Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema wants everybody to just slow down for a minute.
Bielema, echoing some of his SEC rivals, according to AL.com is proposing a rule change that would mandate a 15-second substitution period after every first down, allowing coaches to make defensive substitutions. This would severely limit the effectiveness of no-huddle offenses, a trend that is continuing to spread around college football.
His reasoning? The health and safety of players:
“Not to get on the coattails of some of the other coaches, there is a lot of truth that the way offensive philosophies are driven now, there's times where you can't get a defensive substitution in for 8, 10, 12 play drives," Bielema said, according to AL.com. "That has an effect on safety of that student-athlete, especially the bigger defensive linemen, that is really real."
The coattails he’s talking about are those of Alabama coach Nick Saban and Florida coach Will Muschamp, who have also spoken out about the potential dangers of not being able to give their defensive players breathers against relentless opposing attacks. The argument is essentially that if players are gassed on the field, they won’t maintain form or protect themselves as well, thus leading to injury.
Not surprisingly, coaches who have found success going up tempo are against the idea of a 15-second cessation of offensive hostilities. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and Tennessee coach Butch Jones have all used or plan to use up-tempo attacks in the SEC and don’t agree with Bielema’s argument.
“I'd say that's probably more of an in-shape issue than anything else," said Malzahn, who deployed Cam Newton within a lethal up-tempo attack as Auburn’s offensive coordinator to help win the 2010 BCS title.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who won a national championship with the Fun 'n’ Gun at Florida, proposed a different solution to dealing with the no-huddle offenses proliferating across his conference.
"Of course, the answer is for the other team's offense to stay on the field and get the other fast-paced team [to] stay on the sideline.
As a newcomer to the SEC after leaving Wisconsin in December, Bielema’s previous job likely tarnishes the proposed rule change in the court of public opinion. The Big Ten is seen – particularly in the south – as the conference without any speed and a bruising, antiquated style of play. Looking at tempo numbers from the last five years, this isn’t necessarily wrong, but the SEC isn’t exactly sporting a go-go tempo, either. (The SEC average is likely to change with the recent influx of pace-pushing coaches.) Bielema’s team played at a crawl, ranking 114 out of 120 teams between 2008 and 2012. The proposed change is a chance of tactics for Bielema, who used to just subvert rules he didn't like.
There are merits to Bielema’s argument, but it comes down to the same basic skill that separates good coaches from great ones: the ability to adjust. Everything from a heavier focus on conditioning to simply recruiting different types of players (less focus on wide, wall-like defensive tackles and more emphasis are more versatile linemen, for example) can contribute to slowing no-huddle offenses. And of course Spurrier’s plan isn’t wrong: If you don’t want to expose your defense to fast-paced assaults, hold on to the ball with your offense, run some clock and keep it out of the opposition’s hands.
The Razorbacks face Ole Miss, A&M and Auburn this fall, so circle those games on your calendar to see if Freeze, Sumlin and Malzahn take special pleasure in demonstrating the power of not huddling to Bielema.
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