It is tough to point to just one aspect of a game as the reason why a team falls short. That’s certainly the case in the Texas Tech football team’s 35-33 season-opening loss to Wyoming.
However, there is no denying that the struggles of field goal kicker, Gino Garcia, played a major role in Tech’s defeat. Now, after Garcia went just 2-5 on his FG attempts in week one, one must wonder if head coach Joey McGuire will feel the need to be even more aggressive than he already is on 4th down.
Texas Tech was the most aggressive team in the nation on 4th down in 2022
Last year, no team in the nation attempted and converted more 4th down opportunities than Texas Tech. Averaging 4.4 4th-down tries and 2.8 conversions per game in 2022, the Red Raiders were the most aggressive team in the NCAA.
What’s interesting is that such a brash approach came in a season when kicker Trey Wolff made 21-25 FG attempts (84%). If Garcia continues to struggle and McGuire can’t find a viable replacement to turn to, will the Red Raiders feel the need to ramp up their 4th down aggression even more in 2023?
Of course, McGuire has said that his 4th down philosophy is guided by analytics. In fact, he has a literal book that he and his staff use to guide their in-game decision-making process.
Still, the situation will play a role in each decision that McGuire makes on 4th down. For instance, on the four FGs Tech attempted on 4th down against Wyoming, the average yardage needed to gain for a first down was 9.2.
In all four of those instances, Tech needed at least five yards to gain. What’s more, on two, the offense was facing a 4th-and-12 or longer. Thus, in those situations, attempting a kick was likely the wise decision. On the other of Garcia’s five FG tries, Tech kicked on 1st down because it was the final play of the first half.
Had any of the four 4th downs on which McGuire elected to kick been shorter than five yards, it’s likely that his analytics would have told him to go for the first down. What’s more, had QB Tyler Shough and the offense been in a better rhythm, McGuire might have been more inclined to leave the ball in the hands of his QB and playmakers.
Now, with Garcia’s poor showing in week one, will McGuire’s decision-making also be influenced by what we saw in Laramie as well? Will he trust his offense more than his kicker, even if the offense is not firing on all cylinders again?
Texas Tech did ask quite a bit of Garcia in week one
To be fair, on Saturday, Garcia had only one chip shot, the 21-yarder to tie the game in the final minute of regulation. The rest of his kicks were lengthy; 54, 49, 40, and 50 yards. Being as this isn’t the NFL where 50-yard kicks are supposed to be automatic, asking a college kicker to be perfect on four attempts from 40 or more yards is not a desirable strategy.
Thus, should we have more faith in Garcia than we do? On the one hand, we must remember that the 49-yarder that he missed at the end of the first half was kicked in the midst of complete officiating chaos.
As Tech scrambled to get its kicking team onto the field before the stopped game clock was put back in motion (as McGuire had used up all of his timeouts earlier in the half), there was mass confusion on the part of the referees as some marked the ball ready for play while others were out of position and unprepared for the snap.
Don’t forget that Tech snapped the ball and Garcia did make a low, line-drive kick only to have that play waived off by the lead official because not everyone in his crew was ready for the play. That moment would prove to be massive and isn’t being talked about enough. Of course, Garcia missed the ensuing try (the one that counted) essentially wiping a critical three points off of the scoreboard.
Had that original kick been allowed to stand, we might be singing a different tune about Garcia this week. On the other hand, we also can’t forget that he was saved on his final FG of the night as Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl called a timeout to ice Garcia just before Garcia shanked a kick wide right. Imagine what we would be saying about Tech’s kicking situation if Garcia hadn’t been given a reprieve in that moment.
Will Texas Tech ramp up the 4th-down aggression against Oregon?
It will be fascinating to monitor how aggressive McGuire is this weekend against Oregon. Points will be a must against a Duck offense that put up 81 against Portland State to open the year.
Garcia (or whoever kicks for the Red Raiders) won’t be able to miss three field goals again this week or the result will likely be another defeat. Of course, Tech should also concentrate on finishing drives and getting into the endzone more effectively as well because you can’t beat Oregon three points at a time.
Last year, against good teams McGuire was more prone to gamble on 4th down. Against Texas, he tried eight 4th-down conversions. Against Oklahoma State, he tried seven. Against TCU, six.
In week one of this season, he had his team go for it only twice on 4th down and one of those was on the final drive of regulation when his hand was forced. But, will his hand also be forced by a struggling kicking game moving forward? That’s something worth keeping an eye on this Saturday.