More Warm Up Thoughts: Florida and Wisconsin

by | February 21, 2011, 8:12am 0

More Warm Up thoughts trickling in…

Florida (6-3 on the weekend; beat Carleton, two losses to Colorado, lost to Wisconsin)

  • Florida is just plain interesting. They have a strategy, a pace, and an approach to the game that is very unique, and they execute it very effectively. What I kept thinking about all weekend was “why?” What makes Florida so good at ultimate? The first thing that a lot of people point to is their ability to reload after losing some of the best players in the college game year after year: After Tim there was Kurt, after Kurt there was Brodie, and now, after Brodie, Cole Sullivan has become a huge force that many teams just don’t know how to handle. But re-stocking at the superstar position is only the most visible of Florida’s strengths.
  • I think that what makes Florida good is their simplification of the game. When I watch them, I see all of ultimate’s building blocks isolated and broken down in ways that make their offense incredibly efficient and allows the players that they recruit, guys that have strong roots in other sports, to use their strengths and downplay their weaknesses. For example, throwing breaks is often hard for handlers not because they can’t break the mark, but because the break side is crowded with people cutting there haphazardly; Florida makes breaking the mark easy because they never have more than one person cutting to the break side, and if they do, they are good at recognizing it and correcting it quickly. Another example: a lot of deep cuts are wasted not because the cutter isn’t open, but because they are poorly timed or are made for a thrower who isn’t all that great at putting it long; Florida’s deep game is potent because only a few players have the green light to throw deep discs (count the time you see anyone other than Cole, Alex Hill, Nathan Sage, or Alton Gaines throw deep. I’m still waiting on “1…”) and their receivers are taught to cut off of them and only them. This approach holds on defense too, as Florida’s focus is not necessarily on stopping each opposing team member from getting the disc, but instead on stopping their opponent from scoring easily; I think there’s an important difference. There are a number of ways in which Florida pulls off this simplification, but I keep coming back to it as the basis for their success, and I’ve got two main thoughts on it at the moment: for one, I still feel like I’m grasping for a bigger picture of Florida’s game, and it’s one of my favorite things to think about right now, and for two, I think that the Gators are on the cutting edge with regard to where strategy in ultimate is heading.
  • Florida’s strategy this year looks like this: keep the disc in Cole and Alex Hill’s hands as much as possible because they are the best throwers, dump cutters, and decision makers on the team; rely on cutters Nathan Sage and Travis Catron as the primary upfield targets because they are good at getting open and can be trusted not to turn the disc over; throw it deep if a good receiver has steps, if not, reset and wait. As far as formation goes, Florida used a lot of vert stack, but they often start their offense with a side stack that isolates either Cole or Sage. On defensive offense, Florida ran more horizontal stack and looked to huck the disc within the first two throws, three at max.
  • On that note, consider this: if Florida fields a line that features Alton Gaines and six guys that you do not recognize, you can bet your life’s savings that once a turnover occurs, Gaines will be hucking the disc. Upwind, downwind, double coverage, whatever, when opponents turned it, that was the game plan. It makes a lot of sense because even the best college offenses aren’t anywhere near 100%, so even if you miss on the huck, they’ve got to go 70 yards again. Plus, when your receivers are fast and tall and they expect you to throw it, you’re not exactly taking a bad shot.
  • What astonished me was how often this worked. I wasn’t surprised that Florida was good at it, but rather that opponents weren’t doing something to force them to pick a different option. Straight up, force middle, double teams in the deep lanes, something. When Florida’s weaker lines are out, you need to do two things: stop the deep shot, and put the disc in the hands of players 3-7 as much as possible while setting marks that make the upfield looks that they aren’t supposed to throw the only option. I think that Florida really thrives on the (correct) assumption that 90% of the teams out there are going to force flick and share the disc. In this example, that gives them the chance to get turns on weak players and huck into open deep lanes. Florida may be predictable, but so are most teams; they’re just better at punishing it.
  • I was thinking that maybe it would be a good idea for teams to really create some chaos with stuff like completely jumping around on the mark when a non-thrower has the disc or totally double-teaming Sage, but I’m pretty sure I think that’s a bad idea. Florida’s pace is slow, so I think they’d just take a deep breath and hit the open man. While Colorado is extremely athletic, they stomped Florida out by not doing anything all that fancy.
  • Something that Florida did frequently on the weekend was come zone immediately after getting broken. I think this is a good move, as a zone almost always rattles the opposing offense (even if only a small bit), which shifts the pressure.

Wisconsin (6-3 on the weekend; beat Florida, 1-1 vs. Carleton, lost to Colorado and Harvard)

  • Wisconsin’s handlers move the disc very well. They don’t threaten to huck it all that much, but they break the mark, throw the swing, and cut for the dump pretty consistently. Really, they’re just a composed bunch that seems to know both the importance of their job and how to do it. I think a big facilitator of this is Wisconsin’s tendency to only keep two handlers back in the ho stack, with the third sort of drifting upfield on the break side. Two things about this: like most good teams, Wisconsin has found a way to make dumps easy. Also, their handler offense is pretty similar to Carleton’s, with lots of the same around throws to space.
  • Wisconsin’s cutting was off an on throughout the weekend. Sometimes, they looked slow and pretty unorganized, with a lot of guys crowding the force side. At others, they looked polished and well-spaced. Cullen Gephert and Ben Feldman got open under a lot for them, Pat Donovan was a solid deep cutter, and this kid that was wearing #17 but wasn’t John Bergen was impressive. The issue was just when too many people starting demanding the disc and cutting each other off.
  • The Hodags are definitely a hucking team, and as Joaq noted, they’re not always high percentage by most people’s standards. They’ll put it in isolation, double coverage, upwind, downwind, or into a wolfpack. Most of the hucks actually come from cutters, especially Feldman. Like the cutting, it can be hit or miss, but I like the strategy for the same reason I like Florida’s huck happiness: it makes teams go 70 again, and they have receivers that are expecting it so the percentage isn’t all that bad.
  • Wisconsin is really feeling the residual effects of their 2007 and 2008 national championships. After Quarters in 2009, last year was lean by the Hodag standard, and there hasn’t been too much of an upswing in talent for 2010. But the practice habits and work ethic that led to a ring, in my estimation, have led to an overall set of expectations that have them maximizing their talent. In particular, when you’ve got a strong and active legacy like Wisconsin, getting rookies to buy in is way easier, and that pushes your vets.

Sorry for the delay on Wisconsin. Also, look for some kind of all-Warm Up team, along with some thoughts on the rest of the field.

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