Hawkeyes' offense joins life in the fast lane

Iowa joins just in time for a movement to slow down the hurry-up

Marc Morehouse
Published: September 4 2013 | 11:43 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 7:58 pm in
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IOWA CITY -- If you had to put a speedometer on Iowa's version of the no-huddle offense, you'd probably clock it at Volkswagen Golf with V6.

It's not the Indy 500, it's not the Ferrari that Oregon drives, but it's zippy and for Iowa it's a switch to the left lane.

"We got a lot more plays in, which was one of the things coach [offensive coordinator Greg Davis] was telling us," quarterback Jake Rudock said. "That's what we want to do. We want to run more plays, we want to change tempo, speed it up or slow it down."

In the second half of last week's 30-27 loss to Northern Illinois, Iowa snapped the ball within the range of 12 to 19 seconds left on the playclock. Iowa clicked off 80 plays (43 rushing, 37 passing). The Huskies' pace could've dragged along the Hawkeyes (the only game Iowa broke 80 plays in last season was against NIU with 82), but Iowa rarely huddled with wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy, among others, signaling playcalls from the sideline.

The Hawkeyes averaged 66 plays a game last season. That's been about the norm the last five years, with ranges from 66 to 64. It remains to be seen, obviously, where this goes. But Iowa has committed to it for the time being.

"There were a couple actually where the officials kind of slowed us down a little bit, too," coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We would've liked to have gone a little quicker. It's something we started on in the spring, what we'll choose week-to-week, how much or how little we do of it, it's something our guys are executing a little more proficiency.

"If we think we can use it to our advantage, we'll try to."

OK, Iowa is no-huddle, not quite hurry-up, but the pace has quickened. Now, coaches like Alabama's Nick Saban, Florida's Wil Muschamp, Arkansas' Bret Bielema and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio want it to stop.

The grumble against the no-huddle started this summer, when Saban floated the idea the speed of offenses put defensive players in harm's way. Bielema, a former member of the NCAA rules committee, proposed a 15-second substitution period after every first down.

"There is a lot of truth that the way offensive philosophies are driven now, there's times where you can't get a defensive substitution in for 8, 10, 12 play drives," Bielema said this summer. "That has an effect on safety of that student-athlete, especially the bigger defensive linemen, that is really real."

During Tuesday's Big Ten teleconference, Dantonio said, "If you ask your players to play in space more, maybe you don't have to be as direct, if you follow my drift on how you play the game. I don't think it's going to change. I do think when teams run 90-plus plays a game, sometimes it can become a safety issue for the defensive players from the standpoint of they can't play if they're tired and when they're tired, they get hurt.

"You play within the rules, what they are. I think everyone is doing a little bit of this and going their own way through it."

Dantonio sidestepped when asked if he would change the rules to slow the game down.

All this talk about the safety of defensive players. What do defensive players think about that?

"Not really," senior linebacker James Morris said when asked if he bought into the notion. "The issue of substitution and the equality of substitution opportunities is probably something you get hung up on. But I think that the history of the game and rule changes, those have been more or less tailored to enhancing the offense's ability to score. That's what makes the game marketable, I understand that.

"But as far as the player safety side of it, I don't necessarily buy into that."

In the NFL this season, offensive and defensive players are barred from "forcibly initiating contact with the crown of their helmet outside the tackle box." Basically, it's a penalty if a running back breaks outside and lowers his helmet going into contact.

That's not the rule in college, so, no, you can't score one for the defense quite yet in the NCAA. The cavalry isn't coming. Iowa didn't run a lot of personnel in on defense against Northern Illinois' hurry-up pace. Cornerback B.J. Lowery was forced to tap out in the fourth quarter because of the heat and exhaustion.

"[If] somebody's going in, they have got to get in, and that communication has to happen quickly," Ferentz said. "You have to anticipate it and then, it may be a situation where you have a nickel group or dime group get ready and you just have to pull them back, because that situation doesn't develop, but you'd better be ahead of the curve on that."

Until rules throttle down on hurry-up offenses, defensive players would rather not have coaches saying it's dangerous for them to be out there because they're too tired.

"Adapting as opposed to complaining," Morris said. "The people who are going to be successful are the people who adapt and not complain. Defenses need to do a better job with substitution packages.

"I think right now, offenses are a little ahead of the curve as far as strategy and the way the game is moving. I'll be curious to see how it all plays out [in the future], but right now, we are where we are."

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