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Locus of Control: Offense

Locus of Control is a psychological term referring to whether a person believes that, in a given situation, they control the outcome (internal locus of control), or if they are being forced into a given outcome by the circumstances (external locus of control). Here, it is applied to college football defensive coordinators.

On the offensive end, locus of control is not necessarily an indicator of aggressiveness or run/pass ratio. Bo Schembechler, for example, believed very strongly in an internal locus of control (note: this specifically refers to years when the option was not heavily featured). His philosophy was to run down the opposition's throat, and put a hat on a hat and beat the guy on the other side of the line. This was a very run-heavy offense. On the other end of the spectrum is the sort of team that tries to force the action by moving the ball downfield. USC's 2003-05 offense was a good example of this. With confidence in Matt Leinart, Norm Chow, Steve Sarkisian, and Lane Kiffin were able to throw down the field with great success. As John David Booty showed over the next two years, however, this method is less likely to succeed with lower talent at the QB position.

At the other end of the locus of control spectrum lies external. This would be coaches taking what the defense gives them. These types of offense can succeed with less talent (specifically at the QB position in passing offenses) , and excel with great talent. A run-heavy team that relies on belief in an external locus of control would be Nebraska 1995. With Tommie Frazier at the helm, the Huskers ran an option attack. The base belief of the option is to hand off, pitch, or keep, reacting to what the defense will give you. In a passing attack, Purdue under Joe Tiller and Hawaii under June Jones are perfect examples of belief in external locus of control. These offenses rely heavily on bubble screens and short routes that the offense is willing to give up to avoid allowing the ball to be hurled downfield. Nickel-and-diming to score is their focus. This type of offense can succeed with less success at quarterback (see: Curtis Painter, Colt Brennan).

The ideal offense is a healthy mixture of believing in external and internal loci. Setting up the play-action with the run (play-action incorporates both controls, by forcing th defense to react in one way, then breaking their expectations), throwing both downfield and short passes, etc., seems to be the best way to run an offense that is both explosive and consistent (explosive=internal, consistent=external). LSU in 2007, despite not having a great offense, was able to blend the two beliefs very well, resulting in a high-scoring but consistent team. While we're on the topic of LSU, going for fourth downs a la Les Miles would be belief in internal locus of control, rather than external, in which you take the field goal (which the defense is "giving you").

On to recent Michigan teams. Michigan has been a fairly evenly-balanced run-pass team during the Lloyd Carr era. However, especially with Mike Debord, there has been a nearly-singular belief in an internal locus of control. "Hey man, we're going to run left twice, no matter what you do" was the Mike Debord gameplan for seemingly every first down in 2007. Obviously, the Florida game was an exception, when Michigan had a nearly perfect gameplan: a healthy mix of run and pass, and a healthy mix of internal and external locus of control in both segments of the offense. For the rest of the year, however, Lloyd Carr preferred to adhere to an internal locus of control, while running the ball to "protect the defense."

In 2008, it can be presumed that Rich Rodriguez will bring an offensive style that is at least similar to the one West Virginia has run in past years, even though the talent isn't distributed among the skill positions in a similar manner at Michigan that it was at WVU. This means the offense will be slightly run-heavy (though there will likely be more passing than there has been at WVU in recent years), with a very strong belief in an external locus of control. This is an option offense that looks to capitalize on what the defense is doing, rather than forcing its will upon the defenders.

This is very much focused on taking what the defense gives you. So, look for Michigan's offense in 2008 to be a slightly run-heavy externally-controlled spread-option attack.

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“Locus of Control: Offense”

  1. Anonymous Obes Says:

    wow, amazing post

  2. Anonymous Anonymous Says:

    very original. Like the psychology-football shit

  3. Anonymous Anonymous Says:

    Good post. I disagree that going for it on 4th has anything to do with external/internal. That's like saying punting on 1st down is more external, while running a play is more internal. Its apples and oranges. Internal/external, in this context, seems better reserved for describing the composition of a playbook, rather than the how risk-averse a coach is in terms of specific in-game decisions.

  4. Blogger Tim Says:

    I disagree. On first down, the defense is "giving you" three more opportunities to get a first down. On fourth down they are "giving you" the opportunity to give them poor field position, in comparison to you "taking" the option of going for the first down.

  5. Blogger J. Lichty Says:

    Nice try, but offense by its very nature is internal locus of control. Only the offense gets to call the play. By taking what a defense is giving you, you are still making a decision on what to do.

    I think you are really describing a philospohphy of hubris or arrogance versus a pragmatic approach.

  6. Blogger Tim Says:

    I disagree with you, Lichty. Of course, the offense inherently has an advantage in being able to pick a play, but there is a VERY big philosophical difference between "fuck you, I'm running at Jake Long, try to stop me" and "I see the defense is doing X, I will adapt accordingly."

    This is especially true with an option attack, which is essentially multiple plays that can be audibled after the snap based on what the defense does.