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The No-Huddle Offense: What You Need to Know

There's been a little talk about the Gamecocks adopting the no-huddle this season. Steve Spurrier mentioned that the team was working on it over the spring, and they apparently were doing so again in a recent practice.

What is the no-huddle, though? We all know that in the no-huddle the offense doesn't spend as much time in the huddle, but what are the tactical advantages of that approach? And can it work for the Gamecocks?

As with any offensive philosophy, there are a variety of particular approaches to the no-huddle. From what I gathered looking at a couple of articles on Auburn OC Gus Malzahn at Smart Football and Shakin the Southland, though, my impression (admittedly not the most informed; I'd recommend reading the experts) is that no-huddle offenses generally aims to achieve the following goals (quoted from the always-succint STS):

  • Speed up the game - Accomplished by snapping the ball within 5 seconds of spotting it. This makes the offense the aggressor and takes the defense out of their routine of reading and adjusting to the formation.
  • Lengthening the game - Making the game take longer to finish, and subsequently testing the conditioning of the defense. In his words, a 48-minute high school game involves only 7-8 minutes of actual playing time (a few seconds for each play). If you can lengthen this by 2-3 minutes, you are effectively making it a 5-quarter game. You go for it on 4th down, try onside kicks, and do anything you can to get the ball to your offense's hands.
  • Mentally and physically wear down the opponent - a 5th quarter of game play plus the pressure of having to line up correctly within a few seconds will wear your opponent down both ways. The defense must maintain concentration for that extra quarter.
  • You set the tempo of the game.
  • Coaches can reset the play after noting the defensive alignment - meaning they'll line up and make you show what youre running, and change the play.
  • Defenses cannot simulate it in practice - Your scout team is not going to be able to run at this pace and prepare your defense. Thus, your defense will need to spend extra time to prepare for it.
  • More snaps for the offense means more possibilities for scoring, finding weaknesses, etc.
  • The general idea here is that moving at a faster pace equals less time for the opposing defense to adjust and more plays, which puts a lot of pressure on opposing defense to stay fresh and avoid being mentally outmatched by the speed of the game.

    Continue reading after the jump.

    What the no-huddle is not is an approach to formation and scheme. The approach is popular with coaches that like the spread like Malzahn and Notre Dame Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly, but it can be adapted to any numbers of schemes. That said, there's probably a reason why coaches that like the spread and zone-read like it so much; those schemes require constant adjustment by the defense, and the no-huddle puts another wrinkle in that hopefully wears on the defense's ability to maintain its ground throughout the game. Imagine being an end and constantly having to play the zone-read option throughout a game. The combination of being put to a greater physical test combined with constantly having to decide whether to play the ball or not will be tiring, and if a zone-read-inclined offense can get an end to start making mistakes, it will eventually start gaining a lot of yards.

    The no-huddle does come with some downsides. Chief of these is that if you run the no-huddle, your defense will be on the field more. Therefore, fatigue can become a problem for your own guys, as well. That means that defensive depth becomes all the more important for you; a team that's shallow on defense probably doesn't want to do this.

    Another drawback is that the no-huddle takes the coaches out of the game to a certain degree. Coaches can still call plays in, of course, but they have less time to do so and thus to consider how to pick apart a defense. This makes the no-huddle unattractive to coaches that like the chess-like element of football, those that like to maintain control of the game by carefully considering each move.

    Will Carolina give this a go? To answer that, ou have to ask if it's right for us or not. And there are some potential benefits / reasons why we might be leaning towards it, which are as follows:

    • The no-huddle is hell on a defense's front, particularly the linemen. These players are battling on each play and will fatigue easily against a no-huddle. With our problems on the offensive line, wearing out the defense's fronts could pay dividends.
    • We seem intent on building the zone-read into our offense, and that has worked well with the no-huddle for many coaches.
    • We have a fair amount of defensive depth, at least as long as the current guys stay healthy.

    On the other hand, there are some issues arguing against our adopting the no-huddle:

    • The no-huddle also puts some pressure on the offensive line to maintain its intensity. Do we have the line for that? Perhaps not.
    • Steve Spurrier's playcalling ability, when he's on, is still formidable, and he's unlikely to give up much control over the offense.

    My guess would be that we're not going to see a lot of this, at least not yet. We will see some, perhaps particularly against cupcakes, where we might experiment. Spurrier has said we will see it, and I don't see any reason to doubt him. However, the question is how much. There are too many things arguing against it, and history has shown that although Spurrier talks a lot about implementing new approaches, he's a bit hesitant to actually do so. The zone-read and wildcat were cases in point last season. I'd expect to see us work in more zone-read before we see the no-huddle frequently.