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Football Adjustments

   by Al McMordie - 10/11/2007

It was a wild football weekend last week, and the biggest surprise (in my handicapping lifetime) was USC losing 24-23 to Stanford as an incredible 39-point favorite (and the odds were even higher than that mid-week), ending the Trojans’ 35-game home winning streak. As far as odds are concerned, it was the biggest upset in college football history. It appeared Syracuse pulled off the biggest upset ever a few weeks ago, as a 38.5-point dog beating Louisville. And Appalachian State was a 31.5-point dog when it stunned Michigan last month. Now there’s a new record holder in the ATS books.

This was a Stanford team off a 38-point loss the previous week with a quarterback who had never started in a college game. Football is a game of adjustments, and one of the strategies Stanford employed was an attacking defense at the line of scrimmage. Why? Because USC was missing two starting offensive lineman and two of its top three rushers. They shut down the run and pressured John David Booty with four sacks and 5 turnovers.

We’ve seen adjustments play a major role in the NFL, as well. Arizona has two decent QBs in young Matt Leinart and veteran Kurt Warner. New coach Ken Whisenhunt has had Leinart running the main offense in practice while Warner strictly handles the hurry-up attack. This is an excellent coaching move, utilizing strengths to shake up your opponents.

Against the Ravens two weeks ago, the Cardinals were way down, so Whisenhunt went to Warner and he had the Ravens huffing and puffing on their heels. Arizona came back and forced OT, getting the cover as a big dog. The game also went over the total after looking like a dead under until Warner came in. It paid dividends again when Leinart broke a collarbone Sunday and Warner came in to lead the team to a 34-31 win at St. Louis. Good coaching staffs are prepared for things like this.

I recall a game a year ago when Michigan State engineered the greatest comeback in NCAA Division I-A history. Down 38-3 in the third quarter at Northwestern, the Spartans rose from the dead with an improbable 41-38 comeback win. The Wildcats started in the first half converting on six of their first seven scoring drives before a missed field goal helped spark the Spartan comeback.

This brings up the point about why adjustments are so important in football, both on the field and at the betting window. Adjustments before a game and at halftime can significantly change things. One adjustment Michigan State made was in the secondary, where Nehemiah Warrick and SirDarean Adams switched positions -- Warrick to bandit, Adams to safety. The flip-flop helped improve communication between the secondary and defensive line and allowed Warrick to roam freely.

Switching back to the Pros, the NY Giants were down 17-7 at the half to the Jets Sunday, but came out inspired for the second half with an uptempo attack. Notice that CB Aaron Ross started the game on the sideline, benched for a half by the Giants for violating team rules. The Giants' coaches allowed him to play in the second half, and the rookie cornerback came up with two key plays. Ross returned the second of his two interceptions 43 yards for a touchdown with just over 3 minutes remaining to seal a 35-24 victory. With the Jets driving for a potential go-ahead score, Chad Pennington threw a pass to Jerricho Cotchery, and Ross also stepped in front of that and took off down the left sideline and into the end zone. Good coaching staffs use halftime to make important changes and additions, such as Whisenhunt using the no-huddle or the Giants putting in a kid on defense to help change the momentum.

Adjustments can help bettors who like to play totals, too. Last season the Baltimore Ravens fired offensive coordinator Jim Haslett and Head Coach Brian Billick started calling the plays. The Ravens offense improved from that point on. It can be profitable to keep up on changes like this as the Ravens went 3 straight games over the total after firing Haslett.

The Denver Broncos defensive end Simeon Rice was deactivated this week. Rice signed with Denver just before the start of the season to help bolster the defensive line. But the Broncos rank 31st against the run, surrendering 181 yards rushing a game. The Broncos started Elvis Dumervil in Rice's place Sunday. Rice had six tackles and no sacks through four games, but nothing helped in Denver’s 41-3 loss to the Chargers. Their new defensive coordinator has been looking for an aggressive, attacking defense, but he doesn’t have the personnel.

They still have work to do after San Diego gouged them for 214 rushing yards. Over the long haul, good coaching staffs will make adjustments to help a team win, if they have the personnel. It even shows up against the spread, too. From a handicapping perspective it’s essential to keep up on all changes and you need to be prepared to make wagering adjustments, as well, if necessary. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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