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Three Things We Learned: Texas Longhorns

Aggression cuts both ways, a really dumb injury rule, and I’m not a smart man

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Texas at Washington Matthew Hinton-USA TODAY Sports

1. I Was Wrong

I never said it out loud. But I certainly thought it. Back when the 2021 season was going into the toilet there were portions of the Husky fanbase saying the standard should be for Washington to win a National Title when making a coaching hire to replace Jimmy Lake.

I run a Washington fan site. I never told that portion of the fanbase that they were being completely unrealistic because that’s just bad business. Hope is what keeps people coming back but I didn’t see UW ever getting back to that point. The Huskies had a seemingly once in a generation coach in Chris Petersen and at his apex, Washington got to a CFP semifinal as the #4 seed and lost three consecutive New Year’s Six bowls. How were the Huskies supposed to realistically compete for a title if they couldn’t do it then?

Georgia absolutely steamrolled teams on the way to consecutive national titles. Before that it was Bama and LSU and Clemson. It seemed preposterous to suggest that the Huskies in the portal and NIL era could overcome the structural advantages that those teams possessed and put themselves in position to reclaim their former glory.

Then everything fell into place. Washington hired Kalen DeBoer who appears to be just as generationally great (if not more so) as Coach Pete was a half decade earlier. They found an elite quarterback, available because of injuries, that stayed healthy for 2 years and whose greatness made his teammates believe this moment was possible and spurn the NFL Draft last offseason. Washington pulled off an unprecedented string of close game victories to become the first ever undefeated Pac-12 team. And they did it all in the last year of the 4-team CFP format which makes it possible for legitimate contenders like Georgia and OSU to be denied a mulligan.

It took a spectacular string of events for Washington to rise from the ashes of a 4-8 season to be just 60 minutes away from a potential national championship. The Huskies will be underdogs in that game but that’s nothing new for this team and a win is absolutely possible. This team both has what it takes and the opportunity directly in front of them. In this exact moment the standard is a national title and it’s incredibly realistic.

2. The Duality of Aggression

Washington seemingly tried their hardest to blow the chance to be here when playing Wazzu in the Apple Cup. The Huskies faced a 4th and 1 well inside their own territory and tried to draw the defense offsides. It didn’t work and UW called timeout. Instead of sending out the punt unit like 99% of coaches though, the Huskies ran an incredible option reverse pitch play to Rome Odunze that saved the season.

The Huskies have essentially played nothing but elimination games for the last 2+ months to get the chance to play Texas and you can be sure they weren’t going to change the philosophies that got them there. In a game tied at 14 with under 5 minutes left in the half, the Huskies faced a 4th and 1 from their own 33 yard-line. They tried to draw Texas offsides then called timeout. They didn’t send out the punter and Dillon Johnson plunged ahead for the conversion in what became a go-ahead touchdown drive.

That play worked out. Many of Washington’s other “aggressive” choices did not. The drive before that, UW started out with a 52-yard strike to Rome Odunze to get to the edge of the red zone. They then ran the ball 4 straight times including up the middle into the strength of the Texas defense on both 3rd and 1 and 4th and 1 resulting in a turnover on downs.

Late in the game the Huskies had the choice between running the ball to keep the clock running or to throw the ball and try to clinch a win. Washington faced 3rd and goal at the 10-yard line up by 6 points with 2:50 remaining. A simple run up the middle would take away Texas’ 2nd timeout and still allow an easy field goal try to go up 2 scores. Instead, Grubb chose to go for the kill shot (as he has all year). But pressure forced Penix out of the pocket and he threw the ball away rather than take a sack to make the field goal easier but stop the clock.

It didn’t seem like that would come back to bite the Huskies. Until...

3. What a Dumb F***ing Rule

Washington got the ball back following Josh Cuevas’ onside kick recovery with 1:06 remaining and Texas holding the aforementioned 2 timeouts. UW ran the ball to take away one of the timeouts. UW ran the ball again to take away Texas’ last timeout. Now it seemed guaranteed that a 3rd run without a fumble would bring the clock down to about 20 seconds left and a subsequent punt would force Texas to go 80+ yards in ~15 seconds with no timeouts. A borderline impossible scenario.

Instead, Dillon Johnson carried the ball into the line and instantly writhed in pain. The refs stopped the clock as trainers came to tend to Johnson and announced there would be a 10 second run-off but that the clock would not restart when the ball was ready to be snapped. Instead of having to go that distance in under 20 seconds, Texas got to do it in 50 seconds. A completely different scenario.

So what is the purpose of this rule? Washington has had to deal with injury shenanigans on the part of Oregon in recent years. Both times though it was an offensive player taking a dive while the clock was briefly stopped for a first down to give the offense a free timeout when they were trailing and trying to maneuver for the tying or winning score.

In this circumstance though the Huskies had the lead trying to run out the clock and very obviously did not want a clock stoppage. There was no benefit for Washington to fake an injury. The benefit is entirely on the defense’s side if they can stop the clock with a free timeout if the offense has an injury severe enough that they can’t get off the field.

That means there are only 2 logical incentives to the current version of the rule.

1. The defense should make every attempt to intentionally injure an offensive player so that the clock can stop.

2. An offensive player who is legitimately injured should try to keep playing with that injury and risk making his condition even worse.

How does it makes any sense for player safety that those are the incentives you’re creating? This rule needs to be changed immediately this offseason. If the team that had the injury is on offense and has the lead then the clock should restart once the injury has been dealt with appropriately. At the very least with a 25 second clock if not the full 40. There should be enough nuance allowed to have a different rule if the team on offense is ahead or behind on the scoreboard since it completely changes the incentive structure.