KNOXVILLE — Coaches and players insist it's not anything new.
It's not a reinvention of the wheel, they say.
To those running Tennessee's no-huddle offense, it's hardly anything special.
Yet the Volunteers kept what coach Derek Dooley earlier this week called "a big philosophical change" mostly under wraps during the offseason and revealed it in the season-opening win against North Carolina State.
"We couldn't talk about it," left tackle Antonio "Tiny" Richardson said, "because we didn't want the world to know."
Now that the world has seen their exclusively up-tempo offense, the Vols are downplaying it. The impact it had in its debut, though, was significant. Tennessee ran 79 plays — more than it did in any game in 2011 — and racked up 524 yards of offense and 35 points.
The Vols still are relying on quarterback Tyler Bray's right arm, taking shots down the field to talented receivers and using the pass to set up the run — the pace is just different.
"You guys kept asking if the offense was the same," Bray said. "It's the same. Just a little faster."
And, Tennessee hopes, a little more productive.
The Vols ran 75 or more plays in four games last season, but they averaged 66. That was eighth-most in the Southeastern Conference, where only Georgia and newcomers Missouri and Texas A&M averaged 70 plays or more. Of the top 25 FBS offenses in yardage, only three teams (Wisconsin, Georgia Tech and Southern Cal) fell short of that 70-play average.
Tennessee had not hit the 70-play mark since 2007.
"The argument is that you can simplify the defense's calls," said Jim Chaney, the Vols' third-year offensive coordinator. "You can't do a multiplicity of calls. I would counter that if I'm on their side I can't do a bunch of shifting and motioning.
"The game of football still gets down to when it says, 'Set, hut!' can we block them, can they tackle us, can we throw and can we catch? What happens when you're going fast-paced is it distorts some of those values of the game a little bit. You see that once in a while: They get a little fatigued, and they miss a tackle where they routinely might make that play."
Chaney, a long-time offensive coach, said his offenses at Purdue occasionally would go exclusively no-huddle. He recalled one of his seasons at Cal State-Fullerton, where the offense would line up and the freshman quarterback would look to the sideline and get the play, much as the Vols do now.
Tennessee's coaches saw reasons to make the change after last season's disaster. The first reason Dooley gave was how it helps Tennessee's junior quarterback.
"It's just quicker," Bray said. "I don't have to call the plays or spend all the time in the huddle. I just line up and run the play.
"You're getting a bunch of snaps; you're getting a lot more throws instead of having to reset, go in the huddle, call a play and get lined up. You're already there. It's just snap the ball."
Against N.C. State, the Vols caused one illegal substitution, forced a timeout and wore down the underrated front line with their big offensive line.
"A lot of guys are going to have to simplify their stuff for us now because of how fast we're moving," Richardson said. "We caught them a couple of good times where they had like 14 guys on the field. It'll pay dividends, and I think guys are starting to become accustomed to it.
"We're going to have to speed it up a little more [because] really the goal was to run about 100 [plays]."
The Vols left some points on the field, and the play count was limited when they went into clock-chewing mode up two possessions into the fourth quarter. The performance still had to validate an offseason's worth of preparation during which players stressed playing to an unspecified tempo.
The switch may be subtle, but it requires a tweak in how players, especially offensive linemen, condition in the summer and a change in mindset in practice every day.
"When they showed it to us in the spring, it was real tough," said left guard Dallas Thomas. "We were running so much over the summer, so when we came for fall camp it was like clockwork. It was easier to understand what was going on because we weren't dead tired."
Bray looked to be in complete command of the offense, which his teammates expected.
"He's been perfect with it," Thomas said. "We haven't had no problems with it at all. He's doing a real good job at it."
The pace simplifies things for Bray, though Chaney insists it helps the whole offense. At the line, the players simply look to the sideline to backup quarterbacks Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman and first-year graduate assistant Kyle Manley signaling in the plays. Bray simply has to make the calls to the offensive line.
"He don't have to get in a huddle and verbalize a lot, which he'd rather not do," Chaney said. "I think sometimes he just has to look for a signal and throw it to the open guy. Simplifies the game for 11 people.
"What's in vogue in college football now is staying in it throughout the game, and what's becoming a little more in vogue is moving personnel groupings while you're doing it. We've had it that way. It's been going on for a long time. We think it helps us, so we're going to continue to try do it better."
The Vols believe that will lead to big things this season for its offense.
"It's what we do," Dooley said. "We're all together on it as coaches, and there's going to be times probably where it's not helping the defense. But we think over time the points you can generate is what matters."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...