STILLWATER — The Cowboys keep spinning through offensive coordinators. And yet, they keep ramping up expectations on playing faster than the previous play caller.
“It’s something you have to see to believe,” said Oklahoma State offensive tackle Parker Graham.
And something to understand. It’s not so much about how fast they move during the action, as it is their giddy up between plays, with an emphasis on producing the next snap — ASAP.
“It’s not playing fast, the speed of the game during the play,” said receiver Blake Webb. “It’s after the play. Getting the ball back to the ref, getting back to the line and getting the ball snapped.”
During spring scrimmages, there were reports that the elapsed time from the moment when one play was whistled dead and the next play was snapped never reached 10 seconds and averaged somewhere in the neighborhood of eight seconds.
And yes, that’s faster than the Cowboys operated under Dana Holgorsen or Todd Monken.
“This is my fourth offensive coordinator in my five years being here, so getting adjusted to each one is a little different,” Graham said. “But going from Holgorsen to Monken and now to Yurcich, it’s crazy how much faster we’ve gotten each year.”
OSU’s emphasis on pace dates back to the attacks of Larry Fedora, who worked as Mike Gundy’s first coordinator. Fedora brought the no-huddle to the Cowboys, yet liked to fluctuate the speed of getting plays called, stressing defenses in different ways.
Holgorsen brought more of an up-tempo approach to every play, with Monken pushing the pedal even faster.
Now Yurcich is flooring it.
So, how fast is fast?
“I don’t know if there’s a time we try to quantify,” Yurcich said, “we just want to make sure we’re exhausting the defense. And that we’re disrupting their lines of communication. And that we’re limiting their ability to substitute.”
Texas coach Mack Brown knows all about that. A year ago, Brown vowed to return the Longhorns to a physical, ground-oriented offensive style. Already he’s abandoned it, in a sort of if-you-can’t-beat-’em, join-’em nod to the success of teams like OSU, which he complimented as a trendsetter attack in the Big 12.
Brown said he’s making the shift as much for his defense as his offense.
“Last year I saw, during the season in our league, defenses having trouble getting defensive calls in the game because nobody was substituting and the ball was being snapped so quickly,” Brown said.
“I also saw that players were getting very tired across our league on defense, big guys were having trouble rushing the passer, they were having trouble getting out of the game because people weren’t substituting, and we felt like it was a real disadvantage to our defense that they didn’t get to see tempo at any time during practice.”
And just as Brown makes his counter move, the Cowboys are hoping to stay one step ahead.
“In the Big 12, a lot of teams run the spread, but nobody really runs it like us,” Webb said. “So you see a lot of confusion. And you see people get tired, and they try to sub and they can’t.
“That’s an advantage for us.”
Said Graham: “Last year we were trying to throw refs out of the way so we could get the ball going. This year, I don’t even think the ref is going to get a chance to get it down. We’re just going to grab it from him and go.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun for us. We love playing fast. It’s a lot of fun to wear out the defense. By the fourth quarter, they’re going to be trying to crawl off the field.”
Yurcich makes it all sound simple, and in terms of philosophy, it is simple: hustle up after the play; hustle back to the line; hurry and snap the ball.
Making it all happen smoothly, however, requires a concerted effort from everyone, linemen included. For the big guys, their job description is changing, with the flat-bellied Graham and his linemates literally changing the shape of the position.
“I think that’s something that coach (Joe) Wickline and the offensive line embrace,” Yurcich said. “They know that’s our strength. And they identify with that.”
Strength and conditioning coach Rob Glass has become even more instrumental in getting the Cowboys up to speed, pushing players through offseason workouts. And it extends across the board.
For the wide receivers, who run faster and farther than the linemen, their roles resemble something like a hockey shift: play to exhaustion, then get off the field for a break.
“Last year, I thought we were going fast,” said receiver David Glidden. “I could go five, six, seven plays in a row. This time, not so much.
“The substitutions are a little more rapid.”
Defensively, the Cowboys should also benefit, just working to keep up their offense.
“It definitely forces you to be in top shape,” said linebacker Shaun Lewis. “It makes you take care of your body, because you can’t be out here moving slow with them. It makes you think fast.
“I think we have one of the fastest offenses in the country. If we practice against that every day, it will only make us that much better as a defense.”
Yurcich knows he’s not reinventing the wheel, with spread offenses now the rage at all levels of the game, the NFL included. But he is going for a shinier, sportier — and most of all — speedier version.
“Innovation always occurs in this particular sport,” Yurcich said. “It’s a lot of fun and our players really enjoy it. That’s important.
“And our fans enjoy it too, so that’s a good thing.”