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The Cincinnati Bearcats Will Be Playing Faster In 2014

If there is one topic that has come to dominate the discourse around college sports in recent years it is the pace at which the game is being played. Ever since the liberalisation of the clock rules 2008 offenses have gotten faster and faster with each year. The Bearcats have been a part of that trend in the mind of the public, but not in actuality. The dirty little secret is that the Bearcats have ditched the hurry up no huddle offense, or at least the hurry up part of it.

Rob Leifheit-USA TODAY Sports

Here is a chart of the pace at which the Bearcats of the spread era* have played.

Season Plays Plays Per Game Total Time of Possession Plays Per Minute
2007 940 72 373:97 2.51
2008 927 66 418.83 2.21
2009 833 64 334:97 2.49
2010 837 70 331:40 2.53
2011 892 69 363:56 2.45
2012 863 66 373:32 2.31
2013 985 76 406:68 2.42

*Mind you that is the Bearcats spread era with Brian Kelly, Butch Jones and now Tuberville. Not the spread era for everyone else which started five years or so before that. This is year 8 of this style of offense in Clifton, I think we can call it an era.

While all of the coaches who have come through the program have promised to push the pace from beginning to end, only Brian Kelly actually did that. If it were not for the Angry Bearcat Quarterback Hating God of 2008 Kelly would have played at the most consistently fast pace of anyone in this group. But playing five quarterbacks in a season has a tendency to slow things down a bit.

The reason I bring this subject up is twofold. One, Bearcat fans have been talking about this subject for years, but not with enough sophistication. We tend to talk to often of plays per game, which is gives you a rough view of the issue, a thumbnail view if you will. Plays per game is useful, but it can also be misleading. Look at last year, UC ran more plays in total, and more per game than in any prior season. Yet when you look at plays per minute column and do the math you find that 2.42 plays per minute is exactly average* over the period. The reason lasts years Bearcats ran so many  plays is that it was the only season in the sample in which the Bearcats "won" the time of possession battle. Plays per minute is a far more relevant indicator because it accounts for relative time of possession**.

*In one of life's happy accidents I wrote that sentence before I did the math only to discover that my hyperbole was factually accurate. 2.42 plays per minute is also pretty close to the national average as well, maybe slightly below.

** For more on this subject and the methodology I used in calculations go here.

The other part of this is projecting this season forward. A constant refrain from the coaching staff as the Bearcats have moved through the gruelling and highly unusual pre season has been that the Bearcats have better depth than they did a year ago.

Tuberville has said that where the cats had 17 or 18 guys that played on defense a year ago they will have closer to 25 guys ready to play this year. The Bearcats are also deeper (and better) than ever at wide receiver; have three competent (if unproven) tight ends; three competent (if unspectacular) running backs and an offensive line that is already deeper than last years by simple virtue of not losing a starter to injury and having four guys live in the training room like they did a year ago. All of which leads me to believe that the coaching staff has all their ducks in a row for the Bearcats to really push the pace.

While there are surely some who instinctively recoil at the thought of anyone wanting to run more plays with a new quarterback who hasn't seen live fire in almost three years. But that is an outmoded reaction, it is always in the best interest of an offense to run as many plays as possible. For the first time since probably the 2009 season the Bearcats have the depth to play fast without burning their main guys out.* I am all for it.

It could be argued that the biggest reason for the Bearcats fade down the stretch in 2010 is that Butch Jones played as fast as he did with next to no depth along the defensive line, at linebacker and the offensive line. That was a team that was on empty in November.

That is especially true when the quarterback is a young guy without a lot of snaps to his name.

Modern defenses want to match offenses in terms of strength and speed via personnel substitutions. They also want to confuse offenses with movement and disguise. The up-tempo no-huddle stymies those defensive options. The defense doesn't have time to substitute, and it's also forced to show its hand: It can't disguise or shift because the quarterback can snap the ball and take advantage of some obvious, structural weakness. And when the defense is forced to reveal itself, Tom Brady can change into a better play. The upshot of this tactic: Brady, of all people, sees defenses that are simpler than those most other NFL quarterbacks go up against.

That is the always great Chris Brown of Smart Football fame explaining why playing fast gives an offense an advantage over the defense above and beyond conditioning. That piece was from 2012, before Chip Kelly even got to the Eagles to prove the point even more emphatically at the NFL level.

For a young guy like Gunner Kiel, who hasn't taken a live snap since high school it makes a whole lot of sense for the Bearcats to play as fast as they can against Toledo on Friday night. Gunner is probably going to be a bundle of nerves precisely because he has not played in so long. It makes a lot of sense to throw a ton of plays at him as fast as possible for him to settle into the game and find his rhythm. The benefit will be giving gunner clean reads against a secondary that is very young and inexperienced. The Bearcats need Gunner to find his comfort zone on friday night, the sooner the better. Playing at a faster tempo will help in that regard.