The hurry-up no-huddle offense (HUNH) has been one of the hottest trends in football over the past decade.
Oregon brought it to the nation’s attention in 2007 when Chip Kelly turned Dennis Dixon into a Heisman frontrunner. Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford won a Heisman in 2008 directing a record-setting offense that played so fast TV broadcasts would put up a clock to show you the time between plays. The Ducks carried the torch, but teams like Oklahoma, the Johnny Manziel-led Texas A&M Aggies and Cam Newton-led Auburn Tigers helped to spread the good news of the no-huddle.
Now you see a Top 25 full of up-tempo teams with traditional powers like Oklahoma, Ohio State and even *gulp* Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide leading the charge. While this may be the latest trend, or evolution for a lot of coaches, Kerwin Bell has been running the no-huddle since he began coaching at Ocala Trinity Catholic.
There was a new rule introduced by the Florida High School Athletic Association in the late 2000’s. The rule stated coaches could no longer refuse a running clock when down by more than 35 points in the second half. They may as well have called this the Kerwin Bell rule.
Coach Bell took over a brand-new program at Ocala Trinity Catholic in 2002. That year, as many new programs do, the Celtics played a varsity schedule with basically a junior varsity team. As expected, the Celtics struggled.
One night OTC was up against a particularly good rushing attack and on their way to giving up a state record 700 plus yards on the ground. The referees came to Coach Bell repeatedly asking if he wanted a running clock.
As the legend goes, Bell refused because he wanted to run more ball plays and the running clock would take possessions away from his team. The Celtics lost that game 75-28 but they made the playoffs the following year, won their district the year after that and won the state title in 2005.
He would be hired by Jacksonville University a couple of years later, then Valdosta State a few years after that. Bell’s teams set school records for offense and winning at each stop, culminating in a DII National Championship at VSU. Coming into his first season at USF, we can look at the spring game to find some reasons Coach Bell has been so successful.
The hurry-up no-huddle offense rose to prominence based on three principles:
1. The offense could run more plays.
2. The defense would wear down over the course of a game.
3. The defense would have to simplify its looks or risk confusion.
Now let’s look at these principles and apply them to the spring game.
We have established the Coach Bell loves running as many ball plays as he can. The no-huddle allows good offenses to maximize their theoretical amount of possessions per game. This is why the yards per play stat is becoming increasing more relevant than yards per game (for both offenses and defenses).
In the spring game, the offense ran so many plays in the first quarter that the rules of the game had to be changed. Instead of starting the running clock for the second half as originally intended, the running clock began in the second quarter. In the first quarter, the combined Bulls offense ran nearly 40 plays with the second offense running 24.
With a spring game, it’s tough to determine fatigue with so many players coming in and out of the scrimmage. The point of the spring game for coaches is evaluation. They are mixing things up, looking to see how guys play in different situations. Additionally, these two sides have been practicing against each other for a month. The defense doesn’t have to worry about replicating the speed of the offense because they get to see it every day.
The third principle is where we can glean some information. Many defenses have had to adjust to the new up-tempo world to try to keep up (Big 12 defenses are doing some wild stuff). Even coaches who many fans feel are on the cutting edge of defensive football, like Kirby Smart, have had to radically change the way they do things.
For the most part, great offense still has the advantage at high speed. If you couple this speed with great design, it makes the problem even more difficult for defenses. In the spring game the Bulls offense combined its pace with motion, deliberate repetition and disguise to create some open plays.
There’s a saying in football that “cloudy minds equal slow feet”. Playing defense against a great no-huddle offense is hard enough. You have to get the play call from the sideline, recognize the formation, and then try to recall tendencies out of that formation. When you add pre-snap motion to an up-tempo attack, you can create a lot of cloudy minds. In the spring game, the Bulls’ offense used motion to create some big plays.
The first play (timestamp 45:58 on the broadcast) starts out in a Trips formation with one back, the tight end and two WRs on the left of the formation and a single WR on the right of the formation. The defense appears to be in an under front playing cover 1 (1 safety deep, man coverage underneath).
The slot receiver on the left will go in motion. There are two ways to deal with motion when playing man. You can carry it, which means the defender will follow the man in motion across the formation, or you can exchange the responsibility, which the defense does here. The safety that is rolled down here will roll to the deep middle of the field and the safety in the deep middle will roll down to match the receiver.
After the motion, the safety to the TE side has been rotated to the middle of the field. The offense will be running outside zone to the TE side.
By not blocking the backside defensive end the offensive line and tight end can block the box six-on-six with the back as the seventh to make them right.
The OL does a great job here and the defense gets caught in an unfortunate slant opening a big hole for a 24 yard gain.
The next play (timestamp on the broadcast is 1:29:04) is on a third-and-three in the redzone. The offense comes out in a two TE formation with a TE and lone receiver to both sides. The defense appears to be in Cover 0, or man coverage with the corners covering the receivers and the safeties covering the tight ends.
The offense again uses motion, and the defense, being in Cover 0, is forced to carry the motion across the formation. The corner doesn’t want to get caught in traffic or be trailing a receiver in motion, so he sprints across the formation. Unfortunately for the corner, the offense has called a return style motion. The receiver hits the brakes and starts to return to his initial position.
The ball is snapped shortly after the above picture. The TE to the left side runs a vertical eating up the safety, and the WR in motion out leverages the defense to the flat for an easy conversion.
Deliberate Repetition and Disguise
Play-action passing is an important part of any playbook. The offense can show the same look on run-after-run-after-run until suddenly the QB has pulled the ball and somebody is running open. Going no-huddle can accelerate this phenomenon because the defense already must process so much information in a very short period of time.
Early in the game, the offense calls back-to-back plays (timestamp is 40:53 on the broadcast) that begin with a toss action.
On the first play, the QB keeps the ball on a possible toss read for a nice gain. On the second play, the backfield shows the same exact action. You can see the difference in flow by the LBs on these back to back plays.
However, the second play is not a run. It is a play-action pass and the slot receiver on the right is going to pop wide open. The single receiver on the left runs a vertical route clearing out the space to his side. The slot receiver on the right releases inside and runs a shallow crosser across the formation.
Unfortunately for the offense the timing was just off and the throw was a little behind falling for an incompletion. But the play design is there.
Deliberate Repetition and Disguise Using Motion
Later in the game, again on back-to-back plays (timestamp is 51:30 on broadcast), the offense shows a split back formation with two receivers to the field, one to the boundary.
The defense shows the same look on both plays here. On the first play, the back to the two receiver side motions out towards the numbers. The LB to his side runs with the motion, making a five-man box.
The offense is now running zone read reading the backside defensive end. Using the motion to take a man out of the box, the offense has a numbers advantage.
The end crashes on the zone and the QB makes the right call and pulls the ball. The safety comes up and makes the play in the alley, but as coaches love to tell runners “It’s my job to get you one on one with safety. After that it’s up to you.”
The very next play the offense comes out in the exact same formation. This play the offense motions out the back to single receiver side.
The safety to the boundary side follows the back in motion and the offense would appear to have a very good play on here. It looks like the offense is running Dart.
On Dart, the backside tackle will pull and wrap for a frontside LB. The frontside tackle will lock on the defensive end. The frontside guard and center will double team the shade defensive tackle back to the backside LB. The backside guard will block back, in this case on the 3-technique defensive tackle. The QB could read the backside end or it could be a called give.
With the safety running with the motion, the offense has everybody accounted for and no safety to make miss. However, the defense has guys on scholarship too.
The shade defensive tackle does a great job attacking the center and beats the double team to the punch. The shade then pushes the center into the backfield, blocking the path of the puller, and leaving the LB free to make the play for no gain.
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic if you are a Bulls fan. As the spring game showed, the offense is in very capable hands with Coach Bell. Even though it wasn’t discussed much here, the defense also made a lot of splash plays.
It’s a great time to be following USF and the best part is the season starts in less than a month.