Even with the benefit of hindsight, South Alabama head coach Kane Wommack is still undecided on whether it was the right call to run a fake field goal late in the Jaguars’ heart-wrenching loss to UCLA at the Rose Bowl.
"I can sit here and say that I'd do that 10 times out of 10 and run that fake, but I'd liked to have seen what our offense would've done in hindsight,” Wommack said. “Those are tough calls in tough situations, and I'm not saying that it was the wrong call by any means. Frankly, if we'd gotten the damn thing, everyone would be pretty fired up, but in that moment it's a lesson to be learned — let's keep our best players on the field and give our guys a chance to go win the game."
The reality of the matter is the fake field goal play didn’t work, which put UCLA in position to go win the game 32-31 on a final play field goal. On Monday, during his weekly press conference, Wommack detailed what went into his decision.
South Alabama had a 31-29 lead with more than three minutes on the clock and were facing a 4th-and-2 from the UCLA 23-yard line. The Jaguars lined up like they were attempting a 40-yard field goal but quickly shifted into an offensive formation with holder Tanner McGee, who is also the backup quarterback, taking the shotgun snap.
"We shifted to two wide receivers with an attached tight end, so there were three guys that were eligible,” Wommack said. “[UCLA] had shown a man-to-man type of scheme, so when we motioned one guy in, they balanced their coverage back into the boundary and took the wheel route into the boundary. We ran an over route to the field, which the corner started to go with. We probably went just a little too early with our tight end delay coming back across, who came back from the field.
Wommack said a UCLA defensive back started to go with the over route receiver before he saw the tight end. That slowed things down, allowing linebacker Todd Justice to get to McGee.
“If [the cornerback] doesn't come off and make that play, we're going to put it right over [another linebacker’s] head and certainly get the first down, and more than likely get the touchdown,” Wommack said. “Their guy made a hell of a play, he really did.”
But should that play had ever happened?
The other option was to go for the first down with the offense. Wommack said that standout running back La’Damian Webb had come off the field the play before because he was tired and “had been cramping in the second half.”
At that moment, he felt like the fake field goal was the best option.
“We knew that we couldn't keep it a one-score game based off how UCLA's quarterback [Dorian Thompson-Robinson] as playing against our defense,” Wommack explained. “The analytics backed that situation up and I'm going to utilize those things. I would have liked to have kept the offense on the field and tried to draw them offsides on a fourth-down play, but we only had two timeouts left, so I knew we couldn't do anything to keep our offense on the field.”
Needless to say, a lot more went into his decision than someone making the call from their couch or a press box.
“I think as I reflect on it, our offense was moving the ball,” Wommack said. “If La'Damian would have been able to come back in, and potentially he could have. I'm not sure one play off was enough rest for him since he was gassed, but as I reflect on that situation and the decision I made to go for the fake field goal, as opposed to putting the ball in our offense's hands, I would have liked to have seen what our offense could have done in that situation. That was a good learning situation. I went for one of two scenarios in my mind, and I would have liked to have seen how the other one would have played out."
The focus now, though, is finding a way to bounce back with Louisiana Tech coming to town on Saturday.
“There were a lot of positives that can be gained from the [UCLA] game, but ultimately we have to be a very responsive football team,” Wommack concluded. “This is a massive week for our program and shows that after two weeks of being on the road, that we can show up and be a responsive team after a tough loss. If we can build that in our program, we will take a massive step forward as a football team."
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