Mississippi State hasn’t been the best third-down team, converting only 38.6 percent of the time. That’s tied for ninth in the SEC. But on fourth downs, the Bulldogs have been clutch.
MSU has gone for it on fourth down 10 times this year, converting eight. Percentage-wise, that ranks second in the league behind LSU – which is 1 of 1. The eight conversions lead the SEC, and so it’s accurate to say that MSU is the best in the conference when it comes to converting on fourth down.
It’s also the only team with a winning record (6-0) to have 10 or more fourth-down attempts. The others are Kentucky (1-6), Arkansas (3-4), Vanderbilt (2-4) and Missouri (3-4). You can probably attribute their high numbers to playing from behind, which is not something MSU has had to do much of this season. In fact, State has trailed for a total of 16 minutes, 11 seconds, which ranks fifth nationally. And there’s this: MSU has not gone for it on fourth down when trailing or tied.
So what’s been the payoff on these fourth downs? Well, I went through every single one of them and broke them down by distance, place on the field, situation (score, quarter) and what it led to at the end of the drive. The raw results for those eight conversions: five touchdowns, a missed field goal, and the end of a game. (There were two conversions on one drive against Troy.)
But some of these fourth-down tries came during garbage time, with the game well in hand in the fourth quarter. So, eliminating those and counting only the fourth downs that actually mattered: MSU is 7 of 7. In other words, with something on the line, the Bulldogs have been perfect. In those seven situations – which involved six possessions – MSU scored five TDs and missed a field goal (against Tennessee).
Of the seven non-garbage fourth downs, three occurred in the fourth quarter, and all were successful and eventually led to touchdowns. Two were on the aforementioned drive versus Troy – including a 25-yard TD catch by Chad Bumphis – and the other was Tyler Russell‘s 9-yard pass to Malcolm Johnson near the end of last week’s win over Tennessee. Those two plays were the only conversions that found the end zone.
I’ve got some more fun numbers for you regarding all 10 fourth-down attempts:
• Average distance to go: 3.4 yards
• In opponent’s territory: Converted 7 of 8
• Conversions by run/by pass: 5/3
Who’s been converting them? Russell threw all three of the passes, and all three moved the chains. His backup, Dak Prescott, has converted twice with his legs, while tailback LaDarius Perkins has also converted twice. That’s probably a big key to MSU’s fourth-down success: options.