When Moorpark College unveiled its no-huddle offense this season, it looked less like a football game and much more like 11 guys trying to get out of a burning building. The Japanese created less confusion at Pearl Harbor than Coach Jim Bittner wrought upon L.A. Harbor College that Saturday afternoon.
Ever curl up on the couch on a Saturday afternoon and watch an Australian rules football match on ESPN? Guys running around with no apparent purpose, throwing the football in some situations, running with it in others, kicking it when they got tired of throwing or running and never, ever, pausing for dialogue? If you have, you've got the general idea of Moorpark's offense.
The no-huddle offense isn't new. It was attempted on the football field as far back as the 1950s, when Maryland pulled it against Oklahoma in an Orange Bowl game. Generally, however, it's been used by NFL teams. More specifically, bad NFL teams that desperately needed bunches of points in the closing minutes of a game. The old two-minute drill, they call it.
Bittner decided to run a two-minute drill for the entire season.
The plays are sent in by Bittner with hand signals--baseball-type signals--such as tugging the ear, touching the cap, rubbing the nose and groping at parts of the clothing that make the TV cameras switch quickly to another scene. Quarterback Ken Lutz, who ran a similar offense during part of his senior season at Royal High in Simi Valley, gets the signal and barks out appropriate directions to his teammates at the line of scrimmage.
So far, it has worked to perfection. In the season opener against Harbor, Lutz and the rest of the offense trotted onto the field and went directly to the line of scrimmage. They did not pass Go, but they did collect six points in a big hurry.
Lutz took the first snap of the game and lateraled to wide receiver Paul Davis, who threw a 62-yard touchdown pass to Dan Russell. The Harbor defense, even though it knew of Moorpark's no-huddle offense, was dazed. Despite having practiced for a week against the no-huddle, Harbor defenders played the rest of the game as if they had prepared for a bowling tournament. At the end of the 31-3 thrashing, they seemed thoroughly convinced that what Moorpark had done was at the very least unethical and quite probably illegal.
It is neither. But is sure is fun for the Moorpark Raiders.
"It's a great advantage for us," Lutz said. "It keeps the defense from gaining any knowledge about what we're doing. And even if they guess what we're doing, they don't have time to react to it. I really think there's no way to prepare for it.
"That first play was great. We just lined up on the ball and let it fly. We caught the defense completely by surprise. They had no idea what we were doing."
The offense worked just as well in Moorpark's second game, when the Raiders piled up 33 points against West L.A. College.
All sides agree that much of the no-huddle offense's success stems from the surprise. Bittner and opposing coaches agree that as the novelty wears off, Moorpark will have a tougher time. Lutz, however, doesn't buy that theory.
"A lot of times, who wins the game is determined by who is in the better shape," he said. "There's no doubt that we're in better physical shape than we were last year just because we run the offense all the time in practices. We just never stop.
"In both games this season you could just see the defenses wearing out trying to keep up with us. The last quarter of both games the defense was huffing and puffing and dragging their feet. And because there's so little time between plays, when the defensive players get tired they either have to stay in or call timeout to get a sub in."
Bittner, in his 13th season at Moorpark and his seventh as head coach, decided to switch from a basic offense to the no-huddle this season after attending a national football coaches' seminar in Nashville, Tenn., last year. He had experimented with it at Moorpark in previous seasons, but used it only sparingly. The more he thought about it, though, the more he liked it. After many losing seasons, including last year's dismal 4-5-1 record, the decision became easier for Coach Bittner, who had begun to hear rumors that he was about to become ex-Coach Bittner.
"At the seminar I was very impressed with the reasons for not having a huddle," Bittner said. "The No. 1 thing is that you get so much more repetition in practice. All that time between plays, players straggling back to the huddle and all, that's all wasted time.
"Another big reason to use this offense is that it enables you to run more plays during a game. We're an offense-oriented team, so it was a good idea for us.
"But perhaps the biggest reason is that we had Ken Lutz coming back at quarterback and I felt he'd be able to handle it, to get the play at the line and audibilize when he had to and not get too nervous with it."