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Football: Notre Dame, Navy vying to dominate time of possession

Kate Gales | Friday, October 27, 2006

Time has been on both Notre Dame and Navy’s sides this season.

The Irish and the Midshipmen hold a significant advantage over their opponents in time of possession, contributing to 6-1 and 5-2 records, respectively.

Navy’s clock-chomping triple-option offense holds onto the ball for 32:56 each game, eighth in the nation. The Irish come in at 32:17 per game.

Although wins and losses aren’t directly correlated to this statistic, it does indicate how effectively a team uses its possessions. Navy is 1-1 in games where it lost the time of possession battle, 4-1 in games it held the edge. The Irish are 1-1 when losing time of possession and 5-0 otherwise.

With new rule changes stopping time less, using time wisely is a crucial element addressed by Irish coach Charlie Weis and Navy coach Paul Johnson.

“Clock management to me is very, very important,” Weis said. “Getting a play in on time for the quarterback to call it in the huddle, go to the line of scrimmage and be able to run an operation – to me that’s clock management.”

Navy’s run-focused offense has allowed the team to maintain an advantage in time of possession with sustained drives. But to Johnson, the ideas of managing time are simplified into one goal – scoring.

“When you are out there you have to try and score,” he said. “When they are out there you have to try and get them off the field.”

Navy pulled out a 21-20 victory over Massachusetts on Sept. 9 despite holding onto the ball for just 26:53, its lowest total of the season.

But Johnson wants to focus on end results, not one statistic, no matter how much it works in his team’s favor.

“When we are playing a team as talented as [Notre Dame] you can’t worry about all that stuff,” he said. “You better try to do the best you can do when you can do it. It’s not like we can say, ‘we are going to score, but we are going to take 22 plays and run out the quarter to do it.'”

Irish safety Tom Zbikowski, who had experience running the option as a quarterback in high school, said that it’s hard to stay focused on teams that rely heavily on the run, because it can exploit passes more effectively.

“It’s a little more one-dimensional when they keep running for quarter and a half, two quarters straight and hit you with a pass that comes out of nowhere,” he said. “That’s the thing that puts you to sleep and hits you over the top for a touchdown. Like I said before, it’s all fundamentals, you have to keep doing your job and you can’t fall asleep.”

Although the time of possession statistic is telling, it isn’t the only factor that goes into determining wins and losses, as the Irish proved a month ago. Notre Dame’s lowest time total of the season was against Michigan State Sept. 23. The Irish had the ball for just 3:41 in the fourth quarter, when they scored three touchdowns to take the lead for the first time in the game and eventually clinch the win.

Irish quarterback Brady Quinn said that efficiency would be key against a team who can control the clock.

“They have really shortened the game with the type of offense they play and the way the rules are set up this year,” he said. “So you know, you’ve got to go out there and be extremely efficient and make every drive count.”

Every drive – not just dramatic game finishes like last week’s three-play, 80-yard winning drive against UCLA – counts to Weis, who said the time of the game is always on his mind.

“See, people always think of clock management just at the end of halves or at the end of the game,” he said. “They don’t think about the management that happens throughout the game.”