Change of pace

Sounds like Malzahn’s offense is The Next Big Thing in SEC Land.

“Their scheme they had was significant. Everybody’s looking at it,” Missouri Coach Gary Pinkel said. “That’s what we do. We steal. Everybody steals what other people do.”

It’s not just the scheme that’s attractive; it’s the change of pace.

“There are some really interesting concepts in that offense,” Pinkel said. “Gus was ahead of the change. He was leading the band on that. He did a remarkable job. You’re going to see more of that. I guarantee it.”

Florida, for one, is making a move. After four years of offensive stagnancy, the Gators have pinned their hopes on new coordinator Kurt Roper, who is coming over from Duke after the Blue Devils’ ACC title-game appearance last year.

His offense ran 72.6 plays per game last season, primarily out of the shotgun, and was able to gouge defenses both through the air (3,474 yards) and on the ground (2,492).

Ringing any bells?

“We have the players to make this offense work,” Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel said. “We have offensive line that can block one-on-one. We have running backs and skill position players that can make people miss in space. That’s a word you’re going to hear a lot, is ‘space.’ This offense creates space and, when you get that space, that’s when big plays happen.”

Based on last year’s results, why wouldn’t you be interested?

The Tigers were one of eight SEC teams to see increases in plays per game from 2012 to 2013, and the league as a whole ticked up its average from 68.0 to 69.7.

Six teams — Mississippi, Missouri, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Georgia and Auburn — ran more than 70 plays per game. All but Mississippi State ranked in the top six in the league in total offense.

Correlation ain’t causation, as we all know, but that kind of statistical linkage is going to get attention.  If you find that compelling, though, what do you make of this chart compiled by John Pennington?

2013 Defensive Comparison

School Avg. Seconds/Play Avg. Points/Game Allowed (SEC Rank)
Texas A&M 21.87 32.2 (14)
Ole Miss 22.78 23.7 (7)
Missouri 24.17 23.1 (6)
Georgia 24.25 29.0 (10)
Auburn 25.17 24.7 (9)
Tennessee 25.80 29.0 (10)
Kentucky 26.04 31.2 (13)
Miss. State 27.14 23.0 (5)
S. Carolina 27.14 20.3 (2)
LSU 27.56 22.0 (4)
Vanderbilt 28.08 24.6 (8)
Arkansas 28.29 30.8 (12)
Alabama 30.22 13.9 (1)
Florida 30.70 21.1 (3)

Interesting.  Not one of the five fastest offenses ranked among the league’s top seven in terms of points-per-game-allowed.  On the flip side, five of the SEC’s most stingy defenses also happened to be paired with offenses that used more time in between snaps.

2012 told much the same story.

2012 Defensive Comparison

Schools Avg. Seconds/Play Avg. Points/Game Allowed (SEC Rank)
Texas A&M 21.43 21.8 (7)
Tennessee 21.83 35.7 (14)
Ole Miss 22.75 27.6 (9)
Kentucky 23.51 31.0 (13)
Arkansas 24.03 30.4 (12)
Missouri 24.83 28.4 (11)
Georgia 25.56 19.6 (6)
Vanderbilt 26.93 18.7 (5)
LSU 27.00 17.5 (3)
S. Carolina 27.12 18.2 (4)
Miss. State 27.60 23.3 (8)
Alabama 30.19 10.9 (1)
Florida 30.60 14.5 (2)
Auburn 30.68 28.3 (10)

So here’s the question you’ve gotta ask yourself if you’re Will Muschamp:  how much of your team’s defensive prowess over the last two seasons was the result of the deliberate pace you set on offense?  Because if it turns out that the answer is more than just a little, how are you going to react when your defense gives up more points in the context of a faster paced offensive scheme?  (In other words, Pat Dooley raises a fair question in this column of his.)

It’s not just Florida that should be asking how hard to mash the accelerator pedal.  Note Georgia’s numbers and consider that we’re told Hutson Mason is more comfortable playing in a faster paced offense than Aaron Murray was.

But also remember ultimately that the participants in the last SECCG were two of the faster paced teams in the SEC, neither of which finished in the top five in scoring offense.  Does Boom strike you as the kind of coach who can live with that sort of trade-off?  (I’d probably argue that Richt is.)

I don’t have any answers here, except to note that I bet there will be more than a coach or two questioning his approach as the season progresses.  That’s probably not a recipe for success in 2014.


Filed under SEC Football, Strategery And Mechanics

24 responses to “Change of pace

  1. AthensHomerDawg

    Life is pretty simple: You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do more of what works. If it works big, others quickly copy it. Then you do something else. The trick is the doing something else.
    Leonardo da Vinci


  2. So, being in great physical shape and ignoring all the pre-snap eye candy and playing assignment football would seem to be the antidote to Malzahn and Co.


    • That’s most of it, I would think.

      There’s a lot of twists and stuff, but yeah, what you said, then speed and tackling in space. It’ll take a lot of discipline, something we haven’t had. Especially the eye-violations, we’ve been horrible at that for a long time now.

      I think the reason we were able to stay with Auburn last year was 1) we kept the ball away from them in the second half, and 2) playing Georgia Tech every year, we had some familiarity with assignment football. I don’t recall what Grantham used last year, without going back to look, but I assume we were using assignments to defend the option.

      I believe Pruitt is a great defensive mind, so I can’t wait to see what he comes up with against Auburn. I’d have to think assignment ball, because one of the characteristics of Malzahn’s scheme is fooling defenses by sending their keys away from the play, so they end up out of position. Quite brilliant, I must say.


  3. Gravidy

    I’m constantly amazed at how these sorts of stats are interpreted in some circles. The object of the game isn’t to score more points than you did last year. The object is to score more than your opponent on game day.

    No, it isn’t surprising that the teams who ran the most plays also tended to gain more yards and score more points than those who ran fewer plays. And, no, it also isn’t surprising that those same teams tended to give up more yards and points on defense.

    OK…this admitted lover of defense will get off the soapbox now. Oh yeah…get off of my lawn.


  4. Keese

    Pruitt knows this is coming and trying to get ahead of the curve compared to other teams. S&C and recruiting are examples. I just don’t want the SEC to turn into the big 12. Big 12 offenses geared to HUNH didnt match up well with physical SEC teams


  5. Well, it’s interesting.

    And gonna be a fascinating year, in terms of how defenses respond to the offensive changes. I’ve been saying Florida may be the surprise team of the SEC, and not just because they have a new offense. But if the new offense turns out to be dangerous, then lookout (and that bye week before the Party is looking really good, Senator).

    The key thing to watch will be, of course, how the defenses of the League respond to Auburn. And whether Malzahn is prepared to adjust, and if so, how much. I think one thing is clear, and that is you better be able to score a lot of points, and in a hurry, if these offensive concepts continue the success they’ve had. Thankfully, we can do that, even though it requires lots of balance.

    So it’s interesting. I’m reminded that when Spurrier came into the League, he caught defenses unaware and unprepared for his vertical passing game. And it took, oh, more than 5 years, probably more like 8, for the League to catch up to it.

    The biggest reason it took so long was defenses didn’t have the personnel to match up to it. Teams didn’t have the shutdown corners or the quick, fast DE’s, needed to slow it down, or if they had one or two, they didn’t have enough. I remember walking off the field with Joe Kines after practice one preseason in 1995, and asking him about that. He said we didn’t have any – not one – and we were basically having to play inferior athletes out of position.

    The high schools began churning out cover corners and pass-rush DE’s at a high rate, but it took awhile, and I believe that was the primary reason Spurrier had such a long run. Absent the right personnel, it took an elite defense to shut him down, and there were very few of those.

    In this case, assuming Malzahn and others will continue their success, we won’t have to wait for high schools to grow and develop players. The athletes are out there, though not all schools have enough of them. We have more than most, but I doubt we do, in terms of depth.

    Just yesterday we were talking about our safeties, and how we may see two new guys there because of their ability to cover, tackle, and make plays in space. Pruitt is looking for anybody that can show him that, and not just at safety and corner. We also need LB’s that fit that bill, even OLB’s, and we are beginning to see that in the defense commitments we have for Pruitt’s first full class.

    That’s another reason why it’s so important for our players to have bought-in physically this summer. I hope they have. Because this defense won’t work with slow, overweight players.

    I think defenses will adjust this time as well, no matter how unstoppable an Auburn can look, and it won’t take 5 years to slow down it’s production. The scoring should come down a little, as the matchups improve, but because of the many rule changes, scoring will still be high (look at us). The players needed to defend it are already out there, it’s just a matter of getting them and getting the right mix.

    I’m glad we have a coach who has a clue about what’s going on. Gonna be interesting to watch how he goes about getting it done (and hopefully fun). I suspect the defensive changes are going to be more radical than many think.

    It should be a fascinating year, all around.


  6. FarmerDawg

    Can any one point to a team that runs a fast high scoring offense that also has a respectable defense. The coach that is finally able to balance pace, and rest for his defense should win alot of games (if you don’t screw up on special teams).


    • SPace

      good on both sides of the ball?
      FSU, Clemson, Oregon

      Bama has finished in the top 20 in scoring offense the last 4 years. Bama also were Top 5 in scoring defense the last 4 years.


  7. SPace

    Florida averaged 3.6 ypc in rushing, even lower vs ranked teams, 2.9 ypc, both at or near the bottom of the conference.

    But the passing game was just as bad, 6.6 yppass, 5.3 yppass vs ranked teams.

    They only scored 7 td’s in their 5 games vs ranked teams, we scored 26.

    They might improve offensively a little, but we’re going to outscore them, they just can’t hang offensively.


    • Florida averaged 3.6 ypc in rushing, even lower vs ranked teams, 2.9 ypc, both at or near the bottom of the conference … they might improve offensively a little, but … they just can’t hang offensively.

      I wouldn’t be so sure about that. I think Florida is going to surprise everybody, especially with their offense. Hope you’re right, though.


  8. Reipar

    It always seemed like common sense to me the more your defense is on the field the more they will give up. That does not mean I want to see the offense not score quickly. You just need a D that can make enough stops.


    • SPace

      Not really. Time of possession isn’t a key stat for the top teams. Auburn won the BCS Natty and was 70th in time of poss.

      GT does real well in TOP but don’t win many games.


  9. SPace

    Aaarg, meant to say FSU was 72nd in time of poss, but No 1 in scoring defense, so it didn’t effect their defense at all.


  10. Trbodawg

    You know what I see in those charts? Bama has one hell of a defense.


    • True but Kirby’s defense gave up an extra field goal per game after Jimbo hired Jeremy away though, which must have made this off-season after Auburn and Big Game Bob especially pleasant for him with Head Ball Coach Mr. Saban, Sir


  11. Cojones


    1. Gravidy be righteous.

    2. Trbodawg be correct.

    3. You can bet your ass that Richt can live with that tradeoff since we beat the #2, #3 and #4 D-ranked SEC teams who had slower Os than we did.

    4. I be gone.


  12. BosnianDawg

    Why is there a correlation between the hurry-up offense and a higher avg. points/game measure for the defense? What is the trade off that makes a defense worse as the avg. seconds/play drops? In other sports where the same personnel is playing both offense and defense this kind of relationship makes sense. The more time and energy a player spends on his offensive skills, the less he has to spend on his defensive skills and vice versa. Or in the NFL where the salary cap forces a similar tradeoff with respect to spending money on offensive vs. defensive talent. However, in college football, the offense and defense are literally two separate teams. They have their own coaches, practice the same amount of hours, and have no restriction on talent. I don’t see how what the offense does has an impact on its own defense. It is in the defense’s interest to allow as few points as possible. How does what the team’s offense does to the opponent’s defense affect the effectiveness of the team’s defense against the opponents offense? I know that the time the offense is on the field is the same time during which the defense rests. However, whether a slow offense goes 3-and-out or a HUNH scores a quick TD, if both take two minutes, then the defense should theoretically come back on the field in the same state. Why would the one whose offense scored a TD do worse?


    • I thought we conclusively established here last season after many thoughtful analysis sessions involving Todd that quick-strike offenses that score too quickly wears a defense’s ass out


    • Patrick

      I’ve always thought it was psychological, and completely legitimate.
      Teams coaches by “offensive mastermind” types allow that to become their identity. We will outscore you. Implicit in that statement is that we will give up points.
      That attitude trickles to the defense.

      Oregon has done a very good job trying to create a defensive identity, but it’s taken many years. Leach, Holgerson and many others haven’t been able to pull it off.


  13. UGA

    Pick hat
    Fuck hoes


  14. AusDawg85

    Driscoll: “We have an offensive line that can block one on one…”

    True…against each other!


  15. Michael

    There’s a glaring problem with Pennington’s analysis: he does not control for pace. Obviously, a team that runs more plays will, on average, score more and give up more in terms of points and yardage because they are going to play games in which there are more possessions. That does not mean that the defense is less effective; it just means that it might be defending 14 possessions per game instead of ten.

    If you control for pace (for example, by using yards per play), then the picture is different. For instance, Ole Miss – a fast-paced team – was seventh in points allowed, but fourth in yards per play allowed. South Carolina – a slow-paced team – was second in points allowed, but ninth in yards per play allowed.

    The picture is the same if you use Football Outsiders’ rankings. Auburn and Mizzou both has top twenty defenses according to F/+. They were both ahead of LSU in that department, but if you just use points allowed, then LSU was better because raw points numbers don’t account for pace or situation.

    Additionally, some teams are fast-paced by design. Others are fast-paced because they are bad teams that are trailing most of the time. Even if Alabama and Kentucky played the same offensive styles, Bama would run fewer plays because they are typically leading in the second half. At least part of what Pennington is observing is mistaking cause and effect.

    Lastly, the claim that HUNH is just a fad is bullshit. Yes, there are always going to be changes to the way that offense is played. However, football has headed in the direction of more scoring and a faster pace for decades. This is a long-term trend, not a fad. (This is similar to my annoyance at Mandel mistaking the SEC’s dominance for a cycle as opposed to systematic advantages.)


    • Good post. +1.

      … football has headed in the direction of more scoring and a faster pace for decades. This is a long-term trend, not a fad.

      I agree. Nevertheless, I do think we have crossed over the line the last several years. When the officials and the defense (assuming they are trying and doing everything they can to be efficient) do not have time to get set, to be in good football position, then the pace is too fast, and it creates imbalance and inequity.

      I call it insane pace, and it’s bad for the game of football. Not that every game is that way. But the officials who go out of their way to accommodate coaches who want to run as fast as they possibly can, by running at insane pace, have done an injustice to the other team, and to the game itself. Insane pace gives one side of the ball an unfair advantage, and violates the integrity of the game.

      Run fast if you want. Heck, WE like to go fast. But there’s a point where you’ve overdone it, and we’ve both reached it and gone beyond it.

      I’m hoping this year the officials, who control pace, will temper it back to the point where both sides of the ball have equal opportunity to be successful. And that point is plenty fast.