Against, my better judgment, allow me to weigh in on the Mark Dantonio double-timeout controversy. (I’m still trying my best to finally take advantage of that “be controversial to increase your blog’s traffic” advice I read somewhere.)
Adam Rittenberg summarizes the facts of the case:
Leading 42-7 entering the fourth quarter, Penn State continued to attack downfield as backup quarterback Pat Devlin threw a 59-yard touchdown pass to Deon Butler. Then, with Michigan State down 31 points in the closing minute, Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio called two timeouts with nine seconds left, making Penn State wait a little longer before beginning its Rose Bowl celebration.
The key points, in my book, are (1) the game was “entering the fourth quarter” and (2) the backup quarterback was in the game. Penn State took possession of the ball at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Regardless of the score, you cannot expect any college football team to start running the ball into the line with a full quarter of a football game remaining. Like almost any team would in the same situation, Penn State chose to use the time remaining to get its backup quarterback (and next year’s starting quarterback) some more snaps in a game situation. On a 3rd-and-6 play, Devlin saw a receiver open downfield and threw the ball. You can hardly expect the Nittany Lion coaches to tell him to run the offense, but not to throw the ball if he sees a receiver open deep.
When asked whether the two timeouts he called with 9 seconds left were in retaliation to the final Penn State touchdown pass, Dantonio said the following:
“There’s no motivation there. I think the problem was earlier in the game. I was just trying to give our guys a rest.”
By any objective standard, Mark Dantonio has had phenomenal success in his first two seasons as MSU’s coach. He took a team that finished 4-8 two years ago and has proceeded to compile a record of 16-9 to date. Ironically, though, this incident, coupled with the exchange through the media with Mike Hart after last year’s loss to Michigan, has created the risk that Dantonio is going to get stuck with the label of “bad loser.” The reply above is obviously intended to confirm that he was indeed upset with the Penn State coaches. Why else would he make a reference to “earlier in the game”? And the “give our guys rest” part is nonsensical. There were nine seconds left; one timeout is certainly sufficient to rest for a meaningless Hail Mary attempt.
I realize I’ve strayed outside standard college sports blogger territory here by taking issue with something my own team’s coach did, but I think this point is worth making: Don’t risk damaging the winning attitude you’re creating within the MSU football program by letting your emotions during/after a bad loss get the best of you.
I appreciate that Dantonio has put an emphasis on (1) playing with passion and (2) focusing on our rivals (Michigan and now, apparently, Penn State). But there are better ways to go about it. If Dantonio wants to get the team emotionally charged up for next year’s game against the Nittany Lions, I’d suggest showing them tape of MSU’s secondary getting burned for multiple long touchdowns, rather than focusing on a manufactured sportsmanship protocol violation.