Coaches making it a game of chance

Late gambles yield thrilling wins for Akron and Oregon, but heartbreak for Air Force

National notebook

September 15, 2006|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,Sun reporter

Football coaches are typically conservative, but the first two weeks of the college season have produced examples of daring decisions at the end of games.

Akron could have tried a field goal to tie North Carolina State and send their game into overtime. Instead, it ran for a touchdown as time expired in a 20-17 road win.

Then there was Oregon's fake-field-goal option play at Fresno State, with lumbering quarterback Brady Leaf pitching to kicker Paul Martinez for the winning score.

"That was a [gutsy] call," Fresno State coach Pat Hill told The Fresno Bee after his team's 31-24 loss.

Considering Pete Carroll's chancy calls last season for USC, perhaps boldness is becoming a trend.

The methods of madness vary, as well as the reasoning behind them.

During a 31-30 loss at No. 13 Tennessee, team confidence apparently came into play in Air Force's choice of going with a late two-point conversion attempt instead of the one-point kick that would have tied the game. Coach Fisher DeBerry said the choice to forget overtime was made before the touchdown, a plan crushed when defensive end Xavier Mitchell easily stopped Chad Hall short of the end zone.

"I just wanted to send a message to our team, but it was also analytical," DeBerry said. "It was a play that we had success on and it was a play we hadn't come back to in a while."

For others, moxie wasn't an option. For Denver Johnson, it was a standard decision to have his Illinois State team go for a two-point conversion and a win at Kansas State, but it failed in a 24-23 loss Sept. 2.

Against a Division I-AA team, he might have gone for overtime. And against lower-level teams, perhaps the Redbirds wouldn't have suffered two tackles for loss, a sack, a holding penalty and a bad shotgun snap on the final possession.

"We were on the road, we were I-AA versus I-A, we just scored and we weren't playing well offensively," Johnson said. "There was nothing that made me think extending the game was going to help us. So I thought our best chance was right then, right now."

Akron coach J.D. Brookhart - a Xerox employee before pursuing a coaching career - had similar reasoning as the Zips got to the N.C. State 1-yard line after a 10-yard run by quarterback Luke Getsy, setting up Dennis Kennedy's game-winning touchdown.

"The ball on the 1-yard line with a chance to win or lose? Certainly your safe decision is to kick a field goal and play for OT," he told The Denver Post. "But I don't think it really entered my mind. Situations like this? That's why I got out of the selling software business."

TCU is streakiest team

While the nation's longest current winning streak has left Austin, Texas - via Ohio State's 24-7 win over the Longhorns - that doesn't mean that the distinction has to leave the state so quickly.

Heading into a game against No. 24 Texas Tech, Texas Christian has won 12 games in a row, earning a No. 20 ranking.

"Well, it only means something if you can keep winning," TCU coach Gary Patterson told the Associated Press earlier this week. "For one week, until next Saturday, we'll have the longest winning streak in the nation. And then, we'll see how we'll play against Texas Tech."

A Horned Frogs victory would do well for hearts in the Mountain West Conference, tucked between the Pacific-10 and Big 12, leagues with higher profiles.

After Air Force's near miss at Tennessee, the MWC is searching for respect.

"[The league] is better than it gets credit for," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "We have to earn our respect, but on every given Saturday, we can beat anyone."

Depth perception

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier had little to say about the depth on his team after enduring his first scoreless game since 1987.

"Depth?" Spurrier said. "No. Our greater concern is football players. We're still trying to figure out who are our best players."

The mystery continues for the Gamecocks, as starting quarterback Blake Mitchell is suspended indefinitely after being arrested and accused of punching another student outside a bar this week. christian.ewell@baltsun.com

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