College Football: Finding the Bizarre When We Least Expect It
Before we embark on yet another exciting college football weekend, I'd like to look back at a particular event that occurred in the pigskin world last weekend.
No, I am not talking about Florida clinching the SEC East, and I am not discussing the woes of the fading Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
I'm not even going to bring up the overtime thriller between Alabama and LSU, which was a fantastic game, by the way.
Rather, what I am about to share took place in just another everyday midseason game.
While surfing between college football games Saturday, I decided to stop on ESPNU to catch a few minutes of the Syracuse-Rutgers game (yes, really).
I wasn't expecting much from this Big East matchup, but that would change dramatically as the game ensued.
Although Rutgers had a disappointing 3-5 record, they were a much better football team than the woeful Syracuse Orange.
Syracuse had posted a 2-6 record to date, and it looks as if Orange head coach Greg Robinson is on his way out the door soon.
Yet despite the struggles of Syracuse this season, they had taken an early 14-0 lead over Rutgers on the road.
However, Robinson's team blew their early lead over the Scarlet Knights, but they were still in a good position to possibly win the game.
As the clock ticked down in the waning seconds of the second quarter, Rutgers and Syracuse were deadlocked in a 17-17 tie.
Rutgers quarterback Mike Teel and the Scarlet Knights were mounting a late drive in hopes to score and take the lead before heading into the locker room.
Of course, Syracuse linebacker Jake Flaherty had other plans, intercepting a Teel pass and setting up the Orange on the Rutgers 37-yard line with 40 seconds left in the first half.
With less than a minute to go and only one timeout remaining, Syracuse looked to move the ball a little closer for kicker Patrick Shadle, who came into game 11 for 12 on field goal attempts for the season.
However, instead of calling a running play and taking a timeout to set up the field goal, Robinson decided to let quarterback Cameron Dantley take a couple shots at the end zone.
Although Robinson's coaching made sense in that an incomplete pass would stop the clock, Dantley's two straight incomplete passes left Syracuse with at third and long with little time left.
Robinson elected to throw again, a gamble that paid off well when Dantley scampered 12 yards on a quarterback scramble to the Scarlet Knights' 25-yard line for a first down.
While it appeared that Dantley had gone out-of-bounds on the play, it turned out that he was actually down inbounds, forcing Syracuse to take their final timeout with eight seconds remaining.
Syracuse now faced a difficult decision.
Would they try to squeeze in a final try for a touchdown before attempting a field goal, or would they take the conservative route and go for the "easy" points?
After the timeout, Shadle and the Orange field goal unit trotted out onto the field to attempt a 42-yard field goal and take a 20-17 lead into halftime.
Here's where the fun starts.
Just before the snap, Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano called a timeout, but the play continued and Shadle's attempt was blocked by the Rutgers defense.
Unfortunately for Rutgers, Schiano was granted his timeout, and Syracuse would now have a second opportunity to make the field goal.
However, Schiano apparently didn't learn his lesson the first time as he called another timeout just before the snap.
This time, Shadle's 42-yard attempt sailed wide left, but his error was again erased by a Rutgers timeout.
Now Shadle faced a third opportunity to give the Orange a halftime lead, and Schiano had no timeouts left, ensuring that this next kick would count.
The ball was snapped. The hold was good. Shadle reared back his right leg and swung it forward, connecting his cleat with leather.
The ball sailed toward the uprights, but it suddenly drifted off course and sailed wide left once again.
Given three opportunities to put his team on top before the half, the normally reliable Shadle had missed three straight field goals.
A collective sigh of relief swept through Piscataway, New Jersey, as each team headed into the locker room tied 17-17.
As halftime coverage began, I sat there in disbelief.
How, when presented three opportunities, could a Division I-A kicker not convert a 42-yard field goal?
It turns out that the "easy" points were not so easy after all.
I guess that it's just been that kind of season (or four seasons) for the Syracuse Orange.
Although the Orange had blown it big time, they are not the first team to bungle an opportunity for "easy" points, and they certainly will not be the last.
There are no easy points in college football, even if your team is an offensive juggernaut like Florida, Oklahoma, or Texas Tech.
Returning to the original point, what intrigued me so much was the manner in which Syracuse had not converted the last-second field goal.
A kicker with a field goal accuracy over 90 percent had botched three chances to give his team the lead.
Rarely, if ever, is a scenario like that seen on any level of football, whether it is high school, college, or professional.
Some of the most interesting plays in college football come on smaller stages or when we least expect it.
As fans, we miss out on many games that display intriguing events, both phenomenal and baffling, and it really is a shame.
However, sometimes we get lucky and find that "diamond in the rough."
Last weekend, I witnessed an eventful 10 minutes of college football that normally would have passed me by.
Luckily, I stumbled upon it.
I hope that you will get to experience an abnormal play at some point this season, maybe even this weekend.
Keep your eyes open.
You never know what you're gonna miss.
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