How “Up Tempo” Has Become the New “Ground and Pound” Offensive Style of Football
The college football landscape has undergone a meteoric rise in relation to the spread offense both in running the football and throwing the football along with the utilization of the zone running game marrying itself to the old school option game. Along with the steady rise of athletes taking over at the quarterback position, now teams are emphasizing and focusing on what was once a novelty gimmick for programs in a no huddle, up-tempo, hurry up offense predicated on wearing down the opposing defense and putting points in bunches up on the scoreboard. By dictating the pace, teams can get ahead into the second half and physically tire out defenders forcing substitutions with lesser overall talented players in their spots and reasonably allowing for bigger plays and quicker chances to score touchdowns.
This effect even landed with Nick Saban and Alabama last year under the guidance of Lane Kiffin as their new offensive coordinator. From 2010 through 2013, Saban preached a methodical offense designed around a powerful running game, big play threats on the outside at receiver, and smart decision making from his quarterback while controlling the ball to keep his defense rested and use brute force to beat up opponents. His teams generally ran anywhere from 830 to 890 plays in a given year but under Kiffin they ran an astonishing 1,018 plays on offense. Their previous best as a team was 947 in 2009, which incidentally saw Mark Ingram run for 1,658 yards and 17 TD that season while Trent Richardson added 749 yards and 8 TD. Despite going up-tempo more, the effect helped improve their passing game with Blake Sims almost through for 3,500 yards while running backs Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon combined for almost 2,000 yards rushing with 22 TD.
Smaller school programs have been able to take solid talent and despite the inability to maybe recruit as easily as an Ohio State or Florida State, they have been able to force teams to play on the field on their terms which is transforming the football game from a North/South pounding smash mouth affair to one of horizontal field width and vertical plays emphasizing speed and the ability to make plays in space and often times matched up 1 on 1 with a defender. Last season, Baylor finished 1st in points scored and averaged nearly 23 points more than their defense was allowing. That’s an advantage of three touchdowns and a field goal over their opposition and they did so by running 87 plays a game while facing just 72. You give any explosive offense a chance to run 15 plays essentially for free, they will press your defense and make you pay on the scoreboard. Art Briles was a disappointing 8-16 in two years before deciding to go up-tempo in 2010 and since then he has fashioned a record of 47-18 (72.3&) with 5 straight bowl appearances.
California under Jeff Tedford bottomed out at 3-9 in 2012 and promptly hired Sonny Dykes and Tony Franklin from Louisiana Tech where the duo had just completed a miracle run of success at that program. Despite going 1-11 in 2013, the duo immediately had their system in place making a massive jump from 68 plays a game under Tedford to nearly 88 plays a game offensively. The real jump came in 2014 when they dipped slightly, running just 81 plays a game but improved their record to a solid 5-7 while improving from 97th in points per game to 11th in the nation. Their ability to play up-tempo allowed them to challenge programs that were arguably far better than them including Arizona (45-49 L), UCLA (34-36 L), USC (30-38 L), and BYU (35-42 L).
As more and more college teams progress and transition to an up-tempo style, never mind professional NFL teams such as Green Bay transitioning to an up-tempo playing style, it allows for lower string athletes to get onto the field in a rotational manner while also forcing players to think and react faster offensively and take advantage of coverage match ups given to them by the defense. Freshmen are able to enter college and make an immediate impact nowadays without having to sit behind an upperclassman while they try to digest an advanced playbook and make a push for the starting job as a sophomore if not as a junior. Quarterback Anu Solomon of Arizona threw for almost 3,800 yards with 28 TD while playing under Rich Rodriguez. Under head coach Urban Meyer, freshman J.T. Barrett came out of nowhere to replace Braxton Miller and he threw for over 2,800 yards with 34 touchdowns while running for over 900 yards and 11 more touchdowns.
This year may prove to be a watershed moment when it comes to up-temp football teams around the country as the Oklahoma Sooners, Kansas Jayhawks, Hawai’i Warriors, Texas Longhorns, and even lower level programs such as Northern Iowa are all moving up more of a hurry up, up-tempo look to either take advantage of the athleticism they may be employing at quarterback or to simply try and give them an edge over opponents during the season.
Credit to CBSSports.com for main image