Miles And Fourth Down

College coaches are a conservative lot.  They like total control, they don’t like surprises, and sometimes, it seems they prefer losing in a way in which they will not be criticized than winning in a risky fashion.  Coaches are an incredibly risk-averse group.

Les Miles is perhaps the only person who gets criticized for implementing a successful strategy.  Pittman has made its his personal mission to show that the Auburn TD pass wasn’t some crazy call, so let’s move on to the next successful move that Miles gets criticized for: his fourth down strategy.

Let me say that again: I will now defend Miles from the criticism he receives for doing things that work.  What a great country.  Like I said, coaches are a risk-averse group. 

Last year, LSU went 13 for 16 on 4th downs.  It’s become fashionable to say LSU got lucky last year, and obviously, there is some luck in winning the national title with two losses.  And that’s a valid criticism, but it’s taken too far when LSU gets called lucky for converting a bunch of 4th downs.  It’s not luck to employ a strategy which works.  And it’s not like the calls were crazy.  Breaking down those 16 4th down attempts:

6 were late fourth quarter or later attempts in which almost any coach would go for it.
2 were fake kicks. 
4 were in LSU territory, the worst field position being LSU’s own 44.
2 were in blowouts and were attempts to run clock
11 were 2 yards or less to go
4 were in inside the opponent’s 10 yard line
4 times Hester got the call on 4th down
2 times he actually converted

Let’s say those last two numbers again, Hester went 2 for 4 when he got a carry on 4th down.  Just thought that was odd.

Without going through each and every 4th down call (which I thought about doing – you’ve been spared), Miles actually made a decision to go for it on fourth only 8 times.  LSU got it 7 times.  Which went a long way to winning a title. 

A lot of those calls turned the game.   South Carolina.  Florida.  Tennessee.  Ole Miss.  Four wins, all of which turned on an early 4th down call (Florida, of course, would require more 4th down conversions in the 4th quarter, but people forget Perrilloux scoring a TD on 4th and goal in the 2nd quarter).

The point here is that Miles made calculated risks.  And honestly, there’s not much risk in going for it on fourth and 2 from the opponent’s 30 yard line.  It’s a long field goal and you have just as good odds getting the first as hitting the field goal.  And if you miss out on the first down, it’s not like Miles didn’t have one of the best defenses in the country to bail him out if the call didn’t work.  Oh, that’s right, he did.

So why the criticism?  He took the risks, which really weren’t that great, and the calls worked.  Yet Miles still gets criticized.  Can someone explain this to me?

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