Let us take a moment to remember the immortal words of Herm Edwards from his epic rant as coach of the New York Jets: “You play to win the game! Hello, you play to win the game!”
That’s precisely what LSU running back Nick Brossette was doing when he slide to the ground twice inside the 5-yard line instead of walking into the end zone. His unselfish decisions helped run out the clock on a 24-17 win at Arkansas on Saturday night as LSU moved to 8-2 on the season.
It also meant the bad beat of a lifetime for anybody out there who happened to wager a few shekels on the Tigers, who the odds makers in Las Vegas installed as a 13.5-point favorite against the struggling Razorbacks.
It’s tough to preach logic to someone who just lost money on a wager that seemed comfortably in hand for most of the game. Thoughts and prayers to those unfortunate folks.
They’d actually be better served to complain about a defense that allowed 14-unanswered points in the fourth quarter to let it become a one-score game. As for Brossette, the only motivation for a player in that spot is securing the win.
It’s beyond misguided to begrudge him for that.
With Arkansas out of timeouts, Brossette burst through the left side of the line on a second-and-8. With the first down obtained, he slide down at the 7-yard line to keep the clock moving. LSU handed it to him again on first-and-goal and he slid down just short of the goal line.
The wonky part was when LSU decided to hand him the ball on second-and-goal in a clear attempt to score. LSU coach Ed Orgeron explained his logic behind the whole sequence of events at his post-game press conference.
“Down, down, that’s the situation,” Orgeron said. “That’s something we practice so we can run the clock out. Down, down. That’s what you do. We could’ve run the clock out. We could have went victory (formation) right there.
“When we got down on the one yard line, I told Steve (Ensminger) to try to score and we couldn’t do it. That was it.”
It may seem like splitting hairs, but the analytics support the decision to get down. It’s highly unlikely Arkansas could’ve scored a touchdown, recovered an onside kick and scored again, but the win probability is greater in a kneel down situation up seven compared to the alternative.
Credit Brossette in that regard. In an age of fantasy football and look-at-me touchdowns celebrations, he opted to be a team player instead of padding his own stats. That’s the kind of senior you want leading your football team.
“It’s situational football,” Brossette told reporters after the game. “We go over this every week. All the people that’s out there, you gotta know football. You’ve got to know it. I wasn’t about to take a touchdown because I just wanted to get out with a win, and I wasn’t trying to be selfish in that moment.”
This marks the second time in the past month that the slide-or-score debate has taken the football world by storm.
Los Angeles Rams star Todd Gurley allowed himself to be tackled instead of scoring an uncontested touchdown in a 29-27 win over the Green Bay Packers, steaming Rams bettors and Gurley fantasy owners everywhere. The Rams were seven-point favorites in most books.
“Man, forget fantasy and forget Vegas,” Gurley told reporters afterword. “We got the win, so that’s all that matters.”
Aggrieved gamblers aside, the most pervasive criticism of Brossette seemed to come from LSU fans who feared that a seven-point win against lowly Arkansas would hurt the team’s standing with the CFP Committee more than a 14-point decision.
Theoretically, the committee will take into account that LSU could have scored. This isn’t the BCS era of feeding box scores into a computer program. And if the committee members ding LSU for playing to secure victory over style points given the circumstances, that’s a problem with the system itself.
LSU entered the week at No. 7 in the CFP Rankings with a slim-but-conceivable path to the playoffs as a two-loss team. Nobody in the top six lost Saturday, and only No. 1 Alabama and No. 5 Georgia are set to play each other between now and selection day.
Looking in the rear view mirror, the teams ranked Nos. 8-10 (Washington State, West Virginia and Ohio State) all posted comfortable wins. West Virginia and Ohio State will get shots down the road at Oklahoma and Michigan, respectively.
Could one of those one-loss teams leapfrog LSU because the Tigers only beat Arkansas by seven points? Possibly. The bigger concern may be the fact that two of LSU’s signature wins — Miami and Auburn — could be devalued as those formerly top-10 teams now have nine losses between them.
For Orgeron, the only concern for Saturday night was making sure LSU avoided the kind of post-Alabama hangover that caused past seasons to unravel down the stretch.
Only Rice and a trip to Texas A&M now stand between LSU and a 10-2 season, which would mean at worst a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl.
“Good win for our football team,” Orgeron said. “I’m proud of the win. Our focus was to come and win the football game, and that’s what we did.”
It’ll be a bitter pill for losing gamblers to swallow, but you live to fight another day. LSU will too after an unselfish play from Brossette helped seal a victory the Tigers absolutely had to have.
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