For that to happen, offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn knows he must delegate a great deal of responsibility. In particular, he relies on his quarterback, running back and center.
“We probably put more on our players than most,” Malzahn said. “We want them to understand defenses and to understand what their responsibility is against this defense from an offensive standpoint. When we teach a play, we don’t just teach a play from an offensive standpoint. We teach so that if they’re going to have to stop it by doing this or this, what are we going to call?”
It’s not just limited to the players making adjustments at the line, either. For instance, Malzahn wants his receivers to not only know their routes, he wants them to know the quarterback’s reads as well.
“We need all the guys on the same page and that’s when the good things start to happen,” he said.
To get on the same page, it starts with the offense’s overall pace.
Players spent all spring talking about making adjustments to the pace of practice. Incoming freshmen and others that didn’t participate during spring practice are making the same comments now.
Malzahn’s offense is predicated on a continuous 2-minute offense intended to keep defenses on their heels. So whenever one play ends, preparation for the next play begins immediately.
Once the offense gets the signal from the sideline, which happens immediately, the unit lines up and gets ready for another play.
Tailback Ben Tate said the offense has less than 10-15 seconds before the next snap. During that time, it’s Tate’s job to make any changes to the offensive line’s pass protection.
“It’s going fast, so when it comes in you have to know it,” he said. “ You have to have it rolling off your tongue as soon as you see it. I would say it’s probably about 5 seconds. But within those 5 seconds I might have made five calls because I was wrong on the first four.”
Since the running back is responsible for making line changes, the back must know different fronts.
Tate admits that’s a new process for him. Fortunately, he said, those responsible for protecting the quarterback get it done — even if it’s not the way Malzahn drew up the play.
“Most of the time, if I mess up we’re going to be on the same page together, so we’re all messing up together, so most of the time it still gets picked up — it just might not get picked up the right way,” Tate said.
With backs taking on the pass-protection audibles, center Ryan Pugh said it has alleviated some pressure from his shoulders. Pugh still makes adjustments at the line — specifically on running plays — but the back is responsible for the passing game’s major changes.
Line coach Jeff Grimes said Pugh still makes adjustments on probably 85 to 90 percent of the plays.
The quarterback, though, remains the real triggerman on most plays.
“As a quarterback, you must know everybody’s position,” quarterback Kodi Burns said. “ You’re going really fast but in your mind, you have to slow it down and make sure you look to the sideline, get the calls, lining everybody up and snapping as fast as you can.”
Burns is playing for his fourth quarterbacks coach — and offensive coordinator — in three years.
In this offense, the quarterback is still responsible for making adjustments on run plays and for calling audibles. He just has significantly less time to do so. Malzahn said the key on every down is not necessarily calling the right play.
“The main thing we want to do is stay out of the bad play — not so much change into the perfect plays, but just change out of the bad play,” he said. “That allows us to keep going at the pace we really want to. Half the battle is getting your guys to knowing what are the bad plays to get out of.”
The other battle is to do so quickly enough to leave the defense reeling.