West Virginia squeaked by Maryland 40-37 Saturday on a last-second field goal. Had Josh Lambert’s 49-yard field goal not sailed through the uprights, Maryland’s defense could have been on the field for 120 plays or more. As it was, the Terrapins only had to defend 108 plays, 49 passes and 59 rushes.
Following the loss, Maryland head coach Randy Edsall decried his defense’s inability to get off the field as a systematic problem for college football:
WVU ran 108 plays from scrimmage. Edsall: “I think there’s a problem in college football, I really do, with that many plays.”
— Testudo Times (@testudotimes) September 13, 2014
This isn’t the first time Edsall has lodged such complaints, and it probably won’t be the last.
It was quite ironic to read those comments and then turn to Arkansas-Texas Tech, a game that could not have been a more perfect test tube for the hurry up vs. slow down debate. Consider this stat:
Texas Tech ran 1,135 plays in 2013 (first in FBS). Arkansas ran 775 (118th). There isn’t a bigger disparity on the 2014 schedule.
— Zach Barnett (@zach_barnett) July 9, 2014
Despite that massive disparity, Arkansas actually ran more plays than Texas Tech in the Hogs’ 49-28 win, 80-67. In fact, the Razorbacks recorded more running plays (68) than Texas Tech’s total sum of plays.
Here is what Edsall refuses to admit, and what Bielema – who has been a bigger critic of hurry-up offenses than Edsall – realizes: you are in complete control of how many plays your opponent runs. Arkansas used its running game (68 carries, 457 yards, seven touchdowns) as its best defensive tool, running the ball 40 times and throwing only two passes in the second half. While Arkansas sat on the ball, Texas Tech’s fast-break offense stood and watched, and as it did that it fell out of sync. The Red Raiders marched 79 yards on eight plays on their first possession of the third quarter… but that was their only possession of the third quarter. Arkansas’ second possession of the second half didn’t end until the 13:59 mark of the fourth quarter, and as such the Red Raiders only ran eight plays in the entire third quarter. By the time Texas Tech touched the ball for the second time of the second half, Arkansas had run 26 plays, traveled 157 yards, scored 14 points, and eaten 13:46 off the clock. It’s no coincidence then that Texas Tech’s two fourth quarter drives ended in a punt and an interception.
In the end, Arkansas ran exactly twice as many plays as Texas Tech in the second half, 42-21.
Now let’s go back to College Park. Whereas Texas Tech touched the ball only 11 times on Saturday, West Virginia possessed it 18. The Mountaineers gained 33 first downs, while Maryland achieved 16. West Virginia went 11-of-24 on third down, while Maryland was just 4-of-15. West Virginia ran 108 plays, and Maryland ran only 65.
The reason West Virginia’s offense never left the field on Saturday is because it had no other choice, Maryland’s offense kept pushing them back out there.