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2017 NCAA and NFL championships clock-management mistakes

Posted by John Reed on

Alabama lost the national NCAA championship game on 1/9/17 because they did not use all the play clock when they were ahead in the second half.

Atlanta may have lost the national NFL championship game on 2/5/17 because they did not use all the play clock on two possessions when they were ahead in the second half.

Alabama loss to Clemson

On their last touchdown drive, Alabama got the ball @ 4:38 left in the game and ran six plays. Plays that are not incomplete or go out of bounds take right around 46 seconds if the team follows my max slowdown rules. Mainly, wait until the end of the play clock to call for the snap.

Football Clock Management book

Alabama, which had lost the lead for the first time in the game 28-24, could have run 5 x 46 seconds off the clock plus about six seconds on the final play rather than 46 because the clock stops after a TD.

That would be 5 x 46 = 230 plus 6 = 236. But their first play was an incomplete pass knocking 40 off that total taking us down to 196 seconds or 3:16.

In fact, the drive only took 2:31 which left :45 on the table. Clemson scored the winning TD with :01 left. At :45, they were at the Alabama 32 yard line. That would require a 49-yard field goal which is not automatic and which would only have tied the game.

But the more important clock management issue is whether Alabama was in a max slowdown for the entire second half. I see no drives where ’Bama was in a max slow-down. They SHOULD have been in a max slowdown the entire second half even when they fell behind (which was a pace-graph situation—see my book Football Clock Management which has a chapter on the pace graph).

So all Alabama had to do to win the game was read my book and comply with the slowdown rules which a team should generally be in when they have the lead and sometimes when they are driving for a score just before the end of the half.

But Nick Saban could not be bothered. I guess it was not an important enough game. The fact that coaches continue to violate my clock management rules 10 years after my book came out continues to amaze me. As far as I know, all NCAA and NFL teams have my book. No one has explained to me why waiting until the end of the pay clock to snap when you are ahead is a bad idea.

As I say in the book, “every second you leave on the clock may be the one your opponent beats you with.” Alabama left MINUTES on the clock in the second half of this game.

First half, too

Actually, they made the same mistake in the first half. Did that affect the outcome of the game? They let Clemson score with 6:09 left. You probably cannot take that much off the clock, but I would not rule it out.

Alabama should have been in a slowdown for almost the entire game except for the end of the first half when they should have been doing what the pace graph says. Alabama was ahead for almost the entire game. If they had, they would have won. Millions a year and salary but not enough incentive to manage the clock.


Did the Falcons lose the Super Bowl because they violated my football clock management Rule 1.10(a)? It says,

When your win probability is greater than .500, use a maximum slowdown tempo

A slowdown tempo is defined by my Rule 1.20. It has 23 sub-rules. It would be interesting to discuss all the violations the two Super Bowl team committed, but for now I will just discuss Rule 1.20(b):

Wait until the end of the play clock to (1) call for the snap

Football Clock Management book

If Atlanta had complied with that rule in the second half, they might have won the game. This assumes that all play calls, defense calls and play results were exactly the same.

Patriots field goal at the end of the first half

The Patriots kicked a field goal with :02 left in the half. That scoring drive started at 2:21. So the question is did the Falcons unnecessarily leave enough time on the clock during the first half for the Pats to get into field-goal range?

They should have switched to the slowdown tempo when they first took the lead. That came at 10:37 left in the second quarter because they scored on the previous possession at 12:15 left in the second quarter.

Were they in a max slowdown tempo during that drive that began at 10:37? In a max slowdown, a play that does not stop the clock takes about :46. Plays that stop the clock, like a penalty play, stop the clock after about :06. The drive took 1:47 and had five plays only one of which was an incomplete pass. So they could have used 4 x :46 = 184 seconds plus the final TD play of :12 in this case = 196 seconds or 3:16.

So they could have used 3:16 and they did use 1:47. So they left 3:16 - 1:47 = 1:29 on the clock unnecessarily. At that point in the second quarter, the Pats were at the Atlanta 29-yard line. They probably could have kicked the field goal from there.

What about the second half?

The Falcons had six possessions in the second half. They had the lead for all the but the last possession. The Pats’ tying score came at :57 in the fourth quarter. Could the Falcons have taken that much or more off the clock in the second half?

On their first possession, they went three and out and burned 1:53. Excellent clock management.

On their second possession, they ran eight plays, scored a touchdown and used 4:14 doing it. One play went out of bounds, another was an incompletion/penalty, and a third was the clock-stopping TD. Those plays should take about :06 each or :18 total. That leaves five plays where they could have run off about 5 x :46 = 230 seconds or 3:50. Add the :18 from the other three plays and you get 4:08. So another excellent job of clock management. 

Their next possession was a three and out. It took 2:15 which is even better clock management than their prior three-and-out possession.

Their next possession was three plays, the last of which was a fumble to the Pats. That took 1:20. Two plays at :46 = 92 second or 1:32 plus the fumble play is another :06 for a total of 1:38 so they left about 1:38 - 1:20 = :18 on the clock on this drive.

The next possession was a five and out drive ending in a punt. It took 2:26. It could have taken 5 x :46 = 230 or 3:50 plus the punt for let’s say :06 for a total of 3:56. So it would appear they left 3:56 - 2:26  = 1:30 on the clock. Add the :18 from the last possession and you get 1:48 total left on the clock unnecessarily.

The Pats’ game-tying TD came on the next possession at :57. Would NE have scored the TD if they had to do it 1:48 - :57 = :51 sooner? At 1:48 left in regulation, the Pats were at the Atlanta 8 yard line. It took them two plays to get it in, so it is not certain that they would not have scored. The Falcons would have had a better chance of winning if they had been as good at managing the clock on the last two possession as on the earlier ones in the second half.

Football Clock Management book

Was the Super Bowl a clock-management loss for the Falcons?

Maybe. Waiting until the end of the play clock on those two possessions could have shaved off one of the two plays the Pats needed to score the tying TD. 

Every second you leave on the clock may be the one your opponent uses to beat you.

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