Illinois' 4 & 1 Punt

Submitted by stubob on November 11th, 2010 at 10:04 AM

Didn't see this asked in the UFR thread, so I thought I'd get an opinion.  There was one minute left in the 4th quarter, Illinois had a 4th & 1 from their own 27.  They had just gained 9 yards on second down, but gotten stuffed on 3rd.  The punt seemed like a strange, albeit safe, play.  They had been gashing us on defense all game long, and only needed their mooseback to fall forward to get the first down.  I know the turnover on downs would likely be the end of the game, assuming Michigan's FG unit can coax one through the uprights, but it seems like a really conservative play and out of character for their offense.


[edit: I'm convinced by consensus that the late 4th & 1 was the right call, and that the one with 6 minutes left was more questionable.]



November 11th, 2010 at 10:13 AM ^

In my opinion, that would be career suicide.  Could you imagine if Illinois didn't get that first down?  Michigan would have the ball at the 27 with a chance to win after a day where Michigan's offense moved the ball at will.  I submit that Zook would have been nuts to go for it.  Although, Zook IS nuts so maybe he was nuts for not going for it?  Hmmm.


November 11th, 2010 at 10:20 AM ^

This is almost the exact same scenario that Belichick got roasted for. They had the lead with little time left. 4th & 2 on their side of the field. Colts had already moved down the field at will twice in the 4th quarter. It didn't work out. He still has his job.

I also think that he was guessing that they might not be able to move far enough down the field to get the FG off. So, he probably was thinking, we have a small chance to score if we get this, they have a great chance to score if we don't.


November 11th, 2010 at 10:42 AM ^

Who cares who the coach is? The point is that hindsight is always 20/20 and the coach is going to always get criticized either way. The part about him getting fired for that one decision is just stupid. If Belichick had punted and the Colts would have scored, the talk would have been that he need to go for it. And, here we are debating which decision would have been better. Low and behold some people think he should have gone for it, others think he shouldn't have. You can't satisfy everyone.


November 11th, 2010 at 10:53 AM ^

this situation was completely different from the Colts vs Patriots game where the Pats went for it.  The Pats were winning and a first down ends the game.  Here the game was tied.  Even if they get the first down, there is no certainty that they will be able to score.  Playing for OT, when you have a clearly better kicking game, is the smart move at that point.

Now the other 4th & 1s where they punted, are beyond conservative and into the realm of stooopid.


November 11th, 2010 at 10:19 AM ^

Some of this other 4th and stupidly-short-vs-world's-worst-b10-defense-in-inter-universal-history, were worse.  4th an short is a no brainer vs MI this year.  Go often and the odds are heavily, heavily in your favor.  

It's mindboggling that coaches don't act on this info.

It's also crazy that zooker went for the 1st quarter or something.  Even the announcers said.....that's nuts.


November 11th, 2010 at 10:47 AM ^

What are the chances that Michigan kicks 2 FGs and makes them? Not very good. What are the chances that Michigan misses an extra point? Not very good. So that means that there is a very, very strong chance that the 1 point is going to matter. It is always better to go for it early because if you don't get it then you can compensate for it later. Hell, they would have been down 2 on this down and they would have had to go for it. This is the reason that Oregon goes for exactly one 2 point conversion at the beginning of games. There is a very good chance that they get it, it makes decisions easier later on and harder for the other team, and if they don't get it, they can at least account for it with another one or a FG drive at the end of the game.


November 11th, 2010 at 11:55 AM ^

Most teams (Illinois included) don't have a "very good chance" of converting the two points.  As you say, if they don't get it, they are then forced to "account for it" later in the game with either another 2 point attempt or an extra field goal drive.  Few teams like to put themselves at such a disadvantage for a prospect that (I believe) has a less than 50% success rate.


November 11th, 2010 at 1:06 PM ^

My point, though, was that you can reasonably expect that Michigan only scores TDs and kicks XPs. Maybe they get 1 FG if they are lucky because the kicking game sucks. In that case, you are either alternating 7 point scores and you are either down by 8, down by 1, or up by 6. If you make it you are either down by 7, tied, or up by 7. If you don't make it you are down by 9, down by 2, or up by 5.

The argument against going for it early is that if you miss you run the risk of being down by 9 instead of 8. However, if you go for it near the end of the game (presumably your last scoring drive), and you miss it, you are down by 2 anyway. The difference between going for it early and going for it late is that if you go for it early and don't get it, you can account for it later on, i.e. you don't run the clock down scoring a TD to put you within 2 and then find out that you have to onside kick, drive, and kick a FG with the little time that you left on the board. Essentially, this takes the guess work out of the game at the end. You know exactly what you need to do to win. Just like in overtime when you pick defense first.


November 11th, 2010 at 1:31 PM ^

Isn't a normal success rate on a 2 point conversion against an average defense something like 40-45%.  I have to think that against our defense, the likely success rate is more like 55%.  If that's the case, teams should actually go for two every single time they score against M, as they'd get an average of 1.1 points for every conversion, as opposed to an average of say .96 points for every extra point attempt. 

But coaches ignore mathematics and stick to what they know, which is why the typical coach kicks extra points most of the time (and why they don't go for it more on 4th down. 

I'd say Illinois' chance of converting a 4th and 1 against our defense has to be around 85% or so.  You would then have to do the math of the likelihood they could move another 40 yards in a minute, but I'd say it's probably pretty good against our D.  One wheel of death route would have done it.  I bet the numbers would say going for it is the right call, but coaches by their nature are conservative - coach risky and lose, it's the coaches fault.  Coach conservatively and lose - it's the players fault.


November 11th, 2010 at 10:11 AM ^

He had to be conservative. If Michigan had stopped them, then that's game! And he would've been burned to the stake for that call! I think Zook basically saw that the downside outwieghed the upside for that particular play. Also, maybe he thought he could take Michigan down in OT.


November 11th, 2010 at 10:14 AM ^

We did just stop them on third and one, no reason to think we really couldn't on fourth and one.  All the defense has to do is step up and make one play, like they did in the third OT.  You have to punt in that situation, you don't make the first down, you cost yourself the game.

Most coaches will call the punt...except for maybe Les Miles.

Captain Obvious

November 11th, 2010 at 10:14 AM ^

go for it if IL had the lead--they could seal the game with a yard.  But converting with a tie and a minute left doesn't guarantee you anything - they'd still have to drive the ball 40+ yards and make a long FG with a freshman QB leading the way.  Given their theoratically good defense and us playing the backup QB, you punt there.


November 11th, 2010 at 10:18 AM ^

There are several Illinois punts in the game that one could question. That isn’t one of them.

Their dumbest punt was on 4th & 1 from the Michigan 48, with 13:01 remaining in the 3rd quarter. It’s a tie game at that point. The Illini are highly likely to make the first down, and there is plenty of time left if Michigan gets the ball and scores from there. You can look at the box score and find others that are at least questionable.

But that last punt was the right call. It’s true that they stand a very good chance of getting the first down, but if they fail they are practically giving the game away. If they succeed, they are still a long distance from a potential game-winning field goal.


November 11th, 2010 at 11:46 AM ^

I'm totally with you. Going for virtually any 4th and 1, especially the pentultimate one with about 7 minutes left, would have made sense EXCEPT the one the OP highlights. With less than a minute left still inside their own 30, Illinois is gambling the game against... Not much. If they get the first down they are still a long way from victory with little time left. If they don't get the yardage, chances are they just lost the game in regulation.

In this case, it doesn't matter how likely they are to get the first down. It only matters what they stand to gain or lose by making the gamble. Reverse, implied pot odds or whatever did not support Zook pushing all in at that point.


November 11th, 2010 at 10:18 AM ^

Aside from the first down, what is the benefit of going for it then?  The clock is still running down without much time and you still have so far to go.  The risk was greater than the reward.


November 11th, 2010 at 10:21 AM ^

Although our defense is horrible, our goalline package has been pretty good, which exactly what this would have been.

Les Miles would have went for it and called triple reverse.

Clarence Beeks

November 11th, 2010 at 10:25 AM ^

They had been gashing us on defense all game long, and only needed their mooseback to fall forward to get the first down.

While that's true, if I remember correctly, the defense had already stuffed several third and short running plays in the second half.  Given that, and the yard line, there is no reason to take that chance.  Although punting really should have ended the game, anyway.  It gave Michigan the ball with about a minute to go and the offense had already scored several touchdowns on very short drives.  I tend to agree with BraveWolverine730 in that the prior punt around the five minute mark is the one that he shouldn't have done.  I'll gladly take it, though!


November 11th, 2010 at 11:00 AM ^

A first down eats up another 2 minutes of clock and there was a reasonable expectation that Illinois would have scored given a fresh set of downs at that field position.  That would have ended the game.  

While a score is a big uncertainty, converting the 4th down was rather likely.  And reducing the amount of time Michigan had to tie the game would have been well worth the risk.

Clarence Beeks

November 11th, 2010 at 12:56 PM ^

Where Michigan got the ball didn't really matter as much as limiting the amount of time that Michigan had to do something.  Furthermore, it was a middle distance fourth down.  I'm sure you're fully aware that Michigan has been awful on middle distance third and fourth downs this year.  Your assumption in that it punting was the right call is that Michigan would have stopped them.  The more likely scenario, given how the game (and season) had played out is that Illinois would have converted that fourth down and probably put up more points.  The punt obviously makes for a long field, but it very likely took points off the board that would have been the difference in the game.

Tim Waymen

November 11th, 2010 at 10:56 AM ^

It was not the wrong decision IMO.  While our defense was by no means what you call "good," it had stuffed the Illini on a few short yardage plays.  And even if Michigan's defense had not been doing that all game, they could still succeed in that one play and get the ball back on the Zookers' 27, just about within FG range even for our kicker.  Even though the Illini could very well get within FG range within the minute if they get the 1st and Michigan's kicking game is bad, I think Zook made the right call.  Wow that was weird to type.


November 11th, 2010 at 11:39 AM ^

Cooper...GOD bless him.  But any coach in America would have gone for it on 4th down in that situation.  The Bucks needed a win to go to the Rose Bowl.  But we stopped them and thanks to JD Carlson, we got a share of the Big Ten title.  Good times. 

Completely different time period.  In those days, the defense had a really bad day if they gave up 24 points.  


November 11th, 2010 at 11:16 AM ^

Getting stuffed on 3rd is what made the decision - we had stopped them on short yardage several times at that point and they couldn't assume they would make it


November 11th, 2010 at 11:37 AM ^

Even if there's a 90% chance that you convert this 4th-and-1 on Michigan, if you don't convert it from your 27 with 1 minute to play, you're out of a job.

Zook decided he didn't want to have a 10% chance of losing his job, which is a smart decision (in my opinion).