Going for it on 4th down a weapon early on in the ACC
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) When it comes to third-down conversion rates, no league at college football's top level is off to a better start this season than the Atlantic Coast Conference.
And on fourth down, the ACC is even better.
Going for it on fourth-and-whatever has looked easy around the ACC so far in 2015, with the league's teams combining to convert 31 of 38 chances - an wildly impressive 82 percent - in those situations. No other conference even comes close to that sort of percentage on fourth downs, and the only FBS teams in America off to 5-for-5 starts in that department are Illinois and Miami.
''As our defense has improved over the last 15 games, so has our ability to go for it on fourth,'' Miami coach Al Golden said. ''I don't think there's any question we have the utmost faith in our defense now.''
Miami has been dreadful on third downs to start this season, with only five teams at the FBS level off to a worse start than the Hurricanes' 6-for-24 rate there through the first two games.
But when adding in that 5-for-5 on fourth downs, it all doesn't look so bad to Golden.
''We just have a lot of confidence in our guys,'' said Golden, whose team went for it twice on fourth downs on its first possession of the season - passing both times and converting both. ''If it takes four downs, it takes four downs. They're both money downs to us.''
The Hurricanes are hardly the only ACC team with a punting-optional approach.
ACC clubs are converting on nearly 50 percent of their third-down tries so far this year, and the gaudy fourth-down numbers make it look more impressive across the league.
North Carolina State has more fourth-down conversion tries this season (seven) than it has punts (six). The Wolfpack are 5-for-7 on the ultimate down already in 2015, after going 5-for-10 on those plays in 2014.
''It's always about execution,'' said North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren, whose affinity for going for it on fourth down goes back to his time at Northern Illinois before arriving in Raleigh in 2012. ''You've got to execute and just make the right decision.''
No. 14 Georgia Tech has long had a penchant for leaving its offense on the field on fourth downs. Sometimes it's to try drawing an offsides penalty (if that doesn't work, the Jackets will simply take a time-out), but it's also not uncommon for coach Paul Johnson to just give his triple-option offense one more shot at converting.
The Jackets have been a juggernaut offensively this season. Their totals through three games: three punts, and 3-for-3 on fourth downs.
Among ACC teams, Duke has the most fourth-down tries (117, according to STATS) since the start of the 2011 season. Take away the league's newcomers and the average for ACC clubs in that span is 80.3 fourth-down attempts.
There's one very notable exception on that front.
Ninth-ranked Florida State had a fourth-down conversion in last week's win over South Florida, after not having a single one in the entire 2014 season. Since the start of 2011, the Seminoles are a mere 9 for 24 when going for it on fourth downs, a clear sign that Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher is no fan of what he seems to deem unnecessary risks.
And why would he be, considering Florida State has one of college football's top kickers - maybe ever - in Roberto Aguayo.
''There's no set reason to go for it or not go for it,'' Fisher said. ''We have a great field-goal kicker. A lot of times, I call that no man's land when you're out there. A lot of guys will go for it but we've got a great kicker, so a lot of times we'll get field goals.''
The risk does seem to usually come with a big reward.
When ACC teams have converted on fourth downs this season, a trip to the end zone tends to follow. Out of the 31 conversions, 18 have come on what became touchdown drives.
''If it takes two,'' Golden said, ''that's what we'll do.''