18.May.2010 How to Stop the Spread (Read) Option

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Part I

As an Oregon State fan, the read option has had me tugging my hair for some time. I have always figured the solution to stopping it would lie in the esoterics of x's and o's; that is, run-stopping defensive formations such as the 46 or 4-4. Then I had a eureka moment. So simple, so elegant, so obvious. Why hadn't I thought of it before?

First, let's understand what happens during a typical a read option. This video does an excellent job of demonstrating the simplicity of the play from the offensive perspective: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDu-livhN-k

As you can see, the idea behind the read option is to create indecision for the defensive end (sometimes this can be the linebacker as well). The Oregon variation is to leave the DT unblocked. This is a good wrinkle since a DT is usually slow and therefore cannot recover from the smallest indecision. So the question that's eluded Beavers coaches and fans for years is "how do we stop it?" Mark Banker has been trying to answer that question for seven years.

In the remainder of this article, I postulate that the solution is based on a simple, yet profound paradigm shift that has little to do chalk board diagrams. The idea is based upon this one simple proposition: Reverse the defensive player's indecision onto the offensive player. This is done by:

1. The DE (or LB or DT) "bluffing" a quick initial step towards either the QB or RB, then bouncing the other direction once the QB reads the defensive player's initial (bluff) move.

2. Variation in the bluff. It doesn't matter if the DE bluffs to the QB or RB, so long as he changes his strategy often enough so as to not form a pattern. This is an idea I've known intuitively for some time, but it wasn't until about six months ago when I began reading about (applied mathematical) game theory that I learned of the name for it–"mixed strategy." The idea and use behind a mixed strategy is simple:

A player would only use a mixed strategy when s/he is indifferent between several pure strategies, and when keeping the opponent guessing is desirable – that is, when the opponent can benefit from knowing the next move.

There is an infamous study on soccer penalty kicks that describes the [intuition of this] phenomena beautifully:  http://www2.owen.vanderbilt.edu/mike.shor/courses/game-theory/docs/lecture05/MixedSoccer.html In short, by using a mixed strategy you can create an endless loop of "what if's" on both sides.

For example, in the soccer example it would be something like this: "I will kick left. But what if the goalie is guessing I'm going to kick left? Then he will block my kick. Therefore, I will kick right! But what if he knows that I think he knows that I'm going to kick left and therefore adjust to the right? Then he will block my kick to the right. So I will kick left."…and so forth. You can see how this quickly becomes and infinite and complicated loop in thought, and that is the precise idea–to nullify and level the offensive advantage (i.e. taking advantage of the defense's "pure strategy") via creating equal indecision. —————————————————————————————————————————————-

Part II

The notes below are taken from an interesting paper I found online, written by Mike Bellotti himself at a Nike camp in 2008, on the advantages and disadvantages of a shotgun spread offense.

Spread Shotgun Advantages:

1. Force defense to defend the width & depth of the field

2. Create more 1-on-1 situations for more RAC (run-after-catch) opportunities

3. Can see the blitz coming or it must come from a distance

4. Easier to read coverage

5. QB separation from line of scrimmage

Disadvantages:

1. Lose lead back running game

2. QB's eyes must be on shotgun snap, affects ability to read coverage

3. Defense can always outnumber – need options, hots, sight reads in the offense

4. QB must be a viable run threat

Some astute ideas here. While interesting, I see no purpose in focusing on the advantages on this list. The disadvantages offer great insight into how to further stop the read option. For example, if the QB must focus on the snap, an audible late in the snap count would likely work wonders. It's interesting to note that the defense can always outnumber, which is why Oregon loves to have a mobile QB and even that playing field. ———————————————————————————————————————————————– Conclusion The combination of reversing confusion onto the offense with defensive bluffs and late audibles should stop the read option. If the defensive players' commitment is a bluff, the quarterback has an unreliable "read" and therefore the pre-snap becomes an infinite guessing game that an offense would likely not want to play, and the post-snap would be bedlam. I'd love to find some of the Boise State film and see if this is precisely how they shut down Oregon.

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  • BONGHIT1 says:
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    OR OHIO STATE FILM?

  • JackBeav says:
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    “I will kick left. But what if the goalie is guessing I’m going to kick left? Then he will block my kick. Therefore, I will kick right! But what if he knows that I think he knows that I’m going to kick left and therefore adjust to the right? Then he will block my kick to the right. So I will kick left.”

    But it’s so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you: are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy’s? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

  • JackBeav says:
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    Watching some of the BSU/UO game, it looks like BSU played strongside contain while every one of the front seven except the Will keyed on the RB. The Will made a line for the QB.

    Oh… and when UO players tried to initiate a hit, BSU players would hit back… novel idea that.

    • angrybeaver says:
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      Do you have the footage anywhere?

      • JackBeav says:
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        • angrybeaver says:
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          Oh yeah, I remember that game, where Boise State looked all-world on defense because Oregon tried passing the ball all night. That was BSU’s best defense–the fact that Masoli isn’t a great passer, and that’s what they tried to do.

          Forgot how that played out.

  • ObjCritic says:
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    And if successful in creating enough incorrect reads, you still need to tackle well – “form tackle” – to take seize the advantage you have just created for your self. So frustrating to watch James escape a TFL in the CW on a key run…

  • angrybeaver says:
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    I emailed this article to Bob D last night (I figured since he responded to my complaint about donations he might respond to this). Not for ego or anything but for results. I want them to do this and win games/stop the spread. I asked him to pass it along to the coaches.

    He responded!

    Starting to love Bob D for taking the time to address my concerns.

    His response:

    “Read the article, interesting, and sent to the coaches, thanks for sharing.

    Bob De Carolis
    Director of Athletics
    Oregon State University
    541-737-7373
    Go Beavs!”

    If we see the defenders bluffing reads and blowing plays up in the backfield they better offer Angry a job.

    • JackBeav says:
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      There’s an opening for a ‘spectator’. I saw the ad for it on some blog the other day. :)

    • angrybeaver says:
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      That’s funny.
      The way works been going I might take that position in the near future.

      I think it’s pretty cool we have an AD who responds to issues in this blog. I doubt most would. It’s a slow time of year I suppose.

    • BeavGirl says:
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      way to go, angry! :D

  • ean says:
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    Not a bad idea to fake them into the wrong read. If they can watch enough film to determine what the QB is reading perhaps they can know what option they will take before the play. One idea is to just blow up the QB every play no matter what and have guys containing the RB. The more hits on the QB the more his decision making will suffer.

    • angrybeaver says:
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      The way QBs are protected you’d be giving up the same yardage only in penalties. You’d be susceptible to quick pitches to the edge (around the unblocked DE/LB), too.

      I like my idea because it puts the onus on a stupid player to make an intelligent decision (“guess” is more accurate in my scenario). For example, Masoli is not a smart man. I want him making tough decisions if I’m a defense. The reason he looks so brilliant on the field is the defense makes his decision easy. We’ve seen Roper, Costa, etc run this offense and they are not gifted in the least. The reason the offense is highly successful is that the defense is playing at a disadvantage and tipping their hand. The only true way to nullify that advantage is to force the offense to botch their read.

  • GreatWhiteHunter says:
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    Penetration by the DT is key. You have to force the QB to decide more quickly in the read progression. I don’t know if I’d call it bluffing the read so much, as there isn’t a whole lot of time to play the juke game for a defender. If we get consitent and quick DT penetration into the backfield, and force the QB to commit to an option sooner, there’ll be fewer options for the LB’s/DE’s to worry about.

    The longer the QB holds the ball, the more the entire D commits to the misdirectiion and the more dangerous the play becomes.

    • angrybeaver says:
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      Well, as you can see in the video above Oregon doesn’t even block the DT most of the time so he always has penetration. So that is definitely not the key to defending the play. Just watch the play in the video above–DT penetration left gaping holes.

    • angrybeaver says:
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      If you mean a play where they leave the DE unblocked and the DT gets pressure too then yes. That is nice. But that’s kind of penetration is not going to happen on every play or even every other play.

      • beavers4life says:
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        What if on occasion we switch the DE’s and DT’s around or do twists on the DL? That would mean that the DT would pretty much block the OT, then DE would go inside and as the quicker guy would get to the play faster. That could be a good mix because then you could fake the twist and have the LB blitz and the ends drop back in coverage at times. Then you also do your regular DE containment, DT go up the middle, and the LB do their thing. That would upset the Offense I would think quite well. I loved doing twists and stunts because it confused the offense when we actually did them and they had no time to realize what had happened. And if they can’t guess when we’ll do any of that, then we have the upper hand.

        What do y’all think?

      • angrybeaver says:
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        I don’t like it. In theory it’s interesting, because if their QB is reading either the DT or the DE and they’re stunting, how reliable is that read? But…in reality stunts usually lead to huge runs. It’s mostly a tactic used to defend passes. Do you want Taylor Henry “clogging” the middle? I don’t.

  • OSBeavs says:
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    Angry,

    I like your proposal of putting the onus on the Offense, that is something that I have long contended as a means of playing this style of offense. That said I don’t think you can “fake-out” a college QB with a DT even if they are as dumb as Masoli. Those QB’s get a ton reps so that they react almost purely on instinct. Kelly is a mad scientist with the way he runs that offense. It is true that he often has his QB read the DT (which is very different than most programs) but he still has specific play calls that have the zone read check the DE. Realistically, the scheme to stop his mad scientist of an offense is really quite simple. It comes down to things that are key components of any youth football team: Tackle with great form, play a physical brand of football and stay disciplined. Unfortunately, those things don’t happen with pac-10 defenses.

    The reason this offense is so prolific at the collegiate level is the great disparity in talent. College football plays a lot like basketball, superstars dominate. That seems to work well on the offensive side of the ball, unfortunately you need 11 studs to have a great defense. The best scheme in basketball is to create a mismatch and take advantage of it. The spread option attack does exactly that, find the weak players and match your best against them. In fact, I am sure that Kelly watches film to find the weakest players on the opposing team and finds ways to exploit their weaknesses. This is the same reason this offense would not likely succeed in the NFL. While there are superstars in the NFL, the talent disparity is much smaller, everyone is a great player. Angry, you specifically mentioned the defensive audible as a technique to confuse the opposing QB. I like this idea, if you look at some footage from two years ago, the Ravens were successful at stopping Peyton Manning with a very well managed defense from Ray Lewis. He literally had the defense switching the formation and call at the snap of the ball so that Manning couldn’t get a good read pre-snap. We have two distinct disadvantages with this situation though, first we don’t have the field general (they don’t just grow on trees) nor the entire defense to play at that level (most NFL teams don’t). Second, the spread option QB doesn’t know who will get the ball until after the ball is snapped anyways, so it doesn’t really matter if the defense is shifting. In fact, the defense could find themselves out of place and unprepared to make the tackle.

    The final flaw I see in the system lies in the belief of the guessing game that the QB and DT could play (or a blitzing approach). Conservative defensive coordinators will always note that a heavy blitzing defense is like a gamble. If the offense happens to make the right call while the defense is in the wrong call the consequences can be disastrous. I think this is what happened in 2008 vs. Oregon, we made some blitz calls at the wrong point in time leaving Oregon wide open for TD’s.

    Now, onto my personal strategy. I think Ean and GreatWhiteHunter make some great points. Ean highlights a physical brand of football. One that means bashing a QB even when they don’t have the ball. That effectively doubles the amount of hits that the individual takes during the game, those add up and can take away the will of a player. The second thing comes from GreatWhiteHunter, the penetration by the DT forces the hand of the QB. Decreasing the amount of time he has to make his decision the better. My personal belief is that the DE’s can’t be caught over-pursuing. They have to “stay home” much like high school football while the pressure comes from the DT’s. The DE’s need to make sure that the QB doesn’t cut underneath while forcing the QB to run to the sideline. The sideline in this case happens to be an extra defender (which so happens to be Banker’s philosophy). Now one caveat, if the DE is on the wide side of the field, force the QB underneath and have a safety look inside to help the outside linebacker. The linebackers on the other hand have to make GREAT reads the way most coaches play the defense. I would rather have linebackers that drool all over themselves and are cross eyed from making too many bone crushing hits in order to stop this offense. In a 4-3 scheme such as Banker’s, the outside linebackers are designated to a man. The QB and RB effectively cross paths, so they have the offensive player on the opposite side of them. The OLB doesn’t have to run all over the field, they just have to drill the man that comes to their side. The MLB has to play a little bit smarter by either making a read or hitting the player more likely to have the ball. I am not going to dive too deep into the reads that the QB makes so it is important to note that the MLB will simply attack the dominant player/the player more likely to have the ball on any given play.

    Simply put, the defenders have to form tackle well because they often put in one on one tackling situations. A physical brand of football will steal the will of any football team, especially a finesse squad. Finally, being disciplined will make sure that they don’t get fooled. A quote that I tell LB’s when I coach is that QB’s are like lawyers, all they do is lie (don’t be offended if you are a lawyer). I tell them not to get caught up in the mumbo jumbo that the QB does, it is simply a motion to throw you off, follow the reads that the offensive lineman give you and follow YOUR assignment. Many LB’s figure out how to not get faked by a play action/draw, this is the same type of situation. Often times when a player doesn’t follow their assignment they are either just plumb dumb, lack discipline or they don’t trust their teammates to get the job done (which destroys a defense).

    • angrybeaver says:
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      Let’s go through a few of these one by one:

      1. “That said I don’t think you can “fake-out” a college QB with a DT even if they are as dumb as Masoli. Those QB’s get a ton reps so that they react almost purely on instinct”

      You somewhat contradict yourself here. On one hand you’re saying they can’t be faked out, but on the other you’re saying they react on instinct. So if Paea bluffs he’s going one way, wouldn’t the QB react on instinct and go the other way? That is, the direction Paea truly intends to go. Thus, he can be faked out.

      2 “Kelly is a mad scientist with the way he runs that offense. It is true that he often has his QB read the DT (which is very different than most programs) but he still has specific play calls that have the zone read check the DE.”

      Yes, I said that. And it’s in the video I linked. It’s irrelevant if the read is the DT or DE, the idea is to still give Masoli the wrong one.

      3. “Realistically, the scheme to stop his mad scientist of an offense is really quite simple. It comes down to things that are key components of any youth football team: Tackle with great form, play a physical brand of football and stay disciplined.”

      While I agree solid tackling once in position is a HUGE part of this and physical style is always a benefit, I disagree that staying disciplined is a good thing in defending the spread. I almost agree more with the reader who said just bombard the QB every time. The problem with “staying disciplined” is you wind up with players who are “flat-footed” when it’s time to make a play. It’s hard to accelerate from scratch, you know? And in that scenario the RB, with a head of steam, has a huge advantage. Think about it how many times the Beavs looked flat-footed or a step slow vs Oregon. My belief that’s the by-product of discipline. Counter-intuitive.

      One final thought: you guys keep mentioning penetration by the DT. Again, many times Oregon allows and wants that penetration so as to use it against the defense (by creating a gaping hole). If the read is the DE that is another story, but you guys are acting like the Beavs are the ’85 Bears. It’s HARD to get DT penetration on every play. It’s EASY to have your DT bluff right, then go left.

    • beavers4life says:
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      Is this Coach Bear by any chance?

  • Not a Crime says:
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    Angry, if the info truly has been passed along, please remove article.

  • angrybeaver says:
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    Jackbeav,
    Is this the recruiting site you developed?

    http://theblackbandits2011.wordpress.com/

    I don’t do blog rolls here because I don’t want to feel obligated to be nice to anyone (that destroys credibility/objectivity and things become political). But feel free to post links to it. I think there’s a “website” area when you log into my blog–you can post the link there. It looks good.

    • JackBeav says:
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      That’s the site. I tried to stay away from the ‘major’ prospects who will never come to Oregon State. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love to be wrong about some of the kids I left out. It just means I don’t want to waste my time on those kids just because they have OSU as a token offer.

      Obviously, a majority of those listed will not sign with us. I think there are about 20 spots and more than 60 listed. I just wanted to have a place where I could see tape and info on these kids.

      Anyone have suggestions for additions or subtractions? I’ll make a space for comments on the page.
      http://theblackbandits2011.wordpress.com/

    • angrybeaver says:
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      This is a pretty good/free service you’re offering. I suggest people bookmark it and use it.

      As far as what to add…just updating guys who are off the board (didn’t one of the QBs listen commit to Cal recently?), etc.

      Jackbeav, if you add a link to it when you log in to my site (there’s a “website” area below your log in email) it will send people to your site when they click on your name.

      • JackBeav says:
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        It was Kyle Boehm. It made sense. One of the videos I watched were of him last year talking about holding the ball on the top shelf and loving Cal and Tedford.

  • maffu72 says:
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    Two notes:

    1) Angry – Thanks for posting an article based on ideas and critical thought instead of, well, anger and blame. I actually read this one.

    2) JackBeav – Thank you for posting that UO-BSU footage. I could watch that every day of the week… and twice on Sunday.

    • angrybeaver says:
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      Every post is based on critical thought.

      In fact, you’ve inspired a new post.

      Thanks.

  • angrybeaver says:
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    Nice Matt Moore interview:

    http://wfnz.cbslocal.com/2010/05/14/matt-moore-interview/

    Probably my favorite all-time Beav. Loved the flip off at Reser haha.

    • jakebeav says:
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      Flip off at Reser? Must have missed that one…

      • IamOrange says:
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        I’ve heard stories about the incident. Anyone have a video of it?

      • angrybeaver says:
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        I can’t find any video. You know how Beaver fans are: if it’s negative they delete, and it’s as if it never happened. ;)

        Actually, I think (not positive) it happened during the Washington State game, which wasn’t broadcast that year.

        • jakebeav says:
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          So ahh… what exactly happened? I mean, I can sort of put 2 and 2 together, but you’ll have to forgive me for being too young to remember this…

  • marcodg says:
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    Interesting… I had similar thoughts but significantly more non-conventional (read “cock-a-maimee”). My idea was to do two things: (1) give the QB something he doesn’t know how to read and (2) make him decide quickly. To that end, use two down linemen and 5 linebackers. Put the two linemen (Paea and Frahm/Olander) essentially shoulder to shoulder right over the center and overwhelm him (this has the side effect of possibly affecting the snap). Rush hard and hit the QB (legally) every time. You don’t have to do this the entire game… you only need to stop 3 or 4 drives to make it worth it.

  • jacob granger says:
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    A few of my views!

    1. You are not a journalist.
    2. You are not a football coach.
    3. Any idiot with a computer can blog without taking any credibility. (Try signing your real name). If you were a good writer you wouldn’t be on here writing your opinions – see #1

    4. Mike Riley would have laughed at your ridiculous football article had it ever reached them (The other team has blockers that block your defensive players in case you didn’t notice – so faking doesn’t work the way you think it will.) See #2
    5. I will let you get back to your pretend career as a sportswriter.

    • angrybeaver says:
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      “The other team has blockers that block your defensive players in case you didn’t notice”

      ha ha!
      Classic.
      Do you know anything about the spread? Did you read what I wrote or watch the video I posted? The offense leaves a defensive player unblocked–the entire offense is based around this principle. You are a funny man.

    • nancy falong says:
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      “Any idiot with a computer can blog without taking any credibility.”

      lol

  • mckalk says:
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    Beavers are not designed to stop the spread.

  • mckalk says:
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    One thing people forget about the Beaver losses in recent Civil Wars is that the secondary was clueless against a below average Duck pass game. Also, I think speed at lineback makes a big difference against the spread. The occassional play blow up from the weak side can make a big difference. I do not think the P-10 linebacking cores were particulary good or football smart this year.

    • JackBeav says:
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      Agreed. It’s been a couple years since the LB’s were athletic/smart enough to take on the read option. What stunk more was that Masoli was an easy read to throw, but our ends wouldn’t tackle him when they got there.

      I think both defensive units will be better this year despite the attrition and injuries that have happened. I’m not thrilled about some of the depth for the DE’s, but I think that changes in the fall.

      • ObjCritic says:
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        Guys like Dogget are missed greatly, particularly against the spread. Fast, sure tackler, good reads. The guy scored a TD in two consecutive CW’s as I recall.

        I do think the likes of Doctor, Welch, and Akuna have the strong potential to provide that kind of play again.

      • angrybeaver says:
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        Agree 1 billion percent on all points.
        Dogget should have gotten a shot in the NFL–I never understood that.

  • kevinjearly says:
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    Wow. So many comments on how “dumb” Masoli was.

    I’d say that if the OS coaching staff mirrored your sentiments, your losses could be put down to underestimated your adversary.

    You know what’s really dumb? Misunderstanding the problem. Leads to the wrong solutions (See all of the above).

  • JeffDuck says:
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    Im thinking that the position player being optioned doesnt need to waste precious moments faking out the offense. the game is so fast that its just unreasonable to do this. defense will always be reactionary unless playing against a traditional offense, which the spread option is not. good luck stopping the Ducks as long as Kelley has control

    • angry says:
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      The QB has equally little time, and the QB is equally reactionary. They react to each other. You do realize this, right? What you wrote is basically the same as saying the QB shouldn’t read the end because the game is too fast and he doesn’t have time to do it.

      • JeffDuck says:
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        but the offense is the proactive side of the ball in the spread attack. in traditional sets the defense can be proactive, ie: Buddy ryan and the 46. the QB in the spread option is still actually dictating what to do with the ball regardless of what he is seeing/reacting. the defensive backs, now they can do what youre proposing. its going on for a long time. i still do not believe that the optioned defender in the front 7 area (aka the box) can make the QB do anything but hew wants to do, and CK knows this and this is why they are successful. but if you want to try it and make it all a guessing/faking out game then youre going to have to deal with the consequences when it doesnt work, a la a blitz that opens the whole side of the field.

  • [...] Read my article on how to stop the spread. ("Angry, you don't know more than the coaches!"). Sorry, but my idea cannot possibly [...]

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