How long is too long?

Alabama's Tyrone Prothro looks at his ankle after snapping it in the fourth quarter against Florida in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 2005.

Michael E. Palmer/The Tuscaloosa News
Published: Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 11:56 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 11:56 p.m.

LSU coach Les Miles remembered the suggestion he made as a young, naive assistant at Michigan close to 30 years ago.

In the second half of a lopsided game, Miles turned to icon Wolverines coach Bo Schembechler and told him this might be a good time to take out the starters.

"He said 'Shut up, you keep your starters in 'til the end, you play hard to the end.'," Miles said. "He had it exactly right. As a head coach now, you could see his side of things."

Fast-forward three decades later and college football coaches are facing the same age-old question. How long do you keep the starters in when a game is out of hand?

"It's always a tough thing,'' Miles said. "The main thing is you want to finish the game in solid, solid fashion how you started it. It's one where the coach weighs the responsibility of getting the starters out with the responsibility of finishing this game well.''

The issue was raised again this week when Florida quarterback Tim Tebow was knocked out with 3:57 left the third quarter of Florida's 41-7 win at Kentucky with a concussion. At the time, Florida was ahead 31-7 and driving for another score.

Tebow had been suffering flu-like symptoms before the game and there were some questions as to whether he would play. Florida coach Urban Meyer said he stuck with Tebow because it was still a three-score game (Kentucky could have tied it with three TDs and three two-point conversions.)

"We always discuss it as a staff on our head sets during the game, when is it the right time to take someone out," Meyer said. "It's my call. I make the final decision. If our guys go in punch it in there, you probably yank Tim out, you probably yank Mike Pouncey out, who had a bad ankle. But you also want to make sure you secure the game."

Florida had also failed to score in its previous four possessions after jumping to a 31-0 first-quarter lead. With the offense out of rhythm, Meyer may have wanted Tebow and the rest of the Gators to end on a positive note.

"Taking out a quarterback is a little bit different than taking out a player at another position because he is your primary decision maker," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "And if you make one or two bad decisions, you can let another team right back in the game."

Saban agreed with Meyer's assessment that the game wasn't secured at the time of Tebow's injury: "31-7 in the third quarter is not a game that's out of reach," Saban said. "One score and an onside kick and that team's right back in the game.''

Of course, it always looks worse when a star player goes down while a team is up big in the second half. In 2005, former Alabama coach Mike Shula faced some heat when star receiver Tyrone Prothro fractured two bones in his leg in the fourth quarter of a lopsided game against Florida. Alabama was up on Florida 31-3 with just under nine minutes remaining when the injury occurred. It ended Prothro's football career.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier was at the helm of many blowouts earlier in his coaching career with Florida.

"Sometimes, I worry about a guy, but on the other hand, you can't necessarily worry about injuries all of the time," Spurrier said. "We always made sure the game was well in hand before we started substituting."

Likewise, Saban said he doesn't worry about injuries when he's coaching on the sidelines.

"I don't ever want a guy to get injured, but at the same time, you can't worry about guys getting hurt," Saban said.

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