No, let's not take a timeout. We'll take the penalty.
We will get to a number of quick thoughts in a moment, but first ...
I don't pretend to be a football whiz, would not pass an Xs-and-Os test. But game-management strategy is something we can all second-guess. And I am real good at second-guessing two pieces of strategy.
Those who have heard me rail for a lot of years know that two of my major pet peeves about college football (also high school football and the NFL) are:
(1) Taking timeouts when the play clock runs down;
(2) Settling for the tying PAT kick near the end of games instead of "going for it" -- trying for the winning (or losing) two-point PAT.
About the "automatic" timeout calls ... you see them almost every game. Play call is slow coming to the quarterback or a team is slow getting lined up, QB looks at the defense and makes play-call adjustments, play clock is winding down toward :00, QB turns to referee and signals time out ... or frantic head coach runs toward the nearby official and -- PO'd -- calls the timeout.
It is just a reflex action ... timeout.
And almost always, here is my reaction: That is so stupid!
My logic: The 5-yard delay-of-game penalty is not nearly as harmful as wasting one of the team's three timeouts per half. Take the damn penalty.
Heck, yes, there are exceptions: A 3rd-and-short or 4th-and-short play, especially in the other team's end of the field, a crucial late-game down, maybe near the end of the first half with a timeout or two remaining.
But most of the time ... automatic call ... stupid.
We have seen the best of coaches do it, repeatedly. Tom Landry was the best of coaches. If I saw his QBs -- Meredith, Staubach, Morton, Danny White -- do it once, I saw it dozens of times. Wasted timeouts.
|Arkansas head coach Chad Morris: Two "burned" |
timeouts in the second half against LSU did not
help his team's chances.
Both times, really, taking a 5-yard delay penalty would not have hurt the Razorbacks at all.
In fact, after the second one, they hit a touchdown pass. They could have done that about as easily from the LSU 16, and saved the timeout.
They could have used those two burned timeouts in the game's final five minutes. Arkansas fought hard, but I never got the feeling that it was going to win that game. But it might have a better shot with two more late-game clock stoppages.
And how times over the years have we seen LSU waste its timeouts on similar stupid calls? (Les Miles and staff were known for their clock-mismanagement gaffes.)
Those timeouts should be treated like gold. They are so valuable. Protect them almost like you would your kids.
OK, second point: Playing to win at the end of a game. So many coaches take the easy way out; have the extra point kicked and tie the game, so settling for overtime or -- if it is in overtime already -- another OT period.
So, bless the coaches who "go for it." Over the years, we have not seen it often. Because the coaches -- in Jerry Byrd language -- have no guts.
But in recent weeks, we have seen three gutty go-for-the-win calls: It worked for Dana Holgorsen and West Virginia at Texas; it did not work for Mike Gundy and Oklahoma State at Oklahoma, nor for Tim Lester and Western Michigan (in overtime) against Ball State on Tuesday night.
I am not enamored by Holgorsen or Gundy (or many college football head coaches these days), but props to them for those calls.
Other matters ...
Have I seen a better college football team than Alabama this season? I have not.
The season is not over. Can any team can beat Alabama? Good luck. But Clemson (which was fortunate to beat Bama in the CFP title game two years ago) and Georgia (which came so close last season) have a shot. Maybe Notre Dame does ... but I doubt it.
Keep thinking this, though -- in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram sports department, Oklahoma's 2003 team was being declared "the greatest ever" for most of that season ... until that rout by Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship Game and the Sugar Bowl national-championship loss to ... LSU, coached by Nick Saban.
Five more national championships later, Saban has his best team ever. As son-in-law observed during Bama's stifling victory against LSU a couple of weeks ago, Bama is taking the fun out of college football ... except for Bama fans.
We don't have to like it, but more power to them. So Alabama fans are a bit spoiled. Can you blame them?
It is a little more than a week away, but LSU's game at Texas A&M -- always a great rivalry -- is going to be large. A major bowl game will be at stake for the Tigers. Beat the Aggies, and they almost certainly will be 10-2 and in a New Year's Six game. Lose, and it will a nice bowl game, but not a "major."
It has been a surprisingly successful season for LSU, better than most could have anticipated. Do not think the Tigers are especially a top-six team -- too many lapses, too sporadic, especially an offensive line that some quarters can't block or protect the passer, and a secondary that is talented but spends too much time woofing at opponents and showing off.
But victories against three Top-10 ranked teams at the time is impressive. We know now that Miami and Auburn were not anywhere as good as they seemed then, but Georgia is, and that victory was LSU's finest game this season.
If LSU somehow loses to 1-10 Rice this Saturday, forget all this.
Closing thought (for now): Like so many people, I believe the College Football Playoff field should be eight teams instead of four, three games for the title instead of two.
Always going to be a debate over the final four (or eight) teams. But why not make it automatic for the champions of the Power-Five conferences (Big Ten, Atlantic Coast, Pac-12, Big 12, SEC) and the other three best -- chosen by committee -- among independents and other "major/mid-major" conferences (hello, Notre Dame and Central Florida).
Too much football? Sure. One option would be to (gasp!) eliminate the conference championship games, but they are so popular (and such money makers).
It would be easier to eliminate one week of the regular season -- we have gone from 10 to 11 to 12 games for most teams. And a thought here is that for the "majors," it would be easy to knock off one non-conference game, especially those total mismatches against non-majors.
Consider this week: Alabama vs. The Citadel. Are you kidding? (I am not a bettor, but how many points would you give here? Start with 50? 60? 70?)
Just look at some other SEC "matchups" this week: LSU vs. Rice, Kentucky vs. Middle Tennessee, Georgia vs. UMass, Auburn vs. Liberty, South Carolina vs. Chattanooga. Not too challenging, is it?
There is one good one, though: Alabama-Birmingham at Texas A&M. UAB is one of college football's best stories, from oblivion to Conference-USA West champs and title game, from out-of-business to 9-1 in two seasons.
The Aggies, who have the resources to give new coach Jimbo Fisher a billion dollars or so on a 10-year contract, can afford to present UAB a big payday. Under my proposal, one less "money" game a year for the majors would be eliminated.
Anyway, might have to peek at the A&M-UAB game. But if those head coaches burn a timeout or two, I will flip out ... and flip channels.