Or, as the website Cougfan.com so aptly headlined it, “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
Some leftover thoughts from the most stunning finish I’ve witnessed in covering the Pac-12/10/8 for more than four decades — Colorado State’s 18-point flurry in the last three minutes to beat Washington State, 48-45:
* WSU’s clock management in the last two minutes-plus has drawn serious scrutiny, and it should. I’ve seen some fans express the belief that they’ve never seen a team kneel toward the end of a game and then have to execute a play to ensure the victory. I beg to disagree. I’ve seen a bunch of situations where a team had a scant few seconds remaining and had to consider how best to manage them.
But that might not even have been necessary for WSU.
Let’s go back over the last WSU series. There was 2:36 remaining when the Cougars began a third-and-six play at its 22, with Colorado State having called its last timeout. That’s when Connor Halliday threw a short pass to his left to Rickey Galvin for a first down at the 29. Now there was 2:31 left.
WSU should have had it in the bag.
After the chains had been moved and the 25-second clock had started, Halliday could have taken a knee on first down (this was the play on which he fumbled but it was overturned on review) at, let’s say (conservatively), the 2:08 mark.
Now it’s second down, and he has 40 seconds to run another play. Let’s say he takes it down to the 1:30 mark (that’s 38 seconds). Now it’s third down, and he’s got another 40 seconds. Give it another 38 (again, conservatively), and now there’s 52 seconds remaining, and it’s fourth down.
That means if WSU brings on the punt team and takes another 38 seconds to accept a snap, there’s 14 seconds left to kill.
But wait. We’re not even accounting for the time elapsed with the three knees taken. If Halliday stays in the shotgun and just stands there momentarily before taking the knee, it’s going to take a minimum of two and perhaps three seconds. Multiply that times three, and we’re taking an accumulated 6-9 seconds more.
Let’s say that number is eight seconds. That would leave another six seconds to burn (from our earlier calculation of 14 seconds left). If the time milked between kneels is actually 39 rather than 38 seconds, that drops the time left to three seconds.
All of which means the Cougars might have even been able to run a play on fourth down – anything that would waste three seconds – or at worst, run a maximum-protection punt, knowing that’s the last play of the game.
So you argue that a garden-variety simple handoff to Jeremiah Laufusa shouldn’t be that dangerous. Well, it’s a lot more dangerous than kneeling to plow the ball into a pile of humanity that’s specifically looking to strip the ball.
* I’m told Halliday didn’t burn nearly all the play clock on one or more of WSU’s latter snaps. I haven’t yet been able to look at the replay, and with a couple of things to tend to as that was happening, I can’t yet verify that. If that did occur, it was another among multiple misjudgments by the Cougars.
* It was a fairly miserable performance defensively by WSU, which surrendered 595 yards and much of the time, allowed the Rams to do what they wanted. The pass rush seemed to wilt as the game went along (it was fierce early), especially inside. WSU seemed reluctant to blitz. Receivers had far too much cushion. It was almost as though the Cougars were in a semi-prevent state of mind.
* The announced crowd of 27,000 appeared a mirage. It looked a lot more like maybe 20,000.
* The New Mexico Bowl has become quite the site of thrillers. A year ago, Arizona scored 13 points in the last 46 seconds to beat Nevada, 49-48, and in 2009, Wyoming beat Fresno State 35-28 in double-overtime.
* CSU’s miraculous win was marred by the incident in which defensive-line coach Greg Lupfer was caught on camera uttering what some have interpreted as a combination of profanity and a homophobic slur aimed at Halliday. We’ll never know who started that confrontation, but it doesn’t really matter. Coaches are supposed to be above that sort of thing. It’s a reminder of how a couple of wayward seconds, especially on a highly visible stage and in today’s social-media-crazed world, can potentially impact a career.