11 Comments

  1. Cameron

    You’re not wrong about the Utah-Polynesian connection. It actually goes back a lot further than you might be aware.

    For historical reasons I’ll not get into here, there’s a strong LDS presence among Polynesians in Hawaii, Samoa, and Tonga. Back in the early 1990s, Ron McBride – looking for any edge he could get for the then non-power Utes – tapped into that connection with the LDS church to get a lot of those big guys to come play at Utah. It started as a slow trickle, but developed into a steady stream of big players in the late 90s and early 2000s. Urban Meyer, never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, pushed Wittingham (who was on McBride’s staff) to continue that connection. Since it was Wittingham that took over after Meyer left, it should come as no great surprise that he has continued that recruiting angle ever since.

    But since college football is a copycat league, other western programs began to pick up on it in the early 2000s. “I mean, if Utah can get guys like Ta’amu and Sape, then why can’t we?” went the thought process. Schools like USC and Oregon were some of the first to start poaching what had been Utah’s exclusive hunting ground, but most of their early successes came from Polynesians who had already emigrated to the continent. Getting your recruiting fingers into the islands proper in an age without YouTube was pretty tough. And you try explaining to an AD that no, really, all the flights I want to make out to Hawaii are totally work related. Honest.

    But regardless of where you go to get them, the market inefficiency for linemen remains the same, and probably always will. Find dudes with big skeletal frames and a modicum of athleticism who are too fat or too skinny in high school, and develop them in your strength and conditioning program. White, black, Latino, Asian, Polynesian, whatever, doesn’t matter. Find big frames that can move, and get them in a weight room. Complicated? No. But pulling it off consistently can be tremendously difficult. There’s always going to be a lot of misses in the process. Unless you’re Wisconsin, and to a certain extent, Utah. When I find out how they are able to do it with so relatively few misses, I will let you know. Still working on it.

    • ianaboyd

      Fascinating stuff, I did know about the LDS connection but I didn’t know that Utah was an early program to cultivate it in order to bring Islanders to the continent for the football team. It does seem that Polynesian skeletal frames are different than others, I’ve seen citations here and there that say they have greater bone density on average than say Europeans. That’s probably as good a guess as any for why they disproportionately crank out athletes that excel in contact sports like football and rugby.

      I’ve been thinking recently that if I was recruiting at a smaller program I’d probably recruit lots of shorter (6-1 to 6-3) OL and run schemes like power and outside zone that are forgiving on shorter linemen so long as they are quick and scrappy. And I figure you could find some good ones if you just recruit lots of 6-2, 230+ pound DTs that are fringe athletes for playing on DL but liable to grow into good OL if you don’t mind the heights. Then I thought, “well, that’s probably what Boise is already doing since that’s what their OL look like.”

      • Coach B

        Utah wasn’t the only school to lean on the Polynesian connection. The Polynesian-LDS connection is actually built on the BYU presence in Utah. BYU in Provo, UT being the flagship university of the LDS church, has had a large portion of their roster from the Pacific Island communities for decades due to their global missionary presence. One example is NFL LB and BYU alum Kurt Gouveia. That was the original connection to the Polynesian communities, but its also not uncommon for missionaries in other parts of the world to attract athletes to the school. Ezekiel Ansah was the latest example of an athlete drawn to the US by LDS missionaries.

        Anyways, USC has had a pretty solid connection to the Polynesian community for decades too. Successful NFL players like Mosi Tatupu, Charley Ane played for USC over 30 years ago, and more recent examples like Junior Seau and Troy Polamalu are examples of top Polynesian players at major western schools before Utah.

      • Cameron

        The problem with going after shorter offensive linemen is almost never in the run game, but in pass protection. The deficiency in arm length, which is heavily correlated to height, tends to be a major issue when you’re defending against elite college pass rushers. I’m not suggesting everybody has to fit the profile of an NFL left tackle, but consistently holding off a good edge or interior rusher is hard unless you’ve got a little length on them.

        Which is why, at least these days, the shortest dude on Boise State’s line tends to be at least 6’3″. Yes, you can make due with shorter guys. But given the choice, most offensive line coaches will opt for recruiting and developing taller dudes.

        Archie Lewis is a good example. Dude came out of high school at about 6’4″ and 250. Got some time to develop, worked his way up to about 300, and is now arguably the best right tackle in his conference. That’s what I think most smaller schools are looking to do.

        • ianaboyd

          Yeah but if you throw off play action and use TEs then having deficient pass protectors is less of an issue.

          Since Boise has emphasized the drop back game and gotten taller on OL they haven’t been as good as they were back in the day.

          • Cameron

            Boise’s decline is more a function of losing Petersen et. al. than anything scheme or recruiting related. Indeed, given the rate at which UW throws the ball on early downs, it appears Petersen was headed in that direction already.

            I find that argument to be unpersuasive given UCF’s 2017 season. They had a taller offensive line for a mid-major, they emphasized the pass more than average, and ended up with arguable the second best offense in the country.

            You can go with a shorter offensive line and be successful. Navy is proof of that. But I don’t think you can point to Boise emphasizing the dropback passing game more and getting taller linemen to say, “That’s the problem.”

          • ianaboyd

            Hard to say. Boise’s big problem this last year was the OL giving up pressure, although they were also dealing with injuries and they aren’t really that tall…maybe not even as tall as listed.

            UCF may have had tall OL but they had a lot of tactics that allowed them to move the focal point away from the trenches unless they were outrageously advantaged. They weren’t dropping Milton into a protected pocket and beating teams that way.

            Both Boise, UW, and really UCF in their own way are moving more towards hybridization and “positionless ball” as I’ve recently tried to describe it. So they get lots of TEs and hybrids on the field and use formations and motion to hunt out matchups for quick, easy conversions. It’s actually quite similar to the Houston Rockets’ new penchant for spreading the floor and setting picks in order to play Iso ball on the right matchups. Maybe a basketball writer will give it a name I can steal. Spread-Iso? I dunno, we’ll come back to it.

            Anyways, I think Harsin and the current Boise staff are quite good and the problem to me seems to be less about the staff (Petersen also dropped off after Moore graduated) and more about their personnel or else opponents catching up to their main strategies. You may be right that it’s not an issue of asking too much of the OL personnel, I’m just spitballing and that seems like a potential area of concern. I think they pulled it off in 2010, be curious to know how often they threw off PA and how often they threw on dropback plays that year.

  2. Cameron

    Yeah, I think a lot of it is just opponent’s catching up with Boise State’s recruiting and schematic tactics. That might have been mitigated to a large degree had they been able to move up to a power conference like TCU, but you play the hand your dealt.

    What you call “positionless” is what I call a Spread Erhardt-Perkins offense. As I’m sure you know, the EP offense is centered around passing concepts without regard to personnel. Well, you’re just taking that and adapting it a lot of spread-to-run principles. And while Frost is not a EP disciple, that is the direction he appeared to going at UCF. Sort of dropping the EP-style passing attack onto the Oregon run game framework. I think this is the direction college football will head in the next five years. But the college football landscape will likely need a proof of concept by the Huskers before they begin adopting it.

    • ianaboyd

      I think that’s how much of college and high school ball already does it though. What’s more cutting edge is using more and more hybrids to create personnel problems and matchup wins.

      Like, there have been spread Os for years like the Air Raid schools that were concept based and they’d use sets that forced teams to handle their best WRs running standard two-man concepts inside against guys that were least equipped to stop them (LBs and Ss). Naturally teams just started handling that with 8-man coverages, nickel and dime packages, and faster LBs that knew how to cover.

      Now you have teams that will use the Air Raid style tactics but with big formations so that teams leave run-stuffing personnel on the field and then they get caught. Or they’ll use QB run game and new spread-option principles to mix things up to create matchups and easy reads.

      • Cameron

        I think we are talking about the same thing. Maybe.

        It is one thing to run the same pass concepts out of similar formations with different personnel groupings. But the EP offense is the only one I know of that regularly moves around its personnel in those formations. E.g., lining up the tight end in the #1 wide receiver spot and putting the #1 receiver into the slot. Now you’ve given the defense a bit of a puzzle to work out on how they want to cover that. The reason EP is the only one to regularly do that is that the formation call might change, but the play call hasn’t. They’re still saying Pin (Post/Dig), for example, regardless of whether the #1 is a WR, TE, RB, or even a QB motioning out.

        And if you really want to probe the opponent’s pass defense for weaknesses, you’re going to play around with the alignment of the personnel like that. I see more college offenses trying to adopt this strategy, but need a proof of concept first. Telling a college OC the Patriots do it will probably be met with, “Well yeah, but they’re the freakin’ Patriots.” You tell them Nebraska’s doing it, and you’ll get their attention.

        • ianaboyd

          I suspect that the EP style is much more common at the college level. Having ultra simple terminology and concept-based teaching is pretty much the name of the game in the spread offense.

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