Monday, November 27, 2006

Danny Woodhead : The Best Running Back and Best "Little Guy" in NCAA College Football 2006

The best running back in college football 2006 is...
you guessed it...
the best running back in Nebraska...
and that is the Cornhuskers I-Back?...
no...he does not play for the Huskers...
Solich did not want him...Callahan did not want him...
it is Chadron State's unsung hero...
what team was that?...
Chadron State...
and who is running?...
Danny Woodhead.



Danny Woodhead - photo linked from
The Chadron Record

Woodhead is a junior at Chadron State (an NCAA Division II football team).



Danny Woodhead - photo linked from
The Durango Herald

Here is what Dirk Chatelain, staff writer at the Omaha World Herald, October 29, 2006, writes at Woodhead a 'freaky good' running back:

"Just read what Mike Kramer says.

"I'm just going to tell you right now: If he was at Nebraska, he'd be the starting tailback," Kramer said. " ...

Kramer is the head football coach at Division I-AA Montana State. His team shocked Colorado in September, then got blown out by Chadron State a week later. Woodhead ran for 215 yards on Kramer's Bobcats, 109 more than Colorado's entire offense.... [Montana State just beat Division I-AA 8th-ranked Furman 31-13 in the playoffs and will play Nr. 1 ranked Appalachian State on Dec. 2. Note that the label I-AA disappears in December.]

"I'm not just jumping on the wagon now," Kramer continued. "This kid's been doing this for a long time. I've been around. I've seen a lot of players. This guy is freaky. He's freaky good.

"What he's accomplishing right now, in the realm of college football, is going to stand in the record books for a heck of a long time."

Woodhead is on pace - you ready for this? - to rush for more yards than anybody who's ever played NCAA football at any level."

Danny Woodhead is one of the great mysteries of the crass failings visible in college football recruiting by Division I-A schools and he is especially a specific failing of then Nebraska Cornhusker head coach Frank Solich, who did not find Woodhead worth recruiting, even though Woodhead graduated from high school as Nebraska's Class A (the highest class) leading all time rusher, and more (see below). Since no one wanted him because of his small size, Woodhead wound up going to NCAA Division II Chadron State, even though his high school credentials were as prolific as his current performance:

"If Woodhead maintains his 2006 pace, he will break the all-time Division II rushing record in the fourth game of 2007. By the fifth game, he will break the all-time rushing record for any NCAA school.

Woodhead could become the first player in NCAA history to surpass 8,000 yards or 100 touchdowns.

Eye-popping numbers are not new for Woodhead.

He's the Nebraska high school Class A all-time leading rusher. He led Class A basketball with 26 points a game in 2004. He led his soccer team in scoring. He ran the 100 meters in 10.5 seconds and won the indoor 55 meters at last spring's Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference track meet.


But there's an asterisk tethered to Woodhead. Always has been.

He's 5-foot-8 and 200 pounds...."

At Chadron State, Woodhead this year has already set the NCAA single season rushing record and more is in store, as Chadron State is still alive in the Division II football playoffs. After running for 252 yards on 35 carries in Chadron State's November 25, 2006 43-17 Division II playoff win over West Texas A&M:

"The junior from North Platte now has carried 328 times for 2,740 yards and 34 touchdowns this fall. No other back in college football annals has reached the 2,700-yard milestone in a season."

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Stanford Football Harris McCarney and Coker

Writing again as an alumnus of Stanford Law School, we hear that there are rumors out there that Stanford head football coach Walt Harris may be fired at the end of this year and that the new athletic director, Bob Bowlsby of Iowa, is considering hiring Iowa State coach Dan McCarney as his replacement.

A great number of - to this observer - discouraging opinions about Dan McCarney can be read at some postings on the message board of the Iowa State Daily, including the following record of McCarney at Iowa State:

"12 years:
26-67 Big 12 Conference

55-84 Overall Records
"

We do not know Mr. McCarney and he may be a fine gentleman, but we are at an absolute loss for words when we ponder how a coach with this kind of a losing record can possibly be considered for and possibly fit into Stanford's topnotch athletic+academic program.

It would seem to us that coaches for athletic teams at Stanford should - at the least - match the very same strict standards of excellence and performance in their field that are applied to the student athlete admissions and to the University of Stanford as a whole.

It seems to us that it would be a complete and inexplicable anomaly that Stanford holds steady to the policy of recuriting student football players only after they have been accepted to Stanford academically, where a near straight-A average in high school is required for admission, but then bring in coaches with mediocre "C" records to guide those students. Sorry, but that is just not going to work. The only kind of football coach that fits Stanford is one who matches his players - legitimate Stanford admissions - and that means that Stanford should finally look to the top.

If you are not going to hire Larry Kehres of Mount Union (my pick) then the logical coach for Stanford at the moment is Larry Coker, recently fired coach of the Miami of Florida Hurricanes.
As written at his bio here:

"Wherever Coker has gone in his coaching career, success followed. The Okemah, Okla., native has been on college teams that have made 17 bowl appearances, and Coker's teams have been victorious in 13 of those 17 games, including a 4-0 mark as an assistant at Miami and a 3-2 record as a head coach....

Coker has led the Hurricanes to one national championship, two Bowl Championship Series title game appearances, three BCS bowl game appearances, five bowl games, three consecutive Big East Conference championships, and a remarkable 53-9 record in five seasons as the Hurricanes head coach. Simply put, Coker has met the challenge of exceedingly high expectations."

Coker is not a disciplinarian - which has cost him his job at Miami of Florida - whereas the type of players that Stanford has and gets, do not need a disciplinarian. Coker would be a good choice for Stanford as the 2nd winningest coach in Division I-A football today. Go to the top.

The man who should then go to Miami of Florida is current Stanford head coach Walt Harris, whose disciplinarian style is badly needed at Miami, and where Harris would easily find the kind of players to run his system of football and where he would no doubt be very successful. He could implement his pro offense and defense and easily find and recruit the type of players he needs, which he can not do at Stanford.

We suggest an exchange of coaches - Harris to Miami and Coker to Stanford - which would be a win-win situation for both programs. Stanford gets the easy-going relaxed Coker. Miami gets the authoritarian. Both football programs get what they need.

Arkansas loses to LSU 31-26

We are fans of Gus Malzahn, but not so much of Houston Nutt.

The University of Arkansas Razorbacks lost this weekend to LSU 31-26 and we think that the Hogs head coach Houston Nutt is at fault.

Bad coaching is...

when you let your quarterback play the whole game in a close, important game and he finishes with 3 completions in 17 pass attempts, even though you have talented passing QB help on the bench. Obviously, if a QB is not having a good day, then he should be replaced, otherwise you are PLANNING to lose.

Knowing when to replace a player, especially a quarterback, is one of the major skills required of the football coaching staff. Here the coaching staff elected to take a path which was guaranteed to lose. That is not winning football.

Oregon-Oklahoma Game Replay Official Knew Oklahoma Had Recovered the Ball

Here is a strange story in which the 2006 Oregon-Oklahoma game replay official who blew the call on the onside kick possession at the end of the game between the two teams early in the season, which gave Oregon the game as a gift, acknowledges that he knew that Oklahoma had recovered the football, but could do nothing about it, since it was not permitted by the replay rules. Weird.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Nebraska beats Colorado 37-14 with Vastly Improved Playcalling

We give credit where credit is due.

As a University of Nebraska alumnus we have this football season strongly criticized the Cornhusker coaching staff for its unimaginative playcalling and ineffectual and loose defensive formations, especially in the second half of play, and particularly in the 3rd quarter.

In the Huskers' 37-14 win over Colorado this past Friday, however, it was definitely - and finally - INTELLIGENT playcalling which proved to be a significant element in a game against Dan Hawkins' slowly but constantly improving Colorado Buffaloes football team.

The Huskers scored the most points scored against Colorado this season and in terms of margin of victory pinned the worst 2006 loss on the Buffaloes record, whose 2-10 season makes the team appear to be worse than it was. Prior to the Nebraska loss, the Buffs had played four ranked teams and none of those had scored more than 28 points against them, with then 9th-ranked Georgia lucking out a victory at the end of the game 14-13. Hawkins came to Colorado as the winningest coach in NCAA Division I-A football, so that things are bound to change there for the good next season.

As far as the Husker playcalling in the Friday game against Colorado is concerned, we surmise that the increasingly strong criticism being voiced in Lincoln about unsatisfactory NU playing finally struck home in the Nebraska coaching ranks. As written by ERIC OLSON, AP Sports Writer, at Yahoo! Sports:

"Nebraska generated momentum for the Big 12 championship game with a 37-14 victory over Colorado that showcased power, passing and panache....

The panache? Four trick plays, including one that resulted in a touchdown pass to a guy who normally plays defensive end.


The Huskers entertained the Memorial Stadium record crowd of 85,800 with their trickery.

Barry Turner, normally a defensive end, caught a 29-yard touchdown pass on a fake field goal in the second quarter. Tailback Marlon Lucky attempted two passes and Nebraska converted a fourth-and-one on a direct snap to safety-turned-running back Tierre Green.

"I think those are plays we have always executed (in practice)," coach Bill Callahan said. "It just so happened that the situations were right for those particular calls. It's timing. It's feel. It's instinct. It's where the ball is in field position."

We think that "trickery" is not the right word for these plays. The job of the offense is to overcome the defense and the job of the defense is to be prepared for whatever is coming at it. Why should defenses only be prepared for unimaginative, standard plays?? Good playcalling means calling the right plays - whatever they may be - in the right situation, and that was surely done in this game. Indeed, for the first time this season, we saw a better mixing of calls generally by the NU playcallers, making it more difficult for the Colorado defense to guess what the Huskers were going to do next. That's what good playcalling is all about.

ERIC OLSON of AP Sports writes at Yahoo! Sports:

"CU linebacker Jordan Dizon said the Huskers caught the Buffs off-guard.

"You hardly expect one," Dizon said. "When they do a bunch like that, and when they do it successfully, it kills morale.""

Exactly, and that is what the game is all about - getting the better of your opponent by legal means. Nor does this game of wits end there. You can be sure that Colorado head Hawkins will not forget this game the next time the two teams play.

We wish the Huskers luck in their upcoming game against the Oklahoma Sooners, who by virtue of their narrow win against Oklahoma State on Saturday (the outcome was uncertain down to the last play), combined with Friday's Texas loss to Texas A&M 12-7, enter the 2006 Dr. Pepper Big 12 Football Championship game on December 2, 2006 in Arrowhead Football Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.

It should be a very interesting match-up. Oklahoma ranks nationally about 10 spots higher than the Huskers in total defense, whereas the Huskers rank nationally about 10 spots higher than the Sooners in total offense. The average OU score this year against all oppponents is about 30-16 whereas Nebraska averaged about 34-18, a 2-point difference to OU. Hence, we make the Huskers a 2-point favorite in this game, although if the Huskers do win, the margin could be greater than that, whereas if OU were to win, it will be close in any case, because OU does not have the offense to outdistance the Huskers by much, whereas NU does have the offense to put many more points on the board than they have been putting.

In any case, may the best team - and by that we also mean the best-coached team - win.

Who is who will be decided by the scoreboard.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

2006 World Golf Championships-World Cup at Sandy Lane, St. James, Barbados December 4-10, 2006

As you can read at Sandy Lane:

Barbados will host the 2006 World Golf Championships-World Cup at the Country Club Course at Sandy Lane, St. James, Barbados, from December 4-10, 2006.

Sandy Lane, St. James, Barbados is where Tiger Woods spent his honeymoon recently. See Law Pundit for more information about Barbados.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Stanford Football and Injuries to Players : Another Reason to remove Head Coach Harris

The Stanford Daily of November 8, 2006 carries a story by Alex Gyr which discusses injuries suffered by Stanford football players on various formations. Gyr writes:

"When USC blocked a third-quarter Aaron Zagory field goal attempt in Saturday’s 42-0 win over the Cardinal, there may have been more going on than met the eye. During Walt Harris’s weekly press conference on Tuesday, the coach reported that five Stanford players were injured on the play.

Harris claimed that the main breakdown on the play was the four-man USC rush up the middle overwhelming the two-man Stanford protection unit.


“It was a combination of one of our guys not doing what he was supposed to do and the power and the strength of the push,” Harris said. “We’re going to have to do something about that because it becomes a safety issue. We call it the ‘middle push.’ You have four bodies pushing on two bodies and it is really dangerous.”


Of the five Stanford injuries on the play, some occurred on the 71-yard touchdown return by Terrell Thomas, but Harris emphasized that the danger of the “middle push” is a real concern."

Funny, the rules are the same for everyone. Why is it that specifically Stanford players - Harris calls them "bodies" - are being injured and why is it that four men are pushing on two men, a situation which Harris acknowledges to be "dangerous". So why are there not four men - or more - against four and why are only two being used as a "protection unit"?

Everything that we read coming from Harris indicates that Stanford should HURRY UP and find a new head football coach for the Cardinal.

Michigan vs. Ohio State November 18, 2006 - Pregame Analysis + Result

We acknowledge the passing of Bo Schembechler, who was a great football coach at Michigan (See the article by Dan Wetzel at Yahoo Sports).

The big college football game today, Saturday, November 18, 2006, is Nr. 2 ranked Michigan vs. Nr. 1 ranked Ohio State. Although the better half in our family is a University of Michigan graduate and although we will be rooting strongly for the Wolverines, the statistics for the past season tell us that unless the Michigan coaching staff under head coach Lloyd Carr gets better in this game than they have been, the Buckeyes under head coach Jim Tressel are likely to win by about 17 to 18 points. Ohio State is favored by 7, although Stewart Mandel at Sports Illustrated picks Michigan 17-14. Luke Winn has it 21-17 for the Buckeyes.
We do not think that the game will be that close.

MICHIGAN vs. OHIO STATE - QUICK ANALYSIS USING COMMON OPPONENTS

Ohio State and Michigan have played six common opponents this year and Ohio State's margin of victory in each and every game over those common opponents has been higher than the margin of victory of Michigan over those same opponents by an average of 17 1/2 points. That is an impressive difference.

Interesting is Wisconsin's season (10-1) with only 1 loss (to Michigan 27-13) and the five opponents it has in common with Ohio State and Michigan with an average 23.2 points per game margin of victory, which is 6.9 points BETTER than Michigan and 10.6 points worse than Ohio State.

Still, Michigan won 27-13 against Wisconsin in a game which was tied at the half at 10-10 and was lost by the Badgers due to poor and unimaginative playcalling on the Wisconsin side, where P.J. Hill Jr. almost always ran on first down against a Wolverine rushing defense that only allowed him 54 yards on 20 rushes, much too few to be calling his number on first down all the time. Wisconsin should have been throwing more than it did.

The Michigan rushing defense is Nr. 1 in the nation, having allowed only an average of 29.9 yards per game, so that no one is going to beat the Wolverines rushing. Interesting here though for purposes of comparison is that the Texas rushing defense is ranked 2nd in the nation, but they still lost to Ohio State 24-7, a 17-point difference which probably also applies to Michigan, if the game goes according to the book. The Buckeyes managed only 99 yards on 29 carries against the Longhorns and won the game in the air on two TD passes by Troy Smith and 17 of pass 26 completions for 269 yards. Except for 2 turnovers by Texas and a 100-yard passing advantage to Ohio State, the game was even.

This does not bide well for Michigan, whose pass defense is vulnerable, having allowed over 201.5 yards per game passing in 2006. It was by means of the passing game that the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers beat this nearly same Michigan team last year in the Alamo Bowl.

Here are the scores with respect to common foes in the 2006 football season.

OHIO STATE vs.
Sat, Sep 23 (24) Penn State W 28-6 -- 22 point margin of victory
Sat, Sep 30 at (13) Iowa W 38-17 -- 21 point margin of victory
Sat, Oct 14 at Michigan State W 38-7 -- 31 point margin of victory
Sat, Oct 21 Indiana W 44-3 -- 41 point margin of victory
Sat, Oct 28 Minnesota W 44-0 -- 44 point margin of victory
Sat, Nov 11 at Northwestern W 54-10 -- 44 point margin of victory
Average Margin of Victory for those 6 games = 203 points = 33.8 points per game

MICHIGAN vs.
Sat, Sep 30 at Minnesota W 28-14 -- 14 point margin of victory
Sat, Oct 7 Michigan State W 31-13 -- 18 point margin of victory
Sat, Oct 14 at Penn State W 17-10 -- 7 point margin of victory
Sat, Oct 21 Iowa W 20-6 -- 14 point margin of victory
Sat, Oct 28 Northwestern W 17-3 -- 14 point margin of victory
Sat, Nov 11 at Indiana W 34-3 -- 31 point margin of victory
Average Margin of Victory for those 6 games = 98 points = 16.3 points per game

WISCONSIN vs.

Sat, Sep 30 at Indiana W 52-17 -- 35 point margin of victory
Sat, Oct 7 Northwestern W 41-9 -- 32 point margin of victory
Sat, Oct 14 Minnesota W 48-12 -- 36 point margin of victory
Sat, Nov 4 Penn State W 13-3 -- 10 point margin of victory
Sat, Nov 11 at Iowa W 24-21 -- 3 point margin of victory
Average Margin of Victory for those 5 games = 116 points/5 = 23.2 points per game
Sat, Sep 23 at (6) Michigan L 13-27

The fact that Ohio State and Wisconsin both played Bowling Green this season also gives a basis of comparison. According to the above analysis of common opponents, Ohio State is 10.6 points better than Wisconsin. Ohio State beat Bowling Green 35-7 and Wisconsin beat that same team 35-14. By comparative scores (except for their head-to-head match) Wisconsin is 6.9 points better than Michigan, making Ohio State better than Michigan by - again - 17.5 points.

The latter comparative score statistic gives an uncanny match of making Ohio State 17.5 points better than Michigan by direct comparison of margins of victory against common opponents but also making Ohio State 17.5 points better than Michigan by direct comparison of margins of victory via the victories of Wisconsin. Both comparisons lead to the exact same result, so that the actual difference between Ohio State and Michigan is clearly 17.5 points, all other things equal.

UPDATE

The Ohio State - Michigan game lived up to expectations and produced an exciting finish with the Buckeyes winning 42-39. In spite of being down by two touchdowns twice in the game, the Wolverines fought back each time to get back into the game. We were definitely surprised that the margin of victory turned out to be so small and also were quite amazed that two long rushing touchdowns by Ohio State were the difference in the game, notwithstanding Troy Smith's 29 of 41 completions for 318 yards and 4 touchdowns. Those touchdowns were expected, but the rushing touchdowns were not expected, certainly not on such long gainers.

The turnover margin favored Michigan 3 to 0 and if it were not for those turnovers, the Ohio State victory margin would surely have been greater.

The statistics show that the Buckeyes dominated the game, showing an advantage in total yards over Michigan of 520 to 396, punting only 3 times to Michigan's 5.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Gus Malzahn - Good Coaching has a Name - A Master Chess Playcaller against Children of the Checkerboard

Good coaching always has a name, and in this selected case, it is Gus Malzahn.

Gus Malzahn is one of the major reasons that a resurgent 9-1 Arkansas Razorbacks football team is ranked in the top 10 in the nation. He calls the plays for the Razorbacks and shows what good playcalling is all about.

As Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt is quoted as saying: "I’m going to let Gus go. I’m going to turn him loose."

He not only has designed many unusual plays, but, as one of his former assistant coaches is quoted as saying, bread and butter plays can also clearly be a part of strategy: "when something's working, he'll stick with that...." We wrote about this here as a sign of good coaching (and investing).

Malzahn also echoes the philosophy of Larry Kehres when Malzahn states:

"You've got to build your offense around your best players."


Malzahn is the author of The Hurry-Up, No-Huddle: An Offensive Philosophy, which is described at amazon.com as follows:

"An exciting, "fast and furious" offensive system that allows coaches at any level to speed up the game and lengthen the amount of actual playing time, while mentally and physically wearing down the opponent. Explains the philosophy of the Hurry-Up, No-Huddle, building a well-organized offensive system with the Hurry-Up, No-Huddle, communication, practice, and the Hurry-Up, No-Huddle running game and passing game. Also includes 14 special tips for running the system. Features dozens of photographs and illustrations. ."

Malzahn had a remarkably successful record as a high school coach. In 2005, before being hired by Arkansas:

"Malzahn ... completed his fifth season at Springdale High School with a perfect 14-0 season and a state championship in the state’s largest classification."

Based upon what we read about Malzahn, he is to be ranked in the same class of coaches as Larry Kehres of Mount Union - REAL coaches, who, either by instinct or learning, really know what they are doing, a rare breed.

The remarkable thing is that many people thought that a high school football coach could not be successful at the college level, much as some people think that a coach like Larry Kehres would not be successful at an NCAA Division I-A school. Others were less charitable:

"Some college football purists were appalled when Malzahn was hired directly from Springdale High School, a few miles outside of Fayetteville, to serve as offensive coordinator for the University of Arkansas football team."

Interesting also was the comparison of the University of Arkansas situation to that at the University of Nebraska at Sports Overload Sports Blog:

"Gus Malzahn has been criticized and analyzed every way from Sunday. The radio shows and newspapers have been all over the issue. Some would say he is the answer because he brings a spread offense to the table, not to mention a pipeline to northwest Arkansas recruits. I think it would be interesting for Arkansas to run a spread-oriented offense, but there are a few problems there. Arkansas runs the football religiously and making a drastic change could take a lot of time. Nebraska went from the option attack to the west coast offense. They are about to begin year three of the transition period and, other than a big win over Michigan to finish the season, still haven’t gotten back to where the program was before. Houston Nutt has to win this year or he is gone. "

Nebraska this year is still not back on track (8-3 with no wins over a top opponent). Arkansas in the space of a season is 9-1 and ranked in the top 5 nationally with several wins over top opponents (they were a mere 4-7 last year).

People who criticize Malzahn understand next to nothing about coaching, probably have never coached themselves, and certainly have never themselves been coaches of "winners" capable of what Wooden calls "competitive greatness". Malzahn's is not a "gadget offense", as some people claim, but rather an offense designed to exploit weaknesses in a given defense, which in fact is just what an offense should be. Tom Osborne used to have a bag of so-called trick plays at the University of Nebraska which he used in the right situations quite effectively. There was nothing "gadgety" about them. It was just smart football playcalling.

If Malzahn were calling the plays at the University of Nebraska this year, I would imagine that the Cornhuskers would be undefeated, but as it is, the Huskers have forged an 8-3 record with some of the worst playcalling (and worst defensive formations in the 2nd half) we have ever seen.

Football playcalling is a bit like games of strategy, poker and chess combined, and for that, you need someone having a particular kind of strategic mind. We do not mean to slight the intellect of those who major at college in the study physical education, but most football teams do not have anyone with that kind of a mind calling plays. Hence, we definitely have the opinion that the best football coaches are generally also the smartest football coaches.

We note that Malzahn, just like Larry Kehres, sees his coaching job as a form of "teaching". One example is his video Teaching Routes with Quarterback and Receiver Responsibilities, described as follows:

"What the coach should expect of his quarterbacks and receivers concerning how wide receivers should run their routes. In a straightforward manner, two-time state champion coach Gus Malzahn explains and demonstrates the responsibilities of the quarterbacks and his wide receivers on seven of the most commonly run routes: Stop, quick slant, comeback, speed out, out and up, post/flag, and go. Includes coaching pointers and more. 2002, 36 min. "

The smarter football coach in America, regardless of his level of coaching, will have and study that video. I imagine that the University of Nebraska football coaching staff has never even heard of Malzahn's video.

D. Laurant at Real Football 365 in Razorbacks' new coordinator happier than a Hog in slop has a wonderful posting about Malzahn's success at Arkansas, and we quote:

"If nothing else, Gus Malzahn is proving that football is football, wherever it's played.

Or as William Shakespeare once pointed out, the play's the thing -- whether it's hatched by 12-year-old kids in a vacant lot or guys wearing headsets in professional stadiums.

You take into consideration your personnel, the other team's defense, and the possible element of surprise. Shake well and serve."



The result is that Malzahn was for example named National Coordinator of the Week (after the convincing win over Auburn).

As concerns the most recent game, the convincing 31-14 Arkansas win over Tennessee, College Football News staff columnist Matt Zemek's posting at Scout.com writes:

"Michigan defensive coordinator Ron English will likely win the award named after legendary Arkansas head coach Frank Broyles, given to the best assistant coach in college football. English's transformation of the Wolverines' defense has enabled him to become the best defensive coordinator in America. But if anyone in the United States should come in second for the Broyles Award, it's Arkansas offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who--like English--has produced strategic brilliance in his first season as a coordinator at the Division I-A level. Malzahn called plays with the boldness and confidence of a man who knows his team can handle a complex and daring playbook. With uncertain or inconsistent teams, the play sheet isn't likely to feature aggressive offerings on every single snap. Malzahn, however, knew that he had the punchers in this Fayetteville football fight, and McFadden provided the ultimate knockout blows to Phil Fulmer's crew. McFadden was used by Malzahn as a quarterback, a receiver, a rusher, a handoff man, an I-formation power source, a shotgun spread field general, and as a nuclear physicist. Well, not the last one, but you get the point: Gus Malzahn gave touches to Darren McFadden in many ways, and the diversity of looks--not to mention the plays that came from those formations--flummoxed Tennessee all night long. Malzahn played a mean game of chess with Darren McFadden against the Children of the Checkerboard, and that was more than half the battle." [emphasis added, we have taken "Children of the Checkerboard" in our blog title from Zemek's posting]

Actually, since offense is half the game and defense the other half, this would be the perfect year to split the Broyles Award 50-50 to Malzahn and English, no questions asked. Nearly EVERYONE would applaud such wisdom and it would bring more attention to the Broyles Award than it normally gets.

See also:
Between Sundays
In the Cards
Arkansas Razorbacks Sports Network

Huskers Blow Leads because of Poor Coaching on Offense and Defense

Over at Burnt Orange Nation, Corn Nation gives us a heavy clue as to the cause of Nebraska Cornhusker football defensive woes, especially after taking the lead in a game:

"Kevin Cosgrove. He makes me insane sometimes. We get a lead and we go into this soft zone thing that allows teams to rack up yards.... I'm not 100% sure about him, his abilities. A couple misplaced blitzes, and it's all over."

It is no wonder that the Huskers falter after taking the lead. The coaching staff does not have the will to win and is afraid to lose, a deadly combination.

After going ahead in a game, head coach Callahan tucks his head between his legs and starts calling offensive plays destined to go nowhere, whereas the defensive coordinator at the same time either puts the Blackshirt defense into a soft zone destined to lead to opposition scores or calls for safety blitzes in game situations where this is just plain and simple foolish gambling for nothing.

Both of these faulty strategies lead to a resurgence of the opponent's motivation and momentum, with the result that big leads are invariably lost.

The amazing thing is the consistency with which these stupid things are done, game in and game out. You would think that the people in Nebraska would begin to call these coaches on these obvious errors and try to get them to change their timid non-champion strategies.

But they are not doing so. Even Corn Nation opines:

"I'd go so far as to say that Saturday [the Texas A&M game] was an example of what we're getting out of Bill Callahan's offense. Diversity - the ability to run, throw, score quickly if we must. Can anyone complain about that? "

Missing in that analysis is an appreciation of:

1) Nebraska again failing to score in the 3rd quarter, and
2) the Huskers' almost guaranteed blowing of a big lead in the 2nd half, which has become a Callahan trademark.

To call Callahan's playcalling diverse is just simply wishful thinking, far from reality. Callahan's playcalling is just barely beyond 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust, especially in the 3rd quarter. An intelligent coach opposing the Huskers will beat them every time, because he already knows what is coming:

1. To start out the game, Jackson will be given the ball on every play until the Huskers reach the red zone. Then, short risky passes will be taken without reason, e.g. throwing to a fumble-prone receiver, just to tempt the fates, or to invite interceptions. After 3 unsuccessful plays, NU will go for the field goal, where any decent coach would have had a guaranteed touchdown.

2. The Huskers will start to throw the football, for which they have an outstanding offense, and take about a two touchdown lead because the defense will also play tightly and aggressively.

3. After taking about a two touchdown lead, the Husker coaching staff will get its fear of losing syndrome and the offense and defense will go into a nose dive. The defense will go into loose formations, permitting the opposing team to move forward at will. The offense will start each play with a rush, generally followed with another rush, then try to pass on 3rd down, not convert and punt. All of these plays are not successful because they are totally predictable. The opposing team will take the ball and move to score.

4. The lead will be lost and NU will be fighting for its life to keep from losing yet another game.

5. Down with minutes to play, a play strategy "to win" will finally be adopted by the Husker coaching staff and the conservative "save the score" mentality will be replaced with an aggressive passing offense, as in the Texas A&M game. If enough time is left, NU will score to take the lead.

6. Through stupid playcalling and an overly loose defense, as in the Texas game, the opponent will nevertheless be given another opportunity to move down the field and win the game in the closing seconds.

Diverse?
Nah.
Stupid and predictable would be better terms for the NU coaching and playcalling.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Stanford Lesson on Hiring Coaches (and Athletic Directors)

The Stanford football team pulled off a miracle this past weekend by avoiding an ignominious winless 0-12 season through a totally unexpected 20-3 road win against Washington, the second weakest team in the Pac 10. The Cardinal did not necessarily win because they played better than in previous weeks, racking up a futile 7 first downs on offense, but their victory came in large part because Washington played even worse than they did, with the Huskies being coached by Tyrone Willingham, former Stanford coach, who recruited 11 of the seniors on the current Stanford team.

In spite of this win, we remain fully convinced that Stanford head football coach Harris is not the right head coach for Stanford. He may be the right coach for a football program needing authoritarian type of leadership, where he can simplistically install his "system" and then recruit the types of players he needs for his system, but that is not Stanford. We set out our reasons for this opinion previously here.

The final onus of responsibility for the terrible shape of the Stanford football program lies of course with the leadership of Stanford University for not having had better judgment than to hire a coach like Harris in view of the following:

As written by Daniel Novinson in the Stanford Daily at Tough football questions answered:

"... Stanford football has admissions standards unlike any Division I-A school in the nation. Of the approximately 2,000 recruits who sign to play Division I-A football each year, those in the know tell me that only 40 are academically admissible to Stanford, and of those 40, we’ll sign about 20. That’s not much of a margin for error if five of those recruits don’t pan out.

In contrast, great academic institutions with great football programs like Berkeley, UCLA or Michigan have achieved their success by virtually eliminating their athletics admissions standards. They’ll recruit the vast majority of those 2,000 who have test scores, grade points averages or backgrounds that eliminate them from Stanford’s recruiting pool. Notably, Cal fueled their five-year turnaround from laughingstock to title contender with loads of transfers from junior colleges, 99 percent of who would be inadmissible to Stanford."

For that kind of a recruiting situation, you have to have a head coach who is able to adapt his style of football to the players he has because he can not just get the players he wants. Stanford definitely does not need a coach who forces the available football players - who may not be suited for it - to play HIS system, just because he can not coach beyond that system. For example, Harris uses the 3-4 offense, one of few colleges to use such a system, an NFL-type system for which he does not have the players and probably never will at the college level at Stanford. That in our view is coaching ineptitude.

Harris has been quoted as follows:

In The Daily Californian: "Our challenge has been putting players into our system on both sides of the ball...."

In our view, that is crass coaching stupidty. It is definitely a coaching failure to implement a system for which you do not have the players.

In Palo Alto Online, Harris is quoted as follows about a player:

"I expect him to execute our system," Harris said. "His concentration should be playing the way our system needs him to play." [emphasis added]

My hair already stands on end when I read comments like that. Can you imagine Pete Carroll at USC uttering such a statment? Never. Would yours truly ever play any sport for a "system" coach like this? Never. Football is a sport and should be fun for players and fans. You can be sure there is little fun for the Cardinal players and fans in Stanford's new but thus far "winless" stadium. Simplistic "system thinkers" are anathema at Stanford.

In our view, any "purported head coach" can pick out a successful football "system" (like the Huskers' Callahan and his choice of the West Coast Offense) out of a hat and then, if he recruits five-star players, look like a good coach by leading top material to more than 50-50 football wins. That in our view is not what top coaching is all about.

Great coaches get great results out of lesser talent by adapting their style of play to what they have - that is the essence of coaching and what makes great coaches - optimal teaching and preparation. Average coaches never rise above the player material they have, whereas the worst coaches lose games even where they should be winning.

Your average coach never gets his players to play to their full potential. A great coach does.

When legendary basketball coach John Wooden at UCLA had a national championship team with 6 foot 1 playmaker Gail Goodrich, he played a completely different type of basketball than when he had the likes of 7 foot Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) or 6 foot 11 Bill Walton at center for the Bruins (read Walton on Wooden). Like Larry Kehres of Mount Union, Wooden adapted to what he had, not to what he would like to have had.

For those who are interested, John Wooden has written several books on his successes in coaching. If coaches should follow ANY system, they should take a look at Wooden's Pyramid of Success, a method to achieve competitive greatness. His is not a "game system", it is a philosophy. Now THAT is a system worth emulating. Sadly, most coaches are miles distant from Wooden's talents. His books should be required reading for every coach and athletic director - BEFORE they are hired by the sometimes clueless university leadership in charge of such athletic hirings.

Moverover, every player in every sport ought to be learning what Wooden has to offer. A sceptic might ask today: "What are they teaching at the university level these days beyond general courses in "political indoctrination" or "church and state mingling" or "US President trashing" or "gender confusion" or some such similar totally inexcusable partisan endeavor?"

Sports in college are there to improve the students LEARNING and THINKING experience in an open environment. These are the LEADERS, not the followers, of tomorrow. For that, you have to have top teachers who know what they are doing - and these in turn should be pointing their students to resource materials written by the best experts available.

Some coach coming in and simply implementing "his system", which may not be even appropriate to the student players he has, has nothing to do with what a top college is all about.

Time of Possession Relatively Unimportant as a Statistic in College Football

As in previous weeks, Hawaii continued to roll over the opposition, beating Louisiana Tech 61-17, although Hawaii had the ball only 21 minutes and 38 seconds of the game. See NCAA Football - Louisiana Tech Bulldogs/Hawaii Warriors Box Score Saturday November 11, 2006 - Yahoo! Sports. We have posted about this fact previously, that the time of possession is relatively unimportant as a statistic in college football, unless it can be used to show weakness in defense. The only thing that counts is the scoreboard.

Nebraska Cornhuskers Again Self-Destruct in 2nd Half and are Lucky to Win against Texas A&M 28-27

In what has become a veritable trademark of Bill Callahan's often timid football playcalling at the University of Nebraska, the Cornhuskers again blew a healthy first half two touchdown lead, losing a 21-7 advantage to fall behind 27-21 in the 2nd half. They failed AGAIN to score in the 3rd quarter (we commented on this here) and more or less self-destructed in the second half, before lucking out a win 28-27 in the last seconds of the game, in part due to the fact that the offense was forced to play open football like it can.

When a team blows a two-touchdown lead once, that can happen, but when it becomes a pattern, then you know that a good team capable of scoring is being hampered in the 2nd half by overly conservative playcalling on offense which is killing the entire team momentum, both on offense and defense.

Here are typical examples of the kind of unimaginative and lackluster playcalling which characterized the Huskers in the 2nd half (play-by-play from Yahoo Sports):

In the 3rd quarter, playcalling showing why Nebraska as good as never scores in the 3rd quarter:
1st-10, NEB24 9:55 B. Jackson rushed up the middle for 3 yard gain
2nd-7, NEB28 9:55 B. Jackson rushed up the middle for 4 yard gain
3rd-3, NEB32 8:37 B. Jackson rushed to the left for 2 yard gain

In the 4th quarter:

Nebraska - 12:21
1st-10, NEB20 12:21 M. Lucky rushed up the middle for 3 yard gain
2nd-7, NEB23 11:57 M. Lucky rushed up the middle for 15 yard gain
1st-10, NEB38 11:21 M. Lucky rushed to the right for 3 yard gain
2nd-7, NEB41 10:47 M. Lucky rushed up the middle for 2 yard gain

You are going to get nowhere with that kind of playcalling.

Really, the Huskers have a fine team. If they could just find someone who has the requisite intellect to call plays sensibly for the entire game, that would help this team immensely, both on offense as well as defense.

For additional thoughts on Cornhusker playcalling, see Husker Mike

Sunday, November 05, 2006

College Football Playcalling, Ball Control and Time of Ball Possession - What NOT to learn from the Nebraska Cornhuskers under Coach Bill Callahan

How important is ball control and the time of ball possession in modern college football?

Hawaii vs. Utah State

We are looking at Hawaii's 63-10 win over Utah State this past week, a game in which the winning Warriors from the Pacific islands held the ball a mere 23 minutes and 15 seconds, while the losing Aggies "controlled the ball" with a possession time of 36 minutes and 45 seconds.

It looks to us like controlling the SCORE is substantially more important than controlling the clock of possession. No team wins football games today solely by marching up and down the field between the 20-yard lines. To win in football, you have to get the ball into the end zone. During regulation play, some football coaches seem to forget that.

Overtime Games : Toledo, Nevada and Missouri

We see this particularly in overtime games, where teams unable to score in regulation may suddenly develop the ability to score from 25 yards out - the reason in our opinion is different playcalling - because in overtime the pressure to score is overwhelming. (See generally Overtime system still excites coaches by Kelly Whiteside, USA Today, August 25, 2006).

Playcalling during regulation time is most assuredly a subtle science, often dependent on the personalities of the coaches and the strategies that they follow in guiding their teams on the field.

Nevertheless, we do not believe in coincidences, and statistics make some interesting points in this regard. A good example is Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, who not only was involved in the first college football overtime game (Toledo vs. Nevada, 1995, in the Las Vegas Bowl, which Toledo won 40-37) but whose Missouri Tigers also hold the NCAA Division I-A record for the most overtime games played, with an 8-3 record in those games. That record would suggest that Pinkel is not aggressive enough as a coach in his playcalling during regulation time.

The Nebraska Cornhuskers and Bill Callahan

The current Nebraska Cornhuskers under their coach Bill Callahan seem to have playcalling problems in the second half of their games, showing a lack of ability to finish strong, a development which is visible for Callahan's entire tenure as Husker coach (since 2004) - one need only look at the 70-10 loss to Texas Tech in 2004 where the Huskers collapsed in the 2nd half after being down 21-3 at the half.

The Huskers have not scored in the 3rd quarter in 2006 in the following games (USC, Kansas, Iowa State, Texas, Oklahoma State, Missouri), a 3rd quarter record of futility matched by few teams with aspirations to a top 20 ranking. During this same season Callahan's teams have shown a great talent for getting out in front to substantial leads in the first quarter, only to blow those leads during the rest of the game. Indeed, the Huskers under Callahan seem to have no power in the second half. That is evidence of either a poor team or poor coaching or both. As Urban Meyer, one of the nation's most capable coaches, was quoted as saying yesterday after his Florida team's shaky win over Vanderbilt:

"Championship teams take a big swing at you in the third, fourth quarter and knock you down. We're not doing that."

As far as the Huskers are concerned, exactly the opposite is happening. Other teams are taking big swings at the Cornhuskers and knocking THEM down in the 3rd and 4th quarter.

We think the answer is that Callahan and his coaching staff, rather than following a strategy "to win", revert to an extremely conservative "fear of losing" strategy in the 3rd quarter. This introverted strategy not only does not lead to scores, but worse, often seems to throw off the Husker momentum, leading to fumbles and errors, and gives the opponent a chance to catch up, if previously behind. Take a look at the play-by-play for all those games at Yahoo Sports or ESPN and you will wonder what the Nebraska coaching staff is thinking about in calling its 3rd quarter plays.

As one can see by viewing game reports, reading Callahan's comments to the press and looking at the playcalling of games, Callahan, especially to start out the 3rd quarter, seems to be fixed on "establishing ball control" and stretching out the time of possession, rather than looking to put points on the scoreboard. This Callahan strategy has already backfired several times this year and yet the Nebraska coaching staff does not appear to have learned from their past mistakes, generally carrying this meek offensive strategy into the 4th quarter.

Here are our comments on the individual 2006 games [we exclude here a) the games where Nebraska was mismatched with very weak opponents and b) the Kansas State game, where they did score 7 points in the 2nd half, in the 3rd quarter, on a 40-yard run by Marlon Lucky immediately after a 32-yard pass completion, one of few times that NU was not rushing on 1st down in the 3rd quarter]:

1. Nebraska did not score in the 3rd quarter against USC and the Huskers persisted on trying to run the ball against stonewall Trojan rushing defense against which they had had no success in the first half and even though the Trojan pass defense had shown that it was quite vulnerable. Still, Callahan did not switch to a passing attack, which, as shown later in the season by Oregon State, was the way to beat USC. Even TV commentators wonder at Callahan's "stalling" during the USC game.

2. Nebraska blew a 17-0 1st quarter advantage, leading ultimately to a tie game of 32-32 after Kansas outscored the Huskers 22-8 in the second half. Nebraska did not score in the 3rd quarter. The Huskers were lucky to win in overtime.

3. Nebraska fumbled the ball away in the closing minutes, allowing Texas to make a last-second field goal to win 22-20. Nebraska did not score in the 3rd quarter.

4. Nebraska blew a 16-0 lead in the 2nd quarter and had a margin of only 23-20 at the half and then (in a sad reminder of several 2nd-half blowouts at the hands of other teams in 2005) the Huskers were outscored 21-6 in the second half by Oklahoma State, with the Huskers losing ignominiously 41-29. Nebraska did not score in the 3rd quarter.

5. Nebraska led 27-6 at halftime but is outscored by Missouri 14-7 in the second half. Nebraska did not score in the 3rd quarter.

There are only four alternative answers for the Husker malaise:

1. The coaches of the other teams simply make better adjustments at the half
2. The Husker adjustments - if any - as made by the coaching staff at halftime - are poor
3. The NU players get tired during halftime
4. Players from opposing teams pick up renewed energy at halftime

We think the answer for all of the above games is that Callahan and his coaching staff generally revert to an extremely conservative game in the 3rd quarter which not only does not lead to scores, but worse, often seems to throw off the Husker momentum, leading to fumbles and errors, and gives the opponent a chance to catch up, if previously behind. Take a look at the play-by-play for all those games at Yahoo Sports or ESPN and you too will wonder what the Nebraska coaching staff is thinking about in calling its 3rd quarter plays.

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