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Game theory question: should Auburn have gone for 2?

"Coach! Hey coach! Go for 2 when you're up 7 late in the game! Maybe!"

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.

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