Football Technology: A Tale Of Two Halves

March 4, 2014 No Comments

On Nov. 2, 2013, the University of Arkansas – Monticello (UAM) lined up against Henderson State University, which was at the time the second-ranked team in Division II college football.

During the prior week, UAM offensive coordinator Matt Middleton conducted practice and prepared for the game like any other. Unfortunately, the game started poorly for Middleton and Boll Weevils.

The first half was a complete disaster. UAM turned the ball over on five separate occasions, including interceptions on their first three offensive possessions. The Boll Weevils accumulated 60 yards of total offense in the first half, with only two first downs. With a defensive touchdown notched in their favor, the Boll Weevils left the field at halftime trailing 30-7.

Coach Middleton had nothing to lose, and he was about to try something radically different. But, first we have to take a long step back.

Aerospace Meets The Gridiron

In the spring of 2013, aerospace and defense contractor TTJ & B Inc. had been selling data visualization software into the aerospace industry. The software was traditionally used to help companies like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing and NASA visualize enormous amounts of data all on one screen.

The company’s biggest contract was with Lockheed Martin, supporting NASA on the Multi-Person Crewed Vehicle Program, which is a manned space capsule being designed to replace the Space Shuttle and send Americans back into space.

At the time, TTJ & B’s Tom Woods stumbled across what he termed “football scouting data” and fed it into his software. The idea was to created a data dashboard that would allow football coaches to basically do the same thing the aerospace market could do: visualize and access large amounts of complicated data and make sense of it.

During the summer of 2013, Woods began looking for several teams to implement this software as a pilot program for the 2013 football season.

“We had a very successful fall and completed development,” says Woods. “We began selling the software to football coaches under a new company called RII Sports Technology and under the product name GameBreak Scouting Dashboards.”

The first team to accept the offer from RII Sports Technology was UAM. RII began by building Opponent Scouting Dashboards for UAM and Middleton. To start the process, Middleton would break down film on an opponent and send data files to Woods that contained that breakdown information.

Woods would then transform those files into GameBreak Dashboard files that Middleton could use to very quickly identify the opposing team’s defensive tendencies, which included things like the likelihood of blitzes, potential coverage situations and more. Middleton and UAM could then use the dashboard in his weekly game planning and preparation.

At the same time, Woods and Middleton were using similar software to build UAM’s self-scouting dashboards.

“In these, we’d capture UAM’s offensive performance during their recent games,” says Woods. “Coach Middleton could now diagnose his team’s own offensive performance. He could see which plays worked or didn’t work in given situations, which formations were best for which plays, which players were more or less efficient in certain situations and with certain play calls. Coach Middleton began to see where he was strong and where he was weak.”

Unleash The Beast

Until halftime on Nov. 3, 2013, these exercises in data transformation and visualization had largely been academic. Though Middleton was conscious of the information contained in the Self Scout Dashboard, he did not directly use it in the creation of his game plan against Henderson State.

Down 30-7 against a DII powerhouse, Middleton felt like he had nothing left to lose, so he unleashed this technology on a real-world game.

Middleton and UAM abandoned their game plan and turned to the Self Scout Dashboard for the second half, choosing only to run the plays that the dashboard indicated were the most effective for the Boll Weevils.

The second half was nearly a complete turnaround.

UAM finished with 311 yards on 21 first downs. The Boll Weevils even scored on two long drives in the second half: one drive of 18 plays for 75 yards in 5:15 and another drive on 16 plays for 95 yards in 6:45.

While UAM was unable to close the gap enough to capture the win, the result was undeniable. The RII Sports Technology dashboards allowed Middleton to put his players in the best possible position to execute the turnaround. Coach Middleton largely attributed the turnaround to the knowledge gained from the dashboard application.

“I think sometimes coaches tend to over-complicate things, but it all comes back to analysis,” says Middleton. “The biggest thing is that our game is based on production, and the bottom line is: Numbers don’t lie.”

There is no doubt that Middleton and the Boll Weevils will be paying much more attention to the revelations provided by the dashboard technology heading into the 2014 season.

Check out the following video from Woods, Middleton and others explaining how the GameBreak Scouting dashboards work:

 

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