Utah Global, Athletics

Getting to Know American Football Part I: Important Vocabulary

Group of students smile in their Utah shirts at orientation.

In the United States, American football games are commonly a significant part of the college experience. As an international student, you may find this sport confusing initially. Therefore, we have a “cheat sheet” to prepare you for attending your first American football game.

What Is American Football?

American football is a team sport where two teams of eleven players each compete on the playing field with goalposts on each end. The field is rectangular and is 120 yards (360 feet) in length and 160 feet in width. The positioning of the team depends on whether they are playing offense or defense. The offense is the team that controls the ball to score points. Whereas, the defense is the team trying to stop the offense from scoring.

Important Football Vocabulary

  • Touchdown – a scoring event worth six points. It can be obtained when:
    • The player holding the ball crosses the opponent’s goal line.
    • The ball is caught by an offensive player in the opponent’s endzone.
    • A defensive player obtains the loose ball (also called a “turnover”) and scores in the opponent’s end zone.
  • Sack – when a defensive player tackles the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage while the quarterback is still holding the ball.
  • Kickoff – a kick that cannot be blocked by the receiving team. It puts the ball into play during the start of the first and third quarter, and after every touchdown and field goal.
  • Line of Scrimmage – an imaginary line where the football is placed. Neither team cancross this line until the ball has been put in play.
  • Downs – given to each team when they have their turn being on offense. The offense has four attempts, or “downs,” to try to advance the ball ten yards. If the defense stops the offense from moving the ball ten yards during those downs, the defense receives the ball and becomes the offense.
  • Interception – a pass caught by the team on defense (instead of the offense), hence, ending the offense’s possession of the ball.
  • Penalty flag – thrown by the referee officials when a team member breaks a football rule. Penalties usually incur negative yardage, which means the team who broke the rule must move backwards.
  • Extra Point – one point that a team attempts to get after scoring a touchdown. The ball is placed at the 3-yard line and is placed on the ground by the holder, then kicked by a kicker. It must be kicked within the goalposts to count for the extra point.
  • Field Goal – a kick worth three points that is attempted from anywhere on the field within the kicker’s range of distance and accuracy. Similar to an extra point, it must be kicked within the goalposts to count.
  • Safety – a two-point score earned by the defense when tackling an offensive player in possession of the ball in his own endzone.
  • Special teams – essentially the 22 players on the field during kicks and punts.


Now you’re ready for your first American Football game! Check out the Football schedule here!

Coming soon: Getting to Know American Football: Player Positions! Subscribe to our blog to make sure you don’t miss Part 2!