No risk, no reward.
Every time Alabama’s offense stays out on the field for fourth down, it’s taking a chance. If it’s stopped at the line of scrimmage, the opponent takes over right there. If it picks up the first down, the drive continues. So, a decision needs to be made.
“Well, first of all, it’s situational relative to field position, down and distance, how we feel about our short yardage versus the other team’s short-yardage defense,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “I think the situation in the game (is) relative to what does a field goal do, how does it affect going for it?”
The final calls so far have been the right ones. Alabama has converted all nine of its fourth downs, placing itself first in the nation in total fourth downs converted. Michigan and Miami also have a 100 percent conversion rate, but their number of attempts is far less. Michigan has pulled off five. Miami has one.
Against Texas A&M this past weekend, Alabama’s last complete drive ended with kicker Andy Pappanastos coming out on fourth-and-three for a field goal. But facing a fourth-and-one in the third quarter, Saban elected to go for it, and the Crimson Tide successfully converted with the drive, resulting in a touchdown.
“I don’t usually answer hypothetical questions, but if we’d have gotten it to fourth-and-one in the game, I think I would have gone for it and not kicked a field goal at the end of the game,” Saban said. “So we’ve gone for it on fourth-and-one before so the other team didn’t get the ball back in two-minute and made it.”
Actually, Alabama has done exactly that three times this season — against Florida State, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss.
The biggest gap the Crimson Tide has gambled was 2 yards. Six of the nine fourth-down conversions ultimately resulted in a touchdown. Otherwise, Alabama has punted 20 times and has made 11 of its 16 field-goal attempts.
It’s Saban’s call to make, but sometimes the burden falls on the offense’s shoulders.
“There are times,” Alabama running back Damien Harris said. “If it’s fourth-and-one and we’re huddled up, we’ll say, ‘Yeah, Coach Saban, let’s go for it.’”
The only game, so far, the Crimson Tide didn’t even try on a single fourth down was against Colorado State. Instead, Alabama punted twice and kicked three field goals, making two.
Alabama offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher votes to remain on the field more times than not.
“As an offensive lineman, you pride yourselves on being able to get a yard or two and especially run the ball,” Pierschbacher said. “So we like getting that challenge.”
It is a challenge because there are potential repercussions.
Alabama’s next opponent, Arkansas, has allowed its opponents to convert six-of-eight fourth-down tries.
“When you make those decisions, you’ve got to have a lot of confidence in the players that they’re going to be able to execute and you’re going to get a first down,” Saban said.