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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Would a proposed play-clock rule change
force Kentucky’s Air Raid offense to slow?

Would Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown's offense be threatened by a proposed rule change to stifle fast offenses? (Photo by James Pennington)

Would Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown’s offense be threatened by a proposed rule change to stifle fast offenses? (Photo by James Pennington)

 

The NCAA Football Rules Committee proposed two new rules at its meeting in Indianapolis that concluded Wednesday. One made sense—to eliminate a 15-yard penalty for targeting if the mandatory video review of the play overturns a player’s ejection—and the other did not.

 

The other rule proposed that a team is assessed a five-yard delay of game for snapping the ball in the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock so that defenses may make substitutions. That’s right: An offensive team could be called for delaying a game by playing too … fast. With Kentucky banking its future successes on Neal Brown’s offense, one that leans so heavily on keeping the tempo fast, how could this rule affect the Wildcats if the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approves it on March 6?

 

Never mind the spirit of the rule, because if offenses can make substitutions in such a small window of time—Kentucky made a habit early in the season of switching out quarterbacks between plays and still keeping the tempo awfully fast—can’t defenses, too?

 

Strictly looking at the rule as it is, how would it have affected Kentucky last season?

 

Kentucky’s first half against Miami (Ohio) on Sept. 7 was perhaps its fastest 30 minutes of the season. It was Mark Stoops’ first home game as the Kentucky coach, Brown’s first as the Kentucky offensive coordinator, and Miami’s defense was the perfect set of practice dummies to show off Mitch Barnhart’s newest hires.* Commonwealth Stadium was going to bring back the post-touchdown air-raid sirens, and Stoops and Brown seemed interested in seeing how far they could scream.

 

*Don Treadwell was fired after an 0-5 start, and Miami finished 0-12. CBSSports.com ultimately ranked the RedHawks the second-worst team in all of college football last season.

 

Kentucky showed off its new offense early on, a dizzying first possession that was jarring and difficult to keep up with. Still, the average time between the seven plays was 19.6 seconds. One turnaround would have come close to challenging a delay-of-game-for-being-too-fast penalty: On 1st and 10 at the Miami 18, Jalen Whitlow completed a quick slant pass over the middle to Anthony Kendrick, and he was tackled at the left hash mark for a gain of nine yards.

 

The Wildcats rushed to the line, and Whitlow snapped the ball. Out of the shotgun, Whitlow faked a handoff and ran up the middle untouched for a touchdown. It was the quickest snap of the first half, and it was 10.3 seconds after the previous down. Depending on when the referees started the play clock at 40—the play clock was not always displayed on the game broadcast—it may or may not have been at the 30-second mark to earn a penalty.

 

Only two other plays in the first half were snapped less than 15 seconds into the play clock. Kentucky’s average snap time in the first half on Sept. 7, excluding special teams plays or plays coming off of administrative breaks in the play—timeouts, penalties, injuries—was 21.9 seconds.

 

The proposed rule in practice doesn’t seem as if it would have a huge impact on how the game is played even at its fastest, and even then, how much better off is a defense at 29 seconds if an offense happens to be ready at 30 then waits to snap it instantly when the front three dissolves into a two? It seems less like a genuine attempt at improving player safety than a easily seen-through facade that the NCAA will employ rules to “improve player safety” only if they never come in to play and don’t bastardize (in their minds) the product making all the money it does by actually changing anything.

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