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Adventures in playcalling: Conversion down carries

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It finally sunk in late in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Maryland-Duke game – the Terps really don’t have many third- or fourth-down options.

Obviously, this is a slightly belated conclusion. The data’s been there all year. It just took until now to size it all up.

Chris Turner can drop back and throw. Or he can run. Or he can hand off to someone who has only a slight chance of churning out enough to extend a possession whenever it’s not third-and-1 or third-and-2.

And after a little digging through the game-by-game statistical breakdowns – you know, those number-filled charts tossed onto the blog every week – it’s time to drop a game-set-match on all you loyal readers.

Turner has 19 legitimate rushes (not counting sacks) on third and fourth downs. The rest of his teammates have combined for 18.

Take a look, based on distance needed to extend a possession in conversion downs:

Player1-34-6  
7+Total   
10-Turner8/11  
0/41/4  
9/19
8-Meggett5/80/15/9
23-Scott2/32/3
40-Porzel1/21/2
20-Douglas1/11/1
5-Green1/11/1
11-Robinson  
0/10/1
3-Williams0/10/1

 

Conclusions, anyone?

Well, that two-yard rush on third-and-3 on Saturday (and the two stuffs against Clemson) notwithstanding, Turner isn’t a terrible short-yardage option. Granted, he’s neither a gazelle nor a tank (let alone a Tebow), but he is mostly effective in those situations.

But in more daunting distances? Clearly, the Terps would be better off throwing. Turner’s lone conversion in those situations was an 11-yard carry on third-and-8 against Virginia.

It should also be pointed out that in short distances, Maryland hands it off twice a game on third and fourth downs. Tailbacks have 15 such carries to Turner’s 11. And the tailbacks have succeeded when given a chance, converting 10 of their 15 tries.

The real problem, though, isn’t Turner’s usage (ignoring, for a moment, injury risk). Instead, the issue is that this demonstrates as well as anything else how little of a chance Maryland thinks it has of converting a third down on the ground unless it is right up at the down marker.

Not once all season have the Terps handed it off to a tailback on third-and-medium. Not a single time. They’ve only done so once on third-and-long.

That isn’t to say doing so would be effective. If offensive coordinator James Franklin ordered handoffs on third-and-6, he’d be excoriated more than for the random QB draw, and rightfully so.

At least the QB draw has worked at times this season. Fairly often, handoffs have led to two yards and a cake of mud.

Obviously, the offensive line plays a part in this, and it’s repetitive to keep coming back to the conclusion that Maryland’s woes up front have paralyzed the entire offense – or at least severely restricted the movements at its disposal.

But that’s the way of the world in College Park in Aught-Nine, and the Terps’ high level of predictability on third down – a Turner throw or a Turner run basically all but a couple times a game – simply reflects that.

Patrick Stevens

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