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Classic Blunders

I have always been more bothered by irritating coaching blunders than most people. In many ways, this is why I started a blog in the first place — because I had 3,000 words to spew about a ridiculous decision to intentionally walk somebody or to waste a timeout and, at some point, even my best friends tire of hearing about it.

“OK, fine, maybe that was a bad decision,” they will say. “But it DOESN’T MATTER.”

They’re right, of course. It doesn’t matter. But I can’t help it. I can’t stop thinking about it. I still remember a blown timeout by former Kansas City head coach Gunther Cunningham more than a decade ago. The Chiefs had one timeout left, and they used it with something like 2:42 left.

You realized right away why this was a spectacularly bad decision, right? The NFL clock is 40 seconds. So, if you do not call the timeout, the opposing team has to run one play before the two-minute warning.

However, if you do call a timeout — four or five seconds will run off the clock, and the opposing team STILL has to run only one play before the two-minute warning. It was a complete waste of a timeout, it cost the Chiefs 40 or so seconds on the other side of the two-minute warning — 40 seconds that I recall being very important in the game. Everyone conceded that it was a bad timeout (except Gunther, one of my favorite people in sports, who offered some convoluted reason why it was the right decision — one that required him to mistake the 40-second clock for a 35-second clock). But most people wanted to move on to the next thing (which was the complain about other things the Chiefs did).

And I simply could not let go. There’s a great series of Peanuts comics in which Peppermint Patty believes she’s an angel (after a butterfly rests on her nose) and she decides she must spread her message to the world: “If a foul ball is hit behind third base, then it’s the shortstop’s ball.” I sort of get that same feeling about particularly inane sports blunders.

There were two that drove me insane this weekend.

The first was part of an astonishing series of lurches and bumps in the USC-Notre Dame game. It has pushed well past the point of overkill to point out just what a dreadful coach Lane Kiffin is. In his short but diverse career, he became the head coach of the Oakland Raiders (the youngest head coach in the NFL since World War II) went 4-12 his first year, refused to resign, went 1-3 the next year, got fired by the shell of Al Davis who had some really nasty things to say about him. He promptly was hired by Tennessee (youngest head coach in college football) and then hired away a Raiders assistant in the middle of the season, which caused a bit more fury. His deal with Tennessee was for six years, but he left for USC after one — and right in the middle of the recruiting season, saddling poor Derek Dooley with a wreck of a team. Dooley didn’t even make it three years — he was fired two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, Kiffin had his own problems to deal with as he worked to rebuild USC after Pete Carroll ran off to the NFL one step ahead of the Reggie Bush investigation that would result in NCAA sanctions. (Though there are signs that the NCAA didn’t exactly handle that investigation well. Ah, the NCAA). Still, coming into this year, improbably, many people thought USC had the most talented team in the country. And USC might have the most talented team in the country. But they haven’t played well. Many people blame Lane Kiffin. Then again, many people have been waiting to do this to Lane Kiffin for a long time:

In any case, late in the game between USC and Notre Dame on Saturday night, the Trojans were in position to score trailing by nine points. What followed was an astonishing display of ineptitude — so much so, that even though I really did not care who won, I found myself screaming at the television.

To review: USC had the ball at the Notre Dame 2 with about 5:30 left. Plenty of time. Score here, stop Notre Dame in relatively short order, USC still had a great chance to win the game.

And then — it was just painful to watch. First, a false start. Then, for some reason, a run — incredibly, USC was huddling up between plays too, like there was all the time in the world. Then USC’s freshman quarterback Max Wittek lofted a pass to receiver Marqise Lee, whom announcers Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit both referred to as “perhaps the best player in the country.” Notre Dame’s KeiVarae Russell all but wrestled Lee to the ground with the ball in the air, drawing the end zone pass interference penalty, which in college places the ball at the 2 yard line.*

*Why the 2? Why not the 1 like the NFL? Doesn’t this seem like college football is just being different from the NFL only to be different? The 2-yard line thing makes no sense at all. You want to DISCOURAGE a player from committing pass interference in the end zone. Personal opinion: This is a dumb little rule that should be changed immediately.

Next play, Wittek again threw the ball to Lee, and again Russell felt he had no choice but to interfere. This time, it put the ball at the 1. The next three plays were, well, you hope they show them at Lane Kiffin’s firing press conference, whenever that happens to be. You saw what happened when Wittek threw the ball to Lee, right? Notre Dame essentially acknowledged: They could not cover him. So what did USC do? They had Wittek — a freshman making his first start — try to sneak in twice. When that bit of genius failed, on third down they threw a lob to Lee, who made a dazzling catch and … no, that didn’t happen. They handed the ball to Curtis McNeal, who was stopped short of the end zone. And, of course, they huddled up before each snap, letting minutes just POUR off the clock. It was like watching a coach have a nervous breakdown right in front of us on national TV.

But none of those was the blunder I’m talking about.

No, as you know, the blunder I’m talking about is simply this: Fourth down from the Notre Dame 1, down nine, less than three minutes left, there is absolutely no doubt what you do. You kick the field goal. I realize it’s a downer after wasting three downs and two minutes trying to get in (without throwing even once to “perhaps the best player in college football”). I realize that it’s a huge letdown for your team and fans and everyone. But, well, sorry … you are the coach, you have to be bigger than those emotions. You need two scores to win — a touchdown and a field goal. That’s the only chance you have to win the game. Scoring the touchdown first increases your chances, sure, but not scoring at all ends all chances. It’s a non-negotiable play. You need two scores. You have to get one. You kick the field goal.

USC went for the touchdown. It was inconceivable — even if that word doesn’t mean what I think it does. The fact that the Trojans failed — this time on a pass play (not to Lee) that just wasn’t quite executed right — heightens the dreadfulness of the decision. But even if they had scored, it was still the wrong play. The goal is to win the game, not to prove a point. It seems that shortly after this astonishing bit of coaching bungling, Lane Kiffin’s Wikipedia page was hacked to say:

“Lane Monte Kiffin (born May 9, 1975) was fired as the head coach of the University of Southern California Trojans college football team on 11/25/2012 after going for a touchdown instead of kicking a field goal against Notre Dame.”

We severely frown upon such cyber graffiti … but you can’t argue with the reasoning.

The other weekend sports blunder was much less involved. The Chiefs played Denver on Sunday and, improbably, were in the game throughout. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning seemed uninterested for much of the day, the Chiefs defense played well and so on. Even in this rather inspired effort, though, the Chiefs made numerous irritating missteps that reminded you one of the reasons why this has been such a dreadful season in Kansas City. Someone would false start on a key play. Someone would hold 10 yards away from the point of attack. A dropped pass. A missed tackle. And so on.

And the thing was that every time one of these mini-fiascos happened, the camera would focus in on Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel. On Twitter, I suggested that the busiest guy in America had to be that cameraman who has to find Crennel in every one of those “Ugh, the Chiefs screwed up again” moments. From everything I know, Romeo Crennel is a class act, a stand-up guy and a fine defensive coordinator. His head coaching record, however, is 27-51. Nobody seems quite sure how he got the Chiefs job in the first place.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Kansas City trailed by five points and got the ball at midfield. Here’s what followed:

1st and 10: Brady Quinn pass incomplete. Yes, Brady Quinn is the Chiefs quarterback.

2nd and 10: Jamaal Charles 9-yard run (fumbled at the end but recovered by KC).

3rd and 1: Guard Jon Asamoah jumps early for a false start.

(Chiefs fans tear hair out.)

3rd and 6: Brady Quinn’s deep pass to Dwayne Bowe falls incomplete. Chiefs complain about pass interference that isn’t called. Meanwhile, Chiefs are also called for holding, which is declined.

OK, so it’s bad enough that any Chiefs fan has to endure all that. But now, fourth down and 6, Denver 46-yard line, about six and a half minutes left in the game … what to do? It seems to me that you go for it. You’re the Chiefs. You stink. The season is lost. You never expected to be this close in the game anyway. You have no reason to believe that you will get the ball anywhere close to midfield again. Why not go?

Of course, there’s a counter-argument to be made. The Chiefs’ fine punter, Dustin Colquitt, had just moments earlier pinned the Broncos at the 2 with a fabulous punt. Maybe you think the Chiefs best hope is to put it in the hands of their punter and defense. Maybe they force a turnover. Maybe they force a quick return punt and gain yards in the exchange. It’s one of those arguments where I can easily see both sides. I’d go for it, but I can understand the reasoning behind a punt.

But here’s what I will never understand, never, not in a million years: The Chiefs called timeout.

Um … huh? The announcers did not make a big deal about it except to express curiosity (“Does this mean the Chiefs are going for it?” Greg Gumbel asked. The answer was: No. The Chiefs punted.) But this is, to me, something so impossibly dopey that I think as a coach you would be better off holding up a giant “I don’t know what I’m doing” sign. A timeout there? Why? What possible good does a timeout do for you there? You are down by less than a touchdown. The clock is running down. Your most precious possession are the two timeouts you still have (the Chiefs had already blundered away one timeout earlier in the half). The Chiefs spent one of those all-important timeouts to — what — discuss what to do?

But here’s what takes that timeout from the ridiculous to the legendarily ridiculous … the Chiefs were punting from the Broncos 46-yard line. What does that mean? It means a DELAY OF GAME PENALTY DOES NOT HURT YOU THERE. The clock was stopped by the incomplete pass. The punter wouldn’t mind kicking from five yards further back — he might even prefer it. You have no reason to call timeout, none. If you need a little extra time to discuss what to do, take the whole clock, who cares? But the Chiefs called the timeout anyway.

It seems to me that after blowing the timeout, the Chiefs (at the very least) should have have felt compelled to go for the first down. At least make it seem like there was a reason for it. But no, they punted, the Broncos promptly drove 68 yards, ran all but 14 seconds off the clock, and Dan Dierdorf (who I normally like as an announcer) prattled on about how that was a “championship drive.” Yeah, championship drive if you happen to be playing a 1-10 team that apparently is just making up stuff as it goes along.

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66 Responses to Classic Blunders

  1. Joe, the decision to go for the touchdown is NOT inconceivable. Bill Barnwell wrote a great piece about this on Grantland a few months ago. Statistically it is the right decision. I know you are an emerging stathead so you might want to check it out.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I didn’t disagree with going for it at all either. It was the play calling (running plays), not throwing it to Marquis Less, and the wasting of time that were the issues.

    • Rob Smith says:

      BTW: after wasting so much time with the running plays, by the time they got to fourth down, they pretty much had to go for it.

    • Chris says:

      This was a subject of argument during a car ride to the Bears’ game yesterday with my dad and younger brother taking the side that Pos is taking here and my older brother and myself taking the opposing side. Our stance was you need a TD on either *this* possession or the *next* one. You’re inside the 5 right now. In all probability, you’re chance at picking up the TD here is *much* greater than booting a field goal, holding ND (or recovering an onside kick) and then scoring a TD from 50+ yards out. Agreed with Rob Smith as well – problem wasn’t going for 6. Problem was play-calling.

      If you have a link to that Barnwell column, I’d love to check it out. Thanks!

    • Kansas City says:

      Very smart comments right off the bat. Surpised Joe did not look at the statistical probabilities. You don’t “need two scores.” You need a touchdown and a field goal. So, I think, you need to compare the probability of scoring a TD on fourth and 2 versus the probability of scoring a touchdown at the point of our next assumed possession – like first and ten at your own 30.

      I laughed out loud at Joe’s line: “something so impossibly dopey that I think as a coach you would be better off holding up a giant “I don’t know what I’m doing” sign.”

      However, I like Romeo and stuff happens fast. Taking the delay of game was not really an option as a prelude to going for it because you lose five more yards. And, depending on when the time out was called, it still saved some clock. Yeah, Romeo should have gone for it, but also realize he had a QB who stopped completing passes about halfway through the 3rd quarter.

    • Kansas City says:

      On the other hand, if Romeo did not take the time out until after he decided to punt, then I’m afraid him holding up Joe’s sign would have been a better move. No matter what Romeo decided, what were the chances of Quin engineering a TD?

      Maybe it would have been better for Pioli to hold up a sign saying “I don’t know what I’m doing” intead of making his coach play with Cassel, Quin and Stanzi as his QB’s?

  2. Rob Smith says:

    The USC sequence was tough to watch. One running play was understandable. But as was pointed out on the broadcast, the plays called had no chance of succeeding against the defense they set up. If it was Matt Barkley, he would have checked into another play. So, it was a combo of bad play calling and a Freshman QB who didn’t recognize the obvious fact that the plays called weren’t going to work. Allowing the time to drain from the clock is pure coaching incompetence. There is no other way to put it.

  3. Scott says:

    Not only did USC have to go for the TD there (not going for it would be a fireable offense), USC should have gone for the TD on the previous possession on 4th down instead of kicking the FG.

    You can’t assume you’ll have the ball on the 2 yard line later on in the game, especially when there is less than half a quarter to play. You need to go for the TD always always always.

    Now, you kick a quick FG if you manage to get to the 30 or so and there is still time. Kick the FG and save clock. But if you are at the 2, go for the TD.

    • Martin F. says:

      The problem with Barnwell’s piece and your idea of always going for the touchdown is that it is only probability that we are talking about, not guarantees. While the probability is greater to win if you go for the touchdown, the result of failure is that you’re done. Game is over. That whole goal line set of play calls should be in the “What not to do at the 2” Hall of Fame though.

      I do agree with that they should have gone for it at the 9 minute mark, because failure was still an option at that point.

    • “While the probability is greater to win if you go for the touchdown, the result of failure is that you’re done.”

      So, you are saying you should choose the startegy that keeps the game in doubt for longer, not the one that actually maximizes your chance of, you know, winning.

      This is silly. Going for it was the right call. Joe, God love him, is just wrong here. It happens to the bets of ’em (and Joe IS the best).

    • Mark A says:

      Can ANYONE link to this alleged statistical analysis that people are being so snotty about? The only actual detail I’ve seen anyone put up on here has been some pseudomath with guesstimated odds and terrible assumptions.

    • I’ll give it shot without sophisticated stats to show why it makes intuitive sense. If you go for it here, winning requires you convert (or get a penalty), which is something approaching a 50/50 proposition(actually a little less, probably more like 40%). If you kick a field goal (assuming you make it), winning requires you win in overtime, again which is something approaching a 50/50 proposition (actually a little less since USC is an inferior team, again 40+%).

      So really, these things cancel each other out. What’s left than is to compare what would be required for USC to do in each scenario.

      Scenario 1: Go for it. SC has two ways to accomplish it goal. Stop ND, them either 1) score a TD for the win, or 2) kick a field goal, then win in overtime. Actually there is a third long shot possibility which is to hold ND to FG and then score a TD for the win.

      Scenario 2: Kick. SC has only one chance at their disposal. Stop and score a TD.

      But since the opportunities in scenario 1 include all of those in 2, PLUS SOME OTHERS, the win probability has to be higher (assuming as I had earlier) that the probability of converting 4th and 1 and that of winning in overtime are the same or reasonably close)

    • Correction. The above analysis was bases on my faulty memory of a 10 point deficit, not 9. I don’t think it materially changes things, but am less certain.

    • And according to the 4th down win probability calculator, it DOES make a difference. See thread below.

  4. Hizouse says:

    Going for it on 4th from the 1 was the right call. I am a Tennessee fan who would love to pile on Kiffen, and as you point out, he provided plenty of material in this sequence, but the choice to go for it was correct.

    Kicking the FG keeps your team “in the game” a little longer, but it does not maximize your chance at winning, because USC is much more likely to later get in FG position than to get this close to a TD, especially against this defense. Essentially, you need to weigh the relative probabilities of:
    (1) scoring a TD from the 1, getting the ball back and making the FG, versus
    (2) making the FG, getting the ball back and scoring a TD.

    In both cases, you have to get the ball back and move into ND territory. Say the FG probability advantage is 30% if you do it now than if you try later from some distance farther out. You can then look at above as which is greater: (a) odds of converting from the 1, or (b) odds of scoring another TD + 30%. I’d put the odds at scoring from the 1 around 50% and the odds of scoring another TD (even if already in FG range) at much less than 20%.

    • Mark A says:

      Except its not the simple. Not scoring really does end the game. ND was so comfortable they were taking knees when they could not even run out the clock.

      Going for it and not getting it gave ND possession no questions asked. They got to take knees and punt with time remaining and zero danger of losing.

      Kick the field goal and you have a chance at an onside kick. Even if that attempt fails, Notre Dame doesn’t dare punt back to Lee up one score, so instead of victory formation, they would either run 3 times, or run twice and pass once … three chances at a game changing turnover. And if you stop the first down, you still have outs.

      Also, its highly debatable whether a freshman QB in his first start in the 4th quarter of a big game really does have a 50% chance at a touchdown against the top goal line defense in College Football.

    • Rob Smith says:

      You forgot the fact that USCs defense is attrocious. You might not get the ball back, and if you do, it’s likely not after a three and out. So, you’ll be dealing with a short clock, a Freshman QB and a very good defense. You need that TD now. Just getting the opportunity to get into position for a FG later is not favorable. Scoring a TD later is almost an impossibility. This was their best shot. They took it. It didn’t work out. With better play calling & more clock you might be able to kick the FG and figure on getting the ball back with enough time for an (unlikely) TD, but with the time they had, a TD was necessary if they wanted any shot of winning. I don’t agree that they prolonged their chance to win with a FG. I think USC had about a 5% chance of getting a TD later.

    • Mark A says:

      If you assume your defense can’t get it done when facing a very conservative offense, then TD vs field goal doesn’t much matter. You need to assume you can get the stop either way.

  5. Unknown says:

    “Fourth down from the Notre Dame 1, down 10, less than three minutes left, there is absolutely no doubt what you do. You kick the field goal.”

    Wow, really Joe? I agree with brilliant reader “0b6f4a32-37d9-11e2-807d-000f20980440”. Going for it was definitely the right decision. I am really surprised that you wrote that — guess you are still getting caught up on football stats compared to baseball.

    • Martin F. says:

      Yet again, it’s only a probability. All the stat heads keep coming out on this one without looking at it in the overall context. 1- Notre Dame was stuffing the run, meaning they had to pass, with a “rookie” QB making his first start ever. Yeah, that might shift the odds a whole lot, but we can’t calculate them so we only get generic odds. 2- If you don’t get the TD, game is over.

      USC got the ball back with 19 seconds left with no time outs. They were unlikely to be able to even try a field goal, much less try a makeable one, so ended up throwing long to try and get the touchdown. The same thing they would have done if they’d kicked the field goal.

    • Unknown says:

      “Yet again, it’s only a probability.”

      So? What does this mean? Going for the touchdown gives you a higher probability of winning the game. That makes it the right call.

    • yoyodyne says:

      Going for the TD is by far the right call. Any call that gives you the higher/highest probability of winning is correct. Joe needs to bone up on his end-of-game football theory.

      Your odds of scoring a TD there are *much higher* than:
      1) kicking FG, and
      2) Stopping ND, AND
      3) Driving for a TD.

      It’s. Not. Even. That. Close.

    • kehnn13 says:

      It is not odds of scoring a touchdown vs kicking and stopping and driving, if you score a touchdown you still need to stop ND and drive for a field goal. While a kick from the 2 is virtually automatic, anything over 30 yards in NCAA seems pretty chancy. So, as they had failed on 6 plays already from within the 5, I’d take the field goal and hope for another shot.
      As I said when they got inside the 10, “I think they’d have a better shot at a touchdown if they were further back (more open field for their receivers)
      Not that I’m complaining, ND fan that I am.

  6. Josh says:

    Any time someone punts, I think, “This is why I hate football.” It’s almost never the right thing to do.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Shawn A says:

    Going for it may have been the percentage play but it was not “definitely the right decision”, especially after the ND defense had thoroughly stuffed the first three plays. Arguments can be made for going or kicking. Going and failing absolutely ends any chance of winning while kicking at least sustains some chance of winning.

    • yoyodyne says:

      Bad arguments only can be made for kicking.

      Correct arguments are made for going for it.

      The only debate is among those who are bad at stats.

    • Shawn A says:

      You are making the same rhetorical mistakes that you accuse me of, stating assertions as fact.

      It’s clear that win probabilities do not favor my side of the argument. Stats are part of what should be considered when making this kind of decision. Stats are not the only resource one can consult to decide how to attack the problem. That said, win probability (and other relevant statistics) is a very useful tool for deciding whether to go or kick.

      No need for the insulting tone.

    • Whichever side you reside on in this debate, I think we can all agree that calling going for the TD a “blunder” and “inconceivable” is pretty misguided. It’s equivalent to much of the anti-SABR commentary that typically would drive Joe batty.

  9. parinella says:

    I hate to bring this up, but unless I’m reading Brian Burke’s 4th Down Calculator incorrectly (, for 4th and goal at the 1, 2:45 left on the clock, the correct play is to kick the field goal, which gives you a 15% chance at winning. Making a touchdown only gives you an 18% chance of winning, while losing leaves you at 1%, for (given an NFL average success rate of 68%) an overall chance of 13%. The break even point is 82%. Now, if you add another minute to the clock, then it becomes a push, and if you add yet another minute, the odds favor going for it.

    • I could be doing something wrong, altogether possible, but I got something different. Overall WP of going for it was 10% (14 if successful, <1 if not, 68% success rate) versus 2% for a successful kick. Overall break even is 8%. One of us is way off (or both of us!)

      I wonder how the college rules about the clock stopping at first down changes the equation.

    • Whoops. I had the score diff as 10, not 9, which makes the difference.

  10. Frank says:

    Wow. I’m baffled by the discussion of the USC decision. I agree with Joe, although it does not seem so egregious as to warrant firing. My sons and I were having the discussion at the time it was happening.

    Worse (possible fire-able) coaching decisions were in the Virginia vs. Virginia Tech game Saturday when, with about a minute and a half to go, Mike London failed to call time outs with the clock running down. Instead, he used two time outs to ice the kicker on a 28-yard try. The kick was good as the clock ran out. Earlier in the second half, London also opted to run a fake field goal instead of trying a 38-yard attempt which would have put the Cavs up by two scores. They never saw VT’s side of the field again.

  11. nickpa1 says:

    You like Dan Dierdorf?!?


  12. kehnn13 says:

    Something else that the “statheads” need to take into account: ther eis a big difference between college and nfl kickers. Where NFL kickers generally have no issues with 40 yards plus kicks, college kickers are much less accurate.

    In fact, USC kickers this year were only 2 of 6 beyond 40.

    This means that the probabilities for a college team are not going to be the same as they are for an NFL team.

  13. Sorry, Joe. I’m with the “he was correct to go for it on 4th down and 1” crowd. The team needed a touchdown either at that point or on their next possession after the onside kick. The odds of success were greater to go for it on 4th and 1 than wait for the next possession.

    However, everything else that U$C did in that possession was ridiculous.

  14. kpellow says:

    After reading what seems like hundreds of your posts, Joe, we finally disagree on something. I’m not saying I agree with Kiffin’s choice to go for the touchdown, but it definitely isn’t “non-negotiable” as you described.

    That said, I’m really looking forward to your follow-up post given this is probably the first time in history that your writing has not received overwhelming support from your readers.

  15. Daniel Flude says:

    I have to disagree that going for the TD there was a bad call. In fact, that play call (both going for the TD and a play action pass to the flat) was just about the only good decision Kiffin made in that whole series. Of course, he should have done that on first down or third down when an incomplete pass wouldn’t end the game.

    Either way, it still leaves Kiffin as a terrible in-game coach. I just don’t think the decision to go for the TD there was the wrong one.

  16. The only way to convince me that going for the TD was the right call was if the attempt had been successful.

    You needed TWO SCORES!!! One was in the basket from extra point range. They had 3 other shots, made terrible play calls and couldn’t move the pile a lousy 3 feet.

    They were looking at a prayer either way, scoring a TD on next possession or getting into field goal range (still probably needed to get the ball to the 20 for a reasonable try).

    Failure to get ANY points = game over.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Why do people keep saying “two scores”. You needed a Touchdown and a Field Goal, not two scores of any kind. The point is that getting the TD you need from the goal line was far more likely than getting a TD later with little time left, a Freshman QB in his first game against a great defense. Even if you look at the odds of success on 4th and goal as 30-40%, that’s still way more likely than getting a TD later. Change the variables with better play calling (more time on the clock), Matt Barkley in the game (more likely to drive the team) or vs. an inferior defense that changes the equation. But the variables being what they were, going for it was the right call.

    • Mark A says:

      And “you people” keep treating the first and second scores as if they have equal value.

      The first score can be a TD or field goal and is of paramount importance. Don’t get it and nothing else matters. Get it and not only are you in the game, but you retain a shot at possession because you have a shot at an onside kick.

      The odds of a TD on a subsequent drive are certainly lower than the odds now. But so are the odds of a field goal later rather than now.

      As for factoring in the “rookie QB”, passing near the goal line (against a D that is especially good in goal line defense) is one of the toughest skills to learn as there is so little space. The ONE edge the USC offense had was the rookie QB having a big arm and big hard to cover targets down the field. So the notion of a TD drive later isn’t so out of the realm of possibility.

    • Rob Smith says:

      So, you’re saying that USC had a better chance of their Freshman QB throwing the ball down field (because of his big arm) than converting a 4th and 2? OK. Look, you have to realize that USC most likely loses either way. Field Goal, failed 4th down attempt, even a successful 4th down attempt. Even with a successful TD on the play, they have to get the ball back with time to do something. So, my point is that since it’s likely that they don’t get the ball back with lots of time (there was only 2:30 left after the 4th down play) the TD gave them the best chance to get into position for another score. A later TD with a short clock was a near impossibility. As others have pointed out, the goal isn’t to extend the game, it’s to win. All options still leave long odds of winning, but scoring a TD would put USC into a reasonable possibility of winning. A FG just doesn’t do anything except hold open the possibility that they might win…. a very, very small chance.

  17. The only way to convince me that going for the TD was the right call was if the attempt had been successful.

    You needed TWO SCORES!!! One was in the basket from extra point range. They had 3 other shots, made terrible play calls and couldn’t move the pile a lousy 3 feet.

    They were looking at a prayer either way, scoring a TD on next possession or getting into field goal range (still probably needed to get the ball to the 20 for a reasonable try).

    Failure to get ANY points = game over.

    • Kansas City says:

      The analysis should not focus on when the game is over. The coach’s jos is not to delay when the game is over. It is to win the game. So you need to figure out the probabilities of winning the game.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Look at it this way. Kick the FG. Down 7. USC gets the ball back with about a minute left (best case). What do you think the odds are that a Freshman QB in his first game is going to drive the team to a TD against arguably the best defense in the nation? I’d say 5% probability (and I think that was validated by a stat person above). Even if you make the TD, driving for a FG is unlikely, but still more likely than getting a TD. Probably still something around 10-15% chance (again validated by the stat person above). Either way, USC was highly unlikely to win, but they made the right call. If you wait until the game is over to judge, USC would come out looking bad either way they went. Either way they were likely to lose.

  18. Kansas City says:

    I just read Passan’s story about how the Royals are highly motivated to find a top player and are shopping Myers. STOP. DON’T DO IT.

    1. I can just sense DM is about to be fleeced.

    2. Even putting to one side reason 1, isn’t a star every day player worth more than a starting pitcher? I assume stat guys can asnwer this, but a stud playing 160 games seems more likely to influence games than a guy starting 32 games. Am I wrong?

    I am influenced by the Angels winning only 7 of Grienke’s 13 starts. The Royals won 10 of Guthrie’s 14 starts.

  19. So going for it on 4th and two in a statistically favorable situation is grounds for firing, but demanding a coach not coach again when it was revealed he shielded a child molester for YEARS is a “sickening rush to judgement.”

    We get it Joe, Lane Kiffen isn’t for you. He’s not a sacntimonious liar. Too bad someone isn’t paying you half a million to write a book about him, suddenly you’d be describing his guts and moxie.

  20. Of course, what’s even better, in that the play before this ludicrous sequence, the USC quarterback passed to Lee, from the 2 year line, and scored, but it was nullified because Kiffen called a time out just before the snap. I was wondering who he was going to blame for that, but the football deflating guy has already been fired.

  21. marshall says:

    This is off topic, but does anybody know how to find Joe’s post from a while back in which he listed his favorite Christmas songs?

  22. Eric Steele says:

    I agree with Joe. If you go for the TD, you are deciding your fate right there with time left on the clock. If you don’t get the TD then your defense has nothing to play for. Your chances are better at getting the FG than getting the TD even at the 1 or 2 yard line. Hit the chip-shot and keep your team in the game. A lot can happen if the opposition goes 3 and out.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Keep in mind that Notre Dame would be getting the ball back with about 2:20 left. USC had no more than two timeouts remaining. It’s a long shot at best to think you can kick a FG, get the ball back, and score a TD with a Freshman QB playing against a top defense.

  23. csb669 says:

    No mention of Jim Schwartz challenging the unchallengable play?

    As for the TD vs Field Goal argument, I think you can argue both ways. The frustrating thing for me as a Browns fan is that Pat Shurmur will take one stance on such an argument, insist it’s the right call and then do THE EXACT OPPOSITE the following week. The guy flips like omelettes at a Waffle House…

  24. Unknown says:

    I think the right call was to kick a FG…because Kicking the FG, gives you an opportunity to keep the ball with an onside kick.

    At this point, you need to probably try an onside kick whether you score a TD or FG and on 4th down, you have to take the path that gives you the greater chance of retaining the ball.

    Assuming you score 40% of the time going for it…and 90% kicking a FG from that range, I take my chances on the FG and move on to the onside kick…Stay alive as long as you can.

  25. brhalbleib says:

    Two points:

    1) ND was crashing its corners so hard on those running plays that a naked bootleg would have the easiest TD that freshman QB scored in his life.

    2) ND also made a mistake late in the game when they punted with less than 30 seconds to go with their punter standing inside the 10. As noted by many above, USC needed two scores to win or tie the game, but when ND punted the most plausible way (in fact probably the only plausible way) for USC to get those two scores would be to block the punt for a safety, fair catch the kick off from the 20 and throw a Hail Mary. Punting was a major mistake because it gave USC their real only chance (if a very slim one) to score 9 points.*

    *I would be interested to know if anyone on USC’s coaching staff had the wherewithall to tell the team to NOT fall on the ball in the end zone if they blocked the punt, because since you need 9 points, not 7 and you get possession after a safety (but kick off after a TD), it would be better to get the saftey and the ball than the TD off a blocked punt

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  27. han yu says:

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