TEMPE AZ - DECEMBER 28: Head coach Gary Pinkel of the Missouri Tigers reacts on the sidelines during the Insight Bowl against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Sun Devil Stadium on December 28 2010 in Tempe Arizona. The Hawkeyes defeated the Tigers 27-24. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Last night, the Arizona State-Missouri game was going down to the wire. The Tigers got the ball on their own 8-yard line with 1:27 to go and the score tied at 30. Mizzou was able to drive all the way to the Arizona State 30, where an incomplete pass on third-and-5 stopped the clock at 0:17 and set up a 48-yard field goal attempt for the win.
Kicker Grant Ressel lined up from the middle of the field to attempt the field goal, but MU head coach Gary Pinkel called timeout. Ressel lined up again, and Pinkel called timeout again. Ressel lined up a third time, and he hooked the kick left. The game went to overtime, where Arizona State pulled out the contest 37-30.
The narrative during that time and continuing after the game was that Pinkel iced his own kicker twice. People on Twitter were making predictable Les Miles jokes, but I don't think even Les has done something like that before. Because Ressel missed the kick, it was obviously the wrong choice.
I'm not sure the two timeouts were the right call, but it has nothing to do with icing the kicker. Unfortunately for that theory, icing the kicker doesn't work. Tobias Moskowitz and John Wertheim tackled the issue in their book Scorecasting, and they found that kickers do exactly the same with or without a timeout called before their attempts.
Pinkel said after the game that he was trying to get Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict to jump offsides, something he's seen before. A penalty would get the team first-and-10 at the 25 with 17 seconds and a possibly a timeout or two depending on when Burfict (or anyone) would have jumped offsides. That would have given the offense time to take a couple chances with, if nothing else, sideline passes to get a shorter field goal and possibly even a touchdown.
The announcers mentioned just before Ressel lined up the first time that a light rain had begun to fall though, so that is probably the most justified room for criticism here. Using up more time made the chances of slipping on increasingly wet grass greater. Plus, Ressel has plenty of leg. He made a 47-yard field goal earlier in the game, and his career long is 50 yards. He didn't necessarily need a shorter distance in order to make the kick.
However given that icing a kicker doesn't actually work, Pinkel didn't risk anything by using his timeouts to try to get a first down by penalty. His "gamble" didn't pay off, but when extra time doesn't affect kickers' success rates at all, how much of a gamble was it? Given the particulars of the situation—personnel, down and distance, time left on the clock, field position—Pinkel's decision was entirely defensible.