UK football notebook: Proposed NCAA rule might slow down Air Raid

Herald-Leader staff writerFebruary 22, 2014 

Kentucky quarterback Jalen Whitlow with offensive coordinator Neal Brown during the Cats' game at Vanderbilt last November. Kentucky announced Tuesday that Whitlow, who played in 22 games in his first two seasons, will transfer to another school.

PHOTO BY MARK CORNELISON | STAFF — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

Imagine a monster block by Willie Cauley-Stein and Kentucky's other four players sprinting to the other end of the court looking for an easy basket in transition.

(I know, I know, it's the football notebook, but stick with me here.)

Now imagine officials blowing the whistle, stopping play and waiting until the defense can get in place, then starting the game back up again once that happens.

That's Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown's basketball analogy for the new pace of play rule that could be passed for college football in early March.

The NCAA rules committee's proposal last week would stop offenses from snapping the ball until at least 10 seconds have run off the 40-second play clock (except for the final two minutes of each half).

It's an attempt to slow down the up-tempo, no-huddle styles like the ones Brown has run at previous stops. Proponents of the rule — coaches such as Arkansas' Bret Bielema and Alabama's Nick Saban — argue that the chance for players to get injured increases with each play.

They say defenses should be given a chance to make substitutions (to prevent injuries), but they're unable to do so because of the fast snaps.

Brown doesn't buy it.

"There's absolutely no data to back that claim," Brown told the Herald-Leader last week of the rule, which seems to be losing steam. "I haven't seen any research that backs the claim that we're putting kids at risk. I just don't think it's true. I think it's a farce."

Brown and other coaches have been chiming in around the country, most of them citing Dave Bartoo's College Football Matrix's survey that says the opposite likely is true.

Bartoo's unscientific study, which looked at pace of play versus starts lost, contends that in 2012 there were 3,400 more plays run in college football than in 2010, but fewer injured players.

"If you are going to start a player safety study on pace of play and tempo it might be good to look at the SEC with its slowest (pace of play) and highest rate of starts lost per play and the Big 12 with the fastest (pace of play) for offenses and defense and their lowest rate of starts lost to injury per play," Bartoo wrote.

Before making any kind of rule about pace of play (especially in a non-rule change year), Brown is hopeful the committee will vote based on hard data, not on fear.

"I don't think you change the rules just to change rules," Brown said. "Have data — or the NCAA needs to do research or the American Football Coaches' Association needs to research — to back those claims, and it's not out there."

Defenses have plenty of built-in advantages already, he argued.

"The defense can move all 11 people at one time," he said. "We can move only one person at a time, so the thing for us right now at Kentucky is it gives us an ability to get people tired."

The biggest disadvantage for offenses (in the Southeastern Conference especially) is offensive linemen versus defensive linemen, Brown said.

"And the ability to dictate tempo and play fast and get those guys tired and worn out is an advantage for us," he said. "Where we're at as a program right now, it can be a huge benefit for us."

Against the monster defensive lines of the SEC, "I would argue it's a greater safety risk to let all the defensive guys get extremely rested. I think that's a safety issue for the quarterback," he said.

Because of a lack of depth and personnel, UK was not able to run the offense Brown has been running at previous stops. At Texas Tech, he ran the fastest-paced offense in the land, averaging 80.1 plays and 25.9 first downs per game.

Those numbers did not carry over in his first year piloting the Kentucky offense, which averaged just 64.5 plays a game and 17.7 first downs. His goal every game is to get 75 plays and 20 first downs.

"Our fans need to understand that we didn't play at the tempo we wanted to play at last year," Brown said. "We didn't have the depth and we weren't getting first downs. You have to get first downs to play fast."

The biggest emphasis this off-season has been and will continue to be playing fast and increasing the tempo at UK. He doesn't plan to change that goal or even discuss the potential rules change with his quarterbacks before spring.

He hopes it won't even be an issue come the start of spring practice March 28. The committee's ruling is scheduled for March 6.

At Texas Tech, his teams snapped the ball in the first 10 seconds of the play clock multiple times.

"And we want to do that here," he said. "The threat of being able to do that is what's most advantageous."

As news of the rules change (which would make it a "delay of game" penalty of all things) started circulating nationally, lots of coaches chimed in, most of them sounding a lot like Brown.

''What's next? You can only have three downs? If you play that extra down you have more chance of injury," Arizona Coach Rich Rodriguez told The Associated Press.

Recruiting for 2015 has kept the UK staff busy, so Brown said he hasn't been able to discuss the potential rules change with Cats head coach Mark Stoops, a defensive guy by trade.

At SEC Media Days in July, Stoops admitted he was uncomfortably in the middle of the debate.

"I've had my problems with up-tempo offenses, we all have had our moments of failure against the tempo offenses because it gets you in disarray," Stoops said, admitting he hasn't seen an increase in injury for his defenders. "Obviously that's the advantage of it for the offenses, to not let us defenses zero in as specifically as we want to be as far as formations and all those sort of things."

He does agree with his offensive coordinator that this style of play gives UK "the best opportunity to move the football."

Parking challenges ahead

There was a lot of buzz when UK released pricing for the newly renovated stadium and its specialty seating, but the same website that released that, www.thenewcws.com, also had some interesting notes about parking for next season.

Because of construction around the stadium (and probably around the Nutter Fieldhouse) as well as a nearby federal road project, lots of people will be displaced in nearby lots. The site says UK will reallocate parking permits including adding new lots and shifting boundaries and it will move the RV lot to the current orange lot.

People with K-Fund priority rankings between one and 2,000 will get the same parking as last season. Also your parking will be unaffected if you were in the Red/Blue Accessible, Red/Blue Suite or parking structure No. 1.

All others will receive maps with the new parking layouts soon.

When UK administrators met with select media before the Commonwealth Stadium renovation plans were unveiled, Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said he expected some parking issues to work through. (And this was before the new practice facility plans became public.)

"I think there's going to be some challenges — some work to do there," he said.

The goal, UK athletics official Dewayne Peevy said, is to "be able to tell people sooner than later what it will affect, what they can choose."

Attendance jump

The NCAA recently released its annual attendance figures and Kentucky showed the second-largest gain nationally in attendance, moving from 49,691 a season ago to 59,472 in Stoops' first season, an increase of nearly 10,000 a game.

The University of Washington had the largest per-game increase.

The national home attendance was 45,192. Kentucky ranked No. 29 nationally in average attendance.

But remember, there are no real NCAA or Southeastern Conference guidelines for how to count tickets. So how one school figures its attendance could be quite different from the way another school does it.

UK bases its attendance on tickets out, which means tickets sold and/or distributed versus actual fans in the stands.

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Email: jsmith3@herald-leader.com.Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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