Gill's timeout explanation puzzling
I can't get over the quote.
There are times when someone says something so far away from your own thinking that it's hard to wrap your head around it.
Kansas coach Turner Gill triggered that thought with something he said Friday night.
Following KU's 31-16 loss to Southern Miss, Gill was asked if he considered challenging a play in the third quarter.
With KU trailing 21-10 with 2:08 left in the third period, Southern Miss receiver DeAndre Brown appeared to fumble the ball at the 1-yard line.
The fumble went out of bounds in the end zone, and if the play had been overturned, KU would have gained possession at its own 20.
Here's Gill's quote about it after the game.
"I didn't have a good look at it. I just thought that they were going to review it," he said. "I was waiting to see. They reviewed everything else, so I thought at least that should be reviewed.
"I didn't want to waste a timeout. We only had one left. They said it was clearly out of bounds, so that's why they made the call."
Stop. Wait a minute. Let's back up to that last paragraph.
"I didn't want to waste a timeout. We only had one left."
Before I go any further, let me say Gill does not have an easy job. He admitted that, from the sideline, he didn't get a good look at the play (though he appeared to get a good enough view to run down the sideline to ask officials if a review was coming). He also didn't have the benefit of seeing a replay.
Gill also has to make split-second decisions in a constantly changing game with thousands of factors involved.
Having said all that, the quote above still gets to me just as much.
There is absolutely no way Gill should think of that challenge — especially in those circumstances — as a potential "waste" of a timeout.
Let's take a closer look, using the win probability calculator from Advanced NFL Stats* to help us.
* — Essentially, with the calculator, we can plug in the situation of a game (time, score, field position, down/distance), and it will tell us the team's chances of winning the game with the given scenario. This is based upon data from seasons of NFL games.
Though a college football win probability calculator would be ideal, I don't know of anyone who has made it available. The NFL calculator still should be useful for this exercise.
After Brown's catch (and the fumble was not called), USM held the ball on the KU 1-yard line up 21-10 with 2:08 to go in the third quarter.
According to the calculator, NFL teams in Southern Miss' position win 97 percent of the time.
OK, so let's say KU had challenged the play, and the officials overturned the call.
KU would have been down 21-10 with 2:08 to go in the third quarter with the ball on the USM 20.
In that scenario, NFL teams in Southern Miss' position only win 87 percent of the time.
With a challenge, KU could have increased its chances of winning from three percent to 13 percent: a full 10 percent.
One of the biggest momentum-changing plays of the game was Southern Miss' blocked punt returned for touchdown in the second quarter. As a fan, you would gladly trade a timeout there if meant preventing the blocked punt, right?
Well, before the punt, KU (down 11, 1:41 left in second quarter, fourth and 1 from own 28) had a 12-percent chance of winning the game.
After the blocked punt and subsequent kickoff, KU (down 18, 1:29 left in second quarter, first and 10 from own 26) still had an eight-percent chance of winning the game.
The difference there is four percent, meaning KU's non-challenge in the third quarter was much more costly than the blocked punt in terms of hurting its win percentage. This mostly is because KU still had a lot of time to recover from its mistake — a luxury KU didn't have late in the third quarter.
So Gill didn't want to "waste" a late timeout because he only had one left? There's an easy solution: Don't spend the earlier ones if not absolutely needed.
If you look back at the replay, Gill is the one who walked up to the official to call a timeout with his team trailing 21-10 with 8:20 to go in the third quarter with the play clock dwindling down.
Let's plug in the numbers: KU (down 11, 8:20 left in third quarter, third and 5 from own 43) had a 17-percent chance of winning the game.
If KU had let the play clock expire instead of using a timeout (down 11, 8:20 left in third quarter, third and 10 from own 38), its win percentage only drops to 15 percent — a two-percent decrease.
In case you were wondering, KU's first timeout of the second half was taken before a fourth-and-3 play from the USM 8.
Though there once again appeared to be issues getting the play in, it's harder to criticize wanting to get the play right there, as KU's win percentage went from eight percent before the play to 13 percent after Deshaun Sands' touchdown run and the subsequent kickoff.
The previous timeouts would be a bigger issue if Gill had no timeouts left to challenge the play in the third quarter. But he did have a timeout left.
I'd have to think there are few scenarios in any game he'll ever coach when a timeout could potentially net him a 10-percent increase in his win probability.
Watching the replay a few times, it appears Brown did fumble the ball before going out of bounds. I'd say the call probably would have been overturned at least 80 percent of the time, and that number might be conservative.
Forget saving timeouts. Forget waiting on a replay.
The play was perhaps the single biggest turning point in the game when it came to improving KU's chances of winning.
A challenge would have been anything but a waste.