Monday, August 17, 2009

Impound It - The Look and Swing | by Michael

The coaching staff signals in the play, and you look at your wristband and call out the formation and play in the huddle-- a strongside draw to the boundary. As you step under center to receive the snap, you observe that your opponent's safeties appear to be in a Cover 2 shell. The field corner is pressing your outside receiver and has inside leverage. And no one is within ten yards of your slot receiver.

  • If you want to run the draw play, turn to page 4
  • If you would rather throw a quick swing pass to your slot receiver, turn to page 5
This is the basic concept behind the Look and Swing passes, options for the quarterback on some (but certainly not all) running plays. The quarterback can hand off the ball to the back, or he'll have one of two choices available to him (but never both). The first is the Look pass, where a lone receiver will simply turn to the quarterback and await the ball. The second is the Swing pass, where a slot receiver will slide toward the sideline, catch the ball, and use the block of the outside receiver to head upfield. Meanwhile, the offensive line still blocks the original running play.

Although these passes are not technically runs except when the ball is thrown backwards, they are still included in the Impound It series because of how they complement the running game. It's truly a "take what the defense gives you" concept because of how the play forces the defense to account for every offensive player (save the quarterback). Some fans would prefer that the Irish stick to the original play and run the football, but it's hard to argue with a concept that averages over 5 yards per attempt and has a median of 6 yards during the 2005, 2006, and 2008 seasons. In all likelihood, fans would probably be more receptive to the play if the rest of the rushing offense didn't put up such putrid numbers.

Year Comp Att Yards Avg
37 250

The numbers declined a bit over the years, but a big reason for that is the production from the X receiver position. The X receiver is the split end. He's typically aligned on the line of scrimmage down from the left tackle. In 2005, Maurice Stovall caught 12 look passes; seven of those went for 11+ yards. The following year, Rhema McKnight was thrown eight and caught seven, though the longest was just ten yards. Last year's X receiver, Golden Tate, was rarely thrown the ball in the same situation. He caught four of four for 27 yards. Meanwhile, the other six occurrences all took place when the Irish were trying to run out the clock in the fourth quarter.

Otherwise, Mike Floyd was thrown two look passes, catching one for one yard against Michigan State. The majority of these plays went the swing pass route, where David Grimes or Duval Kamara would catch a swing pass and turn it upfield. Grimes caught nine balls for 47 yards, and Kamara caught seven for 37 yards.

The number of attempts is intriguing because it suggests one of several scenarios. Did a "Pound It" philosophy mean that Jimmy Clausen wasn't given the choice of having a built-in Look or Swing pass? Or were the plays not built in because of his relative inexperience? Did defenses play tighter on the receivers so that Clausen felt the running play was the better option? Or perhaps, were the plays available to Clausen, and he simply chose to hand the ball off instead?

Why the Irish failed to use the Look/Swing pass from Regular personnel (2 RBs, 2 WRs, 1 TE) is also mysterious. Take a look at the ratio of runs to look passes over the years (starters only, no back-ups):

Year Rushes YPC
Look Passes
% Look
4.6 13

It's almost as if a big chunk of the playbook was missing in 2008. Also consider that Tate and Floyd were never on the same side of a formation from Regular. Contrast that with 20% of the time for Stovall and Samardzija in 2005 and 28% for McKnight and Samardzija in 2006. Was this due to the inexperience of the young receivers? How much did it hurt overall to be so less dynamic and diverse than previous versions of the offense?

So as you watch these highlights from 2005 and 2006, focus first on the formations and personnel groupings. How often did you see these formations in 2008? And can you envision them in 2009 with Floyd and Tate taking over for McKnight, Stovall, and Samardzija?

Love 'em or hate 'em, history proves that the Look/Swing passes can be quite effective. Paired with an improved running game, these options become just another facet that a defensive coordinator must think about in preparation for playing Notre Dame.