Scoring is up as offenses rely on no-huddle to tire defenses
TribLIVE Sports Videos
An increasing number of college football teams are using the fast-paced, no-huddle offense so effectively that the game's richest and most powerful coach stamped his seal of disapproval on the practice. It's officially now a trend.
“Is that what we want football to be?” groused Nick Saban, whose Alabama team is unbeaten and ranked No. 1 after winning last year's national championship.
Actually, yes, was the general response.
“Everybody's just playing by the rules right now,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin told reporters.
Saban's ire was raised by West Virginia's 70-63 win over Baylor and other basketball-like scores that are becoming the norm.
FBS teams are on a record scoring pace, averaging 30.1 points a game, 1.7 more than the mark set in 2007.
In addition to the no-huddle, the just-as-popular spread offense is a big part of that.
Saban said the speed of the game fueled by the no-huddle is a concern “in terms of player safety” because the inability to substitute on defense creates long, taxing drives.
“Players are walking around and can't even get lined up,” he said.
But until defenses adjust, as they invariably will, the no-huddle remains en vogue. Because it works.
Saban is right; it does make players more tired, especially when offenses like Oregon's try to squeeze a play off every few seconds.
And it's not just teams that like to spread the field; more conservative coaches are adopting the no-huddle, too. Like first-year Penn State coach Bill O'Brien, whose last job was offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, a noted no-huddle practitioner.
In their 39-28 win over Northwestern last week, the Nittany Lions ran an astounding 99 plays (the FBS average is 71.7, also an all-time high). One reason for so many plays was Northwestern's tissue-paper defense, but another was O'Brien's no-huddle, which he terms the NASCAR offense.
“It was effective,” the understated O'Brien said afterward.
Meanwhile, complaints from a coach who makes more than $5 million a year and runs college football's top program inspired enthusiastic rejoinders from some of his peers on conference calls with reporters.
“I think it's great for the game,” said Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, who has studied and admires Oregon's supersonic attack.
Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze described the no-huddle to the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger as an “equalizer,” and this was after Alabama beat his Rebels, 33-14.
But it was a moral victory of sorts (and a shout-out to the no-huddle) because the Tide's top-ranked defense is allowing just seven points a game.
“Hardly anyone huddles anymore,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “People are playing at a much faster tempo. They're getting more snaps, which creates fatigue for the defense, which now creates poor angles to the ball, which affects how you tackle. So you're seeing more explosive plays.”
Origin of no-huddle
The no-huddle gradually has spread over time, its evolution hastened by the likes of Oregon and others. But its origin is up for debate. Legendary Oklahoma coach Bud Wilkinson got some credit for starting it with his “Go-Go” offense of the mid-1950s, but later he said the Sooners did, in fact, huddle, although very quickly.
Pepper Rodgers, who coached several college teams and enjoyed trying new things, said he “dabbled” with the no-huddle as early as 1970, when his Kansas squad used it against Colorado. In 1977 at Georgia Tech, Rodgers used it as his staple.
“The fact of the matter is that I got bored easily so I needed a new toy,” he said in a telephone interview. “We never huddled. We'd line up, and I would send in a tight end and he would go up to the quarterback and tell him the play, and the quarterback would call the play with a signal, like they do today.
“The purpose was to get the defense not be able to substitute, and to tire the defense out. They always had to be in the defensive stance. They had no idea.”
As an Iowa State assistant, Jackie Sherrill said he recalls playing a San Diego State team coached by legendary offensive innovator Don Coryell using the no-huddle in the early 1970s. Later, as head coach at Pitt, Sherrill said he had quarterback Dan Marino run it.
“We called it from the sideline, and Danny did everything else,” Sherrill said. “We did a lot of on-the-ball stuff. But it wasn't like today, not as fast. Today they want to run a play every eight seconds.
“People think that things today are things we just generated. That's not true. It's the variations that are generated. But I don't care who you are, if you don't have the people you're not gonna be successful.”
Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7810.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Crosby scores twice, Malkin delivers OT goal as Penguins beat Blues
- Friends, family, history lure natives back to Western Pennsylvania
- Steelers veteran linebacker Harrison focused on stretch run
- Penguins co-owner Lemieux snuffs rumored rift with Crosby
- Steelers notebook: Tomlin ends practice with third-down work
- Year’s worth of rain floods Qatar
- Artis leads Pitt to lopsided victory over Cornell
- Signs of steady U.S. economy: Pay, home sales up, unemployment applications down
- Puppies’ eyes glued shut, South Huntingdon animal shelter says
- Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra offers own tradition with ‘Waltz’
- Emotional send-off awaits Pitt seniors