Game clock to run after first downs; what it means for Michigan

On Friday afternoon, it was reported that starting in the 2023 college football season, the game clock will no longer stop on all first downs. The news was first reported by CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd.

Since 1968, the rule that the game clock stops on all first downs has differentiated college football from the National Football League, but now the two sports will share yet another attribute. College football and the NFL are becoming increasingly similar, and this is another rule that brings the two closer together.

According to Dodd’s article, Steve Shaw, the secretary-editor of the rules committee, states, “Allowing the clock to run is expected to reduce the number of plays by an average of seven per game.”

Whether fans like the rule or not, it’s here to stay, and it will be implemented for the 2023 college football season. The game clock will still stop on all first downs gained inside of two minutes remaining in each half.

So what does it mean for Michigan?

The Wolverines famously feature a “ground and pound” style of offense, which highlights the running game. A back-to-back Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line has helped Michigan achieve success in this regard, and the superb talent in the backfield in Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards has certainly helped, too.

Last season, Michigan had four drives take up more than seven minutes of game clock, with its longest drive of the season wiping 9:28 off the clock in an October matchup against Penn State.

The drive started with 5:28 left in the third quarter, and it finished with a Jake Moody field goal that left 11:00 on the clock for the game.

It wasn’t a long drive in terms of yardage — only 48 yards — but it gave Michigan a 17-point lead over the Nittany Lions with 11 minutes to play in the game. The drive is the epitome of what Jim Harbaugh and Michigan like to do to their opponents, and the new rule change will only increase the productivity of this strategy.

For the sake of uniformity, let’s stick with the Penn State game for another example.

The Wolverines had 28 first downs in their 41-17 win over Penn State last year. Assuming it takes five seconds (a rough estimate) to reset the chains after every first down, 140 seconds (or 2:20) of game clock could be wiped out just by running five seconds off the clock after every first down.

And that’s just when Michigan had the ball.

Penn State also tallied 10 first downs in the matchup, so if the same formula is applied, 50 seconds of time could be used just in the movement of the chains.

A brief look into one of Michigan’s 14 games from last season shows that more than three minutes of game time could potentially be erased thanks to the rule change.

Of course, Michigan thoroughly dominated Penn State for the majority of the afternoon, something that can’t be said about every game the Wolverines played last season.

The total of 28 first downs is about five first downs higher than the season average of 23.2, but the concept still applies. Five seconds of chain movement for 23.2 first downs per game equates to 116 seconds, or nearly two minutes of game time.

In essence, the running game clock will benefit teams like Michigan, which like to shorten the game and control the time of possession. For a team that posted a season average time of possession of 33:47 — controlling the ball for nearly eight minutes more than the opponent — Michigan’s TOP should only be expected to increase in 2023.

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