17 SEP 2016:  Missouri Tigers head coach Barry Odom stands on the field during the first half of a NCAA football game against the Georgia Bulldogs on Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium in Columbia Missouri. (Photo by Scott Kane/Icon Sportswire)
Missouri Tigers

Mizzou’s breakneck pace and whether it can be sustained

Scott Kane/Icon Sportswire

One of the most important developments in college football over the past decade was the advent of hurry-up, no-huddle (HUNH) offensive schemes. It’s no secret that the SEC was late to that particular party.

It’s true that the SEC did absorb a guy who literally wrote the book on the HUNH philosophy when Gus Malzahn ascended to the Arkansas offensive coordinator job in 2006. Houston Nutt famously meddled in Malzahn’s scheme, however, so that one season doesn’t count for much.

Gene Chizik brought Malzahn back to the conference at Auburn in 2009, but those Tiger offenses still did not often go at light speed. The fastest of those attacks belonged to the 2010 national championship team, which led the SEC at 2.56 plays per minute of possession. That pace is brisk, but it’s not particularly fast by modern standards.

The HUNH era in the SEC didn’t truly begin until 2012, when Texas A&M hired Kevin Sumlin and Ole Miss hired Hugh Freeze. In 2012 the Aggies ran 2.80 plays per minute and the Rebels ran 2.64 per minute, both eclipsing ’10 AU. The ’12 Tennessee Volunteers also beat out the title-winning Tigers’ mark with 2.75 plays per minute in Derek Dooley’s final season in Knoxville.

Sumlin kept the pace up, running 2.74 plays per minute both in 2013 and 2014. Freeze sped things up with 2.76 plays per minute in 2015, as did in-state rival Dan Mullen with 2.71.

Still, six teams in four seasons breaking merely the 2.70 plays per minute barrier from 2012-15 doesn’t show a terribly big commitment from the SEC to going quickly. By comparison, the Big 12 had 11 teams surpass the 2.70 plays per minute rate in that same span despite having four fewer teams in its membership.

Sumlin and Freeze are back at it again this year. Texas A&M is running 2.91 plays per minute, while Ole Miss is cranking out 2.85 per minute. Even though those rates would be the top two in the SEC since at least 2009 (and likely for much longer than that), they’re being left in the dust.

New Missouri head coach Barry Odom hired Josh Heupel as his offensive coordinator, bringing in a guy with a Big 12 pedigree to run the offense. Heupel spent 2006-14 as an assistant at Oklahoma, the last four of those years as co-offensive coordinator. The results have been staggering.

So far in 2016, Mizzou is averaging 3.20 plays per minute. That comes out to a snap about every 19 seconds of possession. No SEC team since 2009—which likely means ever—has run more than three plays per minute.

The Tigers’ pace is having an effect on opponents’ total plays run as well. The 91 plays Eastern Michigan ran against MU were the most since they ran 101 in a wild shootout with Central Michigan in 2008. The 93 plays Georgia ran against Mizzou are the most the Bulldogs have had in a game since at least the start of 2008, which is as far back as easy retrieval of game-by-game play counts goes.

Fortunately for the Tigers, the fast offense doesn’t seem to be impacting the defense in a negative way. Mizzou has defended the most plays among SEC teams so far at 405, which puts them on pace to defend more than 1000 plays if the team makes a bowl. However, its yards per play allowed rate of 5.20 puts them in the top half of the SEC at sixth. Conditioning for defending lots of plays shouldn’t be much of an issue considering the Tiger defense faced over 1000 plays in both 2013 and 2014 and Odom’s Memphis defense faced 959 in 2014.

Plus, West Virginia only scored 26 on Mizzou despite running 85 plays, and UGA managed just 28 on 93 plays. Proportionately, that is about the equivalent of allowing 19 points per game for a defense that faces 64 plays per game. Georgia happens to defend 64 plays per game so far in 2016, and the Bulldogs have allowed 31 points per game.

27 September 2008: OU quarterback coach Josh Heupel during the University of Oklahoma game against Texas Christian University. The Oklahoma Sooners beat the TCU Horned Frogs 35 - 10 on Owen Field in the Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma

Mizzou OC Josh Heupel (pictured as OU’s quarterback coach) Icon Sportswire

The only awful defensive performance Missouri has had was last weekend against LSU. It had nothing to  do with the defense being worn out, though. The Bayou Bengals’ offensive line whipped the Mizzou defensive front from the first snap, ripping off three drives of at least nine plays and scoring 21 points in the first half. The MU defense should’ve been rested plenty considering they defended just 54 plays the week prior against Delaware State, a decent chunk of them with backups in the game.

Missouri’s breakneck pace is likely unsustainable over the course of the entire season. Since 2012, the fastest pace in the Big 12 for a whole year goes to 2013 Texas Tech at 3.07 plays per minute. This year’s Baylor team, which goes so quickly that interim head coach Jim Grobe sometimes can’t keep up, runs 3.10 plays per minute. And before you ask, no Oregon team since Chip Kelly took over as head coach in 2009 has surpassed the 2013 Ducks’ 2.93 plays per minute.

It’s also fair to ask just how effective Heupel’s HUNH actually is. Missouri did well in scoring 20 points in the first half against Georgia, but Drew Lock threw three interceptions while scoring just seven in the second half of a 28-27 loss. MU’s offense also scored just three meaningful points combined against West Virginia and LSU, as the Tigers’ other points in those contests came long after the games had been decided.

Missouri has one of the fastest offenses in the country, which shows that the team has one aspect of Heupel’s offense down. The much more difficult task of turning all of that energy into points against stiff competition remains on the to-do list.

Mizzou’s breakneck pace and whether it can be sustained
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