The verbal sparring match between Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian and Stanford head coach David Shaw that came to a head during Tuesday’s Pac-12 teleconference call brings a worthwhile discussion to the forefront.
College football is showing no signs of scaling back on the hurry-up offense. On the contrary—uptempo schemes are becoming more popular around the nation, and especially in the Pac-12.
The more prevalent such systems become, the more suspicious coaches are going to be about injuries.
There’s reason for paranoia. ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit told Jon Solomon of AL.com defensive coaches “are actually practicing faking injuries.”
Shaw was adamant about the legitimacy of his players’ injuries, citing that linebacker Shayne Skov had an MRI on his knee Monday.
Still, one can understand Sarkisian’s frustration. From his perspective, what recourse does he have if an opponent fakes injuries?
Shaw alluded to one of the more unfortunate moments in recent Pac-12 history, when current Washington defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi, then an assistant at Cal, was suspended for instructing players to feign hurt against Oregon in 2010.
The strategy almost worked. Cal lost, 15-13, grinding down an Oregon offense that scored at least 42 points in every game prior.
That game is the most referenced in the discussion because it’s the only notable instance of any action coming from such a situation.
Athletic director Sandy Barbour suspended Lupoi, but only after the assistant publicly admitted to the strategy.
Without a confession, a skeptical coach is left only with suspicions. There’s little he can do after the fact, and virtually nothing during game play.
Rules dictate a player requiring stoppage sit out the next play. However, hurry-up offenses have teams now taking 80-to-90 snaps per game.
One play is a drop in the bucket if it means time to make needed defensive adjustments they are not otherwise afforded against a hurry-up. A lengthier waiting period would likely deter faking injury.
The problem then is that with growing concerns over player safety in all levels of football, imposing penalties that are too severe actually heightens risks.
A player who might otherwise come out for a couple of plays after having the wind knocked out of him or suffering a cramp might soldier on if coming out means losing an entire drive, which in turn puts him at greater risk of a more severe injury.
Until there are stronger safeguards against injury-faking, you can expect more back-and-forth like the one between Sarkisian and Shaw.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.