Arizona State didn’t play a football game on opening weekend, so its coaches did what comes naturally: They watched other games.
“Of all the games I watched,” said Todd Graham, the head coach, “I was really impressed with Washington.”
Which is worth something on two counts: First, ASU isn’t playing Washington any time soon, and second, Graham is a longtime devotee of the no-huddle, hell-bent-for-election offense that the Huskies are now running, and their facility with it against Boise State caught his eye.
They must be on the right track to pique the interest of Graham, who says the no-huddle philosophy is embedded in his program: “Our secretaries here believe in the no-huddle.”
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What was once a curiosity has become more than a trend; it’s getting to be the norm. More than half the Pac-12 programs are running rapid-fire offenses, reaching for the day when they match the speed of light.
But, the question: If the college-football world is increasingly populated by no-huddle, triple-shot-of-espresso offenses, where’s the advantage? If you’re the polar opposite, Stanford, aren’t you, as Huey Lewis once suggested, hip to be square?
Several coaches wrestled with that idea on Tuesday’s Pac-12 conference call, and the takeaway is that if Washington is to make this work on a long-term basis, it needs to be all-in with the concept. Those who have had long-term success with it say it’s more fabric than frou-frou in their programs.
“What usually takes somebody else 20-30 seconds, you’re doing in 10 seconds,” Graham said. “What we’re trying to do is create a fifth quarter. I think it takes three years to get in shape, mentally and physically.”
Graham says smarts and discipline thus become recruiting requisites, particularly at key positions like quarterback and center.
And if the transition is too mistake-prone, he says, “Most people will go to the no-huddle and abandon it.”
If there’s anything to the notion that if everybody has tinted, spiked hair, it’s a humdrum world, then Oregon — which ran the no-huddle spread better, faster than anybody — would stand to have the most to lose.
“We’re not just a flash in the pan,” contends Oregon’s Mark Helfrich, echoing the notion that the system is so entrenched there that it pervades everything. The program’s “forward lean” attack mode is even supposed to include a player in “geography class.”
So the league is getting to have three settings — fast, faster and breakneck. When California ran 99 plays the other night against Northwestern, the game took 3 hours, 50 minutes, and debuting coach Sonny Dykes insinuated the Wildcats were faking some injuries to slow it down. He’s calling for a rule that would require a player to sit out a specified time if treated on the field by medical staff.
At every turn, there are subtle effects. Saturday night at Auburn, I noticed a bunch of plays worthy of video-board replays that went unrepeated because the next snap was about to unfold.
Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez concedes his no-huddle offense “was a lot more fun when we were one of the few who did it.” That dates back two decades, when Rodriguez was head coach at NCAA Division II Glenville State in West Virginia and the pace of his teams was a challenge for more than opposing defenses.
“We had an elderly gentleman on our chain crew who struggled at first,” Rodriguez said, laughing. “I said, ‘Listen, you’re going to have to get in shape, you’re going to need to pull those chains a little faster.’ ”
The old man adjusted. Twenty years later, we’re all doing that.