To Call Or Not To Call

Obviously there has been a lot of debate about what went wrong in Iowa on Saturday. Fingers have been pointed at the play calling, the execution, and even the officiating. But I want to focus on one area that has seen a lot of criticism since Saturday that I haven't seen a good argument for or against yet. We're going to go back to Iowa's final drive and examine Penn State's time management and their refusal to use any of their three available timeouts. To do this, we'll examine each play going over the situation and determine if a timeout was warranted or not. We'll start at the beginning of the drive and go play by play. We're only looking at the timeout scenarios here, but I'll add my comments on the officiating since that's also a point of contention and I'm taking the time to review these plays anyway.

3:46 (Time) - 1st and 10 on Iowa 29

Ricky Stanzi is sacked by Jared Odrick for a five yard loss. The clock continues to run. At this point I don't see any reason to call a timeout. Iowa is deep in their own territory, the first play went backwards, and the clock is in Penn State's favor. Iowa has to drive the length of the field and score. Right now it doesn't appear they are a threat to do so.

 

2nd and 15 on Iowa 24

Stanzi throws a two yard out pattern to Shonn Greene who drops it. He probably wasn't going to get more than a yard if he had caught it as he was one step from going out of bounds and Rubin was barrelling down on him. The clock is stopped with 2:59 to go.

3rd and 15 on Iowa 24

The infamous pass interference call. Paul McGuire quickly points out Scirrotto "went through the receiver which you cannot do." Except for the fact Scirrotto was in place and basically jumped straight up in the air before the receiver ran into him. So if that's "running through the receiver", then yeah. Meanwhile back on the defensive line Maurice Evans stunts to the inside where the center puts his arm around his neck and tackles him to the ground. No call.

The end result is 15 yards and a first down for Iowa. The clock is stopped at 2:50 to go.

1st and 10 at Iowa 39

Iowa hands off to Shonn Green who runs up the middle for five yards to the Iowa 44. There is 2:42 to go when the play is whistled dead. The clock continues to run.

This is the first opportunity for Penn State to call a timeout to preserve the clock. At this point Iowa is still in their own territory with three timeouts of their own. If we stop the clock we are only helping them save time. Giving up five yards on first down has drastically hurt Penn State's chances of getting a stop on this set of downs. Calling a timeout if you don't get the stop will allow Iowa to run out the clock later in the drive. They are still backed up in their own territory, so in my opinion the correct move here is to let the clock run and hope to get a stop.

2nd and 5 at Iowa 44

Iowa snaps the ball with 15 seconds to go on the play clock and 2:16 to go in the game. Stanzi completes a five yard pass to the tight end Myers, and the official marks the ball as a 5.5 yard gain. Bad spot, yes, but he may have had the first down anyway even if they spotted it correctly so it doesn't matter much. There was 2:09 on the clock when the play was whistled dead. The clock stopped to move the chains and then restarted.

Should Penn State have called a timeout here? It was a 25 second play clock after the first down. Iowa was at the 50 yard line still with all of their timeouts. The burden is still on them to score and they still need another 25 yards or so to feel good about their chances for a field goal. Personally, I wouldn't call a timeout here. It's still about yards here. Not clock. You don't want to give Iowa more time to get yards.

1st and 10 at the 50 yard line

The game clock is at 1:46 when they snap the ball. There are still 11 seconds on the play clock. Stanzi tries a four yard pass to the tight end. Bowman makes an excellent play to knock it down. Clock is stopped with 1:43 to play.

2nd and 10 at the 50

Stanzi drops back to pass. Josh Hull comes on an outside blitz and he's just a step away from getting there (yeah, I know). But he forces Stanzi to try a quick outlet throw to Shonn Greene who drops another one. Even if he catches it Tony Davis is there to shut it down for no gain. The problem here is that the dropped pass stops the clock.

3rd and 10 at the 50

1:40 to go on the clock. Stanzi throws a ten yard pass to Myers. Our good buddy the line judge gives him an extra half yard on the play. Once again he may have had a first down without the favorable spot, but you have to start wondering why Penn State isn't getting the benefit of the doubt anywhere by the officials.

The clock is stopped with 1:32 to go in the game, but starts once the chains are set. Iowa is still about 15 yards from comfortable field goal range. Maybe 20. They are going to need at least one more first down. You could make the case, and I would agree, that Penn State should have used a timeout here. At this point Iowa has all three timeouts and they have tipped the clock in their favor. Time is no longer an issue for them. Just getting 15 yards is their goal.

1st and 10 at PSU 40

The clock is at 1:10 to go with :06 to go on the play clock when they snap the ball. Evans beats his man to the inside. The left tackle appears to grab jersey and pull Evans to the ground. Maybin beats the right tackle and dives at Stanzi's feet. Stanzi steps straight back one step and throws the ball to the sideline. It goes out of bounds one yard shy of the line of scrimmage and there isn't a receiver in sight on the television screen. If this isn't intentional grounding I don't know what is. The announcers have nothing to say in the matter instead reminding us that Penn State's undefeated season is on the line.

There is 1:06 to go when the play is whistled dead.

2nd and 10 at PSU 40

Stanzi makes a great pass to the receiver who catches the ball at the 29 yard line and steps out of bounds stopping the clock after a ten yard gain. Insert grumbling about cornerbacks playing eight yards off the line of scrimmage here. There is 1:01 to go in the game. We just gave up ten yards in five seconds. Please scrap this defense.

1st and 10 at PSU 29

Shonn Greene plows ahead for a two yard gain up the middle. Iowa calls timeout with 0:57 to play doing us a favor.

2nd and 8 at PSU 27

Greene gains one yard and is tackled in bounds. The clock is at 0:53 when the play ends and continues to run. Penn State lets the clock run. Iowa lets it run down to 0:23 before they snap the next play.

So why didn't Penn State call timeout here? It's 3rd and 6 and your chances of getting a stop here are pretty good. This is the 13th play of the drive, so your defense is getting gassed at this point. You're basically at the point you have to sell out and go for the stop on this play. The fact that the clock is running begs you to take a timeout.

But on the sideline Iowa's kicker had been warming up since Iowa had crossed midfield. If Penn State was sharp they noticed it was Daniel Murray who had been benched for the past several weeks and hadn't made a field goal since the first week of the season. My guess is Penn State was trying to let the clock die so Iowa would have to kick the field goal from there which would have been a 43 yard attempt. And let's not forget the wind was pretty unforgiving that day. So weigh the options. Kill the clock and make them kick it from there? Or call a timeout and focus on getting the stop while also saving yourself 30 seconds. It's a tough choice, but I can see what the coaches were thinking here.

3rd and 6 at PSU 26

Stanzi completes a pass to the 15 yard line and a first down. The receiver gets out of bounds stopping the clock, but the game is basically over at this point. The chances of Iowa making the field goal just went up from about 25% to about 80% on that play.

1st and 10 on PSU 15

Shonn Green is supposed to run right to get the ball in the middle of the field, but he cuts it back to the left for a one yard loss. More importantly he's put the ball outside the left hash mark demonstrating he had no concept of what the bigger goal was on that play. Iowa calls timeout with 0:11 to go.

You know the rest. Greene gets it right on the next play and centers the ball. All our hopes and dreams go sailing through the uprights.

Conclusions

You can make the case that Penn State had five opportunities to call a timeout to stop the clock. In my opinion it didn't make sense to do so on the first two because Iowa was deep in their own territory at the time and there was still over two minutes to play. They needed yards and we didn't want to give them more time to get those yards.

When Iowa got a first down at the 50 with 2:09 to go you could make an argument that PSU should have called a timeout. Iowa allowed the clock to run down to 1:46 before they snapped the ball. But they still needed at least two first downs to get into field goal range, so I can see why Penn State didn't call timeout here.

The next opportunity doesn't make sense to me. Iowa got a first down at the 40 yard line with 1:32 to go. They are only 15 yards from field goal range and they have all three timeouts in their pocket. Time is no longer a concern for them. At this point we basically have to sell out and get the stop here. There is no room for error. I think a timeout was warranted to not only stop the clock, but to also regroup on defense.

The last opportunity came on 3rd and 6 at the PSU 26 with 0:53 to go in the game. You HAVE to call a timeout there. Stop the clock. Regroup on defense. Get the stop. Hopefully Stanzi throws an incomplete pass to stop the clock and Iowa is forced to kick a 43 yard field goal in the wind. Even if they complete a pass and you tackle them in bounds short of the sticks you can call another timeout. You'll still have one left and if they make the field goal you'll get the ball back with about 40 seconds to go only needing a field goal to win. But Penn State opted to keep the game going. The defense gave up 11 yards and Iowa kicks the easy field goal.

So they blew it twice out of five opportunites. That's great in baseball, but in football it means death. It wasn't the only reason we lost the game, but poor clock management on top of poor play execution on top of poor play calling on top of poor officiating was just too much to overcome.

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