What I’ve been reading

Blood, Sweat & Chalk: The Ultimate Football Playbook: How the Great Coaches Built Today’s Game, by Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated. This book, which covers the evolution of football through the coaches that thought up the game’s various innovations — and the circumstances in which they did so — is not without errors. There are diagrams that aren’t quite right, and technical explanations that are either incomplete or a bit off. But it more than makes up for these by capturing the mood, the milieu, the zeitgeist existing at these moments in time when football takes a step forward, particularly in the first half of the book. Football coaches are busy, practical men: as much fun as Xs and Os can be, they are a small part of what it takes to win ballgames, and can only enter the picture once the essentials (discipline, organization, and good teaching) are in place. Thus the great leaps forward — the birth of the option, innovations like the wing-t and other offenses, and the rise of the passing game and later the spread — were almost all borne of some exigency or emergency, by clever, desperate men looking for practical solutions.

- At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson. Bryson, described by the FT as “America’s Favorite Professor” (despite being a college dropout), is of course always fascinating to read, and this effort is no different. The book’s organization is a bit jumbly — the loose superstructure is supposed to be that Bryson walks through his own home and reflects and tells stories based on what he sees — but that’s all really besides the point, as the anecdotes and trivia are all themselves entertaining.

- The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home, by Dan Ariely. Not as good as Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition, Ariely’s earlier layman’s guide to behavioral economics, but, as with everything he’s written, is still well worth the read. I also recently read the similarly behavioral economics themed book, Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes and How to Correct Them: Lessons from the Life-Changing Science of Behavioral Economics. If you don’t know anything about anchoring, framing and so on, this would be an enjoyable book, but reading it felt to me like homework.

- The Imperfectionists,” by Tom Rachman. I’ve yet to begin reading this, but if it’s half as good as its buzz — recommended by people as diverse as Adam Schefter and Malcolm Gladwell (then again are they that different?) — it will be well worth the effort. Also in the stack of books to be read is Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life, by Nicholas Phillipson.

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Smart Notes – Big 10, Holgorsen, Muschamp – 12/14/2010

Well that’s just disappointing. The new Big 10 logo:

ugh

Couple this logo with the new Big 10 division names — Leaders and Legends — and you have, well, yawn. The new championship trophy for the Big 10 will be called the “Staff-Paterno Championship Trophy,” and the trophy for best quarterback will be called the “Griese-Brees” trophy which, while appropriate (it honors two former Purdue QBs who went on to win Super Bowls), sounds strangely dirty. Brian and the mgoblog commenters have generally better division name ideas and logos.

2. Holgorsen, the search. Dana Holgorsen, orchestrator of Oklahoma State’s number one ranked offense, is rumored for a few different jobs. Florida fans are clamoring for him to join Muschamp’s staff at Florida, though this is based only on a few datapoints — i.e. that Muschamp’s defenses struggled at times with Leach’s Airraid at Texas Tech (where Holgorsen was a longtime assistant) and with Oklahoma State, and that Muschamp worked with an Airraid head coach previously in Chris Hatcher — but and not any actual sources. We do know that he interviewed for the head gig at Pittsburgh, and the talk now is that he will join West Virginia, either as offensive coordinator and head-coach-in-waiting, or simply as head coach if Bill Stewart is shown the door after the bowl game.

Regardless of how all this plays out, we know one thing: Holgorsen’s offenses are good. In the last few years, first at Houston and then at Oklahoma State, he has taken the basic Airraid framework developed by Mike Leach and Hal Mumme (who Dana not only coached with but also played for at Iowa Wesleyan) and added his own stamp. I’ve discussed some of this previously, though there is much more to say (it will make a good summer project, which would be aided by the generous donation of game film — hint, hint). For now, I’d say the biggest overarching differences between Leach’s Airraid and Holgorsen’s offense are:

(A) Leach focuses on the Airraid staples, and makes a total commitment in his offense to the mesh play, which combines a high/low vertical stretch (a corner route over a runningback in the flat) with a horizontal stretch (two shallow crossing receivers and either runningbacks or receivers in the flats). This is a great play, but because the receivers show their intentions immediately at the snap, the play can be subject to pattern reading. Leach combats such tactics by “tagging” or altering specific receivers’ routes on the play while keeping the overall structure intact, Holgorsen instead generally prefers to build his passing game off of “vertical stems,” i.e. the receivers all begin their routes by releasing vertically and only show their intentions when they make their break. Now, this is not to say that Dana doesn’t use flat routes or crossing routes — staples of all modern passing games — but instead simply means that the basis for the offense comes from the vertical releases and the pressure this puts on the defense, and he prefers to save those adjustments for specific situations he can call out. Exhibit A in Holgorsen’s offense is four verticals, which he (along with then-fellow Texas Tech assistants Sonny Dykes (Louisiana Tech HC and former Arizona OC), Robert Anae (BYU OC), and Bill Bedenbough (Arizona co-offensive coordinator)) explains in depth in this coaching clinic article.

(B) Holgorsen is more patient than Leach, in that he is more willing to run than his mentor was. As he told Sports Illsustrated’s Andy Staples:

Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen couldn’t help but laugh this week as he created a composite of several dozen similar conversations that took place in the near-decade he spent as coach Mike Leach’s eye in the sky at Texas Tech. Leach would growl into his headset and ask why the Red Raiders’ quarterback took a sack or threw an incomplete pass or an interception.

Leach: “Who was open?”

Holgorsen: “Mike, I know you don’t want to hear this, but there wasn’t anybody open.”

Leach: “What do you mean there wasn’t anybody open?”

Holgorsen: “They dropped nine people and they double-covered all our guys. There was nobody open.”

Leach: “Well, how’d they get pressure on the quarterback?”

Holgorsen: “Well, because one guy can’t block one guy for seven seconds.”

Between games, Holgorsen would entreat Leach to call a few more running plays to keep the defense honest. Leach — who, to be fair, won an awful lot of games doing it his way — usually declined and kept right on calling passes….

“For so many years, I was scheming up plays, I was talking to Coach Leach, I was trying to find specific pass plays to run against a whole bunch of defenders — which gets tough at times,” said Holgorsen, who still calls Leach regularly to talk Xs and Os. “Having [RB Kendall Hunter] back there makes it easy to call plays, because you hand it to him, and he gets yards. Then if you’re not getting yards, there’s usually a pretty good reason for that.”

(C) Holgorsen is also less patient than Leach, however, because the (relatively, at least) greater willingness to run sets up more downfield throwing opportunities. Hal Mumme’s philosophy for the Airraid was “throw the ball short to people who score.” I think Dana Holgorsen’s philosophy has been shortened to simply “score.” This makes sense, too, because there’s good evidence that it’s better to go for chunks of yardage — explosive pass plays — than to simply try and dink and dunk it down the field. Now, in the early days of the spread the dink and dunk was an exceptional strategy, because defenses were unprepared and five yard completions, through the miracle of yards-after-the-catch, often turned into ten- or twenty-yard gains, but now it’s not so easy. Thus, the ability to use aggressively schemed pass plays with misdirection — play-action, fake screens, action passes, etc — is the hallmark of the best passing offenses: Holgorsen’s, Gus Malzahn’s (Auburn), Chris Petersen’s (Boise), and Bobby Petrino’s (Arkansas).

Ultimately though, there are more similarities than differences and, as Holgorsen says (see the video clip below where he talks philosophy), the common thread unifying all the best “Airraid teams” is the way they practice: simple assignments, with specific, football focused drills that allow their players to get maximum repetitions. Many teams preach this but the Airraid guys have figured out to how make practice really work; and really, there is no other way to be successful than to start with how you practice.

3. Muschamp, boom. Florida has hired former LSU/Auburn/Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, and I found out about it in much the same way as most of the national media did: because Tim Tebow tweeted it (apparently from the Heisman ceremony?):

This is a good, if risky, hire. The reality is if you’re hiring a new head coach you are essentially left with two types of candidates: the Nothing But Upside, Wow He’s Fiery/Smart/Personable, But He’s Never Been a Head Coach and the He Seems Fine and Has Head Coaching Experience But Why Is He Available? Occasionally a guy emerges who seems to have it all — like Urban Meyer when he went to Florida originally — but as we’ve seen problems can still emerge there and Florida didn’t exactly get to time it’s choice, as Meyer forced its hand.

How all this ends up is anyone’s guess — and a lot will depend on what kind of offensive staff Muschamp brings to Gainesville — but for now enjoy a couple of good Muschamp stories, courtesy of Chris Hatcher, who was head coach at Valdosta St. while Muschamp served as defensive coordinator (as told to Spencer Hall):

By the way, Chris Hatcher, once you catch him, is happy to tell stories about Muschamp, the new Texas defensive coordinator. There are a few. He once called Hatcher four hours after practice to rage about non-contact whistles costing his players sacks in practice. He also watched Muschamp coach a whole game wearing a makeshift turban made of athletic tape and a headset.

“Third game of our career. We’re playing Southern Arkansas, and we just signed a deal with CSS TV. We’re the first I-AA game they broadcast. I look down the sideline before the game, and a grad assistant is putting pre-wrap around Muschamp’s head. His headset had been smashed to pieces on the plane ride, and he had to find a way to keep his headset on, so he had it taped to his head. He looked like The Red Badge of Courage.”

Hatcher is laughing out loud as he says this, but wants me to make sure Muschamp gets the props, as well.

“Please include this in the article, though: He may the best football coach I’ve ever coached with. He has a knack for getting his kids to play so hard for him. The best, by far, at his job.”

Done. But just try to picture Muschamp without a tape turban this fall after reading that.

4. Quick hits.

- New Miami coach Al Golden works out to the Final Countdown.

- Cam Newton does Letterman’s Top Ten.

- Gus Malzahn deals the Commodore a blow.

- Hunter S. Thompson, Conan O’Brien, guns and hard liquor. (h/t EDSBS.)

- Josh Heupel, former Mike Leach protégé and National Championship winning QB at Oklahoma, will be the new OU playcaller. Showing that the holy grail in college football right now appears to be the quest to get the success of Mike Leach’s offense without the baggage of Mike Leach with it.

- The Times reviews a new book about Jim Thorpe. Key quote:

In contrast, and perhaps not surprisingly for the author of a highly praised biography of Burt Lancaster, who played Thorpe in the 1951 film “Jim Thorpe — All American,” the book’s second half, which covers Thorpe’s spotty film career, brims with life in its depiction of Hollywood during the 1930s and ’40s. Thorpe existed on the fringes of the studio system, trading on his name and playing mainly small roles as an Indian, but he was also not afraid of anonymous manual labor, as when he hired on with Standard Oil to paint things like gas stations and trucks. “Can’t keep the wife and the kids in food on ancient glory,” he told a sportswriter in 1930, when he was 42. …

…Drink and profligacy speeded his business failures and estranged him from his relatives. His plight wasn’t helped by the string of bars he invested in or was hired to appear at, like the Sports Club in Los Angeles, “a small, dimly lit bar and grill on a noise-ridden street,” as described by the journalist Al Stump, who produced what Buford calls “a haunting portrait” of the man: “He was weak, pliable, irresponsible and sometimes unruly, and he contributed to his own downfall.” He was also “the embodiment of this country’s eternal treatment of the vanishing Indian . . . under­paid, exploited, stripped of his medals, his records and his pride.”

Bud Light Airraid: Carl Weathers and Bud Light steal Norm Chow’s (and Bruce Eien’s) playbook

If you’ve watched any football recently, you have no doubt seen this commercial from Bud Light, starring Carl Weathers:

In the commercial, Carl Weathers shows us his playbook, including the play “Blue 42 Trick Car Blitz”:

It’s not easy to see, but readers of this site will recognize the play shown as “mesh,” an Airraid staple. (Here’s another copy of the screen cap.) But what caught me was not that I recognized the play concept, it was that I recognized the diagram. Some of this was to Bud Light’s credit: typically play diagrams on TV or in media are incorrect, showing 13 players or ineligible receivers running routes or whatever else. So I was initially just shocked it didn’t immediately look incorrect. But there was something further — although there was some kind of faux defense drawn on top, I knew I’d seen the diagram before.

And then I remembered where: Bruce Eien’s site, or more specifically his depiction of Norm Chow’s BYU offense and the 62 X Shallow play:

mesh

Compare the two images above. As I said, it looks like the Bud Light people drew some extra defense stuff on top of the play, but everything on offense is the same — the formations, the layout, the routes, and even the text (“Check flat”).

Of course there’s nothing wrong with this — the play doesn’t belong to anyone (even Norm Chow), and I don’t think Bruce will mind that his play diagram showed up in a Bud Light commercial. But obviously some guy at DDB Chicago (the advertising agency that made the commercial), did a Google Image search for play diagrams and came up with that one.

Oregon offense installation videos

Brophy has a full collection of Oregon installation videos, i.e. video cutups showing the plays for teaching purposes. Check them all out here.Very useful stuff.

And, to pile on unnecessarily (though it’s fun), contrast this statement by Gregg Easterbrook:

[In Oregon's offense, p]ass patterns are minimal, which keeps the quarterback’s mind from melting under the pace. Oregon runs hitch screens, then occasionally fakes a hitch screen and sends a receiver on the fake side deep. That’s it — that’s the blur offense passing tree.

With this video:

Combining the “midline lead” and the zone read

The evolution of the traditional zone read to include “midline-esque” concepts like reading the interior linemen is a hot topic, so I’d like to throw open the comments to what you think the next evolution or wrinkle might be. I’m game to anything; for all the talk about the pistol offense, I see this subtle shift in the zone read to be the biggest “it thing” or “fad” across college football.

While you think about what adjustments might work, let me give my suggestion: the introduction of the “midline lead” into the zone read of the defensive linemen. How this will be integrated is one of my other questions but I think this will prove very useful.

The traditional midline involves the reading of the defensive tackle, where the fullback heads up the “middle” while the quarterback steps around. The midline lead has a lead blocker for the quarterback, typically a playside fullback or slotback, though it can also come from the backside.

Although it looks a bit dry in the diagram, the video below shows how that one block — that lead block — can make the difference between a nice gain on the inside read and a touchdown (Paul Johnson uses a wrinkle here where the back goes in motion and leads):

As shown in the video below, courtesy of tog, I don’t see this as a difficult adjustment for spread teams. You would just need to fold the tight-end, H-back, slot, or other player up on the middle or playside linebacker.

So what do you think? All ideas — crazy or not — welcome.

I’ve included some additional cutups of the midline below the jump.

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Smart Links 10/15/2010

Stewart Mandel on Nebraska’s offensive explosion.

- Podcast I did with the Barking Carnival folks.

- Scipio Tex of Barking Carnival on the midline option/spread evolutions.

- John Elway supposedly gave $15 million dollars to an alleged Bernie Madoff-lite. Whoops.

- Texas Tech’s Baron Batch: Warrior poet.

- Google’s revenues surge on increased ad-revenue.

- Shortest book titles.

- Not a link, but enjoy:

- Messynomics.

- Kindle singles – short ebooks.

- The inside of a jet engine is hotter than the sun.

Gregg Easterbrook spread offense fail

Braves & Birds does an excellent job demolishing Gregg Easterbrook’s incompetent attempt to explain the Oregon offense. Easterbrook is a bright guy, but he’s incapable of seeing what is perfectly obvious on the field. I don’t know if it’s from watching too many years of NFL football that he cannot see things common to college and high school football, or what. It’s bizarre because he’s trying to be up to speed on the new trends but just has no idea what he’s talking about. It’s like he’s heard the words midline option, no-huddle, pistol, and fly pattern and he put them into a random number generator and produced an article.

Braves and Birds does a nice job with the details, to which I’ll only add that the entire premise of Easterbrook’s “blur offense” article is off-kilter — you can’t be called the “blur offense” as doing something new if it is not, in fact, new. The idea of a no-huddle spread offense is rather old (people may remember that the first iteration of Smart Football was called “The No-Huddle Spread Offense site,” and it came out in 1999 — and it wasn’t new then, either). And of course, Gus Malzahn (who wrote a book about the no-huddle) of Auburn and formerly of Tulsa (which leads the nation in total plays run) has been doing this at least as long as Chip Kelly.

Running and throwing the fade route against press coverage

This past weekend saw that old classic, the fade route, used to win a couple huge games in the SEC: The game winner in the LSU-Florida game was a fade (the second try), and South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffrey caught several big time fade passes against formerly #1 Alabama.


As simple as it seems — “Run out there and I’ll throw it up” — it’s a surprisingly subtle play, and is often taught improperly. Steve Spurrier, of course, is one of the masters of the fade, and this is not the first time LSU has won a big game on a well-thrown fade.

The first problem is the name, “fade.” This conjures up the idea that the receiver’s job is to release off the ball and immediately start “fading” to the sideline, where the quarterback has to throw it to an increasingly vanishing spot between the defender and the sideline. This is wrong.

1. The route, at least from the receiver’s perspective, should be thought of as an almost totally vertical route. Against press man coverage, he should get the defender’s feet moving; the goal is not to get “around” the defender but to get through him, by making the defender move and then having the receiver run on a path immediately past him. This isn’t always possible, and the fade is an outside release play, but that should be the goal every time it is called. Too often young receivers want to outside release, get jammed, and can barely get off the line of scrimmage or get run basically out of bounds.

2. Second, the receiver must leave at least six to seven yards between him and the sidelines. Some teach five yards but I prefer seven, because it leaves more margin for error. A simple way to think about it is to tell the receiver to get no wider than a yard outside the numbers (i.e. the big numbers on the field between the hashmarks and the sideline).

3. Third, consistent with the above two points, the receiver should actually try to lean into the defender as he bursts upfield. As I’ve said previously:

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Writing about sports in 2010: Four points about two (or three) articles

Ben McGrath’s profile of Gawker Media’s head-honcho, Nick Denton, in this week’s New Yorker, is a fascinating window into the world of professional blogging, where the pageview is king. (Gawker owns the sports site Deadspin, along with, in order of popularity, Gizmodo, Gawker, Lifehacker, Kotaku (video games), Jezebel, io9 (science fiction), Jalopnik (cars), and Fleshbot. In this list Deadspin would rank behind Kotaku and ahead of Jezebel.) Less informative but equally entertaining is Bill Simmons’s most recent column, which recounts the circumstances that led to his “accidental” tweeting of “moss Vikings” roughly thirty minutes before Fox Sports’s Jay Glazer formally broke the story of Randy Moss’s potential trade to the Minnesota Vikings. These pieces form the backdrop for my points below.

1. Pageviews, hits, unique visitors — these will drive the news and what articles get written, and not just for blogs.

“No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”
- Samuel Johnson, The Life of Samuel Johnson, Boswell.

It’s often said that the internet is the most democratic of all technologies, which may be true, but it is certainly true that it is the most capitalistic of technologies — products will be designed to meet the public’s tastes. One reason for that is that the internet reduces transaction costs, as exhibited by the ability of sites like eBay and Craigslist to connect buyers and sellers for really any products at all. But this is also because the internet allows the measuring of such tastes like never before, whether it’s products recommended by Amazon or movies by Netflix. And online writing is no different:

Paying bonuses for traffic meant not only keeping statistics about what readers did and didn’t like but sharing that information with writers—a supreme journalistic taboo, as it could easily lead to pandering. Pandering was precisely Denton’s aim, and he took it one step further when he started publishing his traffic data alongside the stories themselves. It almost felt like a sociological experiment designed to prove the obvious: that readers are herd animals, that heat begets heat. A photograph of an unidentifiable mammalian carcass on a beach, cleverly dubbed the Montauk Monster, is viewed two million times: go figure. “I think people are sort of waking up to it now, how probably the biggest change in Internet media isn’t the immediacy of it, or the low costs, but the measurability,” Denton told me. “Which is actually terrifying if you’re a traditional journalist, and used to pushing what people ought to like, or what you think they ought to like.”

It is terrifying. Most good bloggers I know try to have a kind of code duello, where although pageviews (which, at least on some level, especially for full-time internet writers), has to be the goal, there is still room for “ethics” in the sense that things won’t be done gratuitously or without sufficient support. But this line is hardly a clear one, and it’s difficult to compete when the other side unabashedly will do anything for digital eyeballs.

Denton’s receptionist sits beneath a large digital screen known as the Big Board, which lists the ten best-performing posts across the company network; these are determined by the number of new readers—as opposed to returning obsessives—in the previous hour. Denton says that the primary purpose of the Big Board is to encourage competition among his writers. A few months ago, he told the Times, “Sometimes one sees writers just standing before it, like early hominids in front of a monolith.”

And make no mistake, Gawker is taking not only eyeballs but advertising revenue from traditional media, who have increasingly gone online — where their content is measurable. Can they resist the temptation to pander? Are they supposed to?

2. “Sources” doesn’t mean what you think it means. The internet has done some interesting things to how stories are “broken.” If something is released by press release, wire service, tweet, or other official medium of the sender, no website, media company, or blog can lay any claim to having broken it — it just happens too quickly. Organizations that want to keep credibility tend to break information this way — when have you ever heard of a Supreme Court decision being leaked early? Of course, most stories are not broken in this way, and that’s because if you have an inside tip you now have power. I’ll let Bill Simmons explain:

With every media company unabashedly playing the “We Had It First!” game, reporters’ salary and credibility hinges directly on how many stories they break. That entices reporters to become enslaved to certain sources (almost always agents or general managers), push transparent agendas (almost always from those same agents or GMs) and “break” news before there’s anything to officially break. It also swings the source/reporter dynamic heavily toward the source. Take care of me and I will take care of you.

[...]

So that’s how it works — not all the time but occasionally, and only because of everyone’s obsession to be first. On the surface, this annoys me to no end. Who cares? It’s not like we have some giant scoreboard keeping track of everything. But my reporter friends all say the same thing: It’s not about one scoop but the entire body of scoops (not just for the reporter, but the company that employs them). Think of Ichiro grinding out 200 hits every season. Yeah, most of them are mundane singles … but they add up. For readers, that volume turns it into a “feel” thing….

So yeah, there’s no official scoreboard for scoops. We just subconsciously keep score. As do editors. As do media companies. Some will do whatever it takes to pad their stats, whether it’s pimping every decision someone makes to get repaid with information later, playing the odds by reporting something they hope is true (and if it is, they look like a stud), spinning every angle against someone who once butted heads with a favored source, whatever. The best reporters maintain relationships, avoid agendas, craft good narratives, never stop cultivating new sources and — occasionally — break news simply because it’s an outcome of being good at their jobs. That’s what should matter. And that’s how they should be judged. I wish that were always the case.

Of course, “payment” doesn’t always come in the form of leaking certain stories in the future or spinning a column a particular way. Sometimes payment means, well, payment:

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More on the zone read (or midline read) of the defensive tackle

The classic zone read, where the runningback runs the zone play to one side while the quarterback reads the backside defensive end, is a great play. But if you use it enough, two problems emerge.

Practice makes perfect

First, just because you’re reading the defensive end doesn’t mean you’ve made your blocks on everyone else — a stud defensive tackle you can’t block can still blow up the play. Second, the defense can simply play games on the backside; the zone read is no longer new. A common response is the “scrape exchange,” where the defensive end crashes down for the runningback, thus forcing the quarterback to pull the ball, only to run right into a “scraping” linebacker waiting on him.

An increasingly frequent solution to both of these problems is to read defenders other than the defensive end. One, you can read, instead of trying to block, the most dangerous defensive lineman on the other team. Two, this makes the “scrape exchange,” at least where it involves the backside defensive end and weakside linebacker, irrelevant, as you just block both of them.

DT

Oregon and Florida were the first teams I saw use this, but last week’s game between Purdue and Northwestern — Purdue being quite desperate and with a new mobile quarterback — went to this technique to try to manufacture some offense. As reported in the Journal & Courier:

[The Purdue quarterback, Robert Henry,] keyed on Northwestern’s interior linemen on the zone read plays, either keeping the ball or handing off to Dierking or Antavian Edison. Five consecutive running plays produced 34 yards and brought the Boilermakers to Northwestern’s 21-yard line. . . .

“We did some research, calling a bunch of buddies of mine that have made their living doing the different reads of the interior linemen,” Nord said. “I’ve always been involved in the drop back passing game, the misdirection and the play-action. I never did a lot of veer, option stuff.

“We have a guy that can execute it very well. He’s reading down linemen and doing what they’re not doing. If they’re biting on the ball carrier, he’s pulling it. If they’re biting on him, he’s giving it.”

. . . . The Boilermakers faced fourth-and-1 from the Wildcat 7 and called timeout.

“We wanted to make sure we had a chance to either hand it off or have Rob Henry keep it so we called a play where if the hole is there, we hand it off and if it wasn’t, Rob Henry would keep it,” coach Danny Hope said. “It gave us two options to score and win the game.” The hole was definitely there.

“I couldn’t have written up a better script,” said Dierking, who had five carries for 22 yards on the last drive. “I saw the hole open up so I jerked it from him.” . . .

“We knew they were going to run the quarterback; how they were going to run him we had to adjust to,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “They changed up their scheme a little bit, and were reading our tackles as opposed to our defensive ends. There were times when we fit it very well, and there were times when we didn’t.”

When I wrote about this play yesterday I had only seen some of the game and spotted the tactic; the above article (courtesy of reader Brad), confirms my analysis. Video of the fourth down play is below:

This tactic has been adopted by other teams as well, including Nebraska. The question is whether it will provide a sustained advantage or if only work to catch defenses off guard for a little while — time will tell. Certainly teams like Oregon have made a living on the play. And the rules for how you might teach the play are quite simple too: On the frontside, your defenders keep their normal zone rules. Your center and backside guard leave unblocked the first man heads up or backside of the center, while the backside guard and tackle block the backside defensive end and weakside linebacker. Thus the zone read where the defensive tackle, instead of the defensive end, is the read.

But wait, say option coaches. Why call this the zone read, instead of what it is: the midline option from gun? They have a point. You end up blocking the same people and using the same read. That said, I think both get you to the same place, however, and the primary difference is whether you began with zone running and the zone read, or you began as a traditional option guy. See how similar the midline from gun is to what I’ve been discussing, as shown in the video below:

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