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Staples: How does Kirby Smart's timeout rank among the top 10 CFP calls?

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If Kirby Smart hadn’t called Georgia’s first timeout of the second half with 8:58 left in Saturday’s Peach Bowl, the Bulldogs likely would have lost and Ohio State would have been going to play TCU for the national title in Los Angeles.

Timeout sunk a fake quarter-and-inch punt that absolutely would have worked*. Georgia was not lined up in any way that could prevent counterfeiting. The conversion would have allowed Ohio State – which was leading by 11 at the time – to lose more time and potentially extend the lead. Georgia likely would have run out of time instead of Stetson Bennett hitting AD Mitchell and Jack Podlesny adding the point later for the go-ahead with 54 seconds left.

*Unless officials noted that Ohio State had 12 players on the field. But that’s not something they seemed to be realizing in real time, so Smart’s timeout was probably still pretty critical..

Smart’s timeout was one of the most important calls in College Football Playoff history, but it wasn’t the most important. Today, we’re going to rank the top 10 call-ups – knowing that TCU’s Smart or Sonny Dykes may have to make an even heavier one in a week when their teams go head-to-head for the national title.

#10: Targeting Tight Ends — Ohio State Coach Ryan Day and Offensive Coordinator Kevin Wilson

In a shortened 2020 Big Ten regular season, Ohio State tight ends Jeremy Ruckert and Luke Farrell combined for three touchdown receptions. Against Clemson in a Sugar Bowl semifinal, Ruckert and Farrell combined for three touchdown receptions in the first half.

Clemson led 14–7 when Farrell had this grown man catch a pass from Justin Fields on third and goal.

Day and Wilson continued to play against the grain in the second quarter, while Clemson spent resources trying to cover the Buckeyes’ elite receivers. Fields connected twice with Ruckert for touchdowns in the fourth, and Ohio State went to halftime 35-14 before cruising to its first CFP victory since the national title game after the 2014 season.

#9: Target cruisers under pressure — TCU Offensive Coordinator Garrett Riley

Sometimes a quarterback’s options are obliterated by a free rusher. That’s what happened in Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl on two occasions, as pressure from Michigan forced Horned Frogs QB Max Duggan to pull back and land on his hot receiver.

On a second-and-goal play in the second quarter, two Wolverines broke free and chased Duggan to the back. Duggan calmly passed the ball to Taye Barber, who was running left to right behind the area the rushers had vacated.

The most important version of this came in the fourth quarter, as TCU faced third-and-7 and clinging to a three-point lead after Michigan gained a touchdown following a Horned Frogs fumble. Michigan safety Rod Moore forced Duggan to pull back to avoid a sack. Duggan’s only option was a jump shot to Quentin Johnston, who had not gone over the line to win, but who – like Barber before him – had space because Moore had vacated the box to blitz. The end result was a 76-yard touchdown drive that put TCU back in control.

At the. 8: A pop pass for the ages – Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott

Clemson trailed by two points in the 2019 Fiesta Bowl against the Buckeyes, but caller Elliott – now Virginia’s head coach – knew that rear Travis Etienne could cut his way through Ohio State’s talent-laden defense if he caught the ball with some space around you. Etienne had done just that early in the second half when he was taken down by Trevor Lawrence for a 53-yard touchdown that gave Clemson a brief lead.

Even earlier, Lawrence had broken through the Ohio State defense for a 67-yard touchdown run. Elliott played on the Buckeyes’ fear of Lawrence’s legs, sending him to the line of scrimmage as if he planned to run. This drew the Ohio State linebackers towards the line of scrimmage and allowed Etienne to sneak past. Lawrence threw the ball to Etienne, and Etienne turned on the jets for the green scoreboard. Clemson would win 29-23.

#7: The Joey Bosa/Darron Lee Turnaround – Ohio State Co-Defensive Coordinators Luke Fickell and Chris Ash

Seeing future first round Joey Bosa in a two-point stance slightly outside the line of scrimmage was likely disconcerting to Alabama’s offensive line on this play from third-and-6 from Ohio State’s 40-yard line in the inaugural CFP after the 2014 season . The Buckeyes badly needed a stop at the Sugar Bowl. They led by six, but Alabama could capitalize on the momentum with a score.

So Fickell and Ash started Bosa in an unusual location. Then Bosa turned left. Alabama center Ryan Kelly passed Bosa back to fullback Jalston Fowler, but Kelly lost his footing in the process. This allowed linebacker Darron Lee, who was rotating behind Bosa and driving straight into the middle of the Alabama offense, to stone a run by quarterback Blake Sims and force a punt.

Four plays later, it happened to the eventual national champion Buckeyes.

#6: Going to the basket instead of kneeling – Georgia coach Kirby Smart

If we were making a list of the most criticized calls in CFP history, we would include then-Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley’s choice of a squib kick after a touchdown that increased the Sooners’ lead to 31-14 with six seconds left in the game. first time. of the Rose Bowl against Georgia after the 2017 season.

*In a play that would later be spearheaded by the Eagles in the Super Bowl and would forever be known as the Philly Special..

The kick never left the ground, and Georgia rallied at Oklahoma’s 47-yard line with three seconds left. It was probably still time to make a dash for the end zone. Or, if Smart just wanted the Bulldogs to lick his wounds, he could have had his team kneel.

Instead, Georgia made a play. QB Jake Fromm hit Terry Godwin for a 9-yard gain. Georgia called timeout with one second left and sent in Rodrigo Blankenship for this 55-yard field goal.

So much still had to happen for Georgia to win this game in two overtimes. But that doesn’t happen if the Bulldogs decide to go to the locker room instead of trying to use the last three seconds.

#5: Calling a timeout before a fake punt that definitely would have worked — Kirby Smart

Teams have multiple headset channels, including one for offense, one for defense, and one for special teams. As Ohio State lined up for that fake punt, Georgia’s assistants were talking on the special teams channel about a potential swindle. Smart didn’t hear of it, though. “I was on the defensive line because we had just come out of a defensive stop,” Smart said. But Smart recognized Ohio State’s lineup as tighter than usual. Something felt wrong.

“They just weren’t in their traditional lineup,” Smart said. “Many teams carry this drop in speed. They move up the line quickly. Everyone is lined up. And we saw that at the SEC. A lot of teams load up and you try to practice, but it’s another thing when they actually do it and execute it. So it was one of those knee-jerk reactions that I didn’t think we had properly lined up to stop him.

So before Ohio State could get the ball out—and possibly get away with a fake 12-man punt—Smart raced to head linesman Darryl Johnson and requested a timeout.

#4: A Sky Kick to steal possession in the national title game – Alabama coach Nick Saban

No one had done for Alabama’s defense in 2015 what Clemson and quarterback Deshaun Watson were doing for the Crimson Tide when the teams faced off in the first of three national title games in four seasons.

So after Alabama kicker Adam Griffith forged a 24-24 tie with a 33-yard field goal with 10:34 left, Saban decided he had to try and give his defense a break. Saban noted in the pre-game film that Clemson grouped his blockers on early returns to one side of the field. When Clemson did the same thing earlier in the game, Saban knew he had a gun in his back pocket.

Alabama practiced a Sky Kick – a high onside kick intended to be caught by an Alabama player – during the week. The only problem was that cornerback Marlon Humphrey rarely caught him in practice.

But Humphrey caught the game. Saban’s smile after the play said it all.

Two plays later, Alabama QB Jake Coker hit tight end OJ Howard for a 51-yard touchdown. The Tide finally got a breather and they won 45-40.

#3: Orange Crush – Clemson co-offensive coordinators Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott

Elliott was the main author of the play in 2016, but it was Scott who came up with this particular play close to the goal line, with the national title on the line. Call it offensive pass interference if you like, but the officials didn’t.

Artavis Scott opened up space against Alabama. Hunter Renfrow has been opened. Watson handed over the ball.

No. 2: Deep second-and-26 – Alabama offensive coordinator Brian Daboll

What do you do after your opponent hits an overtime field goal bomb and your true rookie quarterback takes one of the most hideous sacks in sacking history? You tell the real freshman to forget what just happened, line up and play deep for another freshman.

That’s exactly what Daboll – now the head coach of the New York Giants – did, and Tua Tagovailoa found future Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith to beat Georgia to win the 2017 national title.

#1: Placing the Child — Saban

Because that pass won’t come if Saban doesn’t surprise everyone by lifting Jalen Hurts and inserting Tagovailoa to start the third quarter.

All those calls took courage, but this one took more.

(Photo by Kirby Smart: Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)