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Big East lacked explosive plays in 2010

I wrote on Wednesday about the need to improve Big East offenses this spring. Some interesting numbers from ESPN Stats & Info highlight this point.

Those tireless statisticians broke down who came up with the most big plays (20 yards or more) from the 2010 season. Here is how the Big East teams ranked nationally in that category:

T-21: Cincinnati (66 plays of 20 yards or longer)

T-49: Louisville (57 plays)

T-59: Pittsburgh (55 plays)

T-69: West Virginia (52 plays)

T-72: Rutgers (51 plays)

T-88: Syracuse (45 plays)

T-99: Connecticut (42 plays)

T-101: South Florida (41 plays)

The Big East had only two teams in the Top 50 of this stat, whereas it placed six of its eight teams in the same category for 2009. It's no real surprise that Cincinnati led the way with its explosive offense, but I was a little surprised to see Louisville second among Big East teams. The Cardinals lacked big-time playmakers at receiver and didn't have cannon-armed quarterbacks but were still able to get it done. Thanks in large part to Bilal Powell, they had 22 rushing plays of more than 20 yards, tied for 22nd nationally with Pittsburgh.

There's very little excuse for West Virginia to rank that low with guys like Tavon Austin, Jock Sanders and Noel Devine on the roster. Hello, Dana Holgerson. Syracuse coach Doug Marrone complained about a lack of big plays from his offense in the second half of the year, and no doubt the Orange would have been much lower if not for the Pinstripe Bowl performance. We all know UConn and USF didn't have explosive offenses; it's amazing that the two combined to win 17 games. The Huskies had only 23 passing plays over 20 yards all season, tied for 110th out of 120 FBS teams. Yet they went to the BCS.

Now how about the flip side? We know Big East defenses were strong statistically in 2010, no doubt helped largely by the shoddy offenses they faced. Here is how league defenses fared in preventing plays of 20 or more yards:

1: Pittsburgh (30 plays of more than 20-plus yards allowed)

T-4: West Virginia (33 plays)

T-14: Syracuse (39 plays)

T-22: South Florida (42 plays)

T-25: Louisville (43 plays)

T-31: Cincinnati (45 plays)

T-52: Connecticut (50 plays)

T-107: Rutgers (67 plays)

Wow, I never would have guessed Pitt led the nation in containing explosive plays. It sure seemed like the Panthers gave up a lot in the passing game, didn't it? And yet they allowed fewer 20-plus yard passing plays than anyone in the FBS (while ranking 25th against the rush). Excellent defensive numbers for many Big East teams here, including a surprising appearance by Cincinnati. UConn was mediocre at stopping big plays and terrible at making them; numbers simply don't explain the Huskies' success in 2011. Greg Schiano must be cringing at that 107th ranking for his normally sound defense; the Scarlet Knights seemingly gave up all those plays in the rout at Cincinnati.

You could make the argument that Big East defenses were so good that the offenses couldn't make those explosive plays. I'd strongly disagree with you, but you could make the case. Regardless, these stats show again that 2010 was an offensive slog in the conference.