My attempt to play NCAA 2007 like the Presbyterian coach: Part 2 – WE WANT BAMA

This is the second part in my ongoing attempt to play a Dynasty on NCAA Football 2007 like Kevin Kelley at Presbyterian does. For the first post in this series, click here to see how we started out.

After two games in charge of the Duke Blue Devils running the Kevin Kelley system (for those unaware, he almost never punts, almost always onside kicks, and doesn’t kick field goals) there was some good, but a lot of bad. We crushed FCS foe Richmond, but then got absolutely shutdown in a 34-14 beating at the hands of Wake Forest despite outgaining them by 170 yards, and in that post I linked to up above, you can see some of my issues/concerns with running this strategy.

And in case you’re wondering how this strategy is going in real life, after getting beat 72-0 last week, Presbyterian lost this past Saturday 63-43 to Dayton in their first conference game…after leading 23-0 in the first quarter. With almost every Dayton scoring drive starting in Presbyterian territory. Again, if you’re playing bad teams and getting a ton of scores or first downs, this could work, but if you’re facing teams who are better than you and you’re constantly getting stopped in your own territory and giving the opponent a short field, it allows for easy points for your opponent, and big losses like the last two weeks have shown.

But back to my video game team. The good news (sarcasm) was that our next five games on the schedule featured four ranked teams that all had tough defenses, so things were not going to get easier figuring out what works and what doesn’t work using this system, and we would have to play near-perfect football to get wins.

That did not happen against Virginia Tech.

The biggest issue facing this team, and I’ve alluded to it in the first post and online as I tweet out updates to this series, is that our offense on the game is just not good. Or at least not good enough for us to consistently score points or move the ball so the defense isn’t always backed up to the goal line. Couple that with this system forcing us to go for it on 4th down in Virginia Tech territory on at least two occasions where it would have been an easy field goal, and this game quickly got away from us. Once again, we had a decided advantage in yards, but when you’re constantly turning it over in your own territory, yards don’t really matter if the other team only needs 30 of them to get a touchdown.

One thing that stood out to me in this game, and it would be interesting to talk to an actual player about this after the season, is despite having four downs to get a first down, and that theoretically making a quarterback more relaxed and not having to force throws due to the extra down, I found it to be the exact opposite. Because we couldn’t run the ball, we often face 2nd or 3rd and 10+, and not wanting to face 3rd or 4th and long, I often found myself forcing passes into tight windows that were either broken up, or intercepted.

Again, there is no punting for field position and live to fight another down, so you really can’t throw the ball away on 3rd down, and then on 4th down it’s either convert or lose the ball, so an interception isn’t the worst outcome all things considered. But it sure is demoralizing to constantly throw interceptions because of it, or to turn it over on your 32 when you’re down by seven, and instead of punting and playing field position, the opponent is already in field position. (NOTE: In real life, Presbyterian has 11!!!!! interceptions through four games)

The most bothersome thing for me playing as Duke, is that I love to run the ball on NCAA 2007, some option runs, but mainly just giving it to a running back 20ish times a game and letting him go to work. But that’s an almost impossible ask behind Duke’s offensive line which is, how do I put this mildly, not good. And against good defensive fronts like we saw in the Wake Forest game in Part 1 and then Virginia Tech above, our running backs have no space, our quarterback has no time and isn’t a scrambler, our receivers are below average, and an offense that was already pressing to move the ball and find the end zone is in even more trouble.

So something had to change, and we decided to start our backup QB going forward. Our starter is an 84 overall, the backup is an 82 overall, but he has a Speed Rating of 85 despite being a worse overall thrower of the ball than the starter. My hope is that speed could help us keep more plays alive, and rather than having to try and force passes into tight windows on 2nd or 3rd and long, he could run and get chunks back or maybe break a big one for a first down.

And in our next game against Virginia, that seemed to work! Kind of.

The offense was humming, getting over 450 yards, running 67 plays to their 35…and we still lost.

Again a big chunk of this loss, in my opinion, is on this strategy that Kelley and Presbyterian run. There were multiple instances where we were in field goal range, but had to go for it instead of taking the easy three. We actually took the lead in this game, 28-27 after converting a 2-point conversion with just over three minutes left, but again, the strategy seemed to screw us. Maybe in real life Kelley kicks it away after taking a one-point lead with three minutes and change to go, but I opted to stick to his strategy and try for the onside kick. We didn’t get it, Virginia took over around our 45 and marched right into the end zone for what proved to be the winning touchdown. And that’s on top of the numerous turnovers on downs we had, and we still had a couple turnovers due to trying to force the ball in those long situations.

Looking back at this loss, I can see the going for two after the touchdown to make it 27-26, and eventually a 28-27 lead for us. We’re a bad team and big underdogs, so take your shot to win it when you have the chance. But to have to onside kick late-ish in the game (we’re only playing 5 minute quarters) after taking the lead is just malpratice and would probably get a coach fired in real life if they were to do it. I honestly don’t know how you would face the team or explain to them why you decided to onside kick and put the defense on a short field rather than kick it away and give the defense as many chances as possible to get a stop.

But at least we finally had something going on offense, and with a few tweaks maybe we could make things work.

And so, we wanted Bama.

Over on Twitter, while discussing my first games using this strategy and just this strategy in general I made the point that I could see this strategy pulling an upset. If the offense was clicking most of the day, and you got an onside kick or two, and forced a turnover or two, yeah, this way of playing could pull a big upset because you might avalanche a team to start, and they never crawl out of that early hole.

It’s akin to those gamblers who hit a 12-team parlay or some other crap. Sure, a lot has to go right, but it IS possible, and when it does, miracles can happen.

Oh baby. Now, let me be clear: Alabama on NCAA Football 2007 is not the Alabama that we think of today, but they are still a very good team with an A- rated defense, and are far better than Duke is on this game.

But two things happened in this game: Again, our new scrambling QB was able to move the ball, and I made the executive decision to run nearly every play out of the shotgun, and any running attempts from the gun were either option runs, or direct snaps to the running back to give as much time as possible and not have to rely on our line to get us time. In fact, the only time we went under center was on 3rd and 1s where we just gave it to the fullback to let him get a couple yards and a fresh set of downs. It was basically a bastardized Wildcat offense with some crossing routes over the middle to get 6-8 yard passing plays, then a couple deep shots when needed.

With that strategy rolling, we didn’t have a single turnover in our own territory, and despite three turnovers (more on these in a bit), we were able to win because frankly, we had the ball for over 75% of the game, and just milked the clock while building a lead. We weren’t trying to much to just out offense the other team like Kelley and Presbyterian do while scoring as fast as possible, we simply just tried to eat clock so that if something went bad, they would score maybe once or twice on us instead of four or five times, and we keep it close or hold the lead we built.

It also helps that for the second time this season, we recovered an onside kick. After we scored to go up 8-0, we recovered the ensuing kick, and while we didn’t score on that drive, we did march into Alabama territory before throwing an interception around their 20, but in my mind, that worked out like a punt. We had a lead, got the ball back, and ate clock into the second quarter before the interception happened deep in their territory. Not the worst outcome there, and they didn’t end up scoring off that pick. See what happens when the opponent doesn’t start a drive at your 40?

Frankly, this game would have been a blowout if not for some atrocious luck down the stretch, and we darn near lost too. We were actually up 23-0, but after the touchdown to go up 23-0, we tried and failed for the onside kick. Three plays later Alabama was in the end zone. On our next series, we were again moving the ball great, and on a 3rd and 5 were running for a first down when our quarterback fumbled, and somehow out of a pile an Alabama linebacker came up with the ball and ran it back 80 yards for a touchdown to make it 23-16.

The next series, we again marched into Alabama territory…only to again fumble around their 30, where they recovered without a return with around two minutes to go. With both momentum and home field on their side (a huge factor in NCAA 2007), they quickly went down the field and scored to tie the game with 45 seconds left.

This is again a situation where Kelley never kicking field goals makes no sense. Tie game, our ball, 45 seconds left, and we need a touchdown to win, which we thankfully got thanks to three big passing plays, eventually going in with 15 seconds left. We then kicked off deep, because let’s be honest absolutely nobody is trying an onside up seven with 15 seconds left, and two plays later had our biggest win using this system.

Again, you can see how this bastardized Wildcat works, and if not for some bad luck in the fourth quarter, we win this in a walk.

But how much of this win is truly a credit to this system? Yeah, we recovered an onside kick after scoring, but it led to a turnover when we could have just kicked it deep and had them start at the same spot. And we maybe had two or three converted fourth downs in the game, only one of which led to a score. Again, we could have just punted in those situations and put them in bad field position to start rather than turning it over later on in the drive. I’m failing to see how this strategy directly led to this win, and see it being more due to the offense and defense executing plays rather than his philosophy giving us some secret advantage.

But we have a win over a real team, and after two more tough games that we’ll play next, including a loaded Miami team, we have four EXTREMELY winnable games to close out the year, so perhaps a bowl game isn’t out of the question yet.

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