Our SB Nation superfriend Zane Murfitt posted an interactive chart of the #NeverKick % over at CougCenter. NeverKick % is simply the percentage of going for it on fourth down versus kicking field goals or punting. The chart at the end of this post shows a team’s ranking against the other 128 FBS teams.
I highlighted Florida State here to illustrate how ultra conservative Jimbo Fisher looks compared to just about every other coach on fourth down. We know that being conservative on fourth down causes as much hand wringing as other major coaching sins like not running the dang ball or giving up 80-yard TDs on a slant. Ignore 2009 if you’d like (Jimbo was offensive coordinator at FSU then).
You will see that Fisher ranked in the lowly 120s just about every year as a head coach, going for it on 4th down as little as 5.62% of the time. If you hover over the logos, you can see more information including how many 4th downs the team faced, total punts, FG attempts, and 4th down conversions. You can even type “Texas A&M” into the Highlight Team box if you’re so inclined.
Importantly, this chart on its face lacks context. If you don’t need to go for it on 4th down because your team holds a big lead or because your defense is meaner than a junkyard collie, the conservatism is not as jarring. If your team is very good, they probably did not face a whole lot of 4th downs.
I looked up Florida State’s total defense from 2011 on (that’s how far back ncaa.com went) and they ranked #42, #4, #2, #3, #61, #19, and #22. Now look at scoring offense rankings for the same years. FSU ranked #33, #39, #10, #2, #33, #47, and #32. In FSU’s National Championship year under Fisher, the Seminoles ranked #2 in Total Defense, #10 in Scoring Offense, and went for it on 4th down 5.88% of the time. BUT, they only had 68 4th downs that season which was good for second-lowest in the country. The Aggies will be F-I-N-E (as long as the defense and offense are in the top 10).
Browse the chart for yourself and leave your takeaways in the comments below. Use this link if you want to open the chart in a new tab or window.