Oregon State had scored 14 straight points to cut a 31-3 deficit to 31-17 at Colorado last Saturday when the Beavers had a decision to make.
With just over nine minutes left, OSU had a fourth down and eight yards to go at the Buffaloes 18. Coach Jonathan Smith opted to kick a field goal that made it an 11-point deficit.
At first, the decision didn’t sit well with receiver Isaiah Hodgins.
“I even walked off the field kind of frustrated like man let us go for it,” Hodgins said. “You know we always get it.”
Smith has definitely been a gambling man on fourth down during his first season as a head coach.
And it has usually paid dividends for the Beavers.
Oregon State is third in the FBS in fourth-down conversion percentage at an astonishing 82.6 percent (19 for 23) — Army is first at 89.7 with Washington State second at 84.2.
The Beavers are second in FBS with those 19 conversions, tied with Air Force, seven behind Army.
“We make an emphasis of it,” Smith said. “If we’re going to go for it we’ve got to have it, we’ve got to have our highest level of execution.”
Smith has tried to be as strategic as possible when considering to go for it.
“Not all of them were just roll the dice like hey, let’s try this,” he said. “Some of it is short yardage we can get it. Some of it we’ve played opponents we feel like we need to be able to score touchdowns versus kick field goals.
“I like being aggressive in regards to letting our guys feel like we’re going after it to win the game on fourth down and giving us a chance to score. But we haven’t done it all the time.”
Fourth-down conversions can be a big momentum swing for both the offense and the defense, Hodgins said.
“When you are on defense and you get that third-down stop you think it’s over,” he said. “Then you’re like oh, they’re coming back out here for fourth.
“On offense you don’t get third and you’re like oh, we get one more chance. I feel like we’ve done really good at it this year and coach trusts us a lot and we continue to earn his trust on those plays.”
Offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren said there aren’t any special play calls for fourth down but that they are typically some calls he may make on third down, with some tweaks depending on the defense.
He also said Smith does a good job of giving him a heads up early in a series that they might decide to go on fourth down if needed.
“Sometimes he even tells me on first down, like, hey you’ve got four downs here to get 10 so call it accordingly,” Lindgren said. “That really helps. Sometimes I think you can set yourself up on third down for a shorter fourth down opportunity. That helps and I just think his ability to give me a heads up on that is really helped the calling if it.”
Hodgins said the players can also get a sense of the plan based on the plays that are sent in.
“We can kind of tell with the play calls on third down if he does a certain play call that maybe we don’t agree with, like why is it a quick pass,” he said. “Then we’re like, oh we’re probably going for it on fourth down. So we kind of figure that out and we get that into our heads early.”
Picking up the first on fourth down can fire up the offense, and stun a defense for a play or two.
“I know even in practice our defense hates it when they give you a fourth down,” Hodgins said. “Then we go tempo the next play and everyone gets tired so we like going for it and pushing it.”