One of these days…
One of these days…
Coaches will realize that they need to embrace something which is not instinctively easy to do.
Coaches need to discover the importance of NOT SCORING when a given situation demands it.
TCU and Gary Patterson, however, haven’t arrived at that point. As a result, they lost a football game they should have won Saturday night in Fort Worth against Arkansas.
We all remember the sight of New York Giant running back Ahmad Bradshaw clumsily falling into the end zone near the end of Super Bowl XLVI in 2012.
Bradshaw was not supposed to score, but the Patriots let him score, and Bradshaw — his instincts overriding what his coaches told him — arrived at the goal line before his brain told him to stop. Because of this mistake — it definitely was a mistake — the Giants did not kick a chip-shot field goal on the final play to win, 18-17. They took a 21-17 lead, but Tom Brady — the greatest postseason quarterback of this generation and very realistically the best quarterback of our time without any qualifier — was able to throw a Hail Mary to the end zone on the last play.
The Giants — quite empirically — put the ball in Brady’s hands and therefore ceded full control of the final outcome when they prematurely scored. They were sweating bullets. Had Bradshaw not scored, they wouldn’t have been free of nerves, but lining up for a 19-yard field goal on the final play would not have created a sense of dread.
Giving the ball back to Brady? Different story.
This is the reality of scoring late in a game when not scoring (at least temporarily) serves a larger purpose: Denying the opponent the ability to get another possession — or at least, to prevent the opponent from getting the ball with much time left — should override any immediate scoreboard gain. Taking away the opponent’s ability to do anything about its fate is a supreme exercise of leverage. Scoring — if it needs to happen — will happen. It doesn’t have to be done as soon as possible.
The appalling aspect of TCU’s situation against Arkansas is that the Horned Frogs didn’t need to score at all.
Here was the game reset on Saturday night in Fort Worth:
TCU led Arkansas, 21-20, with 2:10 left. Arkansas had only one timeout left. TCU faced third down and a few yards (two or three) just outside the Hogs’ 5.
Three years ago, in a ballpark not too far from Amon G. Carter Stadium, Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos told his running back to fall down short of the goal line but past the first-down marker in the final minutes against the Dallas Cowboys.
Yes, in JerryWorld, Manning told Knowshon Moreno to get a first down just inside the 1… but not score. Moreno was understandably incredulous — such an instruction goes against every inclination of a running back, as was the case with Bradshaw a year and a half earlier in the Super Bowl. However, Manning knew that giving Tony Romo and Jason Witten 90 seconds to come back was stupid. Running out all of the clock and kicking that 19-yard chip shot on the final play was easily the better strategic path.
Moreno obeyed Peyton, getting the first down without scoring inside the 1. Denver kicked the chip shot. Romo couldn’t do a damn thing.
The agony being felt by TCU fans is magnified not just because many of them probably recalled that Denver-Dallas game on Saturday against the Razorbacks. The moment is made even more frustrating because, unlike the Broncos, TCU led at the time, and did not have to score.
Let’s go through the time-based calculus here:
After a first down, the clock stops while the chains are set. A team doesn’t get the benefit of a full 40-second game-clock runoff; it’s only about 25 seconds. Since TCU quarterback Kenny Hill scored a touchdown with 2:05 left, let’s assume Hill had fallen down at the 2 for a first down instead.
A first down with 2:05 left would have meant that TCU’s first-down snap would have occurred near the 1:40 mark. Arkansas would have called timeout then, leaving the game clock at roughly 1:35 with the Razorbacks unable to stop the clock again. If one assumes that one play consumes 45 seconds of clock (40 for the play clock, five for the actual play), TCU would have been able to run nearly every last second off the clock, at least inside the final 20 seconds and probably inside the final 12 to 15.
Ask yourself: As good as it might be to take an eight-point (28-20) lead, isn’t it a lot better to limit your opponent to 15 seconds, with no timeouts, instead of giving it two full minutes with one timeout?
Follow-up question: What difference does it make if a team has to go 65 yards to kick a field goal (and win 23-21) or go 65 yards for a touchdown (to tie a game at 28)? Yes, the answer is that one scenario means defeat while the other means overtime — true enough.
However, if the opponent has only 15 seconds (at most) to win, isn’t that slight bit of discomfort worth the trade-off?
Coaches are unwilling to make that trade… but they should. Burning a clock down to the final 15 seconds and leaving Arkansas at its own 1 would have been a winning play for TCU.
The Horned Frogs ignored it. They lost… because they brought so many other variables — chiefly, the fragility of college football — into the equation.
One of these days, coaches — whose job it is to make any and every decision in the service and pursuit of victory — will gain wisdom.
Gary Patterson is not there yet. Neither are his brothers in the profession.