The quickest-spreading trend in college football today is the up-tempo, fast-as-lightning, can’t-catch-your-breath, hurry-up offense. From Oregon on the West Coast all the way to College Station, Oxford and Auburn of the SEC, everyone seems to want to play at a breakneck offensive pace.
Looking back over the last four seasons, eight of the 16 fastest-playing offenses in the SEC were employed just last season. Think on that for a second. Four seasons of football equals 50 individual teams and offenses (12 in 2009, 12 in 2010, 12 in 2011 and 14 last season). Of those 50, eight of the 16 fastest offenses were on SEC fields in 2012.
Ah, but there’s a drawback to all that hurrying.
To see exactly what impact those up-tempo offenses have had on their defensive counterparts, we’ve pored over a number of SEC statistics from 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. We wanted to see if going all no-huddle and lickety-split on offense took a toll on a team’s defensive performance. Many have made that case in recent years, including those of us here at MrSEC.com.
Some believe teams with hurry-up offenses aren’t as good on defense because they practice only against hurry-up, finesse opposition during the week. When those defenses have to face a smashmouth offense from an opponent they’re simply not prepared.
Others believe that fast-paced offenses get on and off the field too quickly. Whether they go three-and-out or march right down the field and score, their defensive mates aren’t given much time to catch their collective breath between series.
Those are two theories anyway. But does the data really back up the idea that a team with an up-tempo offense won’t be as successful on defense?
It looks like it to us.
Below you’ll find a table with five different sets of numbers. Beside each of the last 50 SEC teams’ you’ll find listed from left to right:
* The number of offensive snaps run by that team in SEC games
* The time of possession in seconds for that team in SEC games
* The total number of seconds per offensive snap in SEC games
* The yards-per-game allowed by that team’s defense in SEC games
* The points-per-game allowed by that team’s defense in SEC games
Again, the squads listed came from the 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons. Teams are listed in order from the fastest (lowest seconds-per-snap number) to the slowest (highest seconds-per-snap number) overall.
|Team & Year||Off. Snaps||Seconds of Poss.||Seconds/Snap||Yds/Gm Allow.||Pts/Gm Allow.|
Eyes bleeding? Don’t worry, we’ll summarize some things for you. And we think you’ll find the results as interesting as we did.
In case you didn’t count ‘em up for yourself, there are exactly 25 teams on that list that used less than 27 seconds between offensive snaps. That means there were also 25 teams that used more than 27 seconds between plays. Keep that number — 27 seconds — in mind.
First of all, we looked at all of those defenses that gave up less than 350 yards per SEC game. Twenty of the last 50 SEC squads accomplished that feat. Of those 20 defenses, 17 were paired with offenses that used more than 27 seconds between plays. In fact, the top nine teams in terms of yards-per-game allowed used more than 27 seconds between offensive plays. Fourteen of the top 15, too.
Let that sink in for a second. Of the 20 teams to allow less than 350 yards per game in SEC contests between 2009 and 2012, 17 used more than 27 seconds between offensive plays. Only three used fewer than 27 seconds.
Now let’s flip it around and look at teams that gave up more than 350 yards per SEC game. Of the 30 squads that gave up 350 or more on average, 22 of them used fewer than 27 seconds between offensive plays. Eight used more than 27 seconds per play.
The numbers aren’t as definitive in the category of points allowed, but they still drive us in the same direction. Of the 25 teams that allowed less than 24 points per SEC game between ’09 and ’12, only nine used fewer than every 27 seconds between offensive plays. Sixteen teams — including the nine with the very best points-per-game allowed average — used more than 27 seconds between plays.
Reversed, 16 of the 25 defenses that allowed more than 24 points per game snapped the ball quicker than every 27 seconds. Nine teams snapped it slower than every 27 seconds.
Get the picture?
Taking things a step further, we decided to simply average out the defensive numbers for the 25 teams moving faster than every 27 seconds on offense as well as for the 25 teams moving slower than every 27 seconds. Guess what we found:
Teams snapping the ball faster than every 27 seconds on offense allowed an average of 389.3 yards and 27.7 points per SEC contest on defense.
Teams snapping the ball slower than every 27 seconds on offense allowed an average of 325.6 yards and 21.4 points per SEC contest on offense.
In other words, it doesn’t just seem like fast-moving teams struggle more on defense… most of them really do.
Now, that doesn’t mean a team with an up-tempo offense can’t win the SEC. Auburn in 2010 snapped the ball once every 26.82 seconds, allowed 26.8 points per SEC game, and still managed to win the conference. (Averaging 40 points per game on offense with Cam Newton behind center helped a helluva lot.)
But look at the other three SEC champions during this four-year time span. Alabama’s 2012 squad snapped the ball once every 30.00 seconds and allowed just 13.1 points per game. LSU’s 2011 team used 31.62 seconds between offensive plays and allowed just 9.8 points per game. And Alabama’s 2009 team got a play off every 30.21 seconds and held its league opponents to just 10.9 points per game.
Alabama’s 2011 team — a squad that didn’t win the SEC but did capture the BCS title — was also a slow poke by today’s standards. That team snapped the ball on offense once every 30.65 seconds and on defense it allowed just 7.4 points per contest.
No statistic is perfect. Schedule factors a great deal into teams’ final numbers. In this particular look-see, teams that passed a lot dealt with a lot of clock stoppages which gave them faster seconds-per-snap numbers. Teams that led often took the air out of the ball. Teams that trailed went hurry-up and started passing more often.
But these numbers are hard to argue with on the whole. The more up-tempo an SEC team goes on offense, the less effective it will likely be on defense. Conversely, the slower a team plays on offense, the better its chances of playing well on defense.
Assign any theory you like as an explanation for that fact, but it is a fact. Faster SEC offenses most often result in weaker SEC defenses.