Oct. 1, 2010
MADISON, Wis. -- UW quarterback Scott Tolzien hit pause and explained what he was seeing on the big screen hanging down in the offensive meeting room at Camp Randall Stadium.
Welcome to Film Study,101.
"It's amazing because I can still learn so much from watching film, and I honestly mean that," said Tolzien, a fifth-year senior from Rolling Meadows, Ill. (Palatine Fremd). "I'll see what I think I see on film and then I'll go watch the same film with coach (Paul) Chryst and he just opens up your world to so much more and it's like, `How didn't I see that?'
"You can see it a thousand times and you can still get stumped now and then because the defensive coordinators are always trying to disguise what they're doing. They know you're studying your stuff, too, and they're trying just as hard to try and confuse you.
"The film doesn't lie, either. I can't tell you how many times in a practice or a game you'll think you've seen something on the field. You're sure that you saw a linebacker in the passing lane. But, then, you turn on the film, and there was no linebacker anywhere.''
Tolzien, clicker in hand, turned his attention back to the screen.
"When a play comes up, there's always the scoreboard view for down and distance, your first-and-10, second-and-8 type of thing,'' he said, going through his progression. "Secondly, I'm looking at the formation. There's so much strategy involved and some of that strategy is getting locked into certain calls against certain formations. Right here, it's first-and-10 from the left hash.
Highlighting the two cornerbacks and two safeties, Tolzien said, "I'm always starting with the shell or umbrella, the defensive backs. First thing we always note: Is it one high? Or two high? That's based on the safeties. And what we're looking at here is a two-high look and I see a quarters coverage.''
Translation: the left corner and safety are each responsible for defending one-quarter of the field. To the other side of the formation, the defense has made a "Cloud'' call or adjustment.
"Meaning the defense is going to automatically play a corner in the flat,'' Tolzien said. "They have a Cover 2 to that side with a deep half (safety) and flat player (cornerback).''
Fast-forward to plainspeak.
"What I see here is a weakness of the defense on this particular play," he said. "In quarters coverage, this guy (outside linebacker) is responsible for the flat. But when we motion, he doesn't adjust, so he's out-flanked in the flat and therefore Nick Toon is open."
That results in a pitch and catch, Tolzien to his favorite receiver, Toon.
"We put in a lot of time watching film as quarterbacks," Tolzien said, "and we want it that way because we want to know where the ball is going in every situation. You don't want to look like an idiot in front of 80,000 fans."
Following Tuesday's practice, Tolzien did a handful of media interviews, grabbed something to eat at training table and showed up in a team meeting room to watch film of Michigan State.
It's 9 p.m. He will stay until he feels comfortable with what he's seeing. Until he grasps what he's seeing. However long that might take. Might be an hour. Might be longer. There are no shortcuts.
"I like watching film on my own because I can watch it at my own pace," Tolzien said. "If I need to rewind a play 10 times, I can do that. It's nice having coach right across the hall, too, so if I have any questions when the film session is over I can go to him and get them answered."
Across the hall is Tolzien's mentor, Paul Chryst, the UW offensive coordinator. He's breaking down film from practice and taking notes on a legal pad when Tolzien pops his head into his office.
The unpretentious Chryst, feet propped on his desk, is in his element. Bantering with his quarterback. A little food, a little noise (Country) in the background, a lot of film. All football.
"Why do you watch the same things over and over?" Chryst posed rhetorically. "Every time you watch it, you have to watch it with a different set of eyes. The first time you're watching it, you're looking at what they're doing (on defense). What coverages? What pressures?
"Then, you watch it again and you start plugging in some of your plays against it. You take one of our top routes and ask, `Ok, where would the ball go here?' It takes a while for young guys to understand what they're really looking for. You can waste a lot of time not knowing.
"Scottie is a tremendous worker. He stays engaged and takes good notes while he's watching film or in meetings. Each guy is a little bit different and they find their own rhythm as far as what they gain from the film study.
"But the first thing you do is ask this question, `What's their base (defense)?' If you were going to draw up their defense, take a snapshot of their base. You watch that over and over so you recognize it. Then, when it's not base, it's something different, you go in stages."
Chryst's fingerprints are all over his quarterback's thinking process.
"At the start of the game week, you're looking for real basic things, and just trying to get a real general overview (of the opponent's defense),'' Tolzien said of Chryst's approach. "On Tuesday and Wednesday, you're really hammering the details, like really trying to figure out every little thing that they're doing on defense. Thursday and Friday, you start going basic again.
"Ultimately on Saturday you're just reacting. You don't want to be thinking too much. You hammer out the details at midweek. But you have to get back out to just playing football because that's what it's still all about. You're not a robot on Saturdays. You don't want to overanalyze things."
Tolzien doesn't normally get involved with breaking down personnel.
"I know our receivers are going to spend a ton of time looking at personnel and their tendencies,'' he said, "because they're in one-on-one situations, whereas I'm all-encompassing."
There are exceptions.
"I remember three years ago when we were playing Indiana and they had Tracy Porter," Tolzien said of the current New Orleans Saints defensive back who picked off Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl. "He wore No. 9 and we said, `We've got to know at all times where 9 is.' In situations, where you would throw a jump ball, one-on-one, we weren't going to do it against Porter."
Watching film has become easier for Tolzien with each passing year.
"It's easier now because I know specifically what I'm looking for," he said. "In high school, for the most part, every play had a progression. If No. 1 is open, you throw it to him. If he's not open, you throw it to No. 2. In college, there are so many different things that you can learn from the film."
What might he see walking up to the line of scrimmage on any given play?
The time-honored hypothetical.
"I'm thinking first-and-10, and the formation and I'm thinking we're going to get the base look with two high (safeties), quarters to the field or boundary coverage," he said. "But the second I see a single high (safety), boom, the light bulb goes on. This might be something different. Expect pressure."
Later, he added, "That's what is unique about the quarterback position: the mental part of it. Maybe I'm biased, but I just feel it's so important and that's really where you can gain an edge."
In his words, if you put in your time watching film, you'll be rewarded for the late nights.
"I really enjoy this,'' Tolzien said, "because I know five years from now I'm going to look back and say, `I really miss those 9 o'clock film sessions in the office.' I wouldn't want it any other way."