Friday, October 10, 2008

Myth #2 The college game and the high school game are the same

Throughout my years I've probably attended hundreds of coaching clinics. In that time, I've come away with many great ideas. Truth be told though, many of those ideas had to be adapted to the high school level and there are two basic reasons for this:

  1. The field dimensions
  2. The timing of the game

Anybody who does not understand this difference is depriving themselves of a valuable resource to be used in the success of their team and, although not as obvious, are probably not getting the most from the conversion of their learning experience to actual playing strategy.

(For the sake of this article we will concentrate on the effects of the field dimensions from a defensive prospective and hope to touch on the offensive in the next "myth."

If you look at the high school hashes they are equally distant (53'4" to the middle of the hash.)from one another, dividing the fields into equal thirds. The NCAA field has the hashes set disproportionately (60' from the sideline and 40' in the middle) Although this does not seam like a lot (6' 8" from the hash to the sideline and 13'6" between the hashes) when one takes a look at it closely you will see the difference.

In high school the ball is approximately on or near the hash 83% of the time. That means that 83% of the time you are attacking a "skewed" field of 2/3's to one third.

On the college level, you are probably on the hash a greater amount due to the closeness to the middle and the field disproportion is now approximately 3/5 to 2/5. Not as great as high school.

So where does that change the game? Strategy and Alignment.

First lets look from a defensive view:

Prior to the changing of the college hashes (To all you younger coaches: yes, the college field was once the same as the high school.) the top defenses in the country were schools such as Michigan and Ohio State that defended field first by personnel or / and alignment. The thinking being that if you ran the ball into the boundary the defense could be outnumbered and / or out manned but could quickly make up the disadvantage by closing the short distance through pursuit and using the closer sideline as a 12th man. (Where the term originally started) It wasn't till the hashes started moving in that the complete conversion to the balanced or formational defenses took hold.

(To illustrate my point I am going to use this year's Ohio State / Wisconsin game. The winning touchdown was scored on an option run by Terrell Pryor to the boundary that "squeaked" it's way into the endzone. Even with the college hashes, if Pryor had to pitch the ball, the running back would have gone out of bounds. And with the defense stretching the zone, he turned up about 4-5 yards from the boundary. (I'm giving a generous estimate here.)

Now look at the same play with the old hashes. If you take away the 6 yards, he never would have been able to turn the corner. The size of the field would have forced him to turn run out of bounds. Thus the "immediate" pitch / support player (necessitated on the college hashes) could have come more slowly from a secondary alignment skewed to the field.)

Besides the easier ability to defend the boundary, the added 6 yards to the field create a different defensive dilemma. The ability of offenses to make "formationally" set defenses align to the boundary and then attack the field puts a greater stress on run support with the added widths. Although "read" and "soft" support systems can be gameplanned, there is a definite need to a field based call. (throwing the ball to trips set into the boundary often results, on the high school field, in a 3 man pattern that is so bunched one man can cover or a flat pattern running out of bounds.) The use of extended formations (i.e. Twins, Trips) forces a "tiled" or 3 on 2 / 4 on 3 defense due to the extension of inside coverage people.

The second place that the hashes affect the defenses is in alignment. First and foremost this is seen in any two high safety defense. Take quarters for example. How many times do you see the safety over #2 align as if the ball was in the middle of the field. You look out and he is standing virtually next to the corner. In essence you have two guys aligned in the outside 1/3. And, if you are a zone drop team, your field distribution is way off with regards to the field side. Additionally, if you pattern read, the inside patterns will most likely be run far to your inside. We've all had underneath curl players who consistently overrun curls and slants thrown to the boundary.

So what does that mean for the defensive coach? Does he ignore what he hears at clinics from college coaches? Absolutely not. But he adapts so as not to lose the advantages the high school field gives him.

Some suggestions as to how:

  1. Play your best people to the wide side when on or near the hash. People did this for years prior to the moving of the hashes. (When I usually suggest this - most coaches say "You just can't put all my bad athletes on one side! They're that bad." My reply is always the same: "Would you rather have them defending space? I even like my odds of defending Michael Jordan in a phone booth!") You can then adjust tactically by scheme to defend what the offense is doing to the sideline.
  2. Have a package completely set to the field. I'm not saying "be unsound to the boundary," I'm saying defend the field first in this package.
  3. Have hash rules for your secondary and underneath droppers. In certain coverages (actually we do it in all our coverages except where the free is spun down) the safety should not cross the hash. You cannot tell me a zone technique to the boundary you cannot play from the hash. (Even the flat - it was done for years!) Playing contain from the inside out is not a problem with 18 yards and a boundary helping. (An offshoot of this is that when your defense starts getting confused, this is a "static" defense you can line up and just let them play.) Our Hook / Curl player knows the maximum width of his drop with relation to the hash.

Hopefully this gets you thinking. It was done for that. There are a lot of ways to skin a cat and it's great to learn as many as possible. Defending the field is not the only way.

In my next "Myth" I will explore have the differences on offense between high school and college.

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