UO football

Oregon football: Ducks' success on offense is just a matter of time

Oregon's fast offensive tempo has baffled opponents this season, and USC will try to solve it Saturday

By Rob Moseley

The Register-Guard

Appeared in print: Wednesday, Oct 27, 2010

In college football, it's best to take things one week at a time - unless Oregon looms on the schedule.

Because of the Ducks' withering offensive pace, USC has increased its tempo in recent practices. And not just this week or during the preceding bye week, Trojans coach Lane Kiffin said, but even earlier than that.

"Over the last couple of weeks, even going into the Cal game, we've picked up our tempo in practice whenever we were going against the defense," Kiffin said Tuesday. "I just think that if you try to all of a sudden do it in the week you're playing Oregon, it's not going to help a whole lot. …

"We've been doing this for a few weeks and took a different approach to the bye week than if we were probably playing someone else, by the speed we practiced at and the way we approached it."

The list of top-ranked Oregon's scoring drives this season, entering Saturday's 5 p.m. game at No. 24 USC, includes 16 shorter than a minute, and only three longer than four minutes. To some extent that reflects the big-play ability of such stars as LaMichael James, Jeff Maehl and Josh Huff, and also some favorable field position owing to the 25 turnovers forced by the UO defense and special teams.

But it also illustrates the tempo at which Oregon's offense plays, and the minimal time the Ducks take between snaps. Mostly, that's determined by how long it takes officials to spot the ball after the previous play.

"We're playing at a pretty good clip right now," UO coach Chip Kelly said. "I think it's because our players have a really good understanding of what we're trying to do. We just try to eliminate that time between plays, and then just go play."

Snapping the ball just a handful of seconds after the previous play minimizes the time available for the defense to call plays, substitute or react to Oregon's offensive formation. It's a common occurrence to see defenders spend those moments with their hands on their hips, a sure sign of fatigue.

Oregon doesn't have such trouble signalling plays to the offense. The Ducks streamlined their terminology in order to play faster on offense when Kelly was promoted to head coach in 2009, he said, and they employ a complicated system of signboards and hand signals to indicate plays during offensive possessions.

The signs each include four images - faces of ESPN personalities are among the most recognizable.

Kelly said the signs indicate a package of plays, and hinted that they can sometimes be used as a decoy. Sometimes, he said, players aren't asked to "go to the board" to get the call.

"It's just another way to play fast," Kelly said. "The analogy I can give you is, iif you go to McDonald's and order a No. 2, that's all you have to say and you get a Quarter Pounder and a drink and fries, and you just say, 'No. 2.' If we send them to the board, one picture can mean the formation and the play and the snap-count. That's all it is. It's just another way to play faster."

The Ducks' tempo seems particularly suited to their spread-option offense, which doesn't feature excessive pre-snap shifting and motion to fool the defense, as in the scheme employed by Boise State, to use just one example. But Kelly said he'd look to push the tempo even if Oregon's personnel was best suited to packages requiring three tight ends and a fullback.

"You could play up-tempo no matter what you do," Kelly said. "You watch (Indianapolis Colts quarterback) Peyton Manning, they're not running any option but they play as fast in the NFL, in terms of him being able to get their plays in and the speed they want to play at. So it's not married to the system."

Kelly also quipped that, "The byproduct is, as the play-caller, you can call a lot of really bad plays, and people forget about them quickly because we're on to the next one." But clearly Kelly, whose offense leads the nation in points and yardage, hasn't had many missteps in that regard.

The potential drawback to playing so fast on offense is that Oregon's defense is on the field so long. The Ducks are 114th out of 120 teams nationally in time of possession, at 26:40 per game; the 516 plays defended by Oregon are more than anybody else in the Pac-10 but Washington State.

The Ducks try to mitigate that with a regular rotation of about 25 players at the 11 positions on defense.

But Oregon also uses about 20 players regularly on offense, another challenge for opponents.

"The different ways they mix and match that personnel in terms of personnel groupings and formations, you're trying to identify what their top runs are and their top passes are, and when there's more of them it's hard to really pinpoint what their favorite ones to do are and defend them," Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said.

Kiffin and his staff at USC are trying to tackle that challenge this week.

"You don't know who's going to be in when," Kiffin said. "They do rotate guys in. I'm sure it's because they know they're going to play a lot of plays because their offense scores so fast and doesn't use very much time.

"The 14 touchdown drives under (54) seconds, that's unheard of for four years of games, let alone half a season. I'm sure that's why they do that. I don't think until this week I realized how deep they were. For them to play so many people on offense and defense, they've got great depth."

All of it speedy, as Oregon tries to keep pushing the pace of this historic season.

"We just try to eliminate that time between plays, and then just go play."

- Chip Kelly, Oregon Football Coach

Pitt T. Maner III shares:

On speed in practice:

Bill Walton on Wooden and UCLA basketball practice, from (With Steve Jamison) Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations On and Off Court, Contemporary Books (Lincolnwood, IL), 1997.

For us, it all started with our practices at UCLA, which were nonstop action and absolutely electric, super-charged, on edge, crisp, and incredibly demanding, with Coach Wooden pacing up and down the sidelines like a caged tiger, barking out instructions, positive reinforcement, and appropriate maxims: "Be quick, but don't hurry." "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail." "Never mistake activity for achievement." "Discipline yourself and others won't need to.

"At the same time he constantly moved us into and out of minutely detailed drills, scrimmages, and patterns while exorting us to "Move…quickly…hurry up!" It was wonderfully exhilarating and absolutely intense.

In fact, games actually seemed like they happened in a slower gear because of the pace at which we practiced. We'd run a play prefectly in scrimmage and Coach would say, "OK, fine. Now re-set. Do it again, faster." We'd do it again. Faster. And again. Faster. And again.

I'd often think during UCLA games, "Why is this taking so long?" because we had done everything that happened during a game thousands of times at a faster pace in practice.

Ralph Vince writes:

It's a game of evolution, the hurry up, with a mobile quarterback, an absence of putting a man in motion (and hence, plays that aren't contingent on defensive reads) and spread out receivers.

The counter to it is the part I am trying to study, and seems to be confusing blitzes (which are difficult to coordinate when faced with a no-huddle), middle zones and man for man on the outside (and, surprisingly, it appears the outside coverage man should take the INNER of to wideouts on the same side when that occurs). 

Russ Sears writes:

Football is a sport requiring quick short burst of speeds. Speeding up the normal pace of the game cause the recovery time to shorten drastically. An offense that knows before the position of attack can rotate the burst of speeds, where as the defense must all be ready and attacking. The stamina to endure these burst of speeds with short recovery takes a good month of training. This is, I believe, the Indy Colts advantage also.

In basketball, it takes even longer because of the aerobic base needed. Wooden and several other great basketball coaches practiced running stairs and full court press. As full court press is the basketball equivalent to no huddle offense.

In distance running the equivalent is cycles surging the letting up the pace. If you practiced this you could beat better runners who are not prepared for this.


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