Yearly Archives: 2011

The Fed Spread Offense – Red Zone Challenges

In last week’s post, I broke down the basics of the Fedora offense. The two buzzwords about the Fed Spread, as I’m calling it, are “matchups” and “spacing.” In short, by spreading the field with skill players, the defense is forced to tip its hand before the snap or risk giving up a big play; unless the defense goes to a nickel or dime package, there is then a resultant mismatch pairing a slower linebacker on a faster wide receiver. If the defense goes small, then the run game can dominate.

Now, the spread offense depends on a few things to succeed, the first of which is space. A common struggle of a typical spread offense is that scoring tends to drop off in the red zone, more so than conventional offenses accustomed to operating in a short space anyway. Because the field is much shorter inside the opponent’s 20 yard line, the defense is able to hide its intentions a bit better, since it has less space to cover when making up for lost ground. Spacing becomes less of an advantage as the goal line gets closer, because the vertical game becomes progressively less of a threat. Even the primary goal of the spread, to create mismatches, becomes less attainable since even an out-of-position safety can usually recover on a short field – even Houston’s #24, who had a bad game for the ages against Southern Miss. Hehe.

The screenshot evidence this week is both lacking and of poor quality; for that, blame both the difficulty in ferreting out hard-to-find online video of Conference USA games (go ahead, you try, and highlight YouTube videos don’t count) and the awful video quality of the one USM game I could find on ESPN3, their September 24 contest with Virginia. Southern Miss won the game 30-24, but only scored one touchdown in the red zone.

Let’s first quickly review the basic concepts of the spread in the red zone. In the following play, Southern Miss is on Virginia’s 20-yard line, trying to score in one gulp:

I told you the quality sucked. USM is represented by the smudges in white; the Cavaliers are the nondescript blobs in what I think is navy. Austin Davis, the Southern Miss QB, is about to take the snap in an extremely typical spread formation (and hey, I didn’t call him Anthony Davis this time!). He’s going to read the playside linebacker, circled in red, but he also has to contend with the safety, who’s off the screen standing on the ten yard line. You can sort of see a smudge of him, right at the point where the #2 WR’s arrow ends. More on him in a second. The linebacker is matched up in what looks like 1-on-1 coverage against an athletic tight end. Mismatch.

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Tobacco Road Jews: A Hanukkah Listicle

While both Duke and UNC fans may think of themselves as “the Chosen People,” traditionally, that designation has been granted to the Jewish people. With a few notable exceptions, these people have not been well represented in professional or collegiate sports, leaving adolescent young Jews without many athletic role models. This time of year can be especially lonely for those of us who won’t be spending the next two weeks wearing snowflake sweaters, hugging family members by the fireplace and bravely defending the war against Christmas. But don’t fear, sports fans. Did you know that there are a select few sons of David who played at Duke and UNC? (Probably, right?) Just as Adam Sandler offered his list of famous Jews to brighten the spirits of lonely twelve-year-olds, I present my list here for your Hanukkah enjoyment: One Tobacco Road Jew for every candle of the menorah!

Jon Scheyer – G – Duke
Jon Scheyer is perhaps the most obvious candidate for the list, as his basketball and Jewish credentials are impressive and somewhat intertwined. In High School, he led an all Jewish starting five to a state championship, earning him his first induction into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. He earned his second induction after leading Duke to a National Championship in 2010. Today, he plays in Israel for Maccabi Tel Aviv, where his Judaism conveniently saves him from counting against the team’s cap on foreign players.

The great Bethlehem Shoals once asked what it would mean for a player to play Jewish (the way that, say, Rudy Fernandez or Jose Calderon play Spanish), and struggled to find a good example in the NBA. I posit that Scheyer’s steady scoring (2,077 career points, good for tenth all-time at Duke), his spastic facial expressions and his, um, carefulness, with handling the ball (~3 A/TO in 2010) make him the best example I can think of.

For what it’s worth, I once saw Scheyer come half an hour late to Yom Kippur services, only to leave like five minutes later, so take from that what you will.

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Carolina Loss Aversion

As a fan, I readily admit to unreasonable expectations.  I’m not remotely objective.  I create wildly optimistic scenarios and pretend they are objective and realistic.  It’s what fans do and it’s entirely human, if not quite “normal.”

We all live in an overconfident, Lake Wobegon world (“where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average”).  We are only correct about 80% of the time when we are “99% sure.” Despite the experiences of anyone who has gone to college (even at Duke), fully 94% of college professors believe they have above-average teaching skills. Since 80% of drivers  say that their driving skills are above average, I guess none of them are on the freeway when I am.  While 70% of high school students claim to have above-average leadership skills, only 2% say they are below average, no doubt taught by above average math teachers.  In a finding that pretty well sums things up, 85-90% of people think that the future will be more pleasant and less painful for them than for the average person.

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Interview with Steve Kirschner, Head of UNC Basketball PR

On Saturday at last year’s ACC tournament, my ride got a last-minute dinner invite, and I found myself up the creek. There was no bus from Greensboro back to Chapel Hill, and everyone I knew had already left. After the press conferences, out of sheer desperation, I approached Steve Kirschner. He’s the associate athletic director of communications at UNC, and he’s the chief PR rep for the men’s basketball team. He didn’t know me from Adam, but when I asked him if he knew where I could get a ride back to Chapel Hill, he offered without hesitation. We had a nice ride, and a nice chat, and he even refused to let me pay for a Cook-Out milkshake he bought on the way.

I emailed to thank him the next day, and he told me that he hadn’t known I was a Duke blogger, and that if I ever wanted to come in for an on-the-record interview, I could. I took him up on it last August, and now that basketball season is in full swing, I felt this would be a good time to run it. It was a fascinating hour-long chat, and we covered everything from the relationship between media and athletes to the the similarities between Psycho T and Harrison Barnes to the odyssey of keeping the major players around this year to Roy Williams’ method of dealing with the media to the changing nature of fan behavior. It’s long, but interesting enough, at least to me, to run in its entirety. I’ve split it into four loose segments if you want to skip around- the media, the players, the fans, and Psycho T. Enjoy. Continue reading

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At the Quarter Mark: Some Defensive Charting Stats and Observations

We’re 10 games into a season that optimistic Tar Heel fans hope will go the full 40 (31 regular season games + 3 ACCT + 6 NCAAT). Through the season’s opening quarter, Carolina’s adjusted defensive efficiency places 11th in the country– a slight drop from last year’s final ranking of 6th. This post will try to shine some light on which UNC defenders are already in mid-season form, and which ones are still trying to shake off that early-season rust.

Kendall Marshall

2011 (all)
2012 (1st 10 games)
FG% All 37.6 40.0
3Pt% All. 26.5 35.3
FTA Rate 18.8 13.3
TS% All. 47.0 51.3
Pts. All. / 40 10.7 14.6
Deflections / 40 4.17 6.13
Forced TOs /40 2.56 2.30
Off. Fouls Drawn / 40 0.22 0.00
Denies / 40 0.91 0.77
DR% 7.6 7.5
Stop % 58.9 53.8
%Possessions 15.5 17.5
Def. On-Court/Off-Court +2.1 -8.3

Marshall, now firmly entrenched as a starter, is being game-planned against and attacked like one. Teams are challenging him more on the defensive end, hoping to exploit his relative lack of lateral quickness. After being involved (from a defensive charting perspective) in 15.5% of defensive possessions while on the court last season, that number has jumped to 17.5% this year. That, in conjunction with a drop in Stop% from 58.9 to 53.8, has resulted in Marshall allowing 14.6 points / 40– up from 10.7 as a freshman. Part of the reason for Marshall’s lower Stop% might involve some tactical decisions by Roy Williams. Marshall saw significant defensive minutes against both Jordan Taylor and Casper Ware– the types of assignments that might be increasingly handled by Strickland as the games get more and more important.

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The Spread Offense, Fedora-Style

Unless you’re a diehard football tactics junkie or Josh McDaniels, you probably think of the spread as Mike Leach, 45 points a game, and a fast running quarterback. In fact, let’s do a quick test: when I say, “spread offense,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? If you’re like most people, you probably thought of one of the following:

  • 60 passes a game
  • 5 wide receivers every play
  • A correspondingly bad defense
  •  “System” offenses
  • Colt Brennan.

When UNC hired spread offense disciple Larry Fedora last week, a lot of UNC fans started to dissect the relative merits of the spread against what we’re used to here in Chapel Hill – a pro-style offense using a lot of motion and multiple packages. Fedora’s offense is decidedly not pro-style. Technically, it’s probably best categorized as a one-back balanced spread offense. The big question for most fans, though, is “what exactly IS this spread offense I keep hearing about?”

In this post, I’ll try to provide an overall framework for what Fedora is going to try to do here in Chapel Hill. I broke down the game tape of Southern Miss’ victory over the heavily favored Houston Cougars to illustrate some of the central concepts, so be forewarned: this gets pretty technical at times, though I’ve tried to coach the explanations in everyday language.

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Precursor of Things to Come

In 1980, Duke University graduate students could purchase basketball season tickets for $25.  The seats in Cameron Indoor Stadium were reserved and required only one overnight wait before the season to make the purchase.  I sat in section ten and up pretty high.

It was from that vantage point that I watched Mike Krzyzewski’s 74th career win – his first for the Blue Devils – as Duke beat Stetson 67-49 on November 30, 1980 behind Tom Emma’s 19 points. I saw every home game of his first season from up there.

Coach K had been a surprise hire the previous March when Bill Foster left for South Carolina and another rebuilding project at the end of the 1979-80 season. Foster had brought the Duke program back to prominence with a championship game appearance in 1978, a #1 ranking in 1978-79 and an Elite Eight team in 1980.

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Vomit Comet

Ten days have passed since Ohio St. destroyed Duke.  I still have a hard time believing how thoroughly the Buckeyes thrashed the Blue Devils.  Every Duke fan went through the same roller coaster of emotions throughout the game. Have a chart!

A chart on disbelief

This was a slaughter.  There were two brights spots: Austin Rivers and Mason Plumlee. Austin Rivers made some Dwayne Wade-esque plays and also showed an improvement in ball distribution. Mason Plumlee got shit on by the referees but still played fantastically.  The box score might not show it but he played great defense on Sullinger by forcing him into a number of ugly shots.  Sullinger channeled his inner Tyler Hansbrough as all his shot-put attempts went in.  But other than Rivers and Mason, Duke didn’t have too much to be happy about.

Where does Duke go from here? Duke fans will surely remember January 30, 2010 when Duke was demolished by Georgetown in front of *gasp* President Obama! As we all know, the Devils went on to capture the championship later that year. Does this current team have the ability to rebound from such a loss and make a run at the title? From an optimistic point of view, Duke does have a chance.  There are a few things Duke needs to do to make this happen:

  • Give Mason Plumlee the ball, a lot. He has proven he can be extremely effective in the paint. He no longer dribbles the ball off his knees. He has avoided shooting horrible mid-range airballs. More touches will make him more confident and more confidence will translate into better play.
  • Throw Josh Hairston into the mix. Some people have compared Hairston to Lance Thomas but I don’t see it. Hairston doesn’t have athleticism of Lance Thomas. Now contemplate that sentence. You’re asking yourself why someone less athletic than Lance Thomas should play. It’s because Hairston is a scrappy motherfucker. He doesn’t back down from anyone. During the offseason Hairston and Kevin Durant teamed up to take on youth basketball leagues in the midwest. Durant was the scorer and Hairston was the enforcer. Black eyes among 12 year old basketball players rose 653% when Durant and Hairston played. Give Hairston 15 minutes a game and see how he can frustrate the opposing team.
  • Try Austin Rivers at point guard. He displayed passing abilities in the OSU game that we haven’t seen before. Furthermore he has a fantastic handle and he’s lightning quick. The possible downside is his proclivity to make bad decisions after driving into the lane. However, as he gets more experience he will learn whether to take the shot or kick the ball out during his penetrations. Moving Seth Curry to the shooting guard position will help Duke spread the floor as defenders will have to stay close to both him and Andre Dawkins on the perimeter.
Duke finally gets to play some cupcakes (excluding Washington) throughout December and January so Coach K will be able to tinker around with various lineups. Even though the OSU game was a disaster Duke will rebound, make adjustments, and improve as the season continues.
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The Passion of the Fan

Full disclosure: A UNC loss usually ruins my day, sometimes ruins a couple of days, and occasionally ruins my week. That is to say, it used to. Follow me, if you will.

Much of the reason that we sports fans exist lies in the emotional outlet that fandom provides. Sports gives us a chance to feel;  To inhale and exhale with each play, to live and die with each game. Sports opens a door to a room where we can suspend life for just a few hours, immerse ourselves in a contest, and live vicariously through the outcomes of our chosen team. Thus, the amount of your identity that is defined by fandom of a specific team is directly proportional to the degree with which you react to a win or loss. In essence, the bigger the fan, the greater the reaction to your team’s results. Which brings me back to my original thought: used to be, a Carolina loss would absolutely ruin a day/few days for me.  Likewise, a big win would put me on cloud nine for a period of time, also.

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He kinda looks like... an old Tony Romo...

With the first pick in the 2012 College Football draft, the Tar Heels select… Larry Fedora, University of Southern Mississippi! Today, Fedora is expected to put pen to paper and ink as Carolina’s coach of the future. So who is this guy? For a school whose last hire made a big splash with Butch Davis, Fedora is a relatively unknown coaching candidate; after all, he doesn’t come with NFL head coaching AND national championship experience. As a Tar Heel, should you be excited about this, or depressed at the sad, sad state of the program? To find out, I traded emails, faux-Grantland style, with TRB site editor Will Earnhardt.


So the timing of this is either fortuitous or awful. I’m studying for a physics test, which is roughly equivalent to having the stomach flu and throwing up so many times your stomach hurts to the point where you’re are simply bathing in your own acid.

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