Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Myth #3: the difference in hig school and college from an offensive perspective

Let’s continue to look at the differences of high school and college from an offensive perspective this time, taking in the greatest difference the hashes. (For actual measurement differences, please refer below to Myth #2)

I often see coaches run the exact same “system” offensively that they get from a college or at clinics. Many times, this includes the same method of attacking defenses through the use and placement of formation and / or the structure of their “attacking philosophy” or audible system. While there is nothing wrong with learning new methods and employing new strategies, as we have seen in “Myth #2” the horizontal differences in the playing field cause the college philosophy to be tweaked. As a college coach once showed, with the ball on the hash in high school and using 3’ splits and a 1 yard body width, there is only approximately 11 yards between the tightend and the boundary. This distance is further shortened by the presence of secondary defenders (support, alley, and second contain) whose support pattern can flatten out a runner even more. Not a very large distance to “turn the corner.”

To illustrate this point, let’s look at number of examples from different types of offenses:

1. An option team: for the sake of this article, we will take what is probably the most popular option system today: Georgia Tech’s or Navy’s, and work through some of the “short side” problems.

In this no tightend system the triple option checks are based on “numbers, angles, grass.” This means that if the number of defenders is equal the offense will run to the side with the best blocking angles In the examples above and below (fig 1 and fig 2), the numbers to both sides are equal as are the perimeter angles, so the quarterback should direct the play to the boundary due to the better interior angle: the A-gap player. These are both common structures since the majority of defensive coaches would prefer the 3 technique to the field vs. a non-tightend formation in an option attack.

Assuming that we are not getting a crash on the quarterback and using the width of the option alley as described in Larry Bekish’s Option classic “40 + 60,” you can see that the high school hashes leave about 1 yard of leeway to turn up the field. (fig. 3 below) (I’m using coach Bekish as the option expert. I highly recommend his book "40+60") We are taking 1 yard for the width of each linemen and 1 yard for each split. The 3-5 yards from the halfback represent the average distance to absorb the quarterback. According to option experts the optimal option alley starts here and extends 7-9 yards wide. Further complicating matters is the fact that the option alley forces the running to usually gain further width as he heads up the field. (Running hash, numbers, sideline. The reason the “alley” is tilted.) Add to this the free safety flattening out the runner further and a wide defender on the stalk block using the sideline as a twelfth defender. These additional defenders flatten out and limit the gain by the running back.
To further back up this analysis, this weekend I took 3 college teams running the option from my DVR. When studying options run into the boundary, 75% of the pitchmen turned up within 5 yards from the sideline. (Granted this was an estimate; done completely by eye. So there is no effort to say it is empirical data!) This would translate to turning up 1 – 2 yards from the sideline using the high school hashes. Furthermore, of the 25% that did have a chance, 80% of those were flattened out to 1 -3 yards from the sideline within a 4-5 yard gain. (or less!) All of this data would back up a statement I heard years ago, from Barry Switzer at a clinic, that the current hash situation (old college – same as high school) are 3 yards short of having a consistent option game in which the ball is pitched to the boundary.
(It wasn’t coincidence that one of the leading proponents of moving in the hashes was Tubby Raymond in an era that Delaware became an option and Jet team. Do you think he was setting himself up for success?)

This does not mean all s lost. There are answers and we’ll mention them later. In an upcoming article we’ll talk about tweaking the option offense in order to counter field dimensions in detail. (Remember, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and all the rest of the bone teams had their heyday on the exact hashes!) Also I've included a list that overviews some of these ideas at the end of this article.

2. A zone team: For simplicity, we’ll talk about the stretch play, run to a tightend - flanker into the boundary. (see fig 4 above)

Again let’s add up the 3 one yard gaps and 3 one yard wide linemen and we come up with 12 yards left to turn it up the sideline. (Now I know the stretch gurus out there will tell me the splits are smaller and if we get vertical push by the tightend we can create a soft corner to turn up faster but for the sake of this article we’ll keep the splits consistent [we haven’t counted the ½ of the center’s body] and assume the defense fills all the gaps and plays the play properly. Against a poor or unsound defense you can do anything you want.)

A good 9 technique should be able to stretch the zone at least 3-4 steps so we’ll make the turning point now at 8-9 yards from the hash. (fig. 4 above) Certainly a little better then the option example but with an outside leverage team (i.e. a seven man front) to run away from, an alley player coming to flatten out the ballcarrier and a wide defender playing the stalk that can use the sideline, the gain can certainly be kept to a minimum.

A zone option is usually worse as it needs an “option Alley” for the pitch in addition to the stretch of the zone to get the quarterback to the perimeter.

Again, there are answers. (see below and later articles.)

3. The pass: This is perhaps the most intriguing and most unrealized of the group. For the sake of the example let’s use the four vertical pattern: popular for a long time against a single high safety defense.

If you look at fig. 5 below, you can see that the #2 receiver is wide of the hash and has to find a way to get back to it for proper field distribution. A single high safety team can funnel out the #2 receiver pretty easily due to the proximity and leverage of the inside backer. This would force an overlap of patterns for the deep 1/3 halfback allowing the safety to favor the receiver to the field.
(you older coaches might remember that, except for the 3-step game, the original run and shoot people ran almost exclusively from a 3 x 1 final alignment when on the hash and a 2 x 2 when in the middle of the field.)

As a matter of fact the whole 4-wide concept of counting defenders in the box is defeated by the proximity of the hash. With the short distance a defense can overload the box, yet be relative to #2 for the pass. (see fig. 6 below) This defensive concept is still employed today with the narrower hashes but much easier with high school field dimensions.

Finally, the loss of distance into the boundary puts a strain on any horizontal stretch patterns. The other day I saw the Auburn run a short trips pattern with a choice route into the boundary for a first down. The quarterback needed to zip the ball into a very tight window to a ballcarrier who was swarmed immediately for a four yard gain. Although it did serve its purpose as it gained 4 yards for the first down, if you take away 3 yards from the stretch there’s a good chance those tacklers are now intercepting the ball.
So what are we to do?
I’ve composed the following list of ideas to deal with the shorten sideline. I won’t discuss them all here but will try to elaborate on most in later articles.

General: (relative to all offenses)
1. Unless the defense declares strength formationally with you and you can run to the field or you meet one of the following criteria below, putting the formation to the boundary is not a good consistent strategy. (although it works as a good change-up with a specific plan on a specific down and distance.)

2. Avoid, where possible, running consistently into the boundary vs. balanced defense (5 ½ to each side) If the need arises to run to a certain technique (i.e. A-gap player or 3-technique) change the formation to get that to the field. (i.e. using a tightend to the boundary will usually get the a-gap player to the field in a 4-3. A two wide look would not do this)

3. Use formations to equal numbers to the field, allowing you to run there.

4. Use an “Artificial Hash” system in play calling. I first came upon this method while coaching in Cornell in the early 80’s. Simply said, the coach would gameplan based on 5 horizontal spots on the field: the old hashes, imaginary new hashes that are3 yards in from the chalked ones to the goalpost, and the middle of the field (between the goal post). A coach, knowing the room he needed would call formations and plays based on these 5 horizontal positions on the field. It’s really not that hard and, if you know your offensive system thoroughly, you really don’t have to chart it. I’ve been doing this for years off my head; knowing and eliminating the plays that have a hard time with the short side except in position 2 and 4.

5. Use formations that eliminate or put greater distance to the alley player running to the boundary. This eliminates flattening out the running back and gives you a greater chance of getting north and south.

As an example, I’ll give you a situation that arose 2 years ago in our opening day. Play placing trips/ open to the field, a traditional 50 team would go three deep to the field and really skew the free safety to that side. By running midline triple without motion, we were able to break 5 runs over 60 yards to the boundary. The runners (QB and HB) were able to square their shoulders and get north and south without the presence of an alley player to flatten them out. If the defense didn’t comply, we had a field call included in all the packages.

Another example of this would be the one-back zone with twins to the field and wing to the boundary. Tough to get 3 on 2 for the pass and run support to the boundary.

6. Use constricted formations to the boundary. Without a wide receiver to the boundary the offense has a greater chance to circle the defense, seal the pursuit thus creating a “pivot point” to turn up the field, and hit the alley running. (To still defend the field, the safety is usually in the middle of the formation and has a way to go to get to the perimeter.) The nub away from unbalanced is a great example of this.

7. Understand and gameplan that certain plays are only 4-6 yard runs to the boundary. Live with it WHEN you want it.

Option Offenses (all of the above are included)

1. Only run options that constrict the defense thus bring the reads to you and widening the option lane. This is as opposed to running plays like zone options and rockets and jets that widen the defense and constrict the option alley.

2. Run loaded options. Getting the quarterback in the seam is a great way to counter the limited space. Also, if combined with a constricted formation it gives you the chance to “circle the defense” and allow the pitchman (or QB) to turn up for greater yards outrunning the second and third level defenders.

3. Only run to the boundary where #’s and angles are both on your side.

4. Run options that you pitch off #1 (handoff key) such as midline and double options. They happen quickly and give the back time to turn north and south.

5. If 3 back, run your twirl and no mo options to the boundary, restricting the amount of flow from the defense that constricts the running lanes.

6. Use formations to the boundary to enhance running to the field. For example, we might use a splitend to the boundary to get the three we want to the field or to get the defense to balance up giving us numbers to the field, or to occupy a perimeter defender in our passing game.

7. It should also be noted that the “tougher” the runner your quarterback is; the greater your success will be running to the boundary. (As opposed to a speedier quarterback)
8. If 3-back option consider flipping your better runner to the boundary, giving him a chance to outrun people and get the use of a full option alley.

This are but a few “bullets” the offensive coach has to combat the reduced area to the boundary in high school. I hope to elaborate on these in later articles. Hopefully, it gave you an idea or just made you think. Please feel free to leave a comment or email me directly at
PS sorry for some of the pics! I'm still getting a feel for this

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