OT: pace in college football, in 1968

Submitted by dnak438 on March 1st, 2014 at 3:06 PM

A tweet by Smart Football pointed me to an article in Sports Illustrated from 1968 that discussed the high pace of offenses in that year:

In the first half of the season the top college teams got off about 40% more offensive plays than the leading pro teams. Notre Dame averaged 93 plays a game; Yale, 89; Ohio State, 87; Georgia, 85. USC, with its ground attack, andTennessee, with its consciousness about field position, still averaged 78 each. This compared with Los Angeles at 65 plays a game; Dallas, 63; Baltimore, 60 and Green Bay, 57.

"We are now getting plays off every 12 or 13 seconds," says Ohio State's Woody Hayes. "We are moving so fast I frequently can't get a play in from the sidelines. We'll hit 100 plays a game soon." This, coming from one of football's bastions of the conservative, makes it plain that something big has happened.

By comparison, this year Texas Tech averaged 90.3 plays per game, the highest in FBS.

And in 1968, it was option offense that was seen as the culprit for the high-octane, high-scoring offenses:

"The hammer that has broken things down is the option play," says Frank Broyles of Arkansas. "If we just spread people out and let the quarterback drop back and throw like the pros, you could play a consistent defense. But now you've got teams with two split receivers, with runners, and with quarterbacks who can run the option as well as throw. This simply generates more offense than any defense can handle."
The tackle is in trouble because of the biggest vogue in college football—"Homer's Triple," as some call it, or the "Houston Veer," as others refer to it. It is a quarterback option play first devised by Cincinnati Coach Homer Rice, then expanded upon by Houston Coach Bill Yeoman. If you run it Homer's way, the tackle gets optioned instead of blocked. You make that hulking soul worry about three things: a give to the runner, a keep by the quarterback or a pitchout. If you run it Houston's way, both the tackle and the end are optioned instead of blocked. Perhaps it should be called Somebody's Quadruple, because the quarterback can also pass as he goes veering down the line.

There truly is nothing new under the sun.




March 1st, 2014 at 3:25 PM ^

To compare on some of the teams listed from 1968 in the article, the rest of the top 10 after Texas Tech in 2013:

- BYU, 89.9 plays

- California, 88.7 plays

- Fresno State, 85.4 plays

- Baylor, 85.2 plays

- Virginia, 84.0 plays

- Arizona, 83.2 plays

- Hawaii, 82.5 plays

- Nevada, 82.4 plays

- Southern Methodist, 82.3 plays

....and in the NFL last season:

- Denver, 72.1 plays

- New England, 70.4 plays

- Buffalo, 69.8 plays

- Washington, 69.2 plays

- Cincinnati, 69.2 plays

- Detroit, 68.9 plays

- Baltimore, 68.1 plays

- Houston, 68.1 plays

- New Orleans, 67.6 plays

- Cleveland, 67.4 plays

So, not a glaring amount of difference for the most part, it seems. If anything, perhaps the NFL has gotten slightly faster.


March 1st, 2014 at 3:32 PM ^

The clock stopped more then than it does now, especially in the NFL.

I'm guessing that the change in the NFL has more to do with a change in the run/pass mix, and the number of clock-stopping incompletions, than with changes in the pace of play. Don't have any data to support that, just a guess.


March 1st, 2014 at 3:31 PM ^

In 68 and last year? Be interesting to see it from 68 to last year actually. If Ohio ran a lot of plays in 68 under Woody, seems like Bo might have been doing the same in 69.


March 1st, 2014 at 4:28 PM ^

Michigan averaged 67.7 plays per game, not much different from last year.

Some of this is quality of offense, not pace. If you go three and out all the time it doesn't matter all that much how fast you run the three plays. It'd be better to look at total snaps, both offense and defense, than simply look at offensive plays, but that would take a lot more work to compile.

Here's what sport-reference.com has for total snaps in Michigan games, as far back as they go. Unfortunately, eariler years there only have individual stats, not team totals.

  • 2013: 138.9
  • 2012: 128.0
  • 2011: 126.7
  • 2010: 146.5
  • 2009: 138.4
  • 2008: 135.6
  • 2007: 143.2
  • 2006: 127.3
  • 2005: 144.1
  • 2004: 142.3
  • 2003: 143.0
  • 2002: 144.8
  • 2001: 144.4
  • 2000: 146.3

Michigan's been under 140 snaps/game six times in the last 14 years: 3 out of 3 under Hoke/Borges, 2 out of 3 under RR, 1 out of 8 under Carr.

Oh, for the glory days of "Hurry Up Lloyd".



March 1st, 2014 at 4:50 PM ^

Remember that the main reason for the fluctuation here is not coaching strategy, but the NCAA rule environment.

Remember the 2006 rule that the clock would run on kickoffs and changes of possession?  That lasted one year (and you see the results here--the 127 plays per game sandwiched between 144 and 143).  And in 2008, the rule changed so that after a play that ended out of bounds the would start on the "ready for play" rather than on the snap (other than the last 2 minutes), and you see that about 10 plays per game were lost with that rule change.

Bottom line is that you simply can't run the number of plays now that you could in 1968 (when coaches thought we were headed for 200 plays per game), no matter how hard you try.  It's certainly not because coaches are slowing down the play, it's because the rule book has been speeding up the clock.


March 1st, 2014 at 5:01 PM ^

Yes, mentioned that above.

The decline in plays/game is pretty closely correlated to the increase in commercial minutes/game. They had to find ways to keep the clock running to be able to get games finished in their allotted timeslots.

I go to quite a few D3 games and it's amazing how quick games are when there aren't any media stoppages. Games never go over three hours even if both teams are throwing it all over the lot. 2 1/2 hours isn't uncommon.


March 1st, 2014 at 5:18 PM ^

I am suprised to see numbers above 80 in 1968. Kinda weird that we slowed down from 1969 to 2013. I prefer going fast but if we are efficient in 65 plays a game then thats fine.


March 1st, 2014 at 5:23 PM ^

How long did a 1968 or 1971 Michigan football game last (for someone in the stands)?
It must not have taken that long. The clock stopped a lot, but Michigan was run-happy, as many Big Ten teams were at the time.

Not a lot of evidence that many Michigan football games were nationally televised during this period.  The earliest we can find is like the 1969 football game vs. Ohio.


March 1st, 2014 at 5:35 PM ^

The average home game in 1968 was 2 hours 41 minutes.  Remember that the standard kickoff time was 2:00, so games ended between 4:30 and 5:00.

vs California (2:40)
vs Navy (2:39)
vs MSU (2:31)
vs Minnesota (2:46)
vs Illinois (2:40)
vs Wisconsin (2:50)

By 1971, the average game time was down to 2:28, and with a 1:30 kickoff time, games were over at about 4:00.

vs Virginia (2:35)
vs UCLA (n/a)
vs Navy (2:18)
vs Illinois (2:28)
vs Indiana (2:29)
vs Iowa (2:37)
vs Ohio State (2:22)

There seems to have been a rule change between the 1969 and 1970 seasons that shortened games and reduced the number of plays per game; I will have to do some more research to figure that one out.


March 1st, 2014 at 5:51 PM ^

The start time in 1968 was 1:30.  The first noon kickoffs didn't happen until TV took over the start times in the late 1980s.

Here is an excellent post on MVictors describing the history of start times of Michigan home games.


In case you need further proof, feel free to browse the Michigan Daily archive on Google. Just an example.  On page 7, under "This weekend in sports," you can see the Washington game in 1969 kicking off at 1:30 pm.:


Also you may check the Michigan Athletic Department website, the official box scores linked there list the starting time of all 1971 home games as 1:30 pm.



March 1st, 2014 at 7:27 PM ^

when M beat MSU 55-0, but you are probably correct. Am not sure if it was done on a regional basis or national scale. I do know the "Mad Magicians" held the nation's cfb fan base captive during those two years though, especially when the AP forced ND to relinquish its NC to UM after the bowl season.  Rather ironic that ND claims only NCs as annoitned by the AP but refuses to do so in this situation