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BCS Championship Review

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Chris Brown, over at Smart Football, reviewed the BCS Championship game. His second point is what really stuck out to me during the game. I watch a lot of PAC 10 ball, so I was really amazed at how Chip Kelly called the game.

Really, I think both coaches outschemed themselves.

First, Chip Kelly. His modus operandi this year has been:

1.  Zone read and variations

2.  Play action/Screens

3.  under 15 seconds between plays

I’m not sure coach Kelly has these defined  like this, but maybe he should.

The first two points are what many teams do frequently. The third point is Oregon’s strength. When I Tevo an Oregon game, I cannot skip ahead 30 seconds between plays. When a play ends for Oregon, I have to rewind 20 to 30 seconds, and then skip 30 seconds forward so that I don’t miss a play.

In the BCS Championship Game, Oregon started out with spread passing. 3-and-out. Then there were 2 drives that Oregon operated under the afore-mentioned parameters. Oregon 1)ran the ball effectively (3+ yards per) and 2)mixed in screens and play action, while 3)maintaining their usual pace. In fact, their pace was incredible- I had to rewind a full 30 seconds then skip 30 second in order to catch the next play. They were spending less than 10 seconds resetting and snapping the football. Auburn was gassed- evidenced by a 12 men on the field penalty and DL player taking a knee on the sideline. You weren’t hearing Nick Fairley’s name, except when a 15 yard penalty was involved.

Oregon got out in front and got a 2-point conversion. It felt like Oregon football. It was tough going, but it was fast-paced and methodical.

And then Kelly came out 1&2)throwing,  going 3-and-out, especially in the second half, and 3)letting the play clock roll down into the 10 second area- unheard of. A lot of gadgets and misuse of the field (bunching to the boundary which naturally limits available grass) and Fairley and Co. get a second wind and tee off on Oregon.

Oregon’s offense was generally ineffective and overschemed. The ball was not put into the playmakers’ hands enough and the fundamentals of the system were ignored.

Auburn took advantage and held Oregon to 19 points.

Auburn’s offense is based on misdirection power football. They are dependent on a bigger line that can pull and lead, and a big QB to pick up 2-3 yards when needed. Passing is based on man routes, and this game showcased double-moves and formations creating natural mis-matches in coverage. The Auburn OL was impressive in protecting Newton, who I think is overrated at QB, but indispensable to the scheme in picking up the 2-3 yards sometimes needed (like Tebow).

Auburn’s running game became effective in the 3rd and 4th quarter, when they leaned on it more. Dyer picked up chunks, it fed the play action, and Newton himself converted 3rd down and short a number of times.

Auburn’s passing game with man routes counted on wide open receivers or throwing the ball up and counting on bigger, better receivers to get it. Auburn had both, and Cam Newton found those well. And when coverage was good, he found yardage with his legs.

Oregon was generally effective in limiting Newton’s big plays, limiting the Auburn run game, and limiting big plays. Auburn’s most effective offensive plays seemed to be bubble screens, flat throws, and out-and-up patterns.

Auburn’s offense was not dominant, nor was it particularly effective. 22 points would be a goal for any defense to be proud of holding Auburn to.

Overall, I think I learned some limits to the Spread Running game. Urban Meyer made a good comment post-game: the spread option offense has the need for a big back or QB to get the yardage in the red zone/GL+5 (Oregon lacked this, Auburn had this) and reinforced the importance of sticking to what one does best.

I thought it was a sloppy, unintelligent game overall, with both coaching staffs overscheming. In the end, Auburn settled into their bread and butter first (out of necessity to run the clock) and came out on top. There is a certain strength in knowing what you do best and doing best what you do best.

In the end, the defenses get the game ball, for making plays and capitalizing on offensive wonkiness. For the game ball, I would give it to Nick Fairley, if he wasn’t such a dishonorable player, so I give it to Auburn’s #5 Michael Dyer, who made tough, determined yards and won the game for Auburn.

If Oregon wins, the ball goes to Casey Mathews, who caused a game-changing fumble out of Cam Newton’s hands as well as being in the thick of the Auburn offense all evening. Yet another underrated Matthews. (I coached his older brother Bryce in High School- nowhere near the motor/determination of Clay jr. and Casey).

For me, the game was a snoozer- Two struggling running offenses trying to do too much outside of what they do best and man passing routes that ended up looking and feeling clumsy an simplistic. Not a great offensive game, regardless of the yards earned an not an interesting game, really.


Written by Jon Ellsworth

January 11, 2011 at 1:15 pm

I Heart the Sagarin Rankings

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Over at USAToday Sports, they have the latest Sagarin Rankings for College Football.  Interestingly, the rankings come 2 ways:  By Team and by Conference.

Some notes on the rankings:

Quality wins are represented in the rankings with a weight given to Top 15 wins and Top 30 wins.

Strength of current schedule is a contributor.  So, if a team beats #1 in week 1, and that #1 team falls to #45 over the season, that win won’t matter come the end of the season.

ALL teams are ranked to compute these rankings.

Home field advantage is part of the rankings and predictions for the following week’s games. 

Margin of victory is unimportant in one measure, and points scored are all that matters in another measure.  These 2 measures combine to make the final rating.

Over the course of the season, all teams willl be connected by who they have played and who has played them- giving a ranking based solely on points scored and win-loss outcomes on the field.

The results as of week 2?

1  USC

2  BYU

3  Boise State

4  Alabama

5  Ohio State

6  LSU

7  California

8  Oklahoma

9  Texas

10  Virginia Tech

11  Florida 

12  TCU 

13  Missouri

14  Oregon  

15  Miami-Florida

16  Utah

17  Penn State

18  Oklahoma State 

19  Houston

20  Michigan

21  Georgia

22  UCLA  

23  Iowa

24  North Carolina   

25  Clemson

The team results of week 2 in college football are already well indicated by these rankings, in my opinion:

1)  It pays to play against good competition, win or lose

2)  It pays to score points

3)  Every team will be connected by performance and success

For the doubters, the conference rankings may or may not give you some comfort.  Looking inside the conferences is interesting as well.  Florida sits at #3 within the SEC.

It will be interesting to follow these rankings throughout the year and see how they predict outcomes.

Written by Jon Ellsworth

September 15, 2009 at 10:12 am

New Playbook for Ohio State

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Note to Jim Tressell:

Here is your new playbook for your all-world sophmore QB, Terrell Pryor.  I know you are a throwback, tough football kind of coach, so I have put together a power offense in shotgun formations to utilize the QB as a backfield running threat.

Start with the BASICS:

Zone Read 

Zone Read

This play is run from the trey formation.  We keep a tight end on the line to maintain a strong zone run threat with the extra blocker.  The two receivers split out to the tight end side spread the defensive secondary and shift defensive strength away from the side the QB has the option of running to.  On the snap, the line blocks for standard zone running.  The back either takes a handoff and hits the hole or the QB keeps it and runs around the weak side.  This is the exact play Vince Young beat both Michigan and USC with in the Rose Bowl in consecutive years.

Play Action

Zone Roll

A simple play action off the zone play.  A simple High-Low read for Pryor to make, or he can run.

Zone Roll Quick Post

Another play action pass with Pryor reading the Will linebacker.  The run fake brings the linebackers up hard to stop both the running back and the QB.  A quick post by  the slot receiver over the Will linebacker will get 8-12 yards easily.  Again, a simple read and throw.  Urban Meyer’s Utah team ran this play repeatedly in 2004 on their way to a perfect season and a BCS-busting fiesta bowl win.

Zone Bubble

The final play action pass.  Everyone has this in the playbook.  Fake run, quick pass to a swinging receiver.  This would have crushed USC- no one covered the slot receiver all game.



The power play made for the shotgun.  See the New York Giants’ 2007 championship season for this play.  Spread the field, power the ball.

POWER misdirection


Florida’s 2008 championship season featured this power play with Tim Tebow in the backfield.  Fake zone one way and the QB follows lead blocking through the hole for solid yards.

Basically, let Terrell Pryor run.  Let him get hit.  Make his reads easy and use misdirection and play action to facilitate open looks.  Make your spread package a power package- the reflection of your 2002 National Championship offense.

Written by Jon Ellsworth

September 14, 2009 at 10:42 pm

USC Down Season

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USC came back in impressive fashion to defeat Ohio State in the Horseshoe Saturday night.  The late-game drive was defining for the team.  It showed their toughness and resolve to get together and get a win.

Unfortunately, it showed their weakness as well.

That late-game drive against a questionable Ohio State defense required that Joe McKnight put the team on his back and carry the Trojans to the 1-yard line, where Stefan Johnson could polish it off. 

Where was Matt Barkley?  He contributed- on 3rd and long on their own side of the field, he threw a gimme flare route to McKnight to pick up 21 yards.  The next time he threw, he floated a strike to his tight end Anthony McCoy in the seam for a large chunk of 26 yards- really the only tough throw he had to make in the drive.  He hit one more pass- a slant for 8 yards.  Finally, he hit Joe McKnight on a bubble screen to go ahead by 3.  Not bad- 4 for 6 and 55 yards passing on the final drive.

I’m not so optimistic.  Joe McKnight accounted for 72 yards of the scoring drive, receiving and rushing.  What’s wrong with that?  The rushing yards came to hard all day for the Trojans:

3.0 yards per carry over the course of the game.

The passing yards came too difficult as well:

15 of 32 for 6.1 yards per completion.

Conclusion:  The offense is broke.  Well, maybe not the offense, but the new offensive coordinator, Jeremy Bates, has a ways to go to fill recent shoes.  And I leave Lane Kiffin out of the list of shoes to fill.

That last drive had some imaginative play calling, and specific calls to exploit the defense.  That didn’t happen all game.  It was like watching an SEC matchup where each coach is simply trying to prove how hard their offensive line can push the other.

The playcalling was generally so entirely predictable and bland for a USC team that it was hard to imagine this team competing for a National Title.  They looked like an SEC team-  Great defense, inability to consistently move the ball.  This is glaringly different from years of yore at USC.

Too many zone running plays on first down- not enough play action, screens, quick shots to get WR one-on-one on the sideline.

Too much running at an 8-9 man box- not enough play action.

Too little QB movement- an obviously athletic QB did not get moved around much and felt the heat because of it, not to mention tweaked his shoulder.

Too few quick passes.

No examples of exploiting a defense- not until the 4th quarter, 3rd and 8 on their own 19 yard line and Joe McKnight easily gets past the linebacker coming up to cover him.  A gimme pass.

Too much defense- the defense was out on the field for way too long.  Ohio State actually began to formulate a way to get down the field after a while there.  No defense can play that much and survive unbeaten. 

In the end, Pete Carroll was on camera all over the offensive play calling.  Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates was predictable and unimaginative with the talent he has control of. 

So, on to the point of this article:

3 Games the Trojans have a good chance of losing:

September 19, at WASHINGTON

Watch for previous OC Steve Sarkisian to wear the USC defense down and put up points.  Also, former USC Defensive Coordinator Nick Holt knows the USC D inside and out.  It could be a barn burner.

October 3, at CALIFORNIA

Cal looks silly good so far.  But they are doing damage mostly on the ground.  That could play to USC’s strength.  But if USC’s Defense can’t get off the field and the offense can’t score, look for Cal to wear down USC and run away with it.

Either October 17 at NOTRE DAME, November 28th vs. UCLA, or December 5 vs. ARIZONA

Notre Dame is obviously much improved and just might come out to win

UCLA could come in and surprise the Trojans in the battle of the L.A. basin, though QB woes make that less likely.

Arizona should be good this year and could ambush USC at the end of the year.

Why could USC drop these games?

1.  Offensive production is suspect for the reasons listed above: The coordiantor and his strategy are suspect.

2.  Expect the defense to play more snaps, take more hits, and give up more points.

3.  The opposition is up this year.  Competition is greater.

4.  Matt Barkley will, and I mean WILL disappoint.  It’s not his fault, he’s simply made some very, very stupid mistakes already and I think he’ll make a few more before USC switches to Aaron Corp mid-season.

5.  Finally, like I mentioned before, USC looks like an SEC team- strong defense, bland offensive play-calling.  They are predictable and ripe for the picking.

Being a life-long USC fan, I think this year will be infuriating, like I felt 2007 was with John David Booty starting for Lane Kiffin and Mark Sanchez waiting in the wings.  USC is like any other school, though.  Coaches have their politics- they have their favorites.  No matter what you read about USC this year, and especially this week- do not believe the hype.

Written by Jon Ellsworth

September 13, 2009 at 10:26 pm

How BYU got to Sam Bradford

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The reigning Heisman athlete in college football, Sam Bradford, was literally coached into the ground. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a shame to see an all-American kid like him get hurt. These things happen in football.

So how did BYU get to Sam Bradford?

The Spread

The interesting thing about the spread offense in football is that it tries to level the playing field. If you can put your athletes in one-on-one matchups or scheme them into large holes in zone coverage, you can win with less talent or put up ridiculous points with more talent.

At the same time, this strategy puts enormous pressure on the offensive line and Quarterback because they, too are put in more one-on-one matchups. If the defense can figure out how to get number advantages in the small areas between linemen, and can figure out how to cover the field with less defensive backs, the offense can be in for a long day.

Such is the case with Oklahoma and BYU.

This article focuses on BYU’s pressure and coverage package. Oklahoma runs a standard 4-3 defense and put a cover two and cover four shell behind it most of the time. And they could match up man-for-man to pressure because of a distinct talent advantage. So there is nothing interesting about them.

What’s more, the Oklahoma offense was disadvantaged only one NFL-quality tight end. They had the rest of their starting talent on the field. Talent that should be able to put a Mountain West Conference team like BYU in its place.

So what is intriguing is what the underdog did to take down the more talented big dog.

BYU’s Pressure Package

BYU’s defense was impressive all-around. Run support was phenomenal, though sometimes spotty. Most impressive was BYU’s commitment and success in pressuring the passer.

BYU’s successful pressure package took the form of a number of zone blitzes. BYU doesn’t match up man-for-man with Oklahoma’s receivers, so it is necessary for BYU to utilize zone support underneath Oklahoma’s pass schemes, even when pressuring.

What is impressive about BYU’s pressure is that it necessitated vacating one zone coverage defender in order to put an extra player into a blitz. Oklahoma never seemed to find that opening. One particular zone blitz was extremely effective and ended up putting the hurt on Oklahoma, literally.


In this blitz scheme, BYU came from the boundary side. This was also the QB backside, so it was less conspicuous to a right-handed QB like Bradford.

Defensive Line Play

The defensive line was in BYU’s “even” front- a shift of the whole defensive line one man over.

Ends (E) are lined up with one over the tight end or over where the tight end would be, and the other End lining up over the backside Guard.

The Nose Tackle (N) is lined up over the call side guard.

The outside linebacker (S) will then fill in to make an even look, taking a position over the tight end, if present, or over where the tight end would line up, if not present.

The End on the blitz side takes an outside leverage rush, taking the left tackle wide.

The Nose Tackle slants hard away from the blitz, aiming hard for the A gap ad taking the Guard wide away as well.

The other End now takes a hard slant away to control the B and C gaps on the away side, either applying pressure upfield or playing a pseudo-zone position on the edge to discourage a QB scramble and to discourage a quick pass to the short hook/curl zone.

Linebacker Play

The Will (W) and Buc (B) linebackers will be pressuring in this case. Buc strikes first to occupy the Left Guard or Running Back on the blitz side. On this play, it was the running back.

Will follows through, looping inside the End/left tackle and having a free path to the QB if there is no remaining blocker.

The Mike (M) linebacker checks run and then runs hard for the No. 2 defender on the blitz side- a long way to cover. Mike will have responsibility for walling and shadowing under #2 in covering the hook/curl zones on the blitz side.

The Sam (S) linebacker checks run as well and then breaks fast for the No. 2 receiver to wall and shadow No. 2 underneath and cover curl, flat and wheel zones.

Mike and Sam make up the only underneath support coverage.

Safety Play

The Safeties in this scheme cover deep halves and the Corners cover flat and wheel zones in cover-two fashion.


In the instance of Bradford’s injury, the running back came up to block the Buc linebacker and Will ran past the reach of the left tackle, who tried to get back to close his inside gap. Bradford half-rolled away from pressure, but the Will caught him just at release and the rest is history.

Sam Bradford was leveled at least two times from this blitz on his final drive of the game. The second time he left the game with a shoulder sprain. BYU continued to run this blitz against the backup, Landry Jones, who was hit by the free linebacker as well.


It is interesting to note that in one of BYU’s greatest accomplishments as a football team, head coach Bronco Mendenhall found his defensive Coordinator, Jaime Hill, after the game and gave him a big hug.

Why? BYU was well-prepared and well-coached for this game and it showed. They did not waste a single player in space, putting everyone in a position to cover someone and make a play.

Most football teams have a goal defensively to hold opponents to 17 or fewer points per game. That’s two touchdowns and a field goal. Against the likes of Oklahoma, such a goal seams out of reach.

Thirteen points later (1 TD, 2 FG), the story of the day was BYU’s defense. It seems that Bob Stoops was outcoached again.

Written by Jon Ellsworth

September 10, 2009 at 10:29 pm

Zone Blocking in a Passing Offense- Indianapolis Colts Study

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The 2007 Colts offense was one of the most prolific in recent memory. Throughout his career, Peyton Manning has shown a methodical, and superior understanding of the X’s and O’s of the game. He has also been the beneficiary of one of the most simple offenses in the NFL. With such an intelligent QB, calls are changed to more effectively attack a defense. The key is not necessarily knowing exactly what a defense does, but rather what strategies are available to you for attacking certain defensive looks. The Colts’ running game is a prime example of an offensive concept used to exploit a defense.


Running games can be divided into systems. Some of the more popular systems are the zone system, the gap system, the man system, the sweep system, and the option system. The Colts have overwhelmingly run a zone system. The Colts have run 2 basic zone running plays (as well as the draw play) for a few years: The otuside zone (stretch C-D gap play) and the Inside Zone (A-gap).


Alignments and Gap Designations




In the diagram above you can see the gap designations used. A gaps are between center and Guard, B gap between Guard and Tackle, C Gap between Tackle and Tight End, and outside the Tight End is the D Gap. The following introduction to the basic Colts zone running plays is also a good introduction to single-back running plays in general.


The Zone Concept


The zone concept is a “run to daylight” concept. The line engages defenders according to rules defining their responsibility. Such a rule might be “Away-On-Backer”, which means that the lineman will look first for a threat that is on the line, but “away”, meaning to his “outside” away from the center and QB.






An “away” threat is limited to a man within a gap of the Offensive Lineman (OL). The diagram above shows an “away” threat for the right guard the DT.










“On”, in the rule, would mean that if there is no “away” threat, the OL looks for an “on” threat, or a Defensive Lineman (DL) directly in front of him. The TE has an “on” threat- the DE.









If there is no “on” threat, the blocker will go “backer” or will find the closest linebacker (LB) off of the line to the side the play is supposed to go. For instance, the Tackle would attack “S”, or the Sam LB.







One strategy for effectively running the zone concept is finding the “bubble” or crease for the RB. The Colts did this very well in their system. Refering to the diagram above, a crease is a triangle of defenders. The zone works best when a triangle of defenders is present- usually 2 DL and 1 LB. This is visible with the above diagram- there is a large space, or “bubble” between DT and DE- the middle OL between those two will run up and block SB, or the Sam Linebacker. A seam is created when one OL goes up on the LB and the other OL engage the DL well.


A good running back will run under control, or not full speed, to the fringes of that bubble to set up his run, and then burst through the seam. So, most often, where the zone will be run depends entirely on the front the defense shows. Where the zone is run also depends on the flow of the line. Often, you will see RBs cut back the opposite direction from where they started. The zone system encourages that, as the defense may over-pursue the run. The RB’s job is to find daylight and take off.


Inside Zone

The Inside Zone- Attacking the Weakside A Gap

Inside zone plays are not always run to the weakside, but modern 4-3 defenses usually put the Nosegaurd in the weakside A gap. Inside Zone is meant to attack the A gap defender, so for the Colts, that was often the weak side. It is run primarily up the middle, and expects to make 3-5 yards every time it is run. More than that is difficult because of the 1-on-1 blocking and the ability of the defense to create traffic inside in just a few steps. This diagram shows two triangles of defenders: E-S-N at the point of attack, and T-M-N in the cutback lane.




Outside Zone


Outside Zone- Attacking the Edge with a Stretch Play

Outside Zone plays are usually the stretch or pitch plays. The Stretch is the most common, where I think Denver is one of the  teams to run a pitch with zone principles. There are variations of each, sometimes involving pulling offensive linemen, but mostly the Colts ran the stretch using zone principles- no pulling. They ran it a lot, but you would see something more like the Center to the Middle LB, Gaurd to 3-gap defender (DT above), Tackle up on Sam, and TE on the DE. The back runs to a point 1 yard behind the TE’s butt or 1 yard outside the TE as the blocking develops and will either burst outside if there is too much traffic inside or no Safety flowing up, or burst in behind the Tackle in the space created. For the Colts, the play was consistently good for 4-5 yards when Edgerin James or Joseph Addai could take the ball in behind the Tackle’s block. The triangle of defenders here is: T, E, and S.




That is zone running 101. Of course there are many more details, especially in footwork. Football is a chess match. The zone system is just one way to prod a defense.


Written by Jon Ellsworth

February 17, 2009 at 11:14 am