- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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You know times have changed when Big Ten coaches are getting defensive about playing up-tempo offense, but that's exactly the case.
SEC kingpin Nick Saban and SEC newcomer
BenedictBret Bielema made headlines last month when they raised concerns about the consequences of no-huddle, fast-paced offenses in college football. Both have cited player safety as a potential hazard of such offenses, and Bielema recently proposed a rule that would create a longer substitution period after first downs.
Indiana coach Kevin Wilson, meanwhile, has built his career by orchestrating up-tempo offenses that typically remain a step or two ahead of defenses. He started the practice at Northwestern -- after spending some time with Rich Rodriguez at Clemson -- and carried it over to Oklahoma and eventually Indiana.
Penn State coach Bill O'Brien isn't as synonymous with no-huddle, breakneck type offense, but the Lions had tremendous success in 2012 while using their "NASCAR" tempo. Penn State averaged 77.6 offensive plays per game in O'Brien's first season, just a bit behind Indiana's 78.3.
"The deal is, defensive guys don't like some of the substitutions," Wilson told ESPN.com this week. "They want you to be a deer, sitting in a brook, drinking water. And they're up in there in that stand with all the smells, but you can't smell 'em, and they're painted up, and they've got their bow pulled, and it's like a six-yard shot. Boom! I want to be on the hill, 500 yards away, with the wind blowing, there's a bunch of stuff in the way. Now take your shot.
"I want to be a moving target."
Wilson thinks pace of play is more related to officiating. While at Oklahoma, he studied officials in the Big 12 and knew who was quicker to spot the ball and who took their time.
He notes that if pace of play is a safety issue for players, why do officials spot the ball quicker in the final two minutes of games? If overall number of snaps is the big problem, why stop the clock after first downs?
"We don't show you our cards and line up and become sitting ducks," Wilson said. "You can hold them and hold them and spring out quick. We have always adjusted based on referees. You just adjust your rhythm and go with it."
O'Brien respects Saban's and Bielema's opinions on the potential hazards of up-tempo offenses, but he's not sure there's a connection between those schemes and player safety.
"I would like to see documentation," he told ESPN.com. "OK, let's look at Oregon when Chip [Kelly] was at Oregon. They played however many games a year, 13, 14 games a year. How many players on the other team got hurt because of their up-tempo offense? Show me that. I'd have a better working knowledge of what they're talking about."
As an offensive play-caller, O'Brien wants as much flexibility as possible.
"We understand that when we substitute, the referee gives the other team a chance to match that substitution," he said. "We also understand that when we don't substitute, we can go fast. I believe in playing fast. I believe in different tempos."
Wilson is the same way. He doesn't have a clock in his head or a goal to run a play every 12 seconds or every 15 seconds.
"I want to be more of that guy on the Interstate that's driving in the lefthand lane that always made you mad," he said. "He sped up and he slowed down and he sped up and he slowed down, and you couldn’t get into his rhythm. He was awkward. I just wanted to jock you around. We were trying to make you a little uncomfortable, slowing down and speeding up."
Changing the rules to slow down the pace could make college football fans a bit uncomfortable.
"Fans want to see points," Wilson said. "With HD TV, every league and the professionals, everyone’s worried about fan experience. Great defense, you want it, I don’t think every game’s gotta be a 42-40 shootout, but I don't think anybody wants a 1-0 shutout. I don’t think we're playing 7-3 football."
It will be interesting to see where the debate goes. Saban, after all, is one of the most powerful voices in the game.
Wilson thinks tempo might have been a more concerning topic when spread offenses like his at Northwestern's and Rodriguez's at Clemson were novelties. Although the spread is far from dead, defenses have "caught up," he said.
"The guys that are complaining about it are winning every championship," he said. "They’ve got more rings and trophies than anybody going. You know, I don't get it, but we're just Indiana."
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