Why the Pac-12 Is Suddenly Implementing Hurry-Up and Spread Offenses
Traditional is hardly the norm when it comes to offense around the Pac-12. Coaching changes made around the conference in the past two seasons and philosophical shifts have led to the rampant installation of variations on the hurry-up and spread offenses.
Entering 2013, seven Pac-12 teams are running unique takes on the hurry-up offense. The trend took its roots in Eugene, Ore. in 2007, when then-Oregon Ducks head coach Mike Bellotti sought a counter to conference juggernaut USC and other imposing defenses.
Bellotti hired little-known New Hampshire offensive coordinator Chip Kelly, a move that eventually set the tone for the entire conference.
Oregon won three consecutive conference championships and has appeared in four straight BCS bowls running the fastest pace offense in the nation. The Ducks continue to set the standard for uptempo offenses under Kelly's successor, Mark Helfrich.
"We believe in what we're doing, top-to-bottom," Helfrich said during Tuesday's Pac-12 teleconference call.
Other programs around the league believe in it, too.
Mike Leach has his air raid at Washington State; former Leach pupil Sonny Dykes has implemented the "Bear Raid" at Cal. Arizona's Rich Rodriguez has nearly two decades of hurry-up offensive credentials; in-state rival Arizona State and Todd Graham are likewise invested in the system.
UCLA runs it with such acumen, second-year head coach Jim Mora isn't entirely sure his Bruins could adjust to the traditional pro style.
"I don't think we've huddled one time since I got here. I don't know if we know how to huddle," Mora said.
Mora's embrace of the hurry-up, spread offense, via coordinator Noel Mazzone, is a testament to the hurry-up and spread offenses' influence. Both are coaches with NFL backgrounds, particularly Mora, whose first collegiate experience since working as a graduate assistant in 1984 came just last season.
The uptempo offense is en vogue in college football for a reason—it's effective. But it's also not an overnight solution to rectifying a program's scoring woes.
The sentiment several coaches echoed in their assessments is that implementing a hurry-up system requires a long-term investment.
"It's incorporated in everything we do. Playing fast is part of our deal," Rodriguez said of Arizona's implementation of the spread.
Rodriguez is something of a pioneer of the hurry-up offense, bringing his version from the Div. II ranks to Tulane, Clemson and West Virginia.
His ever-evolving take on the offense has been effective at multiple stops, including Arizona, where the Wildcats averaged 38.2 points per game in Rodriguez's first season at the helm. It's worked, Rodriguez explained, because his players bought into it as an entire philosophy.
"It's a system. If you do it as a once-in-awhile thing, I don't think it's the same as doing it as a total-program type of system," Rodriguez said.
Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian can attest. The Huskies entered the hurry-up fray this offseason, but the plan took shape years ago, he explained.
"A couple years back, [Texas A&M head coach] Kevin Sumlin came and visited when he was still at the University of Houston," Sarkisian said. "He's the one guy who got me most thinking about [running a hurry-up offense].
"At the time, I didn’t think we were ready from a depth standpoint," he added. "I held onto some of [Sumlin's] thoughts and reason."
The Huskies have since built that necessary depth on the recruiting trail, and it showed Saturday. Washington flourished in its no-huddle debut, scoring 38 points against a Boise State defense that has consistently ranked in the nation's top 10 in recent years.
"Conditioning is key," Sarkisian said.
Indeed, the crux of the "total-program" mentality Rodriguez touted is a superb level of stamina from players on both sides of the ball. Players constantly cycle on and off the field offensively, but the defense needs similar depth and conditioning while facing substantial time-of-possession differentials.
Oregon, for example, has ranked near or at the bottom of time of possession in the Bowl Subdivision every year since 2007. Yet, the Ducks have also consistently boasted a stingy scoring defense. That's because the program has installed a defense with the same depth and athleticism that's capable of matching the offense's same torrid pace.
Such an all-encompassing approach helped Washington make such a splash in its no-huddle unveiling, as the defense held Boise State to six points despite facing numerous snaps.
Hurry-up offenses are touted as the new wave, but much like music, fashion and cinema—the new borrows heavily from the past.
"It's more than a fad," Stanford head coach David Shaw said. "I grew up in this business, and I remember Mouse Davis. I remember [Ted Marchibroda's] K-Gun offense with the Buffalo Bills. I remember Warren Moon down in Houston.
"There have been a bunch of different iterations at different times of fast-paced, spread-out offenses. Football has come back around to that stage," Shaw added.
That philosophy's current prevalence around the Pac-12 suggests it will remain on the West Coast for some time. Perhaps even a football generation from now, the spread and hurry-up offenses will be considered traditional.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter @kensing45.
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