Spurrier on 4th Down: Digging Deeper

COLUMBIA, SC - NOVEMBER 26: Head coach Steve Spurrier of the South Carolina Gamecocks watches on before their game against the Clemson Tigers at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 26, 2011 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

A couple of days ago I wrote a piece about Steve Spurrier and his extremely aggressive fourth down play calling during the 2011 season. After a back-and-forth with tryptic67 in the comments section, it occurred to me that the data I presented didn't necessarily mean a lot without the proper context. Namely, we need to know how many opportunities Spurrier had to go for it on forth down as well as the Gamecocks' relative strength in each of the three phases of the game.

I've tried to capture that information in the table below.

Year Total 4th Downs 4th Down Attempts Go For It % Off. Rank Def. Rank ST Rank
2011 86 28 32.6% 37 12 112
2010 84 6 7.1% 16 13 18
2009 113 24 21.2% 92 15 94
2008 97 18 18.5% 91 19 51
2007 93 17 18.3% 44 30 54

It's interesting to note that Spurrier was least aggressive on fourth down in 2010, the year in which he had he not only had his best offense but also his best special teams unit. He's been most aggressive in 2011, a year in which his special teams unit has been among the worst in the country.

So maybe the answer to the question of why Spurrier went for it so much this year on fourth down lies in his desire to mask his team's greatest weakness.

Also, looking at those defensive rankings makes me upset all over again about Ellis Johnson leaving.

The Offense/Defense/Special Teams rankings that I used come from Football Outsiders' F/+ rankings.

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