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Should Cal have let Washington State score?

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We won. But in the moment, what would you have done?

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Okay. That last freaking drive. Regardless of how it worked for us. If you're the coach, and know our defense and offense, would you have let them score?

LeonPowe: I let them score but either solution is a probable loss, but it feels like giving Goff and Davis, Treggs, Harper, Harris and Lasco a chance with a minute to go seems like a 30% chance which is better than a 95% chance of a 15 yard field goal. (All percentages made up)

Leland Wong: Well, I wouldn't tell the defense to just let them score, but I would tell them this is the time to play the most aggressive football they've ever dreamed of (shy of committing penalties that, at the goal line, would give them a fresh set of downs and let them bleed the clock out). Blitz on every play. Go for interceptions, not pass break-ups. Strip the ball instead of wrapping up. Best case scenario, you force a turnover and secure the win. Worst case scenario, they score a touchdown and leave enough time on the clock for a good return (thanks to Trevor Davis's big day) and for our offense--which was basically unstoppable at that point--to pull off the game-winning drive.

TwistNHook: No.  You have the lead.  Why give up the lead?  If you give up the lead, you could lose.  And it's not like WSU blasted down the field immediately.  They started on their own 30 and it took them 12 plays to get down the field:



James Langford kickoff for 35 yds , Robert Barber return for no gain to the WshSt 30 60 59
1st and 10 at WSU 30 Connor Halliday pass incomplete to Vince Mayle
2nd and 10 at WSU 30 Connor Halliday pass complete to Vince Mayle for 21 yds to the Cal 49 for a 1ST down
1st and 10 at CAL 49 Connor Halliday pass incomplete to Isiah Myers
2nd and 10 at CAL 49 Connor Halliday pass complete to Isiah Myers for 8 yds to the Cal 41
3rd and 2 at CAL 41 Jamal Morrow run for 1 yd to the Cal 40
4th and 1 at CAL 40 Connor Halliday pass complete to River Cracraft for 5 yds to the Cal 35 for a 1ST down
1st and 10 at CAL 35 Connor Halliday pass incomplete to Calvin Green
2nd and 10 at CAL 35 Connor Halliday pass complete to Calvin Green for 14 yds to the Cal 21 for a 1ST down
1st and 10 at CAL 21 Connor Halliday pass complete to Vince Mayle for 17 yds to the Cal 4 for a 1ST down
1st and Goal at CAL 4 Gerard Wicks run for 3 yds to the Cal 1
2nd and Goal at CAL 1 Gerard Wicks run for a loss of 1 yard to the Cal 2
Timeout WASHINGTON ST, clock 00:19
3rd and Goal at CAL 2 Quentin Breshears 19 yd FG MISSED


They even had to complete a 4th down (which they did).  So, the defense actually did sorta kinda reasonably well in one sense.  They made WSU work for it.  Plus, at what point do you just give up?  When they get to the 50?  25?  What is the call there?  When there is 2 minutes left?  When there is 1 minute left?  Too many variables.  Don't try to outsmart yourself.

boomtho: I would definitely have let them score. I thought we had when the WSU running lunged for the goal line. I know the outcome worked out for us, but I really think it was the wrong decision not to let them score (knowing nothing about their kicker's historical reliability). With about a minute and the chance to drive for the win, I felt pretty decent about our chances... I did not feel good about a 19 yard field goal determining the game for them.

Nick Kranz: I've already gone on record as saying that it made more sense to let Wazzu score once they got inside the 10 yardline. But I'll defend Sonny Dykes a little bit because of the challenge of relaying that type of decision to his players. You would either have to tell them when they should let WSU score before the drive begins, which probably isn't the greatest motivational ploy and adds a layer of decision making that you generally don't want college football players to have to make. The other option would be to somehow relay that decision between plays while Washington State is busy running their hurry-up offense, which strikes me as possible but difficult.

And I'll certainly admit that it's a delicate message to send. You want the players to know that the decision is being made because Cal as a team has very little ability to meaningfully impact a 19 yard field goal, but it's easy for that message to become 'I don't trust you as a coach.' As anti-intangibles as I am in my analysis, I think that message does matter in the long term for various reasons, so I can understand why some coaches might treat it as a 3rd rail. There is probably a reason why the only documented examples I can find of intentionally letting an opponent score all are from the NFL.
Just savor that somehow, NOT letting WSU score worked, because of a bizarre cocktail of questionable decisions from Mike Leach, questionable non-reviews from Pac-12 refs, and pure unadulterated providence.

HydroTech: I'm not a college football head coach, but if I was I would have let them score.  I know it's not a popular tactic, but with the way things were going in that game for Cal (back to back kickoff returns for touchdowns, and an unstoppable 2nd half offense) I would have had faith in the special teams or offense to score again even with only a minute remaining on the clock.

Avinash Kunnath: I would concur with Leland about the general strategy for that drive. I would say with about a minute and a half left and Washington State already in the red zone, you have to let them score, or dial up some sort of big play or a gamble play that can net you the turnover you need. The Bears tackled Mayle just short of the end zone with just over a minute left, and then two WSU rushes got "stuffed", and the clock dribbled down to nine seconds. So Cal let about a minute and a half elapse in a game where Jared Goff had led three second half touchdown drives of one minute (technically 1:01) or less. For all the talk of Cal's disastrous defense, Washington State's was pretty much collapsing side-by-side with us. I don't feel amazingly comfortable needing a touchdown to win, but we hadn't been stopped all second half, so...

We were very lucky Mike Leach decided to not take that third down to center the football. In 99.9% of football games, we lose (the win probability chart on this one is going to be something to behold). Kickers miss field goals. They rarely miss extra points barring a block or a bad snap.

Still, kudos to the defense for stiffening up and not giving up the lead like we all thought they inevitably would. The Cal defense amazingly only gave up seven points in the 4th quarter after being torched for 28 in the third. Hopefully it's momentum-building for a unit that needs all the momentum it can get.