Category Archives: Strategery And Mechanics

Pete Carroll, Nick Saban and the art of skinning cats

I’ve started reading Chris Brown’s new book, The Art of Smart Football, (more on that in a later post, once I’m finished reading it).  The first chapter is devoted to Pete Carroll and his evolution as one of the best defensive minds in football.

Chris notes that one thing Carroll has added to his repertoire is mixing in some two-gap defensive line tricks to his base 4-3 Under, which is based on aggressive one-gap line play.  Carroll’s done that to allow his defense to gain numbers elsewhere to counter the increased threat of quarterbacks running spread-option plays.  That in turn has led to him deploying a variety of types of personnel to gain flexibility.

It’s something he learned while at Southern Cal.  Here’s what Chris quotes about that.

“That really came out of my time at SC,” Carroll told Seahawks.com.  “We forced [young players] to play, in essence.  And then we discovered if we asked them to do things they could do uniquely well, that they could elevate faster and find their confidence sooner.”

Compare that to what Nick Saban had to say about how he’s had to adapt to the challenge of defending hurry-up offenses in college.

“The biggest effect is pace of play and how it’s affected the whole game,” Saban said. “I’m not saying this in a negative way, because there are more points and it’s more exciting. There are a lot of good things about the way college football has evolved. But from a defensive perspective, you can’t play specialty defense, you can’t play substitution defense, so you really have to recruit more players who can play every down. You can’t recruit specialty players.”

So one coach has chosen to go in the direction of greater specialization and the other in the direction opposite.  That’s not to say either is incorrect, of course.  Both are two of the best defensive minds in the game (with due apologies to Gus and Boom, heh), although you could argue that Carroll is trending a little better than Saban of late, I guess.  I just find it more than a little interesting to see the conclusions they draw from strategizing against modern offenses.

I admit I can’t help but wonder what kind of impact Saban’s approach has on Alabama’s recruiting now, though.  One of the huge advantages Saban enjoys with managing an 85-man college roster is the ability of carrying specialty players on it. It will be interesting to see how giving up that advantage plays out over the next few seasons.

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SEC, Gary Danielson is worried about your soul.

Really, he is.

… All but one SEC team averaged more than 360 yards per game last year; eight averaged more than 400, and Mississippi State averaged a staggering 513. But Danielson wonders if the conference might be starting to sell its soul for shiny silver.

“The big advantage the SEC had against other conferences was they were the most physical, NFL-like conference there was,” he said. “If they try to morph too much into becoming a fantasy league, they are going to cede their position as the toughest and best conference in college football.”

In case you can’t tell, the man really doesn’t like the spread.

“You go into a room, you meet with athletic directors, you can wow them by putting the spread on the board, show them how you’re going to run up all these scores. For years, I’ve been saying they are running too many plays and the games are getting too long, but none of them want to give up their stats. They love these stats.”

I’ll be the first to concede that many athletic directors have their heads up their asses, but I don’t think any of ’em are hiring coaches to run up stats.  They want to win, even if they don’t always have the best idea about how to go about accomplishing that.  And, like it or not, that hurry-up stuff works.  If it didn’t, you wouldn’t see Saban taking steps in that direction.

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Filed under SEC Football, Strategery And Mechanics

Wednesday morning buffet

Get you some.

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Filed under Georgia Football, It's Just Bidness, Recruiting, Science Marches Onward, SEC Football, Stats Geek!, Strategery And Mechanics, The Body Is A Temple, What's Bet In Vegas Stays In Vegas

Rodney Garner gets technical on us.

And the results are about what you’d expect.

And the Tigers’ defensive linemen have plenty to learn as well, with Rodney Garner describing it in precise football terms.

“Just getting them to understand that, hey, yesterday we were back to the one-gap. We’re four down (linemen),” he said. “Now going forward … we want to be able to comingle, so they’ve got to understand, are we two-gapping it or are we single-gapping it? But I think as they get more comfortable with the system and understanding how to apply the technique and the fundamentals to what the calls are, I think they’re going to get better.”

But what is the biggest advantage the 3-4 holds over the 4-3 from a lineman’s perspective?

“You can disguise your pressure. That’s the one thing when I was at Georgia working with (then-defensive coordinator Todd) Grantham, we could disguise so many different ways to bring pressure and to do different things,” Garner said. “And it changes an offense’s blocking schemes, especially if you can comingle; you’re giving them a three-down look, a four-down look and they’ve got to block that thing differently, whether it be in their run game or their pass (protection). How are they going to set their pass (protection)? So it definitely gives you a lot of flexibility.”

Comingle is the new black, I guess.

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Filed under Auburn's Cast of Thousands, Strategery And Mechanics

Gap talk

If you’ve heard Danielson or Blackledge talk about gap responsibility on defense and not understand what they mean by that, here’s a nice primer on the subject at the Miami SBN site for you.

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Thursday morning buffet

Another day to indulge, campers.

  • I’m always amused when Will Muschamp talks about offense.
  • You will be shocked, shocked to learn that the SEC has come out against an early signing proposal for football.
  • Nick Saban clarifies his comment about bowl games.  Naturally, media misunderstanding is involved.
  • There will be no SEC-enforced cap on COA“We are constrained by the law,” SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said.
  • Here’s another hungry football player story.
  • Auburn’s not in on claiming more national championships.  Per Jay Jacobs, “Those players on those teams, like me in 1983, it doesn’t matter if you hang a banner or not. I know what we did.”  So why even explore the possibility in the first place?
  • If you’re looking for some well-crafted Gator snark, this should do.
  • Matt Hinton has an excellent piece here on the art of building an offensive line.

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Filed under Auburn's Cast of Thousands, Gators Gators, Look For The Union Label, Nick Saban Rules, Recruiting, SEC Football, Strategery And Mechanics

A little more on stopping the run as a means of generating turnovers

I brought up Manny Diaz’ philosophy last week and a couple of bloggers of a more statistical bent than I explored the topic as well.

At Football Study Hall, Chad Peltier did a little regression analysis on the subject and found that Diaz wasn’t full of shit.

There’s enough evidence to reject the null hypothesis that there isn’t a relationship between defensive rushing S&P+ and turnovers gained. Rush defense doesn’t explain the whole variation in the data on turnovers gained (r squared is .14), but the two variables do seem to be related in a non-random way (at the 95% confidence level).

In short, the stats do seem to support Diaz’s argument that a defense should work on stopping the run first and foremost for more turnovers.

And today at Team Speed Kills, David Wunderlich does a little statistical exploration, finds some correlation, but wonders if there’s more to it than what Diaz suggests.

But wait a second. Let’s apply a different truism, this one from Football Outsiders: “You run when you win, not win when you run.” As Aaron Schatz explained it:

There are exceptions, usually when the opponent is strong in every area except run defense… [h]owever, in general, winning teams have a lot of carries because their running backs are running out the clock at the end of wins, not because they are running wild early in games.

Apply this to a defensive context, and winning teams will defend more passes than runs. Certainly it’s possible to have a great defense that doesn’t win a lot of games—see Auburn and Tennessee in 2008, or Florida in 2013—and it’s possible to win a lot of games with a terrible defense—see 2011 Baylor, which won 10 games despite being 113th in scoring defense. There are always exceptions, and that’s why these correlations are in the +/- 0.300 to 0.400 range rather than, say, the +/- 0.700 to 0.800 range.

Still, teams that win a lot of games usually have good defenses. We should also expect that good defenses will force a lot of turnovers. We’re now stuck in the correlation vs. causation trap. Does strength at stopping the run cause a team to generate more turnovers? Or does simply being a good defense cause that unit to both stop the run and generate more turnovers?

I’ve always believed that context matters, so I would be stupid to dismiss David’s qualifiers there.  But it’s worth mentioning that Louisiana Tech, while leading the nation in turnovers last season, finished 9-5.  Take that for what it’s worth.

In the meantime, let’s see what Diaz does in his second tour of duty at Mississippi State.  As David concludes,

One thing I can say for sure is this: when you share a division with Nick Saban, Bret Bielema, Gus Malzahn, and Les Miles, focusing on stopping the run isn’t a bad plan.

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