Category Archives: Strategery And Mechanics

“The challenge of conservative offense”

Another nice Ian Boyd piece about Minnesota’s offense last season here.  Key graphs:

Bill Connelly’s “five factors” make it pretty clear that without explosive plays it’s very difficult to score. Programs like the one utilized by Minnesota tend to make explosiveness a later priority for the offense after beefing up the defense, avoiding negative plays or turnovers, and winning the field position battle.

The only problem with this approach is that it’s actually fairly difficult to build an offense that’s really good at avoiding negative plays or turnovers. These teams face heavy roster turnover every season and are plugging in 20-year old college students, after all.

Moving down the field with steady gains is difficult and mastering a run game system AND a timing-based, West Coast passing system for accomplishing that aim just raises the difficulty level of playing mistake-free football. This is why many schools with less resources have had more success with systems built around the constraint theory of offense where every component of the system directly builds off other parts.

The West Coast passing game and power run game are both designed to do the same thing and neither are specifically designed to punish defenses for scheming to stop the other on a given play. Executing either well enough to stay ahead of the chains, much less regularly generate explosive plays, requires developed skill and cohesion across the offense. So a team that features both is forced to spend a lot of time on each to develop the necessary mastery.

Maintaining an efficiency-based approach in the run game requires either fielding five massive linemen that can cover up opposing defensive linemen and prevent penetration, which requires recruiting big bodies and honing technique over years of development OR putting a major emphasis on double teams to ensure that the offense can clear the first level. Either way, you usually need seasoned veterans to do it well.

The needed execution in the passing game is dependent on receivers and quarterbacks that are in sync, on time, accurate, and have reliable hands. If you have those traits the receivers don’t have to be great athletes and the quarterback doesn’t have to have a cannon arm, the design of the concepts will do the heavy lifting. If you have those traits and then some speed, then you’re cooking with gas.

As I’ve mentioned before, Georgia’s offense went from averaging 6.79 yards per play in 2014, which was the seventh-best number posted in college football that season, to 6.03 yards per play last season, and dropped to fortieth nationally.  The offensive scheme didn’t change, so to what can we attribute the decline?  I can point to several factors:

I know that some of you like to harp on Chubb’s injury as the key, and no doubt it was a serious set back.  But let’s not forget that Georgia lost the services of Todd Gurley for much of the 2014 season, too.

Georgia didn’t have a deep passing game in either of the last two seasons, but managed to have a far more productive offense in 2014 because it was more efficient.  That was because Mason had a higher completion percentage than Lambert, because the offense was able to take care of business on third-down and because Georgia took advantage of all the little things that go into having the best starting field position rating in the nation.  Richt had his management flaws that season, but his overall game plan for the season did a good job of recognizing his team’s strengths and weaknesses and working them both to maximum effect.

That wasn’t the case last year, and it took an embarrassing loss in Jacksonville to make Richt realize that the 2014 formula wasn’t working.  I would argue the seeds for that lie in the above quote:  “The needed execution in the passing game is dependent on receivers and quarterbacks that are in sync, on time, accurate, and have reliable hands.”

There wasn’t a lot of returning talent in the receiving corps in 2015 and there wasn’t a starting quarterback who knew the new coordinator’s system ready to step in.  Add in the uncertainty in August about the coaches being unable to settle on a starter until late in camp, and it’s easy to see why things didn’t turn out as smoothly.

Fast forward to today.  The concern I have is one of history repeating.  A lot of the conditions that existed in August, 2015 exist again in August, 2016.  Are Chaney and Smart better able to recognize that and game plan accordingly?  We’ll start finding out in about a month.

 

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Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

My world turned upside down.

If you’d have told me a couple of months ago that the hot take on Georgia would be downplaying the secondary and feeling upbeat about the offensive line, I would have scoffed.

And yet, that appears to be where Kirby Smart is now.

Kirby Smart, who so far isn’t all rainbows and unicorns when talking about his team, actually sounded kind of happy about the state of his offensive line, at least when he was asked about it at SEC media days.

“I feel much better now going into fall camp having watched what we had in spring and watched those guys improve under Coach (Sam) Pittman’s tutelage. And Tyler Catalina coming in as a transfer, we hope to give us some competition there for a starting job,” Smart said. “I think the toughest job is staying injury free and trying to find eight guys, nine guys to rotate in there.”

That being said, I’m not sure how far to take that beyond Smart’s obvious satisfaction with Pittman’s coaching chops (duh) and the added depth Catalina brings to the table (also, duh).  Or, as Emerson summarizes,

The question now is where everybody goes. Brandon Kublanow, the only senior returning starter, is also the only one who, barring something cataclysmic, will have a definite position: Center.

Every other spot could see some movement before the North Carolina game. The coaches have a set lineup they’ll come out with on the first day of preseason practice, but there will be a month, especially the first two scrimmages, to see if there should be tinkering.

“I’m sure some things will move,” Kublanow said. “That’s how it always is in fall camp, you’ve got guys shuffling everywhere.”

If there are plenty of moving parts on the o-line, my wish is the same as it is for the quarterbacks:  find a rotation and find it quickly, so the offense has as much time to settle in during August camp as possible.  The obvious big questions surround Catalina, both as to whether he’s good enough to crack the starting line up and, if so, which tackle position he takes.  If those get answered by the first scrimmage, I may begin to cautiously share in the optimism.  If not, I guess we hope Pittman’s a magician.

Speaking of Pittman, here’s a little something the guys at Bulldog Illustrated dug up:

Third, and probably his biggest decision, is what type of blocking scheme Pittman will use.  In a 2010 article written by Buck Sanders of Scout.com, Pittman (while OL Coach at North Carolina) provided an analysis of the three blocking schemes and when they are used:

Zone Blocking

“Zone blocking teams want to cover their linemen.  I mean, that the bottom line and that’s why you saw us go towards a huge zone scheme toward the latter part of the year, because we wanted to cover our linemen for movement.”

Gap Blocking

“Your gap teams are your smash mouth teams, but most teams that are zone teams are also a gap teams at times.”

Man Blocking

“When you start talking about man schemes, you better be really good.  A man scheme is when you put your linemen in a one-on-one block regardless of movement…Those (man blocking) schemes are effective when your guy is just better than the guy he is assigned to block.  You are betting you can physically whip your opponent.”

In the same article Pittman went on to say that, “You go into games with different runs based on the configuration of the defense, or based on who they have over there”.

I suppose that means we’ll know the line’s made it when they’re playing man schemes and whipping the other guys.  I doubt that will be in the opener, though.  Gotta crawl before you can walk.

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Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

Whoever Georgia’s quarterback in the opener will be…

Pro Football Focus takes a look at what he’ll be facing in North Carolina’s secondary.

North Carolina played press-man regularly last season. The Tar Heels often combined the aggressive approach on the perimeter with a single high safety, piling pressure on the corners to hold up on an island. Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik could only free up safeties to play in the box because of the quality he had at his disposal in the secondary.

That is not the kind of scheme that Lambert excelled against last season.  Or the offensive line, for that matter.

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Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

Thursday morning buffet

Fire up the chafing dishes!

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Filed under Big 12 Football, Georgia Football, Just Ask Lou Holtz About Lou Holtz, Media Punditry/Foibles, SEC Football, Strategery And Mechanics

The spread and “gets you ready for the NFL”

This many years in to the spread era in college ball, and we’re still hearing stuff like this on the recruiting trail:

Coaches who run so-called pro-style offenses can use this to their advantage, telling quarterbacks that, by playing in a system with elements similar to the NFL standard, they can enhance their chances of becoming (and succeeding as) a pro. At Nebraska, for example, Langsdorf oversees a pro-style system, and earlier this year he helped the Huskers secure a commitment from one of the top pro-style quarterbacks in the class of 2017, Calabasas (Calif.) High’s Tristan Gebbia. “I think the kids look at what they’re going to be doing, what they’re going to be asked to do in an offense, and so I think there’s an advantage to having some similarities to what they would do in college and in the NFL, and I think that is a selling point for us for sure,” Langsdorf says.

By contrast, coaches who run spread offenses often must combat the perception that their systems, no matter how successful against college defenses, will be an impediment to quarterbacks with dreams of playing in the NFL. Multiple spread practitioners spoke to Campus Rush about system classification being used as a means of negative recruiting. The idea—reinforced seemingly every year by NFL analysts, scouts and coaches—is that quarterbacks who come from spread offenses face a greater burden of proof in the pre-draft process than signal-callers with track records of operating pro-style systems.

Says Arizona co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Rod Smith, “We’ve heard that: You don’t run a pro-style system. You don’t run a pro-style system, you’re more of a spread, you’re more this. How is that going to get you ready for the pros?” While conceding that it was “more three to four years ago than it was right now,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Jeff Scott, who helped lead the Tigers to the national title game last season, says he has heard a similar line trotted out. “Just guys that say, ‘You don’t want to go play in that offense because it’s a spread, gimmick offense, and it’s not going to prepare you for the NFL.'”

You recruit negatively because it works, I suppose.  The problem is that more and more these days the NFL is holding its nose and taking quarterbacks coming out of spread offenses – from Cam Newton to Jared Goff to (likely) Deshaun Watson – as high first round draft picks.  At some point in time, it’s going to dawn on NFL scouts and high school quarterbacks that the distinction has lost its meaning.  Unless, of course, you really believe the NFL is prepared to spend its money on a developmental league.  Yeah, right.

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Filed under Recruiting, Strategery And Mechanics, The NFL Is Your Friend.

Your daily dose of Chubb

CBSSport’s Robby Kalland speculates that even if/when Nick Chubb is fully healthy, it’s likely that he won’t put up the kind of eye-popping stats we been used to seeing.  Why?

It’s all about the offensive coordinator.

The issue for Chubb in being a Heisman contender this season won’t a scheme fit but rather usage. Chubb could see some of his workload go to Sony Michel, who had a big year in Chubb’s absence, rushing for over 1,100 yards and is a good pass catching option out of the backfield — 26 catches for 270 yards in 2015. Chaney has shown in the past that when he has two quality backs, he will split touches pretty evenly. Examples include Jonathan Williams at Alex Collins at Arkansas (nearly identical touches and numbers) and Raijon Neal and Marlon Lane Jr. at Tennessee. Simply put, Chubb may not get a workhorse share.

In the first five games of the 2015 season, Chubb had 91 carries for 745 yards and 7 touchdowns. Those are video game numbers. Extrapolated over a season — even accounting for an increase in competition level in the SEC schedule — Chubb was on pace for a season close to on par with Derrick Henry. In those same first five games, Michel had only 41 carries before taking on the heavy workload after Chubb’s injury.

That means Chubb had 69 percent of the carries between the two to start the season, which is a healthy majority of the workload. If that had dipped to a 60-40 split, Chubb would have lost 12 carries and 97 yards (based on his 8.1 yard per carry average) in those first five games. Over the course of the season, that would cost him more than 200 yards and likely a few touchdowns. That could put a significant gap between him and other candidates at the position, like Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Royce Freeman and Dalvin Cook.

Schematically, Chaney and Pittman’s arrival in Athens should be a good thing for Chubb. In the long run, the reduction in carries that would be a good thing for Chubb as he would avoid taking as much punishment as he looks forward to the NFL (and it would generally help him work back from his injury), but it could be a hit to his Heisman chances.

The only reason I ever care about a Georgia player’s Heisman chances is because the better those are, the more likely it is that the team is doing well, so in the vast scheme of things, I can’t say this is of much concern.

My one counter to this is the play of the offensive line.  Georgia’s three best backs of the Richt era – Moreno, Gurley and Chubb – all had the ability to make something out of less than good run blocking support from their offensive lines.  If in 2016 that isn’t where Pittman wants it, don’t be surprised if Chubb’s carries reflect that.

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Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

The NFL doesn’t like the spread of the spread.

Pity the poor oligarchs.

Even if a spring league did nothing more than expedite the development of a handful of quarterbacks, helping them go from marginal prospects to winning NFL passers, that alone would be a boon. There are simply not enough reps to go around, not enough opportunities to actually get them on the field in anything approximating a game situation, and with fewer and fewer college programs running traditional pro-style offenses, the problem appears to be growing.

Oh, noes!

“I don’t know why it hasn’t happened to this point. I think the league wants to do it. There must be something blocking it. There must be some factors that are keeping it from going in that direction, because I’ve never heard anybody say they don’t want to do it. So I think you’d have to ask the higher-ups in the league really what’s holding it up.”

Dude, shit like that costs money.  Money the league has never had to spend before because the college game’s been so accommodating.  Now that it’s not so much, NFL teams are having to spend money and resources in different ways.

As for the players, the state of offensive line play has been driving coaches bonkers, with all the spread formations being used in college sending many of these youngsters to the pros without the fundamentals once taken for granted, and coaches believe a league like this could greatly hasten that learning curve.

And this offseason proved more than ever how scarce quarterbacks are, with ineffective starters like Sam Bradford getting $18 million a season and a bidding war erupting over Brock Osweiler, who played middling football this season in his first seven career starts, lost his job before the playoffs to a decaying Peyton Manning and then still received $38 million guaranteed.

Damn, that’s gotta suck.

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Filed under Strategery And Mechanics, The NFL Is Your Friend.