Military, within the third season of Jeff Monken’s rebuild, was streaking. The Black Knights raced to a 3-Zero begin – half their win whole the earlier two years mixed – and led Buffalo 20-13 with 8:16 remaining within the fourth quarter going through a fourth-and-1 from their 29-yard-line.

Monken isn’t a “intestine” coach. Military subscribed to an analytics agency in 2016 that gives the Black Knights a fourth down chart for each state of affairs. The chart mentioned go. However Monken’s thoughts began to whirl: “We’ve achieved a very good job defending all of them day. A turnover arrange brief area for certainly one of their touchdowns. You recognize what, we’re going to punt this factor and again them up.”

13 performs and a fourth-and-9 conversion later, Buffalo tied the sport. A couple of minutes after that, Military missed a area aim in OT. Buffalo hit its try, and Military misplaced its first recreation of the season.

“I remorse it,” Monken informed 247Sports activities. “It’s arduous to argue with math. … I don’t know why rapidly I really feel like my intestine and the way I’m feeling for the time being goes to be extra telling than what our success fee or lack of success is in that state of affairs prior to now.”

As Military prepares to face Navy this Saturday (2 p.m., CBS), Monken’s change into a paragon for a rising ‘GO FOR IT!’ motion in faculty soccer. Fourth down’s lengthy been a area place, low-risk down for colleges. However packages are pushing the boundary of possession greater than ever, using fourth all the way down to aggressively lengthen drives.

Groups are going for it on fourth down a mean of 1.683 occasions per recreation throughout the 2018 season, which is by far the best fee during the last 10 years. General, it’s a 22.Eight % improve from the 2009 season when groups went for it on fourth down 1.371 occasions per recreation.

“If you happen to simply glided by the numbers, it’s extra advantageous to go for it extra typically,” mentioned Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith, whose Beavers lead the Energy 5 with 36 fourth down makes an attempt. “I do really feel like extra persons are going for it on fourth down once you’re on the perimeter of area aim vary versus making an attempt to punt.

“It appears like extra persons are extra assured.”


Ask Monken how his aggressive fourth-down philosophy developed, and he’ll spin you a Paul Johnson story or two.

Johnson, the soon-to-retire flexbone choice pioneer, employed Monken away from Concordia in 1997 to educate working backs at Georgia Southern. The pair would work collectively for 13 straight years, together with stops at Navy and Georgia Tech. Throughout a recreation at Georgia Southern throughout that run, an opposing coach mentioned of Johnson: “I feel Paul thinks it’s unlawful to punt.” Throughout Johnson’s 2007 tenure at Navy, Johnson and his employees wanted permission from the Academy to make sure the workforce’s punter would obtain a varsity letter after punting simply 15 occasions.

“Whenever you’re on protection, what you wish to see is the punt workforce trotting on the market,” Monken mentioned “When the offense is on the market, you’re considering, ‘Gosh dangit, we’ve received to play another snap.'”

An SB Nation author, Zane Murfitt, got here up with a stat referred to as “By no means Kick” earlier this offseason. Merely, it measures a coaches’ willingness to go for it on fourth down versus punting/kicking a area aim. Between 2009 and ’17, Johnson by no means ranked worse than 35th nationally in that class. Monken is from that very same mould, rating no decrease than 13th since arriving at Military in 2013,

Monken’s groups are notably properly suited to bludgeon opponents on fourth down. Military, which bucks fashionable conference by working the choice, typically faces brief third and fourth-down conditions. Monken is assured a workforce that averages 4.7 speeding yards an try can covert in these situations. It’s paramount for a program that prioritizes ball management to shorten video games, Military leads the FBS in time of possession by 4 minutes.

Military’s 90.9 % conversion fee in 2018 is unmatched – Texas is the subsequent closest at 76.2 % – regardless of 33 makes an attempt, the sixth highest whole nationally.

Monken likes to joke he’s PE main; math isn’t for him. However Military makes use of it higher than nearly anyone on account of a reliance on analytics. The Black Knights are certainly one of greater than 50 FBS groups subscribed to Championship Analytics Inc., a service that gives groups a weekly scouting report on its opponents. Included in which might be individualized charts specifying when a workforce ought to go for it on fourth down primarily based on area place, recreation state of affairs, the opponent’s strengths, a punter’s talent and even the climate.

The binder is wherever from 50-200 pages every week.

“It’s utterly formed the way in which we glance (at fourth down),” Monken mentioned. “I feel it’s gained video games for us, and doubtless a couple of or two a season.”

Monken pumps the gang up at first of the fourth quarter (Photograph: Getty)


Analytics is one issue for coaches deciding when and to not go for it on fourth down.

However there are philosophies throughout the nation. Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley, in a season by which the Sooners’ offense is working at a historic clip, doesn’t go for it typically with 13 makes an attempt in 13 video games. However Oklahoma does so at an efficient clip, rating eighth nationally with 69.2 conversion share.

The query of whether or not or to not go boils down to at least one factor for Riley: “It’s what are you going to do finest to assist your workforce win in that state of affairs.”

For Smith and the Beavers, fourth down is a chance to scale the purpose hole. Oregon State, within the first yr of a rebuild, can’t waste possessions. Extra so, Smith hopes his aggressiveness fosters a mentality of perception from his workforce.

“We have to rating touchdowns,” Smith mentioned. “Area objectives aren’t going to win us a ton of video games. Going for it on fourth down, I do consider, is telling our workforce we’re coming to win video games. We’re not simply making an attempt to play it protected.”

Some coaches merely consider in punting. Jimbo Fisher ranked 109th or worse in “By no means Kick” share all however one yr of his tenure at Florida State. His new workforce, Texas A&M, tied for final nationally in fourth down makes an attempt this season. When requested prior to now about these selections, Fisher normally cited defending his protection or momentum.

In the case of Military, fourth down shapes this system’s total offensive philosophy.

“Figuring out what we’re going to do helps us on 1st, 2nd and third,” Monken mentioned. “We’re enjoying to place us in place on fourth.”

Soccer could be an antiquated sport, sluggish to embrace the statistical rise that’s crept into baseball and basketball. The rise of fourth down aggressiveness exhibits that’s altering. Rob Ash is a former head coach at Montana State, the place he subscribed to Championship Analytics in 2014. On the time, the Bobcats had been solely the third workforce nationally within the Championship Analytics portfolio.

4 years later that quantity sits at 70-plus.

“There have been a number of missed alternatives through the years with the previous standard knowledge that all of us adopted,” mentioned Ash, the Director of Teaching Improvement for Championship Analytics. “Analytics has helped us broaden our horizon and made us higher coaches.”


One yr after Monken’s Buffalo remorse, the Black Knights confronted the Bulls as soon as once more. And once more, a fourth down choice offered itself to Monken. Up 21-17 with 2:28 remaining, the Black Knights confronted a fourth-and-5 from their very own 42-yard-line. Typical knowledge dictated Military punt, forcing Buffalo to drive and win the sport.

The chart mentioned go for it, nonetheless. Fifteen yards later, the Black Knights had sealed the sport.

“The primary yr I went towards the analytics and regretted it,” Monken mentioned. “The subsequent yr we went with it and it labored out in our favor.

“Regardless of the state of affairs could also be, I don’t argue with the analytics an excessive amount of.”

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