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To huddle, or not to huddle? That is the question.
Whether 'tis nobler on the field to call
For slings and screens with outrageous frequency
Or to gather round to discuss a play
And by talking, bleed the clock to death....
AL BORGES asked himself that question this year. Every off-season the Michigan offensive coordinator studies the most productive college and professional offenses in order to glean ideas that might improve his own unit's production. Over the past few years he has studied a number of up-tempo, no-huddle offenses. Every time Borges pulls up the NCAA total offense stats, there they are near the top: Clemson, Oklahoma State, Oregon—teams with offenses that never stop moving. Each of those teams averaged more than 512 yards per game last season.
Every year more teams see the flash of light and attempt to speed up. In 2008 the FBS average was 67.7 offensive plays a game. In '12 the average jumped to 71.5. This preseason Texas coach Mack Brown has ordered offensive coordinator Major Applewhite to push the accelerator on the Longhorns' offense. Kentucky will move at light speed in '13 if first-year coordinator Neal Brown gets his wish. Auburn, after a disastrous switch to a pro-style offense in '12, hired former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn as head coach. Now that he's in charge, Malzahn intends to make the Tigers move even faster than they did when he ran the offense from '09 through '11, with a high of 70.3 plays per game his first year.
Despite the gaudy numbers put up by offenses that eschew between-play meetings for on-the-fly play-calling, Borges has adopted a more contrarian stance. After two seasons spent tweaking his preferred offense to suit the multiple skills of quarterback Denard Robinson, who was recruited to run Rich Rodriguez's hurry-up spread option, Borges will pull the Wolverines back toward the 1990s. With Robinson in the NFL and Devin Gardner running the offense, Borges's team will move at a methodical pace with runs from the "home position"—behind or slightly offset from the quarterback—setting up play-action passes. "That may seem a little old school and maybe even boring to some fans," Borges says, "but [those offenses] still win. I think Alabama has proven that."
MEANWHILE, IN Stillwater, Okla., Mike Gundy wants an already blurry offense to add another gear. Gundy's Oklahoma State offense has increased its offensive plays per game every year for the past four seasons. In 2009 the Cowboys averaged 68.5 plays and gained 5.4 yards a snap. Then Gundy hired Dana Holgorsen to run the offense in '10, and he fired up the afterburners. In '12, under coordinator Todd Monken, Oklahoma State averaged 78 plays and seven yards a snap. Like Holgorsen (West Virginia), Monken has moved on to a head-coaching job (Southern Mississippi). So last February, Gundy hired coordinator Mike Yurcich from Division II Shippensburg, whose teams set school records for points and total plays and in 2012 led D-II in scoring (46.9 points per game). Yurcich's job is to make the Cowboys go even faster.
Gundy has done this for two reasons. One is schematic. "We think we can stretch a defense," Gundy says. The other reason is more practical. In a section of the country where hurry-up spread schemes reign at the high school level, Gundy believes the best players want to play in an exciting offense that requires a multitude of playmakers. "We feel that young men who are in high school who have an opportunity to touch the football, have an opportunity to be part of an offense, want to play in that style," Gundy says. "They look forward to it. We thought years ago, when we made a change, that there was a benefit in recruiting in this part of the country."