Florida's Meyer had hand in Appalachian success
Jerry Moore was struggling at Appalachian State in 2003 and concerned his job was in jeopardy when the football junkie kept watching Utah pile up points late at night on Saturdays with this spread offense perfected by Urban Meyer.
Moore, in his mid 60s and firmly entrenched with the I-formation from his time working under Tom Osborne, decided to make a dramatic change.
Seven years later, after three national championships, a monumental upset of Michigan and six straight Southern Conference titles, Moore's Mountaineers (9-1) are ranked No. 2 in both Football Championship Subdivision polls and an offensive juggernaut.
Meyer will get a close look at Moore's creation on Saturday when his struggling Florida Gators (6-4) host the dangerous Mountaineers.
''I'm proud of him,'' Meyer said. ''He's a heck of a football coach.''
Moore and Meyer have become friends, but Moore chuckled this week when he thought back to when he decided to embrace a foreign offense of no-huddle, shotgun snaps, multiple receivers and mobile quarterbacks.
''My whole background was I-formation. We were always under the center,'' Moore said. ''When I saw what they were doing, it was a great combination for what I liked as far as running the ball and throwing the ball.''
A FCS school with a much smaller budget than the big boys, Moore didn't have the money to travel to Salt Lake City to talk to Meyer. He also was hesitant to ask him anyway.
''It wasn't Urban so much early as his assistants. They would share stuff with us,'' Moore said. ''We didn't think about asking the head coach. He's busy doing other stuff.''
Moore also went to West Virginia to talk to then-coach Rich Rodriguez's staff about the offense. After only modest success in his first year using it in 2004 - 6-5 with no playoff berth and no ensuing contract extension - Moore finally ran into Meyer at an offseason banquet.
''I thought, 'Moore and Meyer, I may be sitting next to Urban,''' Moore said. ''Next thing you know I walk in and there he is.
''I said, 'I know everybody asks you about (quarterback Alex) Smith, but I want to know about your right guard. Urban kind of smiled and I knew I may have hit a key note right there with him.''
Meyer was soon on his way to Florida, a much easier place for Moore and his staff to visit.
''When he went to Florida I said, 'Oh man, this is perfect,''' Moore said. ''I've been down there the three previous years. I think our relationship has grown pretty significantly. We were together at the ESPY awards.''
And soon Moore's offense starting clicking in ways he never could have imagined.
Athletic quarterback Richie Williams led the Mountaineers to their first national title in 2005, just as Armanti Edwards chose to attend Appalachian because of the new offense.
Edwards would soon lead the Mountaineers to two more national titles and break numerous records. With Edwards now playing for the Carolina Panthers, the undersized DeAndre Presley has 2,793 yards of total offense this season and threw 14 touchdown passes before his first interception.
Appalachian State averages 37 points a game, fourth-best in the FCS.
''It's fun, especially when you have the ability to run,'' Presley said of the spread. ''It's big, really, really big, because a defense can't key on just one person.''
Florida, has had its own success with the same offense that includes tight end sets, winning national titles in 2006 and '08 with the help of Tim Tebow. The big difference is Appalachian State's offensive line is much smaller.
''In the SEC, they couldn't play a 265- or 270-pound guard. And we love them,'' Moore said. ''They're fast, they're quick kids and they're able to do what we want to do. The biggest test, obviously, was Michigan. We matched up good and we did some nice things against Michigan that had the big linemen.''
Ah, Michigan. The stunning, 34-32 win over the fifth-ranked Wolverines in 2007 forever changed this mountain campus and Moore's life. It soon helped upend Michigan, too, with a coaching change that saw Rodriguez leave West Virginia to run the same spread offense with the Wolverines.
Now Moore and Meyer meet for the first time on the field. But while the Mountaineers are among the favorites to win another FCS national title, Meyer's Gators are struggling. They've lost three in a row at home amid QB woes as offensive coordinator Steve Addazio has been the target of criticism.
For the moment it's Moore, now 71 with two replacement knees, who is considered a go-to guy for all things spread offense after transforming his program thanks to his late-night TV watching of Meyer in Utah.
''He's been very, very helpful and very open,'' Moore said. ''We're more like them than anybody else.''
AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Gainesville, Fla., contributed to this report.