Practice moved quickly for the Huskies on Tuesday, as they tried to simulate playing against Oregon's fast-paced offense.
In the face of their biggest challenge of the season, the Washington Huskies held one of their shortest midweek practices of the year Tuesday.
The Huskies were off the field at 5:43 p.m. — roughly 20 minutes earlier than usual for a Tuesday, always one of the heaviest days of the week.
But the anomalous practice was solely in preparing for one of the most anomalous offenses in the country, that of the No. 1-ranked Oregon Ducks, known as much for their quick pace as their high scoring.
What’s usually a 30-minute period for the UW defense working against the other team’s plays, for instance, lasted less than 20 minutes. The Huskies attempted to replicate the no-huddle aspect of Oregon’s offense with a scout-team offense that featured, at times, UW coach Steve Sarkisian at quarterback.
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“It was twice as fast,” said UW defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu. “There was no rest time between plays.”
As there rarely is on game days for Oregon opponents.
In the process of rewriting the Pac-10 record books, the Ducks are also destroying the long-held idea that time of possession is a key stat.
The Ducks move so quickly through their plays that they rank last in the conference and 114th in the nation in time of possession, at 26:44 per game.
Consider further that while the Ducks have held the ball for roughly 12 minutes fewer than any other Pac-10 team, they have run 29 more plays, 625. That’s one play every 20.5 seconds. The Huskies, by contrast, get a snap off every 25.6 seconds.
“They are quicker than most,” said UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt of the Ducks, who lead the nation in scoring at 54.9 points per game and in total yards at 572.9. The scoring number would shatter the Pac-10 record should it hold up.
“It’s a great offense and may be one of the best ever to play college football,” said USC coach Lane Kiffin, whose Trojans lost to the Ducks 53-32 on Saturday.
The up-tempo, no-huddle, spread offense is the brainchild of second-year coach Chip Kelly, who was hired at Oregon in 2007 as offensive coordinator by coach Mike Bellotti.
Kelly ran the offense to much success at New Hampshire and was lured to Oregon by Bellotti, who was seeking to maximize the talents of the likes of quarterback Dennis Dixon and running back Jonathan Stewart.
Kelly has refined it since taking over as coach before the 2009 season, plugging in new players for departing ones without any drop in effectiveness.
The speed forces opponents to either substitute quickly or not at all, creating favorable matchups for the Ducks and wearing down defenses.
The challenge in preparing for it, Holt said, “is just getting the pace and the speed and the tempo that they play with and trying to simulate that in practice and all their looks and their formations. It gets tough on those guys out there. They spread you out and you’ve got to play the run game and the pass game.
“And it’s hard to get substitution defenses (on the field). If you want to do nickel stuff or extra defensive backs you get caught, and you don’t want 12 guys on the field or 10 guys on the field. You’ve got to keep it pretty simple, too.”
The toll the pace takes on defenses was apparent in Oregon’s two biggest Pac-10 wins, when it outscored Stanford 28-0 in the second half after trailing 31-24 at halftime; and scored the last 24 points Saturday at USC.
“The combination of them being tired and our offense keeping its rhythm in the fourth quarter, we’ve been able to be very successful in the fourth quarter,” said tight end David Paulson, a graduate of Auburn Riverside. “We do get tired, too. But it helps when you look across and you know the other team is tired.”
It doesn’t hurt that Oregon has a veteran offensive line — the starting five for Saturday has a combined 128 career starts — paving the way for talented players such as running back LaMichael James (whose 1,210 yards are second-best in the nation).
As the accolades have rolled in, and more observers have started to nose around Eugene trying to discern the secrets, Kelly has pointed in the other direction.
“That’s what this whole thing is really about,” he said of his players. “We have veteran players playing at a really high level. We’ve got a unique group that I think fits what we are doing and then we get out of the way and let them go play.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org