FOOTBALL: Coaches expect little turbulence in transition to 40-second clock

Burbank breaks the huddle in a 2013 game against Highlands.
Burbank breaks the huddle in a 2013 game against Highlands.

Running clock may not matter under rule change

PLEASE FOLLOW THIS LINK TO THE SOUTHSIDE REPORTER WEBSITE:   A minor tweak to the way high school football games are governed is generally being welcomed with open arms by area coaches. There is a chance, however, that it might cause some unintended consequences in little more than a month, when the season gets underway. There’s no doubt that the implementation of the 40-second play clock this year will speed up the game. “We’re going to go back to true no-huddle,” Holy Cross coach Mike Harrison said. “It’s going to change the game in good ways, and not-so-good ways. It’s all going to be about your ability to execute.” Hastening the pace of play is what the rule was designed to do, in addition to bringing high school football in line with its NCAA counterpart. Colleges have been using the 40-second clock since 2008. “I thought it was about time (to make the change),” Memorial coach Alex Guerra said. “Colleges have been doing it for years. It was only a matter of time. It’s one more thing to get our kids prepared for the next level.” Edison coach Albert Torres added, “It wasn’t a needed change, but I can see why it happened, especially with tons of Texas quarterbacks going to college from (no-huddle) systems and going to the NFL. Getting experience with it early in life is just going to make it easier.” High schools have used a 25-second play clock. The referee had to whistle the previous play dead, the head linesman had to place the ball at the appropriate yard marker and the referee had to signal the clock operator to start the clock before it was activated. “The 25-second clock was one of the great dinosaurs of high school football,” Harrison said. “My fear is, what do we do when the game gets out of hand.” With the 40-second clock, there will be no whistle and the clock starts running when the ball is spotted. “It can really keep the game going pretty fast,” Sam Houston coach Gary Green said. “It will really help teams that run a hurry-up offense. Unless they make (substitutions), they can go almost as fast as the referee spots the ball. It’s really going to be an advantage for them. “It’s one more thing (defenses) have to be aware of.”

On-field impact

Most coaches didn’t expect the rule to have a big impact, citing that many teams already employ some type of variation of the no-huddle offense and are familiar with the defensive adjustments that need to be employed against it. “I don’t think it’s going to affect us,” Torres said. “Maybe some teams that send in plays from the coaches would be affected, but most teams now are no-huddle.” Harrison thinks coaches will have to make a couple of minor adjustments on the sidelines. “You’re not going to have a lot of time to gripe at officials,” he said. “As far as offensive timeouts, I’m not sure how much you’ll do that anymore.” There’s no doubt that offenses will get a leg up under the new guidelines. “Being a defensive-minded person,” Green said, “I’ve seen rule after rule that helps the offense. People like scoring and coaches like scoring. This is an advantage for the offense. “I come from a time when you could play bump-and-run. You could hit people all over the field. Now, you can’t touch anybody after five yards. This is built for offense, and defenses have to figure out a way to contend with it.” Part of the dilemma starts with preparation on the practice field. “It’s hard to mimic tempo at the high school level,” Harrison said. “In college, you have guys that are football players running your scout team. In high school, you have to mimic. I don’t think it’ll be that big of a deal at the 6A or 5A level, but I think in 1A, 2A and 3A it’ll be a huge deal.” Defenses will have to hit the ground running with substitutions to counter those that offenses make. “Since we are so multiple, we’re constantly running people on and off the field,” Guerra said. “Last year, without the 40-second clock, we had teams try to catch us (on substitutions). Certainly, we would have been working on getting kids in and out faster, regardless.” One break in favor of defenses is that officials will come into play to a limited extent. “They do have to give you ample time to substitute,” Green said. “If they run in their special unit, you have to have time to get your special unit on and your players off the field.”

Speed kills

A complaint under the 25-second clock was that the game could only move as fast as officiating crews were able to. It has been rendered obsolete. “It all came down to how fast or how slow crews were,” Green said. “Sometimes teams felt like they were giving (opponents) too much time to get ready. Maybe 15 or 20 seconds could pass before the snap. “This way, it takes it out of officials’ hands. There’s more consistency, really.” While the new rule will make the amount of time between snaps more consistent, it may therefore limit the strategy available to winning teams in blowouts. When a team has a 40-point lead, a running clock takes effect in an effort to prevent the margin from getting too much worse. One coach expressed concern that, with snaps coming within each 40 seconds, that effect will be negated. “Auburn (University) last year snapped the ball every 12 seconds,” Harrison said. “That increases the number of plays significantly. An uptempo team can really, really push the tempo. “In the past, offenses slowed games down when it got out of hand. They would purposely slow games down, and everybody was fine with it. Now, even with a running clock, it could get very bad, very quickly.” Harrison’s concerns were triggered by a 68-7 loss to Class 3A powerhouse Navarro in 2012 by a Holy Cross team that won nine games. “It was a loss of biblical proportions,” Harrison said. “Everything they did was right that night, and everything we did was wrong. They were trying not to run the score up. In my sport, no matter what you do, coaches fall under criticism.”

No whistle stops

In an almost-Pavlovian way, football players have been trained to respond to a whistle. That was the cue that triggered quarterbacks’ instinct to begin their snap count. From now on, the play clock will be the sole indicator. It’s going to take some getting used to. Edison, Holy Cross and many other schools throughout Texas used their spring games to get a head start on the new world order. “We’ve been a hurry-up team since I started here in 2007,” Torres said. “We’re going as fast as possible. I would say the only thing our quarterbacks have to adjust to is not waiting for the whistle. We had that issue in our spring game.” In a handful of instances Edison quarterbacks got off to a slow start on the play clock because they were waiting to hear the whistle. Clock operators also will need to be re-trained to start the play clock earlier. “We met with our guys about what we want and what we’re expecting,” Guerra said. “We met with officials and they told us there was a training session available online, just to make sure things are consistent.” Another challenge for clock operators will come from knowing when to set the clock for 40 seconds and in which circumstances the 25-second clock will operate. You read that right. The 25-second clock hasn’t quite been retired. Put simply, 25 seconds will be put on the play clock in time-stoppage situations. Some examples include changes of possession, some injury timeouts, measurements, penalties, timeouts and at the beginning of quarters and overtimes. “As coaches, when they send us the rules and give us time to understand them,” Torres said, “we’re going to adjust.” Guerra estimated that it would only take players a game or two to adjust to the new rule. Don’t be surprised to see an epidemic of five-yard, delay-of-game penalties in the early season as teams struggle with the transition. In fairness, though, that happens every year. “I’m interested to see how it plays out,” Harrison said. “I think it’s going to be great. We’re kind of excited. We really think no-huddle plays right to us.”