Shawn "Coach of the Fans" Liotta's weekly blog details the nuances of managing the clock during the last one minute of the half or game.
“The Hurry Up” is Shawn "Coach of the Fans" Liotta's weekly blog with information from his coaching experience, film study and conversations with industry leaders that may be pertinent to current trends and strategy in the Indoor Football League. It will give fans a greater insight into the game.
In our last edition of The Hurry Up we discussed the merits of the critical decision by the Screaming Eagles worldwide fan playcallers to decide to attempt a two-point conversion at the end of overtime to win the game on the road in Colorado.
While the Screaming Eagles are on a bye week currently before facing the Spokane Empire on March 13 at the Maverik Center, I wanted to educate our fan playcallers on the nuances of managing the clock and various other contingency issues that may arise during the last one minute of the half or game, when special timing rules are in effect.
Below is an excerpt from a clock management manual that I distributed to our players and staff every season so they would understand the various clock management scenarios. Some of what you read may be thought-provoking (letting the opponent score?), but my hope is that this material will give each of our fans a better understanding of how to manage the clock and contingency situations during the game.
Games at the indoor and arena football level are won and lost with clock management or poor clock management execution. The area of clock management and contingency planning are a critical area that demands a well thought out and executed plan.
Through the use of our practice segments dealing with extreme clock management and contingency situations our players are prepared to execute our plan and feel comfortable despite the situation that we have a chance to win. It is my belief that you must have a plan in place prior to entering any game on how you are going to deal with certain situations especially within the last one minute of a half or game.
Let’s take a closer look at how we confront certain contingency and clock management situations.
Clock Management Overview
It is imperative that we understand the different situations that we may face during the course of the game and prepare for success. This may involve thinking outside the box in critical situations to maximize our scoring opportunities. In this chapter we will examine a few different strategies and situations that we will face during the course of a season.
The golden rule of clock management is that we never want to use our timeouts until the one-minute warning of each half. We want to always
have all three timeouts at our disposal to allow us to score or get the football back during the last minute. Possession of all three timeouts guarantees that we can get the football back if behind in the last minute if our opponent can’t gain first down yardage. We will take a delay of game in most situations instead of using a timeout.
We practice our one-minute offense each week so we will be very efficient during this situation. As a play-caller in this situation you must be aware of the clock and the amount of timeouts left at your disposal.
In road situations, where you're at the mercy of the road clock operator, you must have a staff member dedicated to watching the clock to make sure that the time is kept accurately and that precious seconds are not allowed to tick off the clock during dead ball situations.
Keys for Success
Know the situation: How many points do we need?
• Be aware of the time situation, but ensure that our primary focus is to score.
• Know situations where we may huddle or get into no-huddle mode.
• Be aware of “kill clock” situations.
• Know how many timeouts we and our opponents have remaining.
• Secure the football. Try to give ourselves up to the wall as much as possible to stop the clock.
• QB may throw the ball away if necessary to conserve time.
• “Fire” call we are running the field goal unit onto the field.
• Never go down with the ball in your hands on fourth down. Keep the play alive and look to lateral if first-down yardage is not gained. Do not fumble the ball forward on fourth down.
The slow-down mode is used to preserve a win at the end of a game inside of one minute. We practice this situation each week and stress the element of ball security and not scoring if our opponent allows us to.
Ball carriers are stressed to get positive yardage and get down and protect the football. We must remember that we must gain positive yardage or the clock will stop inside of one minute if we have the lead.
Keys for Success
• Use all of 25-second clock. Stay inbounds. Secure the football at all times.
• Must gain positive yardage.
• Know how many timeouts we have left.
• Be aware that we can run our “Stall” play to allow the QB to drop back deep and throw the ball into the stands to kill 9-10 seconds of clock at a time.
• Be aware of attempts by our opponent to let us score in an attempt to get the ball back.
There are times during the course of the game where it is imperative that we attempt an onside kick in an effort to gain an extra possession or to allow the opponent to score quickly so that we can get the football back.
As a general rule we will attempt an onside kick if we score within the first 10 seconds of the one-minute warning. In the final minute of the second half we must examine if we can be beaten by a field goal and factor that into our decision to on-side kick if we are ahead by three or less.
As a general rule our Hands Team should always be on alert during the last minute of both halves. We need to ensure that we properly defend the onside kick, remain onsides, and cover or bat the ball out of the arena. We can not allow our opponent to gain an extra possession during this period.
Allowing Opponent to Score
There are several situations where we will allow our opponent to score in order to get the ball back to our offense. Here are some situations where we would allow our opponent to score if their ability to score or run out the clock appears imminent.
• Behind by 1 at any time inside of a minute if we have less than three timeouts left. This will allow us to be behind by 8 assuming they convert the PAT attempt and will allow us the opportunity to score and tie with a 2-pt conversion and send the game to overtime.
• Ahead by six or less at any time inside of a minute if we have two timeouts or less and opponent is in the green zone. If the score appears imminent we must allow the opponent to score so that we will have time to score a last second touchdown or field goal.
Refusal to Score
It is important that your players understand the situation where the opponent is trying to let you score. With a two -point lead or less inside of one-minute we must never score a touchdown. We should gain positive yardage and fall down to expire the clock. If the opponent has two or more timeouts left inside of a minute and we have a three-plus-point lead we will score if they allow us. This will extend the lead to two scores and will force two possessions in the final moments to beat us.
Attempting a 2-PT Conversion
We must understand when the situation will dictate us going for a two-point conversion. We will use a pre-determined chart and couple that with in-game variables to make our decision. As a general rule of thumb, we will not chase points until the fourth quarter, and we will factor accuracy of our kicking game, score, opponents’ kicker, and time remaining into our decision. We will practice and develop several two-point plays each week.
Score Fast or Slow
If behind in the final minute of the game we must think score first and clock management second. Too many teams in this situation can get distracted with the managing of the clock that they fail to select their best play packages in this critical situation.
Obviously we want to score slowly if we have the lead or an opportunity to extend the score to a two score lead. The ideal drive is to score with no time on the clock to win. This situation is obviously rare however and we must understand the urgency of getting the score we need if we are behind in the final moments regardless of the time remaining on the clock. If we have left too much time on the clock and it fits into our contingency plan we can always onside kick to get the football back or conserve time if our opponent should score.
Field Goal at End of Half or Game
The deployment of the field goal team prior to the end of a half or game will depend on varying factors including; score, field position, kicker accuracy from the spot, and our field goal protection. On the final play of the game we must determine if we have a better chance at making the long field goal or attempting a pass into the end zone or one of our pre-designed desperation plays to score.
Use of Timeouts
As stated earlier in this manual our general rule of thumb is to never use our timeouts prior to the 1 minute period of each half. We must conserve these at all costs, and we would rather take a delay of game or substitution penalty during the game than waste one of our timeouts.
The only other time we should use a timeout is to give our defense a breather if they have been on the field for an extended drive or series of drives due to a defensive score, etc. We should be aware of the media timeouts and their placement in this situation.
We will defer on all overtime periods so that we will have the football last. If we are on the road and we score a touchdown we will go for two and the win.
If we are the home team we will convert the PAT and extend the overtime period. We should always think touchdown in overtime. However, if we get the ball first in overtime we must ensure that we at least get a field goal to give ourselves a chance. If we get a defensive stop on the first possession of overtime we will be conservative with the football and give ourselves a chance to win with the field goal.