Last season, despite similar hype, Tennessee’s Eric Berry outshone USC’s Taylor Mays. One oft-cited flaw in Mays’s game was his over-reliance on the kill-shot — his desire to lay huge hits on receivers sometimes results in his getting out of position and either not breaking up the ball or just missing the angle. But oh, those hits were fierce.
The result, however, has been that his draft stock has fallen. As Dr Saturday notes, he went from a likely top 5 or 10 pick last year to a late first-rounder (and possibly even a second rounder) this year. But was this because Mays was freelancing, or was he coached to do it? In his words:
“I think there is some truth to [his reputation for going for too many big hits] but at the same time that is what I was coached to do. At USC, I was coached to deliver knockout shots. I have the potential athletically and mentally to catch the ball and go after the ball. In one week [at the Senior Bowl] I was able to go from only hitting receivers to going after the ball. I just want a chance to work with a coach who can help me do that.”
Doc Sat speculates that maybe this kind of coaching from Carroll is one of the reasons that his teams went from stunningly great turnover margins in his first six seasons to more down to earth levels. I do, however, have never been convinced that you can really coach turnovers. Teams that play a lot of zone defenses (well) tend to get more interceptions because they have more eyes on the ball, but that’s about it, really. Better talent too can help, but fumbling and even interceptions to a lesser extent tends to even out over time. I’m not saying coaches shouldn’t coach turnovers, but it’s not something there is a lot of control over. Six seasons is a lot, but not enough to prove that luck wasn’t a big factor.
4. Offseason football writing often tends to turn into a catalogues of player arrests and petty offenses or injuries, which is more depressing than interesting to me (except when done exceptionally well). But, as Doc Sat (and others) point out, what’s going on at Oregon is worth a closer look, if for no other reason than that it might have very real effects on their football team in the fall.
5. Bill Walsh’s quarterback manual. Seriously. Do I need to say anything else? Just download it, and work your way through it. The best part? It’s not even that advanced or complicated. He used to send a lot of this stuff out to high school coaches he was recruiting or had relationships with. (Thanks to reader Topher for the link.)
6. New rules intended to clean up the game are moving through the system. From the Wiz:
You might recall Terrelle Pryor’s tribute to Michael Vick in Ohio State’s opener last season against Navy. The words “Mike” and “Vick” were written on his eye black.
Vick wasn’t alone. Tim Tebow got his faith-based message across each game, and countless other players had a message for viewers, from an area code or simple shout-out to mom. Those days are coming to an end.
The Football Rules Committee, meeting in Fort Lauderdale, voted to require players who wear eye black to use solid black with no words, logos, numbers or other symbols. The rule will be in effect for the 2010 season, pending approval by the Playing Rules Oversight Panel. The oversight panel regularly rubber stamps recommendations by the rules committee.
Other rules changes include a crackdown on taunting. Players who draw flags for taunting gestures on their way to a touchdown would have the penalty assessed from the spot of the foul, taking away the score. Penalties that occur in the end zone would continue to be assessed on the extra-point attempt, two-point conversion try or ensuing kickoff. That proposal, which received near-unanimous support, would take effect in 2011.
The committee also agreed to stringent standards on players who have suffered a concussion. Such players will now have to be cleared by a doctor before returning to competition.
TV monitors will be allowed in coaches’ booths in press boxes beginning in 2011. Feeds and equipment for home and visiting teams must be identical.
There will also be a requirement for a 10-yard buffer zone for pregame warmups. A no-player zone will be mandated between the 45-yard lines 60 minutes before kickoff.
1 Is it possible for a defense to be “good against the run” or “good against the pass,” or is it merely good, mediocre, or bad? Chase Stuart, in two excellent posts heavy on the game theory (available here and here), shows that, at the very minimum, it’s difficult to say anything meaningful about a defense other than to comment on its general effectiveness; the two phases are too inextricably intertwined. For fans and commentators I think this is correct, though from a gameplanning perspective it remains possible to identify which defenders are most dangerous and what is most difficult to accomplish, not to mention whether the defense is tilting to the pass or run — i.e. extra defensive backs or guys in coverage, or extra run defenders.
3. Tim Tebow’s loping release. During the broadcast of Florida’s bowl game, Brian Billick showed exactly what is wrong with Tebow’s release: It’s long, he brings the ball down too low (this motion generates no additional power or accuracy), and it exposes the ball both to a fumble and to a defender who might break on the ball. See it here (h/t Doc Sat):
The word I had gotten was that Scott Loeffler, Florida’s quarterback coach, had made significant progress with Tim on this but that come gametime, well, a player’s gotta play how he knows how. And Tebow had earned the right to play his way. Yet it is troubling to the lack of progress, and it will hurt him in the draft. But what if it was worse, than a lack of progress — what if Tebow actually regressed on this point? Check out this video which charts Tebow’s release over time, and you be the judge.
1 New coaching blog: Coach Mac’s blog. It’s still in its early stages but there is some very good info here, particularly about the “power shotgun spread” stuff his team uses. Check out part I and part II of his series on their “power” play from shotgun.
2. A week late but, Brophy has a good post showing some of the plays Drew Brees used to carve up the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football.
3. A bunch of people havesent me this link about how Nebraska supposedly bottled up Texas via “pattern reading.” To be honest the article is difficult to understand and the routes shown don’t look like ones that Texas actually uses. And besides, almost every team uses some kind of pattern reading. My biggest issue is — and this could be me misunderstanding the article — is that it appears to confuse two different things. Pattern reading is where zone defenders use sort of “match up zone” principles to identify and attack specific route combinations that they have prepared for, rather than simply react to wherever a receiver happens to run. What is described in the article instead is the idea of “bracket coverage” (also sometimes called banjo coverage), where two defenders account for two possible receivers, and ignore any initial stems or criss-crosses and take the receiver that goes to them — i.e. one goes in and the other out. This is a legitimate technique and you have to be prepared for it, as it is designed to stop basic “you go in; I go out” type routes. But, and I haven’t broken down all the details of the Nebraska-UT game, that didn’t appear to me to be the main issue. And even if was a tactic Nebraska used, much of Texas’s passing game is designed to counteract such schemes. Instead the narrative is the same one you’d think it was: Nebraska’s defensive line dominated the game both for pass protection and the run game (save for a few draws), and that freed up the rest of the Blackshirts to roam and play tough, physical coverage and keep everything in front of them. But it all began up front.
4. Advanced NFL Stats with more on run/pass balance and game theory. I promise to address this topic, even if it’s just to summarize the good stuff coming out, but in the meantime go continue to read what Brian has been putting out.
5. My guess is this is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve both seen some outrageous things of this sort first hand (much moreso than what’s described in the article), and in general nothing will compare to what used to go on back in the day. But for now this is another bit of unwelcome light shining onto the recruiting practices of the University of Tennessee.
6. Charlie Strong to Louisville. Tough to have anything negative to say about this hire, though “Emperor Charlie” has his work cut out for him. Obviously on defense he’ll bring his rugged, multiple “4-3 under” scheme that has the ability to shift to a three-three (or even two-man line) against spread sets, but on offense it is anyone’s guess. Will he go the Bo Pellini route, whereby the defensive coach hires a random number generator as his offensive coordinator, or will he try to match his defense with an equally potent offense? (Here’s a hint Charlie: You coached under both Bob Davie and Urban Meyer. Which strategy worked out better? (Until the rise of Addazio, of course.) Time will tell.
7. It’s not a link but, my Heisman vote is for Suh.
1 Follow me on twitter. Self promotion yes, but I probably won’t be blogging much over the next few days but I hope to tweet some commentary on the football games tomorrow and through the weekend. Click here for my twitter feed.
2. Pro Football Reference Blog on the “quarterback problem.” Namely, analyzing the links (or lack thereof) between evaluating talent, ultimate performance, and how the data can be skewed by a high draft position resulting in playing time. (I.e. the Matt Leinert problem.)
3. R.I.P. Abe Pollin. The WaPo has a nice article here.
5. The Wiz argues that college football will die because, well, brick and mortar universities will be gone “within 10 to 20 years.” Or, alternatively, there will be such demand for online classes that regular universities will simply give up on football. I’m not entirely convinced. In a related story, all Fortune 500 companies and government agencies have permanently closed their offices and all employees are to report electronically. Meetings will be done by instant messenger.
Best sleepers in college football of the decade. Hey that Chris Brown guy really knows what he’s talking about.
- Brophy has several good posts about pattern reading. Check them out here and here.
- Red Cup Rebellion has a really nice breakdown showing why a busted trick play looked, so, well busted. (And also has an example of what it should have looked like.)
- Mark Mangino, interrupted. The Kansas coach is getting it from all sides. Now, I don’t want to be flippant and there are some very serious allegations here, but there is something a little strange about the possibility that a football coach might get in trouble for yelling too much. But there seems to be more news to come.
- Can we thank Belichick? The Fifth Down says that the New England coach has emboldened the geeks, which is definitely a good thing. In that vein, here is a nascent, but promising, new stat blog.
- I’m very confused. I’ll listen to anyone’s ideas about this.
Totally unnecessary, but nevertheless, I approve. High school quarterback throws a behind the back pass to convert a two-point try. Of course, he could have just turned and thrown it to them, but where’s the fun in that? (H/t Totalsports.)
Of course, former Redskins great Sonny Jurgensen could throw behind the back passes better than most NFL quarterbacks could throw normal passes (I once saw an NFL films clip with Jurgensen taking a five-step drop and throwing fifteen yard out cuts with timing and on the money — all behind the back). Indeed, Jurgensen even completed one of those in an all-star game and once in college.
- Buckeye analysis. There’s a new, promising site dedicated to Ohio State football, modeled after the great Trojan Football Analysis, which is dedicated to Southern Cal football. One of the earliest posts is about pass protection, and it has a very good video showing the basics of how “slide” or “gap protection” works — i.e. each lineman or blocker steps to their “gap” (though shouldn’t step so fast that they let someone shoot through the space they are vacating) and block whomever tries to come through. It is a true “zone” pass protection, and its advantage is that the defense can throw whatever stunt or inside blitz it wants and the line should be able to bottle it up. Its disadvantages are that a defense can overload one side or another, the offense usually has to preassign a few potential receivers to stay in and block, and sometimes those gap assignments can result in mismatches — i.e. a runningback on a defensive lineman. Nevertheless, it is a useful protection scheme to have.
Paul Johnson don’t want to hear it. It doesn’t get much better than this. Frank Beamer is still steaming from his team’s 28-23 loss to the Yellow Jackets two weeks ago. The Virginia Tech coaches sent in about eleven plays that they believed constituted illegal blocks that should have been flagged — a fairly routine thing to do, though the Hokie coaches believed several of those blocks came on game changing plays. Apparently the ACC officials confirmed that at least four plays included illegal blocks, though that news was leaked by Beamer rather than the ACC itself. Paul Johnson is not impressed:
Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson, a man with a reputation for bristling at criticism, fired back after his team’s practice Monday.
“They got out-schemed. So, it’s illegal to out-scheme them, I guess,” he said. “We blocked them the same way we blocked them a year ago and they weren’t complaining when they won.”
“They got out-schemed. So it’s illegal to out-scheme them, I guess.” Somewhat supporting Johnson was the ACC saying Beamer should not have disclosed the results:
Doug Rhoads, who oversees the league’s officials, said the Hokies coaches shouldn’t have disclosed the conference’s admission of mistakes and he wouldn’t specify the number of missed calls.
“I would only say that Virginia Tech, just as every team on that weekend, submitted plays for my review,” Rhoads said. “Out of those plays, there are a few the officials missed, a few that were the right call and a few that were judgment calls somewhere in the middle. ”
Johnson said he also submitted about a dozen plays to the ACC that he thought should have been called holding on the Hokies.
“It’s part of the game,” he said. “Nobody from the conference called and told us that we did anything illegal.”
Two non-committal comments. One, Paul Johnson’s offense has always relied on “cut blocks,” which are legal, but when done improperly can result in being illegal “chop blocks.” The line is a thin one, and is not always easy to call. The relevant parts of the rules state:
e. Blocking below the waist is permitted except as follows (A.R. 9-1-2-IV-XI):
1. Offensive linemen at the snap positioned more than seven yards from the middle lineman of the offensive formation are prohibited from blocking below the waist toward the original position of the ball in or behind the neutral zone and within 10 yards beyond the neutral zone.
2. Backs at the snap positioned completely outside the normal tackle (second player from the snapper) position in either direction toward a sideline, or in motion at the snap, are prohibited from blocking below the waist toward the original position of the ball in or behind the neutral zone and within 10 yards beyond the neutral zone (A.R. 9-1-2-XXVI). . . .
So the basic gist is it is illegal if it is a block “back” towards where the ball was snapped from. It’s completely legal on the edge, however, or any inside-to-out block. The way Johnson using his wingbacks and tackles to block downfield can result in gray areas. Again, not necessarily bad or illegal or even unsportsmanlike, but not always easy when the defender is a moving target.
The second thought here is just that it appears to be the season for complaining about calls, particularly in the SEC but also elsewhere. I can say I’ve seen some really horrible calls this year — many documented on film — but I do hope this isn’t a larger trend. It’s not just coaches too. I’m tired of seeing receivers stand up and look for/beg for a flag after every incompletion, and quarterbacks turn into kickers acting for the personal foul penalties for hitting them. The NFL has proposed a rule that would make it a personal foul to grandstand for a flag to be thrown. That’s a rule I could support, though its enforcement too would be difficult.
- Jimmy Clausen, great quarterback? This is not really newsy — he is second in the country in pass efficiency and eighth in yards per pass attempt — but Jimmy Clausen is playing very, very well this year. Indeed, maybe his weakest performance of the year came last week against Boston College, and he still threw for 246 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. For anyone who watched him the last two years, however, this is very interesting: Clausen came in with a lot of recruiting hype, but how did he suddenly morph from befuddled underclassmen into a real playmaker? One answer of course is the exceptional Golden Tate, but there is no question that Clausen has both hit a lot of big plays and protected the football. As Art from Trojan Football Analysis remarked after USC’s win over Notre Dame,
[W]hat caught my attention in the recent Notre Dame game was how easily the Irish appeared to move the ball in the second half through the air. When this happens fans and the media usually jump on the staff for making poor adjustments…Or they vaguely complain about “zone schemes” or “prevent defenses”. Sometimes the criticism is right and sometimes it is just arm chair quarterbacking mixed in with the benefit of hindsight and second guessing.
. . . Only once on these 13 big pass plays did USC run anything resembling a true prevent defense with 3 DL rushing and 8 men dropping into coverage. Clausen escaped the 3 man pressure on that play, scrambled and found an open man. Conversely, USC did run some type of +1 or +2 blitz on 5 of the 13 plays — all five saw completions by Clausen. Notre Dame had two completions in the game of over 21 yards. One came on a trick fake FG play that caught USC off guard. The other come with cornerback #36 Pinkard in straight man coverage versus WR #23 for the Irish [Golden Tate]. Clausen made some very good throws and reads in the game. I doubt USC will face a QB of his caliber again this season unless something funny happens in the BCS rankings. Jimmy Clausen strikes me as very improved compared to the previous two seasons and clearly had more talent around him this season than the previous contests. My respect for his skill level is considerably up after this most recent game.
Art backs it up with analysis of the thirteen plays he mentioned, along with video of those completions, shown below. I particularly liked the very first pass. It looks simple but USC showed a straight “Cover Two” look with the corners in press coverage to take away short, quick routes. It turned out to be a zone-blitz though, with the cornerback blitzing. Clausen saw it, as did Tate, and they hooked up for a simple hitch pass that Tate turned into a first down. A big key to good quarterbacking is in making those kinds of plays look easy. I guess with Charlie Weis, there’s a long-tail in quarterback development, but you can’t say he hasn’t gotten Clausen to that point.
- Crabtree’s debut. I, like many others, was very interested in Michael Crabtree’s debut. And like just about everyone else I came away pretty impressed: (more…)
Wild thought. Here’s a question for discussion. The Dolphins this season have taken to using a very interesting personnel package for their wildcat looks: two tight-ends and four runningbacks (Ronnie Brown at the “wildcat QB” spot, Ricky Williams as a split receiver/motion back, and then a fullback next to Brown and the other flanker has been a runningback as well). My friend Jerry Gordon speculated that this might be particularly taxing on NFL teams because of the strict 53 man roster limits. Indeed, the Dolphins had a lot of success against the Jets, and Rex Ryan uses a number of six, seven, and occasionally more defensive backs on the field at the same time to bring pressure with. Plus, add to that the fact that the typical NFL “cover” cornerback is not excited about being blocked in the run game, and the extra runningback out there can be a key linchpin for making the jet sweep go, and the personnel in general for opening up creases. Anyone have any thoughts on this?
- Brophy, delivering. My man Broph has some great stuff up from the past couple of weeks, especially his in depth look at Nick Saban’s defense. I’ve discussed an overview of some of what Saban does, but Brophy provides a nice summary of a DVD series Saban did, with primary focus on single safety or “one-high” defenses — Saban’s favorite. Brophy has broken the articles into three parts:
It’s best to read all of it, but a couple of good Saban quotes to whet the appetites:
If you’re not matching the pattern and cheating the receiver, you’re never going to make it. You’re going to be watching completions all night long. You’re never going to make it [to the ball].
The simplest and best defense in football is man-free coverage. It covers everything, it stuffs the run, and it defends the middle of the field. It’s the #1 coverage in pro ball . . . basically because you can’t get away with playing Cover 3.
And then this explanation of the “RAT” call from Cover 1 from Brophy:
The main nuance of this coverage has to do with a challenging/conflicting assignments for the backers. Because the main thrust of the defense is to stop the run from the inside out and [to] keep the defenders playing fast, the premise is to keep the linebackers focused on the backs and TE. Saban uses an alert code (RAT) to prevent a potentially ‘coverage breaking’ route.
“RAT” is used to alert inside backers [that the] strong safety [is] passing off his responsibility ([i.e., the] tight end) to the inside linebackers. When the second receiver (tight end) stems inside ([i.e., like on a shallow cross]), the strong safety, [if he] ran with him, would be immediately vacating the perimeter ([i.e.] where the run game would likely be attacking) as well as [getting in the way] of the (run game) pursuing linebackers. To [avoid] this hazard, when the tight end stems inside [as on a shallow cross], the strong safety will declares/yells “RAT!”. “Rat” means a guy is coming into the funnel (is being funneled) and the remaining defender in the hole should cut/reroute and jump this receiver as he approaches.
This call accomplishes two things. First, it alerts the next backer over (Sam) that the strong safety will take his assigned man (first back out), and he should now adjust to the second back out strong. Secondly, it tells the Mike, who is the “rat in the hole” that he is going to have company soon (crossing tight end) and can jump this route as it comes.
As I see this, it is Saban’s way of getting a “floater” or “robber” player while keeping exactly who he wants on the various backs, tight-ends, and inside receivers — i.e. controlling the matchups. As a bonus, again courtesy of Brophy, is a video of ‘Bama in Cover 1 looks. And, of course for more, you must read the “holy grail” of defensive playbooks, Saban’s 2001 LSU book.
- Pellini, (un)-interrupted. Tough week for Bo coming off a big and disappointing loss to Texas Tech. But Brophy came through again with audio of a clinic talk Pellini gave while still at LSU on his defense. It’s well worth the listen.
- The testing of Mike Leach. Speaking of Tech, I have previously noted that Mike Leach is particularly adept at producing one prolific passer after another, and credited much of that to his system of drills and pass-happy practices whereby all his QBs get lots of reps. That theory will be challenged this week, as the Captain will likely be forced to start third-string redshirt freshman quarterback Seth Doege, due to injuries to his first two quarterbacks, Taylor Potts and Steven (“Sticks”) Sheffield.
Going for two. I’ve gotten a bunch of emails asking whether Rich Rodriguez should have gone for two instead of kicking the PAT to send the game to overtime against Michigan State. I didn’t get to watch the game closely, but we know what happened: Michigan kicked the PAT and Tate Forcier promptly threw an interception, and Michigan State scored to win the game. The logic of most people who say Rodriguez should have gone for two appears to be something along the lines that Forcier looked dog tired and they needed to win then, and that Michigan had all the momentum and should have used it on that play. I don’t know if I have a definitive answer, but here’s how I look at those judgment calls.
You’re basically comparing two probabilities: One, the chance of succeeding on the two-point play, and second, the chance of winning in overtime. Both numbers have some precedent but also can get clouded by who you’re playing at that moment, how well you’re playing, etc. If Wichita State miraculously gets into that same position against Florida, I’d probably tell them to go for two because, under the NCAA’s unique overtime format, each team has a roughly 50/50 shot at winning before taking into account talent differential, at which time Florida would dominate. We know that two-point tries are successful something between 40-50% of the time, and that is probably greater than the chance of going toe-to-toe with Florida — hence take your 45% chance of winning right there. For Florida, it is the opposite: you want the game to go on so your natural advantage can take over; so kick the PAT and let’s do this. It’s all an offshoot of David and Goliath strategies.
How does that play out in Michigan’s game? Well if Rodriguez thinks he has the better team — including momentum — then it seems to me you play for overtime. That’s because even if you’re better your chance of getting the two-point try caps out at about 50%, whereas the starting point for your chance of winning in OT is 50%, plus whatever natural advantage you have. Had they been playing Southern Cal, the decision is probably the opposite.
The other thing you notice from this is that slight differences in the probabilities can vastly change the right outcome. We know the estimates for overtime and two-point tries, but this was late in the game and therefore those probabilities were dependent to an extent on what had happened earlier. Not necessarily when or how Michigan scored, but fatigue, injuries, and how good the teams were coming in does matter to help revise probabilities going forward. (Again, I’m trying to distinguish revised estimates of forward-looking probabilities with backward-looking events that should have no effect on the decision to go for it or not.) Thus I think Rodriguez’s judgment call (in just this situation at least) was sound at least in the sense that there is no compelling argument that it was flat wrong. If he thought he had the better team — and the records of the teams going into it seemed to indicate that — then overtime seems the wiser move. The bottom line is two-point tries are not high-percentage plays.
(Here’s a thought experiment someone once asked me. This question assumes we know the probabilities with certainty, which if course unrealistic but here goes: You have the ball on the 23 yard line and are down three. Your team and the other team are completely evenly matched. There’s only one second on the clock; time for only one play. Your field goal kicker is mediocre, and is 50/50 from that distance (40 yards) — i.e. 50% of tying the game by kicking it. Or you could go for it and run a pass play, which you estimate had a 33% chance of succeeding. What do you do and why?)
- Big 10 Q&A. I did a Q&A over at The Rivalry, Esq. with the excellent Graham Filler. Topics including Juice Williams, Northwestern, etc. Tomorrow is a post involving me hemorrhaging about Purdue’s ineptitude.
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