Kyle Whittingham’s best interviews occur when he gets bored with using the same words over and over, as football coaches tend to do. He’ll mix in a new phrase then seek confirmation about how it fit into the context of the conversation.
That’s how he came to select “pedestrian”when asked during the recent Pac-12 Media Days about his Utah team’s 2016 offense. Then he asked, “Is that the right way to use pedestrian?”
That usage might be a little harsh, judging by Dictionary.com’s suggested synonyms of dull, boring, tedious, monotonous, uneventful, unremarkable, tiresome, wearisome, uninspired, unimaginative, unexciting and uninteresting.
Then there’s the noun form of pedestrian — a person who’s walking. By Whittingham’s design, the Utes have walked lately while the rest of the college football world – other than BYU under offensive coordinator Ty Detmer – has been hurrying to snap the football and launch the next play. That will change this season … within limits.
Troy Taylor, the Utes’ new coordinator, will bring increased tempo — in a Whittingham-approved way — to the offense. Or by Taylor’s own philosophy, they both say, even if that somewhat contradicts the stories of those who worked with him last year, when he coordinated Eastern Washington’s offense.
Whittingham initially authorized an uptempo strategy during Dave Christensen’s 2014 season as Utah’s offensive coordinator, but he then applied the brakes in the middle of the year. The Utes huddled, used the clock and protected their defense.
The commitment to Taylor’s scheme, which produced 42.3 points a game for Eastern Washington, comes with a compromise. Whittingham has to allow a certain amount of offensive aggressiveness as opposed to clock-eating drives, and Taylor has to play along with Whittingham’s desire to reduce the number of plays Utah’s defense must face.
They have an actual plan, anyway.
“What you’re going to see a lot of is not fast tempo until we’ve made the initial first down or two in a drive and then pick up steam as the drive lengthens,” Whittingham said. “One of the worst things you can do is have a 25-second three-and-out, and your defense is right back on the field.”
As Whittingham clarified, “That’s Troy’s philosophy. That’s not something I’m trying to convince him of. He’s fully in tune with that. And as a head coach in high school, he’s aware of not stressing [his own] defense any more than you have to. So there will be times we’re going as fast as anybody in the country, but typically and most predominantly early in drives, a little more methodical.”
Taylor’s explanation as he stood on the practice field a few days later followed the same script.
“If I get a big play or we’re moving the football, you get the defense on their heels, you’re creating some anxiety, I like to go fast,” he said.
“But I don’t want to go fast just for fast’s sake. If we’re throwing an incomplete pass, hurrying back to the line of scrimmage and running a play isn’t going to help you. But if you get a pretty good-sized play, getting to the line, you get ’em a little disoriented … it’s a huge factor,” Taylor said. “Our regular pace is pretty fast, and then we’ll have a very fast tempo, and then we’ll have a slow tempo.”
Not so at Eastern Washington, according to Aaron Best, who coached EWU’s offensive line last season then was promoted to coach. Best said Taylor “wants to go, go, go.” In contrast, Best intends to mix up the Eagles’ pace, with elements of “go, go, go,” then “slow, slow, slow” and “maybe, maybe, maybe.”
Taylor’s philosophy is to “score, and score fast,” Best said. “That system isn’t built for 14-play drives.”
Of course, as Best added, “You never say ‘Sorry’ for scoring.”
Perfect example: Washington State cut Eastern Washington’s lead to 38-35 in the last five minutes last September. The Eagles responded with a drive that used about three minutes – and clinched the victory with a touchdown after going 75 yards in seven plays. Nobody could complain that Taylor’s offense went too fast.