Greg Hansen: RichRod right to play for overtime

Coach is plenty gutsy, but history on his side with :41 left at own 18
2012-10-09T00:00:00Z 2012-10-09T06:41:42Z Greg Hansen: RichRod right to play for overtimeGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 09, 2012 12:00 am  • 

If you think Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez chickened out in the final 41 seconds at Stanford, dial 1-800-GOFORIT and leave a message.

You may have a long wait getting through. Such is the bandwagon effect in college football.

Based on my texts, emails, tweets, Facebook messages, golf course conversations and old-fashioned voice mail, it's about 5-to-1 against RichRod. Isn't it a bit early to jump ship?

You make the call: Tied at 48 against No. 18 Stanford with 41 seconds remaining, you take possession at your 18-yard line.

These are the variables the first-year UA coach considered:

• Your last possession was a three-and-out, no yards gained, and after 96 plays, your team's legs appear to be gone, or at least wobbly.

• You need 57 yards to have a reasonable chance to kick a field goal; two timeouts remain.

• Any mistake - fumble, tipped pass - is likely to get you beat. (And make you come off as a dummy).

• Go for it. Stanford has already yielded 602 yards. Nine of your last 10 possessions resulted in positive gains of 81, 64, 60, 75, 75, 30, 75, 75 and 45 yards. This isn't the Steel Curtain out there.

It's 3-1 odds against going for it. And, besides, why is all the pressure on RichRod?

Stanford coach David Shaw, whose team had gone on second-half scoring drives of 90, 85, 79, 70 and 60 yards, backed off a minute earlier when all his team needed was a mere two yards, a two-point conversion, to win the game 49-48 and avoid a harrowing overtime altogether.

If someone lacked sufficient daring, it wasn't RichRod.

The last time Arizona or a UA opponent began a non-turnover possession with fewer than 50 seconds left and changed the outcome of the game was - how's this for timeliness - Oct. 9, 1982.

Exactly 30 years ago today, Arizona scored on a Max Zendejas field goal to take a 24-21 against No. 8 UCLA at the Rose Bowl. There were 33 seconds remaining. Game over, right?

Nope. The Bruins beat the clock, rushed into All-American kicker John Lee's field goal range and tied it at the buzzer, 24-24.

There have been 351 Arizona football games since that day, and nobody who began non-turnover possession with less than a minute left scored to change the outcome.

In a sense, that made the odds against RichRod producing a winning score at Stanford 351-1. And that's conservative.

When Ortege Jenkins flipped into the end zone at Husky Stadium to win the legendary Leap at the Lake game over Washington, 1998, it capped a 13-play drive covering almost five minutes.

When Arizona drove to beat Notre Dame on a last-second Zendejas field goal in 1982, the drive began with 4:16 remaining.

Saturday afternoon, when asked about eschewing an all-out approach in the final 41 seconds, Rodriguez gave a reporter a "you must be nuts" expression and said, "I didn't like where we were at. You don't want to make a mistake down there."

C'mon, this isn't a coach who runs scared. He went for it on fourth-and-10 at the Stanford 40 in the second quarter (and made it). And he went for it on fourth-and-2 at the Stanford 1 in the third period (and made it).

Later, ahead 27-21, RichRod ordered his team to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Stanford 44, and was scuttled when tackle Fabbians Ebbele was penalized, forcing a punt.

When you are 82 yards away from the end zone, on the road, tied against the nation's 18th-ranked team and with a 50-50 chance to win in overtime, you don't try to hit the green, over water, with a 2-iron.

UA athletic director Greg Byrne fidgeted in the press box and again on the sideline during the final 10 minutes of Saturday's game.

His face had a pinkish hue at game's end, but he did not rush to judgment.

"It's fine,'' Byrne said. "I always think back to the conversation I had with Rich at a New York hotel last fall. I told him, 'We're going to be good, but there will be growing pains along the way.' We're 3-3 now and in reality we're about two plays from being 5-1, and that's about right. If we go 6-6 it will be a heck of a year."

I'll amend that statement: Given RichRod's starting point 10 months ago, if Arizona beats ASU, almost nothing that happens between now and then will matter much.

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