Ride the HUNHcycle

I’m enjoying the debate here about the proposed substitution rule change, particularly the part about whether hurry up no huddle is just one of those cyclical developments that come along to which defenses eventually adjust, or if it’s something more apocalyptic than that.  Count me in the former camp; one reason for that is that pace-based attacks aren’t exactly a new development, although it may feel like that in the SEC.  We’ve got a head coach who was an innovator in that regard when he was the offensive coordinator at FSU.  He brought HUNH to Athens, the conference shut that down, but that only lasted for a few years.  And nationally, that’s not a unique experience, either.

Since 2003 there have been 80 teams to average 80 plays per game, but 38 of those teams recorded that season average in the last two years.

The Big 12 and Pac 12 have led the way with teams averaging 80 plays per game. Since 2003, each conference has seen 15 teams hit that average, which means it is much more than just Oregon and Texas Tech.

That’s only happened twice in the SEC over that time, with TAMU, to no surprise, being one.

But here’s the thing – running a HUNH offense isn’t a surefire guarantee of championships.  Not even close.

None of the BCS champions since 2003 averaged over 80 yards per game. Only one Big 12 champion passed that mark (2010 Oklahoma). No Pac 12 champion has done it. The same can be said about the ACC, SEC and Big Ten.

What it is, though, is an equalizer.  At the right time and place, it gives a lesser program a puncher’s chance to upset a powerhouse.  And that’s what’s got Nick Saban’s panties in a wad.  Some years, like 2012, Alabama can survive losing to a pace-based offense and still win a title.  Some years, like 2013, it can’t.  The problem as Saban sees it is that as more offenses adopt HUNH attacks, the greater the risk that his team will suffer an upset along the way.

This isn’t about the end of football as we know it.  It’s about Saban having enough control over how a game is played so that he can maximize his personnel advantages consistently.

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UPDATE:  On a related point, per Emerson,

What’s going to kill this proposal, if it is killed, is the perception that it was passed behind closed doors and without enough debate. Reports are that at the AFCA convention in January it was debated, but Jeremy Fowler of CBSsports.com reported it was “50-50″ on whether it was a good idea. But the idea that certain coaches, including Nick Saban and Bret Bielema, were allowed to lobby the committee when it met a month later, rubs a lot of people the wrong way.

Between that and clothing the proposal as a safety measure, as I wrote the other day, the whole thing comes off as hasty and half-assed.  If this is really a debate over tactics and strategy, then argue about tactics and strategy openly.  At this point, what do coaches like Bielema and Saban have to lose?  It’s not as if they’re fooling anyone as to their motives.

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UPDATE #2:  Shorter Cecil Hurt:  poor, poor, pitiful Nick.

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38 Comments

Filed under Strategery And Mechanics

38 responses to “Ride the HUNHcycle

  1. gastr1

    Same as it ever was. Has Saban been working on getting rid of scholarship limits too so he can keep all the players from going anywhere else? Like they say, when in Bear Bryant Town, do as the Bear Bryants do.

  2. SouthGaDawg

    Here is Saban’s strategy – He doesn’t care about what football will look like 10 years from now. He is in it for the moment – the next 2 years. He has recruited for “his” style, not HUNH. Saban is all about the next 2 years at Alabama. It’s a sad state of affairs when someone has this strong of a bully pulpit.

  3. TennesseeDawg

    Funny, we used to play college football back in the 70′s, 80′s and 90′s without constant rule changes

    • Bright Idea

      If this were the rule in 13 the Auburn tip drill fiasco would not have happened. The game would have been over at the end of the 3rd qtr.

  4. sniffer

    It seems to me that the NCAA Rules Committee is running this up the pole to see who salutes. I think they’ll vote according to whichever way the wind is blowing. Attendence is down at stadiums and a fast paced, high scoring game is better viewing for a tv audience. If butts aren’t in the seats, eyeballs on tv still fills the cophers.

    • DawgByte

      Arduously slow penalty reviews, long/frequent television timeouts and moronic rules changes (recent targeting penalty) are hurting football. One of the primary reasons I stopped watching the NFL was because of all the commercials – ridiculous!

      I’m a fan of the HUNH, because it increases the number of plays and keeps the game flowing. I’m for rules that help keep the game moving along.

      Two weeks ago I went to Croke Park in Dublin to see Kerry play Dublin in Gaelic football. I was blown away by the pace of the game. Penalties were resolved inside of 10 seconds and most within a couple of seconds. It was all about action, action, action.

  5. Krautdawg

    Senator, it might be more than an equalizer in Saban’s eyes. It was one thing when Kentucky was running 80 bubble screens per game. It’s quite another when Auburn has top-10 recruiting classes, Tre Mason up the middle, 4 packaged options per play, and Gus Malzahn calling plays. Or when A&M can recruit the best players in Texas to attack Bama with a HUNH every year. Those are credible threats.

    The interesting part is the response. Saban invested in stopping yesterday’s offenses; therefore, he’d like the NCAA to legislate that everyone has to run yesterday’s offenses.

    This is interesting because other D-minded coaches have simply put their man pants on and stopped opposing teams. When did you last hear Muschamp complain about a “continuous game?” He’s got a top-5 D. How about Stanford? They play Oregon & Mike Leach every year. Or how bout Mark Richt?

    Count me as one who’s not thrilled about seeing Bamaball legislated upon the rest of us. Remember AJ McCarron’s wonderful quote? “Coach says any time an offensive possession ends in a punt, that’s a good thing.” Sure, that’s more exciting than life in Bessemer, but not by much.

  6. Timphd

    Saban the Mighty and Powerful will try to have his way. If you look at the make up of the committee it will seem like he has a shot. Not many football people on the rules committee.

  7. Always Someone Else's Fault

    How in the heck is it an equalizer when 49-45 has become commonplace? Watching inept, helpless defense is not fun. Saban schadenfreude is not a solid foundation for remaking the game. Allowing defenses a narrow window to substitute every play is hardly a radical concept.

    We allow offenses to hold. We let them chop. We allow them to run pick plays. We give them 15 extra yards every time one of them gets hit in the head. We let them block downfield on passing plays. We let the QB throw the ball away whenever he wants provided he has an ounce of athleticism, eliminating most of the defense’s ability to record big sacks. And now teams can just run up to the line to threaten a snap and then wait for instructions, preventing the defense from substituting. We’re remaking and reinterpreting rules left and right to score-score-score. That isn’t equalization.

    A 10 second window to allow defensive substitutions seems an eminently fair compromise.

    • So what you’re saying is that for the first time in the history of the sport, defensive gurus have met their match and they have no hope of devising a counter strategy.

      • Mayor of Dawgtown

        Wrong, Bluto. They have devised a counter strategy–get the NCAA to change the rules to let the D substitute. :)

      • Always Someone Else's Fault

        No, not any more than you’re saying offensive coaches would be completely helpless if the 10 second adjustment were passed. Or were helpless before they modified the play clock rules to eliminate an official standing over the ball. All three positions would be patently absurd, but that’s where the rhetoric in this debate seems determined to go.

        “Screw Nick! We’ll figure out consequences later!” Sounds like a veto-proof Congress at work, and we all know how well that usually works out.

        Defensive lineman gets chopped. He gets up, runs down field, barely gets set, gets chopped again. The he gets held. Then he chases a QB for 30 yards and watches the QB throw the ball to the water boy because he’s outside the tackle box. Then he gets chopped again. Repeat until offensive team scores or he lies there waiting for an official to whistle play dead. Listen to commentators hail the offensive genius coaching his offense to chop, hold, and gas the d-linemen until resistance is futile. Wow. Genius.

        • Hackerdog

          So, not passing a rule change is the reckless action? Playing under the same rules that have been in effect since 2008 is the course of action for which the consequences can’t be foreseen? I’ll just say I disagree.

          I read Cecil Hurt’s column and you sound a lot like him. Give Saban his way FOR THE CHILDREN. Who cares what happens. At least our motives were pure, right?

          At least when the targeting rule was put in place, there was sound science to support the notion of eliminating helmet to helmet hits. Those guys may have passed a stupid rule, but the goal was laudable.

          • Always Someone Else's Fault

            Way to knock down arguments I never made.

            • Way to knock down arguments I never made.

              I wondered, and went looking for where you said all that, ’cause I couldn’t believe you said it.
              ~~~

            • Hackerdog

              “Screw Nick! We’ll figure out consequences later!”

              That was the statement that struck me. You’re arguing that continuing to play under the 2008 rules is something that has unforeseen consequences.

              If you didn’t mean to make that argument, then your statement was poorly worded.

  8. Scorpio Jones, III

    I have no problem with Saban trying to keep his brand of football in place.

    If I were Nick Saban I would do, especially if somebody would let me, the same thing, and most of us would.

    The argument most of the rule changes lately largely favor the offense. If Saban can even things out for the defense, are we not better off for it, no matter what offense we run?

    Mark Richt and Mike Bobo seem to have adjusted to the conference shutting down their version of the fast-break offense, have they not?

    What really, truly concerns me…and should concern us all deeply, is the amount of trivial bullshit that will drool from the lips of the likes of Brent Musberger during that additonal 10 seconds.

    On the other hand, if the quarterback for one or both teams has a hot girl friend, there is that to be savored.

    And, in Bristol, Connecticut, ad salesmen are slobbering over the idea of a quickie timeout during the 10-second break.

    “Viagra is great, get it today”….10 seconds?

    • I have no problem with Saban trying to keep his brand of football in place.

      If I were Nick Saban I would do, especially if somebody would let me, the same thing, and most of us would.

      Totally agree. And that’s my point here. Saban enjoys certain advantages that few other programs can match, let alone succeed. HUNH is an attempt to level the playing field somewhat. That Saban is working mightily to change that is a confirmation that he’d prefer not to have time for that shit and knows it’s a good way to keep Alabama in the driver’s seat.

      I get everyone’s point that week after week of what we saw in the SECCG would cheapen the sport. But how many of you like watching ‘Bama pummel somebody by five touchdowns… week after week?

      • Scorpio Jones, III

        “But how many of you like watching ‘Bama pummel somebody by five touchdowns… week after week?”

        Were I a Bama fan I would be perfectly happy to do this week after week, year after year.

        If I happened to be watching them play Georgia I would not like it at all, at all, but I could hardly blame Bama if we could not stop them…could I?

        I certainly don’t speak for anybody but my own self, but I suspect this whole load of crap about the fans want to see more scoring and all is a creation of the World Wide Purveyor of Bullshit.

        Most real fans just want to win, baby, they could not care less how the game goes as long as the right team wins.

        I have never understood anybody who says a win by a team they cared about was boring…this, to me, is incomprehensible….winning is boring?

        Anybody who says this to me is automatically written off as having never been in the Bloodfan Arena.

      • Always Someone Else's Fault

        So, you’re willing to revoke the rule when Saban retires? :)

    • Mayor of Dawgtown

      Viagra IS great. So what?

  9. one reason for that is that pace-based attacks aren’t exactly a new development, although it may feel like that in the SEC. We’ve got a head coach who was an innovator in that regard when he was the offensive coordinator at FSU.

    But wasn’t that a little different animal, Bluto? Before 2008 the HUNH was run under the straight 25-second clock. And back then, the umpire was accustomed to not putting the ball in play until both sides were ready. If a team, like Georgia, was trying to go fast as they could, the umpire would control the tempo and, according to Richt, the SEC ran the slowest pace around.

    I think the change to the 40-second rule in 2008 (thanks ASEF for that reference article) enabled what we have now. But unless I’m missing something, the pace is still largely controlled by the officials.

    The insane pace that we’ve witnessed the last several years has been something that was very deliberately implemented. By whom, I would certainly like to know (this has happened nationally, not just in the SEC). The rule changed in 2008, but it didn’t get insane right away. So we can rule out that it isn’t the rule by itself.

    However it happened, it has gone way overboard, and threatens the game itself, IMO. People may like Arena Football for a while. But it will get old very fast. You can write that down.

    I’m wondering if the current motivation may be to regulate pace by rule, as opposed to having the officials control it. That may be what’s going on (we know it’s not primarily safety). It has to be reeled back somehow, or we lose the game.

    But it looks like it’ll be over the dead bodies of many offensive coaches, and their many support groups. And that’s no surprise. Media people aren’t generally unbiased, and of those who are, few played the game. Like the average fan, they don’t appreciate defense anyway.

    To them, it’s about the entertainment factor, and they have no depth of understanding or regard for the game. But like I indicated above, watching skill players play pitch and catch in an Arena/Flag football style, will get old pretty quick. And unless something changes, that is what waits just around the corner.

    So I guess we’ll see.
    ~~~

    • There were a number of teams that exceeded the 80 plays per game mark before the clock rule change, so I’m not sure how much of HUNH’s success you can attribute to that.

      I see two different issues in play here – on the one hand, if an offense doesn’t sub, I don’t see why a defense must be allowed to, and on the other, if an offense does sub, I think a defense should be given a reasonable amount of time to do so as well. That’s the line I’d draw with a substitution rule.

      Again, I’m a little surprised to see that argument that HUNH offenses simply can’t be defended well. Do you really think we already have a big enough sample size to make that determination?

      • I see two different issues in play here – on the one hand, if an offense doesn’t sub, I don’t see why a defense must be allowed to, and on the other, if an offense does sub, I think a defense should be given a reasonable amount of time to do so as well. That’s the line I’d draw with a substitution rule.

        I don’t see any problem with that, provided the defense has a fair opportunity to respond, a fair chance to get ready and set for the play. That is, by far, the biggest issue.

        Again, I’m a little surprised to see that argument that HUNH offenses simply can’t be defended well.

        That’s not my argument, I think that’s totally wrong. But again, that’s provided that defense has a fair chance to function as a unit. And it’s really up to the officials to give them that, or at least it should be. That’s better than doing it by rule, but the toothpaste is out of the tube now, and officials will never be consistent around the country.

        But there’s already ample proof, I would say, that the HUNH can be defended, and defended well. I think you’ve pointed out examples of it already. Even high-octane, talented offenses, with unfamiliar designs, like Auburn, can be defended. But give them the advantage of not allowing the defense the seconds it needs to get ready and set, and you have an unfair game on your hands.

        We’ve seen any number of examples of that the past 2 seasons.
        ~~~

  10. FarmerDawg

    With out the Defense having an equal chance to scheme and sub the game will go from chess to checkers. The high scoring and fast pace with no defence will turn college football into basketball, and how long before we only have to watch the last 2 minutes to see who will win?

  11. But here’s the thing – running a HUNH offense isn’t a surefire guarantee of championships. Not even close … What it is, though, is an equalizer. At the right time and place, it gives a lesser program a puncher’s chance to upset a powerhouse.

    Well said. And while many of us are calling for the pace to be rolled back, we are not calling for the elimination of the HUNH.

    I like the HUNH. One reason I do, is because Georgia runs it better than anybody. Often, when we’re struggling, it gives us a spark. I don’t want to lose the ability to run it. Besides, what other team in America can fly the length of the field for a TD faster? Since Richt arrived, we’ve consistently been able to drive the whole field and score in less than a minute. It’s inherently built into our offensive system.

    Often, we’ve scored in 30-45 seconds. The hobnail boot drive in 2001 was in the 40′s, IIRC. Eleven years later, the failure-to-spike drive vs. Alabama was in that range, I believe. So there is no homerism here, in regard to advantage of systems.

    Nor are we calling for the pace to be rolled back so far it negates any advantage of running it, like the League did to Richt in his early years. What needs to be reversed is the insane pace of the last 3 to 4 years, especially the last 2 seasons. A pace so far out of balance it renders one side of the ball – the defense – impotent, and the game itself inherently unfair.

    Rolling back to a sensible level of pace, something like 5-7 years ago, will still allow teams to go fast if they want (considerably faster than the SEC allowed Richt) and will not take away the advantage of the HUNH. The equalizer effect of the HUNH will still be there. It will still be a factor and will still force defenses to defend it.

    The only real difference would be that the defense will have a fair opportunity, even though it’s only seconds, to respond to what the offense is doing. The same opportunity, I might add, that the defense has had, by definition, for the past 130 years. Rolling back will not eliminate the equalizer, only return it to something that’s fair.

    Eliminating the insane pace we’ve seen the last several years is nothing radical. Far from it. It’s the insane pace, sometimes so fast the officials themselves cannot get set, that is radical. So radical, in fact, that it threatens the very nature of the game.
    ~~~

    • Always Someone Else's Fault

      That took a little time. Well said.

    • Excellent post, Ivey. I think this is more about establishing a benchmark for when the ball can be snapped. If the offense doesn’t substitute, it’s still going to be almost impossible to get a different personnel grouping on the field in 10 seconds with the unpiling and the start of the 40 second play clock when the ball is blown dead. I think the advantage of the HUNH stays in place with the ability to take advantage of existing match-ups. Teams that try to substitute on defense against an offense that goes to the line ready for play do so at their own peril because offensive coaches will be more than happy to take the free 5 for illegal participation. I think this is a reasonable compromise between the Mike Leachs and the Nick Sabans of college football.

  12. FarmerDawg

    As an exercise name all the great defensive minds in the college game ( Saban, Chavis, Foster). Now name all the offensive minds including head coaches. If you are like me you can come up with a lot more offensive than defensive coaches. My point is if all a defense can do is sit in base and react then pretty soon we want need to pay 850k+ for a d coordinator because there will be no need for scheme, just hope your athletes are ball hawks, or the offense screwsup.

  13. Did the NCAA rules committee only allow Saban and Bielema to speak or were they the only ones that asked?
    When is the last time a team that ran the Hurry Up win a National Championship?
    I don’t think anything needs to be done to restrict the Hurry Up because it is an equalizer. It will change the way the big schools recruit but it will go the way of the triple option.