Up-tempo era redefining which stats matter
The numbers keep going higher and higher.
When Baylor’s Bryce Petty threw for 510 yards last week to rally the Bears to a 61-58 victory over TCU, it marked the 12th time this season a quarterback has passed for at least 500 yards. That represents the most 500-yard passing performances in one season since at least 1996, the earliest year STATS has on record for that particular statistic. Nine different quarterbacks have produced those dozen 500-yard efforts.
Petty’s big night came one week after Washington State’s Connor Halliday threw for a Bowl Subdivision-record 734 yards in a 60-59 loss to California and four weeks after Bowling Green attempted 113 offensive plays - two shy of the FBS record - in a 45-42 victory over Indiana.
For some coaches, all these staggering numbers are redefining which stats matter and which aren’t as relevant anymore.
“We don’t even worry about yards,” Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. “I don’t think total yards really matter that much anymore with these fast-paced no-huddle offenses. In our offense, we’re concerned with snaps. We’d like to have 90-plus snaps - definitely want to have 85-plus - and we want to score points. That’s it. That’s our whole deal.”
This new era also has changed what scores are acceptable for a defense nowadays. For instance, Southern California ran 95 offensive plays in a 38-34 loss to Arizona State on Oct. 4. Graham didn’t mind allowing 34 points under those circumstances, particularly since one of USC’s touchdowns came on a punt return.
“If they run 85 snaps and you hold them to 35 points, you probably played pretty well,” Graham said. “That’s a lot of snaps and a lot of opportunities. That’s what we’re shooting for. We’re trying to extend and create a fifth quarter. That’s what you’re seeing, is a fifth quarter being created by all these teams.”
There already have been 15 instances this season of a team attempting at least 100 offensive plays in a game, according to STATS. Last year, there were only 16 all season. Since 1996, the record for that statistic is 20 in 2012.
Extending the game has made comebacks much more common.
Baylor’s rally from a 21-point, fourth-quarter deficit against TCU marked the fifth time this season a team had won a game after trailing by at least 20 points. There have been 33 comebacks of that magnitude since the start of the 2011 season, according to STATS. There were only 25 during the four-year stretch from 2007-10.
Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, whose team rallied from 22 points down in a 49-45 victory over California, said the quality of the skill players has improved.
“Quarterbacks and receivers are coming out of high school so much more prepared in the passing game than ever before,” he said. “A lot of it is because so many high school programs are doing such a great job of that and kids are playing 7-on-7 in the summer so they have a little bit of a concept of throwing the ball and catching the ball moreso coming into college than they’ve ever had.”
Bowling Green coach Dino Babers uses a chess reference to discuss the impact of an up-tempo offense. Babers’ teams have run more than 100 offensive plays in two games this season. Two years ago, Babers was coaching Eastern Illinois when his team and Murray State set a Championship Series single-game record by combining for 210 offensive plays in EIU’s 50-49 overtime victory.
“You get unlimited time to make a move when you’re playing a sit-down chess game between friends,” Babers said. “But when you play tournament chess... whether your clock is on 30 seconds, 10 seconds, one minute, two minute or three minutes, every time you move, you hit a button that resets that clock. If your opponent doesn’t move by the time that thing hops up, you get two moves in a row.
“That’s what I like to (compare to) up-tempo offenses. The offense can do whatever they want and the defense can do whatever they want, but we’re going to do it fast and we’re going to make you make decisions fast. And if you don’t make the right decision fast, we may move twice before you get the opportunity to do something with your defense.”
Not every team wants to run its offense at a quicker pace.
Mississippi has gotten off to its best start since 1962 by slowing things down. The Rebels are averaging 70.8 offensive plays per game, down from 78.3 last season. Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said he changed his approach because he wanted to build around his defense and believed his offense had too many negative plays last year while running an up-tempo attack.
But the Rebels are the exception to the rule.
“I’m sure some defensive coordinator somewhere is going to figure out a way to slow down the tempo and stop tempo teams,” Babers said. “And when they do, the offenses will move away from it and go somewhere else. But right now, we’re doing OK with it.”
AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken in College Station, Texas, contributed to this report.