HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Does speed kill? Or does it just lead to many more broken bones and torn ligaments?
Opinions differ among college football coaches when it comes to the growing pace of many offenses. Some, like University of Southern California Coach Lane Kiffin and Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema, aren't happy with the rapid style of offense that crams as many plays into a 60-minute game as it can. They fear that tempo could lead to safety issues, as the compressed time between snaps makes substituting players more difficult.
"There are times when an offensive player and a defensive player are out on the field for an extended amount of time without a break," Bielema, who employed a more grinding style the last seven seasons as Wisconsin's head coach, said to reporters at SEC media days. "You cannot tell me that a player after play five is the same player that he is after play 15."
Then there's the other side of the spectrum, populated mostly by the coaches who employ that fast-break style. Oklahoma State Coach Mike Gundy called it "the very best thing to happen to college football." Texas Coach Mack Brown said he wants to average a lot more than the 68.5 offensive plays he ran per game last season. Brown even mentioned Marshall University as an example of an up-tempo offense.
The Thundering Herd fits the bill, averaging 90.6 plays per game in 2012, which led to 40.9 points and 534.2 yards per game. But Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said Monday that, while that high-octane play calling will remain a Herd staple, he wants to do a more effective job of changing the pace to fit the situation.
"To be a great offense, which is where we want to be, I think we have to change tempos," Holliday said. "We have to be able to slow it down at times when we need to, to help our defense a bit. I think our offensive line, now being a strength, can help us go do that."
Holliday - whose offense led the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing yards per game and finished seventh in scoring, and whose quarterback, Rakeem Cato, led the nation in passing and was named Conference USA MVP - agrees with Gundy in one area. Holliday feels up-tempo offenses can be a great equalizer.
"I do know that people who play fast can sometimes compete and gives them the opportunity to compete with teams that probably have better players than they do," Holliday said.
But Holliday has noticed something else about teams who employ a rapid-fire offense. A lot of them don't play very good defense - and the Thundering Herd fit that bill, too, last season.