By The Numbers – Offense, Defense, Special Teams

Notre Dame - Ball State
Photo: Matt Cashore // USA Today Sports

College football’s sole constant is change. Single wing, the rise and fall of the ND Box formation, Oklahoma defense, wishbone, veer, two way players.

College football’s aphorisms last long and die well after they have outlived their validity and utility.

“You lose a game for every sophomore who starts.”

“There are three things that happen when you pass the football and two of them are bad.” Darrell K. Royal, Woody Hayes and countless others.

“Special Teams are one-third of the game.” Not any more…….

For those who doubt that high-powered offenses are here to stay, we offer evidence from 11 of last year’s most pivotal games: The four conference championships, the three official playoff games, and ND-FSU, TCU-Baylor, OSU-Michigan State and Bama-Auburn, each of which either eliminated from or propelled someone into the playoff hunt.

Here are the scores of those games in the order in which they were played:

Baylor 61 TCU 58

Florida State 31 Notre Dame 27

Ohio State 49 Michigan State 37

Alabama 55 Auburn 44

Oregon 51 Arizona 13

Alabama 42 Missouri 13

Florida State 37 Georgia Tech 35

Ohio State 59 Wisconsin 0

Oregon 59 Florida State 20

Ohio State 42 Alabama 35

Ohio State 42 Oregon 20

The lowest number of points scored by a winning team was on the fateful night of October 18th in Tallahasee. An apparent score that would have raised that minimum was disallowed but we rub no more salt in that wound

Here are the AVERAGE numbers per team (winners lumped with losers) per game:

Points scored: 37.7 ppg

First downs: 24.5

Total yards: 494

Rushing attempts: 41.5

Passing attempts: 35.6


NOTE: Pro defensive coordinators tell you they get worried if their defenses are on the field for more than 55-60 plays. Colleges, because of clock rules (stop on first down) and the emphasis on hurry up, run MANY MORE PLAYS.

Punts 4.40

Touchdowns 4.81

Field Goals made 1.45

Field goals missed .27

Punt return yards 10.6

Here is the point. If you are not explosive enough on offense to score 31 points on a pretty decent defense, then don’t even show up for an elimination game, whether official or unofficial. You will have to run a lot and pass a lot, both successfully. And you need lots of touchdowns, not just field goals.

Here is the second point. If you are not good defensively, and if you don’t have the depth to handle over 77 offensive plays so your guys are fresh in the fourth quarter, then don’t show up in an elimination game, or you will get trucked.

Special teams are about 1/6 of the game, right around 17%, but well over 2/3 of those plays are placement kicks after a touchdown and kickoffs. In 2014, teams in big games scored touchdowns more often than they punted. Neyland, Rockne, Leahy, Sutherland, Bierman, Bryant, Hayes and Schembechler would be aghast.

You only have to punt about four times. To paraprhase Maximus’ opening soliloquy in the woods in “Gladiator” if you have punted more than four times, you are already in Elysium.

A further note on the number of special team plays. 106 TDS were scored. In 100 instances an extra point was attempted, none were missed, but two were blocked.  6 two point conversions were attempted, and 4 were made. These are technically special team plays but redound more in passing and running plays.

Only the OSU-Michigan State game and the Oregon hosting of Arizona for the Pac XII occurred in places where the venue could have been cold or icy or both. The rest were in warm weather and indoor stadia, increasing the likelihood of touchbacks in a fundamentally sterile, windless environment. This trend toward balmy venues will continue.

We all know that one play, even a fluke play, can turn a football game. Ask Nick Saban about his last visit to Auburn Alabama.

But you better be using your 20 hours a week the NCAA allows you to build an explosive, diverse offense, and an offense that has enough speed, size, scheme and playmakers to slow down the explosive offense the other guys are bring to the fight.

Get a punter who can kick touchbacks.

Get a placekicker who can kick field goals and hopefully has the leg to kick touchbacks after you score, at least indoor in places like Indy, Detroit, New Orleans, Atlanta, St. Louis or Arlington or balmy places like Miami, Glendale and Pasadena.

Mostly, (sorry Nick Saban, would you like a chorus of “Cry Me a River” for that missed field goal runback play Chris Davis of Auburn made against you?) you will rise or fall on your offense and your defense.

It’s the way of the world. It’s 2015. No leather helmets, no fear of playing sophomores, no fearing the “two bad things that can happen when you pass the ball” and no expectation that special teams are 1/3 of the game.

Further, historians note that Craig Krentzel (2002) Matt Mauck (2003) and Matt Flynn (2007) quarterbacked Ohio State, LSU and LSU again to national championships early in this millennium. Flynn had an NFL arm but was largely kept under wraps in college. These three were styled as “game managers’ but the day of the game manager quarterbacking a national championship team are in twilight, if not over. I would never be so sadistic to mention that Buck Belue once carried a Georgia Bulldog squad to a national championship in a clinching game in which he was 1-12 passing, for 7 yards.

Bring a quarterback, that is one who can throw, to the gunfight. Keep the “game managers” on your prep team.

It’s different now, but the 2015 Irish are built for today. Go Irish!

You may also like


  1. Duranko. I understand your points in your article and agree especially with your estimates of “ST” involvement in present day college ball. Yes I do recall TCU/Patterson having a very dominat “D” a few years back and ending the season highly ranked pulling out a victory in a top bowl out west. Still contend last year a few weaker defensive teams had a good shot to get into the playoffs. Oregon included. Was just pointing out committee could place more emphasis on strong defenses not just “shootouts”. Thanks

  2. 45 year faithful. I agree about the importance of defense and listed that in the artilce.

    I slightly differ on TCU and Baylor. I think Art Briles is a joke, a sham. He doesn’t care about defense a lick despite what he says. Go back and loot at the early run by MSU in the Cotton Bowl. There was no defensive effort at all, and Baylor will continue smashing SMU and such and struggling against quality.

    Despite the 61 to Baylor, TCU is committed to defense, and that not only showed last year, but will show in years to come. Patterson’s DNA is defense Remember, they were only in their third year in the Big XII, so he’s still recruitng them up,.

    Just check the “here is the second point” paragraph.

  3. Certainly believe in multiple QB’s. ND success in 2012 played in part to it. High powered offenses may be here to stay, but it is just “Over the Top” now. Had Ohio State not skunked Wisconsin, they wouldn’t have even made it into the playoffs. Leaving us with TCU or Baylor. Sorry folks, you should have a strong defense to be considered for playoffs. Their defense carried them in the playoffs. Shutting down Wisconsin , Alabama and Oregon. Allowing more opportunity for their offense to get in sink. Jones was a game mgr. His offensive line dominated for both run and pass. Jones had plenty of time to wait for a receiver to come open late. “O” States front 7 just controlled those games. Hope the committee will take defenses more into account in the future.

  4. Let’s make sure we don’t forget this beauty that THB also said.

    Toulmin H. Brown
    July 14, 2014 at 7:13 pm
    I’m one of the fastest white boys in Louisiana and I’m willing to prove it. A hole

  5. Toulmin, you mentioned the Bama OSU game, and I will not let this pass.

    There is a person who posts on these boards over here who is the most consistent advocate of having multiple quarterbacks prepared to play and run the full offense. Well, Ohio State and Meyer and Tom Herman had Cardale Jones ready and he remains unbeaten against some stiff competition.

    That advocate is none other than Toulmin Brown.

    Other than “I love you” the three sweetest words in the English language are “You were right!”

    Well toulmin YOU WERE RIGHT about multiple quarterbacks and OSU proved it.

  6. “Ohio State 42 Alabama 35”

    This was “thee” game. tOSU excelled as a team in all three teams (offense, defense, special teams). I counted at least five huge plays from OSU in the second half alone many which resulted in TD’s.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button