Just go for it.

Andy Staples watches Kevin Kelley’s team – you know, the one that (almost) never punts – go to Highland Park (Texas) High to win a game convincingly against an opponent that hadn’t lost at home since 1998 and can’t help but wonder about something.

• The Bruins don’t win because they don’t punt or because they attempt onside kicks every time or because their receivers routinely lateral on plays that aren’t the last one of the game. They win because of the attitude Kelley’s approach instills on Pulaski Academy’s sideline and the mindset it instills on the other sideline. The Bruins always play as if they’re down 10 with 90 seconds to go. Think about all the points you’ve seen scored in that type of situation. The offense plays as if it has nothing to lose. The defense tightens, playing to protect the lead rather than to advance the cause. That’s every minute of every Pulaski Academy game.

• Why hasn’t some college coach whose team is perpetually doomed by history and circumstances tried this? Instead of playing conventionally, losing and getting fired every three-to-five years, why wouldn’t David Beaty at Kansas or Darrell Hazell at Purdue try something dramatic in an attempt to close the talent gap between their teams and their opponents? Nearly every great football innovation has come out of an attempt to close a talent gap. Turning the psychological tables the way Pulaski has might be the next great innovation.

The crazy part about Kelley’s system is it isn’t crazy at all. It’s based entirely on math. Each yard line has an expected point value. Each down-and-distance has an expected rate of success. Punting average is easily calculated, as is punt return average. Years of football data have created these numbers, and while they differ between high school, college and the NFL, they do not differ as much as you might think. It’s fairly easy to use these numbers to create a do-I-go-for-it-on-fourth-down formula similar to the do-I-hit probability combinations in blackjack…

… So, why are college coaches—especially the ones whose teams are likely to lose most of their Power Five-versus-Power Five games anyway—so reluctant to try something the math suggests could work?

It’s not because math is hard, especially in this day and age of iPads and support staffers.  It’s because most coaches have an incentive to be cautious.  The pay is good and there’s always the next job around the corner if the current one doesn’t work out.  You don’t want a reputation of being that guy, the one who gets known for having used a crazy strategy to try to win.  It’s so much safer to hire retreads like Karl Dorrell and predictably lose with an offense that couldn’t get out of its own way.

The irony, of course, is that there are examples of contrarian thinking paying off on the college level.  As Staples observes,

Some coaches have done just that, but that requires imagination on their part and faith on the part of the administration that hired them. Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson is the only Power Five coach who runs the option as his base offense. Despite middling results before he got there and academic requirements that limit which recruits he can take, Johnson has won an ACC title. Last year his team went 11–3, won the ACC Coastal Division and pushed then unbeaten Florida State to the limit in the ACC championship game. The option takes away the need to recruit blue-chip quarterbacks, allowing Johnson to pull from the far deeper pool of athletic high school quarterbacks who would have otherwise been moved to tailback or safety in college. It also changes the math for offensive linemen. It’s tough to find ready-made 315-pounders. Alabama and Ohio State are going to get those guys. But the option puts a premium on speed and athleticism for linemen. There are far more lean(ish) 265-pound high school linemen who might grow into 300-pound monsters, and Johnson can recruit from that pool.

I’m not going to claim there aren’t limits on how far Johnson can go with the triple option.  But it’s hard to argue that Georgia Tech isn’t a more successful program right now than Vanderbilt, even taking into account the relative strengths of the conferences they play in.

Take a chance, fellas.  What do some of you have to lose?  And who knows?  You might even find that your fan base likes it.

79 Comments

Filed under Strategery And Mechanics

79 responses to “Just go for it.

  1. Johnson wins because he employs a blocking technique that while legal under the rules is about as dirty as it gets and should be made illegal like high hits have been. Diving for defenders’ knees is no class.

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    • He wins because the triple option is impossible to defend if run correctly by a competent QB. Erk Russell hired CPJ for that reason and would have made him OC at Georgia but for the fact Chuck Knapp is a douche.

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      • Make him run his offense where his linemen can’t dive at the opposition’s knees and see how effective the triple option is. If it’s impossible to defend, why don’t Alabama and Texas still run the wishbone or Georgia still run the veer?

        I agree his offense is difficult to defend with a good QB, but the tactics are still dirty.

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        • The big schools don’t run this because the kids that want to play in nfl will go elsewhere. When ncaa wasn’t nfl-lite they did play option football. The Florida schools brought the nfl style to the college game and started winning big. That plus early departures changed things for the big boys. It’s not a commentary on the offense but nobody runs it in the nfl, so why would a wr, a rb or a qb who desires to play at the next level play in a system that won’t prepare them for the next level?

          As far as blocking rules, they are what they are. If they eliminated the forward pass my assumption is CMR would have to make some changes.

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          • Paul Johnson would quit in a year if they couldn’t base their entire offense on wrecking knees. Yeah–its legal. So is fleecing old people out of their money. That doesn’t make it right though.

            You’d think the NCAA would want to better protect its football players from this legal but shitty tactic.

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          • Russ

            Yeah, that’s why no big college program runs the spread, because the NFL doesn’t.

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            • Did anyone in the nfl run Nebraska offense in the 1990’s? Nope. Did it work? Yep. Were they able to recruit? Yep. Did other programs start competing with them over players because they ran nfl type offenses while Nebraska didn’t? Yep. Did Nebraska hire Bill Callahan of the Raiders because of this? Yep. It’s a complex, complicated world. You have to live with your choices and know the consequences rather than ignoring the fact that they exist. We could go spread but then we’re competing with a lot of teams over qbs. As it is a pro style qb has limited choices and we are one of them. Not a bad place to be as far as I’m concerned.

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        • Kind of ironic that some would be fine with these physically dangerous tactics, but against other things that are also completely legal, ethical and not immoral.

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          • What was done to Darius Philon is far from ethical. Nick Saban and ethical have never met. Nick Saban and bill belichick are bestest buddies. FU BD.

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            • PTC DAWG

              BD is a good poster here, classy comment there. I am not sure what your constant badgering adds. That said I am not in charge.

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              • He’s trying to defend his classless, exploitative program led by a scumbag of the highest order on a Georgia bulldog blog. He thinks my saying cut blocks are within the rules that I then shouldn’t complain when Saban pulls a scholarship offer on signing day from a kid that’s been committed for months. If you didn’t get the subtext, there it is. If you still want to defend him and criticize me I couldn’t give a damn.

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                • PTC DAWG

                  I know what you are driving at, I just think there is a classier way to handle things. Obviously you don’t care. Carry on.

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              • RugbyDawg79

                I also enjoy BD’s comments here-he always handles himself in a classy manner, no need for personal attacks.

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            • I wouldn’t know who Saban’s best buddies might be.

              What I do know, however, is that you don’t know exactly what went down with Philon. No one knows except those privy to those conversations.

              This was basically a player recovering from a knee injury and was asked to greyshirt.

              These kids know the deal.

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              • Ignorance is bliss isn’t it? Saban was on belchicks staff at Cleveland so they are intimately familiar with each other.

                I’m sure that all the kids that Saban has fucked either by making them transfer, forcing a medical redshirt on them or yanking their offer at the last minute either deserved it or we’d understand if we knew the facts, but guess what? It’s Saban that hides the facts. Look back when the press wanted to know how many scholarships Alabama had outstanding. He told them to get fucked so he could in secret get to 85 by any means necessary. He’s a fucking asshole, you’re a fucking asshole for not giving a damn how he treats 17 and 18 yo old kids and these Georgia bloggers who are apologizing for me can kiss my ass. I hate the sob and his apologists and I will not be silent about it. He’s evil incarnate.

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                • Dude, it’s time to tone down the name calling.

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                • No disrespect, but I couldn’t help but be reminded of this: http://youtu.be/CTVnqQn7KWY

                  I probably could put my inner Walter sobchak away for the rest of the day.

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                • Puffdawg

                  BD, I appreciate your reasonable comments at this site on occasion, and I think Derek’s style is a bit overaggressive, but there’s no question Saban employs questionable tactics in during whatever it takes to win. Case in point: Geno Smith: first DUI two years ago, misses two games as a reserve. Second DUI earlier this year and he plays in the very next game as a key piece on defense. Did the rules change in the interim? Smith would’ve missed 6 games at UGA if he even stayed on the team. Another example is Jonathan Taylor. Open domestic violence case on the heels of a misdemeanor and expulsion from UGA? No problem, we need depth on the interior.

                  I think we just wish Alabama fans would at least admit that Nick Saban has so much success because he’s willing to cut corners and shit on college kids to get what he wants. He relishes the grey area.

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                • Sorry Puff. Just saw this comment. Wasn’t trying to ignore you.

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      • AthensHomerDawg

        You really annoy me with just the throw shit out here at GTP posts.
        Erk Russell hired CPJ for that reason and would have made him OC at Georgia…
        The Fish Fry graduated from Western Carolina in 1979. OK?
        He got a job as a HS coach and AD. OK?
        CER coached at UGS from ’81 to ’89. OK?
        CER hired the FIsh Fry as a DC. 1983 to 1984
        FIsh Fry became the OC 1985 to 1986. 1985 was when he first started the triple option. He left for Hawaii as OC the following year.
        He returned to UGS as a HC a decade later.
        And what’s with the FU to BD? You desperately are in need of a BJ and some of Cojones cookies. Hoz about you just slow that don’t tread on me meme here at GTP and put a sock in it.

        Alright. I know. I backslid today. I’ll try again tomorrow.

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    • 69Dawg

      I might be wrong but I think they mentioned on a NFL preseason game that this season cut blocking between the tackles on the LOS was illegal. I guess I can Google it to see if it has happened.

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  2. The hardest thing to admit is that you are not destined for greatness. Tech had a choice: win 8-10 games a year being non-conventional or win 5-8 being conventional. Whether they did it knowingly or not, they made the right call. Doing something like this is essentially admitting that your program will never be elite and will never recruit elite players to compete at the highest levels. Who wants to come to terms with that much less admit it? I agree that many should but it’s so much easier to lie to yourself and say that there is a path to being Alabama. There are maybe 15 programs in the country for whom that is a rational thought. The rest should consider the non-conventional approach but won’t because they are lying to themselves and their fans and their boosters.

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  3. watcher16

    Playing to win and not to lose: What a concept

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  4. JN

    “Take a chance, fellas. What do some of you have to lose? And who knows? You might even find that your fan base likes it.”

    I think it has much, much more to do with how adversely it would affect recruiting. If a P5 coach were to do this, his team doing this in the 3rd year would most likely be full of FCS & non-P5 kids who were only there because that was by far the biggest and most prestigious school that would take them. Big time recruits are going to go to colleges that can prepare them for the NFL. Until an NFL coach does this, any college coach doing it will be severely undermanned. And I think we can all agree that the NFL isn’t going to try this anytime soon.

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    • What does not punting on fourth and short have to do with preparing for the NFL?

      As for what the NFL isn’t going to try, a lot of us were saying that about the spread just a few short years ago, and now Chip Kelly is coaching the Eagles.

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      • With respect to the triple option, it is the nfl that is the problem. With respect to not punting, it’s seems to me you go with that if:

        1) you know you have no chance to win unless you try it, or 2) you know you can’t lose even if you try it.

        How many coaches are in either position AND willing to admit it?

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        • With respect to not punting, it’s seems to me you go with that if:

          1) you know you have no chance to win unless you try it, or 2) you know you can’t lose even if you try it.

          You’re just arguing the mindset there. As Staples pointed out, it should be about the math. And the math says it makes a lot more sense to go for it in those situations.

          And Kelley’s winning with that, remember?

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          • Your have to have a starting point though. No one is just going to begin this as part of their identity unless one of those two things is in play, not because of math, but because of risk. I agree that some like tech, should admit their fates. You’re asking the psychology of coaches and why they avoid this approach and I’m proposing an answer for it. Not saying it’s right, just suggesting why it is what it is. A big conference school that languishes at the bottom like Kansas should try it. Can they do any worse? No. Are they going to be competing for titles doing what Oklahoma does? Not likely.

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      • JN

        Not always punting on fourth down, even never punting on fourth down, is a far cry from “because they attempt onside kicks every time or because their receivers routinely lateral on plays that aren’t the last one of the game.”

        Let me put it this way. If you had a son with true NFL abilities (offense, particularly), would you advise to him be to go play for a college that ran an offense that routinely included playing rugby. I’ve never seen that in the NFL outside of the final play of a game?

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        • Five years ago, would you have advised your kid to play in a spread offense?

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          • I still wouldn’t.

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            • Yeah, well, Ohio State seems to be recruiting just fine.

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              • Not suggesting they don’t. I’m saying that the spread 1) doesn’t promote the skills the nfl (by and large) wants to see and 2) it’s a disgusting bastardization of a wonderful sport.

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                • You didn’t, but remember how this conversation got started:


                  I think it has much, much more to do with how adversely it would affect recruiting. If a P5 coach were to do this, his team doing this in the 3rd year would most likely be full of FCS & non-P5 kids who were only there because that was by far the biggest and most prestigious school that would take them. Big time recruits are going to go to colleges that can prepare them for the NFL. Until an NFL coach does this, any college coach doing it will be severely undermanned. And I think we can all agree that the NFL isn’t going to try this anytime soon.

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                • JN

                  The conversation got started based on rugby. Somehow spread was used to prove rugby might be in the NFL in a couple years. The two aren’t even comparable.

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                • Again, the conversation started because you think a contrarian approach to scheme and tactics would severely hamper recruiting. I disagree. So does Urban Meyer.

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                • JN

                  Urban Meyer and the spread have, for all intents and purposes, nothing to do with any of this. The difference between college football pre-2005 and the spread philosophies (which has been in football for 2+ decades) and the difference between college football today and running a rugby system is the difference between a river and the Pacific Ocean. Using Meyer and the spread a point is a weak argument at best. Using it to really prove something is even weaker.

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                • Who is running a “rugby system”, as you put it?

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          • JN

            The blog post had to do with entirely more than not punting on fourth and short, but your first response to my comment only included that. It was apples to oranges. My first comment had nothing to do with a coach whose only change was rarely punting. If that was the case, we agree.

            Your second response is the same, it doesn’t answer my question either. You’re using the spread as example to prove rugby might one day be in the NFL. I’ll bite anyway.

            Five years ago, I could have seen 500 to 1,000 spread style plays in the NFL in a given year. I could have seen thousands of spread plays in college. Yet you’re comparing that to something that we see only on a DESPERATION last play of the game. How are those to even comparable.

            To answer your question, though, if my son was anything other than a prototypical pocket passer like Stafford, Eason, Luck, etc., I would have absolutely advised him that it was fine to play in a spread offense But I still have no clue what that has to do with “routinely playing rugby”.

            It’s your world Senator, I’m just trying to live in it. You’re just really making things blurry right now…

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            • If all you’re asking about is a narrow rugby question, then, fine, I doubt we’ll see rugby in the NFL anytime soon.

              I was responding to your observation about recruiting, which I think was incorrect.

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              • JN

                Honest question. How is running a system that (agreeably) won’t be in the NFL anytime soon not going to affect recruiting? Heck, the negative recruiting alone would be the easiest it’s ever been (again, for guys who have a legit shot at going to the NFL).

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                • Gee, I dunno. Why not ask Urban Meyer?

                  You are missing the point here. It’s not always about the scheme. You can make decisions about downfield laterals, onside kicks and not punting on fourth downs as easily from a pro-style offense as you can from the Air Raid.

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                • JN

                  We apparently have different definitions of routinely. If I were a coach, anything I did routinely would be part of the basis of my offense. That would mean spending several hours per week in the fall practicing it. That would mean building concepts around it. Anything that I don’t do routinely wouldn’t get that much attention. It would be, IMO, a mistake to do anything routinely that didn’t get the amount of prep, practice, and attention it deserves. That is not a leap. It’s the opposite. It’s actually very sound logic.

                  From what I gather, incorrectly it seems, you see these rugby style plays as on the spot decisions. I’m not sure how you’re getting that because he clearly talks about the math. When folks start talking about math in sports, it is always under the premise of the long haul. They’re not running rugby style plays because of the chances of that one play working, they’re running them because over the course of the season the averages play out in their favor.

                  Those two paragraphs tie back into my original point. Would I go to, or would I send my son (specifically, a son with NFL talent) to a college that spends precious hours learning rugby concepts, that spends time practicing rugby concepts, that spends the time (at least the time I would spend) it takes to routinely do rugby stuff, no, I wouldn’t. Again, that is based on my definition of routinely. Every one of those hours spent learning how to rugby stuff are hours taken away from practicing things that would be in the NFL.

                  The onside kicks and not punting would not factor into the decision. And, if by routinely, Staples meant that his team does a back yard wing it as you go laterals, heck, why not. Could a kid play in this type of system (again, system is inferred) and still get into the NFL, absolutely. The determining factor for me, however, would be what I talk about in the first paragraph above. The spread changes things for the QB. Everything else, practice/prep wise, is the same for all of the other positions. Routinely doing this, IMO, would mean taking hours of practice time away from every position on the offense that is required to be able to routinely execute something. Over the course of a college career, that means that kid spent hundreds and hundreds of hours practicing something that will NEVER be used at the next level except for a desperation play.

                  As far as the part about deciding to lateral out of an Air-Raid/Pro Style offense, I wouldn’t send my kid to play for that team either if they did what I think it would take to routinely execute these rugby style laterals through the course of games throughout the course of a season. But again, that is not how I read it. If the laterals are just decisions, as you say, we agree across the board.

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                • JN

                  Edit*

                  Every one of those hours spent learning how to rugby stuff are hours taken away from practicing things that would not be in the NFL.

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  5. Granthams replacement

    Bobby Bowden teams in the 80s played with nothing to lose. He moved closer to the norm once he had more talent than everyone else.

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  6. The other Doug

    I’m surprised Nebraska hasn’t gone to the triple option. Their fans would probably embrace it and they would compete for BIG10 titles.

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  7. sUGArdaddy

    Last year when we played in Little Rock, we went over and watched Pulaski Academy at a home game. They bludgeoned the opponent with score after score. Got to meet Kelley after the game. Super nice guy and a great community. I thought, “I don’t know why Vandy won’t hire this guy.” Their only hope is to put pressure on power teams that we don’t want put on us. How would you feel Saturday if you knew they were going to go for it on every fourth down? If they were going to onside kick every time? How would you feel with a new QB knowing that we might need to put up 30 to win this thing?

    Mason is playing right into his opponent’s hands. He’s not going to out-SEC the big SEC schools because they are the least SEC-like school. Vandy’s best bet is the be as unconventional as possible and make everyone dread playing them, much like we dreaded playing UK in the Mumme days. I hated those dink and dunk passes because it was cheap football, but it was all they could do and they scored a lot of points doing it.

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  8. Bulldog Joe

    CPJ has an ACC title?

    Well knock me over with a feather.

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  9. I think the true-blue hurry up no huddle offenses share a similar mindset as the PA team’s. They seem to create a sense of urgency – for the entire grame – similar to the PA team’s.

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  10. Macallanlover

    Valid points Senator. As much as I dislike the blocking scheme aspect of the TO, being unconventional is the only way 130 teams can find enough talent to be, at least, semi-competitive with one another. GT is no different than Navy, Army, and Air Force in this regard. But the non-conventional offenses of Boise and Oregon were born of the same thought process, as was the Mumme and Leach teams. I still feel the blocking concept should be outlawed because it is hypocritical to pretend you are concerned about athlete’s safety while ignoring the issue. There are other ways to address their need to be unconventional and be successful as I just pointed out.

    I agree that some may take a run at Pulaski’s philosophy, but I expect they will wade into it and not go “all in” for the reasons you pointed out. In a way, the Oregon randomly going for two after TDs early in the game is a step in that direction. Not electing to punt is another concept that I see more often, although the growth is pretty glacial. It really changes the face of the game, but so has the HUNH and spread, as did the forward pass.

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  11. You hit the nail on the head Senator with “safe choices”. However, I disagree with the assertion (either by Staples or other commenters) that some of their choices are to appease recruits who are concerned about the NFL. Otherwise there wouldn’t be this problem:

    http://www.wsj.com/articles/why-the-nfl-has-a-quarterback-crisis-1441819454

    It is he philosophy of safe choices that leads a coach to kick a field goal in the red zone of a blowout game to keep from being shut out. The philosophy of punting the ball away on 4th down on your side of the 50 when down two or more scores.

    The “way we have always done it” is prevalent in sports (just ask the NCAA and paying players) which is why Moneyball was a fascinating book and Chip Kelly or “Stitt happens” is intriguing.

    You know who should hire this guy? Georgia State. GA State just lost its opener to Charlotte (it was Charlotte’s first D1 game.) Most everyone thought Charlotte was the worst team in D1 in preseason. GA State is probably going to fire its coach at the end of the season (he is 1-24 across 3 seasons.)
    This coach may not be able to recruit at the college level at all but it is not like GSU is targeting high or even mid-level recruits now.

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  12. PTC DAWG

    Anyone Coach who thinks this would work at a P5 level team, I say good luck. On a lot of levels. You are going to need it.

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    • JCDAWG83

      I think it would work at a program like Vandy or Wake Forest or Indiana or Rutgers or any program that is not winning with a conventional approach. Like the writer says; some schools can’t get the top talent, and playing against the top talent with the same offensive philosophy seems like complete stupidity. I’d love to see one of the bottom dweller P5 teams shake things up with this.

      If I was a college coach at a perennial loser program, I’d say to hell with the NFL, I get paid to coach college football. If that coach could recruit a bunch of 2 and 3 star players, give them a good college education and make the football team one that other programs hated playing, the coach would have done his job.

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  13. W Cobb Dawg

    I’m not convinced its the math. I’d suggest any success is far more closely associated the limited time opponents have to prepare for the atypical approach.

    And gtu chop blocks – no doubt about it. If other teams employed the same blocking technique against gtu – and gtu players were carted off the field with the same regularity, CPJ would scream his butt-ugly head off. Middle TN State made CPJ look like a fricken idiot a couple years ago, and GSU should’ve beat them last year.

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  14. 69Dawg

    NFL has not outlawed cut blocks between the tackles. They have changed their definition of a chop block to add protection “All chop blocks involving a back are eliminated to give defenders additional protection from low blocks. Any time a back is involved in a high/low block on a defender during a run, it is a foul for an illegal chop block. Before, on a running play, a player in the backfield could chop a defender who was engaged above the waist by another offensive player, if the contact occurred outside the normal position of the tight end. Any high/low block during a passing or kicking play has been and will continue to be illegal”.

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  15. DawgPhan

    I love the guys that think that math doesnt work if you have talented players. That seems…..logical.

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  16. Pcpup

    Hal Mumme tried the go for it, punt out-of-bounds, wide-open style. It was fun to watch and scared me every time.

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  17. Jp

    News flash, tech is starting to get good enough players to get to the final 4 . Cut blocking has been around as long as football has been played. I saw this offense invented at GSC . Two spread teams played for the title last year and Ohio State has 10 of the top 150 NFL picks on the roster now according to some NFL scouts. By the way , Urban went to Navy to learn the option part of his offense from Paul Johnson ( yes Ohio State ran some triple option on Monday ) . To say that tech can’t compete is missing the point . Paul is using this because it gives him the best chance to win the Acc and a spot in the final 4 . Look at Auburn running a variation and losing to Fsu with 13 seconds to go after going 3-9 the year before. What you have in Ohio st is the scheme , the players , and the easy schedule . Get used to them in the final 4 . Good points made by all . Derek the rules are the rules ( just as you stated) cut blocking is legal just like the running the spread is bro. Players from spread teams will be many in the NFL ( save Qbs ) Oregon aint running the spread option to try to make it look good for the alumni and neither is Baylor. These teams used to be jokes . Your points about Nebraska and cut blocking are spot on. And anyone on this blog knows you speak the truth about Saban . Keep a kid on the hook up until signing day , then pull the offer. Thanks for having a set and calling him out. Sorry Tide Fans the facts sting sometimes. If it was your son , how would you feel.

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  18. Jp

    Oregon , Baylor , Ohio St , Miss St , Tennessee , Mississippi , Auburn, Clemson , Arizona st, Purdue , and oh yea Gtech all run option as their base run package . Zone ‘read” or even triple option. Staples needs a new gig

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