FOOTBALL: New technology makes preparation for Southwest Missouris St. a breeze

Keith Farner

Sitting in a darkened office, head football coach Jack Harbaugh holds the key to unlocking opposing defenses.

He clicks back and forth on the remote and studies the screen. On it is a running play Western tried against Western Illinois. Harbaugh studies the play like an old man breaking down a crossword puzzle.

“I enjoy film study and preparation every bit as much as actual games,” he said. “It’s fun to find ways to exploit certain defenses.”

But this year Harbaugh has found it easier. The week Western played Kentucky State, a state-of-the art digital film program was installed in the laptops of defensive coordinator David Elson and co-offensive coordinator Willie Taggart. It’s a luxury many programs don’t have.

“We’re ahead of the game in that respect,” Elson said. “We can take (the laptops) on the road and present them to our players.”

It allows Western’s coaches to take game and practice film and cut it up with the ease of a Ginsu slicing through a tomato.

And it’s light years ahead of the celluloid form of film Harbaugh remembers when he started coaching.

“I’ve been coaching for 41 years, and that’s been one of the constants,” Harbaugh said. “It’s the lifeblood of a coaching staff.”

XOS Technologies, based in Orlando, Fla., makes the football software along with programs for basketball, baseball, hockey and Olympic sports.

Western heard of the company from Tom Crean, Harbaugh’s son-in-law and men’s basketball coach at Marquette.

What sets the program apart from older versions of film study is its details. Specific formations, downs, distance and successful plays are all revealed.

The program has already produced results. Against Northern Iowa, the Topper defense capitalized on the discovery of the UNI offense’s tendencies.

“We knew when they were in the shotgun, based on which way they set their backs, whether it was a run or a pass,” Elson said. “And I think our players were in tune to that.”

Junior linebacker Erik Dandy agreed.

“In that game, 85 to 90 percent of the time they got in that formation we were right,” said Dandy, who watches film six days a week.

Last week, Dandy and Elson sat down to see if they could find a common denominator to Dandy’s missed tackles. Within a couple of mouse clicks, Elson brought up every tackle Dandy missed from every game he’s played this season.

This week, Harbaugh has found similarities between Saturday’s opponent, Southwest Missouri State, and Western Illinois and McNeese State, two teams that beat the Toppers.

SMS (3-4, 0-3 Gateway) comes home after two conference road losses.

In the Bears’ four losses this season, they have eight turnovers.

Harbaugh said a team like that is dangerous because it could easily be at the top of the standings.

“They do things so well,” Harbaugh said. “They just turn the ball over at the most inopportune times.”

Turnovers haven’t cost the Toppers points, which is a big reason they’ve won the past two games.

Although they’ve coughed it up six times in those games, the opponent only scored a touchdown once.

A concern could be the laundry list of injuries hampering Western. Seven players, including three tight ends, have missed significant time the last couple of weeks. But the coach isn’t worried.

“If you sit around and lament, it doesn’t help you,” Harbaugh said.

But he will sit back tonight and tomorrow – perhaps in that darkened office – to see how many doors to the Bears defense he can unlock.

If he’s successful, the Toppers could make it three wins in a row Saturday. Kickoff is at 1:30 p.m. in Springfield, Mo.

Harbaugh disappointed in crowd Saturday

Harbaugh’s film study from last week’s 56-7 win over FIU revealed a lot of good things. But one thing he found bothered him: attendance.

The crowd of 6,000 was the lowest in four home games this season. Harbaugh said he expected a bigger turnout.

“I saw it coming early in the week, there was no interest, no enthusiasm,” Harbaugh said.

Reach Keith Farner at [email protected]