By Eric Davis
Head Football Coach/Offensive Coordinator
Mankato East High School (MN)
It’s 3rd & 9. Do you have a plan? Do you know how many times you are likely to face this situation against a quality opponent? The answers to these questions and others like them dictate our approach to game and practice planning for a given week.
Here are some of our operating principles regarding 3rd & long:
Use our best player(s) or the threat of our best player(s): It is our belief that in high school football the “wrong” play with the “right” player is often better than the converse of that. Our most productive plays are usually more related to personnel than scheme. If there’s a throw our QB can’t make and we keep running a great scheme that puts him in a position to make that throw, whose fault is it when we don’t convert?
Evaluate our in-game risk tolerance: We must understand the overall game flow which can fluctuate from possession to possession and snap to snap. Consider questions like:
- What is our current situation on defense and special teams?
- Are we in four down territory?
- How good is our punt team?
Due to some injuries to our punter and long-snapper last year, punting itself was a high-risk proposition and often dictated a more aggressive 3rd & Long approach.
Game planning begins with 3rd down: Many play callers prefer to start with their open field 1st & 2nd down calls as those are going to be the majority of their snaps. While I understand that approach, if 3rd down is as critical as we say it is, why not begin our game planning there and build the rest of our formations and calls around that? We usually choose at least one run, one screen, and a couple of the downfield passes described below. The run play does not need to be a draw. While casual fans consider 3rd & long runs to be ultra-conservative “give up” plays, but you might be surprised how close your conversion rate is on runs versus passes when you study the data.
Run base plays and subtle variations of base plays: Watching Alabama win the National Championship by running four verticals on 2nd & 26 in overtime against a strong defense is a reminder to all of us that you don’t need to stray from core plays in unfavorable down and distance situations.
Protections and Built-In Quarterback Draw
We can utilize 5, 6, or 7 man pass pro for the concepts detailed below, depending on our opponent’s personnel and scheme. We incorporate standard half-slide and full-slide protections that will not be a focus of this article. We have included QB draw as an “escape” in some of our 6-man protections and this is a component we are looking to expand in 2018.
In the context of those assumptions, here are some of our favorite 3rd & long passing concepts that we will call if we decide to throw the ball past the sticks in an effort to gain a 1st down.