Sweet 16: Sparking victory
By Terry Bowden, Yahoo Sports
October 8, 2007
With two minutes and 10 seconds left in the game and down by three points Saturday, LSU stood at the Florida 6-yard line facing a huge decision on fourth-and-1. Quarterback Matt Flynn looked to the sideline for the call from coach Les Miles … It was a call for the ages.
There are fourth-down calls and then there are fourth-down calls.
In a stunning 28-24 come-from-behind victory over the defending national champion Gators, Miles made five fourth-down calls. Every one was successful, but it was the final one that I just can't get out of my mind.
From an old SEC football coach who has made a ton of calls right down there on that same field in Baton Rouge, I want to tell you, that one was a lot tougher than any of you can ever imagine. I have sat in staff meetings for hours trying to decide what play I would call on a fourth-and-1 to win the game and, believe me, there aren't many you would bet the farm on. Miles not only bet the farm but also the season, the national championship, and maybe even his own legacy. That call right there took a huge set of nerves – nerves so big they probably drag on the ground behind him. As a matter of fact, from now on, I think I might just start calling him Sparky.
Some people are saying that the fourth-and-3 call with just over 10 minutes to play was the gutsiest call of the day. Down by 10 points on the Gators' 6-yard line, Miles went for it instead of kicking the field goal that would have made it a one touchdown game. It was a great call that ended with Flynn finding Demetrius Byrd in the end zone for a touchdown. Still, it wasn't in the same league as that final fourth-down call. With more than 10 minutes left in the game, if LSU had not made it, the Tigers would have had Florida backed up deep in its own territory and a quick three-and-out would have given them the possibility of two or three more shots at the goal-line. It is the finality of a call that makes it difficult to make, and there was just too much football left to be played at that point in the game.
But let's get back to that final call and see if I can explain how tough it really was. There are actually three different fourth-and-1 calls that you can face in a game. There is a fourth-and-short-1 call, a fourth-and-1 call and a fourth-and-a-long-1 call. A fourth-and-short-1 is about the length of the ball or less and a well-executed quarterback sneak is almost a guaranteed first down if you are any good at all up front. Then there is a fourth-and-1 call which is a true yard. This is the situation where you hand the ball off to your running back, and as long as everybody puts a hat on somebody up front, you should be able to hit the line of scrimmage and fall forward for the necessary yardage. Finally, there is the fourth-and-long-1 call which can be almost anything under 2 yards. This one is the killer. Now, you're talking about handing the ball off deep to an I-tailback who probably has to find a crease of some sort in the defense. What makes this so unpredictable and so dangerous is that if the outside rushers on either side of the defensive front don't respect the naked bootleg by the quarterback and pinch inside, they are unblocked and can actually hit the tailback in the backfield. If you remember, Florida did pinch the backside end and he hit Jacob Hester in the backfield, although he still somehow made it to the first-down marker. What I'm telling you is that, basically, fourth-and-a-long-1 is nothing more than a crap shoot where you hope the defense respects the bootleg and does not sell the farm on the run.
And, if I remember correctly, this final call was somewhere between a fourth-and-1 and a fourth-and-a-long-1 call. Miles could have made the easier call and played for overtime. He could have kicked a field goal and left it up to his No. 1- ranked defense and the loudest fans in college football to win the game. And, most likely, they would have done just that. But with a confidence/arrogance that all the great ones seem to have at just the right time, Miles made the call that said to those Tiger players – and anyone else who was watching – these guys are special and they are going to take this victory right here and right now.
That's why it was such an unbelievable call. That's why LSU is still undefeated and ranked No. 1. That's why, the way things are going, it just might be one of the greatest calls in LSU history.
And that's why I now call him Sparky.
If Week 5's string of upsets was not enough to convince you that anybody can beat anybody in college football, then Stanford's seemingly impossible victory over Southern California last Saturday should have sealed the deal. In what now can arguably be called one of the greatest upsets in history – move over Michigan/Appalachian State – Stanford (-40.5) proved that no point spread is enough to ensure victory or guarantee defeat.
Of all the teams picked as the preseason favorites to run the table and play for the national championship, only one, LSU, remains unbeaten.
Terry Bowden is Yahoo! Sports' college football analyst. For more information about Terry, visit his official web site.
Updated on Monday, Oct 8, 2007 10:20 am, EDT