To illustrate this point, I will use an Army game I was recently studying. It’s pretty obvious that their system is based in the old Sutton / Young methodology of recognition and play calling. (A fact further enhanced by the info passed on to me that they had Young, Sutton, and former offensive coordinator Greg Gregory in to “school” them in the off season.) They may not be using this system but for the sake of this article we will assume it to get a point across. It is the same recognition system that I learned option football in and the one we have refined to call our own. That makes it easy to make my point.
(Please understand that in no way am I implying Army doesn’t get it. These are just some facts that, over the last seventeen years, people have pointed out to me or “learning experiences” (a positive tag on my mistakes) that have allowed me to correct the system.)
A simple flaw in the recognition system or the “trap” 6 man side
If you know anything about the old Army recognition system, it counts to the non-tightend side and recognizes “looks” to the tightend side. The tightend side is recognized as tackle / tightend +1 (seven man fronts), tightend void or empty (eight man fronts), and tackle / tightend +2 (six man sides). To the non-tightend, although they counted from the outside in, it basically came out the same as counting from the inside-out: #3 outside is a seven man front (50 or ACE) and #3 inside as a reduced front. (plus the variance of six man fronts.)
One of the advantages when playing an eight man is to go unbalanced (end over – tightend or splitend) and be able to handle the free safety in the alley. In the game in question, Army went with a tightend over formation that certainly would handle the pesky free safety in the alley (fig. 1 above), even if the free moved over to that side. (fig. 2 above)
The defensive answer to this was to flip the Corner from the nub side (fig. 3 below) matching numbers with number and absorbing all the blockers while allowing the free safety to still run the alley untouched.
At this point, most experienced option coaches are saying just go to the nub and with the interior leverage (A-gap linemen) either the halfback or the tackle will handle the playside backer with the other coming off for the free. (fig. 4 below) The problem though lies not in the scheme but in the recognition system and the need for an “exception” to the rule. The flaw lays that in this system, the quarterback is recognizing from the alignment on the tackle out. Thus he was “trapped” by the system into running to a six man side (including the unblocked free.)
You can see this yourself by looking at figure 2 and figure 3 and placing your hand over the diagram from the guard in. In essence, both configurations look identical. (With all the checking done in a triple option offense, it is impractical to both label defenders as free safety, etc. and number them as well.) Thus, the quarterback is duped or “trapped” into believing he is not only handling numbers but accounting for the alley player (free safety) as well.
There are a number of these “trap” six man sides in every system; anomalies that don’t match up with a given recognition system. These seem to happen the most in end-over, tackle-over, or funky formations where defensive adjustments (some by design and some by their confusion!) can muddle a picture for a quarterback.
So what do you do?
- Give an easy “exception” to the rule – an all encompassing “out.”
When we first started encountering these we thought of a number of ways to recognize them individually. However, these amounted to added work for the quarterback that included the memorization and recognition of specific rules for a situation we may encounter once or even no times during a given year. Too much learning! So the answer lied in a general out. Something the quarterback can hang his hat on and know he is never wrong. We came up with two: one for an unbalance formation and one for a balanced.
- Unbalanced Formation: The quarterback will scan nub to unbalanced (we always teach him to do this anyway so as not to stare at the side we are running) If the nub side is reduced he will always check the option that way. This gives him a safe out and alleviates him trying to figure out any muddle unbalanced looks since he never even looks there.
(In unbalanced sets - if the nub is reduced there has to be 6 men to the other side.)
- Balanced Formation: Any time we are balanced and the quarterback gets a look he is confused by we allow him to check any options the opposite way, providing the numbers are applicable.
(This notion of giving the quarterback an out – a security blanket may seem redundant throughout my post, but, it is the biggest lesson I’ve learned throughout my years with the option and calling 90% of our schemes on the line. An “out” makes the quarterback confident. The last thing I want is an unconfident quarterback making a give / keep or a pitch / keep decision after the snap. Additionally, with the “out” the quarterback will project as a confident playcaller both in the huddle and on the line. This, in turn, will transfer over to an aggressive, confident team with a high level of success in execution. If you ever had an unconfident quarterback call plays, even in the huddle, you will understand this statement, or, as Napoleon said “morale is to the physical as three is to one!”)
2. Know the exceptions before they happen
In the offseason take your package and line up the formations against every defense. Think from a defensive side and draw up every conceivable adjustment they could make. (Let your imagination reign) Then see if your system holds up. You can take one defensive front a week. If it doesn’t hold – save the look and put all exceptions together. Then look for a common thread or rule that gives the QB an out for ALL of them. One rule taught with the system – not a series of individual exceptions taught new each week. (In the science of learning there is always a learning curve. If you a simple exceptions rule in the beginning of the season, the quarterback will make his normal progression of errors early when it doesn’t count. If you teach a new exception and a new “look” every week, he will make the same number of “beginners” errors but now they count. They are in games!)
Along with this line, when you get a chance to watch other teams run your offense or an offense similar in style (I often do this in wing-t games also) do not only examine what the offense is doing but look at the defensive adjustments and analyze how your recognition would hold up. (we are always looking for the “miracle play” and at times missing the big picture.)
The end result is “DON’T WAIT TILL IT HAPPENS.” Have an answer now! Don’t get caught in a game and have to start figuring out what a look is or how to get to the desired side / scheme in your system. It’s too late then. Have the answers before it happens, even if it never happens.
(After the game, I read where the Army coach stated “This is by no means a complete system. We will continue to grow and tweak it as the season goes on.” Well, I hope that the seniors get another year of eligibility so they can come back and run a “complete” system that gives them answers and a chance.)
3. Keep a running notebook:
Every time you see a new look or an exception - write it down, categorize it, and answer the problem. This can be from film study, clinics, brainstorming, after a game, whatever. Just write it down with answers. The book can then be kept on the sideline or in the both to give quick answers when needed. (Also writing will embed the answer into the coach’s mind and will probably result in quick recall when seeing this look even after a long period.
The point of this article was not to criticize Army. I am sure, as they become more experienced with the option, the system will become more and more complete. The whole point of this article was that if a coach does use a recognition system to check, he must recognize the weaknesses in that system and have answers for those flaws.
My next article (after the next “Myth”) will be slightly different from the theory approach of the first two and concentrate on the teaching of the combo (bumplead) block to a three technique when running the triple.) Feel free to comment and also use the message board listed below and on the side panel.