College football: 7 teams that play a fast, free-wheeling style
One of the best parts about college football is the variety of offenses we get to see on a weekly basis. From Georgia Tech’s triple option to Ohio State’s spread attack to Texas Tech’s air raid, there’s something for everyone.
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Keep in mind: Fast, high-octane offenses don’t automatically win. Texas is on this list and it suffered perhaps the most disappointing defeat of Week 1. But giving up 51 points was the culprit there. Teams like Penn State fit the speedy and free-whelling bill and still manage to win at a good clip.
Still, this conversation isn’t about victories and defeats. It’s about tempo and explosiveness.
Here are seven teams that play it fast and easy:
When Saquon Barkley is your running back, you play fast by default. Why? Barkley is not the ‘three yards and a cloud of dust’ type. While some teams run the ball in order to eat clock and move the chains, Penn State’s running game is as explosive as its passing game ... which is saying something, given how good quarterback Trace McSorley is.
Barkley is a big-play machine, averaging 9.3 yards per carry. He broke off an 80-yard run in the Nittany Lions’ opener. Usually, 230-pound tailbacks aren’t considered game-breakers, but normal rules don't apply to Barkley. College football fans knew who he was prior to last year’s Rose Bowl, but the 52-49 loss to USC was when the mainstream sports fan learned of Barkley. He ran for 194 yards, including a 79-yard scamper, in that game.
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McSorley hasn’t posted the kind of gaudy numbers in 2017 that he did in 2016, but he hasn’t needed to. Penn State is clearly better than Akron and Pittsburgh. No need to run up the score in those games. But there might not be a more productive quarterback-running back duo in America than Barkley and McSorley. That earns them a spot on this list.
Patrick Mahomes is off to the NFL, but Texas Tech remains Texas Tech, perhaps the most consistently explosive offense in college football over the last 15 years. In 2015 and 2016, the Red Raiders ranked third and second in plays run per game. In 2013, they led the country. Texas Tech is usually among the nation leaders in offensive yardage, too, partially because the Red Raiders are good and partly because of their go-go style.
The names are different this year — Nic Shimonek is the new Red Raider signal caller, Derrick Willies and Keke Coutee are the latest wideouts that figure to post 1,000-yard plus seasons — but the offensive system, stylistically and from a productivity standpoint, remains. In the season-opening win over Eastern Washington, Tech quarterbacks combined to go 31-for-35 for 449 yards and four touchdowns. Coach Kliff Kingsbury is one of the best offensive minds in the game.
The defense is another story, which is why Texas Tech usually finishes around .500. But if the Red Raiders can ever figure things out there, we’ll get to watch a whirlwind of an offense in some big-game settings.
Captain of the fictional "This guy is really still in college?" team, Luke Falk is the bellwether of a Wazzu offense that consistently does two things: score and whip the ball all over the yard.
Falk was injured in the Cougars’ Week 2 triple overtime win against Boise State, but Washington State's identity remained true. The Cougs chucked the ball 67 times. Five receivers caught six passes or more. (Falk, who just set the Washington State career passing yards record, figures to return soon.)
Mike Leach, who played a major role in Texas Tech’s offensive success over the years, is the Washington State head coach. Think the Cougs will keep on throwing? Washington State led the country in pass attempts in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 — perhaps the most hipster streak in college football — before finishing a measly third in 2016. A great quarterback throwing the ball on virtually every play is a recipe for a lot of points. Wazzu is a blast to watch.
Through two games, Duke is averaging an eye-popping 105 plays per game. Last season, no school posted a figure north of 90. The Blue Devils’ pace will slow down — it has to — but that shows you how quickly Duke’s offense has operated early this season.
To David Cutcliffe’s credit, it’s working. Duke is averaging more than 50 points a game. It just hung 41 on Northwestern, which usually has one of the best defenses in the Big Ten. Daniel Jones is the latest Duke passer to look good under Cutcliffe's tutelage.
Jones was inconsistent as a freshman last season, tossing 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions. This year, he’s thrown one pick in 70 attempts. Duke also ran the ball an astonishing 59 times against Northwestern. Five players had seven carries or more. Against North Carolina Central, Duke ran it 47 times. Totals like that are possible because A) the Blue Devils don’t huddle, and mostly snap the ball with plenty of time on the clock; and B) they consistently move the sticks.
Don’t get up to grab a snack when watching Duke this season. You’ll miss a lot.
If you’ve ever watched Lamar Jackson play, you’ll know why Louisville is on this list. He’s a threat to run it or fire a 70-yard bomb on every snap. Rather than flood you with stats to prove how good Jackson is, see for yourself how good Jackson is. What can’t he do?
Of course the Louisville offense is going to generate huge plays.
UCLA has scored 91 points in its last six quarters of football. After the Bruins’ sluggish start against Texas A&M in Week 1, they’ve been lights out. The offensive line has question marks. Josh Rosen, for as talented as he is, has question marks. So do the running backs and wide receivers.
But those questions have nothing to do with ability. They have to do with consistency. When performing at their apex, the Bruins are on another level. With a spread out defense and time to throw — what UCLA had in the second half against Texas A&M, in one of the greatest comebacks in recent memory — Rosen is close to unstoppable. He has 820 passing yards, nine touchdowns and has not thrown an interception this season. He completed 88 percent of his passes against Hawaii.
Some schools are on this list because, year in and year out, their system dictates they play a certain way. That’s not the case with UCLA. When you have a quarterback like Rosen, offense just becomes easier. Jim Mora has allowed his QB to air it out in these last six quarters. The results speak for themselves.
Despite its disappointing loss to Maryland in Week 1, Texas looks formidable on offense. The Longhorns are averaging a healthy 88.5 plays per game. In a 56-0 thrashing of San Jose State, Texas rushed for a cool 406 yards. Chris Warren III did his best D’Onta Foreman impression, running for 166 yards and two scores.
As mentioned before, offense isn't the problem with Texas. Shane Buechele threw for 375 yards and three touchdowns as the Horns put up 41 points. Tim Beck is the new offensive coordinator, but Tom Herman’s teams generally play an up-tempo style. At Houston last year, Herman's offense ranked in the top 15 in plays per game. He was the offensive coordinator for Ohio State when it last won a national championship. Big play threats always loom in Herman’s offenses.
Buechele didn’t play in Week 2 due to a shoulder injury and his playing status is uncertain. But true freshman Sam Ehlinger didn’t skip a beat. Texas gets USC in Week 3. The Longhorns should be able to score. Stopping quarterback Sam Darnold and running back Ronald Jones and company may be another story.