Should Meyer have run plays at the end of the PUR first half?

baddogmaine's picture
October 23, 2012 at 8:07a


Now, how about the Buckeyes stop getting hurt?

After the Purdue game I asked if the Buckeyes were really as well coached as Meyer is generally given credit for. Among my criticisms were that Meyer had the team run plays on our last possession of the first half. This was buried in a longer blog but I think it deserves more thought than most 11W readers seemed to give it. Saying that it's just Meyer's style does not address the more fundamental question: was that good coaching?

Football is a contact sport. Teams and players afraid of contact are not going to win. But when to take contact and what kind and how  much are fair questions.The more contact a team or a player take the greater the risk of injury or turnover. Obviously a freak injury can happen to someone not even on the field; a fumble can occur on the first carry. But the more times an offense gets hit by the defense the greater the chance that something bad might happen.

This of course is only half the equation - the more plays an offense runs the better the chance of scoring, and games are almost always won by the offense scoring more than the other team does. You want to win you need to run offense.

What to do in a given situation is matter of risk-versus-reward analysis. By the end of the Purdue regulation we were in desparate straights - we were trailing and the clock was running out. We had no choice but to go for it with 47 seconds left and the ball at our 39.

But at the end of the first half, with the ball at our 36 and only 17 seconds left we did not *need* to score then -  there was still a full 30 minutes left to play and a 13-7 defecit was not so bad that we needed to score every time we touched the ball. That we gained no yardage on that series does not prove that it was wrong to go for it, the question is what were the risks and likely outcomes. At that point we had not moved on offense for most of the game and there was no reason to think, really, that we would get even the 40 yards we would need for a FG in the 17 seconds we had. Yes, had Smith made a real effort for the first pass we might have been in business- in real time it looked to me like he quit but I could not tell for sure, and the reality is that Smith has been unreliable all year. There was nothing we could count  on to get us 40 yards in under 17 seconds. This needed to have been taken into account. And on the next play Miller took a late hit.

There is no question who our best offensive weapon is. But there are reasons why Miller does not run every play - because his body will not survive it and because a one-player offense is much easier to shut down. How much he should be allowed to run is open to debate, but that other "skill" players on offense need to be contributing is universally understood. Miller has had to miss plays in several games due to injury from in-game contact, and what happened in the third quarter put what can happen front and center. Contact can cause injury. That's why even running QBs are urged to slide or go out of bounds rather than repatedly challenging linebackers and safeties with malice in their hearts. Because QBs who don't protect themselves generally are less successful, or have shorter careers. And teams that lose their QBs too often suffer. That late hit at the end of the first half could easily have done to Miller what the tackle in the third quarter did.

I know what Meyer did at the end of the first half; what *should* he have done? If you agree with Sarah's question at the top of this blog I argue that Meyer should have had Miller take a knee and get ready to coach during half time. Even one deep pass attempt with Miller strictly advised to avoid contact does not eliminate the risk of an ofensive lineman going down, though every once in a while the Hail Mary works and it is a standard practice. As might be guessed I am not a big fan of it, but even if this crowd favorite can be justified when it failed and we were 1) too far away to complete a pass into the endzone and 2) had too little time to complete a 40 yard pass AND kick a FG running further plays was not smart.  We were not moving the ball, we had no reason to think we would do it in the last 17 seconds. Meyer should have passively run out the clock because Buckeyes *are* dropping like flies, and the probability of success versus the probability of something bad happening did not favor aggressive play calling at that point.

Meyer will be Meyer - I get that. And Meyer has been a winner everywhere he has coached - I get that too. And we are 8-0, you don't need to remind me. But good coaches can  have bad days. Good coaches can have bad 17 seconds. I think going for it at the end of the first half of the Purdue game  offered more likelihood of a bad result than a good one. You want Buckeyes to stop getting hurt? eliminate the *unnecessary* risks of injury.

What do you think? Telling me that I'm an idiot or that this blog is too long does not answer the question. Let's have some analysis.

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Shaun OSU's picture

A coach that quits on a half when we are losing and still have a chance to put points on the board is not one that is going to be very successful in college football. It's their job to always believe in their players and know that they can get the job done, even in the face of very low odds.
Following this kind of logic and taking it to a further level, I would say we had about a 1% chance of coming back and tying the game with 47 seconds to play and no time outs with our backup QB. But Meyer didn't say, well give it your best shot Kenny, but don't get hurt or let our linemen get hurt because we don't have another serviceable QB after you and the odds of you doing this are really slim. Instead, he said, "Kenny, you are going to go win us a game."
I don't believe good coaches are poker players who are constantly evaluating percentages to determine their next move. Sometimes good coaches have to make low percentage moves because they need their team to know that they believe in them and that they can succeed.
Regardless, throwing up a couple of hail marys is really relatively low risk, high reward. Braxton isn't meant to run the ball, linemen don't get hurt that much in isolation pass blocking, and if your receivers get hurt just running down the field then they are going to get hurt doing their job at some point anyway. I have no problem taking shots at the end zone at the end of the half. Just think of the momentum if we had pulled off a catch. We probably would have won much more easily and might not have had to run Braxton as much, preventing him from getting injured.

baddogmaine's picture

A coach that quits on a half when we are losing and still have a chance to put points on the board is not one that is going to be very successful in college football.

How do you define "has a chance"? There is a chance even on 4th and 10 or 4th and 20, so should Meyer never elect to punt? If no chance is too slim then that is what you're saying.
*My" position is that what to do at crucual moments depends on the situation. I said in my post that we had no choice but to go at the end of the 4th quarter and when you're going you commit to it. I'll agree that the odds were really really againsat us. And if we had a 1% chance with 47 seconds left (that was your number) what were the odds with 17 seconds left from almost the same spot on the field?
At the end of the second quarter we did have a choice - not going was a choice. If the chance of getting points was less than half a percent (since we had less than half the time that we had at the end of the fourth) did that outweigh the chance of an injury or a turnover within PUR's FG range? Miller took a late hit on that last series. On every play there is a chance that an opposing player who thinks his team might benefit from knocking Miller out of the game is going to target Braxton - is an injury to Miller at least 40 yards from FG range and just 17 seconds left justified by the likelihood of points? When Miller had been having a bad game to that point? You talk of mementum had we scored - I talk of our season and maybe next year too (not to mention Braxton Miller himself) had Kawann Short hit Miller harder. You can not look at one without looking at the other.
Risk versus gain - that is what every good coach has to look it. At the start of the year a coach probably doesn't think much about attrition. At this point with our injuries Meyer has to. If preventing more injuries has become a priority then not running "unnecessary" plays looks like a good option. This team knows Meyer wants to win - this team also needs to know that Meyer has players' safety in mind.

Shaun OSU's picture

I didn't say he will go for every 4th down, but we do go for more fourth downs than many are used to. But the choice was between trying for points and doing nothing. In such a situation where we are losing to an inferior team at home, we are going to go for points most every time. We can't play football in a bubble. When asked if we are going to change the way we call plays for Braxton, he said that no we will not. 
He said that sure, we will tell him to get out of bounds when he can and to avoid hits, and we will try to get the ball in others' hands, just like we have tried to already. But when we can't move the ball and we need a spark, we are going to turn him loose, because that is what he does best. If he gets hurt, well then Kenny will have to step up again. If you don't use your best weapon on offense out of fear, then you might as well not have it at all.
And sure, Braxton took a late hit on the play, but that is football. It seems like you are trying to think about long term, but Urban considers his job to be winning every single game he plays for the seniors. He is not playing for next year, he is not playing for down the road, he is playing every game to win. You don't have to agree with it, but that's his stance and it's what he's going to do.

baddogmaine's picture


It seems like you are trying to think about long term, but Urban considers his job to be winning every single game he plays for the seniors. He is not playing for next year

But Shaun, Meyer's entire approach to defense has been long term. He is trying to implement a system that clearly has not been working well now but that he expects to pay off soon.
Once you concede that Meyer need not go for every fourth down you are agreeing that what to do in a particular situation is dictated by the situation. The choice at the end of the first half was not run aggressive plays or "do nothing", nor was that the last gasp as it was at the end of the second half. The option Meyer rejected was choosing to have the clock run out, which is different from having the clock run out through carelessness and is a strategy that eliminates risk of a bad result.
And what *you* are rejecting is that Meyer was going to be powerless to adjust anything at halftime - that we were going to be as inept after half as we had been before. In my view if Meyer is the great coach we think he is then in the locker room he draws up some Xs and Os and talks to players about spacing and routes and we come out in the second half and score 21 points in the third quarter and another 21 in the 4th and win 49-13.
If someone gets hurt engaged in football with real potential or real necessity that is part of the game. If someone gets hurt or turns it over trying for the really really unlikely when it isn't necessary that is hard to stomach.
In the Nebraska game an opposing player fumbled near the end of the first half and instead of falling on it Roby tried to pick it up and run. No guts, no glory, right? He never got control of it and Nebraska retained possession. Fundamentals says sometimes you need to just fall on the ball.

Shaun OSU's picture

I think you are way overanalyzing this. If we complete one additional pass then we are in field goal range with a chance for points. On many 4th downs we will punt, because it will make it harder for the other team to score. With such little time left, there is a very slim chance of Purdue scoring because we are trying to get points before half. 
It is irrelevant if Meyer thinks they will be able to scheme over half time and put up more points later. When you have the ball and a chance to score, you are going to take it. Urban makes each decision based on what he thinks is right to do at the time. To me, going for points was low risk/high reward. Apparently you deem this low risk to be too high. You have a right to do that, but I have no problem with Urban's decision. In fact, you would probably have heard some boos from the crowd if Urban played it safe, as they would have deemed the risk worth the potential reward. Would they be right? I don't know, but I personally have no problem with it.
If you want to argue what is necessary, I could argue that there is no point in even putting Braxton into the game until we fall behind. Just put Kenny in and try to run the ball with Hyde to see if we can win on that alone. If not, then heck, there is still more time for us to change scheme and win the game. That way we minimize risk of injury to Brax and still leave ourselves the opportunity to win the game. It's the same idea as letting a possession before half go (a possession where you are not backed up and at high risk for giving up points). It's not strictly necessary, so why risk it?
I'm not sure what the example with the fumble has to do with this situation. You are arguing game management, not player fundamentals. Perhaps you are arguing safe vs. going for points? Well falling on the ball gives your offense a chance to score points, while going for the scoop is trying to score now. Taking a knee is not the same. You don't gain a possession by taking a knee, you are going to get that even if you go for points. A more fitting situation would be following a blocked punt. Players are taught to NEVER fall on a blocked punt, and to always scoop and score. That is because even if you don't get the ball, you are given the ball on downs anyway, so you might as well try for the score. Similarly, we were getting the ball in the 2nd half anyway, so why not go for the points?

d5k's picture

Urban uses every possession as an opportunity to score. This is an absurd criticism.

baddogmaine's picture

This is one of those Urban myths (pun intended). Buchanon has punted 39 times this year, nearly five times a game. Meyer goes for points when he thinks it is the right thing to do, and doesn't when it isn't. Should he never punt? At the end of the Cal game up by just one score we ran out the clock. Should he have gone for it?
So what Urban does is not what you, D5K, say he does. But what he does is not the question I'm asking - my question is what *should* he do? None of us is Urban Meyer, none has his experience or record. But we have some football knowledge, and there are times when smart fans are right in criticizing what a good coach has done. What *should* have been done with 17 seconds left and the ball at our own 36?

d5k's picture

You can't just point at number of punts as some evidence of conservatism. I also obviously meant he goes for points when he believes the upside outweighs the downside. What's the downside of going for a slim chance at points there? Turnover? The risk of that is less than in a usual situation due to so little time left. Obviously urban felt the tiny reward outweighs the tiny risk.

baddogmaine's picture


 I also obviously meant he goes for points when he believes the upside outweighs the downside.

You may have obviously meant that but that is not what you said. You are saying it now which is fine.
One risk is Braxton taking a hit that will add to the punishment he has already taken and will take more of. Which happened. Good coaxches don't put their QBs at risk unnecessarily. The other risk is fumbling, which I recall TP doing at the end of the first half in a similar situation and I yelled through my TV at JT as I did at UM. If we have time to go 40 yards to get into FG range Purdue would have had time to go five.
Obviously Urban did feel the risk was justified but, again, this begs the question: does Urban get credit for this because it was a good decision or because he is Urban and lots of 11W readers are prepared to glorify his every move? Good coaches can make bad decisions and we are allowed to say so. You like the decision, I don't.

d5k's picture

You have to combine the odds of Purdue going 5 yards with the odds of committing a turnover.  In other words, [odds of us scoring] > [odds of Purdue getting a turnover AND scoring].  If we have the ball on the 5 yard line with 20 seconds left then the > above becomes a < most likely and Urban will kneel on the ball.  If you can produce some turnovers per play metric that shows the odds of getting a turnover are likely significant enough to flip it then go for it.  Otherwise you are just saying the equivalent of "omg spontaneous lightning could've hit the field since we were supposed to kneel according to football lore".
Various 4th down "go for it" decisions are also made with the odds of picking up the first down combined with the benefits of having a first down at yard line X compared with benefits of punting (changing field position) or attempting a field goal (3 points * odds of making field goal from yard line X).  I'd much rather have a coach who tries to gain these small edges (they add up to a significant edge collectively) than one who does the traditional unthinking decision without evaluating all the possibilities.  You don't just say "oh something bad could happen we shouldn't do that".

TMac's picture

Down 6 when we were a 2.5 TD favorite at home you're looking fior a spark, anything to change the tone of the game.  Generally I want Urban and the Buckeyes to try to score from the tunnel, and durring every play thereafter until the game is comfortably in hand, then just pound the ball till the last whistle.  Yes, football and injuries go together, but you can get injured taking your dog out......

ONE Not Done!

RBuck's picture

...or picking up dog poop ala Jordon Hall.

Long live the southend.

Triv's picture

Look at it this way. If Hyde catches that pass, we have an untimed down after the roughing the passer from the ~20 yard line and Basil puts 3 points on the board, only putting us down 3 at the half

Sorry Urban, Woody is still my favorite

bhsiba99's picture

Of course he should try to get points if he (and the coaching staff) believes there is chance, especially when OSU is behind  ... if he had given up and taken a knee in this situation, we probably would see a blog about Urban not being agressive enough.   The bigger factor in in this situation would probably be a risk of a turnover leading to points for Purdue more than the risk of an injury.

d5k's picture

Taking a knee with a small amount of time left in the first half is almost always a bad idea unless you are pinned deep in your own end where the defense has a better chance to score than you do. It's really that simple.

Maceyko's picture

If a basketball coach decides that his team will be a full court pressing team then everything he does is designed to get the kids into the right frame of mind.  The practice drills and everything that they do will be built around that concept in order to be successful.  If you don't do it that way then you are not a good coach and your players won't buy in as much as they need too in order to be successful.  Meyer believes 100% in the way that he builds his program and not taking a knee is part of that mind set.  I see it as intelligent coaching whereas others may indeed say it's not smart.  It's a matter of what you believe in.  Remember that conversation earlier in the year when people were debating about why we didn't take a knee and instead put up another TD on someone late in the game?  I said then that it isn't Meyer's style to play that way.  Its all part of the mentality that he is building and it is necessary to be all in if you are going to coach it that way.  We will go for it on 4th down from our 40, we will forsake the field goal and go for the TD if the risk-reward is worth it, we will not take a knee on a normal basis, and we will likely leave our starters in many games even with a big lead.  This is who we hired and the way that he thinks.  I rememeber when he was up by (I think it was) 14 points on someone (maybe Georgia?) while he was at Florida and in the final minute of the game he called a timeout just so that he could kick a field goal.  He is not taking that knee you want very often.  I undestand your view, but I don't think you can compare traditional coaching with Urban's mindset.  It's two completely individual ways of approaching the game.   

baddogmaine's picture

If a basketball team is a full-court pressing team and the press is not working what the coach does depends on what his goal is. If his goal is to win that game he tries something other than a full press. If the goal is to build for the future you stay with the press. But neither of these options increases the risk of injury to your franchise player.
I understand the picture of Meyer as gunslinger. To a great degree that is true - he is more aggressive than many. But when going for it was not the right thing to do in eight games he called for punts 39 times (including 5 times in the Purdue game) and FGs 5 and he had Braxton take a knee three times at the end of the Cal game. He is not hard-wired to gamble compulsively. I do not agree that going for it from our own 36 with 17 seconds left was the only way to get his team in the right frame of mind - that comes from coaching during the week that develops trust - nor wise given the importance of Miller and a thin OL in that game and in subsequent games.
As for running up the score, if it is being done by the starters it not only carries the risk of injury to players you will need in close games, it  is not giving the back-ups the game experience they need. There have been few times this year when Meyer has had the luxury of bringing Kenny G in, but by not getting Guiten into the Nebraska game because he wanted to get that ninth TD he did the team no big favors, IMHO.That Guiton executed the comeback against PUR does not mean that he really was well prepared.

NW Buckeye's picture

Bad Dog, As usual, you make compelling arguments to prove your point.  If you had not already told us what you do for a living, it would be quite easy to guess your profession.  Second guessing coaching decisions is something that lives in most every fan's mind.  Having been a coach and knowing a bit about the game, I will readily admit that I have often thought how I would react given certain situations.  But, having been on the play calling side, I shy away from actually second guessing or questioning the calls.
Maybe the biggest reason for this is that hindsight is always perfect.  Let's say OSU did score at the end or the first half - everyone says "Brilliant!"   Let's say they don't score and Hyde blows out a knee - everyone says "Boneheaded move!".  Now let's say Hyde breaks loose for an amazing 60 yd TD, but blows out his knee when he crosses the goal line - lot's of different comments in that case.  My point here is that most of the second guessing is really based on outcome.  You make a good case in arguing your personal preference, but you are not on the sidelines.  You do not have your finger on the pulse of the team.  You do not have the experience that Urban has. 
Your argument includes comparisons between the end of the half and the end of the game,  basically stating that at the end of the game we had to go for it.  And, your analysis was correct in saying that we did not need to score at the end of the first half.  But, did you consider that by running plays at the end of the half where Purdue jumped into their "prevent defense" that maybe the coaches learned a little bit about how to close out the last 47 seconds of the game when they had to do it again?  I know that is something I would have taken away from that first half if I were calling the game.  And, judging by the 2 completed passed to Fields and and 1 to Stoneburner I would imagine that Herman knew exactly what to call in the last 47 seconds.  It's a long game, and I am all for coaches who use all of their time to learn as much as possible about beating their opponent. 

baddogmaine's picture

 But, did you consider that by running plays at the end of the half where Purdue jumped into their "prevent defense" that maybe the coaches learned a little bit about how to close out the last 47 seconds of the game when they had to do it again?

That's the first good argument I've heard for running plays at the end of the PUR first half.  Thank you.

NoVA Buckeye's picture

In the words of Fake Pat Shurmur, "Anytime you can run out the clock and admit defeat, you have to do it."

The offseason begins when your season ends. Even then there are no days off.

d5k's picture

I was yelling at my radio this afternoon in the car when Spielman was somehow defending punting on 4th and 1 on the Colts 40 when DOWN 4 points late in the 4th quarter.  In other words you should never go for it on 4th down prior to the last drive of the half/game according to Spiels... 
Shurmur basically cut his chances of winning the game in half by punting there...
I'm not even a Browns fan.  That dude needs fired for that decision alone.  It's about time coaches get fired for taking the cowardly results-oriented terrible decisions such as punting on 4th and 1 in + territory.

Buckeye80's picture

I've said it before, Urban Meyer is a high risk/high reward coach.  You see it in every aspect of the game, whether it's the way we are doing kickoffs, going for it on 4th down, etc.  Like it or not, it's who he is, and it's who we have as our coach now.  It's just hard for us to adjust to because we have went from one extreme to the other. 

d5k's picture

I don't think this is the right way to characterize it though.  He is an analytical coach that is looking for any edge he can exploit.  If the field position and situation and statistics support an "aggressive" decision he will make that decision, if not then he will do the "traditional" decision.  Tressel was analytical in some ways but he did not have a complete understanding of 4th down decisions etc.  Punting on 4th and 1 from the 35 against USC more than once comes to mind.  He was so good at other areas that he was able to make up for this.  His low variance style was also very effective at beating teams with less talent.

jthiel09's picture

Should Jordan Hall have worn steel tipped work boots when he was walking outside during the offseason? 
I doubt when Braxton was running down the sideline before he got hurt the thought "Don't grab my jersey and slam me down I might get hurt man" was even in his head.


CALPOPPY's picture

If Short hadn't taken that cheap shot at the end of the half we would likely not be having this conversation. He took a couple steps and form-tackled Miller. That's as cheap as it can get. You don't gameplay for some @sshole player from the other team to take a cheap shot on your of your players. Miller was completely free from harm until Short pulled that crap so I considered it a pretty risk-free play.

I'm a hurtin' buckaroo.

Buckeye80's picture

I have to respectfully disagree.  I don't believe that the statistics, field position, or the situation supported us going for a fake punt on our own side of the field a couple weeks ago.  I truly think Meyer looks at a situation and decides if the risk is worth the reward, and his decision level is high. Where as Coach Tressel was very low.  I'm not saying either way is right or wrong, and hindsight is always 20/20, but we will continue to see Meyer take chances because he believes "the juice is worth the squeeze".

d5k's picture

Yes he believed the fake punt had a better chance to succeed than running a play. Hindsight is irrelevant. He thought the odds of storm klein getting tossed aside like a rag doll were low enough. Theres plenty of theory on the internet about how coaches dont go for it on 4th and short enough even with bad field position.

BoFuquel's picture

Yep.Almost worked.GO BUCKS!

I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

Maceyko's picture

Bad Dog - good argument/points.  But like many say I guess it just comes down to the fact that Meyer is going to decide at that moment in time what feels right and that's it.  Sometimes he'll be right and sometime's he'll be wrong, but he is going to live life on the edge that much is for sure!