Mario Cristobal got away with a terrible decision at the end of regulation despite the Miami Hurricanes, and Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines deserve a shoutout for their incredible stupidity with how they cheated. However, here are the five worst college football coaching decisions during Week 8 of the 2023 season.
5. Arizona State burns an early timeout on defense
Up 7-3 early in the fourth quarter against the Washington Huskies, the Arizona State Sun Devils forced a 3rd and 10 in their own territory. Kenny Dillingham decided to burn a timeout after they lined up so he could see the formation that Washington would line up in. That timeout came back to prove costly.
Late in the game, after ASU was stopped on a fourth down while trailing 15-7, there were about 30 seconds left. Had Dillingham saved that timeout, they could have gotten the ball back with a chance at a last-second touchdown. Burning timeouts in that situation are always next level stupid.
4. North Carolina abandons the run game late
Drake Maye is arguably the best NFL Draft prospect in college football this year, but in North Carolina’s 31-27 loss to the Virginia Cavaliers, the Tar Heels were averaging nearly six yards on the ground with Omarion Hampton. Late in the game, they brought up a 1st and 10 in the red zone.
At that point, with over three minutes to go, they should have called at least one running play. Instead, they threw it four times. Maye was sacked on first down and then threw three straight incompletions. Abandoning the run game is exactly what Butch Jones did in the red zone against the Florida Gators in 2017, and here, it resulted in college football’s biggest upset of 2023.
3. Auburn punts on 4th and 1 near midfield
Punting on 4th and short near midfield when you are the underdog is almost never okay. Despite Hugh Freeze’s potential as a head coach, he was coaching an undermanned Auburn Tigers team and facing an Ole Miss Rebels team with an elite offense once again under Lane Kiffin. You have to take risks in that situation.
Well, with just over seven minutes to go in the third quarter and the score tied at 14, Auburn brought up a 4th and 1 at their own 42. Jarquez Hunter averaged over six yards a carry on the day, the Auburn defense had already been on the field too much in that half. You go for it then. Freeze punted it and cost himself a shot at points.
2. Tennessee in the shotgun on 4th and inches
Josh Heupel went for it on two separate fourth downs. I have no problem with either decision, as one in the second half was a 4th and 1 near midfield, and the other was on a 4th and inches in the first half. In both situations, he lined up in the shotgun, though, so both were horrendous play-calls.
The 4th and inches was worse, though. Joe Milton III was stopped short of a first down on a bad spot. However, he’s 6’5″ and roughly 240 pounds. You line up under center and just call a quarterback sneak! Instead, Heupel called a keeper from the shotgun to let Milton try to run for it, which was a terrible decision.
1. Arkansas delay of game to punt on 4th and 2 from 33
Sam Pittman may be done. The Arkansas Razorbacks lost to the Mississippi State Bulldogs 7-3 last weekend, and while they fired offensive coordinator Dan Enos, part of the problem was Pittman being the most conservative coach in college football. In the third quarter, trailing 7-3, Arkansas had a 4th and 2 from the Mississippi State 33.
With K.J. Jefferson at quarterback, you go for it in that situation. However, Pittman took a delay of game and then punted from the 38. Even though the punt pinned MSU inside the five-yard line, you never make a call like that in that situation. Points are at a premium, and you just can’t pass up a chance to score.