Thursday, November 12, 2015

Scores per possession the most important stat when you control the clock

As I watched Navy totally dominate Memphis last weekend I was brought back to an "Old" clinic I went to years ago where a coach outlined a plan for winning, irregardless of style. It was definitely a win for old school football.

Many announcers and coaches disparage the stat of time of possession with all the fast tech football that runs 100 plays per game. However, if you combine it with points per possession it becomes

In the Clinic, a long time ago, the college coach elaborated on the seven most important aspects of winning a game. We've all heard these before but Navy brought them to a new level. Navy did them all. In addition, many are considered "old school" and not necessary for victory.

1. No foolish penalties -Navy had none that would fit into this category. In a world today that emphasizes athlete over team, Navy emphasizes discipline over freedom. Although there is a lot of decision making in the offense, the flexbone system requires that every one is disciplined and stay with the system. It also requires that you stay on rhythm, down and distance wise. You can win with inferior personnel on offense is you stay on rhythm. The lack of penalties allow this to happen. Except for one pitch, the pass, and the "Fullback on the "down" play. you cannot consider Navy's offense explosive. However, how many third's and short did we see.

2. Win the turnover battle - Yes, we hear that often today. However, the meaning of that has changed over the year. In today's world, turnovers are tolerable as long as you have less then the other team and have more explosive plays. (I actually heard a major college coach say "turnovers in today's high octane offenses are inevitable. You have to learn to, not accept them but tolerate them." Hogwash! When this statement was originally made NO turnovers were the only thing acceptable. When you have zero turnovers you always win (or at worst tie) the turnover battle. It was obvious Navy was the most secure with the ball leading to two costly Memphis turnovers in the second half.

3. Don't give up more then 5 plays over 20 yards - While I think this stat has slightly changed do to the new "open" style of play and use of great athletes on the field (the acceptable number may be slightly higher today), I truly believe it is very important. What's more telling is how Navy did this. ALL ZONE DEFENSE and keeping the ball in front. Sure there were numerous catches underneath - tons of them, but they were limited gains by the fact zone defense allows you to have eyes on and break to the ball. Many defensive "guru's" today say you can't play zone consistently versus today's offense. However, this is the way I learned to play and coach. It doesn't count till it's in the end zone!!! Again you can play with lesser athletes if you keep the ball in front and inside and then have great pursuit and great tackling. (by the way I thought Navy's tackling was as good as I've seen this year.

4. Be able to run the football - The stats speak for this but the way they did it is even more of the reason they won. Their efficiency! It just wore down the defense; physically AND mentally. People today can't run the ball with any hardness. Because of that they have a hard time installing any hardness in their defense and have a hard time stopping the run. Like Bobby Sutton once said to me when he was at Army "These defensive tackles today are use to pass rushing for 30-40 snaps. They are not use to people coming out and pounding it in the face for 70 to 90 snaps. It just gets to them mentally and physically."

I once visited a college getting prepared for the flexbone. As they were coming off the field I heard their star defensive end say "Man, I didn't sign up for this! I just want to rush the passer." You think he was mentally into it.

5. Limit the opponents rushing game - I really don't remember Memphis being consistently able to run the ball. Why? My take had to do with the zone defense Navy played behind. They were able to play 5 1/2 men in the box with a fudge player. (He'd have to leave the box in man free.) That allows you to have 6 man run gap fits. That's how you stop the inside run. The addition of the run support brought by zone limited the the outside run and took away many of today's run pass conflicts.

6. Play great goalline offense and defense - Every time Navy got to the red zone they got TDS. While Memphis moved the ball, they had to settle for some field goals or got stopped

7. Control time of possession - That was obvious but what did that accomplish. Less possessions. In the first quarter there were only three possessions! There were only 6 real ones in the first half. (3 each) Think about that. Even if you never score and the opponents score at a 66% rate (above today's average.) you are only down 14-0 at half! Two scores and that's with you NOT SCORING AT ALL! Plus, in the second half,once Memphis fumbles and goes down two scores, they are thinking they have to be perfect. That they'll only have two more possessions. (In today's football yards don't mean anything but efficiency per possession in regard to scoring is the highest stat. Whether it be the Navy - Memphis game with limited possessions or the Oklahoma State - TCU game that TCU amassed 660 yards but scored at a 1.7 pts per possession. And what better way to limit this possessions if you are inferior then to control time of possession.

Therefore, and the point of this article is time of possession as a solo stat is useless. Unless you combine it with a high percentage of scores per possession as Navy did, you are limiting your chances to score also.

8. Win the kicking game. This one is highly subjective as there are so many factors to put into one category. So, I'm gonna call this a

(The final topping on the cake was when Keenan Reynolds checked out of a play that would have given him an all-time record at the end to let another player score. I grew up the BO idea of "the team...the team...and the team!" That has kind of been lost today with all the individual stats, Sabermetrics, and self indulgences. Nice to see it again. Refreshing!)

Take a look at the biggest game of the same week: Alabama vs LSU. The key to that Alabama win
1 Alabama won the turnover battle. Alabama had one (and I'm sure that Saban was upset about that )
2 Alabama had 0 foolish penalties
3 I believe Alabama had no runs or passes against them over 20 yards. (Might have been 1 late) Saban is famous for his match up ZONE coverages
4 Alabama ran the ball
5 Alabama stopped the run. (As good of gap soundness as I've seen in recent years.
6 Alabama controlled the clock - which limited the times Leonard Fourquette had to break a big one. Trust me, if you've seen him run, if he had more touches he would have eventually broke one. He's that good. (Not only did Alabama control the clock but they were highly efferent in their points per drive. LSU was not.)
7. They also won the kicking game here.

So what does this give us. Even in today's high tech, no huddle, fast then faster offenses that throw the ball 40 times and run 100+ plays, you still must run the ball to win. Additionally, controlling the clock is still a valuable stat if, and only if, YOU are highly efficient in points per possession. If you run off 3/4 of the clock and are one for 6 in possessions and scoring, they only have to be 2 out of 6. Remember, when you limit possessions in a game, you are also limiting your possessions and each possession is more valuable to you. If you score 3 tds in 4 possessions, that's 75% A team must be pretty efficient to beat you. But you only have 4 possessions to score those three times. One less limits you to 50%.

Never rely on you getting more possessions then them. Even in an ideal world (omitting onsides) you can only have two more possessions then them and that rarely happens.

I've heard coaches say they ran off 3/4 of the clock and lost 21-3. There are no moral victories. Everything fits together. The more you control the clock, the more your goal line efficiency is important, the more your penalties hurt (off rhythm), the more fumbles hurt, and the more giving up big plays are killers. (If you run off 8 minutes and scored and then they take two plays to score, you have defeated the goal. They have accelerated the number of positions.). Since each possession becomes more valuable, each lost possession becomes more critical.

1 comment:

Jose Socorro said...

Great post coach. One of the things I have seen in my brief time coaching are bad fundamentally sound coaches try to be fancy with concepts on both sides of the ball. The results are not a surprise when those teams give up lots of yards on defense, do not score, and waste great talent.