Gophers coach Tracy Claeys drew national scrutiny Thursday for attempting a two-point conversion with a seven-point lead late in the team's victory over Oregon State.
Here's what many people forgot: Claeys made almost the exact same decision last Nov. 21 against Illinois.
That was his first official victory as a head coach. Shannon Brooks had just broken free for a 75-yard touchdown run that gave the Gophers a 30-23 lead over the Illini with 1 minute, 25 seconds remaining at TCF Bank Stadium.
While the crowd celebrated, the Gophers quickly got set. Mitch Leidner faked a jet sweep handoff and waltzed in for the score. Game over.
On Thursday, Leidner's 1-yard touchdown run with 1:27 remaining gave the Gophers that same 30-23 lead over Oregon State. This time, the first-guessers had longer to vocalize their concerns, since Minnesota needed a timeout.
"We had a kid that was late getting in the huddle, and we weren't going to take a chance on getting a delay-of-game penalty," Claeys said Friday.
Big Ten Network analyst Glen Mason said, on air, that he would kick the extra point, making it an eight-point game. That was a first guess for the former Gophers coach. And the second-guessers came out in force on Twitter when the two-point try failed, with Leidner's pass for Tyler Johnson nearly intercepted.
By Friday, Claeys' explanation had been parsed on national websites and talk radio. It was far less of a conversation piece after last year's Illinois game.
Explaining the move last November, Claeys said: "To me, that's a personality thing. For 3 yards, you get two points and the game's over. … To me, that's not that hard of a decision."
Even Friday, Claeys was undeterred.
"Our chart is different than everybody else's just because it says on it, 'If you are up by seven, late in the game, go for two,'" he said. "We'll always do it. We practice it with our team, and the whole reasoning is this: I think there is a great reward there for very little risk.
"If we don't get it, and the other team goes down and scores, 95 percent of the time, they are kicking it and we are going to overtime anyway."
The risk, of course, is having the other team score a touchdown, go for two and win. It's a rare occurrence, usually taken by a heavy underdog on the road, which applied to Oregon State.
"The mental side of it is, you score there late [to go up by seven], you have the momentum," Claeys said. "Your kids are feeling good. Theirs aren't feeling good. I think you're going to get that two-point conversion more often than you're not going to.
"As opposed to: Kicking it — you go [ahead] by eight, they go down and score, they have the momentum, they get the two-point conversion, they have the momentum going into overtime, also."
In his first full season as a head coach, Claeys already has the confidence of his own convictions. He also made a daring move switching Ryan Santoso from kicker to punter, with the unproven Emmit Carpenter taking over as kicker.
Santoso was a third-team All-Big Ten kicker last year, but he originally came to Minnesota to punt and asked for the switch. Claeys approved it, and Santoso rewarded him Thursday with four punts inside Oregon State's 20-yard line and two others that traveled 47 yards and 54 yards.
"That's what Ryan wanted to do, and you could see why," Claeys said. "He can change the field and really cut down on the return yards because the ball hangs in the air a long time."
Carpenter made his lone career field-goal attempt — a 45-yarder that banked off the left goal post — and sent three kickoffs for touchbacks.
Last month, Claeys insisted he wasn't worried about those changes. "We'll be fine," he said early in training camp. "And if it's not, you guys can all write articles about [how] dumb I am and I messed that up. But I don't lose any sleep over that."
So far, it appears to be working.
"No one wanted to talk about it after the game," Claeys said, smiling. "That is one of those things — because everything went good. But everybody is getting me lined up if one thing went wrong."