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Harbaugh’s Two-Point Conversion Chart

November 17th, 2009

We’re told that every coach has a two-point conversion chart that he uses during a game to determine whether to go for a one- or two-point conversion after a touchdown.  I don’t know if coaches have the chart memorized, if they keep it folded up in their back pocket, or if they have an assistant hold it for them.   Anyway, I’ve always assumed that the chart tells coaches to go for the one-point conversion when they’re ahead by 27 points — if the chart even goes up that high — since the one-point conversion is the usual decision.

Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh must have his own version of the two-point conversion chart, and it tells him to go for two when leading by 27 points against USC.  That was his decision on Saturday when Stanford scored a touchdown to take a 48-21 lead over USC late in the 4th quarter.  The conversion attempt failed when Stepfan Taylor’s rush attempt was stopped short.

I decided to find out how many times since 2005 a team has attempted a two-point conversion when leading by 27 points or more.  Here is the list:

 Team          Opponent      Date        Score  Lead  Player (Position) - Note
 Hawaii        Idaho         10/28/2006  61-10   51   Funaki (holder)
 Boise St.     New Mex. St.  10/07/2007  51-0    51   Bissell (holder)
 TCU           S.F. Austin   09/06/2008  58-7    51   Kerley (holder)
 Florida St.   Rice          09/23/2006  53-7    46   Piurowski (TE) - PAT blocked
 New Mex. St.  La. Tech      12/02/2006  50-9    41   Kaufman (holder)
 Wisconsin     Minnesota     10/14/2006  41-3    38   DeBauche (holder)
 Texas A&M     La.-Lafayette 09/09/2006  44-7    37   Schroeder (holder)
 Baylor	       N'western St. 09/26/2009  47-10   37   Stone (kicker)
 Utah          Wyoming       10/11/2008  40-7    33   Godfrey (holder)
 LSU           Miss. St.     09/30/2006  48-17   31   Flynn (holder) - bad snap
 Tulsa         Rice          10/15/2005  34-7    27   Keopple (holder)
 California    Stanford      11/22/2008  30-3    27   Longshore (holder) - PAT fake?
 Stanford      USC           11/14/2009  48-21   27   Taylor (RB)
 Virginia      Indiana       10/10/2009  27-0    27   Jarrett (kicker)

I was surprised by this list because I did not expect to find very many two-point attempts that qualified, especially with such large leads.  When I started analyzing the conversions in the list, I realized that many of these two-point conversions were probably not planned, but occurred because of a bad snap, a muffed hold, or a blocked kick, where the holder or kicker ended up trying to get two points on a broken play.  Most of the play-by-plays did not indicate why a two-point attempt was made, but I think it’s reasonable to assume that if the holder or kicker attempted the two-point conversion rush or pass, given the score at the time, it was most likely not planned.

The two-point attempt on the list that I’m not sure about is the pass attempt by Cal holder Nate Longshore when leading 30-3 against Stanford in 2008.  I watched a video of the play (a link to which I cannot find now), and it looked to me like Longshore was executing a planned fake of a one-point attempt.  I found that the question of whether Longshore’s play was a fake or not has been the subject of some debate.

I think it’s safe to say that Stanford’s two-point conversion attempt against USC is the biggest lead for a deliberate, offense-on-the-field, 2-point conversion attempt since 2005.  Given the bad blood that now exists — or got worse — between USC head coach Pete Carroll and Harbaugh, we may see that mark broken in the future.