- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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ATHENS, Ga. -- For all of the preseason talking points as Georgia's offensive players prepared for their opener against Boise State last August, one important factor received no publicity whatsoever.
And that was by design.
The Bulldogs were under strict orders not to discuss the no-huddle offense they installed during spring practice in an effort to spark what had been a sluggish attack in 2010.
"It was well known that we weren't saying what we were going to do, we weren't saying we were changing things up," receiver Tavarres King said.
Although its debut against Boise was fairly rocky, the no-huddle started to function properly the following week, against South Carolina. And by the end of the season it had helped make a substantial difference in Georgia's offensive productivity -- which could mean even bigger things are ahead in the Bulldogs' second season operating out of a no-huddle look.
Operating in a no-huddle offense for the first time, Georgia drastically improved its national standing in several key offensive categories last season:
"The more plays you get, the more chances you have to score, the more chances to get the ball in people's hands and make them happier and things like that," quarterback Aaron Murray said. "I think this year is definitely going to be more crisp.
"People know the offense better, people I think prepared themselves more to be in better shape to be able to handle the whole no-huddle offense the entire time. So I definitely think Year 2 of it's definitely going to be a lot more successful."
Georgia ran 202 more plays in 2011 than it had a season before and went from being one of the SEC's lesser offenses to one that ranked among the league's leaders in time of possession, plays per game, first downs per game and total offense.
In fact, the Bulldogs were well ahead of the SEC's next closest team in some of those categories. They averaged 72.57 plays per game last season compared to 62.62 in the prior season. That might not look like a substantial increase, but adding 10 offensive plays per game helped them improve from 109th nationally in plays per game to 24th. That led the SEC, well ahead of Arkansas, which ran 133 fewer total plays in 13 games and about five fewer per game.
Even with an inconsistent running game, Georgia actually improved its key offensive numbers almost across the board. The Bulldogs jumped from 72nd nationally to 42nd in first downs per game (18.85 in 2010 to 21.14 last season), from 49th to eighth in time of possession (30:28 to 33:39), from 92nd to ninth in total plays (814 to 1,016) and from 56th to 39th in total offense (385 yards to 408.5).
And they made those statistical improvements even while backing off the gas in the second half of several games, attempting to sit on leads while the defense closed out the victory.
"There were six or seven games where the second half, we huddled the whole second half because we were ahead and our defense is pretty good and we wanted to take time off the clock so there's always adjustments," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "But I like it, one, because we got more plays that we had in years past and that gives us more opportunity to score points.
"And even though we did a no-huddle and had that number of plays, we still [led] the league in time of possession and we [nearly] led the league in first downs per game, which keeps your defense off the field. When they're out there, they tend to be fresher when they're not on the field as much."
Georgia used the no-huddle early in Coach Mark Richt's tenure, but he eventually backed away from the attack that he had employed so successfully at Florida State, claiming that SEC officials would not allow the Bulldogs to snap the ball quickly enough for it to maintain its effectiveness.
The league's officials started to ease up in recent seasons on teams that wanted to move quickly -- think Auburn's fast-paced offense with Cam Newton at the trigger in 2010 -- and Georgia's coaches saw that the opportunity existed to bring it back.
"I think early on [the referees] got Coach out of that and the last few years we've been talking about it and just hadn't done it," Bobo said. "Last year was something where we wanted to try it and felt comfortable with it and stuck with it."
By all accounts, it was a drive late in the third quarter against South Carolina where the Bulldogs began to understand the possibilities that existed with the new offense. The Bulldogs trailed 28-20 and started a drive at their own 12-yard line, but used only four minutes of clock to march 88 yards in nine plays. Using an array of quick passes to six different receivers, Murray went 8-for-8 on the drive for 85 yards, capping the drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Michael Bennett.
As drives go in the no-huddle, it was a textbook possession.
"I think that's when we all realized that we've got something special," King said.
Keep in mind that all of this progress occurred in the Bulldogs' first season using the new scheme. That forced the skill players to -- instead of hudddling -- learn the hand signals that kept the offense moving quickly, and that required a different level of fitness from some players.
"We put up big plays and that's tough on the O-line, but we pushed through it," left tackle Kenarious Gates said. "We worked hard, we conditioned every day just to prepare for games like that. After practice we'd get extra running in. We'd run with the team and then we'd run on our own so if we got in that situation, we'd be ready for it."
The Bulldogs will refine some areas of the no-huddle, but overall the players are much more comfortable with it as they enter the second season that it's in their arsenal. Murray said the offense is "much farther ahead than we were at this time last season," with players operating the system with fewer hiccups and getting lined up more quickly.
So while the element of surprise is gone now with Georgia's no-huddle, and opponents know better what to expect, the Bulldogs' quarterback thinks their first year operating the new system has prepared them to make further improvements this fall.
"Everyone knows we're going to do it this year, so there's no advantages," Murray said. "It's us now just improving it, improving our speed and trying to get as many reps as we can in a game."