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Game Planning and Clock Management

This is an excerpt from Coaching Canadian Football by Football Canada.

All good coaches put together a game plan for the upcoming opponent. Here are a few situations in which play calling and clock management directly relate to game planning.


If you are playing a team with an explosive offense, and your offense is not suited to a shoot-out, don't run a lot of pass plays that will stop the clock and create a lot of two-and-outs. Instead, your game plan should include a healthy dose of runs, play-action passes, and high-percentage passes that will keep the clock running and hopefully keep the chains moving. Explosive offenses like to be on the field, not on the bench, so eating up time will make it harder for your opponent's offense to get into a rhythm.


You may need to adjust your game plan midway through the game to compensate for an injury or to give a player a break. If one of your best defensive players gets injured, but he looks like he'll be able to return after some treatment on the sideline, the offensive play calling may need to change to focus more on ball possession to move the chains and run the clock. Similarly, if one of your key players needs a rest due to special-teams activity or playing both offense and defense, the coaching staff may need to quickly collaborate to adjust the offensive play calls to give this player a break.


PRACTICE IT


A prudent head coach will anticipate situations in which clock management is important and will integrate them into weekly practice scenarios. These scenarios are best if they are competitive (although they don't need to be full contact), and there must be a coach or manager who keeps time and announces it regularly for both the offense and defense to hear (unless you have a time clock at your practice field). There should also be a coach or manager on the whistle to end plays and whistle in the 20-second play clock. It will help players, especially the quarterback, to understand the situation better if the clock-running status is announced (“The player was tackled inbounds, so the clock runs on the whistle” or “The pass was incomplete so the clock will hold on the whistle”). In each scenario, the head coach should give the hypothetical score, start the offense at a position on the field to march, and tell both the offensive and defensive teams how many time-outs they have.


The goal for these drills is to not only put your players in situations in which time is a very important factor, but also help them understand the importance of clock use throughout the game. The quarterback, in particular, should be cognizant of time use and check in with the head coach or offensive coordinator to find out what tempo he should use for the next series. He should be thinking of the same things the coaches are: wind, score, and overall game scenario.


Here are some common drill concepts to practice.

 

Four-Minute Drill

The scenario is that the offense has the lead. Its goal is to use as much time as possible: by using the full 20-second play clock before snapping the ball, and by keeping the ball inbounds, throwing only complete passes, and getting first downs. The defense needs to make a stop or at least try to stop the clock by forcing the ball carrier out of bounds.


You'll need a coach to keep track of the clock and to whistle in the start of the play clock. To educate your players, the timer coach can announce the situation. For example, before whistling in the 20-second play clock, he may announce, “The ball carrier was tackled inbounds on the previous play, so the clock will run on the whistle.” The coach then starts and stops the clock as appropriate during the scrimmage. If the offense gets a first down, the timer coach should remember that the stick crew would need time to get the first down chains moved, so he should allow time for that. If the defense forces the offense into a punting situation, the drill ends and the timer coach announces how much time the offense ran off the clock on the drive. It's a big win for the offense if they are able to sustain a long drive and then finish it by adding to their lead.

 

Three-Minute Drill

The scenario is that the offense is trailing, but time is not a major concern, unless they are trailing by more than one score. The goal for the offense is to score. Three minutes in Canadian football is enough time for several changes of possession to take place. Again, the defense needs to make a stop to protect their lead.


Like in the four-minute drill, you will need a timer coach to manage the clock and the whistle. The offense wants to efficiently move down the field by snapping the ball soon after the 20-second play clock is whistled in, and to take the ball out of bounds at the end of the play. The defense tries to tackle the ball carrier inbounds. The timer coach should keep in mind the time it would take for the stick crew to readjust the chains after a first down. If the defense stops the offense, the coach announces how much time is left, and if you want to continue the drill, you can take a minute off the remaining time (assuming the other team would run only a couple of plays before punting) and then give the offense the remaining time. This may now put the offense into the one-minute drill.

 

One-Minute Drill

The offense is trailing, and time is a major concern. The goal for the offense is to score quickly, because there is only a minute left on the clock. Besides using the clock-management techniques described earlier, the offense can also practice their “hurry-up” mode. Along with needing to make a stop, the defense needs to adjust to the offense's hurry-up tempo by lining up quickly, and then efficiently communicating their play call.


As in the previous drills, the timer coach will control the situation by managing the clock, whistling in the play, and announcing if the clock will run or hold when the 20-second play clock is whistled in. If the offense scores, they win; if the defense stops them (there is no point in punting, so the offense would use all three downs), the defense wins.

Learn more about Coaching Canadian Football.