The Spread, Week 5: The Run-down on Running Up The Score

This past weekend in college football was a bit of a yawner. We knew that going in, of course, with so many of the games featuring top teams in absurd mismatches (kudos to this guy for suggesting that Ohio State might score 75 points in an article about the potential for what happened to happen). In fact, there were four games that saw a Top 25 team take a 20+ point lead into halftime against an FCS opponent. There have been five more such games so far this season. Yet, Ohio State seems to be the only team facing accusations of “running up the score.” Do a Google search for any of these nine teams: Ohio State, Washington, Florida State, Miami (FL), Oklahoma State, Wisconsin, Louisville, Clemson or Oregon + “running up the score” and see which one returns articles from this week.

I don’t think I’ve ever actually watched a game where one team was clearly trying to score as much as possible just to embarrass their opponents. Maybe this is something that happens, but I honestly don’t know what it looks like. Judging from the outrage I’ve seen this week, it has something to do with going for two and attempting to convert fourth downs. One would also assume that throwing the ball and playing starters late in the game would be frowned on. While it seems like a nice concept, I’m not sure that there are actually a lot of ways to actively try to keep your own point total down while simultaneously providing honest coaching to college kids.

So, as to the matter of whether Ohio State was “running up the score” on Florida A&M last Saturday, we can knock a few of those off the list right away. No passes were thrown in the entire second half, and a large percentage of the roster saw action. A true freshman was the game’s leading rusher.

The two-point conversion that has so many riled up came very early, following the second touchdown. You’ll recall that Ohio State also went for two on its first two TDs of the season, so this is clearly something the staff wants to work on so the team is ready to execute when it will actually make a difference. If you think this is an unlikely scenario, I’d remind you that the Buckeyes would have lost to Purdue last year without a well-designed and properly-executed two-point conversion.

Which brings us to going for it on fourth down. This happened four times in this game, two on the same first quarter drive, when the score was 20-0. One of those was the first play this season for Carlos Hyde, and it seemed to be a deliberate decision to put him in for a fourth-down conversion attempt. These two plays were run from 26 and 11 yards out. Last season, I discussed Urban Meyer and Tom Herman’s career-long tendencies to favor touchdowns over field goals. His best teams had a high TD/FG ratio. So far this year, we are again near the bottom of the nation in field goal attempts, with just two in four games. It’s no surprise to me to see them continue with this philosophy.

The other two fourth down conversions came later when the game was very clearly settled. One of these led to Guiton’s record-setting sixth TD, and I truly believe that this was the sole purpose for the call. Ohio State threw on every down inside the 35 on this drive. Meyer knew there would be no more passing in this game and simply couldn’t not give Guiton a shot at the record book. This is the sort of thing that I don’t expect outsiders to understand. But Buckeye fans know what Guiton has gone through, how hard he’s worked and how remarkably humble he’s remained. He deserved that record, and I am willing to take crap from other fans for him to have it.

The final fourth-down conversion came on the first drive of the second half. Third-string QB Cardale Jones ran 12 yards on 4th-and-3 from 32 yards out. This is the one that seems to bug people the most, but it seems to be the least egregious to me. It’s too far out to reasonably attempt a field goal and too close to reasonably punt. It’s the first drive for some young players, many of whom will probably see zero snaps for the rest of the year, so let’s see if they can pick it up. But, hey, if you think this is bad sportsmanship, nothing I say here will convince you.

But what about those other 8 teams who found themselves in similar situations this year? How did those classy organizations handle the daunting task of sparing their opponents’ feelings? We have to assume they did it much better than Ohio State did, since there was no hand-wringing and finger-wagging following their games. Judge for yourself:

Washington (vs. Idaho State): Up 14-0, Washington converted a 4th-and-1 from 39 yards out. They also attempted conversions up 42-0 from 12 yards out and up 56-0 from 9 yards out. Washington was throwing the ball well into the third quarter. They did not attempt a two-point conversion.

Florida State (vs. Bethune-Cookman): The Seminoles did not attempt any fourth-down or two-point conversions. They passed three times (all incomplete) on their second-to-last drive.

Miami (FL) (vs. Savannah State): Up 56-0, Miami converted a 4th down from 14 yards out. Up 77-7, they also converted a 4th-and-1 from 8 yards out and attempted a 4th-and-9 from 9 yards out (following a penalty) on their last drive of the game. Miami passed the ball until about midway through the third quarter. They did not attempt a two-point conversion.

Oklahoma State (vs. Lamar): Up 38-3, Oklahoma State threw on 4th-and-2 from 2 yards out for a touchdown. Oklahoma State passed four times on their final drive of the game, including a 16-yard touchdown. They did not attempt a two-point conversion.

Wisconsin (vs. Tennessee Tech): The Badgers did not attempt a any fourth-down or two-point conversions. Wisconsin passed throughout the third quarter and once in the fourth.

Louisville (vs. Eastern Kentucky): The Cardinals did not attempt a any fourth-down or two-point conversions. They passed throughout the game and starting QB Teddy Bridgewater played into the fourth quarter.

Clemson (vs. South Carolina State): On the first drive of the game, Clemson converted a 4th-and-1 from 44 yards out. They also attempted a 4th-and-1 from 13 yards out on their second drive, up just 3-0. Clemson passed throughout the game. They did not attempt a two-point conversion.

Oregon (vs. Nicholls State): Up 38-3, Oregon attempted a pass on 4th-and-5 from 39 yards out. They also attempted to convert a 4th-and-3 from 13 yards out (same score). Up 52-3, they converted a 4th-and-2 from 53 yards out. They did not attempt a two-point conversion.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: