Minnesota scored to take a 30-23 lead with 1:27 remaining in the game against Oregon State last night. Rather than just send out the kicker to make it an 8-point game, he went for two to try to make it a 9-point lead with little time left. The attempt failed, keeping it at 7, and Minnesota held on to win the game.
He explained his decision thusly:
That decision, in real time, drew some criticism.
The decision to go for two points there is not coaching orthodoxy. Most coaches would kick the extra point. But the decision itself is pretty defensible. This, by the way, is different than saying it was the clearly correct one. This isn’t a case, like with bleu cheese versus ranch with wings, where there is a clearly correct method to best increase the chances of winning.
Let’s go through it. It really comes down to the following factors: (1) the two-point conversion rate, and (2) the chances of winning in overtime. If those two factors are basically 50/50, then both options are equal.
Converting would, for all intents, win the game outright. The other half of the time, it would depend on the chances of the other team scoring in the final minute and a half. I’m using 80% as the chance of holding, but even if it’s less, we need to use the same rate in both scenarios. The opponent needs a TD either way.
GOING FOR 2 UP 7
50% (converted 2 pointer) x 100% (up by 9) = win
50% (failed 2 pointer) x 80% (hold opponent scoreless) = win
50% (failed 2 pointer) x 20% (opponent scores TD) x 50% (opponent loses in OT or goes for 2 and fails) = win
TOTAL = 50% + 40% + 5% = 95% Chance of Winning by Going for 2
KICKING EXTRA POINT UP 7
100% (kick extra point) x 80% (hold opponent scoreless) = win
100% (kick extra point) x 20% (opponent scores TD) x 50% (opponent fails at 2 pointer) = win
100% (kick extra point) x 20% (opponent scores TD) x 50% (opponent converts 2 pointer) x 50% (opponent loses in OT) = win
TOTAL= 80% + 10% + 5% = 95% Chance of Winning by Kicking Extra Point
That’s a simplistic view. Kickers in college are less perfect than in the pros. If an extra point is not automatic, either for the team in Claeys’ position, or the team kicking for a potential tie after scoring, then the “Go for 2” option becomes a slightly better option.
What of the criticism that he opened up the possibility of losing in regulation? True. Then you have to answer whether a loss in the final seconds is somehow worse than a loss in overtime. I fail to see how it matters when the final moment comes.
As for Claeys’ thought that most coaches would kick the extra point to go to overtime, he’s right. Last year, there were 15 games where a team scored with less than a minute left, and was a point down pending the extra point. Twelve of them kicked and forced overtime. Three of them went for the win in regulation. Two of those were cases of big underdogs from smaller programs trying to avoid overtime: FCS Southern Illinois at Indiana, and San Jose State at BYU. The other was a notable one: TCU versus Oklahoma, in a game where the Horned Frogs were a big underdog without Trevone Boykin, and Gary Patterson (probably correctly) wanted it to come down to one play.