In the first quarter of a rare meaningful game against Tech, in front of an impressive crowd exemplifying a program shift, UVA trailed 7-0 and faced a 4th and 3 at the Tech 7 yard line. Fans desperately wanted a tie and a firm grip on the elusive “momentum.” Unfortunately, we saw a failed 4th down attempt and a game that spiraled out of control in the second half.
As in the Win Probability assessment following the FSU game, early plays that seem extremely influential (the Minnifield tackle) statistically might not pan out to have the same effect. Consequently, this is not an assessment of the play that determined the outcome of the game. Instead, this post will examine London’s options and trace the impact of the decision, while attempting to consider the mental “winning attitude” that eluded the program in the latter portion of the Groh era.
[4th and 3 @ VT 7 - 5:15 left in the 1st Quarter]
Conversion Percentage: 63% / Expected Points: 2.21 / Win Probability: 36%
Kicking a Field Goal – Pts: 3 / WP: 36%
[Two Outcomes of "Going For It"]
1. 1st Down (assume at the 4 in this case) – EPts: 5.51 / WP: 42%
2. Turnover on Downs – Pts: 0 / WP: 31%
Under both the Expected Points and Win Probability metrics, in order to make “going for it” the statistically correct decision, the chance of conversion times the potential gain in the metric must be greater than the chance of a potential loss in that metric.
(Conversion %)[(EPts of 1st down)-(EPts current)] > (1-Conversion%)[(EPts turnover)-(EPts current)].
There is a 63% chance of gaining 3.3 points, and a 37% chance of losing 2.21 points. Under EP, 2.08 > .82.
There is a 63% chance of gaining 6 WP, and a 37% chance of losing 5 WP. Under WP, 3.78 > 1.85.
Statistically, then, the attempted conversion was THE CORRECT DECISION.
Much of Mike London’s success this season has been attributed to his ability to motivate players. I understand and appreciate his need to change the basic mental approach in order to reverse the flow of the program, even as some of his calls seem overly-aggressive. I actually started this post assuming that the attempted conversion was the wrong decision. I was planning on writing a commentary on the need to shift from “no holds barred” play-calling to a conservative approach in order to create consistent opportunities to win. Screw it. Well-timed aggression has proven a cornerstone of the London improvement over the last two years. Whether this is attributable to statistically-correct decisions, an improved “winning” mindset, or a combination of the two doesn’t matter. We want to be the team that stands up to Tech, aggressively pursuing a win. It just didn’t work out this time. Nonetheless, this season has been a resounding success that will hopefully continue the evolution of a program. I look forward more of the same in UVA’s first bowl in 4 years.
-  I thought I remembered 4th and 2, but ESPN thinks otherwise. ↩
-  Expected Points are the historic average points scored from that position. Conversion % is even more self-explanatory. ↩
-  I disregarded the possibility of a touchdown on the 4th down play since the expected points of a conversion largely account for those points. ↩