LA rivals take different sides of up-tempo debate
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Crosstown rivals Lane Kiffin and Jim Mora stand on different sides in the debate about up-tempo offenses in college football.
Kiffin, the Southern California coach, is concerned about the possible safety ramifications of a style of play that crams an extra 20 plays in a 60-minute game.
“I think there is a conversation there,” Kiffin said Wednesday as the Pac-12 held a mini-media day in Connecticut to go along with its coaches appearing on ESPN. “We’re not going to hit as much in practice in season. We might change things in the spring, but at the same time we’re increasing the number of plays.”
UCLA’s Mora, meanwhile, embraced fast-break football in his first season as a college head coach.
“If an offense substitutes then the official stands over the ball and the defense is allowed to substitute. So I think the rule is fine,” said Mora, who was a defensive assistant and coordinator in the NFL before becoming a head coach with Atlanta and Seattle.
Alabama coach Nick Saban and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema have been the most high-profile coaches to suggest the up-tempo craze might not be in the best interest of the players, and that maybe something needs to be done to slow down the game.
Saban talked at Southeastern Conference media days about whether football was meant to be played as a continuous action game.
Mora said that after being around the game for 30 years, “I don’t think there is a safety issue.”
UCLA was 13th in the nation, and third in the Pac-12, in plays per game at 81.7. Arizona was tops in the conference at 83.2 and Oregon was second at 82.8. Arizona State gave the Pac-12 four teams in the national top-15 at 81.5.
“And there were games when I felt like we were going to slow. I’m yelling at (quarterback) Brett (Hundley), Snap it! Let’s go! Move! Move!” Mora said. “I’m used to huddle. Break the huddle. Linemen walk up to the line of scrimmage, they kind of wiggle down into their stance and there’s a little motion. The ball’s snapped and everyone comes back to the huddle.
“It was funny how quickly I started to enjoy that up-tempo. It was like basketball fast-break. Plus, I saw it could be a real advantage for us offensively.”
Like Mora, Arizona State coach Todd Graham is also former defensive coach who fully endorses face-paced football. He said it’s harder to coach.
“It doesn’t do you any good to go fast and mess up,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any safety issues. I know that’s been brought up in SEC stuff.”
Kyle Whittingham of Utah, another head coach with a defensive background, said the game is already over-officiated and rules to control tempo aren’t necessary.
“What I do think is the college game is too long,” he said. “It’s too many plays. Of the NFL, high school and college, college is by far the most plays per game. Rather than slow down the pace of the offense, I think shorten the game a little bit. Don’t stop the clock after first downs. Do two or three things to shorten the game naturally without having to dictate how people approach the game.”
The Utes haven’t run much up-tempo offense in recent years as they have struggled to find consistent quarterback play. Last season, only USC (67.5) ran fewer plays per game in the Pac-12 than Utah (67.8).
Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez is one of the Godfather’s of spread, up-tempo offenses.
Just being asked the question about the potential safety issues of the no-huddle and possible rule changes prompted a chuckle from Rodriguez.
“It’s silly. I think maybe they should look at blitzing more guys than you can block and see if there’s a safety issue in that, too,” he said. “How many quarterbacks have gotten hit when a guy came unblocked? Maybe you shouldn’t be able to bring seven when I only have six to block.
“Do the rules favor offense? Sure. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and it wasn’t a safety issue before. Who goes to a game to watch a huddle? Maybe the concessionaires like it so they can sell more hot dogs.”
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP