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Breaking Down the Nonsense Football Game on ‘Euphoria’

The show did a lot of things well (that eye makeup!), but having a quarterback run the ball with 10 seconds left in a must-score situation was not one of them

HBO/Ringer illustration

Euphoria elevated itself with details. The eye makeup, for example. By Sunday’s finale, I found myself uninterested in any scene without excessive glitter. Luckily, the makeup artist’s presence was felt in every frame. Colorful eyeshadow. Bold eyeliner. Shapes glued to the eyebrows. How did it all stay on, I wondered, trying to keep my newly-glitter-caked eyelids open enough to find the answers I sought on Google. The attention to detail in every element of the show was impressive. Which is why, during Sunday’s season finale, the nonsensical football game was so upsetting.

As I appreciated Maddy’s (Alexa Demie) cheerleading makeup, something far more egregious than the oversize, rhinestone-lined triangles drawn on her temples was happening on the field. “What the fuck is this indecency?” I said to myself for the first time during a show notorious for the sheer amount of dicks shown on screen. Everything was wrong. The strategy on offense was absurd. The announcers spoke like they’d never seen a down. For a show that seemed to respect the tiny details so much, down to every star on Rue’s (Zendaya) eyelid, it was shocking.

Here’s the setting: We learn before kickoff that the stakes are high for East Highland and its senior quarterback, Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi). The Blackhawks need to win to advance to regionals. This is Nate’s first game back since being suspended earlier in the season after police arrested him because they suspected he had battered his girlfriend (which he did, in fact, do), and also could be the last game of his high school career. Viewers are shown three moments from the game:

1. On the first snap of the game, Nate is sacked.

2. In the fourth quarter, with 1:30 remaining, down 27-23 and on the 20-yard line, Nate’s receivers drop three balls in a row. I’m talking back-to-back-to-back butterfingers. The camera cuts away before fourth down.

3. Suddenly, there are only 10 seconds left. Fourth down. Is it the same fourth down, or a new one? We have no idea how the clock wound down so far, but the Blackhawks appear to be snapping the ball on the 40 now. Nate receives the snap, drops back, and scrambles out. Miraculously, he bursts past a couple of defenders and runs the ball some 60 yards into the end zone. Touchdown, Nate Jacobs. Blackhawks win! The crowd goes wild. Except Nate’s dad. Nate’s dad is a pretty weird guy.

You’d think with the game excerpts shown so selectively, there wouldn’t be much potential for error. It should be a standard dramatic high school football game—Friday Night Lights perfected this formula a decade ago. Alas, the 2019 East Highland Blackhawks sectional win will go down in TV history as one of the most perplexing fictional victories ever. Let’s run through some of the bizarre details that stand out:

Coaching Strategy

Let’s assume that, after the initial sack on Jacobs, East Highland’s offensive coordinator wants to get the ball out of Nate’s hands as quickly as possible. Fair enough. When we revisit the offense with 1:30 to go, the score is 27-23. Ideally, the Hawks want to (a) score a touchdown and (b) kill time off the clock. But instead of any looks to the flat, Nate chews up three downs throwing downfield. No run game is established whatsoever. It’s an unusual amount of faith in the fade route despite a full set of downs and a full field to work with. To cross sports analogies, they needed a layup and went for the 3.

What plays did the Blackhawks call in the space between fourth down on the 20-yard line with 1:30 left and the final snap, when the team had 10 seconds remaining on what appears to be the 40? We’ll never know.

Nate’s Quarterbacking

We learn of Nate’s legend as early as Episode 2. “He joined the football team as a freshman and quickly excelled,” Rue narrates. “By the year’s end, he was not only the starting quarterback, but the team captain.” Yet his skills appear to be lacking, even for an amateur. His dropback is slow, which could be a testament to his offensive line. (Though, remember, they failed him on the first snap.) Most damning is the final rush of the game. Nate isn’t protecting the ball at all, and despite the show giving us no prior indication that he’s capable of running it, manages to keep it safe while maneuvering around multiple defenders.

Screenshots via HBO

Are you telling me that he’s going to successfully side-step this block with this loose a hold? If Nate’s this talented a runner, why did he resort to three unsuccessful downfield attempts earlier when he actually had time to work with in case his rush attempt went awry? Why doesn’t he have a scholarship?

Opponent’s Coaching Strategy

Part of the reason Nate was able to successfully run the ball was because the defense gave him all the room in the world. Look at how open the path is downfield:

Interesting choice to not have extra security downfield on the final play of a game in which the opposing team needs a touchdown to win and their QB seems to favor the long ball. We also see Nate’s linemen blocking for him far ahead of his run, which brings the Hawks’ original strategy back into question: Was this play designed to be a quarterback run? If so, are all the running backs and receivers so bad that they can’t be trusted?

The McKay Mystery

Euphoria doesn’t include much football b-roll for us analyze Nate’s past performances. We get a brief clip in Episode 6, which focuses on the life of his former receiver, Chris McKay (Algee Smith). Nate did have an efficient option in McKay, who earned a Division I scholarship at the state school 30 miles away. If you, the viewer, thought McKay was short for a wide receiver at the D-I level, you’re not alone. Here he is next to his girlfriend, Cassie (Sydney Sweeney), walking into a Halloween party.

McKay’s a couple of inches taller than Cassie, who’s wearing a slightly heeled boot. We have no reference for how tall Cassie is, until the following night, when she’s dancing with Daniel (Keean Johnson). She’s wearing the same shoes.

(Cassie’s dancing with Daniel because she’s mad at McKay, whose learned toxic masculinity behaviors are affecting their relationship.) (This is one thing the show got right about football.) Daniel is dressed as Ted Bundy; earlier in the episode, he’s told snarkily by Cassie’s friend that “Ted Bundy was taller.” Bundy was 5-foot-10. That means that Daniel, who measures up to Cassie about the same as McKay does, is significantly shorter than 5-foot-10—enough to be teased for it. According to the law of transitivity, McKay is way shorter than 5-foot-10.

Picture any really bad D-I program. Whoa, you thought of Rutgers, too? Wild. There’s only one wideout listed as shorter than 5-foot-10 on Rutgers’ roster. This Scarlet Knight is 5-foot-9, though he was apparently 5-foot-11 coming out of high school.

Announcers

Euphoria never outright says where East Highland is. A number of palm trees suggest somewhere warm—California or Florida, perhaps, both hotbeds for football recruits. So let’s assume high school football is a big deal at East Highland, or at least important enough that the announcers know the roster.

Let’s go back to the second clip of the game, when the Blackhawks faced a first down with 1:30 left. The broadcast crew prefaces the snap: “Time running down. Hawks trailing 23-27. Here we go. It’s first-and-10 on the 20.” No football score is ever read losing-team first. But we’ll forgive it, since a more cringeworthy call immediately follows: Nate scans the field, and soon finds his open receiver. This is the play-by-play:

“He’s got a guy, he’s got a guy, he throws it up.”

Imagine, if you will, Jim Nantz saying “he’s got a guy.” Now, maybe the show has to pay its extras more if they’re given names. But it’s highly unusual that an announcer wouldn’t just say “he’s got Smith,” for example, especially given that this is a wide receiver the coach trusts enough to catch a pass down four with less than two minutes to go.

On Nate’s second attempt, a deep throw to no. 25, the announcer says that “Jacobs threw a perfect ball.” Let’s take a look.

Friends, he overthrew it. But it’s safe to assume also that the announcers are homers. Why? Here’s the pregame exchange between the two announcers:

Announcer 1: “This could be the final game of Nate Jacobs’s career, unless he can bring home the W and get this struggling team to regionals.”

Announcer 2: “Speaking of struggles, he’s had a lot off the field. It’s been a big topic of conversation, not only around the team, but also in this community. Here’s the big question: Can he overcome this?”

Announcer 1: “I think Nate Jacobs is gonna unify this ball club.”

Announcer 2: “Thankfully, his teammates have his back. We know the community has his back. How much of the game is he going to put on his back?”

This is a fishy amount of color commentary for high school football—especially since this is all coming through a PA system. But Euphoria got one thing about this sport right: The announcers—and the cheering crowd—reframing a player accused of assault as the victim, turning that assault into an obstacle for the young man to overcome. Now that’s football.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.