive, and we're just scratching the surface. I think we can put up 40 points a game when this offense is really clicking."

By spreading the ball around, the diverse offense has kept defenses honest and created wider lanes for running backs. Christian Trinidad has been the benefactor with a team-leading 248 yards on 36 carries, nearly 7 yards per attempt.

"It's been a surprise the way we've been able to throw the ball," Trinidad said. "It's a good thing, though. It gives me more runs, and hopefully I can rush for 1,000 yards. But the biggest thing is to keep winning and make the playoffs.

"I think we have the offense to make that happen."

Bob Putnam can be reached at putnam@tampabay.com or on Twitter @BobbyHomeTeam.

Mitchell mixes it up on offense 09/11/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 11:08pm]

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