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April 18, 2014

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Peeking into Sanford’s secret zone

Ron Kantowski suspects coach’s closed practices might mean the backfield’s in motion at UNLV

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“Beginning Wednesday, Aug. 20, and running through the season, all UNLV football practices are CLOSED to the public.”

The A-11 offense

Had the press release been any more tersely worded, it would have come with a junkyard and a Doberman with a bad attitude.

And a black sign with bold red letters.

KEEP OUT!

This means you, Rebel fans.

At first, I thought this was just Mike Sanford’s way of reaching out to potential new fans. I mean, what better way to attract new blood to the program than throw it out of practice? Thanks for the boot print on my rear end, Coach. Now where do I get season tickets?

I’ve been to a lot of UNLV football practices when they were open — i.e., when John Robinson was coach. Robinson would drive over in his golf cart and ask how you were doin’. Maybe tell you a story about the Trojans beating up on Notre Dame or UCLA. Or ask if you had a play that might work against Colorado State on Saturday.

In fairness to Sanford, a lot of college football coaches close practice. Usually they have three letters on their cap. Like LSU. Or OSU. But not USC. Pete Carroll’s practices at Southern Cal look like one of those parties after the Oscars. Or the Hard Rock pool on Sunday afternoon. Hey, isn’t that Will Ferrell throwing passes to Snoop Dogg?

Either the Pac-10 stinks, or Carroll’s laid-back approach is proof that you don’t have to run football practice like Sgt. Hulka’s boot camp to be successful.

In seven years at USC, Carroll has posted a 76-14 record with two national championships.

In three years at UNLV, Sanford has posted a 6-29 record with no national championships, no conference championships, not even a victory over in-state rival Nevada-Reno. But the Rebels did lose a close game at Wyoming last year.

In fairness to Sanford, if he weren’t 6-29 after stating the Rebels would be winning bowl games and attaining Top 25 rankings and hadn’t said he had everything he needed here to attain those lofty goals, you could almost let him slide on the closed practice thing.

But I think there’s a reason he’s doing it this year that has nothing to do with a fan’s walking off with a football — those cost money, you know — that sails wide right at the quiet end of the practice field where the kickers and punters pretend they are busy.

It’s because he is installing the two-quarterback offense and he wants to keep it a secret.

That’s right, the two-quarterback offense. Not an offense featuring alternating quarterbacks. You’ve already seen that. Year after year after year after year. This will be my 22nd season of watching football and getting my car dirty at Sam Boyd Stadium. I’ve seen three winning seasons. But lots of alternating quarterbacks. Believe me, this isn’t all Sanford’s fault.

No, I’m talking about an offense that employs two quarterbacks at the same time. A double shotgun formation. Backward passes and forward passes. On the same play.

Actually, when Kurt Bryan, a high school coach in California, and his pal Steve Humphries concocted the two-quarterback attack they called it the Pluto Offense, because there’s where it seemed to fit in the solar system of planets and football offenses: Single Wing, Mercury, Veer, Mars, Wishbone, Jupiter, West Coast, Neptune, Run N Shoot, Pluto. That about covers it.

They’ve since renamed it the A-11 as in all eleven, the number of players who are potentially eligible to catch the ball. Or run with it. I won’t describe it here, but if you do a Google search, you’ll find some clips of the A-11 in action. You’ll immediately notice the two shotgun quarterbacks. And that when the ball is snapped, players start running around as if their pants were on fire.

You’ll also notice that the players with “PIEDMONT” on their jerseys often wind up catching or running with the football about 30 yards downfield.

Piedmont is a small high school in Northern California with an enrollment of fewer than 1,000 students and a football team that was constantly getting beaten up by schools twice its size. Sort of like UNLV against BYU.

So the coaches invited Cheech Marin and the ghost of Dr. Timothy Leary to practice one day and picked their brains for an idea on how they could level the playing field.

(Actually, Marin and Leary weren’t involved in the process, but when you line up with two quarterbacks in a double shotgun formation, you’ve got to explain it to the principal somehow.)

So instead of going 2-10, little Piedmont went 7-4 and made the playoffs. Bryan said he has been contacted by 35 to 40 Division I-A schools inquiring about the A-11. From every conference, he said.

When I asked Mark Wallington of the UNLV sports information office whether Sanford was putting in the two-quarterback offense, and that’s why football practice is closed, he played dumb.

I’m tellin’ you, Sanford is up to something.

Mark my words. He’s gonna play Utah State straight, because you can beat Utah State wearing leather helmets and running the Single Wing. Then the Rebels will go up to Utah, where Omar Clayton and Travis Dixon, UNLV’s two returning quarterbacks, will line up in the double shotgun. (This news about Dixon moving to safety? Just another clever bit of misdirection by Sanford to throw the media off-track.) And the Rebels are going to blow the Utes’ minds even more than last year, when they won 27-0.

After the game, Sanford will probably tell reporters that it’s his offense.

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