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Rethinking Timeout Strategy

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

This does not necessarily have a New York Jets spin, but I have been thinking a lot about a coach's strategy from a college football game I watched Saturday. Late in the fourth quarter with Notre Dame driving for a go-ahead touchdown, Stanford coach David Shaw did not use any of his timeouts as the clock melted under 2:00. Notre Dame scored a touchdown with 30 seconds left to take the lead.

With all three timeouts, Stanford put together a four play drive that led to a game-winning 47 yard field goal as time expired.

Had Stanford lost the game, Shaw would have been widely criticized for his handling of timeouts.

It seems like the way Shaw handled things did have an impact on his team's strategy on the final drive. With all of his timeouts, Stanford could still work the middle of the field on that last drive. It left him with less time to start the drive, but it also maximized the chances of the plays being effective, and they got a 27 yard completion down the middle of the field to get into field goal range. Stanford got into field goal range so quickly that they had a chance to run the ball to put the ball on the correct hash for the kicker and wedge it a little closer, which he was able to do because he had a timeout in his pocket.

My point isn't that Shaw is right or wrong. I just think it's funny how it has become universally accepted that a coach must always burn all of his timeouts, or he has made a blunder. I think there is much more nuance. It depends on the situation. Decisions that cut against the grain might sometimes be more defensible than you think.