Eleven Adjustments #9: Force Field Goals October 24, 2012
This one kind of stretches the boundaries of “adjustments”. It’s more of an “if we don’t get this fixed, we won’t win another game” thing. But it’s so vital to our success that it had to be on this list.
It’s very simple: we can’t force our opponent into field goal attempts. We’ve allowed 21 redzone scores this season, and 18 of them have been touchdowns. If you can only force three field goals in the redzone, you’re not going to win many games.
When James Naismith set up his peach baskets and invented the great game of football, he made one fantastic statistical calculation. A field goal isn’t even half of a touchdown. With that devilish extra point added on, a team can dominate the first quarter with two 80 yard drives, stall at the two yard line both times, kick two field goals, and then be losing after their opponent puts together one touchdown drive.
How many times have you been watching a game where your team leads by three, has the ball, and is driving to put the game away, and in the back of your head you’re thinking “if we only get a field goal here, they could still win the game with a touchdown”? (And of course by “your team” I’m referring to your professional or high school team – your college team hasn’t been leading by three in years. At least it feels like years.)
So the great “3+3 doesn’t equal 7″ thing is one of the reasons football is so awesome. Hold your opponent to field goals, and you always have a chance. They could go on two times as many scoring drives as you, but you could win the game if you finish every drive in the endzone.
But we can’t seem to hold our opponents to field goals. Just think if that first half burst by Louisiana Tech was 9 points instead of 21. Or even 13 instead of 21. Just think if Penn State was up 13-0 at halftime instead of 21-0 and we opened the second half by cutting the lead to 13-7 instead of 21-7. Of if Wisconsin made that fourth quarter surge but we forced field goals instead of allowing touchdowns. 20-14 late in the fourth quarter feels a lot different than 31-14. All it would take is adding some “but don’t break” to our bend defense.
But we can’t seem to do that. If we’re not giving up the big play touchdown, you can find us falling apart at the end of drives. If you’re scoring against us in the redzone, you’re getting six, not three.
Our Big Ten brethren can figure it out. Even those teams that aren’t having the best of seasons. Michigan State has allowed 17 redzone scores, but only six were touchdowns. Iowa has allowed 23 redzone scores – 12 touchdowns and 11 field goals. Our ratio again: 18 touchdowns, 3 field goals.
So Point #9 is to find a way to add “but don’t break” to our defensive resume. Every team is going to gain yards. The key is third down conversions once your opponent is in field goal range. Force lots of field goals and you’ll be in every game. Allow a touchdown 86% of the time, and, well, you’ll be 2-5 with four straight losses by 17 or more.