Here we have the ultimate nightmare of any football program, you prepare a game plan for a peer team that you have an even chance of handling.
Just a note of difference with the Meltdown scenario; In the Meltdown your offense was misfiring and out of sorts. All was not completely lost. It was a case of choosing the right plays to focus the personnel on the field. This is different; it’s a case of bringing a screwdriver to a nail driving contest. Everything with the game plan is just wrong.
They came out and did absolutely nothing expected. They were supposed to rush hard, be overly aggressive in the line, so you plotted up lots of traps, misdirections and screens. They laid back, contained and flattened. Played smart, and mixed up their coverages with two safeties over the top. The passing game stayed close to the line of scrimmage or behind it.
Those defensive tactics made the start of the game frustrating. It all began at first down and 75 yards to go. You run an off-tackle trap to start off your first possession not usual, but not fancy, either. You needed to score because you’re down 3-0. The coach deferred and kicked off to the opposition. Their offense promptly drove the ball down the field to the 18 yard line before they wasted two runs and a desperation fade as your defense stiffened.
Their offense wasn’t supposed to come out that strong, and your defense had a more difficult time stopping their drive, than was anticipated. So, you are looking to play some ball control football eat some clock and at least even the score, if not get 7 on the board.
The opening bid trap play was completely stuffed by a veteran senior tackle who turned into the trap block and their linebacker knifed in behind on a flip-flop stunt. The Running Back was tackled for a loss, and now you are staring at 2nd and 12. The second play was a jet sweep that ended up snuffed right at the original line of scrimmage, so with 3rd and 10, you call an out route to your Quarterback’s strong side, and the pass bangs off the receiver’s chest protector and drops to the turf like a stunned goose. The resulting punt puts the opponent in good field position on his own 42. They drive the ball in pretty similar fashion to their first trip, only the shorter field seems to give them a bit of a boost, and their counter trey from your 8 yard line cuts across the goal line, not so much as an accidental touch was inflicted on their running back.
The ball sails out of the end zone, again. You end up staring at that same 75 yards, but now it’s the 2nd quarter and it seems more like 100. You get bold after the touchback. You call a quick slant pass, again. This time you flip flop the receivers. The Y-Route receiver catches the ball in good order; but bent the route too far out and is trapped against the sideline just three yards up. You back the Quarterback off, and you try a twins right with the primary look being a sideline route by the Slot on a rub route. The side judge pulls the yellow laundry out and calls it a pick so you get hit for offensive pass interference. Suddenly you’re behind the sticks and even though it’s still 2nd down, you are looking at a must pass situation already. The next play the defense seems to have sniffed out the formation, and all of the receivers have super sticky coverage. The Quarterback kills the play, calls an audible to a Read/Option, and it gains a respectable five yards. But you needed double that to get to third and makeable. It’s 3rd and long, and it’s back to the pass formation. This is one of those pivotal plays in the game. If you get the first and continue the drive you get some momentum going. If you don’t then your defense, winded and a bit flummoxed from the last drive, goes back out on the field to try to keep it to a score and a half.
Guess what? You call that out route that worked before. This time the quarterback throws an accidental back shoulder. The receiver broke up the field to get past the sticks. The safety jumped the route. Luckily the safety had boards for hands and missed the pick six. You are, now, staring at your play sheet and game prep trying to figure out why nothing has worked.
Assess the Situation, Rationally
The entire first half looks like one rolling ‘nothingburger’ after another. Three and out... punt... four and out… punt… That’s the entire half. You’d be lucky to get into long field goal range to kill the skunk, but you can’t even manage to get past your opponent’s 40 yard line. Your running plays get an average of four yards. Today they’re are getting two. Pass plays are developing but they are so short the yardage isn’t moving the sticks.
The opponent isn’t doing anything that you saw on the films. He’s not rushing hard; he’s backing off, controlling the line of scrimmage and letting your QB sort of swim around with nowhere to go. Every run play ends up being modest. The deep pass is covered and all of the high percentage patterns, practiced for the week, are too short to loosen the tight run coverage.
There isn’t anything in the magic sock for mid distance routes.
Choose: Fight or Surrender?
Most folks will choose to fight this one out. There is slightly more than a half left and giving up is as unsportsmanlike as grinding it in on a runaway. This one isn’t up to you, it’s up to the Head Coach, and the other coaches. You are more of the fight it out type. So you start digging through play choices that you think might split that damned zone. It’s pretty obvious that the morale is sagging.
You look at it analytically. You start going for some of your ‘I’ formation plays. Your Quarterback is not great at it, but getting a power ‘I’ run game going might just create a bit of havoc if you can get it broken out to the 2nd level. With the defensive backfield in coverage there might be some gaps out there that your halfback could hit. The QB under center will give the running back and lead blocker some momentum hitting those smaller holes and creases faster.
Go Over the Top (Where have you heard this one before?)
You run a balanced attack, and right now you are ‘balanced’ between your 25 and his 40. That’s awful. It’s really time to do something to get some energy back into the offense. Send two receivers deep, on the same side; a skinny post, and a flag route. Undercut it with a Tight End trickling out into the 10 yard flat. Move the sticks more than one time on the drive. Reset your schedule to 8 yards instead of 4. If you can get a few pass plays to connect, the RPO might start working again. The Read/Option is too slow for a containment oriented defensive scheme, but it’s great if the Quarterback just keeps it and goes without waiting around. That one second decrease could get the runner up past the middle of the pocket and into an open field.
Keep it Real
Morale wise, it’s a good idea to get the players at the half, and be positive with them. Not Pollyanna, Joe Pep sort of silly clownish sort of positive, though. That sort of thing gets BS detectors going off and players lose operational respect. This is where it gets tough, and you are going to see what your players are made of, as individuals, units, and a team. This is where you had some “lowlight” films on them from high school. How did the QB take getting sacked, or losing a fumble, getting picked and the like. How’d he recover? You’d love to have seen how the Left Tackle responded to getting repeatedly beaten by the Defensive End.
Well, that’s all in the past so you are seeing it now. This is a character move. Can your team stay in the game? You should already have an answer to what you WILL do. CAN they do it? Challenge them directly. Your job is to figure out something to help get them off the turf.
Reality Number 1 is that you have one quarter to break the ice and gather some sort of momentum. You get the ball first. How are you going to make that deferral count?
Ditch the Old Game Plan
Look, pride goeth before the fall. It’s obvious that your game plan is complete poo. It was a thing of beauty an hour ago, during the coach’s pep talk. So you remember that axiom from some old German general… von Moltke… “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” Maybe it’s time to take that advice to heart.
There is almost nothing left in the 2nd quarter, they have the ball and all your defense can do is scratch and claw along to try to get the clock to run out before your opponent gets into scoring range. Even 3 would be a killing blow at this point. Maybe some positive energy from a stop would help.
So, it’s back to being innovative and different.
Here’s your chance to be the OC, again. Which one of these is the best option?
Here’s your chance to be the OC, again. Which one of these is the best option?
This poll is closed
Pull out some of the gadget plays. Get the flea flicker out. Put it aside for the time that you could be within a score. Don’t use them yet, though.
Switch it up to a no huddle, no signal offense. Get to the line and go. Use all four downs, but keep moving the sticks.
Get to the receivers to bend their routes to grab maximum yardage on the catch. The YACs might not be there. Get 8 to 10 yards going.
Go with the two minute drill added to the no huddle on the second drive, if you can get a score out of the first one. There is much to be said for the GO, GO NOW, GO FAST!
Make some personnel changes. Someone not seen before, on film or live, might just be a difference maker.
Admit You are in Garbage Time, Save Your Personnel
Look, it’s not quitting, but just like there is “Garbage Time” for them, there can always be the same thing for you. The worst thing in the world that you can do is get your players hurt. Some of the worst injuries come when a player isn’t going 100%. When you are getting your collective keister handed to you, the letdown in the level of effort can create some serious injury problems. It’s time to get some young players out on the field to get snaps under their belts. They are going to be fresher, more eager to play, and ready for contact. If the game has gotten too far out of hand your opponent will probably be subbing in some of his new players, too.
Keep working with the offense. Keep calling quality plays. Salt this one away as a lesson that won’t be repeated again anytime soon.