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Time for me to wade into the timeouts question

The big controversy this week is whether Dykes made a mistake by not calling timeouts when Utah was inside the redzone with 2 minutes left.  The theory is that IF Utah had scored, Cal would want some time on the clock to be able to get down the field and score themselves.

To start with my summary: Neither option is a “mistake”.  Both options have pros and cons.  Anyone who tells you differently isn’t thinking the matter through fully.  While I could have a ridiculously long post showing all the pros and cons of both sides, I’m not going to do that.  The ones being most vocal are effectively arguing there was no downside (or at least very little downside) to calling the timeouts, thus not calling them was a mistake.  So I’m going to refute that.  But PLEASE know, I’m not saying the only right choice was not to call them.  It would have been a reasonable choice to call the timeouts.  To repeat: Neither option is a “mistake”.

Here’s my 3 arguments for why not calling the timeout was a reasonable choice:

  1. It prevents Utah from getting another drive:  Let’s say Cal calls the timeouts and its defense holds, leaving 1:30 on the clock.  What happens next?  Now Utah is going to start calling their timeouts to force Cal to get a 1st down.  If they don’t, Utah could get the ball back with over a minute on the clock.  To supplement this one, don’t forget the turnover possibility for Utah, that could end the drive even sooner than 4 plays and put Cal in the position where it needs to burn clock.
  2. It limits the total number of plays Utah can run: This is the “Duh, this is what happened!’ argument.  Utah was SEVERELY limited in it’s options once it got the new set of downs after the PI penalty.  (Which, I’m sorry to all of you who can only think 2 moves ahead, is something that anyone thinking through all the possibilities would anticipate as a VERY real possibility.)  All of a sudden, Utah was running out of clock.  Remember the game didn’t end on a failed 4th down conversion, it ended because the clock reached zero.  If Cal had been calling timeouts, Utah would have gotten another play, at a minimum (imagine if there were TWO penalties that extend the drive!).  Also, more time would have given Utah more flexibility in playcalling.  On the final 2nd down, Utah HAD to run a pass play or the game would have been over because it was out of timeouts.  By refusing to use timeouts you’re ensuring that no matter what happens, Utah will only get to run so many plays, particularly run plays (which is what was working for them).
  3. It limits Utah’s playbook: Utah wanted to win the game with so little time on the clock that Cal could not drive down the field.  Therefore, they were going to call running plays when the clock was well over a minute.  Then when time got down under 30 seconds or so, Utah would want to shift their plays to passing plays, particularly as they ran out of timeouts.  If Cal takes the timeouts, to some degree it opens the playbook for Utah as they’ll know it won’t matter what they do, the amount of clock that dwindles will be the same no matter what (at least while Cal is calling timeouts).

Or to say all of the above at a higher, more philosophical level:  Cal was winning.  The goal is to end the game without that changing.  The faster that happens, the fewer ways Utah can win.  Why prolong the game and give them more chances?

Is that the only argument?  No.  There’s a valid argument to say that calling the timeouts would have been wise.  It’s reasonable to say the statistics suggested Utah was likely to score and the best way for Cal to win is to give itself a chance to score after they’ve lost the lead.  And I completely agree that’s a strong argument.  But where I draw the line is those who say there’s NO good argument against calling the TO’s.  They are just wrong.  None of the above arguments are low percentage or meaningless.  It’s very reasonable to anticipate drive extending penalties.  It’s very reasonable to fear having to run the clock out after a quick end to Utah’s drive.  It’s very reasonable to like the ability to predict Utah’s playcalling.  They are real factors for making the decision and should not be discounted.

Finally, I’m more and more of the opinion that the way Chip Kelly ran things at Oregon was the right way to go.  The man could care less about the clock.  He’d rather go down the field in 1:30 and be up by another 7 points than try to end the game on a 4 or 5 minute drive.  (Imagine how much it would have thrown Cal off if Utah had thrown a pass to the corner of the endzone on 1st down with 2 minutes left.)  Coaches would do better to focus on having an offense that can score at will and a defense that can stop opponents at will instead of spending their time trying to get too cute managing the game clock.

No high fives FOR YOU!

The Soup Nazi has taken up a new profession apparently, now in the personal foul definition business. While all of us were aghast that Allen was called for a personal foul, it has since come out that one of the official interpretations of the endzone celebration rule in college is that touching anyone in the stands is a personal foul.

Since that’s the case, I officially apologize to the refs for being harsh to them about it. It’s not their job to question or overlook rules or interpretations. It’s their job to enforce them accurately and consistently. It appears they did precisely that in this case.

It’s the Soup Nazi that ticks me off.

Why would this be an official interpretation of the rule? I could see “leaving the playing field” or “entering the stands” being the rule, but giving some fans a high five… what in God’s name should be wrong with that? Is the goal here to make college football as sterile as possible? Who loses in this case? What’s the risk that something negative will happen as a result? No matter which way I look at it, I can’t see the value of this official interpretation of the rule.

Disappointing, very disappointing.

Why I’m not a fan of the direct snap

It was brought up in the comment box that Ludwig may be interested in exploring using the Wildcat formation with Best. For those not in the know, the Wildcat is a formation with a direct snap to the running back that is 4 times out of 5, maybe more, a running play.

Everytime I see the Bears line up that way I sigh.

First of all, the way the Bears have done it in the past is that they don’t “tip their hat” until after the huddle breaks. In other words, the QB is still a player in the huddle so that the opposition doesn’t know that a direct snap is coming. This sounds great in theory, why give the opposition any more warning than necessary, right?, but in the end I think it gives up the biggest advantage of the Wildcat: an extra blocker.

If you think about your average running play, the QB is a pretty wasteful player on the field. All he does is take the ball from the center, hand it to the running back and then get the heck out of everyone’s way. There have been a number of strategies to address this weakness. Most of them involve turning the QB into an additional running back (or at least a pseudo one). The original option did this. So does the zone-read option that spread teams like Oregon run.

The wildcat takes a different approach. It is designed to get the QB off the field and substitute in another blocker. Cal doesn’t gain this benefit because they leave the QB on the field, usually spread out as a wide receiver.

Which brings me to the the 2nd big problem. It is fundamental to the Wildcat. If you direct snap to the running back, the defense doesn’t have to much respect the passing game. This is of course a huge problem and over 50% of good offensive strategy is providing balance that keeps the defense guessing.

The solution to this problem is to find a running back who is a psuedo-QB. If the running back can throw the ball well enough that it keeps the defense honest, then you’ve got a win-win: an extra blocker on the field and at least the threat of offensive balance.

And Jahvid Best can’t throw worth a hill of beans. Seriously. There’s a reason that the one time the Bears ran the halfback pass, it was Vereen. There’s a reason that the other times Cal threw from a different position than QB it was a wide receiver. Jahvid. Can’t. Throw.

And everybody knows it.

So when Cal runs the direct snap, and splits the QB to a wide receiver position, it’s the worst of both worlds: the defense knows that Cal is going to run the ball, it doesn’t have to worry about covering the QB at wideout and Cal doesn’t have an extra blocker to make up for it.

That’s why the Wildcat didn’t work last year (and in part why it was somewhat successful with Marshawn Lynch, who can throw pretty well).