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Oklahoma State Football

Mike Gundy on the Big 12 and College Football's Fourth Down Craze

September 27, 2022

STILLWATER – Fourth down and three at your own 49-yard-line. I don’t care what the score is unless you are down by double digits and the clock is almost out. That is a punting situation. There is aggressive and then there is careless. This past weekend I’m not sure what I saw because in their 37-34 overtime win over Texas, the Texas Tech Red Raiders pushed the envelope of fourth down tries to the hilt. They went for it eight times, three in their own end of the field, and they converted on six of those.

“At any point they could have given up and they didn’t. What’s really fun is these guys believe and whenever you have results, it fires that belief even more,” McGuire said in reference to his fourth down tries.

Annie Rice/Avalanche | 2022 Sep 24
Texas Tech has become consistent at going for it on fourth down.

McGuire did it the week before in a 27-14 loss at North Carolina State. Tech went for it on four fourth downs and only converted one. The first-year college head coach said he learned from Dave Aranda at Baylor and he uses his defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter and running backs coach and special teams coordinator Kenny Perry to help him make decisions. This after meeting with an analytics advisor earlier in the week.

"It's a mixture of all of us," McGuire said. 'We've got some old coaches, so it's a mixture of DeRuyter, coach Perry, myself. And one of the guys in the box Kirby (Ennis), our D-line (graduate assistant coach) is right there with the book. He's going through saying, 'fourth-and-8 is a go.' 'fourth-and-1 is a go.' "

“I think there’s more the analytics that coaches are looking at,” Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy said when I asked him about the fourth down craze. “They’re getting percentages on certain specific situations in games, and right or wrong, they’re buying into that formula that is being presented to those coaches at that time. I don’t know that to be true. I think that’s where most of this has started. I haven’t paid as much attention to some of the other games, but in this league, I don’t know somebody could do the research, there’s probably more fourth downs attempted this last Saturday than maybe ever on one single Saturday in Big 12 play.”

Here are those numbers, first from the non conference games played starting on Thursday with West Virginia’s win at Virginia Tech.

Big 12 Team 4th Downs Opposing Team 4th Downs
West Virginia 1-1 (100%) Virginia Tech 0-2 (0%)
TCU 0-1 (0%) SMU 4-4 (100%)
Kansas 1-2 (50%) Duke 2-4 (50%)

Then there were he conference games with Texas Tech and Kansas State leading the way.

Big 12 Home Team 4th Downs Big 12 Visiting Team 4th Downs
Iowa State 1-2 (50%) Baylor 2-3 (67%)
Texas Tech 6-8 (75%) Texas 1-2 (50%)
Oklahoma 1-2 (50%) Kansas State 2-2 (100%)
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Gundy in his younger days and Gundy more recent went for more fourth downs.

Overall, Big 12 teams combined to convert 15-of-23 fourth down tries. Gundy might be right. Then if you add in the opponents in the non conference games the SMU Mustangs bring the number up some as they were 4-of-4 vs. TCU. The total goes to 21-of-33 on fourth down attempts. 

So far this season, Oklahoma State and Gundy have only gone for one fourth down and they missed it. Through the years Gundy has been better than his opponents on fourth down tries (by percentage) 11 times in 17 previous seasons. Gundy goes by feel and doesn’t subscribe to analytics. He wants to judge how things are going in a game and make his decision based on all information possible and that gut feeling mixed in. 

Season Oklahoma State Opponents
2022 0-1 (0%) 2-5 (40%)
2021 7-13 (54%) 8-27 (30%)
2020 (COVID) 5-10 (50%) 15-24 (63%)
2019 11-21 (52%) 8-21 (38%)
2018 15-24 (63%) 10-19 (53%)
2017 13-20 (65%) 9-17 (53%)
2016 5-12 (42%) 11-27 (41%)
2015 8-10 (80%) 14-23 (61%)
2014 8-16 (50%) 5-16 (31%)
2013 5-11 (45%) 15-30 (50%)
2012 7-14 (50%) 16-30 (53%)
2011 8-15 (53%) 15-27 (56%)
2010 7-15 (47%) 16-30 (53%)
2009 10-20 (50%) 8-20 (40%)
2008 14-20 (70%) 18-27 (67%)
2007 11-23 (49%) 11-26 (42%)
2006 12-18 (67%) 13-18 (72%)
2005 10-13 (77%) 10-19 (53%)

How does Gundy base his decision?

“There’s a side of it that’s based on who you are as an offense. And then, in my opinion, is who you’re competing against,” Gundy explained, “This is probably an exaggeration, but if it was 4th-and-2, and I was going against a front like Georgia, I wouldn’t really be fired up about going for it because it’s hard to knock those guys back. So, I think there’s a matchup of an offensive front versus a defensive front, and then do we think we have a good scheme to trick them? We can catch them for a reason to make us think that we have something where we can get them lined up a certain way. It could be based on formation, could be based on personnel, could be based on where the ball is located on the field (like which hashmark). (Those factors) gives you good reasons to go.”

That and a gut feeling.

Discussion from...

Mike Gundy on the Big 12 and College Football's Fourth Down Craze

1,506 Views | 2 Replies | Last: 1 yr ago by dendav1947
How long do you want to ignore this user?
I think we've all noticed the uptick in teams going for it, and sometimes we (collectively) agree, and other times it seems that the adverse effect of failure makes the risk too great (e.g., giving the opponent good field position)

I would like to see some further break down on this statistic, such as what are the attempts/makes if 4th and 1 is removed from the statistic? 4th and 1, I get it, teams should be able to make that much of the time. When Leach was at Tech, it was like every series was a 4 down series and they almost never ever punted. So I get it, it makes sense sometimes to go for it.

Maybe even refine that 4th and 1 or 2 yard scenario to consider if you're taking points off the board. The old adage, always take the points....

and lastly teams going for it outside of FG range, or even in their own territory - especially the success/failure rate of those, and whether it led to short field points for the opponent.

I would really be interesting in seeing a deeper dive into this statistic.

My suspicion is that Gundy's more conservative approach is probably more pragmatic, and that the teams "going for it" do not reap much reward for their efforts except in the more obvious (traditional go for it) situations.

(also exclude statistics from contests against outmatched FCS teams)
How long do you want to ignore this user?
Gundy has won more games than I have so I will support his decision on each and every fourth down.
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