I hear it and read about it all the time. Time of possession is a worthless statistic. Perhaps it is, but maybe it is a true reflection of a team’s overall performance. Naysayers will point to hundreds of games where the winning team actually possesses the football less than the losing team. Of course, it does happen, particularly with today’s bountiful assortment of quick-strike schemes where an offense can go 80 yards for a score in four plays or less. Other factors impacting T.O.P. include turnovers, penalties, really bad offenses, really bad defenses, and just plain old mistakes that are commonplace in a sport where 22 players on the field are battering each other while carrying or chasing an oblong leather ball.
While I agree that winning T.O.P. does not always translate to victory, I am suggesting that a team like Arizona learns to gain a deeper appreciation of valuing the amount of time their offense is on the field.
In Week 0’s road loss at Hawaii, Arizona had the ball for a lowly 22 minutes and four seconds to rank in the bottom quadrant of FBS teams through the first two weeks of the season. Sure, Arizona scored 38 points and had more than 500 yards of total offense. However, imagine the production if Arizona’s offense had been on the field for even half of the game? Further, since we are playing make believe here, imagine if Arizona’s defense did not force six turnovers against the Rainbow Warriors? On one hand, Arizona could have easily defeated Hawaii had they maintained possession longer. On the other hand, Hawaii could have easily torched the Wildcats had they valued the ball more.
Regardless, when you have a defense as porous as Arizona’s (595 yards allowed to rank #121 among all FBS teams this week), it seems logical to think that the less time Arizona’s defense is on the field, the better. The problem is T.O.P. is not the sole responsibility of the defense. Sure, Arizona’s defense needs to get off the field at a higher clip, but the offense also needs to stay on the field at a higher rate.
Quick touchdowns aside (fans, players and coaches accept those moments), Arizona’s offense produced a measly eight total yards of offense to trail Hawaii 14-0 at the end of the first quarter. The Wildcats actually opened the game with three consecutive three-and-outs on offense, which paved the way for a 13 minutes and 20 second deficit in T.O.P. by halftime. Honestly, that is unacceptable when you consider that Hawaii’s offense was in possession for almost an extra quarter of football. At that point, the teams had only played two quarters!! I can hardly calculate this, let alone comprehend it.
Believe it or not, even with elite athletes in prime condition, athletes do get tired. If you are shaking your head right now, you have literally never played a sport or worked yourself to exhaustion doing anything beyond throwing back cold ones. Add to this the fact it is more taxing to play defense than offense and you have a recipe for disaster.
I grant the reality that teams can win with their defense on the field. Heck, the late Dick Tomey’s Arizona teams preferred to have their dominant defense on the field. However, even the Alabama’s of the world know they are in trouble more often than not when T.O.P. is lopsidedly favoring the opponent.
In my humble opinion, Arizona does not need to win T.O.P.
The Wildcats do, however, need to find a happy medium where time of possession is more balanced to not only allow their own defense to rest, but to apply pressure on the opposing defense by forcing them to defend more snaps. Arizona’s offense is good enough to wear down teams. Arizona’s defense is not good enough to be on the field for 37+ minutes a night like they were in Hawaii.