I’ve been brainstorming for ideas, trying to come up with something at least a little bit interesting to write about before practice news starts coming out. Unfortunately, it’s been more of a braindrizzle than a brainstorm. I have to regurgitate something to keep you hatchlings fed, though, so here you go. None of these things are really worth their own individual posts, but together they make three things that aren’t worth individual posts. Now that’s value, and I’m all about value.
— Boy, that escalated quickly. I mean, that really got out of hand fast. I am referring, of course, to that Georgia-Georgia Tech post from a few weeks ago. It’s funny… I write stuff like that all year about Navy, and you never hear about it outside of our modest little group. Post one thing about Georgia Tech, though, and it explodes all over the internet. Next thing you know, Tech fans love me, Georgia fans think i’m a stoopid liar, they all post about it here, and chbags kills someone with a trident. Chaos! But I think it’s safe to revisit the subject now. The only Tech fans still wasting their precious time reading this gong show of a blog are the guys who were already regulars here. Now that the tide has gone back out to sea and it’s just us again, there are a few things I wanted to talk about.
It’s fun getting a little added exposure to the world at large, I guess, but it’s not without its problems. Most of you guys “get it” with regard to the things I say, or at least you attempt to read and understand my point before railing against it (or agreeing with it, for that matter). Not so when dealing with the internet at large. It’s just the nature of the beast. If you scanned other blogs and message boards that linked to that post, you saw people saying things like, “OMG THIS GUY SAYZ U CANT DEFEND PAUL JOHNSON LOL,” both from people who agreed and disagreed with that premise. Except that isn’t what I said at all. The post was supposed to be about how coaches had defended the wishbone, and why those specific defenses don’t work against the spread option. Obviously Navy and Georgia Tech aren’t scoring 60 points per game, so teams do stop them to some extent.
But wait… Didn’t I say, “There’s no one defensive scheme that will shut down this offense?” Yes, I did. Don’t misunderstand that, though. You can say the same thing about any offense. Any offensive coach that knows what he’s doing can look at any defense and recognize how to attack it within the framework of his scheme. Let me put it this way… When Ohio State only scores 3 against USC or 6 against Penn State, does anyone say that those teams “figured out” Ohio State’s offense? Of course not. They’ll make some other generic observations about talent or speed or not being focused or whatever. But LSU holding Georgia Tech to 3 points? None of those platitudes will do. Instead, it’s OH NOES THE RIDDLE OF THE OFFENSE IS SOLVED. This is because people continue to believe that the spread option isn’t a “real” offense; it’s a “gimmick” offense. And if you believe that, then you think you just need to figure out the corresponding gimmick on defense, and that’ll be the end of it. It just isn’t true.
This offense has won bowl games, conference titles, and national championships for 25 years, setting record after record along the way. If there was a magic defense to shut it down, it would have been discovered by now. Of course you can defend against it, but not through some crazy scheme.
–Then you must stop it by playing assignment defense, right? Well, sort of. This topic reminds me of some of my favorite plays, where some safety is tasked with covering the pitch man, and is so focused on his assignment that he’s oblivious to the fullback tearing right by him.
I think most people are confused about what assignment defense means, and what assignment defense is supposed to accomplish. As was pointed out on Smart Football, “assignment defense”
gets thrown around by announcers a lot, with the implication being that all you have to do is “assign” one guy to the dive back, one to the quarterback, and one to the pitch back.
If the people who subscribe to this idea would stop to think about it for a second, they’d feel kind of dumb. Eleven guys on the field, but it only takes three to stop a triple option play? That must be the easiest play to stop ever! Obviously, that’s not the case. You see, offenses have these guys called “blockers” that tend to get in the way of defenders trying to make a tackle. It’s unfair, I know, but I don’t make the rules. As soon as one of these blockers gets in the way of someone chasing his assignment, that concept of assignment defense sort of goes out the window. If it was that simple to stop, I don’t think the option would have become a staple of college offenses for half a century. Nevertheless, people still think this way. You don’t hear about “assignment defense” only from television broadcasts and the collective brilliance of message board analysts, though; coaches talk about it too. But when coaches talk assignment defense, it means something completely different. They aren’t talking about having three defenders cover three potential ballcarriers. When coaches talk assignment defense, they’re talking about all 11 defenders.
Think about how defense is usually played. A guy either drops into the called pass coverage, or fills his running lane until he can diagnose what the offense is doing. At that point, he runs like a burning squirrel to the ball. But you can’t do that against the option. You can’t read where the offense is going to go with the ball because there’s nothing to read; the offense doesn’t even know where they’re going with the ball coming out of the huddle. The only thing you accomplish by anticipating is to guarantee that the ball won’t go where you jumped. That’s the whole point of the option, right? So instead of reading & reacting, players have to almost ignore the ball, and simply carry out their single assignment on every play. That is why you’ll sometimes hear about defensive coaches practicing without a ball the week before playing Navy; making a stop on one play does you no good if it leaves you open to the boomshakalaka on the next play. Imagine how hard this is for a player. Take the backside defensive end, for example. Here you have a guy who sees play after play going the other way whenever he sees the slotback in front of him going in motion. Navy keeps getting first downs. He gets frustrated, thinking, “they gave me a scholarship because I could make plays! I need to do something!” So he stops covering his gap when he sees motion, and starts cheating towards the middle to take the fullback and get involved with the play. Right about then, Coach Jasper will call a counter option, that guy will be trapped, and the quarterback runs right by him for 30 yards. That’s what they mean by discipline, which I don’t think gets conveyed very well on TV broadcasts. Even the guy on the opposite side of the field from the play needs to focus on his assignment, because the moment he does otherwise, the offense will adjust to him.
Well, crud. I guess the secret’s out now! Not exactly. Assignment defense isn’t any more of a magic option-stopping elixir as anything else. The offense will still get their 3-4 yards if they execute perfectly on every down. But how many offenses execute perfectly on every down? That’s the key here. The point of assignment defense isn’t to shut the option down; it’s just to prevent giving up the big play. In mistaking the spread option for the wishbone, people tend to assume that it’s also a 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense. But Georgia Tech led the country in plays of 20+ yards last year. For all the talk of New-Mexico-esque 8-minute megadrives, Navy has been far more likely to score in less than three minutes. This is a big-play offense. The more big plays you can pull off, the fewer plays it takes to score. And the fewer plays you need to score, the fewer opportunities you have to make a mistake. That’s what defending this offense is all about; preventing the big play, and forcing the offense to make a mistake. It can be something as simple as a 4-yard play turning into a 1-yard play. How you try to force those mistakes, and how the offensive coaches adjust, is where the chess match starts.
Of course, this doesn’t even scratch the surface of what assignment defense means to the passing game, something we expect to see utilized more this year. But that’s a topic for a later post.
— HOLY CRAP ACTUAL NEWS. Media day means that Bill Wagner awakens from his summer slumber covering sailing, and returns to his blog to nurture us with the golden nectar of information. Already, he is revealing that Navy’s uniforms will be receiving what in auto industry terms would be described as a mid-cycle refresh. The lacrosse team is unimpressed. Possible throwbacks for the Western Kentucky game are a great idea, both for the whole tradition thing, and for the money that’ll be made when those jerseys are auctioned off.
Wags is also reporting that Ricky won’t be seeing any contact this fall. After going through three quarterbacks last year, I don’t think the coaches are eager to repeat the experience. I don’t think this is that big of a deal. However, I eagerly anticipate the first time Ricky screws up, which some yahoo will undoubtedly blame on him not getting hit enough in August. CAN’T WAIT.