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Arizona’s coaches missed the mark with late punt decision vs. Houston

This decision really hurt

NCAA Football: Arizona at Houston Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Look, the Arizona Wildcats were clearly outmatched in just about every facet of the game against the Houston Cougars on Saturday morning.

The only reason there was even a little glimmer of hope was because Arizona’s first team offense started taking it Houston’s second team defense.

But there was that slight glimmer.

Until the coaching staff snuffed it out.

With the score sitting at 38-18 and facing a 4th-and-9 at their own 45-yard-line with 5:05 left in the game, Kevin Sumlin opted to punt the ball rather than go for it.

This was after Arizona had scored 18 unanswered points and had just driven the ball against the Cougs’ first team defense, even though that drive ended with a goal line stand.

But it was the ensuing Colin Schooler safety that Sumlin was trying to recreate with the decision to punt.

“We wanted to pin ‘em back down in there again,” coach explained after the game. “We just got a safety and get the ball back. It was fourth and almost ten and we hadn’t been very successful on third-and-long yardage plays with holding up the protection. So we tried to get the ball back down in there and see if we could make something happen.”

This was the thought process with Arizona needing three scores in five minutes.

But that lack of time didn’t faze Sumlin.

“We had one timeout left,” he continued. “But once they broke out....on the jet sweep....that was the ballgame right there.”

Dylan Klumph did pin Houston on their own five, but two three-yard carries and the 60-yard jet sweep mentioned above ended the game and made the punt null and void.

But why punt there? Yes a safety is nice, but you only cut the deficit to 18 points if you actually get one there, which is still a three possession game. Essentially you’re just wasting time and get the ball back with worse field position without really having accomplished anything.

At least if you go for it, there’s a chance to draw another pass interference penalty, or, you know, actually pick up the first down and keep the offensive momentum going a little bit.

And you have the side benefit of not looking like you’re just giving up on a rally with five minutes left when a portion of the fanbase is already questioning everything you do.

“I always thought we had a chance in this game,” Schooler said afterwards. “It’s only a matter of time before our offense starts getting loose, flipping things, and plays back up again with the deep balls and long runs but I never thought we were out of it.”

We’ll never know if Saturday afternoon in Houston was the moment the offense would all of the sudden start flipping big plays because the Arizona coaches decided to play for a safety instead of a first down.