If Georgia’s 2011 offense includes a higher-tempo or no-huddle look, it’s not exactly a big secret anymore. Whether or not Richard Samuel intended to let the cat out of the bag, his Q&A with the AJC didn’t leave much room for doubt.
Q: Surely some things have changed. How much would you say is different?
A: I’d just say the signals mainly; actually the whole play-calling situation. We’re doing a lot of no-huddle and a lot of high-tempo stuff, and that’s new to us. There are a lot of sight adjustments, so you have to be paying attention and focused and listening and hurrying up.
Georgia isn’t the only team in the game that might speed things up. Boise is hardly known for its tempo or no-huddle look. Their identity is much more about motion, misdirection, and getting superior numbers. But one game last year gave future Boise opponents a lot to think about.
In a November game against Hawaii, Boise State put up 737 yards of total offense (a school record), and Kellen Moore threw for an otherworldly 507 yards – in just three quarters – by breaking out the no-huddle. Before you start with the “yeah, but the schedule…” stuff, Boise’s output was more than twice what Hawaii allowed on average. That would be impressive for a team running a system that it had spent all year perfecting, but Boise’s gaudy production came via a gameplan on offense that was “a little bit outside of who we are,” admits coach Chris Petersen. “It’s hard when you don’t major in that.”
It’s important to note that Boise’s use of the no-huddle was a strategic counter to Hawaii’s tendency to use multiple looks on defense to create confusion. By speeding things up, the tables are turned, and the defense is forced into a reactive mode. Kellen Moore explains, “The tempo helps get the defense into more base coverages and base defenses,” he said. “They don’t have time to throw in their unique blitzes and things like that when they only have a short few seconds to call plays.”
If Georgia’s defense is effective early at disrupting Moore, don’t be surprised to see the Broncos try to speed things up to get Georgia’s defense back on their heels. Offensive coordinator Brian Harsin plans to have the no-huddle ready to use. “I think it’s a good changeup for us to have in there,” Harsin said. Georgia should have a little more familiarity with their defense in coordinator Todd Grantham’s second year, but there are still enough newcomers at all three levels of defense to cause missed assignments if there’s much pre-snap confusion.
There’s a down side to speeding things up on offense. If you’re not successful sustaining drives and scoring, your defense is put right back on the field. Worst case for Georgia? A reprise of two common 2010 maladies: a defense that hasn’t solved its third-and-long problems coupled with a an up-tempo offense that struggles out of the gate could have the Georgia defense sucking wind by halftime. Forget finishing strong – Boise is a team that has been very effective at jumping out on their opponents, and a no-huddle strategy that turned out like the scenario above would look a lot like this.
Of course the opposite is what Georgia hopes will happen, and that was the story of the 2005 game. If the Bulldog defense can get stops, it will give its own offense a chance to set the tempo. None of this is groundbreaking stuff (who knew defense likes three-and-outs?), but the Bulldog defense will have a lot to say about whether Georgia’s offense can run at its preferred tempo. That’s why Blutarsky had this reaction to Samuel’s news: “Richt likes what he’s seeing out of the defense.” You can’t use tempo as an attacking strategy if you’re having to use tempo in a defensive way to preserve the legs and lungs of your defense.
Fundamental to any successful up-tempo offense is communication from the sideline to the field and a quarterback who can process the play and the defense in a few seconds. The quarterback’s job is a little easier if the defense is forced by the tempo into more basic looks, but he still has to be familiar enough with his own system to get everyone lined up and adapt from play to play. That’s not much of an issue for Boise State. Kellen Moore is about as experienced as they come in college, and he should be on the same page with Petersen. Aaron Murray isn’t as experienced within his system as Moore, but he’s at least settled in now. Richt won’t have to limit the scope of what he asks from Murray, and Murray should be able to make his own adjustments.