Three strategic decisions made in the BYU game troubled me when they were made and sent my mind back to its' former paranoid state that it consistently resided in under Ron McBride. I was almost cured of it during two seasons under Urban Meyer, but over the last few years it has returned and it was in full bloom on Saturday night.
1. The inability to have two plays called in the huddle with the ball near the 50, with no timeouts left and with plenty of time to get a second play off on a potential 4th down with the clock ticking down. After getting stopped on 3rd down and with about 15 seconds running off, the Utes could've and should've been ready to get set at the line, let the clock run down to 3 seconds, snapped and executed a hail mary play at the end of the half. Running the clock down would've rendered the fact it was 4th down irrelevant. Meaning there was no risk to this. Only a low percentage chance at a huge reward. A possible TD before the half. A P.I. call or a P.F. penalty would put them in range for a FG as well. Low risk-high reward=Do it.
2. The play calling at the start of the 4th quarter was classic McBride conservatism. Run, run, run or try a short pass, punt. I've always felt this puts the D in a tough spot and for some reason they relax a little at the same time. McBride lost a game to New Mexico in '94 with a 21-3 lead with a superior team and a 8-0 record. He then refused to learn from that and repeated the same formula for disaster the following week at Air Force, this time blowing a 24-7 lead. Two losses that ruined what should've been the first undefeated season for the Utes, and lost them a conference championship in the process. That wasn't enough to learn the lesson either. Here's the lesson: Never attempt to run the clock if three offensive plays and a punt leave your opponent in a position where they could still beat you relative to the remaining time and score. A 17 point lead with 15:00 remaining does not come close to qualifying. The strategy should've been as it always should be until your able to run the clock in three plays to a point where your opponent has no chance, that is, move the chains and score points.
3. Does this scenario sound familiar? Up 24-21, under 2 minutes left, opponent without timeouts, Ute ball inside the opponents 40 and a not unreasonable distance to go on 4th down. Saturday night? No, I'm talking about Boise St. in '98. Options: long FG to put you up 6, punt and hope to pin opponent inside 20 and your one play away from losing, or go for it and risk the loss of 15-35 yds in field position a punt would provide but if converted, game over, you win. I said it in '98 and I said it Saturday night, you go for it. 4th and 5 ('98) or 4th and 8 ('12) is not impossible. Definitely worth the risk when a win is the reward. Punting, no matter how good the result is, still puts you in a position to lose the game in one play. A FG is harder to convert at that distance than the 4th down is and the reward is minimal and not worth the risk since you are only up 6 and are one play away from a loss. In '98, McBride punted. Best case scenario, it was pinned at the 1. They drove 99 and beat us 28-24. Saturday, we punted again, and amazingly pinned them at the 5 this time. We all saw what happened. Did anyone else notice how open Hoffman was on the "first" last play of the game? He ran an out and up and Lacy bit, if the Utes didn't hit Riley as he released the ball it may have been a TD as time expired. At the time and in hindsight, I would like to see how that game would've played out, (and the game in 98) if we had went for it and tried to end it right there. Even if you fail, they have to drive the field to score.
Hopefully lessons will be learned with this staff that were never learned under McBride.