Thursday, October 25, 2007

2. Decisions

Second in a series.

Not sure if I have ever, ever, seen a game with so many gigantic coaching decisions to analyze. Consider LSU's last drive alone, on which Tubby had to decide:

1. Whether to use both timeouts to save time on the clock for the offense
2. Whether to use one timeout to save clock and save one to ice the kicker
3. To use neither and double-ice him
4. To use one to ice and save one for the offense's drive (which would have been a poor choice)

as well as supervising all the usual defensive calls, all while Miles had to decide:

1. When the offense was in field-goal range at all
2. If they were, whether to accept that field goal try or try for the end zone
3. Whether to try for the end zone or try to push further down the field for an easier field goal

... while also accounting for time and the timeout in his pocket each and every step of the way. Fascinating, excruciating stuff, the exact sort of thing that makes this currently the best-played, most exciting rivalry in America. Four years, four bona fide classics. Can any other series at this level (i.e. at the point where a BCS conference title is at stake) make that claim? I don't have the time to seriously investigate, but I bet the answer is "not quite."

As for Miles's final call, everything I would say has been said already by Michael and Brian. I have been stunned by how many pundits, bloggers, etc. have simply ignored the obvious fact that the LSU timekeeper was busy watching Hee-Haw reruns or just getting back from a nice long visit to the john or in the middle of another endless Lord Palmerston v. Pitt the Elder debate, or whatever he was doing. If he does his job, no one's talking about Miles having testicles for brains. The only counter is that Miles should have tried for a more makeable field goal, but with that strategy comes a bushel-ful more risk of interception, sack, chaos, etc.

Tubby's endgame decisions are less defensible. In a vacuum, the squib makes sense. Your kickoff coverage unit has proven itself unreliable this season; your defense has meanwhile proven itself, by and large, to be the team's greatest strength and a damn-near impenetrable force when on its game. It makes every bit of sense in the world to put the game in the defense's hands rather than the kickoff team's.

But the game wasn't being played in a vacuum or on paper or any other peculiar Phantom Tollbooth-esque venue, and in the all-too-real confines of Death Valley LSU needed only a field goal and Auburn's defense had been shredded like so many incriminating documents all half long. Every other kickoff until that one yes, squib away. But at some point adjustments have to be made. Even Auburn's best-case scenario put it on the 30, and the defense just couldn't be expected to hold from there, either, with as much time as LSU had to work with.

From my viewpoint that wasn't Tubby's only error, either. Given how well Cox had directed the last drive, given how well he's done all season with the game in the fourth quarter and balanced on a wire, and given what Byrum has likewise accomplished to date, I think you burn the timeouts and give them a chance to win it with a field goal of their own. Having a less-exhausted defense wouldn't have hurt Auburn's chances of forcing a long field goal, either.

But I can't be too tough on Tubby. For starters the criticism of his failure to challenge that last-drive spot is off-base; it's oh-so-easy for those of us with a glowing yellow line across the field to say the guy fell a half-yard short, but they don't have that benefit on the sideline and even if they did, risking a timeout just to force LSU to sneak the ball a half-yard for a first-down might not be the best play, either.

More importantly? His team was ready to play, again. They executed as well as they possibly could against one of the best, if not the best, team in the nation, again. They did it on the road in a nauseatingly difficult place to play, again. Am I still unhappy the game ended the way it did? Yes. But I am not unhappy with the effort, preparation, or in general the coaching decisions.

Tubby didn't bring his "A" game. But I'll still take his "B+" game against the likes of LSU any day of the week.

1 comment:

Richard said...

Thanks for that analysis. Darn, you do have the facts down cold when it comes to analyzing a game. I agree with every thing you just said. Thanks for the links as well, because the "Miles is a nut!" stuff, though pretty funny, was getting a bit stale.

I also know that this one was going to be a roller-coaster (as a opposed to a horror-show). It was that and as you pointed out, the small details matter in a game like this one. I suspect our coaches learned something here, as well as our young players. We'll see soon enough. But, as you noted, they didn't need to learn how to fight!

War Eagle!