“What is your decision in this situation right now?”
For years, Ryen Russillo has preached a mantra for evaluating in-game decisions in sports. When presented a decision with multiple options (e.g. fourth-and-short, foul up three points, pitching change, etc.), how do you—literally you, the individual reading this and watching that game—feel right now? In this moment, before the outcome, what is your decision?
Put your cards on the table, draw a line in the sand, make a definitive statement. Don’t allow the result to retroactively affect your initial opinion. After the result, you still own that decision, regardless if it proved to be right or wrong.
“It’s fourth-and-short? Go for it!”
“He didn’t get it? I knew he should’ve kicked the field goal!”
“Up three points? Nah, don’t foul, too much time left.”
“He made the three? You should’ve fouled!”
“Bring in the lefty. The numbers support it.”
“He went yard off the lefty? It should’ve been the righty!”
“2nd-and-4 while down nine points with nearly three minutes remaining? Kick the field goal!”
I liked the Matt Wells hire. Instead of rolling the dice on a young coordinator or hiring a retread for a tough Power Five job with significant geographical challenges, Kirby Smart and Texas Tech hired a 45-year-old two-time conference coach of the year in Matt Wells.
Wells more than stabilized Utah State after Gary Andersen’s departure in late 2012, leading his alma mater to 19 wins in his first two years, the program’s highest two-year win total ever. Then, Utah State imploded to six and three wins in 2015 and 2016, respectively, and were headed toward familiar irrelevancy, where the program lived for almost its entire existence until bidding adieu to the WAC with an 11-2 season in 2012. They weren’t beating good teams, weren’t recruiting anything above mid- and low-level talent, and weren’t competitive in the Mountain West.
Then, just as Gary Andersen did five years earlier, Wells rebuilt a program in one of the toughest areas of the country to do so quickly, doubling their win total in 2017 and leading a 10-2 regular season in 2018, which prompted Texas Tech’s courtship. It was a smart hire, I thought. On Saturday, Matt Wells doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing, I thought.
Trailing TCU by nine points, 27-18, with just over three minutes remaining, Texas Tech gained six yards on a first down run by Henry Colombi. It was the eighth play in a drive that began at their own 18-yard-line and had yet to run two minutes off the clock. Instead of driving against a defense allowing nearly eight yards per play on that drive and nearly 13 yards per play on the last two drives, Matt Wells rushed the field-goal unit onto the field.
Down nine points, Texas Tech needed two scores and Wells’ intent was clear: Kick the field goal now to save time, something we see almost every week in college football (which Matt Wells confirmed after the game). The intent the clear; the logic was idiotic because time wasn’t a concern. The Red Raiders moved the ball 138 yards in fewer than four minutes of their last two drives and held all three timeouts.
There is no mathematical, cognitive, or intuitive support to halt the offense and kick a field goal. And it doesnot matter that Texas Tech has one of the best kickers in the country in Trey Wolff. Though, for what it’s worth, after connecting on all 16 attempts inside 40 yards last year, Wolff was 0-for-2 on under-40 attempts this year and attempted just one field goal since their opener five weeks ago.
Wolf shouldn’t miss from 37 yards, obviously. But, more importantly, he shouldn’t be attempting a 37-yard goal on 2nd-and-4 with three minutes remaining.
“It may have been a down earlier but it was what we wanted to do,” Wells said after the game. “[K]ick it deep, stop them on defense, use your timeouts and then have another chance on offense to go down and throw it in the end zone.”
In his nearly two minute answer about the decision, Wells didn’t say why he halted a potential touchdown drive to kick a field goal on 2nd-and-4. At no point did he offer specifics about that actual decision. He repeatedly addressed the obvious intent, drifted onto a tangent about losing a game to Utah years ago, and even chuckled at his repeated explanations of the math of two scores. Well, however, never said why the field goal was attempted at that point and not when the clock was a bigger issue or they reached fourth down.
“What is your decision in this situation right now?”
Matt Wells’ decision: Halt a potential touchdown drive to attempt a field goal on 2nd-and-4. He made a definitive statement…with an irrelevant outcome. Sure, a better outcome would’ve improved Texas Tech’s chances of winning, but in that moment, the outcome did not matter. And if you’re making a decision with an irrelevant outcome, you’re displaying a shocking disregard for common sense that makes me wonder if you know what the hell you’re doing.
Andrew Doughty hosts the High Motor podcast and covers college football and college basketball for HERO Sports. A Kansas (B.S. Sport Management) and Memphis grad (M.A. Journalism), Andrew is also a Junior Writer for Sports Illustrated and has published work on SB Nation and Bleacher Report.