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.

screen

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New Grantland: AJ to T.J.: Breaking Down Alabama’s Game-Winning Play

It’s now up at Grantland:

On second-and-10 with just under a minute remaining, LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis called what looked like an all-out blitz. McCarron had just completed several passes to the trusty Kevin Norwood, and Alabama was in range for a long, game-tying field goal. In calling an all-out blitz, Chavis seemed to be falling into the trap legendary coach Bill Walsh noted when an offense gets into the scoring zone:

The defensive coach is trembling because the head Coach is walking toward him. The head coach says, ‘Blitz, stop them now. Blitz, they are killing us.” … Most people get desperate, some people panic. Teams go to a man to man coverage, teams will blitz…. You show your team what you think is best in this situation. We will use the same ones all year, but we are going to practice them… Now when your team comes out of the huddle on the 18 yard line, the guys are saying, “Look out for the blitz, here’s our chance to score.”

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Cincinnati’s Post-Handoff Jump Pass

While Tim Tebow may have been the guy who made famous the so-called “jump pass”: where a run-threat player runs towards the line on a run-action before raising up and tossing the ball to a (hopefully) wide open receiver. It’s an extreme form of a play-action “pop” pass over the middle, and with guys like Tebow in charge it had a single-wing twist.

And so the play has existed, largely as a novelty, for the past few years. Until this past weekend. Cincinnati ran the coolest spin on the jump pass that I’ve seen: they lined up in a tight I-formation, handed the ball to the deep I-back, who then threw the jump pass. And watch the tight-end: he kicks out the end man on the line of scrimmage before releasing — no, free releasing — to the middle of the field where he was wide open.

And watch the right guard, as Cincinnati really sells the play-action by pulling a lineman to fake the “Power-O” play.

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What I’ve been reading — Sid Gillman, David Halberstam, Narcopolis

Sid Gillman: Father of the Passing Game, by Josh Katzowitz. I’ve long extolled the virtues and importance of Sid Gillman’s role in the development of the modern passing game — and hence also football as we know it today. Katzowitz’s book does a great job profiling the mercurial Gillman, showing his development as a coach and the influence he had on his players as well as on schemes, and is an important contribution to football history of a somewhat more recent vintage. Books about football coaches tend to focus almost exclusively on the handful of men fortunate enough to win several Super Bowls or National Championship games; what makes Gillman’s life so interesting is while he didn’t exactly toil in obscurity, he still operated as something of an outsider, somewhat he transformed into a strength.

- Everything They Had: Sports Writing from David Halberstam. I am not aware of whether or not this book has been out awhile, but I know it was recently released for Kindle and that’s when I picked it up. Halberstam was of course the master, quite possibly the best writer who happened to write about sports who has ever lived. This collection is somewhat uneven (it begins with pieces he published while still in college!), but many of them still resonate, as it’s remarkable how much life he breathed into simple stories about simple games. Sports are of course inherently without meaning — their entire purpose is to be a distraction from the things in life that truly matter — and yet, to effect both good and bad, sports matter to us collectively more than almost anything else in society. And what gives them meaning is both the rules of the game and the humans operating within them. In piece after piece Halberstam always seemed to push the right buttons, to reflect on sports place in the universe when appropriate and when to focus instead entirely on some human moment we all instantly understand. Plus, the guy knew how to put a sentence together.

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Smart Links – Manti T’eo, Bobby Fischer, Dental Floss, Maryland QBs (or lack thereof), Aaron Rodgers – 10/31/2012

Manti Te’o is good at football (via reddit/cfb):

Yet an interesting stat is that T’eo only has one sack this year — but has five interceptions. I can say that while I always thought he was a nice player he looks like a completely different guy this season; much faster, tremendously productive, and much more under control. And the low sack total doesn’t surprise me, given that in Bob Diaco’s hybrid 3-4 scheme he likes to drop T’eo into coverage while blitzing one of his hybrid end/linebackers off the edge.

- Mike Leach has a story about seeing what he thought was Bill Snyder going into a frat party (of course).

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Bill Snyder: Miracle Worker

Given the success Kansas State is having (again) under Bill Snyder (again), it’s good to spend a little time thinking about how the 73-year old wonder does it. And, unsurprisingly, the reason K-State is winning now is the same reason K-State was winning before: because they play with great effort, great discipline, and they do all of the little things right (they also have some pretty good players, especially their quarterback Collin Klein and linebacker Arthur Brown).

Always building

Rightly or wrongly, coaches tend to look at football teams as reflections of their coaches: A hardworking team reflects a hardworking coach; an arrogant team an arrogant coach; a disciplined team a disciplined coach; and, most damning of all, a soft, undisciplined team for a soft, undisciplined coach.

There’s no doubt that Snyder’s teams reflect the man — driven, earnest, and, well, maybe even a little bit fanatical, as Tim Layden’s great piece explained a few years back:

When Snyder was 28, fresh from a year as a graduate assistant to John McKay at USC, he was hired to coach at Indio (Calif.) High, and he tried to have himself hypnotized so that he might compress six hours’ sleep into an hour’s trance. “The hypnotist just told me, ‘That’s not the way it works,’ ” Snyder says.

At Iowa, where Snyder coached under Hayden Fry from 1979 to ’88, his dissection of passing plays would reduce his fellow coaches to snickers. “Bill would’ve described a play for about two minutes, and he wouldn’t even have reached the point where the quarterback releases the ball,” says Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez, who was the linebackers coach on that Iowa staff.

Snyder has worn the same style of coaching shoes for two decades. When Nike stopped making the model in the 1980s, he hoarded as many pairs as he could find, and now on the sideline he looks like a character from That ’70s Show.

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New Grantland: Denver Dips Into the Old Colts Playbook for Some Vintage Peyton

It’s now up over at Grantland:

The play was a familiar one for Manning, which is revealing of the Broncos’ approach. At times this season it’s been clear that Denver head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy have been more focused on fitting Manning into their offense, with mixed results. Some of this has been because of Manning’s need tolearn Denver’s terminology, while the rest of it has just been finding the right blend for the entire team. What we saw in the second half is something we’ve seen all year, namely the Broncos dipping into Manning’s old Colts playbook for plays he’s most comfortable with, and then succeeding with them.

The latest example was this play, known as an anchor pass concept: An inside receiver runs a curl or other inside-breaking route right in front of the safety, while an outside receiver runs a post route right behind him. With the Colts, Manning frequently hit Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne running free behind someone like Dallas Clark; this time, Demaryius Thomas was the beneficiary.

Read the whole thing.

The play that got Drew Brees the record

Last weekend, Drew Brees lofted a pass to a wide open Devery Henderson for a 40-yard touchdown. In doing so, Brees broke the longstanding record of Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas by throwing a touchdown pass in his 48th straight game. That it came on a long bomb — and in a win — made it all the more perfect. You can see the play below (h/t Ty):

When I saw the play, at first I wasn’t exactly sure of the concept. Clearly Henderson was on some sort of double-move, while the inside receiver hooked up at around twelve yards. Well, the Pro Football Hall of Fame itself revealed the mystery, by tweeting out some mementos of the throw, among them a diagram of the play:

And all is revealed. It’s really just the simple old west coast offense double speed-outs concept, with the inside receiver on a middle read — had the Chargers been in split-safety coverage, he would’ve run a post route down the middle. The wrinkles were the Saints use of an empty set (but with the inside receivers still check-releasing their protection responsibility before releasing into the pattern), the bunched or compressed sets by the wide receiver, and that the outside receivers ran out-and-ups instead of merely out routes. All in all, good stuff; certainly good enough to break a record.

New Grantland: The Development of Geno Smith

It’s now up over at Grantland:

Everyone points to the spectacular plays, but it’s making the system’s simple, routine plays that puts Smith in elite company. As Tom Brady is fond of saying, good quarterbacking is often as much about minimizing mistakes and making good plays as it is making great ones. “It really goes down to making routine plays,” West Virginia offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said after the Mountaineers’ 800 yards of offense against Baylor. “You lose sight of that because everything in your mind goes to great plays.” Dawson’s description may sound bizarre, but true excellence is typically banal. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning each mastered the simple things to the point that they could perform them repeatedly, whenever called upon, no matter the situation. Being a quarterback is maybe most of all about making the difficult look routine and, at the college level, Smith is doing just that.

Read the whole thing.