When it comes to going for 2, we all know there’s a chart, but we also know that you mostly want to just ignore the chart until the fourth quarter, or late third quarter at the earliest.
But I’ve come to wonder about what the chart says about one specific situation, one Auburn faced just this past Saturday.Because coaches–a group that now includes Gene Chizik–basically never make what I would believe to be the most profitable decision in that situation. That situation: is up 1, late fourth quarter, you score a touchdown to go up 7. Do you go for 2?
I think you do. For a few reasons, the first being the most obvious: if you get the 2, the game is over, or at least the closest thing to it. Only a successful onsides recovery prevents a victory. Meanwhile, if you fail, you’re still up 7 and the worst-case scenario is–probably–still overtime. Few coaches of serious teams would have the cojones to go for an all-or-nothing 2-point conversion at game’s end; a big underdog or a team like 2009 Auburn with desperate depth problems would think about going all-in, sure, but those teams are rare … and in this specific situation, if Auburn had been up 7 Saturday and given up a TD, I feel confident in saying Spurrier would have simply kicked the extra point. It seems like that there’s much more to gain here than lose.
But then again, I can see the argument for kicking to go up 8. You guarantee that not only will the opponent have to score a touchdown, but then have to convert their own two-point conversion … all just to force overtime.
So I want to ask you, dear WBE readers (or any other bloggers out there reading): what’s the correct call here? There’s probably some math that could give us a decent answer–this outcome gives the team an X percent chance of victory in the event of failing to convert, which happens Y percent of the time–but there’s so many variables (likelihood of making the two-pointer, likelihood of giving up a TD the other way, likelihood of a two-pointer after that TD, likelihood of victory in overtime, likelihood the coach goes for one down 7, etc.) it’s not something I’d feel confident calculating myself.
But my gut tells me that the right move is to end the game when you have the chance. Play to win, not to hope the other guy screws up. Again, few coaches go for 2 in this situation, and fakes on extra points are almost unheard of; a well-executed fake field goal seems like such a high-percentage play and offers such high percentages on victory–again, without much risk of a loss in regulation–that I’d have liked to have seen Chizik deploy it the other night. Or, now that that’s past us, the next time Auburn’s up 7 and facing the same decision.
That’s just me, though. What do you guys think?
Photo by Van Emst.
Take the easiest points possible, and let your defense do it’s job.
Will Collier says
I can see the argument for many cases, but I don’t think so for this South Carolina team. Lil’-USC is just so damn deadly from inside the 20, I would not want them to have a chance to win with a 2-pointer from inside the 5. The odds of making it are a lot higher for them than for most teams. I can very easily see one of those freakish-tall receivers getting a quick fade (they did it to us twice from goal-line yardage for touchdowns).
More specifically, it’s not profitable to gamble, unless you are behind.
I can see where you are coming from though.
is that a “pressing your luck” type play? I don’t know, but if it is i would rather do it in a bigger game with more to win than this one.
Im not sure if im the only one, but i really did not feel like the game was out of our control when we finally went up by 8.(by 1 really, even though they had come right back an scored) i felt like we had the MO and were playing well. going up by 8 i think really messed with sc. its an up hil battle just trying to score on our D the way they were playing at that point and to add the ” oh and we (sc) have to go for 2 and get it if we do score” just bogged them down even more.
If we had gone for 2 and not gotten it, that would have give sc some MO and we might be talking about a different game here.
that being said, on a 2 point conversion you start on the 1? 2 yard line? Cam/ Dyer are probably good for it, but i like the coaches decision on this one.
Thanks for all the writing Jerry. It made this monday even better.
Get your econ guy to do a decision tree on that! But I’m with you: the odds of Spurrier going for a 2-pointer to win rather than OT are slim. The 2-pointer to be up by 9 then is a good play. It’s not a losing decision in my mind, somewhat risky, but not a losing call.
Blake W says
Against SC I think Mpg is right that they were discouraged by the prospect of needing a touchdown AND a 2 pt conversion. Against Alabama I would go for the win, and a place in Iron Bowl lore forever.
Maybe the pressing your luck consideration that has to be considered is the most negative of negative consequences.
Option 1: You miss the kick or get it blocked, generally that’s the end of the play.
Option 2: You roll out and throw a bad pick, somebody sprints 96 yards the other way for the conversion score, trimming into your lead. And then you still have to kick over possession after the fact.
That’s perhaps the most risk adverse of the risk adverse, but of the probabilities I’d have to think that total failure on PATs is more desirable (because it is less likely) than total failure on two-point conversions.
I love the idea of essentially ending the game with the two-point conversion. And the risk-reward ratio is pretty good, since the other team would likely not go for two if they score.
I say go for three. I mean, why not?
You kick the extra point, it puts pressure on them to put it in the endzone twice.
At that point in the game with that much time left we knew we were going to get the ball again.
I agree with Chizik on this one. With AU up by 8, SC would have had to (basically) score twice only to tie the game. AU could not lose the game by kicking the extra point & going up 8. (They might have lost in OT, but if you’re going to argue that, then SC would have recovered the onside kick as well.)
My understanding of game theory is that it’s all about getting in the opponent’s head to try to understand what they would do given a particular circumstance.
Let’s say we attempted and succeeded in making the 2 point conversion, giving us a 36-27 lead. In this case, SC knows that it needs at least 9 points to keep the game going. That requires a touchdown and probably a field goal to go on top. If they had scored a TD to make it 36-33, a successful 2 point conversion on their part makes it 36-35, an extra point makes it 36-34, and a botched attempt keeps the score the same.. A recovered onside kick and a late field goal seals the win for them in the first two scenarios and ties it in the third. The probability on this is low, but potentially results in them winning in regulation.
With us going up 8, however, SC is only playing to put the game into overtime. Had they made a TD and tacked on 2 to tie it, there is no way they attempt an onside kick. They kick it deep and the game likely goes into overtime.
In the end, making the 2 point conversion makes them more dangerous because they would be playing for the win or nothing. Chizik put them in the less dire situation knowing that they would more than likely not attempt to win it in regulation.
This is how I read the decision at the time. People may disagree, but ,hey, it worked out!
Blake W says
What about a blocked extra point returned for 2? If I remember correctly we did that just last year to Ole Miss. And once the ball is in the defense’s hands, I think the return is far more likely in the event of a blocked kick because A) nobody on the kick team is paying attention and B) the ball is typically scooped 7-10 yards behind the deepest offensive player, versus in the end zone on a pick.
We did. I don’t have the data, but I’m just thinking the likelihood of a blocked kick returned for two is lower than a two-point try somehow returned for two.
It is similar to the short yardage defense. Throw a pick, no one is between the bad guy and the end zone, easy score.
Versus, on a kick, Byrum pounds one through the line. Maybe it is blocked. Maybe it is blocked and remains in the field of play. I’m guessing, though, that more often than not on a total PAT failure, a block, the ball is carried out of play through physics more than stays in play through bad luck.
Justin / AubOrange says
I’d say going to for two and the 9 point lead is the right move in the NFL. But not in college.
In college, just because of the difference in talent, 2-point conversions are a bit less likely. So, not only is it less likely that we’d make it to push the lead to 9, but it’s also less likely that THEY would make it if we were to just kick the XP and push it to 8. So the right move would seem to be to take the point and make them earn the conversion.
Howevah, if it’s late in the season, and it’s a big game, and Gus has got the perfect conversion play in his pocket, I say go for it.
I like what RW says about considering the effect on SC’s play. Auburn’s being up by 9 forces SC to play much more aggressively, because they know they need to scores to win. Because they are playing more aggressively, the results of their play are more volatile — in other words, a game-sealing interception by Auburn is more likely, but so is a quick-strike TD by the Gamecocks, followed by an onsides kick or (if the strike was quick enough) a deep kick and the same 3-and-out we actually saw from Auburn. In which case, SC would need only a field goal to win outright in regulation.
If, however, they’re playing for one TD and two-point conversion, they are going to be somewhat more conservative — and the results will be accordingly less volatile. The chances of losing in regulation are very close to zero.
I wanted to support going for 2 in this situation, but I think I’ve convinced myself that one makes more sense.
Justin’s point also makes sense to me, re: the NFL vs. college ball. Incidentally, there’s an NFL-based Win Prob Calculator here — http://wp.advancednflstats.com/winprobcalc1.php —
and maybe I’m entering things wrong, but it looks like this calculator says a team actually has a higher chance of winning if it’s down 9 than it does if it’s down 7, with the ball on its own 20 and 5 min. to go.
Great topic for discussion.
“to scores” = “two scores.” Yeesh. To think I spent most of my adult life as an editor.
I think the failed 2 pt scenario gives the opposing team more hope. At this point in the game it’s psychological war, allowing the other team the sense of forced failure encourages them to believe in their own future success.
Easy call. Go for the extra point. There is a fine line between genius and insanity and going for two would be insanity. You are basically putting all your eggs in a one play basket. If you convert you look like a genius, but if you don’t you look like you are insane and your team just unnecessarily lost momentum (that is probably the single biggest reason). Rather than put the pressure on your guys to execute one play to perfection, put the pressure on the other team to put together an entire drive PLUS they have the pressure of converting that all or nothing play that you avoided by kicking. And they have to carry that wornout D to overtime too. The biggest thing in my opinion is that offense is about more than avoiding the defense. You still have to execute. How many times have you seen a receiver so open that he gets excited and drops the ball. Rather than hinge the game on AU’s ability to convert one play, put the pressure on SC to execute anywhere from 2-? plays while our D is trying to stop them and the clock is running out. It’s a great discussion topic, but one that should never happen unless your coaches name is les miles.
Tommy Armour says
I think this is a decision that coaches (and dudes like us) could justify either way. Saturday night when Auburn went up 34-27 with the TD, I would not have argued with Chiz’s decision had he decided to go for 2. Going up 9 probably ices it and our offense was having their way with the Cocks D by this time, so Newton might have plowed in for the 2. However in this case, failure on a 2 point-conversion would have given USC a chance to win with a TD and a successful 2 pointer. Rarely do I disagree with what Jerry says, but in this case I do. I was considering what the Ball Coach would do if Auburn had been up 7 instead of 8, and I believe that if they’d scored, he would have gone for 2 and tried to win the game right there in regulation with a fade or jump ball to Jeffery. If they fail, they can onside kick if there’s time left and if they’re successful, they force Newton to hustle Auburn down the field through the air. I don’t know what Chiz’s thought process was (not sure if he’s been asked) but I think he played it by the textbook on this one and forced USC to get the TD and conversion to tie. In another scenario, who knows…………..
TigerTracker, I hope my coach is never named Les Miles. But by going for two, already up by seven, it would certainly springboard talks for a new head coach, possibly the aforementioned, Les Miles.
Auburn Elvis says
If you’re playing Lane Kiffen, go for 2 on every TD. Otherwise, take the gimme.
Blake W says
As much as I love gutsy calls (when the numbers back them up), you have to take the 8 point lead with that much time left. If there are two minutes on the clock, we have the momentum, and our running game is smashing, I say go for the kill shot.
I’ll give my opinion and then read everybody elses response.
The first thing to know is the actual percentages of making a two point conversion. I personally do not know what they are, though I would be shocked if if they were above 12%. Even at 40% being made that is a helluva lot of pressure to a team on the road, behind by 8 pionts.
What are the odds that any road team pulls that off?
Now, all bets/percentages get thrown out the window, in Championship games.
My best guess is especially at home, play it safe, and let your steadily improving defense hold your lead.
You’d think we would have been in this situation before considering how many XP we blocked last year.
Anyway, as you pointed out, Advanced NFL Stats asked this same question about the Jets/Miami game. The math boiled down to if your odds of making the 2-pt conversion are better than 50%, go for the 2-pts. I imagine the win probability numbers are close enough between CFB and NFL that 50% is the magic number. In CFB, I think the percentage of 2-pt conversions is below 50% (seems like I read that in an analysis of Kiffin’s 2-pt fetish).
I’d much rather have a 8 point lead than a 7 point lead at the end of the game.
To those who say a successful 2-point attempt may “backfire” because it makes Carolina more aggressive: Would you rather be leading by eight or by nine late in the game? Would you rather be trailing by eight or nine late in the game?
I think going for two would be a very outside-the-box strategy, and one that you would have to be absolutely sure of. Think about it: if you go for two and DON’T get it, and then the game gets into overtime, I think win or lose people will be mad as hell with you. So, if you’re going to take that risk, you better have a play that is almost certain to work. As much as I love Dr. Gustav, the mad scientist, I don’t trust him to come up with the right play. I have a feeling that he would come up with some gadget play that we’d botch some way or another (think about the trick plays we ran in late drives last season, particularly the one against Kentucky).
My opinion: take the one point, make them score a TD and convert a 2-pointer for OT.
I’ve always liked the Dallas-Carter method (Friday Night Lights team who ends the Mojo’s state title dream) of just never kicking a field goal and going for 2 on EVERY touchdown. I run it strictly in all video game forms of my Auburn Tigers.
Alex P in Smyrna G says
Kick the PAT. Force the other team to go for 2.
Take the point. With Byrum, it’s money in the bank.
No matter how good the odds are for making 2, they are less than Byrum’s numbers on extra points, on the order of several magnitudes. Let’s say they are 40% for (a generous assumption – if it were this high, teams would attempt them all the time), and Bryum’s odds are 95% (assuming the worst case – he’s actually better than 99%).
That leaves Auburn’s chances at 40% win and 60% at a chance for USC to tie, right? Not really. Sure, it is 40% to win, but USC would then have to run the odds to try to win with a 2 point (at 40% chance of success), or overtime with a simple kick at say 90%.
The combined odds for Auburn in that case are 54% (AU 2pt failure * USC kick) for overtime and 24% (AU 2pt failure*USC 2pt success) for losing. By kicking the extra point, the odds for USC are much worse. 95%*40% is only a 38% chance that USC can even tie the game and a 62% chance that they will eventually lose.
Lower the odds for the 2pt try to a reasonable amount (about 20%), and the decision only becomes easier: Kick the extra point and win in regulation 4 out of 5 times or go for 2 and have to win in overtime 3 out of 4 times.
Van P in Illinois says
I would never call for a 2-point attempt under any circumstances unless I absolutely HAD to, to stay in the game. I can think of no circumstances at all where I’d go for 2 while leading. The odds are simply too heavy.
AJ in Birmingham says
The correct call for the home team is playing conservative and going for the extra point to go ahead by 8. If SC would have scored a touchdown two points would have forced overtime. If Aub had gone up by 7 and missed the 2-point conversion, and SC had scored a touchdown, I bet the old ball coach would have gone for two and the win. On the road, the old ball coach knows you gotta roll the dice. Hostile enviornment, on the road, national spotlight. He would have gone for two and the win.
Les Miles says
I would quick kick.
The thought crossed my mind in real-time. Not a huge issue but I would have gone for 2. The upside for going for 2 seems to outweigh the downside for not.
If I had the computer savvy to know how to post a spreadsheet I could put up the spreadsheet I just made detailing the possible outcomes based upon the likelihood of each option. Since I dont I’ll just say you would have to assume that both teams would have a greater than 50% chance of converting their 2 pt conversions if the opportunity arose in order to conclude that the 2 point try is the better option. You have to go pretty far out on the other variables to make the 2 pt try the better of the two.