No Huddlin': Cont'd

By Ross Fulton on April 12, 2012 at 9:00a
Sending the huddle the way of the dodo

Several weeks ago I discussed Ohio State's change to a no-huddle offense under Urban Meyer, focusing on why the Buckeyes would move to such system and how the no-huddle can be implemented.  Meyer's decision to go no-huddle is such an important change, however, that I believe a few more words are warranted. 

As Chris Brown discusses here, Meyer is adopting an inevitable trend.  As noted, the offense is provided the ability to control the action, and hence a game's tempo.  Going no-huddle allows the offense to vary the tempo and forces the defense to match (what is often) a fast pace of play. The huddle offers little beyond perhaps permitting a quarterback to speak to the offense, and serving (whether consciously or not) as a way to slow tempo.  It is unnecessary as a means of communicating information.  Indeed, it may simply afford coaches the opportunity to make things unnecessarily complicated.  Play calls can adequately be provided through either signals or simple word play calls.               

The huddle's downside, by contrast, is ceding a large amount of the offense's control over dictating the pace and style of play to the defense.  The no-huddle, by forcing a defense to immediately match alignment, limits the defense's options in terms of substititutions and disguise, making things simpler without any corresponding loss of complexity for the offense. Here is Brown:

Modern defenses want to match offenses in terms of strength and speed via personnel substitutions. They also want to confuse offenses with movement and disguise. The up-tempo no-huddle stymies those defensive options. The defense doesn’t have time to substitute, and it’s also forced to show its hand: It can’t disguise or shift because the quarterback can snap the ball and take advantage of some obvious, structural weakness. And when the defense is forced to reveal itself, Tom Brady can change into a better play. The upshot of this tactic: Brady, of all people, sees defenses that are simpler than those most other NFL quarterbacks go up against.

For an apt example from Brown's article, check out Robert Griffin III's discussion with John Gruden as to how their no-huddle forces a defense to a) match Baylor's tempo (thereby tiring the defense) and  either b) limits substitutions or c) creates mismatches for the offense by the defense attempting to substitute.

But more importantly, as Brown discusses, perhaps the most undervalued asset the no-huddle delivers is practice repetitions. 

College teams have relatively little practice time.  The no-huddle allows an offense to get far more repetitions.  While in the past a team may run a play, then a coach would instruct one player with the ten other players standing around, no-huddle teams can repeatedly rep plays, with coaching corrections made when the second team takes its turn or in film study.  In this manner, a no-huddle team gets actual football reps, as opposed to 'dead time.'  Oregon, for instance, gets in up to 30 snaps in ten minutes, allowing the Ducks to use less practice time but still gain more reps than the competition. The same amount of practice time can therefore be used in a more efficient manner.  For example, here is film of Louisiana Tech employing such a practice schedule this spring (Courtesy of Brophy).

By all accounts, Ohio State's practice time has taken on this frenetic tempo.  Meyer & Co. clearly hope to gain the positive externality provided by going no-huddle--getting extra practice repetitions and in so doing creating a more efficient practice environment.  In short, Ohio State will not be the first no-huddle team, but will nonetheless get the benefits being no-huddle provides.  As Brown states:

The upshot is that the no-huddle puts additional pressure on defenses, simplifies communication, and makes practicing better, more efficient and — sometimes, at least — more fun. It’s a no brainer.



Comments Show All Comments

Ethos's picture

so whats the down-side of no-huddle?  I mean there has to be one otherwise everybody would do it all the time right?  

Some thoughts would be it puts your defense on the field more often and for longer periods of time, and if you don't practice some huddle offense, you lose the ability to drain the clock when its needed. Oregon fails to do that a lot in close games hence why they've lost a lot of bowl games right?  I mean as much as I respect Oregon's style of play, we did beat them fairly handidly when we were told they would run all over us.  Just worried we turn into a team that  looks flashy, but never wins anything big because clock management is a HUGE part of strategy in football (calling Brett Bielema!)

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

slippy's picture

A few things: no huddle and hurry up are not necessarily the same thing.  Oregon can kill clock just as well as anyone when they want/need to.  That wasn't what hurt them in the bowl games.  And let's not forget in the Rose Bowl how Blount fumbled that ball away that probably would have been a TD for them.


Clock management is a hugely overrated part of strategy in football.  Oregon has had one of the lowest TOP stats since Kelly has taken over, yet they continue to win 10+ games per year.  Time management doesn't matter if your offense scores every time they take the field.

BuckeyeAsylum's picture

Citing a 10+ win record in the PAC isn't a big block to stand on, I am sorry. USC was done for a while there... Stanford was decent. That is it. The PAC defenses have just shown to be awful, their special teams are a joke anytime I seem to watch a game. Not saying 10+ is super easy, but the OP's post was about the BIG games, when they play programs that are top in the nation, not the programs that reside in the next tier just below that.

But as for scoring everytime the offense is on field you're scoring, I totally agree. I don't care how long the game goes if I can out shoot you consistently. The only issue with that is it doesn't work against teams who have Duck armor or a good defense. :P

Ross Fulton's picture

Well, you are assuming that everything coaches do is rational.  Unfortunately that is not the case.  Coaches are, by nature, conservative and risk-averse.  Huddling has been around a long time, an anchronism of football's roots in rugby and a time when QBs called the plays. 

That said, one legit reason you cited is to slow down the tempo.  Of course you can do that by coming to the line and allowing the play clock to wind down.  Oregon is committed to playing fast, but you don't need to necessarily adopt their tempo by being no-huddle.  That is why I am a fan of varying tempo.  But I think Herman is right that it is worth being able to huddle for certain situations just as you cite. 

BuckeyeAsylum's picture

The downside of a no huddle I can see is based in recruiting. You need IQ players who can adapt quickly and have better thought processes, more importantly, quicker. I've dealt with a lot of people in my life in many things that I simply out perform by out thinking them, even though they may actually be better. I grasp concepts quickly, adapt quickly, and in general my brain makes super fast decisions on a snap. This does lead to mistakes though, but mistakes can be learned through study and practice.

Basically a no huddle capable team needs to be a little higher on the football IQ chart and maybe NOT as high on the talent, but obviously having both is a double whammy for winning. I don't know a lot about the football X and Os by any means, but I have performed well in soccer, hockey, poker, and tennis. I may have never been the best in the world by any means, but I always am a top level opponent in what I am involved in. I lend my quick decision making as an attribute that enabled a lot of this. I greatly value a person who can think quickly and be taught their mistakes over someone who is really gifted and impossible to teach. This is just my opinion though, and may be entirely wrong.

hodge's picture

Just worried we turn into a team that  looks flashy, but never wins anything big because clock management is a HUGE part of strategy in football (calling Brett Bielema!)

I totally understand your sentiment, but Urban Meyer has never produced that type of team.  Granted, previous performance isn't always indicative of the future, but it is a good barometer.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

The no-huddle should definitely be a positive change, on balance. In support of that position, Ross, your logic is quite persuasive - except I have one minor quibble . . .

Herman said last month:

And we will huddle at times, too. I think that's important to deliver a mentality that we are a power, physical tough-running football team," Herman said. "From the gun, under center, it doesn't matter where are, that will be what our personality is going to be.

Okay, I'm guessing that Herman wants to huddle at times for reasons besides that it permits QB to speak to the offense and as a means of slowing tempo. For example, if they're on the road in a hostile environment, trying to grind out a 10 pt lead midway through the 4Q and keep a dangerous opposing offense off the field - and everyone in the stadium knows that they're going to run the ball on 1D and probably on 2D, too - in such cases, huddling might help prepare the OL to fire off the ball and get 3 yds instead of 0 yds, etc.

Maybe there are a few other good reasons that Herman might want to huddle at times?  

Ross Fulton's picture

I think you've pretty much captured them.  1)  Slows tempo, and 2) gives the offense a chance to mentally regroup.  That's why I think its good that they can huddle if need be.  Just because you are normally no-huddle does not mean that you have to be ideological about it to the point you cant be diverse. 

yrro's picture

Does huddling give any advantage to a power run team? What are other power run oriented teams that use the no huddle?

Is the other possible disadvantage that it simply requires better fitness out of your linemen, which could result in them playing at a lower weight and having a harder time shoving people around? I'm just guessing, don't really know.

BuckeyeAsylum's picture

That doesn't make a lot of sense... Better fitness, makes them lighter, but harder to push people around. If you're more fit, you will have more muscle. So a fit 250 lb lineman would be a little smaller than a lesser fit 250lb lineman, but the fit one would have more muscle to use against the less fit lineman. Winning a battle on the line, from what I gather, is more of a physics related situation. Obviously you cannot overcome some stuff through just physics, so a massive weight drop would create an issue, but we're talking 10-20 lbs of fat loss and like 5-10 lbs of muscle gain. Plus the fitter lineman isn't going to wear down nearly as easy, meaning later in the game he's going to be ready to go where the defender against him may need a breather and has someone subbed in from 2nd string, and they are 2nd string for a reason usually.

pcon258's picture

i remember meyer saying real early on when they were still debating over huddle vs. no huddle, that it depended on the qb. he was saying that he used the huddle with tebow because he wanted to give tebow a chance to be a leader in the huddle because he was such a good motivator. so i guess that is a possible advantage too, like on a big play where you need a conversion or something along those lines

beserkr29's picture

I like the principles the no-huddle puts forth when it comes to helping the quarterback.  It shields the most important player on the field on offense from having to be terribly brilliant or analytical when surveying the defense, which helps a lot with a young QB.  I think that it helps our defense more than anything, though.  With the team's switch on offense, it's a lot easier for the D to adjust to the varying styles they'll face in B1G schedule.  Especially seeing how Toledo carved us up last year, the change to our own offense will only benefit our ability to defend the spread.  The question becomes how well can we defend power teams like Wisky or MSU.  Big, good offensive lines give everyone problems, and Wisky can really steamroll a D if it's unprepared.  Still, liking the direction the offense is going, and really encouraged by the breakdown of yesterday's practice!  Is it September yet?

Clown Baby's picture

When he was first hired, didn't Meyer say that they weren't going to run a no-huddle because he thought it was important for the QB to look into everybody's eyes after every play or some such stuff?  It doesn't matter to me either way but I wonder what brought on the change of philosophy.

causeicouldntgo43's picture

Here's something of interest with an OSU pedigree from the book "Urban's way" - during his time at Utah, "Meyer remembered what Earle Bruce always said about the huddle, 'The huddle is the greatest in football, because it doesn't matter whether you are black or white or Hispanic or Polynesian or Chinese, Catholic or Jewish. On fourth down and one, everybody grabs a hand and squeezes tight and says, 'Let's go'. Churches aren't like that. Businesses are not like that. Some families are not like that. But the huddle breaks every barrier - religious, racial, rich or poor."

From the above, you can see that the huddle was of particular importance for Meyer at Utah since he had so many players with extremely diverse backgrounds, both racially and religiously, that he needed to bring together. I suspect it is hard for Meyer to cede at least the concept of the huddle as a binding agent for the players. The fact that Yoda Earle was a big proponent must make it hard for him to totally abandon it, so as Herman mention previously, we will still see it used, at least occasionally if not more so.

BuckeyeAsylum's picture

Good point until your closing statement. There will be huddling. This is like a pitcher adding in a new pitch to his arsenal. This isn't about being insanely good at one pitch, it is about being able to throw a couple good pitches and making them figure out which to anticipate. You're now into a head game philosophy. You are taking control and making it clear to your opponent you are in control by being able to throw whatever you want at them from any option in the book at a pretty high amount of time.

No huddle comes down to one thing for me... "How much IQ do you have on the field?" Being physically imposing is good and works. Being phsyical, imposing, and smarter than your opponent is really terrifying. Not only can I match up gun to gun with you, or maybe I can't, but I can still beat you by simply out working you mentally. This occurred in the stock market, it occurred in poker, it is occurring in a LOT of competitive fields.

In the 80's, traders had connections and all these inside options and strong armed people who were "not in." By the end of the decade the smart guys who figured out the numbers were able to just overthrow this empire of insiders and make SO much more money by out thinking them with numbers based on incomplete information instead of waiting for a sure thing. Poker went through a similar transformation after Moneymaker won, the damn field of poker players NOW is MUCH harder than it was in 2003 before that accountant won.

One thing that changed a lot during all of this also had to do with aggression. The young guns in both situations became MUCH more aggressive on their moves. No huddling is inline with this. The more I look into no huddle, the more I see it as the future evolution of the game. This is also why I suspect an innovative, forward thinking coach like Meyer has adapted his attitude towards it.

Clown Baby's picture

Off topic here but I believe we may have found somebody to fill the Twitter void left by James Louis:

Marcus Baugh ‏ @MarcusBeeezy:

Lmao I farted and the people next to me felt the vibration on the bench hahah

corveyer's picture

Relatively speaking IMO there are little drawbacks to the no huddle in the college game. It will be interesting to see how it translates to the Big Ten. That being said as people have mentioned the inability to run out the clock/ control the clock could be viewed as one. But I think thats looking at it the wrong way because you can always huddle and slow the game down. If you practiced and rehearsed everything at warp speed slowing it down can be good especially if a team is having a hard time finding a rhythm on offense. Its one of things that just provides you more options as an offensive play caller. While I don't think this new offense will be anywhere near as fast paced as Oregon, it will certainly be a radical departure from what we are use to.

 At times it is also necessary to slow it down because you need to give your defense a rest. Which brings me to what I think is the biggest draw back, and that is the no huddle can tire out your own defense more than you do the other teams. That fact presents an interesting dynamic in close games where teams make a big fourth quarter comeback, because your defense is more tired while theirs is relatively fresh. So its easier for them to score while being harder for you. However, as I mentioned above being able to dictate pace is the way to fight this, most teams who run the no huddle will slow it down when you build a lead, Oregon is the exception. If anyone thinks for a second with a generous lead Ohio State isnt going to go more traditional even I-Formation at times and pound the ball with Hyde, Ball, Dunn, and Smith then you're dead wrong. Will it be like that all the time with a lead? No, absolutely not but it will be a more traditionally based clock management offense with some more progressive wrinkles thrown in.

Like I said above you can always slow down, but unless you practice like Ohio State has been this spring ramping back up to warp speed during a game is near impossible. Some might say well look at the 2-minute drill ball control teams can have success doing that, no huddle and the two minute drill are completely different. The most simple explanation is 2-minute drills are pre scripted for the most part. There is a collection of 15-25 pre scripted plays teams will go with obviously with variations and audibles to the base play. But the no huddle is generally on fly and situational based play calling. Point being any team can operate at a fast pace if you already know what you're essentially doing play by play ahead of time and you know the defense you'll face. As predictably it will be a Nickel or Dime man/zone combo likely cover 2 or 3 with man coverage underneath with some defensive line stunts, or if you're lucky the utterly idiotic prevent. 


Steve Earle Bruce Springsteen's picture

I'm skeptical about the no huddle. I've been that way since it became a fad and I'm sticking that way now that's it come to Ohio State. Teams that ran or run the no-huddle - Oregon, Auburn, Michigan immediately come to mind - tend to have middling-to-bad defenses. As a guy who thinks defense wins championships, this presents a problem. Sure, Auburn won a national title running this sort of offense, but it was squaring off against another team that ran a very similar offense (in a much worse conference defensively, no less). Anyway, I don't think it's because these teams can't recruit elite defensive talent (well, except for Michigan under RR), but because the no-huddle team's defense gets tired itself when its on the field every three minutes, regardless of the outcome of the offensive possession.

Go over to and look at the last five years of total defense rankings: 20112010. 2009, 2008 and 2007. Chizik-era Auburn, Oregon and Michigan are nowhere to be found. The teams that usually reside in that top 5-10 are Ohio State, Penn State, Alabama, Iowa, etc. All teams that huddle up between plays, for the most part. Even Meyer's huddle-oriented teams at Florida cracked the top ten. Oklahoma and West Virginia have both run the no-huddle at times, I suppose, but I'm still not sold on it as an offensive strategy that championship teams should embrace.

 Meyer can prove me wrong. But I don't want us to become a pop-gun, Oregon-style showboat team that can't play defense when it counts.


The North remembers.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

You have a point, but you can still - and perhaps even more effectively - slow the pace using no-huddle. 

At the same time, we'd evaluate the defenses of teams that run fast-paced no-huddle "on a curve," so to speak - using efficiency measures rather than (raw) total defense stats. If your offense is scoring a bunch of TDs on 2-4 play drives, your defense has to defend more plays and therefore - all other things being equal - will tend to give up more yards and points, too, but it's not necessarily because they're getting tired. Now, if that defense's efficiency dropped off as games progressed, that'd be a different story.

I can see at least two possible concerns with no-huddle, though:

1). Let's say you're up 21 pts in the 3Q against a team with a dangerous offense, and you want to bleed clock. Is it detrimental for the offense to race up to the line of scrimmage and be in ready position, yet not snap the ball until the play clock almost hits 0:00, 4-5+ plays in a row?

2). What about the "culture" of a no-huddle team? JT was accused of playing-not-to-lose, but that works both ways: a team can also play without sufficient respect for the danger of losing. If you're team is 21 pts ahead in the 2H, but is still playing fball as if it's the opening offensive series of the game - partly because you're always in the no-huddle - would that make it harder to instill the right mindset at that juncture of the game (which should be, TAKE CARE OF THE BALL!! and gradually suffocate the other team through field position and by making them feel the anxiety of the clock going tick, tick, tick). Maybe the no-huddle "culture" is too loosey, goosey for those moments?      

Steve Earle Bruce Springsteen's picture

Football outsiders does a lot of that defensive efficiency stuff, but I'm not sure I buy it. They had Oklahoma State as the country's third most "efficient" defense last season, buoyed in part by a ton of turnovers, but they got gashed by almost everyone they played. Another no-huddle team that can't play a lick of real defense.

I think I'm going to be skeptical about the no huddle - and all that it entails - until a no-huddle team fields a truly elite defense, on the order of defenses at Ohio State, Alabama and LSU in recent years.

The North remembers.

Maestro's picture

I don't think your last statement will happen, but the 2011 defense couldn't really play defense when it counted FWIW. 65th in 3rd down defense. Behind Oregon, Michigan, OU, WVU and several other up-tempo teams.

vacuuming sucks

Steve Earle Bruce Springsteen's picture

The 2011 D was not a vintage Ohio State defense by any stretch of the imagination.

The North remembers.

Maestro's picture

Without a doubt, but I will take an efficient no-huddle offense any day over the 3-and-out machine that the Bucks fielded last season.  It's about dictating tempo, not just hurrying things up according to Herman and Meyer.  I'll defer to them.

vacuuming sucks

bassplayer7770's picture

Agreed.  If the staff feels the offensive tempo is detrimental to the team as a whole, then they'd surely slow it down a bit.  Plus, it seems clear that Coach Meyer understands the importance of a good Defense.

Steve Earle Bruce Springsteen's picture

Okay, but that wasn't what I was arguing at all. The offense might score points. Whether it wears the defense out is another question entirely.

The North remembers.

Maestro's picture

which defense?

vacuuming sucks

BuckeyeAsylum's picture

People reading this DO realize they are not saying this will be 100% no huddle exclusive decision, right? It is an option they have. If they want to run tempo and stretch the defense's ability to keep up, they can. If they need to kill clock, they go huddle. This is simply putting another wrinkle into the game. If you need to run clock, like that 21pts up and 3Q against a dangerous offense, you just huddle the stupid thing and take your time, no reason to go no huddle here as your tempo doesn't want to be quick.

So far this is being perceived as "OMGz no huddlez, noooozzzzz" It is an option, and last time I checked, I like a nice plate full of options of what I want to eat at my discretion. Props on a well written reply Steve, and I see your concern, but I think what you're gonig to be getting a taste of is more of a hybrid old school OSU/Alabama type defense and game(look at the stud recruiting going on on that side of the ball already by this era) with an offense that is going to use power but use it in a way where the trigger can be pulled as quick as possible to make the defense adapt to the tempo. No huddle is an option in the game book for the staff, doesn't mean they will sit on it as the only option.