Scooter Hobbs column: Applying four-down analytics
Published 9:26 am Wednesday, September 20, 2023
Here, here! This meeting of Pet Peeve Court will now come to order.
Yes, your honor, if it so please the court, we would like to call Mr. Brian Kelly, head coach of the LSU Tigers, to the stand.
Mr. Kelly, as we understand it, is occupied preparing for the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Email newsletter signup
But he’s an 18-point favorite.
He takes The Boot seriously. Of course, he doesn’t have to lift the thing. But we have a deposition from his Monday news conference, the transcript of which should answer all of your inquiries.
Fine. First, a little background. It appears that this LSU season is almost going to revolve around fourth down and whether your squad goes for it or not. Failed miserably against Florida State, worked find against Mississippi State. May I ask what goes into that decision?
I was afraid of that.
“I use a combination of good sense in terms of what the game feels like … (and) I’m plugged into what the analytics are telling me … most of the analytics are much more aggressive than we are as we watch the game.”
“Fourth-and-2 or -3 used to be considered a field goal … now it’s almost 100 percent go for it. So I think it’s a combination of getting a sense and feel for the game and how you feel like you might have control or not control of the game.
“And then we have a quarterback …”
Jayden Daniels, I believe, quite the slippery water bug.
“… that is multidimensional. It really puts a defense in a bind. We have those factors working for us when we get the fourth-down calls.”
Understandable. I know the fans love it when the offense stays on the field. Going for the jugular, so to speak. You’re trying to win the game, not avoid losing it. But that’s not really the pet peeve here. Thanks for bearing with me and, while I’m not usually comfortable arguing X’s and O’s, with well-paid coaches, we will now get to the point.
I think we can all see that, generally speaking, minus desperate situations, these fourth-down gambles come with only a yard or two, maybe three, left to gain. Agreed?
So why is it — and I know this makes a lot of fans pull their hair out and reach for the flask every time it happens — but how come you, and most teams, still always line up in the shotgun formation for these important plays?
“How much time can you carve out for (practicing) direct-snap offense?”
Practice a quarterback-center exchange? Some of us old veterans can remember when the shotgun was the oddity. How tough can it be for the quarterback to get right up under center, put his hands directly under that center’s hindquarters and take the ball directly from him?
“You have to be able to put in that time within your practice structure to work on the direct snap. What do you do the most in your offensive structure if you’re a team that runs the shot guy like we do 99 percent of the time?”
You already said that. But it would seem that, by nature,
these fourth-and-1s, fourth-and-2s, tend to be key plays to any game, often game-changers or game-deciders. If it’s that complicated, and that important to a game’s outcome, wouldn’t it be worth it to set aside a few spare minutes of each practice to work on what used to be such a fundamental football move?
“With direct snap, you also have to think about quick play-action passes, all the things that go along with that — five-step drop, seven-step drop. We have all that (that would have to be worked on).”
I guess my confusion here is, say, you have fourth-and-1 — or any down within a yard or two of the goal line — aren’t you, in effect, turning it into fourth-and-7 or -8 by backing up the quarterback?
At the court’s indulgence, I’ll give you a glaring example. You were still at Notre Dame at the time. But in 2020, LSU went to Missouri, did not play well at all, but, with first-and-goal from the 1-yard line, had four chances in the closing seconds to win the game. The Tigers lined up in the shotgun all four downs — in effect, the 7-yard line, and never came close to the goal line.
“What we do with Jayden Daniels might not suit another quarterback … we might run a little more direct snap, but with a guy like Jayden Daniels, it suits us better to be in the shotgun.”
I’m afraid we’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one. Still a personal pet peeve.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org