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Common Football Clock Management mistakes.

Clock management leaves much to be desired in the NFL; it is worse in college football, and even more so on the high school level.

Why the poor ranking for the high school game? Because it has no visible play clock, little or no practice devoted to clock issues, no clock available or turned on for practice, a poor understanding of clock management by coaches, and low a priority.

The typical high school coach assumes that clock management consists entirely of two-minute drills, which he practices for about 10 minutes on Thursdays.

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The correct approach is to learn all the principles of good clock management and to integrate them into your practices so that most of what you do has a clock-conscious component. It does not require additional practice

You simply have to do them more intelligently ... add a clock situation to almost everything you do.

For example, don't just run "29 Toss" in practice. Let your players know that you are behind in the score. That means if your running back is anywhere near the sideline, he should try to get out of bounds.

If your team is competitive, you will probably lose one to three games a season solely because of incorrect clock management. Following are some of the most common mistakes in clock-management:

* WAITING UNTIL THE LAST TWO MINUTES OF A HALF TO MANAGE THE CLOCK.

Manage the game clock whenever it is running, including the first play of the game.

Generally, you should be in a slow-down whenever you are likely to win the game and in a hurry-up whenever you are likely to lose. In other words, with a few exceptions, you should be in either a slow-down or a hurry-up on every play of the game.

* NOT PRACTICING SLOW-DOWN TACTICS.

Some things are so easy that coaches will neglect to practice them sufficiently. In baseball, sliding and bunting are correctly perceived to be easy, but they are not so easy that you can get away with little or no practice.

The same is true of the slow-down. My book on Football Clock Management lists 20 different slow-down rules.

Most coaches assume that their players know them without practice and will begin cursing when they predictably violate them near the end of a close game.

You have to practice staying in bounds, taking a sack, taking an intentional safety, taking a knee, and so forth. Not much, but you do have to practice them.

* SCORING TOO FAST IN YOUR LAST POSSESSION OF THE FIRST HALF AND YOUR LAST POSSESSION OF THE GAME WHEN YOU ARE DOWN BY 8 OR LESS.

This mistake cost Arizona State the Rose Bowl game in 1997.

My book has separate charts for when you need a touchdown and when you need a field goal. Basically, you need to speed up, slow down, or go at a medium pace according to how many points you need and the time and yards remaining. You can work out your own charts, depending on your kicker's range.

* TRYING TO GET ANOTHER FIRST DOWN AFTER YOU HAVE REACHED THE QB-SWEEP-SLIDE POINT.

Since taking a knee does not use up much time, I invented a better play for that purpose.

I call it the quarterback-sweep-slide play. The QB sweeps to the wide side of the field and deliberately loses about 15 yards out near the boundary behind the protection of his three backs flanked to the wide side.

If you are up by three points or more, the quarterback-sweep-slide series culminates in an intentional safety. Using this play rather than kneeling allows you to avoid risking a turnover trying to get another first down about 25 to 30 seconds earlier in the game.

The only time a game should not end with the quarterback-sweep-slide-intentional safety series is when the offense is backed up, acquires possession during their kneel-down period, or when they are not ahead by three or more.

* NOT TAKING A KNEE ON THE FLY.

The vast majority of coaches think you take a knee only after a snap. Not so. You take a knee whenever you are in the take-a-knee or quarter-back-sweep-slide period and that can occur on the fly.

If you need one more first down and get it, your ball-carrier should immediately take a knee (not go out of bounds) after making the line to gain. The same holds true if you take the ball away on defense in the take-a-knee period. The defender in possession should not risk contact with the opposing team. He should take a knee or run out of bounds. (The clock will stop for the change of possession, so going out of bounds will not be a blunder.)

* BEING TACKLED OR GOING OUT OF BOUNDS ON A TWO-POINT CONVERSION OR FINAL PLAY OF THE GAME WHEN TRAILING.

All two-point conversion attempts should end in success, an incomplete pass to the end zone, or a failed lateral.

The same is true for all games in which the trailing team is in possession of the ball on the last play.

Laterals are generally frowned upon these days. But in this situation, what do you have to lose? To allow yourself to be tackled or knocked out of bounds without lateraling is giving up without a fight. You should lateral to a teammate if one is available or, ground the ball if no teammate is available in the hope that a teammate will be the first one to the ball.

* CALLING TIMEOUTS IN ODD-NUMBERED QUARTERS.

The optimum time to call a time-out is when your opponent is on offense and trying to waste time. Timeouts can then save about 40 seconds each. Calling timeouts when you are on offense and hurrying only saves about 12 seconds. Forty is better than 12.

Don't waste timeouts in odd-numbered quarters because probably no one is in a slow-down and even if they are there will be plenty of time to make sure they are still in a slow-down near the end of the half.

Calling timeout because of some screw-up is a very bad habit. It wastes timeouts and will not work when you screw up and no longer have any timeouts left. You have to practice not calling timeouts. Give your quarterback some other solution and practice it.

* NOT GETTING A WHISTLE ON THE FINAL PLAY OF THE GAME WHEN YOU ARE AHEAD.

The game ends on a whistle, not a horn. Make sure your ball-carrier ends the game by going out of bounds or taking a knee when you are ahead. A couple of high schools have lost games by celebrating after the horn, but before the whistle. It's simple, but you have to practice it.

* NOT LETTING THE CLOCK GO DOWN TO :03 BEFORE AN END-OF-HALF FIELD GOAL ATTEMPT.

The famous five-man-lateral through the Stanford Band game-winning touchdown was set up by this mistake.

You must spike the ball immediately after the snap, but you do not have to call for the snap until the play clock gets down to :05.

* SPIKING THE BALL WHEN YOU HAVE TIME TO RUN THE DOWN YOU WASTE.

Many teams think that you spike the ball whenever you want to call timeout but do not have one. Not so. You spike the ball only when you no longer have time to use the down in question.

For example, 1st & goal at the 6 with :06 left and the game clock running. Do not spike the ball with 1st & 10 at the 40 with :36 left. Run a pass play that has some chance of success.

For example, you could make the fade your play of choice for that situation and yell out a code word or even say "Spike the ball!" as your code. That would mean run the fade.

* USING A STANDARD WHETHER-TO-GO-FOR-TWO CARD EARLY IN THE GAME.

Coaches carry cards that tell them whether to go for one or two after a touchdown. They are only used whenever you expect one or two more scores; that is, near the end of the game. Coaches who consult the card in the first quarter are telling you that they do not understand the clock-management issue at stake.

The most common and devastating mistake is ignoring the clock play after play--like huddling when you are behind. You are either wasting time that you should not be wasting because you are trailing or otherwise likely to lose, or you are leaving time on the clock for your opponent to come back and beat you.

The old saying, "Football is a game of inches" is really an exaggeration. The officials will eyeball the spot and call football a game of inches with the chain. That is a distortion. Football is a game of seconds-with modern scoreboards: tenths of seconds.

The clock is your friend when you are ahead and your enemy when you are behind. That applies to the whole game.

Every second you leave on the clock unnecessarily may be the one your opponent uses to beat you. Every second you waste may be the one you need to start the final game-winning play.

By John T. Reed, Head freshman coach, Monte Vista High School, Danville, CA

John T. Reed (www.johntreed.com) is the author of the books Football Clock Management, Coaching Youth Football, Single-Wing Offense for Youth Football, Gap-Air-Mirror Defense for Youth Football, and Coaching Youth Football Defense.
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Title Annotation:FOOTBALL
Author:Reed, John T.
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2005
Words:1566
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