Mailbag: Opening Plays
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Hot Reads: A Quick Pace for Nebraska Football Is Only Part of It

August 16, 2018

If you happened to miss Derek Peterson's story on Nebraska's continued adventures in upping the offensive tempo this fall camp, be sure to check that out. It's a good look at how a quick pace, at least with this staff, is a program-wide endeavor.

The meetings are fast, something you'll also find over at Devaney Center with Nebraska volleyball (but for a slightly different reason). The strength and conditioning program is designed to get players ready for the intense demands. (Before a tempo can be withering for the opponent, you first have to make sure it isn't withering for you.) What happens after a play is over is coached as well to ensure that the next play can be run as quickly as desired.

It's all very Oregon-y, and, in my opinion, that comprehensive system during the Chip Kelly era may have been a bigger advantage for the Ducks than the actual pace of the offense. While everyone talked about Oregon's "blur" offense, it was more of a "blur" lifestyle and it turned out to be (a) mind-bendingly fun to watch and (b) really effective.

And the fact Oregon wasn't just going fast in games, but all the time, may have had some other benefits. I was reminded of that while reading the second part of RedmondLonghorn's breakdown of optimal college football offense at Football Study Hall. The first part, outlining the five elements of optimal offense, was one of my favorite pieces of this offseason.

The second part, looking at how those elements snap together in various ways, is just as good. And just as relevant for Nebraska in 2018.

Here's the part (about the Ducks) that had me thinking today's Huskers:

More strategic gains can be made by a program that embraces a high degree of pace in its practices, especially if implemented in concert with a simplified offensive scheme.
It is evident that fitting more reps into practice while practicing a smaller number of concepts adds up to more reps per concept, but the degree of leverage in the math is perhaps non-intuitively large.

What does "non-intuitively large" look like? The author offers the hypothetical example of an offense with 40 concepts (plays, but plays that could be run from multiple formations) and time for 200 reps. You don't need a calculator to figure out that's five reps per concept. Cut the number of concepts in half, however, and you're getting double the reps per concept.

It's a basic example, but a powerful one. "Is it any wonder that Chip Kelly’s Oregon teams executed his offense so well?" the author writes.

There are many college playbooks online, but Kelly-era Oregon isn't one I've ever been able to find –– not surprising since we're talking about Kelly here –– so I can't assess for myself how "simple" the Ducks offense was. But we do know that at a 2009 coaches clinic Kelly mentioned the Ducks had four running plays, which is pretty brazenly simple.

Simplicity-plus-pace is just one of the elemental mashups mentioned in the article. There's also optionality and space and quarterback runs. Coordinators can combine them as they see fit, or try to put them all together and assemble a Voltron of offense. (QB runs! Options! Simplicity! Pace! Space! FORM!)

Some programs have done that in the recent past.

Both of Baylor’s and Oregon’s early- to mid-2010s offenses utilized most, if not all, of the principles described above. But an offense utilizing these principled need not resemble either of those closely, at least in terms of style. The Chad Morris offense that we have seen at Clemson and SMU (and will see this fall at Arkansas) also fits the model. As does the offense Scott Frost utilized at UCF and has taken to Lincoln.

We'll see how long it takes for Nebraska to build such a system in Lincoln, but when it is finished –– as much as any thing can ever be "finished" –– it's worth remembering that the fast pace is simply part of it.

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