Two Minute Crunch Time: 'Go-To' Plays and a Clock-Killing Strategyby: David Purdum
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With the increased use of the up-tempo offense at all levels of the game, some teams seem as though they’re running a two-minute drill the entire game. No huddles, keeping the defense off balance, quick scores.
But a true two-minute offense, of course, has the added pressure of clock management. When you must have a score with limited time left, it’s critical that your offense remains calm under this pressure – advancing on every play, stopping the clock whenever possible and judiciously using timeouts.
How do you ensure the greatest offensive efficiency in pressure-packed, two-minutes-to-play situations? What are the best plays to have in your arsenal and what’s the best approach to use in practice?
To answer these questions, AFM asked five coaches to share their practice and game strategies for their two minute offenses. They include Head Coach Frank Lenti of Mount Carmel High School (IL), Pulaski High School (AR) Head Coach Kevin Kelley, South Oldham High School (KY) Head Coach Jamie Reed, Siena Heights University Offensive Coordinator Jeff Hancock and Aurora University Offensive Coordinator Matt Kalb.
What plays are staples of your two-minute offense?
Hancock: We probably have five or six pass concepts that we run. We use verticals where the outside receiver has the option to hook it up or not because we can get it to him quickly against soft coverage, or a prevent look. I’m going to call a fade on the outside with a 10-yard out by the slot receiver. Get it to the slot and get out of bounds. Our players get used to knowing those plays and it’s easier for them to rep. As I’ve gotten older, having more of a plan of specific plays that you’re going to run for your two-minute offense and not only repping those, but also repping them quickly, is critical. Then, it’ll slow down during the game.
Lenti: We have about a dozen plays that never change. We don’t change them from week to week, so once the kids learn them, they learn for the year. Some of it is the screen game, some of it is option game, some of it is the draw. Then, we’ve got three-step and five-step passing plays.
Reed: The bubble screens and jet sweeps work well in our two-minute offense. We use them on a regular basis.
Kalb: We probably have eight. We don’t have any specific plays that are only for two-minute situations. We operate our normal offense. We just pare down some plays that week-to-week we typically run. We have some quick throws, pocket throws and obviously a lot of things going to the sidelines.
Are you hesitant to go over the middle in a two-minute situation?
Reed: I will go over the middle and also run running plays. If you have timeouts on your side and you’re around midfield with 40 seconds left in the game, you feel good about giving a slot the ball on a jet sweep. As long as you have timeouts, sometimes the element of surprise works in your favor. We’ve never been afraid to run the ball in the two-minute drill. There have been several times during my coaching career when a simple trap play goes for 40 yards and makes you look like a genius.
Kelley: We will still use the middle of the field a lot. If we start a drive and have more than 60 seconds left, we’re going to use the middle of the field just as much as we’re going to use the outer part of the field. We’re so versed in it that we can get up and run another play before two seconds runs off the clock from anywhere from 30 yards out. We also have an offense where the official’s whistle to set the ball ready for play is actually our cadence, our “ready-set-hut.”
Do you call multiple plays in a two-minute situation?
Kalb: Just one. We don’t call two plays at once. The only time we’ll do that is if we’re in a real tight time situation, where we’re going to have to spike the ball after the first play.
Kelley: With us being no-huddle anyway, it’s hard to call multiple plays. But for the first play of the series, we’ll call three plays. What that does is put the pressure on me to use enough common sense to know where a guy is on the field at the end of a play so he doesn’t have to zig-zag back across the field. We do a lot of things in a lot of formations, so I’ll look up and see where they are and try to call a formation where they don’t have to run across the field.
Lenti: There are times when we’ll give our players two plays or we’ll give them a concept that has four plays in it and allow the QB to pick the best combination of run or pass depending on how the defense is aligned. He can check with me. I may give him a signal that would be a repeat of exactly what he just did.
What are the coaching points when your team is going to spike the ball to stop the clock?
Kalb: Backs will stay in the backfield, but I want to make sure we don’t have too many guys in the backfield. You can have too many on the line. We’re going to snap the ball, nobody move and then we’re going to spike it.
Do you attempt to substitute during the two-minute drill?
Kelley: We don’t unless a kid needs to come out. If he really needs to, we will. But we’re not going to substitute after that. What you don’t want to do is put the situation in the referee’s hands where he can call some sort of illegal substitution, because, at that point, time and yards are precious.
What is your approach to practicing your two-minute offense?
Lenti: First of all, we need to be in the proper mindset. We talk to our kids about having poise, alertness, hustle, a sense of urgency but not panic.
During some parts of the season, we’ll practice it every day. And once the kids have a pretty good handle on it, we’ll do it once early in the week and a couple of times for 10 minutes, two days before the game and then on our pre-game day we finish practice with it.
We’ll usually give them a score and a situation, down by three, down by seven, whatever the case may be. Then, they need to know to go for a field goal or if we need a touchdown to tie the game or win. Our quarterback looks to me and a couple of players and coaches for signals. Some are dummy signals, some are live.
Kelley: We basically go fast anyway, so we don’t have to work on the two-minute drill very often. I do it about once every other week, just to get the kids thinking about it at certain times trying to get out of bounds instead of trying to get extra yards. When we do, we’ll do different things. We’ll start from our own 20 and, say we have two minutes, or we’ll start at the 50 and say we have 60 seconds left, or start at the 30 with 30 seconds left. That’s because each situation changes everything. We might change the situation from where we need a field goal to where we need a touchdown.
Kalb: We have two 10-minute periods in practice, one Wednesday and one Thursday, offense vs. defense. We’re running it from both ends. When we do our prep work for an opponent, we just stay at the line of scrimmage and use the no-huddle terminology during that period. That is, one to get used to hearing it, and two, to get as many reps as we can in that period. We put our plays on our wrist bands. Our cadence is different from a normal down to our hurry-up pace. We want to make sure all 11 guys are getting the change of the pace. The snap count is completely different from one to the other.
Our pace actually slows down in the game. When we practice it, even if the ball goes out of bounds or is incomplete, we don’t huddle up. We continue to work at a fast, frantic pace.
Reed: We practice it twice-a-week, on Tuesday and Wednesday, throughout the season.
Hancock: We do the actual two-minute drill once or twice a week. But we do a drill that we call a two-minute that we do every day to end our practice. It’s kind of our conditioning. We go 10 personnel and our quarterback calls it. We move the ball five to 10 yards and onto different hashes after each snap, whether we complete it or not. So what that does is one, help conditioning and two, it gives our quarterback the opportunity to call plays quickly, and have our guys hurry up and get set.
We don’t work on the scenarios of time and timeouts, but we work the tempo. We go as quickly as we can in two 10-minute periods, start at the 10-yard line and go down and back and back down again about halfway. It’s better just than having them run. I let the quarterbacks call the plays during the conditioning drill, which is good for me, because a quarterback, especially a young one, is going to call the plays he’s comfortable with. I watch what plays he calls and get an idea of what he likes.
Here’s the situation - You’re down seven with 40 seconds to play and start at your 40-yard line with one time out left. Defense is in a deep zone, prevent look. What is your strategy?
Reed: We actually had that situation come up during the first game of the season. It was a 13-7 game and we got the ball back on our 40-yard line with 40 seconds. We ran our triple option on the first play. I noticed that they had their DBs in a prevent defense. The very next play we went to our no-huddle, spread stuff and started hitting some plays that could get to the sideline quickly with sideline routes and roll-outs. We moved down to their 20, and with 4 seconds left, we threw a fade to our tallest guy and he came down with it for the TD.
Kalb: With the defense soft, I would call on our hitch-naked plays and instruct the QB to keep taking the hitch if it’s there, placing the ball on the receiver’s outside shoulder to allow him to spin to the boundary. We would also use our horizontal stretch package that has the RB swinging to the sideline. All of these passes could eat up 6-10 yards at a time. All of that adds up. Once in the red zone, we can attack the deep zone. I would save the time out in case the clock gets under 20 seconds and one of our receivers doesn’t stop or get out of bounds.
Hancock: Our first two games have come down to similar two-minute situations. The first we ran out of time on the 35-yard line and lost 24-21. The other we scored and won 35-31.
Paramount in any two-minute situation is to remind your QB that if something is not there, be smart with the football and throw it away.
The first thing for us specifically is we need to call short to mid-level pass concepts that are outside the hashes that can get the ball quickly to our skill kids, let them get as many yards as possible, and get out of bounds. We will do this by drop back and sprint out to change the launch point of the QB so that the defense doesn’t get too comfortable in their rush. I will only call a pass that I know could very well end up in the middle of the field when I feel pretty good we will get the first down. I will also call a run or two along the way that gets the ball carrier close to the sideline to allow him to get out of bounds. This is usually called when we think we can get the first down, similar to the pass in between the hashes, so as to stop the clock momentarily in case he doesn’t get out of bounds. I like to save the time out, if possible, until we get closer to the goal line as things change and those “prevent” players get closer to the line of scrimmage and sometimes change what you may have seen throughout the game.
We also have in our offense a set of plays that require one signal from the sideline to the skill players, one word from the QB to the OL, and a snap on the first sound. This speeds up the usual process of getting plays in to run effectively.
Kelley: I would certainly use the middle of the field on the first two downs knowing they are guarding the sidelines. I would not call a play with a route less than 12 yards so that the clock would stop for a first down to move the chains. Also, if we did throw anything and we ended up in second or third and one, I would run the ball with a quick trap or draw knowing I would make a first down and stop the clock with the chance for a big play, even with 40 seconds left.
Use of that clock stopping on a first down is just as good as being out of bounds because we can snap it when the referee blows the ready for play whistle since we are up-tempo anyway. The other thing I would not do is spike the ball. To me, that is a waste of two seconds when I could snap the ball easily two seconds into the play clock and run a play.
I would want to get the ball down to the 20 or 15 and then from that point, every play would probably be in the end zone. That is, unless our opponent was playing back and simply just giving us that which we can take inside the 10 and then out of bounds.
3 Hail Mary plays to use when you’re out of options and out of time.
It was 1996. The conference championship and an undefeated season were on the line for Frank Lenti’s Mount Carmel team. A Hail Mary was needed. Loyola Academy had just scored to take the lead with 16 seconds left. Loyola squib-kicked, giving Mount Carmel the ball around its 40- yard line.
Lenti went to the “End Zone Express,” a version of the Hail Mary he learned from former Syracuse offensive coordinator George DeLeone. The two coaches had gotten to know each other through Donovan McNabb, who played for Lenti.
“We had three receivers to one side and our biggest threat singled out the other side,” remembered Lenti. “They double-covered our single receiver, so our quarterback went to the three-receiver side, and our tight end wrestled the ball away from the defender and caught it inside the 10. Our kids ran up, and we kicked the winning field goal with four seconds left.”
Mount Carmel went on to win the state championship, Lenti’s fifth. The legendary Chicago coach won his 10th state title in 2012 and is aiming for another in his 30th season at Mount Carmel this year.
End Zone Express
Y: Sprint to the end zone and turn back to
the QB Leap as high as you can to catch the ball.
TB: Trail the Y - be ready to catch tipped ball coming down in front of Y.
Z: Sprint to the end zone and get behind Y.
Be ready to catch tipped ball coming down behind Y.
X: Run 9 route and beat defender deep.
QB: Let Y get to the end zone and throw
the ball to Y. Put good arc on throw.
FB/Line: Block protection.
Ever the innovator, Kevin Kelley has developed two unique Hail Mary plays. “We like to have our tallest guy run down and have one guy stand by his left side, one on his right side and one behind him,” he said. “The tallest guy doesn’t try to catch the ball. He tries to bat the ball anywhere to give us a chance. The defenders tend to gravitate to where the ball’s coming down, so if we can get a tip then, hypothetically, we’ll have a chance to catch it with one of those other three guys.” (Diagram 1)
His other last-ditch play takes the tipped-ball catch out of the equation. “I like to line three receivers to one side and line up a guy about 12 yards behind them,” he said. “It looks like arena football. When we snap the ball, the back receiver starts sprinting and we throw it to him so he’s running full speed when he catches the football and we’re counting on him to break a couple of tackles. Sometimes, I think you have a better chance of doing that with three blockers out in front, because you’ve got the defenders way down standing across the 10-yard line or the goal line, and now you basically have a kickoff, with three lead blockers. At least we’ll catch that pass and have a chance.” (Diagram 2)
Diagram 1: QB throws the ball to the closest reveiver who does not try to catch the ball, but rather bat the ball in any direction away and upward. Usually the defenders will gravitate towards the Hail Mary when the ball comes down and the space opens around the exterior receivers.
Diagram 2: Line up like Hail Mary and play begins like that. Defense will retreat to goal line for most part. Instead of throwing it up, throw the ball to the back receiver 10-15 yards downfield and make sure it is a completion, preferably a good run-after-catch guy. The inside receiver takes care of the closest defender. The others block the closest threat and what looks like a Hail Mary turns basically into a punt return in open field with a wall out front.