West Virginia University football coach Neal Brown has not been shy about going for it on fourth down this season.
Heading into Saturday’s game against No. 22 Texas, West Virginia lead the Big 12 with 15 fourth-down attempts, converting 10 of them. Brown and the Mountaineers went 0-3 on fourth down attempts against the Longhorns, two of which were inside the Texas 20-yard line.
Since WVU only lost to Texas by four points, 17-13, had Brown elected instead to kick the two makeable field goals, the Mountaineers might have been able to win the game. Despite this, Brown said after the game that he does not regret the fourth-down calls.
“I don’t regret the decisions,” Brown said. “We’re going to be aggressive but it’s on me as the one in charge of the offense and we’ve got to do a better job. We didn’t execute in those fourth downs.”
Both of the fourth-down attempts in the fourth quarter came with Texas leading 17-13. For the first one, WVU had fourth and one on the Texas 16-yard line. Quarterback Jarret Doege had just missed a pass on third down, but Brown went right back to him on fourth. Doege took a shot into the endzone for tight end Mike O’Laughlin, but the pass was thrown a bit late and was not able to be caught.
“The first one probably could’ve gone either way, we could’ve kicked a field goal or gone for it,” Brown explained. “We really liked the play there, we had people open we just didn’t connect.”
The second fourth down came on WVU’s very next drive, again a fourth and one, this time at the Texas eight-yard line. After failing to convert on the first one, Brown said they basically had to go for it again trailing by four points with less than five minutes remaining.
“The second one I didn’t think we had a choice,” Brown said. “We had a missed signal so we had to use a timeout there so we only had one timeout so I knew that it was going to be difficult so I thought that we had to in that situation. But it didn’t work. The plays didn’t work, fourth downs didn’t work and that’s on me.”
This play call was a run-pass-option that Doege pulled away from running back Leddie Brown and threw to receiver Ali Jennings in the end zone. Jennings had a lot of contact with UT defensive back Chris Brown but no flag was thrown for pass interference.
On the ensuing Texas drive, the Longhorns were able to run out the remainder of the clock and pull out the 17-13 victory.
Despite neither fourth-down attempt working, senior wide receiver T.J. Simmons said the offense loved being aggressive in those situations. Simmons said the players want to go for it on fourth downs more often than not.
“I love it. Coach Brown and coach [Gerad] Parker do a great job of calling the plays whenever the time is needed,” Simmons said. “Us as players, we want to go for it all the time. We don’t want to put the ball in the kicker’s hands all the time. We want to be the ones to make a play and score six instead of three. We’re rooting for them to go for it on fourth downs and when they go for it we try to execute to the best that we can.”
Brown said he feels justified being aggressive, even deep in opponents’ territory, because he does not believe that kicking field goals will win games in the Big 12.
“There’s all kinds of data that says it’s the right thing to do,” Brown said. “In this league, you better score touchdowns down there to win and it’s proven week in and week out.”