They've Got Guts

Bold play calling has brought riches to some coaches

Oct. 23, 2007

By Carolyn Braff


Carolyn Braff

Carolyn is an assistant editor and writer for
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When it comes to play calling, the nation's Top 25 coaches run the gauntlet from yawn - stiflingly boring (see Carr, Lloyd) to hold-your-breath thrilling (see SEC). While plenty of gambles have ended one card short of a flush, a few coaches spill their guts on the playing field weekly and (almost) consistently clean house.


A little bit of moxie goes a long way in the title hunt and with this bipolar season halfway gone, a rundown of some of the year's boldest play calls is in order.


Freshest in the minds of SEC fans is Les Miles' last-play gamble against Auburn last Saturday.




Trailing 24-23 in the final minute, LSU marched to Auburn's 22 yard-line, where a 39-yard field goal would have won the game. That distance is a stretch for kicker Colt David, who has struggled to convert 14 of 19 attempts this season, his longest coming from 38 yards out.


David was hot last Saturday, having made all three of his earlier kicks, but with the game on the line, David stayed on the sideline.


Miles spilled his guts on an end zone shot. With the clock down to 12 seconds, quarterback Matt Flynn took his five-step drop and threaded a pass to Demetrius Byrd, who hauled in the game-winning touchdown with one second remaining.


"When I saw there was only one second left I almost had a heart attack," running back Jacob Hester said.


He was certainly not alone.


Had the ball been tipped or batted around, there would likely have been no time left to attempt a field goal. But that's what gutsy calls are made of.


"I did not expect it to come down to one second," Miles said. "I didn't have it timed out that far."


Neither did Cal on Oct. 13, but the Bears' final play was far less glamorous. Two weeks ago, the nation's No. 2 team was 12 yards and three points away from becoming No. 1. But instead of kicking the game-tying field goal with 14 seconds on the clock and a first-time starter under center, coach Jeff Tedford went for the knockout.


Unfortunately, it was the Bears who got knocked out.


Redshirt freshman Kevin Riley efficiently moved the Bears from their own six to Oregon State's 12 yard-line. But with 14 seconds on the clock, the fog cleared to expose Riley's inexperience.


On third down, Riley scrambled for two yards before being tackled in the middle of the field. With no time outs left, his team watched in agony as the final seconds ticked off the clock before the field goal unit could run on.


On this gutsy call, the Bears' guts were left strewn all over Memorial Field.


Back in the SEC, Florida coach Urban Meyer pulled out the offensive stops in last Saturday's win over Kentucky, but it was the second-to-last play of the game that earned him a mention on the countdown.


With 2:06 remaining and a 38-31 lead, Florida was not content to run the ball, and the clock, to a win.


"We had to move," Meyer said. "We weren't blocking and we had some injuries up front, so we have a very good player in Percy Harvin, we're going to take a shot."


On second and seven from the Kentucky 42, quarterback Tim Tebow found Harvin 40 yards downfield for the big-yardage play the Gators needed to set up a game-sealing touchdown.


"He has the best first step in the game," Meyer said of Harvin. "On that deep ball to him at the end of the game, he came and locked the guy up and hit that left foot. He is as strong a player as we have on this team."


Had the pass fallen incomplete, the Gators would have been in danger of giving the ball back to Kentucky with plenty of time for Andre' Woodson to orchestrate a comeback. But that was not to be.


On Oct. 6, however, the Gators' bold calls were no match for "Gutsy" Miles. LSU attempted five fourth-down conversions against Florida, all of which were good, and collectively earned the Tigers another salute.


The final fourth down was the piece de resistance. Facing fourth and a yard from the Florida seven with less than two minutes to play, a chip-shot field goal was a fool-proof ticket to overtime. But overtime wasn't good enough.


"We needed seven right there," Miles said.


Hester got the call and plowed two yards ahead when the Tigers only needed one, giving LSU a first and goal from the five, which Hester turned into a touchdown three plays later.


"We knew that it was a possession game," Miles said. "The opportunity to keep the ball was something you had to do. We knew that the opportunity to go on fourth down would be there for us. We were ready."


Another team that was ready was the Knights of the knockoff, Rutgers. No. 2 USF came to town last Thursday and coach Greg Schiano buffed his brass in the third quarter when he called a fake field goal against a defense that wasn't fooled.


With a three-point lead at the end of the third quarter, the Knights found themselves in a fourth and three from the USF 15. The field goal unit came to the line, but Schiano had a feeling.


"Sometimes things are there and you think you have a chance to run it," Schiano said. "We don't do a lot of that around here. We try to stick to the nuts and bolts but when there's an opportunity, we try to take advantage."


Holder Andrew DePaola took advantage as he handled the snap and ran, dropping a would-be tackler in time to float his first career pass to tight end Kevin Brock, who pulled the ball in for a 15-yard score. The call capped a 9-play, 70-yard drive that put Rutgers up by 10, a deficit from which USF would never recover.


Tremendous playmakers earn their stripes on tremendous plays, but it takes a tough coach to call them. With a new team fighting for its life every week, expect to see more coaches make "gutsy" their middle name, as this season, it is not the strong, but the aggressive, that survive.