Bear Bryant: Mind Over Matter

I enjoyed this presentation on the Bear’s philosophy and best sayings:

My Favorite Books of 2012

This is a list, in no particular order, of the books I read in 2012 which I consider my favorites. This does not mean these books came out in 2012; it only means I read them this calendar year.

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  • The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. Not as good as Blood Meridian, but also less taxing to read — and that’s not a bad thing. Dark, troubling, and quietly brilliant.
  • Waiting for the Fall: A Decade of Dreams, Drama and West Virginia University Football, by Mike Casazza. I considered reading this something of a guilty pleasure, a kind of voyeurism into some other team’s football program. There’s nothing earth shattering in here, but it’s a very well told story about a very odd football program, featuring some very odd characters.
  • Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis. I found the first thirty or so pages of this disappointing until — suddenly — it became maybe the funniest book I’ve ever read.
  • How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer, by Sarah Bakewell. Likely this is the best book I read this year. Of course I’ve read Montaigne’s essays, though it’s been some years, and as a result I put this book off thinking I’d glean little. I was wrong; this is a wonderful book, whether you’ve read the essays or you haven’t.
  • American Creation, by Joseph Ellis. I’m not sure if this should count as a 2012 book given that I read most of it over the last couple of years — the chapters are fairly discrete so I often found myself picking it up and putting it down, but not because I disliked reading it. To the contrary, I really enjoyed it, both the chapters on subjects I am pretty familiar with (like the drafting of the constitution) and less so (the circumstances surrounding the Louisiana Purchase). An excellent, easy read.
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Dan Kahneman. A shockingly good, and shockingly informative, book. It is very entertaining but not in a pop kind of way — it’s determined to report the facts, just the facts (at least to the extent we know them). The basic premise is that our way of thought can be broken down into System 1 (“fast,” intuitive) and System 2 (“slow,” logical) thinking, and more important the biases and foibles of each type. But this is not Blink; it’s thoughtful, erudite, and comprehensive. It’s not light beach reading but well worth the time. Below is a video of Kahneman discussing some of these ideas.

For more books, check out the most popular books bought by Smart Football readers. And, of course, I wrote a book this year too.

New! Shop in the Smart Football Store

Smart Football now has its own online store, just in time for the holidays, featuring shirts, accessories, and more. It’s just getting started, but be sure to check it out and get some goodies for your friends, families, and — in the case of my coaching readers — staff. Check out the store here.

Be sure to keep checking the store as I hope to add new merchandise over the coming days and weeks. And don’t hesitate to drop me a line if you have any good ideas for products or items you’d like to see.

Long live the Air Raid! The Air Raid is Dead?

The Air Raid offense — the pass-first attack developed by Hal Mumme and Mike Leach from the old BYU offense — is seemingly everywhere. In the last couple of weeks, Cal hired former Leach and Mumme assistant Sonny Dykes as well as his offensive coordinator, the mercurial Tony Franklin; Southern Miss hired Oklahoma State’s nouveau guru Todd Monken, after he impressively orchestrated the Cowboys attack over the last two seasons, both with a future first round quarterback and while rotating three different quarterbacks; Mark Stoops is bringing prodigal son Neal Brown back to Kentucky to run the Wildcats’ offense; and Kliff Kingsbury, fresh off his tutelage of Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, returns to his old stomping grounds at Texas Tech to become one of the youngest head coaches in college football history. These new hires, together with existing Air Raid programs, brings my count to ten different college football teams that will all be using some variant of the Air Raid in the fall of 2013.

“OK, loser has to chug a six pack of Red Bull.” “No, the winner does that.”

And when you throw in teams that I consider part of the extended Air Raid family, like Oklahoma, UCLA, and Indiana — offenses heavily Air Raid influenced even if they don’t quite fit the definition — you have thirteen different schools whose offenses are direct descendants of the ideas Mumme and Leach developed at places like Copperas Cove high school, Iowa Wesleyan, and Valdosta State. And last season, nine of the top twenty offenses in the country were among this group — and we’ve only added more Air Raid schools to the mix. As someone who has had his hand in this offense in one way or another for roughly fifteen years, the feeling is not quite vindication; it’s more like contentedness: yes, this is where it all was undoubtedly headed all along, the questions were only how and when.

But there’s another element, maybe less of a feeling so much as it is a realization: This may be as good as it gets. The larger trends are going to continue independent of this offense, contra the wishes of Nick Saban (and, admittedly, maybe every defensive coach in the country): for the foreseeable future at least, the game will continue to get faster and more wide open at basically every level, and athletic directors will continue to hire hotshot offensive coaches who promise yards and points to draw crowds and eyeballs for TV, something increasingly important as schools crane their necks to be noticed in an era of conference realignment. This factors are not unique to the Air Raid, and other attacks, primarily Chip Kelly’s at Oregon, are arguably more famous.

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Smart Links – Georgia’s Pass Protection, Super Quarterbacks, Macho Camacho, Under Defense – 12/5/2012

Why did Georgia lose to Alabama? What if I (or, more precisely, Coach Hoover) told you it was poor runningback pass protection fundamentals.

Johnny Football and the era of Super Quarterbacks, with some quotes from your humble editor.

Under defense from Pete Jenkins.

– Brady Hoke has sought to bring “Manball” (not his phrase) to Michigan. This is not Manball.

Taxpayer spending on stadiums.

Mustache transplants. Don’t tell Purdue.

Macho Camacho’s wake sounded… interesting: “‘I am the actual girlfriend of Macho, and those who don’t like it better not bring it,’ Cynthia Castillo, who claimed to be Camacho’s girlfriend at the time of his death, told ESPN Deportes.”

Trampoline to work.

Good photos of 2012.

Should Georgia Have Spiked the Ball?

The best game of the season — and one of the best conference championship games I’ve ever seen — came down to one final bizarre play: Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray scrambled his team to the line at the eight yard line, dropped back, and threw a fade route to receiver Malcolm Mitchell. The ball, however, was tipped at the line by Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, and it fluttered and landed in the hands of Chris Conley a few yards short of the end zone. Conley instinctively caught the ball, was tackled, and the game clock expired.

Tough call

Obviously, that’s not how Georgia drew it up. And, immediately, led by Gary Danielson, the chorus began: Georgia should have spiked the ball instead of running a play. But I’m not so sure. I think spiking it would have been fine and maybe even advisable, but what I don’t think a spike would have been is necessarily outcome determinative. Richt and his staff had a reason for not spiking the ball, and having the ball tipped and then caught by some other receiver very easily could have happened after a spike as well. Per Blutarsky:

To Spike or Not to Spike. That is the question.  Actually, I’m not sure why spiking is such a slam dunk decision in minds of many people today.  If you read Weiszer’s post on the play, you get a valid rationale for what they called…

“We were moving the ball effectively. By the time we got down to the red zone we didn’t really want to spike the ball. We wanted to keep the personnel they had in the game. We decided to hurry up and get to the line and get another play off. There was a little bit of confusion.”

… and you get an explanation for why it didn’t work out.

Mark Richt on spiking the ball: “Well, spiking the ball takes time. We had plenty of time to call play, so we called the play and we were taking ‑‑ the goal was to take a shot at their back right end of the end zone and the ball got batted, the ball got tipped and it landed to a receiver that was running a speed out.”

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Most Popular Books Bought by Smart Football Readers in 2012

I’ve included here a breakdown of the books purchased over the last year by Smart Football readers. I get very minor referral revenues from Amazon purchases and, as a result, I am able to track which books are purchased by readers. The data is entirely anonymous but it provides, in aggregate, some interesting information.

The Most Popular Books Bought by Smart Football Readers in 2012

And below is the same chart, but excluding my book, The Essential Smart Football (which you can read more about here):

Below is the full list. Note that I simply included the top books and did not include a separate “other” category.

Stanford Coach David Shaw on Oregon’s Offense

My affinities are well known, but I think all offenses should strive for this description:

“The thing is, it’s not complicated,” [Stanford head coach David] Shaw said of the Ducks’ offensive scheme. “It’s just complicated during the game. The adjustments they make are so subtle that you don’t realize it until they’ve scored three touchdowns on you. You change to try to cover what they’re doing, and they make another change.

“They spend a lot of time looking at you. They run simple plays and however you’re stopping their simple plays, Chip takes advantage of what you’re doing, which is the brilliance of the simplicity.”

Nick Saban on Texas A&M and Kevin Sumlin’s “Freeze” Play

Gotcha that time, didn’t I?

But Saban isn’t content to merely have his most productive defender on Johnny Football duty. Thursday night, he pulled a page from Texas A&M’s playbook and tried to recruit a 12th Man to help eliminate one of Sumlin’s most effective schemes. “There is one aspect of this game that nobody has said anything about,” Saban said. “These guys have a hard count, and they’ve gotten the other team to jump offsides an average of at least four times a game. One time at Houston, they had [an opponent] jump offsides 11 times in a game. Now, they don’t just get you to jump offsides. When you jump offsides, they do what Sam Wyche used to do at Cincinnati. Everybody runs a takeoff. So they throw the flag. The defense is offsides. The defensive players stop. Everybody takes off. Free play. And they throw it up. Three or four times a game. … These guys have to communicate some kind of way. They can use hand signals. We can make it difficult for them. Those kind of things affect them as well create a lot of passion and enthusiasm for our players with the kind of atmosphere we create in that stadium Saturday. I’m telling you, this is the most important one of the year from that standpoint.”

That’s from an excellent piece on this weekend’s matchup between Alabama and Texas A&M, from Andy Staples. Make sure to read the whole thing. Also, how do we think Saban knows about the game when Sumlin and Kingsbury were at Houston? Was that part of their game prep?

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Oklahoma’s Fake-Screen-and-Post and Other “Pop” Screen Passes

Oklahoma didn’t have a great showing versus Notre Dame, but they did show one cool play: a fake screen and downfield pass, complete with pulling lineman in the fourth quarter, which directly led to an Oklahoma score that tied the game up at 13-13 (after which the wheels promptly fell off for OU).

On the play, Oklahoma lined up in a four wide set, and sent the runningback in motion to the left, to draw attention from the defense. You can see Manti T’eo heading that way just after the snap. The outside receiver to the right runs his screen path: two steps up, retrace your steps down the stem and back to the quarterback. Meanwhile the right guard also does his screen action: pass set and then release flat down the line of scrimmage. The rest of the linemen, however, pass protect (Notre Dame did not show a blitz, and if they did it would have made some sense for OU to check out of the play), and the other three receivers release downfield.

The outside receiver to the screen side, Jalen Saunders, releases outside as if he is blocking the screen, then runs straight downfield. Once he hits a depth of 8-12 yards he can adjust his route. If the defense is totally faked out with no safety in the picture, he’d just continue down the seam. As it was, the safety was still over the top, so he flattened his route into more of a post or dig, and caught the ball behind the fooled linebackers for a big catch and run. (Go to 1:44:10 if it doesn’t load there automatically.)

This is not the first time I’ve seen this specific play, nor this breed of fake-screen combined with a downfield route. I saw Houston, under Kevin Sumlin back in 2009, run this exact play. In that play, the defense was so fooled the receiver simply kept his route vertical for a touchdown, whereas Saunders flattened it under the safety in this example.

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