Malzahn brings Tulsa up to speed on no-huddle offense

Updated: March 20, 2007, 8:10 PM ET
Associated Press

TULSA, Okla. -- Guz Malzahn got a taste of what his no-huddle, spread offense could do at the college level at Arkansas. He's ready to unleash it full force at Tulsa.

After only one year with the Razorbacks, Malzahn moved across the state line to join new Tulsa coach Todd Graham's staff as the co-offensive coordinator. On Tuesday, he went through his first session implementing his offensive strategy on the Skelly Stadium turf.

"I think the biggest difference is that we're going to run the spread, no-huddle offense. Coach Graham is 100 percent behind that philosophy and I am too," Malzahn said. "I think that's the biggest difference."

With Heisman runner-up Darren McFadden at running back, Malzahn's spread offense never took hold with the Razorbacks last season. Arkansas ended up next-to-last in the SEC with an average of 149.5 yards passing and the most interceptions in the conference with 18.

The Razorbacks found some of their greatest success when Malzahn lined McFadden up at quarterback in a "Wildcat" formation he brought from his high-school days and allowed him to keep the ball himself, pass it, or hand it off to another runner.

But the spread is the reason Graham brought in Malzahn, an old friend from their days as fellow high-school coaches. That commitment to the spread was clear in brief bursts when Golden Hurricane would fire off one play after another at a frenetic pace.

"We're throwing the ball all over the place, and there's a lot of balls bouncing off guys' hands and heads today, but that's something that we expected," Graham said.

"We're not in shape to run the no-huddle offense, we're not in shape to defend it either," he added. "But if we do this for a year every day, all day with that type of intensity, that type of passion and that type of commitment and relentless effort, that is what we're after."

Malzahn has used the no-huddle approach for years at the high-school level in Arkansas, where he won three state titles. He even wrote a book about the philosophy.

"This is who I am as a coach," Malzahn said.

He intended to implement the fast-paced offense at Arkansas with quarterback Mitch Mustain, a prized national recruit who set the Class 5A passing record in 2005 for Malzahn's undefeated state championship team at Springdale, Ark., and then followed him to the Razorbacks.

After a loss to Southern California in the season opener, Mustain took over as the starter and went 8-0. But his passing stats were hardly impressive, and Casey Dick ended up in the starting lineup down the stretch in the SEC title game and Capital One Bowl while McFadden played a starring role.

Malzahn left for Tulsa in January, and Mustain soon after requested permission to transfer, although he has re-enrolled at Arkansas.

It'll be senior Paul Smith, Tulsa's No. 2 career passer, leading Malzahn's offense at Tulsa.

"He likes to get it going," Smith said after his first session under Malzahn's direction. "Hopefully, we can dictate to a defense as opposed to letting them dictate to us, and I think that's something that's going to help us tremendously.

"We're going to get more plays in and hopefully put more points on the board."

The Golden Hurricane are installing the offense with mostly new players around Smith. Top wide receivers Idris Moss, Ryan Bugg and Donnie Johnson -- who combined for 130 catches for 1,700 yards -- are all gone, as are four of the team's five starting offensive linemen.

"There's a bunch of new faces. We've got very few starters back," Malzahn said. "But the good thing about that is they don't have a whole lot of habits from something else, so they're really moldable."

And Malzahn considers Smith a solid cornerstone.

"Here's the thing about Paul. He understands defenses and he understands the game, so it's not like he's starting over," Malzahn said. "You tell him one time, and he's got it. It's just a matter of us getting our receivers identified so we can build some timing."

Besides choosing starters, a top priority for Tulsa will be getting in condition to operate Malzahn's schemes on offense and to run Graham's high-energy defense.

"I like going into meetings and there's no arguments over philosophy," Graham said. "We philosophically believe the same thing."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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