KENT: When Kent State football coach Darrell Hazell was a wide receiver at Muskingum in the early 1980s, scouting opponents on film took less time than a power nap.
Once a week, Hazell and his Division III teammates would watch film that had been spliced together and shown on a loud, reel-to-reel projector.
“Back then, we’d watch film for 20, 30 minutes a week,” Hazell said with a chuckle. “It’s nothing like it is now. Back then, we had our same six or seven passes all year long that we were running. A lot has changed since then.”
As modern technology advanced, so did the process of breaking down opponents’ tendencies. Computer programs are now full of informative files called “filters” that can be accessed at the touch of a keystroke.
“Nowadays, we break down opponents’ film by every conceivable situation,” said Brian Rock, KSU’s offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach. “There’s down-and-distance, by personnel grouping, by formation, by boundary and field [position] and all those kind of categories.”
The downside is how time consuming the process can become. When reviewing an opponent’s special teams (the starting point each week for Hazell), he goes through every punt, punt return, kick, kickoff return, field goal and field goals blocked.
“I’m watching for fakes that they’ve run, fakes that we could run, checking to see if they’re sound and then tendencies,” said Hazell, who uses preprinted sheets of paper to tally how many times a play is run a certain way and also uses blank sheets of paper to make any extra notations.
Sometimes inspiration comes from something an opponent does. Other times, it comes from watching NFL games on television.
“The other night, I was watching the Dallas game and saw something I liked,” said Hazell, who grew up a Cowboys fan. “That’s something new for me now. I’d always watched NFL games purely for entertainment. But recently it’s been like, ‘Oh, that looks interesting.’
“Most times I can just remember it because it’s a little wrinkle where one time you do it this way and everyone’s doing it that way and all of a sudden you send it back in a way that might complement the play a little differently. But once in a while, I’ll get up and grab a scrap piece of paper and draw it up.”
If it’s not something he plans to use right away, Hazell draws the play on a large, white dry-erase board in his office in a section off to the side he reserves “for later.” Another section of the board contains trick plays that have been run against the Flashes, including one that season-opening opponent Towson ran that the tactician in Hazell couldn’t help but admire.
A closer look
Rather than taking time to enjoy the 45-43 win last week over Ball State, Hazell and his staff began arriving at their M.A.C. Center offices less than 24 hours later.
As soon as the staff finished watching game film, preparation began for the game today at Eastern Michigan (0-4, 0-1 MAC).
“When I’m alone in here and get into a rhythm, it’s the chess part of the game I really enjoy,” said Hazell, who estimates that about 35 percent of each week’s game plan is installed for that specific opponent and 65 percent is the team’s weekly base package. “Once I’ve gotten though all the [opponent’s] film, there’s a calmness. I feel confident that I have a good idea what we’re going to see.”
After 11 hours of film study and meetings with players Sunday, Hazell and his staff were back to watching film again for big chunks of time Monday and Tuesday.
But there are always moments in the next game when all the hours of poring over film in preparation prove to be worth the time and trouble.
In the win over Ball State, receiver Matt Hurdle’s touchdown catch early in the third quarter was a direct product of film study.
“What you’re trying to do in watching film is manufacture in your own mind, ‘OK, if we get the ball in this situation and we give them this formation, this is going to be their response,’ ” Rock said.
Exploiting a tendency
Hurdle’s 28-yard touchdown reception capped the Flashes’ opening drive of the second half and extended their lead to 28-13. It came from KSU (3-1, 2-0) exploiting a tendency in Ball State’s defense that was picked up during film study.
While poring over “cut ups” of Ball State’s defense from previous games, it was noted that the Cardinals had a tendency to overplay the run.
“The [Ball State] safety likes to bite on the run and is very aggressive against the run,” Hurdle said. “So my job was to root out the safety so we could set the play up.”
As the Flashes predicted, the safety bit, expecting a run from Dri Archer.
“So the safety shot up and then the corner even shot up,” Hurdle said. “I did what I was supposed to do, root out the safety, catch the ball and then turn up field.”
After making the uncontested catch, Hurdle cruised into the end zone untouched.
“Dri was in the backfield,” Hurdle said. “And you know when Dri is back there, they automatically think the ball is going to him. So we did some play action to Dri. The play worked so well, I didn’t really have to do much. Coach told us if we just do our jobs on the play, it’s going to work. And it did, just as we studied it.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.