Sunday, October 14, 2012


We are now through seven weeks of the college football season and one of the more exciting matchups this season was the pairing of the prolific and aggressive paced offenses of Texas A&M and Louisiana Tech.  Much has been written on this blog about Tech, but A&M has been one of the forerunners of tempo spread since the hiring of Mike Sherman in 2008 and also through his replacement,  new head coach, Kevin Sumlin. What was interesting about this matchup was how A&M, a non-powerhouse of the Big XII and now SEC, has used this style of play to compete when they are routinely outgunned in their conference then faces a team with similar philosophy.  Both defenses were well acquainted with tempo offenses, because naturally, that is what they practice against.

This post, as well as most posts on this blog, will simply articulate a momentum or trend that happens to be current.  I doubt we're breaking much ground here, nor are we attempting to deliver some great truth or provide a how-to coaching guide.  We'll just be documenting a direction or response encountered in today's game.  It can be easy to fixate on singular items, but where we're hoping to go is tie in the relevant connections to see what's at play in the bigger picture.  We could no doubt, review some of the same efficiencies and nuances of Johnny Manziel and the TAMU offense used by Kliff Kingsbury.

Tech (and other spread offenses) has been using a 3-back formation for quite a while, but what they have been using it for in the past 8 months to compliment their base package, is something to take note of.  To accommodate their frantic pacing in games, so much of the playbook has to be trimmed and streamlined to ensure efficiency.  Tech bases out of 2x2 and 3x1, but to provide a radical change-up against the nickel defenses they see, Tech uses tight-ends and versatile backs (extra linemen more recently) to force defensive personnel into non-standard situations, primarily to elicit a coverage response.  This cat-and-mouse game was illustrated throughout the second half of this game.  In this post, we'll take a look at what kind of changes were taking place.  You'll see much of this all goes back to the early one-back philosophies.

Against one-back sets, the defense will typically commit 6 defenders to the box and play nickel with 2-high safeties.  

After pacing through a series with receivers spread the width of the field, Tech will race through substitutions and be set within 10 seconds with 3 backs in the backfield.  The defense, in the given personnel grouping they had from the last play, have to determine how this formation will be played. Typically, the nickel will join the box, but this only provides 7 defenders to 8 offensive players (excluding the quarterback). 

Do you keep the safeties deep to prevent isolation of your corners? 

Do you drop a safety to bolster your front? 

The challenge is that the offensive formation is symmetrical with no declared run strength. The offense can run any play to either side equally well.

TAMU using 7 defenders in the box
TAMU using 8 defenders in the box
TAMU using 9 defenders in the box

Once you even up your numbers in the box, Tech uses their gap-power run to overwhelm the point of attack (with OF lead), forcing a defense to drop both safeties and leave their corners one-on-one with the single-split receivers.

Part of the beauty of this is that most of it fits within what Tech would be doing out of 2x2 or 3x1.  They (used to) run a lot of Rodeo/Lasso and fast and solid screens on the perimeter (which becomes even more effective if you can bunch the defense up in the middle of the field).  So even though they bring in an extra blocker to the formation, they can do all the stuff they would be doing from their base formations.

When the one-on-one matchup is assured on the receiver, they will look to exploit it through play-action (usually a post-dig combo).  From here, the throw will be premised on the leverage the receiver has on the defender;

If outside – hit the post

If in-phase low shoulder - fade

If in-phase high shoulder – drop out

With as much as one-on-one leverage is worked by Tony Franklin and as talented as his receivers are, these become extremely high percentage throws.

** This game is a wonderful study in the current competitive equalizers from both teams (offense and defense).  Down by 27 in the first half, what other program would give license to continue rolling the dice with attack tempo? If Franklin was at any other school what are the odds of the head coach pulling the reins on his method and try to 'hold the ball' on offense (and limit the ability to mount the comeback)?  Facing the explosive running threat of Manziel, watch Tommy Spangler adjust his 'cats'/'shaver' pressures to bring 5 to control the running lanes.

This all plays into a larger theme on determining what is truly important to becoming more efficient, both on offense and defense.  We are well aware that trends in the game ebb and flow and remain cyclical, but its not as if there will be wholesale scheme changes made; merely adaptations.  Playing into Hemlock's point about Saban's method, defenses may need to be measured by new standards as the game of football adapts.   

1 comment:

scott said...

I wonder what stats currently used can be used to measure efficiency? yards per play? 3rd % gains of 5 or more on 1st? how fast you snap the ball? Its hard to determine football will venture away from this type of up tempo attacks no matter what your scheme is.