With less than a week remaining before Greenbrier and Grovetown kick off Columbia County's 2010 high school football season, fans are dusting off their team gear and game-day accessories.
There's no doubt the most ardent fans already have printed off their team's schedule and circled the most intriguing games. Of course, which games are best is irrelevant because those fans will attend nearly every game anyway.
When you go to a game, you're privy to a much different viewpoint than you get while watching a game on television. Use that to your advantage.
Instead of focusing on who has the ball on every play, I encourage you to look out for some things you might not have noticed in the past. Noticing these aspects of the game will give you a richer viewing experience.
Some fans believe a play starts when the ball is snapped. However, before the ball is even put in motion, you can get a feel for how it might play out.
Football is similar to chess in that coaches are always countering one move with another. If coaches are unable to adjust and adapt during a game, they likely will lose the edge.
Watch how a defense adjusts to the formation the offense shows. The "quarterback" of the defense is often the middle linebacker, so look to see if he's barking signals or moving around pre-snap.
Offensive and defensive lines
While skill players (those who handle the ball) are fun to watch, oftentimes a game is won "in the trenches."
When the defensive line is able to push back the offensive line or even get into the backfield, quarterbacks don't have a pocket to throw from and running backs don't have room to maneuver.
On the flip side, if the offensive line is able to dictate play, quarterbacks have time to go through their progressions and holes open up for running backs.
Usually, it's apparent from the first few snaps which line will dominate.
Receivers vs. defensive backs
Even on running plays or pass plays in which the quarterback targets a different wide receiver, you can learn a lot by watching how a receiver runs a route against his defender.
The more experienced receivers -- or the ones who don't wish to draw the ire of their coaches -- will go full out on every play, even when they know they aren't going to get the ball.
If a defensive back can sense when a receiver is just going through the motions, then he also realizes when the receiver knows he's probably getting the ball. What's more, if the receiver's body language shows he's not expecting the ball, safeties can expect a run play and help stop it.
Coaches -- particularly the head coach -- are the ones players look to at critical times in a game, whether they need inspiration or a quick reminder.
Most coaches -- even the most serious ones -- have trouble holding back a smile when they're up by 40 points. But how will a coach react when he's down 40? More importantly, how will that same coach act in the fourth quarter of a tie game?
When emotions are high, watch how the coach's demeanor remains steady or how it changes. Players notice these things, too, and when they see that their coach is confident, they are more likely to be confident that they can make the key stop on defense or score the key touchdown on offense.
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