No, you did not imagine it. Several quarterback-center exchanges were less than a snap in the first college football weekend.
In the more high-profile cases, Florida, North Carolina, Oregon State and Virginia Tech all cost themselves thanks to bad snaps. In the case of the Beavers, a miscommunication with the center and new quarterback Ryan Katz cost the team a safety on what could have been the game-tying drive late in their 30-21 loss to TCU.
The Tar Heels lost one fumble on a bad snap early in the game, and also gave up a safety because of another. The Gators had a new center and new quarterback playing. They lost one fumble early in the game because Mike Pouncey snapped the ball into the ground. In all, there were 13 bad snaps -- five that Brantley missed. The Hokies had a bad snap on the second play of the game and lost the fumble, leading to a field goal for Boise State.
One of the root causes for the problems seems to be the shotgun snap, and the cat-and-mouse game the offense and defense play in those formations.
“It’s become an issue,” said Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit, whose team had a bad shotgun snap Saturday that Michigan State converted into a touchdown. “If I could, we’d be underneath the center but with the defenses today, you’d like to give your quarterback a little bit more room, but then you create the double edged sword.
“What’s happening is I think all of us are trying to be cute. Now everybody is faking the signal to snap to the center. Sometimes the center doesn’t see that, he sees a foot movement, the quarterback out there he may be checking to his wideouts, the center doesn’t know that and snaps it.”
The shotgun snaps also become an issue in loud stadiums, where teams have to rely on a silent snap count. “That’s where I think the issue is, all the silent counts now," Culbit said. "The center’s checking back there, what’s the signal to snap the ball? All the while nobody on the defense is moving. It’s a long process and it’s a little bit intricate.”
Pouncey took full responsibility for his botched snaps Saturday against Miami (Ohio), but Redhawks coach Mike Haywood had a front-row seat to all the problems the Gators had. He said his defensive tackle, Austin Brown, played a role in wreaking havoc.
“It’s really important that you understand Austin Brown is an undersized guy going up against a guy the size of Pouncey,” Haywood said. “His initial quickness and his tenacity caused him a problem because Pouncey didn’t expect a guy as quick as Austin Brown on him. When you try to change up head counts with one bob or two bobs and try to do different things to slow down the defensive line it sometimes because a problem.”
Shotgun snaps aren’t easy, of course. They take timing and precision, considering the quarterback is lined up 5 yards behind the center. Air Force offensive line coach Clay Hendrix said his team practices shotgun snaps every day before practice, even though the Falcons do not rely on the formation for their base offense.
Absolute precision is the key in their offense because they do run a lot of the option. Hendrix doesn’t want his quarterback getting the ball too far to the right when he has to go to his left. He wants the shotgun snap to become second nature.
“On certain plays, you have to be dead on as far as the snap goes,” he said. “If you don’t, it’s going to screw everything up.”
He also cited more responsibility on the center as another key factor when snaps go wrong.
“I know a lot of people particularly in the passing game are asking the center to make decisions from a protection standpoint,” he said. “Now he’s caught up -- are we protecting right? Protecting left? and Oh by the way, I have to snap it. In the gun, the snap’s going 5 yards backward -- you have a lot more opportunity to mess it up than when he’s under center.”
Perhaps some of the problems can be attributed to first week jitters. Though the Gators were under center more than they ever were when Tim Tebow was there, Gators coach Urban Meyer says the team will continue to line up in the shotgun. "We are going to correct that issue," Meyer said.
We’ll see whether teams have made improvements this week.