Penn State & Atlanta Falcons Provide Coaching Tip: Make Sure All Players Sharpen Their ‘Football Knowledge’
Two games this weekend, one within the college ranks and the other in the NFL, provide a glaring example of the importance of players knowing the game of football.
On Saturday, the Penn State Nittany Lions traveled to Bloomington, Indiana to face the an upstart Hoosiers squad. Missed opportunities aside, coach James Franklin’s team managed to take the lead and seemed to be close to settling in for a win. With 1:46 remaining the Nittany Lions were leading, 21–20. The football was on the Hoosiers 14-yard line. Indiana was down to its final time out. Throughout the Pennsylvania, proud members of Nittany Nation were pouring ‘Nitter Winner’ shots or raising their bottles of Yengling in the east and Iron City in the west as they were about to celebrate a Big 10 victory.
Uh-oh! Someone forgot to tell running back Devyn Ford it’s not about the touchdown. It’s about taking seconds off the clock. It’s about recognizing the Hoosiers defense had been instructed to let Penn State score. As Ford proudly ran toward the end zone it appeared he did hesitate prior to crossing the goal line. Were his teammates shouting for him to fall down? Had Franklin instructed him to get a couple yards and fall to the turf? After Franklin’s post-game comments, question number two was definitely answered as he told the media, “It’s my job to make sure everyone understands those situations, and obviously right there, that didn’t happen.”
An even larger question looms in the minds of Penn State fans regarding the situation. Why not take a knee? Sure, only a few seconds would run off the clock before Indiana called its final time out. Subsequent kneels would have assured a win for the Nittany Lions. Instead, Franklin called a run play and Ford crosses the goal line and the extra point makes the score, 28–20 and leaving a lot of time for the Hoosiers to receive the kickoff and eventually score a touchdown and the tying two-point conversion. Indiana goes on to win the game in overtime — the first win a Hoosiers team has had over a top-ten team since 1987.
Falcons Say, ‘Hold My Beer!’
Unlike Penn State, the Atlanta Falcons were not holding a lead. The Detroit Lions were clinging onto a two-point lead and were out of time outs. The Lions were not in a good situation as Atlanta’s offense had moved the ball just inside Detroit’s 10-yard line. With 1:04 showing on the fourth quarter clock all the Falcons had to do was to take a knee (or two) and bring on the field goal unit for a chip shot kick and a one-point win. The Falcons, ala Penn State of a day earlier, decided on running the ball and ala Indiana’s defensive mindset, Detroit players were instructed to let the Falcons score.
Running back Todd Gurley received the hand off, sprinted through the interior line of scrimmage apparently breaking a couple of hapless arm tackless. As he neared the goal line his football knowledge kicked in, but too late. If his cleats were from Bridgestone’s, we would have seen the smoke coming off them as he came to a screeching halt — with his momentum crossing the plane of the goal line. Touchdown! Even with the successful two-point conversion quarterback Mathew Stafford had enough time to direct his Lions to a tying touchdown as time expired. The point-after was good and the Atlanta Falcons were losers for the sixth time in 2020.
‘Football Knowledge’ Reminders
Coaches at all levels routinlely have a reminder session as part of the team walk-through prior to a game. Some of these reminders include scenarios such as:
- A player preparing to field a punt near the team’s own goal line is to have his heels at the 10-yard line, letting any punt over his head go. (Currently in the NFL it seems this coaching point is not always in use.)
- Rather than risk a blocked punt near a team’s own goal line, and leading by six-points, a team will have the punter run out of the end zone. It gives the opponent two points but still requres them to score a touchdown to win the game. Similarly, an intentional safety may be the lesser of two evils rather than getting tackled just outside the end zone/or allowing the defense to recover the ball.
- Knowing when to scoop a fumble or to fall on it. Late in the game with a blocked punt or a fumble caused by the defense, attempting to scoop the ball and run is considered worth the risk of not gaining possession. Earlier in the game, it’s always better to make sure you can gain possession of the ball.
- When a team’s oppenent crosses the 50-yard line defensive backs need to be alert of deep throws on third down. If there is a chance of being tackled inside the 10-yard line after intercepting it’s better to knock the ball down. A fourth down punt can be blocked, a poor punt or a punt into the end zone is much better than an interception and being tackled near the goal line.
- Going for the field goal on third down. Late in a game, it can be advantageous to kick a winning field goal on third down, as a mishandled snap recovered by the offense will result in fourth down. Another field goal attempt can be made on fourth down.
After what happened to Penn State and the Atlanta Falcons, it’s likely coaches at all levels will refresh their players’ knowledge of end-of-game clock management.