Category Archives: Strategery And Mechanics

“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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Filed under Strategery And Mechanics

“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.

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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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Filed under Strategery And Mechanics, The NCAA

Saban goes Bert.

Geez, Nick.  You were doing so well keeping your opinions about the 10-second rule to yourself.  And then you had to go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like this:

“The fastball guys (up-tempo coaches) say there’s no data out there, and I guess you have to use some logic. What’s the logic? If you smoke one cigarette, do you have the same chances of getting cancer if you smoke 20? I guess there’s no study that specifically says that. But logically, we would say, ‘Yeah, there probably is.’”

Nice tortured analogy.  However, if you really want to go there, shouldn’t you apply the same logic to the effect of schedule expansion?  In the last two decades or so, the regular season has gotten longer and most conferences have added a championship game.  And now, the postseason is embarking on an expansion kick.  Starting this season, an Alabama team that plays for the national title after winning the SECCG will be hitting and tackling opponents for the fifteenth time.  That’s a 25% increase from the early nineties, assuming bowl eligibility.

Funny how Saban has nothing to say about that.

And unlike the up-tempo stuff, there may be some relevant data out there about schedule size.  Per Dave Bartoo,

In the 2013, 133k play FBS season, 526 guys were lost for the year during the season to injury. In the 32 team, 16 game, 32k plays NFL it was 205 season ending injuries. OR season ending injuries during the season occurred 162% more often per play in the NFL than FBS. OR one SEI in the NFL every 156 plays to 253 on the FBS.

The NFL doesn’t have a pace problem.  Even Saban acknowledges that.  What it does have is a longer season.  While I won’t insist correlation equals causation, that’s not the banner of logic ol’ Nick’s marching under here.

Saban is as calculating a man as you’ll find.  I don’t take this as some sort of irrational outburst.  It indicates two things to me – one, that the rule proposal is a big deal for him, and, two, that he’s concerned it won’t pass.  He’s playing the player safety card because it’s the way to get a change in the rule this season and because it’s easier to generate support for this than it is for a debate over tactics.

What I can’t figure out are his motives.  Why the rush?  I have a hard time believing he’s that insecure about defending HUNH offenses. He’s smart and his program recruits better than any other in the country.  Something doesn’t add up.

Not to mention he’s handing Alabama’s biggest rival a most handy club to bash him with on the recruiting trail.

“It’s a joke, is what it is,” Jacobs said in an interview with AL.com this week. “Everything’s going faster in sports. You get penalized if you don’t play fast enough in golf. Now you’ve got pitch counts in baseball to throw a pitch. And to think we’re slowing something down without any data is just ridiculous to me. The thing about it is, kids today, they love playing in this hurry-up type offense because it’s fun. So if you like to have fun, you need to go to a place like Auburn.”

Is it just about screwing with what Auburn does?  You got me.

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UPDATE:  Jon Solomon makes a similar point, with a twist.

… There are potentially more meaningful, under-the-radar ways than the 10-second rule to help player safety.

1. Reduce the number of games.

Good luck seeing that happen. That would be one less home game for schools to generate revenue. But it’s the easiest and simplest way to guarantee fewer hits to a player during the course of a season and his career. Saban, who wants to reduce the exposure for players, is the loudest proponent for a ninth conference game in the SEC, which is considered the most physically-demanding conference.

When Florida State won the national championship in 1999, the Seminoles played 12 total games the whole season. The Seminoles played 14 games last season to win the national title. If they reach the national title game next season in the new College Football Playoff, they will have likely played 15 games.

Florida State’s offense had 15 percent more total plays in 2013 than in 1999, and the Seminoles’ defensive plays increased by 29 percent. Yet Florida State’s plays per game on offense barely moved up from 68.3 in 1999 to 68.7 in 2013. Tempo adds to more plays for many teams in football today, but not necessarily to the toll more games places on the body.

Football coaches and a handful of conferences (the ACC was one) lobbied against 12 games when the change occurred in 2005. More leagues (including the ACC) have added conference championship games since then. Not to mention, what about the exposure to hits that overmatched teams face against elite teams due to more guarantee games being added by an extra game?

The maximum number of games most college football players in the early 2000s could have played over a four-year career was 48. Starting next season, the four-year maximum will be 60. College football’s hunt for money means up to an entire regular season could be added onto players’ bodies over the course of their career.  [Emphasis added.]

One thing more important than player safety is bank balance stability.

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Filed under Nick Saban Rules, Strategery And Mechanics

Sandra Bullock has questions about the 10-second rule.

This is pretty clever.

I await Bert’s retort.

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UPDATE:  Well, maybe.

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Filed under Strategery And Mechanics, The NCAA

Monday morning buffet

Jump right in and get your week started.

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Filed under Auburn's Cast of Thousands, Because Nothing Sucks Like A Big Orange, Georgia Football, Georgia Tech Football, Media Punditry/Foibles, Strategery And Mechanics, The NCAA

The results are in.

It looks like Bert’s done a pretty crappy sales job with the 10-second substitution proposal.

Man, and it used to be that a “do it for the children” pitch made for a slam dunk.  I wonder if he’s still as certain as he was that the rule will pass March 6.

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UPDATE:  More details here.

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Filed under Strategery And Mechanics, The NCAA

In today’s SEC, variety is the spice of life.

I’ve touched on this before, but the idea that the SEC’s loss of so much experienced talent at the quarterback position going into this season may lead to a defensive renaissance needs to be put in context.  And that context ain’t that pretty.

The last couple of seasons only continued a trend toward more explosive offense and away from the suffocating defense that was the SEC’s trademark for many years. Just a few seasons ago, nearly every SEC defense ranked among the nation’s top half in terms of yards allowed. That’s no longer the case, as about half of the league’s defenses trended toward the bottom in 2013 — with Arkansas (76th), Missouri (81st), Tennessee (83rd), Auburn (86th), Kentucky (91st) and Texas A&M (109th) all ranking 75th or worse nationally in total defense.

Some of those teams generally sucked, sure, but you’ve also got your two division winners in that group.  (And no Todd Grantham.  But I digress.)  How much of that development can you attribute to great quarterbacking and how much to a broader issue of defensive quality?

Ching thinks that it’s not your father’s SEC anymore and the offenses will still run ahead of the defenses.

Getting rid of some great quarterbacks will certainly help improve those numbers, but this is no longer the smashmouth, pound-the-run league that it once was. It’s not as simple to defend what today’s offenses throw at you as it was during the I-formation days of yore, and several SEC defenses have a long way to go before anyone would consider them competent at containing such attacks.

You have Gus Malzahn’s ground-based spread at Auburn, which led the nation with 328.3 rushing yards per game and nearly carried the Tigers to a BCS crown. There’s Missouri’s version that featured one of the league’s top rushing attacks and some dangerous (and huge) weapons at wideout. Kevin Sumlin’s spread at Texas A&M obviously benefited from having Manziel as the triggerman, but the Aggies are still going to post big numbers even without Johnny Football.

And you’ve still got versatile offensive schemes such as those at Ole Miss, South Carolina and Georgia — all of which will start senior quarterbacks — that will almost certainly continue to produce on the ground and through the air. Wild cards LSU, Florida and Mississippi State also have the potential to be impressive on offense depending on how their quarterbacks and young skill players develop.

It’s the wide array of offensive schemes that are the big challenge to conference defenses now.  To succeed over the course of a season, you’ve got to be able to go from handling the HUNH you see from Auburn, Ole Miss and TAMU (all different in philosophy) to the pro style stuff that’s Alabama’s, LSU’s and Georgia’s bread and butter and anything in between.  That calls for having enough quality personnel to be versatile.  Yeah, teams in the conference recruit very well, but well enough?

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Filed under SEC Football, Strategery And Mechanics

Say what you want about the tenets of Bill Snyder’s offense, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.

Bill Connelly starts with a pretty interesting premise.

The word “spread” has come to describe about 38 different styles of offense in college football. If you line your tight end up detached from the line, you’re a spread. If you utilize mostly four wideouts, you’re a spread. Hell, if your quarterback lines up mostly in the shotgun, you’re a spread. These all have kernels of truth in them, but at this point, the spread has mostly lost its meaning. Saying a team runs a “spread” offense tells you almost nothing about what kind of offense the team actually runs.

At its heart, though, the spread ethos is about putting playmakers in space and giving them room to make plays. It originally developed as an underdog tactic of sorts, as a way to spread out and harry more talented defenses and hopefully force some mistakes. But there is a certain level of tactical superiority to the idea, and after a while, a lot of the most talented teams in the country began to employ more and more spread tactics.

And uses that to get to the following line of inquiry:

But who actually spread you out the most in 2013? Whether a team is actually doing it well or not, the spread is designed to create numbers advantages and get the ball-carrier away from a mass of tacklers. That often leads to solo tackles. So which offensive systems led to the most solo tackles?

There are some interesting results, with this leading the way.

The most interesting team on the list might be right at the very top, however. Kansas State was the most spread-’em-out team in the land according to this method. That seems quite strange, at least until you read what Mike Nixon wrote about KSU back in 2012.

No matter what the defenses throw at them, the Wildcats can adjust and exploit the holes of the defense. Mixing in a balance of traditional offset I-formations, single-back two tight end formations, several three-, four-, and five- wide spread variations, and even a dose of the Wildcat, KSU creates endless headaches for opposing coaches.

Even better yet, the Wildcats are extremely balanced in their run/pass splits out of each formation. While some teams become extremely predictable when they line-up in particular formations, KSU seems to do an incredible job of self-scouting to ensure they do not fall into any formation tendencies and become predictable. Whether it’s a strong play-action game out of the offset I-Formation or running a quarterback lead draw out of a shotgun spread formation, the Wildcats make sure opponents are threatened across the board in every formation they show.

The Air Raid gets the attention, but KSU creates a spread ethos in a way that includes a lot of tight ends and fullbacks (and about two good receivers). The Wildcats are incredibly unique, and considering they ranked 14th in Off. F/+ in their first year after Collin Klein left, it appears they know what they’re doing.

It’s funny how much Bill Snyder’s name comes up when you study college ball.  He’s a damned good coach.

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Filed under Stats Geek!, Strategery And Mechanics

Boom goes boom on the 10-second rule.

He’s a Saban disciple who plays at an even more deliberate pace than his mentor does, so it’s easy to assume that Will Muschamp favors the substitution proposal roiling college football right now.

Except he doesn’t.

Even defensive-minded Florida coach Will Muschamp told ESPN.com on Thursday that he isn’t in favor of the rule. While he ran more of a run-first, traditional pro-style offense during his first three years with the Gators, the addition of new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has the Gators shifting to more of a spread, up-tempo look in 2014.

Muschamp said he did a study two years ago and learned that on average, four to six snaps a game come before 10 seconds tick off the game clock.

“You’re talking four to six plays, come on,” Muschamp said. “It’s not that big of a deal. It’s not about player safety. To me, it’s funny that everybody wants to argue whatever their point is. It’s not really about what’s good for the game, it’s about what’s good for me, at the end of the day. All these hurry-up guys want to snap as fast as they can snap it, and the guys who don’t hurry-up want the game slowed down.”

Self-interested coaches at the heart of the debate?  Color me shocked, shocked.

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“I can only hope that’s posturing for a coach who wants the rule.”

Man, if I didn’t know any better, it sure sounds like there are a lot of haunted head coaches in college football.  As well as a lot of head coaches who aren’t doctors and shouldn’t play them in an NCAA rules change debate.

“How do you do it [slow the game down] for a guy who is out there for seven, eight, nine plays in a row,” Calhoun told reporters this week, “especially if it’s a kid you have to manage that maybe has a sickle cell trait or asthma.”

Some clarifications:

  • Attaching pace of play and player safety to sickle cell trait seems to be a reach. No Division I player has ever died during a game due to sickle cell trait. Every documented case of death due to SCT has occurred during practice or offseason conditioning.

    Sickle cell trait is the leading killer of Division I players since 2000. The inherited condition is passed along genetically. In small percentages among mostly African-Americans, it causes blood cells to “sickle” during times of exertion.

  • Oklahoma, among other schools, has had award winners play with the condition. If coaches and trainers are educated, they know enough to ease such players into drills to avoid overexertion.
  • The NCAA has mandated testing for sickle cell trait since August 2010. A coaching and training staff would know if player had the trait.
  • The last documented player to die from the condition was Ole Miss’ Bennie Abram. He died four years ago Wednesday.
  • Seven, eight, nine plays in a row? Scott Anderson scoffs. The respected Oklahoma head athletic trainer is one of the leading authorities on SCT. Anderson is also the former president of the College Athletics Trainers Society (CATS).

“All any [unhealthy] player ever has to do is ‘take a knee’, or, if down … stay down,” Anderson wrote in an email. “With a downed player … all play stops! Medical assessment ensues, the player is removed from play.”

Unhealthy ain’t the same as poorly conditioned.  (Or out of position, for that matter.)  It makes you wonder if some of these guys have any clue about how to deal with the kids who really are a health risk.

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Filed under Strategery And Mechanics, The Body Is A Temple