Gridiron Grandmasters Pt. 4: RUN THE BALL & Maintain a Mobile Middlegame

Parts I & II focused on the play calling strategy of the opening drive and first quarter; we now move to the middlegame, literally the second and third quarters of every football game.

Against Virginia, the University of Miami’s opening drive was fantastic, scoring in 38 seconds off of two deep passes, first to Will Mallory (!) and second to Mike Harley for a touchdown. Mike finished the game with 10 catches for 170 yards. D’Eriq King threw for 322 yards and had a 70% completion rate. And yet, Miami only scored 19 points the entire night. What went wrong?

After the first 38 seconds, Miami did not score its second touchdown until the fourth quarter with 12:04 left to play. The issues with the Canes offense stemmed from the middlegame. 6 of UM’s 10 drives took place during the 2nd and 3rd quarters. The sixth drive ended with a touchdown in the 4th quarter. The other 5 middlegame drives ended with 2 punts, 3 fields goal attempts, and 6 points scored.

The obvious target for Miami’s problems is the running game, as the Canes recorded 48 rushes for 122 yards, an average of 2.5 yards per carry for the game. However, the data shows that the issues with the middlegame stem from an error commonly made by both chess players and football coaches: one-dimensional play calling. In the game against Virginia, Miami became too reliant on the pass game and was unable to score touchdowns.

The 5 drives of the middlegame ended unsuccessfully primarily due to the ineffectiveness of pass plays called by Coach Lashlee. The play selection at the end of the five middlegame drives were as follows:
1) 3 passes;
2) 1st down run, 2 passes;
3) 1st down run, 2 passes;
4) 3 passes; and
5) 3 runs from inside the 5 yard line.

Outside of the run-centered drive inside of the five yard line, Coach Lashlee called ten pass plays and two run plays that led to fourth downs. However, on the box score, 6 of these ineffective pass plays were recorded in the box score as run plays because they ended up as sacks or scrambles.

On the other hand, the run plays called by Coach Lashlee during the 2nd and 3rd quarters were generally successful, especially interior runs outside of the redzone. Of the 39 offensive plays called during the middlegame by Miami, 14 were runs designed to go between the tackles and resulted in 58 yards, an average of 4.14 yards per carry. Don Chaney, Jr. was especially effective, but all three Miami running backs did well running between the tackles. However, the run game was not the cure-all to score touchdowns, as the Canes failed to score from inside the four yard line due to calling 4 run plays in a row when Virginia stacked the box.

In chess, a one-dimensional position is also known as lacking mobility. After developing your pieces, it is important to keep your pieces in positions that provides flexible options for the player from the opening into the endgame. In football, the key is to maintain mobility in playcalling, especially during the second and third quarters, to keep the defense honest throughout the game. Miami failed to do that and it showed in the score at the end of the game. The good news is Miami’s receivers showed greater effectiveness and effort, so it should be far easier to maintain flexibility between the running and passing game against NC State.

Chess is cool. Go Canes.

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