April 18, 2012
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, IL - Fans with a sharp eye for football strategy will notice a new wrinkle in the Saluki offense when the team plays its annual Spring Game on Friday at 7 p.m.
Southern has started to implement what's known as the "tempo" offense. In simple terms, the offense may suddenly shift gears and run plays rapid fire. Quarterback Kory Faulkner told me that when the team goes up-tempo, the goal is to get a play off every 11 seconds.
"It's exciting and a lot of fun to play in as a quarterback," he said. "If we feel like the defense is wearing out or we have a mismatch, we'll go into it."
Offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer said there are many scenarios in which changing tempo is advantageous.
"Do we feel we need something to get us going? Do we have it rolling and want to put the nail in the coffin? Are we behind and do we need more series to lengthen the game?" he posited. "Those are the scenarios you look at."
The father of the tempo offense is former Cincinnati Bengals head coach Sam Wyche, who shocked the NFL in the late 1980s by going no huddle at various times throughout a game. The tempo is a relatively new phenomenon in college football, though. Schools like Auburn, Baylor and Oklahoma use it extensively. SIU's offensive staff visited with the Sooners' staff after last season to learn the finer points.
"We're still in the early stages with it and have a long way to go, but I know it's made us a better offense," DeBoer said. "I'm a believer that you have to fully commit to things to be good at it. We've tried to commit some time every day in practice to running it. Our players will practice it on their own during summer."
Faulkner said it has taken the offense time to adjust to the new style -- especially the linemen, who needed to do extra conditioning with strength coach Clete McLeod so they could keep pace with the skill players.
Senior linebacker Jayson DiManche remembers the day the offense turned up the heat in practice.
"I hated it," he laughed. "It's going to make your defense tired, especially if you don't have depth. I love watching it, but it really hurts the defense -- there's no way around it."
With Faulkner returning, along with veteran skill players like WR David Lewis, TE MyCole Pruitt and WR LaSteven McKinney, DeBoer feels comfortable putting more responsibility on the offense's shoulders this year. The quarterback is the key, of course.
"He has to process things really fast -- both what we're doing and what he sees in front of him on the defense," DeBoer said.
Faulkner, who played in a no-huddle offense in high school at Ste. Genevieve in Bloomsdale, Mo., said the tempo is starting to click for him.
"I've felt a lot more comfortable with it just in the past week," the sophomore QB said. "I never huddled in high school, so it's not completely foreign. It gives you a lot of freedom to make plays if you see something."