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Cal vs. Nevada Reaction Roundtable # 2: Was Discretion the Better Part of Valor on 3rd and 16?

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In Saturday's 31-24 season-opening loss to Nevada, Cal surrendered the the game winning touchdown with 36 seconds left in the game. Nevada's game-winning drive was set up about three minutes earlier when Cal faced 3rd-and-16 at its own six yard line after Zach Maynard was sacked on second down. Third and 16, deep in your own territory, under four minutes left in the game: what do do, what to do?

What Cal did: a draw play to Isi Sofele for a gain of 5 yards, setting up a Cole Leininger punt. Despite the fact the Nevada offense caused Cal's defense trouble all second half, the Bears decided to run the football and concede the punt --- to the groans of many. Leininger gave the Bears as good a punt as they could have reasonably asked for -- a 50-yard boot with no return, with the help of a fortuitous roll -- but Nevada was still set up in good shape at its own 39-yard line with 3:24 left to play in the game. Nine plays and 61 yards later, the Wolf Pack made the Bears regret giving up the football.

CGB convened the roundtable to discuss Cal's late-game decision to play for the punt on 3rd-and-16.

yellow fever: I know it's conservative, but I think that's right call. What were the odds that we were successfully going to pull off a 16 yard gain in that situation throwing the ball? Not that great, and it looked like the defense had figured some things out.

TwistNHook: Tedford does this playcall quite often on the 3rd and longs. I've seen it repeatedly. It is designed to get some field position back. I've never seen it used in quite a dire situation, though. At that point, the game was tied. What is 5 years in that situation? Nevada is gonna get decent field position no matter what. All they need to do is SLOWLY move down the field and hit the FG. Instead, they moved SLOWLY down the field and scored a TD. TD or FG, it didn't really matter that much. Cal actually got fairly lucky with a few extra bounces and a really long punt. But the D, tired from a long day, was not able to stop Nevada.

Notice on the drive that Nevada had the two following plays:

N 3-4  C38   [SHOT], 17-FAJARDO, Cody middle pass complete to 44-SUDFELD, Zach for 16
               yards to the CAL22, 1ST DOWN NEV (6-Logan, Alex).
 N 3-9  C21   [SHOT], 17-FAJARDO, Cody RR pass complete to 4-WIMBERLY, B. for 19 yards to
               the CAL2, 1ST DOWN NEV (23-Hill, Josh).

Now, those are two HUGE 3rd downs, one at the Cal 38 and the other at the Cal 21. If the D stops Nevada at the Cal 38, Nevada faces a very tough field goal attempt. Even taking the field goal at the 21 yard line is not a super easy chip shot. Unfortunately, Cal could not stop the Nevada QB as he had 2 big pass plays (16 yards and 19 yards respectively). And then the fat lady sang.

(Read what CGB's other Marshawnthusiasts, Jahviditicians, Folletarians, and Hit Squadders think after the jump.)

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Kodiak: I'm sure smarter football minds have analyzed the metrics and stats on this to death and found that it's the right decision. Or the wrong one. If it's Aaron Rodgers throwing behind the '04 line, you go for it. With Zach "50 Percent" Maynard and the Sieve Patrol, I'm surprised we didn't quick-kick it.

Berkelium97: Let's take a step back. Why did we pass on 2nd and 10? Why not run on 2nd down and try to set up a more reasonable pass for the third down? That whole series was a mess.

Over the past few years I have not been a big fan of passing on 2nd and 10 for two reasons: 1) we haven't had QBs accurate enough (even on short routes) for me to be confident we'll complete the pass to gain some yardage and 2) our O-line has been a sieve, which risks exposing us to third and impossible. Of course, the latter happened and we were stuck with an unmanageable distance in a dangerous part of the field.

Again, I would much rather run on second down. Let's pick up 3 or 4 yards and put us in a position where we can set up a reasonable pass. If the receivers are covered on third down, it's a short enough distance that Maynard has a decent chance of scrambling for the first down.

unclesam22: I totally agree for all the same reasons. Our running game has been so much more consistent than our passing game that I'd rather take the chance on a run than another incomplete or a sack (which ended up happening, thereby setting up this whole mess we're trying to untangle). Which takes me back to my original gripe with this game, which was why didn't we just run it down their throats all game?

Ohio Bear: As it turned out, an incompletion would have been great on second down. The sack left us in the 3rd-and-very long conundrum. If we would have been 3rd and 10 from our 12-yard line after an incompletion instead of 3rd and 16 at our 6-yard line after a sack, I don't think we're having this roundtable discussion. Maybe another one. But not this one.

atomsareenough: That 3rd and 16 playcall really bugged me. It was waving the white flag, essentially. That draw play netted us 5 whole yards of "field position" and pretty much eliminated the chance of converting. Now yes, maybe we should have run on 2nd down to create a more manageable 3rd down situation, but the game is tied late in the 4th quarter, a punt means Nevada gets it at midfield, we haven't been able to stop them consistently, and all they need is to run the clock and kick the FG to win.... and if we continue the drive, we can run the clock and kick that winning FG. 5 negligible yards of field position vs. a shot (even an unlikely shot) to win the game, and you go for the 5 yards? I don't get it. Especially after we'd gone for it on 4th and 9 and successfully converted. You're willing to gamble on 4th and 9 (which was refreshing assertiveness, at least), and then you chicken out on 3rd down? Why?

Ohio Bear: Who among us didn't see this coming on 3rd and 16 after Maynard had just been sacked for a big loss? I expected us to run a bubble screen or a draw play. My thoughts on the playcall are that I understood it, but I didn't like it.

I know it was a different game situation and everything, but I still couldn't help but think of the stark difference between what we did on 3rd and 16 Saturday and what we did on a 3rd and 20 situation last year in the first quarter of game, following a negative play on second down. Maybe you'll remember it.

(What are your thoughts on the 3rd and 16 decision, CGB readers? Share them in the comments.)