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With a reliable kicking game, NC State goes more conservative on 4th downs

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Good field goal kickers are good and bad at the same time!

NCAA Football: TaxSlayer Gator Bowl-Texas A&M vs North Carolina State Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

(All of the data and visuals included in this post are from Coug Center’s study on the subject. Please go check out their post on this.)

Is having a good placekicker good? Well, yes of course it’s good. Good kickers make more field goals than bad ones, which puts more points on the scoreboard, which is helpful regarding the whole winning games thing.

But! A good kicker can also lead your head coach to make decisions more conservatively—which is to say, more inefficiently from a win probability perspective. Not all the time, mind you. But more frequently.

Below is a chart illustrating how NC State has ranked in the Dave Doeren era in 4th down go-for-it percentage. The higher the rank, the more often the offense stayed on the field for 4th down.

Had a guess about those dips yet? Nik Sade’s final season at NC State was in 2014. Chris Dunn’s debut was 2018. In between, the Wolfpack lived in kicker hell. This is not the entire explanation for the above numbers, but I’d wager it’s a big part of them.

The Wolfpack generally went for fewer fourth downs when the offense had a pulse AND the coaches had a trustworthy kicker. I suspect the reason for 2013’s number is that the offense sucked so bad, the coaches wanted to try and leverage as many good touchdown opportunities as they could, though Sade did still attempt 23 field goals that season.

Last season, Dunn was excellent from 40 yards and in, finally giving State somebody they could count on to make the supposed chip shots, after years of struggle on that front. State’s season-high on fourth-down field goal attempts from 2015-17 was 20 in 2017. Last season, the Pack attempted 26 field goals on fourth down.

There are other factors to be aware of that can skew this data. Maybe there is a disproportionate number of 4th-and-short or 4th-and-long situations in one year versus the next, for instance. Maybe there are more 4th-down plays on the plus side of the field one year, and a lot fewer in another. Situational stuff like that is definitely part of the larger picture.

But the trust in the kicking game (or lack thereof) seems like a more significant factor in these outcomes, at least where Dave Doeren is concerned.