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Bowl game self-scout is vital to Herd’s success

December 14, 2018

HUNTINGTON — There are people who think football is just a physical sport built on brute strength.

However, football is a game is based largely on mental processes, whether that is identifying the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses or a team fixing its own issues while formulating game plans that take dozens of hours and culminate with a four-hour event.

In the college football world, there is no bigger match of wits than a bowl game where teams have extended time to prepare and a wealth of resources – 12 full games of film – to break down.

Many people think scouting the opponent is the biggest aspect in game preparation, but the biggest chess match that faces offensive and defensive coordinators is the weekly self-scout – looking at your own team’s strengths and weaknesses and making educated decisions based on an evaluation of how an opponent might attack.

“You go into what you watch on film and there’s a real good chance what you watch on film isn’t exactly what they’re doing,” Marshall University offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey said. “They are changing up their tendencies and stuff they do as well. We’ll have a game plan set up for a bunch of things – what they can do, what they can’t do, what they have done and what they might do as they go forward. It’s the advantage of having more practices than the basic Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday, let’s roll type of week.”

When Marshall (8-4) faces South Florida (7-5) on Thursday, Dec. 20, in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl, there are going to be two teams familiar with each other.

Both teams recruit the same areas, so they know the players involved from a skill-set perspective. Each team also has 12 weeks of film on the other to figure out tendencies and what they like to do, so they can combat that.

And, the game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, has the added flavor of many of the staff members having worked together before, starting with both head coaches – Marshall’s Doc Holliday and South Florida’s Charlie Strong, who were together at the University of Florida during the Gators’ national championship runs of the mid-2000s. South Florida defensive tackles coach Sean Cronin was on the Marshall staff under Holliday and recruited many of the Thundering Herd players.

Therefore, the game within the game is figuring out how a team is going to attack based on personnel.

“You are constantly doing self-scout,” Marshall defensive coordinator Adam Fuller said. “I mean, every single Sunday night, there is a list that (defensive graduate assistants) Will (Burnham) and Joel (Elliott) give me that you’re constantly going through.

“On defense, you are always trying to do what you need to do to stop the opponent, but you’re also trying to plan how they are going to attack you and then trying to make sure you solidify those tendencies or minimize them or change how you’re going to do something that you’ve done a lot.”

Perhaps that is why bowl games feature more exotic play selection with a few more trick plays and things outside of the box.

While the one-handed receptions, bone-jarring hits and eye-opening plays get all the attention because of their suddenness and emotion-evoking magnitude, the true beauty of the game lies in the meeting rooms where the ultimate battle of strategy takes place.

Especially with three weeks to break everything down, it also begs the question, ‘Can a team self-scout too much and over-analyze in bowl preparation?’

The answers from Cramsey and Fuller showed how fine a line that battle can be.

“Sometimes you’ve got to put the pen down and sometimes you’ve just got to go home and stop watching the film,” Cramsey said. “We’ve got 12 games on them, they’ve got 12 games on us, so they are seeing a lot of things and we’re seeing a lot of things.”

“There’s some off-time between the last game of the season and the bowl game, so there’s some self-evaluation. ...,” Fuller said. “You are constantly doing it. Whether you’ve got three weeks or two days, you are still doing it.”

While the words of the coordinators show how crazy-involved bowl preparation can be, it also brings another impressive element to light. Marshall is 5-0 in bowl games under Holliday, meaning evaluations of opponents and itself have been spot on with the extra time to get ready.

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