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Mid-Major Monday: Thou Shalt Have No Offense Before Malzahn's

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"I totally believe that God has blessed me with a unique ability to know offense, to call offense. I'm truly excited to be here. I can't wait to get started." - Gus Malzahn

Malzahn said that when he was hired at Arkansas from Springdale High, before his vaunted philosophy was martyred in the name of philistinism at the feet of the idol McFadden, blasphemy that guaranteed at least two years of excruciating patience, of waiting...and waiting...and waiting to get his divinely-inspired offensive mission started. Verily, we learn from the coaching prophet's hurry-up spread bible, patience is not only a trait Malzahn personally lacks, but is a fundamental personality flaw that only serves to undermine the teachings of the Word:

We have three main goals that we go into each ballgame trying to achieve....
1. Speed up the game.
You can accomplish this goal by snapping the football within five seconds after the referee puts the ball into play
...If you can snap the ball at this type of pace, then you will be able to control the tempo and get the defense out of their normal routine. You want to turn the game into a fast break type of football game.
[...]
If you could go back to the first basketball team that ever ran the fast break and could execute it effectively, you know they had a huge advantage at first until everyone got used to the speed of the game where they could defend it...

2. Lengthen the Game
Lengthening the game referes to the actual "playing time" of a game, not the time it takes from start to finish...You want to turn the game into a five-quarter football game and increase the actual playing time two to three minutes. It does not sound like much, but it will add an entire quarter of playing time to the game.
[...]
As a rule, most coaches, deep down inside, like to be aggressive and take chances...For example, we use four onside kicks at any given time during a game. We will also go for it on fourth down, sometimes in our own territory. We instill in our players its just another down to get a first down, and we do not panic if we do not get it, If we do punt, we like to quick kick with our quarterback from our regular shotgun formation, so an opposing team cannot set up a return.
[...]
One of the biggest challenges a coach will face when using the hurry-up, no huddle philosophy is that you have to have the mentality that if you get beat, it may be by a lot because you are lengthening the game. We have been in a few games that we were behind three or four touchdowns early in the game. If we had not had this mentality, we would have lost them all.
[...]
3. Mentally and Phyiscally Wear Down Your Opponent
You can achieve this objective by keeping constant pressure on your opponent.

(Emphasis is mine).

The best example of all three elements coming into play at once? A 1997 Arkansas academy playoff game in which Malzahn's team allowed 38 points in the first quarter and eventually won 70-64. One doesn't so much give such a radical philosophy a chance as they must actively convert to it, buy in wholly that the entire game is one desperate two-minute drill, either putting aside or completely eradicating doubts. Maybe this is the best way to understand the Springdale parents and the subsequent factions that tore Arkansas football into warring denominations for the soul of the state's gridiron church this spring, as a classic cult, organized around a strong authority figure, adopting a new identity its members might not have chosen of their own volition, attempting to expand its influence for the purposes of power or money. Never mind Arkansas' success: their way, the Malzahn Way, is the way, the truth, the light, no one comes to the end zone except through Gus, etc. Emotional stuff.


Yea, my son, hurry the hell up.
- - -
Any system that builds that sort of blind grass roots devotion on its progenator's behalf is an instant headliner, and instant target for scorn, and either way is the most interesting thing happening this season in Conference USA. Tulsa was always balanced with run-first tendencies under Steve Kragthorpe, but that matters not at all: Malzahn has a friendly adherent in Tulsa's new boss, Todd Graham, a defensive guy who knew Malzahn when they were both high school coaches and who let Major Applewhite revamp Rice's option game for a more conventional spread in his only year there - one that played a much greater role in Graham's (and Applewhite's) professional advancement than the Owls' league-worst defense - and comes into the fall "100 percent behind" this very specific version of the hurry-up, no huddle spread. But there are no collegiate numbers to crunch, percentages to compare. The Daily World in Tulsa is right that "the barely-have-time-to- catch-your-breath attack sounds unlike any other style in Division I football," but what is it in practice? The buzz around Malzahn's singular brilliance is either a) much ado about nothing, just another over-hyped multi-receiver scheme to throw bubble screens in place of the off-tackle into a stacked box, or b) an original idea occupying an extreme no one has yet dared to bring into the marketplace on this level.

I hope it turns out to be the latter, against my better instincts (general rule of thumb in sports: if nobody's tried it before, there's probably a good reason), because, well, it's interesting and novel, and because a dozen staid, desperate schools will jump on the bandwagon within three or four years, shattering records, sending final scores every couple weeks into the stratosphere currently occupied by the 2001 Mobile Alabama Bowl. I'm ready to see it go - Malzahn has the institutional support and freedom, and a decidedly out-of-the-way laboratory, at the smallest school in the Bowl Subdivision, in the shadow of the state's Big 12 overlords in a conference whose membership most fans can't keep straight one year to the next. It's a great place to fail, in other words, or bring something weird slowly into its own, but failure is no fun for anyone. My hypothesis: with a few concessions (the snap with more than 20 second on the play clock will be the exception) the offense will raise eyebrows by exploding against overwhelmed UL-Monroe in the opener, then lose traction in home losses to BYU and Oklahoma before picking up steam again in-conference and generating a couple 40/50-point shootouts en route to the league passing title. But, really, I have no idea what proportion of wild, mundane, genius or disappointing results might be borne of the Lord's offense, and that's what this experiment is all about. Give us results. Show us the light.