Political Footballs: Teddy Roosevelt Saves the Game

Teddy Roosevelt: Rough Rider and Football Fan; photo courtesy Wikipedia.

In honor of our imminent national celebration of democracy, SLF is taking a look at one of the most famous intersections (or collisions) of politics and football. 

It’s no surprise that more than a few football players entered politics.  Just looking at presidents, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, and Reagan all played college ball, and AFL Hall-of-Famer Jack Kemp was a career politician with several White House runs to his name.  A less common occurrence is a tenured politician making football a policy issue, though that’s exactly what happened to the sport during its early years.

The late 1800’s and early 1900’s were a turbulent era highlighted by a tenuous confluence of innovation and public scrutiny that was very much like today’s atmosphere.  Formative football was a rush-based game in the mold of rugby, though it eschewed free-flowing play and the gridlock of the scrum, two factors that made football far deadlier than its continental cousin.  The danger was exemplified by the “Flying Wedge,” a Harvard special-teams innovation that evolved into an offensive play where the entire team formed an inverted “V” around the ball carrier, then took a running start and crashed into a single defender.

The Carlisle Indians preparing to run a variation on the Flying Wedge for Coach Pop Warner; photo courtesy jimthorpefilm.com.

Plays like this, along with a constant stream of unregulated violence you’d expect from a game where “unnecessary roughness” was a foreign concept, took a heavy toll on players’ health.  The turning point for the sport came in 1905, when as many as 25 football players died during games across the country.  Public outrage was inevitable, and among the most incensed groups were the faculty members at Harvard University, who had collectively demanded that football be either banned from the school or made safer through a series of rules changes..

SLF has moved!  Read this post at http://www.secondlevelfootball.com/2012/10/31/political-footballs-teddy-roosevelt-saves-the-game/


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Spread-Option Basics, Pt. 5: Going Deep

The vertical passing game has had many benefactors over the years.  Thanks to the proliferation of Air Raid-inspired offenses in college, the concept of “four verticals”—simultaneously running four evenly-spaced receivers deep—has almost become an internet meme.  The coaches who got us to this point include some of the best known football strategists and lineages of all time: the Gillman/Coryell West Coast offense (not to be confused with Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense which built and expanded on these roots), Ellison and Davis’ Run-and-Shoot, and Hal Mumme’s Air Raid scheme.  For this post, we’ll look at vertical concepts in the context of four-verticals plays.

Before I get into details, I’ll say that the advancement of the deep ball hinged on a few changes in the way the game is played.  Contact rules involving holding and otherwise interfering with receivers have made it easier for receivers to get deep, particularly in the last twenty years.  Just as important is how bump-and-run coverage has turned from a devastating technique to one of the worst ways to play defense in football.  Receivers now have a bevy of special moves that’ve rendered bump-and-run almost a relic, and causes offenses to hope to see it used.

There are two major tenets to a successfully drawn deep-ball play.   Let’s use Louisville’s Switch/Stop play as an example.  This is a spread formation play, with three receivers to the wide or “field” side of the play:

Full-route diagram of Louisville’s Switch/Stop play; the running back is primarily a blocker here.

The first tenet is that the receivers are horizontally spaced to start, and their respective routes end up taking the receivers deep while roughly dividing them across the breadth of the field.  Spreading the receivers out in both planes prevents the defense from overplaying particular spots on the field.  Even though there are three receivers to the wide side of the field at the snap, their routes diverge and they can end up dividing the field into fourths…

SLF has moved!  Read this full post and all seven parts of the series at http://www.secondlevelfootball.com/2012/10/22/spread-option-basics-pt-5-going-deep/

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Ray Lewis Out for Season

For all the problems the problems the Ravens defense was having, I didn’t expect a Ray Lewis injury to become one of them.  Even seeing him standing dead-armed on the field–I thought it was stinger, and that’d he’d be back to normal, that he’d be kept out as a precaution if Baltimore had a faster ‘backer to sub in.  It was a torn triceps tendon, though.  A difficult injury  to a critical muscle.  It raises some questions about his career, though I think the bigger concern is for the Ravens defense…

SLF has moved!  Check out the full post at http://www.secondlevelfootball.com/2012/10/16/ray-lewis-out-for-season/

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Spread-Option Basics, Pt. 4: The Screen Game

Nothing presses the edges of the defense like a screen pass to a wide receiver.  Wide receiver screens run the gamut from simple to elaborate.  On the simple end is the “quick” or “bubble” screen, which spread teams run from the slot, trips, or quad wide-receiver formations.  The outside receiver runs downfield on a fly look to either immediately block the outermost cornerback or to carry the defender downfield.  The slot receiver breaks immediately to the space vacated by the outer receiver, and gets a step or two before the ball’s delivered.  To make sure the play hits as quick as possible, the quarterback turns and throws the ball as soon as he takes the snap.

Baylor quick screen.

Teams use the quick screen as an extension of the running game or to punish teams for playing their corners deep.  Baylor’s version of the quick screen (shown above) is largely identical to other teams’ quick screens, though in this instance Head Coach Art Briles is focused on dictating opponents’ coverage.  His screen-receivers are smaller players who he instructs to pick up easy yards and avoid taking a big hit.  Baylor will also cramp their receivers close to the sidelines to further stress defenses’ ability to cover from sideline to sideline…

SLF has moved!  Check out this full post and all seven parts of the spread-option series at http://www.secondlevelfootball.com/2012/10/14/spread-option-basics-pt-4-the-screen-game/

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Spread-Option Basics, Pt. 3: More Veer Variations

Part 1:  http://secondlevelfootball.wordpress.com/2012/09/23/spread-option-basics-part-1-the-zone-read/

Part 2:  http://secondlevelfootball.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/spread-option-basics-pt-2-revising-the-veer/

We’ve seen the Veer go through two more major tweaks, both of which appeared on the scene around the same time.  The first we saw hinted at with Utah’s Shovel play.  Like the shovel, today’s veer game often uses a power-blocking scheme where pulling guards and even tackles opened up space for the play.  The use of a puller has freed most teams from running a true “triple option” with the veer, so that the QB only has to worry about a single read off the mesh.  Now with Ohio State, Meyer runs something that looks more like this now that he has shifty Braxton Miller at QB:

Power Veer, with Power-O blocking scheme; optioned defender in gray circle.

SLF has moved!  Check out this post and all seven parts of the spread-option series at http://www.secondlevelfootball.com/2012/10/07/spread-option-basics-pt-3-more-veer-variations/

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When Football Wasn’t King: Scandal at a Small School

W&L rushing vs. Wyoming in the Gator Bowl; photo courtesy mmbolding.com

I’m revisiting an earlier post on the continuing unrest in ACC leadership, which means I’m plowing through updates on scandals of every sort, and with them all the subtle (and not so subtle) ways schools try to minimize resulting punishments.  College football has turned into such a high-stakes money game that teams respond (almost invariably) to scandal by hiring lawyers, holding secret meetings, and generally closing their ranks.  It’s not just the ACC, of course.  Penn State’s name will be stained for decades, and Ohio State, Southern Cal, and other schools have been tarnished, and yet each posted vigorous defenses, or mounted promises both direct and allusive to return to the status quo…

SLF has moved!  Check out the full post at http://www.secondlevelfootball.com/2012/10/05/when-football-wasnt-king-scandal-at-a-small-school/

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Spread-Option Basics, Pt. 2: Revising the Veer

In an earlier post we looked at how Don Faurot not only invented the option in 1941, but designed a series of plays built around the option that set the stage for the advent of the “triple option.”  In the mid-sixties, Houston’s Bill Yeoman put the pieces together and designed the first triple option, where a QB could hand off to a fullback on the mesh, run the ball himself, or pitch to a trailing halfback depending on how two intentionally unblocked play-side defenders reacted.

This play–now called the Split Veer, but then called the Veer by its coaches and the Houston Veer by outsiders–was (and is) a great play that dominated the college ranks, and was the base scheme for Lou Holtz during his horrific stint with the New York Jets.  Perhaps because of the sour NFL experience, the pure Houston Veer and its offshoots gradually fell out of favor in almost every level of play, until during a spell at the turn of the century about the only place you could see it on a national stage was in service academy games.  Even mighty Nebraska had abandoned their I-formation triple-option attack which was based on the Houston Veer.

On the periphery, though, the play was alive and evolving, most importantly with Urban Meyer’s first squads with Bowling Green and then Utah.  While Meyer wasn’t the first to run veer plays from shotgun, he was probably the first college coach to do it exceptionally well.  His Fiesta Bowl win over Pittsburgh got the scheme national attention, and his later work with Florida made veer plays almost as trendy as the zone read.

At Utah, Meyer had three main veer-inspired plays: the Veer, the Triple, and the Shovel.  Utah’s Veer looked a lot like Yeoman’s.  The attack relied on three men in the backfield who all attacked the same side of the defense.  Meyer got a third person into the backfield by pulling a receiver (either a slot, wing, or tight end depending on the formation) down on a rocket motion to either pause in the backfield or take the play on-the-fly.  The basic rules are that the first players on or outside the play-side tackle are optioned:

Utah Veer; optioned defenders in gray circles.

SLF has moved!  Check out this full post and all seven parts of the spread-option series at http://www.secondlevelfootball.com/2012/09/30/spread-option-basics-pt-2-revising-the-veer/

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Odds and Ends

Tom Osborne (left); photo courtesy Huskers.com

Tom Osborne Retires from Nebraska AD Position

His only professional shortcomings were in politics, and even there he had more success than failure.  Osborne will go down as one of the greatest–and perhaps the greatest–college football coaches in history.  He won three national titles at Nebraska, revolutionized the ground game, and coached a 1995 squad some consider to be the greatest team of all time…

SLF has moved!  Check out the full post at http://www.secondlevelfootball.com/2012/09/26/odds-and-ends/

Spread-Option Basics, Pt. 1: The Zone Read

Rich Rodriguez is probably the godfather of the spread-option football team.  Sure, spread teams have been around for as long as football’s existed, and the option game is nearly as old, but no one had combined the two like he did in the ’90s.  His thinking for the various factors that make a team a “spread” team were simple.  Having three or four receivers on the field stretched the defense in all directions and forced them to make open-field tackles.  Putting the QB in the shotgun full-time gave him more protection than that afforded to an an under-center QB, such as in a run-and-shoot offense.  Fast tempos and balanced formations kept the defense honest and prevented them from disguising their intentions.  What the spread game lacked was a punch in the running game: Rodriguez’s zone read play solved this dilemma and changed the modern game.

The zone read is the quintessential spread-option play that’s been adopted by colleges and high schools across the country, and even shows up in the pros on occasion.  Strangely enough, it was was born by error back in 1991 when  Glenville State QB Jed Drenning bobbled a shotgun snap for a planned inside zone play.  As he regained control of the ball, he saw the backside defensive end crash down on the play, completely ignoring the quarterback in the process.  Drenning took what the defense gave him and ran the play to the backside for a short gain.  Head Coach Rich Rodriguez noticed the odd play and decided to turn it into a purposeful scheme, where instead of a bobbled snap, the QB meshed with the tailback on an inside zone and read the backside end.

Basic zone read with backside end in gray.

For this play, the linemen block like they’re running an inside zone; in the image above, they all step to the right and try to move the defense downfield and towards the right sideline.  If the end pinches down in anticipation of the regular inside zone, the QB keeps the ball during the mesh and run to the backside, where hopefully not only the end is out of the picture, but so are the flowing linebackers.  On the other hand, if the end respects the QB as a run threat, the inside zone should have five blockers on five defenders in the box…

SLF has moved!  Check out the full post and all seven parts of the spread-option series at http://www.secondlevelfootball.com/2012/09/23/spread-option-basics-part-1-the-zone-read/

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