Time of Possession Effect; Myth or Truth?

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:

'16 per game

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. 

TOP chart 16Against 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.



55 thoughts on “Time of Possession Effect; Myth or Truth?

  1. OMG, who in their right mind is not blaming the defense for sucking? …and who in their right mind doesn’t realize the offense was almost unstoppable? When someone suggest a couple first downs late in the North Carolina and Oklahoma State games (me) could have sealed a win for PITT isn’t actually defending the defense or blaming the offense. It’s like you say. It’s fact!

    I think more to my point is holding onto the football keeps the other team from possessing it. Maybe even just as important is taking longer to score does and will keep the score down. Would losing to OSU UNC 14-13 make any of us feel better? No facts here just imo.

    No one doubts you hit the ball more than 10 feet. But which direction?? A few years back we were golfing at Cedar Brook near Belle Vernon when I sliced two balls so wickedly that left the golf grounds. When we left, if I had known, we could have stopped along rt 70 to pick them up as we saw them lying there.


  2. 1976 Steelers, 1985 Bears, 2000 Ravens .. these are generally regarded as the best defensive teams in NFL history. Bears behind Payton and Ravens behind Jamal Lewis (1364 yds) won the SB by running the ball and not turning it over. Steelers lost AFC Championship when both of their 1000 yard rushers were hurt and didn’t play.

    Of course, it didn’t hurt to have defensive players ike Blount, Lambert, Greene, Ham, Singletary, Marshall, Dent, Hampton, Lewis, Woodson, Bouleware and Sharper either.

    Pitt this past season was a Big 12 team in that the talent dispersement was pretty one-sided between offense and defense. There is a chance of 6 players being drafted this weekend and 5 of them played offense …. and that doesn’t even include O’Neill, Bookser, Henderson and Weah.


  3. I believe that TOP importance depends on what type of defense you play. In PITT’s case they really want to eliminate the run game, forcing teams to pass. Which is similar to many teams. Problem is, this won’t work or be effective with a pass defense that gives up home runs constantly.

    I think in PITT’s case it’s how many possessions do you give your opponents vs T O P. This is when and how yardage and scores go up up up.


  4. Wbb, I’d say that we are more of a big 10 team. Especially it’s going to be interesting that we don’t have the running attack that we have for the last two years and we’re going to have to make do I think with a little bit more of a passing attempts to run ratio on the passing side than we have in the past two years also.


  5. The philosophy isn’t going to change. Stop the run first. With that mentality, you better have two things. DB’s that can make pass defense plays and a DL that can get pressure. Pitt had neither last year.

    Will the DL improve this year? I say maybe a little. I believe the DL recruits PN is counting on are a year away.

    Will the DBs improve? I say yes. For one, the safeties will be better. Whitehead should have been switched last year to have more cover responsibilities. That was a bad coaching decision. Dane Jackson or Hamlin will step up.

    I see minimal improvement though. I still think it is a year away.


    1. I’m not counting on Hamlin at this point. My guess is he will be plagued with that hernia problem throughout his Pitt career. And as a few have posted we may a year to two away from having a good defense. At least I hope we will eventually have a good defense.—-As for the QB position, I’m sorry to say I’m expecting a big drop off at that position with Browne and DiNucci manning that slot.


  6. As a team, focusing on the TOP game is great, but you must score touchdowns on EVERY possession. Holding the ball for 8 minutes and punting or getting a FG don’t coincide in TOP. You also have to get a few 3 and outs from your opponents as well. Especially if they are a quick strike offense. We were lucky last year in that our possessions for the most part yielded TDs.


  7. Interesting to watch the DBs at the spring game. Seemed like they played pretty well against the pass – especially knowing the speed we have at WR. Even with that speed, we didn’t see WRs running wide open in this game. Course we were playing ourselves and I’m sure the defense pretty much knows what plays to expect.

    But looking at DBs in person, they reminded me of aliens. Like the outer space kind. I’m talking about guys like Bricen Garner, Therran Coleman, Jay Stocker, etc. These guys seem to have legs too long and arms too long – some type of hybrid. (Yeah, I know, they can’t beat out Avonte, but I happen to think that Avonte is pretty good.)

    Anyway, the alien DBs are probably still a season away, needing a bit more physical development and practice time to get acclimated to those long limbs and the earth’s atmosphere.

    Go Pitt.


  8. I would really appreciate it Reed if you would specify what sucked on our defence last year. If you continue to just say that our defence sucked then you are simply stating an inaccurate opinion.

    Our pass defence sucked. Our defensive secondary was the soft underbelly of our defence that is for sure.

    Our stop the run first philosophy was successful since we in the top 20 in that defensive catagory. Just keep it real.


  9. The loss of Hendrix was a major blow to the defense in ’16. That loss of a second quality DE that would have given us two very talented “bookends” to provide pressure contributed to the secondary being exposed early and often. Not the only reason, but significant.


    1. Good point. We have no evidence, but we think Hendrix could be our best defensive lineman.

      Be great if Hendrix and Taleni were big-time disruptive together…

      Go Pitt


  10. Doctor Tom, face it the whole defense sucked. They play as a unit, and it the secondary is so bad most teams won’t spend much time on a ground game. Even a novice such as you should know that! 🙂 If defenses are measured only on yards allowed, it is not a good measurement method to assess one phase of the defense if the other phase sucks so badly.


  11. Reed , glad your drives went farther than 10 feet. But equally important , how does your back feel? ( you may not know for sure how you tolerated the activity until tomorrow ).


  12. On the range, you can’t perfect the foot wedge.

    I like TOP as a statistic only and I love to punch holes in statistics. One I stumbled on not too long ago was a field possession statistic and I can’t recall if it was for the nfl or ncaa. In a nutshell, the statistic was this. If the receiving team started their possession on the 10 yard line, they had a 90% chance of not scoring a touchdown and an 85% chance of getting zero points. The thought being that the more plays you run, the more opportunity for penalty, fumble, interception and just not making a first down.

    The statisticians did this for every 10 yards closer and the numbers were amazing and amazingly accurate. I will look for it and send it around when I get some time.

    Back to stats. In team games, I typically throw stats out the window, because the first play effects the next. Every play is a game changer. For example. If you have a first and ten at your own 20 and you run for 9 yards, you call your next play in relation to the first. If you lose 7 yards on the second play, that effects your third down play and yadda yadda until it ends. So as much as we want to put all of this on our terrible defense last year, in a team game, EVERY play impacts the next call.

    Take Upitt and many others. If things worked out with your first wife, you never would have met your second. Each day of your life impacts the next. Just like sports. Each play impacts the rest of the game. This is why strategists are so underutilized in ncaa football and why I preached that Wanny needed a bench coach. If Joe Torre was smart enough to use Don Zimmer as an in game consultant, many should take heed. Why is Saban hiring all the old head coaches? Because they have seen just about everything and understand the results of each plays impact on the rest of the game.

    If Reeds drive goes 20 yards into the woods and he takes out a five iron for his second shot and ends up 40 yards in the woods, does his driving suck or his iron play or both? I would argue that both failed. Just like not getting a first down in a critical time of a game and we wholeheartedly blame the defense. Before you beat me up, the defense in my mind was terrible for a lot of games, but they weren’t the only reasons. TEAM!


  13. TOP is an indication of how well a defense is playing, that is all. A good defense gets a lot of three and outs, which in turn affects time of possession.

    I would like for Pitt to have a good defense.


  14. TOP IMO meant more in the NFL thirty years ago. Football is a team game. Our team defense sucked. If the LBs and DL were better at the rush maybe the pass defense improves a bit. Our team defense sucked

    Every drive by Reed was 300 yards down the middle – then he put down the video game,,,,,


  15. Reed … practice those 10 yards shots too, will come in handy close to the green ….and remember to drink when you golf-calms the frontal lobe…


  16. rkb (you stylish dude) Zeise, Hendrix and Tipton’s durability concern me. I have my doubts about Hamlin Island ever returning especially if he has undergone more than 2 hernia repairs but injuries are part of the game for every team..need 1-2 more solid classes


  17. BOOM — @Atlanta Panther:

    “TOP is an indication of how well a defense is playing, that is all. A good defense gets a lot of three and outs, which in turn affects time of possession.

    I would like for Pitt to have a good defense.”

    DONE — TOPIC SUMMED UP —- lol ESPN needs to hire you for their football analysis.


  18. Our secondary was made worse by no pass rush. Our entire D was aweful. Our offense must control the ball so our D gets rest and isnt on the field much. Because our D this year won’t be that great either. But it should be much better. Just not championship caliber. Need more elites, depth and experience. Another two years away.


  19. What happens when a schitty offense plays against an OK defense? A swing in TOP. Stats are for people trying to prove THEIR point.

    The PITT opposition scored a lot of points and had buku passing yardage for more than one reason:
    Terrible secondary play
    Terrible linebacker play
    Terrible over-all defensive play
    Terrible over-all defensive coaching
    PITT scored buku points and teams had to try and score more than buku points
    I can’t say the D-Line played terrible
    Buku is my 4 letter word for the day


  20. Defense’s theme in 2017 —- #AdditionbySubtraction

    Goodbye to:

    Ryan Lewis, who had zero football instincts whatsoever and simply totally, utterly lacked the ability to play footballs in the air. He was embarrassed on so many ‘Backyard Tossups’ it literally became a joke during the season.

    The two ‘Mollasses Matts’ — Galambos and Caprara. Good dudes by all accounts….so slow they should have been in D-2.

    Still here, but won’t play — Sean …. Odoyaosdhhfajdhsafhfjahdf at Outside Linebacker. The Young-Bucks appreciate him spending 2016 standing around so that Pitt’s defense at least technically had 11 humans on the field…..he earned a scholarship for that, even though really that scholarship could have gone a cardboard cut-out of a Pitt player, or maybe a Tackling Bag they could put a uniform on like a decorated-snowman…….. the Young Bucks will take over this spot and maybe actually try to tackle guys or something, hopefully this year.

    Terrish Webb (Oyyyyy Veyyyyy 😦 😦 —- lol great kid, best of luck, hope so he got his degree and is successful in his life’s-work) — solely at Pitt as part of the #GetTylerBoydSweepstakes , we all know that. Only had to play because Matt House couldn’t recruit and there was no one else in 2016.

    Reggie Mitchell — 2 star Western PA kid, great character guy, probably never shoulda had to play actual defense but the type of high character player a solid program keeps around to play tough Special Teams as an older player and be a good influence on all the guys. Ran like a 4.8 40 at Pitt’s pro day. Like I said even top D-1 teams have 4-5 of these super high-character (often they’re walk-ons) types for special teams and to be good team off field examples.
    —-The fact he had to actually play significant minutes on the actual defensive-11 was still a remnant of the Matt House defensive recruiting fiasco not his fault.

    2017 Defense Predictions —> Young guys maybe green, but they are So, So, Soooo much faster at LB this year, and so much more athletic — and DB’s actually go after footballs in the air instead of covering their ears and closing their eyes when the ball is coming —— that it off-sets the losses of the insanely slow, zero instinct Old Guys who are gone, and it’s so much more fun + positive to watch for Pitt fans.


  21. To be perfectly honest Darkie, Lewis did make a nice play on the ball against state penn. Otherwise I’m with you.


  22. Darkie.. hope you are “right on ” with you comments on this years DBs as you were with your Nate Peterman prediction when our PITT football world was introduced to the “Dark Knight!”


  23. Even our DC admitted that we let every opponent get away with the pass to the flat. That’s on the coaches and the players.Insanity is letting the same thing to keep happening when you no it is wrong and should stop it.H2P


  24. Nate took 2 years to get there and with better coaching than on the D side of the ball. Can these rookies and red-shirts make it in 1?

    Pitt still needs a pass rush. Without one, the DB’s are toast.

    The D should be vastly improved though. We go from near bottom to middle my guess. Thats nothing to laugh at. But I cry when Nard Dog is a supposed D genius and Pitt’s D was Pitt’s all time worst in PPG. And its secondary could get toasted by Lock Haven.

    I think D and special teams are the answers for an 8 win season.

    Need at least 3 elites on each side of the ball and 3-4 plays on each side per game that make the difference.

    Will Pitt ever recruit a 5 star?


  25. Tex made the point. It is TEAM! If the DL doesn’t get pressure, then the slow LB’s have problems and if they have problems then the DB’s have problems. Singing……the DB’s are connected to the Dline, the dline connected to the lb’s, the lb’s connected to the coaching staff, the coaching staff connected to the AD, the last five AD’s were just not connected…to anyone!

    Yes Pitt will recruit a 5 star by getting 2, 2.5 stars. Just kidding. We are one or two big wins away from 5 star recruits. It takes time with these kids. That is why you put an easy OOC schedule and market the snot out of the wins like Dairy did last year. Who did they play again? Exactly. We will get 40k in stands no matter who we schedule.

    Micah Parsons, 5 star that was committed to Dairy, just de-committed. About 6 weeks ago I put on here that he would be out of the Dairy after 8 months of commitment. The second part was that I expected him to go to OSU. Expect that within a month. Dairy lost Bleich and Parsons this week, but picked up two OL. I think that helps with Blake Z. Numbers, numbers, numbers.


  26. NP is going to be an NFL QB… in hindsight it begs this question… why didn’t Matt Canada utilize a more in depth passing game during the first 4 games last year.. possibly, coulda , shoulda, woulda, beat UNC and OSU… but that’s history. Time to move on


  27. The difference in this year’s defense will be determined by the new guys. Garner, Pugh, Pine, Weaver, Jones II, Wheeler, Camp, Coleman, McKee, Ford, Carter, Stocker, Miller as well as guys returning from injuries, Hendrix, Zeise, Hamlin, plus improved play from last season’s newbies who come into 2017 with experience now, Brightwell, Watts, & Jackson. That’s 19 guys backing up the starters (or starting themselves)

    It probably won’t be a pretty start but it will be a “start” in constructing this Narduzzi defense with “his” players. Better times are on the horizon.


  28. Time of possession matters little when the opposition can score in two or three plays.

    Key players need to stay healthy this year, and many guys on Dr Tom’s list need to mature into solid, every down players, with several becoming stars. We got very few “Big Plays” on defense last year, we need more than a few in every game this year.

    Most importantly we need good reliable play from a QB, with few turnovers.


  29. Partridge will make a huge difference this year. Not only in recruiting but his knowledge and experience will pay big dividends. Make no mistake, he is here ala Canada as DC to bring a upgrade of coaching to the DL and in pregame planning and in game adjustments. The best recruit of 2016. Pitt also has the material to begin the process. By the 5th or 6th game this defense if healthy will be very good, and will start out much better due to fall competition. .


  30. Things at Pitt are looking good except for Men’s hoops. Football is on the upswing…baseball (sorry Upitt) despite loosing 4 players to the MLB draft is having a good year – beating #3 UNC. Basketball is a disaster – haven’t found a replacement Ass’t coach and can’t get players. Will loose to Duquesne for a few years.


  31. Good post Chet. I agree that the Partridge hire may be a little overlooked. I know many feel strongly about Partridge and his recruiting abilities but he’s also a dam good coach. Just what Doctor Narduzzi ordered.

    Some think he was hired to take over Conklin’s job but it will actually be Partridge that saves Conklin’s job. imo …….ike


  32. Dr Tom – you tend to buy into the media myths about Pitt football’s 2017 season as do some others on here….

    Yes, we ended up in the top 20 in rushing defense and it certainly helped us to big wins against PSU and Clemson and but it faltered in the latter half of the season, especially in our last three losses.

    Against VT we gave up 150 yards and 1 TD for a 3.8 ypc average, not terrible but not great either. Lost by 1 point.

    Against Miami we gave up 178 yards for 2 TDs and 4.9 ypc – poor.

    Against NW we gave up 248 yards for 3 TDs (in a 7 point loss) and a 5.0 ypc average. Lost by 7 points.

    We got progressively worse as the latter part of the year went on, with an exception or two like Clemson (which when Clemson is passing for a million yards on 70 pass attempts the run was a distant second in importance) and combined with that terrible pass defense we had it cost us three losses – with at least two being very winnable if our run defense had played like it did in the first three games.

    Oh – toss in SYR’s 228 yards and 4 TDs against us also.

    Our run defense was NOT the stalwart unit we needed when push came to shove in some of our games. But Hell, when stacked against our crap passing defense it positively shone, didn’t it?

    This is why I’m wary of proclaiming Pat Narduzzi as any sort of a defensive Guru while he’s been HC at Pitt – over all his defenses have been very disappointing IMO.


  33. Roundtable Call-in at 8:00 pm this evening – I’ll post info (with some standard questions & issues) on it after i get home. Also some other Golf stuff…


  34. Dr Tom that list is very good and very young and inexperienced. Now we may have a freshman Whitehead performance or two come out of that group, but I wouldn’t count on it just yet. I think we may be a year or two away from any defense we can be happy with.


  35. I think Hamlin was rated similar to Jordan Whitehead, he just needs to get healthy. Paris Ford rated as high as well. One thing for sure, if the PITT pass defense struggles like last year, it won’t be for lack of athleticism.

    I’m a big Garner fan. It seemed like he was always around the ball in high school. Another young player I keep hearing good things about? Elias Reynolds. I believe he will be taking Wirginis’s spot next year and maybe even sooner if PITT has some injuries.


  36. I, for one, plan on feasting at the round table this evening. Come join me, the atmosphere is 5*.


  37. What exactly is Hamlin’s injury? Still the sports hernia/groin thing?

    And, Reed, I guess we don’t get to see the sculpture.



  38. From the PSN blog this Bleich kid is sounding like he MAY commit to Pitt from his tweets today. But with these kids he may be tweeting for Nebraska tomorrow.


  39. jrn, yes I saw a picture of Bleich very similar to Raines a few days ago. This would be good but I won’t get my hopes up just yet.

    Sometimes I think these young guns enjoy the recruiting process a little too much. Please read my lips before shelling me. I’m not saying they shouldn’t enjoy the process. The leading on of a school can sometimes be over the top. Although, I guess that’s better than not to be led on at all?


  40. Peace be with us.

    6-10 center Peace Illegomah has officially signed his LOI with Pitt, making him the fourth member of the Panthers’ 2017 class to do so.

    The reason I wrote this is that it is literally the only positive Pitt BB news for as long as I can remember.


      1. Probably because of this:
        Kevin Stallings

        Best of luck to Pitt students as we head into Finals Week. Hope the snacks help! #H2P twitter.com/pitt_athletics…


  41. They had left over snacks because the caterer says there are no mouths to feed at the bball complex. lol. Actually no lol. It could be true.


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