Dylan Freechild has carved out a unique style in college ultimate with his give-and-go attacking mentality.
February 11, 2015 by Benyamin Elias in Analysis with 59 comments
Two years after winning the Callahan award, Dylan Freechild is entering his fifth year of college ultimate poised to make a run at the title with Oregon Ego. A skilled player across the board, Freechild is particularly well known for his lightning quick give-and-go moves and acceleration. Freechild’s handler cuts showcase superb offensive fakes and footwork, and it’s worth looking at how his sometimes unconventional style is countered and incorporated into team play.
Unconventional Strike Cuts
Freechild heavily prioritizes the upfield attack, often not even looking for around breaks. Included in his repertoire of upline moves are a few uncommon cuts that allow him to attack upfield space from a variety of angles.
Freechild isn’t afraid to make strike cuts from abnormally close to the thrower. Getting close to the thrower makes the conventional strike impossible, but opens up a more leading strike throw, as the defender will be unable to turn around quickly enough after Freechild blows by him.
The throw here is more difficult, especially on the sideline, but it is also more dangerous. Freechild sets this cut up by starting behind the handler, pushing his defender upfield, attacking towards the handler and attempting to blow by his defender. The defender is vulnerable to a sudden change of direction upfield because he has committed his momentum towards the sideline to stop the standard upline.
The length of this cut has implications for team offense (discussed below), as it could ordinarily run into poachers. A second camera angle makes the move clearer.
Sometimes he uses a half spin move in place of the above stutter step in an effort to get the half step advantage he needs.
Freechild also uses the stutter step in combination with his excellent elevator backhand to generate give-and-go moves.
Throwing the floaty elevator pass allows the disc to easily get over the face-guarding defender, but it also gives Freechild time to set up a strike cut. Pittsburgh’s Max Thorne does a great job of sprinting right out of the mark to cover the initial strike (clearly he knows who he’s guarding), but Freechild does a very convincing stutter step.
The close up reveals that Freechild uses his whole body, right down to his facial expression, to sell the fake and earn the strike. Coming out of the stutter step, Freechild changes the angle of his cut, making it ever-so-slightly more horizontal. Although Thorne is right on his hip for the initial move, the subtle change in direction makes it very difficult to stop the “new” upline angle, even though Thorne was well-positioned on the first angle.
Yet another unconventional cut, an upline or even horizontal cut to a very small window at the front of the endzone, demonstrates Freechild’s speed and footwork.
Freechild uses his footwork to first attack his defender’s outside shoulder with the threat of a 90° strike, then plant and attack a smaller space, 45° or less, on the inside shoulder. Even though the window for the throw is very small, the defender is too off balance to make an effective bid.
Although Freechild often uses this move to attack the endzone, it can be used anywhere on the field.
In this play it’s easier to see how Freechild first forces his defender to cover the longer upfield strike before quickly shifting to come to the inside for a shorter throw.
These unconventional moves, in concert with a high level of skill at more conventional techniques such as half pivot backhands, are one way in which Freechild is able to frequently attack upfield.
Strike-Around Give-And-Go Moves
Freechild does an extraordinary job of using strike-around cuts to generate give-and-gos. He’ll often fake a strike cut and earn an easy around, then immediately get rid of the disc and go strike again.
These moves work through no obvious fault of the defender. In the first example, Carleton’s Julian Childs-Walker flares out to take away the around continue to the break side, a common defensive technique. Doing so, however, allows Freechild to immediately take the upline again.
Even when Freechild does not gain an upline and is forced to take the around, his defender has had to move so much that there will often be other options available to him. A defender that has just had to cover three consecutive cuts, mark, and now has to mark again is likely to be slightly out of position, and Freechild uses this to take the I/O lane when it is available.
The fact that Freechild is so dangerous on give-and-go moves and strike cuts means that defenders start to give him free around cuts late in the game by playing significantly farther upfield.
It is simply too dangerous to allow Freechild to gain yards and power position. His acceleration and throws are too good, so giving him the relatively less threatening around (especially considering Oregon rarely throws around breaks for significant yardage) is preferable.
Implications For Team Offense
Teams that use a lot of give-and-gos need to adjust other aspects of their offense. Long strike cuts that gain lots of yards are wonderful, but not if they run into players in the stack or a poaching defender. Similarly, players need to be careful that cutters and handlers do not interfere with each other by attacking the same space.
Here Masahiro Matsuno attempts a give-and-go at the same time as a Buzz Bullets player makes an under cut to the same space, resulting in neither player getting the disc.
Oregon uses a particularly deep set stack to limit this kind of interference.
Oregon’s deep stack allows the handlers some freedom to run give-and-gos, in this instance culminating in an extremely long strike cut from Trevor Smith. Most teams would be scared of poachers, but defenders are much too far away to impact the play and Smith is able to get the disc right outside the endzone.
This stack also limits the incidence and negative impact of double cuts.
Although the handler and cutter are making their cuts at roughly the same time, the length of the under cut prevents the two from colliding. The cutter has ample time to adjust his angle and receive an easy throw.
Of course, a deep-set stack does not come without consequences; it is much more difficult to huck when your receivers are starting deep. When a stack is set deep, throws from a standstill have to travel faster to cover the same or more distance.
Even though Jacob Janin gets steps on his defender, Freechild has to attempt a laser to cover the distance, resulting in a throw that goes out of bounds.
Oregon gets around this problem by (mostly) taking their deep shots from movement. Often they will hit a cutter under, who then immediately turns and throws a huck.
This allows them to shorten the distance between the hucker and the receiver, resulting in higher percentage shots.
Another strategic concern is the risk of short field turnovers. Although the throws in give-and-gos are typically short and high percentage, the sheer number of them means that teams run the risk of short field turnovers. This risk is particularly apparent in poor weather conditions, as every throw and catch becomes slightly harder. Sockeye, a team that relies on quick movement, faced this during the 2013 Club Championships final.
Even if a sequence of give-and-gos carries the same chance of a turnover as a huck, the result of giving the opponent a short field is far more devastating. Rhino and Oregon combat this problem by using pull plays to advance up the field before running give-and-gos.
Rhino tends to use a side stack to get big yardage.
Once they have advanced up the field, Rhino starts to use give-and-go moves. Most frequently, this is to get the disc off the break sideline. In fact, they use this move about as frequently as they do conventional swings.
These throws are fast, easy, and can open up opportunities for strikes to power position or breaks past biting marks. If the mark bites to defend the strike give-and-go, the break side is left wide open. In the below example, the rapid disc movement results in two quick break side throws for a score.
The frequency with which Rhino uses these moves, as well as the consistency across the situations they are used in, suggests that Rhino has incorporated give-and-gos as part of a clearly defined reset system.
In contrast, Oregon begins from a simpler cutter initiated horizontal stack, often using Freechild as a first cut.
Once they have advanced down the field, Freechild will occasionally stay in the handler set to run a give-and-go before returning to cut. Oregon’s other handlers do use give-and-gos, but the team does not employ them as systematically as Rhino. Rather, Freechild is left free to run the unconventional plays he wants, sometimes taking priority over players that would normally be active.
Although this cut is not remarkable in itself, Freechild makes it from the second position away from the disc. Most teams run strike cuts from the nearest off handler, or at least let that handler make a cut before moving. In fact, Oregon does this as well; in this instance, Freechild simply sees an opportunity and takes it. Within the Oregon offense, Freechild is given license to attack as he sees fit.
Defending Freechild and Give-And-Go moves
Instances in which Freechild fails to get the give-and-go are not incredibly common, but they are instructive. One situation that deters the strike-around give-and-go is when Freechild’s defender doesn’t flare out very far to take away the around break. Because Freechild tends to prioritize strike and other upfield cuts over arounds, this could be an effective way to contain or potentially even stop him.
In the above clip, George Stubbs flares out only slightly, allowing him to stay close and make a play on the strike cut. Although this style of defense will not always bring the defender close enough to make a play, it does put them in a better position to take advantage of a slightly errant throw. Freechild usually gets open enough that the throw hardly matters, but here Stubbs is able to stop the missed throw because he maintains his positioning.
Another effective, but difficult, way to defend strike-around moves is switching. Having the mark drop to cover the strike cut can seamlessly prevent power position. When executed properly, switching on give-and-go moves is effective and looks effortless.
Switching requires extremely heads up defending, and is worth practicing to get right. Even top college and club teams make mistakes on switches, and the results of a blown switch can be devastating.
In the first example, Trent Dillon clearly calls and points for a switch and the Pitt marker fails to recognize. In the second example, Kurt Gibson’s defender switches but no one picks up Gibson, giving him big yardage and eventually a score. Although switches may be the most effective way to guard these moves when they work, a failed switch lets the offense run away with the disc.
Although Oregon has been near the top of the college Men’s Division for several years, they have historically struggled in key games due to a sub-optimal offense that struggles to move the disc off the sideline and effectively utilize Freechild. This was particularly clear against Pittsburgh in 2013 and Colorado in 2014, teams that were able to take advantage of Oregon’s inefficiencies.
Oregon frequently attempts to push the disc up the line, even beginning offensive points by swinging the disc to the force side.
They often swing the disc directly to the force sideline (a throw Ben Wiggins calls “the worst throw in Ultimate.”)
Sometimes they even do this with an ineffectual give-and-go.
Give-and-gos take advantage of out of position defenders to move the disc quickly and attack up the field. The above one just returns the disc to the force sideline with no yardage gain and a mark that is already in position.
Throwing into small windows against a sideline is difficult, and a number of Oregon’s turns result from their tendency to stay close to the force sideline.
Other turnovers expose some of Freechild’s, and Oregon’s, weaknesses. Although Freechild is an excellent player, he isn’t really known for his around backhands. He will sometimes attempt to swing using scoobers or high release backhands, throws that carry inherently higher risk despite his skill.
Pitt is clearly aware of his tendency, as Trent Dillon readily shifts to a hard no-around mark, putting even more pressure on Freechild’s swings. This pays off in the form of higher stall counts and short-field turnovers.
In addition to difficulty using advantageous resets, Oregon sometimes tries to force throws to Freechild. In the 2014 College Championships semifinal against Colorado Mamabird, three of Oregon’s first four turns come on throws to Freechild. The first turn, shown earlier, demonstrates the tendency to stick to the force sideline. The other two are shown below.
Although it is hard to see the cutters, both hucks are throws that need to quickly travel a large distance due to Oregon’s deep stack, resulting in the disc hanging for the Colorado defenders. Certainly Stanley Peterson is forced to make a SportsCenter Top 10 play in the second example, but the throw is a still a long, floating, same-third huck from the sideline.
Rather than fully utilizing Dylan Freechild’s superior quickness and give-and-go prowess, Oregon forces throws to him and traps him on the sideline. When faced with teams of equal or higher average skill, their system is inconsistent and turnover-heavy. Opponents can further pressure Oregon, and Freechild, by setting more no-around marks and making swings even more difficult.
Freechild uses stutter steps, excellent footwork, and unconventional cuts to attack upfield whenever possible. He particularly likes strike-around give-and-go moves, which are dangerous because they can result in power position even against strong defense if that defense prioritizes the stopping the around.
Of course, these moves require offensive trade-offs to prevent poaches and allow handlers room to maneuver; Oregon and Rhino set deeper stacks and use pull plays for these reasons. Despite that structure, Oregon can get into trouble because they fail to effectively move the disc off the sideline and use Freechild in big games. At a smaller level, individual players can attempt to prevent give-and-gos by biting less on arounds and running smooth switches.