Dustin Taliaferro likes seeing defenses gassed. The Samford quarterback knows the feeling well.
Last spring, when new offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee began implementing the fast-paced attack he learned under Gus Malzahn, Samford's offense had plenty of trouble maintaining the desired pace of play. It was more of the same in the preseason.
"We had to get in shape to run this offense and it took us all through camp, and we kind of found our stride there after the first couple of games," said Taliaferro, whose Bulldogs (5-3, 3-3 Southern Conference) host the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (4-5, 2-4) on Saturday.
Lashlee, who was hired by Samford coach Pat Sullivan after working as Malzahn's graduate assistant at Auburn for two years, knows first-hand the effect the offense can have. He not only saw what Cam Newton could do with it a year ago, but Lashlee was Malzahn's quarterback in high school in Springdale, Ark., and again at the University of Arkansas.
"I'm one of the few that's had the opportunity to play in the system and now coach the system," said Lashlee, who set numerous state passing records in high school.
Following Wednesday's practice, in which B.J. Coleman (shoulder) and Terrell Robinson (foot) were primarily spectators, Huesman said he has no idea who will start at quarterback Saturday.
"We'll call the best plays we can call, [offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield] game plan the best that he can and we'll see who's healthy," Huesman said. "We're going to take all of the quarterbacks and we'll see who's healthy."
Backup Graham Nichols took most of the snaps with the starters Wednesday.
The speedy spread system is designed to give Samford's offense as many plays as possible by playing as quickly as possible. The Bulldogs hurry to the line of scrimmage after each play, which limits defensive substitutions and adjustments.
"Our philosophy is, it's just common sense that the more plays you can get, the more opportunities you have to score in a game," Lashlee said. "At the same time, you've got to be getting first downs to stay on the field. It helps dictate tempo and somewhat simplify the defense and their personnel."
Samford is so different from last season that Mocs defensive coordinator Adam Fuller said he hasn't bothered to look at UTC's 48-14 win over the Bulldogs last season. Mocs coach Russ Huesman said Samford's pace certainly caught his attention.
"The issue is they go so fast," he said. "If you're taking any time [figuring out where to line up], you're not getting ready to play that snap. And I think that's kind of part of their thing.
"They get people on and off the field quickly, they get the ball snapped very quickly. They ran 80 plays against Georgia Southern, and for anybody to run 80 plays against an option team, a good option team, is ridiculous."
Overall, Samford's number of plays per game has changed very little. The Bulldogs averaged 73.4 per game last season and are averaging 74.8 this season. However, Samford's scoring average of 33.4 points a game is way better than the 17.8 of 2010, so clearly the new offense is has had a positive effect.
Taliaferro, who has already exceeded by a wide margin last season's passing yardage and touchdown totals, said all that speed and all those plays take a toll on defenses.
"You can definitely tell in the second half and you can definitely tell on some long drives that we've had," he said. "It's definitely had an effect on them and it definitely makes it a little bit easier on the quarterback and the whole offense when the defense is tired."
Contact John Frierson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mocsbeatCTFP.