B.J. Denker

B.J. Denker is a fast dude.
Photo by Wildcat Universe

The Arizona Wildcats play a football game this week!

After a long break (following a game that followed a long break) UA fans are hoping to see more production from the offense. Don’t get hung up on the passing stats though. The best way quarterback B.J. Denker and the Wildcat O can show improvement is by picking up the tempo.

If you’re waiting for the Cats to start completing a slew of passes downfield you’re going to be a waiting a long time. Both QBs in the Wazzu/Cal game threw for more yards than Denker has all year.

We’re probably 11 months away from seeing the vertical passing game return as a viable weapon in Rich Rodriguez’s arsenal. The 2013 Wildcats are a run-first team. Complaining about it is a waste of time because 1) it’s not going to change, and 2) a huge passing attack isn’t necessary.

RichRod has proven he can still win games with a run-heavy offense. His West Virginia teams led by Pat White put up huge numbers while keeping the ball on the ground 70% of the time.

Denker doesn’t have to be Vanilla Vick. He can be Vanilla White.

(White White? Very White?)

There’s nothing wrong with having a run-heavy offense. The trick is running that run-heavy offense really, really well. And really, really fast.

Arizona’s pace is what concerned me about the Washington game. Too many times the Cats were standing at the line of scrimmage instead of flying into the next play.

This system is built on speed. Fast guys going fast. Speed makes simple plays difficult to defend. Speed wears out a defense.

B.J. Denker has speed. You don’t produce a 30-yard run in four straight games without a strong set of wheels. He just needs to get the play called and read the defense with the same velocity he shows carrying the ball.

The play clock shouldn’t be winding down under five seconds like we saw many times in Seattle. There should never be a delay-of-game penalty.

(OK, I can’t say never. I looked it up and Matt Scott was flagged for delay of game three times last year, twice to start a drive including one to start a half (third quarter at Stanford). Even the fastest drivers hit a speed bump every once in a while.)

The counterargument to all this is that playing fast doesn’t do any good if you don’t pick up first downs. I say the best chance this team has of picking up first downs is to play fast.

It’s clear the Arizona offense isn’t going to be as good as last year. There’s just too much talent missing and that’s not going to change before 2014. But what this group can control is its understanding of the offense and the speed at which the offense is executed. Make strides in that area and this unit will be able to maximize its abilities.

They say speed kills. Speed playing with speed is even deadlier.

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So how much slower has the UA offense been so far this year? Is there a way to quantify tempo? The ideal stat would be the number of seconds between plays (whether the clock is running or not) but since that data isn’t readily available we’ll have to go with what we’ve got.

If you assume, over the long haul, the length of a play from snap to whistle is going to be about the same, the amount of time you take between plays is what’s going to build your time of possession. So dividing time of possession by number of plays at least gives us a reference point for comparing games.

YearGameOpponentPlaysTime of Poss.Seconds Per Play
20122Okla. St.9032:0421.4
20123SC St.10235:0220.6
20125Oregon St.7623:1918.4

Seconds Per Play (or, if you prefer, Time Per Snap, aka TPS) may not be a perfect metric but it seems to fit logically. Four of the UA’s five slowest games last year were blowouts where there was no sense of urgency late in the game. On the flip side the two fastest games were against Nevada (the two-minute drill to end all two-minute drills) and Stanford (a big-time shootout).

This stat clearly is not a valid measure of an offense’s success because Arizona was “faster” against Washington this year than last year. We’ll stick with advanced stats like “points” and “yards” to determine if a team is good at moving the football.

But it’s interesting to note that the UA was under 20 seconds per play seven times in 2012 but has yet to break that barrier this year. Three of the four games this year are equal to or slower than any game last year.

Our eyes tell us the Wildcats aren’t playing at as fast a tempo as last year. Our eyes are not wrong.

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