A few years ago, up-tempo styles in the SEC were an afterthought; offenses that teams “out West” put into place because they couldn’t play defense. But this year, there will be more high-flying offenses in the SEC than ever before, and some coaches – some that are B1G Ten transplants – aren’t thrilled about the idea. Nick Saban and newly-minted Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema share the sentiment that this style of play isn’t good for the game.
On Monday, AL.com reported that Bielema proposed a rules change that would allow a 15-second substitution period after every first down to allow defenses to substitute, because defenses aren’t treated fairly. Bielema’s comments echoed those of Saban last year, when he raised the issue of high-tempo offenses being a player safety issue in his now-famous “Is this what we want football to be?” speech.
“Not to get on the coattails of some of the other coaches, 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, per AL.com. “That has an effect on safety of that student-athlete, especially the bigger defensive linemen, that is really real.”
Bielema and Saban are getting more support from coaches around their league, including Florida’s Will Muschamp, who cited the region’s high temperatures as another potential safety issue.
“That’s something you’ve got to really watch as far as those things are concerned and guys getting lined up and getting themselves in position where they can defend themselves,” Muschamp said, per AL.com. “That’s something that does not always happen sometimes with as fast as these teams are moving.”
It comes as no surprise that the coaches whose teams call plays like it’s 1965 want to slow down these newfangled offenses. It’s not natural. A running back running up the middle for two yards is how the Lord intended we play this game. The reason that Texas A&M, Ole Miss and this year’s Auburn and Tennessee have gone to this style is that it upsets the establishment of the league. If it didn’t work, why do it? And in terms of Saban’s complaints, his team hasn’t had much trouble with these teams – or any teams, for that matter – over the past few years. There’s no way that an upstart team in the SEC beats Saban or Steve Spurrier or Les Miles at their own game, so they have to be inventive. Create new ways of doing things, new ways to confuse, and success might be achieved.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, an implementer of an uptempo offense, argues that the offenses that are on the field aren’t substituting either. Why is it simply an injury concern to the defenses?
“Offensive players are playing, too, the same number of snaps,” Freeze said, per AL.com. “Are they in danger also? I mean, offensive players get hurt, too, and if we don’t substitute, they’re having to play the same number of plays.”
“If the offense doesn’t sub, the defense shouldn’t sub, and that’s the way the rules are,” said Freeze.
Saban and, to a lesser extent, Bielema, have had no problems with winning. If this spread or up-tempo or no-huddle or whatever-you-want-to-call-it offenses are here to stay, the coaches will have to prepare accordingly, just like USC or Texas does when they play teams like Oregon and Baylor. Being a traditionally-run team doesn’t earn you any empathy from the college football world. You either adapt, or you lose. And Alabama hasn’t had any trouble not losing over the past five years. The rules of college football shouldn’t change to restrict the modernization of the game, even if Nick Saban doesn’t like it.