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An Up-Tempo offense- What does it mean for TCU's defense?

A year after fielding what was likely football's slowest offense, TCU will be switching to an up-tempo, high flying Air Raid offense. Will that unintentionally make more trouble for TCU's defense?

"Rommel, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!"
"Rommel, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!"
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

I just recently finished a Q&A session with head man of Vivathematadors Seth C., and he raised a question that I hadn't really thought about as I've been trying to do the analysis of Houston's offense for the Video Rewind series.  Since I've been so focused on what the new offense will look like from a playcalling standpoint, I haven't really given much thought to the "up-tempo" part of the offense, which in many ways is even more foreign to TCU fans than the idea of an air raid in purple jerseys (or at least, helmets).  An air raid attack is still, at its heart, a spread offense- so we'll be seeing a lot of the same players lining up in the same positions they were last year, they're just going to be doing some different things out of those positions, but them doing it fast is so far outside of what we've come to expect from TCU these past few years under the stewardship of Jarrett Anderson and Rusty Burns- in fact I would contend that these past two years TCU has had the slowest offense in college football, even in times where a bit of giddy up in their step would have been greatly appreciated.

In case you need a reminder of the slowness of last year's offense, with about five minutes left in the game against Oklahoma State, down two scores and the clock running we got a delay of game penalty.  Let me repeat that one more time.  We got a delay of game penalty during our hurry up offense last year.  That says two things- incompetence obviously, but also that the Frogs weren't ever really in a hurry on offense last year- and yet despite that snail's pace on offense, the TCU defense was left on the field far too long for each and every game.  As good as TCU's defense was last year, they had a bad habit of breaking late, and often just when the offense had decided to show up and get into the game too- one big play that put the game out of reach against Texas Tech, Oklahoma, K-State, West Virginia and Baylor.  There's a bit more to each situation than that to make the leap that each game would have gone the other way, of course, but there's definitely an argument to be made that the Frogs were a bit more rest away from 9-3 with a win over the Sugar Bowl champions-as well as keeping Baylor from that Big 12 championship.  Would that have been worth another year of Jarrett Anderson and Rusty Burns calling plays?  Probably not, as sweet as it would have been to stick it to the bears one more time, but if the TCU defense was worn out spending all game on the field with the slowest offense in football on the other side, how can switching to a hurry up offense be a good thing this year?  It wouldn't of course- if you were expecting the same results from the offense.  Let's have a quick look at the different types of tempo in offense though.

There are really two schools of thought of pace on offense, the hurry up and the grinder.  If you have the horses to run it, there's no offense that's more frustrating to play against than a really good grinding and plodding one- running backs smashing through holds for four yards on third and three to move the chains time and time again.  We all remember the Rose Bowl and the constant sledgehammering of the Wisconsin tailbacks into the teeth of the defense in the fourth quarter- it was one of the most frustrating experiences I've had as a fan, only passed by Casey's late picks in both of his games against Baylor to seal the defeats, Dwayne Wade stealing an NBA title against the Mavericks by falling down and playing dead forty times a game in the finals and Texas Tech's Hail Mary to beat the Frogs in 1992 that scarred my young self- and believe me, if Wisconsin had won the game, there's a real chance that that would have been the most frustrating moment of my fandom life.  The hurry up offense is a different sort of hell, instead of the Chinese water torture, it's all about letting a fallen person almost get to their feet before shoving them back down to the ground.  Ideally the opposing defense doesn't get the time to get set and get a new playcall in before the ball is snapped, and keeping the same players on the field to attempt to wear them down with relentless pressure.

Sounds good, but if you're moving quickly, aren't you putting your defense on the spot a lot?  Particularly one prone to wearing down like TCU's last year?  No, for the simple reason that TCU's defense didn't get worn down because of the tempo of our offense (in fact, it may have been worn down by the opponent's tempo as described above) but by the simple fact that our offense was terrible last year.  No matter how slow your offense drags its feet in getting lined up every snap, if they're only staying on the field for four plays before the defense has to strap the helmets back on, the defense is going to get worn out- and the effect is exacerbated when two out of every three play calls lead to incomplete passes which don't actually contribute to any time of possession.  So despite lollygagging around as much as possible on offense, the Frogs actually left their defense on the field longer than any Oregon or Baylor offense would have through incompetence, rather than style.  There's a lot to be said for the psychological boost that a defense gets when their offense scores as well- often last season frustration ended up playing as big a part in the Frogs late game collapses as exhaustion, as the defense was forced to try and make plays themselves if TCU was going to have any chance to win a game.

If the offense improves this year under its new coordinators (and we're all in agreement that it will improve, the only question is to what degree), the defense will improve as well- no matter what tempo the frogs end up attaining.  In fact, running a hurry-up could actually help the frogs defense by simply playing against it in practice week in and week out- it's going to be a lot easier for Patterson and company to get used to calling the defense against the up tempo teams of the Big 12 if they're having to do it every week in practice as well.  In my opinion, the only way a hurry up offense is going to hurt this defense is if they duplicate the utter ineptitude of last year's offense to go three and out even faster, which would likely lead to my retirement from sports fandom into a small padded cell in Adelaide somewhere.

But even then in my padded prison, I'll be able to console myself that we won't be getting any delay of game penalties when trailing late.