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NO WARNING : Moorpark Scuttles Huddle in Hurried Effort to End a Long String of Humiliating Seasons

Times Staff Writer

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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.”

When Bittner introduced the no-huddle theory to his team at the first practice during the summer, most of the offensive players figured the coach was losing his mind. “Yeah, a lot of them looked at me like I was crazy,” Bittner said.

But the same players who initially thought their coach had spent too many hours in the sun very quickly fell in love with the idea.

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“There’s no question it’s more fun,” Lutz said. “There’s no dead time during the games and everyone has to stay totally involved in what’s going on all the time. I think it’s great and the rest of the offensive team does, too.”

A team is allowed 25 seconds between plays. Moorpark has been taking anywhere from eight or nine seconds to 15 seconds to regroup and snap the ball. Lutz can dictate the tempo of the game simply by going to a short snap count or a long one. And the defense never knows what Lutz is thinking.

“That’s maybe the greatest part of the offense,” Bittner said. “The defense just doesn’t know if they’re going to have nine seconds to ready themselves for the next play or 15 seconds. So they have to get ready for that nine-second play every time. They just don’t know what we’re going to do.”

West L.A. Coach Jim Babcock, despite the 33-10 beating Moorpark handed his team, is not a great supporter of the game-long two-minute drill. He said Moorpark thrashed his defense because the Raiders’ have superior athletes, not because they turned the game into a Chinese fire drill.

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“I think they’d be pretty good with any offense this year,” Babcock said. “The no-huddle presents some problems for a defense, but it wasn’t the cause of our defeat. Our defense adjusted as best it could, but it got to be a problem once in a while for us. We can’t huddle up to call a defense if they’re not huddling up to call a play.

“I’ve always felt that if you can run that offense once in a while, without warning, that you can really jump some defenses and cause them all kinds of problems. But over the course of a whole game or a whole season, I don’t see it as much of an advantage. I wouldn’t go with it as a steady diet. That’s not the answer. If it was the answer, a lot more teams would be doing it.”

Many coaches said much the same thing a few decades back about this weird new theory of advancing the football called the forward pass, which has pretty much proven itself to be a bit more than a fad.

“Despite losing the surprise factor over the season, I think it will work for us,” Bittner said. “While defenses are getting used to it, you’ve got to remember that we’re getting used to it, learning how to run it better and smoother, all the time, too. I think it definitely gives us somewhat of an edge.”

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The no-huddle goes on display again tonight at Shepard Stadium at Pierce College. The Brahmas have beaten Moorpark nine consecutive times, and Coach Jim Fenwick figures his team will make it 10 in a row. He indicated that he didn’t much care if Moorpark plays the game without a huddle. Or shoes. Or helmets.

“It seems to me that it’s only a matter of them getting their rest at the line, in formation, instead of in the huddle. If they’re trying to gain some advantage, I don’t know what it is.

“If they go without an offensive huddle, we’ll just go without a defensive huddle. I don’t see much of an advantage in that for them.”

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but the coaches at Harbor and West L.A. felt pretty much the same shortly before the Raiders left their teams gasping with this new wham-bam offense. And until some team finds a way to slow down the Raiders, Bittner will continue tugging his ears, rubbing his nose and tugging at the bill of his cap to keep the offense in high gear.

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“We’ll just keep at it,” he said. “So far, so good.”

Great news for a football program whose motto over the last several years could well have been, “So far, real bad.”


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