Oregon Football: Ducks: Conservative 4th-Down Play-Calling Costs the Ducks

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Oregon Football: Ducks: Conservative 4th-Down Play-Calling Costs the Ducks
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

The Oregon Ducks would have beaten the Stanford Cardinal and won the Pac-12 North and a share in the BCS title game if they had kept going for it on fourth down. The Ducks kept the offense on the field twice during fourth downs in the first half and were unsuccessful. However, Oregon would have been much better served if Coach Kelly had continued his affront to punting. 

Oregon wins often and wins big when they take a quick lead. Stanford wins by keeping it close, wearing down the opposing team’s line and playing unrelenting defense. The Ducks needed to throw the offensive kitchen sink at the Stanford defense. Chip Kelly is well regarded for his innovative, attacking schemes, yet when it counted most he lacked the guts to go against conventional football wisdom.

Oregon had outscored opponents 183-29 in the first quarter and 344-83 in the first half over their first 10 games before Stanford. They were averaging 54.8 points a game with 63 percent of them coming in the first half. Suffice it to say, the Ducks got out ahead of their opponents early and never had any pressure or need for major adjustments coming out of the half. Washington State was the only team to be within a touchdown of Oregon at the break.

That being said, the Ducks hardly ever use their field-goal kickers, which were a combined 5-of-9 for the season (56 percent). Coach Kelly must not have been overly confident in his unproven kickers, yet forced Moldonado into a situation he never should have been handed in the first place.

Before facing Oregon, Stanford had only been behind more than seven points in two games, both of which Stanford won. The Cardinal like to keep it close, which was also indicated by the two overtime games that they had already played in. 

Steve Dykes/Getty Images

All signs pointed to the fact that Oregon needed to score fast and build a lead quickly.

ESPN’s Greg Easterbrook has painstakingly documented the overemphasis on field position and the great odds of going for it on fourth down. Coaches who punt late in the game while losing are protecting their jobs and shifting the blame onto their players.

Oregon was 14-of-19 on fourth down before the Stanford game this season, which is good for a 74 percent success rate. From 2010 through 2012, the Ducks were 50-of-84 for a 60 percent success rate. Coupled with the 6.6 yards per play average for the 2012 Ducks, and there is a great case for the team to continue its fourth-down assault.

So, let us break down some of the fourth-down possessions for Oregon.

The Ducks attempted their first fourth-down conversion with 4:40 left in the first quarter with no score in the game. They had marched 85 yards from their own 9-yard line to the Stanford 7-yard line in just five plays. The Cardinal were on their heels, yet stuffed a Marcus Mariota run on 4th-and-2. Stanford went on to score a touchdown on a 15-play, 93-yard drive, which made Chip Kelly look bad on national television, but his game-time call was still the best one.

The second  fourth-down conversion attempt came with Stanford holding onto its 7-0 lead. With 7:04 left in the second quarter, Oregon had once again put a strong drive together, moving the ball from their own 10 to the Stanford 38-yard line. With 4th-and-4 to go, the Stanford defense refused to break. Mariota’s pass falls to the turf incomplete; turnover on downs.

game highlights

 

With a slim 14-7 lead at halftime, Coach Kelly abandoned his  fourth-down attack and decided to play conservative with his BCS championship hopes hanging in the balance. The aggressiveness that had defined Oregon under his tenure seemed to have vanished into the Eugene night sky. On the final five drives of the second half, the Ducks had a missed field-goal attempt and four punts while averaging only five plays per possession.

Quarter

Time

Yards Needed

Field Position

3rd

4:22

6

Stanford 25

3rd

2:33

7

Own 12

4th

14:18

1

Own 29

4th

6:28

17

Own 31

4th

0:36

9

Own 48

 

 

 

 

The field-position purists were satiated by the punting, but the outcome was far from ideal. The Ducks were not able to get into their rhythm during this stretch of the game. One gutsy call by Chip Kelly could have jump-started the Ducks’ incendiary offense. However, Oregon kept playing it safe and hoping to have some luck fall their way instead of making their own destiny.

As it has been said, “no guts, no glory,” and such was the case for the Oregon Ducks against the Stanford Cardinal last Saturday night. Hopefully, Chip Kelly will learn from his mistakes and the Oregon Ducks will become the trailblazers of the fourth-down offense. Until then, Coach Kelly will still be a slave to traditional coaching convention. Oregon fans should join the revolution. Down with the punt!

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