College football is all about decisions. Execution is important, but decision-making can be the difference between a win and a loss.
And while some are good, others are, well, not so good.
Let’s break down some of the best and worst calls made thus far in the 2016 college football season. Which coaches earned their pay to this point? Which ones are still trying to justify the big sums being paid to them? We’ve compiled the best and worst highlights below.
Getting it done
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema
The play: Arkansas’ end-around reverse pass on a two-point conversion vs. TCU in Week 2 to tie the game at 28 with 1:03 left in the fourth quarter.
Why it’s great: For one, it takes guts to attempt a trick play on a necessary two-point conversion. Keon Hatcher doesn’t exactly have the most arm strength or greatest mechanics throwing the ball. But this play is also perfectly timed. The Razorbacks do many conventional things offensively — they prefer to ground-and-pound you for 60 minutes — so busting out misdirection when TCU least expects it is a smart move.
Fun facts: The play was actually called “Frog.” Also, Missouri used a similar play on a two-point conversion against the Hogs two years ago.
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson
The play: A completed pass from Justin Thomas to Qua Searcy on a fourth-and-19 in the fourth quarter against Boston College in Week 1. The Yellow Jackets went on to score the go-ahead touchdown.
Why it’s great: Georgia Tech is a triple-option team. There aren’t many passes in the playbook anyway, let alone one for fourth-and-19. Still, Thomas is the best passing threat the Yellow Jackets have had in a long time. This was a strike and a good catch, plus good awareness to go past the sticks. There’s a case to be made that this is a bad moment for Boston College’s defensive staff, but this was a single play given up in an otherwise solid game plan.
Fun fact: That one pass play made up about 20 percent of Thomas’ passing yards (119) all day.
Texas A&M offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone
The play: Trevor Knight’s fourth-down goal line touchdown in overtime against UCLA in Week 1.
Why it’s great: This is Texas A&M allowing Knight to do what he does best — run the ball. It’s only a 1-yard run, but the context of it is important. This is Knight’s first game with the Aggies — he came in this offseason and immediately established himself as a stabilizing locker room presence and leader — and obviously his first overtime game in College Station. It’s also Mazzone’s first game calling plays with A&M. It was a gutsy call to opt for a touchdown instead of a field goal, and Knight showed great individual effort on the read and run because UCLA had it fairly well defended.
Fun fact: Knight never got loose running the ball against the Bruins. He had just nine attempts for 31 yards with a long of 8 yards. He did have two touchdowns, however.
Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin/head coach Nick Saban
The play: It wasn’t so much a single play as it was a decision to allow freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts an opportunity to redeem himself after losing a fumble in the first quarter. Hurts went on to account for four touchdowns in a 52-6 win over Southern California in Week 1, including this beautiful score.
Why it’s great: Hurts may be young, but his talent is unlike anything Alabama has had at the quarterback spot under Saban since 2007. He’s going to make freshman mistakes, but with his ability to run and throw, his ceiling is tremendously high.
Fun fact: By starting against Western Kentucky in Week 2, Hurts became the first true freshman quarterback to start a game at Alabama since Vince Sutton in 1984.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney
The play: Clemson’s failed run on fourth-and-4 late in the fourth quarter against Auburn up 19-13.
Why it’s bad: Um, hello? What’s Swinney thinking here? His team is up six and he’s clearly in range for Greg Huegel to kick a field goal. Rather than put his team up by nine points, which would have required two scores in 40 seconds on Auburn’s part, Swinney gave Auburn a chance for the win. A batted down Hail Mary — which still had a chance to be caught — gave Clemson the narrow victory.
Explanation: After the game, Swinney tried his best. “I played the odds and I wanted to put it in the hands of our defense. If they march down the field with 40 seconds and no timeouts I’m going to go down and shake their hands and say good job.”
Oklahoma State’s coaching staff
The play: By now, you know about Central Michigan’s Hail Mary lateral that gave the Chippewas a stunning win over Oklahoma State. You also know that it never should have happened due to a misinterpretation of the rules.
Why it’s bad: This wouldn’t be the story it is today if 1) Oklahoma State was never in a position to give up a Hail Mary lateral, and 2) if the Cowboys had stopped it. So what went wrong? First of all, teams practice Hail Marys (and defending them). It’s a great individual effort on CMU’s part, but Hail Marys are a low-percentage play. Oklahoma State should’ve had this covered. Secondly, even though this was an egregious error on the officials and replay booth for not catching their mistake, Oklahoma State’s staff could have jumped in as well. And they didn’t. It’s a failure on three levels.
Explanation: “That play has been in our playbook for 12 years now,” coach Mike Gundy said via ESPN, “and intentional grounding and an untimed down after the last play of the game never even crossed my mind. Of course, in hindsight, I wish I would have done it differently, but in the big picture, the game should have been over.”
Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield
The play: Taylor Lamb’s 7-yard run at the end of regulation against Tennessee in Week 1. The game went into overtime, where the Vols won 20-13.
Why it’s bad: A percentage of this is on Lamb to know how much time he’s dealing with at the end of the game. At the very least, this should have been a Hail Mary attempt. Still, it’s on Satterfield to have his offense prepared for this type of situation. The Mountaineers had a timeout remaining but opted not to use it while burning time. Lamb’s run at the end was just the cherry on top. This is bad awareness all around.
What the hell is the Appalachian State coach doing? Calling a screen and then not using your last timeout? Wow.
— John Martin (@JohnMartin929) September 2, 2016
Explanation: “It took forever to get lined up to get the ball snapped and ended up running out of time,” Satterfield said via the Charlotte Observer. “Obviously, hindsight, you’d call a timeout right there, no question about it. We were trying to save that to kick the field goal to win the game.”
Texas Tech defensive coordinator David Gibbs
The play: How about 15 of ’em to Arizona State running back Kalen Ballage in Texas Tech’s 68-55 loss. In 15 touches, Ballage accumulated 185 yards and eight touchdowns, the latter of which tied the FBS record.
Why it’s bad: Does this really need an explanation? Arizona State never made any secret about what Ballage, who lined up on some plays to take a direct snap, would do. The Red Raiders simply couldn’t stop it. Still — 12 yards per play? A touchdown 53 percent of the time Ballage touched the ball? That’s unacceptable, even for Texas Tech’s defense.
Explanation: “I don’t think so. Week one we tackled well. This week we did not,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said via 1340 The Fan. “We gotta find a way to get ’em on the ground better.”
Minnesota coach Tracy Claeys
The play: It’s only one that’s been talked about at length for the past two weeks. Up seven points with under two minutes remaining, Minnesota opted to try a two-point conversion against Oregon State in Week 1 instead of kicking an extra point that, if good, would have put them up by eight. The Gophers went on to win 30-23.
Why it’s bad: Claeys tried to explain the math afterward (see below), but the long and short of it was that it would have forced Oregon State to get two scores. Still, the reality is this failed attempt kept Oregon State within seven points. The Beavers still could have driven down and scored a touchdown if down by eight, but it would have had to execute another offensive play. Of course, if the two-point conversion by Minnesota works, Claeys probably looks like a genius.
Boise State coach Bryan Harsin
The play: A Brett Rypien interception in the end zone on third-and-17 against Washington State in Week 2.
Why it’s bad: There were 53 seconds left in the fourth quarter, and the Broncos were on the edge of field goal range. If nothing else, Boise State should have called a run play (or a safe pass) that kept the ball inbounds and forced the Cougars — down only three points — to use a timeout. It was a bad play call and bad execution on a underthrown ball picked off by Charleston White. It ended up not costing Boise State, but it made the Broncos hold their breath for a minute.
Explanation: Harsin isn’t apologizing for it, that’s for sure. “With me, certainly, I second-guess like everybody else does,” Harsin said via the Post-Register. “It’s always awesome when it works. Throw a touchdown, it’s like ‘you’re the man.’ Then you get a pick, ‘You should second-guess that.’ We’ll correct it. We’re not ever going to change that gunslinger mentality.”
Source: CBS Sports / College football coaches who have earned, wasted their paychecks through Week 2