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The nation’s lowest average time of possession is NOT a problem for FSU football

Don’t believe the noise.

NCAA Football: Florida State at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Okay, it’s time to take this out of the comments sections and blast it to the front page. Yes, Florida State’s average per-game time of possession (23:10.67) is the lowest in the FBS. But having a low time of possession, despite what you may have heard or read elsewhere, is not necessarily a bad thing.

Now, for some squads, absolutely it’s an issue. If you’re an option team built around minimizing your talent deficit by controlling the ball to shorten the game — effectively playing keep away — then yes, a high time of possession is critical to your team’s success. That’s why Navy’s average T.O.P. is the second-highest in the country right now.

There are also pro-style systems that plod along at a snail’s pace, like the Seminoles ran under Jimbo Fisher (for reference, Texas A&M currently sits at No. 16 in the nation in average T.O.P). 2013 showed us how well this system can work— assuming you have a generational quarterback running the show and NFL talent everywhere else, including the offensive line.

But spoiler: FSU’s current offensive line isn’t rife with NFL talent. It’s doing all it can to masquerade as FBS talent, and one of the reasons it’s largely succeeded at that task so far is the breakneck tempo at which Kendal Briles runs his offense.

That’s really why his and new offensive line coach Randy Clements’ hiring made so much sense for the ’Noles.

Their attack is built upon getting into a very rapid rhythm, which neutralizes deficiencies up front by keeping defenses on their heels and unprepared. Florida State has fared well when its done so— on the other hand, when the offense slows down, the results have been a disaster. As Bud explained on the latest Nolecast, if you’re trying to go slow in this offense, you may as well just punt.

Imploring the offense to slow down (so the defense can catch a break) and thus become less effective is really the equivalent of trying to dig yourself out of a hole — in fact, it would keep the FSU defense on the field more than it already is.

And anyways, obsessing over the amount of time Florida State is spending on defense is a pointless exercise, especially considering that the amount of drives it’s had to spend on the field is hovering near the national average:

Florida State’s 93rd-ranked defense is its own problem— not the fault of its 13th ranked offense, which is succeeding by running at the nation’s second-highest adjusted pace (last year, FSU’s adjusted pace was 49th and its offense 97th). The defense stays on the field because it’s allowing so many third-and-short (or at least manageable) situations, and that’s why opponents are converting third downs at a 45.65% success rate, 109th nationally and last in the ACC.

At first glance, when you see a drive that took up six minutes of game time and one that took up three, it makes sense to think the former would be more tiresome for a defense. But that’s the thing: plays — actual football action — are what really wear down a defense. During a long drive, you’re not constantly exerting yourself— you’re standing around, waiting for the next play to occur and getting a chance to catch your breath.

A quick-paced, 10-play drive that takes three minutes off the clock can, and should, be much more taxing on defenders than one with the same number of plays that lasts twice as long.

The defense, then, needs to be forcing the issue and employing a high-risk, high-reward attack. And I do mean attack, because so far, Florida State’s been sitting back, trying to avoid giving up a big play and passively allowing opposing offenses one modest success after another. It needs to challenge, not concede. Whether it’s via a stop or an opponent’s score, the defense will get off the field quicker, and get the offense back in action.

See how the two complement each other?

Let’s transition sports for a second to emphasize the point even more. On the hardwood, a team that emphasizes fast-break action is gonna score some quick, easy buckets— but they’re also gonna give up some transition points on the other end. As a coach, you accept that, because your objective is to dictate the game’s tempo and get the other team out of its comfort zone. The same is true on the gridiron.

I really do understand why people have such a difficult time, at least initially, with the notion of low possession time not always being a football sin. It’s literally an old-school football belief, and it used to make more sense, when offenses were predicated upon the running game and controlling territory, along with the clock.

But look around. You don’t see many wishbone offenses anymore. That’s because they’ve become antiquated. And so has the idea that a low time of possession is inherently bad.