Oregon State football fans, of whom I'm one, along with almost everybody who watched yesterday's OSU game against Arizona, are grappling with the astoundingly bad decision Jonathan Smith, the Oregon State coach, made at the end of the first half.
This is how CBS Sports described the debacle. The game was a 27-24 victory by Arizona.
While the game ultimately came down to that final drive, Oregon State's fate may have been decided much earlier when coach Jonathan Smith dialed up one of the most questionable calls of the year. The Beavers had the ball at Arizona's 16-yard line with three seconds to play in the second quarter. Oregon State lined up for a field goal, but the holder pitched the ball to kicker Atticus Sappington for a fake.
Sappington gained nine yards, but it didn't matter because time expired. If the Beavers had kicked and made the field goal, than their late fourth-quarter touchdown would have tied the game.
A YouTube video of the play showed how the fake punt had very little chance of success.
The Portland Oregonian had a story after the game, "What Jonathan Smith said after Oregon State's narrow loss at Arizona." Here's a couple of questions and answers about the fake punt.
Q: You said ultra aggression. I guess just in that moment, what was the decision to go for it there and why?
Smith: Yeah, it was like we had prepped the thing for two weeks because we had a bye. And I was just chomping at the bit to get the thing called because the picture what we anticipated and really what we got was a pretty good look. But the logic going into the thing was fourth down medium — fourth and 5, 6 — and I just rolled the dice on that one and in hindsight it was not good.
Q: Coach, you like to go for it on fourth down. I mean you’re pretty aggressive, generally speaking. On the fake, just how would you describe your mindset in situations like that?
Smith: There’s strategy to this thing. It’s not just like blind aggression. There’s some strategy. That one, just logically, the kicker’s got to run 20 yards. Just back off.
Q: Do you regret that call?
Smith: Sure. It didn’t work.
I liked that Smith was so straightforward about the bad decision to call the fake punt play in a situation where a field goal attempt was by far the better option.
But I was still deeply irked at the fake punt, since it played a large role in the Oregon State loss, which pretty much ended the team's chance to win a Pac-12 championship in the league's final year of having twelve members, which will dwindle to two soon: Oregon State and Washington State.
However, I felt better about Coach Smith and his botched fake punt after I began to think what would happen if bad decisions I've made -- as we all make -- were to be widely televised, then discussed in a press conference featuring me and reporters asking probing questions.
I'm reluctant to share one of my really bad decisions, so as an example I'll use an incident that happened to me today when I had my usual early Sunday get-together with a friend at the Urban Grange coffeehouse in West Salem.
I'll describe the bad decision in a pseudo news story.
On Sunday afternoon Brian Hines arrived at the coffeehouse before his friend, Jim, did. He chose one of the few two-person tables not being used by customers, which was in a corner of the coffeehouse. After toasting a bagel, Hines removed his phone from his fanny pack, which he prefers to call his hip pack, then set the hip pack on the floor under the table, as he always does when meeting with Jim.
When his friend arrived, Jim said, "Our usual table is open now. Do you want to move to it? It's more centrally located." "Sure," Hines replied, gathering up his latte, bagel, and phone. After a congenial conversation where they talked about the Oregon State game and how Coach Smith made such a bad decision with the fake punt, Hines bent down to retrieve his hip pack.
Which wasn't there. He checked again. It still wasn't there. Hines then remembered that he put it under the table he sat at originally. It was empty of customers. He walked briskly to the table and looked for his hip pack. It wasn't there. He checked again. It still wasn't there. Moderately panicked, Hines told Jim that not only were his car keys in the hip pack, so were his credit cards, drivers license, and a lot more.
Hines then walked to the counter and asked the barista if someone had turned in a black bag. "You mean a fanny pack?" he was told. "Yes," he said. "It's over here," the barista said, as she retrieved the hip pack.
Here's some of the questions asked at the news conference.
Q: The many Americans who watched the video of you putting your fanny pack under a table, then moving to another table without bothering to retrieve the fanny pack, are wondering: what the hell were you thinking?
Hines: First, it wasn't a fanny pack. It was a hip pack. I don't wear it on my butt. Second, I wasn't thinking at all. I'm not in the habit of deciding to leave my hip pack under a table where other people would be sitting and could have taken it.
Q: It sounds like you were really careless. Do you regret deciding to leave your fanny pack under a table, then moving to another table without taking it with you?
A: Hip pack! Hip pack! Not fanny pack. Again, I didn't decide anything. It was just a bad decision, I mean, an unfortunate happenstance, that my friend Jim suggested we move to a different table and I failed to remember to take the hip pack with me.
Q: Seems like you're blaming Jim. Do you always fail to take responsibility for your bad decisions?
A: No, I'm not blaming Jim. It was just an unfortunate happenstance.
Q: Like Jonathan Smith calling for a fake punt at the end of the first half of the Arizona football game?
A: Yes. Just like that. No more questions, please. I've got to reconsider whether I should be irritated at Coach Smith. For this episode reminded me that if we're human, we're going to make bad decisions.