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Petzold: Jim McElwain's call for fake punt at own 19-yard line was impractical


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Central Michigan coach Jim McElwain paces the sidelines in the MAC Championship game against Miami (OH) Dec. 7 at Ford Field in Detroit, MI.

So, Jim McElwain.

What were you thinking?

On fourth-and-6 from his own 19-yard line in a 7-7 tie in the second quarter against Miami (Ohio) in the Mid-American Conference championship, the first-year coach made an impractical call.

McElwain told Central Michigan to go for a fake punt.

The ball was snapped to junior fullback Oakley Lavallii, who caught it five yards behind the line of scrimmage at the 14-yard line. He was tasked with running 11 yards for a first down. 

This is the same fullback that hadn't carried the ball since he had one attempt for 18 yards in the 2018 season – the only rushing stats of his college career.

But McElwain decided to trust Lavallii, at 5-foot-11, 215 pounds, to pick up 11 yards on a fake punt deep in his own zone in the most important game of the season.

Not sure how that logic adds up.

Upon receiving the ball, Lavallii darted straight toward the sideline before realizing his fellow fullback, junior Hunter Buczkowski, was blocking in the way of his planned route.

Even though Buczkowski was doing his job, it forced Lavallii to cut back toward the middle where he was mauled at the line of scrimmage by three RedHawks with three more in hot pursuit.

"It's one of those things where they were overloading to our wing against our rugby," McElwain said. "We had the look that we needed."

To say Lavallii could've make it through those six players, along with others who would've likely joined, might be as poor of odds as winning the Powerball.

Maybe McElwin was just feeling lucky.

Beside the fact it was a distasteful decision, it's also important to evaluate how much the call hurt the Chippewas.

Central Michigan was coming off a 21-yard rushing touchdown from Tommy Lazzaro to even the score, 7-7. McElwain's team had all the momentum after the first three- and six-play drives resulted in punts.

Less than a minute after taking over from the failed fake punt, Miami moved up 4 yards before kicker Sam Sloman made a 41-yard field goal for a 10-7 lead with 8:26 left in the second quarter.

"The numbers were good, and we just didn't get it done," McElwain said. "And yet, our defense came and held them to a field go. It didn't work out, yet our defense did a great job of answering."

Sure, it's important to give credit to the defense, but McElwain gave away three free points in the second quarter.

And you could argue those three free points were the reason Central Michigan lost the championship. 

When Lazzaro scored from 4 yards with 1:24 left in the game, he trimmed Miami's lead to 23-21, and the Chippewas were forced to attempt an onside kick.

The failed onside kick allowed the RedHawks to run down the clock, kick a field goal to make the score 26-21 and force McElwain's offense to score a touchdown with 28 seconds left.

Imagine if McElwain never attempted the fake punt.

Miami would not have made a field goal in a possession that lasted less than a minute. Central Michigan would've been playing with a 21-20 lead, putting all the pressure on Miami – a much different scenario than what occurred in the 26-21 loss Saturday at Ford Field.

McElwain said the fake punt was about using all the cards in his team's deck.

"As I told the team coming into the game, it wasn't like we were going to carry anything and not use it," McElwain said. "We were going to empty our bags."

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