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Butch Jones Had a Problem With Pace; Can He Fix It This Year?

When Butch Jones was first hired here at UC the most common refrain from journalists and the media in general was that Jones ran pretty much the same offense as Brian Kelly, but he did it at a much faster pace. That was something that I was keen to track last year. In Football talk of the pace of a game usually boils down to time of possession. That is a simplistic view of the matter. Time of possession is the most worthless stat out there because it doesn't give any indication of how one team plays relative to another, it is just how long an opponent holds the ball. That is a useful stat in soccer, not in Football. A far more telling metric in terms of pace is snaps per minute.

Brian Kelly's squads were always near the bottom nationally in terms of time of possession, including a massive 120th, also known as dead last, in 2009.  But the pace of the game under Kelly was never really that fast.

Year Total Plays Total TOP Plays/Minute
2009 833 335:04 2.49
2008 927 418:52 2.21
2007 941 373:56 2.52

Just to give some context to that plays per minute stat consider the cases of Oklahoma and Wisconsin. Oklahoma gets off more snaps than just about anyone in the country year after year. Wisconsin likes to grind things out behind perpetually massive offensive lines with perpetually massive running backs behind them. So where do those two rate in terms of Plays Per Minute (PPM from here out because it's just easier)? Last year Oklahoma got 2.86 PPM, Wisonsin had a PPM of 2.03. Based on this you can see that Kelly's teams played at an above average pace, but not at an exceptionally fast one.

The question then becomes what pace does Jones prefer to use. So lets go through the exact same exercise with Jones.

Year Total Plays Total TOP Plays/Minute
2010 837 331:26 2.53
2009 996 424:40 2.36
2008 964 387:40 2.49
2007 1076 392:00 2.74

Note: I have gone back to Jones's time at Central Michigan to get a larger sample size.

The pace of play last year was faster than anything in the Kelly era, but it still did not approach the levels of Jones's first season with the Chips. But the offense still got off more snaps per game than at any period in the Kelly era. That points to inefficiency with the offense which, going off the giveaways last season was clearly there.

In my opinion it is clear that Jones wants to operate at a faster pace on offense this year. Everything that I have heard and read through camp so far suggests that Jones is cranking up the pace to something closer to what they were doing in Mount Pleasant after taking a sizable dip last year. The depth at WR last year just wasn't there, first a couple of NCAA rulings went against with Kenbrell Thompkins and Dyjuan Lewis being named ineligible before the season even started. Then Vidal Hazelton went down for the count against Fresno State. Those factors basically took a hatchet to the preseason two deep of what looked to be a strength of the team. That is the biggest reason that Jones had to slam on the metaphorical breaks. All early indications are that the receiver depth is much better this year. It's still not great, I don't think there are enough quality receivers on the roster to hit the magical 10 wide out threshold that Jones wants. But there are at least 8 guys that can contribute. Maybe more depending on how there Freshman come along.