Right and wrong, black and white. As media members, we can all be guilty of trying to push critiques into one area or another.
The issue is it’s usually never that simple — there’s blue, gray, green, purple, yellow along with many other colors. Sometimes ideas don’t fit perfectly into one category.
Certain angles are that simple — Arizona State head coach Todd Graham having to waste two timeouts in the fourth quarter outside of an end of game situation was completely unacceptable.
Many other decisions Graham made throughout the Sun Devils’ bizarre 32-30 win over the Wisconsin Badgers, some of which were highly criticized, were a bit more complicated.
Let’s start with the decision to go for it on the opening drive on fourth and two from the Badgers’ 3-yard line. ASU failed and left three points on the field.
I don’t think that is true. Despite not getting the points immediately, Wisconsin was left in horrible field position. ASU forced a three-and-out, got the ball back then pinned the Badgers inside their 10 again. The same result ensued — the Sun Devils defense forced a three and out, ASU gets good field position which eventually leads to a 34-yard field goal from Zane Gonzalez, and a 3-0 lead.
If ASU takes the three points on the first drive there is no guarantee those second three points are available to you. Arizona State has to kick the ball off and the field position falls under a completely different scenario.
Graham understood the worst possible outcome (without a horrific turnover) was Wisconsin getting the ball inside their 5-yard line. That’s not a bad end game, especially when the reward is a potential touchdown.
Up next is the two-point conversion conversation and I don’t really believe there is a right or wrong answer here because of all the variables of what could happen.
The way it worked out, Graham looks really bad that he didn’t kick the two PATs, which would have prevented the Badgers from kicking what would have been a game-winning field goal if all hell didn’t break loose in the closing moments of the fourth quarter.
After a Marion Grice touchdown with :47 left in the third quarter, Graham decided to go for a two-point conversion to tie the game instead of kicking the extra point. I have no problem with this decision.
What happens if you kick the PAT, go down by one, and never have a chance to score again? That means you passed up your one opportunity to tie for the assumption there would be another scoring opportunity.
Another scenario, Wisconsin, who had been running the ball with ease, puts together a 12-play, 80-yard drive that drains eight minutes off the clock and ends with a touchdown. ASU trails by eight, drives down quickly, scores a touchdown, goes for two and doesn’t get it. Now you’re still losing by two, but instead of having an entire quarter to make it up, you only have seven minutes. What is more preferable: to have the extra time and know you need the two points, or waiting out the decision and now having your offensive possessions limited because time is at a minimum?
The criticism of what Graham did is based on the result of how it played out, but the process behind the decision does make sense.
Finally, Graham was called out for throwing a pass on second down and eight instead of running the ball to keep the clock moving late in the fourth quarter.
Number one, if you didn’t complain when a pass play was called two plays before to D.J. Foster that resulted in a 21-yard gain, you can’t complain on the one that didn’t work. It’s the same concept — Graham was playing to pick up first downs and not let Wisconsin get the ball back. Once again, it’s about process, not just the results.
ASU’s head man was not without fault in this game, Graham certainly made some mistakes.
Not everything on a football field plays out how you expect it to. Coaches have to make split-second decision in a high-pressure environment knowing they will be judged on how everything worked out. The funny part is, sometimes bad decisions can work out well and good decisions can work out poorly. Most of the time this goes ignored even though it shouldn’t be.