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Friday, February 25, 2011
Who gets and stops explosive passing?

By Ted Miller

Coaches love talking about explosion plays. You want to get a lot of them and give up very few.

We looked at offensive explosion plays -- plays of 20 or more yards -- on Tuesday and defenses that prevented explosion plays on Wednesday. Thursday we looked at explosion plays in terms of rushing offense and rushing defense. Today, we'll look at explosion plays in terms of passing numbers.

So here's how the Pac-12 stacked up in 2010 (again, thanks to ESPN Stats & Information). The number to the left is national rank. The number to the right is the total number of explosion plays in the passing game in 2010.

14. Stanford... 48
18. Arizona... 46
37. Oregon... 43
40. Arizona State... 42
40. Utah... 42
54. Oregon State... 38
61. Washington State... 37
65. USC... 36
80. Colorado... 32
91. Washington... 30
100. California... 28
120. UCLA... 11

No surprise Stanford is on top with quarterback Andrew Luck, but Arizona at No. 2 proves that Nick Foles isn't just a dink-and-dunk passer. Some might use this as further evidence that USC's Matt Barkley and Washington's Jake Locker were "overrated."

Oh my, UCLA. Very, very bad.

Some other thoughts.
But does piling up explosion plays in the passing game correlate to winning? Short answer: Yes. Here's the top 10 in 2010 with the team's record in parentheses to the right.

1. Hawaii... 80 (10-4)
2. Boise State... 63 (12-1)
3. Arkansas... 62 (10-3)
4. San Diego State... 60 (9-4)
5. Oklahoma... 59 (12-2)
5. Oklahoma State... 59 (11-2)
7. Tulsa... 57 (10-3)
8. Tennessee... 54 (6-7)
9. UAB... 53 (4-8)
10. North Carolina State... 52 (9-4)

That's two losing teams -- though Tennessee was a bowl team -- and eight with at least nine wins and five with 10 or more. Nice mix of AQ and non-AQ teams, too.

Now on to defense, starting with the Pac-12.

The number to the left is national rank. The number to the right is the total number of passing explosion plays yielded in 2010.

6. California... 25
16. Stanford... 29
23. Washington... 31
27. Arizona... 32
27. Colorado... 32
27. Arizona State... 32
41. Oregon...33
41. Washington State... 33
58. UCLA... 36
91. Oregon State... 41
96. Utah... 42
102. USC... 44

Well, USC gave up 30 TD passes, most in the conference by five, so the Trojans in the cellar shouldn't be a surprise. Utah is completely rebuilding its secondary heading into 2011 -- so does that many Utes fans feel better or worse about their standing here? A little surprised Washington did well in this measure. And this is another reason for Cal fans to feel good about defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

Some other thoughts:
But does limiting passing explosion plays on defense correlate to winning? Short answer: Pretty much. Here's the top 10 in 2010 with the team's record in parentheses to the right.

1. Pittsburgh... 20 (8-5)
2. LSU.. 21 (11-2)
3. TCU... 22 (13-0)
4. Kent State... 23 (5-7)
5. West Virginia... 24 (9-4)
5. Texas... 24 (5-7)
6. Florida... 25 (8-5)
6. California... 25 (5-7)
6. Nebraska... 25 (10-4)
6. Temple... 25 (8-4)
6. Syracuse... 25 (8-5)
6. Boise State... 25 (13-1)

Only three of these 12 teams posted losing records, and they each went 5-7. That said, four won just eight games, so success in this stat doesn't correlate to elite status. Auburn gave up 44 explosion plays in the pass game and it went 14-0 and won the national championship. Virginia Tech gave up 45 and won the ACC.

Still, here's a guess that most defensive coordinators would rather rank at the top of this list than at the bottom.