Florida’s no-huddle: More plays for me equals less chance of you winning

For all the talk of more pro-sets and and putting Tebow under-center, the biggest change the Florida Gators may installed on offense is a new “bonsai” (or “bonzai”?) package: a no-huddle look they got from Oklahoma whereby they can use multiple tempos — i.e. line up and call the play right away, or line up, get a look at the defense, and call a play. Specifically:

Word from Gator Country ($) is that the Gators’ no-huddle package, deployed sparingly in the steamrolling of Charleston Souther, is called either “banzai” or “bonzai” or “bansai” or something. (Gator Bytes confirms this.) . . . .

The idea is stolen from Oklahoma’s hurry-up, which helped power their near-unstoppable 2008 offense. . . .

There are many reasons to use this scheme, but one of them is that Florida simply has better talent than most (all?) of its opponents. And if you have more talent than your opponents then you want to get as many “trials” as possible to maximize your chance of winning. Conversely, an optimal game for an underdog would be where they managed to get lucky, score early, and end the game right there. In other words, the underdog wants a high variance strategy. The hurry-up no-huddle for Florida (I know they will use different tempos) is a way to get more of these trials. Think of it this way. There is very little chance of Kentucky beating Florida this year. It’s not impossible; we could think of what would have to happen. Tebow would have to play awful, Florida would have to turn it over, blow some coverages, fumble a kickoff or punt or two, and Kentucky would have to take advantage of all of those mistakes. In other words, they’d have to be very, very lucky. Unless you are a partisan or don’t understand statistics, you have to admit that if Florida and Kentucky played 1,000 times Kentucky might win at least one of them. If Florida runs more plays than usual (Oklahoma ran more plays than any team in college football last season), then this is like factoring in extra games into a single one — the Gators would have more opportunity to smooth out instances of the other team getting lucky.

Of course I’ve previously discussed this dynamic of underdog and favorite (or “David” and “Goliath” strategies):

Going extreme hurry-up to get as many plays as possible — other than endurance, I suppose — is a Goliath strategy: it decreases variance by increasing the number of trials. The chance of getting only heads and no tails in five coin flips is much higher than it is in a hundred — i.e. the impact of the law of large numbers or regression to the mean. If Oklahoma has significantly more talent, better schemes, and everything else than the underdog, then the more plays it run the more likely it is to exhibit its raw dominance over the underdog; the underdog is less likely to “steal” a few good plays and get the heck out of dodge. The principle is the same as the difference between an underdog winning a game in a single-elimination tournament and trying to win a seven-game series: the seven-game series is far less likely to produce upsets.

The logic runs exactly opposite for Florida’s opponents this year, all of whom are likely to be considered underdogs:

As explained above, the higher variance and thus David-favoring strategy is to reduce the number of “trials” — i.e. plays. This is where a passing strategy and a strategy that involves “shortening the game and keeping it close” might run counter to each other. Incomplete passes typically stop the clock (I can’t keep the college clock rules in my brain anymore), as do plays where the ballcarrier goes out of bounds, which is more common on passes (same with the clock rules). If an underdog were to get an early lead, they obviously would love it if the game effectively ended right there. Yes, there is much to say about the problems inherent in not playing to lose and all that, but those are means questions, not ends. And all can agree that an underdog would love to get an early lead in a game against a favorite and have the clock run out as fast as possible.

Whether or not Meyer had stochastic reasoning in mind when he went to this, this kind of strategy should benefit his team overall, but especially against overmatched opponents; it’s kind of like upset-repellent. Even if the Gators got down and played poorly, they would always have the option of lengthening the game and evening out the probabilities.


  • LHGator

    I agree this is a overall a good move for Florida for the reasons you outline above…however, the “bonsai” approach may not take into account are other issues I believe you’ve addressed in the past. For example, offensive efficiency may suffer at a high tempo and the Gator defense may fatigue quickly when consecutive 3-and-outs occur.

  • Jay

    “The idea is stolen from Oklahoma’s hurry-up, which helped power their near-unstoppable 2008 offense.”

    So did Oklahoma steal this from WVU after the 2008 Fiesta Bowl? Rich Rodriguez has run the three tempos of no huddle offense for years (he called his highest tempo, Jet). I know he used it the entire time he was at WVU, and he may have used it at Clemson and Tulane too.

  • Hokiefan

    Great stuff again. You never disappoint.

    I know you generally focus on what teams do right on the offensive side of the football but I was hoping you could take a look at Virginia Tech’s offensive performance in recent years, and more specifically their performance vs alabama this past weekend. Most VT fans contend that OC Bryan Stinespring is inept at drawing up plays that work. I, on the other hand, feel its less to do with the individual plays that are being run but its more an overall failure to place the VT players in position to use their skill sets most effectively.
    If you feel uncomfortable, or bored of, with the idea of pointing out the deficiencies of a particular coach I would also thoroughly enjoy your thoughts on the role of individual plays vs overall scheme when gameplanning.

  • Jay,

    It goes back at least as far as Rodriguez, and I’m sure Meyer has been aware of this for years. I think studying OU was just the straw that broke that camel’s back. Kevin Wilson, OU’s OC, was a coach at Northwestern who was running the three tempos back at NW in 2000, and Meyer often visited with the Northwestern guys, along with Rich Rodriguez around the same time.

  • I don’t know if you’ve read it, but the Gus Malzahn book from when he was still coaching in High School treats the exact same proposition, and is excellent. He basically says that they moved to a quick tempo because they couldn’t work out a way to get over a .500 hump without some sort of radical overhaul. As I’m sure you know, the move has benefited him (and the players he coached) pretty heavily.

  • Jay/Chris,

    In the Gator Country article, Buddy Martin writes that Meyer lifted parts of the spread from Kevin Wilson while at Northwestern. I’m thinking he took this idea from Wilson at Oklahoma; I don’t know of any Rodriguez-Wilson cross-pollination, but it seemed to me like Meyer’s tempo roots traced only to Wilson.

  • Also, I fixed the spelling of Charleston Southern in my original post. Thanks for pull-quoting so I could see that, Chris.

  • stan

    There are other, perhaps more important reasons to go no huddle. First, it puts more emphasis on depth. And that’s a Florida advantage. Second, it tends to make the defense play more vanilla.

  • Following up Stan’s point, no huddle is also a good way of controlling personnel packages. Where you’ve got versatility in your athletes, as Florida does, you can create an unfavourable personnel match up and then run a series of plays against it, possibly using a progression of plays in the same basic concept out of the playbook – the Colts are a good example of a team which does this in the NFL.

  • Manning and the Colts have been doing this for HOW long? Of course, Chris’ bias against the NFL won’t allow him to note that. 😉

  • Brad

    An interesting, easy install part of the balls to the wall hurry up is the “Xerox” or “Copy” concept.

    Say your offense just had a big play, be it off an IZ or a Post against Cov. 2. Offensive coaches on the sideline just start yelling “Copy! Copy!” or “Xerox! Xerox!” or whatever key word you’d like to use, and then the offense busts it back to the line to run the exact same play in the exact same formation, with the idea being that the defense is still reeling from the last play that they might be to confused in a short time frame to be able to make the proper adjustments, thus increasing the likelihood of another big play by the offense.

  • ConnGator

    “Upset-repellent,” I love that phrase.

    Additionally, this would imply that the better the opponent the slower you should play. So since Florida was equal or slightly better than Oklahoma they should not have played very fast. And that’s exactly what happened. They got ready quickly but did not really snap the ball that fast. So Stoops is not a bad coach, just an unlucky one.

  • mark

    This seems to be a logical next step. With the new clock rules that slow the game down more and have cut into the snaps a team can get on offense to get more snaps you’ve got to speed up the offense.

    Gus at Auburn ran 79 plays against LA Tech but stated that was horribly slow and wanted 85-90 snaps as the norm.

    This will mean teams have to change their conditioning even more to keep up with this offense. Franklin had Auburn lighten its offensive linemen up to keep up the momentum but for whatever reason Auburn never ran that speed. Gus had the offensive line put weight back on but the team as a whole did a tremendous amount of cardio work to be conditioned for this offense.

  • Jay

    @ Andy & Chris

    I found the cross-pollination:


    By the way, great site! I love the X’s and O’s of football, and this site delivers.

  • BobG

    It is no secret how Urban came to using this tactic. He told us. He said that they always question their defensive coaches as to what is hardest for them to defend; then consider incorporating it in the offense.

    There are positive factors for the Gators.
    1. They are superbly conditioned
    2. They have outstanding defensive depth, so do not worry about their own defense tiring.

    From his comments, I do not believe they plan to use the tactic as their base offense, but to turn it on and off.