Sentiment against the no-huddle offense may be growing in the Southeast, but its proponents in the West came to the style’s defense at last week’s Pac-12 media day.
Current dean of college football and Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban set the narrative, last season asking rhetorically if this style is “what we want the game to be.”
Saban and new Arkansas Razorbacks head coach Bret Bielema upped the ante this off-season when they said the no-huddle presented safety concerns.
Arizona State Todd Graham called the suggestion of injury risk “crazy.” He said “that’s what I think” when asked if critics’ motivations were strategic.
“There’s no safety issue,” he said. “It’s just hard to defend.”
Graham’s ASU team was an example of just how hard the no-huddle offense is to defend. The Sun Devils were the nation’s No. 14 scoring offense, posting 38.4 points per game.
ASU ran 1011 plays in 13 games, nearly 78 snaps an outing.
Graham’s defense of uptempo offense comes from a defensive place. His background is on the defensive side of the ball, where he was coordinator at West Virginia and Tulsa before taking on his first head coaching position.
But as a coach with a defensive background, he identifies himself through his offensive philosophy.
“I’m a no-huddle guy,” Graham said. “I’ve been a no-huddle coach since 1994.”
Like-minded coaches are changing the landscape of the SEC. Gus Malzahn and Butch Jones hope to have success similar to that Hugh Freeze had running an uptempo style at Ole Miss. New Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops brought on uptempo offensive coordinator Neal Brown.
Kevin Sumlin set the benchmark for no-huddle offenses in the SEC. His Texas A&M team was the only to beat Saban’s Crimson Tide in 2012. Hurry-up systems are infiltrating the league, and will continue to so long as coaches see promise in its potential.
Rather than lament and fight the trend, Bielema and Saban can look to where such systems are most prevalent.
In the Pac-12 Conference, no-huddle offenses are the norm. Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, UCLA and Washington State all ran unique variations of the spread offense and pushed the tempo.
The Pac-12 was home to six of the nation’s top 40 scoring offenses in 2012. The only conference with more was the Big 12, another have for no-huddles. And the no-huddle’s reach will further expand through the Pac-12 in 2013.
Cal’s hire of Sonny Dykes promises the advent of the Bear Raid. Utah brought on Dennis Erickson to help Brian Johnson coordinate the offense, and the Utes feature a quarterback suited to the hurry-up style. Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian has also implemented a no-huddle at Washington.
Sarkisian said that improved defense of the no-huddle is a point of emphasis for his team in 2013. As a coach working to prepare his team for plenty of uptempo opponents, Sarkisian had some simple advice for opponents of the no-huddle.
“They have 85 guys on scholarship. Play them,” he said.
Rich Rodriguez brought his version of the hurry-up to Arizona last season, leading the Wildcats to a 38.2 point per game average. As prolific as UA’s offense was, an injury plagued defense gave up points at a comparable pace.
UA had one of the most thin defensive rosters in the nation. Going deep into the reserves was not an option for the Wildcats, forcing starters like linebacker Jake Fischer to regularly play 80 snaps per game.
He said being properly prepared for the no-huddle offense conditioned him for facing it in game situations.
“It’s different for me, because we practice against it everyday,” Fischer said. “Maybe teams from the SEC that like to play a more downhill running style, I can see how that would be a problem because guys get tired.”
Of course, being a traditional offensive team playing defenses accustomed to opposing hurry-up squads has its advantages.
“When we play against teams like Stanford that huddle, we get antsy,” Fischer explained.
Stanford is the reigning Pac-12 champion. The Cardinal sewed up its divisional title by grinding down the conference’s pace setter, Oregon, to just 14 points. Stanford then punched its ticket to the Rose Bowl by holding Pac-12 South champion and hurry-up offensive team UCLA 10 points below its season average.
Stanford’s success playing an old school style is the mirror opposite what’s happening in the SEC.
Cardinal head coach David Shaw and defensive coordinator Derek Mason developed a blueprint for slowing down its conference counterparts, particularly Oregon, in much the same way SEC teams are adopting the hurry-up to oppose Alabama.