Thursday, January 05, 2012

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Frank Beamer made a bad call with fake punt

NEW ORLEANS -- All the other decisions can be forgiven. Some worked. Some didn't. That's football.

But Virginia Tech's fake punt? It's impossible to just let that one go.

In a Sugar Bowl loss to Michigan that the Hokies dominated statistically and had every opportunity to win, no moment made less sense than that one midway through the fourth quarter.

The game was tied 17-17. The Hokies faced a fourth-and-1 from the Michigan 48. Tech's defense had forced back-to-back three-and-outs.

That's when Hokies coach Frank Beamer called a timeout and made one of the worst decisions of his decorated career.

Beamer can't change it now, but he at least needs to own it.

He has yet to do so.

"It was an option, run or kick," Beamer said. "And I thought it was a good - it was a short - it was a yard. And if they dropped off, had a little seam, we were going to go for the first.

"If not, we're going to kick it and try to pin them down deep."

Wait. ... What?

Here's the crazy thing: Last Friday, as Virginia Tech's kicking situation became its most dire, a reporter half-jokingly asked Beamer if he had considered letting Danny Coale handle field goals.

Beamer shook his head.

"We've overloaded him enough," Beamer said.

Apparently not.

So let's see if we have this straight: At the most critical moment of the game, you're going to snap the ball deep to a guy who didn't start punting until forced into action during his senior year. Then you're going to roll him right, a good 10 to 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Then you're going to make him decide, as defenders descend upon him, whether to run or kick.

There's so much wrong with this idea that it's hard to know where to start.

We'll get the obvious out of the way first: Tech's 6-foot-6, 254-pound quarterback has been a monster in short-yardage situations all season. If you need a few feet, Logan Thomas is your guy.

If you're worried about Michigan stuffing Thomas, fine. That defensive line is tough. So punt it away and count on your defense to get you the ball back with great field position.

But the quasi-fake fooled nobody. Probably because Coale hasn't attempted a -rugby-style punt all season. As soon as they saw him run to his right, the Wolverines knew exactly what was up. They smothered him for a 7-yard loss before he could drop the ball to his foot.

"I should have punted it," Coale said in the locker room afterward. "I thought I could get one yard. Then I thought I saw an opening, but it closed quickly. I should have punted it. It was my fault. That wasn't Coach Beamer's fault at all. That was my fault."

Diplomatic. Admirable. But wrong.

It was Beamer's fault. And the quicker he absolves his four-year standout of responsibility and assumes it all himself, the better.

We could be waiting a while for that.

Much was made before the game about the disparity in bowl experience between Beamer and Michigan coach Brady Hoke. Beamer, after all, has been to 19 of these things in a row, including six BCS-level games. As a head coach, Hoke had guided his teams to the International, GMAC and Poinsettia bowls.

There is something to that. Without question, Beamer had his team mentality and physically ready to play Tuesday night, much more so than Hoke did.

It always hasn't been that way. Through trial and error, Beamer's staff has hit on an improved bowl preparation system - the right blend of hitting, rest, study and on-site discipline - that's put Tech in position to compete from the start of these games.

The Hokies outgained Michigan by more than 2-to-1. They held the ball more than 13 minutes longer than the Wolverines.

Beamer is responsible for that.

And the decision that turned the game? Well, he's responsible for that, too.

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