Icing the Kicker - Lessons from the Utes

Utah tried to Ice Dan Hutchins

Dan Hutchins Was 2 for 3 at the end of the Utah-Pittsburgh game, but only the last kick was official.
Dan Hutchins Was 2 for 3 at the end of the Utah-Pittsburgh game, but only the last kick was official.

The scenario

Last night I was watching the Utah Utes play the Pittburgh Panthers on the opening day of college football.  What seemed like a potential blowout for the home team turned into a nail biter when Pittsburgh capitalized on a combination of key mistakes and apparent lackadaisical handling of the game by Utah.

The end result was the notorious last second field goal attempt, the dread of most college kickers, whose only chances to contribute anything to their team's effort to win the game comes with a heavy, obvious risk.  Kick the ball through the uprights and you're the hero.  Botch your chance, and you'll likely have to find your own ride home.

With three timeouts remaining and three seconds left on the clock, Utah's Coach Kyle Whittingham did what has become a tradition as sports has developed to the point of using psychology to out-manuever an opponent:  he used his timeouts to ice the kicker, Pittsburgh's Dan Hutchins.  The reasoning for the timeouts to ice the kicker strategy is this:  you want to create as much distraction as possible to make sure the field goal attempt is anything but routine.  If you can get the kicker to think about whether the play is actually going to go off uninterrupted instead of focusing on keeping his head down on the ball and following through, your chances become greater that he'll lose the game for his team.

Kyle Whittingham

Kyle Whittingham showed us how use timeouts to ice the kicker.
Kyle Whittingham showed us how use timeouts to ice the kicker.

How many timeouts are required to ice the kicker?

Maybe we can learn something from Kyle Whittingham's experience trying to ice Pittsburgh's kicker. Hutchins made his first attempt to tie the game with three seconds left, but it didn't count. Whittingham had called timeout just previous to the snap. Nice job, coach!

On the next attempt, it was obvious Whittingham was indecisive about whether to use the trick again. JUST prior to the play starting, he called another timeout. This time the kick hooked wide left. What the heck were you doing coach, you just cost us the win!

A third attempt was next. I was thinking, "This guy's leg's going to get tired before this is all done." This time, no timeout. This time, the kick was good. The game was tied, and overtime was up next.

What can we learn about the Whittingham/Hutchins mind game? Apparently, calling timeouts an even number of times works for icing the kicker, but calling timeout an odd number of times doesn't. I admit it's not a completely scientific study, anecdotal at best. Besides, most coaches are smart enough to use their timeouts by the end of the game anyway.

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