Coach’s Corner is a weekly feature at Outside the Huddle written by Kevin Merz, former Bishop Dwenger quarterback and North Side offensive coordinator.
The Homestead Spartans clinched their first outright SAC crown last Friday with a 24-0 victory against Wayne. The Spartans boast the league’s top scoring offense at 38.5 points per game which is also good for 2nd in Class 6A, trailing only Lafayette Jeff, which leads all of IHSAA at an astounding 55.6 points per game!
The question to be tackled this week is what makes Homestead so lethal offensively? The following five things keep opposing defenses on their toes and must be points of emphasis when game planning against the Spartans to have any shot of slowing them down in the post season.
Homestead’s offense functions at a pace of play unmatched in the SAC. When a play is finished, instinctively the Spartan offensive linemen are finding the football and begin getting aligned as quarterback Luke Goode checks with the sideline to receive the call for the next snap.
Practicing being able to get to the line quickly, get realigned, and getting a play off with all 11 players on the same page are things that take time and patience to learn. A tremendous amount of detail is spent in practice making sure that formations are simple enough to be switched quickly, but complex enough as to not give away keys to a defense.
One often-overlooked key when offenses play with tempo is the inability for opposing defenses to add anything too complex to their play calling. When Homestead is getting a play off every 15 seconds or so, it is giving the opposing defensive coordinator that same short window of time to identity the offensive formation, keys on alignment and make a blitz and coverage call.
The uptick in tempo often forces defenses to be very vanilla when calling blitz packages and coverages, allowing Homestead to take advantage of defenses playing a usually very basic scheme. Advantage Spartans.
ABILITY TO CHECK TO ANY PLAY
Offensive Coordinator Bill Skelton has developed a system that is simple for his guys to pick up and very difficult for his opponents to catch on to.
Three members of the Spartans (usually three other quarterbacks) wearing different color mesh jerseys all signal in a variety of calls to Goode from the sideline. The reason it is hard for an opposing coach to pick up those signals is that each quarterback signals completely different things with only one being “live.”
When I was at Bishop Dwenger, we accomplished something similar by using a “hot” color when calling our cadence. If “red” was the hot color, then any color used to call the cadence that wasn’t red fell into a “dead” category for us, meaning it was completely meaningless. However if “red” was used before the number during the cadence, it indicated that the play was changing to that number. The Spartans signal callers do something similar by having two signalers be “dead” (nothing they signal matters) and one being “live” (the player actually signaling the play to the quarterback). This can change quarter to quarter, half to half, or even possession to possession. This leads to opposing coaches spending more time watching three backup quarterbacks flail their arms than paying attention to the action on the field.
You will also see Homestead use hard counts to get the defense to move where it is going before Goode and others look to the sideline for the adjusted play call, using the information they just gathered from defensive movement to put them into an advantageous spot on offense.
INSIDE LEAD ZONE
The Spartans offense is sexy no doubt, but the old way of slinging it all over the field on every down has actually become a much more balanced attack this year for Homestead.
The back with all the carries and stats has been Braeden Hardwick, but the key to Homestead’s running game is Cam Rogers. The Spartans love align Rogers either a yard or so behind a guard, or off the hip of the tackle as what I like to refer to as a “bonus back.”
Certain alignment keys give away what play is about to be run more often than not, but that goes back to what we talked about when discussing tempo, because the defense has very little time to read the key of Rogers’ alignment and then adjust accordingly.
Rogers is used essentially as a fullback would be used in Bishop Dwenger’s power running game, but he is always aligned in a spread look, making him a threat to lead block or sneak out on a pass concept.
Homestead’s favorite running play is a power lead zone concept with zone blocking up front by the linemen (blocking whoever enters your area) and letting Rogers come through and make a decision. The decision he has to make is to get a read on the first “threat” defensively. Essentially he is making a read every time he enters the fray. This could be a defensive end closing too hard or a linebacker who is unblocked. Either way, the first bad guy he sees entering the hole, he always gets his pads on him, allowing for a massive hole for the running back to work his magic through.
Pay attention next time you watch Homestead run the ball, but instead of watching Hardwick or Ryan Burton, watch No. 1 Cam Rogers. He will always lead you to where the ball is going!
The emergence of the Homestead rushing attack has led to easy pickings when it comes to throwing the football to the outside.
The bubble screen is a play predicated off movement by the defense and numbers when it comes to defensive alignment. The former is getting easier for the Spartans the more effectively they run the ball. Almost all bubble screens Goode throws are off a “flash fake” (a quick fake to the running back going away from where the ball is going to be thrown). This accomplishes two very important things. First, it freezes the linebackers while they read run or pass, which puts them flatfooted and unable to quickly run to the perimeter to make an unblocked tackle on the receiver. Second, it allows a moment for the receivers who are blocking to work their way up to their intended target and get a helmet on the defender they are blocking. The second part is a simple numbers game.
When Homestead gashes you with the run, defenses tend to sneak an extra linebacker into the box to help protect, allowing the Spartans to essentially have three receivers being guarded by two defenders. Anytime Coach Skelton sees this look, you can bet your bottom dollar an easy pitch and catch from Goode to one of his talented receivers on the outside is about to be executed.
The bubble isn’t designed to be a big play yardage wise, but under the right circumstances and with an accurate quarterback, it is truly stealing yardage and is treated offensively as an extension of their outside run scheme.
Griffin Little has 26 catches on the season, but 10 of those came against Snider back on September 20. Little is spread all over the field in different alignments, but nothing he does compares to when he is lined up as a true tight end in the Spartan scheme.
Y Choice refers to the “Y” (the tight end in most teams’ verbiage) making a choice for his route. Little terrorized the Panthers in the middle of the field with a variety of moves. At times, he would simply box out the linebacker at 10 yards as if he was going for a rebound, using his big frame to create space and an easy window for Goode to fit the ball into. Little also loves an outside move to the sideline before cutting back toward the middle of the field and allowing his QB to find him at 12 yards as he fills the space just vacated by a receiver before him, often referred to as a “follow route.”
Y-Choice is a beautiful concept because it allows athletes to be athletes and create space and windows with what they see, not a specific route in which they are told to run. Any team playing the Spartans this postseason will have to find an answer for Little as he seemingly converted every 3rd and 4th down against Snider that Homestead needed.
Coach’s Corner appears every Monday during the prep football season at Outside the Huddle. These opinions represent those of the writer. No opinions expressed on Outside the Huddle represent those of any of our advertisers.