By: William Carroll
A trap game is often defined as a game that is much closer than expected for or even lost by the favored team and where the favorite has seemed to underestimate or overlook the underdog. Already Wake Forest has overcome, it’s an in-state rival, UNC; the Kansas Jayhawks also proved to be way too much for the Boston College Eagles. The Saturday games are still being played. There are several ways that a trap game can come about and I shall review them next.
The most common type of trap game is when a heavily favored team has a big and highly-anticipated game that follows the upcoming trap game. The reason that Nick Saban is often seen still ripping his team after they blow out win by 31, is that he clearly has made enemies of complacency and expectation. By avoiding allowing your team to think that they are entitled to win just because of their ranking or reputation you can avoid falling into the trap.
Another fairly common type of trap game is the game that follows an emotional and hard-fought win. Just after a big rivalry game, there’s often a natural let down. This is heightened if there’s also a sense that the team you are about to face is somehow diminished, maybe they had a bad loss or a serious injury to a key player or players. Also, mitigating factors can be weather or even scheme. An example was when a very talented Michigan team struggled versus the Black Knights of the Hudson. Army’s triple-option offense clearly frustrated the Wolverine’s front seven who would have much preferred to attack downhill rather than dodge cut-blocks and play find the football. For these reasons, Colorado should tread lightly versus Air Force.
A rarer but still very troublesome form of the trap game is the one loss turns into two trap game. This is when a team with high aspirations and goals drops a game which can, at times, change the way that team sees itself. The Tennessee Volunteers had a bit of that after they lost to Georgia State. The high hopes that they’d begun the season with had evaporated and facing a very tough BYU was not at all what the Volunteers needed.
The rarest type of trap game is the one where a team simply “leaves its fight in the gym” a team is too excited and hyped for a game. That team comes out playing at a fever-pitch, looking for a fight, committing penalties of over-aggression and commonly getting out to a two or three-score lead. Right before a half-time often a big play is given up or a big mistake is made and that starts to turn the momentum and the favorite starts to deflate.
I am placing my focus clearly on college, while I would not go so far as to say that trap games don’t exist in the NFL, they’re rarer since the talent disparity that decides most high school and college games simply doesn’t exist at the professional level. That being said when you do see NFL trap games it’s often when something changes about the opposing team. Perhaps an injury to a key player occurs and changes what the other team does on defense or offense. The Eagles losing Carson Wentz comes to mind.
A possible reason that certain weeks, like week three, are often trap games havens is that this is a week that may just precede, or is the week of the conference opener. Late-season trap games can come in what should be the later season “breather-week” games. Those games often precede featured match-ups. The trap game is one of the most challenging things that coaches face. It requires that the talent, emotion, and confidence that a team needs to prosper be balanced with a healthy respect for every opponent. Appalachian State and Old Dominion are a testament to the proposition that every game demands the effort and focus needed to deserve the win.