This is usually a weird time of year for most programs. The season has ended and now your Saturdays exist in unmetered time with no pressing needs to breakdown the next opponent. No more cramming as much as you can into your day to make sure no stone is left unturned to find a competitive edge. Now, all you can do is build for the future and remain hopeful in your underclassmen while you cycle through the flashbacks of your season. This dead silence at the end of the year always comes suddenly, leaving us asking, “Now what”?
It is this time of the “season” that we can take a step back and slow down without consequence. When under the deadline of the season, there is little time for introspection or second-guessing. So now that we aren’t faced with the task of treading water, what would be the best use of your staff’s time? It isn’t researching a new scheme, installing new plays, or trying to innovate a new clinic talk. This off-season, try re-evaluating the efficiency of your offense. Rather than making things more difficult by adding plays, find ways to simply reduce the risk within your scheme. How can you protect your core plays to that defenses can’t simply take them away?
A case in point we can use is the I-35 shocker in Ames this past Friday. While exciting, I’d hardly call a game with 8 turnovers (and countless miscues) “great”. However, the game did provide a decent exercise in risk management for Iowa State. Oklahoma State is one of the best teams in college football this year and truly outmatched the Cyclones in every area. What aided Iowa State in the overtime victory wasn’t necessarily certain plays, but how their system allowed them to play within themselves and maintain their comfort zone.
With Freshman quarterback, Jared Barnett, the Cyclone offense could keep his workload light through a minimalistic approach of moving the football. Much like the modular approach of Noel Mazzone we’ve discussed before, the Cyclones were going to run zone and zone-read to establish their inside run game. They protected this series through KEY (flash) and MICKEY (flash draw) on the perimeter. The rationale is, a defense can either put 6 in the box to even up on the perimeter (put them in a better position against the flash screen) and be vulnerable to frontside zone or a backside keep. If a defense loads the box with 7 defenders to take away your zone and zone-read game, they open themselves up to an explosive play by a free receiver on the perimeter (see the comments section of Mazzone Revisited).
If these plays are just viewed by themselves, they aren’t all that sexy, and are quite cheap. What is particularly interesting about this pairing and witnessing it in this game, was how ineffective they were early in the game (particularly the key screens). Tom Herman and staff stuck to the game plan and used these plays to diagnose the appropriate response, leaving little responsibility to burden their young quarterback with. Because they continued to stick with the formula (inside-outside-inside compliments), they were able to slow down an athletically superior defense and open them to this horizontal stretch of the field throughout the game, climaxing in the 2nd Overtime ( 3 successive inside zone runs) for the win.