Smart Notes – zone runs, slot coverage, goal-line defense – 8/8/2011

Zone runs, from Coach Roth:

The basic tenants of zone blocking are these: 1) Each offensive lineman is responsible for the playside zone 2) The defense moves, so how do counter act that? 3) We have five offensive lineman, it is therefore our job to block five defenders.

Each player will step to the left and block a player with in that zone. So what about rules? Most (if not all) O-line coaches will go on and on about rules. I, however, prefer to think of it as a framework, more like an “If, Than,” statement. I want my players to have freedom, with in that framework, to figure out how best to accomplish the result I desire.. For us, that process will start with a question: “Am I covered by a defender, or am I uncovered by a defender?”

Saban-speak on covering the slot, from Brophy:

With two receivers split from the formation (slot) you end up with a 3-on-2 advantage for the defense. As we covered before, there is a variety of ways to handle this. In attempt to tackle two things at once, we’ll cover these concepts using Saban-speak (out of Nick Saban’s playbooks). It should be noted that Saban’s “system” is extremely concise, flexible, and modular (in its application). What comes with those benefits is a dictionary full of terminology to communicate every conceivable action and response on the field. We’ll use his method as a way to keep a central thematic framework, but these concepts are relative to what everyone else does (so don’t get hung up on the verbiage).

The first is basic Cover 3 Sky (“Fist”) with what amounts to be the old “country cover 3”. Fist brings the overhang player down outside of #2 receiver serving as primary force. This defender will drop into the seam and not carry any route by #2 deeper than 12 yards and jump the first receiver to the flat. The corner would play all of #1 receiver vertical (or #2) out and up. The free safety would play middle of the field to the #2 receiver. Because these two receivers are handled by these three players, additional receivers (releasing back) would be immediately jumped by the next linebacker inside (Will) unless #1 or #2 released inside.

Examples of matching in Fist


The Peter Principle, from Coach Hoover:

Recruiting pitch: You get a dollar-for-dollar credit towards future education for every dollar we make directly from you

The good Senator has a very interesting idea, bouncing off of a statement by Desmond Howard:

“But if you want to play the education game, then check this out. If they get my likeness for life, then they should be committed to my education for life. So if Mark Ingram 20 years from now, when they’re still selling his jerseys in Tuscaloosa, says ‘You know what? I want to get my Ph.D.’ Guess who should pay for that? They should be committed to his education for life. They’re still selling his jerseys.”

I could not agree more.  Well, actually, I could:  if the school is still selling those jerseys when the player’s kids are college-aged, they should get a free ride, too.  It’s the least a system that professes to promote both amateurism and academics should do.

This is a great idea. People who say we shouldn’t pay players (and many of whom say we should) often point out to students that they do get something of value: an education. So imagine this recruiting pitch:

“Come to this University and play football and you will receive a free education and room and board at a premiere university. In addition, if the University and the athletic department make any money by selling products with your name or likeness, like jerseys, athletic posters, and so on, you will receive credit that can be used at any point in the future to pay for additional education at this University received by you, your spouse, or your direct children.

Coaches be crazy

One of the best parts about football being back is we get to hear all the really weird things football coaches say. Indeed, during practice, being a coach often means a steady monologue by the coach to his various players where they get to showcase their, ah, unique personalities (to an entirely captive audience, no less). One of my favorite weird personalities is new West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen, who (along with his staff) gives us a window into their coaching style through the promotional video below (h/t to reader Peter):

The best part of the video comes at the 0:23 second mark — Holgorsen: “You’re so focused on me that you’re completely oblivious to your surroundings . . . . That’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

Not to be outdone, ESPN Page 2 put together the answers from the SEC coaches to their coaches questionnaire. Given that the SEC pays its coaches more than any other conference, it’s not a surprise that, for the most part, these guys are generally pretty unique personalities (except in Bobby Petrino’s case, where the unique feature is how entirely without affect he is). For example, Les Miles could not have answered this question more perfectly, while Saban — effectively forbidden to use clichés by the question — seems entirely flummoxed.

[Q:] Which cliché is most overused by coaches?

Les Miles: I have no idea. I am not that coach. I don’t operate that way. I fight for unique and accurate ways to be descriptive. I don’t necessarily handle it that way.

Nick Saban: Well you know, I really can’t say one in particular. We all talk about focus and preparation. And sometimes I think we talk to our players about these things, and I’m not sure our players understand what these things are or how to do these things. We probably should spend a little more time explaining to them exactly what we expect so they can do these things better. If we talk about intensity all the time, I’m not sure a player could tell you what intensity is. Sometimes I define that qualm.

Nick is surely right that “[s]omtimes I define that qualm” is not destined to become an overused cliché. Not to be outdone, Spurrier is always good for a one-liner:

Smart Links – Manny Diaz, Hitler Beer, Probability – 7/29/2011

Hitler beer:


– Too many things to list, but great stuff (particularly on coverages) over at Brophy’s site.

– Manny Diaz’s Danger (Fire) Zone: Burnt Orange Nation and Barking Carnival both with some solid analysis of new Texas DC Manny Diaz’s defense.

Maybe it’s my bias, but I’m from the “If you got two then you ain’t got one” school of thought:

A lot of people talk about our quarterback situation saying if you don’t have a starter, you don’t have a quarterback. I disagree. We have two really good quarterbacks. Both of those guys are great players, great people, exceptionally talented, outstanding team players, and really want to win. – Purdue Coach Danny Hope

This sentence is accurate: “He was fine, but seriously, this cast of coaches is the exact opposite from the polished evangelists of the SEC.” Also, management books and Butch Davis.

The Senator (and Joe Posnanski) on … well it’s hard to describe; just read it.

Making the leap: Camp for incoming college freshman.

Darren Sproles to New Orleans. Swapping out Reggie Bush for Darren Sproles seems to me an upgrade at that hybrid/scatback position for New Orleans. Thoughts?

Klosterman on the fastest human alive.

Posnanski on Jeter’s 3,000.

Jerry Joseph basketball scandal.

The book review that killed John Keats.

Old movie plots technology has destroyed.

The danger of saying what has already been said; a problem that has existed for at least the last 4,000 years.

– Discounting future values:

Certainly makes splitting up the pie much easier

When the veteran NFL players and owners sat down to figure out how to best break up the $9 billion pie (which is all the lockout was about, regardless of what kind of White Hat/Black Hat/Heroes/Villains story the media tells), it was easy to see what group of essentially unrepresented stakeholders would lose: rookies. Both veterans and owners thought the rookies were making too much, and the representatives for the rookies said — wait, nevermind, there were no representatives for the rookies. So of course the result is things like this:

Imagine the bling on Olindo Mare

Carolina instead gave [kicker Olindo] Mare a four-year, $12 million dollar offer. That happened not because Mare went back on his word, but in the intervening months, the NFL veterans decided to rob Cam Newton to pay Olindo Mare. The most important (and player-friendly) aspect of the new CBA was the salary floor, requiring teams like Carolina to spend tens of millions of dollars. Only not on rookies.

. . . [B]etween Mare, Williams, Anderson and Johnson, Carolina has opened the door to spend $155 million dollars on three players who were on the team last year and a kicker. But hope and optimism for the Panthers in 2011 and beyond mainly rests on the drafting of Auburn star Cam Newton. And what will Carolina pay the young quarterback? Roughly 22 million dollars over four seasons, with a team-option for a fifth year.

That’s right: over the next four years, Carolina will pay their 38-year-old placekicker 12 million dollars and their franchise savior 22 million dollars. Newton’s contract looks even worse when you consider that Carolina can hold him for a fifth season, making it difficult for players to renegotiate until after they’ve completed three seasons.

Right. And, as Chase explains, this is not just limited to Carolina, but instead was out of design:

Combining Tom Osborne’s Nebraska offense with Chip Kelly’s Oregon offense? The stuff dreams are made of

Our system [at Oregon] isn’t necessarily unique. I always compare it with what Nebraska used to run, the option, when I was there. When I was in school, a lot of teams tried to run some of the option stuff we ran, just like a lot of people try to run what Oregon runs. It’s not any kind of fancy scheme that nobody else understands or knows about. It’s just the system. What we do is run a complete system. It has answers for everything a defense can throw at us. I think when you just try to run a piece or two of a system, and you don’t have the complete thing, it’s hard to get really good at it. It’s hard to have answers when people have answers for what you’re doing. That’s really the beauty of what Chip does. We’re 100 percent sold out to do what we do. We’re really good at it, and we know all the adjustments no matter what’s going on with the defense.”

. . . “The big thing is this: It helps greatly when an offense has a definite mentality to it. It helps greatly when you have a defined personality and set of standards. When I was at Nebraska, our calling card was we were a tough, physical team. Everybody knew it. We knew it. We were proud of it. We embodied it. We embraced it. We loved the fact that we were going to try to completely beat up a defense. Nobody wanted to play us because of the physical nature of our team.


Playcalling doesn’t have to be difficult

Okay, so here’s a story for you. Kilff Kingsbury was our starter, and he was sort of conservative, you know? B.J. (Symons) knew what I wanted to audible to before I even said it, but Kilff was just careful like that. It was third and long against someone, and their corner was cheating way up. Kind of a cheat back, and then at the last second he’d pop up.”

“Well, we had good technique, and were pretty good getting off the line, so I called “Six,” or our call for four verticals. We had it, and I called it, and Kliff shook me off. Now most of the time I’m fine with quarterbacks shaking me off, but we had this, and I got mad and called time out and said some things to Kliff.”

He spits in the ocean, and continues.

“So Kliff goes out there, and I call “Six” again, and he shakes me off again, and now we get delay of game. It’s fourth down, and we’re on our own forty, but I just call it again and have some words with Kliff. We hit it against that corner cheating up for a touchdown, and Kliff comes up and starts yelling at me angry on the sideline: ‘FINE, FINE, ARE YOU HAPPY NOW? WE DID IT YOUR WAY, AND NOW ARE YOU HAPPY?’ And I was.”

That’s from Spencer Hall’s day on the boat with Mike Leach, who is bordering on overexposed right now. That said, the above anecdote is great, and does more (for me) to illuminate why he’s worth studying than all of the Adam James stuff. I have read his new book and do recommend it, and I plan to have more to say about it in the near future.

Why it’s almost always a bad idea to go for a two-point conversion in the first half

The 2000 Outback Bowl, one of the most entertaining games in the ballyhooed “Big 10 vs. SEC” category, featured (at the time) the “largest comeback” in bowl history. Purdue, on the strength of game MVP Drew Brees’s four touchdown passes, built a 25 – 0 lead in the first twenty minutes. But Purdue lost 28-25 after Georgia tied the game at 25 to send it to overtime and then kicked the game winning field goal in the the extra period. Brees would finish with over 370 yards passing (on 60 attempts!) while Bulldogs quarterback Quincy Carter went 20-of-33 for 243 yards, had no picks and ran for one touchdown while throwing for another. But it was Purdue’s Tiller who was the affair’s de facto protagonist: His first-half gameplan’s featured a brilliant aerial assault which blitzkrieged Georgia coach Jim Donnan’s blitz-happy strategy (in an early example of the folly of trying to outblitz the spread), but some of his in-game decisions lacked, uh, rigor.

The score should stick out to you: 25? Purdue got that odd total by scoring four touchdowns but then following them with a missed PAT and two failed two-point conversion attempts. The missed PAT was not what one hopes for, but the problem was that Tiller then fell into the classic two-point conversion trap: The coach thinks that because his team missed a PAT he “must” go for two so that his team can have the “correct” score (i.e., some multiple of 7). This is wrong. Unless going for two is simply a better strategy in general (more on that later), it is almost always a bad idea to go for two in the first half simply to achieve some desired score because in the first-half there are far too many unpredictable end-game scores for it to make any specific score worth the cost of choosing a suboptimal strategy to engineer that desired number — it’s only at the end of the game that some specific score (seven versus eight versus or two versus three) really makes a difference. Indeed, this effect was even more acute here because Georgia had no points at all, so it’s not as if Tiller could envision what combination of scores Georgia would actually get to match his team. Put another way, given the point differential, why did it matter that his team was up 21 versus 20, or 27 versus 26? Indeed, it turned out the key difference was not between getting the two-point conversion and getting the PAT, it was between getting the PAT and getting nothing at all — having 19 instead of 20, and 25 instead of 26.

This is a  very different question from whether going for two is better in general: it’s generally not, otherwise it would be a dominant strategy (in the game theory sense) and teams should go for two all the time. (Note that for this analysis I’ve assumed you have a good PAT kicker. Not having one can dramatically change the approach in, say, high school. For Purdue this shouldn’t have been an issue, however, as despite the fact that Purdue missed its PAT its kicker was actually an All-American placekicker, so it truly was Tiller just trying to recoup the score.) My criticism of Tiller is that his odds of converting didn’t change when he missed the first PAT (and they possibly went down given some game theoretic alterations in the defense’s response), so the fact that he changed his strategy was not rational and in actual fact ended up hurting his team’s chances of winning.

Those are the universal reasons why I recommend against going for two except as part of an endgame strategy. But another complaint applies to Tiller’s choice to go for two in this particular game when he had such a big lead. Remember, the probability of winning a football game is not only about expected values but also about the variance of those returns. Risky strategies are better for underdogs not necessarily because they increase their expected offensive or defensive prowess, but because the variance is good in and of itself: risky strategies flatten the bell curve; the risky strategies cause a wider disparity in the outcomes, even if the average outcome is the exact same, thus increasing the “tails”, or the underdog’s chance of winning the game. The Citadel is not going to beat Alabama with a strategy of three-yards and a cloud of dust, punts, and “let’s play for field position.” And the phenomenon works the other way too: if you’re expected to win, uncompensated risk (i.e. that doesn’t carry a higher expected return, like Purdue’s excellent passing attack with Drew Brees) is not your friend. And there is no question that going for two is riskier than going for one.


Tim Brown was a true technician at wide receiver

Watch this video and marvel at what an amazing job he does defeating the technique of each defender on him. He uses specific techniques against man and zone. By NFL standards he wasn’t an unbelievable athlete, but he didn’t need to. This is how you put up over 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns at age 35 (and over 900 yards at age 36).

(H/t Waldman.)

Study up: John Jenkins’ Houston run and shoot

Before Mike Leach or Dana Holgorsen, there was John Jenkins of run-and-shoot fame as maybe the original air-it-out southwest mad scientist (other than Dutch Meyer of TCU, of course). Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, what Houston was doing on offense was heresy, particularly the way they did it: by slaughtering foes with outrageous scores and stats whenever possible. Indeed, Jenkins was putting up “video game statistics” — 700 yard passing games, 80 or 90 points — before football video games could even keep those kinds of statistics. And then of course, aside from his outrageous offense, there was simply the outrageous man. From a famous SI profile at the time:

“Hey, Hoss, the main reason people play football is for fun, and this offense is fun,” [former Houston Cougars coach John] Jenkins says. “All it is, is throwing and catching. Our guys are out there all summer practicing throwing and catching. Can you imagine players in the wishbone wanting to go out and practice in 100-degree heat? What do they say, ‘Hey, Hoss, let’s go out and block each other. You hurt me, then I’ll bust you!’ ”

. . . Last December, when Houston ended its 10-1 season by devastating Arizona State 62-45 in the Tokyo Dome, Cougar quarterback David Klingler set an NCAA single-game record by passing for 716 yards. Only he didn’t know he was nearing the record until somebody on the sideline mentioned it. “It was Jenkins,” Klingler said later. “He kept trying to find out what [yardage] I had.” In the postseason Blue-Gray game, Jenkins installed the run-and-shoot for the Gray team and then used a megaphone to shout out the plays. “That wasn’t right,” said an opposing coach. “In games like that you should run offenses…that both teams will understand.”

It is the numbers—especially the outrageously lopsided scores that his offense has engendered — that have bathed Jenkins in so much scalding acid. Scores like 60-0, 82-28, 66-15, 69-0, 65-7, 66-10 and 64-0 have become commonplace in the Houston record book since 1987, when Jenkins became the offensive coordinator under coach Jack Pardee….

Jenkins does not claim to have invented the offense, by the way, only to have expanded it…. “Everything’s similar, but different,” Jenkins says. “We’re more advanced, more complex. Tinkering with this deal, messing with it in my head, the possibilities through the avenues in the air are so unlimited it’s scary.”

Jenkins actually converses in this hip-poetic, mad-scientist fashion, and he really does believe he has come upon the secret of the football universe—”like NASA discovering some new solar system,” he says. “Other teams are crawling, we’re flying.”

Paranoid — isn’t every coach? — about revealing the intimate details of his offense, Jenkins lectures at clinics only on fundamentals, prohibits other college coaches from watching his practices and keeps a shredder over his office wastebasket, the better to keep the eyes of spies from the 350-page workbooks he issues to Houston’s skill-position players every week. “Do IBM and Xerox share their policies so some competitor can come in later and kick their butts?” says Jenkins.

Tony Fitzpatrick, a Houston assistant coach who played for the Gamblers when both Davis and Jenkins were assistant coaches there, says, “Jenks is so far ahead of everybody else, it’s a joke. Mouse comes in here now, looks at our films and even he doesn’t understand them. Spreading the field? Mouse had [the Gamblers’] slot guys split arm’s length from the tackles. Jenks would have them start their routes over by the Gatorade carts if he could.”

As the video clips above and below show, what Jenkins was doing in 1992 looks a lot like what teams are doing only now, almost twenty years later.