November 21, 2009
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Ole Miss 25, LSU 23. It's generally bad form to undermine a tight, dramatic game by dwelling on a mistake in the closing seconds, but occasionally the comedy of errors is too staggering to ignore. So LSU coach Les Miles, grab your $3.75 million salary and step right up for the full-frontal clock management gaffe of the year, as narrated by CBS Sports' Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson:
Miles has made his reputation as one of the SEC's elite coaches by being aggressive, flying by the seat of his pants and occasionally flouting conventional clock management, and what's ironic about the closing flub in Oxford is that he was on his way to confirming that reputation. Down 25-17 with three-and-a-half minutes to play, LSU drove for a touchdown to pull within 25-23 with 1:23 on the clock, and recovered an onside kick to give itself a chance to win in the final minute. After hitting a 26-yard pass from Jordan Jefferson to Brandon LaFell to move within range of the winning field goal, it looked like a miracle in the works.
Instead, the Tigers went backwards on consecutive plays, first on a sack for a loss of nine yards (followed by LSU's second timeout) that knocked them out of field goal range, and then on a third down screen pass for a loss of seven that backed LSU into a desperate, 4th-and-26 hole. And instead of following Clock Management 101 by calling their final timeout immediately after the third down play ended in-bounds, though, the Tigers let 16 seconds tick off before finally expending the last TO with only nine seconds and no timeouts remaining to get off the fourth down play and any other snaps that followed it.
So when Jefferson improbably completed a 42-yard pass to Terance Tolliver at the Ole Miss six on fourth-and-forever as the clock ticked down to one second, LSU had two options: a) Rush the field goal team (which should have been waiting on the sideline for just this situation) on for a winning attempt before the officials were able to move the chains, set the ball and begin the clock again; or b) With such little time to get a new 11 men on and the current 11 men off, hurry the offense up to the line to take a final shot into the end zone. It had to be kick or throw into the end zone, and the decision had to made pronto -- in fact, it should have already been made, during the timeout preceding the fourth down heave. Clock Management 101, Section 2: With almost no time and no timeouts, you must have two plays ready in the if the first play doesn't score.
The one option the Tigers definitely did not have at their disposal was spiking the ball to stop the clock: With only one second left, once Jefferson took the snap and put the ball into the turf, there would be no time left to kill.
Naturally, Jefferson and the offense scurry to the line, looking at each other and to their sideline in confusion as the officials set the ball, start the clock and ... end it. Jefferson inexplicably attempted to spike the ball, anyway, but the Tigers didn't even get off the snap before the clock hit all-zeroes.
So, coach: Why'd you let 16 seconds tick off before calling timeout after the loss on third down, leaving the team with no time to execute the two or three more plays it would need to convert the fourth down and get the field goal team on? What was the plan for the final play after those precious seconds were wasted? There ... was a plan, wasn't there?
Paraphrased: "We knew we were going to run out of time if we tried to attempt a field goal, so we were trying to attempt a field goal."
Basically, then, there was no plan. We read you, coach, loud and clear. Good luck with the oh-so-forgiving Louisiana media this week.
[UPDATE, 9:15 p.m. ET] Ah, I see, there was "a want for more time on the clock." Now it's all becoming clear.