Clardy's Corner: Judgment Calls

Long-running columnist Troy Clardy tackles the absurdity of excessive celebration penalties just days after Jake Locker and the Washington Huskies found out all too painfully how a game can turn on a whistle. Plus, Troy shares his thoughts on the Stanford QB situation and why ASU-Georgia might matter more to the Pac-10 than USC-Ohio State.

I was watching a replay of Arizona State's opener against Northern Arizona last week. At one point, FSN's cameras caught ASU QB Rudy Carpenter celebrating a long touchdown pass by taking off his helmet and screaming to the havens.

Was he flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct? No. Those same cameras also caught the referee barking at Carpenter to keep his helmet on, or else. Carpenter obliged, put his helmet back on as he ran off the field, and no harm was done. That referee made a judgment call that throwing the flag wasn't necessary in that situation.

Of course, not every Pac-10 official showed the same judgment last Saturday. By now, everyone knows about the controversial unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Washington QB Jake Locker that marred the BYU-Washington game. That penalty saved what would have been an otherwise ho-hum day of college football, but it also ruined what would have been an instant classic.

That penalty had a far bigger impact on that game than the Tuck Rule had on that Raiders-Patriots playoff game. After all, Oakland's defense still had chances to stop New England's offense. Then Adam Vinatieri still had to make the greatest kick in football history just to force overtime. The Tuck Rule call was a turning point in the game, but not its deciding factor.

Here, the Huskies had zero time to recover from that judgment call. It removed any chance they had of possibly going for two points and the win (which I think they should have done, given how they let a game against cal slip away in 2006).

Do I think The Flag should have been thrown last Saturday in Seattle? No. Locker didn't taunt anyone, didn't make physical contact with an opponent or an official, and didn't appear to say anything unsuitable for the family atmosphere that is college football.

Should Jake Locker have shown better judgment? Well, given the aftermath of his harmless celebration, yes.

But the official who decided to throw The Flag (and the referee who decided to uphold it) should have exercised even better judgment, realized the context of the celebration wasn't in violation of the rule, and kept his flag in his pocket.

And so, thanks to that officiating crew, the phrase "judgment call" has been all the rage this week. Given that, I have two big judgment calls from Stanford's trip to Tempe. Hopefully, I don't get flagged.

Let me set up my first judgment call by going back just a little bit. Two weeks ago, in this very corner, yours truly wrote the following:

"I gotta admit, I need to see something from Arizona State's offensive line before I can truly anoint them as a top-tier team in the Pac-10. They've got the talent, and Dennis Erickson knows a thing or two about coaching college players. But unless they can protect Rudy Carpenter better, I can't see them challenging U$C for a place at the head of the Pac-10 table…"

Well, it's official: after their 41-17 win over the Card last week, I think Arizona State is the clear number-two team in the Pac-10 right now. U$C is still on a whole other level, but that performance by ASU, particularly by their offensive line, establishes them as the next-best thing in the conference.

Stanford continually brought the blitz on Carpenter. Sometimes they got there and smacked him with some vicious hits. But, more often than not, Carpenter's protection held up, and gave him enough time to find guys downfield. The Card kept bringing the heat, but they kept getting stonewalled by the Sun Devils' line. They were the real reason why Arizona State was able to beat the Cardinal.

A couple of caveats for the next judgment call. Jim Harbaugh knows more about quarterbacking then I could ever dream of, so I'll always defer to him on this subject. And this is totally a case of hindsight being 20-20. But after Tavita Pritchard's highly effective start, I'm not so sure I would have gone ahead with rotating in Alex Loukas and Jason Forcier.

I didn't give much of a second thought when Loukas took a few snaps against the Beavers, because the opening game is generally a good spot to work other guys in. Stanford's game against San Jose State might also lend the Card a similar opportunity.

If it's situational substitution we're talking about, like we saw in 1999 when Joe Borchard would often replace Todd Husak on the goal line, I'm fine with that.
If we're leading Washington State by 56 points, Nicholas Ruhl and L.D. Crow can take as many snaps as they need to. Heck, if we're leading anyone by 56 points this year, Harbaugh could send John Ynostroza out there, for all I care.

But since none of those conditions applied, and because Pritchard had looked sharp in those first drives for the Card, I'll admit I was a bit puzzled by the rotation and its usage in that game. Against a team the caliber of Arizona State, establishing and maintaining momentum is critical. Stanford had that momentum until they started playing musical QBs.

So those are my two big judgment calls from last Saturday's match. I'll try to refrain from throwing my MacBook into the air in celebration.

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RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS

Quick announcement: as all good Cardinalmaniacs know, the Stanford Daily Update comes your way every weekday at 7:30 p.m. on KTRB AM 860 in San Francisco. Now, for our friends outside of the Bay Area, you can check out the Stanford Daily Update online at gostanford.com! Hit gostanford.com's Podcast page (in the Multimedia menu) for more information…

I'll admit that Anthony Kimble's running didn't show me a whole lot in the Oregon State game. That said, I liked what I saw from him in Tempe. I thought he had several smart runs, nice patient, shifty runs that proved to be steady gains. That, to me, is a good sign…

The new uniforms are an improvement over the North Carolina State look we'd been sporting the past few years. But does anyone else think that now we look like Alabama?

To those of you who are making the roadie to the TCU, make sure you find a Braum's. Even though it's an Oklahoma thing, they have more than a few in the Metroplex. Best shakes ever…

If I'm Washington offensive coordinator Tim Lappano, I help Jake Locker out by quickening the tempo and by shortening his passes. The few times the Huskies decided to go to quicker passes, Locker seemed to gain momentum. But when he was asked to go deep with his dropback passes, he wasn't as effective…

Sorry to hear that Washington freshman RB Chris Polk is done for the year. That said, he looked way too tentative to me, seemed too ready to dance into the hole, rather than exploding through it. However, the Dawgs may be on to something with fellow freshman RB David Freeman, who was much more productive and decisive with his running…

Oregon loses Jonathan Stewart to the NFL. No problem… they just replace him with LeGarrette Blount, who style is very similar (if not identical) to Stewart's…

That cal-Washington State game might be the first football game I've ever seen that was literally over after the first play from scrimmage. Worse, the Bears led 14-0 just 91 seconds into the game. I realize a lot can happen in 91 seconds (ask Michael Spinks for his thoughts on this), but wow…

I'm visualizing Cougar fans roaming the Palouse like Hudson in "Aliens", holding a smoldering piece of wreckage and screaming, "Game over, man! Game over! What are we gonna do now?"

The Buckeyes get RB Chris "Beanie" Wells back for U$C. Good for them. Somehow I suspect it won't quite matter…

Not a Pac-10 thought, but… this week's reason why YouTube is the greatest invention of all time: someone took the time to post the entire original broadcast of Super Bowl X, played between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys in 1976. Commercials and all. This is the game where Lynn Swann made two of the greatest catches in pro football history: a skywalking sideline snare, and that falling, juggling masterpiece you see all the time on NFL Films. Watching that Steel Curtain defense near the peak of its powers is awesome, and I wish I could have seen Roger Staubach play every week. That, to me, is as good as YouTube gets…

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CLARDY'S CORNER INBOX

Good start to the year in the Inbox, and some interesting thoughts from some of you on last week's Corner and Pac-10 pride. Pete from parts unknown checks in: "Another thing that helps the Pac-10 look better is the fact that almost all of the losses that USC has had in the past few years have been to other Pac-10 schools, as opposed to outside-the-conference losses."

Good point. Excellent point, actually. Hadn't considered that. When it comes to U$C's involvement in how good the Pac-10 looks, that might be the biggest role they play. As good as the Trojans look inside and outside of Pac-10 play, the fact that they rarely emerge from the conference completely unscathed might be the Trojans' single-biggest role in making the Pac-10 look good.

By the way, the more I think about it, that Georgia-Arizona State game is more important to the Pac-10's perception than Ohio State-U$C is (providing the Trojans win, of course). After all, Georgia is top dog in the SEC as of right now. But if the Pac-10's number-two team hangs with the SEC's best, or even beats the SEC's best, that would be huge for the Pac-10's national reputation.

George from parts unknown writes: "I totally agree with you on your take about the various conference strengths.  While the Pac-10 teams will beat up on each other, the SEC does even more so. You are also right about the class of the PAC-10 coaches.  Not a bad one in the lot, although I know nothing about the new WSU coach.
 
As it looks to me right now, at the end of Week 1, Stanford probably should win four games, lose three and have five up for grabs, with four of the latter on the road.  Unless miracles happen, we should come out ahead against San Jose State and the Washington schools.  A huge upset will be needed to beat ASU, Oregon or USC.  However, Arizona at home, and TCU, Notre Dame, UCLA and cal on the road are each individually winnable, but certainly not all five.  I'll settle for two or three."

That's the key: trying to figure out how to get Stanford to those six wins. That's why this week's game is critical. Man, I had that UCLA game marked down as an automatic win for us. Now? Who knows?

As for Pac-10 vs. SEC comparisons, trust me, I'd love to go on and on and corner people in the hallways here in Bristol about the greatness of the Pac-10. But if I'm going to try to paint the Pac-10 as better than the SEC, it's a battle I'm going to lose every time. Heck, Vanderbilt knocked off South Carolina...that has to make the SEC look a little stronger, no?

And of course, Derek from San Francisco chimes in: "Here's my question – how much are writers allowed to bash the officiating?  Most coaches won't try to dig too much in that complaint department, and the talking heads usually focus on one or two mistakes.  Yet, for our past match, it certainly seemed from the radio broadcast the zebras were primed to make the Sun Devils look good.  From all this, I'd like to know your position on a coaching theory that if you are consistently in that ‘gray' area of a penalty, the refs simply ‘can't call them all.'"

Derek, I can't speak for our radio guys (although the FSN Arizona announcers were absolutely clueless on anything Stanford-related) and their thoughts on last week's officiating. But to answer your question on how much bashing writers can give officials, check any newspaper in Seattle this week. Or, really, any major college football columnist for any major website. The Flag was the big story from the weekend, and almost every column I saw (and I'll throw Mel Kiper and Beano Cook in there too, since I had long conversations with them about this same topic) bashed that officiating crew. And, in my view, deservedly so.

As for the "can't call them all" issue, well, it likely depends on the individual official. It's just like in basketball. When it comes to gray areas, some referees are more likely to let guys play, while some are more likely to be more whistle-happy. The important thing is to adjust accordingly and to make sure that a referee isn't placed in a position where he has to decide the game. Because when that happens, 99% of the time, you're going to be disappointed. Do I need to bring up the Stanford hoops game at UCLA last season?

Agree with this Corner? Disagree? Got something else on your mind? Heading to Braum's while you're in town for the TCU game? I want to hear from you. Drop me a line at my Scout.com inbox (username: troyc) or e-mail me at troyc@thebootleg.com. The best e-mails will be answered in next week's Clardy's Corner Inbox!

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PAC-10 PICKS

No interleague games this week…we'll fire up the Pac-10 Picks again for Arizona-UCLA next week!

Last week: 1-0 (straight up and ATS)
This year: 2-0 (straight up and ATS).
Last year: 26-10 (straight-up), 20-15-1 (ATS).

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Troy Clardy hosts the Stanford Daily Update, airing every weekday at 7:30p on Cardinal Sports Network flagship radio station KTRB (860 AM) in San Francisco. Clardy's Corner appears Wednesdays on TheBootleg.com. You can also check him out online at TroyClardy.com.


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