Texas State head coach Dennis Franchione announced his intentions to add a no huddle wrinkle to his traditional triple option offense this summer. Bobcat fans may have rushed to the doctor to get their eyes and ears checked after the fourth year head coach stated in an interview with the San Antonio Express-News that he and his staff had "looked at Oregon, Auburn, Baylor, Duke ... a lot of those schools that were no huddle and tried to put together a little bit of the best of all of them to make ours."
Coach Fran has tried new offensive approaches throughout his coaching career with varying levels of success (Texas A&M and Alabama fans can send all hate mail to firstname.lastname@example.org), so whether this evolution to an up tempo offense can really bring offensive success remains to be seen. Regardless of its future success or failure the transition to the no huddle is a key storyline in the Texas State offseason, so here's a look at what Coach Fran's up tempo experiment might look like this fall.
The Running Backs Are Still Vital
Last year's stable of running backs was loaded and often carried the team - five players led by elusive Robert Lowe and bowling ball Chris Nutall combined for 1720 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns, and things got so crowded that one of those backs, CJ Best, moved to wide receiver to better maximize his athleticism. All five of those players return, albeit four of them still in the running back role. Even though sophomore QB Tyler Jones will get the green light to have many more passing looks than he did last season, the run game will still be Texas State's bread and butter.
Under the dictates of last year's conservative offense the triple option, zone read, and short routes and screens were often used as an attempt to loosen defenses and free up Jones to make play action passes or the occasional deep throw down the field. Although this year's offense will still likely be run first, pass second, you might see the occasional pass on 1st or 2nd down to catch defenses off guard and take some stress off the running game.
The Pistol-Triple Option Hybrid Isn't Veering Away From the Playbook
The triple option offense has been in Dennis Franchione's arsenal going back to his days attempting to cave in the helmets of Big 12 defenses with Stephen McGee and Javorskie Lane. He also relied heavily on the run game while deploying a certain infamous TCU running back.
Coach Fran has been no stranger to using various formations in tweaking past triple option attacks, but at Texas State he's almost completely abandoned putting the quarterback under center for a more versatile hybrid of the triple option and pistol formation/offense.
Former Nevada coach Chris Ault, the pioneer of the pistol, praised Texas State under Franchione as "one of the few teams that I've seen that runs the Pistol that knows what it's doing," and variants of the pistol formation have been used to a wide extent in San Marcos for everything from designed runs to zone reads to play action passes. Given that Tyler Jones has the ability to make plays with his feet and his arm, giving him the latitude to read defenses pre-snap and create quick plays in the pistol is a prudent approach.
Since the triple option and the pistol are what Franchione knows best at the back end of his coaching career, it's probably safe to assume that Texas State isn't about to give their wide receivers extraordinarily wide splits like Baylor, run Auburn's receiver-dependent "quadruple option," or bust out the Air Raid. This renovation will likely be more about pace and additional possession rather than a complete playcalling overhaul.
Possessed by an Obsession for Possessions
Despite Franchione's mission to plug certain personnel gaps with last year's ball control strategy, the offense was still held to 21 points or less four times and didn't exactly light the world on fire in terms of overall efficiency. Responding to those offensive woes by adjusting its tempo and possession was clearly a key focus of the coaching staff this offseason as evidenced by Coach Fran's statement after Day 5 of fall camp that "We snap the ball about 64 times on average last year and other people are now snapping it with the no-huddle 75-85 times. So if you stack on an extra 12-14 plays a game, that's almost two possessions. With two possessions, you'd like to think you can score some more points."
Although it's intuitive that extra possessions can bring you extra opportunities to score more points, the hurry up no huddle offense (HUNH) may not always be the cure for what ails your team if the defense can't hold up its end of the bargain. Texas State's defense will need top level conditioning and the ability to stop opponents' drives early in order to keep the inexperienced defensive line and secondary from getting gassed in the 4th quarter.
Coach Fran also has a habit of being incredibly conservative in his second half playcalling after building early leads, so whether he will feel comfortable enough to kick that tendency and potentially avoid stressing his defense even further will be something to watch for.
Regardless of whether this no huddle experiment gets the Bobcats over the bowl hump or crashes and burns in spectacular fashion, Texas State fans can be excited about knowing that last year's
snoozer valuable win against Georgia State or slow-motion meltdown against ULM won't be repeated. In other words, this should be fun to watch.