Down 6 Players, Heavy Rains Expected

Today we play a tough Liberty team at Sherwood High School at 5pm. It has been raining hard all day and we are down to just 19 players due to illness that is running rampant around here, mostly swine flu. Rather than wring our hands and fret, we are looking at this as opportunity to focus on the basics and establish a strong inside running game. We've added a few more plays that give us more looks with our running backs running between the tackles. Teams that are scouting us are probably looking at a lot of narrow sweep action (our wing-T offense rarely runs wide sweeps). We feel that we've got the offensive line to get some strong push up the middle and we'll see if this pans out today.

Days like this also give a lot of opportunities to the players playing to get more carries, more tackles, and to experience new positions. I just hope those on the field have a safe game and stay injury-free, for their sake and the team's.

Game 5 result: Sherwood 58, Aloha 28

We continued our unbeaten streak last Saturday vs Aloha Gold in a game that felt much closer than the final score. Aloha brought a very strong passing attack to the game that exposed some weaknesses in our usual staunch defense. Aloha passed for 284 yards on mostly long passes and we had some significant breakdowns in secondary pass coverage. Needless to say this was a key focus during the week - a great opportunity for the kids to learn and get pushed a bit.

Our offense continued its dominance with 9 touchdowns on 9 drives - no turnovers, no punts, no turnover on downs. It doesn't hurt having an elite back, but teams have learned that they can't just focus on a single running back. We had five other backs with total yardage of at least 25 yards in the game.

We spent the week putting in a new defensive formation to help with stopping an inside running game and a wedge-oriented offense as well as adding a new safety blitz. Most of our time was spent on some new offensive plays and formations that we will gradually roll out over our final three regular season games. These games are also a chance for us to get as many kids involved in the offense carrying the ball as possible. We especially work hard to get kids touchdown opportunities.

Saturday we play Liberty JV at Sherwood High School, 5pm. Looks like rain is in store for us so we'll work hard a balanced inside and outside running game.

Game 4 result: Sherwood 32, SEI 0

We kept our season perfect with a resounding 32-0 win on Saturday. Execution was strong but far from perfect, but we were up by 32 by half time and had to keep the dogs in check so as to not run up the score. Our opponent demonstrated an extremely high level of sportsmanship (both players and coaches), and our kids remarked that they had fun chatting across the line of scrimmage with the other players. Everyone was loose and having fun.

Our offensive execution is getting tighter. We stick to a core set of plays that we want to execute well and don't do anything too tricky. We also have some great athletes who can compensate for mistakes by others, and that never hurts.

I commend Jim on his offensive strategy and spreading the ball around. We've had seven different players score touchdowns from offensive plays, and I believe we'll add at least 3-4 more players to that list before the year is done.

Some stats from the game:

  • Our offense gained 312 yards in the first half before we had to dial it down. Nine different players carried the ball, three different players caught passes.

  • Our defense allowed only 140 yards and 6 first downs. In the second half we had kids playing all over the place (D-line playing linebacker, linebackers playing CB, etc.).

  • Twelve different players contributed with tackles.

The rest of our schedule gets tougher, including a challenging matchup against a strong (and well coached) Aloha team this weekend.

Keeping Mid-Season Practices Interesting

We struggle each year as we enter October to keep our 6 hours of practice each week interesting. By this time the weather is often turning rainy and cold, the kids can become distracted and bored, and the coaches can become complacent and locked into a routine. Here are some techniques we use to keep things fresh and interesting:

  • Jim and I usually alternate practice planning week to week. This has two benefits - it gives us a week off every other week and allows some natural variety to surface as we bring our own style to the week. While we have a consistent warm-up and start-of-practice routine we try to bring plenty of variety in other areas.

  • Introduce new plays for variety. Jim and I are conservative with our playbook - we probably run 20-40% fewer plays than the other coaches at our level in Sherwood, but we believe in focus and execution on a core set. Still, we bring new plays on as much for strategy and game options as we do to keep variety in our practices. By this time in the season most of the kids are settled in their primary offensive position and should be ready to take on new assignments.

  • Limited scrimmage with our Sherwood teams. This week we ran "thud" scrimmage against another team on Tuesday night where we spent about 30 minutes on defense. The first half was running their next opponent's defense against their offense to give some "best-on-best" game-time simulation that is hard to get with intra-squad scrimmage. In the second half they ran scout offense for us, allowing me to do some instructional work to prep for our Saturday opponent. We plan to turn the table tonight (Thursday) and have us on offense for 30 minutes.

  • Get creative with new drills and competitions. We scour the internet and literature for new drill ideas and bring new material in to keep the kids focused and address problem areas. This is where creative, engaged assistants can be a huge help - this week my linebacker coach ran a great new drill to help the linebackers learn how to fight off lead blocks in power off-tackle and sweep plays.

  • Get creative with conditioning. Conditioning is an important aspect of our practices, but I despise spending time on conditioning routines that don't teach football skills. Most nights we end with rapid tackling and hitting circuits to both reward the kids for hard work in practice (they love to hit!) and slide in conditioning in a way that doesn't feel like conditioning. Instead of running lines or gassers, run plays on air out 30-50 yards. We do this at the start of practice every day after dynamic warmups and this works the kids just as hard or harder than lines and the kids get used to running our plays while exhausted. We also have a coach throw to receivers on every play even when it isn't a pass play to get them used to running routes and staying engaged (we don't throw to receivers more than 3-4 times in a game).

Game 3 Result - Sherwood 45, Beaverton 18

I missed a football game as coach for the first time in two years so that I could attend and host a fundraising dinner for the TechStart Education Foundation, a non-profit I help run. It is torturous missing a game like this as I am very much aware that the clock is counting down on the number of Matthew's games that I have left to coach in my lifetime. My goal was to prepare the team as much as possible to defend Beaverton and give clear guidance to our on-the-field and off-the-field leaders.

One of my greatest joys in coaching is working closely with Matthew to develop his understanding of defensive schemes, game-time adjustments, and recognition. He is a smart kid that demonstrates great in-game leadership and I continue to be amazed at his ability to run the defense on the field.

While we normally call alignments, blitz packages, and coverage schemes from the sidelines we needed to be particularly adaptive for this game as we knew we were likely to see two very distinct offensive sets from Beaverton: a wide spread with double twin receiver sets, and a traditional power I formation. As I've mentioned before, we run a mix of 3-5-3 and split-6 alignments. Our plan to beat their spread was QB pressure with plenty of outside attacking from our defensive ends. This lead to a scheme where our Mike linebacker would auto-shift to split-6 when Beaverton came out in the spread with a 5-man front. The idea is to get our DEs attacking the outside shoulders of both their tackles to stop both their off-tackle running game and bring pressure on the QB to slow down their passing game. I felt that being in the 3-5-3, while potentially allowing us to be more aggressive with blitzing schemes would over-complicated our underneath pass coverage.

In addition, we also had some automatic blitz and automatic man-to-man press calls from our outside linebackers (hawks) and cornerbacks when they sent their slot in motion back to the QB. This was based on extensive film review and our understanding of their tendencies.

As it turned out Beaverton never ran their I formation so Matthew and his backup ended up calling our defense throughout the game. I felt a bit bad for my substitute defensive coordinator but in some sense he was probably relieved. The results on our defense were very good - four interceptions, including one on their second play from scrimmage that was returned for a touchdown, nine tackles for loss, and only 74 yards rushing allowed. If we had a weakness it was in allowing for some big pass plays (274 total passing yards allowed), but our secondary limited the damage and more than made it up for it with their picks.

Our offense was extremely efficient. Our top three backs had great rushing days: 4 carries for 139 yards, 9 carries for 122 yards, and 4 carries for 78 yards. Our sweep, off-tackle, and counter plays are working extremely well, and I credit significant improvement in our tight-end and wingback blocking for this. If we have a weakness right now it is that our inside trap play is not working like we need it to. Our current thinking is that our centers need to improve their down-blocking for this to be fixed - I'll let you know how this works out on Saturday.

We have a game this Saturday night under the lights again against SEI (Self Enhancement Institute), an inner-city team that our boys will play for the first time in their football careers. They bring a lot of talent to the game so it should be a hard-fought battle.