No One Gambles on Fourth Down Quite Like Texas Tech Does
LARAMIE -- "If the numbers say go, we're going to go."
That, in a nutshell, is Joey McGuire's philosophy when it comes to leaving his offense on the field on fourth down. Texas Tech snapped the ball an eye-popping 52 times on that crucial down a season ago. Thirty-three times, it was successful.
Baylor, McGuire's former school, went for it 47 times in 2022. The next closest team was Northwestern at 40.
The Red Raiders' second-year head coach said it's a mixture of "book and gut" that leads to these decisions.
Admittedly, Craig Bohl hasn't fully embraced the analytical side of that specific category. The numbers bear that out. Wyoming attempted just seven fourth-down conversions. The Cowboys were only successful twice.
"I listened to coach McGuire, they bring in their staff and they listen to all that," Wyoming's 10th-year head coach said, referring to data and percentages. "I know they did that when they were at Baylor. There's different thoughts on that."
During a four-game stretch last fall, Texas Tech went for it on fourth down 24 times. In a 48-10 blowout victory over visiting West Virginia, McGuire's quick-paced spread offense converted 6-of-7 attempts. In the other three outings -- losses to Oklahoma State, Baylor and TCU -- the Red Raiders were just 9-of-17.
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Not bad. But those stats don't tell the full story.
McGuire said last week his team doesn't knock off Texas if not for taking the ultimate risk eight times. Tech was successful on six of those attempts. In a 10-point loss at No. 7 TCU in early November, though, two of those gambles -- both on the Red Raiders' side of the 50 -- might have cost them an upset.
Trailing by just a field goal early in the fourth quarter, Tech's back-up quarterback Donovan Smith was stuffed on a 4th-and-2 from the 36-yard line. Three plays later, Derius Davis hauled in a 23-yard touchdown pass. On the ensuing drive, the visitors once again faced a 4th-and-4 at its own 45. One incomplete pass and six TCU snaps later, the lead was ballooned to 17 after a 16-yard scoring strike from Max Duggan to Emari Demercado.
After starting that game 3-of-3 on the money down, Tech failed to convert its last three opportunities.
"That was my call and then we came out and, you know, we talked about it a lot as a staff of do you punt right there? I will tell you, on the headset, I second guessed myself and I went with 'hey, let's punt the ball' and then I said, 'No, go, go, go go.' We felt like we had a good play," McGuire told 247sports.com after the loss in Fort Worth. "I definitely know what Donovan was doing. He had just gotten a first down with his legs earlier by being really physical. There was an option on that play. If you watch the play, we have Tahj (Brooks) in the flat. I wish it was spit out to him and we'd have seen if Tahj was fast enough to score right there. That's on me."
Bohl joked Monday that one time when he faced Texas Tech as a defensive coordinator at Nebraska in the early 2000's, then head coach Mike Leach attempted a 4th-and-15 from his own 20.
"If coach McGuire wants to do that, then OK," he said with a head shake and a chuckle. "We are prepared for that. There are different philosophies and that's what they have. I can tell you, they crunch the numbers. On the flip side, there are some real real benefits if you can get off the field on fourth downs. It's a turnover.
"You know, turnover margin in this game, particularly early in the year, is going to have a big, big impact."
Wyoming's opponents went for it on fourth down just 18 times. Ten of those were converted.
Easton Gibbs, Wyoming's starting middle linebacker and the Mountain West's Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, is fully aware of the Red Raiders' tendencies on that specific down. He also knows his defense won't have much time to react.
"We were watching the West Virginia game the other day and it was like the second quarter. It said fourth-down conversions today: 7-of-7," he said. "... It should be fun. It'll be a test, you know, because you're not used to teams (going for it) and they'll go fast while doing it. It's not like you're looking over and 'is the punt team coming on?' Nope, it's snap ball. So, it should be interesting."