The Syracuse Orange defeated the South Florida Bulls on Saturday by one point, 37-36. With :03 left, the Orange had the chance to make the score 39-36, meaning USF could do no better than tie wit ha field goal. Ryan Nassib's conversion pass was very nearly picked off but fell to the ground (video of conversion here). On the ensuing kickoff, USF played a little rope-a-dope for as long as they could but eventually the play was over and so was the game.
Going back to that conversion attempt, however, the question needs to be asked. Should Syracuse have bothered going for two? Would we have been better off just kicking the ball or even taking a knee? Let's look at the two sides of the argument.
Syracuse Should Have Just Taken A Knee On The Conversion Play
Syracuse is up by one point with three seconds on the clock. Those three seconds will surely expire on South Florida's kick return. Which means, barring a Syracuse penalty on a kick return that puts USF in field goal range, it's irrelevant if Syracuse is up one, two or three points. While Syracuse is indeed penalty-prone, the chances of all that happening are slim.
You know what probably has better odds? That the two-point conversion can be returned by USF for a score, which would have literally handed the game to South Florida. And just so you know I'm not crazy, here's a situation where it's actually happened (H/T: SandlapperSpike):
That's why you don't even bother going for two. And at the very least, if you're going to for two, do it in the least risky way possible, either a QB sneak or Jerome Smith up the gut. Throwing is just asking for trouble (especially when, again, the pass was almost intercepted).
That's also why you don't even kick the extra point. USF would have brought the house and who the hell knows what could happen. Das Boot doesn't exactly have das faith of the fanbase right now.
At this point in the game, with everything you've been through and as crazy as the night's been, it's all about minimizing risk in this moment. And the least risky, smartest thing to do would have been to just take a knee.
Syracuse Should Have Gone For Two
Syracuse is among the most penalized teams in the nation. 106th in the nation to be exact. On that final drive alone Syracuse notched two penalties that almost took them out of the game.
Not to mention all the penalties that have ruined so many other games. The late hit against Northwestern. God knows how many false starts against Minnesota. Who can keep track of all the mistakes against Rutgers? They are, for whatever reason, destined to shoot themselves in the foot when given the opportunity.
So of course, since Syracuse is going to squib kick, you have to assume that South Florida is going to return the ball to the 50 and then get another 15 yards thanks to some boneheaded play by some boneheaded player at the most boneheaded time. You absolutely have to assume that's going to happen.
That's why you go for two to make it a three-point game with three seconds left.
Coaching Syracuse football is all about taking the devils you know and trusting in the least devilish one among them to do their job. That means you have to assume that the odds against Ryan Nassib throwing the worst interception of his life are greater than the odds against Syracuse's special teams unit making a bad play. Both of them sound possible but one sounds more possible than the other. It's science. Look it up.
So you go for two and if you're going to go for two, you don't pussyfoot around. You don't QB sneak a low percentage play. You throw for a high-percentage play. And that's what Syracuse did. It didn't work...oh well. Doesn't matter and it turns out, it didn't matter.
But are you willing to trust the Syracuse kick coverage team that it wouldn't have?