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100 Things That Won't Happen in 2010

One of the more interesting claims we've been hearing since new offensive coordinator Neal Brown assumed the reins at Texas Tech, is that the Red Raiders' new and improved NASCAR offense will be able to execute 100 offensive plays per game. 

Given that there are only 60 minutes in a single game, I wondered.  Is such a feat actually possible?

Also, since a football game usually includes the inconvenience of actually having to play an opponent, a typical offense's time of position is generally closer to 30 minutes give or take 5 minutes.  

What exactly does it take to run 100 offensive plays in a football game?

The Calculation

First, let's assess the time of possession required to run 100 offensive plays in a given game.

We start with a simple calculation:

Number of Offensive Plays x Seconds per Play = Time of Possession per game

For example, in our case we would calculate Time of Possession (TOP) as:

100 plays x 24 seconds per play = 40 minutes per game

We then assess the ratio of TOP based on a 60 minute regulation game:

40 minutes TOP/ 60 minutes regulation  = 66.7% TOP

In this example, Texas Tech's offense would be expected to execute 100 plays and hold the ball for 40 minutes leaving just 20 minutes to an opposing offense.

The Matrix

The matrix below displays various combinations of the above calculation:

Number of Plays Seconds per Play TOP per Game(Minutes) Percentage TOP per Game
100 25 42 69%
100 24 40 67%
100 23 38 64%
100 22 37 61%
100 21 35 58%
100 20 33 56%
100 19 32 53%
100 18 30 50%
100 17 28 47%
100 16 27 44%

Given that an opponent's offense is likely to control the ball for about 50% of any given game, we see that in order to achieve 100 plays per game, Texas Tech would need to execute one play every 17-19 seconds. 

On the face of it, executing 100 plays per game at such a pace seems a daunting task, but does that make it unachievable?

Let's turn to recent performances to see if we can get a better idea.

Offensive Possession Leaders (2000-2009)

The table below shows the annual national leaders in terms of number of possessions per game since 2000.

Annual Leaders: Number of Possessions per Game (2000-2009)

Year Team Games Played Total Offensive Possessions Number of Plays per Game
2009 Houston 14 1150 82
2008 Oklahoma 14 1106 79
2007 Tulsa 14 1126 80
2006 Nebraska 14 965 69
2005 USC 13 1006 77
2004 Toledo 13 976 75
2003 Bowling Green 14 1111 79
2002 Texas Tech 14 1155 83
2001 BYU 13 991 76
2000 Kansas State 13 993 76

As we can see, over the past 10 years, no team has been able to execute more than an average of 83 plays per game over the course of a season. 

For Texas Tech's offense to average 100 plays, it would need to run at least 20% more plays per game than any other team over the past decade.

Offensive Possession Leaders and Time of Possession

Is it possible to run an offense in which an average play takes between 17-19 seconds to run?

Theoretically, of course it is.

However, in practice, past results paint a different picture.

In the table below we examine the Time per Play rate of the above National Offensive Possession Leaders (calculated by dividing the Number of Offensive Plays per game by TOP per game).

Annual Number of Possession Leaders and Time per Play (2005-2009)

Year Team TOP per Game
Number of  Offensive Plays per Game
Time per Play (seconds)
2009 Houston 26:51 82 19.6
2008 Oklahoma 29:26 79 22.4
2007 Tulsa 28:47 80 21.5
2006 Nebraska 32:41 69 28.4
2005 USC 30:48 77 24.0

Unfortunately, NCAA data restricts us to annual time of possession data going back to 2005, which somewhat limits this analysis.

Still, as we can see from the table, among these national leaders, only Houston in 2009, which ran one play every 19.6 seconds, was able to execute a play within range of the critical 17-19 second window.

That year, Houston was able to run 82 offensive plays over a 26:51 TOP per game (a TOP ratio of 45%).

In an earlier article, which assessed the relative pace of Leach's Texas Tech offenses and Neal Brown's Troy offenses, we were able to see that Texas Tech averaged 76 plays per game during Leach's career whereas Neal Brown's offense at Troy averaged 75 plays per game.

When we examine the two schools' time of possession in 2008 and 2009, we see a negligible difference in its Time per Play rate:

  • Texas Tech's averaged 23.4 seconds per play (2008-2009)
  • Troy averaged 23.2 seconds per play (2008-2009)

Time of Possession

If Texas Tech's 2010 offense is able to match Houston's 2009 squad's pace of 19.6 seconds per play and reach 100 plays in a game, according to the earlier matrix, Texas Tech would have to be able to control the clock for about 32½ minutes per game (54.1% TOP).

Over the past 5 years, Texas Tech's time of possession has averaged 28:48 per game (48% TOP ratio per game).  

Texas Tech's TOP peaked in 2009 at 30:17 per game (50.4% TOP ratio per game) in which it ran one play every 23.9 seconds.

Let's now compare Texas Tech's time of possession and time per play, with the NCAA leaders from 2005-2009.

NCAA Leaders Time of Possession (2005-2009)

Year Team Time of Possession Offensive Possessions per Game Time per Play (seconds)
2009 Wisconsin 33:35 71 28.7
2008 TCU 35:10 78 27.1
2007 Wisconsin 33:44 72 28.2
2006 Texas A&M 33:35 67 30.1
2005 Nevada 33:12 79 25.4

When we look at the national leaders in TOP per game over the past 5 years, we see that that top 5 teams were able to generate an average TOP of 33:54 per game (56.5% TOP ratio per game). 

What we also observe among those top teams is that they tend to utilize more conventional offenses, but actually run a similar number of plays to Texas Tech.   Time of Possession differences between these teams and Texas Tech is based on the TOP Leaders' higher ratio of running plays which require more time to execute than passing plays.  Over the past 5 years, teams which were able to secure the most time of possession,ran the ball on 62% of their offensive possessions.  Only Nevada, which ran the ball on 56% of its possessions, ran on less than 60% of its possessions.

Herein lies the contradiction to the 100 plays per game theory. 

Tuberville has emphasized that Texas Tech will run more frequently than in the past.  Brown's  Troy teams ran on 46% of its possessions.  However, these additional running plays take more time to execute than passing plays.  We're more likely to see the number of plays decrease or at most remain near to Troy's and Texas Tech's recent 75-76 plays per game mark.

As a practical matter, you simply cannot accomplish the twin of objective of both increasing the number of runs and increasing the number of plays. 

To claim otherwise is the basketball equivalent of running a half-court offense, but calling yourself a fastbreak team.

The only realistic way to achieve 100 plays per game would be to actually pass more frequently, not less.

What has been perceived to be a faster paced NASCAR offense is more likely to be one which is required to operate more frenetically to accomodate the additional running plays.  This faster pace, however, should not be confused with executing more plays.

Since we're likely to see more running plays, it does not seem conceivable that Texas Tech will be running 100 plays in a regulation period any time soon, if ever.

The 100 plays per game mantra might at best be considered a motivational tool, not to be taken any more literally than expressing the goal of winning championships.