Fairly typical criticism following LSU's last second win against Auburn, this from Terry Bowden:
And finally, LSU.
The Tigers from Baton Rouge won another nail biter 30-24 against the Tigers from Auburn. On yet another unbelievable call by coach Les Miles on the last play of the game, he decided to forgo the winning field goal from the 22-yard line and throw a pass into the back of the end zone with eight seconds left. Although the pass was caught with one second showing on the clock, there is a good chance time would have run out if the ball had been dropped or deflected and LSU would have been unable to utilize its last timeout. I nicknamed Coach Miles, "Sparky" after his gutsy fourth-down calls against Florida two weeks ago. But there was nothing gutsy about this one at all. It was just a bad call gone good.
Mark May and others have also offered variations on this. This is wrong. Just so we're all on the same page, here's the final LSU series. It starts on the 25 after a Jacob Hester run with about a minute and a half left:
LSU has a 42 yard field goal set up at this point and 1:30 -- an eternity -- on the clock. LSU strolls to the line on first down and runs Flynn on an option for two yards. LSU declines to go hurry-up. On second down, LSU runs a waggle to the tight end for one yard. The clock continues to roll and roll and roll until nine seconds, when Flynn finally snaps it and chucks it into the endzone for the winning touchdown.
Watch the clock closely: the receiver hauls the ball in with four seconds on the clock. The clock continues to run for three seconds before it stops, giving the erroneous appearance of danger where there was none. If the pass is incomplete Colt David has a shot at a 39-yarder for the win. As a reminder, David is a tetchy kicker who's 3 of 6 from beyond 40 this year and missed an important 36-yarder against Florida.
Genius? Madness? A mixture of the two? Consider:
- Given the alignment of the Auburn defense: eight in the box, safety shaded over to the other side of the field, Flynn knows he was one-on-one coverage on the left.
- The corner is rolled up, not in press but about five yards off the LOS.
- The ball snaps with nine seconds on the clock and is caught with four. There is no serious danger of not getting a final play off.
- Flynn takes a five step drop and chucks it immediately; both running backs stay in to block and pick up blitzers. There is no chance of a sack.
- The high-arcing loop of the ball makes it impossible for anyone to bat it at the line.
The only thing that can go really wrong on this play is for the Auburn cornerback to intercept the ball. Interceptions are highly unusual occurrences, especially in one-on-one coverage that is unlikely to end up bailing out into a deep zone. The chances of something going truly wrong were minute.
The real debate is between Flynn's endzone chuck and hurrying up, throwing a higher percentage pass, and attempting to pick up a first down that would shorten the field goal to a near-automatic range. Is the difference between the relative success rates of a 40-ish yard field goal and a 30-ish yard field goal enough to make the decision to grind out the clock unwise? Is the risk of an Auburn drive that starts with 30 seconds on the clock enough to justify LSU's leisurely pace?
These questions are murky. There are no clear answers here. LSU and Auburn found themselves in a situation much like the end of the Texas-Michigan Rose Bowl where both teams seemed content with a makable but not guaranteed field goal. LSU ran on first down, threw short on second, and let the clock roll. Tommy Tuberville looked on, timeouts in hand, and let the clock roll. LSU baited Auburn into thinking they had reached a mutual compromise, then sprung its trap. In the abstract, it was a brilliant gambit with little downside. In practice, outstanding coverage from the Auburn corner and a timekeeper asleep at the switch made it look like sheer mindless bravado. It was not, even if it appeared like that even to astute observers like Orson and SMQB.
The problem I did have came earlier in the fourth when Miles passed on a fourth and one for a chip shot field goal that pushed the margin to 6. Going from a three-point to a six-point lead is only marginally useful. Yes, it forces the other team to score a touchdown to win but it also increases the effectiveness of the opposing offense by making fourth downs available. It's more defensible given the clock situation (eight minutes left), since having the field goal in your pocket is really useful if Auburn scores a touchdown and you get the ball back with time to mount a drive, but going for it and punching in a touchdown basically ends the game. I would have gone.
10/20/2007 - Michigan 27, Illinois 17 - 6-2, 4-0 Big Ten
oh well, maybe not. I'll try again.
Greg Mathews was dragged down by his facemask; fifteen yards on what otherwise would have been fourth and long, another opportunity for Zoltan the Inconceivable to blow your mind with a 67 yard punt. A play later Mario Manningham was clubbed late out of bounds; first down at midfield. Michigan dutifully clunked its way to a fourth down and punted even though the refs kindly overlooked a blatant holding penalty. Zoltan lofted one to the ten as the Illinois returner settled under it, motioning for a fair catch. He dropped it.* Michigan recovered it. Two plays later Adrian Arrington took a reverse and threw into the endzone for the winning points. My hands shot skyward.
Not so impressed was the person accompanying me, a baseball enthusiast at her first football game with little tolerance for the ad-hoc and often arcane set of rules cobbled together to make the sport clatter along without imploding. (Attempting to explain what, exactly, constituted holding proved too baffling a concept for both explainer and explain-ee; eventually I just said it was like pornography -- I knew it when I saw it -- and left it at that.) To her, the whole series of events that had just transpired was sordid and cheap and wide receivers can throw the ball? So why don't they throw it always? And what's with the random events? Where is the storyline? Why is this so ugly? Etc etc etc.
This was slightly annoying. I, of course, still had my arms above my head, signaling touchdown, and Person Accompanying Me was busy criticizing impending victory moments after an audaciously successful trick play. She was basically right -- Illinois handed us the game, but only after we had attempted to hand it to them and then they had attempted to hand it back and then we had attempted to hand it back back -- but, like, come on now. Sure, this had all the beauty of the Soviet Bloc interior of Memorial Stadium, about which more later, but victory was likely ours. Eventually that counts for something.
After the thing had finally come to its disjointed end, a sense of relief filtered in. Michigan survived a potential minefield. It was ugly and sordid and dirty but it was a win, and now Michigan is going to play Ohio State for the Rose Bowl unless the roof caves in against both State and Wisconsin. This is a long way from 0-2 and being a national laughingstock; Carr has once again picked his charges up off the mat and driven them towards respectability. We can wish this peculiar talent of Carr's was less firmly established, but we should be thankful for it at the same time.
Let's try again: November 17th for all the marbles, at least in Bo's world, and a chance at a happy ending for Carr and Henne and Hart and Long and us.
- Adding to the ugliness was the inside of Memorial Stadium, which looks like it was built in a Warsaw Pact country circa 1952, all concrete so gray the term "gray" seems insufficient to describe its grim colorlessness. The tenor of the place turned North Korean at halftime when the student section held up a series of placards that created various effects: block Ms and Is, goal posts, the ABC logo, "Zook" spelled out in orange and blue.
- The outside, it should be noted, is quite pretty.
- Are Illinois fans issued "Muck Fichigan" t-shirts upon matriculation? Seemingly 30% of the crowd had them, including several middle-aged men who looked otherwise respectable. Next year in the MGoStore look for shirts that just say "Nobody Cares About You," perfect for Illinois or Michigan State or, well... anybody on the schedule. Wooo 21st century scheduling.
- Watching from the endzone was a terrifying experience because without much of a vantage point -- the Memorial Stadium field is not sunken at all -- it looked like virtually every Illinois play was going for an 80 yard touchdown before Adams or Englemon came in to tackle. Don't know if its an artifact of the scheme or the spread, but the safeties had 18 tackles between them... our linebackers were not doing much of a job.
- I am starting to get concerned about Mallett. He should be better by now. The interception should never have been thrown, he fumbled two more snaps, his accuracy is lacking, and early he scrambled out of trouble, directed Greg Mathews to run a route away from the defender and inexplicably held onto the ball even though Mathews had broken wide open. He should be better than Clausen.
- At this point in his career, Steve Schilling is mediocre at best.
- When did Carson Butler get so ponderous?
- Is there any plausible explanation for the Henne-Mallett substitution pattern? Obviously they have no faith in Mallett and the offense turns into run run throw punt when he's in there; Henne was able to tough out his injury and return. Did the coaches really think a damaged Henne was worse than Mallett, and if so how does that square with their playcalling?
- Illinois fans have a bad rep amongst Michigan fans, but we had no problems. The guys directly in front of us were friendly; the third quarter was mostly spent having sarcastic chuckles at the ineptness of both teams.
- Why did we have to use a challenge on the Arrington touchdown? Credit to Lloyd for deploying it there, but how blind does the replay official have to be to not immediately signal for review? That's a crucial play that was eventually overturned... how can it not be close enough for another look?
- There is a place near campus called CO Daniel's. The floor there is just like the floor in hell.
Anyone with some ankle-healing snake oil report to Memorial Stadium STAT.
All right, I know this internet rumor stuff is extremely distasteful to a certain segment of the audience, and frankly I'm a little uncomfortable with it, too, because the consequences if I say something strident and I'm wrong will be bad. Last year I reported that Morgan Trent had broken his hand and would miss the Minnesota game. Rivals' Inside The Fort column-type substance pooh-poohed this as patently ridiculous. I vacillated back and forth before just laying my cards on the table and stating what I thought: Trent was out and Rivals was wrong. Those 24 hours before Michigan took the field sans Trent were nervewracking, but eventually I was proven correct. I'll do the same here.
- Hart limps off against Purdue, doesn't play the rest of the game, seems fine, teammates guarantee he plays.
- Carr circumspect.
- Mom says if he's 80% he'll play and will definitely play against Minnesota.
- Carr circumspect.
- Yesterday a guy with an insider rep posts that Hart is a no-go for Illinois on GBW; this is widely reported in the McGuffie liveblog/chat thing. I can't evaluate this for myself.
- Carr circumspect.
- Yesterday afternoon the line on the game moves from -3 to a pick-em, maybe because of this "Doctor Bob" guy and maybe not.
- Other message boards have conflicting information: Tuesday/Wednesday reports are that he will play. More recent updates are skeptical, with one definite no-go report.
- I receive an email from a tipster like 45 minutes ago stating 1) Hart will not play and 2) expect more Hemingway ISQDs. This tipster is a Class C tipster: no track record but has emailed me before (a year ago) and is unlikely to be looking to perpetuate a hoax. Especially what with the ISQD thing. I mean, seriously, you can't make this stuff up.
Fin. You can evaluate all this as you please and come to your own conclusions.
My conclusions: there are at least three recent, separate indications from insiders ranging from purported to (apparently) established and a big line swing. Previous optimism about his play has not been updated since Tuesday/Wednesday. I think Hart is either out or extremely limited. If I see an ISQD early, I will swear quietly and pray for Carlos Brown ball security. Caveat: if Michigan finds itself in trouble I would not be surprised to see Hart pull a Willis Reed, even if it's just to stone J Leman blitzes.
I am now off to Champaign and will not be able to update this further tonight; I'm sure the commenters will keep everyone abreast of developments. Please subtract four points from my projected Michigan score in the preview.
The fourth down stufficus. Some protest in the comments and from The Conquering Heroes about the non-condemnation of Les Miles calling Rock x 4 against Kentucky in the third overtime. TCH:
I attempted to make the point on MGoBlog that Brian and many others would have raked Lloyd over the coals had he run on 4 straight downs and not picked up the first down.
It seems odd to defend myself from criticism for a hypothetical criticism I never actually made, but I will make an effort.
First: the effusive praise in this space was for Miles' willingness to go for it time and again against Florida, pulling out a win he may otherwise not have had. Nothing in the Kentucky game changes that. LSU found itself down in the third overtime and had to go for it.
As for rock x 4 -- we'll call it the Super Avalanche -- this is Matt Flynn's line for that game: 17 for 35 for 130 yards. Several of his completions were little swing passes that went for first downs. That's a line worth of Jimmah Clausen. The guy was awful, his receivers weren't much better, and Early Doucet was basically unavailable (he did come in to be a decoy during the Super Avalanche). Meanwhile, LSU was averaging 5.5 YPC when the first rock was called, and that gained six yards. In these circumstances, pounding ahead in an attempt to get the first down is eminently justifiable. Just last Wednesday, the Wannstache got raked over the coals for taking the ball out of Lesean McCoy's hands in overtime and throwing fades with his crappy quarterback despite all evidence indicating he should grind ahead. Given the relative vectors of LSU's ground and air games, it's hard to fault Miles with pounding the ball, even if it didn't work.
This is different from the fervent criticism of Debord leveled in this space because Debord took a look at the #114 pass defense and ran and ran and ran even when it had become clear that Justin Boren and Michigan's third string right guard were totally unable to handle John Gill. The resuls were a 16-7 halftime deficit that Michigan was fortunate wasn't 28-7 and an extremely dangerous situation. The key distinction here: Miles was doing something that made sense. I like it when coaches make goddamn sense.
TCH's post is worth going over, as it contains fourth down go-for-it and conversion numbers for a wide array of coaches. The numbers are interesting, though I don't know how well they actually reflect a coach's aggression. There's a big difference in going for it when you have to, like at the end of the UK-LSU game, and going for it when you have other options, like the Florida game. One point of contention:
Did Miles go for it on fourth more often just because he has brass balls? Not entirely:
LSU's field goal kickers were 64.3% last year. Their primary kicker was 8 for 13 â€“ a mere 61.5%. On the other hand, Garret Rivas was 16 for 19 -- 84% last year.
----------------------0-19 --20-29---30-39---- 40-49----50+
Garrett Rivas: 16 for 19 84.2------0/0---6/7 ---8/8----2/4 ---0/0
David Colt: 8 for 14 61.5%--------0-0---4-4----1-2----3-6---0-1
Those kicker lines don't scream "vast difference" to me even if Rivas had a much higher percentage. (Also, it's Colt David.) From 40-49 both were 50%. Inside 40 they both missed a single field goal; Rivas had many more attempts.
Also, though the "brass balls" thing has gotten a lot of play here and elsewhere, there is a key point of clarification: each decision to go was statistically and situationally valid. Miles had the balls to do the smart thing. This is different than Weis doing stuff like calling a QB draw with 12 seconds left in the half and no timeouts, which is stupid look-at-me-I'm-a-genius bravado. Mindless aggression is no better than, say, punting from inside the opponent's 40 when a moderate gain salts the game away.*
*(Uh... actually it probably is, but it's still not good.)
No, not FUPA. Field Position Advantage, or FPA, is a stat being tracked by Brian Fremeau over at Football Outsiders. It's simple: your average starting yard line minus the average opponent starting yard line. Michigan is currently ninth among I-A schools at +7.8; Ohio State is second at +10.4. Not sure how useful this statistic is, since the leader is 4-3 (now 4-4) TCU and Vanderbilt, East Carolina, and Maryland appear in the top ten, but it's an interesting thing to consider. Teams that suck at FPA do tend to be awful, though.
Etc.: Beilein fluff from Rivals; Purdue managers mock Michigan, get what they deserve; OSU is a money machine; UM Tailgate interviews Tyrone Wheatley; Shooting Blue reviews the McGuffie performance from last night.