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Michigan-Michigan State 10/17/15

Posted by John Reed on

Yeah, I know, a zillion of you are going to call me and tell me to put this in my clock-management book.

Basically, with 10 seconds left, MI had to punt. Mi took the lead 23-21 at around 9:00 left in the game. According to my book Football Clock Management, they should have been in a slowdown from then on.

The official play-by-play is at

Mind you, MI need only run an additional :10 off the clock to win the game. Did they unnecessarily leave :10 on the clock. Probably. Let’s see.

With 3rd and 9, MI threw an incomplete pass stopping the clock which saved :40 for MSU to come back. But my rule says to prefer the run to the pass when they are equally able to get the first down. With 3rd and 9, there may not have been a running play that was as likely to get the first.

My rule also says to wait until the end of the play clock to call for the snap when you are in a slowdown. During that possession, MI ran 101 seconds off the clock with a three and out with one incompletion. Figure the average play lasts :06 for :24. 

Then the time after the play would have been :40 x 2 = :80 on the 1st and 2nd downs. Add that to the plays themselves and you get :24 + :80 = 104 seconds. That’s pretty close to 101 seconds. If they had a 9-yard running play, like a reverse or a counter, ran it, and it failed to get the first, they would have won the game.

Let’s go to the next possession.

That possession started at 6:41 and ended at 4:54—a total of 107 seconds.  

It was another three and out only they got to run one play twice because of a defensive penalty. So that’s 5 x :06 = :30 + :40 x 2 = :80 for the two plays that did not stop the clock. That’s 110 seconds total—close enough to 107. Again, if they had run a running play on the 2nd and 9 that fell incomplete, they would have won the game.

How about their final possession that started at 1:47 left?

The first play, a run, lasted :05 after which MSU called their 2nd timeout. Smart on their part.

Their second play, also a run, lasted :06 after which MSU called their third timeout. Smart on their part.

Their third play probably lasted about :06 then MI let the clock run all the way down and called timeout. Okay. There was :10 left in the game. 4th and 2. They elected to punt.

My book, aside from urging them to avoid those two prior incomplete passes, says one option that should be considered, especially at the end of the game, is to drop back to pass on fourth down then heave the ball as high and far as possible down the field. I call it the long-distance spike. The normal spike is a quick way to stop the clock. The high and deep pass “spike” is designed to run off as much time as possible during the play. Since it is a fourth-down play, the fact that incomplete passes stop the clock is irrelevant. So does turning the ball over on downs

Key points are it must not be intentional grounding. Also, it must not be intercepted. So throw it out of bounds, but not so far out of bounds that it is intentional grounding. Also, the clock operator will not stop the clock as long as it is above fair territory. So you need it real high and real far and a receiver nearby to avoid penalty and out of bounds to insure no pick.

Because it’s fourth down. it will be MSU’s ball after the pass hits the ground, but if you managed to run off all the time during the drop back and flight of the ball, that will be irrelevant unless it is a pick, in which case the end of the clock is not the end of the game.

Actually, MI was in the lead for the entire second half so they should have been in a slowdown the entire second half, not just starting at the 9:00 left in the game point. Surely they had plenty of opportunities to take that :10 off the game clock. For example, in the drive that started at 10:51, they snapped the ball before the end of the play clock—in violation of my rules—thereby leaving about :20 on the clock during that possession. And if they had been following my clock-management rules, which were written 18 years before this game,just on that possession, that would have won them the game .

My book is big on taking intentional safeties as a way to run off clock, that was not an option here because MI was only up by two. You have to be up by three or more to take an intentional safety.

The snap was low, but the punter still should have caught it. Punters generally have nothing to do for much of practice. If they kicked the whole time, their leg would get an over-use injury. Should you make the long snappers snap bad for this purpose. No. Get non-long snappers to snap for the bad snap practice. Make your three strings of long snappers perfect and still have the punter and holder take lots of snaps from other, non-long snappers to be ready for the bad one from the regular long snappers.

The punter fumbled—actually it bounced off his hands back toward the line of scrimmage.  then was trying to run with the ball or something instead of falling on it. Although falling on it would have stopped the clock with :08 or some such deep in MI territory. That would not have insured victory for MI. They would have had to defend one or two plays from about their own 35-yard line.

Additionally, the celebratory dog pile by MS after the win severely injured one of their players. He will be out for a month or more. The modern propensity to dog pile and Gatorade douse has created dozens of famous injuries to players and coaches. It needs to stop. In my day, they carried the hero—player or coach—on their shoulders briefly. That rarely caused an injury. Some of the most severe, unnecessary dog-pile injuries have ruined careers and lives. Knock it off.

My summary advice for Harbaugh and similarly situated coaches in the future is to identify your long-yardage running plays and use them when you are supposed to be in the slow down tempo. After his team took the lead, Harbaugh had there possessions. In each of the first two, he unnecessarily threw an incomplete pass stopping the clock. Had he called a failed running play instead of a failed pass, he would have won the game.

Harbaugh is more at fault than the punter. True, the punter should have not fumbled. Maybe it was a bad snap. And it would have been better for the punter to secure the ball rather than whatever the hell he was trying to do with it.

The most annoying thing about losing a game for clock reasons is that it was so easy to prevent. No need to recruit better players. No need for coaching genius. Just follow my rule 1.20(b) (1.20 are the various rules for when you should be in a slowdown tempo) which says plainly and simply and unequivocally:

1.20(b) wait until the end of the play clock to call for the snap

My Rule 1.10 says to be in the slowdown tempo whenever your current win probability is greater than .500, which is it when you are ahead except when your opponent is driving close to the go-ahead score. MSU never had the lead in this game except when it ended.

My books on football coaching that cover special teams say to practice dealing with bad snaps every week in practice. And that’s what I did. I would guess Harbaugh did not do that with this punter. I have just two words for football coaches on that subject: Garo Yepremian. Harbaugh’s punter looked lost. Here are my two tackle football books that cover special teams:


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