The next college football debate is now officially on with with pace of play and the hurry-up offense a major topic of discussion at this week's SEC Media Days.
Coaches such as Alabama’s Nick Saban and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema have questioned the hurry-up style of play. On the other side of the fence are coaches such as Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Hugh Freeze from Ole Miss.
Both Malzahn and Freeze have been using the offense as a staple since they got into the college game and it has become a common sight throughout college football. The issue at hand for coaches that don’t like it is that it creates fatigue on a defense and in return that could lead to injury. For Malzahn that’s just laughable and rightly so.
“When I first heard that, to be honest with you, I thought it was a joke," Malzahn said on Wednesday. “As far as health or safety issues, that's like saying the defense shouldn't blitz after a first down because they're a little fatigue and there's liable to be a big collision in the backfield.
"If you're going to look at rule changes, officials, we need to look at the guys on defense that are faking injuries to slow down these pace teams. That's where college football's going. You see more and more teams using pace. I think you'll see it more and more at the next level also.”
Bielema responded to Malzahn’s thoughts with some thoughts of his own. Coming from a conference and running a program that is still built around the power running game, the new Arkansas boss said that he believes it comes down to safety.
“All I know is this: there are times when an offensive player and a defensive player are on the field for an extended amount of time without a break,” Bielema said. “You cannot tell me that a player after play five is the same player that he is after play 15. If that exposes him to a risk of injury, then that's my fault. I can't do anything about it because the rules do not allow me to substitute a player in whether I'm on offense or defense.”
However, you see that’s not entirely true. Bielema and any coach in the country is allowed to substitute on every play provided they have guys ready to get on the field. There is no rule that states teams can’t make substitutions. This is about much more than player safety, it’s about competition.
The problem that coaches have with the no-huddle offense is that it keeps them from substituting based on offensive personnel and leaves them exposed at times. In the end that’s where the trouble lies.
A punishing running attack that has been relentless on opponents, Wisconsin ran 926 plays last season in 14 games with 635 of those plays on the ground. No matter if you rest a few seconds between plays or not, I would say by the end of the game guys are going to be tired on both sides of the ball starters or not. That’s how the game is played when you play physical football.
Compare those numbers to what Auburn accomplished in 2010. On the way to the BCS National Championship the Tigers ran 948 total offensive plays under Malzahn’s guidance.
When you average it out that’s less than two extra plays per game facing Auburn’s offense vs. Wisconsin. I would even argue that with a fullback slamming into you over and over again that Wisconsin’s offensive style and similar styles may be more dangerous than chasing an offense running sideline to sideline for an entire game.
Just ask Indiana. Last year the Badgers beat Indiana 62-14 and ran 71 offensive plays. Of those 64 came on the ground. Think the Hoosiers weren’t tired and beaten down after a game like that? Of course they were. That’s what happens when you can’t stop an opponent. Starter, reserve, doesn't matter. Football is a game of stamina whether it comes in the form a an up-tempo offense or someone trying to drive it down your throat each and every play.
Last season Saban complained following a 33-14 win over Ole Miss and asked if this (hurry-up) is what we wanted football to become? That came because his team allowed two touchdown drives over 13 plays each against the no-huddle Rebels.
What gets lost in translation is that Ole Miss had just 238 yards of total offense and six three-and-outs in the contest and ran just four more plays than Alabama in the game.
The message is a pretty simple one for Bielema, Saban and coaches that want to outlaw the hurry-up offense. If there is no first down there is no pace. End of story.
Premium Subscription Signup
Order the 2013 Inside the Auburn Football Tigers Guide