This section is from the book "A Scientific And Practical Treatise On American Football For Schools And Colleges", by A. Alonzo Stagg, Henry L. Williams. Don't miss: The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game.
When inside the opponents' twenty-five-yard line the greatest skill must also be used, and the aim should be to get the requisite five yards by the most reliable tactics. Plays which risk the loss of ground and the ball should be sparingly used, and every caution and strategy be exercised to place the ball across the fine. Nor should there be less prudence because a team has a good drop kicker. The proportion of goals secured from drop kicks is not more than one in every four or five attempts, with the best kickers in America, and the most certain way to score will be to strain every nerve to place the ball across the line by steadfastly holding the ball and using the drop kick only as a last resource.
Every now. and then a point is lost unnecessarily when the ball is in the possession of a team under its own goal. It is judged not wise to kick. Perhaps the wind is strong in the opposite direction and there is no reliable punter, or perhaps it would simply give the opponents a fair catch from which to make a try for goal if kicked. The captain also realizes that if the opponents secure the ball they will force it over. Two downs may already have been used up and ground lost in vain attempts to advance the ball by running. There seems to be no other alternative, and so another trial is made, but without avail, whereupon the ball goes to the other side. Under these circumstances it would be well for the captain to remember that by making a safety touchdown and allowing the opponents to score two, he could have brought the ball out to the twenty-five-yard line and prevented a probable six points.
The mistake is often made of frequently using end plays when the ground is slippery and soft from rain. Nothing can be more foolish, unless the aim is to get the ball on firmer ground, for with insecure footing it is impossible to start quickly, run fast, or turn and dodge quickly. This makes it easy, also, for the opposing eleven to stop the runner and nearly always with a loss of ground. The same is true, in a measure, when the ground is soft or very sandy. It is comparatively hard to make end plays even when there are no unfavorable conditions, when the ground is firm and level.
He is a wise general, therefore, who notes the field carefully, knowing where all the soft and slippery and rough places are, as well as where the good ground is, and then keeps them in mind throughout the game, and makes his moves wisely in reference to them. Few captains take the field sufficiently into account in directing the plays, so that the greatest advantage can be secured by avoiding the hindrances as much as possible. Again and again unsuccessful trials to advance have been made in muddy places, when, with one well-planned move, the ball could have been placed on solid ground with little or no sacrifice, and a vast advantage secured. It is usually worth the loss of two or three yards, and oftentimes more, to make an end play in order to give a better footing to the backs and the rushers for putting the ball into play, for handling it, for making holes, and for starting, running, and dodging.
When the ground is very slippery, all plays which cause the runner to move a considerable distance sidewise and across the field before turning to advance, and all plays requiring a sudden change in direction, whether when under strong headway or not, are hard to gain ground on, and, therefore, must be used with great judgment. Equally hard to make are the plays in which the tackle and guard and end carry the ball around for a run through one of the openings on the opposite side of the line. There is not, however, the chance for so much loss of ground in these plays, as usually played, that there is in a run out to the end by the half-backs, because the former run closer to the line and the play is not so quickly perceived.
It naturally follows, then, from what has been said, that those plays which send the runner directly forward; those in which the impetus from the start is more forward than sidewise; those in which the runner does not have far to run before he strikes the opening; and those in which he can get the greatest protection and assistance quickly, are the plays to be relied on when the ground is soft, sandy, or slippery.
In bringing the ball in from the side lines, the privilege is given of having it down anywhere from five to fifteen yards from that line. This option of ten yards should be valuable in determining the tactics to be used next. Too often is it the habit for the captain to shout out, "Bring it in fifteen," whether the "fifteen" would carry them into a mud hole, or whether there was a positive advantage in operating from a nearer point to the side line by avoiding the usual custom of an end run, and sending the runner through on the other side. Generally the fifteen yard point is the best place to have the ball down, but not always. The ten-yard point has decided advantages in making certain side-line plays, because the opponents will reason that the chances are in favor of an end play being attempted, and will draw one or two men away to strengthen their defense in that quarter. These they will feel that they can well spare from that side without very apparently weakening the defense, because they are protected from long runs by the side line.
The side line does not enter into the consideration in field tactics as much as it should. As a rule, it is considered a misfortune when the ball is down within less than ten yards of this boundary line, because it gives the opponents a good chance to anticipate the play, which is likely to be a run around the other end. The free men who are behind the rushers nearest the side line rarely fail to move over as far as the center-rusher. This leaves the defense of that part wholly to the rushers, supported by the side line, and is the best situation possible for making certain plays. Long runs, however, cannot be expected, and the captain must be contented to work steadily up the field by short gains. After several dashes into the line, of this kind, an end run suddenly carried into execution may have considerable chance for success.