Mike Merrell’s Three-and-Out: The Greatest Blunders of 2013

It was a long, long time ago that I first saw a team totally snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. Unfortunately, the team doing it was our own beloved Oregon Ducks. As I say, it was long ago, so I may be mistaken on a detail or two. Anyway,  the way I remember it, the Ducks were down 14-13 against Washington State with maybe 30 seconds left in the game, but had driven down to about the Wazzu 10 — “can’t miss” field goal range.

Hayward Field -- Where I saw my first fourth quarter blunder. Things have changed.

Gary Breedlove

Hayward Field — where I saw my first 4th-quarter blunder. Things have changed.

In the day, a QB had to pass out of bounds to stop the clock, not just spike it. And that’s just exactly what the Oregon quarterback did. Unfortunately, he did it on fourth down, and it was game over. To his defense, the guy on downs marker duty was a little slow flipping from “3” to “4,” but still, a quarterback needs to keep track of what down it is.

How long ago was that? Here’s a clue. The game was played at Hayward Field. It was fall of 1966, the last of the pre-Autzen years. Much has changed since that day. Oregon has gone on to be the Oregon of today, and the Cougars … well, what Oregon did that day now has a name: “To coug,” and we all know how that name came to be. The Greatest Game Ending Blunders of 2013 is the subject of this week’s Three-and-Out. It wasn’t just that the games were blown. It was also the importance of the games and HOW they were blown.

No article on coug'ing would be complete without the Cougars.

Craig Strobeck

No article on coug’ing would be complete without the Cougars.

1.  You just knew that Washington State had to be included since they own the name. It was December 21, 2013 and even though it was the fairly lowly Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Wazzu was making its first bowl appearance since practically forever. Plus they were playing Colorado State, a team that had even lost to Colorado.

The Cougars were up 45-30 with under five minutes to go, but rather than run the ball to run out the clock, in a surprising (not) move, the Cougars passed. Incomplete passes stopped the clock, leading to a Ram touchdown with 2:52 remaining.

An 8-point lead with under 3:00 to go should still have been safe. All Wazzu needed to do was run a few plays. Oh, excuse me. Run a few plays without fumbling. Well, Washington State doesn’t practice running the ball much, so doing it without fumbling proved too tall of an order, so by the time the clock was down to 33 seconds, Colorado State had another touchdown and a two-point conversion and we were tied at 45. Not content to lose the game in overtime, the Cougars fumbled the ensuing kickoff on their own 24, setting up the game-losing field goal as time expired.

OSU taught us how to lose a game by scoring a touchdown.

Kevin Cline

OSU taught us how to lose a game by scoring a touchdown.

2.  It was November 29, 2013, the day after Thanksgiving. With Marcus Mariota still smarting from a knee injury and with his leg in a brace, the Ducks were prime to be a one-day-late feast for the hungry Oregon State Beavers, who hadn’t beaten them since about the last time Washington State had been to a bowl game.

Oregon helped the Beavers by abandoning their tradional “stop the run first” defensive strategy to concentrate on shutting down top Beaver receiver Brandin Cooks, so the Beavers’ ordinarily anemic rushing offense was on its way to racking up a season high of 231 yards.

Down 30-29 with under two minutes to go the Beavers were driving with their run game in high gear. With a first down at the Oregon 25-yard line, all they needed to do was kill some clock and inch their way a little closer for a sure-winner field goal. But with 1:38 left, disaster struck the Beavers.

Victor Bolden ran it in for a touchdown. Had he allowed himself to be tackled by, say the 5-yard line, or perhaps tripped over the 10-yard line, the Beavers could easily have killed the clock and won 32-30 as time expired. But after a failed two-point conversion attempt, all Mariota had to do was drive the Ducks the length of the field in a minute and 38 seconds, which he did with 29 seconds to spare. Final: Oregon 36, Beavers 35.

3.  On November 30, the Alabama Crimson Tide earned the title for the most boneheaded and most consequential strategic meltdown of 2013. The game against Auburn, dubbed the Iron Bowl, was not just for bragging rights in the state. It was also for which team would get to go on to play for the SEC Championship and leapfrog into the BCS National Championship Game.

With the game tied at 28 and time running out, Tide Coach Nick Saban, for some reason known only to Nick Saban, decided to go for a 57-yard field goal rather than settle things in overtime (mistake No. 1). His regular field goal kicker, Cade Foster, had already missed three shorter field goals in the game, so he trotted out freshman Adam Griffith, who had connected on one of two field goal attempts on the entire year (mistake No. 2). Griffith’s longest (and only) success had been a 20-yarder, which is basically an extra point.

Now obviously Griffith was going to need a holder, so there were at least two Bama players on the field under 300 pounds, but the nine other guys he sent out had to be the biggest and beefiest guys he could come up with, so out came what had to be nine offensive linemen. It was mistake No. 3, and a fatal mistake at that, because the biggest, beefiest offensive linemen you have are not necessarily the best at protecting against a kick return.

Auburn’s Chris Davis took the field goal attempt nine yards deep in the end zone and took it untouched to the house, making Saban’s offensive linemen look like oversized traffic cones that had somehow learned to waddle a little. Saban explained the loss by saying, “The fact of the matter is that we did not make plays when we needed to.” Somehow that just doesn’t quite say it all.

Main photo from video

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