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Ground and Pound
by Bryan Leonard - 10/05/2011
Effective running games are a great weapon in both college and pro football. A strong running attack helps an offense pick up first downs, control the ball and the clock, and force opponents to play the run, which makes the pass that much more effective. A strong ground game can also physically wear out the opposition late in the game, which is something sports bettors need to keep in mind when watching games. In other words: Don’t panic! If a favorite is locked in a tight first half with an opponent, it doesn’t mean you made a bad play. Before you go and bet the other side for the second half, have some patience.
Last year TCU turned a 14-10 halftime game into a 41-27 blowout over SMU. This is a terrific all-around TCU team, and one thing they have is an outstanding backfield. They can run or pass with equal efficiency, but in that game they turned to the ground attack to wear down a small SMU run defense in the second half.
TCU coach Gary Patterson saw his players slump into the locker room at halftime, their heads drooping because they were barely winning. So imagine how they looked when they were losing just 1:02 into the second half following a second straight interception thrown by quarterback Andy Dalton. TCU's size, strength and depth was simply too much for SMU. "I thought we played with energy early, but then they wore us down," SMU coach June Jones said.
I thought of this a few years ago while watching the Cal/Stanford game. The 24-point favorite Golden Bears, No. 4 in the country, were contained in the first half by a gritty Stanford defense. It was just 10-3 at the half, but in the second half, the Stanford defense was worn down by J.J. Arrington and the Cal rushing attack. Cal finished with 307 rushing yards and won 41-6 – even get the huge cover easily, despite a 10-3 first half.
This is an edge that a powerful ground game brings. The running attack can be relied on for the entire game, not just the first two quarters, and can bring important dividends in the fourth quarter as a defense begins to tire. This happened in the Cal/Stanford game and happens all the time in football.
It can happen in the NFL, too. That same weekend the Eagles were a sizable home favorite over the punchless Redskins, yet were locked in a 7-6 game at the half. But you knew Washington was going to have trouble scoring, as they’ve struggled all season to put points the board. And it was only a matter of time in the second half before the Eagles quietly surged to a big lead – and eventual cover – in the 28-6 win.
Inexperienced sports bettors may become frustrated watching a game like that, expecting their bet to be covered by the half. This can lead to panic and bailouts, such as betting the other side for the second half. But a successful handicapper knows the value of patience. A game isn’t decided straight up or ATS in just 30 minutes of football. And having a powerful ground game in your favor for the second half is a nice ace to have on your side.