What numbers say on key coaching decisions in Iron Bowl, The Game

It's a unique play, but stats suggest Nick Saban erred having Adam Griffith try a 57-yard field goal.
John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports

Pretty much everyone in sports has an opinion on the pivotal decisions in The Game and the Iron Bowl. But were they the correct choices statistically? SI consulted the numbers and some of the people who created them to find out.

Auburn goes for it on 4th-and-1 from its own 35 down by seven with 8:30 remaining.

The Tigers' win probability (WP) before the play was 13 percent. If they gave the ball to Alabama after an average punt from punter Steven Clark, their win probability would have stayed the same 13 percent. Successfully picking up the first down bumped their WP to 19 percent. If they failed, it would have dropped to seven percent. Since punting would have gained them nothing, going for it was the correct choice.

The Numbers Say: Right Call

Alabama goes for it on 4th and 1 from the Auburn 13 up by seven with 5:35 remaining.

The Tide had a strong likelihood of winning regardless of what they chose to do in this situation. Picking up the first down would have given them a WP of 96 percent. Failing left them still up at 84 percent. The combined season fourth-down performance of 'Bama's O and Auburn's D meant a 52 percent chance of the Tide successfully converting. The near-finality of success and relatively low risk even with failure made going for it the right decision.

The Numbers Say: Right Call

Alabama attempts a 57-yard field goal with 0:01 remaining.

The bizarre elements of this play are unprecedented. Computers don't have imagination and thus can't predict things that have never happened before. That said, you can go into the play knowing that the kick would probably come up short, meaning Auburn would likely have a chance at a return. Field goal returns might be likely to result in touchdowns. The sample size is too minute to say one way or the other. That's a whole lot of unknown to risk your title hopes on. Given that about five percent of Hail Mary's are successful and that Alabama, as the favorite, had a better than 50 percent chance in OT, the kick was the wrong way to go.

The Numbers Say: Wrong Call

Michigan attempts a two-point conversion down by one with 0:35 remaining.

The logic for this play is best explained by Brain Burke of Advanced NFL Stats: "In any one given play, an underdog is only slightly at a disadvantage. It's just that the slight disadvantage accumulates over the course of a full game. So when given the chance, underdogs want to bet the game on a single decisive play." Basically, when you're the inferior team, it's best to put all of your eggs into one basket.

The Numbers Say: Right Call

*Win probabilities via AdvancedNFLStats.com

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