Punting inside the 50 analysis from reddit.com/r/CFB

Submitted by reshp1 on August 14th, 2017 at 12:17 PM

I found this interesting statistical analysis on /r/CFB someone did for punting when past mid field.


  team TDs team FGs team safeties opponent TDs opponent FGs half/game ends balls back
punting 2.43% 0% 1.02% 21.87% 4.86% 5.96% 63.87%
going for it 26.75% 9.4% 0% 15.88% 5.85% 13.17% 28.94 %

TLDR: Teams who go for it on 4th down instead of punting in opposing territory are MUCH more likely to score (36% to 3.5%) and slightly less likely to get scored on on the succeeding drive (22% to 27%). Going for it on fourth down is in general not as much of a risk as it sometimes seems, with 2016 teams ranging from a blistering 70% on 4th and 1 to a still-healthy 34% on 4th and 10. The field position advantage given as the reason for punting in this situation doesn’t really have much of an effect, with an only 18 yard field position difference for teams who punt compared to teams which go for it.



August 14th, 2017 at 12:20 PM ^

This is kind of old news, I think. There are tons of coaches who have admitted that it's almost always worse to punt inside the 50, but many do it anyway because of the optics if they go for it on 4th and get stopped and give the opponent an "easier" scoring opportunity. Actually, I have heard of a few high school coaches have entirely stopped punting, i.e. punt under no circumstances whatsoever... 


August 14th, 2017 at 1:34 PM ^

It wasn't controversial or new that going for it is a good idea, but what I found interesting was how much of a slam dunk it was. The part where the opponent was *more* likely to score on you if you punted is an eye opener. The stats on 4th and long were unexpected too.


August 14th, 2017 at 2:36 PM ^

You're interpreting that stat incorrectly. They're less likely to score on teams that go for it, because teams that go for it are close to scoring already, and teams that punt are farther back. Who is more likely to be scored on: a team that goes for it from the 5 or punts from the 40? It's a classic sampling bias.


August 14th, 2017 at 3:00 PM ^

If you look at his data, there's not that much difference between field position overall between where teams went for it and where they punted. There's only really a 15 yard or so sliver on the field where punting makes sense from inside the 50. Otherwise you kick the field goal. 

I think the difference is that punting is 100% a turn-over, albeit with better field position. Going for it, especially on short yardage, means you keep the ball more often than not. If you do turn it over on downs, your risk of getting scored on probably are higher, but the odds of not turning it over at all offset that.


August 14th, 2017 at 12:28 PM ^

It's like middle-school volleyball. If I were a middle-school volleyball coach, I'd have one rule: 95% of all practice time is spent on serves. That's it. 

Only slightly less obvious to me is that football coaches should not punt from inside the 50.


August 14th, 2017 at 12:43 PM ^

Coach basketball, formerly at a pretty high level. I am a teacher, yes, high school physics.

And I've been to way too many MS volleyball games where serve after serve after serve is bad, out of bounds, I mean they smack the kid in the face while he's selling popcorn, and it's beyond obvious that virtually all practice time should be devoted to serving. I'm sure that's different at some elite places, but for the majority of volleyball programs, it's just... excruciating to watch. Maybe MS volleyball coaches do spend that much time on serves. Maybe it doesn't help. But then they should just give the sport the hell up. I mean come on already.


August 14th, 2017 at 12:31 PM ^

I always find stats like this dubious because are teams that go for it on 4th more likely to score and not be scored on because the call set them up, or because teams that go for it on 4th are more aggressive, confident, better teams?

Probably the latter.


August 14th, 2017 at 1:55 PM ^

If I am not mistaken, the inference - or one of them - that we can then make from this is that we should never spell long, obscure words in the outdoors, particularly in areas where we know there are venomous spiders. 

Incidentally, the number of drowning deaths in a pool correlates very highly to the number of films Nicholas Cage has been in on a year-over-year basis, so DO NOT watch an excessive number of Nicholas Cage films near a pool.


August 14th, 2017 at 2:23 PM ^

And they're closer to the goal line--that's why they're going for it. I didn't read the full analysis, but the op's summary tells us nothing about whether it's a good idea to go for it or not.

You really want to know what the numbers are when controlling for the yard line and the distance to gain. But the sample is probably not large enough to do that.


August 14th, 2017 at 3:48 PM ^

I'd love to see the OP's summary broken down more by down and distance and where in the opponents territory you are.  4th and 2 on he opponents 3 yd line - if you don't make it, yeah the odds the opponent is going to score are pretty slim.  4th and 5 from the opponents 46, I'm guessing the odds the opponent is going to score go up quite a bit if you don't make it on 4th down.


August 14th, 2017 at 12:41 PM ^

Is anyone else a regular user on reddit cfb? I've been a member of that community as long as I have been here and I go by the same name. Admittedly, I am way more active on /r/cfb than mgoblog mainly because of the diversity of fans you get to interact with.


August 14th, 2017 at 2:33 PM ^

I generally prefer /r/cfb (as a forum) due to it not being an echo chamber. Yes, there are ignorant people saying things about teams [Michigan] that don't know what they're talking about, but they are here, too. It's always good to have discussion with people that have differing views.


August 14th, 2017 at 2:55 PM ^

r/cfb is the most diverse and interesting college football forum that I know of. It's also nice that there are enough active users to deter the egos and arrogances found in smaller communities. Tons of original content and a great place for breaking news.


August 14th, 2017 at 12:47 PM ^

There are so many confounding factors I don't think you can come away with a "always/never punt" conclusion. Coaches that choose to go for it likely have seen more success in short yardage situations than those that don't (not a random sample). Also, part of your optimal strategy is likely dictated by the strategy of the opposing coach. 18 yards of pure field position yards is actually a lot in terms of a competitive game.

You also give the other team (and future opponents) more information in the form of playbook, tendencies, player limitations, etc.




August 14th, 2017 at 2:21 PM ^

A 4th down conversion is effectively an extra posession. Your offense converting on 4th down has the same effect as your defense forcing a turnover.

In a competitive game, if I offered you two extra first downs that won't result in a score or a coinflip for an extra posession, there really is only one choice.

Unless there are extreme circumstances (4th and forever, no chance of converting or you're playing in a blizzard) you go on 4th down when you're past midfield. The potential reward far outweighs the risk.


August 14th, 2017 at 1:18 PM ^

The numbers say you should go for it basically 4th and 7 or less.

However, in games with two dominant defenses, do you go for it with a 7 point lead?

We saw what can happen to an elite defense with bad field position vs Iowa and FSU.


August 14th, 2017 at 1:45 PM ^

As long as most coaches follow the same thinking and don't go for it beyond 4th and 1 that's what will continue to happen because that's one of the easiest moves for fans to second guess if it goes wrong. Until more than a handful of coaches start making the smart choice instead of the "safe" choice going for it will still seem like some kind of analytics move that is seen as out of the box thinking.


August 14th, 2017 at 1:49 PM ^

I think you are less likely to give up a score when going for it on 4th down as opposed to punting, simply because teams don't punt within field goal range.

Coaches tend to go for it closer to the goal line so there is a longer field if you don't convert.

Mr. Yost

August 14th, 2017 at 1:55 PM ^

I'm okay with punting inside the 50 IF...

  1. You're winning by 4 TDs or more...IN THE SECOND HALF
  2. It's more than 4th and 7 and you have BOTH a good punter who can get them pinned inside the 15 (preferably 10) AND you have a defense who can get a quick 3 and out.
  3. You're winning or it's tied AND you're in some kind of low-scoring battle with AWFUL weather where no one is driving more than 30 yards at a time.

Those are really the only situations. For that last one, I'm talking NC State vs. ND from last year in the middle of a hurricane type weather. If you watched that game, neither team was going to get more than 3 first downs on 1 drive. The last thing I'd want to do is turn the ball over on downs and watch them drive to my 25 for a lucky FG win. I'd much rather pin them at the 10, watch them drive to the 40...and then flip the field position on me.


August 14th, 2017 at 2:21 PM ^

1. The weariness factor on the defense if they know that more often than not they are going to have to stop you on 4 downs vs. 3 downs to get the ball back, and

2. The fact that if as a coach you know you are going to be more prone to go for it on 4th, you also alter the play you'd otherwise call on 3rd down to more accomodating to a short yardage 4th down try if you don't make it on 3rd down.


panthera leo fututio

August 14th, 2017 at 3:05 PM ^

It seems pretty clear that punting inside your opponent's 50 is dumb, so refining the analysis indefinitely is probably not worth anyone's time, and I'm especially not volunteering my own, but: It'd cool to see this analysis refined in a few ways. 1) Translate the outcome into a single variable, either change in net expected points, or maybe change in expected win %. 2) Use some sort of propensity score matching to balance the cases of where teams go vs where teams punt. You could match on offensive efficiency, opposing defensive efficiency, down & distance & field position, score, time remaining, etc.

Doing this, you could waste a lot of time saying something more precisely that we all basically know already, but then my pedantic boner would also probably subside a bit.

SMart WolveFan

August 14th, 2017 at 4:34 PM ^

The 3% vs 39% scoring rate is one play vs a whole drive and that seems an unfair comparison. 

A few needed numbers to complete:

What percentage of the time did the punt/go score after the ball back and is there a large difference between the two.

It probably would be a better comparison if you excluded the obvious "go for it" situations, because if teams go for it all the time a much, much smaller percentage of them will result in end of half/game and more would end in scores.

I think it maybe could encourage teams to go for it on 4 and 5 or less, early in the game, to keep the opposing defense on the field longer but it would be silly to have an always go for it rule since teams would prepare for it, which would negate the element of surprise and probably sink your chance at converting.

Plus 18 yards may not seem like much but, especially for a defense like Michigan's, that is the difference between the 18 and the 36: and in one if those positions, a team might take a chance testing the young secondary over the top where as the other position is probably too risky.


August 14th, 2017 at 5:13 PM ^

It makes even more sense to go for it if the coach has this mentality and therefore calls 3rd down plays differently.   Say it's 3rd and 8.  Kirk Ferentz is going to run an 8 yard out.  Jim Harbaugh is going to run it twice and pick up 5 years a pop to move the chains.

Ecky Pting

August 14th, 2017 at 5:27 PM ^

It's an interesting analysis using a more simplified approach than others who've looked at it in more detail in the past, and I think is fairly well-ingrained. In the end, the decision space should look something like this chart from an analysis of 2000-2008 NFL data by Brian Burke:

This is probably more generally applicable in the NFL, where the potential difference of talent on opposite sides of the LOS is less than what one might find across the NCAA FBS. For two average teams (or two of equivalent talent levels), then no adjustments would need to be made to the decision space. However, what still seems to be lacking in all of these analyses is a regression of the data sets to factor in the talent level differences between teams, and in particular, between offensive and defensive units of the teams. Connelly's S&P+ offensive and defensive equivalent points-based ratings would be a good resource. The notion being that a team that has a better differential on defense than on offense may be more inclined to kick than to attempt a conversion, reflected by a shift in the family of curves downward. Of course, this mentions nothing about the special teams that execute the kicking functions.


August 14th, 2017 at 7:48 PM ^

There's a couple of successful high school coaches out there who don't punt period. Even if they're on their own 5. I admire this as I absolutely loathe punting.