I’ll never forget the sinking feeling.
In November 2010, I was in the stands in Tallahassee as a less talented Clemson team was about to take a top Florida State Seminole team into overtime. Clemson was trying to build the program to its current heights back and Dabo Swinney was only in his second full season as Clemson’s head coach.
Florida State had the ball but I knew my Tigers were going to be fine because the Seminoles were out of timeouts. FSU moved down the field but were a long way away, and now had to run out on the field and try a nearly impossible 55-yard field goal.
That’s when it happened.
Inexplicably, Swinney called time out as the Seminoles performed what can best be described as a Chinese fire drill as they tried to get the kicking unit out there, set and ready, to execute the ridiculously long field goal. Of course, as soon as that timeout was called, I knew FSU would make the kick and the game would be over. What coach would do something that stupid?
The answer of course is Dan Mullen and that’s exactly how he cost his team the game and a shot at the College Football Playoffs Saturday night against LSU in the Swamp.
In case there are any other coaches reading this, you never, ever, ever call a timeout when a team has its back against the wall needing a field goal longer than 49 yards to tie or win a game. Mullen should know better. LSU’s kicker was good from a ridiculous 57 yards because he and his entire unit had time to trot onto the field and be completely set. If you only have to concentrate on the kick itself, the chances to make it rise dramatically.
Mullen called the time out to save his team enough time to try and score. That ploy did not work when Florida’s kicker missed from 51 yards out as time expired. After the game, Mullen did not have to answer a question about that decision from the media covering the game.
I understand that you all feel like I am missing the big story here, right? The Gators tossing away their chance at the playoffs?
In one of the more bizarre moments I have seen in a football game, Gators defensive back Marco Wilson tossed the shoe of an LSU player 20 yards down the field after getting a crucial third-down stop. The boneheaded play gave LSU a first down and new life. That drive culminated in the very field goal discussed above.
After the game, Mullen had little to say about what Wilson did, telling reporters “I didn’t see it. I don’t know. I guess that’s a penalty.”
Fans are posting online about Wilson’s actions, with many calling for his removal from both the team and the school. I would not be so hasty. These are young men learning as they go and college isn’t exactly the place known for where the most mature decisions are made. Marco Wilson didn’t commit a crime. He committed a penalty in the heat of the moment. He will regret it for the rest of his life. Gator Nation should wrap its arms around this young man, not toss him in the garbage heap.
The loss seemingly knocks the Gators out of the playoff race, even if they beat Alabama and win the SEC Championship. That isn’t sitting well with Mullen, in large part because the team considered ahead of them is 5-0 Ohio State. The Buckeyes were let into the Big 10 Championship game after the conference changed its rules to allow them to compete.
“I don’t have a vote on that. I am not in the room. I know we’ve played 10 games, right? So I guess probably the best thing to do would have been to play less games, because you seem to get rewarded for not playing this year in college football,” Mullen said after losing to LSU.
Does he have a point? The other contenders–Ohio State, Clemson and Notre Dame–all had Saturday off in preparation for the conference championship games this week and did not have to risk their standing.
Mullen needs to stop looking at the schedule, and start looking in the mirror as his team has to settle for a New Year’s Day bowl game instead of the playoff semifinals.
TOP 25 FOR THE WEEK BEGINNING DECEMBER 13
- ALABAMA (10-0) Remember when their D was vulnerable? That was a long time ago.
- NOTRE DAME (10-0) Only a blowout loss could keep them from the playoffs.
- OHIO STATE (5-0) Not fair to be this high with 5 wins, but you know they belong here when you watch them.
- CINCINNATI (8-0) A win over Tulsa for the AAC Championship is probably not enough.
- CLEMSON (9-1) Win over ND and they are in the playoffs.
- TEXAS A&M (7-1) Florida’s loss hurts them in comparison with Clemson.
- INDIANA (6-1) Won their only game without QB Michael Penix.
- SOUTHERN CAL (5-0) Another ridiculous comeback win over an inferior team. Scoff at anyone who suggests this is a playoff level team.
- COASTAL CAROLINA (11-0) My favorite story of the season and the winner of a wild comeback.
- NORTHWESTERN (6-1) Would love to see them in the Rose Bowl against USC.
- LOUISIANA (9-1) Faces Coastal Carolina for Sun Belt crown.
- IOWA STATE (8-2) Seven straight wins for Matt Campbell’s bunch.
- FLORIDA (8-2) Likely Orange Bowl or Sugar Bowl bound.
- BYU (10-1) Great season, but they are not in the league of the top 10.
- OKLAHOMA (7-2) Get their shot at revenge on Iowa St. for Big 12 Crown.
- GEORGIA (7-2) Look better each week with JT Daniels.
- IOWA (6-2) Started 0-2, then won six straight.
- LIBERTY (9-1) Only loss is by a point to 8-3 NC State.
- SAN JOSE STATE (6-0) They’re a great story and dominated Nevada in the second half.
- TULSA (6-1) Only loss is by a score to Oklahoma State to open season.
- MARSHALL (7-1) COVID really wrecked the end of their promising season.
- NORTH CAROLINA (8-3) Great on offense, not so much on defense.
- MIAMI (8-2) That was just an embarrassing end against UNC.
- BOISE STATE (5-1) As good as anyone with their starting QB back.
- BUFFALO (5-0) RB Jaret Patterson is so much fun to watch.
Reach Mike Synan at firstname.lastname@example.org