Moving the Chains
First take-away; the good teams don't wait for their opponents to give them first downs. Alabama, Oklahoma, Baylor, Ohio State, and Wisconsin make up half of the bottom ten in first downs from penalties; this is partly caused by the raw amount of first downs generated by these teams being very high, but not high enough to explain the difference as a whole. Good teams take first downs, they don't wait for them.
While passing is responsible for the most first downs, 48.11%, passing as a whole accounts for 56.34% of all offensive production. This means passing is currently accounting a disproportionately lower amount of first downs then we would expect. There is a reason for this, penalties. While penalty plays are not recorded plays, the first downs from penalties are recorded. 7.57% of first downs have been from penalties, mostly from pass interference, defensive holding, and personal fouls. All of these penalties happen at higher rates on passing plays than running play, which explains the discrepancy.
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