Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
The casual fan may not have even noticed a difference in the way Utah ran its offense last week against Utah State.
But there was a big difference from years past and from the way nearly all college teams have been playing football for decades.
The Utes never huddled until the final four minutes of the game.
After every play, the Utes would go back to the line of scrimmage, where quarterback Terrance Cain would receive a signal from the sidelines and then relay it to his team. It was similar to what the Utes did against Alabama in last year's Sugar Bowl, but even then the Utes still used traditional huddles.
It's a philosophy the Utes have implemented under new offensive coordinator Dave Schramm. By going no-huddle, the Utes hope to tire the other team out, keep them from making as many defensive substitutions and never give them a chance to relax.
"The thought behind it is, the faster you go, the more plays you get and the more plays you have, the more chances you get to score," Schramm said. "That's the philosophy in a nutshell."
In all, the Utes ran 80 offensive plays against Utah State, which is 10 more than they averaged last year and eight more than the year before. Only twice in each of the past two seasons have the Utes run as many as 80 plays in a game. They hope to do it on a regular basis this year.
"If we can get close to 80, that means we'll get more production with the ball," said coach Kyle Whittingham.
The Utes' new philosophy is more than just not huddling. It's about trying to change the tempo of the game in varying degrees, usually faster.
"We try to press the tempo by being fast," Schramm said. "We have multiple tempos through our no-huddle. We want to put a fast tempo on the defense."
So how did it go on Week 1?
"It was OK — good not great," Schramm said. "It didn't have anything to do with fatigue. We had a couple of good series there in the first quarter and stalled out a little bit. We still have a long way to go."
Whittingham said he and Schramm sat down in the offseason and decided to try the no-huddle offense, which worked well for the Utes at the end of several games and in the Sugar Bowl. It's not unique to Utah's system, and Whittingham acknowledges the no-huddle is a trend around the country.
A lot of fans might wonder how the whole thing works and how the Utes get their plays into the quarterback.
Schramm said it comes down to communication and counter-intelligence and not letting your opponents steal signals, but he doesn't reveal any secrets.
"Sometimes it's the quarterback, sometimes it's the wristband, sometimes it comes from the sideline, sometimes from one guy, sometimes from another guy, sometimes it comes from a coach," Schramm said.
The Utes have to be careful and clever at the same, because as Schramm says, "That's the whole reason you huddle in the first place so they don't know what your play and snap count and cadence is. When you go no-huddle, you're exposed to everything."
Cain, who hardly says much to begin with, doesn't shed much light on how the no-huddle works, but said it's not that complicated once you get it down.
"It's not hard at all," he said. "The main thing is getting the signals."
Cain said he did "something similar" in junior college, so the new system is not totally foreign to him.
The only four-year starter on the team, left tackle Zane Beadles, says the new offense has taken some time to get used to, but will help the Utes this year.
"It's really up-tempo, which really benefits us," he said. "We need to be in great shape to run it effectively. If we go in and are the better-conditioned team, it's a huge benefit to us."
Beadles also says it takes a lot of training and being focused for the system to work well.
"You need to know your assignments through and through because you have no time to think," he says. "You're on the line, you get the call and you really need to know the assignments and techiniques you're going to use on every single play."
As Schramm said, the Utes should get better at the no-huddle as the year progresses.
"We're not close to where we need to be, but we're a lot better than we were," he said.
Number of offensive plays per game
2006 66 63
2007 72 70
2008 70 63
2009* 80 60
*After one game
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