Inside the Numbers: Was Liberty’s odd choice on fourth down a game-changer?

Liberty FootballLiberty trailed 31-24 early in the third quarter, and seemed to have Virginia on the ropes a bit.

The ‘Hoos weren’t getting stops, and the offense had just stalled in plus territory, giving the Flames the ball back inside their 5.

It felt like the game was about to turn the way things turned for ODU on its way to the Monarchs’ historic upset of Virginia Tech back in September.

On third-and-eight from the Liberty 7, Stephen Calvert hooked up with Peytton Pickett for a 7-yard gain on a pass play, but the yardage wasn’t enough for a first down.

Surely, you’re thinking, watching along, on fourth-and-one from the 14, Liberty coach Turner Gill would send the punt team out.

You kick the ball, play defense, and hope you get better field position on the change of possession.

Right?

Meh.

Gill rolled the dice, and gave his QB two plays in the huddle, a run and a pass, leaving it in Calvert’s hands which to call at the line, based on how many defenders UVA put in the box.

Calvert took the option of trying to connect with wideout Antonio Gandy-Golden.

Brenton Nelson got his hand in the cookie jar on the pass play, the ball fell to the turf incomplete, and UVA scored a touchdown three plays later to go up 38-24.

And it would never get closer.

Sorry to be so blunt, but this was a dumb move by Gill, right?

“It’s a read by our quarterback, read by our offensive coordinator. You know, you take chances. You have to take chances in this type of game. You have to score points. We knew we had to score some points against them. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it,” Gill said.

Of note is that among those who don’t think going for the first down there was an absolutely dumb call is UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall.

“I actually admired the decision. They came to win the game,” Mendenhall said. “There was kind of a point in the game where I think they decided that they could run for a first down, or that they could get a first down, and that might in and of itself kind of shift the momentum and have a psychological effect on our team.

“I have no issues with the decision. Under all the circumstances, with Liberty coming to UVA to play in our stadium with the game being close, I admired it,” Mendenhall said.

Column by Chris Graham

 


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