Paragraphs of the day, Homer Smith/Ohio State/Ross Fulton edition

From Ross’s great analysis of Ohio State’s offense (and the lack thereof) at Along the Olentangy:

Every primary backfield action needs to threaten all 11 defenders. What a primary play needs is good counter plays. Every defender needs to be worried about the ball coming to his area – on a throwback screen, a reverse, a play-action pass, or whatever – as a play begins.

What makes a defender good is something to read. If he can say to himself something like, “As soon as that quarterback makes that half-assed fake, I’m going to find the tightend coming across and try to get an interception,” if he can read initially and react accurately, he can play over his head. Counters, not mirrored primary plays, keep defenders from reading and jumping on plays.

The quote is of course from the great Homer Smith. Read all of Ross’s analysis here.

Coaching a Surgeon: What makes top performers better?

Very interesting piece from the New Yorker:

What we think of as coaching was, sports historians say, a distinctly American development. During the nineteenth century, Britain had the more avid sporting culture; its leisure classes went in for games like cricket, golf, and soccer. But the aristocratic origins produced an ethos of amateurism: you didn’t want to seem to be trying too hard. For the Brits, coaching, even practicing, was, well, unsporting. In America, a more competitive and entrepreneurial spirit took hold. In 1875, Harvard and Yale played one of the nation’s first American-rules football games. Yale soon employed a head coach for the team, the legendary Walter Camp. He established position coaches for individual player development, maintained detailed performance records for each player, and pre-planned every game. Harvard preferred the British approach to sports. In those first three decades, it beat Yale only four times.

The concept of a coach is slippery. Coaches are not teachers, but they teach. They’re not your boss—in professional tennis, golf, and skating, the athlete hires and fires the coach—but they can be bossy. They don’t even have to be good at the sport. The famous Olympic gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi couldn’t do a split if his life depended on it. Mainly, they observe, they judge, and they guide. . . .


All-Access: Hunkering down with the Mountaineers

Bruce Feldman goes behind-the-scenes for West Virginia’s preparation for LSU:

The staff is waist deep in LSU film. Most of the WVU coaches will go home soon after the team meal. Meanwhile, Holgorsen settles into what staffers affectionately call “The Lounge” to resume studying the Tigers. The 10-by-20 room next to the head coach’s office, which used to be where former WVU coach Bill Stewart would smoke his cigars, has been remodeled and now has two theater-style seats, a few bar stools, an antique metal Coke cart, a Red Bull cooler and a 50-inch flat screen with an Xbox. Holgorsen likes the feel of the room for whenever he wants to have a one-on-one with a player. It’s also an ideal spot for the coach and Spavital to get another look at a ferocious defense.

The scouting tape, broken down by situations, isn’t supposed to seem like “a highlight tape,” but in LSU’s case, it does. On one clip, backup defensive end Barkevious Mingo roars down the line of scrimmage to level an Oregon running back. Holgorsen rewinds the clip twice to double check where Mingo began the play from and exactly how he was able to get to the ball carrier so fast. “This is why you run the outside zone,” he says, “because that guy right there [the defensive end] is not supposed to be able to do that. And that’s friggin’ LaMichael James too.”

Read the whole thing.

What I’ve been reading

The Assembly Line, by Milt Tenopir. Tenopir was the offensive line coach at Nebraska under the great Tom Osborne, and was thus the architect of some of the greatest rushing attacks — no, greatest offenses — the game has ever seen, particularly in their heydey in the mid-1990s. (400 yards rushing and 52 points per game is not too shabby.) The book focuses on how Tenopir and Osborne focused on a few blocking schemes like the inside and outside zone and the counter trey and added multiple run actions and many, many options off of those looks. It’s nothing revolutionary, but in football, what’s great rarely is.

Paris to the Moon, by Adam Gopnik. I didn’t put a lot of thought into this before I bought it, but all I wanted was some easy-to-read travel reading as I’ll be heading back to France in the coming months. The other factors were that I generally like Gopnik’s writings in the New Yorker and the book won some kind of awards or whatnot, and that was that. So far, so good, though it does read a bit like it was from an earlier time (were the late 1990s really so long ago?). Overall, I recommend it, but I’m still plowing through.

The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story, by Michael Lewis. I love anything Lewis writes — and this is no exception — but I wouldn’t put this book on the same level as The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, Moneyball, and Liar’s Poker. It’s a thoroughly entertaining story about dotcom maven Jim Clark, which is a story surprisingly relevant today given the surge of new would-be internet billionaires from the likes of Groupon, LinkedIn, Facebook and so on. The book drags a bit, however, as it follows Clark in his expensive and time consuming quest to build a (nearly) fully automated mechanical yacht.


New Grantland blog: Darren McFadden’s touchdown

It’s up over at the Grantland Triangle:

The key play for McFadden and the Raiders was his 70-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, which came on the Raiders’ base run play: the inside zone. The theory behind “zone running” is that, given all the multitude of shifts and maneuvers a defense can present — and the many formations offenses use nowadays — you need clear rules to run the ball effectively. The zone allows the offensive line to work together, double-teaming the defensive linemen before sliding off to block the linebackers (the “second level defenders”), while the running back has freedom to find the open crease. Against the Jets on this play, McFadden attacked the interior of New York’s defense before bouncing it around end for the big gainer.

Read the whole thing.

College football premature post-game impressions – 9/25/2011

LSU 47, WVU 21. The ultimate conclusion for this game was that, to paraphrase Dennis Green, both teams were who I thought thought they were: LSU is one of the best, toughest, most physical teams in the country, and my undisputed #1; and WVU is intriguing but extremely young on both offense and defense, a team that I have high expectations for but one that needs to grow up to have true success. I did think how they got there was extremely interesting, however. West Virginia outgained LSU by close to 200 yards, and, purely from a production standpoint, the vaunted LSU defense has to be extremely disappointed in itself and West Virginia has to know there’s not a team in the country they can’t light up. The biggest bright spot for WVU — and biggest surprise — was the fantastic pass protection Geno Smith received throughout the evening.

I'll take that ball please

But in a strange way if I was an LSU fan I’d be encouraged: Here was a game where my defense, the strength of my team, got eaten up for a gajillion yards, but I still won for three reasons: (1) LSU’s defense still grabbed four crucial turnovers; (2) LSU’s special teams dominated, particularly in the field position battle (the punter was amazing) and the timely kickoff return by Mo Claiborne; and (3) the offense made very few mistakes and was extremely efficient, hitting some big passes in the first half and grinding out the run game in the second. That’s the mark of a great team like LSU: they took an opponent’s best shot and were able to control and win a game with the other phases of their team. LSU will win a lot of games if they can keep up things like this:

Sometimes, it’s less obvious — such as, for example, the fact that LSU’s average starting field position tonight was its own 43-yard line, while West Virginia didn’t start a single possession past its own 29, and only then following the opening kickoff of the game. (For the night, WVU started eleven possessions inside its own 20-yard line; LSU started zero possessions inside its 20.)

For WVU it’s a little more disappointing because there were opportunities, especially considering that they pulled it to 27-21 despite having dug themselves an enormous first half-hole. But the good news for the Mouintaineers is that what did them in last night — against what is in my view the best team in the country — were all fixable mistakes. Indeed, both of Geno Smith’s interceptions were not of the “bad read” variety, with the first being a ricochet off of a dropped pass and the second a bad decision to throw a quick lateral screen despite the presence of Tyrann Mathieu (after the game Holgorsen said Smith had the option to hand the ball off if he didn’t like the look of the screen). And while West Virginia’s special teams must improve, one reason that very talented teams have great special teams is because their rosters are deep. There isn’t anyone in the Big East that will present those kinds of challenges.

Ultimately, both teams have a lot of upside: For WVU, it’s to potentially run the table in the Big East and make a BCS game, while for LSU, it’s to solidify its spot as the best team in the country and to win Miles’s second National Championship. LSU has a big game coming up with Florida, but I can’t help look forward to November 5th, when the Tigers travel to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama. That game might have more BCS title implications than any other this season, including the bowl games.

Alabama 38, Arkansas 14. I love Bobby Petrino’s offense, and it’s typically one of the best, most well orchestrated attacks in the country, but Nick Saban always seems to shut it down. Alabama had an insurmountable 31-7 lead in the 3rd quarter, and whatever else Arkansas tried to do was too little, too late. Indeed, it’s fascinating to contrast Alabama with LSU: ‘Bama may actually have the better defense, though it’s close, but I actually like LSU’s offense a lot better. But LSU doesn’t have Trent Richardson, who kind mask a lot of weaknesses at quarterback, and Saban football teams continue to make a living capitalizing on your mistakes and not making any of their own. As I said above, I know there are other teams in the way, but I can’t wait for LSU/Alabama. As we used to say back home, son you better tie your shoelaces tight and buckle your chinstraps because there’s gonna be some hitting in that one.

Oklahoma State 30, Texas A&M 29.

Smart Links – 9/23/2011

And the Valley Shook has a Q&A with me about WVU/LSU, along with its own preview. It’s of course similar in spirit to what I wrote for Grantland.

Catch-Man technique.

This is great.

Realignment insanity.

The 46 nickel and nickel tracer.

Tijuana sports hall of fame.

Nick Saban, decoded:


New Grantland: Breaking down Holgorsen’s West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Les Miles’s LSU Tigers

My LSU/West Virginia preview is up over at Grantland:

The intrigue surrounding Les Miles, Louisiana State’s coach, and Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia’s first-year head coach, has little to do with what their teams have done on the field. When they play each other Saturday in Morgantown the public will know them as football coaches, but also as something closer to memes. There is Miles, The Mad Hatter, with a 10-gallon ball cap on his head and blades of stadium grass dangling from his lips, mismanaging a timeout to call a miraculous fake field goal that wins an SEC road game; and there is Holgorsen, Holgo the Barbarian, stray wisps of quasi mullet fluttering in the wind as he chugs a Red Bull on the sideline, calling a play-action bomb to one of three or four receivers. . . .


Training Camp With the Portsmouth Destroyers

Think Hard Knocks of the United Kingdom:

Shot over 3 days in October 2010, this documentary gives an exclusive inside look at the University of Portsmouth Destroyers American Football Team. This insight into their pre-season camp aims to tell the story of what motivates a Championship caliber team and attempts to promote the game of American Football in the UK.

The film documents the physical toll demanded of American Football players and charts the highs and lows of being a student athlete.

For more information on University American football please visit

(Hat tip.)

Highlights from the championship game after the jump.


Have any high profile quarterbacks significantly and noticeably improved their arm strength?

I listened to the Solid Verbal podcast this morning, and Ty and Dan discussed the plethora of “popgun armed quarterbacks” currently plaguing college football. Relatedly, a reader asked about why quarterbacks can’t seem to improve their arm strength once they reach a certain age. I can think of really only one example of a guy whose arm now seems significantly stronger than it did earlier in his career as a college player and rookie, and that’s Tom Brady. And, well, Tom Brady is Tom Brady. But it does seem like this is generally true, at least at the higher levels once a quarterback is physically mature: There are almost no examples of guys whose arms went from “popgun” to bazooka through discipline and training, not matter how tall they are or how many weights they lift.

This is not entirely surprising, given the unique nature of a throwing motion, but even golfers manage to add some power to their drives. (Maybe someone with more of a baseball background can tell me if any pitchers have added MPH to their fastballs after hitting college or the majors. Quarterbacks are not pitchers but there are similarities.) But I really can’t think of quarterbacks who have really improved the amount of power behind their throws. Of course, Dub Maddox and Darin Slack might have a thing to say about this, but I’m curious what the general reader thinks. Feel free to chime in.