We don't expect defensive coordinators to like the current trend of up-tempo, no-huddle offenses like those favored by Oregon, Oklahoma, and Auburn. But we also don't expect them to be, well, bitter about them, either, or suggest that the NCAA step in with rules changes to stop what's still a small minority of college offenses.
So, yes, consider us surprised by the vehemence with which South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson attacked the trend in a recent radio interview:
“One thing that has gotten into it that I’ve been pretty outspoken, that I really think is starting to deteriorate some of college football is the hurry up offenses ...Please don't take this the wrong way, Mr. Johnson ... but yes, right now, it sounds like sour grapes.
“[W]hat’s happening now with the rules is that you can snap it as soon as you want to or you can sit on it for 40 seconds, and there is no in-between ... The NFL cut it out with Buffalo in the 90’s, they kind of put some cold water on it a little bit with the Colts not too many years ago. What they realized is they’re taking the game of football and turning it into soccer or lacrosse. There’s nothing wrong with those sports, but that’s not football.”
"What it's about now is who can snap the football before the other team lines up. You can’t hardly get your players on and off the field. You can’t get your signals in and out. It’s become who has the best signal system or verbiage system ... It’s not about blocking, tackling, running, route running, throwing, and so forth. It’s something the college football world needs to look at.”
“It sounds like sour grapes right now, but there is not a balanced playing field.”
Because while a good "signal system or verbiage system" paired with an up-tempo offense can make things very difficult on a defense when run correctly, it's hardly some kind of college football cure-all. For starters, there's the trade-off of a greater strain on the no-huddle team's own defense; the defenses opposite Gus Malzahn's attacks at both Auburn and Tulsa took huge statistical hits as soon as he arrived. There's the subtantial increase in conditioning work that must be done for those offenses to maintain their stamina late into games. There's the risk of multiple high-tempo three-and-outs putting the no-huddle team at a huge time-of-possession disadvantage.
And then -- despite Johnson's implication that a collection of players who weren't any good at "blocking, tackling, running," etc. could thrive as long as they had the right "verbiage system" -- you've still got to have the right personnel. While the tempo has no doubt helped, the overwhelming talents of players like Sam Bradford, Cam Newton and LaMichael James have all played a far greater role in the success of their respective offenses.
As for what the no-huddle looks like without those kinds of players, Vanderbilt installed the no-huddle before the 2009 season, and even brought in Malzahn's Tulsa colleague Herb Hand for 2010; the results were still 109th- and 110th-place finishes in total offense, even worse than the Commodores' usual efforts.
So we humbly suggest that if Johnon wants the no-huddle offensess on the Gamecocks' schedule stopped, he prepare his team to do so -- not an impossible task even against the best of them, as Mississippi State (17 points allowed to Auburn) and Cal (13 points allowed to Oregon) proved last year -- rather than hoping the NCAA descends from on high to do his work for him.
HT: Get the Picture, which quotes a 2004 story to show that it wasn't so long ago the rulebook agreed with Johnson.