Smart’s conservative playbook with the lead also included the decision to kick a 43-yard field goal on fourth-and-1 with 6:54 remaining rather than leaning on one of the nation’s best offensive lines and Swift, who runs violently and submits to tacklers infrequently, to get one measly yard.
Smart acknowledged it could have been a controversial call. The field goal put Georgia up 23-10, and the thinking was that it would take two Notre Dame touchdowns from that point to beat them. Of course, even if Georgia had gone for the fourth down there and failed, the same math would have applied.
“We want to be a dominant team in the fourth quarter and break people’s will and win the line of scrimmage,” Smart said. “That’s what this team is built on.”
— Dan Wolken, USA Today
Had Kirby guessed wrong in that situation, and Notre Dame gone and punched it in for the winning score on its last possession, his decision to kick the field goal there would have risen to the status of, say, Mark Richt’s call not to spike the ball in the 2012 SECCG. Instead, it’s reduced to an academic discussion.
DawgStats makes an impassioned argument that playing for the first down was the right decision then.
ESPN had it 96.6% on 3rd and 10. Then jumps to 98% after kickoff with 6:54 to go. I like those odds, but 42 yard FG is anything but a sure thing and only increased 2%. EVEN WITH THAT FG, our odds went DOWN after the kick off.
I cannot find a College Win probability calculator, but using the Pro Football Calculator and adjusting % accordingly. A first down conversion gets us to 99.5% win percentage EVEN IF WE DON’T SCORE.. A field goal increased odds to 98.5%. A first down is more valuable than a FG.
Blankenship was 2 for 2 on the night, and 7 for 7 on season. But, coming into the season, Rod was 9 of 13 on kicks between 30 and 49 yards.
Dawgs, since 2017, are 7 of 9 in 4th and less than 2 on the opponents sided of the field. A conversion on that play runs more clock, and gives us chance to kick a closer FG or even completely ice it with a TD.
All true. I even told myself as I was sitting there waiting on Smart’s decision that analytics would say play for the first down, not the field goal.
But I wasn’t really upset when Kirby went the other way then. Indeed, I sort of understood his thinking. A field goal would force Notre Dame to drive the field twice in less than seven minutes against a defense that had dominated the game in the second half. And Blankenship has been essentially automatic all season. You also wonder how emotions would have been affected at a very critical time had Georgia come up short on a fourth down conversion.
(As an aside, I also can’t help but wonder if Brian Kelly’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 on Notre Dame’s second drive of the game was in the back of Smart’s mind there. Had Kelly elected to kick and ND been successful then, the calculus of that particular moment would have been quite different. But I digress.)
I have to confess, though, the real reason I wasn’t that upset with the call to kick the field goal is because I was already irritated by Georgia’s abandonment of tempo when it got the ball back after Reed’s interception. Georgia’s offense had been gashing what looked like a tiring Irish defense when it went hurry up in the second half. Smart’s decision to slow things down with eleven minutes left in the game (!) was questionable at best to me. But, then again, I’m not a former defensive coordinator.
Even Notre Dame’s touchdown that cut the margin to six didn’t change Georgia’s approach on offense. As valuable as a first down might have been at the seven-minute mark, it would have been at least as valuable when Georgia got the ball back with three minutes to go. Instead, the Dawgs continued to hunker down in that comfortable shell they’d pulled over themselves.
Kirby’s assembled a wonderfully talented and deep team. That’s ultimately what won him the game Saturday night. But that “break people’s will” streak in him is going to cost him a game at some point this season.