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Wyoming happily trades possession time for touchdowns

Sep 20, 2013 - Associated Press

LARAMIE (AP) -- It's something that Dave Christensen says he couldn't care less about.

"Time of possession is the most overrated stat in football," the fifth-year University of Wyoming football coach said. "The only (statistics) that matter are scoring offense and defense."

Through three games, UW (2-1) is averaging 37 points per game and allowing 18.

It is also 121st out of 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in time of possession with an average of 24 minutes, 4 seconds per game. That equates to the offense having the ball for about 40 percent of the time.

UW's time of possession is down, but its offensive production is up.

Take away two touchdowns scored by the defense in last week's 35-7 win over Northern Colorado, and the offense averages 32.6 points per game. In 2011, when UW finished 8-5 and played in a bowl, it averaged 26.1.

It averaged 26.8 last season when it went 4-8.

The offense averaged 28:38 in time of possession last season, and 29 minutes in 2011.

Christensen is calling the offensive plays this fall, and he said he wants the offense to be faster. That means more plays and, more often than not, less time on the field.

UW is averaging about 80 plays per game through its first three. It was at 70.4 and 71 in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

The Cowboys are on pace to run 960 offensive plays this season, 108 more than in 2012.

UW has scored 14 touchdowns in three games, and 10 of those scoring drives took less than two minutes off the clock each. Four took less than a minute.

"I think our pace has been decent, but we can play faster," Christensen saud,

But what about the effects on the defense?

That group is on pace to be on the field more this season. Opponents have averaged 81 plays per game compared to 75.3 last season and 71 in 2011.

It's all good if the offense scores, but what happens when it doesn't?

Against Northern Colorado, the offense went three-and-out on its first possession that ate up 24 seconds. UW had five three-and-outs the week before in a 42-7 home win over Idaho, and none of them took more than 1:51. Two of them took 41 seconds and 1:01.

Both Idaho and Northern Colorado had 15 offensive possessions against UW's defense. The Cowboys allowed 17 points in those games and scored two touchdowns against Northern Colorado on interception returns.

"I think our guys have handled it well," second-year defensive coordinator Chris Tormey said. "When you play against an up-tempo, quick-strike offense, you are going to be back out there on the field.

"We have to find a way to get off the field, and we've been able to do that the last two weeks."

That was a problem for UW last season. Opponents made 51 percent of their third-down conversions, and Nebraska made 9 of 17 in UW's 37-34 loss there Aug. 31.

But the last two weeks, the Cowboys held Idaho and Northern Colorado to a combined 10 of 38 on third down, or 26.3 percent.

The defense forced 12 three-and-outs in those two games.

16 punts and four turnovers.

If the defense can keep that up, it will make up for the extra time it's on the field. But Idaho and Northern Colorado were two of the weaker opponents on UW's schedule.

Saturday's opponent will provide a bigger test for the defense.

Despite a 1-2 record, 0-2 in the Mountain West, Air Force is a run-oriented team that uses the option and zone read concepts. It also can eat up time on the clock.

The Falcons also are an improved passing team with sophomore quarterback Jaleel Awini.

In last year's game in Laramie, Air Force won 28-27. The Cowboys held the Falcons to about 100 yards under their rushing average, but Air Force scored on a pair of 40-plus-yard TD passes.

The Falcons outscored the Cowboys 14-3 in the second half and made 8 of 13 third-down conversions in the game.

Christensen hopes his offense shows the form on Saturday that it did in the Nebraska game as compared to the last two outings. UW had just one three-and-out against Nebraska but seven combined against Idaho and Northern Colorado.

Perhaps it would be advantageous for UW's offense to eat up more time when it has the ball - assuming it finishes with points. But that's not how Christensen is thinking.

"I would trade touchdowns for possession minutes," he said. "The bottom line is: When you have the football, you have to score. The faster we score, the faster we can put our defense back out there."

The question is: Can the offense score enough points if the defense is going to be out on the field that much more?

So far it has worked. But this is something in which both sides have to live up to their ends of the bargain.

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