Fourth Down Academy: The Unlucky Decisions

When Navy received a bad break as a result of a fourth-down coaching decision, it was still able to win. That point underscores why the Midshipmen outpaced Army and Air Force last season.

For the purposes of this discussion and its multi-part examination of fourth-down decisions, an "unlucky" decision is a wise decision that did not translate into an immediately favorable result. To be more specific, "unlucky" decisions are accompanied by bad outcomes on the plays themselves; what happens two or three or eight plays later does not factor into the larger calculus.


Troy Calhoun, Air Force: at Fresno State, Nov. 24 -
Calhoun showed a considerable degree of well-informed boldness with this decision. Trailing 14-0 midway through the first quarter, Calhoun knew that Fresno State's offense was going to be hard to stop. Facing a fourth and two at his own 33, Calhoun – trying to get his team back into the game while also aiming to cultivate a sense of urgency in his offense – opted to go for the first down. It was the right decision. The Falcons, though, failed to get the first down, and Fresno State – given a short field – scored another touchdown a few plays later to create a 21-0 bulge. Coaches have to stick their necks out like this in order to prevent blowouts from happening; yet, when such decisions fail, well… blowouts happen. They simply unfold more quickly than they otherwise would have.

Rich Ellerson, Army: vs. Stony Brook, Sept. 29 - Against Stony Brook, an FCS team, you would think that an aggressive coaching decision would bear fruit, but it didn't for Ellerson in this contest. With Army facing fourth and one at the Stony Brook 4 in the first quarter, trailing 7-0, the Black Knights went for the first down. They didn't make it… and they never managed to crack the end zone against the Seawolves for the rest of the afternoon. This was clearly the right move by a coach, but his decision didn't generate the result he and his team were hoping for.

Ken Niumatalolo, Navy: vs. Indiana, Oct. 20 - Early in the first quarter, down 3-0, Navy encountered a fourth and one at midfield. This is when and where a triple-option offense is supposed to grind out a yard. Navy didn't do so, however, and Indiana – given a short field – scored a touchdown on its subsequent possession to gain a 10-0 lead. Niumatalolo's thought process was entirely right; the results generated by his decision were entirely wrong for Navy.

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