Category Archives: 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.

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Filed under Strategery And Mechanics

“The running game is arithmetic.”

In kind of a weird coincidence, two articles on the resurgence of the running game in college football popped up yesterday, this one from Dennis Dodd and another from Andrea Adelson.

Both share some common themes, for instance, the role a running quarterback plays in changing the numbers game.  Adelson quotes Rich Rodriguez.

When Rodriguez first started implementing the spread as an assistant 27 years ago, it was with throwing more in mind. But as the offense evolved, he found himself spreading more to run. The reason? A simple numbers game.

“We felt you had to have less good blocks to have a successful run than if you put everybody in there tight,” Rodriguez explained. “If we got two or three blocks at the point of attack, and the rest of the guys get run over slowly, we’ve got a chance — as opposed to having to make five or six blocks. So that was our reasoning behind spreading to run. And having the quarterback with a threat to run makes defenses play all 11 guys instead of playing 11 on 10.”

And that’s the gist of Dodd’s piece.

Average quarterback rush yards has nearly doubled in the last decade, according to research compiled by SportSource Analytics. Quarterback yards per carry are up 53 percent (1.83 in 2005, 2.83 in 2014).

Rushing yards gained by quarterbacks accounted for more than 15 percent of the national rushing yardage total last year. That’s up from 10.5 percent a decade ago.

It’s no secret why.

“The advent of the spread and the quarterback being a viable runner,” explained Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “As a former defensive coordinator, that’s your biggest nightmare — a quarterback who can hurt you both ways.”

In that defensive coordinator parlance, an offense that features a running quarterback is called a “plus one.” Simply put, the defense has to account for 11 players, instead of 10. Down through the ages, that hasn’t necessarily been the case. In the last 10-15 years with advent of spread offenses, it’s been the norm.

You can tell from the flavor of both of those quotes that the rise of the spread is another common theme.  And, again, it’s hard to argue with the numbers.

Defenses have been struggling to catch up. Over the past three seasons, running backs have averaged 5.1 yards per carry — higher than any point since 2004. According to ESPN Stats & Information, teams faced an average of 6.8 defenders in the box last season, a number that has been slowly dropping since the average was 7.0 in 2011.

Hmmm… that stat rings a bell from somewhere.  Oh, yeah.

Note that Georgia and Arkansas, two unabashed pro-style offenses with power running attacks, sit well above that 6.8 DITB average.  They’re obviously not playing that numbers game the way Rodriguez does.  But what’s interesting is that there’s another common point to Adelson’s and Dodd’s pieces – Nick Chubb.  And of course, Chubb doesn’t run from a spread attack.  So what’s he doing there?  Adelson has an explanation that I can buy into about that:

Traditional power run teams might be dwindling, but some coaches believe they have benefited from the spread too. With more defensive schemes predicated on slowing down the spread, players are not accustomed to playing downhill, power run teams.

Virginia assistant Chris Beatty worked at Wisconsin last year and watched Melvin Gordon run for 2,587 yards — the second-highest total in NCAA history. Gordon is a rare talent in his own right, but defenses not only struggled to tackle him, they struggled to defend the right gaps.

“It’s harder and harder on defenses, and I think an advantage for us at Wisconsin was everybody’s geared to stop the spread now,” Beatty said. “We were one of a handful of teams that runs a pro-style offense, so it creates an issue personnel-wise for defenses — how do they want to be? For us with Melvin Gordon, it was hard for people to match up.”

As I’ve said plenty of times, there is value in being contrary.

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Filed under Stats Geek!, Strategery And Mechanics

“I think football (philosophies) for the first time are going up instead of coming down (from the NFL)…”

Interesting story here about how Charlie Strong has had to ditch his preferred offensive philosophy and embrace a spread attack because that’s about all that coming out of the state’s high school systems.

But as Strong heads into Year 2 off a 6-7 debut, he has already conceded that his initial plan won’t work. When Texas debuts at Notre Dame on Sept. 5, the Longhorns will be another convert to the speed-and-spread style of football that has become rather homogenous in the Big 12. He’s not trying to re-create Louisville on a bigger stage; the Texas of 2015 is trying to emulate Auburn. Texas is no longer setting the agenda for football in the state; the Longhorns are adjusting on the fly just to keep up.

“It was just so hard; the scores were coming so quickly and it’s hard to match,” Strong told USA TODAY Sports. “I’d say probably 95% of the high schools in this state are all from the spread. A young man coming in here has been accustomed to the spread, so let’s not bring him in and all the sudden change it when he’s grown up with that the whole time. In the recruiting process, kids want to see that. They want to see you’re going up-tempo, so it’s almost like for recruiting alone, you had to go in that direction.”

That’s a heck of an admission from a Texas coach, but it’s also reality.

That’s also a little strange.  If Strong were that wedded to his offensive scheme, why not look outside the state of Texas for a quarterback who fits it better?  Maybe I’m a bit jaded from watching where Richt has plucked his starting quarterbacks over the years, but it’s not as if Strong wasn’t able to do that very thing with Teddy Bridgewater at Louisville.  Is it that unthinkable for the Longhorns to have a non-Texan starting quarterback?

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Filed under Strategery And Mechanics, Texas Is Just Better Than You Are.

The art of writing a smart book about football, a review

I’ve blogged about college football for almost nine years now, which is either an indication of my level of sanity or of my enjoyment of the game.  (I suppose the two aren’t mutually exclusive, though.)  One of the things that blogging has contributed to the latter is that it’s given me the chance to run across some folks with truly sharp insights to share about football.

One of them is Chris Brown.  Lord knows I’ve linked to Chris’ work many times here, both what he’s posted at his blog and his work at Grantland.  Chris also wrote a book a few years back, The Essential Smart Football, that I reviewed.  About that book, I wrote this:

Hell, he’s managed to make the NFL interesting to me and I haven’t cared about pro football for a long time.  I can’t think of any higher praise than that.

I still can’t.  Chris has a knack for writing about things that make me think about the strategy and tactics of football in a way that few others do.  Sometimes he’s good enough at it to drive me crazy.

So when I tell you that he’s published a new book, The Art of Smart Football, there’s a temptation on my part just to leave things at this:  go buy his book; it’ll make you a better football fan.  But he and his book deserve a little more than that.

Chris shifts from the pros to college and back to the pros seamlessly, as do many of the people he writes about in Art, like Pete Carroll.  But there is a common theme that runs throughout this book – the give and take of strategy.  As he writes in the chapter entitled “Monster Mash”,

Coaches and quarterbacks nowadays are exceptional at identifying and exploiting defensive weaknesses.  Defenses now, with the rise of spread offenses, often give away their soft spots by how they line up, and the myriad of reads, packaged plays, and options make exploiting these weaknesses ever-simpler stuff.

But football is a game of give and take, and defenses are responding…

That’s as true for Nick Saban as it is for Pete Carroll, as true as it is for Chip Kelly (on whatever level he’s coaching) as it is for Art Briles, as true as it is… well, you get the idea.  And there’s plenty more of that in Art – the book, not the coach, I mean.  Simply put, it’s a great read.

So I guess I will leave you with this after all:  go buy Chris’ book; it’ll make you a better football fan.

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Kirby drops a Smart bomb.

The times, they are a-changin’.

Four years ago, 2011, the defense that was so good against LSU, that season, we had five run-pass option plays throughout the 800 plays. Last year’s had over 120 run-pass option plays,” Smart said. “Obviously, the game has changed, the teams we’re playing changed, and we’ve had to evolve.”

So how have he and Saban adapted?

“That team (in 2011) was a big, physical team that was good at stopping the run, had two first-round corners. In recent years, the run-pass option has evolved to make offensive football better, and we’ve had to change with that,” Smart said. “We’ve got to do more things, we’ve got to play more split-safety coverages, you’ve got to help your corners in a lot of different ways, and we have to continue to grow in that area, so we don’t give up big plays, don’t put those guys in bad situations, which I probably did too often.”

To answer your next question, last season Alabama gave up twice as many plays of 30+ yards as did Georgia and over three times as many plays of 40+ yards.  I’m not saying the pupil has surpassed the master here by any means, but it does seem as if Pruitt’s gotten a head start on the learning curve.

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Filed under Strategery And Mechanics

Cleats on the ground

For those of you who think Faton Bauta’s running abilities give him a leg up on the competition (see what I did there?), I got news for you:  even Bauta doesn’t think that matters much.

“Our offense doesn’t really allow for our quarterback to run much considering all the progressions we have,” he said.

Schottenheimer and Richt aren’t suddenly going to morph into Gus Malzahn.  Sorry if you got your hopes up about that.

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Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

Wednesday morning buffet

Hump day.  Get ‘yer buffet on.

  • 100 years ago… Vanderbilt was a football powerhouse.
  • Three overrated college teams, based on advanced stats – and Georgia isn’t one of them.
  • Georgia opened preseason practice yesterday almost complete from a health standpoint.  Amazing.
  • The CFP announced yesterday that it’s expanding travel help to players’ families to cover the semifinals.  That’s a nice gesture, but it’s hard to see how you square that with amateurism.  Maybe someone could ask Stacey Osburn for a comment.
  • Pruitt on Leonard Floyd“So the good thing about Leonard is he can help everybody else right. Until we figure out the other pieces of the puzzle he’s gonna kind of do all three.”
  • More Pruitt“Sometimes your second team strong safety is better than your second team free safety,” defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt said. “So when you’re starting free safety gets hurt, it’s not real smart to put in the worse player.”
  • Even more Pruitt“This league is a physical league. You better be big up front. You better have big people so you can sustain over the course of the year…”
  • Matt Hinton says yes, the SEC West is that good.  Which makes you wonder what kind of expansion pressure will be brought to bear on the CFP if the SEC gets shut out of the semifinals because the West ate its own.
  • And Grayson Lambert sees a lot of similarities between what Virginia and Georgia run in their offenses.

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Filed under BCS/Playoffs, Georgia Football, SEC Football, Stats Geek!, Strategery And Mechanics, The NCAA