Sunday, September 20, 2015

Coaching Decisions and Overtime in Football

The Pitt Panthers traveled to Iowa, and lost for the first time this year by a score of 27-24.  It was great effort by Pitt, but in the end, the favored Hawkeyes prevailed.

There were three very interesting coaching decisions made in this game by Head Coach Pat Narduzzi, or HCPN, as he is referred to in the social media chat rooms.  And while I don't usually play the game of slicing and dicing coaching/managerial decision, I am going to do it here in regard to three decisions made by the coach.

GO FOR IT ON FOURTH?

With the score tied at 17-17 in the fourth quarter, Pitt faced a fourth-down-and-inches while in Iowa territory.  It wasn't deep in Iowa territory, but Iowa territory nonetheless.  Narduzzi indicated that Pitt would go for the first down.  They lined up and it soon became apparent that what he was really doing was trying to draw Iowa offsides.  It didn't work, and Pitt then punted.  Iowa took over, and proceeded to march down field and score to go ahead 24-17.  Pitt's offense was moving the ball and had Iowa on its heels, and punting instead of going for it was huge momentum shift in the game.  Even the the color announcer on the Big Ten Network doing the game, whoever he was, said that Pitt might come to regret taking their foot off the gas at that point.

Good decision or bad decision?  My guess is that this was probably the right decision at the time, although as an underdog playing on the road, maybe, as the announcer said, Pitt should have gone for it.

GO FOR TWO?

With under a minute to play, Pitt scores a TD to make the score 24-23 Iowa, and elects to kick an extra point and tie the game at 24-24.  Dan Bonk, who was at the game in Iowa, and I were texting each other simultaneously, saying that Pitt should have gone for the two points and the win right then and there and not take a chance in OT.  We both used more or less the same expression:  Show some cajones, we both saidalthough we used the English version of the word.

More on this later.

Iowa then took the kickoff, marched down the field, and kicked the winning field goal as the clock ran out.  This involved the third key coaching decision....

ICING THE KICKER. REALLY?

As Iowa kicker Marshall Koehn (pronounced "Kane", and, honestly, the kid looks nothing at all like Gary Cooper), lined up for the kick and at the last instant before the snap, Narduzzi made the oh-so-predictable coach's move of calling a time out in order to "ice" the kicker.  The snap was made and Koehn went through with the kick and came up well short on the 57 yard attempt.  Koehn said later that he heard the whistle and didn't give the kick his full effort, hence, the miss.  Maybe he didn't and maybe he did, but what is indisputable is that when given a second chance to kick, he drilled it right through the uprights and won the game for Iowa.

I don't know who the first coach was to come up with this ridiculous strategy, but every coach copycats this move, and to me it is more of the coach saying "look how smart and clever I am" than it is a sound strategic move.  Perhaps there is some football sabrmetric stat that shows that this is a move that works because the kicker turns into a bundle of jangled nerves and misses the subsequent kick ___% of the time.  If that is the case, I'd like to see it.  I can't recall seeing it ever work.

(Of course, if Pitt's defense doesn't allow Iowa to march down the field in the last fifty-two seconds and get into position to kick a field goal, this is a moot point, but that is another discussion entirely.)

I posted these latter two opinions on a Pitt Facebook page last night and was ripped for being a second guesser (like the people who said that aren't), and contradictory ("if he went for two and they didn't make it, you'd be ripping him for that.").  The sentiment also was that you always play for a tie and take your chances in overtime, and that leads me to a long held thought of mine, and that is, Why is there overtime in regular season football games?  So what if a game ends in a tie? I can remember the great Myron Cope once saying that while tie games can be frustrating, in many cases, a tie can be a just result in a football game.

Turn back the clock and consider last night's game as if it were twenty or so years ago and  there was no provision for OT in a football game.  HCPN would then have been faced with this decision:  Do I kick and settle for a tie, or do I go for two to win the game against a heavily favored team in its home stadium?  It would have been a hard decision, if he went for two and made it, he'd have been a hero, and a bum of they didn't make it.  If he settled for the tie, well, at least it wouldn't have been a loss.  The point is, with overtime, no coach HAS to make this decision, and I think that the coaches like it that this particular bit of heat has been removed from their kitchens.  

For all his greatness as a coach, Ara Parseghian is, rightly or wrongly, just as often remembered for his decision to have Notre Dame "settle" for a tie against Michigan State in 1966's Game of the Century.  Conversely, Nebraska Tom Osborne is often remembered for his "heroic" decision to have his team go for two points and win the Orange Bowl, rather than settle for a tie against Miami. Only the mythical national championship was at stake in that game.  The Huskers didn't make it and lost the game, but Osborne was still lauded for his decision.

I know I am a lone voice in the wilderness on this, but I think that overtime should be eliminated in all but play-off and championship games in football.  This is especially true in an age when player safety is such a big issue.  I attended one of my nephew's peewee football games a few years ago.  The game ended in a tie, and they went into overtime to determine a winner.  In a peewee football game, is that really necessary?

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