One thing I’m looking forward to this season is seeing how defenses across the country – and especially inside the SEC – will adjust and try and stop Hurry-Up-No-Huddle (HUNH) offenses, which are now all the rage.
I think many of us are especially interested in the match-up on September 14th to see what Nick Saban and Kirby Smart have cooking for Johnny Manziel.
First, though, we get to see what Vanderbilt coach James Franklin has worked up as his Commodores take on Ole Miss this Thursday to open the season:
“We’re going to run a tempo defense this year, which no one has ever heard of,” Franklin said jokingly. “You’re going to have to wait and see.”
A tempo defense, huh?
Commodore defensive lineman (and former Briarwood Lion) Walker May gives us a hint of what this “tempo defense” may entail:
Senior defensive end Walker May said Vanderbilt’s defensive linemen typically go four or five plays in a row as hard as they can, knowing someone will rotate in for them.
“We’ve been doing a lot of conditioning,” May said. “If that (substituting) doesn’t happen, we’re not worried about it. I like it when teams go faster. It makes it more fun for me.”
Franklin also notes another factor:
“When the ball is snapped, I want everybody set,” Franklin said at his Monday press conference. “We went back and looked at (film of the game against) Ole Miss last year and there was probably 10 to 12 plays when they snapped the ball, their offense wasn’t set. But the officials had a hard time keeping up with the pace to get in position to do that.
I think Franklin makes a good point – and, hey, it never hurts to work the officials a bit, but I’d be surprised to see this change much this year.
In fact, though these are both good points and make sense when defending the HUNH – good conditioning and the officials making sure all the players are set, I think there are other factors that weigh even more heavily.
First, you have to understand that the speed of play affects the environment, but you are still playing football. At the end of the day, the HUNH will run “X” number of plays and have a certain percentage of run plays and a certain percentage of pass plays. They’ll have tendencies for down and distance. They’ll have tendencies based on field position. In short, the first and main thing that changes is pace.
To defend this, defenses will have to change their pace as well. That’s why you hear Franklin barking about players being set and why you hear coaches like Bret Beliema moaning about player safety. Coaches want to do anything to slow the pace down just a tad. If the officials can help, that’s great. But for the defenses to really keep up – and truly run a “tempo defense” – the defensive players on the field are going to have to adjust quicker and be ready to play quicker.
In some ways, the HUNH is a direct response to a Nick Saban defense. His defenses have not only been wickedly talented, they’ve also had plenty of intelligent players that could create defensive changes based on offensive sets and formation changes. The HUNH has whittled this time for making changes down to just a few seconds.
So, if the officials aid in the offense’s hurried up pace, we’ll need players that can make defensive calls much quicker.
Once your just playing football, defending the HUNH is no different that defending any other offense: control the line of scrimmage and get the offense off the field as quickly as you can.
Vandy’s May notes defensive linemen going “four or five plays in a row.” Sure, you certainly have to plan for this, but in reality, if you’re having to rotate linemen once or twice on each drive, you’re in trouble. Especially for a team like Vandy.
At the end of the day, if speed and pace are the main ingredients to bring teams like Ole Miss and Auburn back to a competitive state, I think the rest of the league will adjust. The more teams that run the HUHN, the more experience your team will have playing against it. And the more familiar teams become with it, the less special it become.