Tue Jan 03 11:09am EST
You're Stanford head coach David Shaw. It's late in the fourth quarter of the Fiesta Bowl. You have a decision: With the game tied at 38, your team has just picked up a first down at the Oklahoma State 25-yard line with a little over a minute to play. The Cowboys have just called its second time out, leaving them with one. You have all three.
Your quarterback, Andrew Luck, has completed nine straight passes, and 20 of his last 21 since the middle of the second quarter. To get the offense into field goal position, Luck has just completed five consecutive passes for 55 yards on the drive, the last 25 coming on a screen pass to Jeremy Stewart that Luck held till the last possible millisecond. On the previous drive, he'd converted a crucial 3rd-and-14 from the edge of field goal range with a 20-yard dart to Griff Whalen, then converted a 3rd-and-7 with a nine-yard throw to Whalen that gave the Cardinal first-and-goal for an easy go-ahead touchdown. You've spent most of the last year telling anyone who'll listen that Luck is the best player in the country.
Do you a) Use your timeouts and give your All-American QB a chance to finish off his career by punching in the winning touchdown in the biggest game of the year? Or at least to set up an easier field goal? Or do you b) Run the ball up the middle on first and second down, sit on the timeouts and let the clock tick down to three seconds before calling on a redshirt freshman kicker who's missed three of his last five field goal attempts — including a 41-yarder in the first quarter — since returning from an injury?
The first rule of coaching: When it works, you're a genius; when it doesn't, you're an idiot. If Jordan Williamson makes the kick — and he'd made six of them from at least 35 yards in the regular season, with only one miss in a dozen tries inside of 40 — Stanford wins 12 games for the second year in a row, Luck goes out as a conquering hero in his final game and no one thinks twice about second-guessing the winning strategy of the winning coach. As soon as the kick sailed wide, David Shaw instead became the guy who needlessly took the game out of the $40 million hands of his Hall-of-Fame quarterback and onto the foot of an anonymous redshirt freshman.
The timidity makes even less sense in the context of the rest of the preceding 59 minutes, which had been largely dominated by the Stanford offense. The Cardinal outgained Oklahoma State by 175 yards, didn't give up a cheap touchdown to OSU's defense or special teams and held the Cowboys to just three points off two turnovers. They put together five extended touchdown drives and held the ball for nearly 42 minutes. They hadn't trailed at any point, and wouldn't until the final snap of the game in overtime, a chip-shot field goal that delivered the win to Oklahoma State following Williamson's second clutch miss.
There are worse ways for a great player to go out — see Troy Smith and Colt McCoy — but not many. After four years at Stanford; three years as the leader, public face and heart and soul of one of the best teams in the country; endless early mornings and late nights; countless triumphs and disappointments of all sizes; and 59 mostly brilliant minutes in his swan song, Luck was reduced to a spectator with the game on the line. One minute, three timeouts, 25 yards. No sure things. Stanford went all-in on the kicker.