Last night, the Ragin Cajuns managed to win a football game despite the most insane of unfortunate plot twists. Their long snapper – Peter Boudreaux, a kid so reliable that Napier gushed about him in the pre-game production meetings – had not one but three different snaps launched over the punter’s head, two of which resulted in safeties for Appalachian State, plus a fourth snap on a field goal try that was so off-target the attempt couldn’t be made.
Winning cures a lot of ills. It’s easier to sit and review game film, especially after that insane of a game, when you’re sitting at 9-1 instead of 8-2, including your first-ever win against the Mountaineers. You could even chalk up the long-snapping woes to the weather, as it was a slippery mess all night, though App State’s long snapper didn’t have nearly the same issues.
That film review would go a lot better, though, if Billy Napier would admit that his late-game clock management nearly cost his team this game, and his field goal block unit bailed him out. From ESPN’s Harry Lyles Jr.:
When asked about the decision after the Ragin’ Cajuns held on for a 24-21 win, Napier defended it, saying, “What would you do? You want to run the snapper and the punter back out there and see if you can do that?”
Leading up to Napier’s decision, Louisiana had three bad snaps from long snapper Paul Boudreaux.
“I mean we could do that if you want,” Napier said. “But we felt like the best opportunity to win was to take a safety there and make sure we didn’t give up a bad play.”
See, in a vacuum this statement is correct. If your only two options were to punt the ball and pray to god that it was executed well or running away for a safety, then that is accurate. Though let’s point out that none of this is on Rhys Byrns, the punter. He was only able to get two punts off due to the poor snaps – one of which was a punt he got off despite a poor snap – and managed 40 yards on both, with one being covered so poorly it was returned for a net of four yards.
But yes, if all we were worried about was “if I’m not going to punt it, and I’m not going to go for it, then the safety is the smart play” then perhaps that’s true. But among all of the possible options, it most definitely wasn’t the smartest play.
“We felt like we could flip the field maybe and get 25 or 30 more yards given the time,” he said. “We tried to win the game on third down, we threw the ball and tried to win the game. They had a timeout in their pocket, so we felt if we could cash it in and win the game on third down, the game would be over, so we did that.
“And then we had already made the decision that if we got to fourth and we weren’t going to go for it we would take the safety.”
See, there’s the rub. Napier is correct that with a lone timeout left, if Louisiana had converted the first down, the Mountaineers would have used their final timeout at the 1:51 mark and been left to watch the Cajuns kneel three times and end the game.
There is where the thought process breaks down. With 1:57 left in the game, Levi Lewis had just run the ball for a gain of seven yards to set up a third down and two. A quick check of the stat sheet would show that this was the 18th time in 38 run plays that Louisiana had gained at least five yards, and the 25th time they had gained at least two yards.
This would, using simple math, mean there’s about a 66% chance that they could gain at least two yards if they ran the ball again. Not only that, but another run play would guarantee that the Mountaineers used up their final timeout.
In comparison, Lewis had completed only eight of his 22 pass attempts on the night for 101 yards, with 25 of those yards coming on his very first completion back in the first quarter. That stat line makes a lot of sense when you consider the nasty weather conditions.
I think you see where I am going with this, but there is absolutely no universe where a team that has only completed 36% of its passes and has been averaging 6.1 yards per carry – in weather that is clearly conducive to running over passing – should be passing the ball in anything other than a scenario where they are trailing and have no choice but to pass.
I’m a big fan of Bill Connelly, who regularly hits on making sure that you don’t allow the success or failure of the outcome to cloud the assessment of the process.
If you are Billy Napier, do you really and truly believe that your offense that has gained yardage on almost every run and gained at least two yards on most of them, cannot gain two yards in two plays? Because that’s the only scenario where passing on third down in a steady rain and then not punting but also not going for it makes any sense.
The goal should absolutely have been to pick up the first down, but passing for a first down when you’ve barely had any success passing all night (for obvious reasons) is a fool’s errand. The worst case scenario would have been running the ball twice and not getting the first down, and giving the ball back to App State with about 1:45 remaining and no timeouts on your own 35 yard line, needing a touchdown to win. Even if the Mountaineers score there, you would still have two timeouts of your own to try to gain an extra possession.
If you believe in your defense, I don’t think that your opponent needing to drive 35 yards for a touchdown in 105 seconds with no timeouts is terribly different than needing to go 25 yards in 100 seconds with a single timeout (what actually happened).
Napier was fortunate that his special teams unit blocked the kick, and a made field goal would have sent things to overtime where anything was possible, but there were better ways to secure the win in regulation and it would be nice to hear him plainly admit that.