The clock was winding down. Luke Arciniega had just sacked Central Michigan quarterback Cooper Rush with Syracuse clinging to a seven point lead. The Chippewas were out of timeout, and the clock hand dwindled under 20 seconds. Central Michigan seemed poised to snap the ball, and then the whistle blew.
Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer had called a timeout. With his team in the lead, the opposition having no timeouts left of their own and the clock ticking down. Social media exploded. How could coach Shafer stop the clock for his opponent and give them time to regroup? It turns out, he made the right call.
After going back and rewatching the play, the Syracuse defense was scrambling. They clearly were confused and did not know what they should be running. This was especially true in the secondary, where the Orange safeties could be seen with their hands up in the air as if they were asking the sideline what to do. You can see this in the picture below.
To make matter worse, Central Michigan is lined up in a spread formation with a slot receiver on each side of the field. Due to Syracuse's confusion, they initially left both uncovered with about 21 seconds left (as seen in the picture above). Just a few seconds later, one of the Orange defensive backs is darting towards the slot receiver at the top of the formation while the one at the bottom remained uncovered. See the picture below.
This is what Scott Shafer is seeing when he calls timeout. You can actually see him at the bottom of the picture signaling the timeout just to the right of the sideline marker with the "X" on it. Given the situation, having two wide receivers potentially uncovered with the defense scrambling to get in position left the Orange in a vulnerable position.
"We just wanted to make sure that we were covering down the proper way," Shafer said after the game. "I didn't feel good about where we were at. I wanted to make sure that we were inside out and upside down. Sound with our vision in where we needed to be on the field. We had one and I felt we needed to take it to make sure we were settled down and all on the same page."
Unfortunately for Syracuse, the subsequent play resulted in a Central Michigan touchdown. On that play, Syracuse put pressure on Cooper Rush and forced him to scramble. He threw up a bit of a prayer to Ben McCord with four Syracuse defensive backs around him. McCord was able to leap and make the catch, tying the game.
Despite the fact that the Chippewas were able to tie it, Shafer's late timeout appears to have been the right call after all.