After reflecting on the recent debate in the comments about manball, it occurs to me that maybe I haven’t done as good a job explaining what I mean as I could have. I don’t know if it’s merely a difference in semantics, or if we’re legitimately split on what the word means schematically, but I feel like I owe you guys another stab at what we’re discussing.
To start with, Tony is spot on with his observation. Manball isn’t an offensive scheme; it’s a mindset. The primary goal is domination of your opponent, physically and by means of talent. If you listen to Kirby, on offense it’s about winning your battles and downfield blocking. It’s rarely about scheming to use play design to get your man open. And I’m not saying that as a complaint. It’s simply the approach he’s embraced.
That’s why a discussion about a run/pass ratio strikes me as largely irrelevant. Here’s the play call distribution from Saturday, from a poster on the Dawgs247 message board:
1st quarter – Run/Pass ratio
1st down 4/5; 2nd down 5/1; 3rd down 1/3
1st down 7/7; 2nd down 3/5; 3rd down 0/4
1st down 3/4; 2nd down 4/1; 3rd down 0/5
1st down 7/8; 2nd down 5/7; 3rd down 0/7.
So total game on 1st down we called 21 run plays and 24 pass plays.
On 2nd down we called 17 run plays and 13 pass plays.
On 3rd down we called 1 run play and 19 pass plays.
(Note, I counted as pass plays the three sacks and the 1 scramble since the play call is what is important for seeing tendencies.)
If you want to argue that Coley’s play calling on third down is dispositive of the case that Georgia wasn’t playing manball, but found itself in some sort of Plan B mode, so be it. The issue for me is different. There are pass plays and there are pass plays. As Seth noted in his Second Glance review ($$) today:
Then there was the seeming predictability of Georgia’s offense. During those first three drives, Georgia ran it six times on first down, and passed it five times. That’s a good split. After that, Georgia ran it 13 times on first down and passed it 16 times, but many of those passes were in the two-minute and four-minute offense. But even more notable was the rather conventional thinking on second downs:
Second-and-short (1-3): Five runs for 4 yards, 1 TD. One pass for 16 yards.
Second-and-medium (4-6): Five runs for 14 yards. One pass for 8 yards.
Second-and-long (7+): Seven runs for 39 yards. Eight passes for 35 yards, one interception, three incompletions.
The offense was so predictable, perhaps, because the first five games had lulled them into a sense that they could be and get away with it. And it was actually more predictable than usual.
Georgia found itself throwing the ball a lot more than it prefers because it was in chase mode for much of the game. More than that, though, as Bud Elliott noted, Georgia’s offensive scheming is incredibly restrictive.
The offensive philosophy is about power, about winning a place. It’s not about scheming a player open. The stats back that up, too. Georgia is second in the SEC in offensive plays of 10+ yards, right there with offensive powerhouses Alabama and LSU, but change the scale to gains of 20+ yards, and the offense drops to ninth in the conference.
Kirby wants more explosive plays — hell, what coach doesn’t? — but listen to the way he thinks his team should get them.
“Being explosive is a lot of things,” Smart said. “It’s blocking downfield. It’s winning one-on-ones. It’s speed, vertical speed versus horizontal speed. There’s a lot of things combined in that.”
It’s all about players beating players. Nothing about play design or offensive philosophy. What all that should tell you is that when it comes to designing an offense, Smart values efficiency over explosiveness. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but it also leaves you without much to fall back on when, like Saturday, the efficiency engine sputters repeatedly.
Let me suggest another example to illustrate my point. Justin Fields struggled, to put it kindly, in Georgia’s offense last season and has clearly blossomed in his first year at Ohio State. Sneer, if you like, at a scheme that lessens his burden of reading a defense, but also consider something Eric Zeier said after the game Saturday, that Fromm is being asked repeatedly to throw into very tight windows, presumably because those are low risk throws designed to take advantage of his accuracy and smarts. The problem, of course, is when he’s off, or his receivers are. All those sideline passes aren’t designed for a significant margin of error.
The bigger question to ask is whether that’s the best use of a superb quarterback like Fromm and the wealth of skill position talent that Georgia boasts. I’m thinking maybe not so much.
The closest we see things open up, scheme-wise, is when Georgia goes up tempo. The results are usually the same: the offense is effective, receivers find openings, the backs find more room to run and opposing defenses find themselves on their heels. The other thing that’s the same is that Georgia won’t stay committed to pace, even when it finds it working. Up tempo simply isn’t part of Kirby’s DNA.
That’s what manball means to me. It’s not inherently good or bad. It’s simply either effective or it’s not. And the issue for me with regard to Georgia’s offense is what to do in the case of the latter.
UPDATE: And here comes Mike Griffith with a “players, not plays” hot take.
The game plan is out: teams will continue to stack the box against the Georgia run game and make Jake Fromm beat them with his arm or his legs. Saturday he did neither, but only part of that was on him.
The Bulldogs receivers struggled against press coverage, and the top target (Lawrence Cager) is playing with a separated shoulder.
Talented freshmen George Pickens and Dominick Blaylock must grow quickly, Demetris Robertson must continue his ascension in the ranks and UGA needs Kearis Jackson to return to opening game form.
Players, not plays, will be the key to solve the problems.
I’m gonna take that as a form of validation.
UPDATE #2: Hey, don’t take my word for this. Here’s Matt Hinton.
The biggest on-field story in college football over the past few seasons is the abrupt transformation of Alabama and now LSU from conservative, ball-control attacks into full-fledged spread passing juggernauts…
Georgia has the same caliber of athletes (including at quarterback, if you ask me) but has not made the same philosophic leap. If there is one genuinely alarming trend from Saturday’s loss, it’s the ongoing lack of the kind of explosive plays that Bama and LSU are thriving on — emphasis on ongoing:
(*Utah State is not a Power 5 opponent but is included in LSU’s total to balance out the number of games; at 41st nationally in Defensive SP+ the Aggies are roughly the equivalent of an average Power 5 defense.)
Thirteen plays of 20 yards or more in 4 games is downright pedestrian, and not just compared to the most explosive offenses in the country: It ranks next-to-last in the SEC vs. Power 5 opponents, ahead of only Texas A&M. The Bulldogs aren’t challenging secondaries deep and aren’t creating run-after-catch opportunities for their wideouts with anywhere near the frequency of their blue-chip peers.
Against South Carolina, Fromm averaged just 5.7 yards per attempt and connected on just one downfield ball, a 33-yard strike to freshman George Pickens late in the 3rd quarter. (That drive was thwarted by a fumbled snap on the first play of the 4th.) The story was the same in Georgia’s hard-fought, 23-17 win over Notre Dame, when he finally ventured downfield to hit Lawrence Cager for a 36-yarder that set up a crucial touchdown late in that game. When that’s the full extent of your big-play prowess, efficiency and workmanlike efforts between the tackles can only go so far. Sustaining drives and scoring points means those elements must function perfectly on a consistent basis.
When any part of that equation fails, you get what happened on Saturday: A perfectly solid outing by the defense and ground game, the supposed lynchpins of the team, undermined by a handful of chaos plays that swung the outcome. By the old rules, the defense-and-line-of-scrimmage rules, the Bulldogs are arguably the most fundamentally sound outfit in the conference — Bama and LSU are lagging well behind in the salt-of-the-earth categories — and potentially in the nation. As long as they continue to impose their will on those terms, they’re going to be very difficult for anyone to beat without an outbreak of chaos. But the best teams in college football right now are the ones operating at such a furious pace the chaos barely registers.