The two teams battling in a football match always try to control the play clock.
They do that for a variety of reasons but the main ones are that if you have the ball the other team can’t score and the longer you hold onto possession of the ball the better chance you get to score. Pretty basic stuff.
Another is the more tired the opponent’s defense gets by being on the field for so long makes the odds for catching them in a mental or physical mistake thus taking advantage of that for quick scores and points on the board.
That is the theory anyway. I suppose it works that way but I’m just not sure that helps get a “W” in the win column any more than striking into the end zone quickly and often to garner more points than the other guy does.
Time of Possession, or TOP, is easily the most misunderstood statistic in football I think. Since our 2016 season ended I have read many Pitt fans say that our defense was on the field too much and got too tired to be effective. Thus the imbalance in TOP was responsible for the large amount of points per game our defense gave up. Hmmm…
I wondered if that is true so I did some digging. My findings are this – I really can’t tell if TOP is all that much of an indicator in the outcome of a game. I know that sounds very wishy-washy but hold on. Here are some facts to think about first.
Our TOP for last season was that Pitt had the ball for 30:53 while our opponent had 29:07 on average. Since we won eight out of 13 games that on the face of it kind of blows apart the above theory. But that is only on average.
Pitt was extremely effective with our offensive drives in the regular season as evidenced by this chart of “FEI” which is:
FEI is a college football rating system based on opponent-adjusted drive efficiency. Approximately 20,000 possessions are contested annually in FBS vs. FBS games. First-half clock-kills and end-of-game garbage drives and scores are filtered out. Offensive Efficiency (OE) is the value generated by a team’s offense per non-garbage possession relative to national average scoring rates by starting field position. OFEI is value generated per possession adjusted for the strength of opponent defenses faced.
Here you can see what we did, again on average in both offense and defense, in all of our games for the season:
We held the ball 53 seconds more per game than our opponent had done. So that would lead one to believe that the ‘defense being out on the field more kills you’ stance is a bit overblown. But wait! Let’s look at some individual games including our five losses.
As you can see from my somewhat convoluted chart below in our five losses we had less TOP three times… but certainly in our losses to probably the best two opponents we lost to, Oklahoma State and North Carolina, it clearly wasn’t.
Against OSU we dominated the TOP by 15:40. We had the ball over a full quarter of play more than the Cowboys did yet we lost. Here’s how we managed to do that.
On OSU’s five offensive scoring drives they had huge gainers that either put them inside our 10 yard line or scored TDs. To wit:
91 yard pass – TD; 29 yard pass – TD; 50 yard pass to Pitt 30; 67 yard run – TD; 35 yard pass & 25 yard pass to Pitt 5; 86 yard pass – TD. So, seven plays, 383 yards, four TDs and those took up practically no time at all. We lose by seven points.
Against the NC Tarheels there weren’t as many big plays by them; here are some of the quick strikes they had:
58 yard pass & 39 yard pass – TD; 45 yard pass – TD
But the interesting thing in the NC game was that up until that last winning drive by NC they had the ball for only 15:33 over more than three-quarters of play – 15:33! There is no way we can point to our defense being tired on that last drive when they were sitting on the bench for over 41 minutes to that point.
And we lost that game by one point. Maybe the defense was rusty and their muscles tightened us because of all that bench time. I’m actually not kidding on that last point – in the heat of sports battle that can easily happen if not taken care of recognition and by exercise.
When your offense is making 8.2 more running plays than the bad guys you would think that would eat up the game clock – but the truth is that in our last season the opponents were trying 17.3 more pass attempts than us per game.
Those pass attempts tend to stop the clock by either an incomplete pass or the because of the fact that since they were gaining 8 yards per attempt on average the number of successive 1st downs they had by passing on some drives was stopping clock time also.
So clearly the TOP is important in some games and means virtually nothing in others. It all deepens on the flow of the game and how productive each other’s offenses are. I liken it to if a team’s running game is clicking on a particular day or if the a defense is giving up more yards that game than in others… such situations like that.
What I do believe though that in Pitt’s case last year it wasn’t TOP that did us in. It was the horrid job by both the coaching staff and the players themselves who couldn’t pull it together to stop the other team’s offense, particularly passing – thus giving up 35 ppg on average.
I wish we Pitt fans would stop making excuses for what is clear and evident – we just sucked on defense last year and there really is no excuse at all for why it happened. Are there reasons for it happening? Yes, but TOP wasn’t one of them and please let’s stop any excuse making.
Notes: I will not be on the ESPN’s Mel Kiper Call-In show this afternoon. It was scheduled for tomorrow afternoon and they shifted it to today, but I have my volunteer work from 1:00 until 6:00 so can’t do it. Too bad because I replied my RSVP as soon as the email came out so I had a good shot at getting some questions in – I was going to ask what Kiper thought of the NFL’s teams scouting of James Conner’s.
Also, I took the new clubs out for a spin and hit two buckets of balls. Most went straight and a hell of a lot went farther than 10 feet.