You could say the last week hasn’t been the best for Jimmy Lake. Seemingly, only Aaron Rodgers absorbed more derision.
Wayward comments about academics at Oregon, striking/pushing one of his University of Washington football players on the sidelines, claiming he didn’t hit him, losing a game to Oregon, then getting suspended Monday for a game – Lake pretty much hit for the numbskull cycle.
But there’s another move being attached to Lake that I think is unfair. One veteran Seattle sports-talk radio host called it “terrible and unthinkable,” and another contended 99 percent of coaches would have handled it differently.
With just less than two minutes left and the Huskies trailing Oregon, 24-16, Lake elected to have Washington punt from its 10-yard line, with two UW timeouts remaining. Have to admit, the initial sight of it caught me by surprise. But if you think it through, the decision at least should become debatable, which ought to absolve him in this small slice of the Lake-is-a-dolt discussion.
I’m not saying punting was a decision that puts Lake into the college hall of fame, only that the issue should be one on which reasonable minds can disagree.
Two reasons why viscerally, it was initially a bad look for Lake: First, it was taken to be a white flag in what was still a one-score game. Two, it could also be interpreted that it was intended to minimize the risk of Oregon scoring again (if a fourth-down play had failed), thereby mitigating Washington’s embarrassment. Of course, that should never be a consideration.
One old tenet of coaching is, keep hope flickering, even when it seems hopeless. When it looks bleak, defer the climactic – and potentially fatal – decision. Don’t make the move that risks ending the suspense. Keep belief alive.
At that moment, the Huskies were on the brink of eliminating belief. They had just dropped two passes and failed to move a yard on three plays. Misfire on that fourth-down play, and it’s over.
I suppose the odds of converting fourth-and-10 in that situation are no better than maybe one in five.
So Lake opted to keep hope flickering. As he said, there would be perhaps 50 seconds left if the Huskies held Oregon. And maybe it would be deep in UW territory, even back at the 10 again.
But maybe Race Porter thunders another great punt. Maybe the Oregon return man misplays it. If you’re Washington, you get in a sellout, nine-man front, and maybe you cause a fumble. It wouldn’t have been outlandish for Lake to conclude that if Washington were going to win the game, the defense was somehow going to have to do it. And Oregon quarterback Anthony Brown is not exactly a rock-solid, button-down proposition back there.
If you can force an Oregon fourth down, maybe you rise up and block a punt.
Let’s face it, with this Washington offense, either choice is grasping at straws. But Lake’s move – to force Oregon to execute rather than depend on an offense whose mastermind he would fire less than 24 hours later – is defensible.
Naturally, the punt snap sailed over Porter’s head for a safety, which only served to heap more scorn on Lake’s head. It was that kind of week.