Fortune favors the bold. Anyone who knows anything about the way I like football to be played knows I enjoy risk taking. After all, I do ride with this guy on fourth downs as he coaches my alma mater.
Last season, one play that changed the course of the Big East standings occurred on a fourth down call. Playing the role of the bold one was Randy Edsall, formerly head coach of Connecticut and current Maryland head coach. His coaching adversary that day was the notoriously timid Dave Wannstedt of the Pittsburgh Panthers.
Nursing a 30-28 lead, and facing a 4th and 1 from his own 19 yard line with 2:50 left to play, Edsall decided to hand the ball off to überback Jordan Todman. Todman had run for 102 yards at halftime and would finish the game with 222 yards. He picked those yards up at a 6 yard per carry clip. So when the ball was handed off . . . Todman busted a four yard gain. The game wasn’t over at that moment but for all intents and purposes Pitt was defeated when Todman picked up the first down.
After the game, Edsall said "I looked into the eyes of the offensive line and in the eyes of [Todman] and I knew they would find a way to get the first down."
What else but confidence could have Edsall seen in his players’ eyes after the game they were having? Not only was Todman having a career day in terms of carries and yards, his offensive line got him the hole he needed on a previous fourth down in the game. In the first quarter, Connecticut trailed 7-0 when a 4th and 1 from the Pitt 46 occurred. Edsall rolled the dice. Todman got ten yards and a first down. One of quarterback Zach Frazer’s nine completions occurred on the next play. It was a 36 yard touchdown pass to Kashif Moore.
While Edsall’s trust in his guys paid off on that conversion from his own 19, I don’t want to paint the picture of him as foolhardy. On three occasions that I might have gone for it on fourth down, Edsall opted for the field goal unit. His reliable kicker Dave Teggart came through on all three field goals. In the week prior to the Pittsburgh game, Teggart hit all three of his field goals including the game-winner in overtime against West Virginia.
There is a fine line between a calculated risk and throwing caution to the wind. The bold know how to straddle that line. When Connecticut had driven to the Panthers’ 8 yard line early in the fourth quarter, Edsall had a choice on 4th and 5. He chose the 25 yard field goal over trying to pick up the first down and/or touchdown. The field goal gave the Connecticut a 23-21 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, Edsall’s big play Huskies struck again. Anthony Sherman punched the ball out of Ray Graham’s hands and Robbie Frey recovered. Two plays later, Frazer threw another one of his nine completions for the game. It was a 14 yard touchdown pass to Isiah Moore.
Starting with the overtime win against West Virginia, the Huskies finished the season on a five game winning streak which propelled them to win the Big East and appear in the Fiesta Bowl. During that five game span, Edsall was 7-7 on fourth downs. When he turned to his kicker in those games, Teggart was 14/15 with two game-winning field goals. Edsall was bold enough to trust his team’s strengths. Fortune was kind enough to hold up her end of the bargain.