It’s nice to return to Santa Cruz, even if it’s only through a computer screen. I’m picking up where I left off last week; my original ambition was to cover the three remaining Nexgen games from Labor Day, but when I found I’d written 500 words about the first point I realized this week had better just be…
Rhino vs. Doublewide
This is an odd game for both teams, but particularly Doublewide. It is the last game of pool play and a game with no effect on the tournament. Consequently, it is tough to get fired up for. It is actually easier for Rhino; they are out of the bracket and don’t have anything to look forward to except good play and wins. Doublewide is looking past this game to the semifinals. It shows. Their play is lackluster and emotionally flat. The passion that is essential to top level play is missing; this is easiest to see in the defense as the defenders are a step slow and the marks a beat late.
Unlike most other club teams, Rhino does not run strict O- and D-lines. Instead, they play their top dozen or so players both ways and fill in with role players. This is a very nice adjustment for a team that is talented at the top, but whose talent drops off quickly in comparison to other contenders like talent-rich Revolver or Ironside. Running O- and D- lines requires you to function really far down in your roster: 16+ players need to be full contributors. (This is why O- and D- lines are a bad idea for 99% of college teams.) There are two disadvantages. The first is that it is harder to build rhythm across more players. An O-line typically will play 8-10 people and that’s all who has to learn together. Rhino is asking 12 guys plus role players to learn to play together. I don’t see this affecting Rhino. They are cohesive and play well together. The second problem and one that hurts Rhino in this game is fatigue. Your big guns are playing more minutes and more defense. It shows up in this game in the second half as a lack of focus (sloppy turns) and inconsistent defensive effort.
This offense is getting more sophisticated as the players on it begin to figure out exactly how it is going to work. It started as a small idea (move the stack over to make space) taken to an extreme. (Let’s move it waaaay over.) It is a really nice offense for Rhino’s personnel. They have a lot of speed on offense, but not a lot of size. This offense gives those speedy cutters the big room to operate they need.
The piece that has really put this together is the handler play. This offense is very dependent on the ability to break the mark and Tad Jensen just kills it in this game. O’Brien isn’t as profound a mark breaker as Jensen, his quickness and ability to attack up the line puts incredible pressure on the defense. In their own ways, each of these guys is providing the stability required of a slow-tempo offense that can really break down at times.
Doublewide’s Defensive Adjustment
Coming into the second half, Doublewide wisely makes defensive adjustments. Because of Rhino’s three breaks, Doublewide had only pulled four times in the first half and was really lacking any defensive rhythm. Behind four breaks of their own, they got to play eight points of defense. By my count (junk defenses are notoriously tricky to ID), they played three points of man (9-11, 12-13 and 13-13), three points of 133 (6-9, 7-10 and 10-12) and two points of 232 transition (5-9 and 8-10). This classic mix of junk and man did exactly what it was designed to do: it removed the clarity from Rhino’s offensive game. When you look at Rhino’s turnovers in the second half, they are largely unforced because they are generated from disorganization rather than pressure. By playing different defenses, Doublewide creates just enough uncertainty and messiness. Strangely, they didn’t play the massive 4-man cup they debuted the game with (see below). That Doublewide chose man over their more successful junk defenses says something about where their identity lies.
The Pass I Hate
I’m not sure there’s a better pass for gifting the other team a turnover than the cross-field outside-in in the redzone. (Pt 2 14:25 and 36:30) The space you have to throw it into, which looks huge is actually quite small because so much of it is covered by the defenders. They are all in and around the endzone, so the safe area is quite small. Kevin Richardson makes a really nice catch on the first example (but it should be a turnover) and Jacob Janin’s good work is wasted when his toe catches the tape. (Caveat: at lower levels of ultimate, this throw can be quite effective.)
What follows is an example of a full blown analysis. It is obviously pretty time-intensive to generate, but this kind of analysis is an excellent tool for breaking down another teams’ tactics.
The first point is a classic demonstration of the Florida four-man cup. This defense has shifted slightly over the years as players have gotten bigger, but this Doublewide edition is very similar to the gargantuan Sockeye four-man cup of 2011. (No surprise given Tim Gehret’s influence on both teams.) The basic idea is to completely shut down the throwing lanes through the cup with length and illegal positioning. Once the through is removed, block the crash with physical play around the disc. The final piece is to make the only way out, the over, as difficult and slow as possible.
Doublewide executes this plan to perfection. Look at the positioning (at 3:33 and 3:45); it is pretty clear that isn’t ten feet. In particular, look at Jake Anderson’s positioning (at 3:33). As close in as he is, he is able to exert a lot of pressure on the smaller Bjorklund’s hammer up the field. Notice how relatively unconcerned Kevin Richardson (on the mark) is about the over for a loss of yards (because that’s the defense’s lowest priority.) The effectiveness can be seen in two breaks coming out of the trap (at 4:00). First, Bjorklund’s scoober and then Wiggins’ high backhand both reset the disc, but neither gains any advantage because of how high the cup forced the throw. Another essential ingredient to this zone is the stoppage. Because so many of the defensive resources are allocated to the area right around the disc, the defense has a strong interest in keeping the offense contained and static. Often, offenses will oblige and hold the disc, but a defense can also facilitate this by playing rough (offense makes calls) or making lots of little calls (like travels). Doublewide gets four stoppages in the first Rhino possession.
Something Doublewide is doing here that is unusual is switching the cup. This isn’t a traditional 4-2-1 and might more accurately be described as a trapping 3-2-1-1. It’s a three-man cup with the wing dropping in from each side to form the trap. The most interesting positioning is Gehret’s. He is playing a quasi-short deep position where he slides to fill the spot vacated by the trapping wing. You can see this switch happen (3:40, 5:20): markers change, wings change and short deep repositions. It’s a lovely adjustment and saves the cup from running so much, which is a traditional weakness of the 4-2-1.
Rhino misses two opportunities against this zone as they play too slowly off of their swings and fail to stretch the field. Look at their positioning (4:30), it is way too close to the disc. But they take a golden opportunity when Chris Gibson drops a swing pass; Tad Jensen picks it up and hucks it right away to Freechild – the zone is no good if it can’t set up.
What would I do with this analysis if I were a coach? They only played it once, but it was very effective. In the pre-game strategy session, it would get a brief mention along with the keys to beating it: spread the field and move it quickly. The responsibility would then fall on the coach to watch for this line-up, which is easy: the personnel is a striking departure from DW’s typical defensive personnel. When you see it, identify it to the line and remind them of the keys from the meeting.
The Rhino hat situation is out of control. Is everyone on that team mandated to wear a clashing hat?….Tim Gehret missed a chance for a beautiful block dropping off of the mark (pt 1 13:30)….This game is upwind-downwind, but not in a big way….I love the Wiggins huck to Allison-Hall (pt 1 25:50). Anderson has him covered, but Wiggins drops the disc in on the weakside, giving the speedy Allison-Hall just enough advantage over the taller Anderson. A traditional down-the-sideline huck is a turnover here….0-2 is a poor way to end an otherwise excellent tournament for Doublewide….Jerrod Wolfe’s swing to Jake Anderson (pt 2 14:15) is visionary?!…Freechild is the clear MVP of this game. Despite one and a half drops, he is consistently open, consistently delivering the disc and racking up the stats. Plus, of course, this.
Feature photo of Dylan Freechild with a universe point layout d. (Photo by Jeff Bell – Ultiphotos.com)