Cougars Focus on Third Downs

During practices the team is often involved in what is called a special category period. During these periods, a specific circumstance is given and the offense and defense focus on executing under the given situation. During Wednesday's practice, Coach Mendenhall and his Cougar staff decided that the team would focus the third-down situations.

Practices are divided up into two main periods. The first period focuses on a specific situation that the team may not have been very effective at or just simply needs to improve on.

"The special category period deals with situational stuff," said Max Hall. "It can be blue zone period, it can be goal line, it can be coming out, it can be two minute and it can be third down conversion like it was today. So it's just working on situations that can come up in a game that might not come up just running normal scrimmage offense, so we just work on those specific situations to help us become better at those specific things. That way when we do get into those situations in a game we've already practiced those things and can accomplish what we need to do effectively."

"Some days we've done blue zone, goal line, two minute and we also did one coming out situation where we started on the one yard line and had to basically go the distance of the field," said tight end Andrew George. "It's basically any given situation that we could have in a game that we need to practice, so when we get into that specific situation it's not as though it becomes the first time we've done it."

Coach Mendenhall and his Cougar staff will take a look at what areas the team needs to focus on and develop a part of practice that focuses on that area of deficiency.

"Coach Mendenhall just decides on what we as a team are going to work on for that particular day," Hall said. "All of those categories - blue zone, two minute drill, goal line or third down conversions - are things we always want to work on. So what we'll do is rotate through them every practice."

Wednesday's situation dealt with converting on third downs. For the offense it was simple: convert regardless of the distance.

"We started with third-and-short, then moved to third-and-medium to third-and-long," said George. "Then we did one that was fourth down and about five yards, so one thing we want to do is develop a specific mindset now so when we get into those situations we're confident that we can execute and continue to drive the ball downfield. So for us it was to get a first down and for the defense it was to hold us no matter what the distance was."

As Hall mentioned, the defense's situation dealt with stopping the offense from converting. Last year the defensive coaches felt that that their unit didn't live up to their third down expectations when it came to three and out.

"What was going on a lot last year was the defense wasn't getting off the field like we were supposed to," said linebacker Grant Nelson. "We didn't have as many third-and-outs as we wanted, and so something this fall that we really want to work on is getting off the field after third downs - stopping the offense on third downs and getting our offense on the field."

During Wednesday's situational period, the offense seemed to fare a little better than the defense. The defense did achieve some stops, but for the most part Max Hall was able to convert regardless of how far the ball was from the first-down line.

"We did alright today," said Nelson. "We were able to get a few stops today but the offense was able to convert on third downs also. It was kind of like most days where we give and take, but we could have done a little better."

"Sometimes if we don't do well on a given day, the coaches will make us do it all over again," George said. "That has happened before where we didn't execute on a level the coaches were satisfied with. When that happens they have us line up all over again until we make some improvement within that given situation. In regards to today's performance, I thought we did well. I don't think we'll have to repeat it, but we'll see in film. The defense did stop us a couple of times but we were able to convert all of our third-down situations for the most part."

Aside from working on a specific goal, what these types of practices do is create greater competition. Both sides of the ball know what they have to do and focus on attaining that specific accomplishment. The competition that is generated by these situational practices can become highly charged.

"Yeah, it really gives us something to focus on in a competitive setting," Hall said. "Even if it's only one or two plays it really allows us to compete. For example, if the ball is on the goal line we know what we need to do given the situation, and the defense knows what they have to do given the situation. So it's situational for both sides of the ball and the situation allows both sides to try and work on a specific accomplishment."

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