STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — When Oregon’s no-huddle offense got rolling on the Ducks’ way to the BCS title game opposing teams had no way to stop them except lay down.
Documented in YouTube videos, opponents would drop to the ground and act hurt to create a stoppage on the field. Anything to get a few moments to get their defense in order.
Such extreme measures bend if not break the rules, and show an indisputable trend in college football. Defenses are looking for any help they can get to slow down high-speed offenses that try to dictate the tempo and create confusion along the way.
"Look at the two teams in the national championship," said quarterback G.J. Kinne, the pilot of Tulsa’s fast-paced attack. "They were hurry-up, no-huddle offenses.
"It obviously works."
Auburn sped through the rugged SEC last season with a no-huddle scheme implemented by Gus Malzahn, who oversaw the nation’s top offense at Tulsa for two seasons before moving south. To win the national title, it took a win against another go-go-go offense in Chip Kelly’s Ducks.
In a copycat sport, what’s working is sure to be duplicated elsewhere. And it comes with some straightforward reasoning.
"The better you are on offense than their defense, the more plays you want to run — because over time you’re going to expose them," said offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who’s adapting to Oklahoma State’s no-huddle offense after arriving from the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.
"It’s like a one-game series and a seven-game series. Seven games, the best team usually wins."
Count Nebraska and Arkansas among the programs huddling up less in training camp this year.
"It creates a lack of communication," Arkansas linebacker Jerico Nelson said. "If they can get a play set up before we get a play in or get our checks in, that messes us up a lot. We’ve got to be on the same page and communicate."
For some teams, that means having a backup plan in case there isn’t time to get a defensive call in from the sidelines. If the offense lines up in a certain formation, there’s an automatic defense to run unless coaches have time to overrule.
"The challenges are you’ve got to give them a quick call. You’ve got to have a small packet of calls where you can’t call your whole package," Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. "You’ve got to have some things within that you can call that your kids can line up to in the dark."
When Cal held Oregon to a season-low 15 points in a 15-13 loss in Berkeley last year, the Bears tried to send the confusion right back at the Ducks. Even with quick turnarounds between plays, they were able to switch up their defensive fronts frequently while using safety Chris Conte to spy on quarterback Darron Thomas out of a nickel package.
Even that — and nose tackle Aaron Tipoti getting instructed to fake an injury and roll into the ball as it was being set — didn’t result in a win.
"It puts a lot of stress on you from a defensive standpoint. ..." Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Bill Young said.
"You’ve got to make a call immediately. You barely know the down and distance. You don’t know the personnel group because they’ll substitute out there at the line of scrimmage even. So, it creates a lot of problems."
Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette said the Razorbacks discovered that the pace of play was affecting their pass rush late last season. When they had time between plays, they were effective. But opponents "found if they hurried us up we might not get lined up," Bequette said.
Nebraska is among the programs that want to mix tempos this season.
"The big advantage is to be able to get up on the ball and get ready to go and hopefully get the defense on its heels," coach Bo Pelini said." That’s kind of how we look at it."
For Oklahoma, which switched to the no-huddle before its run to the BCS title game three seasons ago, getting a fast-paced defense ready starts long before it’s time to get a play call in. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables says it’s critical to have versatile defenders who can adapt when offenses change formations and go for a quick snap, and that comes down to smart recruiting.
Then, once they’re on campus, there’s this lesson: "Hurry up and get lined up."
"That’s what it is," Venables said. "It’s recognition. Everything has to happen faster. The whole process is expedited, so it is as simple as that: Get lined up, read your proper key. That’s it."
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer suggested there can be some advantages to teams playing so fast. If they don’t bother to substitute, defensive coaches already have an idea of what they’ll call based on the personnel that is on the field.
"I don’t think there’s any secret," he said. "They’re fast and you’ve got to be fast and be able to signal and communicate."
Despite the success at the top last season, the hurry-up doesn’t always mean instant success. If done poorly, the other team just gets the ball back sooner.
"I still think it comes down to an ability for an offense to do it. The more experience, the better off," Venables said. "It comes down to a good, experienced play-caller who can handle it and anticipate.
"It’s one thing when you’ve seen people that run their offense fast, but they’re just running plays, then there are others that are running them with purpose. There’s a difference."