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.

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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