All of football is action and reaction. The offense substitutes; the defense substitutes. An offensive formation causes a defensive reaction and formation. Motion, initiated by the offense, is reacted to by the defense. And when the ball is snapped, the offense begins a play to which the defense reacts and all of the players on the field act and react to one another.
Invariably the offense is granted two advantages to begin: the choice of the play to be run (and knowledge of it) and the ability to move first. The defense has the advantage of “having the chalk” second, getting to see the formation and set its defense based on the offense. It also has the advantage of the status quo. It is incumbent upon the offense to move the ball forward. If that doesn’t happen, if the play is a draw, where nobody wins and the ball stays where it is, that is to the defense’s advantage.
This narrative of action and reaction, with the offense executing the former and the defense the latter, is the basic structure of the game. There is some brilliance in nearly upsetting the balance with a new system.
When hurry up offenses, Gus Malzahn’s version in particular, are working properly, they magnify the offense’s advantages while minimizing the defense’s. Of course all offensive schemes attempt to do that, but there is something different in altering the fundamental relationship between action and reaction that can create an unusually large advantage.
The effect of the strategy begins before the play starts with the substitutions. In a normal paced game the offense and defense substitute when they want to. But the defense doesn’t get to do this when facing the hurry up. They have to wait until the offense decides to substitute (or huddle) to have the time to substitute. If the offense finds themselves matched against an advantageous group of defenders, they can exploit that advantage over and over again.
The offense then sets their formation and snaps the ball. The defense still has the right to set their defense in response, but when facing the hurry up, tempo offenses they don’t have the same amount of time. A small window if time places additional stress on the defense. Eleven defenders much each accurately recognize the offense, know the defensive call and their place within it. Obviously the less time allotted to these tasks the harder they are to do correctly. The result? missed assignments and unsound alignments. Advantage offense.
The offensive scheme, be it a spread, triple option or whatever, then typically gets the credit for being innovative and effective. Fans see the tremendous success of a system like Malzahn’s and think, “what a great offensive scheme. You don’t want to face that spread.” Sure Malzahn’s Spread offense is good, but you really don’t want to face his hurry up system.