Banzai — Gators put hopes into hurry-up offense
Published: Friday, November 5, 2010 at 5:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 5, 2010 at 1:15 p.m.
NASHVILLE — Even though it was Chas Henry getting the victory ride after his game-winning field goal in overtime last week, the happiest Gator of all in Jacksonville on Saturday night might just have been wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni.
It was Azzanni who first brought up the idea to Urban Meyer and the other coaches a few weeks ago about possibly going to the no-huddle, hurry-up attack to spark the Gators' lethargic offense.
It was Azzanni, with his background in coaching the hurry-up offense at Central Michigan, who played a critical role (especially with logistics) in installing the offense during UF's open date.
And it was Azzanni who was celebrating so profusely Saturday night after the hurry-up offense was so effective in the Gators' 34-31 victory. Alternating quarterbacks John Brantley and Trey Burton, UF rolled up 450 yards of total offense and kept the Georgia defense off balance (and gasping for air) for much of the game.
“We had to come up with a lot of wrinkles. There were a lot of late nights the last two weeks to get that done,” Azzanni said. “That's why I was beside myself after that game.”
Meyer said the idea of going to a hurry-up attack first came up about three weeks ago. Azzanni said it happened while the Gators were working on their third-down plays in practice one day.
“We were dabbling in it a little bit in third down and then Coach Meyer asked me about it in the bye week (two weeks ago),” Azzanni said. “And we just kind of went with it.
“We said, ‘What can we do in our offense that would match that without changing who we are? We just kind of grew from there. We all had great ideas and we put them all together in a pot and mixed them up and came out with what you saw against Georgia.”
There were a lot of shared ideas, but Meyer said it was Azzanni who played the most critical role in installing the no-huddle, hurry-up because he knows the ins and outs of it after coaching in a fast-break offense at Central Michigan the past three years. Central Michigan averaged 32.8 points per game using a similar offense during Azzanni's three seasons there.
“(The hurry-up), that's just my background, the world I've lived in the last eight years or so of my career,” Azzanni said. “I just put it out there on the table and every week we added a little more, a little more. And those guys (Meyer and the offensive coaches) have been great.
“I can't say enough for Coach Meyer and Coach (Steve) Addazio for believing in me and letting me put that out on the table and say, ‘Hey, I think this will help us. I think this will spark the offense a little.' I can't say enough for these guys trusting me and letting me help out and get this thing rolling.”
Azzanni said there are a lot of logistical aspects of the offense that have to be addressed when installing it. It made for a busy and frenetic two weeks on the practice field and in the meeting rooms to get the offense ready to go against Georgia.
“There are different tempos in the no-huddle,” he said. “There are different times to go fast, different times to go slow. Different down and distances. Different personnel groupings. When to speed up, when to slow down. How do you get those pieces together when you don't huddle? You have to signal and things like that.
“All the little things, and how those kids get those signals. The signals were all new to the players and coaches. If you don't live in that world, you really don't understand. Luckily, I've lived in that world.”
But, for Azzanni, there was something new about UF's hurry-up. The coaches decided they wanted to play two quarterbacks at the same time, shifting Brantley and Burton in and out of the shotgun just before each snap. Many times, it prevented Georgia from changing its defensive calls that had been made before the shift.
“Two quarterbacks is a little unique,” Azzanni said. “I'd come from a running quarterback offense like Oregon's. This was a little more difficult, but it was also kind of fun piecing those guys around (the offense). It also made it really hard on the defense.
“They've got to say, ‘Where's No. 8 (Burton), where's No. 12 (Brantley)?' They've got to process all that, and it's difficult.”
It's also challenging to install a no-huddle, hurry-up offense in the middle of the season, in basically only two weeks.
What probably helped is the fact the Gators worked on it extensively in the spring and summer before the 2009 season. They called it their “Banzai” attack.
“I could kick myself for not going to it full time, but obviously it worked out the other way,” Meyer said.
It also helped having a guy like Azzanni on staff who has a strong background coaching in a hurry-up offense.
Despite the impressive debut of the hurry-up a week ago, it remains a work in progress, given the Gators are only one game into it.
“There were little things here and there in the game, the procedure penalties and things like that, things we haven't had to work on all spring or summer,” Azzanni said. “But our players are getting more comfortable every day. They like it. they're running with it.
“It's the same plays, just a different way of doing it.”
It's also different for the coaches, especially the play-caller, Steve Addazio. But he seemed to keep up just fine last week.
“Coach Addazio did a great job,” Azzanni said. “He's used to having time in between plays. He picked it up and ran with it. He did a heck of a job.
“That's not easy, to go from huddling and calling plays and reading it on a wristband to what we did on Saturday. That's difficult, but he did a great job.”
It's all happening so fast — and that's the way the Gators want it to stay for the rest of the season.