Rule 3-2-5-e, I wish I could quit you!

The early analysis is in and it is clear that rule 3-2-5-e is having an effect on college football games. In case you are still unclear, the official wording of rule 3-2-5-e is:

Rule 3-2-5-e, When Clock Starts
Change: When Team B is awarded a first down, the clock will be stopped and will start on the ready for play signal.

Rationale: By starting the clock, the committee estimates it will shorten the game by about five minutes, according to studies by several Division I-A conferences.

After examining the available data, the amazing folks at cfbstats.com provided an update at the Wizard of Odds which looks like this:

…………………#Plays…….#Games…….#Plays/Game
2005 Total……..121044……718…………168.58
2005 Week 1……..8664……..52…………166.61
2006 Week 1…….10368…….69………….150.26

In other words, roughly 18 plays per game are being lost to the new rule. Oklahoma was one team that experienced a noticeable difference in their season opener. OU and UAB combined for just 110 offensive plays, the fewest in 50 years for an OU game. The previous low during that span was 112 for the 1960 OU-Colorado and the 1962 OU-Missouri games. The Sooners ran just 53 plays against the Blazers.

So what has been the impact of rule 3-2-5-e on the Huskers? Thus far it appears to have had little effect. In the opener against Louisiana Tech, Nebraska ran 84 plays and enjoyed 13 offensive drives. By comparison the Huskers averaged just 72 plays per game in 2005. One possible explanation for the increase is the attention paid to improving the team’s tempo and pace during the Fall camp. These efforts were mentioned several times in media reports and may represent the staff’s attempts at addressing this rule change. Interestingly Louisiana Tech also had 13 offensive drives, but managed just 53 plays during the opener. This means that NU and Tech combined for 137 plays which is 30 fewer than the average number of plays per game in 2005 and also lower than the aggregate average for week one of 2006.

Although Nebraska seemingly escaped the negative impact of rule 3-2-5-e in game one, Nicholls State may present a unique twist to these challenges. The Colonels triple-option attack is predicated on controlling the ball and dominating the time of possession. In his Tuesday press conference Coach Callahan addressed these issues.

“This is a team that is totally committed to running the football. They are committed to their attack and their style. They rushed the football for over 364 yards per game last year, averaging over five yards per rush. If you look at them, they validate it on film. What they try to do is secure 1st-and-10, and they go about that in a very simplistic manner. If they get that, they are on schedule as far as down-and-distance is concerned.

“Our concern is that they’ll try to limit our possessions, try to chew up clock and they’ll also try to go for it on fourth down. If you look at their attempts a year ago on fourth down, they went for it quite a bit of the time. They average about three fourth-down attempts a game. So this is a team where they try to limit you to eight possessions a game, and that’s two per quarter for the offense, and so we’re going to have to do a great job to stay disciplined, play assignment football on the defensive side of the ball and take advantage of every opportunity we can when we do get our offensive possession.”

In 2005 Nicholls State averaged 69.4 plays per game while limiting their opponents to fewer than 65 plays per game. This means that the average Nicholls State game in 2005 resulted in just 135 plays, or 33 fewer than the 2005 average. In their 2006 opener Nicholls State gained 261 yards on just 51 plays. 229 of those yards came on the ground and the Colonels finished with a time of possession of 32:32.

Southern Arkansas managed just 11 possessions in the game. This averages out to 2.75 posessions per quarter or just above the Colonels goal of limiting teams to two per period. Although Southern Arkansas ran 67 plays (16 more than Nicholls State), they had no drive lasting longer than 7 plays until 5 minutes into the second half. In addition, 28 of SAU’s plays came during two drives during the third quarter when the outcome of the game was already decided.

All of this could mean that Husker fans will begin to notice the consequences of rule 3-2-5-e on Saturday. Physically Nicholls State is no match for Nebraska. In addition, I trust our coaches’ ability to prepare the defense for the option and to make the necessary adjustments during the game. However, I feel we could see a sluggish type of game reminiscent of OU-UAB. If the Colonels can string together a few first downs, their deliberate style of play will impact the number of drives the Huskers enjoy. The end result is that NU must make the most of each of their offensive possessions in order to ensure an acceptable margin of victory over this Division IAA foe.

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