Asked about the biggest challenge that he faced this season at Washington State, Mike Leach noted a first for his coaching career.
"One of the most 'marathon' things that I've ever seen...I've never even heard of this really. But we had six offensive lineman take every snap that we did this year. Every one."
"Usually you do it with eight, which means that everybody's effort is cut by about a third. And then if you get the thing in hand, which we didn't get any in hand, then you play the seconds, and thirds." Leach explained.
"We had six guys play vitually every snap. So that was fairly challenging."
With the status of starting quarterback Denard Robinson's in limbo for the Wolverines match up with Ohio State this weekend, the media focus for Al Borges' weekly press conference turned to backup quarterback Devin Gardner, who has stepped in admirably in Robinson's absence.
One of the strengths for both of those Michigan quarterbacks is their ability to improvise when things break down, and still manage to come up with enough yards for a first down. Whether that means taking off and running, or getting the ball into the hands of another open playmaker, Borges explains that type of improvisation is a valuable skill set for offensive coordinators because it eases the pressure to call the perfect play every snap.
"The key is to keep the chains moving so that you can call more plays," Borges explains. "When people complain 'Well how come this guy isn't touching the ball more?' and 'How come this guy isn't touching the ball more?' it's generally because you're not getting first downs. You don't get the turns and you don't get the calls out."
"There's just no way that you can call everything perfect. You can't do it. So what's going to happen when you don't?"
"I know when I started studying what is commonly called the West Coast offense, you don't catch me using that term very often, I talked to Bill Walsh. I asked him 'What makes a good quarterback and what makes a great quarterback?'":
Walsh responded by telling Borges that it's the third play that makes a great quarterback. System quarterbacks can make the first and second play, but when things break down on the third play, that's when you know whether you have a good quarterback or a great one.
Hear more from Borges on his conversation with Bill Walsh below.
Shanahan admits that dividing up the responsibilities isn;t something that he did as a young coach, but has come to realize that there just aren't enough hours in a day to accomplish everything by himself, which is why it is important to surround yourself with quality, hard working assistant coaches that you trust.
“When I was younger I tried to do everything. You’re so excited to have the opportunity to be a coordinator that you want to work at every single area as hard as you can. But you start to go crazy because there aren’t enough hours in the week. So I’ve gotten better at divvying up stuff and allowing others to help me. Just getting to know them, you start to trust them more and they start to know what I like. It becomes more efficient when you work with the same people.” he explained in the Examiner.
So now every Monday, each offensive coach has an area to break down. Receivers coach Ike Hilliard handles first and second down tendencies, three receiver formations and the two minute game plan, quarterbacks coach Matt LaFluer does third down and empty sets, tight ends coach Sean McVay plans the red zone and 22 personnel sets (two tight ends, two running backs) as welll as first and second down. Running backs coach Bobby Turner takes care of goal line and short yardage situations, assistant offensive line coach Chris Morgan is in charge of pass protections and making sure they are sound against all of the opponents blitzes.
Mike McDaniel and Richmond Flowers, the quality control coaches, break down the overall defensive alignments and tendencies and enter it in the computer so that coaches get down and distance and situational stats and percentages. Offensive line coach Chris Foerster and Shanahan break down film on their own and help with the overall game plan.
This is really good stuff. Having a set system where your staff has a set of responsibilities for each week is a great idea. Clearly defined roles are a great way to keep things as efficient as possible and ensures that each assistant on staff is not only invested in the game plan, but also helps the team utilize each of your coaches strengths while also letting them grow within the profession.
If you're not breaking down the weekly responsibilities amongst your staff like Shanahan, you and your staff should definitely take a long look at it.
Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck is calling the shots for one of the most potent offenses in the Big Ten. The Cornhuskers rank second in scoring offense (37 ppg), and lead the league in total offense (482 ypg), rushing offense (269 ypg), pass efficiency (146.88), and long scrimmage plays of 20+ yards (62). Over the past few weeks, they've played their best football against some of the top units in the conference.
Beck obviously has no shortage of weapons to work with, and the staff has done a great job of maximizing the talent that they have in Lincoln. Backup running back Ameer Abdullah has stepped in nicely and ranks in the top six in the conference in rushing, while quarterback Taylor Martinez (who many criticized for accuracy and throwing mechanic issues last season) leads the conference in passing efficiency, and receiver Kenny Bell ranks fourth in the league in receiving yardage. Figuring out how defenses are going to scheme against such a balanced attack, with playmakers at every position has been a challenge on game day, forcing the offensive staff to make a ton of adjustments on the fly.
“It's so hard to explain. To figure out how teams play Ameer Abdullah, Jamal Turner, Taylor Martinez, Ben Cotton, Kyler Reed. How do they play them?" Beck told the World-Herald Bureau. "Nobody has the kinds of weapons we do offensively. You watch film on somebody and figure 'oh, that's what they're going to do.' They don't do that against us. Because you can't."
Sounds like a problem that a lot of offensive coordinators would love to have.
“Some games, you might as well not even practice.” Beck added, noting all of the in game adjustments that are needed to adjust to the opponent's defensive scheme.
One of the strategies that Beck and the offensive staff have used is what Ameer Abdullah calls the "stretch and puncture" where playcalls get the linebackers moving laterally, and then Beck calls something that challenges them vertically.
Nebraska (8-2, 5-1) will wrap the regular season up at home against Minnesota and then on the road at Iowa. They've put themselves in position for a quality bowl game, where they'll once again find themselves with plenty of time and practice to think about how defenses will scheme against their offensive weapons.
Ask any Pac 12 coach who the best player in the country is and one name that you'll hear more often than not will be USC's "Marqise Lee". Trust them, they've had to gameplan against him
Lee leads the country right now in all purpose yardage, accounting for 223 yards per game for the Trojans. He has more kick return yardage by himself (677) than 75 FBS teams have accounted for all season. couple that with his 1,286 receiving yards, 12 touchdowns, and 17.5 yards each time he touches the ball, and you've got yourself the definition of a dynamic play maker.
Take a look at the video below highlighting his accomplishments and showing why he should be considered for numerous end of season awards. Pay close attention to the quotes at the bottom coming from a few highly respected head coaches from the Pac 12 demonstrating just how much respect they have for Lee's explosive play making ability.
According to Brian Kelly, precision is the most important trait of teams that are successful in the red zone.
Without the ability to stretch the field vertically, windows become smaller, and quarterbacks need to be more precise with the football when trying to fit the ball into narrow windows.
"You have to have 'precision.' That's not a word that's thrown around very easily in our room right now. Precision is not what we have yet." Kelly explained.
"I've had quarterbacks that were precise and could read things quickly and then it was easy down there. It was like shooting fish in a barrel."
In their 46 red zone trips, the Irish have come away with points 35 times (76%) with 21 of those trips resulting in touchdowns. That ranks 96th nationally. The other three undefeated teams (Alabama, Kansas State and Oregon) all rank in the top 22 nationally in red zone conversions, and Louisville, the nation's best red zone team, has come away with points in 38 of their 39 red zone trips (97%).
With their three remaining games against Boston College (away), Wake Forest (home) and USC (away), there's no doubt that their precision will need to improve in order to finish the season undefeated.
After quickly climbing the polls and winning their first seven games of the season, Mississippi State has slipped in recent weeks against Alabama and Texas A&M, losing two straight.
After averaging 38 points per game during their seven game winning streak, the Bulldogs have managed just 10 points per game in their two losses. Offensive coordinator Les Koenning attributes their drop off in production to their execution early in games, and during key situations (especially in the red zone).
As he explains, being just a hair off in terms of execution is something you may be able to get away with against lesser teams, but not in the SEC.
"If you really look at it, it's just a matter of execution." Koenning said.
"When it comes down to big games, and playing in big games, you have to execute. Those things are very very small. The small things become big things, so you can't be just a hair off on your route or throwing the football, or your read, you have to be spot on. Those are the type of things that we're experiencing right now, we're getting in that situation where if we're just a little bit off it's not nearly as good as it would be against a Middle Tennessee, or someone like that."
"Execution gets magnified in those situations," Koenning noted about the need to execute against a top defense in a compressed section of the field, like the red zone. "You get down to a crucial situation and you've got to execute. Those are things that are hard to duplicate at practice because of the speed of the game."
This weekend their ability to execute will be tested once again, as they take on a 7-2 LSU squad. While LSU does rank in the top five nationally in pass efficiency defense, scoring defense, and total defense, they rank near the bottom nationally (112th) in opponents red zone conversions, allowing teams to come out of the red zone with points 90% of the time (including 15 touchdowns in 20 attempts).
More and more coaches and programs around the country and finding ways to get their underclassmen more reps in their schemes, even if they are heavily relied on during the week as scout team players.
Down at Vanderbilt, James Franklin and his staff are holding a ten minute skelly and one on one period after practices on Thursday nights so that their young guys get more accustomed to their schemes, terminology and expectations on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. That's just a small part of how they evaluate their freshman class, hear more from Franklin below.
Every level can benefit from doing something like this. Get your freshman and sophomores together after practice on a consistent basis to get them some quality reps running your schemes.
Sacrificing a little bit of post practice time, and getting those young guys some one on one coaching will definitely pay off for your program the road.
After losing one of the nation's most dynamic play makers in Denard Robinson on Saturday, Michigan's offense started to struggle behind an ineffective run game and a backup quarterback. Those two things are never a good combination for any offensive coordinator.
Offensive coordinator Al Borges was asked about the recent offenses struggles yesterday, and responded with a quote that he had heard from Bill Parcells years ago.
"The media and everybody always want to blame it on one thing, whether it's depth, or the playcalling or whatever. I heard Bill Parcells say this years ago, 'It's never one thing, it's always a bunch of things.'"
"As you go through and you critique a tape, and you look at the play calling, and you look at the blocking, it bears it out. Seldom is it the same guy making the error time and time again. I won't say that never happens, but it's usually a combination of issues that prevent you from succeeding, just like it's a combination of issues that help you when you do succeed."
Earlier in the interview, Borges noted an interesting statistic that should catch the attention of offensive coordinators. In the years that his teams have been most successful in the red zone, they've ran for 60% of their red zone touchdowns.
Utah offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, the youngest offensive coordinator in major college football, helped the 3-5 Utes (1-4 in the Pac 12) to their best offensive point total of the season last weekend, putting up 49 points on Cal and snapping their four game losing streak.
The Bears hadn't given up that many points since an week three loss to Nevada in 2010 (52-31).
Johnson credits part of their success on Saturday with being able to make the move from the press box down to the field while passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick took his place up in the box.
According to the Deseret News, for Johnson, the move was all about being able to look his guys in the eyes and being able to communicate with his quarterbacks as soon as they come off the field, both of which can't be done over the headphones.
"You can talk to someone on the headphones, but it’s not quite the same as being there face-to-face. It’s give-and-take, though you lose a little bit of a vantage point with your coordinator being down." Johnson explained.
Kyle Whittingham added, "Fortunately we have Aaron Roderick, who has experience being in the box as a coordinator and is a good set of eyes for Brian up there.”
The win was not pretty (by any stretch) for the offense. However, even though they were outgained by the Bears, they were somewhat efficient, and the bottom line is that they found a way to win (and put up nearly 50 points in the process). The Utes managed to run for 188 yards and 4 touchdowns and completed 67% of their passes (16 of 24) for 156 yards with no touchdowns and an interception.
Each staff has their own strengths and weaknesses and it's just a matter of time until everyone figures out their role and how to effectively handle those roles on game day. Coach Whittingham seems to think they've found their formula and plans to keep the coaching assignments the same moving forward.
“It seemed to be something that was a positive for us. We made the move with just those hopes in mind,” Whittingham explained. “Moving forward we anticipate leaving it the same way and don’t anticipate that changing unless we run into another reason to take a look at it,” he said.
Utah will look to remain on the winning track against Washington State (2-6, 0-5) this weekend, before hitting the road to take on Washington (4-4, 2-3) next weekend. They'll wrap their season up, looking to get bowl eligible, with games against Arizona (5-3, 2-3) at home, and Colorado (1-7, 1-4) on the road.