South Dakota vs South Dakota State: What Can We Learn?

By FirstDown PlayBook on Nov 16, 2021

Most of us have seen the ending to the South Dakota vs South Dakota State game this past weekend. If you are a football coach, you need to watch it. It is an opportunity to look at one of the toughest coaching situations in football. It presented a play we used to call “Max Max” when I was in the NFL.

Here’s the situation. Your team is up 3 or more points at the end of the game with only seconds left on the clock. You have obviously tried to run out the clock, but you are looking at a fourth down somewhere around mid field or you are backed up. Your number one objective is to let the clock run out without your opponent getting another play.

You have options but none of them are good.

Punt The Ball

You can line up and punt the ball. The advantages here are that you are playing the game the way you normally would. There is something to be said for that because that is what you have practiced the most. However, you are putting the ball in your opponents hands for a last play. This is IF you get the punt off. There will certainly be an 11 man rush with little regard for roughing the punter.

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You are also putting the game in the hands of a player who likely plays four to six snaps a game. It’s a pressure situation. Just ask Jim Harbaugh for those of you who remember the end of the Michigan and Michigan State game a few years back.

Bleed The Clock And/Or Take A Safety

The second option is you could have the quarterback or a running back take the snap and run backwards. The goal here is to obviously avoid being tackled before the clock runs out. Heaven forbid that this player slips and falls as he runs backwards. This sets the other team up with a chip shot field goal or worse.

Yes, this player can and should run out of the back of the end zone if the defense is closing in on him. Once again, if there is time on the clock then you will now have to kick off with a second or two on the clock. This would probably be a squib kick of some type.

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You will either have to defend some type of razzle dazzle lateral the ball around return play. Or your opponent may also elect to give themselves up on the return, resulting in one more play to defend on defense.

Click On The Drawing To Watch The South Dakota vs South Dakota State Ending

Max Max Last Play

The final choice is the one that South Dakota State chose. We used to call this play “Max Max”. We would typically call it Max Max 6 or Max Max 8. The number would reflect the maximum number of seconds that we thought we could run off the clock with this throw. We practiced it every week during the season. The idea is to obviously have the ball come down out of bounds with no time remaining on the clock. It is an excellent choice but here are a few things to consider before you call it.

  1. Know your quarterback’s arm strength. We would change the number of seconds when we could run this based on our quarterback’s arm. We always erred on the side of caution.
  2. This is a different protection. The launch point should be discussed as well as your backs must be a part of making sure you get it off.
  3. We always felt like you needed to be on the hash closest to the sideline where you were throwing the ball. The last thing you want is to leave the ball in play and have your offensive line trying to make a tackle.
  4. Tell the officials what you are doing BEFORE you run the play. Let’s face it. This is a weird play. The officials need to know that you expect the clock to run out before the ball touches earth again.
  5. Finally this play is better at home. It just is. Humans are humans. That clock is going to start quicker and stop later at home. On the road? You never know…

Before we sign off today we want to point out that we are in no way second guessing anything from the South Dakota vs South Dakota State game. There obviously are a lot of folks out there with 20-20 hindsight now. Our goal is to look at the situation and learn from it. You can adapt your play (if you choose to run it) to fit your players and system.