Published Monday, October 7, 2013 at 9:11 pm / Updated at 7:15 pm
FOOTBALL
McKewon: No-huddle defense? Talk it up, let it fly

LINCOLN — Bret Bielema's bemoaned it. Nick Saban's shaken his head and stirred up some passion about it.

Bo Pelini feels their pain well when it comes to fastest, trickiest, no-huddle offenses, even if he doesn't use quite the same baiting rhetoric that Bielema did this summer when the Wisconsin-turned-Arkansas coach pushed for rule changes out of concern for player safety. Pelini, in this case, is milder and more resigned.

Offenses aren't slowing down, so defenses can't.

“You watch the NFL, you watch in college, you watch in high school — the amount of times you see guys not even in their stance yet when the ball is getting snapped,” Pelini said Monday.

This is how Baylor — perhaps the no-huddliest of the no-huddle offenses — can average 70 points and nearly 800 yards per game. Oregon lost head coach Chip Kelly, and offensive coordinator Scott Frost has the Ducks at higher numbers — 630 yards and 59.2 points per game — than ever.

After six weeks, there are 19 offenses averaging 500 yards per game and 22 scoring at least 40 points per game — Nebraska is in both categories — and these totals are roughly double the number of teams that averaged either benchmark by the end of the previous six seasons. In conference play, you expect some downward adjustments because of familiarity, but this is a year of college quarterbacks and their gifted wide receivers. We may not see much change at all.

The time to pick defensive personnel, formation and play call can be nonexistent if the offense doesn't alter its own personnel. And when the offense does change personnel, it's not necessarily a better deal, since defenses only have a referee's good judgment to match the personnel and get set.

In NU's 39-19 win over Illinois, that good judgment seemed to get thrown over on the Illini's final touchdown drive. The Huskers should have limited their substitutions better than they did. But officials, Pelini seemed to suggest Monday, flagged NU three times in the fourth quarter for 12 men on the field, because they were tired of enforcing a fair-play rule of standing over the ball while the defense matched personnel.

“I thought it was treated like, 'Hey the game is over,' ” said Pelini, who didn't want to be too strident and get himself in trouble with the Big Ten office.

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In truth, NU's defense played its best game of the season, diagnosing Illinois' wide variety of formations and personnel groupings with relative calm and never giving up a play longer than 27 yards.

Credit Pelini's almost-obsessive emphasis on communication for NU's adaptability. When NU struggled last week with chatter on Wednesday, Pelini said he'd yank any defensive player he didn't see doing it.

“We as a staff got fed up with it,” Pelini said. “We demanded that we expect to see 11 guys talking on every single play. Eleven guys. And if you're not talking, you're coming out. I said, 'Try it for a day.' I think they found out what a difference it makes. Not only helping the guys next to them but helping themselves by communicating out what the heck they're doing.”

Said safety Corey Cooper: “They made an emphasis of it, and I think we did a good job of communicating on Saturday, because nobody wanted to be on the sidelines.”

Even the defensive tackles were talking?

“I'm not sure what they were saying — I can't hear it from way back there — but they were talking amongst each other,” Cooper said.

Pelini wouldn't mind a microphone in a defensive player's helmet. The NFL has that. That would eliminate the hand signals, to some extent, and most of the chaos.

Until then, one key to stop speedy offenses and slowing their record numbers, Pelini figures, is to talk like the best basketball teams do when they bellow out “Screen!” Those squads — ahem, Duke — personally bug me a little, but they don't annoy their coaches. Or Pelini.

“You have to play on edge from the minute you walk out on the field,” Pelini said. “Things are happening very, very fast. That's just the way the game is right now. There isn't much time to relax.”

* * *

Video: Nebraska's Monday press conference

Contact the writer: Sam McKewon

sam.mckewon@owh.com    |   402-219-3790    |  

Sam McKewon covers Nebraska football for The World-Herald. Got a tip, question or rant? Good. Email him. Follow him on Twitter. Call him.

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