USC football coach Lane Kiffin has quietly employed an extra point strategy this season that is, in college football’s modern era, unprecedented.
Despite have a healthy, competent placekicker, Kiffin has attempted two-point conversions on half of the USC’s 14 touchdowns so far this season. The pattern of those attempts has been indiscriminate, as Kiffin leaves the decision up to backup quarterback Mitch Mustain. Mustain’s job is to read the defense before the conversion play and if he thinks the opposing formation is conducive for a two-point try, the Trojans attempt it.
So far the result has been a miserable success rate, with the Trojans converting on just two of those seven tries.
The quality of competition probably isn’t coincidental to Kiffin’s PAT approach. It’s a lot easier to make up for botched extra points against Hawaii, Virginia and Minnesota than future USC opponents Oregon and Stanford.
This week USC starts conference play against putrid Washington State and despite the alarmingly futile rate of two-point conversions, Kiffin said Wednesday that he has every intention of continuing his prolific albeit unconventional post-TD approach.
I’m all for blowing up standard coaching practice if it makes sense, but there’s a reason why no coach in recent memory has employed such a strategy when afforded a competent kicker: Of the limited statistical studies on the subject, there’s no evidence to suggest that going for two consistently gives a team a better chance to win.
Eight months ago Judy Battista of the NEW YORK TIMES had a piece on the subject, at least as it applied to NFL teams. Citing numbers from the stats geeks at FootballOutsiders.com, Battista noted:
According to Football Outsiders, a Web site devoted to statistical analysis of the N.F.L., teams attempted 53 2-point conversions in the 2009 regular season (not counting botched extra-point kicks that turned into 2-point attempts). That’s the third-fewest attempts in the last dozen years, and well below the 98 attempts in 1998.
This season, teams converted 45.3 percent of attempts, well down from the 60 percent rate in 2006, when coaches used the 2-point sparingly, only 35 times, and the third-lowest conversion rate since 2000.
Still, conversion rates hovered at or above 50 percent just three years ago, only to drop in the past two seasons.
Confused? I didn’t even get to the part about NFL teams have a higher two-point conversion rate on running plays over passes - despite teams opting to throw in those situations most of the time.
Now, that doesn’t mean that Kiffin doesn’t have himself a groundbreakingly sound strategy - but if no single team in the history of the modern NFL and college football has ever done something - anything - consistently enough to provide a reasonably large statistical sample size, do USC fans really want the Trojans to be the guinea pigs for such an experiment?
In Kiffin’s defense, USC is on probation this season with no chance to play for a bowl game, so why not take chances and turn the game on its head? Though if Kiffin loses a game or three because of the strategy, he might not be around long enough to see that statistical sample size through.