Dan Lanning defends fourth-down calls in loss: 'I'm a big boy, I can handle criticism'
Dan Lanning took serious heat for his fourth-down decision-making in Oregon’s 36-33 loss to Washington over the weekend. The Ducks failed to convert on all three of their fourth-down tries, costing the team points on two red zone trips and then setting up Washington’s game-winning touchdown drive.
After the game, Lanning shouldered the blame for the loss, but he didn’t apologize for his aggressive approach.
The Ducks trusted their analysis on the first two fourth-down tries — both of which saw Oregon turn down field goals inside the UW 10-yard-line in search of touchdowns. He also defended the fourth-down go at the end of the game, asserting that Washington 50 yards from the endzone wasn’t much different from Washington 70 yards from the endzone.
When he met with reporters on Monday, he kept the same message.
“If I knew none of them were going to work, you would change every situation, right? That’s not the way those decisions work,” Lanning said. “I’m a big boy, I can handle criticism. That’s going to come and it’s deserved in this position. That’s the way it works. I trust our players. I trust our coaches. When we have opportunities to win games, I’m going to be aggressive to win games.”
Lanning said there isn’t a scenario where he wouldn’t go for the fourth-and-3 at midfield at the end of the game. Given the time and situation, Lanning said Oregon would either get the first down and end the game, or it would fail and still give its offense time to match whatever points Washington put on the board.
(Which is exactly what happened. The Ducks kicked a field goal at the end of regulation that could have sent the game to overtime.)
“They’re going to have a lot of success in a lot of scenarios, and they had that day,” Lanning said of Washington.
Washington scored in two plays after Oregon turned it over on downs. Lanning wants back the third-and-2 run where Jordan James stumbled and was tackled in the backfield for a loss of 1. “There was some confusion there,” he said, and he felt the execution was lacking.
The same can be said for the third-down play right before halftime. Quarterback Bo Nix had Traeshon Holden in the flat for what could very well have been a touchdown. Instead, the throw was low and behind Holden, setting up a fourth down attempt that ultimately failed.
Lanning said that’s the only one of the three where there were arguments to be made either way.
“But it’s not like those decisions are made on Saturday in that moment. Those decisions are made earlier in the week,” Lanning said. “How do we want to play this game? We knew this was going to be a game that was going to be a high-scoring game. Touchdowns over field goals mattered.
“In that scenario before half, I think you could certainly say that could go the other direction. A lot of the other scenarios, I don’t know that you would play it any other way other than if you knew what the result of the play was gonna be. Three opportunities on a fourth, the chances of us not getting one of those three is really unique, especially with what we’ve done offensively this year.”
To that end, he’s right. Oregon entered Saturday’s contest leading the FBS in net efficiency, outgaining opponents by 4 yards a play on average. It was top-10 nationally in yards per play gained, and yards per play allowed.
The Ducks trusted their analysis. They stayed aggressive.