Kicking away a game

What a backbreaking loss.  The Citadel did so many things right yesterday.  Bart Blanchard played well, throwing for 350+ yards with no interceptions.  The Bulldogs outrushed GSU (including a 100-yard game for Asheton Jordan).  Two different players for The Citadel had 100+ yards receiving for the first time in 25 years.  The Bulldogs won the turnover battle 2-0.  Mel Capers blocked another punt.  The defense was able to pressure the quarterback for most of the afternoon (until it got worn out).  The much-maligned offensive line played well, despite having to shuffle players around due to injuries.

Then there was the placekicking…

Five missed field goals (counting the one wiped out by a really stupid GSU penalty).  A 37-yarder that was short.  A 45-yarder with a low trajectory that got blocked.  A 40-yarder that was wide right.  A 27-yarder that was also wide right (that one didn’t count, thanks to the aforementioned penalty, which was for leverage).  A potential game-winning kick with 30 seconds to play in the fourth quarter from 32 yards out which was completely shanked.

That last one was with a different kicker.  Now, I’m not going to rip the two kickers.  My philosophy on this is that if your team doesn’t have a kicker you can count on, it’s the coach’s fault.  What bothered me in this game almost as much as the missed kicks was Kevin Higgins’ decision-making in the third overtime.

The Citadel got the ball first in the third OT after both teams had scored TDs in the first two OTs.  The Citadel got down to just outside the one-yard line, fourth and goal.  Higgins decided at that point to attempt a field goal, even though The Citadel hadn’t made a FG all day.  There was also the fact that GSU was moving the ball at will in the overtime periods against the Bulldogs’ tired defense.  The Citadel needed a touchdown.

Not only did The Citadel need a TD, but I think the percentage play was to go for the TD.  The ball was just outside the 1, call it a yard-and-a-half if you want.  To me, the odds The Citadel would gain that yard-and-a-half were just about as good as making the short field goal (considering the kicking game woes), and the reward was obviously much greater (6 instead of 3 points).  Higgins saw it differently.  From the game story in The Post and Courier:

“We had run 95 plays at that point, a lot of red-zone plays,” Higgins said. “And we just didn’t have any plays where we said, ‘We can do it.’ In run situations, they were getting five guys on our front five with a linebacker over the top, and we had basically used up all our good plays. I felt it was stupid to call a play there just to call a play.”

Okay, that’s an interesting explanation, and I’ll give him credit for this:  at least he outlined his thought process.  There are plenty of coaches out there who would have gone straight to Cliche 101 when asked that question.  He didn’t duck it.

Having said that, I don’t get it.  If you don’t think you can run it in, then throw it.  Try another jump pass.  It worked once, why not twice?  Or run the new “Zebra” formation again (maybe the snap would be a little better this time).  Something, anything, other than attempt the FG, because you have to know the defense at that point is not going to stop GSU without some kind of divine intervention.

(I was shocked the field goal was good, even if it was only a 19-yarder.)

Kevin Higgins has built up a lot of positive equity over these four seasons, and deservedly so.  Alumni, by and large, appreciate what he’s done to make the program competitive (I certainly have).  There are those who are concerned he could jump to another job, based on his performance at The Citadel.  Basically, he’s a good coach, and everyone knows he’s a good coach.

I just think that going for the FG at that time was a very conservative decision, and a regrettable one.  And if he really made it because he had run out of play calls for that situation, then he needs to come up with a couple more plays.

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