Will No Huddle Offense Boost Pack Line Play?

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The results have certainly been favorable for other fast-playing programs.

The theme of the recently completed spring practice season for N.C. State centered on how the team would adjust to the no-huddle, spread offense favored by new coach Dave Doeren and his offensive coordinator, Matt Canada. Though the Pack were not a most of the time no huddle offense under outgoing offensive coordinator Dana Bible, they are already no strangers to playing at a quick pace. According to Bill Connelly from SBNation's Football Study Hall, the Pack ranked 15th in the nation in adjusted pace last season, actually coming in 21 spots ahead of Doeren's former team, Northern Illinois.

Though the noise of game situations is supposed to be filtered out of the adjusted pace rankings, it is probable that N.C. State's frequent and unfortunate need to play catch up and the Huskies' position of having comfortable leads in most of their games contributed to the disparity in pace between the two clubs. Regardless, the new staff has promised to play fast. So, given the Pack's immense struggle offensively in the trenches under the previous regime, I wanted to look at whether or not going no huddle has a positive impact on offensive line play.

In theory, the no huddle offense should limit the opposition's ability to make substitutions, thus gassing the opposing unit and turning it into Swiss cheese. Additionally, a quick pace can confuse a defense and limit its ability to make adjustments from down to down.

In practice, most of the fastest teams from 2012 were efficient offensively (see chart at bottom) and enjoyed better than average line play in both running play success and quarterback protection. And the bottom line was good as well; the 10 fastest teams, all of which were predominantly no huddle, combined to go 85-45. See for yourself in this handy chart that lists the 10 fastest offenses in college football from a year ago (and N.C. State, too). Top 50 rankings are bolded and italicized:

Team

Record

ALY (Rk)

Op Rt (Rk)

PS Rt (Rk)

Stf Rt (Rk)

SDSk Rt (Rk)

PDSk Rt (Rk)

Marshall

5-7

98.5 (76)

35.7% (97)

73.5% (32)

17.7% (42)

5.0% (68)

4.5% (30)

La. Tech

9-3

109.0 (27)

47.1% (5)

71.2% (47)

17.0% (30)

0.7% (1)

3.6% (20)

Nevada

7-6

108.0 (30)

42.3% (28)

77.9% (11)

15.1% (10)

3.9% (48)

4.1% (23)

Tulsa

11-3

94.6 (94)

36.2% (93)

75.9% (20)

18.9% (61)

1.5% (8)

1.9% (6)

Oregon

12-1

122.9 (3)

47.4% (3)

70.3% (53)

19.1% (66)

3.2% (37)

4.1% (23)

Baylor

8-5

117.7 (8)

40.6% (46)

66.7% (62)

15.6% (14)

2.5% (21)

5.5% (47)

Arizona

8-5

111.9 (19)

44.1% (14)

76.8% (17)

14.1% (7)

2.3% (18)

4.0% (22)

Clemson

11-2

109.4 (26)

37.3% (79)

77.2% (16)

17.2% (33)

6.2% (89)

7.2% (74)

Houston

5-7

96.6 (83)

38.3% (73)

57.9% (109)

19.7% (77)

3.1% (35)

1.1% (3)

Rice

7-6

99.9 (73)

39.6% (58)

81.5% (5)

16.9% (29)

5.0% (68)

10.3% (108)

N.C. State

7-6

102.7 (62)

35.1% (103)

64.5% (85)

18.8% (58)

6.9% (102)

5.7% (49)

In a coaching clinic given to would-be adopters of the no huddle offense, Tulsa running backs coach Bill Blankenship said, "[You] must be at least average. If your team sucks, and you snap the ball faster, you just give the ball back faster." So not sucking would seem to be rule #1 to successfully implement the no huddle, spread offense. But, as the chart above indicates, even teams that were not particularly good at football seemed to derive some benefits from playing fast. Marshall, the fastest team in the country, parlayed their speed into successful power success rates (PS Rt) and stuff rates (Stf Rt). Power success is the percentage of runs on third or fourth down and less than two yards to go, or goal to go of two or less yards on any down, that result in a first down or touchdown. The stuff rate is the percentage of runs that result in no gain or a loss of yardage. The Herd were well above average in both regards, and they were also good at protecting the quarterback on passing downs (PDSk Rt).

Houston, also bad at football, managed to do an excellent job of keeping the quarterback clean, and Rice, a team that was decidedly average at football, had excellent power and stuff percentages. The other Wolf Pack was good across the board in all o-line measurements. So, even if you do kind of suck, playing fast seems to help the play of your offensive line.

People think of the no huddle spread as a passing offense, but note that seven out of the 10 fastest teams had a power success percentage ranking in the top 47 in the nation. Seven out of 10 teams were among the top 42 teams in stuff rate. Because defenses are so spread out and perhaps because they are expecting the pass, lanes are opened up for the running game, even in short yardage situations, which in turn makes the offensive line's job easier. Hopefully not huddling will help a Pack running game which was among the worst in the nation last season in short yardage situations.

Another glaring weakness for the Pack was how often it gave up sacks in standard down situations (SDSk Rt). Standard downs can be loosely defined as any down where a team could reasonably be expected to run or pass (first and 10, second and less than seven, third and short, etc.). The Pack were sacked nearly seven percent of the time in such situations. Among the 10 fastest offenses, only Clemson was anywhere close (6.2%) to as bad, and seven of the 10 teams on the chart were sacked at less than half that rate. Protecting the QB on passing downs was the one area where the Pack line fared reasonably well; nonetheless, eight of the 10 fastest offenses did better. The no huddle spread should help the Pack offensive line keep the quarterback clean by emphasizing routes that develop more quickly. Additionally, the pace will hopefully wear down defensive linemen and minimize the amount of non-base defensive calls (i.e. blitzes) utilized by the opponent.

The two stats I have neglected to mention from the chart above include opportunity rate (Op Rt) and adjusted line yardage (ALY). The opportunity rate is the percentage of runs where the line does its job. According to Connelly, doing its job means that the play is blocked so well that an average running back should get the first five yards of a run based solely on the blocking. Not surprisingly given that the team managed just 3.07 yards per attempt last season (114th in the FBS), the Pack o-line was awful at providing opportunity runs for its running backs. Every one of the ten fastest teams was better, and five of them ranked among the top 46 in this regard. Again, going no huddle can only seem to help the Pack's moribund running efforts.

But it's not all puffy clouds and roses. The ALY metric starts with a baseline of 100. Anything above 100 gives the line extra credit for yardage on a running play; anything below 100 gives disproportionate credit to the running backs. Despite the Pack line's many shortcomings, AYL actually gives the line slightly more credit than the backs for what yards the team did manage to churn out. So, if I can understand all of this with my liberal arts education, AYL is suggesting that the running backs sucked even worse than the line. And that points back to Blankenship's quote. Ultimately, you do have to have some players who are good at football. Speeding things up may help the Pack line, but if the running game is to improve accordingly, Tony Creecy is going to have to improve vastly over what he has shown over his first two years, Shadrach Thornton is going to have to learn how to hold on to the ball, or one of three true freshperson backs is going to have to prove ready to play right away.

Additionally, Pete Thomas or Manny Stocker will have to do their part in not sucking at the QB spot as well. If the RB and QB spots are at least competent, going no huddle could help mask OL shortcomings and allow the overall offensive product to remain steady or perhaps even improve despite the loss of Mike Glennon to the NFL.

Here are the Football Outsiders' S&P rankings for the 10 fastest teams of 2012, ordered from fastest to least fast (plus N.C. State, which was 15th in pace). Note that four of the fastest teams were among the 12 most efficient offenses in the nation, eight of the 10 teams finished in the top half of all FBS schools, and eight of the 10 were also ranked ahead of the Pack:

Team

S&P Rank

Marshall

56th

Louisiana Tech

27th

Nevada

52nd

Tulsa

55th

Oregon

2nd

Baylor

11th

Arizona

12th

Clemson

5th

Houston

74th

Rice

97th

N.C. State

62nd

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