22 December 2010

How Oregon may be setting a new paradigm for collegiate football

Excerpts from an interesting article in the New York Times.
[Head coach Chip] Kelly has transformed football into an aerobic sport. This style is particularly of the moment because it is apparent that football, at least in the short term, will become less violent. Kelly’s teams have found a new way to intimidate, one that does not involve high-speed collisions and head injuries...

His teams usually gather steam as the game progresses and draw their confidence from knowing that the other team will wear down. Oregon’s second-to-last touchdown in what would become a 53-16 rout of Washington came on the fifth play of a 1 minute 8 second drive — meaning they ran plays off about every 13 seconds. (That included the time it took to run the plays.) Its final touchdown, a 30-yard sprint to the end zone by a reserve running back, came on the last of nine consecutive rushing plays. It commenced five seconds after the completion of the previous play...

In Kelly’s offense, the point of a play sometimes seems to be just to get it over with, line up and run another... “Obviously, all of our plays are designed to gain yards,” Gary Campbell, Oregon’s running-backs coach, explained. “But our guys understand the cumulative effect of running them really fast.”

College-football offenses have become more wide open in recent years, but the highest-scoring attacks tend to rely mainly on the forward pass. They are aerial circuses, like Texas Tech under former Coach Mike Leach, whose celebrated spread offense from 2000 to 2009 was so pass-first that his quarterback, in 2003, averaged about 60 pass attempts and 486 passing yards per game. By contrast, Oregon was leading the nation in scoring through 10 games this season with an attack almost evenly split between passing and rushing attempts. The run plays — because receivers are not spread all over the field at the end of a play — allow the Ducks to scramble back to the line of scrimmage and quickly snap the ball again. And Oregon sequences its plays and formations in such a way that it can push the tempo even after pass attempts. The running-backs coach, Gary Campbell, told me that if a receiver on the right side of a formation is sent on a crossing pattern to the other side of the field, Oregon coaches have already planned a formation for the next play that keeps him on the side of the field where he finished...

“What Oregon’s doing will take the evolution of football to a whole different level,” Brian Baldinger, a former player for several pro teams and now an analyst with the N.F.L. Network, told me. “Nobody in the whole history of football can snap off plays as quickly as this team does. Other teams can’t condition for it. It’s a great equalizer. If you’ve got a 350-pound guy, I don’t care how good he is, you’ve got to get him off the field. He can’t keep up...

The first challenge of Kelly’s offense, Bellotti told me, was to put in a communications system... When Oregon is on offense, coaches on the sideline give hand signals. The backup quarterback flips a series of cardboard signs, each of them with four pictures or words on them. Some of the pictures include a tiger, a jack-o’-lantern, a jet taking off and a shamrock... Coaches on the other sideline may be able to decode the signals. But the signs change weekly, and with Oregon running plays so quickly, they would have just seconds to communicate what’s coming to their players...

What Oregon’s innovative offense is really about is conditioning, repetitions in practice, precision and, most of all, agreement on the core mission — to go fast. Any team with a nimble, quick-thinking quarterback and an assortment of quick skill players could do it. And Baldinger believes many will. “It’s going to be copied, from high schools up through major colleges and all the way up to the N.F.L.,” he said. “If they manage to win the national championship, you’re really going to see a lot of it.”
Mark your calendar for January 10, when this Oregon team takes on Auburn for the national title.

The image (Egyptian Ka statue of Horawibra), found at The Ancient World, is obviously unrelated, but this time of the year, reminders of football seem to be everywhere.


  1. "Other teams can’t condition for it. It’s a great equalizer. If you’ve got a 350-pound guy, I don’t care how good he is, you’ve got to get him off the field. He can’t keep up..."
    I enjoyed that article as well but the above line bothered me. If Oregon can condition for it, other teams CAN condition for it. They may choose not to, but it's a fallacy to say they can't. Maybe, other teams aren't recruiting players who can run that much" is a better way of saying it.

  2. You might be interested to know that the new zealand national rugby team, the "all blacks", in about the mid 1980's moved to a more mobile, fitness and skill orientated game against other international sides. While they had a harder time competing in the up-front aspects of the game they compensated by moving the ball quickly around the field. This had the added benefit of creating an exhausted opposition in the last quarter of the game.

    Additionally, the development of better passing skills where emphasized. It created a far more entertaining game for the spectator.

    Arguably it took other international teams 5-10 years to move towards this style of play.


  3. I'd love to see football change this way. Of course the tv timeouts would still give both teams a chance to catch their breath.

    Of course without a real playoff system I'm still not going to care much about college football.

  4. My calendar's been marked since the Oregon Civil War game, which clinched the Ducks' berth in the national championship. When I was a student at the UO (some 25 years ago), it was not an exaggeration to say that the fans were far more interesting than the games. The team stank. They improved a lot over two decades, but were still known for their tendency to blow the big chances.

    Coach Kelly has turned the Ducks into a team that is actually fun to watch. The ball is constantly on the move. Stuff happens! It's fast-paced and doesn't leave much time for running to the kitchen for snacks. If this strategy catches on, fans are the ones who will benefit.

  5. Auburn 22, Oregon 19

  6. I know... but what a heck-of-a-fun game to watch. I was hoping it would end in a tie and go into seven or eight overtimes.

  7. I completely agree, Minnesotast; this article made it all the more interesting! I thoroughly enjoy your blog. Keep it up.


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