Getting ready: Mark Harriman and trends in football

There’s no ice at Underhill Arena yet, yet the flat expanse was in full use on Wednesday by the football team. The offense did walkthroughs of their triple-option offense, while the defense studied film upstairs.

The triple option, where the quarterback can run, hand off or pitch the ball, hasn’t changed in decades. What is trending in college football, says head football coach Mark Harriman, is the huddle, or the lack thereof. The no-huddle offense is in vogue, as teams avoid the iconic play-calling ritual and use the extra time to, well, run more plays.

walkthrough_2887 For example, Tufts coupled a no-huddle offense last year with an aggressive passing attack and went from 474 total plays in 2009 to 620 in 2010, but that’s an extreme example.

“No huddle will give you potentially 10 to 12 more plays each game,” Harriman says.

So instead of a sub bringing the play to the huddle like a World War I trench messenger, coaches use hand signals to communicate the play from the sidelines to the quarterback, who then calls it out at the line of scrimmage.

(OMG! Football without a huddle? How are you going to get a seminal Hollywood moment like Mac Davis, in the movie North Dallas Forty, shutting up his bickering teammates with the classic line “No one talks in this f$#%# huddle except me!”)

Bates is almost exclusively no-huddle, and the quicker offensive pace is designed to put pressure on the defense. Adding to the defense’s confusion is another offensive trend: making wholesale changes in player personnel nearly every play. “That’s been the big change in the last decade,” Harriman explains. “You might have two tight ends and two backs for one play, then the next play have four wide receivers and one back.”

Surveying Garcelon

Football at all levels continues to see a “big emphasis,” Harriman says, on preventing concussions and making sure players don’t lead with the helmet when making a tackle.

Problem is, ever-improving quality of helmets and masks means that players don’t worry about leading with their head. “You want to stop people from leading with the head, take the face masks off,” Harriman says. What is critical is that players “not lead with their head down,” he says. “That’s where you get the real problems. Not making light of concussions, but that’s where you get spinal injuries.”

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