What’s wrong with Georgia Tech’s run game? (Is anything?)

dwyer1Fits and starts. Georgia Tech’s offense is, by most statistical measures, beating its marks from last season. In ’08 the Jackets averaged roughly 370 yards of offense, while this year they are second in the ACC with over 400 total yards per game. Scoring is up by over six points a game too, up from 24 to roughly 30. But the perception is that Paul Johnson’s vaunted flexbone offense is not doing so hot. Indeed, the perception vs. reality debate centers on Jonathan Dwyer, who, if you ask most fans (or see the emails I get), is having a disappointing year despite being third in the ACC in rushing yards per game.

There’s definitely some truth to the idea that Johnson’s offense has not been crisp. Exhibit A were the nationally televised games against Miami, where the Jackets fell behind and could not get the offense going, and Clemson, where a strong first quarter and gutsy fourth bracketed two quarters of very little production. And Dwyer’s 400+ yards rushing this year are muddied by his 66 yards against Clemson and seven against Miami. So what is the prognosis?

I talked to a few flexbone experts and the thoughts were these. The first let’s just get out of the way: Johnson is still using Chan Gailey’s players, and doesn’t yet have its own. I don’t want to harp on this but I am sure there is at least some truth to it. The line in particular was disappointing against Clemson and Miami, and Johnson will ultimately be judged when he gets a full roster there. But that doesn’t much help us in the here and now.

Second, and most interesting, is that there is sentiment that Johnson doesn’t totally trust his quarterback and is predetermining more reads than we might think. I don’t think that is as surprising as it sounds. Johnson said in clinic talks over the summer that he predetermined a lot of the reads last year, and there is some precedent for this: Tom Osborne said in the Nebraska heyday up to 70-80% of the reads in a given game might be predetermined by the call. I’m an option purist, and moreover from a viewing perspective I can’t always tell if a play was a bad read or a predetermined one. But that would help explain some of the stunted dives to Dwyer that have not seemed to go anywhere at times this year. (But don’t ask Mississippi State or North Carolina.)

Finally, there have been some changes in defensive tactics. Most notably almost everyone is playing Georgia Tech with a nose-guard to help stop the midline option and to either stop Dwyer up the middle or at least muddy that read. Miami in particularly played their base defense but simply moved one defensive tackle over to nose guard. This isn’t an end-all be-all scheme, as it has opened up some outside lanes and various counter plays, but GT has not always executed those plays well. Rewatching the Clemson and Miami games in particular one is struck by the fact that there are big plays to the outside to be had, but the Jackets just keep missing key blocks. Now credit both Clemson and Miami for fending off the myriad chop cut blocks and making tackles, but if Johnson wants to continue having success they will have to make teams pay for crowding the middle, and the passing game can only go so far.

The demise of Johnson’s scheme has been premature, though, like any other squad, it comes down to execution and GT will have to prove that its success will continue. The Jackets face a reeling Florida State squad this weekend, followed by a streaking Virginia Tech team. We’ll learn a lot about PJ’s boys in the next two weeks.

Paul Johnson bonus. Below are highlights from the 1992 Holiday Bowl, where Hawai’i, with Johnson as offensive coordinator, defeated Illinois.

Erin Andrews to sue the Marriott and Ramada hotels?

I haven’t had much to say on the whole Erin Andrews tumult but I thought this was interesting — and disturbing that the hotels let the guy specifically request a room next to Andrews:

On Friday, the FBI arrested 48-year-old Michael David Barrett and charged him with secretly taping ESPN sports reporter Erin Andrews in the nude and posting the videos on the Internet. Andrews’ attorneys, Marshall B. Grossman and Daniel Alberstone of Bingham McCutchen, quickly issued a statement praising the FBI and the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles for making the arrest — and revealing that the Bingham attorneys and the private investigation firm Kroll Inc. played key roles in the investigation.

But Grossman was not so kind toward the hotel where the filming took place. He criticized management at the Nashville Marriott at Vanderbilt University for booking Barrett into the room adjacent to Andrews and questioned the hotel’s attention to privacy and security. “One can’t pass this off to simple ignorance,” Grossman said.

Indeed, judging by the FBI’s affidavit, the actions by the Marriott are inexcusable. The affidavit says that Barrett filmed all but one of the videos at the Marriott, with the other filmed at the Ramada Conference Center in Milwaukee. What is most shocking is how Barrett was able to secure his room in the Marriott next to Andrews: He simply asked. The hotel’s reservations computer showed his request as, “GST RQST TO RM NXT TO [Andrews].” To make matters worse, both rooms were situated in an alcove off the main hallway. That made it easier for Barrett to hack the peephole in a manner that allowed him to film inside.

In Milwaukee, Barrett allegedly called 14 hotels to find out where Andrews would be staying. When he found out she would be at the Radisson, he booked a room and hacked the peephole of Andrews’ room in the same way he had done at the Marriott.

All of this adds up to a potential lawsuit, suggests John A. Day at the blog Day on Torts. Start with the question of how Barrett was able to identify Andrews’ room, when “most hotels will not give anyone, even an alleged spouse, the room number of a guest.” Add in the questions of how Barrett was able to secure a room right next door to Andrews and how he was able to modify the peephole without anyone noticing, and “one would think alarms would have been sounding at Marriott,” Day says.

Hotels have a responsibility to make their premises reasonably safe for their guests. This includes the responsibility to exercise reasonable care to protect the privacy of their guests. As more of the facts are released for public consumption, we will learn if Marriott did what Erin Andrews had a right to expect.

Based on news reports, Marriott’s only response so far has been a prepared statement that said, “The security and privacy of our guests is a priority.” I suspect Andrews’ attorneys at Bingham McCutchen will be looking for something more than that out of these two hotels.

Down with Crabtree! Down with the draft?

crabtreesIs Michael Crabtree ready to sign? Deion Sanders, who is inexplicably one of  Crabtree’s advisors, seems to think so. I don’t really see what other options he has left: The 49ers can’t trade him now, and if he waits through the fall deadline without signing to re-enter the draft next spring, he will sign for significantly less than he is being offered now (not to mention the time value of money, etc).  As has been repeatedly mentioned, it was probably quite stupid for Crabtree to hold out this long.

That said, from a labor perspective at least, I continue to find the draft and the associated hoopla relatively unfair for players. There is no question that Crabtree could have commanded more money from another team (Jets?). Yet he is effectively owned by the 49ers for at least a year, presenting him a hobson’s choice: sign for whatever the 49ers are willing to offer, or sit out an entire year for less money, take a PR beating, and possibly jeopardize your whole career. Imagine if doctors were drafted out of medical school. “Sorry Mr. Number One at Harvard Med, but you’ve been selected by a fine hospital in Topeka, Kansas! They are offering a nice salary. Should you not want to go there, you will have to sit out from practicing medicine for a year, and then maybe try your luck next year. Sorry!” Or the same for the world’s bankers, librarians, pharmacists, and coaches, where an employer would get the opportunity to own that person’s rights for a year, offering the choice between a take-it-or-leave-it offer and a year of unemployment.

I know what many of the responses will be: But they offered him millions of dollars! He should sign! Well, maybe under the current system he should have. But the United States fancies itself a meritocracy, and players, like all other professions, should be entitled to bargain for the most someone is willing to pay for them. If Crabtree thinks he should be paid more than Darius-Heyward Bey, he should be able to negotiate for that from various competitors. Of course the 49ers weren’t going to up their offer: in five years, there will still be the 49ers, but this is Crabtree’s shot to get paid (imagine if he got injured). Indeed, they feared the Jets were coming in to promise more than they were and they filed tampering charges! Again, imagine if you were deciding whether to take a new job, and a different employer offered you a more lucrative offer and your current employer — or not-even, just a company that “owns” your rights for a year based on some kind of ceremonial “draft” — could prevent anyone from offering you anything.

So what are the alternatives? Increasingly I’d like to see some kind of auction system installed instead of the draft. (Fat chance, now that the draft is such a media event.) It’d involve the same elements of scouting, and the like, except that the team could allocate the money however they feel. The salary cap would still exist, so Jerry Jones couldn’t just outbid everyone mercilessly. Moreover, it would give real choices to teams to make decisions based on whether they want a big star player like Crabtree and want to pay him a lot, or want to go after a lot of mid-level guys, or some mixture. A similar system would just be a Madden franchise-mode-esque series of free agency “rounds,” where you’d have periods of free agency activity though maybe limits on how many guys a team could sign during that time — i.e. the Cowboys couldn’t announce 15 rookie signings on day one and be done with it. You’d still get your TV drama, but the players could shop around a bit more, as could teams. Indeed, I’d be more excited to see who the shrewd dealmakers were in this system than the current hodge-podge draft system.

I think these would work because we’re approaching this kind of thing anyway. One, the draft is a relic of a time before free agency — the majority of guys on NFL rosters were not drafted by that team, so any effect on the league and team composition would be less than people think. Second, in ye olden days the draft went on more than twice as long as it does now. In other words, the league has been moving to limit the anachronistic draft more and more, and I can only hope it will finish the job. Though I’m not holding my breath.

In sum: I think Crabtree has severely mishandled himself by holding out this long. But that analysis only applies within the current draft-framework. It’s a long shot, but I think the NFL would be well-advised to replace the draft with some kind of auction or free-agency-by-round system. It’d be significantly better for the players, and at least equal  for the teams.  (And in the long run I think it’d be better for teams to, beyond the initial shock). In other words, eliminating the draft would be the pareto optimal thing to do. It’s too late for Crabtree, but maybe his saga can get people thinking about this stuff.

Is the NFL a “single entity” (and therefore exempt from many anti-trust laws)? A round-up

That’s the question presented in the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case. And while there has already been some hyperbole (ESPN: “Antitrust case could be Armageddon”), the case does present some real and interesting questions, including ones beyond the narrow issue of the NFL and other sports leagues — I know, it’s hard to imagine anything beyond sports leagues. Here is how the full issue was summarized by David Savage in the ABA Journal:

[I]n American Needle v. National Football League, the justices will decide a legal question that has long hung over pro sports. Are their leagues a “single entity” and, therefore, immune from antitrust laws, or can these independently owned teams be sued for conspiring to restrain trade? A suburban Chicago maker of stocking hats and caps, American Needle sued in 2004 after it was shut out from using NFL logos. The league had made an exclusive deal with Reebok. The suit was thrown out by the 7th Circuit, but the justices agreed to decide whether pro leagues are shielded from antitrust charges.

Upon reading this you probably have an impulsive answer right away. Either, “Hey, of course the NFL is just one entity!” Or “Hey, of course there are thirty-two teams!” But you have to understand the weird nature of sports leagues as a branch of joint ventures, and the stakes — that a ruling of them as a joint entity makes them immune from anti-trust action, even with respect to other possible competitors.

Without getting too complicated, baseball has long enjoyed a unique place in anti-trust law — it doesn’t apply to it. Other leagues have come close, but haven’t been so lucky. There’s really no reason for these leagues to have such unique status, but baseball does and football wants it, anyway it can get it. The best they can muster from a policy perspective is that “hey, we’re the NFL, we’re important right!” And, within the cloistered halls of the NFL (not to mention ESPN, and the like) the world begins and ends insofar as it affects The Game, be it terrorism or the stockmarket or whatever else.

But legal battles in real courts deal with larger themes. Specifically, the government, in the form of the Solicitor General’s office, was asked to chime in on this case. This put them in an awkward position because (a) American Needle has a very weak case, even apart from this “single-entity theory,” and (b) the government really only cares about this case insofar as it affects other joint-ventures beyond sports leagues. As Morrison & Foerster partner Deanne Maynard noted at a recent Supreme Court panel, if the Court rules in favor of the NFL, this case could have wide-ranging implications beyond just sports organizations.

“I think it could affect any kind of joint business venture,” she said. “It could mean that in doing these (joint) activities, the companies are a single entity.”

Moreover, here’s some excellent commentary and background from Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSBlog (written while the Justices were still considering whether to hear the case): (more…)

Mumme Pollin’

Always a sucker for any reference to one of the weirdest, most entertaining coaches of the last decade, I’m participating in the Mumme Poll, a creative way of ranking college teams. But the best part about the poll is that you, learned reader, get to participate as well. How does it work? The website explains:

This is accomplished by means of conducting the voting in two very different ways from other football polls:

  1. The first vote does not take place until after the games of Week Six have been played.  Voters are not asked to evaluate teams based on preseason expectations and are not expected to use those as a baseline from which to rank teams for the rest of the year.
  2. Rather than being required to rank twenty five D-1 teams in order of preference, Mumme Poll voters submit ballots of the top twelve teams in the country, without ranking (other than to designate the top five of those twelve, for use as a tiebreaker).  The poll rankings are then compiled by means of approval voting; that is, the teams are ranked in the order of the total number of times they appear on voters’ ballots.

The ballots won’t really start in earnest until the end of week six, but register now.

Smart Notes 10/2/09

Actual Xs and Os. California Golden Blogs does an interview with Art of Trojan Football Analysis. Well worth the read.

james_carville_rose_bowl

- James Carville was born that way: Via Blutarsky:

James Carville (a huge LSU fan), in response to Tony Barnhart’s question “how did you become a college football fan?”, had this to say last night:

How did I become a college football fan?  How did I become a heterosexual?

- Food for thought. Although cleared to play, Bob Stoops is keeping Sam Bradford out against Miami for safety reasons. Meanwhile, Urban Meyer says that Tebow is “ahead of schedule.”

- Synecdoche, Kraghtorpe. It’s been a hard run at Louisville for Steve Kragthorpe, particularly as he has tried to replicate the success of Bobby Petrino before him. Tonight, he faces a must-win against Dave Wennstadt’s Pitt Panthers, and if he doesn’t win the calls for his head will be louder than ever. Yet while BCS school coaches get paid to deal with that kind of scrutiny, you have to feel a bit bad for his son Brad, a junior quarterback at perennial Louisville, KY power, Trinity High School. Aside from the scrutiny of being Steve Kragthorpe’s son, Brad has battled turf toe all season, and even got yanked this season when Trinity was crushed by Ohio power Cincinnati St. Xavier, 43-13. His head coach, the excellent Bob Beatty, said of pulling Brad Kragthorpe, “It’s called turning the football over. You can’t do it.” He had fumbled and thrown an interception.

And it seems that living up to the expectations of a Petrino is becoming part of the Kragthorpe experience. Adding to the pressure on Brad Kragthorpe is that he not only must follow in the shoes of Brian Brohm, who won a couple of state titles as quarterback for Trinity, but also those of Nick Petrino — Bobby Petrino’s son — who successfully quarterbacked the team to at least one state title, though I don’t have all the numbers in front of me. And tonight, while his dad fights for his career against Pitt, the younger Kragthorpe will start in one of the most attended high school games in the country, against Louisville St. Xavier, in a game expected to draw over 35,000 attendees (for a high school game!). Louisville St. Xavier is favored to win.

- Speaking of Kragthorpe, one of his former players, Mario Urrutia, who flourished under Petrino but flopped later is back in the news, having been activated in Tampa Bay.

- This is ridiculous but overall kinda great. From BHGP.

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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.