Along with player conduct and conference scheduling, SEC coaches agreed to disagree on how the hurry-up, no huddle offense affects college football.
On one side, there are the coaches who want to go as fast as humanly possible. The flip side of that are the coaches who want to slow it down and allow defenses to substitute.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema led the charge at SEC media days of coaches who’d like to see a few more stoppages in the game. Bielema wants his team’s to play “normal American football.”
“There are times when an offensive player and a defensive player are on the field for an extended amount of time without a break,” Bielema said. “You cannot tell me that a player after play five is the same player that he is after play 15. If that exposes him to a risk of injury, then that's my fault. I can't do anything about it because the rules do not allow me to substitute a player in whether I'm on offense or defense.
The problem that people have is you look at it just from an offensive or defensive point of view. I'm looking at it from a head coach's point of view, that the personal well-being and safety of my players is paramount.”
While Bielema may have raised valid points, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn thought the notion that players are more prone to injury due to the pace of an offense was a joke.
“As far as health or safety issues, that's like saying the defense shouldn't blitz after a first down because they're a little fatigue and there's liable to be a big collision in the backfield,” Malzahn said at media days. “If you're going to look at rule changes, officials, we need to look at the guys on defense that are faking injuries to slow down these pace teams. That's where college football's going. You see more and more teams using pace. I think you'll see it more and more at the next level also.”
Bielema didn’t take light of the fact that Malzahn thought he was telling a joke, saying he isn’t a comedian. Nor did he agree that players fake injuries.
“I tell a player all the time, if you're injured, go down, stay down,” Bielema said. “If you can tell me the severity of an injury by how much the guy is crying or wincing, more power to you. I'm not trying to be a doctor.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban seemed to support Bielema’s stance, harping on the issue of player safety. Saban has expressed his stance on the up-tempo offense on numerous occasions.
“They play like 64 plays a game in the NFL. We play over 80 in college,” Saban said at media days. “The up-tempo teams play even more than that. The cumulative effect of that is a player is playing 25, 30 more plays a game. Is there any safety issues in that?”
Saban acknowledged that nearly every team the Tide faced ran a fast-paced offense, and that the team got better at defending it as the season went on.
Still, he noted that defenses still have a long way to go if they hope to completely stop no huddle offenses.
“When people play fast, I think it takes defensive players out of their rhythm a little bit,” Saban said. “I think we obviously need to practice that way more often. I think you have to adjust your system so there's not a lot of terminology, that you have quick calls that can get in the game quickly, players can get lined up, get focused on what they need to do to execute.”