With the score deadlocked at 31, 2:15 left and the ball at midfield, Texas Tech faced a critical fourth-and-3 late in its upset bid of Texas last Saturday.
“Most coaches would kick it here,” ESPN analyst Rod Gilmore said on the broadcast.
It’s true. Conventional wisdom has long been to minimize risk, especially in a precarious late-game situation like this. A turnover on downs would’ve given the Longhorns the ball with a chance to bleed the clock and potentially set up a game-winning field goal. Punting is often the default.
Instead, Texas Tech coach Joey McGuire went for it. Quarterback Donovan Smith dropped back, faced interior pressure, backpedaled 2 yards to buy space and time, then found receiver Myles Price for a 6-yard gain and a first down. It was the Red Raiders’ sixth fourth-down conversion on eight attempts that day.
The aggressive strategy paved the way for Tech’s eventual 37-34 overtime win over the favored Longhorns and showcased McGuire, a first-year head coach, among the growing list of adopters of bolder fourth-down decision-making. The Red Raiders lead the country in fourth-down attempts this season with 15.
“Once you get past the 50 and it’s fourth-and-3, it makes a lot of sense when you’re going to go for it,” McGuire said. “So you can definitely call the game that way.”
McGuire fell in love with the philosophy during his time as a Baylor assistant. In 2021, Bears coach Dave Aranda utilized Championship Analytics, Inc., an Atlanta-based company that provides its customized “CAI Game Book” to more than 100 teams across the NFL, FBS and FCS.
The book breaks down optimal decisions for varying fourth-down situations, based on the game’s score, time remaining, whether teams are at home or on the road, favorites or underdogs and more. Each week, the book is updated for a team’s upcoming opponent and also accounts for injuries.