Here are the reasons you should watch this game:
1. This game could feature close to 200 plays.
It took a full game and seven overtimes between Arkansas and Kentucky in 2003 to total 203 plays. Last year the combination of both teams' tempo offenses combined for 173 in regulation. Ironically, a new Big 12 rule that adds an extra referee on the offensive side of the line of scrimmage to help accelerate spotting the ball, helping tempo offenses, won't be in use Saturday, as ULM will provide a Sun Belt crew. Had that extra offensive referee been in place, and both teams' pass protections performed adequately, 190 might've been a reasonable prediction.
"I'm all for it. I voted yes [for the extra ref]," Baylor head coach Art Briles said. "Most of those guys are my age or more, and I can promise you that at 26 I was a lot quicker than I am at 57, and I don't think that they're that much different. This way you just have to work your neck muscles."
2. Neither coach gives a damn about time of possession.
Me, before last season's ULM-Baylor game: So what's your plan for ball control against a team like this?
ULM head coach Todd Berry: Yeah, we're not really worried about that.
Todd Berry: Points on the board usually matter more.
HELL YES! JUST TAKE OFF THE BRAKES, THEY'RE ONLY IN THE WAY. MODERATION IS IN ILLUSION OF THE MIND THAT IMPRISONS US WITH LIMITS. Or simply, this is the drunken PS2 Madden game you wish you'd videotaped for posterity in college.
Berry was joking, but he wasn't joking.
"With a team like Baylor, it requires a different thought process," Berry said. "There's been some teams out there that have tried to just possess the ball and keep that offense off the field, and while I understand that theory, you just have to match points and see if you can't go one-up at a certain time. That's the nature of what they do."
3. The spirit of Joe Lee Dunn lives here.
As our Our Daily Bears wonderfully broke down this week, ULM utilizes the blitz-based 3-3-5, best known as the attack refined by defensive coordinator "Shoeless" Joe Lee Dunn, of Mississippi State and Memphis fame. Smart Football has some great insight on the 3-3-5 and its uses elsewhere, but the basic thing to take away is that the scheme vacillates between crazypants effective or horribly loose. (Translation: WHEEEE! You got your overload corner blitz in my 90-yard screen pass!).
It's also worth watching because football evolves cyclically, and don't be surprised to see this scheme, all but abandoned totally in the last decade, creep all the way to the NFL as a potential means of breaking up zone-read and pistol looks.
Mandatory with any Joe Lee Dunn mention:
4. Fun with in-game adjustments.
"The chess match that was going on during that game was a lot of fun," Berry said, "because both of us were having to make some really extreme adjustments on the sideline. Well, I say that because we were having to adjust, so I’m assuming he was having to as well, based off of some of his comments."
Berry broke down his initial gameplan going into 2012's match-up: force Nick Florence to throw under pressure by blitzing immediately to test his accuracy and hopefully create turnovers. It worked initially. Florence was picked off twice early and ULM led 14-0, but Berry said that despite Baylor shifting protections to help him, Florence improved dramatically on his own in real time, finishing with 351 yards passing, 55 rushing and 4 touchdowns. Berry and his defensive staff dumped the blitz scheme for disguised zone coverages meant to slow down Florence's reads and account for Lache Seastrunk, who that night saw the most playing time to date that season. Seastrunk was a non-factor, but ULM had to account for the potential.
"The pace in the game was so frantic, too, that you know, it wasn’t like all of sudden something happened and you have a lot of time to make an adjustment. Both sidelines, there was a tremendous conversation from the sideline to the field during the whole game. It was like 'Oh geez, we haven’t ever seen that before.' So, 'Okay, hey you, back up, you go over here,'" Berry said, mimicking his frantic sideline gestures.
5. Learn about tempo.
The conventional logic in these games is that the larger program should almost always win by virtue of talent alone, that a certain level of athleticism trumps any game plan.
"As a coach you don’t always want to just be challenged by the other team’s athletes. You want to have to make some adjustments and get challenged by their scheme," Berry said.
Briles agrees, even if the style of play he's helped trumpet will keep his team from simply imposing its will.
"Their success doesn't surprise me. Not at all, because every coach is different in his philosophy, and I've known Todd Berry for a long time, and he's a very unique and innovative offensive coach," he said.
The same logic working for ULM against Baylor is what the Bears have built to compete against upper echelon programs in the Big 12, the mantra of speed and scheme neutralizing size and power. Briles cites the national popularity of the sport creating a surplus of fitter, smarter players against the scholarship limits of each team.
"There's only so many BCS schools. What is that, only a few hundred spots? There's so many players out there today, that's why anyone can beat anyone."
6. To repeat: Two quarterbacks at the same time.
I'll keep beating this to death until you guys show me something neater. Deal?