The first rule of offense

Keep it simple, stupid.

… Malzahn had no coaching tree pedigree so he learned by watching high school coaches, particularly Arkansas legend Barry Lunney Sr.

As a third-year coach at Hughes High School, Malzahn had between 200 and 300 plays. Lunney advised him to pick three or four, get them to where the players could run them perfectly, and then add another play in year four.

“That’s some of the best advice I’ve ever got,” Malzahn said. “After that I went back to basic football. Even though today everybody thinks we have a lot of plays, we really don’t have that many. But we try to use window dressing, unusual formations and pace.”

How basic is Auburn’s offense today? Malzahn said it has only about four base run concepts and six base pass concepts, with wrinkles off each one.

And yet it’s adaptable. What Malzahn runs with Newton isn’t what he ran with Chris Todd at quarterback last year, or at Tulsa or at Arkansas before that. That’s the high school background coming out in Malzahn.

“You’ve got to adapt to survive and win in high school,” Malzahn said. “The fact that I’ve had five different quarterbacks in college each year is a little bit different. Somewhere down the line, I’d like to have a guy back. My job might be a little easier if I have a guy back his second year.”

You’d think this would be fairly obvious.  I never understood why former NFL coaches like Bill Callahan thought the complex West Coast offense would translate well on the college level, where players’ careers are short and the amount of time spent on coaching players is limited.  What you want is familiarity.  From that you get better execution and from that you get players able to make plays faster, which puts pressure on a defense.

“You cannot relent on the tempo,” Hand said. “When you first install some of this stuff, you’ve got to understand it’s going to be very ugly early. We used to say you have to coach in short verbal blasts.

“It’s not like you’re going to have 35 seconds to make your point. The execution is eventually going to catch up to the speed. Now, when you combine the tempo with the execution, then it’s a beautiful thing. That’s where Chip and Gus are at.”

The one common thread through that article is Rich Rodriguez.  He didn’t make a great head coach at Michigan, but he may be the most influential offensive mind impacting present day college football.


Filed under Strategery And Mechanics

30 responses to “The first rule of offense

  1. Scott

    From an SI article on Malzahn:

    A key to the hurry-up offense is conditioning.

    “You have a chance to mentally and physically wear down your opponent if you run fast,” Malzahn told Sports Illustrated last year. “It’s a different kind of ‘in-shape.’ There’s a football shape and basketball shape, and we’re someone with a little bit of both.”

    By playing faster, an offense can extend the game by producing more plays, essentially adding a fifth quarter. The extra time can handicap a defense not accustomed to that number of snaps.

    • Bulldog Joe

      It is also about creating matchups to your advantage (the window dressing).

      Malzahn, Petrino, and Rodriguez do this better than anyone in college football.

  2. Gatriguy

    Norm Chow is also famous for his offensive simplicity. Multiple formations and people, but the same basic underlying plays. I read an interview with Chow once where he said he is able to teach their base passing game in one practice.

  3. MtnDawg

    Besides the fact that Richt is getting blasted for everything right now (his vague comments don’t really help…), I would like to point out that one thing he is getting blasted for lately is his stated desire to keep it simple so as not to confuse Murray.

    Sort of ironic that keeping it simple sounds good when you are winning–but makes everyone think you are stupid when you are losing…

    • Ausdawg85

      Simple for Bobo:

      1st down: Bomb
      2nd down: thinly veiled play-action pass
      3rd down: Carlton Thomas between the tackles

      Yes, yes…this combo scored 30+ points, blah, blah, blah….

      A good college offense still needs two key ingredients…good players and imagination. Guess which we lacked.

      • Ausdawg85

        Oops…I stand corrected. I forgot about the “Wilddawg”.

        • Normaltown Mike

          Where were the good players?

          Oh yeah, AJ. With a stud WR, you can do practically anything. Except pass block, run block and run the ball.

          Remember that offense that UTC built around TO? And the one Marshall ran to center around Randy? Same thing with Tech and Calvin and then how Pitt made a Fitzgerald centered offense.

          Lotta people think RB and QB are your core players on O. But they don’t realize an amazing WR can get like 10 receptions a game.

    • Bulldog Joe

      I am very disappointed Richt did not go back to the fast-paced offense when Roy Kramer left.

      Fulmer did not have anywhere near the influence on Slive as he did on Kramer.

  4. Bourbon Dawgwalker

    Don’t talk about offense?

  5. simpl_matter

    Here’s hoping that Charlie Weis’ complex offensive schemes prove too difficult for the smarties at UF to pick-up.

    • Frosty the Snowman

      True, NFL guys making the transition to the college game often overestimate the ability of their players to learn complex schemes given the time constraints involved. I think that got Grantham a bit this year. It surprises me how consistently NFLers do this. It interesting though that the college game features more variety than the pros. The pros are about execution and players; college is more about execution and schemes.

      • Ben

        Nevermind that it’s a hiring of convenience to get his son some coaching experience. I just wish it appeared that UGA had its house in order right now to capitalize on what could possible be a nuclear explosion in Gainesville.

      • 69Dawg

        That is always a problem, you only get them 20 hours a week. The Pros get them for as long as it takes. The Pro style we run is complicated and it takes time which we don’t have.

  6. Benjamin

    Cheeseburger Charlie had success with the golden dimers offensively.

    • Dante

      That’s because only the smartest people on earth go to Notre Dame. Their intelligence rivals the likes of Georgia Tech or even Texas A&M students. How dumb would you have to be to pass up a private Catholic college in the middle of nowhere in Indiana? Their offensive players are a cut above in teh smartness and can handle the distinct strategic advantages Weiss gave them every week.

  7. crapsandwich

    Well, Bobo like has 25. Maybe a good read for him and our newly “cutting edge” coach.

  8. Farsider

    We haven’t seen the last of Richrod by a long shot. The reasons for his demise at Big Blue will be analyzed for years to come. A coach this good should not have flopped so spectacularly. He’ll win big somewhere else, IMO.

    • 69Dawg

      He had the same problems a lot of Offensive guys do, he had a bad D. He could score a lot of points but they could not stop anyone. Sounds familiar to me. Oregon and Auburn represent the first MNC between two teams that got there because their O’s could just out score the opposition. The funny thing is the team with the best D will once again win this game.

    • Macallanlover

      Allowing for, and being respectful of, the spectacular combination of White and Slaton’s talents, I have the feeling the zone blocking scheme at WVU had even more to do with Rodriquez’s success at WVU. The way they blocked up front, then sealed the lanes of pursuit off were very instrumental in what they accomplished. Not sure if he took that coach with him to Michigan.

  9. Bryant Denny

    My senior year in high school we only ran about four different plays.

    But we only finished 5-5.

    Oh well.

    Have a good day,


  10. Will Trane

    The most important in most sports is what I call “position”. You may be the strongest player on the field, but if you are not in position, you will not make the play. You can have text book form and technique, but if you are not in position, you will not make the play. Speed, quickness, proper footwork, and running get you in “position”. Put a single RB 9 yds behind the line of scrimmage and your QB, say a Mallett, and see how often that play is productive. The field is 100×53, but set in 10yd increments with hash marks. There is a reason. 4 plays to negotiate 10yds. This is where the spread is very good. It allows the offense with its base plays to find an open position and move the chains. The spread offense does it better. Notice the tempo, the speed, the amount of running, and the number of plays that a spread offense generates. It takes alot, but it produces a lot. When CMR first came to Athens his offense seemed to run at a faster temp. Young QBs can slow that down due to reads for open space. I think one of the issues the past two years has been the QB play. Both first year players on the field. The quicker your QB plays the quicker and more effecient the O is. Like I said the after the Liberty Bowl it is frustrating to see the Dawgs run 70 plays and only produce 2 FGs. And a great deal of that on opening drives.
    Some of us see a lot of high school games and that is why I have made comments about the use of spread and the wing T. High school coaches have a limited pool of players. They do not get to recruit and draft. Their halls are not stocked with 5 star players. They have to have sets and an offense that allows them to be productive. This past year the two best were Colquitt County and their spread and Sandy Creek with their defense. I thought the staffs on those sides of the ball were very outstanding. But one thing you could see from their kids was that they “ran”. That is why I have posted it is good to have S&C, but you need to do a lot more running on Ag Hill. The spread virtually let’s you run a defense down. As for AU’s OC that was a nice plug for a top RB, especially if you fail to recruit a solid spread QB. But today most bloggers get caught up in the big name coaches and prospects. At the smaller schools there are some outstanding coaches. I’m not saying Mark Fox came from a small college, but he came with great understanding of the game and a system to plug his players in. Get the system and then plug in your players. UGA seems to do the reverse.

  11. AugustaDawg

    If you can’t run the ball in the SEC, you can’t win. CMR was told this by TT several yeras ago. You can’t run it with no O-line and no RB’s…and you can’t run it with Bobo at the offensive helm. IMO, spread or pro-style, you must be able to hold the ball when necessary to keep the sCams off of the field, particularly when you are rebuilding a defense.

    • Normaltown Mike

      you sure can’t run it with stiffs like Ealey and King.

      • Macallanlover

        Agreeing they have been disappointing in several ways, I don’t know if Herschel would have gained 1200 yards behind the offensive line in 2010. That was the biggest factor in our poor performance, imo. Bigger than AJ’s absence, CMB’s play calling, CMR’s “loss of the team”, the new defensive scheme, or any of the numerous factors generally associated with the team not meeting expectations. You are totally hamstrung offensively if you cannot stop the penetration up front.

        • shane#1

          Amen Brother, and +1! The pro set just does not work without a running game. If you can’t run the ball nobody bites on the play fake in play action. The pro style offenses, a better term would be the offenses that put QB under center are much more complicated than the various spread formations. In the spread a simple zone read is all the QB needs, the reads in the prostyle are much more complicated.

  12. JBJ

    I read the article. I see that Gus and Chip are constantly adapting their offensive philosophies. I look at UGA and think that all we did was add a half-hearted WildDawg to our offense. Does anyone know if Bobo tries to learn from other programs?

    I say go get RichRod as OC and demote Bobo back to QB coach. A move like that would go a long way to restoring my confidence in CMR and maybe Bobo could learn a thing or two before RichRod gets another HC job.

    UGA didn’t score a TD in two games this year (SC and UCF).