Publish date:

Explosive plays, turnovers and the kicking game: How Tom Herman approaches game management

Over his last five seasons, Tom Herman has lost four games. He only officially gets credit for his one 13-1 season as head coach at Houston and not his 38-3 three-year run as Urban Meyer's offensive coordinator at Ohio State, but, still the man has an intimate understanding of winning in a way Donald Trump can only dream of.

In a recent appearance on Podcast Ain't Played Nobody on SB Nation, Herman explained the goals he takes with him into each game day. Let's break them down.

"If you win the turnover battle and the explosive play battle in the same game, you win that game 98 percent of the time, Herman said. "Now, can you win it with only winning one and losing one? Sure. But if you lose both of them, you only win two percent of the games that you play."

Herman learned this from Mack Brown, whom he GA'd for at Texas in 1999-00. As a lowly peon in the sports information office, one my jobs was to transcribe each Mack press conference. For three years. I couldn't tell you the number of times I heard him reference the fact Texas was 59-1 -- or whatever the number happened to be -- when winning explosive plays and turnovers.

"We only have four goals on our plan to win, and none of them have a numerical value to them," Herman said. "The first is: play great defense. And that is everybody on the team. The offense, your job is to go out and take the ball, protect the football and make two first downs. We'll jog out the best punt team in America, we'll punt it 44 yard net punt, we'll jog out the best defense in America, hold them to 3-and-out, flip the field and we'll go do it again. You can't win championships without playing great defense."

Herman approaches each game like a golfer playing a major. A par is a good thing simply because it means a bad thing didn't happen. The same is true with punting.

Herman continued: "The next is: win the turnover battle. If you win the turnover battle, you're going to win more than you lose. Quite a bit more than you lose."

The top 10 teams in turnover margin combined to go 102-32 last season. Seven of those teams won or tied for their conference or division titles. Eight won at least 10 games. Nine finished with winning records. (The outlier was, incidentally, Texas).

Included in that group was Herman's 13-1 Cougars. The one loss came at Connecticut, where Houston suffered a 4-0 turnover apocalypse. They lost the game 20-17.

"The third metric we always look at is score and touchdowns in the red zone. We don't kick field goals, we go for it in the red zone a bunch because the stats will tell you that the chance to get seven is worth the reward of (the guarantee) of just three. Especially when you've got a good defense," Herman said.

Houston went 13-of-26 on fourth down last season, which ranked among the top 25 nationally for fourth down attempts. When considering the average college kicker would convert around 80 percent of his tries from 37 yards (red zone territory) and in, a 50 percent shot at seven points is still worth more points at two 80 percent shots at three points.

"The (fourth) is tough to quantify but we just say: win the kicking game. We need to be dominant in the field position battle."

So, of Herman's four goals, three of them are conservative -- or at least non-aggressive -- in nature: play great defense, don't turn it over and win the kicking game. That's a bit more Jim Tressel-like than you'd expect, isn't it? And then the fourth is a position Tressel would never advocate, but is moving more from the new school of thought to the mainstream every day -- to pursue touchdowns over field goals, even if it means you have to endure some turnovers on downs.

Listen for yourself below. (Begin around the 17:30 mark.)