Saturday Morning Quarterback

Find new scheme, not new rule, to stop no-huddle
Mar 1, 2014

 

 

It’s not been a particularly good winter for Alabama football coach Nick Saban.

It started when his successful lobby for a second to be put on the clock for a game-winning field-goal try blew up in his face when Auburn returned it 109 yards for the return heard ‘round the world in the Iron Bowl.

It continued with a convincing Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma.

And adding to it is his apparent failure to stop football’s fast-breaking offense through the rulebook.

But hey, he did reel in the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class again, and for many, that’s all that matters.

Saban and Arkansas’ Brett Bielema are noted foes of the Chip Kelly- and Gus Malzahn-inspired offenses in which the 40-second play clock is an unneeded expense. They would run three or more plays in that span if they could.

Saban and Bielema want offenses to run more with traditional huddles, giving defenses time to substitute, not the no-huddle hurry-up. They claim the hurry-up threatens the health of the players when they don’t have a chance to catch their breath.

He is pushing a rule [called the Saban Rule by Steve Spurrier] which would prohibit teams from snapping the ball until at least 10 seconds have expired from the play clock. Violating the rule would result in a 5-yard delay-of-game penalty [talk about an oxymoron].

I’m old-fashioned enough to agree with Saban and Bielema. As a fan, I want to slow down and digest the play that was just run and try to guess what the next play will be. Kelly’s offense doesn’t allow for that, rather it keeps my head - and by design, the defense’s - spinning.

I wouldn’t mind seeing a return to more power running football. As it is, the full-service running back is rapidly becoming extinct for a backfield by committee.

But all of that is just me. I know lots of fans and coaches love the no-huddle spread offenses of the 21st century.

I don’t agree with Saban trying to ram a new rule through under the guise of player safety, especially when there’s no evidence showing it does threaten player health.

Besides, if we were really concerned about player safety, we would ban tackling and, well, just eliminate the game – period.

Fortunately, it appears most college coaches [73 percent in an ESPN poll I’m looking at online as I type this] are opposed to Saban’s proposal.

An NCAA rules committee will vote on the proposal next week. But with so many coaches opposed, fewer observers believe it will pass [even though no coaches are on the committee].

It’s interesting Saban is trying to legislate a style of play he opposes out of the game. If he were concerned about player safety, maybe he should push to outlaw physical play.

One of my favorite aspects of football [and most sports for that matter] is how styles of play have evolved over the years. An offensive coach invents a new way to move the ball. Eventually, a defensive coach figures out a way to stop, or at least contain, that offense. The reverse is also true. The no-huddle is just another step in the evolution.

Instead of a new rule, Saban needs to find a hotshot defensive coordinator who will dream up a way to stop the no-huddle, or at least slow it down or otherwise reduce its effectiveness enough to perhaps induce the Kellys and Malzahns of the world to go back to the drawing board.

Kelly’s old Oregon offense is not unstoppable. Remember when Auburn slowed it to a trickle in the BCS championship game a few years ago? A more recent example is Stanford grinding the Ducks to a halt last November.

If Saban has the horses to stop the high-powered offenses, then he just needs the right coordinator to put the pieces in place. He usually does, but it appeared he didn’t late last season.

And that was Saban’s real problem.

 

 

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