"Up-tempo" offenses have become as ubiquitous in college football as spread offenses. Indeed, the two have stormed the game in concert. But whereas the spread has garnered great gobs o' glory for having revolutionized football, up tempo is mostly relegated to handmaiden status. It would be a mistake, however, to disregard the importance of playing offense fast in today's game. Kliff Kingsbury is certainly a believer in snapping the ball in quicksilver style.
But before getting into the philosophy of tempo it might be best to give it some sort of definition. Even Kingsbury doesn't have a cut-and-dried apothegm to sum it up, but he gets fairly close.
"I think there's different meanings," Kingsbury begins.
"It's up-tempo, no huddle. Some people play as fast as they can. Some people just don't huddle. But it's not that big of a change. But it's become a buzzword in college football. I guess it just means you don't huddle."
As to the Texas Tech variant of up tempo, Kingsbury focuses on a high number of snaps and taxing the defense to the maximum.
"When we say ‘tempo offense' we're trying to get the ball snapped as many times as we can in a game. There will be times when we're going super fast and times when we're not as fast, but we try to keep constant pressure on the defense."
But while pressurizing the defense is a given in Texas Tech's up-tempo offense, it is not a goal that overrides what is happening on the offensive side of the ball. The performance of the offense is paramount and determines how fast Kingsbury will rev the offense.
"It's more how I feel our offense is doing," Kingsbury explains.
"If we feel we're playing fast at a high level, we'll keep going. If I feel we need to slow down, maybe the quarterback needs to see things at a lighter pace then we'll back it off a little bit. That's really the only concern I have is the offensive side of it."
As one might infer from the above, Kingsbury's willingness to back off the throttle means that the absolute maximum number of snaps per game is not an invariably high priority. In fact, the Red Raiders won't go into any games with a target number of snaps in mind.
"No we don't worry about the stats, number of plays," says Kingsbury.
"You can just feel as a play-caller when you're pushing the pace; we just want to play fast. But at the end of the year we're looking at around 80 [snaps per game] when we're running the offense efficiently."
Given how fatiguing it is to run 80-plus plays at a high level, and often in hot weather, it would be logical to think that Kingsbury would pay close attention to the effects of the up-tempo offense on his defense. But while Kingsbury grants that he does take this factor into consideration, it is a minor concern.
"That [fatigue on defense] is the nature of the game. You just embrace it and roll with it," says Kingsbury pragmatically.
"But you empathize with the defense because you know if you run 100 plays they're probably going to be playing 90 plays as well. So you take that into account, but it's all about wins and losses and if we're scoring a lot of points that means that we should win a lot of games."
In other words, Kingsbury is perfectly fine with winning games by simply running the opposition to death and playing competent, if not inspired defense. Concomitantly, he is confident that his up-tempo spread offense is more than capable of doing just that. It sounds like the wild n' wooly shootouts that hallmarked the Mike Leach era, could be making a return to Jones Stadium.