By REED NELSON
Is this what we want college football to be?
Do we really want a heart-pounding, head-scratching, oxygen-draining, Nascar-inspired cocktail of running, passing and ball-fakes that would make Jeff Gordan dizzy?
The 58,792 fans crammed into Autzen Stadium on Saturday night, screaming at a decibel level that would make the innards of a jet engine cringe would say it is.
For those who had the privilege of catching the Oregon-Washington telecast on Saturday night (a 10:30 p.m. kickoff on the East Coast), the answer should also be a resounding “Yes.”
Ask the teams that have emulated the Oregon’s No Huddle, No Mercy offensive tactics — West Virginia, Florida State and any team that has executed a successful Two Minute Drill this season — and they’d say that head coach Chip Kelly might be on to something.
The Ducks’ offense is more explosive than a Michael Bay movie. Exciting? Check. Awe-inspiring? Often-times, yes. Radically different from the traditional college style of play? You betcha. Good for the game? Most seem to think so.
But Nick Saban, the head coach of the strongest arm of the most exclusive oligopoly in college football, thinks otherwise.
“It’s obviously created a tremendous advantage for the offense when teams are scoring 70 points,” Saban told the Kansas City Star during the weekly SEC coaches’ teleconference.
“I think there has to be some sense of fairness in terms of asking, “Is this what we want football to be?””
He then proceeded to ask if reality television was what we wanted to watch; if rap music was what we wanted to listen to; if Twitter was how we wanted to stay connected and if the internet was really all that cool. Alright, it don’t go down exactly like that, but if the teleconference hadn’t been limited to 15 minutes, he might have launched into a rant extolling the virtues of television programs like “Knight Rider.”
Saban postured this loaded question, dripping in Traditional Saban Brand Resentment under the guise of “player safety.” He expressed concern for a defense’s ability to get properly lined up and the officials ability to get set. He told reporters that the capacity for defensive substitutions all but disappears when you face a team with an offense like Oregon’s.
Uh, Nick?? Duh. That’s the point. That’s sort of like a boxer’s trainer saying, ‘Well, you see, when another fighter has too fast a 1-2 punch combo, my guy can’t defend himself properly. It’s a safety thing. He could land 20-30 more punches a minute than most guys. Is that what we want boxing to be?’
Or, in other words, ‘ Is this what we want football to be? A game in which Alabama doesn’t have an inherent advantage?’
Telling the Ducks to slow down is like asking a hawk to stay grounded or asking Manny Pacquiao to lay off the jabs and straights — it negates the one quintessential advantage they have over the competition.
The Ducks offense, by design, has a heartbeat like a hummingbird. They rely on staggering speed to make up for the sheer size of many other school’s front seven. They spread the field to make each part of the offense matter more. And they line up quickly to attack weaknesses in the opposition’s conditioning, preparation and personnel.
Nick Saban can claim he is concerned about player safety, that he doesn’t like when teams run “14-, 16-, 18-play drives and they’re snapping the ball as fast they can,” which he also told the Kansas City Star, but in reality, he should leave off the qualifier and just say that he doesn’t like when “… you look out there and all your players are walking around and can’t even get lined up.”
That’s because Saban, armed with complaints regarding the success of offenses like Oregon’s, chucked the world of Fact and Statistic out the window, while he was traveling 80 mph down Alabama S.R. 216.
In the crumpled wrapper of reality, however, the coach would have found some interesting numbers: The Ducks lead the nation in touchdown drives lasting one minute or less (11), and two minutes or less (20). Since Kelly took over in 2009, Oregon lead’s the nation in one-minute touchdown drives (63), three-play touchdown drives (57), touchdown’s of 20 yards or more (88 of them big play bad boys) and points per game (44.2).
Um, “14-, 16-, 18-play drives” coach? Not so fast.
While Saban might have thought that Oregon’s style of play was wrought with Rope-a-Dope, Ground-and-Pound-on-Speed tactics, it turns out that they rely on the home run more than the New York Yankees. If anything, call it a “Hit ‘Em While They Ain’t Looking” offense, with their main distraction predicated upon speed.
Saban might have concern for player safety, but this wasn’t the time or the place to reference it. In regards to the No Huddle, his concern for player safety rivals his concern for polite encounters with the media. Last week, though, he showed plenty of concern for his coaching style’s place in the future of college football.
News flash Nick: You’re not going anywhere. This is just different than what you do. That can be tough for you, but you’re smart, you’ll work through it. But be certain, coach Kelly is one step ahead of you.