Coaches have tried to to raise health concerns, fake injuries and play offensive keep-away as a means of slowing down hurry-up, no-huddle offenses. Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason has stopped the nation's most prolific hurry-up team twice without gimmickry.
Variations of the hurry-up and spread offenses show no indication of fading from the college football landscape. If the Pac-12 is any indication, their proliferation is just beginning. As a result, athletic departments nationwide will be searching for answers—just as the NFL has, as detailed in Greg A. Bedard's feature on Mason in The Monday Morning Quarterback last July.
Perhaps a traditional powerhouse with deep pockets and a need to stay ahead of the changing curve seeks Mason's insight.
Of course, there might not be a defensive coordinator more prepared to take the reins as a head coach than Mason, save Alabama's Kirby Smart. Smart's name frequently swirls as coaching vacancies open. Expect the same for Mason.
Not coincidentally, the two oversee similarly constructed units that blend toughness and tenacity with athleticism. Both are also responsible for crafting counters to the zone-read plays out of the spread without sacrificing the ability to stop more traditional, power-based offenses.
Indeed, Mason's version of the 3-4 negates the matchup problems zone-read plays and spread-offense nuances are designed to create.
Head coach David Shaw said after Thursday's dominant, 26-20 Cardinal win over the Ducks that it's more than just the base that makes the Stanford defense so success, but Mason's ability to designate players to the right assignments.
"As much as it is scheme, [the success of Mason's defense] is recognizing what kind of guys that we have and putting them in position to be successful," he said in his postgame press conference, per GoStanford.com. "The team doesn't matter if you're just scheming and we put guys like [defensive end] Henry [Anderson] and [linebacker] Shayne [Skov] in bad position.
"You have to know your people, you have to know who you're playing against, and put the scheme and personnel together and he's done a great job," Shaw added.
The teams most likely to see spread offenses are in the Pac-12 and Big 12, the two conferences with the highest concentration of teams employing the scheme. However, the SEC is seeing more of it, and Urban Meyer is turning the Big Ten on its head with his version of it.
With apologies to the Stanford faithful, imagine the possibilities of Mason working in some capacity at a few other programs.
Should another program come calling Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter, this could be the perfect launching point for Mason's hypothetical head coaching career. Mason would not need to leave Northern California, an area with which he's well familiar.
Illini head coach Tim Beckman's seat gets hotter with every Big Ten loss, and in Week 12, his defensively anemic bunch faces Ohio State's dynamic spread offense. Considering Illinois has given up at least 39 points in four of its last five outings, the outlook against the Buckeyes is bleak.
A defensive-minded head coach could flourish in the Big Ten perhaps more than any other conference.
Head coach Mack Brown fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz early into this season, after Brigham Young and Ole Miss both exploited the Longhorns inability to defend quarterbacks adept at the zone-read.
Texas has seen improvement under fill-in Greg Robinson, but Mason is an intriguing, long-term solution to combating the many uptempo offenses prevalent around the Big 12.
Imagine if Texas A&M had a better defense. It's a thought that's crossed plenty of college football fans' minds this season, as the Aggies score big points under the offensive genius of head coach Kevin Sumlin. Inability to stop opposing offenses eliminated Texas A&M from championship contention in 2013.
Pairing Sumlin's offensive acumen with a defensive mind the caliber of Mason's spells championship.
The future complexion of the USC coaching staff is one of the greater mysteries to be resolved this offseason. Athletic director Pat Haden likely needs to hire someone with head coaching experience, but going for the gusto would be finding a way to attract Mason as coordinator.
USC is stocked with talent and already ranks among the conference's best defenses under Clancy Pendergast. However, the one thorn in the Trojans' defensive side are zone-read offenses.
Returning to the pinnacle of the Pac-12 where Stanford now sits means stopping Oregon, as the Cardinal have done. What better place for Haden to go to than the source?
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