MISSOULA — Cal Poly coach Beau Baldwin can appreciate the NCAA’s new overtime rules.
He was the Eastern Washington coach when his team had to defend 95 triple-option rushing plays against Cal Poly in a triple-overtime thriller in 2011. It wasn’t the seven-overtime game between LSU and Texas A&M in 2018, which has prompted changes to shorten overtime, but Baldwin was concerned for player safety nonetheless.
“You make changes for player welfare because injuries can happen to the most well-conditioned athletes when guys get tired,” he said at the Big Sky Football Kickoff last month. “We had some D-lineman that you felt it was rough on them. It’s one thing to defend the triple-option in a 60-minute game, but a triple-OT game where they ran the ball 95 times, luckily, we came out without anything serious, but guys banged up their knees. I think the quicker OT is not a bad deal.”
The NCAA’s new OT format requires teams to go for a two-point conversion after a touchdown starting in the second period instead of the third. If the score is tied after two periods, teams will then exchange two-point plays from the 3-yard line beginning in the third period instead of in the fifth. Each team still gets a drive starting at the opponent’s 25-yard line in the first two periods and can go for either a PAT or two-point play in the first period.
Coaches have been figuring out how to prepare for the new OT format, where a single play could decide the result of the game and potentially swing the outlook for their season. The solution is simple on paper for Montana coach Bobby Hauck.
“We’ll practice two more two-point plays every week,” he said. “We usually have three in our game plan, but we’ll have five on our chart.”
Hauck hasn’t been involved in an OT game since he returned to UM in 2018, but his teams have gone 5 of 8 on two-point attempts in that time frame. He was in just one OT game from 2003-09 at UM, a 43-40 double-OT loss to Western Illinois in the 2003 playoffs.
The Grizzlies’ last OT game was a 33-27 win at Idaho State on Nov. 7, 2015. Their last OT game at home was a 24-21 loss to Weber State on Oct. 10, 2015.
Montana State coach Brent Vigen, who’s been part of some triple-overtime games, including a 69-66 loss to UNLV while at Wyoming, pointed out that preparing to defend those two-point plays will be just as critical as converting them.
“You better have some two-point plays ready to go. You better be able to really execute in that situation,” he said. “Conversely, on defense, you better be able to stop it because that first overtime will play out traditionally, but then after that, it becomes who can do better from the 3-yard line.”
The preparation for the new format will begin during the ongoing preseason camp, coaches said. It’ll then be addressed as needed during game prep each week.
“It’s something you better be prepared for because you get yourselves in those situations where it essentially comes down to one play, whatever side of the football you’re on, you better be able to be on the right side of that result,” Vigen said.
Hauck doesn’t expect the new OT rules to change how he approaches the end of regulation or the first overtime period. Eastern Washington coach Aaron Best, however, has thought about that in terms of how aggressive he needs to be as a play caller, and it could be based on a gut feeling in the moment.
“I think if you really break it down, it may make you think differently in regulation because of the overtime rules,” he said. “You may take a different chance in the regulation period as opposed to waiting until overtime where it’s a one-play sequence when you get to the third overtime.”
Teams didn’t have to exchange two-point plays until the seventh OT, but the NCAA changed that to the fifth in 2019 following the LSU and Texas A&M thriller, a 74-72 game that saw the teams combine for 84 points in overtime. The NCAA didn’t even offer overtime games until 1996, with tied scores after regulation resulting in a tie game.
“It’s not as traditional as it once was, but 20 whatever years ago, games ended in ties, and that wasn’t traditional either. No one wanted a tie,” Best said. “When you compete, you want to evaluate who wins the game and who loses the game.
“The beautiful thing is you can argue all you want about the way it’s done, but we’re playing by the same rules, they just changed a little bit.”
Victor Flores of the Billings Gazette contributed to this article.