BY JAY GREENBERG
It appears that the advocates of slower football may not be able to pull off a fast one that would limit hurry-up offenses.
Quickly after the NCAA announced on February 12 that the Playing Rules Oversight Committee will meet March 6 to ponder whether to penalize offenses that snap the ball within the first nine seconds of the 40-second clock, Bob Surace joined the lobby against the change.
|Bob Surace '90|
Almost as fast as Princeton offensive coordinator James Perry wants to run the next play, Surace fired off a letter to the committee challenging unproven assumptions by slowdown advocates such as Alabama’s Nick Saban that the fewer the plays, the fewer the injuries.
“In an alternate year, which is this one, you can only make a rules change for purposes of player safety,” said the Princeton Coach. “And there is no statistical data, no proof, so this certainly has the appearance of trying to sneak a rule through without evidence.
“At 88 plays per game (in 2013), we had one of the highest averages in the country and yet our injuries have declined every year since I have been here.
“I offered to open up our medical records (to the committee). It’s the style of offense you run that leads to more (or fewer) injuries. We have had the versatility to run multiple plays where you get guys in space, where there are very few pileups and injury-type collisions.
“The more studies we can do to improve player safety, we should. The Ivy League has been in the forefront of movement towards player safety, particularly in the way we practice. So if you are going to go back to what one of the [advocates] called ‘real American football’, well, that real American football led us to the concussion problem we had from 350 pound guys running up full speed and banging against 350 pound guys.
“The fastest FBS conference was the Big 12. They averaged significantly more plays per game than the SEC and yet the SEC had more playing time because of injuries.”
The proposed change would not be applied in two-minute drills. Judging from the public outcry by coaches who run the hurry-up, including Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, the majority don’t want the proposed legislation applied at all, making it unlikely it can be railroaded through without further study for 2015, when rules changes may be made for competitive reasons, not just safety ones.
After at first asserting that the rule would “enhance student-athlete safety while guaranteeing a small window for both teams to substitute,” Chairman Troy Calhoun, coach at Air Force, backtracked six days later, admitting “he had seen no such data.”
“This can’t be something that’s speculation,” he said. “There has to be something empirical.”
And so far, it does not exist.
“Our (Princeton) offensive and defensive linemen are not big sloppy, overweight guys. We value guys who take pride in their conditioning and we limit injuries.”
So, Surace believes, does any offense that gets ball carrier often out in space, while also giving quarterbacks more opportunity to outsmart defenses.
“One great thing about the no huddle -- when we ran it with the Bengals and in watching Peyton Manning and Tom Brady -- the quarterback doesn’t get hit because he can identify the defenses easier and there are fewer blitzes,” said Surace.
“If you are going to allow the defense to run 8,000 schemes, there are going to be more free players and more players getting hit in a defenseless way.”
Fast as Princeton likes to play, the reality is that it rarely gets the ball in the quarterback’s hands before 10 seconds, another argument against the necessity of a change for any reason, safety or otherwise.
“(Assistant coach) Sean Gleeson tracks this for us,” said Surace. “We had 43 plays last season that were run before 10 seconds and six of them were in the two minute drill. So that’s just 37 plays out of approximately 850 (in the non two-minute situations) that were snapped in under 10 seconds.”
So does Surace think this is an issue?
“Because having the opportunity to run plays that fast allows you strategic things that our offensive staff has been tremendous in diagnosing,” he said. “That’s our advantage.
“Plus, the game is hard enough to officiate as it is without giving the umpire one more thing to do. If he is going to stand over the ball for 10 seconds, there are going to be more people running into each other because he is in the way.”
The forces of smashmouth want a better balance between offense and defense, which is a better big picture rationale for slowing the game down than a phony safety issue. By giving Father Time a whistle, will it keep defense in college football from failing?
“I don’t think it’s failing,” said Surace, then laughed. “It’s not failing at Dartmouth.”
CARAUN MAKES ANOTHER SPLASH
Caraun Reid did not appear to hurt his chances of being a middle-round draft choice with the measurables he recorded at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. He started with a 4.91 in the 40-yard dash, impressive for a 302-pound defensive lineman. There will be no shortage of NFL scouts at Princeton’s Pro Day on March 13, seeing if Reid can better his numbers.
“Junior Pro Day last year he did a 4.81,” said Surace. “And I think Caraun knows he can get back down to that again
“You are not in your ideal setting at the combine. There are so many medical tests and interviews that you don’t sleep. There are standard interviews with coaches that last 15 minutes and others, well, I know when I was with the Bengals I spent an hour with an offensive lineman that I needed to get to know better.
“At the combine, everybody does the same drills, If I thought there was a flaw in a player at a Pro Day, I would try to work out that flaw. Because (at Princeton) we run primarily a 3-4 that does some 4-3 things, a coach might want to see what he does as a three technique. Or the 3-4 teams might want to see if he can hold up as a nose tackle. Because Caraun is more versatile, he may get a little more of a workout than most guys.”
Perhaps seeing it as predictor of Reid’s ability to play the nose in a 3-4. the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock commented on Caraun’s “bubble butt.:
“At Princeton,” corrected Mayock’s partner Rich Eisen. “They call that a gluteus maximus.”
Mayock predicted Caraun could be “the highest drafted Ivy Leaguer in Years. “For the record, there were two that went in the fourth round a year ago -- OL J.C. Tretter of Cornell by Green Bay and TE Kyle Juszczyk of Harvard by Baltimore. The last Ivy Leaguer to be taken in the third round was OL Jeff Hatch of Cornell by the Giants in 2002.
The Dr. Kevin Armstrong Dinner, held annually in New York to honor Tiger seniors, was postponed this year from Feb. 13 due to weather, has been rescheduled for Thursday, April 24 at Springdale Golf Club in Princeton. . . Spring practice begins March 28 and concludes April 19.