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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Guns Up

Texas Tech 39 - Texas 33

From purely a fan's perspective, that was maybe the best football game I've seen in a long while. Wild, erratic, well-played, well-coached, hard fought, with everything on the line between two unbeatens. The game was of course won on a magnificent pass from Graham Harrell to Michael Crabtree, who -- twisting, turning, ripping -- not only caught the ball but scored a touchdown. Below are a few more specific observations regarding the game.

Clock Management

First, clock management. Immediately after the game, a reporter asked Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell, when he saw that he was down with only a minute twenty-nine remaining, what he was thinking:

HARRELL: We're gonna win the game. . . . They left us too much time.

The successful offense Tech runs was of course the predicate for having any success on a drive like that (gotta throw and catch), but you have to give yourself a chance. Tech did it exactly right: They did not stupidly try to spike the ball, instead calling all the plays at the line (and without an excessive amount of communication); they did not overdo it with downfield passes nor all dump-offs to the running back (you generally just need to throw most passes past the first down marker); and although they didn't end up needing it, they preserved their time out.

It was a great drive, and it was well-orchestrated. I saw a commentator say something along the lines of "they had failed to use all their time outs" and further that "had Crabtree been tackled on the final play, they would have lost." Not only were both statements wrong (or at least carried the wrong sentiment) they also didn't flow together.

Tech intelligently kept their final timeout; had it been anyone else besides Michael Crabtree (assuming he caught it) he would have been tackled, and the time out would have allowed them to get their field goal unit on the field. And the rest -- the no spikes, the efficient communication -- was an application of the trappings of good clock management teams that I have previously described.

Texas's 91 yard stop-and-go

Second, I may draw this up in more detail later, but Texas's ninety-one yard TD was well designed and it was a good call. Throughout the game, the Longhorns had run the traditional curl/flat combination: the outside receiver would run a twelve-yard curl back to the quarterback, while a slot or running back would run to the flat. The play is designed to pull the flat defender to the sideline and to be completed in front of retreating defensive backs.

The base play had seen only marginal success: McCoy had completed a few of these, but this was also the combination that he had tried to throw on the pass intercepted and returned for a touchdown (the flat defender had drifted to the flat but had stayed in position to come back under the throw to the curl).

The touchdown was not only a stop-and-go, it was curl/flat and go. The slot ran the flat route and the outside receiver ran downfield and put his foot in the ground at about ten to twelve yards. This is a big reason why the cornerback bit so hard: he was not only reacting to a receiver but he was also reacting to what he thought was a route combination. It was a good call.

Mike Leach

Leach, for all his oddities, is a heck of a coach. Tech outplayed Texas the entire game, and it's a cliche, but there's only a handful of guys on Tech's roster who could have made Texas's. Also, Tech's defense played well, and much has been made about Tech's ability to run the ball better.

But this game's ending was fitting: A frantic last minute drive, all passes, and a touchdown pass on the sideline. And even further, the play itself was typical Leach: a basic play that Tech runs all the time (four verticals), but it was a play they had practiced so often that it was going to work.

Which gets back to the macro story about what Leach does. Leach and his offense are sui generis. As a result, a lot of coaches do not like Leach. Not on a personal level, but they are dismissive because he's so different. His success undermines their traditional approaches to the game. Too many football coaches are walking stereotypes right out of central casting; whereas sometimes the fact that Leach is head football coach for a major program seems like a Seinfeld plotline.

And that offense. As Michael Lewis described in his great New York Times Magazine piece on Leach (of somewhat renewed interest now), it's not an "offense" in the traditional sense: Leach's offense is "in effect, an argument for changing the geometry of the game."

It's funny that even fans who only casually watch the game immediately realize that Texas Tech is not the same "spread" that is so in vogue across football (in fact, it is Texas's offense that resembles that "spread"). It's his brainchild. It's a pass-first offense that is actually almost amazingly staid (Leach runs the same plays that he ran when he got there; the same plays he ran at OU; the same he ran at Kentucky; which all are mostly the same ones they got from BYU in the 1980s), but with lots of slight variants. New tags to move a guy here and there, to flip the play, and others. But always the freedom and variance with the offense has come by allowing the quarterback to find the right play and the receivers to get open.

In Leach's offense, the receivers do not really run "read-routes," but he does give them plenty of freedom to beat their men and settle in zone holes.

In the end, I'm not sure if you can really emulate Leach's offense per se. The current BYU staff has lots of ties to Leach and they are having great success and Sonny Dykes is the offensive coordinator at Arizona with mixed results. There are others. But Leach is just plain a "different" guy, so he could care less whether his offense looks like other offenses -- and in fact I'm sure he wants it to be different -- and this allows him to always push football's boundaries in ways other coaches cannot.

So the season is long, success in football is always ephemeral, but for now, in Leach's ongoing case against the football traditionalists (Leach has a law degree), his argument against the "geometry of the game" looks pretty persuasive.


Tsell said...

Agree that Tech is winning and winning in a dominant fashion, but I think the jimmies and joes argument might hold in this game. Tech's Oline was much bigger than Texas', and freshman in the secondary does not make a pass efficiency leader for the horns. Tech, in my opinion, was favored in this game because of those advantages in personnel, not scheme. Those jimmies and joes sure looked good executing Leach's brainchild though.

Anonymous said...

Herbstreit (I think) called Tech's defense a "bend, don't break" defense, and I think that showed. They gave up some yards, they gave up some plays ... to the #1 team in the country. But they stopped quite a few, especially early, and they had momentum on their side for all of the first half. In my mind, that is a winning combination - an offense that will efficiently and consistently put points on the board, and a defense that will keep a few points OFF the board for you. I don't think any defense can completely shut down a very good offense. From my perspective (I could be wrong), the past couple OSU teams have been just inferior SEC-type teams (with "great" defense and "decent" offense).

At any rate, it was a lot of fun to watch the TT / Tx game. MUCH more enjoyable than the Aub / MST game.

Fire Tubs and hire Leach!

Unknown said...

See how it'll stack up in the BCS...