It seems obvious enough: The more plays an offense runs, the more chances it has to score.
Sure, there is more to it than that, but the basic premise really is that simple. Ten more snaps equal 10 more opportunities at the end zone. Increasing Notre Dame’s tempo in that pursuit is not only part of why Irish coach Brian Kelly hired new offensive coordinator Chip Long, but it is also a primary emphasis of spring practice.
When Kelly announced Long’s hiring, he discussed simplifying play calls to increase pacing.
“Within our offensive system, we want to run more plays,” he said. “…There needs to be some retooling within the offensive nomenclature to be able to go to the level we want to.”
The day before spring practice began, Kelly again mentioned the correlation between lexicon and quickness of play.
“If tempo can be introduced in our offense, it has to be introduced at the ground level,” he said. “…I think with some of the things that we’ve been able to do offensively, with verbiage and nomenclature, I believe that we’ll be able to pick up the tempo even more.”
And following that first practice, one of Kelly’s first comments touched on—you guessed it—tempo.
“We were really looking at tempo on our offense,” he said. “I think we achieved that. To go fast and be sloppy is certainly not the end, but to be able to run a little bit more tempo with our offense and be effective in execution was really the most important thing.”
With the Irish returning to the practice field tomorrow (Wednesday) following spring break, the stress on speed will undoubtedly continue. Just how much of an increase can be expected of Long’s offense?
Last season, Notre Dame averaged 68.83 plays per game, in line with an average of 68.9 in Kelly’s seven years leading the Irish and similar to his average of 67.5 in three seasons at Cincinnati.
In his first and only season leading his own offense, Long averaged 74.15 plays per game at Memphis in 2016. Admittedly, one season is a small sample size, especially considering the variables prone to tilting any single college football game.
It does not take a perilous leap of faith to conclude Long picked up a good amount of offensive strategy and thinking during his four seasons as tight ends coach in Todd Graham’s Arizona State offense. More accurately, Long presumably learned from Mike Norvell, the offensive coordinator during that stretch in Tempe who then brought Long with him when Norvell took the job as head coach at Memphis.
During their shared seasons at Arizona State, Norvell and Long coached an offense that averaged 78.47 plays per game. Combine that figure with the aforementioned Memphis figure and the math yields a five-year average of 77.62 plays per game, nearly nine plays per game more than Notre Dame managed over the same stretch.
Will that be seen in 2017? The more-pertinent question may be, will it be seen in 32 days in the Blue-Gold Game? Kelly has said it will be Long’s offense to run, and April 22 will be the first chance to see that in effect.
“When I was at Cincinnati, I was the guy, I was running it by myself,” Kelly said before spring practice commenced. “I think going back to [that] is the most efficient way to do it, and get out of the way and let Chip run it.”
As has quickly become something of a norm in this space below is a listing of the stats condensed above. Before that, though, one quick note: Keep an eye on Memphis’s offense again this season. It returned the vast majority of its firepower, and Norvell will not hesitate to turn up the pressure on opposing defenses. The Tigers should be very entertaining.
2016: 826 plays run in 12 games for an average of 68.83 plays per game.
2015: 864 plays run in 13 games for an average of 66.46 plays per game.
2014: 947 plays run in 13 games for an average of 72.85 plays per game.
2013: 869 plays run in 13 games for an average of 66.85 plays per game.
2012: 894 plays run in 13 games for an average of 68.77 plays per game.
2011: 906 plays run in 13 games for an average of 69.69 plays per game.
2010: 895 plays run in 13 games for an average of 68.85 plays per game.
2009: 833 plays run in 13 games for an average of 64.08 plays per game. This includes the Bearcats’ bowl game, even though Kelly did not coach it. They still utilized his offensive scheme.
2008: 927 plays run in 14 games for an average of 66.21 plays per game.
2007: 940 plays run in 13 games for an average of 72.31 plays per game.
2016: 964 plays run in 13 games for an average of 74.15 plays per game.
2015: 1,070 plays run in 13 games for an average of 82.31 plays per game.
2014: 975 plays run in 13 games for an average of 75 plays per game.
2013: 1,102 plays run in 14 games for an average of 78.71 plays per game.
2012: 1,012 plays run in 13 games for an average of 77.85 plays per game.