The Debate that Just Won’t Die.
Do hurry-up no-huddle offenses really cause more defensive injuries?
Since last week’s SEC Media Days, it’s been a hot topic among coaches, media figures and bloggers across the country. In an otherwise routine series of press conferences, Auburn coach Gus Malzhan lit the fuse on the subject by saying, “to be honest with you, I thought it was a joke.” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema responded, “I’m not a comedian.” And the debate has raged on.
We’ve seen a lot of opinions on the subject in the past week. I think I enjoyed West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen’s “get over it” take best. However, I’ve always had a healthy respect for Bielema’s hard-nosed Wisconsin teams, and I’m curious as to whether his claims have any merit. My answer for such things is typically to look at the numbers. However, the way injuries are reported, or really NOT reported in college football makes those numbers pretty much meaningless. I suppose one might try to work up a “games missed by starters” table, but how would you correlate it to exposure to hurry up offenses?
There are some interesting statistics one can look at, though. The main argument that actually holds some water is that hurry-up teams run more offensive plays, and that more plays pretty much automatically means more injuries. We’ll debate whether this is true later on in this piece, but for now let’s assume that it’s true. From the official Auburn website, We can calculate that during Gus Malzhan’s tenure at Auburn as the offensive coordinator, Auburn ran 70.3 offensive plays per game in 2009, 67.7 in 2010, and 63.6 in 2011. Does that sound like a lot of plays?
Consider critic Nick Saban at Alabama, a proponent of slowing the game down. During the same period, Saban’s offenses ran 67.6 offensive plays per game in 2009, 63.7 in 2010, and 66.5 in 2011. How about Bret Bielema at Wisconsin? His teams ran 70.8 offensive plays per game in 2009, 66.2 in 2010, and 66.9 in 2011. Last year, Bama ran 64.1, and Wisconsin ran 66.1.
Averaging the yearly totals, Auburn ran 67.2 offensive snaps per game during that era, Alabama ran 65.9, and Wisconsin ran 68.0. Hmm. Bielema ran more snaps than Malzhan? Where was the concern for other teams’ defensive players? Seems that in fact there was no significant statistical difference in the number of snaps run by these three teams.
Well, maybe Auburn put together more long drives, that kept the defense on the field for extended stretches? Nope. In fact, Auburn had a bunch of long touchdown plays in those years, which put the offense back on the bench after only a few snaps. In 2010, Auburn had 150 drives outside of overtime or half-ending clock-‘ems. Only 18 of those drives ran 10 plays or more.
So, now that we’ve eliminated the number of plays, and the length of drives from Bielema’s argument, the only conclusion left is that increased defensive risk is because the defense is not ready when a quickly paced offense lines up. There was an interesting piece run last week on cfbmatrix.com. The author compiled some stats that show that while “slow-paced” teams run 10 or more plays less than the “fast-paced” teams, they actually lose more starters to injury than fast teams. How can this be?
I’d argue that when a traditional offense and defense meet, everyone is braced for impact, reads are surer on defense, and the speed and power of collisions on the field are greater. The no huddle teams tend to have more blocks and tackles made on the edges of the field, away from the crushing mass of offensive linemen. Ergo, it could be argued that the fast paced game is actually SAFER for players than traditional football!
The jury is still out on the last argument, in my opinion. But the idea that Malzhan has caused a rash of injuries in the SEC with his offense is pure bunk, clearly. My final conclusion is this: Bret Bielema had better have his defense properly conditioned and trained, or they’ll give up a ton of yards in the fast-paced SEC West. History shows that Bielema will have his guys ready. Whining about the hurry-up won’t help him, but at least we are now pretty sure that his guys won’t be getting any more injuries than they would against old-school teams.