October 17, 2018

The Hurry-Up, No-Huddle: An Offensive Philosophy (Part 1)

What can Clemson fans expect from Chad Morris’ offense when September 3 rolls around?  80 plays, 500 yards and 45 points a game?  Who really knows?  We saw what Auburn did, but they had Cam Newton.  We saw what Tulsa did, but they play in C-USA.  And what is the Hurry-Up, No-Huddle anyway, what are the secrets to being successful with it, goals of the offense and measuring sticks for success or failure?

To get some of these questions answered my summer reading project (one of them anyway) was “The Hurry-Up, No-Huddle: An Offensive Philosophy” by Gus Malzahn.  The Morris version is not exactly the same as each coach adds an iteration or two as shown by Morris preferring the term “Smash Mouth Spread”, which seems to rely on more of a running game than the Malzahn version (at least the Malzahn high school version).  Still, looking at the birth and development of the base system (and goals) will be beneficial in understanding what Morris will attempt to do with the Clemson offense.

In this series we’ll look at the history, set the background, define the goals and see how these and other facets of the offense may (or may not) apply to the 2011 Clemson Tigers.

In the Beginning

After a 6-6 record in 1996 Malzahn realized that he needed an edge if his team was going to compete for a state championship.  Shiloh Christian was from an area of Arkansas not known for a wealth of talent and while researching philosophies the coaches noticed that they often scripted two or three plays in the hurry up mode at the beginning of games and these plays were typically successful.  However, after these initial hurry-up plays they regressed to their regular offense and their usual struggles.  What if we ran the hurry-up the entire game?  Viola!  A revolution was begun.

The new offense took a 6-6 team that averaged 15.5 points, 252 yards and 41 plays into a team that was 14-1, averaged 30 points per game, 448 yards, and 59 plays per game in high school.  After year 4 of the Hurry-Up, No-Huddle, Malzahn’s teams had combined for a 57-2-1 record and averaged 6,816 yards of offense per year (454 yards per game – in HIGH SCHOOL).

What it is and what it is not

The Malzahn offense is a true hurry-up offense in the sense it is not a no huddle, get to the line of scrimmage and look to the sideline for the play as in some previous versions of the Clemson offense.  As we’ll see shortly, the goal is to get the snap off as quickly as possible, not get to the line, look to the sideline, call the play and THEN snap the ball.


The Malzahn Hurry-Up, No-Huddle has specific goals during the game.

  1. Speed up the game – The quarterback should be calling out the next play as the players are returning to the line of scrimmage.  The ball should be snapped within 5 seconds of being marked ready for play, perhaps a couple of seconds longer if motion is a big part of the offense.  The quicker the ball is snapped the larger advantage gained by the offense.  The offensive team wants to control the tempo of the game.
  2. Lengthen the game – Not the time the game takes to play (the 2 and a half to 3 hours), but the actual playing time, i.e. you want more plays to be run.  This philosophy also requires a team to be aggressive in all areas – offense, defense and special teams.  You want your team to have as many offensive opportunities as possible, so giving up long, time-consuming drives by playing a “safe” defense is counterproductive.  Many times Malzahn would go for it on fourth down in his own territory, unconcerned that he may give up an “easy score”.  An interesting side note is that this philosophy sometimes leads to a “when you lose, you lose big” result.  Think Texas Tech under Mike Leach (a different offense I know, but he often went for it on fourth down and lost big when he lost).  Many times Malzahn used his quarterback as the punter from the shotgun to avoid having a team being able to set up a return.  You have to be willing to gamble and live (or die) with the results.  Morris, of course, won’t be making the decisions on when to go for it on fourth down so I would expect that what we see will be more typical of the college coaches decision-making on 4th down – in other words don’t expect Dabo to go for it on 4th and 5 from his own 27 in the first quarter.
  3. Mentally and physically wear down your opponent – Constant pressure on your opponent is the goal, not only their defense, but their offense, too.  Your defense should pressure their offense and take chances.  If you achieve goals one and two above this usually takes care of itself.

Advantages of the offense

The book was written for high school coaches and as such there are some passages that do not apply to college football, but here are the ones that do:

  1. You will set the tempo of the game – Think “Basketball on grass”.
  2. It’s fun for players and fans – We’ve seen the quotes, the players love it.  We’ve heard the fans, they want it.
  3. Score points quickly – Makes it easier to get opposing teams out of their game plans early.
  4. More offensive snaps – Malzahn thinks this is significant and that’s hard to argue given the stats we provided above.  However, my research on college football indicates the number of snaps is less important than other factors in winning games.
  5. Defenses cannot simulate it in practice – Think Georgia Tech.
  6. Defenses have to spend more time than usual preparing – Think Clemson preparing for Georgia Tech
  7. Stops defenses from regrouping after big plays – We saw an example of this in the spring game, a long pass, followed by a quick hitter, followed by a short touchdown run, all within a minute or so.  Defenses will have to use a timeout to regroup.
  8. Pressure is on the opposing defensive coordinator and communication problems – How is a defensive play usually called?  DC looks at the down and distance and offensive tendencies, makes a call, relays it to the sideline, the sideline signals it in.  That’s impossible in 5 to 8 seconds.  Maybe 10 players get the call right and one is out of position.  If this happens 8 or 10 or 12 times a game its a huge advantage.
  9. Fatigue for defenses – No more 25 second ( or more) breaks between plays for the defense.  A 25 yard run could be followed by a long pass 5 to 8 seconds after the ball is marked ready to play.

Now that you have an understanding of the origins, goals and advantages of the hurry-up, no-huddle offense we’ll continue to delve into the nuances of the offense next week in part 2.

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