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NC State Vs. UNC By The Numbers: Football Coaches Are Eternal Torture Edition

Grant Halverson

Box Score

Total Yds
83 534
6.4 3.6
86 570

(*Yds/carry stats are calculated after removing sacks from the equation.)

Overall, it was a fine effort by the offense, thanks to Mike Glennon. But as we've discussed already, they left a lot of potential points on the field because of drops. And to no one's surprise, the running game amounted to a big fat nothing. Once Carolina was able to find some pressure packages that worked, State had a lot more trouble moving the football.

More specifically, State couldn't get anything going in the fourth quarter. Glennon was sacked twice and completed just one of seven attempts, and there was a false start penalty in there for good measure. Both sacks occurred on first down, effectively killing two drives, including the possession after Carolina's game-tying field goal. Well, killed may be the wrong word given that it essentially propelled the staff to give up and hope for overtime, but at any rate, it caused a change in strategy.

I thought the team's strategy was often contradictory at the end of both halves, like the staff wanted to hedge in two directions, and the result was just a big ol' pile of crap. NC State got the ball back at its 20 with 1:42 remaining in the first half and ran on first down, tried a pass on second down, then ran again on third down. The non-committal nature of that possession did the Pack no favors, and UNC simply called timeout after third down and got the ball back with 42 seconds remaining. Amusingly enough, the Heels' strategy was pretty much the same, which allowed NC State to force a punt just to see if something crazy might happen. About that...

Fast forward to the fourth quarter now and the game is tied with less than two minutes to play, and Carolina has scored 10 points in a row. The NC State coaching staff appears to make the decision to go for points, as Glennon drops back to throw--but he gets sacked. And that was all this staff was willing to risk. Two runs, two UNC timeouts, a punt, and Gio Bernard.

One thing that is absolutely maddening to me--and something that I believe shows a fundamental misunderstanding of risk assessment and management, in most cases--is when teams do just what State did on that last drive, and that's run the ball knowing the opponent is going to stop the clock with timeouts. Strictly from a time-on-the-clock perspective, there is nothing detrimental about throwing the ball in those situations. I get the decision, or, I should say, I get what they were thinking. Let's get them to burn those timeouts so that when they have the ball back, it's tougher for them to get into scoring territory. Think about the insanity of that for a minute. So your strategy is to give the ball back to them, do what little you can to slightly decrease their odds of scoring, and hope you hold. All that just so you can get to overtime in what amounts to a coin toss situation but really isn't since you're playing on the road.

Mike Glennon played a hell of a game, and he's a senior with a year and a half of starting experience, and as is so typical of football coaches, it's only the worst-case scenario that comes to mind. Maybe it was that busted play in Miami that resulted in an interception in the final minute that had the coaches gun-shy. But there is nothing predictive or demonstrative about a play like that, and if you cannot trust your senior quarterback mid-best-game-of-his-career in the last two minutes, when the hell can you trust him? What is the damned point in even showing up and playing the game?

Coaches are always preaching the fundamentals, but the irony is that the culture of football, plus a mix of inertia and complacency, have created a skewed picture of the strategic building-block aspects of the game, which causes coaches to act inefficiently and contrary to their presumably logical goals on far too many occasions. We see it with clock management every week. And that's a pretty fundamental aspect of a coach's job, isn't it?