Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher did not mention Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin by name, but it is a fair bet he may have been talking about him on the SEC teleconference a week ago.
“It depends on what the situation of the game is,” Fisher said when asked about the rising popularity of teams going for it on fourth down this season. “Flow of the game, score of the game, momentum of the game, everything. I watch a lot of guys go for it on fourth down. Cost themselves games.”
Kiffin’s No. 15 Rebels (7-2, 3-2 SEC) lead the nation in fourth downs made with 24 and in attempts with 35 going into their home game against No. 11 Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2 SEC) at 6 p.m. Saturday on ESPN. Ole Miss is only 24th in fourth down conversion percentage at .686, however.
The Rebels were No. 8 in the nation and No. 1 in the SEC in fourth down percentage at .857 going into their game at Alabama on Oct. 2 with 12 makes of 14. Kiffin’s team missed three of five fourth down conversions in that game. His gambles backfired and made slipping situations worse in the 42-21 loss.
Kiffin leaves his decisions on whether to go for it on fourth down up to metrics, often regardless of game situation. He has a chart. Fisher says that is the wrong approach.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron also hurt his chance of winning at Alabama with a fourth-and-goal gamble at the 7-yard line that failed midway in the fourth quarter in a 20-14 loss Saturday. A field goal there could have changed LSU’s approach the rest of the way. A field goal later could have tied the game with another one winning it as LSU reached Tide territory two more times.
“Everybody thinks it’s an analytic,” Fisher said. “But I mean, there are times to do it and times not to do it. I think it’s feel, and I think it’s coaching.”
Fisher has felt like going for it on fourth down just six times this season. He has made it three times for .500, which ranks the Aggies No. 70 in the nation in fourth down conversions.
Only two teams have converted fourth downs fewer times than A&M — Arkansas State, which is 2 of 9 for .222 and 129th in the nation and Clemson, which is one of six for .167 and last in the nation at 130. A&M and Clemson are tied for fewest attempts nationally with Mississippi State and coach Mike Leach, who apparently is not much of a gambler in this category. But he is four of six for .667 and No. 26 in the nation.
“I don’t think there’s a book that tells you, I promise you that,” Fisher said. “At least not in my mind.”
Fisher and A&M defensive coordinator Mike Elko are more concerned with what Kiffin and quarterback Matt Corral do on the first three downs.
“Ole Miss, offensively, the stress it puts on you. Man, it’s really tough,” Fisher said.
Corral is No. 14 in passing yards a game in the nation with 280.8. The Rebels are No. 4 in the nation and No. 1 in the SEC in total offense with 524 yards a game and No. 2 in the SEC in rushing with 237 yards a game. Texas A&M is No. 16 nationally and No. 3 in the SEC in total defense with 317 yards given up a game. The Aggies are No. 2 nationally in points allowed at 14.7.
Texas A&M can reach its first SEC Championship Game with wins at Ole Miss Saturday and at LSU on Nov. 27 with some help. A loss by No. 2 Alabama (8-1, 5-1 SEC) to No. 25 Arkansas (6-3, 2-3) on Saturday or at No. 17 Auburn on Nov. 27 would give the Aggies the West title by tiebreaker. In the above scenario, Texas A&M would finish 6-2 in the SEC, as would Alabama, but the Aggies would go to Atlanta for the Dec. 4 title game because they beat the Tide 41-38 on Oct. 9.
“If we’re in that situation, we’re in that situation,” Fisher said. “But we’ve got to put ourselves there first.”
SATURDAY’S GAMES (College Football Playoff rankings and central times.)
New Mexico State (4-5) at No. 2 Alabama (51.5-point favorite), 11 a.m., SEC Network; Mississippi State at No. 17 Auburn (5.5 favorite), 11 a.m., ESPN; Samford (4-5) at Florida (no line), 11 a.m., SEC Network+, ESPN+; No. 1 Georgia (20.5 favorite) at Tennessee, 2:30 p.m., CBS; South Carolina at Missouri (.5 favorite), 3 p.m., SEC Network; No. 11 Texas A&M (2.5 favorite) at No. 15 Ole Miss, 6 p.m., ESPN; Kentucky (21.5 favorite) at Vanderbilt, 6 p.m., ESPN2; No. 25 Arkansas (2.5-point favorite) at LSU, 6:30 p.m., SEC Network.
- Georgia (9-0, 7-0). 2. Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2). 3. Alabama (8-1, 5-1). 4. Auburn (6-3, 3-2). 5. Ole Miss (7-2, 3-2). 6. Arkansas (6-3, 2-3). 7. Tennessee (5-4, 3-3). 8. Kentucky (6-3, 4-3). 9. Mississippi State (5-4, 3-3). 10. LSU (4-5, 2-4). 11. South Carolina (5-4, 2-4). 12. Florida (4-5, 2-5). 13. Missouri (4-5, 1-4). 14. Vanderbilt (2-7, 0-5).
STAT OF THE WEEK
Alabama gained six net rushing yards on 26 carries in a 20-14 win over LSU on Saturday, its worst rushing performance since also gaining six on 33 carries in a 9-0 loss to Penn State on Oct. 27, 1990.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Wow. What a great night to be a Gamecock. For those of you that didn’t come and missed it, you missed one hell of a game.”
–South Carolina coach Shane Beamer after a 40-17 upset over visiting Florida in front of 70,131 at 77,559-seat Williams-Brice Stadium.