Clarifications: Despite blowing a two-touchdown, fourth quarter lead, Michigan State held on to upset presumed Big Ten favorite Wisconsin in East Lansing. It was feverish and exciting, but it was hardly a “shocker.” Then 5-1 Michigan State was also ranked in the top 20, they were playing at home and they had pulled off that exact win last season. Give all praise to Michigan State but the result was hardly unthinkable. The strong possibility Michigan State would win was the reason for the hype surrounding the game.
It has been called such, but was Kirk Cousins’ pass to Keith Nichol a true Hail Mary? Desperation is a key component of “the Hail Mary” pass. With a low probability of victory, a team launches it toward the end zone and needs a metaphorical prayer. Cousins’ throw was a deep ball. It was the “Hail Mary” route on a video game. The problem is that Michigan State was not losing at the time it was thrown. There was no desperation. It was a carefree chance to win the game with minimal risk of backfire. The Spartans went for it and succeeded.
Risk Assessment: Bret Bielema’s decision to call timeouts in the last minute backfired. Michigan State drove to attainable throwing distance and won instead of running out the clock. That doesn’t mean it was the wrong decision. Every choice made in a football game comes with risk. The odds with that decision were in the Badgers’ favor. Wisconsin had Michigan State pinned 2nd and 21 and then 3rd and 8, two positions favoring the defense. The choice was to let MSU run out the clock or try to get the ball back and win.
Kirk Cousins, for all his desirable qualities, has a tendency to flake out under duress and turn the ball over. He looked rattled. He almost had lost the game on a fumble the previous play. The probable outcome was not Cousins driving down the field and throwing a deep ball into the end zone for the win. It was Wisconsin getting the ball back to a hot Russell Wilson, with a couple chances to get them into field goal range. The potential reward outweighed the risk.
Bielema had the fortitude to act accordingly. That quality is the reason he lost that game. It’s also the reason he wins quite a few of them. You want a bold, competent risk assessor as a head coach. You don’t want a “riverboat gambler” who leaves results open to chance. Dumb decisions occasionally work. That’s not a reason to make them. Tommy Tuberville’s gambles were stupid. The risk of failure outweighed the potential benefit. It’s folly to be overly cautious with a lead. It’s worse to be flippant with one.
Tuberville passed up a field goal to go for it on fourth down inside Oklahoma’s 10 with a 17-point second-half lead. There was a strong possibility it would cost Texas Tech the chance to extend the game to three touchdowns. The extra four points was not worth the lost three and the momentum swing. More bizarrely, he went for it again on fourth and four with a fake punt inside his own zone up two touchdowns. The risk of that backfiring outweighed the benefit of getting the first down.
Tommy Tuberville is the type of gambler riverboats give free drinks. The Red Raiders did not hold on because Tuberville’s willingness to throw caution to the wind spurred the team forward. They won because Oklahoma hurt themselves in the red zone and missed field goals.
What We Thought They Were. The BCS formula is unimpressed with Stanford, which says everything one needs to know about the BCS formula. The Cardinal crushed a ranked BCS conference opponent by 44. They put up 615 total yards and 65 points without turning the ball over. They had the Heisman favorite at quarterback going against a weak secondary, and hardly needed to use him, rushing for 446 yards and five touchdowns on 44 carries. According to the one ranking system that matters, Stanford soiling themselves as 20-point favorites and scraping by on a last-second field goal would have counted the same.
Clemson indeed pulled “a Clemson.” In 2011, that means putting up sick offensive stats and overwhelming a decent opponent expected to trouble them. Seven different Tigers scored touchdowns. The defense bottled Giovani Bernard and forced six turnovers. Whether Clemson has the fine-tuning to scalp a top-tier program in a BCS game is a question, but Dabo’s boys will be favorites to go undefeated until they arrive there. The Tigers may finally be reaching their potential, but their past will leave us bracing for the inevitable collapse.
Oklahoma State keeps on rolling over decent opposition, and earning BCS formula cred along the way. Shockingly, it was defense (4 turnovers) and the running game (138 yards and three TDs from Joseph Randle) that made the difference. The eye test may favor Stanford, but BCS Top 20 Kansas State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma are still left on the docket. They may not be the second best team, but if the Cowboys win out, they’re playing for a BCS Title.
Not Such a B1G Deal. Wisconsin losing virtually assures the Big Ten will miss the BCS Title game for the fourth straight year and, consequently, fail to win a BCS Title for the ninth straight year. The Big Ten does not even have a team ranked in the BCS Top Ten compared to the SEC (3), the Big 12 (3), the Pac 12 (2), the ACC (1) and the MWC (1). Don’t fear. The BCS knows where its bread is buttered. Deserving or not, two Big Ten teams will be toasted in early January.
BCS Elimination. Well, Mr. Hyde did come out at night. Notre Dame’s dark side returned after a four-game hiatus. Some of the faults were familiar: multiple turnovers and abandoning the running game at the first opportunity. The Irish also added a new wrinkle, utterly failing to get USC off the field. Notre Dame forced one “three and out” the entire game. The “out” was the Trojans walking off the field after a touchdown pass after inheriting the ball on the Notre Dame 18. We might have to (gasp!) credit Lane Kiffin for his coaching performance. Notre Dame, Northwestern, Michigan last week. Adidas really should just stop making special uniforms.
Updating Resumes. Rick Neuheisel’s UCLA lost 48-12 to a team that had lost ten straight against FBS teams and fired its head coach. Houston Nutt’s Ole Miss team showed some fight in a narrow 29-24 loss to conference power Arkansas. The trouble? Nutt left Arkansas for Ole Miss. The loss doesn’t credit Nutt’s motivational ability. It highlights the gap that has opened between the programs since Nutt changed sides. Nutt should treat media members better. He will be a colleague next year.
Add Turner Gill’s name into the hot seat discussion. Keep it there. Development takes time, but teams that are developing show flashes (see Stanford 24-23 USC in 2007). Kansas is just awful. The Jayhawk defense is an abomination, allowing an unbelievable 50 points per game. They are the country’s worst unit with 8.0 yards per play allowed against FBS teams. Only three other teams are averaging more than seven. Kansas’ opponents combined would lead the nation in total offense. Gill has a great track record as an assistant. But he only won five FBS games twice in four seasons as the head man at Buffalo. He’s hardly a proven commodity worth the benefit of the doubt. The only question is what the program values more: losing a season or losing the buyout money.
[Photo via Getty]