MSN radio sideline reporter Jed Drenning is providing periodic commentary on the Mountaineer football program for MSNsportsNET.com. You can also read more about Mountaineer football at Jed’s new web site http://thesignalcaller.com.
By Jed Drenning for WVUsports.com
October 14, 2010 10:29 AM
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Magician Robert Orben once remarked: “Time flies. It’s up to you to be the navigator.”
In football, and in life, we’re best served by making the most of our time. That’s exactly what the West Virginia offense did last Saturday at Mountaineer Field.
After watching WVU shred UNLV for 35 first half points despite being on the field for barely 10 minutes during the first two quarters of play, I got to thinking - wondering, actually. Why did that game last weekend feel so natural? So good? So downright satisfying? After all, conventional gridiron wisdom has traditionally suggested that the best way to dominate an opponent – and to help out your defense – is by controlling the clock. That’s hardly what West Virginia did against the Runnin’ Rebels. In point of fact, the Mountaineers ended the game with a mere 23:57 total minutes of possession time compared to UNLV’s 36:03.
The difference? West Virginia bombed the Rebels with a barrage of big plays that included five first half touchdowns averaging 34 yards in length. Score after score UNLV found itself deeper and deeper in the hole and growing more and more desperate as the half wore on.
The game was yet another textbook example of why time of possession is an overvalued statistic in today’s college football. Want more proof? I thought you might, so I dedicated my evening to unearthing enough empirical data to at long last expose the antiquated myth that time of possession is a stat of any real magnitude.
For starters, only two teams in the current Associated Press Top 25 poll (Ohio State and TCU) rank among the top 25 teams in the country in time of possession. That means that 80 percent of the ten best teams in the country don’t seem to care a lick about chewing the clock. No. 2 Oregon actually ranks 104th nationally in T.O.P. while AP No. 7 Auburn is ranked 92nd in T.O.P. Even No. 8 Alabama, a team you might unwittingly associate with ball control, is ranked 56th in this category.
Consider the numbers that are fleshed out below for a frame of reference that’s a little more on point for Mountaineer fans.
Bill Stewart's Total Games at West Virginia (heading into tonight vs USF): 32Number of Times under Stew that WVU has won T.O.P.
: 14Wins in those games:
10Losses in those games:
71.4%Avg. Turnovers Committed by WVU's offense in those games:
1.86Avg. Turnovers Forced by WVU's D in those games:
Compare that to these numbers below and you might be surprised.Number of Times under Stew that WVU has lost T.O.P.:
18Wins in those games:
13Losses in those games:
72.2%Avg. Turnovers Committed by WVU's offense in those games:
1.39Avg. Turnovers Forced by WVU's D in those games:
To clarify: WVU’s offense commits nearly half a turnover more per game when they WIN the time of possession than when they lose it, and the Mountaineer defense forces half a turnover more per game when they LOSE the T.O.P. battle than when they win it.
Put another way, the team that’s on the field the longest has a strong tendency to commit the most turnovers. No major surprise there. I know an FBS defensive coordinator who used to explain to his unit that the next best thing to getting a team off the field on third down was actually keeping them out there for an extended period. Why? Because, as he often pointed out, the longer an offense is out there on the field the greater the chance a defense has to force them into a mistake. In other words, an offense is asking for trouble if it can’t generate big plays and is too often forced to rely on long, extended drives to score.
Second of all, the numbers posted above support the notion that scoring quickly and forcing the opposition to play from behind is beneficial to your defense in the sense that it's easier to generate turnovers against an offense that’s trying to play catch-up. This also translates into an advantage for your own offense in the area of ball security. Why? If you can score quickly and play with a lead, the opposition is forced to take fewer chances and stick to more of its base defense, thereby mitigating its opportunities to force the issue and create turnovers.
This isn’t to suggest that time of possession is an entirely useless consideration. It does have some value if used in moderation, but by and large it’s simply overrated. There are obviously times in certain game situations that it’s beneficial to be able to grind out a handful of first downs, but no amount of time taken off the clock is ever worth more than popping a touchdown. Seven points will always trump a time consuming drive that results in nothing on the scoreboard.
In short, if you really want to help out your ‘D’ simply toss aside the horse-and-buggy notion of controlling the clock and focus on two things instead: 1.) score quickly and furiously to give your defense a lead they can try to protect; and 2.) don’t turn the ball over to put them in bad situations – a problem which history suggests is more likely to unfold if you’re stuck on the field all afternoon (or all night) trying to mount lengthy drives.
In closing I’ll leave you with a couple more arbitrary numbers and/or things that make you go hmm: Saturday’s T.O.P. total of 23:57 was the second lowest for the Mountaineers under Bill Stewart. The lowest was 22:38 in the 2008 season opener against Villanova. The highest T.O.P. to date for West Virginia under Stewart was 39:02 at Syracuse in 2009.
Five times under Stewart West Virginia has committed three or more turnovers in a game. In four of those five games WVU won the time of possession.
The Mountaineers are an incredible plus-16 in turnover margin under Stewart in the 14 Big East games he has coached.
Under Stewart, West Virginia has never committed more than two turnovers in a league game.
South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels has already thrown seven picks this year – just two fewer than he tossed in all of 2009.
Enjoy tonight's game.