Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Offseason to dos

As offseason has fallen upon us, it’s that time of year to evaluate yourself and your philosophies.  In my current situation, we have had 2 very poor seasons (2 wins in 2010, 3 wins this season) after being 25-3 the two previous seasons.  Obviously, after those two ends of the spectrum it is hard to look at things thru the same eyes.  We are a spread-to-run team.  In 2008 we had a Jr. tailback and a Jr. QB.  The QB missed half the season with a broken collar bone.  The tailback carried the load and was not the same player in week 13 as he was in week 1.  When the season was over, we had a very definite plan.  It was to revamp our passing game to give us the opportunity to be balanced.  We will always be run first but we knew that for an opportunity to advance further in the playoffs we were going to need to be more efficient throwing the ball.  That was an easy offseason.  We visited with the staff at the University of Texas for 3 days and incorporated 4 routes (3 quick game & 1 pap). We also did some addition by subtraction.  We eliminated several routes and really narrowed our focus.  Bottom line…we double our yardage, had more completions than attempts from the previous season, and doubled our TD’s, while keeping the same number of interceptions.  That was a successful offseason.
                Now, after two dismal seasons, where do you start?  Do you being looking closely at personnel, practice plans, philosophy, staff changes, etc.?  There was so much wrong where do you start making it right?  I coach the wide receivers and here is what I decided to do as a start for me.  Our previous head coach left a bunch of COACH OF THE YEAR MANUALS in the field house.  I have seen them there for years and grabbed one or two for trips to the throne before but never really thought of using them as a learning tool.  Just recently, I grabbed one from 1983 and I wanted to share with you some of the things that were in it that have got the mind firing and the x’s & o’s flowing again for me.
The first page had a tribute to Bear Bryant and his famous words –“Am I willing to endure the pain of this struggle for the comforts and the rewards and the glory that go with the accomplishments?  OR : Shall I accept the uneasy and inadequate contentment that comes with mediocrity? Am I willing to pay the price of success?”
That was enough to get me going.  The rest of these tidbits are just a few things I jotted down that I thought were relevant NOW just as they were in 1983.  My top 10…
1.        You have to know what you are doing and what you want to accomplish.  Don’t do it just to be doing it.
2.       Get excited about the 4 yard play.
3.       DO YOUR BEST.  I don’t want the KAMIKAZE pilot that flew 33 different missions.
4.       Factor of 11 – There are 39,916,800 ways to line up 11 objects for all of you multiple guys.
5.       Roger Bannister was the first to break the 4 minute mile.  It was broken 43 times the next 4 years.  Don’t put limitations on yourself.
6.       Be intense enough to get the job done, but relaxed enough to enjoy it. (AMEN)
7.       Again from 1983…Today a player will want to know why you want him to run thru a wall.  You have to tell him why and then he will run thru it.
8.       You have to be willing AND ready to throw on first down and from any place on the field.
9.       Have people around you that like to work.
10.   Be known for something.  Be known for something you hang your hat on.
So what is your plan? What are you going to do?  For those wanting to share ideas and throw things around….lets do it blog style, or shot me an email  As you may have seen in my other post, I am a HUDL guy that takes full advantage to the exchange features.  If interested in swapping game films, cut ups, drills, etc… shot me an email.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mazzone Revisited

I wasn’t quite sure if we captured the premise of the Iowa State lesson of schematic concision well enough in the last post.  Admittedly, it was an off-the-cuff editorial to a climactic match.  I also wasn’t sure if we have done a complete enough job to date on stressing the simplicity of concepts within an offense (hemlock has tackled this exceptionally well in previous posts), particularly as it relates to Noel Mazzone this fall.  Yes, we get that Arizona State has underperformed this season and Erickson will likely be gone at the end of this year (though it is a shame, considering how explosive their offense has been), but I don’t believe that discounts the value of learning what is working with Mazzone.

With this in mind and to serve as a type of sidebar edification on the matter, we’re “reposting” an exchange offered by hemlock and I on COACHHUEY (explaining Mazzone’s system).  So not to break the flow of dialogue (or require any actual work on my part) I’m leaving the posts as-is in the sequence they occured .  Hemlock’s thoughtful prose and profound commentary is in gold, while my rambling gibberish is in diarrhea green.

** I realize some of the video (through Vimeo) hosted here is hard to come by.  If you are not aware of how to rip flash already, I’ll direct you to use Firefox and download the video add-on.  Start a video, then enable the download (and its yours).

ScreenShot003Noel Mazzone is Noel Mazzone. He has always been 1-back. What he's doing in Arizona, is essentially what he's always done, having evolved it through the years.

It IS zone-read, but its all controlled/filtered through a systematic way of horizontally stretching the defense, while at the core being vertically orientated (zone-read, F swing, Stick/Snag/Scat/Drive/Shallows/Verts/and tons of screens). There is an efficiency in his application (which is what we've been writing about) that is worth exploring (certainly doesn't carry near the amount of stuff Air Raid teams currently do). It isn't necessarily the plays themselves, but how they're packaged together and used as punch and counter-punch diagnosis.

How he teaches "the offense" is evident in what you've seen with Threet and Osweiller. They are lightening quick in throwing 3-step and 5-step that appears brutal on defenses (they know exactly what they are looking for based on the concept and process through it all).

imagesI would resist calling Mazzone's offense an extension of the pro-single back. If the source of this thought is Mazzone's stint with the Jets in the NFL then I think it a little off. Too me it's evident that Mazzone went to the NFL not to make that his final destination but as a sort of intense sabbatical in that he went there to see what that game had to teach him. I think his goal was always to get back to the college game.

Brophy and I are going to be writing more about the offense in weeks to come, but here are few things to keep in mind: Mazzone wants to stress the defense's perimeter fulcrum. Watch the USC game; I don't think I have ever scene such transparent objectives in my life; they are constantly trying to widen the defense. When they widen the edge their inside zone game become effective, but you need to remember that it's not a real rugged zone game; they don't do combos and stuff; its only effective if they have one on one matchups. But stretching the defense horizontally also helps his vertical game, because it transforms zone into man.

The thing to remember is this too: they really only carry a few concepts every game, especially in their dropback package. More later...
The thing to remember about their zone game is this: it's bang or bust; if they don't win their individual matchups the play goes no where. Think about some the idiotic comments that Rod Gilmore made the other night. It asked why on second and ten did Mazzone run what he described as an "inside handoff" that went for nothing. Well, it was the right call for the front; they had the numbers to win but simply did not on that play. I like to think of it as "scat" zone. I know that sounds odd, but it's not an inside zone in the Alex Gibbs, Eliot Uzelac sense.

In a lot of ways I think that Mazzone is reviving some old things that Purdue did once upon a time. Think of how he motions his backs; it reminds me of how Purdue, WAZZU, and for that matter Miami of yesterday all motioned to empty as a way of stretching the defense's flanks in order to create windows underneath, but also to put backers and backs on virtual islands.

Also, think of how they use the bubble. People talk about the bubble as an extended hand off, but most teams really do not throw it well enough for it to be considered their stretch or wide zone play; not the case with ASU. I don't think I've seen a team that can run bubbles with the back, from 2x2, or 3x1 as effectively as they do regardless of the look. In a sense, the bubble is one of their plays that they feel that they can run versus anything to make critical yards, regardless of whether the defense knows what coming or not. Their third scoring drive the other night that came of the Vontez's pick was built almost entirely of of bubbles in one form or another.
Chris is right, there is nothing radical about what their doing. We will cover this in a post later in the season, but the one thing that they have done better than just about anybody is to accelerate the speed of their vertical game; when their on their game they throw verticals just as fast as quicks.

Yeah, in a sense it really is just that - big on big; they never really get to the second level; basically, its the back's responsibility to make the backer miss, which is what happens when they get big plays out of their zone game.

In terms of packages they carry, if you watch them closely they basically run four concepts from 2x2 and 3x1: Snag; 4 Verts, Y Cross, and Drive or Shallow. Not a huge Smash team in the conventional sense; when they hit the corner its coming off their 3-man snag a lot.

That said, they do tag the backside with a number of different combos, such as double post, post corner, Dig choice, etc.

Its really about an Economy of Concepts

If you're horizontally stretching a defense and emptying the box (to run.....and run easy) I suppose it isn't necessary to mash and bang with getting vertical movement on IZ and working combos (still not sure if I swallow this just yet) them running IZ will blow your mind ("wtf are they doing!?!") if you're accustomed to how IZ is traditionally run out of 1 back.

watch how they 'zone' against a 3man front....not what you'd think

I would say that Alex Gibbs' one-cut rule is central to the success of the play in for Mazzone's back because of the nature of their scheme, which in part why the back aligns on the QB's heel rather than simply adjacent to him as he does in other zone gun schemes, such as Northwestern's, for example.

Against Oregon, the ASU offense relied heavily on motioning the H or Z into the formation.  They barely used motion against Missouri. It is only used to make a more decisive read for the throw (remove a defender from the running lane).

To build on Brophy's point, motion is used here in much the same way as it was used back in the day at Wyoming, Purdue, WAZZU, etc. Yes, it definately clarifies the read for the QB in that it tells him right away which side of the field he's going to work, especially in the Snag game, but it also is a way of putting extreme pressure on the number four to that side, the defense's fulcrum. It's another way of "controlling" this guy and making sure that he is out of the box, that he does not become a 1/5 player in the box.

Though most applications of ASU's offense are pretty basic in each game, the quirks against Oregon would be apparent for most coaches. Whereas most 7-man front defenses, Mazzone can pretty much give his quarterback a very clear picture. With Oregon's nickel/dime (2/1 DL) the picture was extremely cloudy with linebackers and safeties dropping into overhang positions. The heavy use of motion in that game was a product of getting Oregon to declare what they were truly running (where the safeties had to be.....and would the out-leverage themselves from helping their corners against the larger receivers). On the swing, it would primarily require the safety to make the stop because they were playing a heavy dose of C5 and rushing 4 or fire zoning and rushing 5.

What is interesting for coaches, was how Mazzone's system could adapt to it without losing it's shit. Facing something that was as different and that could get into and out of box threats pretty easy (from depth), ASU didn't have to do anything outside of themselves to handle it. With so many defenders outside the tackles on each snap, Oregon really was daring them to run inside and how ASU was hammering the flare/swing to open up the inside. If they threw the swing, it was going to have to be a safety to stop it (leaving X/Z pretty much 1-on-1) . I didn't find many times where Oregon didn't bring 5 every down, so it made the dig/shallow read pretty easy (either the WLB/MLB was widening for the swing or were both dropping to hook) .

What should be interesting for COACHES is not what they are doing but how they are processing the information on the field. Just by segmenting the defense, picking on one particular defender they can make some pretty safe assumptions on where everyone else will fit and who becomes the best ball carrier in that situation.

I think what we have to remember is that all spread offensive systems strive in some way or another to displace defenders and in the process place an inordinate amount of structural stress on the defense's force or alley players. Whether it's RichRod's spread option or Noel Mazzone's version, both offenses are really trying to hammer on a defenses adjuster backer, which in most 2 hi looks is going to be the sam, at least most of the time. RichRod does it with the Zone Read and Zone Bubble, as we've seen in the excellent talks that Brophy has posted on the blog. For Rich, it's really about trying to make sure that the adjuster never gets into the box, he's the guy they need to control. Mazzone too wishes to attack the adjuster, but his objectives are little different; yes, he wants to run inside zone, but, as Brophy noted, it's really more about identifying the defense's anchor player in order to diagnose not the scheme in general, but more importantly, the defense's individual matches, which, if you think about it, in the era of match-zone is more important than ever.

In a sense, it shows how motion is being used again not so much as a way of gaining mismatches and what not, the offense's general scheme already takes care of that, but of diagnosing what it is that the defense is doing. So, in a way, it just shows how we are coming full circle with the spread. Motion that was once jettisoned is now coming back as a tool for identifying a defenses seams and stress points.

Also, as was noted above, motion is not used blindly by Mazzone. In the Missouri game they hardly used motion because MU is fairly straightforward structurally; with Oregon, however, it was necessary.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Protecting Against Risk: Iowa State

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.

Friday, November 4, 2011

More Running from the Gun: Robert McFarland

Welcom to ISU
With recent stops at Stephen F Austin and Iowa State, Robert McFarland (no longer in Ames), knows a thing or two about getting production with limited rosters (THAT's coaching).

Featured here is an exhaustive teaching tool covering the run game standards from the gun (speed option, power, zone).