Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Best Terrible Football Game You Ever Saw

I once did a long hiking/skiing trip across a glacier with a big group. It was 15 miles and 5 days long. One of the people on the trip knew nothing of trekking, so they thought it would be a good idea to bring a Jumbo-sized jar of peanut butter. It probably weighed 10 lbs. Of course, it got vetoed, but then somebody thought it would be funny to stick that 10lbs of peanut butter into the bottom of somebody's bag. After the first day of trekking, that person found it and they of course tried to stick it in somebody else's bag for the next day.
Which meant that each day, the real challenge of packing up and moving was not waking up or making breakfast on a glacier or putting on skis. the real challenge was making sure you didn't have the peanut butter.

that was Les Miles and Houston Nutt this weekend. Over the last few minutes, as Ole Miss tried to give away an 8 point lead like it was a 10lbs jar of peanut butter, LSU kept digging it out of thier bag and hiding it back in Nutt's sleeping bag.

Flipping between it and the brilliant work of Oregon/Arizona, I ended up sticking with this game because it was just so damn awful.

I think there were no less than 9 plays down the stretch that were absolute abomination of coaching/heads-uppedness, each so bad that it was enough to lose the game if it ended right there, each negating the previous horrific play as they went. In fact, though the final moment was simply astonishing in a vacuum, in context it looks more inevitable: with a single second left, trailing by 2 on the Ole Miss 6 yd line, LSU simply could not lose if they did ANYTHING right so they did the only thing that would allow them to lose from such a postion - nothing. They simply stood there and did nothing, which is to say they put exactly as much effort into a hand-delivered game-winning moment on the field as they would have if they had never left Baton Rouge.

So despite doing everything they could to stick the game in Ole Miss' backpack, LSU went home with the peanut butter.

To recap the Roddick-Federer Wimbledon Endless Tie-Breaker of Worst Coaching Ever:

1 - Ole Miss 25-LSU 17. Up by 8 in the final minutes, and perhaps after enjoying last week's WWII IN HD on Discovery, Ole Miss' Nutt continues a game-long commitment to banzai-charge blitzes, leaving screens and isolated receivers wide open, play after play, which LSU finally picks up on, allowing them to trip their way downfield for a TD.

2 - Ole Miss 25-LSU 23, Take 1. On the 2pt conversion to tie the game, LSU throws a fade to the corner (terrible call, see pt 3) which doesn't work but draws a PI in the endzone, forcing a replay of the down from 'half the distance', ie the 1.5 yd line. Sort of a Fail-push - the play didn't work, but the corner was crappy enough that his only option after getting smoked at the line of scrimmage was to commit the PI.

3 - Ole Miss 25-LSU 23, Take 2. ON the replay, LSU was now on the 1.5 yd line, essentially just a decent - not great, decent - push from the Oline from the endzone on a sneak, a dive, an off-tackle, a Tebow-jump-pass or whatever. Also, play-action is pretty much always lethal in this situation. AND THEY RUN THE SAME PLAY!! A fade to the corner!
   Let's do a thought experiment: How often could LSU's excellent-receiver/below-average-QB make that play without any defense on the field? Helmets and shorts, at gamespeed? Less than 75 percent, I bet. I know, I know: its 'almost impossible to defend' - right, because its almost impossible to complete. The angles, speed and timing of the play have to be the hardest way in football to make 2 or 5 or 10 yards. The receiver can't get jammed even a little, can't slip, has to nail the route and the throw is at least 15 yards to a tire-swing of a target, just over the corner but just short of the sideline and the guy has to haul it in, usually while falling and upside down, and have possession/one in bounds. A double reverse-halfback-pass-lerooski wouldn't work more often? Can we just blame Desmond Howard for the prevalence of that play? We'll just add it to his list.
So going for the same high-difficulty play twice in a row - the second time needing only 1.5 yards with a superior OLine - the second is an overthrow and no catch, and now LSU has probably lost the game.
Now LSU has to onsides it...

4 - And here is the part where Ole Miss' Dexter McCluster should be investigated: LSU's kicker attempts an onsides by skipping the ball DIRECTLY toward him.  Here, with a chance to seal away the game, McCluster (Ole Miss' best offensive player) ie either a) in on a fix or b) has a moment of panic and suddenly the words "10 yards!" explode in his brain and he somehow thinks that the RECEIVING team has to wait 10 yards on an onside kick.  So he freezes.
  Rather than fall on a ball kicked directly to him, winning the game, he matadors out of the way at the last second.
  And then McCluster turns out to be not just stupid but unlucky when the ball bounces directly to LSU's Brandon Lafell running in full stride, an onsides-recovery so perfect that it looked like a tape of Lafell throwing the ball to the ground played in reverse.
  Here's the lesson here: this was NOT a good onside kick.  LSU didn't "earn" this one. They needed a) Ole Miss' best player to inexplicably brain freeze and b) a 1-in-10,000 perfect bounce to recover it.

PEANUT BUTTER HIDDEN IN POCKET OF: NUTT (yeah, that was so bad it goes right past Duece, and now LSU can't possibly lose this game, right?)

5 - Now LSU miraculously has the ball with a short field and all the momentum that Houston Nutt could give them, and quickly marches down to the red zone in one of those, 'no way we're losing'-drives. Whereupon Les Miles promptly calls two drop-back passes, one of which draws a sack for a loss of 9, then on 3rd-and-19, an East-West screenplay that gets blown up for a loss of 7. 4th-and-26, with 26-seconds left.
  So again: Les Miles' terrible playcalls turned a first down in the redzone into a 4th-and-26 near the 40.
   At this moment, LSU has one timeout.

6 - As Douglas Adams put it, "and then time began to seriously pass."

7 - LSU calls timeout. 4th-and-26, 9 seconds left.
You read that right: Les Miles let three downs worth of time - 26 seconds down to 9 - tick off before calling timeout.
But Miles DID get the timeout, the team comes over to plan the next play and now we can expect LSU to retake the field with a brilliantly crafted game-winning mix of discipline, trickery and preperation.

8 - LSU does something 100% chaotic, graceful, athletic and unrehearsed and then shits on the dinner table.
Let's look at at it slowly:
 - On the 4th-down, LSU throws a long bomb (creative!), the Ole Miss guys are in perfect position to knock it down/pick it off and the LSU guy - tall, fast, insanely good at football generally - just flat outjumps them. I'll entertain arguments that Ole Miss should have jammed LSU's recievers at the line or whatever, but really it was a play that was decided entirely by recruiting and immune to coaching and that's that.
 - In fact, the only coaching in evidence was this: LSU's QB - preposterously - threw the ball SHORT of the endzone, ie none of LSU's coaches screamed in his facemask "THROW IT IN THE FUCKING ENDZONE".  THat's the extent of 'coaching' that could be deduced from that play.

9 - the dinner table: the LSU catch was made at the 6 and the clock stops for the first-down at 1 second (that was a best-case for LSU, by the way, since if the guy had caught it and landed on his feet rather than his butt, that second would have ticked off).

Now with the clock stopped for the first down, coming out of a timeout no less, of course LSU has its FG team ready to run out, get set and kick the chip-shot game winner.

Except they don't do that at all, and the regular offense lines up, with no sign of a kicker to be seen.

But OK, maybe they are going to run the Patented CashMoney Fade to the corner, or maybe they run a QB keeper at an unsettled Ole Miss D, or maybe they snap it and the QB drops back and runs in circles for 15 seconds waiting for one of his antelopes-in-pads to get open which they surely will against Ole Miss' undersized, burned-twice-just-in-this-blog-post corners.

And here is what happens: LSU's QB snaps it and spikes it, for a "stop the clock" kind of play, and up in the pressbox, the grizzled, white-haired, seersucker-suited Ole Miss' country-gentleman of a timekeeper grins just a little as he flips the switch to run the clock one second. They don't call it "One-Mississippi" for nothin'.


Les Miles, enjoy that Peanut butter.