Of Malzahn and Miami, a look backward and forward

A couple of stuff from me from around the web:

Blogpoll Week 4 Ballot

Rank Team Delta
1 Florida 2
2 Texas 1
3 Alabama 1
4 Boise State 3
5 Cincinnati 4
6 TCU 6
7 Houston 6
8 LSU 2
9 Virginia Tech 2
10 Southern Cal 14
11 Iowa
12 Penn State 8
13 Oklahoma 7
14 Kansas 2
15 Oklahoma State
16 Georgia
17 South Carolina
18 Ohio State 7
19 Oregon
20 Miami (Florida) 10
21 Brigham Young 2
22 Mississippi 14
23 Michigan 2
24 Nebraska
25 South Florida
Last week’s ballot

Some minor commentary after the jump.

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Goaltending for football?

fbgoalI received an intriguing email from reader Sean Piccola:

I’m an ASU fan who was subjected to [Georgia's] AJ Green’s block of ASU’s potential game winning field goal last Saturday. Given Green’s insane height and athleticism, it got me thinking . . . if Green is 6’4 with a vertical of 30″ (or Julio Jones who is also 6’4 and has a 38.6″ vertical), why not put him under the goal post on long field goals and have him attempt to block it at the end of the kick, rather than the beginning?

Do you ever recall a time when a defensive team, when facing a long field goal, has ever placed an athlete of that caliber at the back of the end zone, in front of the goal posts, and instructed him to try to block the
kick (not return it a’la Antonio Cromartie) — it seems that numerous FGs around 50 yards just make it over the crossbar, and if nothing else it would get in the kicker’s head.

I looked through the NCAA rule book online and it didn’t seem to contain anything that would prohibit the practice; a field goal is just another “scrimmage kick.” Obviously, this tactic would not have frequent
application, but it could prove huge at critical points in a game.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen this done in a game. And I have seen a number of long distance, late-in-the-half type kicks that just barely scooted over the crossbars. Then again, this might be an incredibly difficult thing to do in a game, and also difficult to even simulate in practice. (Whereas a kick return of a short field goal is more or less just like returning a kickoff or punt.)

But I don’t know, maybe it’d be worth a shot? The guy could either return it if it was short, or block it if he could. Any thoughts?

Update: Mystery solved: doing this would be illegal, except in the rare instance where the defender catches the ball cleanly. Thanks to commenter Chris (not me) for pointing this out. The rules can be found on pages 243-44 here. The applicable rules are as follows. Note the penalties range from a safety against the defending team (or upholding of a touchdown if the kicking team recovers it in the end zone) to simply a first down and yardage for the offense. Probably too risky. Note also these rules don’t seem to apply if the kick falls short of the crossbars without interference — i.e. the Antonio Cromartie stuff. (more…)

TCU’s inverted veer option

daltonyReader Jay Miller passed along some great info from TCU’s victory over Clemson. Clemson’s defense this year has been stout, holding Georgia Tech’s flexbone below their averages and then completely crushing Boston College in one of the best defensive performances in recent memory. (Clemson held BC to 54 yards for the entire game.) Against TCU, however, in an otherwise solid defensive effort the Tigers allowed TCU’s quarterback Andy Dalton to rush 19 times for 86 yards, many of them on key conversions. After the game, Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele appeared flummoxed — or at least very caught off guard — by one spread-option variant in particular that TCU used:

TCU quarterback Andy Dalton found almost all of his success on the ground on Saturday by employing a new play that the Clemson coaching staff had not seen on film, and Dalton seemed to run almost at will through the line of scrimmage and beyond. . . .

Steele said that the play with Dalton carrying was really the only play the Tigers had not seen on film as they studied the Horned Frogs last week.

“They ran just one play that we hadn’t seen on film – but it was a good one,” he said. When one reporter asked Steele why the zone read was giving his defense so much trouble, Steele explained the difference between a true zone read and what Dalton was running on Saturday.

“Not to get too technical, but on the zone read, the quarterback fakes to the running back going this way and the quarterback goes the other way,” Steele said. “What they were doing was faking zone read one way, the quarterback would step like he was going this way but they would pull the guard and chase it the other way. It was a new look. We got over there and drew it up, got it adjusted out, but we were doing it on the fly and adjusting it on every call.

“I don’t know if it’s just luck or if they are just that smart, but there were a couple of those calls that we really needed something to happen and we didn’t. The ones that were base defense calls against, we got it stopped. But the ones where we were trying to have some pressure and make something happen, we maybe should have just left those calls alone and just base defended it. “

Clemson linebacker Brandon Maye said the play was causing trouble because of TCU spreading receivers across the field.

“They were spreading us out and forcing us to play one linebacker and forcing that one linebacker to play two gaps,” Maye said. “All you can say is they did a good job scheming us up.”

I’m going to disagree with the description of the play as a variant of the zone-read, though all of these plays fall within the same spread option family. Indeed, this is a play I’ve seen Florida and Urban Meyer use before, though the pulling guard is a nice wrinkle. I call it an “inverted veer.”

In the typical veer play from a spread set, the line blocks down and double-teams the defensive linemen on up to the linebackers. They leave the defensive end unblocked (except when they run midline veer, in which case it is a defensive tackle) and read that man. If he steps down for the runningback, the QB just gives the ball and steps around him. It is just the old first-read of the triple option adapted for spread sets.

veer

But TCU ran a variant, one I’ve seen other teams use. They just “inverted” the runningback and quarterback: The runningback runs a sweep or outside zone action laterally. If the defensive end takes him, then the quarterback shoots up inside the defensive end. If the defensive end sits for the QB, the runner should be able to hit the corner. Remember, the defensive end is often the hardest guy to block, and especially so when you want to “reach” him to seal the corner.

invertedveer

In that way I disagree with the characterization of the play as a fake-zone read where the QB then runs back to the other way. You can see the runner is taking a wide angle. That said, I don’t know what TCU’s read was, but this is a play I’ve seen at least for a few years. And again, Meyer uses it at Florida with his fast runners heading outside and Tebow, the better inside runner, going inside. Below is video of TCU using it against Clemson. (Again, thanks to reader Jay Miller.)

Finally, the one wrinkle TCU has is the pulling guard. I think that was just designed to get better blocking at the point of attack, though TCU had them so crossed up he didn’t even end up blocking anyone. This scheme has a lot of similarities with how teams block the shovel play.

I suppose the reason Steele and Clemson had so much trouble with this hinges on what his linebacker’s reads were. I take it they were reading the quarterback and thinking backside with the zone read. If they read the pulling guard, for example, there wouldn’t be an issue with where the play was going. (This is one reason the veer blocking works so well, because the line steps one way and the play hits the other. The pulling guard can give this away.) It is just like on the famous counter trey play: if the linebackers read the pullers there are no issues with stopping it (though they may be weak to some other play), but if they read the fullback blocking away they can get crossed up.

It’s all a cat-and-mouse game. Point in this one to TCU.

What I’ve been reading

- Coaching Defensive Football, by Bill Arnsparger. 330-plus pages of non-stop hard-core football — can the reader take it? Bill Arnsparger was the architect of the Miami Dolphins’ “no-name” defense under Don Shula, head coach of the New York Giants and LSU Tigers, athletic director for the University of Florida (during which time the school was put on probation but he also hired Steve Spurrier), and, finally, defensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers in the early 1990s under Bobby Ross, again heading to the Super Bowl. Yes, there have been football developments since this book was written, but a perusal of the table of contents that they are minor when compared to what the book covers.

- The Anthologist: A Novel, by Nicholson Baker. Very quick read that I much enjoyed a lot, though people uninterested in poetry might not find it as pleasant as I did.

- Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, by Richard Rorty. A reread of a book I never quite finished before. Again I’m skipping around some, but I think Rorty wouldn’t mind. Not sure I agree with everything but it is difficult to be enthused about philosophy in the analytic tradition after reading this, which is, of course, much of the point of he book.

- The Years with Ross, by James Thurber. This is Thurber’s famous profile of Harold Ross, longtime steward of The New Yorker. I just picked this up so it’s on the pile.

Nick Saban schools you on how to play pass coverage

saban22This is seriously one of the best explanations of this I have heard, from a coach or anyone else. I guess it helps that he’s been doing it for thirty-years. And keep in mind, this is from his radio call-in show. Not your typical call-in.

Although Saban is known for having one of the most complex defenses schemes to play against, he has a pretty simple philosophy for how he wants defensive backs to defend opposing receivers, whether to play the ball or the man. He explained it without too much coach-speak during his radio show last Thursday:

“There were several occasions last week [against Florida International], where guys should have played the ball and they didn’t. That’s something [where] if you can see me on the sideline I’m always going to be yelling at them, ‘Why didn’t you play the ball? Why didn’t you play the ball?’

“Let me explain it to you this way: There’s two positions you can be in when you’re defending a receiver. You’re either ‘in-phase’ with him or you’re ‘out-of-phase’ with him. Now, . . . ‘in-phase’ means that you’re pretty much even with the guy [as he runs straight downfield], but if you can see the guy’s number nearest [to] you, you’re in-phase when you’re covering him down the field. So when he gets through the move area — the move area defined being 14 to 18 yards down the field where the guy’s going to break a route in or out — we play a lot of closed coverage, [i.e.] we’re in bump-and-run a lot; we’re in that position with the guy when he gets in the move area. Now, if you’re in-phase with him when he gets into the move area, you should be become the receiver and look for the ball. That’s what you should do, and then the ball has to go through you.

“If you’re in the out-of phase position, which means you can’t see his near number, you can’t be even with him, then you have to play the guy’s eyes and hands for the ball because you’re not in position and if the quarterback throws it correctly [on a fade type pass] you’re not going to be able to get to the ball — you’re behind him too far.

“Now, to explain why some of the guys didn’t play the ball last week, is [this is] what FIU is really good at: If you play bump-and-run and you have pretty good corners, and they keep the guys cut off, that means my shoulder is ahead of his shoulder going down field so I can control his speed and he can’t run all over the place, [and because] I have good coverage on him, they’ll throw it to what’s called the back shoulder [fade]. By the time you turn around he catches it.

“The way the defensive back should read that is you read the guy’s upfield shoulder and when his upfield shoulder turns back you should turn into him and play the ball into him and you’ll be able to play that pattern. I think with a lot of our guys we probably over-coached that last week and did it in practice a lot. They were waiting for the guy to make the back shoulder throw when he had him cut off and they ended up not playing the ball.”

So much good stuff in here, but I particularly liked this last bit about reading the receiver’s “upfield” (i.e. inside) shoulder so as to defend the back shoulder fade. The idea that your man coverage DB wants to turn away from the QB and “into” the receiver when he opens up to catch the back shoulder fade is a very good coaching point.

(H/t deaux on CoachHuey.)

Wild Bill: double coverage and drawing up plays in the dirt

belichickerSome interesting tidbits from the post-game pressers regarding Bill Belichick. First, his defensive tactics against the Falcons and how worried he was about Falcons tight-end Anthony Gonzalez:

Q: Can you talk about the job the defense did on Tony Gonzalez? He was a big topic of conversation this week.

Belichick: Well, he’s good. We devoted a lot of coverage to him. We doubled him a lot and he’s a guy — game plan-wise — that you’ve got to account for. You’ve got to put some coverage on him; he’s really hard to handle. Again, I thought our guys stepped up and did a good job on him. We doubled him plenty of times and he still caught the ball. He’s tough, but then we held up in some other spots as well. Terrence [Wheatley], Shawn [Springs] and Leigh [Bodden] really did a good job out there. We didn’t give them very much help and they stepped up to the challenge on a good group of receivers and did a competitive job. . . .

Q: Can you talk about the job Brandon McGowan did today? It looked like he was part of your coverage on Tony Gonzalez.

Belichick: Oh, he was. Brandon [McGowan], it seems like he does a good job for us every week in the kicking game and on defense. He’s involved in a lot of plays, makes tackles and is a good coverage player and he did. He had a lot of responsibility on Gonzalez today. But we put a lot of coverage on Tony, too, and I’m not taking anything away from the job Brandon did, but we gave him some help. I mean Gonzalez is almost impossible to matchup with. . . .

Q: Were there changes defensively in the second half?

Belichick: No, not really. It was basically the same game plan we went into the game with. The calls matchup differently like they always do. Certainly, a big part of this game was to deal with Gonzalez, which I am not coming in here talking about him being seven [catches] for 110 [yards] with two touchdowns. . . .

And then Tom Brady had some interesting insight into Belichick’s role with the offense, specifically in drawing up plays in the dirt:

Q: On the Chris Baker touchdown, a guy had you in his grasp, but you were able to get away from the defense and deliver the ball well.

Brady: Yeah it was great protection. It wasn’t how we drew that play up. It was pretty much on the sideline, Coach Belichick said, ‘Well, what do you think about this?’ The guys that ran the play didn’t run it all week in practice and they made an adjustment. Chris [Baker] has been really dependable for us since the day he got here, and he made a great catch and run. . . .

Q: You said Bill Belichick drew up the Chris Baker touchdown play on the sideline. Was he more involved in the offensive communication with you and the play calling this week?

Brady: He’s always involved. He’s involved in every play that’s called. That one, like I said, we just kind of drew it up there on the sidelines and made it work.

Two coaching decisions, a review

Scenario 1: Your team is up 28-23, though the other team has moved the ball quite efficiently all game. There is 10:56 left in the fourth quarter, and you have fourth and goal from the one yard line. A field goal puts you up by eight points; a touchdown probably ices the game. (“Checkmate,” as Urban Meyer would say.) What do you do?

Scenario 2: Your team is up 21-17. The other team has the ball on roughly your two-yard line. Thirty-six seconds remain; they have just run the ball on second down so the clock is moving. They have no timeouts, but you have all three of yours. The other team has just quickly driven the field to get into this position. Question: do you call timeout to preserve some time for yourself in the chance that they score a touchdown on third or fourth down? Or do you leave the pressure on them to execute on those two downs over thirty-six seconds. What do you do?

Analysis (and identities of the coaches) after the jump.

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Throwing a football while staring down a blitz

Very good quarterbacking video from Dub Maddox of Jenks, OK, HS, and who helps run Darin Slack’s quarterback camps.

Monte Kiffin’s scheme for Urban Meyer’s offense

monteMuch of the offseason chatter around the SEC centered on how the legendary Monte Kiffin, now the defensive coordinator for the University of Tennessee under his son, Lane, would deal with the extremely productive but decidedly “college” (in a good way) Florida Gator spread offense, orchestrated and designed by Urban Meyer.

And, while the game itself, a 23-13 affair, was quite possibly a snoozer, the ennui that has followed the game has been remarkable. The storylines have swirled: Tebow’s passing was questionable, Meyer says that he put the brakes on because Lane Kiffin wasn’t interested in winning, and he mentioned that his team was flu-stricken. Yet there is no overshadowing that Monte’s defense did a nice job against Florida’s offense. His plan was to take away the inside run game and make the receivers beat them. And, indeed, the subtext of Meyer’s post-game comments indicate that Monte’s plan was pretty much on target:

“You don’t have to be a genius to figure out the strength of our team right now,” Meyer said. “And that’s a big offensive line running off the ball and a freak quarterback that just takes the game over.

“Is it perfect? No, it’s not perfect. But until we get the full allotment, the full compliment, of wide receivers playing at the level we need them to play, we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to win.”

So what was Monte’s plan? A few bullets:

  • The basic theory was clear: focus on Florida “inside to out,” meaning focus first on the line and the gamebreaking runningbacks, then on Tebow running and the inside receivers and tight-ends like Hernandez, and, only last, Florida’s outside receivers. I had predicted Monte might do this, but I was wrong with his prescription. I had said they might plan man and use Berry as a “rover” like Dungy used Bob Sanders. I was wrong: Monte played zone defense almost exclusively, played his cornerbacks way off usually to help deep inside, while the other nine guys — Eric Berry included — all kept their eyes in the backfield. And this is why Monte gets the big bucks: this was better than what I had suggested.
  • For example, Kiffin played a lot of Cover 4 or “quarters” against Florida. Florida, in turn, uses a lot of “trips” sets with three receivers to a side to try to force them out of it. The defensive adjustment is to have the safety to the single-receiver side cheat over and help with the inside slot. The diagram below shows this, though I admit it looks a little confusing. The point is that the safeties help with bracketing coverage but also fly up for run support; both guys can hit people on the line of scrimmage.
    cover4trips
  • Where are the weaknesses? To the outside receivers. The single receiver backside is basically in one-on-one coverage because the safety to his side has cheated over for trips. Yet Tebow could not get the ball outside.
  • And when he tried, the Gators looked awful. Tebow was 14-19 for 115 yards and an interception, and also took a couple of sacks. First, Monte was able to make Florida’s line look poor with a lot of stunts and occasional blitzes, though he never brought an all-out one. Frequently, Tebow had very little time to go through his reads.
  • But even when he did, he looked off-kilter. The interception he threw to Eric Berry was a prime example. Kiffin changed up his coverage to what was (I believe, the camera angles were not great) an “invert Cover two” where instead of two deep safeties, a safety and the cornerback played deep. Yet this wasn’t heavily disguised: Eric Berry just sat in the flat. Tebow stared at him, and stared at him, and stared at him…and then threw him the ball. (Senior?!) Anyway Kiffin was mixing up the schemes well, but again the common theme was zone with pressure on Tebow to get him rattled.
    berry_pick
  • Below is video of the pick; it should begin at the proper point. If not, skip ahead to the 0:50 mark.
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