CF.C Coach's Chalkboard with Robin Pflugrad

I WAS UNFORTUNATELY correct in last week’s article, (I really didn’t want to be correct). It is extremely challenging to prepare for and simulate Stanford’s offense during the practice week when you don’t run anything close to that offense. Your personnel is built for something different, making it near-impossible for your defense to get the realistic practice look they’ll get on game day.

This has definitely been a major part of Stanford’s success under David Shaw and Jim Harbaugh.

1. The use of a Fullback. The fullback might have made all the difference in the world last Friday night. The Cardinal had five rushes of over 21 yards on their scoring drives. Four of the five were out of a two-back set utilizing a fullback (21-personnel). The fullback was able to dominate the defensive player on every single one of these runs, giving the tailback plenty of room to run.

The fullback was also used in the play-action concepts of the Stanford passing game, or in pass protection for downfield throws to the wide receivers and tight ends. Stanford had less success running the football out of their one back sets (10- and 11-personnel) than their two back sets. Partially credit the WSU defense for that, but again that is what WSU practices against every day creating carryover on game day.

2. Use of the Tight Ends. Stanford capitalized on the play of the tight ends to score three touchdowns, more points than the entire Coug offense would score. The utilization of the tight ends in the run game completely opened up Stanford’s play action pass game. The use of the Jumbo set (23-personnel) paid great dividends.

I would not be surprised if Stanford incorporates even more Jumbo thoughts into their offense over the second half of the season. I have diagrammed Stanford’s play action pass for their first touchdown.

Chalk Talk on Stanford

Diag. 1 Run from the left hash, Jumbo Package with 3 tight ends

The Z TE goes in motion which will tell the QB what coverage the defense is in. Cougs were in a 2-shell look. As the Y TE releases he widens to attract the safety running a corner route to take him outside. The Z TE runs vertical just slightly wider than Y. The Z then breaks to the post and a wide open path to the end zone. What helps this play is the play action fake to the tailback (tailback and fullback are now in position to pass protect). All three WSU linebackers stepped forward to defend the run, putting pressure on the safety to cover two separate players going in different directions. The H TE runs a corner route on the left side insuring that the FS is pulled away from the play.

Chalk Talk II: The Cardinal Defensive Front Seven…

It was striking how many times the TV announcer said, “And here comes the pressure” when Connor Halliday was preparing to throw the football. Stanford’s defensive linemen did an outstanding job in their LCV’s, coaching jargon for “Line-Charge-Variations.” In laymen’s terms, this means a combination of moves by the DL including but not limited to: movement by DL just prior to the snap of the football, twisting between the DL to move away from blockers, twisting to create a rub or screen off of the offensive lineman, attacking the OL then moving or looping in another direction and attacking the OL then bouncing into coverage to defend the pass. (This last one is called “buying the lineman,” you make him commit so he can’t help anywhere or anyone else).

Add in the linebackers an occasional safety or corner and you have your blitz package all dialed up. WSU didn’t run much but Stanford did an outstanding job of stopping it the six times Coug RBs carried the ball. I have diagramed a few of the looks that were successful for the Cardinal on Friday night.

Diag. 2 Four-Man Rush, DL overload to strength of formation

Nose Guard tries to occupy the Center and Right Guard. Left DE attracts the OT. DT then attempts to run through the outside hip of the Left Guard. With large line splits, the Left Tackle must follow the DE down inside. Right DT now goes around the horn towards the LT and hits Halliday just as he releases football causing errant pass. Right DE bull rushes RT into Halliday’s lap causing vision problems for the QB.

Diag. 3 MLB attacks A gap then goes around the horn, 2-Man Coverage

This look is very similar to Diag. 2 only it is run from an odd look with a three-man defensive front. Stanford did a great job using three- and four-man fronts to confuse the Cougar offense pre-snap. The W takes the RB in man coverage with two safeties over the top.

Diag. 4 Four-Man front. Double Twists. MIK through A gap. Cover-1 over the top (Man Free)

All four of the down linemen “buy” the player directly in front of them then they execute their twists, crossing with the DL next to him. This pulls the center to his left and the right guard to his right, thus creating a path for the MIK to attack the QB.

Film Study: Areas and Issues of Concern

n All of these could have had affected the final outcome of the game against Stanford. Some are immediately correctable and others must likely be taken as a learning experience.

1. Halliday’s interception. This was a form of the “Mesh Route” (see my California article). Both receivers sat down in the exact same area, but they did not sit down and stretch the underneath coverage. This allowed the defender to play both players and while making a play on them ball. These are called “Receiver Interceptions.” It’s challenging for the QB when playing a team with a relentless defensive line.

2. Production on first- and second-down was a negative. This puts too much pressure on third-and-long or fourth-down situations. WSU’s fourth down plays were excellent – an 80 percent success rate -- but it shouldn’t come to this with production on the first two downs and more often than not, you’re not going to go along at an 80 percent clip here. If you were, you wouldn’t get to fourth-down in the first place.

3. Hits on Halliday. Halliday just got hit too many times to be productive. He started to change the way he threw the football. In fact, I thought he threw more “off balance” passes than any game to date. He was hurried to the point he started to feel the pressure earlier and earlier and his vision was obstructed by Stanford’s pass rush and blitzing.

4. Punt return by Ty Montgomery. Find a way to “NOT KICK” to the opponent’s best player! When the score was 10-7 Stanford, a 46-yard return to the WSU 16-yard line led to a touchdown and a 17-7 margin.

5. Penalties and personal fouls are starting to add up. The roughing the passer penalty was the correct call. WSU was down by one possession here and an automatic first down eventually led to a field goal by Stanford. At some point this has to become inexcusable.

6. Stanford QB Kevin Hogan played his best game this season against WSU.

Final WSU-Stanford Game Thoughts…

Stanford has not lived up to its pre-season ranking or billing. (In the Stanford-USC game, there were so many mental mistakes by both teams I began to wonder if the cost of a private education was living up to its billing.) I do believe Stanford is improving by small steps week by week, but they’re not playing as intelligent football as they have the last few seasons. As physically dominant as they were up front, Stanford was most assuredly beatable if a few things had gone differently for Washington State.

I thought for a while Stanford not playing as smart of football would play into the hands of the Cougars, especially when the Cardinal had a TD called back by an illegal shift by a wide receiver and a fumble by the fullback going into score from the two-yard line. But it would take more than the Stanford miscues for the Cougs to leave The Farm with a victory. It just wasn’t in the cards, pun not intended.

The Bye Week…

A solid plan for your bye week is paramount. On staffs I have been on, we would discuss, early in the offseason, the goals we needed to achieve during a bye week. We would then revisit these thoughts during our summer staff meetings. That’s how important it is. The head coach would want 2-3 goals and objectives from each of his coordinators, and that gave ample time to be organized, meet and practice on these goals. Through the years, (regardless of where I was coaching) the following subjects were addressed during a bye:

1. Rest and Re-hab. Seven games have been played with five remaining. It is time to rest both physically and mentally. This can be a challenging process, especially with a young team. But they need to rest and get healthy… as well as get a week older.

2. Special teams. Special teams are often robbed of practice time during the season in favor of offense and defense. It is important to get back to specific fundamentals in the area of special teams. We often spent half a practice, or even a full practice, working on nothing but special teams. The majority of the reps were in fundamental and technique work, not on opponent schemes.

3. Offense and Defense must also work on specific fundamentals. The position coaches would have a list of drill work that needs to be honed specifically during the bye week. This should be data accumulated through the first part of the season. Individual drill work is also important. The little things that Vince Mayle needs to work on might be slightly different than what River Cracraft needs to work on. This is the week to improve everything that, because of time constraints, isn’t able to be addressed during a regular practice week.

4. Preparation for the remaining games should begin. The staff is likely to see what drills can be incorporated a few more times to be opponent specific, i.e.…practice against a tight end since upcoming opponents USC and Oregon State incorporate one or more tight ends.

5. Recruiting. How much time is spent on recruiting? Which coach goes where? Which coach observes which players’ games? These questions, like most everything else in recruiting, is often in flux.

A delicate balancing act will be the challenge during the bye week. The Cougs really could win the remainder of their games in my mind. Every upcoming opponent has shown a sign of weakness.

The Cougars must exploit these weaknesses while improving upon their own.

Robin Pflugrad has spent 29 years as a college football coach, and as head coach at Montana was a finalist for the 2011 Eddie Robinson Award as the nation's top FCS coach. From 2001-05 he was an assistant at Washington State, where he served as tight ends coach, recruiting coordinator and assistant head coach. He was an assistant at Arizona State prior to coming to WSU and at Oregon after leaving WSU. He is a graduate of, and former assistant coach at, Portland State. Former WSU head coach and longtime d-coordinator Bill Doba referred to Pflugrad as “The Bulldog” while at WSU, owing to Pflugrad’s attention to detail and passion for recruiting. He and wife Marlene reside in Phoenix, where he is a football consultant for a number of college programs, a college football analyst for Channel 3 KTVX (CBS). His daughter Amanda works in the New York Jets’ online media department while son Aaron enters his second season as an offensive graduate assistant at ASU.

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