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College football: Coaches in the spotlight on thrilling Thanksgiving weekend

by Berry Tramel Modified: December 2, 2013 at 1:15 pm •  Published: December 2, 2013
Auburn cornerback Chris Davis delivered the play of the year in college football against Alabama. (AP Photo/Montgomery Advertiser, Amanda Sowards)
Auburn cornerback Chris Davis delivered the play of the year in college football against Alabama. (AP Photo/Montgomery Advertiser, Amanda Sowards)

It was quite a college football weekend. And coaches were in the spotlight. Here’s what I saw.

* I can’t blame Nick Saban for trying a 57-yard field goal, IF he thought he had the kicker to do it. I have no idea what kind of leg or consistency that kid has. But if this was just a total flier, if this was Saban saying, he’s got no chance, but we’ll let him kick and maybe a bird will latch on and fly it through the goal posts, then it was a mistake.

The odds are long that something disastrous will happen. A block and return for a touchdown. A 109-yard return for a touchdown. It’s just as likely that you’ll get a roughing-the-kicker penalty and get to try a closer one.

But if you know the guy’s chances of making a 57-yard field goal are 1-in-50 or 1-in-100, then you don’t do it.

* The star of Alabama-Auburn was Gus Malzahn. Did you catch his game management down the stretch?

Know how many timeouts Auburn finished with? Three. Auburn took over at the Bama 35-yard line with 2:41, down 28-21. And Malzahn set up the Crimson Tide.

Auburn ran six straight option plays — all handoffs to Tre Mason, in the box. Mason gained 7, 1, 5, 5, 3 and 5 yards. Auburn reached the Bama 39-yard line, but the clock was ticking, under 50 seconds left when Auburn made its second first down of the drive, and the Tigers still had a ton of real estate to navigate. You knew that quarterback Nick Marshall would pull the ball at some point and run, but time seemed to be getting away from Auburn. You wondered what Malzahn was doing.

Here’s what he was doing. He was snookering the Tide. Finally, on first down from the 39, Marshall feigned a handoff to Mason and took off running. And everyone from Muscle Shoals to Montgomery transfixed on Marshall as everyone in Alabama white converged. Except Marshall pulled up at the line of scrimmage and tossed an easy pass to Sammie Coates, who was left unguarded and strolled in for a 39-yard touchdown.

Thirty-two seconds remained. Not enough time for Alabama to do much except try a 57-yard field goal that didn’t go so well.

Malzahn mastered the Bama defense and the clock. He methodically set up a home run play, luring in a defense and defensive staff that has been without parallel. Quite a possession.

* Not every great play comes from incredible insight. Last night on the radio, I heard an Auburn representative tell how the Tigers came to putting Chris Davis back in the end zone during the 57-yard field goal try. Seems as if defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson radioed down from the pressbox after he saw what was about to occur and told Malzahn that no way could the Alabama guy kick a 57-yard field goal, so why not put a guy back there to catch the ball and run it out?

Davis was commissioned, and the rest is history.

Except remember who Ellis Johnson is. He was Larry Fedora’s defensive coordinator at Southern Miss. When Fedora went to North Carolina, Johnson was elevated to the head coaching job. The Golden Eagles went 0-12, and Johnson was fired.

Now, he’s one of the toasts of Auburn. It’s a short walk from the outhouse to the penthouse.

* Michigan-Ohio State was a thriller as well. When Michigan cut Ohio State’s lead to 42-41 with 32 seconds left — 32 seconds left; where have I seen that before? — the ABC cameras panned to the crowd, and the Michigan fans were going crazy. The band came into view, and the band was playing the great Wolverine fight song, “Hail to the Victors”, except one renegade musician was not playing. He was yelling, with two fingers up. “Go for two.”

And Brady Hoke did the right thing. The Michigan coach ordered a two-point conversion. Win the game right there. Or lose it. As you know, Michigan lost it. Quarterback Devin Gardner threw into coverage, Tyvis Powell intercepted for Ohio State and the Buckeyes had the victory.

But Hoke did the right thing. It was a monumental effort for Michigan to stay that close. The Buckeyes scored easily. The Wolverines scored with much more difficulty. Michigan failed to stop the Ohio State run game all game long. Failure to stop the run is a death sentence in overtime. Michigan’s chances were much better with its offense on the field, three yards from victory.

Gardner made a poor decision to throw the ball into traffic, but Hoke made the right decision to go for two.

* By the way, I support Malzahn’s decision to kick the extra point with 32 seconds left. Auburn was a big underdog but was in a different spot than Michigan. Auburn was running the ball well, and Alabama’s field-goal game was a disaster. The Tide had missed three at that point and would miss another. You’re in trouble in overtime if you can’t kick a field goal and you can’t stop the run.

It all made me long for the old days, pre-overtime. One of the great moments in sport was a thrilling college game in which a team down seven points scored later. And the game came down to a 2-point conversion. Go for two. That was a rallying cry. It made for great drama.

Now, with sometimes never-ending overtimes, drama is delayed. Drama delayed is drama denied.

* The coaching feud between Baylor’s Art Briles and TCU’s Gary Patterson is strange. Sure, there’s tensions between coaches of territorial schools. There’s tension between Bob Stoops and Bill Snyder, between Mike Gundy and Mack Brown. But they don’t let it spill into the public marketplace. They don’t act it out.

Patterson apparently was upset with the sideline antics of Baylor’s Ahmad Dixon, who was ejected for targeting and walked off smiling and blowing kisses to the TCU crowd. Classless? Sure. Scandalous? No. Not compared to Ohio State’s Marcus Hall, who was ejected from the Michigan game for fighting. While walking off the field, he hurled his helmet to the ground and lifted both middle fingers to the sky at the Michigan crowd.

Patterson spent five minutes of his post-game press conference railing on the situation, saying he doesn’t coach his players to do that. As if Art Briles does. I have no idea what kind of extra penalties Briles has in store for Dixon, or Urban Meyer has in store for Hall, but what exactly was Briles supposed to do about it during the game?

* Malzahn and Briles deserve consideration for national coach of the year. But Duke’s David Cutcliffe ought to win it. The Blue Devils beat out Miami, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Pitt and Virginia for the ACC’s Coastal Division title. Nobody coached a team better than Cutcliffe coached Duke.

* Fabulous strategy by Bo Pelini, who after a 38-17 loss to Iowa declared that if “they want to fire me, then go ahead.” Reverse psychology. Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst announced Sunday that Pelini would keep his job. Dare them to fire you? Maybe that will become the new trend.


by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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