The Gamecocks' 2011 season has been a remarkable one for myriad reasons, one of which may have been - in the humble opinion of this stats nerd - a bit overlooked: Steve Spurrier has attempted 28 fourth down conversions and has successfully converted those opportunities 71% of the time.
When the team's offensive production reached its nadir in early October, the fan base was thoroughly confused as to why an offense returning multiple All-America selections from an unprecedentedly successful 2010 season was among the worst in the SEC. A popular phrase being bandied about by many was that "the SEC has caught up to Spurrier's offense." There seemed to be a commonly held view of Spurrier as a stubborn, egomaniacal coach who was unwilling to admit that his offense no longer worked.
But ever since the Head Ball Coach came to Columbia there have been several indications that the "Spurrier offense" is very much a moving target. His increasing reliance upon the read option rushing attack that Shawn Elliot brought from Appalachian State is dramatic evidence of this fact. Heck, we've even seen Spurrier call a handful of traditional option pitches in critical situations this season - a notion at which I would have laughed hysterically a decade or so ago.
I can't go too deeply into the details of how his offensive scheme has adapted to remain competitive in the modern college football landscape (largely because my own playing career ended when I realized that trying out for the team at Northside Middle School was a thought that consumed me with crippling anxiety). But as it turns out, I love making graphs and spreadsheets and stuff, so look at this one:
|Year||4th Down Attempts||Conversions||Success Rate|
In 2011, Steve Spurrier not only went for it on fourth down at an extremely high clip (only 6 teams tried it more often), but he also enjoyed his greatest conversion rate (9th among teams who went for it on 4th ten or more times). I don't know if this is random confluence events or an intentional strategy intended to maximize his offense's production, but it is an encouraging sign that he's willing to find creative ways to help his team win ball games.
It is interesting to note that Spurrier was going for it just as frequently before Marcus Lattimore went down for the season as after. So I'm not really sure what it was that brought this on, especially considering the steep drop-off in 2010. My secret hope is that he's been exposed to the research that definitively shows that coaches should be going for it more often on fourth and short.
Whatever the impetus, I hope he keeps doing it. Spurrier's willingness to be aggressive on fourth down is one of my favorite things about having him as our head coach.