Be Good At Things That Matter
I grew up caddying at Oakmont Country Club just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It is a great golf course that hosts major tournaments regularly. Some of my coaching philosophy was developed there as a teenager helping golfers navigate the course. I learned quickly that a golfer better be good at things that matter if he/she wanted to score well at Oakmont.
Some golfers spend their time on the practice range nailing drives 300 yards without great purpose. Distance off the tee doesn’t matter as much as accuracy when playing a challenging course. In fact, good golfers may use their driver fewer than six times when battling Oakmont. Work from the tee box is not nearly as important as touch, poise, confidence, and a repetitive stroke within 150 yards of the pin.
Similarly, quarterbacks would come to our summer camp and immediately want to show me how far and hard they could throw a football. While there is a floor that a Division I quarterback should be above in terms of arm strength, once above that floor, distance and velocity on passes are not as important as accuracy, touch, poise, confidence, and a repetitive motion. At camps I would ask quarterbacks to throw passes from unusual positions as if they were under a heavy rush.
Maintaining a repetitive motion from awkward positions is important. Eighty percent of the time a QB is throwing the ball with a defensive lineman preventing him from stepping. Accurate passers have repetitive motions no matter what the pocket looks and feels like. Good golfers have repetitive strokes no matter the lie, wind, distance, or slope of the green.
I think it is dangerous to evaluate a QB at a 7 on 7 camp. It is like evaluating a golfer on the practice range. Neither is practicing something that happens in competition.
Things that Matter Statistically
There are a few statistical categories that I think are important. Coaches generally agree that the most important stat in football is points scored versus points against. Simply put, whoever has the most points wins. Although, sadly, I know some coaches who seem more interested in where they rank in total offense than in wins and losses. I once worked with a coach who said “if we just lead the league in passing we’ll all get jobs.” We were 1-8 when he said that.
The quarterback who averages 400 yards passing on a .500 team is like the golfer that drives the ball 350 off the tee but shoots an 82. Remember, John Daly doesn’t win many tournaments. Offenses have to be good at things that matter to win close games.
Outside of points scored, a stat that really mattered to me was the “Double Positive.” The “Double Positive” is when our team came out on the plus side of the turnover differential and the big play differential. (Big plays consisted of 12 yard runs and 18 yard passes in our calculations.) We started keeping this stat in 2010 after visiting with Greg Davis, then the OC at Texas. Like his UT teams, we found our team was undefeated when we won the “Double Positive.”
Turnover margin is a well documented category. The top ten teams in the country in this category are a combined 77-11. Being on the positive side of turnovers is a point of emphasis for most teams.
Many teams also talk about big plays – getting them and preventing them. In the 2010 season we started charting the “Double Positive” and found that 97% of UNC’s touchdown drives of over 50 yards contained a big play. If we were to include touchdown drives when the defense or special teams gave the offense a short field the number only dips to 89%. I know calculating these statistics sharpened our staff’s focus on finding ways to gain chunks of yardage at a time and ways to prevent chunks. While big plays are often discussed, I think the margin, or differential, is not focused on enough.
Last week in the ACC, the importance of the big play margin was clearly evident. UNC had a +5 differential, BC +4, BYU +2 over GT, Clemson +4, and FSU was +12. All were winners. Of those teams, UNC, BC, and Clemson all won the “Double Positive” too. BYU was even in turnovers and FSU overcame a -4 in turnover ratio perhaps indicating how dramatic a +12 big play differential can be.
Things that Matter Strategically
Strategically, the most important aspect of game management is the last four minutes of the fourth quarter in a close game. Five of the six games N.C. State has played this season against FBS schools have come down to the very end. The Pack is 3-2 in those games. For UNC, five of the seven games played against FBS schools came down to the last four minutes. The Heels are 2-3 in those games.
These are “Four Minute” and “Two Minute” situations. In “Four Minute” the team with the ball is ahead and trying to shorten the game usually by running the ball and staying in bounds to keep the clock rolling. In “Two Minute” situations the team with the ball is behind and trying to lengthen the game usually by passing and getting out of bounds to stop the clock. No matter if your team runs a spread no huddle offense, a pro style offense, or the wishbone, it better be able to navigate these situations to beat good teams. A team that doesn’t focus long and hard on finishing the game in these situations is like a golfer who doesn’t work on putting.
Two minute situations are a frequent topic among football commentators and fans. You can go to any football program in the country and watch them practice two minute drills with a clock, referees, and a challenging situation.
Mike Glennon engineered memorable two minute drives to beat Florida State and Maryland recently. Against the Seminoles, the Pack was down 16-10 with 2:27 left in the game and drove 43 yards on 12 plays for the game winning touchdown. That drive will be remembered fondly by Pack fans for years to come. What made that drive possible was some expert management of four minute defense when Florida State was trying to run the clock out.
For most winning two minute drives there is a corresponding losing four minute drive by the opponent. The Seminoles were up 16-10 with 2:47 left on the clock. On 1st-10 from their own 32 yard line they needed to run the ball, get some first downs, and finish the game. The first run was for minus 2 yards and State used its first time out. A three yard run on 2nd down was followed by State’s second time out. On 3rd down, Florida State ran again, for no yards, and forced the Pack to use their 3rd and final time out. Only 20 second were run off the clock.
Four minute situations are harder to practice than two minute ones. Four minute situations involve a physical brand of football where the offense has to run the ball no matter how many defenders are “in the box.” Broken tackles are usually the difference in this situation.
The Tar Heel defense had an outstanding four minute situation last weekend. Three times in the 4th quarter UNC forced State to punt with a lead. Then with the score tied 35-35 and 1:24 left in the game, the Carolina defense was good at something that matters when it mattered most. State was forced to punt after a three and out and Gio Bernard returned it for a touchdown that will be remembered forever by UNC sports fans.
That play is a potent reminder of the importance of “Four Minute” football. It is not only important to be good at things that matter, but be good when it matters. After all, the majors played at Oakmont were never won on Thursday or Friday. They were won on the back nine late Sunday afternoon, when it mattered most.