Monday Thoughts Follow-up and Correction

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Yesterday’s Monday Thoughts pointed out the pitfalls and perils of trying to
figure out what those 22 guys in helmets are all supposed to be doing on any
given play. That’s a fancy way of saying, “I got something wrong,” and
the explanation of the error is a lesson for us all when watching or dissecting
a game.

If you read yesterday’s article, you probably remember the section that
included a video of Duke’s lone touchdown and some commentary by yours truly.
Here’s the excerpt in question:

The touchdown came right up the gut on a play in which backup linebacker Jack
Tyler, who looked very impressive against Central Michigan, took himself out of
the play with a bad read (see the video to the right). Just two plays earlier,
Duke backup QB Brandon Connette had ripped off a 19-yard keeper up the middle,
and Tyler took himself out of position in similar fashion.

I’m not sure what Tyler was reading on the play and what his assignment was,
but the two plays were in stark contrast to his laser-precision reading and
tackling against CMU. In fairness, I watched another play where Tyler picked his
way nicely through traffic to assist on a tackle.

After posting the article, I watched the video a couple more times and
noticed, on the left side of the defense, that Lyndell Gibson was doing the same
thing that Jack Tyler was doing on the right. Hmmm. I started wondering, why was
the middle vacated like that? Was Tyler supposed to be there? Was Gibson?
Neither one?

Then I read Bud Foster’s comments on He mentioned
“getting Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards into the game,” and he praised
both players and made no mention of mistakes. Hmmm again.

Last night, around 6:30 p.m., I received an email from (ahem) a good source
that broke the play down and explained that Jack Tyler and Lyndell Gibson were
doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing on the play. With some
identifying details changed, here’s the email:

If you go back and look at the film (you even show the TD play) of the two
plays, the Hokies are in the same defense on both plays.  In both, the
two defensive tackles (Graves and Hopkins) have responsibility for the A gaps
(between Center and Guard.)  The D-ends (Friday and Drager) are supposed
to pinch down and have responsibility for the B gaps (between Guard
and Tackle).  The two Middle LBs are supposed to get outside to the
“C” gaps and have containment for anything going wide.

On both plays, Friday was a tad too wide in his stance and never got to the
B gap on his side.  On the first play you cited, Friday totally
missed crossing his man (the Tackle) and the QB ran right behind him (through
the B gap) for the big gainer.  On the TD run, again Friday didn’t quite
get to the B gap and the O Tackle stood him up and the Tailback ran right
behind him for the score, again through the B gap.

On both plays, Jack Tyler and Lyndell Gibson were in the right position in
the C gap containing against any outside cut or play.  That is where they
were supposed to be.  That is the way the defense is designed. In
film study Monday morning, Coach Foster confirmed that  Tyler and Gibson
were in the correct position on both plays, and that the D-End (Friday) didn’t
get to where he was supposed to be.

Interesting stuff, and I thanked the emailer for setting the record straight,
and I promised him I would run a correction.

To the larger point, one of the things I have become acutely aware of in
recent years is how difficult it is to diagnose a play and determine what went
wrong, because it’s very difficult for a layman like myself to know what every
player’s responsibility was. In reviewing the touchdown, it looks like Jack
Tyler reads a key incorrectly and takes himself out of the play, and Steven
Friday almost makes the tackle, which would have saved the play. It turns out
the opposite is true, that Friday didn’t pinch down far enough, and he would
have been in position to make the play if he had. The emailer was correct:
Friday is split out too far to get there in time.

Fans sitting in the stands and watching TV often think they know who made a
mistake, but we’re simply wrong a lot of the time, because we don’t have all the
data or knowledge we need to evaluate what’s going on. That’s understandable.
Most of us have never coached for a living, don’t coach for a living, and never
will. Coaching football, like any vocation, is more difficult and complex than
it appears from the outside. Your job is tougher than people think or can
appreciate. My job is tougher than people think or can appreciate.

A classic example of this phenomenon is Donovan McNabb’s game-winning
touchdown to Stephen Brominski in the 1998 VT-Syracuse game (you know, the game
ESPN Classic never gets tired of). Brominski appears to beat Hokie linebacker
Michael Hawkes (#43) for the game-winner, and Hawkes took some criticism for it.

In the days after the game, however, it came out that primary responsibility
for the coverage belonged to whip linebacker Lorenzo Ferguson (#6, trailing the
play). The casual observer has no way of knowing that. Hawkes took the heat for
giving up the touchdown, but in reality, he almost made the play for Ferguson,
who blew the coverage by not going with Brominski.

Our apologies to Jack Tyler for the misrepresentation in Monday Thoughts.

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