Okay, I’ll level with you. Until this year, I have never been a big fan of running plays no-huddle. In most multiplayer and online contests, it seemed to be a cheap tactic, with players finding a “perfect” play against a specific defense, and running it repeatedly. The (B.S.) QB sprint-out/corner route combo comes to mind. In single-player contests, it seemed pointless. No-huddle strategies did not save much time, nor did they present many options.
While NCAA 08 still limits your no-huddle options to five audibles and hot routes, playbooks have become more sophisticated, to allow for a more unpredictable and efficient no-huddle attack.
In my previous article, I highlighted the Spread Option Offense. This week, I will discuss morphing this already outstanding offense into a potent no-huddle attack.
Any efficient offensive attack starts with good playcalling. Creating an effective no-huddle scheme in NCAA 08 depends highly on selecting the right audibles to use when moving down the field.
Ideally, you should pick plays from a single formation. Because you are limited to five or six plays to call from scrimmage, it is imperative that you keep predictability as low as possible.
The following are my preferred audibles, and should give you a good starting point:
Note: Plays are from the Illinois playbook, and are under the Shotgun Spread 4-Wide formation.
Play One: HB Quick Base
This is a simple off-tackle/sweep running play across the formation. You will need to have one straight running play in your repertoire to keep opponents honest. HB Quick Base is the most effective sort of play out of this formation, in that it allows you to read blocks. There is generally some great cut-back lanes that open up on the back side of the play. Thus, if the far side of the formation is shut down, you can cut back and find room on the opposite side. Just keep your head on a swivel.
The only downside of this play is that the pulling guard is a dead giveaway. However, unless you are playing an extremely intuitive human opponent, this shouldn’t be much of a problem. The play’s action plays perfectly into other plays in this set, and a slight weakness is worth the deceptive dividends.
Play Two: QB Slot Option
In my previous article, I mentioned that the advantage of the Spread Offense is the utilization of all skill position players as ballcarriers. This play gives you this exact capability.
The play serves as a Triple Option, allowing you to first hand off to the HB across the formation, if you so choose. If instead, you choose to fake to the HB and run the option, you will often have a great of space to work with, and great personnel (i.e. your scrambling QB and speedy WR) to take advantage of the open space created by the play’s natural action. This play is killer to both CPU and human opponents, especially if your HB Quick Base play has been working. The CPU defenders generally display some degree of bite, and human opponents will tend to over-commit to the initial fake. Just make sure you don’t run this play TOO much, or CPU and human opponents will both get wise.
*Note, I recommend using a Strong Slots Package on the initial play call, putting your #1 and #2 WR’s in the slots, and thus the pitch man on this play. Using packages in the initial playcalling screen can make for interesting match-ups in all no-huddle schemes.
Play Three: PA QB Choice
The main advantage of this passing play is its playaction fake, which links it closely to both HB Quick Base and QB Slot Option.
The play’s initial routes provide a solid array of options, which work well against a variety of coverages:
The right-side WR runs a deep post, a fantastic first option if he is in man-coverage with no or blown help over the top, due to a blitz or a bite on the fake. The slot receiver drag routes .present a dilemma for linebackers, forcing them to commit to the deep or shallow drag. The left-side WR runs a deep square-in, which depending on the rotation of the coverage, often finds a hole in zone coverages. Finally, the HB presents a great safety valve option across the formation. And of course, you always have the option to run with your speedy QB to an open sideline.
Play 4: Circle
This play is my personal favorite, however, any standard drop-back pass will work in this slot. Odds are that you will find a favorite, so use it here.
However, there are a couple of beautiful little perks to this particular play. The first is the routes on the left side of the formation can wreak absolute havoc. The deep drag develops very quickly, and any hole in the zone, or vacated space from a blitzing LB make for a quick strike. Alternately, the fade route by the slot receiver takes immediate advantage of a coverage mismatch, and should always be a first or second look if the defense is in man coverage.
Also, this play does a great job of creating running lanes for your QB around either end, especially if the defense is in man coverage. WR & slot receiver routes are down the field, pulling back the DB’s, and your HB’s circle route will garner the immediate attention of the LB’s, leaving the flats vulnerable for a quick scramble for a first down.
Play 5: HB Option
Contrary to this play’s name, it is actually a pass play. Again, any drop-back pass play would be sufficient in this slot. In fact, when calling this play, I generally use hot routes to create my own scheme, according the either my pre-snap reads of the CPU, or my human opponent’s playcalling tendencies. Very rarely do I run the play as-is.
A couple of notes about this passing play. The deep square-in route by your left WR can be absolute murder against the Cover 3, IF the coverage is rotating away from him. Because coverages naturally rotate toward the wide side of the field, I recommend using play with this route on the short side of the field. And be sure to time your throw with the WR’s break. Otherwise, you’ll be throwing into the teeth of the LB/DB’s coverage.
One of the great features of the no-huddle system is that upon re-setting the formation, your play will default to the original call from the playcalling screen. I call this the Flex Play. With the addition of the Flex Play, you will actually have six plays to utilize, rather than five. In this particular scheme, I generally use either the Speed Option, or HB Screen play, just to spice up the mix and keep my opponent guessing. Your only limits are your imagination!
Now that I have given you a starting point for creating a no-huddle play scheme, here are some other tips to help you succeed.
Call Audibles and Hot Routes Twice
This is especially imperative when playing at an opposition’s stadium, when noise level is at a maximum. Calling all audibles/hot routes twice will allow you to make certain that your receivers get their assignments. Otherwise, you may find yourself without a pitchman on the QB Slot Option play.
Hot Routes: On EVERY DOWN
That’s right. You read correctly. When playing a human opponent, you should call at least one hot route before every play, even if it’s a running play. Doing so will keep opponents from keying on your tendencies, or guessing which play you might be running out of your core six. Flipping plays randomly (in addition to situationally) is also a great way to confuse the opposition.
Build Your Own Pass Plays
As I alluded to earlier, I rarely run the standard drop-back pass plays as they are originally drawn up. I look for blitzes, or key on tendencies, and adjust plays accordingly. There may be plays when I change every one of my receivers’ routes. While we are limited by our eight hot route options, we can intermix these with the set passing plays to create a diverse and unpredictable passing attack.
One additional quick note: If you are playing an opponent who blitzes a lot, you should use hot routes for your HB regularly. Blocking hot routes are the obvious choice, but I also recommend using slant routes out of the backfield. They play out in similar fashion to safety valve flair/flat routes, and they are crucial to capitalize on blitz-happy defenses.
Killing the Cover 2
* Note: The following is a good strategy to use against the Cover 2 in any situation, not just within the no-huddle. However, for the sake of this article, it is an easy adjustment that can effectively exploit the coverage’s natural weakness, and keep your opponents honest.
Having trouble with an opponent who loves the Cover 2? Here’s a little piece of advice to make him think twice prior to sitting back in a loose shell waiting for errant throws.
Out of your Shotgun Spread 4-wide formation, pick one half of the field to attack. It could be whichever side your big-play receiver is on, the wide side of the field, or it could be completely random.
Call a pair of hot routes. First, send the inside slot receiver on a fly route. Then, send the outside WR on a fade route. Now, upon the snap, you will have two receivers headed deep on the same side of the field. In a Cover 2 scheme, the deep safety will automatically adjust to cover the most immediate deep threat. In this case, it will be the inside slot receiver on the fly. As the safety moves to cover the slot man, your outside WR (on the fade route) will be wide open. Drop a nice lofted pass right into his breadbasket, and there’s a good chance you’ll strike pay dirt. As is true for all football strategies, it will not work 100% of the time, but it is a nice little weapon to keep handy.
Know When to Stop
Unfortunately, NCAA 08 cannot perfectly emulate the no-huddle. The fatigue system is slightly flawed, and you will find that if you attempt to sustain a long drive, your players will tire too quickly. As my freshman football coach used to say, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” In NCAA 08, this cowardice will equal slower developing routes, missed blocks, and fumbles.
I recommend setting the ceiling at 7-8 plays at the most. And utilize natural pauses in gameplay, like incomplete passes and running out of bounds. These are opportune times to return the playcalling screen and call a new flex play for the no-huddle, or to implement another strategy altogether. The Hogmollies up front will appreciate the blow.
Hopefully, my ramblings have given you some ideas to try on your own. My specific play selections and strategies may not agree with you, but perhaps it could spark you to use your own offensive genius to create a new, unique no-huddle strategy.
It is apparent that NCAA 08 has taken some great steps toward creating a realistic and in-depth no-huddle offense. Hopefully in the years to come, we will see even more advancement. Who knows, perhaps we will get to the point when our entire playbook is accessible from the line of scrimmage. I’ve got my QB wristband ready.