Taking offense

Louisiana quarterback Zack Oliver says that the type of offense a team runs will be one of the deciding factors in selecting a college. So when he visited Evanston last weekend, talked with offensive coordinator Mick McCall and sat in on a quarterbacks meeting, he was paying special attention to NU's spread attack. In a chat with Purple Reign, he said he liked what he saw.

Zack Oliver didn't mince his words. He didn't qualify it or sugarcoat it or follow it up with a "but…"

No, Oliver, a 6-4, 218-pound quarterback, was unequivocal: he is not simply cognizant of what kind of offense a school runs; it's a major criterion for selecting a school.

Oliver is currently the conductor of a wide-open spread offense down at Catholic High School in Baton Rouge, La., where he threw for 37 touchdown last season while completing 191 of 301 passes. And he wouldn't mind picking up the baton – er, football – of another spread offense in college.

"That's one of the main things I'm looking for in a college," he said. "We run a spread option – just like Northwestern, really."

After a visit to Evanston last week, Oliver came away impressed with NU's spread attack – which, it turns out, is just like the spread attack he runs down on the Bayou.

"I got the chance to sit in on a quarterback meeting with coach McCall and the quarterbacks. I liked seeing how they run their offense. It's just like ours – it'd be like I didn't even go anywhere."

Of course, Oliver did go somewhere last week. Along with a handful of other 2011 targets – offensive lineman Jordan Walsh, defensive end James Adeyanju and running back Justice Hayes among them – Oliver was on a recruiting visit to Evanston. And he came away impressed.

"It was great," said Oliver, who runs a 4.78 40. "I had a great time. I got to stay with Evan Watkins, one of the freshman quarterbacks. It was a great experience. I'm really glad I went….

"I hadn't really ever been to Evanston or Chicago, or anywhere in Illinois for that matter. But I really did enjoy it. Evanston was great. The whole town was really neat. It was really, really fun."

Oliver met with head coach Pat Fitzgerald, his head recruiter Randy Bates and, of course, offensive coordinator Mick McCall, who showed Oliver first-hand what NU's offense was all about.

NU's passy-go-lucky spread distinguishes the Wildcats from most of the other schools currently recruiting Oliver. At the moment, he holds offers from Tulsa, Arkansas State and NU, and he says is getting interest from LSU, Florida State, Arkansas and Stanford.

But if a team's propensity to spread it out is, as Oliver said, one of the "main things" that he is looking for, then NU could have a good shot at landing a commitment.

Just think – in 2009, Northwestern ranked 13th in the nation in passing yards per game with 286.5. And of course the Cats capped the season with a record-breaking slinging exhibition in the Outback Bowl.

Juxtapose that to the other schools to have offered Oliver. In 2009, Arkansas State ranked No. 86 in the nation in passing yards per game, averaging less than 195 yards passing while tossing only 10 touchdowns passes (compared to NU's 20). And Tulsa ranked No. 32 in the nation in passing yards per game and attempted 124 fewer passes (389) on the season than NU (513).

Of the other schools that Oliver mentioned to Purple Reign – the ones that haven't yet offered – only Arkansas averaged more passing yards per game (295.5) than Northwestern. And even so, Arkansas doesn't run the type of spread that Oliver says he covets. The Razorbacks favor a downfield attack; they threw it 92 fewer times than NU did in 2009 yet still netted more yards.

The other schools – Florida State, Stanford and LSU – don't quite compare, either. Stanford threw it exactly 200 fewer times than Northwestern and usually prefers to operate from under center. Florida State ranked 12 spots below Northwestern in passing yards and threw it just 437 times on the season. And LSU is one of the most pass-averse teams in the nation; the Tigers, which ranked No. 97 in passing yards last season, averaged 181 yards per game on just 336 times.

Who knows how much of an impact NU's offense will have on Oliver's final decision – which he admits likely won't be made for a while. But it sounds like it surely won't hurt.

You can comment on this article at the Ryan Field Message Board. And as always, feel free to contact Purple Reign at northwestern.scout@gmail.com.

Here are some highlight of Oliver...

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