Stein: Football is a game of inches

Dan Stein 


Dan Stein

Usually, my post-game write-up is an attempt to find a bigger meaning about the game that I just watched.

For instance, what the loss against North Carolina really meant in terms of the entire schedule.

This week, I think I will opt for a quick lesson in Football 101. After all, that is all I can deduce from the game I just watched.

Here it is: football is a game of inches.

As Al Pacino so eloquently put it in Any Given Sunday, football, just like life, comes down to the little things.

Nowhere was this more evident than against UCF.

Generally, special teams are the most overlooked part of football. Offense gets the glory stats while defense wins championships. However, neither of those will matter if special teams do not do their job.

Last week, special teams kept Miami in the game. Travis Benjamin’s returns, coupled with FSU’s mishaps on two different punts, made sure the Hurricanes were able to stick around just long enough to keep it interesting.

This week, breakdowns on both sides ensured that neither team would run away with the game.

Take a look at the momentum-changing plays from Saturday’s game:

  • Matt Bosher shanked two punts. UCF’s Blake Clingan returned the favor with one of his own. It looked like my golf game.
  • UCF had a field goal taken off the scoreboard because of an illegal procedure.
  • Clingan had a punt snapped over his head that resulted in a safety.
  • Miami’s Sam Shields got flagged for a dumb penalty on punt coverage, which cost his team fifteen yards in a game largely determined by field position.
  • UCF’s Joe Burnett let a punt go through his arms inside of his own five-yard line, which led to a Miami touchdown.
  • Burnette took the ensuing kickoff more than 90 yards to the house. This was made possible only by DeMarcus Van Dyke’s holding penalty, which lead to a re-kick.

Aside from UCF’s interception return for a touchdown and Robert Marve’s touchdown pass, every game-turning play involved special teams.

A good team has to win special teams.

The little things can betray a defense that only gives up 78 total yards, while pitching a shutout (as Miami’s did).

The little things can betray an offense that overcomes its own ineptitude to score the dagger touchdown in the fourth quarter (Graig Cooper’s five-yard score).

This team is not ready to blow anyone out yet. Most games are going to be close. As we witnessed against UNC and FSU, no lead is ever safe for or against this team.

It will be the little things that keep this team from winning or losing as the schedule gets tougher.

Randy Shannon always points at one unit as the one he likes to work with: special teams.

Why? Coach Shannon has learned through years and years of football that the little things make the big things possible.

October 12, 2008


Dan Stein

Senior Sports Writer

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