The Washington Times - October 13, 2008, 04:15PM

I will admit, Al Groh is an unlikely inspiration for a deep-thinking blog entry.

That, unlike some other things, is not a knock on Groh. It’s just that the guy tends not so say all that much, and when he does, there’s usually a word or two in there straight out of a business leadership book.

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And that’s all right. To each his own in terms of word choice.

But Groh mentioned something really interesting on a conference call two weeks ago I meant to dive into but never bothered to. And it’s this quote, the crux of which he later attributed to former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs (“He’s a pretty good authority on that, huh?” Groh asked).

“It’s all nice to talk about long, multiple-play, time-consuming, ground-eating drives. In reality, any time you’ve got a [long] drive, the percentages of scoring go down. Therefore, explosive plays are the principal way of reducing the number of plays in a possession.”

Well, that and going three-and-out, which Virginia was doing quite a bit at the time (but not the last two games).

But it’s a fascinating idea (so props to Groh for mentioning it), and it got me wondering just what the ideal drive length is for a team. And while this isn’t going to be an overarching analysis for the entire sport, I’ve collected enough data on Maryland to make it worth looking at for at least one program.

This year, Groh’s/Gibbs’ hypothesis definitely works in regard to the Bizarro Terps. Maryland has scored 17 touchdowns this season, with 12 in five plays or less and 14 in seven plays or less.

Some of this is a function of having few long drives; the Terps have only four possessions of 10 or more plays this year.

With only six games, it’s easy to run into sample size issues. So why not expand this? To let’s say the start of the 2005 season (not coincidentally, that’s about when I started covering the Terps again and stashed away hard copies of the stat packets from each game).

I’ve gone ahead and bolded the highest numbers in each column, with a minimum of 16 drives (four per season). EDIT: Any drives that ended with Maryland pretty clearly just trying to run out the clock on a half were excluded; meant to mention that when the post first went up and forgot.

Plays Drives FGFG % TDTD % Score %
11900.0736.836.8
21616.3531.337.5
312400.0118.98.9
443511.61227.939.5
554611.117 
31.542.6
65758.8915.824.6
744818.2920.538.6
828932.1828.660.7
935720.01337.157.1
1017741.1529.470.6
1120525.01050.075.0
129333.3222.255.6
137114.300.014.3
145360.0240.0100.0
153266.7133.3100.0
16100.01100.0 
100.0
1711100.0 
00.0100.0

Groh’s point is backed up because Maryland has scored more touchdowns in three-, four- and five-play drives than just about any other scenario (nine-play drives are No. 2).

Field goals land in a consistently distributed curve between four and 12 play-drives, with them quantitatively occurring most often with an eight-play drive.

It is intuitive that the longer you have possession, the better chance you have to score in some fashion. That indeed is shown to be the case.

But with only six touchdowns in 26 drives of 12+ plays since 2005, it would seem Maryland falls right into Groh’s observation – the odds of scoring on a protracted drive just aren’t that good.

Patrick Stevens