Coaching matchups: Charlie Weis vs. Michigan’s Greg Robinson

Over at Dr Saturday, check it out in full here. I discuss Michigan’s new-look D versus Charlie Weis’s big-play (at least he hopes it is) pass game. Also of note if mgoblog’s great anatomy of a zone-read. It’s a must read.

And, after the jump, a couple of diagrams/vids that got left off the floor for the Dr Saturday bit.

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Smart Notes 9/11/09

LSU vs Georgia TechThe best of times, the worst of times. Georgia Tech’s win over Clemson was a fun game to watch, but ultimately taught us very little. GT scored on a long touchdown run (beautiful), and then a punt return for a touchdown off a quick kick and then one of the great trick plays in the form of a fake field goal where GT snuck a guy onto the field. And, after the initial burst, GT’s offense completely stagnated, and, over that stretch, Clemson looked like the better team.

But I wasn’t that impressed with them. Tigers quarterback Kyle Parker had a bizarre statline, where he completed touchdown passes of 77 yards and 63 yards, and added another 37 yard completion, but other than that he was 12 of 28 for 84 yards. I mean, I know it’s not totally fair to imagine someone’s statline without their best plays, but the fact that Clemson could not move the ball well other than two or three enormous plays doesn’t necessary speak well to an offense. (And this goes for GT’s 400 yards of offense considering 82 of them came in the first two plays.)

I think the takeaways are that: both teams are probably better than last year, but have issues; Georgia Tech will not win many games if they have to throw it; Clemson has a very impressive defensive line (they used a nose tackle on every play and managed to stop the dive-phase of the option without committing many extra people, which helped them run down the rest of the option until GT went to some counter plays); Dabo Swinney passed a test by bringing his team back; and Paul Johnson just earned a +1 for wins attributable to coaching (at least in a sense) since the quick kick return and the fake field goal were the result of good planning and taking advantage of plays, and both played into the margin of victory. The question on that last one is whether Johnson has any more of those in his system.

– Option to win. Speaking of Johnson and the option, Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated has a nice article on the subject.

– Best preview you’ll read this week. Blutarsky previews South Carolina vs. Georgia, blahblahblahblah.

– 1969, football’s season of discontent. From Slate.

– What is Michael Crabtree doing? From the Fifth Down. I am normally pretty sympathetic to players who fight for their value — fans and owners are quick to turn them into greedy jerks who “won’t play” to turn all the leverage and public opinion against them when this is, realistically, their one shot to get paid while the money they don’t take will just wind up funding jumbo trons and luxury boxes and whatnot. But I don’t really have a handle on the Crabtree situation: do we really know what he wants? Are the 49ers lowballing him? (That wouldn’t surprise me.) Or is he being irrational? (That wouldn’t totally surprise me either.)

– Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes lead the Steelers to victory. I didn’t get to watch all of this game, but Roethlisberger is turning into sort of the Lebron James of football to me. Now, he’s not as good as Lebron, but both are excellent, excellent players, who play the game with almost zero grace. I love Lebron, but for pure fluidity and elegance and aesthetic measures, Kobe or Jordan just obliterate him. Yet he’s amazing, and aesthetics is not a metric that affects the bottom line. Same with Roethlisberger: the guy lumbers around, points downfield, does those herky-jerky pump fakes, but hey, he’s turned into a hell of a quarterback.

– A video on pairing wine with cereal. Seriously.

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Breakdown of USC’s multiple D versus Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor

Read the whole thing over at Dr Saturday. I discuss Pete Carroll’s move to more of a Cover 1 man look against mobile QBs, and at a few of the plays that OSU might use to counteract that. One I didn’t get into is one shown in the video below, a pretty nasty QB draw/counter play Ohio State used last season with Pryor.

For help I want to thank Art of Trojan Football Analysis and Jerry Gordon for their insights, and the invaluable Brophy for the game film that launched a thousand (or more) words. And for more nitty gritty, TFA has a nice series. See parts one, two, three, and four.

Breaking down the New England Patriots’ pro-spread pass game

You can find it over at the NY Times Fifth Down blog. I discuss three concepts — levels, the drive/shallow, and pivot concepts (y-stick type routes, or a pivot route with a square-in behind it) — and how the Pats use Wes Welker to make it all go and open things up for the other receivers, especially Randy Moss. Read the full thing here.

Gregg Easterbrook: NFL should hire more high school coaches

Well, I know a lot of high school coaches who would agree with this:

[T]he larger coaching issue is that once again, the NFL is stocking up on head coaches who have never been a head coach at any level, even high school, before becoming the boss in the pros.

Steve Spagnuolo, the new coach of the Rams, has never been a head coach at any level, not even when he worked for the Barcelona Dragons. Spagnuolo has been an assistant coach or scout for the University of Massachusetts, the Redskins, Lafayette, the University of Connecticut, the Dragons, the Chargers, the University of Maine, Rutgers, Bowling Green, the Frankfurt Galaxy, the Eagles and the Giants before landing the Rams headmastership. Twelve previous employers — he must have quite a collection of team apparel! But no head coaching experience before becoming an NFL head coach.

Rex Ryan, the new head coach of the Jets, has been an assistant at Eastern Kentucky, New Mexico/Highlands, Morehead, the Cardinals, the University of Cincinnati, Oklahoma and the Ravens. . . . Raheem Morris, the new head coach of the Bucs, has been an assistant at Hofstra, Cornell and Kansas State. Lots of college pennants for his dorm room — but no head coaching experience. Morris has never even been a coordinator at any level, and now he’s an NFL head coach. Todd Haley, the new head coach of the Chiefs, . . . [had] no head coaching experience before becoming an NFL head coach. Josh McDaniels, the new head coach of the Broncos, has been an assistant for Michigan State and the Patriots. He didn’t even collect much team apparel, in addition to less than a decade of experience, before becoming an NFL head coach.

Meanwhile Jim Fassel, Jon Gruden, Dan Reeves, Marty Schottenheimer and Mike Shanahan — a combined 701-536-4 as NFL head coaches — aren’t working in the NFL this season. Schottenheimer and Shanahan each have more career victories than any active NFL coach, yet neither wears a headset. Only four active NFL head coaches have at least 100 victories (Bill Belichick with 153, Jeff Fisher with 133, Tom Coughlin with 123 and Andy Reid with 107). Yet 100-plus winners Shanahan and Gruden were just shown the door and 100-plus winner Schottenheimer can’t get his phone calls returned.

Why do NFL teams keep hiring head coaches who have never been head coaches? This year, inexperienced head coaches sound good because Mike Smith and John Harbaugh, neither of whom had been a head coach previously at any level, just did great jobs in Atlanta and Baltimore. But other factors are at work. One is inexperienced gentlemen earn less than experienced head coaches. Going into the next round of collective bargaining talks, NFL owners are attempting to project a “woe is me, the wolf is at the door” financial image. There will be internal league pressure come late December for no owner to give Bill Cowher the $10 million a year that is reputed to be his price for returning to coaching, as this would counteract the league’s poor-mouth campaign. Hiring inexperienced coaches to moderate salaries, on the other hand, fits the times.

Another factor is that inexperienced coaches kowtow to owners and general managers. For bureaucratic reasons, some NFL front offices prefer a head coach in weak political position. . . .

Next, the track record of major-college head coaches who jump to the pros — Nicky Saban, Bobby Petrino, Steve Spurrier — isn’t good. Few Division I coaches even want NFL posts. Who in his right mind would give up the job security and fawning treatment that football-factory college coaches enjoy, in order to be knifed in the back for a couple of years in the NFL, then fired? If big-college head coaches either won’t take NFL jobs or don’t do well in them, owners may assume that NFL assistants without head coaching experience are the only option. But what about the universe of small-college and high school head coaches? The more coaches I meet and the more I learn about football, the more I become convinced that some of the best coaching occurs at small colleges and in high school — where coaches must succeed without huge staffs and unlimited budgets. But the NFL looks down its nose at small colleges and high schools; Mike Holmgren was one of the few successful recent NFL coaches to begin as a high school head coach.

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Spurrier wants balance: Is he asking the right questions? Are his critics?

Steve Spurrier watched the game film of his offense’s horrible performance against NC State and concluded: we weren’t aggressive enough. And people are ridiculing him for it.

Steve Spurrier has watched the entire N.C. State game twice and part of it a third time.

The South Carolina coach reached two conclusions: The Gamecocks were too conservative offensively in their 7-3 win in Raleigh, and such an approach is not going to cut it this weekend at Georgia.

“We had a pretty conservative game plan. I didn’t realize how really conservative it was until I watched the game twice now – almost three times,” Spurrier said Sunday. “We wanted to give the running game a chance, so we did do that. But we obviously need to try for some big plays along the way a little bit more probably.”

USC’s run-pass ratio in the opener was nearly 2-to-1, with the Gamecocks running 42 times and attempting 22 passes (although some of those rushes were scrambles by or sacks of quarterback Stephen Garcia).

Still, the attack looked much too plain for a coach credited with introducing the SEC to an intricate downfield passing attack in the 1990s.

And while Spurrier is not ready to scrap the Gamecocks’ revamped rushing scheme after one game, he made it clear he wants to see a more balanced attack against Georgia.

“We certainly can’t bring that game plan to beat Georgia on offense. I don’t think we can,” Spurrier said. “But we don’t want to send Stephen back there and get sacked and run around all night either. We’ve got to get us a balance between runs and passes that we can hit and look like a good offense.”

The buzz has been that Spurrier must be nuts — hey, he’s already given up on the run game. But look at the numbers. I’ve previously talked about a notion of “balance” that only looks at the number of runs or passes or the total yards with rushing and passing as being misleading, and that a far better metric is comparing the expected — or, in lieu of that, average — yards per attempt of each, though, since passes are riskier than runs, passes should still average more (have a premium). The reason is because the defense will respond to your playcalling; it’s a game theory thing.

So let’s look at the numbers. Overall, the Gamecocks averaged a measly 2.57 yards per rush, and an okay 6.7 yards per attempt, though with an interception. There can be problems at looking at the raw numbers, particularly on third down where the result is binary: convert or fail to convert. So let’s look at first down, where clearly the optimal strategy is to maximize your expected gain.

The sample is small, but on first down South Carolina ran the ball 16 times and averaged a mere 3.06 yards per carry. They threw it nine times for 78 yards (and no INTs), resulting in a very healthy 8.67 yards per attempt. I can safely say that Spurrier should have called more first down passes. The OBC’s instincts are right. His playcalling was too conservative, at least on first down, which is the most important down in football because there are more first downs than any other down.

Best high school nicknames

The (excellent) Andy Staples of SI.com did a great bit on high school team nicknames recently. Among the best names Staples pointed out were the Stuyvesant Peglegs, Dunbar Poets, Watersmeet Nimrods, Cary Imps, and, the winner, Cairo Syrupmakers.

As good as this list is, it leaves out some other ridiculous ones from around the country. The best of the rest, as it were, must be the Yuma “Criminals.” I’m serious. Don’t believe me? Watch them enter the game by following two squadcars.

Not to be outdone are the Ribet Academy Fighting Frogs:

Or, maybe my favorite, the Laurel Hill Hoboes:

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Defining what makes an offense horrible

My answer can be found over at EDSBS. I go into detail at the link, but the best way I can sum it up is that offenses are like Tolstoy’s families: good offenses tend to be similar in that they all are coherent, have good line play, and have balance in one sense or another, while crappy offenses, like Tolstoy’s unhappy families, are crappy in their own ways.

Check out the full thing.

Smart Football Blogpoll – Week Two…late edition

Well, I accidentally submitted this poll too late to count for the overall poll (seen here), though that is probably for the best. Mine was a bit of a monstrosity. Discussion follows the poll. I’ll be back on schedule next week.

Rank Team
1 Florida
2 Texas
3 Southern Cal
4 Alabama
5 Penn State
6 Brigham Young
7 Boise State
8 Oklahoma State
9 Ohio State
10 Mississippi
11 Georgia Tech
12 TCU
13 Utah
14 Cincinnati
15 North Carolina
16 Nebraska
17 Notre Dame
18 Miami (Florida)
19 Oregon State
20 Kansas
21 Texas Tech
22 Missouri
23 Tennessee
24 Michigan State
25 Clemson

So, the first thing I did was eliminate every team that lost. Is that rational? I don’t think so, but the BlogPoll instructs that results are supposed to be about what happened on the field. Now, later on I will definitely count close losses, etc into a fuller vision of teams, but for now I thought I’d try this. Among the remaining teams I just employed my gestalt approach: a blend of likelihood of winning the big one, reward for playing well, and elements of a “power poll.”
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Carving up the Sooners: Y-sail with an “angle” tag

maxhall1A result as surprising and significant as BYU’s 14-13 upset of the Oklahoma Sooners does not come without storylines: Sam Bradford was knocked out of the game and all-star tight-end Jermaine Gresham did not play, and OU could only manage 13 points; BYU’s defense forced a field goal through a goal-line stand; and BYU overcame four turnovers (to only two by OU) to win the game in the waning minutes. All these were critical, but it is also clear that BYU could not have won the game without the efficient and calm (if not always smooth) performance from quarterback Max Hall, who threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns on 26 for 38 passing.

The performance was notable for the precise way Hall moved the Cougars up and down the field. If not for the turnovers (particularly the fumble before the half near the goal line), BYU could have potentially iced the game sooner. And, other than the two interceptions (both of which were not great), Hall did a wonderful job standing in against OU’s pressure-based defense and finding his open receivers. Other than a couple of plays, it was a game of steady completions, not long gains.

What is old is new. When Bronco Mendenhall took the job in Provo, he hired Robert Anae to coordinate his offense. Anae had up until then been the offensive line and running game coach for Mike Leach at Texas Tech, and he brought with him a modified version of Leach’s vaunted Airraid.  This was something of an homage to BYU years gone by, as the Airraid offense itself is a modified version of the offense LaVell Edwards and Norm Chow had run in Provo for years. Anae, who played for Edwards and Chow, has kept many of the concepts that make the offense go while dressing it up with more traditional sets — and a more traditional run game.

Good offense, better jacket.

Good offense, better jacket.

This experience with Leach also gave Anae some experience coaching against Bob Stoops’s OU defense, which is quite deadly and can swarm an unprepared team. Indeed, Stoops is willing to go completely unsound in his zone-blitzes; in the National Championship game against Florida, one of Tebow’s interceptions came on a play where the Sooners blitzed six guys and played an inadequate zone coverage. While there are holes in the zone, Stoops figures that it is not easy for the quarterback to identify these while multiple defenders are breathing down his neck — the chalkboard is one thing but the game is another. Thus the onus would be on Hall — and BYU’s line and runningbacks — to protect long enough to find the open receivers.

One concept common to both Leach and Anae’s offenses is called “Y-sail.” The basic idea is to run one man vertical, another on a 10-15 yard out, and another in the flat, to “high-low” read the defense. Check the link here from Trojan Football Analysis with a diagram and video from TTech.

Adjusting to win. But the value of all plays comes in their adjustments, and the most common adjustment for the Y-sail play is to tag the play with an “angle.” With this adjustment the receiver who normally goes to the flat begins like he is doing just that, but then he reverses field and “angles” back inside on a slant-type route. The reason this works is that the “sail” or “out route” typically pulls a defender upfield; the “angle” receiver runs right underneath him.

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