July 19, 2013
Thirty years ago, when the wishbone offense seemed all but unstoppable, I don’t recall anyone suggesting the rules be changed.
I don’t know of any football coach at any level who doesn’t swell with pride if his offensive line wears down the opposing defensive linemen to the point they can no longer execute. Even Alabama’s Nick Saban is fond of saying he wants his team to dominate to the extent that the opponent “doesn’t want to play anymore.”
I’ve never heard a coach say “That 20-play touchdown drive we had was really unfortunate. We shouldn’t have worn out their defense like that. Somebody could have gotten hurt.”
But, alas, times have changed. Based on what some coaches, led by Arkansas’ Bret Bielema, said at the Southeastern Conference Media Days, hurryup, no-huddle offenses are putting defensive players at grave risk. As I drove home down Highway 280, I started thinking.
Since there now seems to be a move afoot to eliminate not only injuries but to keep college football players from getting tired, I came up with some suggestions.
* I believe anyone familiar with big-time college football would say that defensive linemen are amazingly big and fast these days. Jadeveon Clowney, who weighs close to 270 pounds, said he ran a 4.46 40-yard dash last week. It seems obvious that a man that big running that fast can cause an injury when he crashes into another player. What to do about it? Outlaw offseason weight-training for college football. That will do the trick.
* Since there seems to be sudden concern that playing 15-20 more plays in a game can put players at risk, it seems obvious that fewer games should be played. College football got along fine for the better part of 100 years with teams playing 10 or even nine games in the regular season. Sure, it would mean taking a financial hit, but it sure would reduce the number of plays these fragile young men have to run. It will give them more time to study, too.
* Obviously, blitzes have to be eliminated. Just look at all the quarterbacks who have been injured by blitzing defenders.
* Or maybe it could be like it was when my son was 8 years old and playing YMCA football in Montgomery. Players who weighed more than a certain amount were not allowed to touch the ball, much less run with it. They had a big “R” on the front of their helmets, standing for “restricted.”
* Or maybe they could just pass a rule that says no team can keep the ball for more than 10 plays on one possession.
* Or, what the heck? Just play flag football and everybody can stop worrying.
Really, of all the silly Media Days issues I’ve witnessed over the years, this was one of the sillier ones. It wasn’t as silly as the hunt by offended reporters from Florida for the dastardly coach who didn’t vote for Tim Tebow for All-SEC, but it was close.
Here are a couple of things the complaining coaches didn’t tell you: 1. If the offense substitutes, officials are required to give the defense time to substitute as well. 2. The defense can substitute anyway if players are ready to hit the field as soon as the previous play ends. That’s not really what those coaches want. They want to be able to see the personnel the opponent has in the game and substitute accordingly.
Really, it’s pretty simple how defensive coaches should deal with hurryup, no-huddle offenses. They should deal with them like they dealt with the wishbone and figure out how to stop them.
If the defense makes the offense go three-and-out, fatigue will never be a factor.
Why has this suddenly become an issue? Auburn won a national championship running Gus Malzahn’s hurryup, no-huddle, and he’s back. Texas A&M beat eventual national champion Alabama in Tuscaloosa last season. Oregon has been knocking on the door for almost a decade playing offense at breakneck speed. Hugh Freeze brought Ole Miss back from the bottom of the SEC with a rapid-fire offense last season. Baylor, West Virginia and others are piling up points.
So what are coaches to do if they can’t stop it? Outlaw it, of course.
That’s what I call the spirit of competition.