NCAA enforcement follies and the commentariat

Stewart Mandel recently wrote a piece on NCAA enforcement incoherence. It’s a good piece and gives a nice overview of the problems built right into the system’s framework, and how the NCAA arrived at the recent Ohio State ruling:

We've come a long way

[I]f you’re just a general college football fan, you have every reason to be puzzled, outraged and perhaps even despondent that the NCAA came down harder on Ohio State players for selling rings than it did on Heisman winner Cam Newton, whose father shopped Newton’s signature for $180,000.

Just nine days away from the New Year, this Ohio State mess marks the latest chapter in an unusually busy year for the NCAA’s enforcement division. From the USC/Reggie Bush sanctions to the North Carolina agent suspensions to Bruce Pearl, Tom Izzo and Newton, the headlines have been never-ending.

In the heavily layered NCAA bureaucracy, however, different personnel groups handle infractions cases (USC, Tennessee basketball), agent issues (Georgia, UNC), Basketball Focus Group (Izzo) and athlete eligibility reinstatement (Newton, Ohio State).

It’s no wonder the rules and the punishments seem so wildly inconsistent.

Yet, given the byzantine, inconsistent and incoherent nature of our actual criminal sentencing system — which actually puts people to death, in jail or doles out other, unique punishments — I’m not convinced that everything can be solved by blaming or even reducing “bureaucracy.” “Bureaucracy” has a very negative connotation, but it also is a simple description, meaning “government characterized by specialization of functions, adherence to fixed rules, and a hierarchy of authority” — a definition that describes any government or regulatory body or really any large organization, from the U.S. military to Apple Computer, Inc. or Google Inc. You can’t wish this stuff away; different penalties and judgments will come from different parts of the NCAA. Mandel’s column is good and it helpfully dispels the popular fan notion of NCAA as monolithic entity (with this perception awkwardly reinforced by the fact that the NFL (a far smaller organization than the NCAA) is ruled by fiat by them whims an imperial Commissioner). There are real problems with the NCAA’s rulemaking and enforcement system, but no one has yet systematically identified what they are and how they can be fixed.

Relatedly, Dan Wetzel’s recent paean to Cam Newton and his Dad as some kind of modern day Robin Hoods — “And yet we demand that Cecil Newton respect [the NCAA] and th[eir] rules?” — is just bizarre. This isn’t Correy Surrency disqualified from athletics on the basis of an overly narrow conception of what it means to be an amateur, but instead someone shopping their kid. Now, I am not saying that Cam should have been ruled ineligible. For purely selfish reasons — i.e. that I love watching him play in Malzahn’s offense — I am happy he’s still playing. And I also endorse anyone who, rightly in my view, criticizes systemic problems with NCAA enforcement, which, while it doesn’t have the effect of distorted criminal sentences that are alternatively too harsh or too lenient, can have seriously deleterious effects on individual student athletes, their families and their communities. But it’s another thing to make the leap Wetzel does from finding fault with the NCAA to absolving the Newtons and essentially encouraging future athletes to break the rules. Wetzel: “Yet Cecil Newton is the bad guy for asking for something close to what the market would bear? [Ed Note: The "market" in illegal payments for student-athletes?] Meanwhile all of the suits who run the game can sip cocktails and enjoy the Heisman ceremony? Why, because one dad did not respect the NCAA, its wobbly rule book and situational ethics? Why, for considering it all a sham and asking for a share?”

The answer of course is that Wetzel simply cannot be serious. Wetzel surely knows that it’s possible to critique one side without condoning the other. To use an extremely overdone analogy, in the past century, you could critique U.S. foreign policy without being an apologist for Stalin or Mao (again: this is just an analogy; Cecil Newton is neither Stalin nor Mao, but you get the idea). But Wetzel also prefers to kick up dirt rather than engage in serious argument. This is, of course, the generous reading of the article. If Wetzel is serious, well, I’m not sure what to say.

Packaging three-step and five-step passing concepts into the same play

Modern defenses are very, very good. Too good, in fact, for successful offenses to expect to be able to simply call some traditional play in the huddle — ye olde 24 Blast or 42 Boot Pass — and be able to simply line up and run it with any hope of sustained success. Not only are defenses sound, defensive coordinators and talented defenders have become masters of deception, and the game has increasingly become a mental as well as physical struggle.

I would've liked this concept

Fortunately, defenses aren’t yet — due to the immutable laws of arithmetic and geometry which apply with equal force on a football field — magical, meaning that all defenses always have weaknesses. The trick is to find them and, as Spurrier says, to put your kids in position to win. The goal is to try to tilt the advantage back to offenses. There are essentially three strategies:

  1. Line up in a formation and let a coach or a quarterback change the play. You see this whenever Peyton Manning or some other NFL guy audibles at the line (though his options have usually been narrowed to two or three before the snap), or when a no-huddle team lines up and looks to the sideline for guidance. The idea is that, while it is still pre-snap and the defense can still move, it has given away certian clues, including personnel and general structure.
  2. Use multiple formations and motions to confuse the defense or gain an advantage in numbers or leverage. This approach tries to turn the defense against itself by never giving the defense a chance to get settled or to identify what the offense may do. Moreover, sometimes the defense simply fails to adjust, and the offense gains some new advantage. The downside of this approach is it leaves little time and fewer clues for the offense to make adjustments, but the idea is that “motion causes emotion” (to use the old adage) and the offense has an advantage in that it knows where it is going. This is the method employed by Boise State.
  3. Give your players options on their assignments for after the snap. Just as it sounds, this is the principal governing all “option”-esque attacks. The macro idea here, pioneered by Tiger Ellison, is that backyard football is not played in a static, overly orchestrated way, and instead the natural inclination of kids to run around and make decisions on the fly — and so should it be in real football. This can manifest itself in different ways, from the triple option to the spread option to the passing game. Each play provides a superstructure but freedom within it. The idea is you don’t need much else, except for the players to begin adapting and making the rights reads. As said in Remember the Titans, “I run six plays. Split veer. It’s like Novocain. Give it time. It always works.”

A few years ago, it was possible to achieve unheard of success by designing a new play, or sometimes simply by joining the bandwagon and going spread, especially if you had better athletes. Now, the innovations are ones of communication and organization; much of the talk this season centered around Oregon’s fast-paced no-huddle, particularly its fascinating playcalling system. For now, most of the biggest schematic ideas have been hashed out and the question now is how to make it all work together. Packaging pass concepts together — i.e. putting different pass concepts, each designed to beat particular pass coverages or families of pass coverages, to each side of the play — is not new. But it is limited in its own way (more on those limits in a moment), and there are ways to incorporate more of the above ideas into a single concept. Moreover, when done correctly, it’s possible to continue to be multifariously (and deceptively) simple, by using the same handful of pass concepts in new ways.

Problems with the traditional approach of packaging pass concepts. Almost any coach trying to call a pass play, face buried in the Denny’s menu of the playcall sheet, is forced to answer that age old question: Will it be Cover 3 or Cover 2? (Or Cover 4 or man or a blitz, and so on.) The problem is that, no matter how good your pass it is, due to the particular horizontal or vertical stretch it uses, each pass play is better against certain coverages than others. At most, a play might be good against two defensive concepts, and certain plays — like snag — are handy utility plays to get completions against most coverages but that doesn’t mean that they literally work against everything. One potential solution is to “package” different concepts to each side, again with the traditional way being to put a “Cover 3 beater” to one side and a “Cover 2 beater” to the other. (If you want a refresher on basic pass coverages, check out this piece.)

Three problems, however, quickly present themselves with this simplistic answer:

  1. The quarterback only reads half the field, determined based solely on the alignment and movement of a couple of defenders. If the quarterback is either wrong or the receivers fail to get open, the play is essentially a bust.
  2. The side the quarterback throws to is usually determined based on the safeties (or sometimes the middle linebacker). It does not take into account blitzes. It’s possible to include anti-blitz solutions too, but this becomes yet a third read — that might be inconclusive.
  3. Typically, the pass concepts put to each side are effective against those defensive concepts, but they typically do a poor job of dealing with interior or floating defenders, who can turn a quarterback’s good read into an interception. Relatedly, the pass concept may not work at all against combination coverages or roll coverages, which can give false keys.

The third point is worth elaborating on briefly. Shown below is a typical “packaged” five-step drop combination: the curl/flat combination to one side with the smash or corner/flat combination to the other.

This play should work, as the quarterback ought to see that the defense only has one single safety and he thus looks to the left side, with the curl/flat combination. But the packaged pass concepts don’t do anything to control those interior players. The same would be the case if the defense lined up with two deep safeties and he worked the smash side, to his right. There are ways to solve this problem, but there’s an approach that solves (or at least greatly improves upon) all three issues raised above.

Three-step and five-step, together. The idea for this solution came from two sources: the old run and shoot “Read” play and the book, Concept Passing,” where Dan Gonzalez describes something similar. The broad idea is to achieve multiple things in one play-call, but to sequence it so that it all can actually be done by a high school or college kid. The run and shoot “read route” put a “quick” or three-step-esque (remember that the run and shoot used half-rollouts) to one side, while putting the old favorite, the “switch” to the backside. See below:

Against any kind of blitz or tight-man, the quarterback would deliver the ball to one of the outside receivers (typically the slot running to the flat) off his third-step. If the defense covered that, he would finish his drop, step up, and read the two backside receivers running the old switch, which was just a form of the “seam read” from four verticals but where the two receivers criss-crossed at the snap. In his book, Gonzalez describes a more pro-style application; here is my take on it.

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Smart Notes – Packaging offensive concepts, Holgorsen, Airraid lineage, links – 12/20/2010

Very cool:

(h/t edsbs and Barking Carnival.) The only thing cooler than that play is Holgorsen’s Johnny Cash man-in-black look. More seriously, one reason that Holgorsen has had success in expanding on or putting “his own spin” on Leach’s Airraid is that he has focused on packaging concepts. In addition to packaging the “stick” passing concept with a draw play as described above, I’ve seen several other instances. One that I remember from his time at Houston — though I don’t have video of it on hand — was a “packaged” screen/downfield pass concept. Sometimes teams package a screen play with a tight-end drag or cross, where if the linebackers flow to the screen the tight-end could be open, but Holgorsen’s version attacked the safety on a wide receiver screen, as shown below:

The idea was that everyone else was blocked, but if the safety attacked the screen — not an unbelievable idea that he would, considering how many screens Houston used — the quarterback could loft it to the slot receiver who faked a block and then ran straight downfield. This is different than a true fake screen, where the quarterback does not have the option to throw the screen play if it is there. As with all of Dana’s plays, this one was well designed, but required quick decisions from the quarterback.

2. Troy stylings. The hero of Troy’s bowl win over Ohio? Will Goggans, whose beard was captured in what must simultaneously be called a photo, a statement and a power ballad by the artist known as Will Goggans. Going forward, the most intriguing player on Troy’s roster is redshirt freshman quarterback Corey Robinson.

Before Robinson’s senior season at Lone Oak high school in Paducah, Kentucky, his high school coaches called up Tony Franklin and installed “the System,” and, well, this happened:

During his final season at Lone Oak High School in Paducah, Ky., Robinson threw for 5,872 yards and a national-record 91 touchdowns. He was intercepted just four times in 520 attempts on the way to being named his state’s Mr. Football.

Robinson has a bright future, as in his freshman season (in terms of eligibility), he threw for 3,707 yards and 28 touchdowns. His journey to Troy was not straightforward, and Franklin helped him not only by installing his brand of the Airraid:

Heavy recruiting attention didn’t follow for Robinson, who is now listed at 6 feet tall and 214 pounds.

He received some attention from Sun Belt Conference schools and said “Ole Miss was talking to me a little bit here and there.” Troy knew about Robinson because then-offensive coordinator Tony Franklin was a good friend of Lone Oak High head coach Jack Haskins, whose son Billy Jack is a former University of Kentucky quarterback. Lone Oak ran an offense similar to Troy’s and Robinson felt comfortable in choosing the Trojans.

It wasn’t a quick journey to the field as a college player for Robinson. He spent the 2008 season as greyshirt and a part-time student at Troy.

Seems to be working out now.

3. Merger of equals. The excellent The Browser is merging with the excellent Five Books. The expected result will be self-defining.

4. Words Fail Them, Companies adapt to the video age.

5. The Unreal Genius of Football Manager. Paean to the immersive Football manager 101 (about the other kind of football).

6. Posnanski on Jose Conseco, or not really. From the piece:

There is a line in the story that I have thought about many times. Toward the end, Parker talked about how much he had learned from the pain and the hope and the fear of what would happen … but Gary did not use most of what Richie Parker said. Here is Gary’s explanation: “And he said a lot more, but it would be improper to let him do it here, for it might mislead the reader into thinking this was a story about Richie Parker.”

I have often wondered if Gary did the right thing using that line. Part of me thinks that it should have gone unsaid — that comes from the “if you have to explain a joke, it didn’t work” school of thinking. But another part of me remembers the jolt of recognition that clicked in me when I read the line the first time. I don’t think the story would have had quite the same power for me if he had left it out.

All of which is just my excuse to say this: Despite how it may look, the following story is not about really Jose Canseco.

7. The end of the coin toss? Maybe, says Slate.

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.