clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Was going for the touchdown on 4th and goal the right call?

With just more than a quarter remaining, South Carolina was down 18, and had the ball 3 yards from the end zone on fourth down. Instead of the chip shot field goal, Steve Spurrier put the offense on the field. The result was a turnover on downs, but the decision to go for it was the right one.

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

During the tail end of Saturday's loss at Clemson, there was a great deal of Twitter vitriol (Twitriol!) directed at the failed 4th and goal attempt near the end of the 3rd quarter. (As a reminder, it was 4th and goal at the 3, and South Carolina trailed by 18 with a shade over 15 minutes left in the game.) A field goal would have made it at two-score game. Instead, Spurrier went for the touchdown, and the result was a turnover on downs.

So why didn't they opt for the field goal? Let's consider the situation, disregarding hindsight. It was an 18 point game. The most efficient way to 18 points for South Carolina was two touchdowns (including one 2PC) and a field goal. South Carolina had two options:

  1. Kick the field goal, which Fry almost certainly makes. It's now a 15 point game. Clemson takes over at their own 25 or so with 15 minutes remaining, nursing a two touchdown lead.
  2. Go for the touchdown. The odds say you get it, although it's more risky than the FG. But if you do score, it's probably an 11 point game, assuming they don't go for 2*. Clemson gets it at the 25** with 15 minutes remaining and a 1 touchdown, 1 field goal lead.

Again, the rate of failure is higher in scenario 2, and that played itself out. But you can't use hindsight here, since we're coming at this as if the play hasn't happened yet. As a coach facing down that decision, it boils down to assessing opportunities. What's the likelihood of Carolina getting two more opportunities to score a touchdown, especially one so promising as being 3 yards from paydirt? Meanwhile, an offense only needs to get to the 30 yard line or so for a field goal to be a possibility. By settling for a field goal inside the 5 yard line, you're negating that advantage and making things a lot more difficult on your offense over the next 15 minutes. And don't forget that this all assumes Clemson doesn't score again, which is unlikely. All the more valuable become those 4 extra points.

And remember, the result of the failed 4th down was Clemson working out of awful field position. The Tigers, as expected, played conservatively and the result was a quick 3-and-out, with Carolina starting inside the Clemson 40. That factored into the decision as well. (Never mind what happened on that drive; the point remains.)

If you're going to question something, let it be that deflating 4th down playcall or not giving your power running back the ball at least once in four downs. But don't question the decision to go for the touchdown, because it was in South Carolina's best interest.

*There's also a debate here about whether or not you go for 2 in this situation.  The upside of doing so is you learn more information sooner than later - how many scores, and what types of scores, will you need to win the game?  The downside is you give that information to the other team as well, and future scoring could have it come back to bite you - if you go for two and miss, that's a 12-point game.  Now, if Clemson kicks a field goal, you're chasing another two-point conversion at some point in the game.  I don't think there's a categorically right or wrong answer at this point in the game, but reasonable minds can differ.

** It says a lot about how far our special teams came this year that we're assuming a kickoff ends with Clemson getting the ball at the 25.