August 28, 2012
GBK: SDSU's Long adds page to scouting report
Army's football staff faces an added twist to its scouting work when San Diego State opens the season Saturday night at Washington.
In addition to studying the usual offensive and defensive tendencies, their scouting report needs to determine if San Diego State head coach Rocky Long has gone mad scientist or if he's bluffing about throwing away the book on fourth-down punting situations.
Army, which opens the season a week later than the rest of the nation when the Black Knights play Sept. 8th at San Diego State, will be the second team confronted with the mystery. Long said at the start of fall camp he is considering adopting the unorthodox theories of an Arkansas high school coach who has enjoyed stunning success despite rarely punting and frequently attempting onside kicks.
Long said on Tuesday afternoon he's crunched the numbers and has drawn up a chart he will refer to on the sideline. He will weigh going for it on fourth-and-one as well as fourth-and-10 once his team has crossed the 50-yard line rather than automatically waving the punt team onto the field.
"We put in all of our statistics over the last four years on offense and defense with our success rate on field goals and field goals percentage and our success on net punts when we' re not to the 50 yet and when we're try to stick it inside 10," Long said. "We put that into a formula and the formula came out by percentages telling us what the best thing to do is in different field positions. We haven't decided yet if we're going to go by the chart, but we have a chart in our hands right now."
The head coach at Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Ark., is Kevin Kelley. He contends he'd rather keep the ball on fourth down than worry about giving up field position. In the last nine seasons, Kelley's record is 104-19 with three state titles. In the 2008 and 2011 state championship seasons, Kelley punted only one time and he kicked deep only three times.
Long won't taking punting and kickoffs to that extreme, but he's had a San Diego State professor help him with the math. Other college professors have performed such studies, but Long says he wanted one who is invested in San Diego State's success to study the numbers.
"We had one of the professors in our business school on campus yesterday come over here," Long said. "We have a system we're thinking about using and he went over it. So we'll have a chart come game time and that will determine what we do in different situations."
According to the Arkansas high school coach, Kevin Kelley, other college coaches have talked with him about his theories. But Long might be the first college coach to publicly acknowledge he may experiment with such unorthodox strategies in a game.
Kelley isn't alone as a mad scientist. In 2005, Cal economist David Romer published a study over a three-season period of NFL play analyzing 1,068 fourth-down situations. Romer determined mathematically that NFL teams would have been better off going for a first down rather than punting or attempting a field goal. Another San Francisco Bay Area college professor who has studied NFL fourth-down calls is Ben Alamar at Menlo College. He also says the numbers favor going for it on fourth down.
Keep in mind Long isn't an inexperienced coach susceptible to falling for a wacky idea. He's a veteran coach wondering if Kelley is on to something innovative.
This is Long's 13th season as a head coach and his 35th as a college coach. Long is in his second season as San Diego State's head coach since being promoted from defensive coordinator under former head coach Brady Hoke's staff. Long was previously the head coach for 11 seasons at New Mexico (1998-2008), his alma mater, where he remains the Lobos' all-time winningest coach. He started his college coaching career at New Mexico as an assistant in 1978 and went on to serve as a defensive coordinator at Oregon State and UCLA before landing his first shot as at head coach at New Mexico.
...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now for a FREE Trial