Category Archives: Strategery And Mechanics

Everybody Wang HUNH tonight.

Football Study Hall asks the musical question why doesn’t everyone HUNH, which leads to a debate as to whether HUNH is a tactic or strategy (pretty close to hair-splitting, IMO) and Gary Danielson calling Nick Saban’s observation that football was never intended to be a continuous sport stupid.

I do think Nick [Saban, one of the proponents of the 10-second rule] has a point: football was not originally meant to be a continuous sport. But I think it’s stupid coming from Nick, and I don’t understand why he’s doing it. He has the best players! He theoretically should have the most well-rounded players, and he could look more like the Seattle Seahawks than anybody else in college! But he fights it. Just swallow hard and put guys in there who can do a lot of things. You’ve got the better players.

The post goes on to explore the question in the context of Saban eschewing up-tempo stuff and speculates that…

So, Saban is making a conscious, strategic choice to be anti-HUNH because there are important tradeoffs. The HUNH might or might not be strategically superior, but there are certainly some benefits slowing things down too, namely in player attributes, scheme complexity, and play choice.

I think there’s something else in play as well.  It’s something that HeismanPundit has mentioned – the value of taking a contrarian position with an offensive scheme.  In the land of the HUNH, with its emphasis on isolating players, the power offense can wind up becoming king as defenses look to become smaller and quicker to combat offenses spreading the field.

But don’t take my word for it.  Take Nick Saban’s.

“We’ve kind of gotten antiquated, and now we’re all of a sudden back. Everybody used to run the ball like we run it. Now people have a hard time stopping us, because they don’t play against teams that run the ball like we runs it. These used to be the basic plays that everybody ran.”

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Steve Shaw, pacing himself

There is a lot to unpack from this interview with SEC officiating coordinator Steve Shaw about the debate over pace, but the first thing I’ve got to say about the man is that he’s much less arrogant about the topic than Bobby Gaston was.  Compare Gaston’s justification for inserting himself into the process…

Richt argued that the officials should put the ball in play as soon as they are set, regardless of how much time has elapsed, but Gaston said that would provide the offense an unfair advantage.

“Mark Richt would eat their lunch,” he said. “He would go straight to the ball and snap it. He’d get in 100 plays. We have about half the coaches who think we go too fast and about half who think we go too slow so we must be in about the right spot.”

… with what Shaw has to say about that:

“Whether we like it or not as officials, the college rule is different than the NFL rule,” Shaw said. “The college rule says when the ball is ready it can be snapped. So what we’ve got to do is be very consistent — and I’m not just talking SEC, I’m talking nationally. This is a big topic with (officiating) coordinators: How do we stay very consistent from a timing perspective on when the ball is ready and certainly any time there’s substitutions?”

That’s the difference between enforcing the rules and interpreting the rules according to some personal aesthetic agenda.  (Although, interestingly, Shaw seems to have overlooked what Gaston squelched with Richt when he noted at the time the 40-second clock was adopted, “Nobody was pressing the clock like they are now.”)

Shaw also points out that pace isn’t simply a matter of what offensive coaches try to do.

Conference officiating coordinators, along with College Football Officiating, LLC, are in the process of writing up specific standards of how to spot the ball ready for play “for every official in America to read and understand,” Shaw said.

In the SEC, Shaw said the general principle is the umpire will almost always spot the ball. The umpires are instructed to don’t sprint, don’t walk, but to jog crisply.

“I have nine SEC crews,” Shaw said. “When you talk about pace, you have different athleticism of umpires. What is a crisp jog to one guy is maybe not the exact same crisp jog to another guy.”

How much of that is due to athleticism and how much to, say, how an umpire feels about the proper amount of time to get set?  Common standards for spotting the ball seems like something that should have been established already, but in any event, it’s a welcome development.

It always seems that any time I read something about the SEC and officiating, something’s bound to turn up that’s irritating.  In this case, it’s adding the eighth official.  Shaw acknowledges that the conference’s test run had been successful, but…

The SEC tested eight officials in spring practices last year and will do so again this spring. What the SEC found was that an eighth official freed the umpire and referee to focus more on their pre-snap duties. Instead of the umpire spotting the ball, the eighth official — called the alternate referee — spots the ball.

“We manage uptempo much better (with an eighth official),” Shaw said.

More than tempo, though, Shaw said the eighth official allowed for better handling of spread offenses. For example, when five receivers go downfield, five officials become responsible to watch them, leaving just the umpire and referee to handle line-of-scrimmage play, including dangerous hits to the quarterback.

Although the early feedback is helpful, Shaw said he’s not sure if the SEC is ready to switch to eight officials during the season yet.

“We’ll be talking about it internally in the conference,” he said. “There would be latitude to do it in conference games only. Then you get to, do you want consistent officiating all year (since an eighth official is only allowed for conference games)? There’s a cost component to it. There’s one more official the schools have to pay so that always factors in. [Emphasis added.]  What I’m trying to look at is does that make us better?”

The conference is swimming in money, with more to come, but can’t swing the dough for nine guys who it admits can help manage the game better?  SEC, you’re so SEC.

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Going for two

The NFL is pondering changing the extra point rule because it’s almost automatic now.  That’s not exactly the case on the college level, but given there’s a certain percentage of folks who think that anything the NFL adopts should automatically be considered by the NCAA, you might be interested in reading what Chase Stuart has to say about the prospects of a mandated two-point play rule.

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Thin to win

Jeremy Pruitt may be out of the same Saban defensive school as Todd Grantham, but there’s at least one way in which he’s different. While Grantham claimed that he didn’t need a behemoth manning the nose guard position, he sure was happy using 360-pound monsters like John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers as space eaters there.

No more of that.

Pruitt told reporters Wednesday that he’s looking for slimmer, sleeker players. That’s especially true up front.

“We’re trying to get a lot of our bigger guys down,” Pruitt said. “Personally we feel like everybody’s a little heavy. We’d like everybody a bit faster. That’s our preference. We’re trying to slim up just a little. Including the coaching staff.”

Defensive end Ray Drew said he’s now about 282 pounds, after playing at 287 last year. His goal is to be at 275 by the fall.

“It’s that little 1/10th of a second that counts,” Drew said. “There were a few times last year where I had an opportunity to make some plays if I was a step quicker here or a step quicker there.”

I can’t argue that the move doesn’t make sense when you’re trying to catch running quarterbacks in spread attacks.  But how will it hold up in the face of a power offense running out of twin tight end sets?  (Of course, given how Alabama’s running attack mauled a Georgia defense with Jenkins and Geathers, you could certainly argue Pruitt’s approach couldn’t generate any worse results.)

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“Every little thing I do is just trying to create good habits.”

Weiszer’s got a good story on Hutson Mason.  One thing to keep a close eye on this spring is his mechanics, which sound like they still need a bit of polish.

“There are just some things he does with his drop that we’re going to try out this spring,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “It will be interesting how to see how it works. Hutson’s a guy that we’ve got to do a good job keeping on balance sometimes. His feet get a little bit too close together and he kind of gets up on his toes. A little bit looking at Tom Brady more of how he keeps a good base in the pocket is what I was showing him.”

Aaron Murray struggled with his footwork at times, but overall made good progress in that department (especially last season), so it’s not like we’re looking at the end of the world here.  But a lot of Murray’s shortcomings in that department came from inconsistent offensive line play, something that wouldn’t surprise me to be much the same in 2014.  And as Mason himself observes, it’s not like he’s got the luxury of working things out over a four-year career.

“Every little thing you have to do as far as preparation as far as holding guys accountable bringing guys along that need to be brought along, you can’t really sit here and say, ‘I’ll figure this out or get my feet wet,’” Mason said. “You’ve kind of just got to go all in. If that’s my point of view, win, lose or draw, I won’t have any regrets because the regrets will come if I didn’t say I didn’t go all in. At the end of the day, I can’t look back and say I can do this different next year because there is no next year.”

Let’s hope he’s a quick learner.

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Has “scheme” become a dirty word at Georgia?

I thought I’d share some quotes from Mark Richt about what’s behind the hiring of his last two defensive coordinators.  Start with a couple of things he said when he hired Todd Grantham.  One:

“There were so many names that crossed my desk and people calling from all around that recommended people and when Todd’s name came up I was very interested in learning more about him. The more I learned about him the more excited I got about him. It just so happens that a lot of coaches that I know in the business know Todd and know of what he’s done in the past and know of his football knowledge. I think a lot of people in the college game who have spent time with Todd and grown as coaches, let’s face it, the NFL is really the cutting edge of football and Coach Grantham is one of the best minds out there. [Emphasis added.] And it also turned out that my brother in law, Brad Johnson, who played quarterback for the Cowboys at the tail end of his career and was there last year and got to know Todd as a coach … and was highly impressed with him and his energy and how he would teach and the respect that players had for him.”

And two:

“I think it is particularly valuable that he has a wealth of experience on the defensive side of the ball at both the NFL and collegiate levels…”

Here’s what Richt has to say about where his head’s at now:

“You could have great scheme and poor tactics, and you’re going to have no success. I’d rather have less scheme and more tactics and more fundamentals because I think we’ll have a better chance of winning. That is what is happening right now,” Richt said.

To answer the question in the header, no, I don’t think Richt is abandoning defensive scheming.  But it’s pretty obvious he’s blowing off all that NFL-based expertise for something more practical, something that Grantham gave plenty of lip service to, but never seemed to instill in his troops.  Will that pay off, or will we be reading about a new approach from Richt in a few years?

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Let’s say Troy Calhoun is right…

when he says this about defending the HUNH:

“Based on all assurances, especially when you bring in medical people, they say it’s more of a conditioning matter than it is truly a medical item.”

Then, the question becomes what do you want to do about it?  Do you have the NCAA step in to protect programs that don’t make a maximum effort to condition their players?  Or do you leave it up to the schools to proceed along these lines?

Pruitt is looking for Georgia’s big defensive linemen to slim down also. Georgia lists linemen John Taylor, John Atkins and Chris Mayes at 336, 322 and 321 pounds, respectively.

“We’re trying to get some of our bigger guys down,” Pruitt said. “Personally, we feel like everybody’s heavy. We’d like to be a little faster. That’s just, I guess, out preference. Trying to slim up just a little, including the coaching staff.”

Defensive end Ray Drew said he’s gone from a high of 287 last season to 282 and hopes to get down to 275 by the fall.

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Neutral policy

Here’s what Richt had to say about the 10-second substitution rule yesterday.

“I support the officials being in position to call the game. I think you can go so fast that an official is out of position. There ought to be something in there to help the officials be in position to call the game, for their safety and for the integrity of the game, so to speak. I think that’s important. I think that not many people snap the ball faster than the 10-second timing that we’re talking about. If everybody snapped the ball right at 10 seconds, they’re flying and they’re going fast. I don’t know how much it would even affect us, but do I think that the rule should change? I don’t think the rule should change. Should it be modified somewhat if it needs to be to help the officials get in the right spots? I’d say yes. I think we’re in an off-year for rules changing, and the only way a rule can change is if it has a player safety issue involved in it. I think it’s more of a style issue than a safety issue. That’s what I think.”

Some of that is probably colored by Richt’s own experience trying to import the no-huddle offense into the SEC a decade ago.  But some of that is probably colored by the pace at which Georgia runs its offense now.

Here’s a rundown of the entire SEC in the last two seasons in terms of offensive snaps per game:

2013

1. Ole Miss: 79.8
2. Missouri: 75.5
3. Georgia: 74.6
4. Mississippi State: 74.2
5. Auburn: 73.8
6. Texas A&M: 73.8
7. South Carolina: 72.5
8. Vanderbilt: 70.8
9. Florida: 68.9
10. LSU: 67.7
11. Tennessee: 67.7
12. Kentucky: 66.8
13. Alabama: 65.9
14. Arkansas: 64.7

Given that Mason likes running the hurry up, I don’t see that ranking dropping much in 2014.

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“There isn’t a defensive coach in America who can sleep at night without taking pills.”

Who said this?

“We are now getting plays off every 12 or 13 seconds,”… “We are moving so fast I frequently can’t get a play in from the sidelines. We’ll hit 100 plays a game soon.” This, coming from one of football’s bastions of the conservative, makes it plain that something big has happened.

That would be Woody Hayes.  In 1968.

And Alabama has always been at war with Eastasia.  Or something.

Quite naturally, all of this is driving the game’s coaching giants goofy. Bear Bryant is sitting down there in Tuscaloosa with one of the best defensive teams he has ever had, allowing opponents only 10 points a game, but the Tide has been beaten twice and scared witless almost every week because it just can’t score enough. And coaches with teams that can score try to score plenty, because they pace the sidelines knowing a two-touchdown lead is far from a safe one anymore. (Halftime last Saturday: Ohio State, 24; Illinois, 0. In the fourth quarter: Ohio State, 24; Illinois, 24.)

“What’s happened is obvious,” says Bryant, the master of defense. “First of all, due to the pro influence, there are more good pitchers and catchers coming out of high school. They all want one of those Joe Namath contracts. Then, of course, most colleges use their best athletes on offense, as backs and receivers. That’s not necessarily true in the pros. They’ve got some of their best athletes on defense, especially corner-back. When the defense is forced to spread out, it must go to man-to-man coverage. But if the offensive boy—the pass receiver—is a better athlete than the defensive boy, he’ll beat him. So you have to go to double coverage, and that weakens you against the run.”

It’s the offense’s job to make life semi-tough for the defense.  (Had to get that Dan Jenkins reference in here somewhere.)  Eventually defenses catch up and the cycle renews.  It’s as true now as it was fifty years ago.

(h/t)

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“The process was a bit surprising.”

I made a joke about it before in the context of SEC Media Days, but it’s hard to ignore the personal aspect of the debate over the 10-second substitution rule.  Some of that’s probably the result of the high-handed way the vote was perceived to have been conducted.  Some hackles were raised over the implication that coaches like Bielema and Saban are more concerned about player safety than no-huddle gurus are.

But there’s something else happening here, something that I’m surprised hasn’t gotten more attention paid to it.  Especially because it’s what makes the college football world go ’round.

“Gus (Malzahn) and I were talking (Tuesday); it’s actually taken our time,” Freeze said. “It’s our livelihood…” [Emphasis added.]

You’re screwing with these coaches’ checkbooks.  Hells, yes, they’re going to push back.  And they have – hard.

“… We care about what happens with our sport. Our sport’s at one of the highest peaks of interest from the public opinion that it’s ever been. People are enjoying the games. We’ve kind of structured a nationwide attack of how we’ll go about voices heard before this is final. From our conference, coach (Kevin) Sumlin, Gus, myself and coach (Butch) Jones have led the way the most and coach (Steve) Spurrier. We divided up names that we were going to call that we felt like had an interest in this. It’s kind of been nationwide. It has taken time. We’ve tried to find if there was any documentation out there. We have routinely had a group of us calling the rules committee pretty regularly to continue to stress our opinion of where this is headed.”

I don’t think this unpleasantness is going to settle down any time soon, if for no other reason than that I expect the rules committee to punt the proposal for 2014, but decide to invite further consideration of it for next season.  All kidding aside, this year’s edition of SEC Media Days will be awkward.  Maybe as a peace gesture Slive could suggest realigning the divisions with the HUNH programs on one side and Bielema’s “normal American football” schools in the other.

**************************************************************************

UPDATE:  Um… it’s possible that Freeze is misreading the level of Spurrier’s enthusiasm on the subject.

Spurrier said he “left a voicemail” with someone on the NCAA rules committee regarding the proposed 10-second rule, which would forbid teams from snapping the football in the first 10 seconds of the play clock. Spurrier is against the rule. Where does it stand with the committee? “I don’t know. I’ve heard they’ve hopefully tabled it, but I’m not sure.”

There’s probably a great Spurrier voicemail parody out there just dying to meet us.

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