Giglio: Hurry-up offenses started here, with Duke's Spurrier

jgiglio@newsobserver.comSeptember 20, 2013 

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Head Coach Steve Spurrier of Duke University Blue Devils looks on the sidelines during a game in the 1988 season.

JONATHAN DANIEL — 1988 GETTY FILE PHOTO

  • More information

    GamesPlaysPlays per gameYards per play
    1989 Duke1186678.76.3
    1995 FSU1288573.76.8
    2012 Clemson131,06281.66.3

Before Oregon made fast cool and half of the ACC decided to go up-tempo, there was Duke and Steve Spurrier.

There wasn’t a catchy name, or even many copycats for Spurrier’s offense back in 1989, but there were big numbers, the likes the ACC had never seen before.

“Coach was way ahead of his time,” said receiver Clarkston Hines, the ACC player of the year in 1989.

In 1989, a year before speed spread guru Chip Kelly took his first coaching gig, Duke’s offense became the first in ACC history to average 500 yards per game.

With Hines, who caught 17 touchdowns, and running back Randy Cuthbert, who ran for 1,023 yards, the Blue Devils put up 501.7 yards per game – which was 134.8 more per game than the average of the other seven ACC teams.

Hines, who now works for a health care company in Charlotte, remembers Duke’s offense as different but not specifically determined to go fast, the way Kelly’s teams did at Oregon before he took the Philadelphia Eagles job in the NFL this year.

“The more conventional approach at the time was to run the ball to set up the pass,” said Hines, who finished the ’89 season with 61 catches for 1,149 yards.

“We used the pass to set up the run.”

Still, Duke went fast, even by 2013 standards. The Blue Devils ran 866 plays in 11 games. That works out to 78.7 plays per game.

Clemson, which became the first ACC offense since 2000 to average 500 yards per game last season, ran 1,062 plays in 13 games or 81.6 per game.

Or to make a comparison closer to home, Duke’s offense averaged more plays in ’89 than North Carolina did last season (74.8) in Larry Fedora’s up-tempo version of the spread.

Clemson’s offense finished last season with 512.7 yards per game and 6.3 yards per play (Duke averaged the same per play).

So which offense was better?

“That’s a tough question, but I’ll put my guys up there against anyone,” Hines said.

Statistically, Florida State in 1995 had the best offense in ACC history. The Seminoles averaged 550.7 yards per game and 52.6 points per ACC game, both the high-water marks for any offense in conference history.

The Noles also can claim to be the most dominant, compared to their peers among the seven 500-yard offenses. The next-best ACC average in 1995 was 399.9 yards per game and the league average was 364.5 And three times that season, FSU broke the 70-point barrier in league play.

Danny Kanell was the quarterback for that FSU team, which featured two 1,000-yard receivers in Andre Cooper and E.G. Green and Warrick Dunn at running back.

Kanell, now an analyst for ESPN, said the point that gets missed about the great FSU teams is they were pioneers in pushing tempo. They ran 885 plays in 12 games or 73.7 per game in ’95 and that was despite having five ACC wins decided by 30 points or more, so their first-team offense wasn’t exactly going full-throttle into the fourth quarter.

“Everyone talks now about up-tempo, no-huddle offenses like they were started at Oregon the last five or six years, but we were running this style of offense at FSU 20 years ago,” Kanell said.

There’s also an interesting correlation between the ACC’s high-powered offenses and winning. Defense is supposed to win championships, but of the seven teams that averaged 500 yards per game, five won the ACC title, including Duke’s shared title in ’89, which is the last by any of the Triangle teams.

UNC and N.C. State are averaging 78 plays per game this season (which trails only Clemson’s 82.6), by the way, and Duke isn’t far behind with 73.6, so we’ll know soon enough if faster is better.

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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