Plays per possession

Posted Apr 12, 2006

Tennessee receiver Robert Meachem fouled up one of David Cutcliffe’s goals in last Saturday’s Orange & White Game but the Vol coordinator was happy to forgive him.

Cutcliffe believes ball control is the key to successful offensive football: Specifically, the more plays you have in each possession, the more chance you have to win. Meachem foiled this strategy on Saturday by taking a pass from Erik Ainge and bolting 70 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the White team’s initial second-half possession.

Of course, Cutcliffe can tolerate that type of short-term possession. It’s the three-and-outs that drive him crazy. He says Tennessee had far too many of those in its April 1 scrimmage. The Vols bounced back to display much better ball control a week later in the O&W Game.

“I like to average a minimum of six plays per possession,” Cutcliffe said. “I like to shoot for that in the spring and I really shoot for that in the fall. That’s how you win games. That shows you’re executing and not busting assignments.”

The coordinator noted that almost all of Tennessee’s possessions in the ill-fated April 1 scrimmage began at the 25-yard line. Obviously, the odds of marching 75 yards without a turnover, a penalty or a drive-killing mishap are not good. The odds increase dramatically, though, when a possession begins at the 35-yard line. There’s another dramatic increase in success rate for drives beginning at the 45-yard line.

“It’s amazing when your starting point’s moved toward the goal line how much that percentage raises,” Cutcliffe noted. “We love 98-yard drives but they aren’t going to happen very often…. You score on the opportunities when you can score.”

Cutcliffe has been charting plays-per-possession for years, dating to his days as a position coach with the Vols in the 1980s. So what’s the best plays-per-possession average he can remember?

“Probably 7.2 or 7.3 in 1989,” he said. “That’s back when we were running the ball a lot.”

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