End of an Era: Is it Time to Retire the Paul Chryst 4th Down Watch?

"DC Dan" emailed the show with a detailed analysis of Paul Chryst's 4th down decision making. Last year Dan was less than impressed with Chryst in this regard as he thought he was too conservative in this regard, opting for the punt or field goal at times when attempting the 1st down conversion seemed like the more appropriate decision. 

However, Dan seems to think Chryst views things differently this season. Since Dan's email was look long to fully integrate into the show, we present it in it's entirety here. He also throws a little quarterback discussion in at the end to boot!


As I mentioned in my tweet, it may be time to retire the Paul Chryst Fourth Down Watch if we have more games like this one.  Below is my assessment of the fourth down decisions made against MSU:

The "Hell Yes" section:

  • 4th-and-1 from the MSU 41 (4:47 1st): Ingold rush for 6 yards.
  • 4th-and-1 from the MSU 3 (1:28 1st): Ingold rush for 2 yards.

These were big, and both came in the first quarter "statement drive" -- the Badgers' second drive of the game -- that resulted in the touchdown from which they would not look back.  I know they didn't have Gaglianone, but I don't think that was much of a factor in either decision.  Chryst probably isn't going to kick a field goal from the 41 even with Rafa's leg available, and I'm sure Chryst would have sent out Endicott to put the ball in from 3 yards out had he wanted it.  The bottom line is that Chryst trusted his offensive line to get the one yard in both cases, which was absolutely the correct call, and that "set the tone" (I hate that cliché) for the rest of the game.


The "Would Have Been Gutsy" section:

  • 4th-and-2 from the WIS 28 (11:21 2nd): Lotti punt for 47 yd.
  • 4th-and-3 from the MSU 23 (4:58 3rd): Endicott made 41 yd. field goal.

There's an argument to be made that you should almost always go for it if it's fourth-and-2 or less no matter where you are on the field, especially if you a) have a relatively high expected conversion rate on short yardage (which I believe the Badgers do), or b) need to employ high-variance strategies since you're an underdog.  In this game, 'A' applies, but 'B' does not, as I think the Badgers and Spartans were basically evenly matched going in, so punting from your own 28 is probably the smarter move.  Chryst also decided to go for the points to put the Badgers up by three scores in the third quarter, which shows that he at least had some faith in Endicott's leg, and he probably would have gone for it on those first quarter fourth downs even had Gaglianone been available.


The "I Would Have Gone" section:

  • 4th-and-6 from the MSU 35 (9:54 4th): Lotti punt for 27 yd.

Here's the only spot where not having Gaglianone maybe made a difference, as a long field goal try probably makes more sense than a short punt.  This is right in the heart of no-man's land, where I would probably go for it on almost any distance if I didn't have a great kicker available.  The game was basically over at this point, though, so who really cared?


The "No Brainer" section:

  • 4th-and-9 from the WIS 12 (14:11 3rd): Lotti punt for 38 yd.
  • 4th-and-4 from the MSU 44 (12:32 4th): MSU penalty for 5 yd.
  • 4th-and-5 from the MSU 49 (4:46 4th): Lotti punt for 44 yd.
  • 4th-and-2 from the WIS 26 (1:36 4th): Lotti punt for 48 yd.

These are pretty self-explanatory.  One of them worked out anyway thanks to a penalty, and the final fourth down Wisconsin faced in this game was with so little time left on the clock that it wouldn't have been worth the risk to potentially set MSU up for a garbage TD.



Quarterbacks Analysis:

Finally, I figured we had enough information on both QBs to do a quick numbers check on how they stack up so far.  Further, both players have seen time against the same opponents, aside from LSU and MSU.  You could argue that LSU has a tougher defense than MSU, but without any advanced team stats at my fingertips, I'm inclined to call it even.

  • Hornibrook:  29 / 43, 8.8 YD/ATT, 13.0 YD/COM
  • Houston:  44 / 71, 7.4 YD/ATT, 12.0 YD/COM

On a per-attempt basis, Hornibrook is outpacing Houston by over a yard, and he's also better than Houston on his completed passes by exactly a yard on average.  I find that second point (yards per completion) somewhat interesting, because Houston is supposed to be the one with the bigger arm, so you might expect that he would complete fewer short passes and more passes downfield, but that's not the case. 

Finally, my favorite passing stat (adjusted net yards per pass attempt, which factors in sacks, picks, and touchdowns) shows a clear lead for Hornibrook:

  • Hornibrook:  7.5 ANY/A
  • Houston:  6.0 ANY/A

Hornibrook's ANY/A was down a bit against MSU (5.6), but still not as low as Houston's was against LSU (3.1).  As much as some of their other numbers look similar, there's not much doubt in my mind that Hornibrook is the superior passer.  I'll look at the numbers again next week, when Hornibrook will have played against another very difficult opponent in Michigan, and his number of attempts will be closer to Houston's current total.