Coaching Decision in Arizona Game

Submitted by Ziff72 on September 5th, 2014 at 10:15 AM

I was curious what other people thought of a rather interesting coaching decision last night in the Arizona game.


Zona is up 3.   They have the ball.  4th and 4 from the UTSA 30.   23 seconds left.

Options as I see it

a.  kick FG- go up 6  but risk block or fielp position with miss

b. regular punt- risk block but kill time and only gain 10 yds of field position

c. pooch punt- risk block but maybe get some field position 

d. go for it conservative- less chance for screw up but probably won't make it

e. go for it aggressive- best chance to end game but open yourself up for disaster.

The time left made it interesting to me.   It wasn't a lot of time but just enough if they got the ball at the 30 to get in fg range with 2 or 3 plays.   A punt that rolled could kill some time but open up more variables.

In the end Zona went option d.  They ran up the middle and didn't get it.  I didn't like this strategy as it only killed 2 seconds.  UTSA got the ball but ran 2 horrible plays and the game ended, but I wasn't sure what I would do.  I liked going for it but I think I would have ran a play to the end zone or a wide run to kill more time.  A pooch punt seemed like another attractive option.  

Give me your play.







September 5th, 2014 at 10:20 AM ^

A lot of it depends how your team is playing, how the opponent is playing and such. But generally speaking, I go with option E, end the frickin' game now. Play to win, all in.


September 5th, 2014 at 10:21 AM ^

Run a sweep or a screen or something that gets the ball in space in someone's hands who can do something and eat up time. Getting the first is obv the best, but using up 10 seconds is nice too.

MI Expat NY

September 5th, 2014 at 11:20 AM ^

But you don't want to risk loosing a lot of yards either.  I think I would have the QB roll to the wide side of the field.  Send someone deep and if there isn't an easy pass for a first down, tell the QB to chuck it through the endzone before taking a sack.  Would kill a lot of time if the  play for the first isn't there to be made.  

Of course, that's given a lot of time to think about the best play call in the situation.  I'm not sure running a conservative play up the middle was a bad decision under the circumstances.  


September 5th, 2014 at 10:22 AM ^

How many timeouts did UTSA have? I probably would pooch punt (ideally from a regular formation to avoid a return) and make sure the ball stayed inbounds. This way you burn as much time as possible which should really be the objective with that little time left


September 5th, 2014 at 12:13 PM ^

Most of those statistics assume something other than an end-of-game situation.  Nobody should ever punt on the 30 normally, but this situation is akin to a baseball team up five runs in the ninth and allowing a run to score in exchange for the second out, which they'd never do in the fourth inning.  IME a roll-out pooch punt is the play, with a passing option in case the defense foolishly ignores that possibility.  Aim the punt for the corner and try and get it out of bounds inside the 10.


September 5th, 2014 at 10:22 AM ^

Hopefully you pin your opponent deep in their own end, with no timeouts, no less.

It was apparent that the UTSA QB didn't have a big arm, but I figure he could heave it 40-some yards downfield, and a Roy Roundtree-type play is always a possibility.

Gotta take that out of the equation.


September 5th, 2014 at 11:23 AM ^

I've died on RR hill so the only reason I saw the play is I pull for RR and was watching the game more than I would have if it was ASU.

The post has 0 to do with it though and I purposely said Zona instead of RR to avoid anything coming up about him.  I just love analyzing coaching decisions and I thought this one was interesting and based on the variance in responses other people do to.


September 5th, 2014 at 10:25 AM ^

Field goal.   Go up by six.   KO out of the end zone to have them start at the 25 and need 75 yards to win.   If you miss the 47 yarder you are in no different shape than if you fail on a 4th attempt.

If my kicker sucks (which 50% of college kickers can't be trusted to make a 47 yarder) then I'd play action with a single WR 10 out and if he's not immediately open then throw to a releasing TE/RB for 4+ yards and the first down.

I would never punt or pooch in that situation.


September 5th, 2014 at 11:52 AM ^

We ran that exact scenario against Notre Dame back in the 90s. Moeller went for the FG because he couldn't hear me from the top of ND Stadium to "GO FOR IT. RUN THE F*****G BALL" . A FG still kept it a 1 score game AND we had to kick off, which left us vulnerable to a long KO return. Sure enough, we kicked off and ND ripped off a big one. A few plays later, Pawlus threw a go-ahead TD pass.

Of course, we all know the rest of the happy ending, but still. ..

turd ferguson

September 5th, 2014 at 10:31 AM ^

If I had a QB who could do it, I'd do that QB pooch thing.  It's relatively low risk, since the defense isn't rushing the punter, it should burn a lot of clock as the ball bounces around (assuming there's no returner back there), and it could be a meaningful change in field position.

Otherwise, I'd probably go with "e" (aggressive go for it) and just avoid throwing to the sidelines or something that felt like it could produce a pick-six.  An interception without much of a return really wouldn't be that bad in that situation -- and might be a lot better than a conservative play that doesn't get the four yards.


September 5th, 2014 at 11:54 AM ^

I think the difference between "d" and "e" in this scenario is imaginary. We're talking about three yards; there isn't a great deal more or less risk no matter what you run. An incomplete pass is the same as a run for no gain, etc. A first down wins. Going for it is going for it.

So when Zona ran, it wasn't a "conservative" play. It was a play to try to gain three yards--something spread run offenses are quite capable of. What's to say a pass is more likely to get the yardage? It can hit the ground, or get picked, or (not likely, short yardage) draw a sack. Ultimately you succeed or the other team gets the ball.

Like our 2-point attempt against OSU last year. DG threw a pass. Hits the ground,gets picked, stopped short, doesn't matter--miss, the game is over. A spread team that can run the ball knows it can make three yards either way.

EDIT: this is more a critique of the OP than of Ferguson's choice here.


September 5th, 2014 at 10:31 AM ^

Interesting question but I thought you were going to ask about the previous possession which is where I thought Rich made a poor choice (although it worked out for him).  4th & inches from mid-field with 2 minutes left on the clock and UTSA with only one TO left.  He punted and gave them the ball on the 20 with a TON of time to either get a FG or a TD for the win.  Got the INT a few plays later but still - why give them a chance?

That was the one that was a head-scratcher to me.  The one you referenced was with so little time on the clock I dont think there was bad choice to be made.


September 5th, 2014 at 11:05 AM ^

3rd and inches and they run probably one of the worst QB sneaks ever; the QB got flipped over sideways and ended up on his back without lunging forward or anything.  At the time I thought they should go on 4th, but it could go either way really.  The UA defense held UTSA to a 3-and-out the previous drive, so I imagine RR felt content with playing defense.  

I actually turned the game off and went to be bed after the INT and didn't see the choice with 23 seconds to go.


September 5th, 2014 at 11:13 AM ^

I agree with you.    I didn't think that was an interesting decision.  I thought that was a horrid decision.  You have to try and get an inch to probably end it.  I've seen a lot of football but this one kind a got me thinking because of the unique amount of time left.

Mr. Robot

September 5th, 2014 at 10:37 AM ^

I was okay with the decision to go for it, but I was a,azed at the play call. The clock stops for a change of posession anyway, so if you're going to go for it, you really ought to do a pass play with the option to scramle for it because it offers you a better chance of getting the first down and also burns more time for the play itself in the vent you are not successful.

Given that the call was a run right up the middle needing 4 yards in a system not really designed for conservative runs right up the middle, pretty much every other option that didn't involve going for it was better IMHO.

Promote RichRod

September 5th, 2014 at 10:37 AM ^

in that situation.  There was little time left, no TOs and the QB had not thrown anything longer than a 5 yard out to the sideline all game (throwing up the middle isn't an option).  I'm not punting due to risk of bad snap or block.  I'm not kicking a FG bc going up 6 isn't worth the risk of block or missing and giving great field position.

So, I'm going for it.  I'm not throwing to the sideline due to risk of pick 6.  I might be persuaded to run a play action short throw over the middle but only if it's WIDE OPEN, or else have the QB run it.  In reality I'd probably have run it like AZ did, but maybe something slower developing like a misdirection play or a QB sweep to eat a few more seconds.


September 5th, 2014 at 10:41 AM ^

I'd pooch punt, if my punter was good at pooching. I have no clue about the UA punter though. I probably wouldn't kick a FG, unless I had an awesome kicker.

I'd probably run their standard read option play and hope for the best.

South Bend Wolverine

September 5th, 2014 at 10:45 AM ^

Interestingly, and to my surprise, the NFL Fourth Down Calculator ( indicates that, given the situation, punting gives you a 99% chance of winning, going for it 95%, and a field goal 93%.  Obviously that's using average NFL numbers, not college, and you've got to take the specifics of your team into account, but on average it looks like it's pretty much a toss-up, with a slight bias in favor of punting.  I would've intuitively thought go for it.

turd ferguson

September 5th, 2014 at 10:53 AM ^

With those numbers, that's not even close to a toss up.  If you believed those probabilities were accurate for your particular situation, punting is a no-brainer.  College is different, though.  The field goal kickers are worse, the punters are worse, etc.

I think a FG is a terrible option in this case.  That's a long kick for a college kicker, you lose 7 yards of field position if he misses (a big deal in a 3-point game with 30 seconds left), the probably of disaster is relatively high, and the best-case scenario still has you up less than a TD and having to kick off (with kickoffs being other risky play).

Although I don't know much about Arizona's personnel, I'd rank my options with something like (1) QB pooch punt, (2) traditional pooch punt, (3) aggressive go for it, (4) punt out of the end zone, (5) conservative go for it, and then (6) FG attempt.