4th and 1 in Youth Football, What’s the Right Call?

4th and 1, what to do?

Bowl Game Scenarios, Play Calling Quandries

Like many of you I watched my fair share of College Football Bowl games this year. While as a youth football coach, you can’t take what the college kids do and apply it directly to your youth football teams because of the obvious factors, the age and athleticism of the players, practice time etc etc. But what you can do is try to figure out what tactics, strategies, schemes and methods can be applied with the given restraints of youth football.

The Sneak or the Handoff?

One of the things that caught my attention was the number of 4th and short situations in the games I watched, short meaning 1 yard, more or less. The announcers were often battling each other as to what the correct call should be. As announcers often do, they played “pretend coach” and tried to make their case for a play to be run. In the sbobet  -Wake Forest game, UCONN was on the Wake Forest one. One announcer was asking for a quarterback sneak, his premise was that the sneak was the right call since the quarterback could hit it into the line quickly, not theatened by any deep penetration.

The other announcer was saying the quarterback wouldn’t have enough momentum, this announcer was imploring that Connecticut give the ball on an inside handoff to the running back. What this announcer wanted to see was a running back with a full head of steam as the back made his try for endzone glory. The same was the case in the Florida State-Kentucky game, same scenario, FSU is on the Kentucky 1, 4th down. One announcer is pleading for the sneak, the other the tailback run. In both instances, the quarterback gave a deep handoff to a running back that was not only stopped short of the goal line, but short of the original line of scrimmage.

Why Not Combine the Two?

How do you apply this to your football plays when you are coaching youth football? Why not combine the best of both football plays and run neither?

My thoughts:

Pluses and MinusesBoth announcers were right in their analysis, the quarterback sneak gets you to the point of attack quicker and negates penetration due to how quickly it hits, but the quarterback is in so tight he has very little momentum to take him into the endzone. On the other hand, the deep handoff gives the back lots of time to gain momentum, but that same time frame used by him to gain momentum works against him as defenders now use that same time to penetrate, come off blocks and penetrate into the backfield. In the Connecticut game the quarterback reversed out, seated the ball and then gave the ball to a back that was lined up 7 yards from the line of scrimmage. The back had to “gain” 7 yards before he even broke even, sure he had lots of momentum, but he was tackled for a 1 yard loss.

How We Do It in Youth Football

How does this apply to youth football? We have 4th and 1’s and 3rd and shorts too. We love the quick hitter of the quarterback sneak while we also like the handoff to the downhill running back. But Geez I hate the handoff here, the quarterback has to get a clean snap, seat the ball, then make a clean handoff, often reversing out of his stance to give to a running back that is often 5-7 yards from the line of scrimmage. But, Geez I hate the sneak too, my quarterback getting stoned by a defensive tackle or blitzing linebacker because he has no momentum.

Combining Both Plays

Why not get the best of both worlds, the quick hitter of the sneak along with the momentum of the deep handoff? That’s one of the reasons I love the Single Wing Offense for youth football. Set the “quarterback” and running back just 2 yards from the line of scrimmage in the shortest of short “shotgun” snaps. On the base fullback wedge play that we like in these situations, the fullback takes the snap and runs right behind the apex of our snowplow wedge that at its apex puts the strength of 7 players on one poor defender, with the fullback running right behind this mass of humanity. If you’ve not seen this football play it is a sight to behold, see it in the play clips thumbnail on the main page of this website. I’ve never in 8 seasons seen this play lose yardage by a first team unit. Our “quarterback” on this play fakes a sweep to take pressure off the edges and take linebackers out of the play, but that really isn’t necessary when needing just one yard. The best of both worlds in one football play.

How Adjustments Come To Life

Often times you learn to make adjustments to your system by what the kids intuitively start doing on their own. While many times the kids do things that often detract from the effectiveness of the play, some times their “adjustments” make sense. In one game the first year we were running this system we saw our fullback scooting up in his alignment from the normal 4 yards to about 2 yards. We noticed that when we ran misdirection plays with motion, we were gaining huge chunks of yardage and we were often facing fewer defenders at the point of attack. We had more meager results when another fullback was in at the “correct” depth of 4 yards.

10 Year Old Player Changes Our Offense Forever

We concluded that by scooting up that close, the linebackers and even defensive ends had no clue who the ball was being snapped to of the 3 closely aligned backs in the backfield. We then took that alignment to practice the next week and had the coaches crouch down to 10 year old age size and station themselves at linebacker and defensive end positions to see if they could see the ball. Even though we all knew the football plays, no one could see who the ball was being snapped to and because of our faking techniques, no one knew where the ball was going. That’s how we made our “brilliant” adjustment, because of a 10 year old fullback, J. Adams.

Same 10 Year Old Makes Second Adjustment

Another thing we noticed Mr Adams would do, on short yardage situations he would come toward the line of scrimmage as he received the snap. He got to the point of attack much quicker and he got there with momentum. I talked about this with a coach at Menominee High School in Michigan. They have run this offense for over 25 years and just won back to back State Titles this year and last. Coach told me they always have their ballcarriers moving toward the point of attack on the snap count even when they are receiving the snap. While we do not “directional snap” like Menominee does on every play, we do have our fullback moving forward on the snap count on the fullback wedge plays where he carries the ball. We have the benefit of a quick hitter without the negatives of having no momentum, We have the benefits of momentum without the negative of a slow developing deep handoff play and a bunch of ball handling. While I may run the ball outside in situations like this, if our wedge play is working like it usually is, we feel very comfortable getting that 1 yard with a fullback wedge play.

Developing Nuances That Work In Youth Football

The moral of the story: figure out ways to accomplish your goal without drawing boundaries around the decision making process, sometime even your kids have the right answers. We no longer have to fret on the 4th and short play call; sneak or iso/dive/power. Of course now with our Double Dive Series the defense has to contend with both the “sneak with momentum” our fullback wedge as well as the “quarterback” off-tackle run. Pick your poison defenses.

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Football Coachingl Practice Tips Copyright 2007 Cisar Management. Republishing this article is allowed if this paragraph and links are included.

Dave Cisar-

Dave has a passion for developing youth coaches so they can in turn develop teams that are competitive and well organized. He is a Nike “Coach of the Year” Designate and speaks nationwide at Coaches Clinics. His book “Winning Youth Football a Step by Step Plan” was endorsed by Tom Osborne and Dave Rimington.

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