Thursday, December 17, 2009

Poll Question: One Moment That Changed College Football

For those of you who like footie (or even people who don't, but are interested in critical moments in recent sports history), I highly recommend Jonathan Wilson's piece in The Guardian about Manchester United's defeat at Old Trafford against Real Madrid and the tactical rethink that Alex Ferguson underwent as a result. To briefly summarize, Real came to Old Trafford and whipped United with a new formation that dropped a midfielder back and thus allowed an attacking midfielder and the two fullbacks to get forward and menace the United backline. Real jumped out to a 3-0 lead before Ferguson was able to take countermeasures. The game convinced him to move away from a 4-4-2 and instead deploy a variable formation with one striker and various players from the midfield popping up in attacking areas. This flexible approach is what made Cristiano Ronaldo into such a devastating force. He could play as a striker, a right winger, a left winger, or an attacking midfielder. The defense never knew where he was coming from. Also, the flexible formation allowed Ferguson to vacillate between very attacking set-ups against overmatched opponents and very defensive set-ups, such as the park-the-bus formation he rolled out at the Camp Nou in 2008 with Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez as auxiliary defenders.

The article got me thinking about college football parallels. I'm looking specifically for games in which a smart coach saw his approach exposed and made tactical or strategic changes that laid the groundwork for future success. Here is the best that I can offer right now:

1. Tom Osborne responding to various beatings at the hands of Miami and Florida State by recruiting a new class of faster defenders from the Sunbelt. A Nebraska fan would have to chime in with details on what specific loss it was that caused the re-think. (If you want to go in the other direction, Nebraska's 31-7 loss to Texas in 2003 caused the program to overreact and abandon the offensive system that had made the program great. As Georgia Tech has shown this year, the rationale that defenses are too fast and good to handle option football is totally wrong. I'm now waiting for someone to bring back the wishbone.)

2. Steve Spurrier realizing the importance of a good defensive coordinator at some point during the 1996 Fiesta Bowl thrashing at the hands of a now-faster and meaner Nebraska team.

3. Florida State's come-from-behind win at Georgia Tech in 1992 that led to the Fastbreak offense, two national titles, two Heisman winners no longer under center, and FSU's ludicrous domination of an allegedly major conference for nine seasons. Conversely, Georgia fans might point to the loss at home against Auburn in 2001, after which Tommy Tuberville chided Richt for not running the ball enough. I would argue that, two SEC titles in four years be damned, any turning point that involves taking offensive advice from Tommy Tuberville is not a good one.

Now that I think about it, this is a Chris Brown question.


Unknown said...

bear bryant getting killed by usc and deciding to recruit black payers

Michael said...

The Alabama version of that is that Bryant had already decided to sign Black players. In fact, I think that Bama's first Black player was in the stands that night, having signed with the Tide and waiting out his freshman year. I could be hazy on the details.

I thought about including Bryant's decision to go to the wishbone before the 1971 season, but I couldn't pick out a specific loss in 1970 that would have caused him to make that decision. He made the decision after about three mediocre seasons.

Marty Funkhouser said...

Tim Tebow's mom not aborting him. Sorry that was too easy.

Tsell said...

GTech's offense technically is the "wishbone". Triple-option teams switched to slotbacks and wide-recievers the same time everyone else did in the modern-era: when Mouse Davis co-opted Dutch Meyer's spread formation with 4 vertical threats at the snap. What I am waiting for is for someone to line up a tailback and a fullback in a true "single-wing" formation, maybe even with a blocking back lined up between a guard and center like a 6th or 7th lineman. That'd be the bee's knees.

Anonymous said...

Let this be written about Michigan in 2012 or so:

For a time (del)Quieroz(/del) Rodriguez bore the brunt of the anger of fans who had seen a team that had won seven titles in nine seasons with (del)4-4-2(/del) a pro-style attack transformed into a team that won one in five with (del)4-5-1(/del) the spread. But revolution isn't supposed to be easy.

Ryno said...

Michael - would you consider ND's decision to hire Bob Davie?

Seemed like a measurable step backwards from Holtz.

Or better yet, an off the field issue of ND negotiating its own TV deal!

Hobnail_Boot said...

How about Oklahoma as a program drastically shifting from the John Blake era into a defensive hire (Bob Stoops) who in turn brought in Mike Leach then Mark Mangino to run the offense?

Talk about a culture change, and a successful one at that.

Michael said...

Anon, that's the best comment that anyone has ever left on this blog. Now, make it happen.