In this eleventh part of a twelve part analysis, we're going to look at a false start and discuss what can cause a false start. In case you missed the previous installments, here is Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII, Part IX, and Part X.
Here's the video of the play (special thanks to Ken Crawford of Excuse Me For My Voice for creating this video). Cal is facing a first and goal from Miami's 5 yard line. Cal has 21 personnel out on the field (2 RBs, 1 TE, 2 WRs). Longshore gives a little hard count, and the tight end (Smith) false starts.
What caused this false start?
There are a couple events which can cause a false start.
(1) The false starting player mis-heard the snap count in the huddle and thought the snap was on an earlier count rather than a later count.
(2) The false starting player mis-heard the snap count at the line of scrimmage (LOS).
(3) The false starting player couldn't hear the snap count at the LOS.
(4) The false starting player is reacting to defensive players who are reacting to the QB's hard counts.
So which explanation is responsible for this false start? I'm thinking it's either #2 or #3, a little bit of #4, and perhaps a little bit of #5.
What's this "other"?
Well, in the video above, there is a slo-motion replay of the false start. If you watch the left guard, you can see his right arm move right before the tight end (TE) false starts. The movement of the arm could have been enough to cause the TE to false start. The TE is probably looking at the defensive players ahead of him and is using his peripheral vision to his right to watch for movement. That movement he is looking for is the snap of the ball. But when something else moves to his right (such as another offensive lineman's arm), that could appear to be the ball and cause the player to false start. That movement in his peripheral vision, the QB's hard count, and the defensive players flinching in response to the hard count can all be factors that accumulate and are responsible for a player's false start.
As fans at a game, we must do our very best to be as quiet as possible when the Cal offense is on the field. Crowd noise can make it extremely hard for the offense to hear the snap count, as well as the QB's audible commands, and hurry-up offense commands. As much as it sucks to think about doing this, but to best help the Cal Offense, you shouldn't make ANY noise when they are on the field - even cheering. Cal fans are notoriously bad at this whole "no cheering" rule. I'm not necessarily talking about immediately after Cal gets a huge 35 yard gain from Jahvid Best, I'm talking about when the Cal Offense just broke the huddle and is coming to the LOS and lining up. Cal fans are notoriously bad about cheering right when the Cal Offense is lining up at the line of scrimmage. That crowd noise then carries over to when the Cal Offense is aligned at the LOS and conducting pre-snap motions, and audibles. This crowd noise can hamper the Cal Offense's efforts.
Cal fans can't be wholly blamed for their sabotage of their own team. The Cal stadium announcer is also responsible. At home games, the announcer has trained Cal fans to cheer as the Cal Offense approaches the line of scrimmage. This usually happens after a large gain or when Cal is in scoring range (within the opponent's 10 yard line). The announcer will say "FIRST AND TEN, BEARS!!!" or "FIRST AND GOAL, BEARS!!!" And then the entire stadium cheers right as the QB is going under center.
The tone of the announcer's voice encourages crowd cheering. He says it in an excited "cheer for the team" tone. He really should say it in a low, soft, monotone voice to not encourage cheering. I know that sounds boring, but seriously, the excited tone of his voice encourages Cal fans to cheer and that is sabotaging the team (no, "sabotaging" is not too harsh of a word).
I actually sent an email to the responsible Cal Football department (I can't remember who is in charge of this) about this whole announcer deal a few years ago, and in fact it made an impact. I noticed that for the rest of the season the announcer would attempt to do the whole "FIRST AND TEN, BEARS!!!" or "FIRST AND GOAL, BEARS!!!" earlier so that the carry-over noise had died down by the time the QB went under center. In other words, the announcer would say his spiel while the Cal Offense was in the huddle rather than when they broke the huddle, so that the carry-over noise had died down somewhat by the time the QB was under center.
I'm glad the announcer (and who ever else is responsible) took my advice; however, the announcer's earlier timing still produces noise while the QB is in the huddle. As a home crowd, we shouldn't be making any noise when the Cal Offense is on the field. That means while they're in the huddle, breaking the huddle, or at the LOS. It should be ab-so-freakin-lutely silent.
When the crowd is loud, whether it be a loud and untrained home crowd, or a well trained hostile crowd, the Cal players farther away from the ball have to look at the ball to see the snap since they cannot hear the snap count. Looking at the ball, instead of the defense, gives the defense an advantage and puts the offense at a disadvantage.
Mike Tepper explains this well on his blog:
In 2007 when we played at Autzen stadium for College Game Day, the noise was so loud that when I was in the huddle I could not hear the play being called and had to actually read Nate Longshore's lips to get the call. If I didn't understand what he was saying I had to ask, Guard, Noris Malele to relay it to me, which required him to be about 2 inches from my ear and scream as loud as he can. Can you imagine being in a sea of green and yellow, essentially deaf to all sound?
As we approached the line of scrimmage I could do nothing but take a quick glance at the location of the defense and after that, my eyes were glued to the ball. For almost all of the play prior to the snap, I was blind of what was going on around me and had to use the Center and Guard as my eyes and ears. As a Tackle, you are so far down the line that seeing the ball is extremely difficult. A flinching defensive player could appear out of your peripheral as the Center snapping the ball, which could lead to a false start. My eyes had to be glued to that ball!
Bottom line, as a home crowd, we don't want to create an Autzen-like environment for the Cal Offense. I know we're all happy when Cal gets a first down or is about to score (hopefully), but please, control yourself so you don't sabotage the team.
While Cal was having execution problems all game long, it should be noted that this penalty was Cal's *first* penalty of the game - at 3:08 in the 3rd quarter! This deserves some major praise.
Don't make noise when the Cal Offense is in the huddle, breaking the huddle, or at the line of scrimmage.