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The Gobbler Country Football Playbook: Dealing with “The Meltdown”

The Playbook looks at dealing with the first of four scenarios. It’s all about tactical adjustments, and what can or should be done given four common scenarios. The first one is the full on opening series meltdown. There is a poll. We’d really like you to respond. GO HOKIES!!!

The 3rd and long against Clemson on the first drive
John Schneider - SB Nation

For the next four articles we’re going to tackle some of the issues involved in dealing with events in a dynamic system; translation, dealing with it when stuff goes south. No one is going to want to wade through these scenarios in one article, so each one will be addressed in a single article, with a poll to see where you’d go with it. The comments always are open, but all of us in the fan world are guilty of “making suggestions”, and few of us are really aware of how difficult that proposition tends to be.

The scenarios are familiar. They have been simplified and shortened a bit, and may or may not be specific to a team. They aren’t even specific to a year, because frankly we’re like that insurance company, we’ve seen it. The date and time functions aren’t specifically there. Really they could be from the leatherhead era of football and it wouldn’t matter, though.

So let’s get started with a really obvious massive problem. The entire team seems to be operating in the universe of suck. From the kickoff, nothing is going right, and in fact it’s all going wrong and it has nothing to do with how good your team is, or how good the opponent is. This is all about the first dynamic of successful football; execution. You’re the OC; you have the playbook, binoculars, and the headphones. It’s your hooptie can you get it to run long enough to win the game?

The Complete Meltdown

It’s the opening play of your first offensive series. You are on the 19 because your hot-shot return guy took the ball 6 yards in the end zone, and instead of downing it to get to the 25, he figured he’d be the hero and take the ball all the way for 6. Well, the only 6 that he got was a negative six on the play. If he had just taken a knee you’d be in better field position. So, to make up some of the lost schedule and make a statement you wig wag in a big surprise play that’s perfect to run against a base defense shaded to stop your usual opening bid of a half-back slant right.

You call a quick seam pass. The primary route is a double move and your best receiver just can’t miss. You even toss in a dummy audible to make sure that the defense is completely convinced that it’s going to be your base play. The ball snaps, your quarterback, in shotgun, watches with a panicked look on his face as the ball sails over his head and bounces around the 4 yard line and nearly into the end zone before the halfback beats a blitzing safety to it. Your Quarterback looks numb. You wig wag in a jet sweep to see if you can grab some room for your punter, but instead of the sweep, the Quarterback audibles to a half-back ISO. Did he panic or miss the sign? That play gains about a football length, and the head coach starts a stream of blue language that is threatening to melt your headphones. You can see what’s going on through your binoculars, but it’s too early in the game to call a timeout and the coach is about to have a stroke. The young starting QB reminds you of a deer in the headlights; but you can’t talk to him. All he has to help him is the head coach, who has gone from a bit over the top to a total head case. You quickly get the next play set. Something simple… get your receivers into a trips right, and just have the QB pull the exchange, and take the ball around the end. If you can get five, your punter won’t be standing on the end line.

This time the play looks like it’s set and called right. The Quarterback takes the snap, pulls the hand-off, and promptly gets buried before he can get outside the right tackle. The sideline is screaming for the punt team, and the head coach is going through breathing exercises on the bench. The sports psychologist, hired to help him through some of the rough times he’s been having of late, is having a tough time of it. We won’t talk about the shanked punt, and the opposition’s offense taking it to the house on a 30 yard laser beam pass to a deep flag route by their tight end.

Yeah, we know that this scenario wasn’t specifically real, but we have seen these sorts of series before. Not just the Hokies, but on other football teams at other times. We’ve even taken a bit of advantage when our opponents have had similar meltdowns. It’s pretty simple, there are three things that real football is, that any computer simulation, or even controlled scrimmage cannot replicate. Football is played by humans, coached by humans, and officiated by humans. That means anything that can happen, will, and nothing is absolutely guaranteed. If it can go wrong, it will. If it’s a sure thing, it’s a sure thing that it isn’t sure at all.

What to Do Kiddies? What to Do?

Before you can react, you have to assess the situation beyond the obvious notice that your team looks like an old vibrating electric football game happening. Nothing in this series of unfortunate mishaps looks to be related to the plays selected, the game plan, or the personnel executing the game plan.

Answer the first question. What the heck is going wrong? No play is exactly the wrong play but the execution is consistently bad. The Quarterback is a bundle of nerves. The line looks like it is struggling to get the defensive line blocked on runs; but really the team just looks unfocused by the adrenaline.

Make the next observation that might help get things turned around. Fact; it’s the beginning of the game. There is plenty of time to get the points back but that’s not going to happen until the Offense gets settled down.

What do you do? You call down to the sideline and get the Special Teams coach on the horn. You get him to grab his returners and emphasize that they are to take a knee when the ball is kicked into the end zone. The Special Teams coach should balance some praise for aggressiveness with some wisdom about field position and it is important enough that doing it again gets them benched indefinitely.

What’s next? You get your Quarterback on the phone (I would like to insert my pet peeve, here... the OC should be on the sideline to interact with his players directly.) and you play a bit of sports psychologist, yourself. He needs to breathe and focus. Above all he needs to reset, and put the prior mess behind him. You give him a flow of the next six play grouping and get him to focus on calming his execution, and making clear headed reads. “It’s not time to panic, it’s time to buckle down and just do your job.”

What not to do? DO NOT get into the face mask of the Center guilty of triggering the offensive line panic. As much as the mistake about the run back was made, the field position wasn’t at issue. The Center pulled the pin with the over pumped snap.

That carelessness that needs to be dealt with, even though you don’t want to hammer him too hard. Get his line coach to talk to him rationally. See if he’s confused or spooked by something. Maybe it’s time for a change and he’d be better off at Guard while one of the other interior linemen plays center. The key is to get someone to get through to him and make sure that one mistake doesn’t become a bad habit.

Don’t start looking at other Quarterbacks, either. Give your starter a focus note and a few plays that will get him calmed down and more effective.

Reset and Restart

The big thing to accomplish in this scenario is a reset and restart. Put the fiasco behind you, and the team. It’s not horrible, but if the unfocused panic becomes habitual it’ll be a long game and possibly a really long season. The first essential recognition, here is that there isn’t anything fundamentally wrong with the tactics and game plan. There were various problems in execution. It might be necessary to pull a player or two for a few plays.


What would you do to get the offense refocused and back on the road to getting some points on the board?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    You haven’t seen enough to make any substantive changes continue to execute the game plan that you have
    (18 votes)
  • 66%
    Stick with the plan; but pull out some play groups for the new series that are less ambitious and more likely to move the sticks.
    (44 votes)
  • 1%
    Change a few personnel; especially swap out the Center, who is going to be jittery after that first bad snap and the missed blocks.
    (1 vote)
  • 4%
    Scrap the original game plan and go to your base play setup until you can figure out what works.
    (3 votes)
66 votes total Vote Now

The answers aren’t so obvious, are they? The total melt down might include any one of those responses. It’s going to depend on multiple factors, including dealing with the increased probability of a loss. Given the nature of college football, and the ultimate effects of a single loss on the status of the team, there is going to be a definite problem. The one thing that the coaching staff must have in this situation is PATIENCE, and that’s one thing of which big time sports has a dearth.

Next up, an injury to an unexpectedly critical player