I watched most of Notre Dame v. UCLA yesterday, the first college football game I’d seen this season. I’m not a big college football guy, so the next game I catch might be next year, who knows?
The game itself saw a stirring come-from-behind last-second touchdown by Notre Dame giving them a 20-17 victory. Lost in the euphoria was that it almost didn’t happen and wouldn’t have except for a grievous UCLA coaching error in the final minutes.
With just over two minutes to go, UCLA had the ball roughly on their own 30. They tried three running plays, all of which went nowhere, but which forced the Irish to burn timeouts.
The announcers were critical of this strategy, and perhaps rightly so since the Notre Dame defense stacked the box and it’s nigh impossible to gain yardage against eight or nine up. But one can appreciate the effort to kill the clock even if playing “not to lose” typically comes back to bite you (as it did here). Although I might have agreed that three runs was bad strategy, that’s not my complaint.
My complaint is that on fourth down, when the Bruins went to punt, they lined up, let the clock run down, and took a delay of game penalty. THIS IS STUPID. Literally, you gain maybe 1 or 2 seconds this way and lose five yards. Hike the ball with one second on the play clock and punt the ball.
Admittedly, there are times when the delay of game can be a useful strategy. For example, if you’re near midfield, out of field goal range, and your punter’s range is such that a punt from wherever he’s standing is likely to be deep into the end zone or out of the stadium or whatever. Then, OK, take the 5 yard penalty, give your punter a little more room to flex his leg and boot the thing. This assumes that he’s somehow unable to kick a bit more softly than normal, but hey, whatever. All of this comes, however, with one big caveat.
That caveat is this: If you’re within 10 yards of a first down, don’t take the delay of game penalty. Because if the defense if offside, that’s a 10 yard penalty itself, and that’ll be a first down. And that’s what happened yesterday. UCLA took the delay of game, moving them from fourth and eight to fourth and 13. When Notre Dame jumped offside all they could do was kick it again—the offside penalty wasn’t enough for a first down. If UCLA had just kicked the ball with one second on the play clock, and Notre Dame had jumped offside, UCLA would have had the ball first and 10 and could have knelt on the ball, run out the clock, and won the game.