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From the Colorado School of Mines to the NFL

Unless you follow Division II football, you probably aren’t familiar with the name Bob Stitt. He’s the head coach at the Colorado School of Mines, and here is what Bruce Feldman wrote about him in the summer of 2011 in connection with the One-Back Clinic, an annual meeting of a few of the sharpest minds in college football:

Stitt is the 45-year-old head coach at Colorado School of Mines, a Division II school just down the road from the Coors facility in Golden, Co. Stitt is a regular to the one-back clinic and has become pals with [Dana] Holgorsen and the rest of the core crowd. His teams win big despite dealing with high academic requirements… Stitt’s topic is the pistol offense and back-shoulder throws. As you’ll find out, Stitt is a huge believer in the back-shoulder throw. He talks about it the way Jared talks about Subway. “If this stuff works with our guys, it’ll probably work with the guys you have,” he says. “We’re an engineering school, and we only have one major, engineering. Our average ACT score in math is 29.” That line draws the biggest “Oooh!” of the day. . . .

The tricky part of Stitt’s tact — as is the case with many of the things discussed here — is that it’s hard to say just how well these things could be replicated someplace else. “I love coming to this because it reinforces a lot of what we do, ” one coach says. “Sometimes you might get one or two things you can try out from a technique or a practice point.” It’s also pretty good for networking because you never know what position might open a few months from now.

That was only a year and a half ago, but Stitt’s fame has grown considerably since then. He’s become famous in some circles for the Fly Sweep, a play brought to the national state when Holgorsen repeatedly used the Fly Sweep in the Orange Bowl eleven months ago. So what is the Fly Sweep?

On most plays, West Virginia has Geno Smith in shotgun in a fairly standard shotgun spread look. On the Fly Sweep, the Mountaineers would motion a wide receiver/running back, usually Tavon Austin, before the snap, and have him accelerate as he approached the quarterback. When well-executed, the snap would arrive in Smith’s hands for just a fraction of a second before he would pitch the ball forward to Austin, who would be arriving between the center and the quarterback just a second after the ball was snapped. Already in motion and with the ball in his hands, Austin would then be able to use his considerable speed and quickness to get in space and rack up yards against an unprepared defense.

Well, in the Orange Bowl, it was executed perfectly. For four touchdowns. Take a look:

One of the benefits of the play is that it is low risk: if the quarterback/sweep exchange is mishandled, it’s simply an incomplete pass because the quarterback is technically throwing the ball forwards. So why the post today? Well, last week, the Stitt Sweep (my post, I get to pick the name) entered the NFL. I’m not sure if Jay Gruden picked up the play from his time in the Arena Football League or the World Football League — or maybe from just watching last year’s Orange Bowl — but there’s no doubt where the inspiration came from the Bengals first touchdown of the game against the Cowboys. You can see Andy Dalton’s touchdown “pass” to Andrew Hawkins at the 40-second mark of this video.

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