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Hot Reads: Slow-and-Steady Wins Against Pace?

October 31, 2016

On Saturday Wisconsin ran 57 plays and had the ball for 27:37 in regulation against Nebraska. That’s 2.06 plays per minute.

Nebraska got to run 71 plays prior to overtime, having the ball for 32:27. That’s 2.19 plays per minute.

Why are we talking about plays per minute on a Monday? For two reasons:

One, it was yet another statistical category in this bizarrely symmetrical game that played out almost exactly to form. Wisconsin came into that game averaging 2.09 plays per minutes (16th nationally) and Nebraska was at 2.15 (25th nationally).

Two, I thought this tweet from SportsSource Analytics was pretty interesting:

https://twitter.com/SportSourceA/status/792787302380556293

After years of more and more teams trying to “go fast” and the NCAA reacting with rules to try and keep it from turning into chaos, are we finally reaching a breaking point with pace?

I wouldn’t make that determination based on a half-season correlation between plays per minute and winning percentage, but it is at least worth thinking about a little bit.

I went and did the play-per-minute calculations to find those 15 fastest and slowest teams. The fastest group includes some usual suspects — Oregon, Cal, Texas Tech — and a surprise or two (hi, Texas).  The best teams in that group, based on S&P+, are Texas A&M (7-1), Baylor (6-1) and Ole Miss (3-5).

On the slower side, you’ve got some of-course-they-are schools as well: Stanford, Georgia Tech, Army. The top-ranked teams here are LSU (5-2), Wisconsin (6-2) and Appalachian State (6-2).

What might any of this mean? I’m hesitant to draw any conclusions because there are so many variables that affect wins and losses, but I might theorize that upping the tempo is no longer the advantage it once was, particularly for non-traditional powers. Teams have been forced to adapt to that pace of play and more teams are able to do it than could, say, five years ago when it was still a major change-up. (Or, I guess, the fastball after a steady diet of change-ups.)

Would you be nervous if your school had just hired a tempo coach? Nebraska fans, for now, don’t have to worry about it. As mentioned above, the Huskers currently rank 25th (slowest-to-fastest) in plays per minute and ninth in average time of possession.

The only Big Ten team with higher time of possession average? Nebraska will see it on Saturday.

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