Category Archives: Strategery And Mechanics

“I’m telling you. It ain’t that way anymore.”

The master has advice for the grasshopper.

Alabama coach Nick Saban has finally relented, albeit reluctantly. He said college football has officially become an offensive game.

“It used to be that good defense beats good offense. Good defense doesn’t beat good offense anymore,” Saban told ESPN on Friday. “It’s just like last week. Georgia has as good a defense as we do an offense, and we scored 41 points on them [in a 41-24 Alabama win]. That’s not the way it used to be. It used to be if you had a good defense, other people weren’t going to score. You were always going to be in the game.

Considering the source… well, I mean, that’s the question now, innit?  Do these words carry any weight for Kirby Smart, coming from his mentor?  Or does Smart take a different lesson from that 17-point loss?

That’s what Graham Coffey pondered in this post.

Nick Saban built Alabama into a dynasty with Smart as his right-hand man by pulling in as much talent as possible. He took that talent and built strong defenses designed to stuff the run without bringing help from the secondary, and brought in corners and safeties who could cover wide-receivers in man coverage. On offense, he bulked up the line and made sure the Tide were immovable up front. He stuck stud running-backs behind those big lines, and played a ball-control style of football.

14.3, 12.6, 14.1, 7.7, 11.6, 15.1, 18.8, 13.9, 13.7 – That’s how many points the Alabama defense surrendered per a game from 2008 to 2015, Kirby Smart’s last year as the Crimson Tide defensive coordinator. At no point did the Tide rank lower than 5th in the nation in points surrendered per a game, and they won four national titles during that nine year span.

When you know your defense is going to shutdown the opposition’s offense you don’t have to take very many risks on offense, and Alabama didn’t. During that same span from 2008 to 2015 Alabama fielded plenty of very good offenses, but they never played offense at an elite level.

Sound familiar?  It should.  It’s been the blueprint in Athens since Smart’s arrival and up to a point, it’s served the Georgia program well.

Graham makes a good point reflecting on how the two teams in the 2015 Georgia-Alabama game looked versus the way they looked last Saturday.

There have been people comparing Smart to Mark Richt after Georgia lost to Alabama again last weekend. Anyone who is honestly considering the idea that Georgia’s program is in the same place now as it was then should simply go back and watch the 2015 Georgia vs Alabama game.

In that game Georgia fielded a team that looked like a bunch of high-schoolers next to the Tide. Alabama had superior athletes. Go back and watch the game from last Saturday and you will see two teams that look like equals in almost every way.

The difference last Saturday boiled down to one area.

When the two teams met on Saturday night one had a quarterback who was capable of reading the field quickly and wide-receivers with the ability to take the top off of a defense. One did not.

Mac Jones and his receivers versus Stetson Bennett IV and his receivers was the only lopsided matchup on the field, and it swung the game in the Tide’s favor in the second-half.

I think Kirby already knew what Saban was articulating after he was on the receiving end of the LSU offense in the SECCG.  That’s why he made the hard decision to replace a valuable recruiter in James Coley with Todd Monken.  And even in the eyes of a tyro like me, it’s obvious that the move is a success.

Smart’s problem in the short run is that he doesn’t have the personnel to keep up with the Joneses (pun intended).  Whether that’s because of Bennett’s skill set limitations, the pandemic-related limits on preparation for a new scheme this season, or, more likely, a combination of the two, he’s got to calibrate an approach from here that both gets Georgia back to the SECCG and gives the offense a legitimate chance to trade punches for a full sixty minutes.

That’s one helluva balancing act, if you ask me.  And it won’t be made any easier by Smart’s natural instinct to fall back on what he called “our brand of football“.  Ironically, I feel better about where things are headed in the longer term, assuming Monken sticks around, than I do about the next six weeks.  We shall see.

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Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

TFW I’m not seeing what they’re seeing

Gotta admit I’m puzzled by something Rennie Curran told Seth Emerson ($$):

Last year former All-SEC defender Rennie Curran said something that struck me, that as a linebacker he could look at the offense before the play and have a good chance of predicting what was coming. So I went back to Curran this week and asked what he thought of Monken’s offense so far:

“I’m loving it a lot more this year. You can tell that Todd Monken is a chess player and not just a coach. He knows how’s to put players in the position to expose a defense’s weaknesses. It still all comes down to execution and not doing things to shoot ourselves in the foot, but I like where we’re headed.”

But …

“My only fear is that we become too overly complex to the point where we get too far away from the basic things like being able to run the ball effectively.”

Does anybody think the problem with the offense this year is that it’s too complex?  Maybe Curran is speaking relative to what Coley ran; I don’t know.  The only thing I’ve seen so far that’s more involved than the scheme in 2019 is what Luke is asking the offensive line to do now.

What are y’all seeing in that regard?

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Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

Stetson’s picks as a trust issue

Jake Rowe:

Todd Monken had a great game plan in the passing game and it resulted in open receivers consistently. But that’ll only take you so far if you aren’t throwing to the open man. Stetson Bennett IV did some good things on Saturday but if you were to sit down with him right now and get him to speak candidly, he’ll tell you that he missed some golden opportunities.

The first came on the batted interception where he tried to key on the middle of the field. He tries to throw the football over the traffic and into tight coverage when he had Tre’ McKitty standing all alone in the left flat for what would have at least given Jack Podlesny a chance for a 40-45 yard field goal. Bennett doesn’t seem comfortable throwing the football short and to the perimeter unless it’s a designed play or his first read.  [Emphasis added.]

Here’s a clip of the three interceptions from Saturday night.

On that first interception, McKitty curls into the left flat and there’s nobody near him.  Now, I realize the snap wasn’t particularly good and that may have led Stetson to make a quick decision and give up on reading the field, but the pass protection was actually good enough there for him to reset.

I’ve already posted about the second pick.  (Again, there’s an open McKitty as a viable option.)  The third pick was simply a bad decision made worse by poor mechanics.  As I watched the play unfold, I assumed he was going to throw the ball out of bounds after dodging what would have been a brutal sack and live to fight another play.  You knew as soon as the ball left his hands it wouldn’t end well.

That being said, it’s easy to explain that last one as him simply trying to do too much to rally the team.  I get that and I’m pretty confident he’ll learn from that mistake.  It’s the not trusting Monken’s passing scheme that bugs me more.  Bennett left a lot of yardage on the table in that game because of that and that’s got to get fixed.

He’s also got to do a better job of recognizing what a defense is trying to take away and what that leaves him to work with.

Again, it seemed like Monken left him with better options.  Stetson’s got to trust more.

UPDATE:  Hey, don’t just ask me.  Take it from the head honcho.

Georgia is going back to fundamentals this week in practice as it goes Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Expect quarterback Stetson Bennett to work on stepping up in the pocket.

“We do a lot of drills in practice to simulate the pocket where you have to step up and through it,” Smart said. “I think that’s one of the things Jake (Fromm) was really good at. He could fill the pocket and step up in the pocket in either run or throw. And we continue to work with Stetson on that. He’s shown the ability to do that. He didn’t always trust it Saturday, and he’s got to a good job of that. He’s got good pass protectors around him.”  [Emphasis added.]

The 5-foot-11 Bennett had five passes batted down with Alabama linemen reaching out to re-direct passes.

“Alabama has really big defensive linemen, which typically push or cave in the pocket,” Smart said. “Some of it is looking for a throwing window. Some of it is being willing to pull it down and run because he’s a really good athlete and avoid that if he doesn’t have that throwing window.”

Smart said Bennett’s stature isn’t only to blame for the batted passes.

“You look across the league in the NFL, college football, height is not the greatest indicator of batted balls,” Smart said. “It’s the pocket. And a lot of that comes from experience. And he’s gaining experience. He’s not elite in experience, he doesn’t have a ton of it.”

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Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

Zen and the art of touchdown passes

This is mesmerizing.

Seriously, I could watch that and meditate for hours.

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Filed under Strategery And Mechanics

‘Can anybody cover them dudes?’

Perhaps I overreacted a tad in my Observations post about Lanning’s game plan.  Perhaps not.  Either way, there’s been a fair amount of post-game chatter from folks that he called a decent game, only to find it rendered moot because Alabama’s receivers are so freaking good.

“I think the first big-picture thing, for me, is Alabama’s receivers. They’re different. They’re so deep, first-rounders, and on a field full of NFL guys, they’re elite. That ultimately is what made the difference, because they were able to get out front of Georgia and play how Georgia didn’t want to play.

“At the end of the second quarter, it looked like Georgia was getting into two-tight stuff and running it. I don’t know if they’ve got enough dudes at wideout to be a three-wideout team. They need to help Bennett by running the ball with him a young quarterback.

“Teams used to always spread out to run the ball, makes protections easy to run the ball and you displace people in such a way that you can cover down all the receivers. Only so many guys can be in the box. It’s a little bit more on the QB, but you can run the ball. Fifteen years ago that was true, hell 5 years ago that was true. But all these defensive guys have started going to this three-down Odd look, both Georgia and Bama base out of it, they match personnel, create line movements, false reads, Georgia gives lots of problems to other teams with its shifts. Tennessee still hasn’t figured that out.

“Now you’re aligned in that spread formation because you have chaos in coverage, but you’re also getting chaos in the box, stunting and moving and blitzing guys, so you get no help. It’s defeating the purpose of why you’re spread out. It’s happening late, changing and moving and it’s not easy on the OL. So you’re better off getting into two tight ends, and Georgia started doing it and ‘Bama has done it, they played a lot more two tight. Such a big deal that (tight end Miller) Forristal came back into the game because without him they were going to have to spread out more. The Metchie kid (Bama wideout John Metchie III) is going to be a freak, but he is still learning. Bama got into more two tight. They may take their other tight end and flex him out, motion him in, but what it does is that makes it simpler on the quarterback. When you align with big people, it’s the inverse of the reason you spread out. It forces accounting for people in the box and then there’s only so many ways they can align the coverages.

“Look, the NFL is THE ONLY league where you line up with two tights and they line up in 4-3 cover-2. That doesn’t happen in college ball. That’s when Georgia was on a run and scoring, because they were able to run the ball. They were able to get yards running it and play-action was easier. And that helps the young QB throw it on time, because he can look out and know they’re in man-to-man or Cover-3. They had to get away from that because they got behind. Then they had to spread out and it was chaos. We dealt with that last year, our team did. We weren’t good enough out wide to have multiple threats go the distance at receiver, and we were better off getting into two-tight and dictating coverage structures for the young QB.

Another interesting observation is that Georgia’s problem in the passing game is that the receivers aren’t good enough to elevate Bennett’s game.

The Bennett kid is a nice story, good player. He’s better than other teams’ quarterbacks in the SEC. But they’re not good enough at WR to overcome his limitations and play at a national championship level.

Not sure I agree with everything there, but it does make me wonder if there’s a fixed ceiling.  Or, is it more an issue that Georgia’s passing game needs more time to jell?

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Filed under Alabama, Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

I’ve got some good news for you, and some bad news.

Really, this may be my favorite header of the season so far:

Georgia’s defense dominated in Week 7, and Alabama still scored 41 points

Well, shit, said the punch line.

Screenshot_2020-10-19 seth galina on Twitter

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Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

I blame Newman.

I know everyone is focused on all the batted passes at the line of scrimmage, but this is the recurring part of Stetson’s game I find most frustrating:

He’s got time.  He’s got a nice pocket to throw from.  He’s got McKitty standing right in front of him for an easy completion.  I don’t know if he would have made it to the first down marker, but at worst, it sets up a shorter field goal attempt at a time when a score would have slowed, if not blunted, Alabama’s momentum.

I know I repeat myself, but Monken’s scheme routinely gets receivers open looks for the quarterback.  Saturday night, there were plays for the tight ends much of the night.  They wound up with two catches.

I’m not trying to dump on Bennett here.  He’s been dealt a tough hand (not that he’s complaining).  But it’s clear that his lack of preparation during the preseason is limiting what the offense is doing.

The good news is that they’ve got two weeks to get Bennett more comfortable seeing his options all over the field.  Let’s hope they can.

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UPDATE:  Here’s another example.

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UPDATE:  Danielson took note of this one during the broadcast.  Look at Cook, out in the flat to the top of the screen.

James Cook was free in the flat.

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Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

“Why everyone runs mesh now”

The bastard offspring of Mike Leach and Chip Kelly is an ubiquitous staple of college offenses today.  Ian Boyd breaks down its popularity here.

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Filed under Strategery And Mechanics

Throw the damned ball, Monken.

Jake Rowe has a good list of key matchups for Saturday’s game here.  It’s personnel oriented, and that’s why I think it’s missing what might be the biggest matchup of the day, Todd Monken versus Pete Golding.

I think that’s a face off that will have an even larger impact on which side comes out on top than will the Lanning/Sarkisian battle, simply because I expect ‘Bama will win some of those and Georgia will win some.  But after watching replays of Georgia’s and Alabama’s wins from last weekend, I think there’s a shortcoming in the ‘Bama defense that Monken has the opportunity to exploit all game.

I’ve already discussed aspects of it in other posts this week, but to sum it up:

  • Alabama’s pass defense is vulnerable to passes over the middle of the field.
  • Stetson Bennett likes throwing to the middle of the field, and, more importantly, has been successful doing so.

Add to that, Nick Saban’s bout with COVID means he’s leaving Pete Golding out on an island to defend Georgia’s passing attack, so to speak, and I think that puts Monken in a position to make some real hay in the passing game.

Spend a few minutes watching The Battle Hymnal’s Alabama preview, and I think you’ll get a pretty good idea of what I mean.

Monken doesn’t run a variant of Art Briles’ Baylor scheme, as Ole Miss does, but that doesn’t mean he can’t find creative ways besides lining up wideouts next to the sidelines to create open space to give Bennett some easy pitch and catch opportunities.  In fact, we’ve already seen plenty of that in Georgia’s first three games.  After watching those clips, it’s not exactly crazy to picture an open tight end running down the seam, playing pitch and catch with Stetson.

Now, I don’t expect Georgia to go all Air Raid Saturday.  Not that it needs to:  Ole Miss ran the ball almost twice as often (57 carries) as it threw (29 passing attempts) en route to gaining 647 yards against that vaunted (once-vaunted?) Tide defense.  Those are numbers that ought to warm the cockles of Kirby Smart’s stern heart.

And as far as pace goes, Kiffin got a lot of credit for going into hyperdrive last week, but if you look at the number of plays Ole Miss has run versus the number Georgia has, you might be a little surprised.  On the season,

  • Georgia:  239
  • Ole Miss:  231

Georgia ran more plays against Arkansas than Ole Miss ran against Alabama.

The opportunity is there.  In fact, I’ll go on record right now saying that if the Dawgs can generate an effective passing game, they’ll win.

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Filed under Alabama, Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

“Scoring is up, but why?”

Bud Elliott has a really smart piece up exploring some of the reasons behind why scoring in SEC games has increased significantly (16% over 2019) so far this season.

Surprising, though, it’s not so much because teams are moving the ball much more on a per play basis.

While points might be up 16 percent per game, yards are not up in the same amount. In fact, SEC teams are averaging 5.96 yards per play in 2020, which is only about 4.5 percent higher than last year.

And the median yards per play has not increased at all. It’s actually gone slightly down, from 5.44 to 5.43.

So points are up 16 percent but yards per play are up just 4.5 percent. The points are not all coming from offenses being better at moving the football, though it is part of it.

He finds a bunch of other factors in play that have contributed to the scoring gain.  Here are some:

  • Pick-Sixes per game have doubled.
  • The SEC is throwing more.
  • Teams are playing faster.
  • All four new head coaches are offensive-minded and embrace pace.
  • More close games mean more teams are trying to score for longer.

One thing that hasn’t changed, surprisingly, is that there aren’t more explosive plays.

The rate of 20-, 30-, 40-, and 50-yard plays per game has stayed almost exactly the same year over year. And on a per-play basis, explosive plays are actually down. So the idea that teams are bombing it over the top more, or breaking more explosive plays, is simply not true.

Teams have been more efficient on early downs, though. 

Teams are having more success in early downs, however, which is a major component of being a successful offense. Tennessee had done an amazing job of avoiding long down and distance situations until it faced Georgia, shown in Every SEC Game Reviewed: Week 6.

“Tennessee had a success rate of just 19 percent on passing downs (second and eight plus, third and five plus). And it faced 21 of them, which is huge. Tennessee had to avoid those long down and distances by using its big offensive line to stay ahead of the chains, but Georgia physically whipped the vaunted Tennessee line at the line of scrimmage. Tennessee had just two yards per carry without sacks and finished with negative rushing yards when including sacks in, of which there were five.”

At least until they haven’t.

Read the whole thing.

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Filed under SEC Football, Stats Geek!, Strategery And Mechanics