Avinash: It didn't look that great, but if there was initial intent, there was nothing wrong with it—aside from injury potential.
Game theory time.
Cal was up by two scores with 15 seconds left. Since they chose to throw instead of kicking a field goal, the only thing North Carolina could do to have a chance to win is to score on one of those two plays, get the onside kick, then set up for a long field goal or a deep Hail Mary.
This tactic has been used by the Ravens before to win a football game and the 49ers have used it in the past. Not a huge problem with this. If you don't like it, change the rule.
HydroTech: It's a penalty for defenders to hold wide receivers. Cal decided it wanted to commit penalties by holding the wide receivers. There is nothing wrong with purposely committing penalties. Some people may say what Cal did was not in the spirit of the game and that may be true. But until the NCAA changes the rules to prevent this type of strategy, there is nothing to stop a team from purposely committing penalties for clock runoff.
Berkelium97: It wasn't the most aesthetically pleasing strategy, but it is a smart one for this very specific circumstance: leading by more than 8 with 30 or fewer seconds remaining against an opponent inside the 10-yard line. In fact, after realizing that the team was doing it, I thought it was a brilliant strategy for two reasons. 1) Each time UNC dropped back to pass and saw that all the receivers were held, it burned about 5–7 seconds off the clock. That is critical in a game with fewer than 20 seconds remaining. The only way for UNC to avoid wasting those precious seconds leads to the second advantage of this strategy: 2) UNC can avoid the holding situation altogether by running the ball, which risks burning more clock if the ball carrier is tackled short of the goal line (which is exactly what happened to force UNC's final timeout). No matter what, UNC is put in a situation where the clock will be running excessively.
More importantly, I was very pleased to see this because it demonstrates how much thought the coaches put into their strategy for exceptionally specific situations. This highlights great attention to detail the coaches put into their gameplanning. This strategy reminds me of the first time the Dykes-Franklin offense took advantage of the fact that Jared Goff and Cole Leininger both wore #16 to sneak Goff onto the field for a fourth-down conversion. After years of awful defenses, it's great to see this kind of creativity employed on the defensive side of the field.
ragnarok: Doesn't seem to me that different from DBs intentionally committing pass interference on very deep passes or those in the end zone, knowing that the penalty isn't as bad as the big gain/sure touchdown. As Berkelium97 said, not an aesthetically pleasing way to end a game, but neither are the intentional fouls to preserve clock that end a lot of basketball games.
What could prevent this? Changing the rule so that defensive penalties in the last minute caused the clock to not advance?
As long as we're talking about preserving time, I always wonder why teams (like UNC) don't use more of their timeouts while trailing on defense? They know they need the ball back with time to score. A team leading with the ball can milk 30 seconds or more per possession, whereas a trailing team could run a couple series in that time, and can control the clock in various ways (quick snaps, passing, running out of bounds) without using timeouts. Maybe keep one in your back pocket in case you need it, but timeouts always seemed more valuable on defense than on offense, to me.
Joseph Cooney: Let's all put our sports philosophy hats on, shall we! What is the ultimate goal of the game of football, at its most foundational level? Score more points than the other team.
Now, we set rules in the game to prevent injuries and "unfair" play as well as promote sportsmanship to preserve the integrity of the final score. If these rules are broken, the team (or individual) is penalized in a manner matching the severity of the violation. DC Tim DeRuyter and company made a conscious decision to violate a specific rule as a means to the ultimate end. Yes, that decision may have irked more than a handful of Tar Heel fans, but the game was not won or lost through those penalties. If UNC fans are to be frustrated with anything, they should be frustrated with their second-half performance as a whole.
Nik Jam: I wouldn't mind if they change the rules to discourage that kind of play (reset the game clock if its under 2 minutes) but there's no such rule to discourage it so I'm not losing sleep over it. It's like fouling a team up 3 in basketball.
boomtho: I loved it!! How refreshing to have a coach on top of the right clock management strategy (with a little trickery mixed in!). It meant that UNC would have to run more clock than they would have liked (vs potentially scoring on the first play near the goal line). UNC was facing long odds, to be fair, but this decision just made their uphill climb even harder. Well played by Coach Wilcox & the staff.