The squibs return to Capistrano

The first sighting of a dumb but supposedly safe strategy by a football coach means autumn is in the air.

Published September 2, 2008 6:30PM (EDT)

I knew it was really football season on Monday night when UCLA squib kicked to Tennessee after taking a three-point lead with 27 seconds to go.

I know they've been playing football for a week or so now, longer if you count NFL practice games, but I'm slow to acknowledge these things. For me, the '60s didn't really end until Tori Spelling got a reality show.

The Bruins, down 21-17 with 1:50 to go, had marched 70 yards on nine plays in 1:23, a smart drive engineered by quarterback Kevin Craft in the two-minute drill. A touchdown on a three-yard pass from Craft to Ryan Moya made it 24-21. Tennessee needed a field goal to force overtime, and the Volunteers only had 27 seconds and one timeout to work with. So what did UCLA do?

Helped Tennessee! Yay! Football season is here.

The average starting point for Tennessee's four possessions following UCLA kickoffs had been the Tennessee 32-yard line. The best had been the 47, but that was the only time Tennessee had started beyond its own 33. Was there a chance Tennessee would run a deep kick back beyond midfield, even all the way for a touchdown? Yes, of course. But the odds, as always, even when kicking to a team with a great returner, were on the side -- and it just feels like autumn to type this -- of the kicking team kicking deep.

Squib. Short return to the Tennessee 43. That's at least one first down taken care of for the Vols by their hosts. They went incomplete, 16-yard pass play, incomplete, 11-yard pass play, timeout. With five seconds left. If Tennessee had started on its own side of its own 35, as it had three times out of four on deep kicks, and will continue to do so on the vast majority of all deep kicks all year -- a year that now feels in full swing! -- the Volunteers would have needed to throw a Hail Mary for the win instead of having Daniel Lincoln kick that field goal.

I know. It wouldn't have gone the same way if they'd started on their 30. But they would have had to throw deeper passes from the start, which are lower percentage. Either way, UCLA increases its chances at winning by kicking deep. The Bruins won in overtime anyway when Lincoln cranked a 34-yarder wide left.

A game decided by the placekickers! Now I'm feelin' it! Where are my pompoms? When do my sturdy Golden Bears get under way?

Oh, look at that. They played Saturday.

By King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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