Football sure has changed since I played in the 1960’s and coached from the 1970’s into the 21st century. My formula for a winning offense used to be run for 200 and pass for 100. 300 total yards of offense. That was a pretty good, balanced offense. Of course, playing good “D” was part of the equation too. Well, these days teams are getting more yardage and scoring more points so I’m not sure that formula is as reliable as it was 10-20 years ago. We have a team here in Central Illinois that won the 5A state championship last year by running an up tempo offense and just plain outscoring their opponents. In the process of going 13-1 they averaged 57.5 points per game and allowed 32 points per game. Some of their scores were: 70-63, 44-36, 68-34, 42-40, 74-49, 96-40, 68-46, and a 62-48 win in the state championship game! I find that incredible, especially when I grew up in an era of 14-7 and 21-14 games. This season in 2017 they’re averaging 69.8 points per game and giving up 54.8 points per game en route to a 3-2 record. Yes, I know this particular team is an extreme example but let’s face it, scoring IS up. And much of it has to do with up tempo offenses that strive to run as many plays as possible in a no huddle offense. Also, teams throw the ball more (effectively) and incomplete passes stop the clock. So, what used to be a 2 hour game has now turned into a three hour (or more) marathon with more scoring.
A lot is said these days of playing an up tempo offense. In football terms tempo describes the rate or rhythm of pace of play by the offense. Are teams playing a slow tempo or fast tempo? Most spread offenses like a no huddle, up, fast tempo. Why do Offensive Coordinators go no huddle? It’s simple, it creates problems for the defense. As an offense you want to do your best to throw the defense off its game and by installing an up tempo offense it enables an
offense to do just that. Often times when a team goes no huddle it’ll wear down a defense and when fatigue sets in we all know our body doesn’t react as explosive. I have to tell you though, I’ve always wondered why just the defense wears down – not the offense. Aren’t they both playing under the same fast paced conditions? It reminds me of the boxing story when Joey Maxim defeated Sugar Ray Robinson in 1952 on a hot summer night at Yankee Stadium. Robinson seemed to be in control of the fight all night but couldn’t get off his stool for the 14th round. It was ruled a TKO in Maxim’s favor. Responding to the frequent claim by sportswriters that “The heat, not Joey Maxim, defeated Robinson on that hot night,” Maxim said, “And what? I had air conditioning?” The best answer I found as to why the defense is affected more is, “the offense is used to it, they practice for it.” OK, I can accept that. So as a defensive coach, I’ll start changing how I prepare in practice. Simple. But maybe that’s a story for another day. Offensive coaches believe tempo does several things to the defense. I like what Coach Mac, head coach at Orange Park High School in Florida has to say including:
make things quicker. The only way to practice communication is to practice communication. Your entire practice periods that are team sessions must be ran from no huddle operating procedures. Your weight room should be up tempo. Your meetings should be up tempo. Your walk through should be up tempo. You need to establish a mindset within your program that says THIS IS HOW WE OPERATE.”
It’s obvious that many coaches have fully adopted the idea of going up tempo between plays, looking to snap the ball quickly from one play to the next. Such an up tempo, no-huddle philosophy allows an offense to maximize their advantage of controlling the game’s pace in a number of ways. According to an article by Kyle Jones in Film Study those ways were:
- Alignment: The most obvious advantage, as defenses often fail to communicate their play-call and line up before the ball is snapped when offenses go quickly.
- Personnel: If the offense does not huddle or substitute any players, the referees will not wait for the defense to do so, meaning the offense can maximize any mismatch they identify as long as the clock doesn’t stop.
- Simplified schemes: As a byproduct of the two previous points, defenses often call their most basic fronts and coverages in hopes of better communication and execution. According to a 2015 X and O Labs survey of over 1,000 coaches, this was the top reason for implementing an up tempo system.
- Conditioning: If you know you’re going to be running plays at a high tempo, you can train all year-round to do so effectively, whereas your opponent may not. Instead of thinking about where they need to be on every play, the defense will focus on when their next rest break is coming.
More Coach’s Thoughts
“I think that you can run a no-huddle, up-tempo with anything as long as you can get into enough formations to make the defense adjust,” said UCLA coach Jim Mora.
“Sometimes we’ll go quick, try to get there and snap it before they’re ready, and sometimes we’ll get up there quickly and give Josh (Rosen) a chance to force them to show their hands so you can get the right play.”
One great thing about tempo is it does not matter what your scheme or talent level is. Any team, at any level, can play up tempo football. What it really boils down to is a process of streamlining your communication skills. I heard one coach say, “Football is the only major team sport that actually huddles during live game time. You never see a basketball team, or baseball team, or soccer team, or volleyball team, or hockey team actually huddle while the game clock is moving or the ball is in play. So what is the purpose of the huddle? Communication.” So, yes, the huddle is used as a way to communicate assignments to your offensive players without the defense hearing what you are saying. If that can be done without the huddle, even an old timer like me has to say, “Why not”?
We have a resource here at Chiefpigskin.com that deals entirely with playing an up tempo system. Jud Naeger at Valle Catholic High School in Missouri has an overall record of 137-27 in his 13 plus years at VC including 6-0 this season. Coach Naeger has incorporated tempo into his entire program. His three clinic sessions cover it all – from why they are using tempo, to how to practice multiple tempos, to how they are calling in their tempos, to game planning with tempos. If you’re looking at more ways to add tempo to your offense or thinking about going to this system, this series would be a great addition to your library.
Once again, we here at Chiefpigskin are absolutely dedicated to helping all football coaches get better at what they do. Feel free to contact us any time to talk football. That’s what we do.
Coach L. Albaugh – DBLITY
Coach Albaugh coached high school football in Illinois for 28 years. During that time he coached at every level and on both sides of the ball. He was the offensive and defensive line coach for four undefeated teams and was a defensive coordinator in his last 11 years, twice reaching the semi finals of the Illinois state playoffs.