SALT LAKE CITY — These days, football coaches have to worry about more than just winning or losing games. They have to worry about how they win or lose.
Two examples of that came in Saturday night's games, one involving a local team and another in a Pac-12 contest.
Utah State is getting some flak for a fake punt in the middle of the fourth quarter of a game in which the Aggies led New Mexico 38-3. It resulted in a 72-yard run by the punter, who went untouched for a touchdown to push the lead to 45-3.
You can blame coach Matt Wells, but apparently it was the punter who made a read to go for it, perhaps to get a first down and before he knew it, he was in the end zone.
In the other game, an Oregon coach criticized Washington State coach Mike Leach for trying too hard with his team down by five touchdowns. It seems Leach had the audacity to keep passing the ball when his team was trailing 62-24 and ended up scoring a couple of touchdowns on the poor Duck reserves to only lose by 24 points.
Although it may seem like the same thing — a team going all out when the game has been decided — in these two cases I feel more sorry for New Mexico than I do for Oregon.
When a team is winning by so much that the opponent has no chance of coming back to win, it makes sense to call off the dogs whether it’s by simple play-calling or playing your second- and third-stringers. I’ll give the Aggies some slack on this because it’s hard to tell a player not to do his best, even if the result looks bad. I guess all Wells could have done is to tell the punter to always kick the ball with a 35-point lead in the middle of the fourth quarter.
Wells isn’t the first coach around here to be accused of rubbing it into an opponent that was clearly beat.
Back in 1977, BYU’s LaVell Edwards was criticized for putting quarterback Marc Wilson back into the game late in the fourth quarter of a 38-8 blowout of Utah. Edwards, at least, had a pretty good reason, because he wanted to give Wilson the chance to set an NCAA record for passing yards in a game. However, Utah coach Wayne Howard took offense, bringing up the “hate” word in the aftermath.
In 1997, John L. Smith’s Aggies were leading 31-7 over New Mexico State in the final 30 seconds when Smith ordered a long pass play that resulted in a touchdown. The New Mexico State coaches were livid, but Smith was unrepentant.
“If they think we're going to go out there and lay down, that's baloney,” Smith said at the time. “It's not our job to hold the score down.”
Then there was the famous onside kick in the 2007 game between Utah and Wyoming. The Utes were leading 43-0 in the second half when they successfully executed the short kick. It caused Wyoming coach Joe Glenn to respond with a one-fingered salute to Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who was apparently miffed that Glenn had guaranteed a win over the Utes earlier that week. Both coaches later apologized.
In the case of Oregon-Washington State the other night, we had a winning coach complaining about the losing coach not knowing how to lose properly. Or something like that.
Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Alliotti blasted Leach, calling it a “low class” move to throw 28 fourth-quarter passes (out of an NCAA-record 89 passes) in a 62-38 defeat.
“That’s total (B.S.) that he threw the ball at the end of the game like he did,’’ Alliotti said. “They want stats, they got stats. But we got the most important stat and that’s the ‘W,’ and we are happy about that.”
It sounds to me like it’s the Oregon coach who is worried about his own stats and how bad the 559 yards and 38 points against his team is going to look. Uh, coach, like you said, you got the win, so don’t worry about it.
If the other guys want to keep playing hard to try to make the score more respectable, what’s the big deal? After all, if they’re that bad, they need all the practice they can get.