Smart Notes 10/27/09

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.”

Zing! A different article quotes Johnson saying, “That’s a joke. Put the tape on and watch. Tyler Melton cracked the free safety. He doesn’t even block him. He shields him.”

“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:

I’m particularly a fan of the route he ran on his second catch, the deep 18 yard out route. He gives the defensive back a slight stem inside, then regains outside leverage before pressing his body into him and then breaking for the ball. Just an impressive route: it’s those little things that get players open — it’s not just running straight upfield and turning around. The slight “weave” he does is what sets up his out cut. It kept the defensive back off balance, and it also will set him up for later plays. Now, the NFL is a tough league, and what succeeds one week might not once there’s more film out there.

For his part though, 49ers head coach Mike Singletary was impressed:

Coach Mike Singletary said Crabtree’s debut was just as impressive on Monday. “I wanted to see it on film, just like when you see a good movie,” Singletary said. “You want to see it again.”

Singletary praised Crabtree for the effort he made to stay in shape during his holdout and the crash course he took to learn the 49ers’ playbook after he signed.

I will simply say that, like all rookies, Crabtree will struggle at some point and be frustrated. But also that, despite what went on off the field, he has always shown a real diligence with his play, his preparation, and his commitment. Indeed, at Texas Tech you watched the way he blocked, and you knew he was a good receiver. Here’s to hoping it works out.

The addendum to this was the surprisingly good play of Alex Smith, who had seemed to be relegated to the dustbin. He’s another guy you have to hope does well, or at least better than he’s done. If he can do what he did in the second half against the Texans, the 49ers have a chance.

– Head injuries. More on the NFL and head injuries, dementia in particular. Congress is to hold hearings on the issue this week. I think this is a far better use of their time than investigations into the BCS.

– Why do bankers (or athletes, or top coaches) earn so much? Here’s an interesting take on banker’s pay, but the general answer is that athletics is a pyramidal winner-take-all field: you get in with few financial rewards on the chance that you might win the lottery. Unfortunately for NFL players, most of them manage to overspend anyway and wind up in bankruptcy:

The 78 percent number (i.e., 78% of NFL players go bankrupt within two years of retirement) is buoyed by the fact that the average NFL career lasts just three years. So, figure a player gets drafted in 2009, signs for the minimum and lasts three years in the league: He will have earned about $1.2 million in salary. Factor in taxes, cost of living and the misguided belief that there will be more years and bigger paydays down the road, and it becomes a lot easier to see how so many players struggle with money after their careers end.

– Peyton’s greatest season? The PFR blog breaks down just how good Peyton’s season has been so far, as it ranks a close second to his record-setting 2004 campaign.

  • willwc

    I believe you have the distinction between chop blocks and cut blocks backwards–chop blocks are patently illegal (see rules 2.3.3 for the definition and 9.1.2.m for enforcement), cut blocks are legal except in the situations you outlined from the rules. Just wanted to clarify, since there’s a lot of confusion provided by some members of the mainstream media (lookin’ at you, Bob Davie) that uses those terms interchangeably for some unknown reason.

  • Tim James

    Yeah Chris has had that backwards before.

  • Homyrrh

    Regarding the Clausen video, what’s up with that fake FG that ND ran? Isn’t that another illegal substitution play like GT ran against Clemson? I remember the discussion about it being a blatant rules infraction then and can’t imagine it being any different now…

    …I could be compltely wrong though, as the receiver may not have subbed at the last moment, but what explains the fact he was completely unregarded by the defense?

  • Mike

    Will: In fairness, you can’t get too mad at Bob. The man has a room temperature IQ in anything not related to drawing up a defensive gameplan. It’s not his fault people keep giving him jobs.

    Chris: Regarding Clausen, it’s nice to see some recognition for him outside of the Irish blogs. I dong know if it’s necessarily a long tail situation with Weis QBs – Quinn went from mediocre to spectacular in one off-season. I think with Clausen, first being a true freshman on a talent-poor team and then the elbow surgery he got between freshman and sophomore year and the ensuing lack of practice and lifting time concealed his talent in the first two years. This off-season was his first full collegiate lifting and coaching off-season and it’s showing up in the guise of sudden development.

  • dWj

    It’s been suggested that bankers have much of their pay escrowed for several years, largely so it can be “clawed back” if something goes badly awry. Perhaps NFL players should have much of their pay deferred for their own good. I generally prefer the 401(k) system to the pension system, but it does require some basic prudence, of the form that people who suddenly make a lot more money than they grew up with are particularly likely to lack. (Also, part of my dislike for pensions has been their traditional design, with most of the benefits accruing at the end. It isn’t mandatory that a pension be poorly design, just a cultural norm.)

  • JJ

    Chris, the banker pay link is the wrong one.

    It leads to the congressional hearing article

  • George T. Zebra

    “Cut block”: a legal block below the waist and from in front of the opponent.

    “Chop block”: an illegal double-team combination block, usually in the form of a blocker engaging a defender high, and then a team-mate of the blocker hitting the engaged defender with a low block.

    “Clipping”: a block below the waist and from behind the opponent. Almost always illegal unless done by a restricted lineman immediately after the snap.

    “Crackback” (or “bastard”) block: a cut block delivered by a player who was outside the tackles at the snap and with the force of the block being back towards the ball. This is the kind of block Chris is saying that PJ’s players are being accused of. It’s not a particularly polite thing to do.

  • DrB

    Well Rhoads wouldnt publish it when GT ran the illegal FG substitution either against Clemson.

  • I fixed the “chop” and “cut block” thing. I sometimes mix the terms up because I don’t find them very descriptive — there’s nothing in the word “chop” as compared to “cut” that would imply that one is legal and the other is not. The best you can do is say one is legal and one isn’t. And note that illegal “chop blocks” are not limited to the rule where one guy is engaged while another player hits him, George. The college rule seems centered on the outside-in nature of the block.

    Also I fixed the banker pay link.

  • Elliott

    Paul Johnson admitted in the press that he had been told that his illegal substitution play was illegal.

    Interestingly, the Big 10 also said that Notre Dame’s illegal substitution play was illegal.

    And yes, I’d also like members of the media to understand the idea of a chop block and a cut block.

    Perhaps someone should also consider sending the media (ahem Bob Davie in particular) some sort of guide to flexbone offense.

  • OldSouth

    Why do we root for Alex Smith?

  • DM

    Smith had one good half against a lousy defense. Let’s not go overboard.

    Beamer apologized, sort of:

    “I told Paul that I said the wrong statement yesterday in saying the last touchdown was a low block on our 17 [free safety Kam Chancellor]. It was a similar play, but it wasn’t the last touchdown. It was a play where Nesbitt went out of bounds on about the 2 [a 31-yard run in the third quarter]. I apologized for that. I don’t like giving out wrong information. It shouldn’t have happened. And I apologize for that.”

  • BMarsh07

    Just a note to defend Saint Johnson and his fake field goal vs.Clemson- he notified the refs about the trick play- they approved it during pregame. (Augusta Chronicle, Sept. 17th, page 6C)

  • Rob

    In his “apology”, Beamer complained about this part of the rules:

    “After snapping the ball, snapper A54 brushes by nose guard B62 on his way to block a linebacker. A54 makes slight contact with B62, or B62 reaches out and uses his arm to initiate contact with A54. While B62 and A54 are in contact, right guard A68 blocks B62 at the knee from the front. RULING: Legal. A54 is not blocking B62. The incidental contact or B62’s initiating contact does not constitute part of a combination block, and hence there is no chop block.”

    Basically, VPI was grabbing GT linemen to try to draw chop block flags (or just to prevent them from getting to the LBs). Beamer seemed to admit he was wrong on the “chop” blocks but that is just because the rule is bad and he wants the rule changed to ANY engagement. Allowing defenders to “create” a penalty by grabbing another player is at least as bad as helmet-to-helmet calls on the defense when the offensive player lowers his head and hits the defender (which has been a problem since the emphasis).

  • Hokiefan

    Rob, thats incorrect. Go back and watch the game and you won’t see an instance of Defenders grabbing on offensive lineman. To imply that shows a lack of understanding of the speed of play along the offensive and defensive line. Simply put, a defender doesn’t have time to grab a hold of an offensive lineman to impede progress and then get hit by a different lineman.
    Besides, are you implying that a football player would risk his college career to get a penalty? There was a VT player who was injured in that game, and is out indefinitely with an injured ankle after an illegal block. I’m sure that the coaches on the staff are also encouraging their players to leave their knees and ankles open to 280lbs of man coming crashing down on them. I’m sure.

  • Jimmy the tech fan

    Hokiefan, I agree that it would be stupid for a player to risk their career for a penalty. However, if you know the block is coming, and you are not really being blocked high, then the low block doesn’t have the same effect. The reason is that you wouldn’t have your weight planted on that leg if you knew it was coming. If your weight is not planted, the chop blocks do not hurt anywhere near as much because the leg will rotate at the hip rather than bend at the knee.

    Watch the guard and DT in the play in question. Do you see that white jersey getting stretched? Are you really gonna say that isn’t holding? Also, watch the DT, he has his back to the OT. HIS BACK. He is facing the guard and a VT linebacker. Why on earth would a DT be doing that for? By turning around, he takes the low black much more softly than he would if he was taking it from the side or the front.

  • Ben

    Defensive linement grab and hold the O-Line guys all the time. It’s particularly used with a strong LB corps – keep the O-Line off of your big playmakers. I used to play center, and the hardest blocks involved closing off a back side tackle or linebacker when there was a back side 1- or 2-technique in the way. If the nose tackle doesn’t get his eyes up to read the backfield, he will try to drive through back side. When he feels the play side guard coming in, he is taught to hold his ground against a double team block. I think the rules are very well defined – no high/low double team in the tackle box, and no crack blocks.

  • Dan

    Frank needs to learn about knowing his facts before making accusations in the media.
    He got the play wrong, got owned in the AJC with photographic evidence by a textbook head-on block, and is now having to backtrack and shows one play in the third quarter as justification.
    If this is truly about player safety, Beamer should have said something after they won in Blacksburg last year. The scheme is exactly the same. My suspicion is that Beamer is trying to game the officials for future matchups, and trying to shift attention away from Kam Chancellor.

  • Tom

    “And note that illegal “chop blocks” are not limited to the rule where one guy is engaged while another player hits him, George. The college rule seems centered on the outside-in nature of the block.”

    This is not correct (though both are 15 yard penalties).

    NCAA rulebook:

    The rule about blocking below the waist from the ouside-in is an illegal block below the waist (not a chop) as defined in Rule 9-1-2-e-1 and 9-1-2-e-2 (page 120 in the pdf)

    A chop block is a high/low or low/high combination block (see definition on page 43 in the pdf) and is illegal by Rule 9-1-m (page 121 in the pdf)

  • Rob


    Here is a quote from your DL coach pregame. It is clear, that
    1. D lineman engage the O lineman.
    2. Despite the rule I posted, which is very clear in this situation, the VPI staff expect a penalty to be called. You cant argue “point of view” on a clear cut black&white rule.

    Also, as far as the last question goes, GT cuts their d-lineman in practice without any problems, dont know why he cant figure out how to practice it.

    “It’s tough. They’re so low. It’s not as much chopping. We see chop stuff from normal teams. But they crab you almost. You’ll be on a guy and there’s another guy down at your legs. Technically, all that stuff is illegal. But it’s like, ‘Who’s engaging who?’ That’s their point of view. Is it the defensive lineman engaging the center, for instance. He’s trying to get up to the next level and the defensive lineman’s engaging him and the guard’s on your legs. So they’re saying, ‘We’re not engaging him. We’re trying to slip to get to the next level and you’re engaging us, so that’s your problem.’ That’s their point of view, which if I’m coaching those guys, I understand that point of view. If you’re on the other side of the ball, you’re like, ‘That’s a high-low.’ But I know they’ve been around and around with that with the officiating. You’re just going to have to battle. It’s going to be one of those deals where you’re going to have people around your legs. It’s hard to practice that. How do you practice that without getting one of your guys nicked?”

  • jfwells

    Doesn’t Sean Canfield’s performance in the Oregon State game against USC last week pretty much negate that argument for Clausen’s greatness?

    Canfield was 30 of 43 for 329 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions.