In Which I Defend JoePa

I’ve read a lot of content over the last few days criticizing Penn State’s choice to go for it on 4th down late in the first half on Saturday. Everyone makes (mainly the same two) excellent points: they were well within field goal range and had they kicked a field goal would have led by 14 points going into halftime, and the 4th down stop by the Buckeyes seemed to turn momentum into their favor and the game was never the same after that.

However, I’m going to be a little contrarian, and not just because I haven’t written a post here since Calvin Coolidge was President. I think had Penn State gotten the first down and followed it up with a TD to put the Nittany Lions up by 18 points, no one would have considered going for it audacious at all. And while watching the game live I remember thinking as the officials spotted the ball after the third down play, They’re going to go for it, and they’ll make it. There was no doubt in my mind of this, and I’d wager (were it legal) that the majority of people watching the game live were thinking the same thing, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the Penn State coaching staff did too.

Let’s agree on this: they were owning our asses on both sides of the field up to that point. Owning them. It’s my thinking that there were two directions in which the momentum could have gone after that particular moment. Had they succeeded, Penn State would have kept their momentum alive. But of course they didn’t,  which shifted the momentum back to the Buckeyes. I would contend that three additional points probably wouldn’t have affected their momentum much more than failing on 4th down did.  Let’s not forget, the Buckeyes ended up winning by three touchdowns, so the three points by themselves would have been mostly irrelevant had everything else progressed as it did. So I suppose the question is, would everything else have progressed as they did had Penn State kicked a field goal there? I say yes, others might say no. Had Penn State gotten a TD on that drive, would things have progressed as they did, with the defense coming out fired up and taking initials in the second half? I don’t think so. My guess is it would have been a big nail in the 2010 season’s coffin for many of us.

In other words, did the fourth down decision make a difference in the game, or did Tressel’s going scorched earth in the locker room at halftime do it? I would argue that Tressel’s halftime performance did more, mainly because Pryor and company didn’t exactly light things up immediately following the turnover on downs. This is open to debate, of course, and no disrespect intended to those of you who feel otherwise.



  1. It’s one of those cases where Joe is genius with balls if he makes it, and he’s a goat if he doesn’t. I can see the argument for going for it as well as kicking the field goal. Personally, I would have been thrilled with three points there. Getting stuffed gave OSU the spark that brought them to life.

    My big beef with the play is that they gave it to a freshman and ran outside. I’m not sure if the play was designed to be a sweep or if Redd decided to bounce it outside on his own (ala Terrelle Pryor in 2008), but when you need just one yard you need to get up field and get it between the tackles. Running off tackle with a freshman was a mistake.

  2. I agree with your beef with the play call, Mike. The Buckeyes’ D-Line has not exactly been consistent in stuffing the inside run this season. The way McGloin was abusing Devon Torrence in the first half I wouldn’t have had a problem with play action there either. But as for the decision itself I think you said it well: if they’d made it, he’d be a genius.

    It is interesting to see the mindset of someone who was rooting for the other team at the time though. Were the situation reversed I don’t think three points would have made me feel much better than failing on fourth down, but I might be a more pessimistic fan anyway. Ask anyone who’s been on the live chat during the OSU games.

  3. It can only go 2 ways when you make that call either it works and your hero or it fails and you are a zero.

    Having said that going for it on 4th down is a percentages call. Odds are you will win that 4th down and less than 2 more times than not. PSU had already went for it on 4th down 1 or 2 times earlier in the game and got it done. That in and of itself tells me just by % that going for it will fail sooner or later. They made the mistake of believing it would work 100% of the time.

    I said in my earlier post they made a huge mistake using Silas Redd. They have a great FG kicker and wind wasnt an issue. To me that early in a game you never want to leave points on the field and PSU did. They also gave a defense that was failing miserably the thought that PSU offense wasnt immortal.

    In the end they didnt lose the game by not kicking a FG but they did lose momentum and emotions. What happened in the locker room during halftime was just a continuation of that one play and helped just as much to beat PSU as any one play.

  4. I think the “going for it on 4th down” was a great call. Look, PSU was a 2.5 (TDs, not points)road underdog. A TD here would have absolutely maintained PSU 1st half momentum. The play selection wasn’t a good call. A Royster type back going up the middle would likely have gotten 1st down, and a play-action pass would likely have been a TD.

    I think that Tressel’s speech reset the tone for us, but the 4th down stop certainly staunched the bleeding, when we needed some ‘staunching’ done.

  5. I like Ken. He’s smart.

  6. I agree with the percentages argument, but think about the point difference. If they kick the field goal, they force Ohio State to score two TDs to tie. The way the game was going at that point, that certainly wasn’t a given. Going for and failing on 4th means OSU only had to score a FG and TD+2PC to tie if it came to that.

    Maybe it’s my Tressel-ball indoctrination, but I take the points 99% of the time.

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