Gary Danielson: Up-tempo offenses receive too much credit
Posted by: Pete Roussel on Thursday August 01, 2013
CBS college football analyst Gary Danielson often goes against common thought with his analysis.
For example, Danielson described today why he doesn’t buy the hype that up-tempo offenses wear down defenses physically like most people believe.
The effect of six straight plays coming at you quickly, without a chance to substitute, is less about becoming physically tired than it is about not being able to utilize the strengths of your defensive personnel.
Danielson told Tim Brando, “I’m just not all in on this, okay. I have to admit that I’m more old-school on this than probably anybody else. Speeding up tempo has gotten way too much credit for why teams are doing well. I’ve studied this A&M game against Alabama. Tempo had nothing to do with that game. Nothing.”
“There was no hurry-up in the game (A&M vs. Alabama) that really affected the play. The reason I think Nick Saban doesn’t really love the up-tempo game is because he feels that he has an advantage because he is good with his substituted defenses.”
The “nothing” statement is incorrect. What I think Danielson was trying to say was that the tempo of A&M’s offense didn’t wear down the Crimson Tide defensive players from a physical standpoint. It didn’t affect their quality of play.
The tempo, however, did affect the game. As I recall from watching a replay of the game last week, Alabama’s failure to correctly substitute a rotation of players before a crucial play in the middle of the fourth quarter forced the Crimson Tide to burn a timeout, one they absolutely would have used late in the game. One could argue whether the substitution was due to physical exhaustion or for match-up and schematic reasons, but regardless, Alabama burned a timeout.
The bottom line, as illustrated in our column on the common factors in Nick Saban’s last 7 losses, A&M finished +3 in the turnover margin against Alabama. The Aggies ran 77 plays, converted 61% of third-down opportunities, and allowed Bama to score just two touchdowns in four red zone opportunities.
So what is the real effect of the up-tempo offense?
Saban and Kirby Smart are masters of using multiple personnel packages in order to match the strengths of their personnel against different offensive personnel packages and schemes.
Danielson said, “He’s got a lot of players and knows how to coach them. He runs a sophisticated defense, and what that offense (up-tempo style) does is keeps Nick from using all of his weapons in his mind.”
“Now, go to the other end of the spectrum. John Chavis could care a less. He plays the same 11 guys. When they go fast, he just stands there and says go ahead. He doesn’t change linebackers, he doesn’t change defensive backs. He just plays the same defense every time, and is just as affective against the up-tempo and he is against the huddle.”
Statistics prove that faster-tempo offenses will score more points, but as we have all come to realize, the pace affects your own defense, as well. Over the last two years, Oklahoma’s Josh Heupel has averaged 80 play-calls per game, the most in the nation. Just last week, Bob Stoops indicated that the Sooners will slow the tempo offensively in order to help their defense, which has fallen off drastically in the last couple of years. Bronco Mendenhall expects the BYU defense to play 15-20 more snaps per game this season due to the new up-tempo offense the Cougars will incorporate.
Don’t forget, as I pointed out in February, of the 25 teams averaged the most offensive snaps per game in 2012, only Tulsa won their outright conference championship. UCLA won the PAC-12 south, but lost to Stanford in the PAC-12 championship game.
Danielson said, “It’s funny how underdog teams believe, and that’s the people who are trying to take advantage of it and successfully, some are having success doing it, but I find it so counter-intuitive against other sports. In every other sport when you are the underdog, you try to limit the number of plays. Take basketball or hockey when you are playing a powerful team, there more plays theoretically, the better team will win.”
“I think when you play 100 plays, Alabama is going to win way more often than the underdog. I just don’t see where it’s that much of an advantage.”
Danielson concludes, “Don’t underestimate that the spread offenses really go back to that quarterback on third-down. That’s where you go back to Manziel, who can run it or pass it on third down, and thus had a great year.”