Category Archives: Strategery And Mechanics

The new, improved Nick Saban

A couple of good pieces on how Saban appears to be remaking the Alabama team – one from Ian Boyd, the other from Michael Casagrande at  And three observations from me…

  • One, I think Boyd is spot on with this:  “For years, all of this versatility and talent choked out SEC offenses with individually crafted game plans. But then Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and his up-tempo company came around. One Alabama source says Malzahn, the author of The Hurry-Up, No-Huddle, is inside Saban’s head.”  Did you ever think it was possible for another coach to pull that off?  I didn’t.
  • Two, for all the “Kiffin did this and Kiffin did that” stuff, let’s not forget which team led the SEC last season in yards per offensive play and scoring.  And with a lot less soul searching, it seems.
  • Three, if Nick Saban is going all in with shedding weight in the secondary – as Boyd notes, “Barring some big summer weight gains, this will be Saban’s first Alabama secondary to not feature a DB over 200 pounds.” – Brian Schottenheimer sure as hell better have a game plan prepared to take advantage of that by pounding the snot out of them.  Because it seems like he’s got the players with which to do so.


Filed under Nick Saban Rules, Strategery And Mechanics

Another reason for the quarterback muddle?

There’s an interview over at Football Study Hall with the Arkansas high school coach who’s going to try bringing some rugby-style tactics to his offensive gameplan that’s a good read.  But there’s something in particular in it I wanted to focus on.  It’s about his motivation for this innovation in his tactics.

The article details how Kelley analyzed a database of college football stats and discovered a strong relationship between explosive plays (specifically 20+ yards) and winning. And further, he found that the more players that touched the football on any given play (3+), the greater the chance of a 20+ yard play. So, while watching rugby on TV one night, he made the connection: why not add laterals as an additional wrinkle to his already innovative offense? Would that increase the likelihood of more explosive plays?

… The idea for Kelley’s newest offensive innovation began with a conversation with Brad Edwards at last year’s Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Using ESPN’s Stats and Information database for a little while at the conference, Kelley found that winning the explosive play ratio was more important than even winning the turnover margin. [Emphasis added.] This echoed earlier findings…

…and Bill’s own Five Factors, here and here.

Last season, Georgia was 32nd nationally in plays of 20+ yards.  But when you look closer, it’s more revealing:  10th in rushing plays of 20+ yards; 78th in passing plays of 20+ yards.  (Before you ask, Mason was tied for 23rd nationally in interceptions, with four.)

Now certainly some of that is a factor of the orientation of Georgia’s offense in 2014.  Georgia ran the ball 555 times, compared to 322 passing attempts.  But there’s a little chicken and egg aspect to all of that, too.  Georgia didn’t throw the ball as much because it played to its strengths and those strengths didn’t include a serious downfield passing game.

Richt’s pooh-poohed analytics before, so maybe this is something that doesn’t matter to him.  But what if behind the scenes, this kind of thinking has factored into the equation?  It would certainly reinforce Richt’s general instinct favoring a downfield passing attack as a major part of his offensive philosophy.  If so, the question becomes how much risk are he and Schottenheimer willing to tolerate in an attempt to juice Georgia’s offense beyond last year’s record-setting pace.

And just to add one more wrinkle to that equation, Bill Connelly has looked at the data and finds there’s almost no correlation between completion rate and yards per completion, and it’s close to the same story with yards per completion and INT rate.  That goes against what I would have expected to see.  The conclusion he draws from that:

Well, among other things, quality matters. That’s the ultimate “duh,” but this suggests that quality and skill matter even more than one would think. You can’t really generalize about a QB or a passing game based on merely his per-completion yardage or completion rate.

“Quality matters”.   Duh, indeed.  But when you’re looking at three guys working with a new offensive coordinator, how quickly can you make that determination?


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

“That’s what would have happened had he hired me to run a Big Ten offense.”

We all talk about the disadvantage Georgia Tech’s defense is at going up against the triple option every day in practice, as it limits the looks it gets at less alien offenses.  But maybe there’s a flip side, as this story about TCU demonstrates.

Patterson, after his most frustrating season as a head coach, realized he needed to make major changes. Not only did his offense struggle to keep pace on the scoreboard with the rapid-fire offenses in the Big 12, it also couldn’t give the Horned Frogs defense an adequate look at the speed it would face in a game.

After Meacham and Cumbie arrived, the offense and the defense got better. An already excellent Horned Frogs defense went from allowing 4.8 yards a play in 2013 to 4.7 in ’14, second best in the Big 12. Meanwhile, TCU’s record improved to 12–1. The Horned Frogs just missed the College Football Playoff and finished the season by pasting Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl. For that, TCU can thank Patterson, the two coordinators he hired and 10 personnel.

The numbering system for personnel packages works like this. The first digit is the number of backs on the field. The second digit is the number of tight ends. To find the number of receivers, add the first two digits to six (one quarterback and five offensive linemen) and subtract that sum from 11.

The preferred personnel grouping in the Big 12 is 10: one back, zero tight ends, four receivers. TCU’s old offense was designed for 11 or 21. It also huddled regularly. TCU’s scout team offense would simulate up-tempo schemes for the defense, but when the Horned Frogs went good-on-good—when they practiced against the type of players they’d see on Saturday—the defense rarely saw anything that looked like the upcoming opponent.

That’s why Patterson doesn’t refer to his hiring of Meacham and Cumbie as a change of offense. “It’s truly a change of philosophy,” Patterson said at Big 12 media days in July 2014. He compared the old philosophy of beating teams 17–13 to drinking only water while training. What might happen, he asked, if the Horned Frogs began drinking Gatorade?

That only goes so far, of course.  Patterson’s move worked because he went with the flow in his conference.  And as it’s something of a prevailing flow in college football these days, it makes sense on a larger scale. (Just ask Ole Miss about that.)  Would it work as well against a power pro-set attack, or Johnson’s triple option, for that matter?  I’ve got no idea.  But that’s one thing to love about college football, the sheer variety of offensive philosophies being deployed.  And finding out who’s better at coping with whom.

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Filed under Strategery And Mechanics

Everything old is new again: the 46 defense as a counter to the spread running game

If you’re wondering how Virginia Tech shut down Ohio State’s offense last season in a way that no other defense did, Ian Boyd gets really deep into the weeds with his analysis of using the 46 defense made famous by the Ryan family against power spread attacks.

It’s not a defense you’d want to deploy against an Air Raid offense, but it’s definitely got its pluses against one that runs the ball from the spread.  And for some, the high-risk, high-reward nature of the 46 may be a feature, not a bug:

As more and more coaches find that the only way to consistently beat good, modern spread teams is to be capable of outscoring them, more teams will adopt aggressive defensive strategies that can either get them the ball back quickly or yield a quick score that still picks up the pace of the game and gives them a chance to wear out the opposing defense.

Definitely worth a read.


Filed under Strategery And Mechanics

Schottenheimer meets SEC speed.

One thing he’s getting used to in Athens:  his players are more familiar with hurry-up no-huddle play than he is.

“This is as fast as I’ve ever been around. These guys are obviously used to it. It’s pretty impressive to tell you the truth,” Schottenheimer said. “So I’m very pleased with it. Again, they’re used to it. I’m the one that’s new. Tempo has been very good.”

That isn’t to say that the hurry-up element of the Bulldogs attack is going to be the norm. Under Schottenheimer the UGA offense will continue to be multiple.

Both in formation/scheme and how he chooses to attack defenses with temp.

“We do a little bit of both,” Schottenheimer said when asked about running and up-tempo offense. “With the starting players we have some tempo packages that we like and when we go tempo, we go pretty fast.”

If you’re looking for an area of change resulting from the offensive coordinator transition, this may be one to watch.  Will Georgia run as much HUNH in 2015 as it did in 2014?


Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

Playing the hand you’re dealt.

Possibly coming soon, to an Alabama sideline near you…

(Mike Kittrell/

But, though Nick Saban didn’t commit Alabama to being a hurry-up team again, they’re dabbling in the play card business. Players referenced their use in the spring and a few were used in the open practice Aug. 9 in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Unlike other teams that divide the posters with multiple pictures, Alabama’s appeared to have one prominent image on each sign. One was the helmet of the Miami Dolphins, Saban’s employer from 2004-06.

Saban said the signs resulted from meetings with coaches from Ohio State, TCU and others who use no-huddle offenses. The idea was to minimize communication.

“We felt like last year we were kind of learning how to be a no-huddle team on the run because of the personnel we had,” Saban said. “We thought it was best suited for Blake (Sims), and we’ve talked about that many times before, but we didn’t go in with the idea that we were going to be a no-huddle team.

“So we visited a lot of people during the offseason to try and come up with the best system – Kansas, Washington, a lot of people that go no-huddle ― It’s just a methodology of how some people get formations and plays in the game.”

Man, Nick Saban, I don’t know you anymore.

At least they shouldn’t have any trouble finding somebody to hold up the signs – if there isn’t someone on the payroll now for that, they’ll get one.


Filed under Nick Saban Rules, Strategery And Mechanics

Lateral the damn ball.

This is pretty awesome – the Arkansas high school coach who’s already gained notoriety for his strategy eschewing punts and embracing onside kicks has come up with a new wrinkle.  Allow him to explain:

Kelley used an ESPN database to study college football history. He found that historically, there was no bigger indicator of victory than winning the turnover margin – teams that forced more turnovers than they committed won 80 percent of the time. But last season, Kelley said, a new trend emerged for the first time: Teams that recorded more plays of at least 20 yards won about 81 percent of the time.

It made sense to Kelley – bigger chunks of yardage meant scoring quicker and less opportunity to commit turnovers and drive-killing penalties. He became obsessed with finding a system designed for big plays. He found that on plays when two players touched the ball – a typical handoff or pass – teams gained 20 yards about 10 percent of the time. But when at least three players touched the ball – a trick play with a lateral involved – the percentage for gaining 20 yards rose to around 20 percent.

“That got me thinking,” Kelley said. “How could we develop a system for more than two people to touch the ball?”

One day, watching television, Kelley stumbled across a rugby game. That was it. Rugby teams built designed plays despite constant movement, an intricate series of laterals. Teammates didn’t block for the ball carrier; they rushed to the right spot to receive a pitch.

And so Kelley instituted a new system. When he calls out “Rugby!” before an offensive series, his wide receivers change their assignment. Rather than blocking downfield, they rush toward the receiver who catches the ball. If they’re open, they yell the receiver’s name and which side they’re on. He tells his players only to pitch the ball when they’re sure it’s safe.

Essentially, Kelley’s offense will run the option – after a completed pass down the field.

As the saying goes, that’s just crazy enough, it might work.  But even so,

Even if Kelley’s offense works this fall, it’s not going to change much outside of the Arkansas 5A-Central Conference. Despite his success derived from not punting, no copycats have sprung up at higher levels. Football coaches are too wedded to convention, scared by the knowledge that losing traditionally is safer than trying to win radically. Kelley is just fine with that.

“I don’t want anybody else doing this,” Kelley said. “With not punting and the onside kicks, I know I have a stat advantage. If this works, I want everybody thinking this is stupid, too.”

Sounds about right.


Filed under Strategery And Mechanics