Pittsburgh, Maryland Provide Lessons in How Not to Handle Goal Line Situations

    No. 21 Maryland and Pittsburgh faced similar 4th & Goal struggles late in the fourth quarter of their games in Week 3, serving as lessons of what not to do in short-yardage, high-stakes situations.

    At the same moment in time Saturday afternoon, right around 2:35 p.m. ET, Pittsburgh and No. 21 Maryland both faced 4th & Goal about 200 miles apart in Pennsylvania, while trailing late in the fourth quarter against Penn State and Temple, respectively.

    Trailing 17-10 in State College with just under six minutes to play, Pitt had unsuccessfully picked up the necessary one yard to reach the end zone and either tie the game with a PAT or potentially take the lead with a two-point conversion.

    On 1st & Goal and 3rd & Goal from the Penn State 1-yard line, Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett’s pass attempts fell incomplete. He was stuffed on 2nd & Goal.

    That left the Panthers with 4th & Goal, needing that one pesky yard with 4:59 to play.

    On a drive in which Pitt had previously converted on 4th & 1 as Pickett connected with Nakia Griffin-Stewart for 36 yards up the seam, Pitt Coach Pat Narduzzi elected to take the easy points and kick a field goal.

    But the points were far from easy. Kicker Alex Kessman’s 19-yard attempt clanked off the left upright.

    Here was Narduzzi’s post-game explanation, courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Craig Meyer:

    Where do we begin?

    Pitt didn’t need two scores – at least in regulation – to beat Penn State.

    A touchdown plus a PAT would’ve extended the game for Pitt and likely forced overtime if the Panthers’ defense could’ve gotten one stop, like they did by getting the Nittany Lions to punt after just four plays.

    A touchdown plus a successful two-point conversion theoretically could’ve won the rivalry game.

    Meanwhile in Philadelphia, the newly-ranked Terps were in the middle of failing to convert on 4th & Goal for the third time of the afternoon.

    Almost two minutes after Temple stuffed Maryland running back Anthony McFarland Jr. on four consecutive runs inside of the Owls’ 5-yard line, a false start forced the Terrapins into 3rd and 4th & Goal from the 12-yard line.

    On 4th down, Maryland quarterback Josh Jackson’s pass for DJ Turner in the back of the end zone was a little too high in the face of pressure and Turner couldn’t get a foot down for the touchdown.

    Temple was able to run out the remaining two minutes and 14 seconds, eventually settling for a safety in its 20-17 win to avoid Maryland winning the game on a blocked punt recovered for a touchdown or a punt return.

    On 12 goal-to-go plays Saturday, Maryland gained just five total yards, leaving the Terrapins with no points to show for their three drives that started inside Temple’s 20-yard line and ended on the doorstep of the end zone.

    So despite Temple fumbling a punt at its own 19-yard line, DJ Turner returning another punt 55 yards to Temple’s 4-yard line and Temple punter Adam Barry shanking a punt just seven yards past the Owls’ 3-yard line, Maryland couldn’t capitalize even once.

    While Pitt irresponsibly settled for a field goal late in the game against Penn State, perhaps Maryland could’ve benefited by simply taking the points when it faced 4th & Goal at the Temple 1-yard line in the first five minutes of the game, when it trailed 7-0.

    Sometimes it’s best to not overthink your goal-to-go strategy and play-calling.

    If the points are there early with a chip-shot field goal in a close game, take ’em.

    If you need a touchdown late in the fourth quarter in order to force overtime or win the game, and there’s no guarantee you’ll get the ball back – at least with enough time or good enough field position to realistically score – play for the win and live with the results.

    And rather than continuing to unsuccessfully run a 5-9, 198-pound running back behind a suspect offensive line, consider switching things up with a play-action pass, QB sneak or a heavy set with a fullback serving as the lead blocker.

    By the way, goal-line ineptitude doesn’t discriminate and it can affect programs and coaches throughout the Eastern seaboard.

    In the first half of South Carolina’s home game against No. 2 Alabama, running back Rico Dowdle was ruled down at the Crimson Tide’s 1-yard line after a three-yard run as he stretched for the end zone in the final minute of the first half.

    Alabama led 24-10 and a touchdown would’ve cut the deficit to one touchdown entering halftime, surely a moral victory for a South Carolina squad that was a 26.5-point underdog and it certainly would’ve given them a better shot at a victory on the field.

    The replay official didn’t call for a review of the play as South Carolina ran a hurry-up offense, despite having multiple timeouts left. A timeout could’ve allowed the replay official more time to look at the play and potentially call for a review, which potentially could’ve overturned the call to a touchdown.

    South Carolina quarterback Ryan Hilinski was tackled for a loss of two yards on 3rd & Goal and his pass on 4th & Goal sailed incomplete as the Gamecocks elected to go for seven points rather than the easy three.

    South Carolina Coach Will Muschamp was unhappy about the sequence, when asked about it during the halftime interview on CBS.

    But he may have only had himself to blame.

    MORE: Writing Likely On The Wall For USC’s Clay Helton

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