AFM RSS Feed Follow Us on Twitter       

   User Name    Password 
      Password Help

Article Categories

AFM Magazine

AFM Magazine

The Audible: How to Make it Work

by: Terry Jacoby
© More from this issue

Click for Printer Friendly Version          

In the third quarter of this season’s Michigan-Ohio State game the Wolverines had the ball on the Buckeyes’ 2-yard line. With 10 seconds to go on the play clock, the Wolverines were still in the huddle and appeared confused on what play to call. But they knew exactly what they were doing. Michigan broke the huddle and raced to the line of scrimmage, snapping the ball almost instantly. The play ended in the end zone and the Wolverines had their touchdown. Because they were “late” to the line of scrimmage, the defense didn’t have time to make any adjustments. They weren’t “late” by mistake. They were “late” on purpose.

“It’s a chess match,” said Nick Howlett, offensive coordinator at Carroll College whose team has earned five straight Final Four appearances in the NAIA national playoffs.

Everyone has seen the Colts’ Peyton Manning come to the line of scrimmage, barking out orders to his teammates and making all kinds of motions, walking down both sides of the line so everyone hears the play he is calling. “A lot of the times (Manning) isn’t really saying anything, just making it appear he is changing the play,” Howlett said. Ah, the chess match. There are moves. And fake moves. Counters. And counter moves. The ultimate goal is checkmate. Or in this case, touchdown.

Howlett wins more than he loses in the chess game known as football. His offense averaged 28.6 points and 397.3 yards last year. Howlett credits much of his offensive success to smart quarterbacks, who prepare and are able to make the right calls against the right defenses. “We have really progressed over the years in calling audibles,” he said. “We have a much more extensive audible package in place now than when I got here in 1999.”

Having an experienced quarterback helps.

“When quarterback Tyler Emmert came in as a freshman we didn’t call nearly the number of audibles we do now,” Howlett said. “We not only change the plays at the line of scrimmage more often now, but change pass patterns and switch direction on routes. We even change blocking schemes.”

When the Saints audible depends on a number of variables. “Everything we do with our audible package depends on a look we see from the defense,” said Howlett, whose quarterback has been Frontier Conference Player of the Year three times. “Remember, it’s not necessarily a bad call we go to the line of scrimmage with, but if we can switch to a play we think has a better chance of success, then we want our quarterback to do it.”

Like most college teams, Carroll players and coaches huddle in the film room before games, looking over their opponent’s strengths, weaknesses, tendencies and defensive schemes. According to Howlett, “If we see a certain formation from the defense, then we will switch to a play that we think will work. It’s not always a complex change. It might just be running the same play but to the other side.”

Pass protection is a key part of calling audibles. “It’s important for our quarterback to feel comfortable when he’s going back to pass,” Howlett said. “We have audibles where if he (the quarterback) thinks the defense is going to blitz, then he will have one or both of the running backs stay in to block instead of running their pass routes.” It doesn’t do much good to run pass routes if the quarterback is flat on his back – which brings us to the offensive line, the key to any good offense.

“Our offensive line has a lot of responsibility so we like to keep it simple for them,” Howlett said. “It’s very important that they are on the same page so we don’t want to confuse them. So while we do have a pretty extensive audible system, only four or five really effect what the line does.”

Mike Schultz is another one of the country’s most successful offensive gurus. Schultz is in his eighth season leading the TCU Horned Frogs' multiple offense and serves as both offensive coordinator and running backs coach. Schultz said the audible system at TCU is used in a couple of different ways.

“We have two-play huddle calls where we go to the line of scrimmage and the play called depends on what defense they are in,” said Schultz, who has coached a 1,000-yard rusher in five of his seven seasons at TCU (Basil Mitchell, LaDainian Tomlinson (twice), Lonta Hobbs and Robert Merrill). “If we want to switch to the second play called the quarterback shouts out Denver and that tells the offense that they are using the second play,” Schultz explained. “The reason we call Denver is so we are not yelling out the name of the play at the line. We aren’t unique to this type of system. It’s used by most college teams.”

An example of calling a “Denver” would be if the Horn Frogs’ first play is a run up the middle and the opponent has loaded up the box, the quarterback can “Denver” to a hitch outside to take advantage of the formation they are facing. “We go into a game with eight or 10 Denver calls and those plays depend on the team we are facing,” Schultz said. “With the Denver format, the quarterback has the ability to easily adjust to the best play. We will have a play combined with an option outside so if a defense is in a certain formation that is set up to stop those plays, we can run it inside.”

TCU also has a “blitz menu” in which the quarterback can check to a certain play if he sees a blitz coming. “Let’s say we have a play-action pass called and we see a blitz,” Schultz explained. “The quarterback can then go to the blitz menu and based on what he’s looking at, switch to a play that has a better chance of being successful.”

Sometimes, though, the defense wins. No matter what play is called. No matter what audible is used.

“If we go to the line of scrimmage and we have a run called and they have a good defense set up and stop the play cold, we go back to the huddle and live with it,” Schultz said. “There may be a pass play called and if we are in third and long, we have to pass it. The quarterback has to know that he’s going to get pressured and needs to get rid of it quicker.”

In other words, it doesn’t always come down to the play called. Execution. Intelligence. And, of course, athleticism, factor into the equation.

In fact, Schultz said TCU runs plays where with no check-offs available to the quarterback. “We have no-check plays that we call,” he said. “There are times where we want the quarterback to run the play we have called. If we want a run up the middle, then that’s the call and the players know it’s a no-check play.” Like most college teams, TCU is running audibles more than ever. Any advantage they can get over the defense, they will use it. “Defenses are getting more complicated and showing more and more different fronts and different looks that it’s important for the offense to adjust more,” he said. “Most teams have the two-play calls and most teams have the blitz menu. More audibles is certainly a growing trend.”

Jim Gagliardi is in his 14th season as an assistant coach at Saint John’s University in Minnesota. Gagliardi knows a little about success. The Johnnies are the winningest football team in NCAA Division III history with a winning percentage over .700. While Gagliardi deserves plenty of the credit for the program’s success, he passes a lot of it off on his quarterbacks.

“We try and teach them what they should be looking for in a defense,” Gagliardi said. “Our quarterbacks call a lot of their own plays. If he goes to the line of scrimmage and calls an audible, then he sees something that will work better. If he’s calling a lot of audibles then we know we have done our job because he is seeing something in the defense and then switching to a better play based on what he’s seeing.”

Gagliardi said the Johnnies run a lot plays based on their strengths and an audible might be the same play called in the huddle but just to the other side because of how the defense is lined up. “We want to attack the area that we think will be most successful,” he said. “It’s really pretty simple in our program.”

The key is in the preparation. “We are always teaching them and trying to point out things to look for in a defense,” he said. It’s a learning process with big rewards. But while some college teams have instances where they don’t want quarterbacks changing the play, St. John’s is the opposite.


AFM Videos Streaming Memberships Now Available Digital Download - 304 Pages of Football Forms for the Winning Coach


Copyright 2024,
All Rights Reserved