Inside this Week’s SI: To Huddle or Not?Posted: August 14, 2013
Scan the channels on any given Saturday, and you’ll see coaches everywhere ditching the huddle in favor of a field-stretching speed game—except for the guys wearing the national championship rings, writes Andy Staples in this week’s SI.
Up-tempo, no-huddle offenses are on the rise (the average number of offensive plays in a game jumped to 71.5 in 2012 (in 2008 the FBS average was 67.7), and nearly every team on the top of the NCAA total offense stats in 2012 uses this type of offense. Staples notes that Clemson, Oklahoma State and Oregon—teams with offenses that never stop moving—each averaged more than 512 yards per game last season. And more teams this year will look to speed up their tempo, including Texas, Kentucky and Auburn.
Why use the no-huddle offense? Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, who won the Big 12 and came within a field goal of playing for the national title in 2011 using the hurry-up style, has two reasons. “We think we can stretch a defense,” Gundy says. The other reason is more practical. In a section of the country where hurry-up spread schemes reign at the high school level, Gundy believes the best players want to play in an up-tempo offense. “We feel that young men who are in high school who have an opportunity to touch the football, have an opportunity to be part of an offense, want to play in that style,” Gundy says. “They look forward to it. We thought years ago, when we made a change, that there was a benefit in recruiting in this part of the country.” (PAGES 71-72)
However, while more teams are attempting to speed up their offense with a no-huddle, none of them have won a recent championship. Staples says, “On the flip side Florida won national titles in ’06 and ’08 by milking the play clock . . . . The ’08 Gators should have been called the Tortoises; they averaged 62.4 plays, 5.3 below the national average. Meanwhile, Alabama has won three of the past four BCS titles by huddling most of the time and averaging 64 to 68 plays.” (PAGE 72) Alabama coach Nick Saban and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema have even argued that hurry-up offenses represent a safety hazard since more plays create more potential hits and more fatigue, which lead to injuries.
Another potential problem with a no-huddle offense is that most people think it can adversely affect a team’s defense. Staples notes that the defenses playing for the top 10 teams in total offense in 2012 allowed an average of 447.4 yards a game. But since the defense on a team that uses an up-tempo offense usually faces more plays a game on defense, Staples says we must throw out old numbers when looking at the statistics of the defense of a no-huddle team. Using advanced statistics developed by Bill Connelly that provide more accurate comparisons of teams running disparate schemes, Staples finds that the Oklahoma State defense that ranked 80th in total defense last year should have been ranked No. 12 and Oregon’s defense, which ranked 44th in yards allowed last year should have been No. 2.
So which style is the way to go? “In the end, varying tempo may be the best method,” says Staples. “The kind of no-huddle that bothers me,” TCU coach Gary Patterson says, “is the one that doesn’t do it every snap . . . . It’s still about finding a way to score one more point. . . . The thing that people need to realize is that you’ve got to find some way to do something no one else knows how to do. Or if they do know, you’re just doing it better.” (PAGE 75)