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Football: No-huddle offense puts Luck in charge

(SIMON WARBY/The Stanford Daily)

After dismantling UCLA 45-19 on Saturday night, Stanford football head coach David Shaw commented that the offense sped up its tempo by using a no-huddle several times during the game–a new look for the Cardinal offense that was spearheaded by a brand-new “offensive coordinator.”

“[The no-huddle offense] is really something we worked on the entire offseason, and this was the game that we were going to start doing it,” Shaw said in his postgame press conference. “We put the formation out there and let Andrew call the play. It’s 100-percent up to him to put us in the right play…It’s not coming from the sideline, it’s coming from him on the field.”

Shaw’s comments were certainly intriguing because Stanford running the no-huddle in the first place is distinctly different from the 2010 Cardinal team, which held the football for an average of 34 minutes and 34 seconds per game–the highest time of possession of any team in the country last season.

But Shaw’s comments were especially interesting because of his deference to the Heisman candidate quarterback to run the offense.

“When we’re in the no-huddle, [Luck]’s calling the plays,” he said. “If he wants to get to anything, he can get to anything in the offense.”

After a season in which Stanford went 12-1 mostly due an offense that held on to the football the entire game, why would the Cardinal suddenly want to test out a new style?

“It’s something we’re trying to incorporate in our offense just to give us another dimension,” said redshirt junior offensive tackle Jonathan Martin. “It’s just something we can spring on an opponent like we did against UCLA.”

Martin also mentioned that the team spent a lot of time during the offseason getting adjusted to the new velocity after wearing teams down in a much slower style last season.“We worked on it a lot in the offseason, during spring ball, during camp,” he said. “So we kind of got used to the leg burn you get from it, and we even did some drills in the weight room to get used to it.”

The no-huddle offense is not a new invention by any means–the Cincinnati Bengals first brought it to life in the 1980s–but the speedy, relentless style of offense has found new life in the college game lately, most notably with the Oregon Ducks, the only team to beat the Cardinal last season.

Oregon’s “blur” offense was the subject of much debate and research last year, as the Ducks played their way to the BCS National Championship Game, but Martin said that the Cardinal is not trying to mimic its rivals to the north.

“Oregon does a great job with [its offense], and it’s all based off the option,” Martin said. “Ours is our entire playbook, which I think, I’m not really sure, is a lot larger than Oregon’s. Andrew can call any play he wants when he’s up there.”

That ability to call his own plays separates Luck from pretty much any college quarterback in the nation, Shaw said.

“I don’t know if there’s too many college quarterbacks that can truly call the game,” he said. “I go back to the [former Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator] Tom Moore quote of ‘When you’ve got a great player, don’t hold him back.’”

Those who follow pro football closely know that Moore’s star pupil–former No. 1 overall pick and Super Bowl champion Peyton Manning–calls his own plays with wild gesticulations and loud audibles at the line of scrimmage and is widely regarded as one of the most difficult quarterbacks to play against in NFL history.

Luck, by virtue of being the projected No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL Draft, is familiar with this type of praise, but he mentioned that he enjoys the mental stimulation of playing in Shaw’s offense.

“It challenges us intellectually, all the guys will attest that we want to make it challenging on ourselves because we know that’s going to play to our advantage,” Luck said. “I think it’s why a lot of guys come to Stanford, to challenge yourself academically and athletically, and it’s fun to be in that offense.”

In addition to the competitive advantage, Martin said that the team doesn’t mind having a second offensive coordinator, either.

“By this point Andrew knows the offense as well as any of the coaches, we all trust that he’ll make the right decision. He has yet to make a mistake in [the no-huddle offense],” he said. “Andrew has a set number of rules on what plays he’s going to run into [defensive] looks, so it’s the same as what coach Shaw sees…he just does what the defense is telling him is the right play.”

For defenses facing an offense that has averaged 40.3 points per game during its current 12-game win streak, the idea of facing off against Shaw is already scary enough–but Shaw himself says that facing coach Luck might be even scarier.

“His [play calls] were a little bit better than mine.”Luck will get an opportunity to call more plays on Saturday when Stanford takes on Colorado at 4:30 p.m.