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How To Use Timeouts: A Lesson From The LSU Game

The misuse of our final timeout may have cost us the LSU game. Simple math says that for a losing team, timeouts are more valuable on defense.

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

With the moniker MSUhistory, I typically stick to historical recaps, anniversaries of past MSU accomplishments, and great games. But I feel like I need to get something off my chest after that LSU game.

Let's rewind to late Saturday night.  Mississippi State had just scored a touchdown and failed at the 2 point attempt, leaving LSU with a 21-19 lead with 4:00 minutes left.

We kicked deep, and Leonard Fournette ran three consecutive times, once moving the chains for the Tigers. After each run, we allowed LSU to run out the entire playclock, as we kept all of our timeouts in our back pocket.  4 minutes turned in to 1:47 before we decided to use two of those timeouts to stop the clock.  After the punt, we took over at our own 11 yardline with 1:32 left and one timeout.

As you probably know, we never used that timeout - not even to stop a DELAY OF GAME with just seconds left on the clock. Now that's embarrassing, but really irrevelant to the point I'm trying to make.

Here's my beef with the timeout situation.  When facing a deficit like we were at the end of a game - down by 1 score and the opponent holding the football - you need to have the maximum amount of time left on the clock. We knew we were going to have to drive the whole field, and when you have to go 80+ yards, you need time with which to work.

When LSU has the ball, it's obvious they're going to run the entire playclock each time.  So it's easy to assign a value to defensive timeouts. It's somewhere between 35 and 40 seconds. That's cut and dry.

On offense, there are so many ways to stop the clock.  Running out of bounds stops the clock until the next snap.  If you get a first down, the clock stops momentarily, and generally you use 8-10 seconds before snapping the next play.  The worst case is if you get tackled in-bounds and shy of the 1st down line.  Running a hurry-up will typically run off 15-20 seconds before the next snap of the ball, or of course, you could spike the ball, which will run off 8-10 seconds and result in a loss of down.  So using a timeout on offense, at worst case, would either cost you 15-20 seconds or 10 seconds and a loss of down.

It's more difficult to assign the value of a timeout on offense - but in the worst case, it's basically 15-20 seconds, or 10 seconds and a loss of down.

So, you can use your timeouts on defense and save 35 seconds, or save them for offense and save either 15-20 seconds or 10 seconds and a loss of down?

It's simple math.  Using your timeouts on defense leaves more time on the clock and extends the game.  There's no reason a losing team should hang on to a timeout and watch precious seconds tick off the clock, when they can be stop it.

On our final drive, we got to the LSU 29 yardline with 20 seconds left before stalling out - but we stalled out because we tried to rush throws. Wouldn't it have been much better to be 29 yards away from paydirt with 55 seconds left on the clock?

As soon as LSU took over with four minutes left in the game, I began to discuss why we needed to use our timeouts immediately. As we refused to call timeouts, my discussion morphed into complaining, and I proceeded to give a sermon on how we were mishandling our timeouts. Eventually the guy sitting in front of me got tired of hearing it and basically told me to shut up.

But whether or not he wanted to hear me, I was right. You have to extend the game and keep the maximum amount of time on the clock. Neglecting to use our timeouts on defense - when they're most valuable - may have cost us that game.