January 4, 2011

BCS title game: Will layoff slow down offenses?

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The points have come fast and furious for Oregon and Auburn all season.

Oregon has scored at least 50 points six times and notched 48 on two other occasions, with a high of 72 against New Mexico. Auburn also eclipsed the 50-point mark six times and hit 49 on another occasion, with a high of 65 against Arkansas.

These offenses have been well-oiled machines built on timing and rhythm. Like a high-performance sports car, they must be maintained and kept in tune if they are to operate at maximum efficiency. But each offense took its last significant snap Dec. 4, when Oregon won 37-20 at Oregon State and Auburn dumped South Carolina 56-17 in the SEC title game.

Since then, the figurative air has been taken out of the football for each team. When the offenses step onto the field Jan. 10 in the BCS national championship game, 36 days will have passed since the most recent game. How will the long layoff impact the offenses?

Oregon has the No. 1 total offense (537.5 yards per game) and No. 1 scoring offense (49.3 points per game) in the nation. Auburn's attack is No. 7 overall (497.7 ypg) and No. 4 in scoring (42.7 ppg).

"When you wait 30 days, your timing and rhythm get off," Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said. "You can't help it."

Each offense is built around the run. Oregon ranks No. 4 in the nation in rushing (303.8 ypg), while Auburn is No. 5 (287.2). Because of that, the extended layoff may not have as much impact as expected because timing and rhythm are more important to a passing team than to a running team. Neither passing attack is that complex because it doesn't have to be with such strong running games.

"[Auburn's] passing game probably is simple from a schematic standpoint," Kentucky offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "They don't throw that many different routes and aren't overly complicated with their progressions and reads. But they don't have to because of [Cameron Newton's] threat to run. And that forces you to be vanilla on defense."

While the offenses might not be significantly impacted by the protracted time off, other areas could be troublesome.

"The two things you always worry about in bowls with the layoff are tackling and conditioning," Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said.

What does a team need to do to stay fresh and sharp?

"We have done a lot vs. our defense," said Sanders, whose Wildcats meet Pittsburgh in Saturday's BBVA Compass Bowl after not playing since Nov. 27 at Tennessee. "You try to do as much as you can vs. the speed of the defense. We have done everything but scrimmage. It always is a challenge.

Hey, slow down a little!
Tempo will be a big factor in the title game.

Each offense likes to go no-huddle and at a quick pace. It's all about not allowing the opposing defense a chance to make situational substitutions. The hoped-for result is a worn-out defense forced to play mostly from a base set against upward of 75 plays.

Oregon averages 79.3 plays, while Auburn averages 66.4. The Ducks have run the 12th-most plays nationally, while Auburn is 52nd. Auburn averages 7.5 yards per play, and Oregon is at 6.8.

"That will be an interesting dynamic in that both teams want to go at a fast tempo but both defenses have seen it," Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. "Auburn will try to go fast and snap it 80 times a game. And so will Oregon. I really think who stays on the field will be the big issue.

"No team will have an edge. Each has seen it in practice. It won't be a big deal. When you practice that way, it isn't a big issue."
"Through the years, I have been on staffs where we have gone round and round on scrimmaging. Sometimes we have, sometimes we haven't. You take the risk of injury. But it can be a benefit. It is a Catch-22. Do you scrimmage and risk injury? Or do you not scrimmage and risk not being sharp?"

A lot can depend on a team's maturity. A younger squad may need more full-speed work to stay sharp. A team with numerous junior and seniors likely will be OK without a lot of work. And there are some coaches think too much is made of an extended break.

"I don't think it hurts at all," Tulsa coach Todd Graham said.

Graham has had some of college football's top offenses in recent seasons, and his attacks have kept on clicking in the postseason. The Golden Hurricane hung 65 points on Hawaii in this year's Hawaii Bowl, which was a pre-Christmas bowl. But Graham's Tulsa squad ripped Bowling Green for 63 points in the 2007 GMAC Bowl and Ball State for 45 in the 2008 GMAC Bowl, and both of those were a few days before the national title game. As with Oregon and Auburn, Tulsa runs the spread option.

"We played in the GMAC Bowl twice in early January, and we had more than a month layoff and we had the biggest win in NCAA bowl history vs. Bowling Green and we blew out Ball State," Graham said. "It has not hurt us. We spend a lot of time with our veteran guys on the timing."

There wasn't always such a long layoff for teams playing for the national title. For years, the "national championship" was waged in a bowl that took place on or around Jan. 1. The BCS era was born in 1998, with the Rose, Fiesta, Sugar and Orange taking turns hosting the championship game, typically no later than Jan. 4. But that changed in the 2006 season with the creation of the BCS title game as a separate entity. A byproduct of the creation of the BCS national championship game was to move the game back and away from the other bowls to give it more emphasis.

The BCS title game after the 2006 season was played on Jan. 8. The 2007 title game was on Jan. 7. The 2008 title game was on Jan. 8. And last season's title game was on Jan. 7. This season's game, then, is the latest ever.

"Bottom line: You have to deal with it," Graham said. "You worry about timing and such early in the game. But by the mid-point of the first half, things usually settle down."

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.




 

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