Year of the Bull: Documentary about Miami Northwestern high school football

Well worth watching . . .

Thoughts on Brian Kelly as Notre Dame’s next coach

briankellyPeople somewhat rightly criticize Notre Dame and its fans for what they perceive as an outsized view of the team’s importance: In the cable TV/internet age, the NBC contract isn’t anything that special; the so-called “echoes” have slumbered in an ancient sleep for decades; and the Notre Dame head coaching job — now taken on by Cincinnati’s Brian Kelly — is so fraught with pratfalls and these oversized expectations that it’s foolish to even take the job.

But, if the job comes for you, there’s really no way you can turn it down unless you have something pretty special lined up, i.e. Urban Meyer at Florida. Indeed, even if success there, under present circumstances, is elusive, the reward remains among the highest that football can offer: immortality. Even Notre Dame’s failed coaches remain part of the public psyche; I don’t remember many of the names who coached Oklahoma during the lean years, but nearly every football fan can recall Gerry Faust. But, rightly or wrongly, winning a national title at Notre Dame ensures your legend.

So I think Kelly was right to accept the job. The more interesting question is whether Kelly was the right ma

n for it. Given the choices this year, I’d say yes. I liked the “fit” of a Gary Patterson more than Brian Kelly in South Bend, but I think he’ll succeed. A few unconnected thoughts:

  • In terms of recruiting, Kelly has done an excellent job getting talent into Cincy, and will continue to recruit many of the same areas.
  • This might be heresy, but schematically I don’t find Kelly that interesting. Now he’s a spread guy (which plays to my preferences), and he’s been doing it a long time (so he has a pedigree), but I think much of the talk about Kelly as an “offensive genius” is misplaced. He runs a very simple, and even at times simplistic, spread offense. That’s the bad news.
  • The good news is that really doesn’t matter. The Irish just got done with a guy who was pretty convinced of his schematic brilliance, and likely the sooner ND can get beyond just winning the scheme battle and win some actual ones on the field, the better. And with this is the fact that Kelly is an excellent teacher, which is what really matters.
  • And don’t get me wrong here, his scheme isn’t bad. His staff gameplans very well and they put their kids in position to succeed, which is really all that matters. You’ll see some fun stuff from quads — or with four receivers to the same side — but otherwise everything is pretty basic. Yet I liken it to when Holtz arrived at Notre Dame. No one perceived him as an offensive guru, but for what they did at the time, relative to everyone else in college football (and with some very good players), it was sophisticated enough. I think it will be similar for Kelly: If he gets good players in he’ll do a great job of teaching them, and as a result the offense will succeed.
  • Which brings us to probably the scariest similarity with Weis: Kelly needs to find a good defensive coordinator, and I’m not sure who that will be. This need to find an offensive guy to whom that entire side of the ball can be dumped on sort of the Sword of Damocles that hangs over all the offensive obsessed gurus. Charlie Weis never figured it out; Steve Spurrier never won a national title until he got Bob Stoops in as defensive coordinator; Urban Meyer’s first championship at Florida, the championship game last year, and much of his success this year was driven by the great defenses of Charlie Strong (who is now at Louisville); and in the NFL the New Orleans Saints have gone from bubble playoff team to undefeated with the introduction of some new faces on defense and a new defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams.

    So more than any single recruit, I’d want to know who Kelly is going to hire as his DC. Had Weis’s defense been better this year it’s likely that he’d still be in South Bend. (And once you go to the revolving door, it becomes hard to get settled, as it takes awhile to get the program up to speed. It’s hard to transform a defense with a few weeks of spring and fall practice.)

  • All this, however, obscures the bottom line: Brian Kelly has won everywhere he has been. He turned Grand Valley State into a title winning team; he resurrected Central Michigan, where Butch Jones has continued much of that success; and in Cincinnati he has led the team to three of the best seasons in school history — maybe the best — in back-to-back-to-back years. I agree with the commentary that Notre Dame is best off hiring a guy who has succeeded at the college level. With Weis I think the goal was to sort of emulate Pete Carroll’s success at USC, but it didn’t work. And the Notre Dame job is fraught with all the issues that plague all college head coaches, but, often enough, on steroids. A little time in the meat grinder can only help.

Hopefully no one takes my criticisms too harshly. As I said, the bottom line is that Kelly is a winner, and there’s no reason to think he won’t be able to do that at Notre Dame. I’ll definitely watch more Irish games next fall.

Brian Kelly it is: UC coach to take over Notre Dame

I will have more to say about this, but, in the end, he’ll be compared to the man below, for better or worse. Strap up.

Smart Links 12/9/2009

1 New coaching blog: Coach Mac’s blog. It’s still in its early stages but there is some very good info here, particularly about the “power shotgun spread” stuff his team uses. Check out part I and part II of his series on their “power” play from shotgun.

2. A week late but, Brophy has a good post showing some of the plays Drew Brees used to carve up the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football.

3. A bunch of people have sent me this link about how Nebraska supposedly bottled up Texas via “pattern reading.” To be honest the article is difficult to understand and the routes shown don’t look like ones that Texas actually uses. And besides, almost every team uses some kind of pattern reading. My biggest issue is — and this could be me misunderstanding the article — is that it appears to confuse two different things. Pattern reading is where zone defenders use sort of “match up zone” principles to identify and attack specific route combinations that they have prepared for, rather than simply react to wherever a receiver happens to run. What is described in the article instead is the idea of “bracket coverage” (also sometimes called banjo coverage), where two defenders account for two possible receivers, and ignore any initial stems or criss-crosses and take the receiver that goes to them — i.e. one goes in and the other out. This is a legitimate technique and you have to be prepared for it, as it is designed to stop basic “you go in; I go out” type routes. But, and I haven’t broken down all the details of the Nebraska-UT game, that didn’t appear to me to be the main issue. And even if was a tactic Nebraska used, much of Texas’s passing game is designed to counteract such schemes. Instead the narrative is the same one you’d think it was: Nebraska’s defensive line dominated the game both for pass protection and the run game (save for a few draws), and that freed up the rest of the Blackshirts to roam and play tough, physical coverage and keep everything in front of them. But it all began up front.

4. Advanced NFL Stats with more on run/pass balance and game theory. I promise to address this topic, even if it’s just to summarize the good stuff coming out, but in the meantime go continue to read what Brian has been putting out.

5. My guess is this is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve both seen some outrageous things of this sort first hand (much moreso than what’s described in the article), and in general nothing will compare to what used to go on back in the day. But for now this is another bit of unwelcome light shining onto the recruiting practices of the University of Tennessee.

6. Charlie Strong to Louisville. Tough to have anything negative to say about this hire, though “Emperor Charlie” has his work cut out for him. Obviously on defense he’ll bring his rugged, multiple “4-3 under” scheme that has the ability to shift to a three-three (or even two-man line) against spread sets, but on offense it is anyone’s guess. Will he go the Bo Pellini route, whereby the defensive coach hires a random number generator as his offensive coordinator, or will he try to match his defense with an equally potent offense? (Here’s a hint Charlie: You coached under both Bob Davie and Urban Meyer. Which strategy worked out better? (Until the rise of Addazio, of course.) Time will tell.

7. It’s not a link but, my Heisman vote is for Suh.

Oregon’s zone read of the defensive tackle

During last night’s Oregon victory over Oregon State, the announcers mentioned that Chip Kelly’s squad will vary their zone read by reading defenders besides the backside defensive end — namely, the defensive tackle or “three technique” player.

In the “normal” zone read, the line zone blocks one way while the quarterback reads the backside defender:

zr

There are a variety of counters to this, including the infamous “scrape exchange,” and in response offenses have added third options and bubbles and all manner of other ideas to the outside. But Oregon, along with several other spread teams, have also responded by moving inside, by reading the defensive tackle instead of the defensive end. See the diagram below:

3tech

This does a couple things for you. One, it can confuse the “scrape exchange” response, where the defensive end crashes to force a “pull” read by the quarterback while the linebacker loops outside for him, because the defensive end gets blocked and the QB should have a big gap inside. And, second, it gives you flexibility in who you choose to block versus read. As the old saying goes, if you can’t block them, read them.

For example, when LSU had Glenn Dorsey, Urban Meyer and Florida often used this same tactic to read him instead of trying to block him. (And I wouldn’t be surprised if Florida did this against Alabama’s mountainous defensive tackle, Terrence Cody.)

So what does this look like in practice? Fortunately, Trojan Football Analysis has already broken it down, after the Ducks thrashed Pete Carroll’s USC defense with it. Below is some of the photo evidence, though you should go to TFA to read the whole thing.

1
1
3
4
5
6

Below is the same play from a sideline angle:

(more…)

Dumbest thing I read today

From an “SEC assistant” via Tom Dienhart about Alabama’s “unsound” secondary (h/t Orson):

SECONDARY: Their weakness might be their secondary. They lost some guys who were chemistry guys in the back end. Schematically, they do a lot of different things. They do some things I couldn’t get away with because I don’t have some of the players who can just make plays. They do some things like Florida where you go, ‘Holy cow, that’s not very sound.’ But it ends up in a 2-yard loss.

Setting aside the fact that a large portion of this is meaningless, the takeaway point appears to be that the scheme is unsound and/or undisciplined but Saban just “has the players” to make it work. Uh, what? (Let’s leave aside the Lane Kiffin inflammatory analysis of the SEC Championship game that Florida has better players while Alabama has better coaches.) I simply do not agree. I’ve seen Alabama play a lot, and “unsound” is not the word I’d use. Aggressive? Sure. Do they play a lot of man coverage, which takes talent to be able to use? Yes. But unsound implies that they just make things up. I don’t know who the SEC assistant is, or if it got lost in translation to Dienhart, or what, but this just strikes me as an unbelievable form of analysis.

But, if you don’t believe me, you be the judge. The film isn’t from this year, but if they’re unsound, what should it matter? (H/t Brophy for the clips.)

Houston and the “stick” passing concept

“Stick” or “y-stick” is one of the most recent passing concepts to have gone totally viral such that basically every passing team uses it — it’s only about twenty to twenty-five years old. Everyone has their spin on the play, but basically it is a quick, three-step route play, where the offense puts the flat defender in a bind by sending one receiver to the flat while another hooks up or “sticks it” at five to six yards. Below is a good video showing the concept and showing an example of the Houston Cougars running it.

Note that it looks like Tulane is in man coverage, though it is the defensive end who drops off to cover the running back. In any event, stick also serves as a very good zone beater, as well being a great, quick zone play.

Drew Brees and the Saints’ pre-game chant

Get fired up…

Brees: 1; Chorus: 2
Brees: Win; Chorus: For You
Brees: 3; Chorus: 4
Brees: Win; Chorus: Some More
Brees: 5; Chorus: 6
Brees: Win; Chorus: Again
Brees: 7; Chorus: 8
Brees: Win; Chorus: Great
Brees: 9; Chorus: 10
Brees: Win; Chorus: Again
All: Again, Again, Again, Again!

(h/t CoachHuey.)

Good example of four verticals

This is a bit old but it is a good example of the four verticals play: Against the Baltimore Ravens, Carson Palmer of the Cincinnati Bengals hit Andre Caldwell on the play. Baltimore was in two-deep man coverage, where they had two deep safeties and the other players were in man coverage. Indeed, four verticals is not really a great play against this coverage, but Caldwell, whose job it was to “bend” inside the split safeties, beat his man and was therefore open. If you don’t remember the play, it was a game winner.

four verts

USC’s late touchdown vs. UCLA: fair or foul?

From ESPN:

When Matt Barkley kneeled down to end Southern California’s (No. 20 ESPN/USA Today, No. 24 AP) victory in the final minute, UCLA defiantly stopped the clock with a timeout.

So the Trojans let ‘er rip, throwing a long touchdown pass and then celebrating it with a taunting ferocity that brought the Bruins onto the field on the verge of a brawl.

The last 90 seconds of Los Angeles’ 79th crosstown showdown had more action than the first 58 1/2 minutes, even if it was just a few extra fireworks at the close of USC’s workmanlike 28-7 victory Saturday night.

See for yourself the setting:

So the question is: Was that cool for Pete Carroll to do? Was it cool for Neuheisel to call the timeouts? What is the proper response?