The Worst Decisions Made by College Football Coaches This Year
Here's the thing about a lot of awful coaching decisions: They're just great coaching decisions in unpleasant disguises.
Most of the decisions on this list (except for the truly awful, clock-bleeding ones) would have looked ballsy and brilliant had they been executed properly, or just caught a little luck.
But they didn't, and the coaches who tried them looked like goats afterward.
In anticipation of another great weekend in armchair coaching, here are the worst decisions (some with video!) made by college football's leading men this year.
Danny Hope Lends a Timeout to the Irish
The wisdom of this call remains debatable, but it is still questionable enough to land on this list.
Purdue was leading Notre Dame by four and had stopped Robert Hughes on second down with 36.9 seconds to play and no timeouts.
The clock was ticking, the Irish were scrambling...and that's when Danny Hope made the controversial decision to call timeout.
I agreed with Hope's decision at the time. Assuming that the Irish would still have time to get off two plays and probably score, Hope needed to retain some time on the clock for the possibility of a field goal response.
But when Charlie Weis admitted that the Irish were going to spike the ball on third instead of running a real play, suddenly Hope looked like the one who'd been had.
Spiking the ball not only would have put the Irish at a huge disadvantage (there was still enough time to run two plays), it would have stopped the clock and preserved Purdue's timeout in the event of a score.
Hope's timeout effectively gave the Irish time to set up the right play and two more chances to score. That second chance is what ended up costing Purdue the win.
Bill Stewart Goes for it on Fourth Down a Touch Too Soon
I'm rarely opposed to going for it on fourth down; actually, I'm in the camp that says coaches don't go for it enough. But I was disgusted when, with 5:45 to go in the fourth quarter and down a touchdown, Bill Stewart's Mountaineers went for it on 4th-and-9 from the 28-yard line instead of kicking the field goal.
In my mind, there's just too much time left, and too many factors opposing that decision.
First of all, from a statistical perspective, there's a big difference between 4th-and-9 and 4th-and-3. Fourth-and-3 can be picked up on a complete pass, a run, or a scramble, but the statistics definitely caution against going for it above, say, five or six yards to go.
Second, the 28-yard line is a 45-yard field goal. Tyler Bitancurt hit a 45-yarder in WVU's win over Liberty, so it wasn't out of his range.
Assuming Bitancurt makes it, a field goal would have cut Cincy's lead to four. That way, if Cincy scores a field goal on their ensuing possession (as they did) WVU could have tied the game on their touchdown instead of scoring and still being down a field goal.
If Cincy scores a touchdown on their ensuing possession, WVU would still be down two possessions, but could make it up with a touchdown, a two-point conversion, and a field goal instead of two touchdowns.
If WVU makes the field goal, they kick off instead of turning the ball over on downs, which probably favors the field goal in terms of field position.
Plus, it wasn't like WVU's passing game was getting hot. In fact, Jarrett Brown didn't throw a complete pass for the entire drive, picking up a 3rd-and-11 on a 23-yard scramble.
All Cincy had to do was spy on Brown and make sure he stayed in the pocket and the turnover was all but guaranteed.
Cincy's winning margin was Bitancurt's unattempted field goal.
And as we all know, this wasn't the first time Bill Stewart has blown late-game decisions.
It's a very good thing the focus was on the awful call that ruled a fumble as a touchdown , because there was just as much egg on Stewart's face by the end of the night.
Charlie Weis Outcoaches...Himself?
Granted, Notre Dame had been cutting the Michigan secondary to ribbons all day. With the ball, the lead, and 2:29 to go, running would have burned the timeouts, but completing a pass on 2nd-and-9 would have entirely ended Michigan's chances at a comeback.
But why throw against Donovan Warren, the All-Big Ten cornerback? You've got Shaquille Evans lined up against Boubacar Cissoko on the other side. Cissoko has gotten torched, outjumped, outplayed all day. Why not have Evans be Clausen's first read?
And don't tell me it's because Michigan's safeties would have helped. Michigan doesn't have any safeties.
Clausen throws a go route to Golden Tate, Warren makes a spectacular play, it's third down, and a little pressure rushes a pass to Shaq Evans on the comeback route.
We all know how this one ended, right?
Pat Narduzzi Empties the MSU Secondary and Loses on the Slant
We've all run the slant in goal line situations for the NCAA video game series, right? And how many times has it been picked off and taken to the house by the outside linebacker who drops into the throwing lane?
Well, Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi wants to hear nothing of "dropping into zone coverage." At MSU, they blitz, and they blitz hard.
The Spartans were clinging to a four-point lead and had held the Hawkeyes out of the end zone on three straight plays.
But Ricky Stanzi and WR Marvin McNutt convinced Ken O' Keefe to call the slant pass.
Watch the play: Tony Moeaki motions, bringing the other defender in McNutt's area with him and signaling to Stanzi that MSU is in man coverage.
There's no safety help in the middle for MSU's cornerbacks. In spite of the blitz, against which Iowa's line played heroically, it's a pitch and catch.
That's a very bad call.
Weis Leaves a Down on the Board Against USC
Not to pile on here, but after converting on a fourth-down attempt and benefiting from a personal foul call, Charlie Weis held onto Notre Dame's last timeout and also chose not to spike the ball, letting the clock run after the chains were reset.
In the process, Weis allowed a good 10 or 15 precious seconds to drip off the clock while the Irish got set on the line of scrimmage. I remember thinking how they didn't look nervous in the least.
The result was the game ending on third instead of fourth down. Who knows what Clausen and the Cardiac Kids could have accomplished with a little more time and one more shot at the end zone?
Yale Men, Too Smart for Their Own Good
Yale's coach wanted to "keep the pressure on" and show his team wasn't "scared" in the annual Ivy League rivalry game.
And that's all well and good, but faking a punt on 4th-and-22 from your own 25 is asking a little too much of your special teams unit, even if it would have iced the game.
Harvard stopped the fake, scored to go up 14-10, and held on to win, proving once again that common sense is the better half of intelligence.
Les Miles Apparently Has Time to Bleed
I've questioned Les Miles' legitimacy as a coach before . I don't think guts and shoot-from-the-hip intuition are any substitutes for preparation and playing statistical advantages...and I hate to say I told you so on this one.
Miles and the LSU coaching squad were caught with their pants WAY down when they failed to call a timeout after a screen pass attempt on third down against Ole Miss.
A full 17 seconds ticked off the clock before the timeout was called, leaving just enough time for the completion and the spike to end the game.
One needs little intuition to sense that not everything is legit down in the Bayou.
Tressel Flubs, Pryor Throws, the USC Win Gets Squandered Away
I'm not crazy enough to say that Ohio State punting on 4th-and-11 was incorrect. The yardage was too long, and at that point the Buckeyes needed to play field position.
Nor was it a particularly "stupid" call like those that preceded it.
But I, like a few notable others, took enormous issue with Jim Tressel's play-calling prior to the punt, specifically in asking for Pryor to pass on second and third down.
This decision represented what was (and may continue to be) wrong with the Ohio State offensive play-calling.
Why would you not have Pryor or Brandon Saine or Boom Herron running on those plays? Why would you risk an interception or an incompletion that stops the clock?
Get a first down and the drive is over, the game is won, the streak against BCS teams is over.
Instead, Pryor threw incomplete on second and was sacked on third down, forcing 4th-and-11 and putting the game back into the hands of the Trojans.
Jim Tressel recruited Pryor on the promise that Pryor would be prepared to play in the NFL while in Columbus. And yes, that means grooming him to pass under pressure.
But in situations like this, Terrelle Pryor is a kind of anti-Vince Young, forced to rely on skills that come least naturally to him at the most crucial times, bottled up and sheltered from taking the game onto his shoulders.
With the game on the line, Pryor fell short, and though he blamed himself, it was Tressel (and whoever else is calling the plays) that was truly to blame.
Instead of allowing him to rise to the occasion, Tressel folded under the weight of that promise, and Pryor and his gifts as a runner were squandered, Big Ten championship or no.