College Football 2012: Rocky Long's New Strategy Is Going to Infuriate Defenses

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College Football 2012: Rocky Long's New Strategy Is Going to Infuriate Defenses
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The U-T San Diego reports that San Diego State head coach Rocky Long is toying with an idea that will drive defensive coordinators crazy in the 2012 season. From the article, in which Long is described as "giddy" at the prospects:

After reading articles about an idiosyncratic Arkansas high school coach who never punts, always onside kicks, and has tremendous success doing it, Long is toying with the idea for his Aztecs of no punts or field goal attempts once they’ve driven inside an opponent’s 50-yard line.

Long puts it pretty simple:

“Additional plays would allow you to score a lot more points,” he said. “It also puts a whole lot of pressure on the defense.”

He's not wrong. Using four plays to pick up 10 yards, instead of the customary three plays, takes a little pressure off your offense, puts more pressure on the defense and helps you retain possession. If you can retain possession, then you can get into field-goal range or, hopefully, get into the end zone. Last year seven teams went for it 30 or more times; Air Force, Navy, Army, Middle Tennessee, Oregon, Duke and South Carolina.

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If San Diego State joins those ranks, the folks in the Mountain West had better be ready for it. Teams are built to get three-and-outs. That is the goal of defensive coordinators all over the nation. Ask teams in the ACC how frustrating it is dealing with Paul Johnson's Yellow Jackets once they get into the "go for it zone" from their own 40 on in.

The payoff is huge, but it is the sacrifice that steers most coaches away from going for it on fourth downs. While Long's team will be putting pressure on the opposition, failed attempts will also be putting tremendous pressure on the Aztecs defense. A short field opens up opponents' playbooks and makes scoring the football easier. Even if the Aztecs defense is up to the challenge, they're fighting a losing  battle on the field-position front.

For a team that's replacing the two biggest cogs on its offense from a season ago, more chances makes sense. Ronnie Hillman and Ryan Lindley were the San Diego State offense. Now the Aztecs are breaking in new bodies, and using four plays to get 10 yards will go a long way to helping the team gain its footing.

Rocky Long is still considering both the conventional method and the radical methodology pushed by Arkansas high school head coach Kevin Kelley. Again, from the U-T San Diego piece:

“Punting is offensive failure,” Kelley has said. “It’s willingly giving the ball to the other team — a voluntary turnover.”

Kelley's quite convincing in his argument. However, the defensive guy in me swears by punting, long fields and not conceding extra yards due to that "offensive failure" that Kelley mentions. 

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