Reflecting on Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense as both BYU and Utah look to follow suit

Toward the end of the 2010 college football season, Michael Sokolove of The New York Times wrote a terrific article called “Spead-Freak Football,” which offered an insider perspective on Chip Kelly’s highly successful up-tempo offense. With both BYU and Utah football programs currently implementing up-tempo offenses under the direction of new offensive coordinators Robert Anae and Dennis Erickson, respectively, some interesting aspects of Sokolove’s article are worth revisiting.

“It’s still football; we hit people,” commented Mark Asper, an Oregon offensive lineman, when describing Kelly’s up-tempo offense. “But after a while, the guys on the other side of the line are so gassed that you don’t have to hit them very hard to make them fall over.” Sokolove observed that Kelly’s teams “usually gather steam as the game progresses and draw their confidence from knowing that the other team will wear down.” Like those of other teams, all of Oregon’s plays are designed to gain yards,” added Gary Campbell, Oregon’s running-backs coach. “But our guys understand the cumulative effect of running them really fast.”

Asper, who served a Mormon mission before starting college, was among several Oregon players who told Sokolove that opponents sometimes beg them to slow down. “A guy from Tennessee said to me, ‘If you keep running plays that fast, I’m going to throw up.’ I just said, ‘Sorry, but Coach will get mad at us if we slow down.’ I mean, what else are you going to say? But I admit that I’ve messed with guys’ heads. One defensive lineman started complaining to me in the first half, and I said: ‘This aint nothing yet. Wait till you see how fast we go in the second half.’”

Other interesting excerpts from Kelly himself:

“When we play fast, it gets us in our rhythm and takes the other team out of its comfort zone. Our goal is not to intimidate an opponent with our tempo, but that may be a byproduct of what we do.”

“If someone says to me, ‘What do you stand for?’ I should be able to invite them to practice and in five minutes, they’d say: ‘I see it. I get it.’ They stand for playing hard and playing fast.”

Kelly’s description of what his organization stood for should sound familiar to those who have followed Anae’s rhetoric since being introduced as BYU’s offensive coordinator for a second time.

The question is – can BYU and Utah achieve anywhere near the same level of success running an up-tempo offense as Oregon was able to achieve under Kelly? According to Sokolove, after conferring with former Oregon athletic director Mike Bellotti, “Any team with a nimble, quick-thinking quarterback and an assortment of quick skill players could do it.”

Let’s review both BYU and Utah’s consistency with those two criteria:

“…a nimble, quick-thinking quarterback…”

In sophomores Taysom Hill and Travis Wilson, both programs have quarterbacks who have demonstrated the ability to run the ball and quickly pick up their respective offenses, so the first criterion appears to be satisfied.

“…an assortment of quick skill players…”

BYU features several quick skill players ahead of the 2013 season, including Cody Hoffman, Ross Apo, Jamaal Williams and Adam Hine, while Utah is also well represented in this regard, with Kelvin York and multiple incoming speedsters in the backfield (e.g. DeVontae Booker) and Kenneth Scott and Dres Anderson, among others, at the receiver position.

What is your outlook on BYU and Utah’s attempts to increase the tempo of their respective offenses?

We recommend reading Sokolove’s article in its entirety.

Who is the top college football coach in the Beehive State?

Kyle Whittingham or Bronco Mendenhall?

Matt Wells is undoubtedly a promising new head coach, but without a track record (until next fall), he cannot yet be sensibly compared to Whittingham or Mendenhall, each of whom has eight years of head coaching experience.

The arguments employed to compare Whittingham and Mendenhall are multitudinous and, in the end, probably inconclusive. For example, Bronco has the better overall record, but Kyle has led his team to an undefeated season; Kyle currently leads the head-to-head battle, but Bronco operates under greater recruiting constraints at BYU. All of this nuance doesn’t mean, however, that everyone cannot or does not have a strong opinion on this issue.

Therefore, what do you think?

Offensive stability, at last, through the Erickson hire?

Much has been said about Utah Head Coach Kyle Whittingham’s volatile management of the offensive coordinator position (Andy Ludwig, Dave Schramm, Aaron Roderick, Norm Chow, Brian Johnson and now Dennis Erickson have each occupied this role in less than a decade under Whittingham). Many observers are high on Johnson’s potential, but are also skeptical he was prepared to preside over a Pac 12 offense as a 25 year-old. Johnson’s inaugural season performance was, on its face, awful, but was – in the context of a disastrous quarterback situation – more challenging to judge. With the recent addition of Erickson as co-offensive coordinator (alongside Johnson), whom Whittingham gave the mandate to refine the existing offense, rather than overhaul it completely, there is a case to be made that Whittingham has given Utah’s offense its best chance of both shorter- and longer-term stability that Utah fans could have wished for.

Here is the case:

  • By mandating a refinement of the existing offense, rather than overhauling the offense, the growing pains Utah offenses have endured due to changing regimes should be minimal
  • By adding a co-offensive coordinator alongside Johnson, rather than demoting or firing him, the former legendary Ute quarterback with extraordinary potential will likely be available to assume the role as sole offensive coordinator upon Erickson’s departure

What do you think – will the Erickson hire at last bring stability to Utah’s offense?

What is the outlook on BYU’s offense under Robert Anae?

Former BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae recently rejoined Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s staff as offensive coordinator and assistant head coach. Since being introduced, Anae has frequently repeated his mantra for the offense: “go fast and go hard.” The first component of Anae’s mantra – “go fast” – is presumably rooted in his experience this past season serving under legendary offensive mind Rich Rodriguez. Arizona’s offense in 2012 under Rodriguez applied a quick-paced style that, when executed proficiently, left opposing defenses frantic and fatigued. The second component of Anae’s mantra – “go hard” – is unsurprising for those familiar with Anae’s philosophy during his first tenure as BYU’s offensive coordinator. Reports from spring practice so far have confirmed the implementation of Anae’s mantra. Anae also reportedly plans to simplify the offense relative to the scheme designed and operated by former offensive coordinator Brandon Doman.

A faster, harder, simpler BYU offense – what is your outlook?

Should BYU rejoin the Mountain West or remain independent?

Since the Mountain West Conference converted several quality football programs from the WAC (including in-state rival Utah State and long-time rival Hawaii), dissuaded Boise State and San Diego State from ultimately joining the Big East and gained quasi-access to a BCS bowl game, BYU football fans have been prompted to contemplate the possible merit of rejoining the conference BYU left in 2010 to become independent.

The pros of such a move would most saliently include perhaps a more likely path to a BCS bowl, while cons would include forfeiting the program’s significant national exposure and TV revenue by way of its ESPN contract (against the memory of The Mountain TV network and road games at Laramie and Albuquerque).

What do you think – should BYU rejoin the Mountain West or remain independent?

Utah position analysis: receivers

In 2012, the receiver position was impaired considerably by instability at the quarterback position (due to the early season career-ending injury to Jordan Wynn). Senior DeVonte Christopher also disappointed with inconsistent play and some key errors (re: Oregon State) that compelled the coaching staff to withdraw their confidence in the player who entered the season as the leading receiver. That being said, a few receivers who will return in 2013, namely Kenneth Scott, Dres Anderson and Anthony Denham, demonstrated flashes of strong potential, which represents the key source of optimism entering the 2013 season.

In 2013, Scott, Anderson and Denham lead the group, but the coaching staff is high on newcomers Brian Allen and Andre Lewis. Both players are physically gifted and, if even one can emerge in the way, say, Kenneth Scott emerged last season, the receiving corp could become an important strength for new co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson’s offense.

Utah position analysis: running backs

In 2012, the running back position featured John White IV, who entered the University of Utah as an undersized junior college transfer and exited as a consecutive 1,000 season rushing yard workhorse. White was complemented throughout the season by Kelvin York, Jarrell Oliver and Lucky Radley, although none of those three gained sufficient experience to make obvious how this position group would perform following White’s graduation.

In 2013, York, Oliver and Radley will be joined by JC transfer Devontae Booker and freshmen Troy McCormick, Marcus Williams and Dre’Vian Young, forming a deep, fast group for new co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson’s up-tempo offense. In limited time throughout 2012, York demonstrated flashes of the talent that made him a top-flight recruit out of junior college. If he can stay healthy, he appears to have the capacity to be a solid, 1,000+ yard rusher in 2013. Head Coach Kyle Whittingham has praised the speed of the incoming running backs and surely hopes that, along with Oliver or Radley, at least one among them will emerge as a viable complement to York.

Utah position analysis: quarterbacks

In 2012, the quarterback position was devastated very early in the season when Jordan Wynn incurred a career-ending shoulder injury in the loss to Utah State. After Wynn’s injury, Coach Whittingham immediately inserted Jon Hays, the steady albeit underwhelming senior, until the former was comfortable exposing the team’s performance to Travis Wilson, the talented albeit inexperienced true freshman.

In 2013, assuming Wilson stays healthy throughout the season and will benefit from (i) considerable starting experience in 2012, (ii) a full offseason in the program, (iii) the wisdom of Dennis Erickson, the new co-offensive coordinator and (iv) added physical strength (Wilson is currently listed at 240 pounds), the quarterback position is likely to perform far more efficiently relative to 2012 (and 2011, for that matter).

Assuming Wilson does not stay healthy, there is a set of four young quarterbacks (three freshmen and one sophomore) who will be competing to take his place. Sophomore Adam Schultz, who is undersized but in possession of perhaps the strongest arm among the group, is the most likely quarterback to be first of the bench (at this point), perhaps most prominently because he has the longest tenure in the program among the group. True freshman Brandon Cox is perhaps the most athletic among the group and will benefit from having already enrolled in the program and currently participating in spring practice (whether Cox ultimately remains a quarterback will be interesting to observe over time). True freshman Conner Manning is probably the most pure passer among the group (having broken during his senior season Matt Barkley’s records in southern California), but may be a candidate for a redshirt in 2013, since he will not be participating in spring practice. Finally, true freshman Micah Thomas competes with Cox as the most athletic among the group but, like Manning, will not participate in spring practice and, like Cox, may ultimately end up at another position.

BYU projected offensive starters

QB – Taysom Hill
TB – Jamaal Williams
WR – Cody Hoffman
WR – Ross Apo
WR – JD Falsev
TE - Kaneakua Friel
LT - Ryker Mathews
LG - Solomone Kafu
C - Houston Reynolds
RG - Manaaki Vaitai
RT – Brock Stringham

Utah projected defensive starters

DE – Nate Orchard
DE – Trevor Reilly
DT – Tenny Palepoi
DT – LT Tuipulotu
OLB – Brian Blechen
OLB – Jacoby Hale
ILB – VJ Fehoko
SS – Quade Chappuis
FS – Eric Rowe
CB – Keith McGill
CB – Davion Orphey