In The Tennessee Debacle: Out-played or Out-coached? Part I, Ken Crawford brought up the following point:
"One thing that you should be careful with in regards to the play-calling is the audibles. I re-watched the entire season in February in preparation for a series of articles that never got published. One thing I noted about the Tennessee game was that Longshore called a lot of audibles and the combination of a young QB and the noise made that a horrible decision.
If I were Tedford, after the second series, I would have made the call to either eliminate audibles or come up with a visual system with only one option for change (of course it’s difficult to coordinate something like that mid-game, making me think ‘no audibles’ would be the appropriate decision). I also noted that Ayoob when he came in called fewer and that the crowd noise has substantially abated the few times he did call an audible.
In any case, it may have been that Dunbar was counting on a lot of audible situations in his game-plan and the inability to do that caused lots of predictable play-calling. I’d still fault the coaches for that game-plan considering the environment they were heading into. They should have known that a game-plan with lots of audibling was trouble for a young QB in an insanely loud stadium."
Ken brings up the good point that the playcalling might have suffered due to the "audibles". But before I address this point, I need to explain a few things.
When we use the word "audible", I am sure most people are thinking that Longshore took matters into his own hands and changed the play at the line of scrimmage to another play that he thought would be more effective against what the defense was showing. More specifically, that Longshore has complete control to call any play at the line of scrimmage if he thinks he may better exploit the defense.
While what was described above is the definition of an audible, the assumption that Longshore is actually audibling is incorrect.
For the most part, college football head coaches do not allow their quarterbacks to do their best Peyton Manning impressions during games. In other words, most college football head coaches simply do not allow their quarterbacks the complete freedom to audible to any play.
If my memory serves me correctly, I believe that there was some talk about Pete Carroll allowing Matt Leinart to audible in his senior year. But other than that, I cannot recall hearing any college football coaches admitting that they allow their quarterback the complete freedom to audible to any play they want.
Furthermore, I doubt that Tedford has allowed any of his quarterbacks to audible to any play at the line of scrimmage. Yes, even our beloved Aaron Rodgers probably didn’t get the blessing from the God that is Tedford.
What looks to be an "audible" is actually an option play.
No, I’m not talking about the Navy or Air Force triple-option, or the old school Nebraska option, or the West Virginia or Texas shotgun option. I’m talkin’ about an option play with two plays. In other words, the offense goes to the line of scrimmage with two plays in mind - thus the "option" to choose (many NFL teams do the same thing with even more options). But unlike the Navy option, the actual "option" to choose occurs before the snap and not after.
After the offense lines up at the line of scrimmage, the quarterback reads the defense and tells the offense to run one of the two plays. I refrain from saying that the quarterback has the "choice" to call the play because it’s not really a choice. The quarterback is taught to read the defense and simply choose the play based on the formation of the defense. It’s as if the defense is actually choosing their own fate based on what they show. Longshore is in no way choosing any play out of the hundreds of plays he may know. It’s simply one play or the other.
So with that whole "audible" issue being clarified, let’s tackle the problem of using option plays in a hostile environment.
The most obvious problem is crowd noise. Mr. Crawford brings up this point and suggests that it might have been better to not have any option plays at all in a deafening environment. He has a valid point. If there are no option plays, then excess verbal communication is minimized. The offense simply runs the play and all that needs to happen is the center hearing the snap count. But of course, the trade off is that the offense gives up the advantage of the choice that an option play brings to the field.
Mr. Crawford also brings up the suggestion of developing a visual system for notifying the offense of which play is to be run. He is thinking like a coach because the Cal coaching staff does have a visual system in place. I do not wish to further elaborate on how the signaling works for obvious reasons but trust me, there is a visual signal system in place.
But even though there is a visual system in place, vocal notifications still must be used. Afterall, the OL cannot turn around to see the signals so their notification of changes must occur vocally - WRs and RBs simply need to look at the QB to see the signals.
(In rare playcalling situations that will not be elaborated on, the backfield and WRs may need to hear a vocal command. I believe one of these rare situations did occur in the Tennessee game and resulted in a tense moment of Longshore trying to verbally communicate over the Tennessee crowd noise which became even louder at the sight of him verbally communicating. I believe the coaching staff realized the problem with those special playcalling situations in a hostile environment and avoided them throughout the rest of the year because I did not see any further clues to suggest that one of those rare playcalling situations had occured.)
The obvious problem about using option plays is that they require more time at the line of scrimmage. Longshore must make sure to get to the LOS with plenty of time on the play clock so he may evaluate the defense and make the appropriate decision.
An additional benefit of option plays - besides the aforementioned ability to choose the better play - is the possibility of setting up the defense. Often defensive players will be trying to decode the offense’s hand signals and verbal codes. After a few instances of verbal or physical signaling, the offense will continue to use those signals regardless of what the real play may be thus confusing the defense (because the defense will have seen the same signals result in two different plays). An even deadlier trick is when the offense calls a play that is a counter to the defense’s counter to what the defense thinks the play may be. For example, if the defense thinks that the offense is calling play A, they will call their best counter defense such as play B, but the offense is really in play C which is not only a counter to the defense’s play B but gives the same look as play A (for an example of this refer to Cal @ Washington in 2002). Naturally, Tedford is very good at this because he is a master at chess, a genius, and God.
Anyways, back to option plays and Tennessee.
Mr. Crawford notes that Ayoob was given less option plays. This is true, but has nothing to do with the fact that there was a QB switch. Simply, Dunbar prefers to to run option plays out of formations that Ayoob did not see many reps with as the QB (please excuse the vague statement but it’s for our own benefit).
Was the coaching staff at fault for calling so many option plays? Yes and no. I say yes because in that kind of environment you have to do what you can to minimize the chances of unforced errors caused by trying to do too much. But then again, I say no because in most situations the offense should still have been able to function regardless of the crowd noise (unless it was absolutely so loud on the field that the OL couldn’t even hear each other or Longshore’s commands despite only being a few feet away from each other).
It is a lot to ask of a (pretty much) freshman quarterback to not only excel in such an important and high profile game, but to manage the offense in such hostile conditions. One could say the coaching staff was asking too much of Longshore. But then again, I’m sure that the coaching staff must have had faith in Longshore’s abilities and thought there was nothing to suggest he couldn’t handle those responsibilities, because otherwise they wouldn’t have put him in such precarious situations.