BielemaBall Confuses Me
Much has been made of Bret Bielema's clock-wrangling decision to have ten Wisconsin players offsides on a couple kickoffs towards the end of the first half. If you haven't seen it by now, this is what went down:
If you listen to Penn State fans, this was reckless endangerment of the kick returner's very life and a classless jab at Joe Paterno. If you listen to Paul Maguire it's genius on a profound level -- which tells you something about Paul Maguire. If you listen to Craig James... well, no one should listen to Craig James.*
EDSBS declares Bret Bielema "person of the year" for giving the virtual finger to 3-2-5e. (Though Orson underestimates the damage of 3-2-5e: last year we got 168 plays per game, this year 152: that's a ten percent reduction, not six. Must have been looking at the time.) I'm just confused. I am confused in these ways:
- If Wisconsin players were going to go offsides intentionally, why stop at ten yards? Why not leisurely walk down to the ten yard line, then kick it? As structured, Penn State still had an opportunity for a couple semi-legit returns, and in a situation like Wisconsin faced on Saturday Penn State either breaks it or does not break it. Why leave any chance at all?
- Why deploy this now? 23 seconds left in the first half? Penn State's going to kneel down as soon as they get the ball.
- Why does PSU force a re-kick? Is it not obvious what Wisconsin is doing? Just take the penalty, kneel, and go in for halftime.
- Why is everyone so up in arms over this? I mean, seriously: this has a tiny window of application and the offended team can take the extra five yards after the return.
- WTF did Paterno expect the refs to do? They could dig up the creaky and never-applied "unfair acts" rule, but A) I'm sure Paterno has no idea of that little quirk in the rulebook and B) deploying football refereeing's nuclear option on the spur of the moment just to get Paterno 20 seconds he's not going to use is not something I particularly want to see.
While I'm not entirely convinced that Bielema has invented fire here, it is worth discussing. First off: it's not "classless." It's a little chintzy, but football coaches are supposed to do everything they can within the rules to win. When someone finds a rule loophole, more power to them until that hole gets closed. Joe Tiller's huddles with 15 guys in them were far more relevant than Bret Bielema running out 23 seconds that no one was going to use anyway but no one accused Tiller of being classless. Save me the sob stories about the endagered spines of beleaguered returners. No one got hurt, nor was anyone more likely to get hurt than on a typical play. Classless is watching a punt-return scrub try to injure an opponent after the play and doing nothing about it. It is not going offsides on purpose.
Is it a useful device at the end of games? Only in very marginal situations where the opponent needs a touchdown in under a minute, IMO. Remember that at any time the offensive team can take five yards after the play and start a drive. A team could potentially force a touchback by threatening to BielemaBall the rest of the game away. The trailing team would get the ball at the 25 and last-second comeback drives spurred by good returns would be a thing of the past. No Henne to Manningham versus Penn State.
Is it a stupid consequence of a stupid, ill-thought-out rule that literally no one except network executives likes? Yes. And I'm sure they'll get rid of it somehow next year. Hopefully by getting rid of 3-2-5e in its idiotic entirety.
Stop him before he predicts again! I wonder if it was coincidence that Mike Lucas of Capital Times predicted something along these lines before the season:
Consider this scenario:
The University of Wisconsin football team has just scored to take a one-point lead over Bowling Green in the 2006 season opener. There are 29 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, UW coach Bret Bielema instructs both of his outside sprinters to leave early - before the ball is kicked - purposely drawing a penalty flag for off-sides.
Taylor Mehlhaff drives the ball to the 2-yard line to the Falcons' Brandon Jones, who's tackled on the 9-yard line by the Badgers' Jack Ikegwuonu, one of two players off-sides.
There are now 24 seconds remaining in the game.
The Bowling Green captain has two options: A) decline the penalty and take the ball on the 9-yard line or B), take the five-yard penalty and force Wisconsin to re-kick from its own 30.
The natural impulse would be to take the penalty.
Let's say that is the case: The Badgers then line up for the re-kick. However, because there has been a change of possession, the official starts the game clock on the ready.
Mehlhaff unfastens his chin straps and waits while the final 24 seconds tick off the clock.
Lucas is incorrect that there would have been a change of possession -- that's no more true than there being a change of possession when an interception is overturned by some defensive penalty -- but if we're operating under the assumption that newspaper people never have original thoughts, someone on the UW staff probably fed him that scenario complete with erroneous rule interpretation when he was researching that piece.
*(Is it not sort of incredible that one of the main offenders in the worst scandal in NCAA history is presented to the nation every Saturday as a man worth heeding? It's the equivalent of hiring Todd Bertuzzi to sit in an NHL studio, or Pete Rose in an MLB one, or Michael Irvin in an NFL one. Maybe that last one was a bad example.
So you have everything awful with the NCAA sitting next to Doug Freakin' Flutie. Maybe ABC just likes the juxaposition.)