“Explosive plays are the three-point shot of college football” is what one statistician once said in a blog I read somewhere, probably. That statement isn’t wrong and certainly highlights the need for an offense to find ways to take chunk yardage out of drives.
Since 2010, only roughly 1 of every 10 drives with no explosives has ended in a score, while that rate triples when an offense has even a single explosive play. Once an offense has two explosives they have better than 50% chance to score, and it only increases from there. This is extremely strong evidence that explosives are incredibly valuable. Offenses generally need explosives to score, and if they want to be confident that they’ll score on a drive they need multiple.
That is a pretty alarming statistic for the Mountaineers as they get ready to take on the Minnesota Gophers tomorrow. Minnesota boasts one of the best run games in the nation, leading college football in rush attempts behind the service academies and averages over 35 minutes of possession per game. On top of that, the Gophers are a top-ten rush defense, holding opponents to 100 yards per game. That may not seem impressive if the Gophers were a MAC or AAC team who faced teams without the ability to run the ball, but Minnesota held Wisconsin, who averages 215 yards a game, to 62 yards on the ground.
In order for the Mountaineers to succeed, the passing game is going to have to find big plays, or “explosive” plays. For the Mountaineers, those passing plays have been in the 10-20 yard range. West Virginia finished the 30th in the nation on passing plays of 10+ yards. As the yardage increases, West Virginia’s ranking slips further and further down the chart. The Mountaineers are 48th in passing plays over 20+ yards, 78th in 30+ yards, 87th in 40+ yards and 92nd in 50+ yards. The passing game’s ability to stretch the field has not been a strength of the offense this season.
In wins against the TCU Horned Frogs, Iowa State Cyclones, Texas Longhorns and Kansas Jayhawks, the Mountaineers averaged almost 6 explosive plays (10+ yards) a game. West Virginia finished with 6 passing plays of 40+ yards and three of them came against TCU and Iowa State. In a game with reduced possessions, those explosive plays will be needed for West Virginia.