No-huddle, hurry-up offenses are sexy in the Pac-12 and Big 12, but we don’t see them too much in the SEC. It’s a big difference in the characteristics of the league and in clock management. Teams have to factor in time of possession, largely credited to a strong running game and key third-down conversions. Defenses are so strong that coaches can attempt to play a more conservative offensive game than other leagues. It’s not a knock other leagues or the SEC; it’s just the reality. It’s Old Man Football.
It just so happens that the commander and chief of the top defense in the country, Nick Saban, certainly doesn’t like no-huddle offenses, because of the risk of injury, he says.
“I think that the way people are going no-huddle right now, that at some point in time, we should look at how fast we allow the game to go in terms of player safety,” Saban said Wednesday on the SEC teleconference. “The team gets in the same formation group. You can’t substitute defensive players. You go on a 14-, 16- or 18-play drive and they’re snapping the ball as fast as you can go, and you look out there and all your players are walking around and can’t even get lined up. That’s when guys have a much greater chance of getting hurt … when they’re not ready to play. I think that’s something that can be looked at. It’s obviously created a tremendous advantage for the offense when teams are scoring 70 points and we’re averaging 49.5 points a game. More and more people are going to do it.”
Saban made those statements after the Tide’s toughest game early in the season against Ole Miss, who runs as many plays as they can per game. The Rebels didn’t exactly give the Tide fits, but they showed that a hurry-up offense could move the ball against the defense that can’t sub in players after every play.
We saw Alabama roll right through the first nine weeks like a bat outta hell. They looked untouchable, with the gap widening by the minute. The Tide had outscored their opponents 325 to 82 before their heroic escape against LSU in Death Valley. The very next week, of course, Bama lost to Texas A&M in Tuscaloosa.
So, what did LSU and Texas A&M do on offense that made Alabama look mortal?
LSU added a no-huddle wrinkle, something they hadn’t shown at any time during the year. It got Zach Mettenberger into a comfort zone and let him settle into the game from the opening possession. The Tigers ran 86 total plays against the Tide, and it had a big effect on the defensive stamina for the Tide in the second half.
A week later, the Aggies’ no-huddle, up-tempo offense gave Alabama fits. It probably had more to do with Johnny Manziel making plays, too, but the hurry up was effective enough to catapult the Aggies to the 20-0 lead in the first quarter. The Aggies ran 78 plays.
Of course, both games involved a quarterback that could throw it downfield with favorable matchups against the Tide’s secondary.
Bama’s opponents have averaged right at 60 plays per game on offense. LSU ran 26 more plays than the average, and Texas A&M ran 18 more plays.
Georgia will have to play with the lead on Saturday, and it’s important they get out to a great start in the first half. We saw Georgia come out against Georgia Tech with a little different wrinkle and a-hurry up offense against Tech for the first drive. Foreshadowing to what we’ll see Saturday? I think so.
“We can go very fast, relatively fast or we can be at the line of scrimmage for a long time,” Mark Richt said when asked if Murray has become increasingly comfortable in a fast-pace offense. “We have three different tempos we use. We’re not like the Oregons of the world, where just about every single play we’re going at break-neck speed. But we can go at a pretty good pace.”
Georgia’s offense averages right at 66 plays per game, and they’ll need to run a few more and ultimately get to around 75 against the Tide’s defense. It gives Georgia their best shot, because if teams line up and try to play Old Man Football against Bama, it usually doesn’t end well.
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