Fourth Down Academy: The Bad Decisions
SERVICE ACADEMY COACHING: THE WORST FOURTH-DOWN DECISIONS OF 2012
Troy Calhoun, Air Force: at San Diego State, Nov. 10 - On the first drive of the game, Air Force faced a fourth and two at the Aztecs' 4-yard line. Calhoun chose to kick a field goal, just as he had done in the Sept. 8 visit to the University of Michigan. The field goal was good, but Air Force lost an early chance to send a message. The Falcons never got as close to the goal line until the final minute of regulation, when trailing by a 28-3 margin.
Rich Ellerson, Army: vs. Kent State, Oct. 13 - With Army trailing 17-0 late in the third quarter, the Black Knights faced a fourth and four at the Kent State 20. Since Army did need three scores, one could say that kicking a field goal was reasonable. However, an Army field goal with a few minutes left in the third quarter made sense only if the Black Knights could have managed to shut out Kent State the rest of the way. Kicking a field goal when trailing by 10 points, not 17, would have made a lot more sense in this situation. Kicking a late-third quarter field goal when getting shut out – even if the scoreboard margin is at least three scores – is something that several coaches, notably former Cal coach Jeff Tedford, have been known to do. There's nothing enlightened about such an approach – when you trail by a large margin late in the third quarter, you need to hang up sevens and have passed the point where nickel-and-diming for a field goal matters. A two-score deficit is different; a three- or four-score deficit demands aggressiveness on fourth downs.
Here's the kicker (so to speak): When Kent State scored a touchdown on its next possession after Army's field goal, the game – at 24-3 – was essentially over.
Ken Niumatalolo, Navy: at Central Michigan, Oct. 12 - Navy had established a 14-3 lead in this game based on multiple decisions to go for a first down, but in this situation, the Mids – leading by 11 late in the second quarter – opted for a field goal on fourth and one at the Central Michigan 20. The three points felt like a reprieve for the Chippewas, who proceeded to score the next 10 points and give the Midshipmen a minor scare. Niumatalolo's decision gave Central Michigan an opening in this contest.
Here's an interesting and quite relevant postscript to Niumatalolo's bad move: In the third quarter, with Navy leading by a 17-13 score, the Mids faced a fourth and one at the Central Michigan 10. A field goal would have possessed some value, pushing Navy's lead to seven points. However, Niumatalolo decided to trust his offense. The Midshipmen converted the first down and later scored a touchdown to reclaim an 11-point lead and total command of the proceedings.
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