Innovation is what drives us forward, and we recently discovered a very innovative football program based in Zanesfield, Ohio. We caught up with Nate Stierhoff, a forward-thinking offensive coordinator for Benjamin Logan HS, to drill down on what he calls “The Muddle Huddle”, and how his program uses it to steal points.
Hi Nate, can you give us a bit of background on your program and role?
2015 was my second year as offensive coordinator at Benjamin Logan High School(Division 4 OH) working under second-year head coach Jeff Fay. We are a program driven by our student-athletes, our system adapts to their skill set and beliefs each season. With any concept or play, we install our number one motto is “if the kids think it will work…it probably will work” This mindset keeps players involved in the naming of all plays, formations, and a completely open forum for play calling and personnel each season. The days of young players doing things “because we told them to” are over. We want our players to always ask “why” and if they have a suggestion they must bring evidence to answer “why” before a student suggested change is made.
And two years ago you changed offensive philosophy?
Since our change in offensive philosophy 2 years ago we have gone from scoring 13.2 points per game(2013 with previous staff) to 43.1 points per game(2015). Going from 1-9(2013) to 6-4(2015) with 18 of 22 returning starters for upcoming 2016 season.
Give us an overview of the Muddle Huddle and how you run it.
I don’t know about other small high school programs, but we have not always been lucky enough to have great kicker. This system gives us the ability to go for 2 quickly and in a variety of ways after any score, and then shift to a traditional XP at any time. At most we spend 10min of practice time per week on this concept. If we can add at least 10 extra minutes of something that is not our 4 verticals concept to the opponent’s practice plan that week we are at an advantage. Defenders often have trouble getting aligned after giving up a big TD, getting an easy 2 point conversion is an exclamation point on lowering opponent moral, and coaches will often chase points early in games putting them in unfamiliar situations The numbers say go for 2!
Muddle Huddle Base Formation
Here you can see the base formation our players know to line up in as soon as we score a touchdown. The green players are eligible to receive a forward pass, however on a 4th down or special teams play non-eligible numbered players are allowed to line up at any eligible positions as long as they do not receive a forward pass. Our first year running this scheme we assigned the kicker to be the middle player in pod 2 but in fear of him not being a threat to the defense we replaced him with another athlete the 2nd year. During team periods every practice our offense drives the length of the practice field. Upon scoring on our scout team players immediately line up in this formation and the kicker is ready beside the coaches with his block. If we do not like the look we get our kicker is ready to sub in for any player and we shift to a traditional XP formation.
When we call a “1” the center will wait for the ready whistle and upon grabbing the ball he will laterally flip it to his left. This is technically a backwards lateral to the eligible player standing behind pod 1 who will then push into the endzone. (It is important that he moves the ball LATERALLY FIRST, as soon as a ref declares that he brought the ball UP first the play will be blown dead and you will lose the try).
The 3 players in front will handle the numbers they get man to man or just wedge block the pod into the endzone. While every extra point is critical we have found it best to not over-coach any aspect of this scheme. We do not want our players in practice saying “well what if they do this or that”, the speed in which we want this to happen and the mystery of how teams will line up to our pods each time we score, it almost has to have backyard football feel to it or the players will not execute fast and physical.
We like the eligible players in pod 1 to be a Tight End type on the line and a RB behind the pod.
When we call a “2” the center will snap the ball directly back to our muddle QB who is at 7 yards(the normal depth for our QBs as well). The center will block the most dangerous player he can reach and the middle pod player will fake a block and slip into the back of the endzone. The QB will then have the option to dive into the endzone the easiest way he can find, or his outlet will be the jump pass to the back of the endzone. It is a full run pass option for the QB if we call a “2”.
-We like to have our all around best athlete, the kid who would be picked first in a backyard pickup game, playing the QB spot on our muddle, he must be somewhat of a threat to throw in order to have the WR in pod 4 covered. After deciding to sub in the kicker when shifting out of muddle we replaced this middle pod player with a fullback or tight end type(preferably tall for a jump pass threat).
We have had the most success with our “3” call. When we call “3” the center will lateral the ball to his right(for whatever reason our right handed guys have found this flip easier than the “1”. The man behind pod 3 will then force his way across the goal line.
I believe we have had success with this call because we put our 2 best lineman in front of pod 3 and we then put our biggest man with good hands behind pod 3. The size and strength of the player behind pod 3 makes it still a safe call if teams match our numbers 3 for 3(he only needs to carry a defender 2 yards). We can do this with a lineman knowing that this is a lateral and not a forward pass and also that any numbered player may line up eligible on a 4th down or PAT try.
Variations and Tags
We have entered the past 2 seasons with the foundation of our extra point field goal being these 4 pods and plays. Over time we have added several tags and variations so that teams have to always expect something new. Often our players will have contests to see who can come up with the best muddle huddle play and they will put extra emphasis on these plays when we give practice time to them as they are fun and they have ownership in them. We usually go into a game prepared to run at least 8 different variations.
The variations video shows just a few of the variations or tags we have made to throughout the season.(Example: A jump pass after receiving the lateral from the RB in pod 1l to the tight end would be called in as “1 Tebow”)
We like the idea that this scheme has infinite possibilities as far as alignment, motions, and ball movement(this is why we are happy to share in the hope that others can add ideas). Our version of the muddle will continue to adapt and change to better produce easy points and defenses adjust. I hope that other coaches are able to use the structure we put in place and create their own version that will help evolve the game and prevent 1 point games from being decided by a few players who are only on the field for 6 snaps a game.
In 2 years of running this scheme for extra points, we have had better and worse athletes at positions in the pods, as well as better and worse kickers when we decided to kick. This is kept in mind when looking at numbers and success rate. In 2014 our first year running muddle we were 16 for 21 on 2 point conversions(76%) while we were only 7 for 11 on kicking extra points(64%)
Our second year running muddle we were 15 for 26 on 2 point conversions(58%…*71% the 2nd half of the season) and 28 for 37 when kicking(75%).
We counted penalties that called back successful 2 point tries as fails so that lowered our percentage in 2015 as we had 4 called back…3 in 1 game do to the umpires discretion of a center lateral)
What these numbers tell you is that in 2014 just by going for 2 as many times as we did we were plus 19 points on the season compared to if we would have kicked it every time we went for 2(assuming we would have made those kicks at the 68% mark). In 2015 we were plus 10.5 points compared to if we would have kicked every time we went for 2 making those kicks at a 75% rate. When you look at the sum of 2 years, in our 95 point after touchdown opportunities we came away with 97 points(this includes 13 missed kicks!! Solidifying we should have gone for 2 more!) That number could also be much higher if it were not for many extra point situations in games that are out of hand and we decide to not go for 2, or we just went for 2 more often based on the percentages. I would put those numbers up against any small high school program(especially schools with inconsistency at the kicker position).
Now you may be able to tell me that you can easily find the practice time or skilled player to make your kicker 100% on extra points, but you can have your 100% and I’ll take my 58% going for 2(sloppy to our standards) and I will score more points than you over the course of a season. Really if you are going to kick every time you need to know that you will be in the red on extra point opportunity just by missing 1 kick!
That’s really cool, and I hope it inspires our readers to think about it. How do they get in touch with you if they have any questions?
If you have any further questions about our PAT experiment the past 2 seasons, or you just want to know more about our unorthodox style of winning football games you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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