published Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

College football teams playing fast but games so slow

Texas A&M's Mike Evans, left, catches a 75-yard touchdown pass against Louisiana Tech in Shreveport, La.
Texas A&M's Mike Evans, left, catches a 75-yard touchdown pass against Louisiana Tech in Shreveport, La.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

In Texas A&M's 59-57 outlasting of Louisiana Tech last weekend, the two teams combined for 1,293 yards, 187 plays, 99 passes and 64 first downs.

They also needed four hours and 28 minutes to determine a winner. One more minute, and the Aggies and Bulldogs would have matched Oprah Winfrey's time in the 1994 Marine Corps Marathon.

"If teams are throwing just about every down, you can have four- or four-and-a-half-hour games," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "Those are a little longer than most people like to watch, according to what I hear from fans."

An increase in hurry-up offenses around the Southeastern Conference has resulted not only in more points this season but longer games.

According to SEC associate commissioner Charles Bloom, only three of the 63 games this season involving league teams -- a stat that excludes last week's Arkansas-Kentucky game that was called in the third quarter due to lightning -- have transpired in less than three hours. Two of those were Alabama's wins over Western Kentucky and Florida Atlantic, opponents that shortened the game even when they fell behind the top-ranked Crimson Tide by multiple touchdowns in the first half.

The other such contest was Mississippi State's 56-9 opening win over Jackson State, which slipped in at 2:59.

Thirteen games have gone past three and a half hours. Georgia needed three hours and 51 minutes to turn back Tennessee 51-44, and the Bulldogs took three hours and 48 minutes to defeat Missouri 41-20.

Every Georgia game this season has lasted at least three hours and 13 minutes, which was the average length of an SEC game in 2008.

"What's happening is the ball is in the air a bunch," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said. "The clock is getting stopped a bunch because of that. I was told that when Georgia Southern played Wofford [last Saturday], there were eight passes, and the game was over in two hours and 26 minutes.

"I don't worry too much about it."

The average length for an SEC game has been 3:17 in each of the previous three seasons, but it is now 3:22 and growing. Last weekend's Florida-Vanderbilt game lasted three hours and 28 minutes, while LSU-South Carolina took 3:27 and Ole Miss-Auburn lasted 3:23.

"With most of our guys, we're just making sure they stay focused," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "The normal person loses interest in something after 45 minutes, isn't that right? I think that's the maximum time they can focus on something, and I think most athletes have a little ADD in them.

"Our job is to make sure they're focused for the three and a half hours of the game."

There were no shortage of factors adding to lengths of games even before the number of hurry-up offenses swelled. More television coverage now has resulted in more timeouts, and games can extend when officials go to the replay booths to dissect close calls.

Then there are the old-fashioned reasons, such as incomplete passes, injuries and penalties. Texas A&M and Louisiana Tech combined on 27 penalties for 260 yards.

"I've never, ever been in a football game with that many penalties," Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said.

Lengthy games have not been an issue for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, which plays at the Championship Subdivision level. Five of the six contests for the Mocs have been wrapped up within two hours and 53 minutes, including a pair of 2:37 games against Glenville State and The Citadel.

UTC's longest game has been its only one against a team from the Bowl Subdivision, a 34-13 loss at South Florida that was shown on ESPN3 and lasted three hours and 17 minutes.

"I don't know if the TV timeouts and the replays have that much to do with it," Mullen said. "If you have a game where every team is going to run 120 plays and throw the ball all over the field, the incomplete passes under the clock rules are what make the game so long. With a lot of those teams, the coaches teach the players to run out of bounds to stop the clock more, and those are things that expand a game."

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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