By ANDY WOLF
Groundhog Day goes on one week longer for the University of Findlay football coaching staff.
Another playoff game means another cycle through the process of breaking down an opponent.
“A lot of the preparation does get very redundant,” UF head coach Rob Keys said.
Each Sunday and Monday is pretty typical and similar.
The only difference is the opponent.
Assumption College (10-1), the Northeast-10 Conference regular season champions, is a team UF hasn’t seen in any of their previous film exchanges.
Nor was Shepherd — the Mountain East Conference champs which Findlay topped 29-17 in the first round of the Division II Super Region One playoffs.
In the regular season, the Oilers have their graduate assistants cut up film a week or two in advance so it’s ready come game week.
Each round of playoff matchups weren’t set in stone until less than a week prior to the scheduled kickoff.
Defensive coordinator Jason Makrinos noted the staff was hoping to draw a team from the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC), which got four teams in the playoffs, having already some familiarity with the teams.
When that didn’t happen, the staff embraced the challenge of the unknown.
“It’s fun from that standpoint but it’s also to our advantage,” Makrinos said. “As I watch film, I don’t think they’ve seen defenses play how we do, how we attack offenses.”
Previous statistics don’t matter to offensive coordinator Troy Rothenbuhler or offensive line coach Kory Allen.
In context, allowing 200 yards of whatever to whoever doesn’t tell the whole story.
“I don’t know any of those teams up there anyways,” Rothenbuhler said, pointing to a dry-erase board with the results of Assumption’s games written on it.
The film doesn’t lie.
Rothenbuhler wants to see who they really are.
Allen especially mentioned the “must-have situations.”
“When it’s third-and-1, fourth-and-1, on the 1-yard line, who do they want to be?” Allen said.
What a team is depends on scheme, foundation and the personnel.
“Within that scheme, who are the dudes?” Allen said. “They start to stand out as you’re watching game film.”
Ultimately, they relay a formulated gameplan to the players and put it into action on the practice field.
Playing fast on Saturdays doesn’t come without processing information quickly.
“(The players) are going to get flooded with info. It is our job to keep it as simple as we can,” Rothenbuhler said.
The defensive approach is pretty similar.
On Sunday mornings, Makrinos and others evaluate UF’s latest game film.
They’d normally assess the unit a grade but playoffs is about surviving and advancing.
“Style points don’t matter at this point,” Makrinos said.
The defensive coaches break down 3-5 games of their opponent, looking to see how other teams with similar defenses approached that offense.
Findlay operates out of a four-man front.
From there, it’s a blend of figuring out what concepts a team runs, the personnel and formations.
The goal is to anticipate what will happen on Saturday.
The anticipation should equal faster reading of keys and ability to react.
Junior defensive back Chewy Chukwuneke put his observation skills into action last Saturday when he read a key at the goal line and stepped in front of his man to make a game-changing interception.
“We’d rather be the aggressors,” Makrinos said.
And for the most part of the season the Oilers have been.
They demonstrated the ability by holding a potent and top-10 Shepherd offense well below its season averages.
But Makrinos quickly credited the UF run game for doing as good of a job of keeping the Rams to 18:37 of possession.
“I constantly tell our guys the best defense is a great running game,” Makrinos said. “I joked with coach Allen and told him he was the player of the game.”
The preparation is roughly one half of the puzzle.
The other half is about putting their preparation into action and properly executing when it matters.
“Against good teams, for sure, when you prepare well and prepare the right way it gives you confidence in how you’re going to execute,” sophomore center Neal Davis said. “For instance, last week, I felt we prepared very well and think that’s why we executed as well.”
Davis said having played top quality teams before helped the Oilers finish the job against the No. 2-ranked Rams last week.
He particularly cited last year’s game against Grand Valley State — also No. 2 in the country at the time.
The Oilers led 17-14 with a quarter to play but saw the Lakers score two touchdowns in fourth quarter to win 28-17.
“We kind of let one slip and games like that you remember,” Davis said. “(Against Shepherd), We had to keep punching because we knew how high-powered their offense was. We knew at any moment they could rattle off points.”
Allen said the prep week leading up the Shepherd game got better as the week went on.
The unfamiliarity didn’t hinder the smooth workflow with Wednesday being a better practice day than Tuesday and so forth.
“There’s a combination of going hard, going smart to make sure your guys get to Saturday,” Rothenbuhler said. “You still can never replicate the speed of the game. … But the guys can visualize it on film. They’ve got everything right at their fingertips. They can watch as much film as they can.”
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By ANDY WOLF