Supplemental material including comments on clock management in recent football games and errata for the book Football Clock Management
Copyright by John T. Reed
These items are in chronological order with the most recent at the bottom of the page. This page got so big that it began to download too slowly so I broke it into a separate page for various years.
In Football Clock Management, I told of a game in which the QB of the leading team stopped playing after the final gun sounded. An opposing player stuck out his hand offering congratulations. When the QB extended his hand to shake, the defender stole the ball and ran the length of the field for the game-winning touchdown.
I received an email from a player in that game. Phil Barnett was a junior tight end on the Shawnee Mission South High School team that lost the game. He gives these details. At the snap, there were about six seconds left. QB Butch Ross took the snap, ran around with and never took a knee. Shawnee Mission West free safety John Richert extended his hand to Ross after the horn. He stole the ball when Ross extended his hand and ran about 30 yards for the game-winning touchdown. This was a regional playoff game in front of a crowd of about 6,000 or 7,000. Sports Illustrated wrote a brief article about it.
The game ends on the whistle, not the clock, gun, or horn. To get a whistle, take a knee or run out of bounds.
Ever since my Football Clock Management book came out in September of 1997, I have been expecting to see something from my book in a televised game. It finally happened, I think. At the end of the Arizona-TCU game on 9/5/99, Arizona was ahead and had fourth down with the clock stopped by a TCU timeout. There were three seconds left in the game. If Arizona had just taken a knee, there probably would have been time left on the clock for one play by TCU. The game was at TCU so the finger on the clock was a TCU finger.
Instead of taking a knee, Arizona's QB ran out to the left losing about 15 yards on the play. After the final gun went off, he slid. That looked like a version of the quarterback keep sweep slide, a play which I believe I invented in my book. I had never seen or heard of it previously.
The time and opponent timeouts remaining at the beginning of that final series probably was such that they should have run a quarterback keep sweep slide on the first-down play. Waiting until the fourth-down play is cutting it awfully close.
The articles about the Michigan-Notre Dame game focused on the celebration penalty by a Notre Dame receiver. I have no sympathy for him. That stuff is childish nonsense. I agree it was an important play. But the more important play was the clock-management mistake made by Notre Dame. After scoring a touchdown to take a one point lead, Notre Dame wisely decided to go for two. However, they unwisely decided to call a time out to discuss it.
At the end of the game they needed that timeout. Timeouts should be used to increase the number of plays that you can run. That means you only call them when the game clock is running—preferably when the opponent is in their slowdown because that's when you save the maximum amount of time. The game clock is not running on a PAT. Notre Dame might counter that they needed to talk about it because it was important that they succeed with the two-point conversion. I wouldn't buy that. It was important, but Notre Dame should have had one or two two-point conversion plays in their game plan coming into the game. So call the darned thing and run it. What's the need or benefit of discussing it? The harm of calling a timeout to discuss it is that you may need that timeout later, which is exactly what happened.
A reader called to tell me about the 1999 California-Texas Shrine All-Star Classic game. He said TX was ahead by 3 at the end of the game. On fourth down, the TX quarterback quickly dropped back about ten yards then took a knee leaving one second on the clock. California's Kyle Boller used that second to throw a 70-yard touchdown pass to win the game. He is now contending for the starting quarterback job at the University of California as a true freshman.
Apparently, the Texas quarterback had not been taught the proper way to do the quarterback keep sweep slide and did not understand the objective. From the ten-yard drop, it sounds like his coach told him to do something other than a normal take-a-knee play.
For the second week in a row, Notre Dame ran out of time when they were within one score of winning and deep in enemy territory. With first and goal at the Purdue one-yard line, Notre Dame called a timeout. There were around 12 seconds left in the game. The TV announcers at the Purdue game commented repeatedly on Notre Dame's poor clock management, particularly on using timeouts to discuss plays. (The ideal time to call timeouts is when the opponent is running their slowdown offense.)
Notre Dame used the timeout to call a play with a false check (audible). But the running backs thought the check was real and went the wrong way and the quarterback was sacked for a nine-yard loss. Even though they had enough time to run at least two plays, the Irish were so discombobulated by the first-down play that they could not get lined up again before the clock ran out.
Your last play of the game should be one that your team knows cold. That would either be a regular play or a trick play that you have practiced the heck out of. In this case, it sounds like Notre Dame did not get enough reps of the fake check. Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie said, "...we've all learned that we shouldn't be in a situation like that where we have to check at all." I am not sure what he means by that, but he also said something to the effect that the confusion was a breakdown in coaching. Two plays should have been called in the timeout huddle and they both should have been solid, reliable, regular plays or maybe one regular play and a thoroughly-practiced special play. The design of the first play run should have been such that it would facilitate getting the second one off in time if the first failed.
With the clock running and five seconds left in the game, Baylor was ahead 24-21 on the UNLV 8. UNLV had no timeouts. That is an obvious take-a-knee situation. The clock-management rule in that situation is when you are in a take-a-knee situation, you must take a knee.
Baylor ran a dive. The ball was stripped, picked up one yard in the end zone by UNLV's Kevin Thomas, and ran 101 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Baylor lost 27-24. I believe that was the dumbest clock-management move of the decade. If anyone is aware of a dumber one, please let me know. The last guy who did something that dumb, as far as I know, was Bob Gibson, a NY Giants offensive coordinator who caused the 1978 "Miracle of the Meadowlands" loss to Philadelphia when he ran two dives during take-a-knee. He was fired the next day and never worked in football again and his head coach and operations manager were fired the day after the season ended.
Baylor coach Kevin Steele said he was "trying to create an attitude" with the play. That was sort of what Gibson appeared to have done in 1978. He refused to comment, but it appeared that Gibson was trying to punish a Philadelphia linebacker for hitting the Giants QB on the first take a knee.
The punishment was to have legendary fullback Larry Csonka run over the linebacker.
There is too much recently-fashionable "attitude" in today's major sports, and not enough plain old-fashioned competence. Too many people are stylin'. Too few are using good fundamentals---a problem which Baylor's blunder indicates is now apparently spreading to the coaches.
Down by two points and inside the Jets ten yard line, New England's Drew Bledsoe took a knee. Excellent clock management. Then he very deliberately watched the clock tick down. When it got to seven seconds, he called timeout. "Three!" I yelled at the TV. You don't call that timeout at seven seconds. You wait until three seconds so there is no need to kick off after the field goal. On that same day, the Cardinals let the clock tick down to four seconds before they called timeout and kicked the game-winning field goal against the Eagles.
That's the mistake Stanford's John Elway made in the famous Cal-Stanford game where Cal won with a five-lateral kick return. If Elway had waited as long as he should before calling timeout, there would have been no kickoff return. You only need one second to snap the ball after a timeout. The only reason you make it three is to make sure the ref doesn't think you waited until zero to ask for it.
New England won, but there was no reason for them to have risked the kickoff return.
Just before half time, a Cowboy fair caught a punt 57 yards from the Falcon's goal post. Time ran out during the punt. The teams then left the field. But ABC's Al Michaels immediately pounced on the opportunity for a fair catch free kick, which is thoroughly covered in Football Clock Management. Michaels explained that the Cowboys could have attempted a free-kick field goal even though there was no time left on the clock. That's where they kick the ball like a kick off. There is no snap, hold, or rush. The defense has to stay at least 10 yards away. The kicker can run at the ball from twenty yards back if he wants. Michaels pointed out that the only down side was that the kick could be returned if it came down within the 57 yards. But that's not much of a risk when you consider that place kickers routinely kick touchbacks from their own 30. This ball was on the Falcons 47.
I am really impressed with Michaels on this. Most announcers know even less about clock management than coaches, who themselves know scandalously little. Dallas's Chan Gailey screwed up in my opinion. He should have attempted the field goal. The three points would not have changed the outcome of the game as it turned out, but there was no reason to not go for it.
Let's look at all the games in one weekend to get an idea of how many games would have a different winner if the losing team had practiced better clock management. I will assume that the margin of victory must be eight points or less for the game to possibly turn on clock-management. Several games were won by wider margins: Cowboys 35, Cardinals 7; Jaguars 17, Steelers 3; Patriots 19, Browns 7; Rams 38, Bengals 10. The other games were all close.
The Titans lost (24-22) a close game which I watched on TV because it involved my local 49ers. First question is did the Titans have an opportunity to kill clock when they were ahead? Yes. In the second quarter, Tennessee was ahead and had possession. If they had killed clock when they were ahead (waiting until the end of the play clock to snap the ball, stay on thhe ground, etc.), could they have eliminated San Francisco's seven-point touchdown which came at 1:56 left in the first half? If they eliminate that score, they win the game.
Looking at the game play-by-play, Tennessee's first possession of the second quarter took 2:56. Examining each play reveals that's almost maximum slow-down pace. The only way they could have made it last longer would have been to avoid the incomplete pass on second and eight at their own 13. Excellent clock management.
Their second possession of the second quarter lasted 1:44. About the longest they could have made it last was 1:50. Not bad. San Francisco used a timeout during that Titan possession. Smart on SF's part. The titans never again had the lead. Bottom line: the Titans could not have eliminated the SF score at 1:56 left in the half with clock management alone. This was not a clock-management loss. By the way, this was a very well-played game and enjoyable to watch. The media made the story of the game Jeff Fisher's two-point conversion play call. I agree.
My other local team, the Raiders, played Sunday night and lost to Seattle. Could they have won with better clock management? The Seahawks scored a six-point TD with :59 left in the first half. Eliminate that score and Oakland wins. The Raiders were ahead from 11:05 left in the first quarter until the fourth quarter. Did they kill as much clock as they should during their possessions when they were leading?
The Raider's first possession after they took the lead lasted 7:28. In fact, they could have taken 9:10 on that possession without changing a single play call or result. (See the official play-by-play.) They should have been in a maximum slow down during that possession. They apparently were not. That violates sound clock-management principles. It cost them the game. Oakland's head coach John Gruden made a lot of angry faces during the game. But the fact is his team played well enough to win, but lost because he failed to manage the clock. He should be maddest about that.
I only looked at one possession. In fact, Oakland had several possessions during which they could have and should have killed clock. They mismanaged the clock by a very wide margin.
As usual, the media totally overlooked this clock-management point, which was the main story of the game. Had I been a TV or radio analyst during that first drive after Oakland took the lead, I would have commented on Oakland's failure to operate in a maximum slow-down mode and I would have warned that leaving that time on the clock could come back to haunt them. When Seattle scored with :59 left in the first half, I would have commented that score would not have occurred had the Raiders applied good clock management earlier in the half and that those six points may come back to haunt Oakland. Oakland lost 22-21. Q.E.D.
Minnesota won 21-14. Did the winning team score near the end of either half? No. They scored all their points in the first quarter. Did the losing team run out of time at the end of either half? Yes. Tampa ran out of time after a first-down play to their own 25 at the end of the second quarter and after a second-down play at the Minnesota 18 at the end of the game. Did they take every opportunity to conserve time in the second half?
No. According to the official play-by-play, they still had a timeout left at the end of the game! If they had called their first time out when they should, they would have had an additional 40 seconds when time ran out. When should they have called their first timeout? The official play-by-play is inadequate because it does not give the starting time for each play prior to the two-minute warning, but I would estimate it should have been called at around 5:45 after Minnesota's 12-yard run by Dunn on second down and ten at the Bucs 28. If the Bucs had followed the advice in my book Football Clock Management on when to call timeouts, they would have called it at the proper time and extended the game another 40 seconds. I cannot say for sure whether that would have meant them winning the game, but they had two more downs and ten yards to go for a first at the Vikings 18 when the game ended. Forty seconds is enough to run as many as seven hurry-up plays that stop the clock. If they had gotten another first down, the maximum number of additional plays they could run after the second-down-at-the-18 play would be six.
I have just been discussing the timeout so far. There is also the issue of whether they were in a hurry-up the whole second half as they should have been. Apparently not. For example, a nine-play Tampa drive in the third quarter took 3:17 or 22 seconds per play. That would be a somewhat slow hurry-up pace if the clock never stopped after any plays, but the clock did stop after four of those plays. So it would appear that Tampa was operating at a leisurely pace when they should have been hurrying and conserving every second. Football is a game of seconds. Every second you waste may be the one you need to win the game.
By the way, I know for a fact that Tampa head coach Tony Dungy has a copy of my book Football Clock Management.
In this game, which went to overtime, the Falcons kicked a field goal on the last play of the first half. Could the Ravens have prevented that, and thereby avoided OT, by killing clock when they had the lead in the first half?
Baltimore had a four-play drive that started at 5:26 left in the second quarter. It lasted 2:14 or 33.5 seconds per play. That's a partial slowdown. A maximum slowdown ought to use about 45 seconds per play. The Falcons 35-yard field goal came on a snap with :04 left. That was a penalty-enabled rekick of a 40-yard attempt that was wide right. If Baltimore had shaved another ten or twenty seconds off the half by being in a maximum slowdown during that possession, the field goal probably would not have been kicked and the Ravens would have won in regulation.
The Ravens had no other possession during the first half when they were ahead. In the second half, the game was tied at 10:14 left in the fourth quarter, too far from the end of the game for clock management to have prevented the tying field goal.
The Falcons never had the chance to win the game with better clock management, but they did have the chance to win it with a better fourth-down decision which is not clock management per se but is related to clock management.
The AP said Atlanta's Dan Reeves made a "major blunder" with :49 left in regulation by punting instead of trying a 53-yard field goal (inside the Georgia Dome). I agree. Both a field-goal attempt and a punt are scrimmage kicks and therefore equally dangerous. Both can be returned, although the field goal attempt is less likely to be returned. A successful field goal almost certainly wins the game. A punt just gives the opponent a chance to win. The punt was a touchback. An unsuccessful field goal gives the Ravens better field position for the last :49, but not much. I have not read Reeves' explanation. His post-game press conference that is posted on the Net did not discuss it except to say that Falcons kicker Morten Anderson is struggling lately. So let him miss the 53-yarder.
The Bills beat the Dolphins 23-18. Did the winning team score at the end of either half? Nope. Did the losing team run out of time at the end of either half? Nope. Miami kicked a fourth-down field goal on the last play of the first half and they did not have possession for the last 2:15 of the game. So this was not a game whose winner could have been changed by better clock management by the loser.
Miami's Jimmy Johnson did call timeout at 2:18 left in the game after a dive play that began with a snap at 2:25. That's a slow reaction to the end of that play. He should have called the timeout at about 2:22 if he was going to call a timeout. It's also incorrect to call a timeout within the 40 seconds before a two-minute warning in the NFL. He should have waited until after the two-minute warning to call that timeout, so he could get full 40-second benefit of it.
The skins kicked a field goal with :06 left to win. That sure sounds like a game the Panthers could have won with better clock management. The question is did the Panthers waste as much time as possible when they were ahead?
In the second half, the Panthers took the lead 36-35 at 7:57 left in the 4th quarter. Did they have a possession while they were ahead? Yep. The Panthers got the ball back at 5:58 with the score the same. They went three and out. But did they adhere to the slowdown rules during that possession? The possession lasted 1:39. Could the Panthers have made it last longer? No. They were apparently in a maximum slowdown during that possession as they should have been. They had no other second-half possessions when they were ahead.
The Panthers called timeout when they were on offense after their third play of the fourth quarter while the game clock was running. At the time, they were trailing, so they should be in a time-conserving mode. But you do not use timeouts when you are on offense with 14: 40 left in the game. You call timeouts when you are on defense and the opponent is in their slowdown. They were suboptimizing their timeouts by using them in that manner. But the basic idea of conserving time was correct.
The Panthers called their second timeout of the second half when they were on defense, but the Skins were apparently not in a slowdown at the time. That, too is suboptimal, but the Panthers should still have been in a time-conserving mode because they were still behind.
The Panthers called their third timeout at 1:11 left in the game while on defense. This was the only optimal use of a timeout in the second half by the Panthers. At this point, although the Panthers were still ahead, the Skins had passed the field position where they were likely to kick the go-ahead field goal. The Skins had just reached the Panthers 31 making the field goal a 31 + 17 = 48 yarder. Most NFL kickers can hit more than 50% inside 50 yards. That meant the Panthers' win probability was now below 50% so they should go to a time-conserving mode.
If the Panthers had used all three of their timeouts properly, the game would have lasted another 40 seconds or so. That would have given the Panthers that much time to mount a post-kickoff drive to kick their own game-winning field goal, but such a drive would still be unlikely to succeed.
So could the Panthers have avoided this loss with better clock management? No. They were ahead for only a brief period of time and they wasted as much time as they could when they were.
The Skins screwed up their clock management at the end of the game. They ran a dive that lost one yard on 2nd and 9 with :45 left in the game. They then called timeout with :10 left in the game and kicked the go-ahead field goal. That's incorrect. When you want to use a timeout to kick a game-winning field goal, you let the clock go down to :03 before you call time, not :10. The classic example of this mistake is John Elway calling timeout at :08 in the 1982 Cal-Stanford five-lateral kick return game. Because Elway did not wait until :03, his team had to kick off to Cal, who ran it back using five laterals for the game-winning touchdown through the Stanford Band.
After the Skins game-winning field goal, :06 were left. The Skins had to kick off and defend a return plus the Panthers' hook-and-two-lateral play from scrimmage which was snapped at :03. The Panthers' Eric Metcalf was tackled at the Carolina 40 ending the game. He, too, should have lateraled to a teammate or to the ground to "keep hope alive." Those two laterals were smart clock management on the Panthers part, although not enough to win the game.
The Bears scored the game-winning touchdown with :07 left in the game. The touchdown-play snap occurred at :12. Could the Saints have killed an additional :12 or more during the second half when they were ahead? Absolutely. They were ahead the entire second half until :07 left in the game. It would appear they had many opportunities to kill off that :12 during the previous 29:48 of the second half.
|Crude version of the pertinent clock-management rule||Saints violations|
|Leading team should avoid calling any timeouts when the game clock is running.||The Saints called their third timeout at 14:32 in the fourth quarter when the game clock was running. I cannot tell from the official play-by-play how many seconds were left on the play clock at the time. Any play clock time left when they called the timeout helped the Bears win.|
|Prefer run to pass when equally effective to avoid throwing incomplete passes and stopping the clock when ahead.||Saints threw eight incomplete passes while ahead in the second half.|
|Stay in bounds when ahead.||Saints runners went out of bounds three times while they were ahead in the second half. (Clock does not stop in NFL on out-of-bounds play until last five minutes of the game)|
|Wait until the end of the play clock to call timeout when ahead.||The Saints called their third timeout at 14:23 of the fourth quarter. That was preceded by a the first play of the quarter, a three-yard dive. That dive probably took five seconds at most. The timeout was called 37 seconds after the snap. That may have been before the end of the play clock. I cannot tell from the official play-by-play.|
|Wait until the end of the play clock to call for the snap when ahead.||The Saints possessed the ball for 15:10 when they were ahead in the second half. During that time, they ran 39 plays or one play every 23 seconds on average. If they were in a slowdown as they should have been, that average would be up closer to 40 seconds.|
This game is an example of poor clock management costing a team a win.
Did the Giants score near the end of either half? Yes. The play-by-play shows the Giants kicked a field goal with about :07 left in the half.
Were the Eagles ahead during the first half? Yes, they were up 9-7 at the end of the first quarter.
Did they go to a slowdown when they were ahead? In a drive that started at 12:30, they ran nine plays ending in an interception. The possession lasted 4:54 which is 294 seconds or 294 / 9 = 33 seconds per play. A slowdown would have been more like 40 seconds per play. They were in a medium speed when they should have been in a slowdown. The Eagles also called a timeout during this drive. If they did it at the end of the play clock, it is not the worst idea in the world. But in general, leading teams should not call timeout when the game clock is running. The play before the timeout call was a dive so the clock was running. Had they been in a slowdown, they would have killed 9 x 40 = 360 seconds or 66 seconds more than they actually killed.
The Eagles got the ball again at 3:56. They ran five scrimmage plays and a punt that took 1:39. The punt takes about seven seconds leaving 1:32 for the five plays or 92 / 5 = 18.4 seconds per play. That's not a slowdown. That's a hurry-up pace! In fact, they threw three incomplete passes on that possession. In a slowdown, you should prefer the run to the pass when the play you choose is equally effective at getting the yards you need. Had they run a slowdown, they would have killed 5 x 40 = 200 seconds, 108 more than they did kill.
Did the Giants score near the end of the game? No.
Did the Eagles lose this game because of poor clock management? Yes. They failed to slow down when they were ahead in the first half thereby leaving an extra 66 + 108 = 174 seconds or 2:54 on the game clock. The Giants scored what turned out to be the margin-of-victory field goal at :07.
Every second you leave on the clock when you should be wasting may be the one your opponent uses to beat you.
Did the Jets score near the end of a half? No. The play-by-play shows that they scored their final seven points with 5:57 left in the fourth quarter. Furthermore, they had a one-point lead already from a score at 10:52 left in the fourth quarter.
Could the Broncos have killed more than 10:52 when they were ahead in the second half? They had a 4:05 possession that started at 9:27 in the third. They had another that last 1:47 starting just before the fourth quarter. Could they have expanded those 5:52 to 10:52 with better clock management? No. They needed to play better football to win.
Did San Diego score near the end of either half? Yes. They scored a seven-point touchdown at 1:41 left in the first half. See play-by-play.
Did KC ever have the lead in the first half? You bet. They led until the above-mentioned score tied the game.
Did KC run a slowdown as they should when they were ahead? KC had the ball for 6:18 in the first quarter and 10:57 in the second. Subtracting the 1:41 when the game was tied, KC had the ball for 6:18 + 10:57 - 1:41 = 15:34. During that time of possession, they ran 39 non-turnover scrimmage plays and 8 turnover plays (punts, TDs, fumble). Let's say the turnover scrimmage plays average five seconds each. That's 8 x 5 = 40 seconds. That leaves 14:54 for the other 39 plays. That's 894 seconds / 39 plays = 22.9 seconds per play. That is a hurry-up pace.
Had they run a slowdown pace as they should, they would have killed an additional 39 plays x 17 seconds = 663 seconds or 11:03, more than enough to prevent that SD score at 1:41. Actually, its enough time to prevent both San Diego scores in the second quarter.
In other words, the Chiefs lost the game because they did a lousy job of managing the clock during the first half.
Oddly, neither team used a timeout in the first half. KC should have used their timeouts during their last possession of the first half. They ran ten plays in that drive. After six of them, the clock was still running. The possession ended with an interception as time ran out, but why start that play at :04 when you could have used two timeouts to add about 24 more seconds to the half. I would have saved the third timeout for a field-goal attempt, unless I got a first down within field-goal range. In that case, you could spike the ball on third down to stop the clock.
|Summary of NFL Week 4|
|Games that were decided by more than 8 points||4|
|Games decided by 8 or less||10|
|Games lost because of poor clock management||Seattle 22, Oakland 21
Minnesota 21, Tampa 14
Chicago 14, New Orleans 10
New York Giants 16, Philadelphia 15
San Diego 21, Kansas City 14
Here's what I mean when I say the game was lost because of poor clock management: If you replayed the game calling all the same plays and getting the exact results for each play, but changed the clock management decisions, the losing team would have won the game. This is not 20/20 hindsight. The correct clock management principles are listed in my book, Football Clock Management, which was written years before these games occurred. These five teams lost these games because they violated correct clock-management principles.
Both sound like the coaches who lost read my clock book and were trying to use clock management to win. I have no knowledge that either coach ever heard of me, it just sounds like they were doing garbled versions of what I advocate and relatively few are. NC led GA 24-21 with 1:14 left. It was 4th and goal at the GA two-yard line. GA had no timeouts left. NC coach Torbush figured he should go for the touchdown on the grounds that GA would be unlikely to drive 98 yards if the play failed.
This is similar to the 1995 Army-Navy game only there, Navy was up by 13-7 and there were more than eight minutes left. Navy went for the TD on 4th down instead of the FG. It failed, gave the cadets such an incredible emotional uplift that they marched 99 yards down the field and won the game.
NC coach Torbush made a similar decision with similar results. But let's talk about it.
I did say in my book that you should think twice about scrimmage kicks (field goals or punts) on fourth down. The play is dangerous and sometimes leads to an instant TD by the defense. However, thinking twice does not mean not kicking. In Navy's case, Army was already in a situation where they needed a TD to win. Adding a field goal would have the benefit of forcing Army to score twice to win. However, adding a TD would not have had any incremental benefit above and beyond the field goal benefit because it, too, would have forced Army to score twice.
Torbush was not up by six. He was only up by three. A successful field goal would have put him up by six thereby forcing GA to score a TD to win. So there was a real benefit to NC to succeed with a field goal. In other words, the risk of the blocked kick was probably worth it for the extra three points.
Mathematically, Torbush was right that GA was unlikely to go 98 yards in 1:10, the amount that would be left after the failed TD, if that's what happened. But as in the Army-Navy game, Torbush did not figure on the tremendous emotional uplift to GA of NC failing to get a single point after penetrating to the GA 2. The crowd and trailing team tend to think such a result proves God was on their side and they they are destined to win after all. GA marched down and kicked a FG to tie then won in overtime.
Auburn was ahead of MSU 16-3 with 4:06 left. Auburn coach Tuberville turned the ball over on downs at the MSU 28 rather than attempt a field goal. Tuberville said he thought blocking the field goal and running it back was MSU's only chance to win so he did not want to give them that chance. I agree. Unlike NC in the above game, Auburn already had enough points to be comfortable. Another three points would have required MSU to score three times instead of two, but most teams can prevent their opponent from scoring twice in a four-minute period. The benefit of the successful field goal was not worth the risk of the blocked kick.
MSU drove down and scored a TD making the score 16-10 Auburn.
With :50 left, Tuberville again had fourth down, this time deep in his own territory. He had the punter run out the back of the end zone for a deliberate safety, another tactic I urged in my book. Now the score is Auburn 16, MSU 12. I agree with this decision by Tuberville as well. Both before and after the safety, MSU needs a TD to win. There is little cost to the play, and it lets Auburn do an unblockable free kick. Free kicks travel much farther than punts.
MSU returned the kick then ran four plays culminating in a winning TD at :19.
At that point, MSU was up 18-16. Also in accordance with my book, MSU refused to attempt the extra point, taking a knee instead. I agree with that decision, too. In NCAA, the defense can run the ball back for a two-point TD on an extra point.
I think Tuberville did the right things regarding clock management. But in many cases, clock management decisions are based on probabilities. By definition, any probability other than 100% runs the risk that although you took the course of action most likely to succeed, that still leaves the fact that sometimes, it does not succeed.
I have not seen the official play-by-play, so I do not know how many timeouts the two teams had or how much time was used per play by the leading teams when they had possession. From what I do know, it appears that Tuberville made the right clock decisions, but that he and his team needed one more first down or needed to prevent MSU from getting one more first down. In my clinic, I say that to win football games you have to be able to get first downs and scores and to prevent your opponent from doing the same. Clock management can only change the number of chances you or your opponent has to pursue first downs and scores. Auburn lost in spite of courageous, competent clock management (based on my limited knowledge of the game). They lost because they fell a tad short at being successful moving the ball or stopping the opponent.
At the end of the Dallas-Giants game, the score was tied at 10. The Giants got to about the Cowboy 5-yard line with about 20 seconds left. They should have taken a knee, let the clock run down to :03, called time, then kicked a field goal. Instead, they tried to score a touchdown twice. Why?!!! Aren't three points enough to win? Finally, they took a knee then waited until the clock got down to :05 to call timeout. Read my lips coaches. You call that timeout at :03 or :02, NOT :05 or anything greater than :03. Why? Because the kick play will not use up more than :03 and you will have to kick off after the field goal.
So guess what NY had to do in this game? Kickoff to the Cowboys. They ran a three-lateral kick return which went for a game-winning touchdown, except that the first lateral was an illegal forward pass. The Cowboys were complying with the advice in my book Football Clock Management when they did those laterals (although they may never have heard of me or my book). They failed to give Deion Sanders enough practice at it so he would not do a forward pass. The Giants had the basic idea right finally. But they were wrong to try those two TDs, which also would have required a kickoff to Dallas, and they were wrong to not wait until the clock got to :03.
Apparently, the Giants coaches do not read this page. I discussed that :03 deal up above regarding the Patriots-Jets game.
Kentucky head coach Hal Mumme was one of the first to recommend my book, Football Clock Management. He read it while flying to and from an away game in 1997, the year the book came out, and said, "All coaches should read this book." During my two clinics for American Football Quarterly, Hal and I became friendly acquaintances.
So I was interested to see how he handled the clock in this close game. In general, he seemed to be following my book. He was ahead and complied with the slowdown rules, waiting until the end of the play clock to snap or call timeouts, staying in bounds, etc. However, on one play, when he should have been in a slowdown near the end of the game, one of his running backs ran out of bounds, stopping the clock. Even the ESPN announcers commented that was a bad thing to do. I suspect Mumme did not want the running back to do that. The Kentucky quarterback seemed angry with the running back.
I do not have the play-by-play to say for sure, but I suspect the one-point, field-goal victory by Mississippi State would not have occurred if that Kentucky running back had stayed in bounds on that one play. Going out of bounds saves about 40 seconds, which is enough time to run about seven hurry-up plays that stop the clock. Had the Kentucky player stayed in bounds, the game would have ended as many as seven plays sooner.
I do not know what Mumme wanted or why the back ran out of bounds, but I can make a generic comment about coaching to prevent that. In general, I think a player makes a mistake like that because he did not get enough repetitions of the situation in practice. It appeared in this case that the quarterback had enough reps. Some players need more reps than others. If you give a player "enough" reps and he still screws it up, then he probably should have not been permitted to carry the ball in that situation. Fundamentally, if a player goes out of bounds when he should not, the coach is responsible.
MSU screwed up when they called timeout for the field-goal attempt. They called it at five seconds. If you have read the articles above, you know this is the third time this season I have been compelled to remind readers that you call that timeout at three seconds, not five. As a result of calling it earlier, they had to kick off to Kentucky after they scored the go-ahead. The kick off was a touchback. Kentucky ran a quasi Hail Mary play which failed. But there was no reason for MSU to risk the kickoff and subsequent play.
By the way, I think it is a mistake for coaches to think that they have to send the ball all the way to the end zone on the fly on the last play of a game. Why not throw a shorter pass and lateral your way to the end zone? I am almost certain that would have a higher success probability than the fly ball to the end zone. You have to get to the end zone in one play. But you do not have to do it all in the air. And you are unlikely to succeed if you try to do it all in the air. I do not know what Mumme called in this game because the quarterback appeared to get hit as he released the ball.
As I was writing the above item, I was watching my local high school on TV. Just before halftime, Monte Vista called a timeout to kick a field goal. But they called it at :07, not :03. The kick was good, but they had to defend a kickoff and scrimmage play before half. Had they waited to :03 to call the timeout as they should, there would have been to kickoff or scrimmage play.
Coach had first down at one with little time left and tried to run it in. No timeouts left. He failed and time ran out. But he had enough time to throw a couple of incomplete passes then try the run. Should have done it that way.
On page 179 of Football Clock Management, I have a diagram showing how I think teams should tackle to waste time and increase the probability of a strip. While watching clips from various games on Sunday 11/14/99, I saw two Rams execute the exact play I illustrated in that page-179 diagram. According to the play-by-play, the Panthers completed a pass to Wesley Walls for a seven-yard gain. Billy Jenkins and Mike Jones made a moving, stand-up tackle during which Jones stripped the ball, picked it up off the ground, and ran it in for a touchdown.
Not only did the tackle take extra time and result in a successful strip, but the defender picked the ball up instead of falling on it (another tactic I strongly endorse) and ran it in for a touchdown.
I do not take credit for this play. I have no indication my writings had anything to do with it. But I point to it as an example of exactly what I was advocating in Football Clock Management.
Oakland lost to Denver because of poor clock management. Once again, Oakland coach Gruden scowled his way through most of the game with a facial expression that seemed to say he cannot believe how dumb his players are. Maybe his face does not match his thoughts and people who work with him know that. As in the earlier game I analyzed, if anyone had the right to that expression, it is his players. They played well enough to win this game, but lost because their head coach did not manage the clock correctly.
Did Denver score near the end of either half? Yes, they tied the game with a 53-yard field goal that was snapped at :12 left in the game. Should Oakland have killed time earlier in the half? Yep. Did they? Not as much as they should.
According to the play-by-play, the game was tied at 15 with 14:04 left in the third quarter. You cannot manage the clock in that situation. But at 11:00 left in that quarter, Oakland get within field goal range of a Wheatley run that gained a first down at the Denver 26. Since that is within field-goal range and the game is tied, Oakland's win probability was then above 50%. When your win probability goes above 50%, you must go to a slow down (exceptions for last possession of the first half and last possession of the game if you are down by 8 or less).
Did Oakland go to a slow down at that time? I cannot tell from the play-by-play if they waited until the end of the play clock to snap. They missed the 37-yard kick a field goal. 20/20 hindsight says its a good thing they did not slow down, but the decision to slow down was based on probability. It was the right thing to do at the time even though the field goal subsequently failed. If the Raiders did not wait until the end of the play clock for the four downs after the run to the Broncos' 26, failure to do so may have cost them the game.
There's more. They got the ball back at their own 20 at 6:47 left in the third quarter with the score the same. On the sixth play of the drive, Oakland got inside field-goal range. Once again, this raised their win probability above 50% meaning they should immediately go to a slowdown. The possession involved nine non-fourth-down plays and one fourth-down play, a field goal. When you are in a slowdown, you should be taking about 40 seconds per non-fourth-down play. Field-goal plays take about three seconds. 9 x 40 = 360 seconds plus 3 seconds = 343 seconds or 5:43. In fact, the possession lasted 5:21. That's maybe :22 left on the clock. Not bad. Remember Denver tied the game at :12 left in regulation.
Oakland called a timeout at 1:51 left in the third quarter during this drive. The clock-management rule is that you should not call timeout when your win probability is greater than 50%, but if you must, at least wait until the end of the play clock. I cannot tell from the official play-by-play if they waited until the end of the play clock to call this timeout. But because the possession lasted almost as long as it could, it would appear that they did wait until near the end of the play clock. I cannot complain much about this possession, at least without knowing the time left on the play clock for each snap and when the timeout was called.
Oakland got the ball back at 13:11 left in the fourth quarter. The possession was three and out. It should have lasted 3 x 40 = 120 + 6 (punt) = 126 seconds or 2:06. It actually lasted 1:30. It would appear that the Raiders were in a bit of a hurry even though they were up 18-15. It appears that Oakland unnecessarily left 36 seconds on the game clock in this possession when they should have been wasting the max. Remember, Denver tied the game with just :12 left in regulation.
Oakland got the ball back at 10:04 on their own 8. They ran five non-fourth-down plays then punted. That could have taken 5 x 40 = 200 seconds + 6 = 206 seconds or 3:26. In fact, the possession took 2:56. That's :30 left on the clock. Once again, every second you leave on the game clock when you should be wasting time may be the one your opponent uses to beat you.
Denver tied the game at around 4:10. Oakland had a three-and-out possession in which they could not manage the clock because they did not know which direction to manage it.
In the first play after the two-minute warning, Denver fumbled back to their own 20. On third down, Griese rushes for no gain. Oakland calls their second timeout at 1:54. The best time to call timeouts is when your opponent is in their slowdown offense. Given their field position, Denver's win probability was slightly below 50%. I think this was a good use of a timeout by Oakland. They were behaving as if they were in a hurry. This would be based on a last-possession-of-the-half rationale.
In your last possession of the game, when you are down by 8 or less, you follow a pace graph which is in my book Football Clock Management. Basically, that graph is a schedule which delivers you to the game-winning score so that little or no time remains on the clock for your opponent to come back. In the case of a tie game, you must decide whether you have a greater probability of scoring in regulation or of winning in OT. If you think your chances are better in OT, you just kill clock in regulation. If you think your chances are better in regulation, you go to whatever schedule delivers you to the go-ahead score around 0:00. Oakland figures to get the ball near midfield with around 1:40 left so they figure they need to be in a hurry-up. I agree.
Oakland got the ball at 1:42 at the Denver 35. This is just two yards from the 50% field-goal-success point for the average NFL kicker. Accordingly, their notion that they needed to be in a hurry-up, which made sense before the long punt return, now is wrong. The pace graph says they now need to go to a maximum slowdown. They only need to gain about ten or fifteen yards to have a greater than 50% success probability of kicking a field goal. I know you would like to get closer, but you need to be careful that you do not do anything dumb, like fail to operate in a slow down mode, in the process.
After a run up the middle by Wheatley, Denver called their first timeout at 1:29. Smart. Although the play started at 1:37. Dives don't take eight seconds. Denver was a little slow on the timeout trigger or the refs were slow to respond. Oakland should be in a slowdown and the opponent should do the opposite, including calling an immediate timeout after a play.
On 2nd & 6 at the Denver 26, Oakland threw an incomplete pass. Ouch! What did they do that for? From the Denver 26, they have a 26 + 17 = 43-yard field goal. Two running plays that averaged four yards each would cut that to 35 yards and forced Denver to use its last two timeouts.
Then they did it again on third down! Another incomplete pass. You do not throw incomplete passes when you are supposed to be in a slowdown. You do not take chances when you are already in field-goal range in a tie game.
The 43-yard field goal was good at 1:24. Now it's Oakland 21, Denver 18. Denver returns the kick to their 29. They start with 1:17 and two time outs left.
Denver then drove down the field and kicked the tying field goal. They won in OT.
Oakland did a number of things wrong, but the salient one is calling two pass plays on second and third down when they were already within field goal range in a tie game. The clock rule is when you are in a slowdown, prefer the run to the pass when each is equally effective. That is, you only pass when no running play is likely to get you where you need to go. Where did Oakland need to go with 1:29 left? Nowhere, really. Getting a little closer would be nice, but not enough to risk giving the other team more than a minute and two timeouts to come back at you.
If they had run two running plays, they probably would have gained four to eight yards and forced Denver to use its last two timeouts. They would then have kicked a field goal to take the lead with about 1:20 and no Denver timeouts left.
Denver used those two timeouts to stop the clock after pass plays of 8 and 6 yards. Without those timeouts, those plays would have used about an additional twelve seconds each or 24 seconds. If the game ends 24 seconds sooner, Jason Elam has to kick from the Oakland 38, a 38 + 17 = 55-yard field goal. The kick looked like it would have made it from that distance. But your confidence is a little lower at 55 yards and when you combine these 24 seconds with the seconds that could have and should have been wasted earlier in the half, Oakland could have ended the game around the time they kicked their own go-ahead field goal, in which case they win the game.
Exciting finish to this game. MSU kicked the game-winning field goal leaving :03 on the clock. This seems to be the year for leaving time on the clock after your game-winning field goal, which is a clock-management mistake. I was not paying close attention to the game, but it appeared that it was not fourth down, so Mississippi State should have run an out-of-bounds play or a dive or a take-a-knee depending upon whether they had a timeout to get the clock down to :03 before the field-goal attempt.
Mississippi tried to do a multiple-lateral kick return, which is correct clock-management. But the last guy who got the ball ran down the sideline and allowed himself to be knocked out of bounds after time had expired. He should have lateraled to a teammate or to the ground----somewhere, anywhere! Whatever you do, don't let yourself be tackled or knocked out of bounds when your team is behind and the clock has run out. I call this the "Keep hope alive" play. The final ball carrier in this case could have kept hope alive by lateralling, but he failed to. His team probably would not have won if he had done the right thing, but at least they would have had a slim chance. By keeping the ball, he killed all hope. I suspect Mississippi did not give their players enough reps of this multiple-lateral play so that all the ball carriers would understand that they must never allow themselves to be tackled or knocked out of bounds after the clock has expired.
Also, MSU got penalized for an excessive celebration before the kickoff, so Mississippi had a 15-yard shorter path to a game-winning TD return. The classic multiple-lateral kickoff return to win in the 1982 Cal-Stanford game was also set up by an excessive-celebration penalty against Stanford after they kicked what appeared to be the game-winning field goal. Coaches need to start practicing not excessively celebrating after the apparent game-winning score. Team after team has subjected themselves to this stupidity. I am serious when I say the teams must practice.