OT: NCAAF blowout game decorum

Submitted by Avant's Hands on June 20th, 2013 at 5:17 PM

With all the talk today of how Spain should play against Tahiti (do they hold possession once they get a big lead or continue to try to score goals?) in the blowout everyone expected, it reminded me or a topic that I have wanted to get a general opinion about for a long time: offensive game planning in the 4th quarter of blowout college football games.

It seems to me that coaches have a few different approaches to it. 

1. The Mack Brown - leave the starters in as long as possible and try like hell to run up the score (one game that sticks out to me is watching Vince Young throw downfield late in a game against Rice that I believe they won by 50+)

2. The Llyod Carr - take the starters out when possible and run the backup running back into a wall of defenders until the clock hits 0:00

3. I can't think of a team off the top of my head that does this consistantly, but basically a combination of the two. Leave the starters in for most of the game but stop throwing the ball and basically just bleed clock. Hoke actually seemed to prefer this method at times.

What I would really like to see is a fourth option, though. Why don't teams put in the backups and then continue running their normal gameplan? It seems to me that you aren't really helping your backup QB by just sending him in there to hand off. Obviously it increases the odds that your young QB will make a mistake, but by that point the game should be out of hand anyway. The big argument I can think of against it is that you might end up getting your QB knocked around if the backup line can't protect him, which I agree would be an issue. 

This year at Michigan is actually a great discussion point for this. IF the coaches decide not to redshirt Morris and play him late in blowout wins for experience, should he simply hand off or should he try to complete some passes and get experience against opposing defenses?



June 20th, 2013 at 5:37 PM ^

I think it's ok to throw on 3rd down, or to throw short passes that stay in bounds. Throwing deep is probably more likely to invite a cheap shot on the QB.

I don't see a problem with what Carr did. Garbage time reps aren't just for the QB. The OL need the run-blocking practice and the RBs need to get some carries. If it results in a lot of 3 and outs, the backup defenders need the reps too and it would arguably be more useful for them because the other team is probably going to be trying to score instead of trying to kill the clock.

Burning a player's redshirt in garbage time is unforgivable.



June 20th, 2013 at 5:51 PM ^

Namely, taking your starters out of the game when the opponent still has time to came back and win... and then they do. Of course the starters would go back in if it got close again, but sometimes (looking at you 1999 Illinois game) that wasn't enough.


June 20th, 2013 at 5:41 PM ^

How are your second string guys developing?  Does the other team still have its starters in?  Is there anything in particular you want your team to work on?  Is the opposing coach Lane Kiffin or Bret Bielema? 

The answers to the first three questions would help decide whether I'd go with options two, three, or four.  I might go with option one if the answer to the last question is "yes."    


June 20th, 2013 at 5:46 PM ^

And by that I don't mean based on who the opponent is, but on what the opponent is doing.

If the losing team is making it clear that they have conceded the game (by running between the tackles on first and second down, only passing on third down and only in an attempt to pick up the first down, etc.) I think 2 is completely acceptable.

However if the losing team is still attempting to win (by taking shots down the field, attempting trick plays, going for it on fourth and long, etc.) I have no problem with the winning team continuing to pour it on.

Simply put, you only grant mercy to those who ask for it.


June 20th, 2013 at 5:59 PM ^

To me, it's about doing what's best for your team. If it really is clear that victory is not in jeopardy, then I think you put in the backups to give them rep's, regardless of what the other team is doing. If I'm on the losing end of a blow-out, I may keep my starters in to give them additional work against the backups or, depending on their psychology, letting them taste a bit of the bitter and keep fighting.

If you keep the starters in when winning large, then I would consider it like a practice, and work on what needs working on. I do think, however, that some class is called for, so long pass plays are out of the mix if the starters are in. If the backups are in, the winning team has, in effect, "called off the dogs," so letting the backups play as though the game were still on the line is appropriate.

To me, it isn't about mercy. It's about doing what is best for your own team.


June 20th, 2013 at 6:21 PM ^

I guess it depends on exactly how much you're up by and who the other team is.  There's a big difference between up 17 over Wisconsin and up 42 over Western Michigan.

My real concern is that if the losing team still believes they can come back and win the winning team should still be somewhat fearful of losing.  In that situation (where the game is still at least a little bit in doubt) you should never take your foot off the gas.


June 20th, 2013 at 6:50 PM ^

Maybe it comes down to semantics, since I don't think any team should stop fighting.  

I think there's a difference between a team that has conceded but is still fighting and one that is actively trying to come back.  By switching to conservative playcalling (i.e. run, run, pass, punt) you can still fight hard while acknowledging that you're not going to win.  I think at that point it's a dick move to keep piling on the points.

I completely agree with you that Hoke's mentality of erring on the side of caution is the right thing to do.  You might catch a little flak for running up the score, but that's far preferable to a loss.


June 20th, 2013 at 6:01 PM ^

Honestly ive always hated when people whine about running up the score. My opinion if your not up by 50 keep playing till they stop u


June 20th, 2013 at 6:11 PM ^

If up big at half, play starters one, maybe two series, and play a bit conservative. Then put second string in and play your normal offense (I.e. play action). You need to get your backups some real experience and if they cannot stop your second team that is their problem. Half way thru the 4th quarter, play everyone else and just hand the ball off.

snarling wolverine

June 20th, 2013 at 6:27 PM ^

Lots of teams do #3.  Most coaches don't clear their bench until the 4th quarter is halfway over, or later.  Unless the score is like 60-0, the backup offense on most teams only gets about one series.




June 20th, 2013 at 7:06 PM ^

When the game is decided take out the starters to avoid injury and give backups needed game experience. Let them practice all phases of the game. Do we forget the years when we couldn't make a field goal?

Max Power

June 20th, 2013 at 7:09 PM ^

I dont remember the team or year, but during the last minute of a blowout our #2 qb threw a PA bomb for a TD. After the game the reporter asked him why they threw the ball that late in a blow out. His response with a confused look was," It was third down and long...wasnt it?"


June 20th, 2013 at 8:07 PM ^

As was made popular by Darko Milicic and the mid 2000s era Pistons, I am a fan of the "human victory cigar" method (the terminology anyways): Keep the starters in until there is mere seconds remaining, then put in the scrubbiest of the scrubs in an attempt to rub salt in the wound.


June 20th, 2013 at 8:13 PM ^

I think teams should be guided primarily by rational self-interest in those instances, and secondarily by sportsmanship.  The great majority of the time, it means handing it off to the third-string tailback, to avoid injuries to first-string players, and because it is the more honorable thing to do. 

There are notable exceptions that I admire, like when Harbaugh ran it up against Stanford (although that was not especially egregious).

Perkis-Size Me

June 20th, 2013 at 8:35 PM ^

If you're up by 30-40 at the half, I don't see any reason to risk injuries to your starters come second half.

As long as the game remains well out of reach, why not put in your second stringers and give them as much in-game experience as possible? I will say, however, that you shouldn't play conservative just because your backups are in. Get them as familiar with every aspect of the playbook as you can, as you never know when they're going to need to come into a close game after a starter goes down.

If the other team still can't stop you after putting in your third and fourth stringers, well, then there's not much you can do about running up the score. Unless you've gotten under 2 minutes, I'd be pissed to watch Borges order his offense to take a knee on every snap, whether it was 40-0 or 80-0. Play to the whistle.


June 20th, 2013 at 8:44 PM ^

Grand Valley used this option when Coach Beck, who preceded Kelly, was there. I had the pleasure of being sideline escort for the visiting Wayne State Tartars in 1989. GVSU was up 56-0 at the half. When I was locking up the locker room after Wayne State took the field, I saw that the only thing written on the whiteboard was 112-0. Grand Valley went on to win 91-0. The final TD was a 3rd and 7 option keeper that the fourth string QB broke for 60 yards. After the game Coach Beck was criticized. He responded simply, "It wasn't our job to stop us."


June 21st, 2013 at 10:12 AM ^

GVSU beat WSU 49-10 in 1989 (in Allendale).  A blow-out, yes, but not even close to 91-0.

I looked, I can't find any Grand Valley State game in the 80s or 90s --- be it against Wayne State or anyone else --- with a score anywhere close to 91-0.  


June 21st, 2013 at 10:21 AM ^

He'd put in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th string but he wouldn't stop running his offense.  The problem was, this was the early days of scholarship limits and his 3rd stringers were often better than the starters at places like Kansas and K-State back in those days.  He would try to dial it back, but all you need for the triple option to go 80 yards is one defender not doing his job.


June 20th, 2013 at 9:03 PM ^

of a stigma attached to running up the score than there used to be. In these days where you take every advantage to enhance your poll standing, teams averaging 40-50 points is not unusual. Fuck sportsmanship..this is the big time.

Hated Carr's approach, though...up by 14 or more in the second half, and start running Hart over the left side on every play but third and long. It may have cost us a chance at the NC in 2006.


June 21st, 2013 at 6:19 AM ^

mainly against teams that weren't all THAT good, in no small part because Carr kept taking his foot off the gas. Along with that, we had only one really impressive win against a big name team. We stayed at #2 all year because we hadn't lost, but once we did, not having more impressive wins under our belt gave Florida a chance to jump past us. After all, we had only lost by 3 points to the # 1 team on the road, so we certainly had a case to stay #2, but the people who arrange such things like to see more blowouts from the teams that they put in the NC.

Granted, there was some pro-SEC bias in there too, and probably some people would not have wanted a rematch even if we deserved it, but if we had won a few more of those games by 4-5 scores instead of two (which we were certainly capable of), I think it might have made a difference. Going very soft and squeaking by Ball State by only 8 in particular can't have helped us in the eyes of some voters.

snarling wolverine

June 21st, 2013 at 12:54 PM ^

I don't remember anyone making that argument.   It wasn't even really a B1G vs. SEC thing either.  It was a "Michigan had its chance already and Florida hasn't" argument.  I don't think margin of victory was ever a consideration in peoples' minds.

However, you could maybe argue that in '97 we lost the coaches' vote when we ran the clock down and punted out of FG formation on our last series instead of going for the jugular to win more convincingly.  The coaches' vote was 32-30 in Nebraska's favor, so one more TD might have been all it took.






June 21st, 2013 at 11:37 AM ^


This is the relevant information from a blog about the history of GVSU football.  The blog is a work in progress, but seems to confirm my memory:

"In 1989 the Lakers posted their first undefeated season with an 11-0 record and the final Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) Championship.[citation needed] GV led Division II in total offense, averaging 480.9 yards per game and also in points with 44.5/game.[citation needed] One of the highlights of the 1989 season was a GVSU record breaking 91-0 victory over Valporaiso.[citation needed] The Lakers jumped out to a 56-0 halftime lead as they rolled up 731 yards in total offense."

The 80's are getting a little foggy at this point.

Edit:  this was posted in the wrong place.  It is a response to NittanyFan.

IIRC, this was not the biggest blowout in college football that week.  A Texas team rolled up over 100 points that same weekend.