[Ed: This week's Mathlete column expands on fourth down decision-making. I haven't seen a graph anywhere near as clear as those included below about how shifting the parameters of the offenses and defenses in question makes major impact on what a correct decision is. This is not a situation where you can just read the decision off a chart. Feel and personal preference will always play a role. It's a complex decision.]
Last week I wrote on the value of special teams but a very interesting side topic arose: fourth down decision making. It started with this chart:
About which I remarked:
The going for it actually peaks between 30 and 35 as more coaches don’t really know what to do so they just go for it.
So I decided to look and see what the decision chart should look like on an expected points basis.
Anything close to two different colors is a virtual toss-up. Any gains near a color transition are negligible and not worth noting, but there are very real gains to be made in the heart of the yellow section, where coaches are taking their offenses off of the field far too quickly.
A couple of quick rules of thumb:
- Don’t punt on the opponent’s side of the field.
- Really consider going for it on 4th down after crossing your own 40.
- Field goals only make sense if there are more than 5 yards to go and you are between the 10 and 30 yard lines. If you’re in opponent territory and these two criteria aren’t true, you should be going for it.
I know this is not the first time a topic like this has been presented, David Romer was mostly criticized for his paper on the topic a couple years back (thanks for the reminder Colin). [Ed: Not around here.] Of course there was the great Patriot debate last season when the Patriots elected to go for it on 4th and 2 with the lead in their own territory. Even though the majority of the arguments against this work amount to "people like David Romer and The Mathlete don’t know anything about football and just live in their parent’s basement" I did want to look at the main objections and see if they had any validity.
Objection 1: Does not account for “quick change” momentum
Below you’ll see a chart of the expected points on a drive based on field position, and how teams have actually fared. I also included drives obtained by turnover as comparison to the other “quick change” drive source.
There could be a case that drives started on a short field due to a 4th down stop generate more points than normal drives, but the small sample size reduces how strongly that argument can be made. From 2007-2009, the total points accounted for on drives obtained by 4th down stops (2523) is less than the projected points would be for any drives starting at the same field position (2580). This difference is meaningless statistically, something very damaging to the idea "momentum" helps the opposing offense after their defense gets a fourth down stop.
Adding in the turnovers does nothing to build a case for momentum after big defensive stops or turnovers. The turnover-started drive line tightly hugs the average line. As a whole, the turnover expected points line is slightly higher than the average line, but only by enough to generate an extra touchdown every 50 drives. That's about one every two years or so.
Although it can often feel like there is a big momentum swing after a big stop or turnover, there is scant evidence that it is more than our memories selecting the most traumatic or exhilarating scenes to hold onto. [Ed: for an example of this human tendency to ascribe meaning to unusual events where there is none, see any of the zillion "hot hand" studies.]
Objection 2: It assumes all offenses and defenses are average
To get a gauge on what “good” can mean in comparison to average, I plotted the best offense and best defense of the last three years against the average team’s expected points per drive.
As a rough approximation, the best offense is about a 1 point per drive better than average and the best defense makes offenses about a point worse per drive.
Scenario 1: Good offense
If your offense is as good as Florida, you should never punt against an average defense. Maybe if you are deep in your own territory, but only in the most extreme situations. This assumes that a new first down gives the Florida offense an extra point over an average team in expected value and a 10 percentage point increase in the likelihood that they convert.
A punt is conceding any chance of scoring and an offense this good should not give up that right so easily. This is the basic philosophy behind the vaunted no punting HS coach in Arkansas. His team isn’t necessary good because he doesn’t punt. He doesn’t punt because his offense is good. Why waste another scoring opportunity?
Scenario 2: Going against a good defense
Playing against a good defense changes the dynamic extensively but it does not mean forgoing the fourth down attempt altogether. With a reduced likelihood of success on 4th down and a reduced payout if the conversion is successful, the 4th down attempt still is an optimal strategy more than is currently utilized. Even against a top national defense, you should still not punt in opponent territory. The field goal becomes a more viable option against the stronger defense and punting becomes a much better idea all the way out to midfield.
[Ed: I think this is moving towards correct strategy since it takes a caveman or a seriously long-yardage situation for someone to punt from inside the opponent's 40 these days. That range from midfield to the opponent 40 is a spot we might see move towards fourth-down aggression in the next few years.
Also note that coventional current strategy gets way less wrong once you ramp up the ability of the defense. If we jacked it up even farther, it might get to the point where punting from the 36 (or even on third down) is a good idea. The flaws in strategy here are leftovers from an era when punting was actually the best option. Thinking has not kept pace with scoring since.]
Scenarios 3/4: Good defense or opponent good offense
The conventional wisdom is that if you trust your defense, you don’t go for it on fourth down. [Ed: In my experience the conventional wisdom is remarkably malleable on this point. If you have a good D and the announcer agrees with the call, the good D will be cited as a reason why.] In reality, the strength of your own defense (or the strength of the opposing offense) is largely irrelevant to the decision. Fourth down decisions are all about offensive opportunity. A 4th down decision to punt is the decision to take the ball out of your offense’s hand, leaving the relative impacts on your defense to negate each other. A 4th down failure puts your defense in a worse situation, but it doesn’t guarantee points for the other team; a good defense is still a major asset in stopping or limiting the other team with good field position. A punt doesn’t guarantee that the other team is going to be stopped, but a good defense makes it more likely. In the end, it’s still all about the offense.
Objection 3: Does not account for game specific situations
This objection does ring true, but its application is much narrower than most people believe. The main flaw with the expected points model is that for most of the game all points are largely equal but at the end of the game, a field goal or even time can become crucially important. If a field goal can tie a game, take the lead, or move said lead from one possession to two (or vice-versa), the decision-making process suggested above can shift radically. This could mean punting near midfield to prevent a short field goal drive for the other team or taking a field goal instead going for it on fourth in field goal range.
These situations are rare, however, and only come into effect in the fourth quarter. When there are likely to be even 2-3 additional possessions, the expected points model still holds up.
Another potential game situation not accounted for above is the presence of a high quality field goal kicker. A very accurate field goal kicker will move the blue field goal “bubble” in the above charts down, making fields more practical in short yardage situations. An above average kicker from long range will move the bubble left. Even a great kicker won’t make kicking inside the 5 practical in very many situations.
Conclusion: In Which Romer Is Re-Iterated
Teams need to be using kickers and punters less and their offenses more. Especially teams with good offenses. If you have a good offense, bringing out the punter should only be done in long distance situations or when deep in your own territory. Scoring touchdowns is the valuable thing in football and giving away a quarter of your plays to kick on fourth down greatly reduces your ability to score them, the gain in field position from a punt is worth less than it is currently perceived to be and the idea that momentum is obtained from a quick change of possession is to be slight at best and most likely non-existent.
One final thought I haven’t been able to quantify yet: if you switch to a fourth down mindset, what opportunities does it open up in play calling during the first three downs of a series. Planning on four plays for a first down instead of three would surely have some value for an offense to adjust and re-optimize their play calling, and the total offensive value could become even greater.
Note: apparently Brian Burke at Advanced NFL Stats and I have been having some of the same offseason thoughts as he just put up another piece on 4th down decision making, and this after we both introduced similar defensive player evaluation metrics within a month of each other.
|Lauderdale Lakes, FL - 6'1" 175|
|Scout||4*, #19 S, #203 overall|
|Rivals||4*, #13 S, #162 overall|
|ESPN||5*, 85, #2 S, 12 overall|
|Others||#102 overall to TAKKLE.|
|Other Suitors||Florida, Florida State, Tennessee, USC, Miami|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Commitment post. Tom interviews Dorsey. Drew Sharp fiasco. Bogus JUCO journey?|
More, featuring actual things on the field:
There is also an ESPN interview in which Dorsey and another Gator commit talk up Florida. Oops. Surprisingly for such a touted recruit, there isn't much in the way of high school highlights lying around.
You've probably heard as much or more about Demar Dorsey than any Michigan recruit of recent vintage, but very little of it has been about his ability to, you know, play football. This post is going to assume you're aware of Dorsey's checkered past, the Detroit media's dogpile upon that checkered past, and the he's-going-to-JUCO-no-he-isn't-yes-he-is saga of about a month ago. There's a significant chance this is wasted effort—just today we got the news that there will be news on Dorsey in a few weeks— but the tabs are open so here we go.
Dorsey is kind of a big deal, having committed to Florida by March of 2009—just a month into the recruiting year. By that time he'd also picked up offers from Wisconsin, Miami, Florida State, and North Carolina. The Big Three instate by March is a level of interest in a Florida recruit Michigan has not seen in the Rich Rodriguez era. When Dorsey opened his recruitment up USC and Tennessee hopped in. Dorsey could have gone anywhere in the country.
Those offers were prompted by an incredibly FAKE 4.25 40 at the Under Armor combine he attended midway through his junior year. That 4.25 followed a 4.31. Even if fake, Dorsey's number was the best at a loaded combine and came with a 4.19 shuttle and 40-inch vertical leap. Remember those pictures of Denard Robinson housing fools en route to a 10.44 100 meters that he thought was disappointing? Yeah: that was big news in Florida because Robinson upset his cousin Dorsey. Dorsey was expected to be faster than Denard Robinson. This was because he'd previously busted out a 10.3 100.
Offers flowed like water, undeterred by the commitment. With good reason: it was so soft as to hardly exist, with Dorsey invariably claiming he was somewhere between 65 and 90 percent Gator whenever asked. After even more highly touted safety-type recruit Matt Elam completed his UF-FSU-UF oscillation Florida asked Dorsey to firm up his commit and cease visiting elsewhere. When he didn't, the parties parted ways. Just a couple weeks before that, Dorsey had been talking up Florida to recruits at the Under Armor game. I mean, seriously:
"It was a great day to be a Gator," said Fort Lauderdale Boyd Anderson cornerback Demar Dorsey, one of nine future UF players in the game. "If you weren't a Gator today, you were gator bait. We had interceptions, a couple forced fumbles, some touchdowns. We did a little bit of everything."
After an erroneous report Dorsey had committed to Florida State—check that: many persistent erroneous reports—Dorsey eventually picked Michigan on signing day at a press conference so long that it has taken its place in the hallowed land of Prime Recruitnik Intervention Material a mere three months after it transpired. His recruitment was strange, except it seems like there are four or five kids every year who have similar stories. It was in the genre of strange, then.
After all that, though, Dorsey doesn't check in as the world-destroying prospect you would expect… except on ESPN. Rivals and Scout both rank him in the 150-200-ish range. For comparison, that's where redshirt freshman DE and national non-story Anthony LaLota ended up last year. That's a good prospect who would look nice in just about anyone's class. It's not a ranking worthy of a ninja recruit who can cover three zones at the same time.
Twelfth overall is world-destroying, though, and that's where ESPN put him. Their rationale:
…has very good size and could even put on some bulk and not lose any of his speed or quickness. As a defensive back he is the entire package; a great blend of skill and natural talent. Very fast on run support with excellent closing speed. Gets to the ball carrier in a hurry and delivers the wood when he hits. Really explodes on contact and drives the legs throughout he tackle; really punishes the ball carrier. Changes directions fluidly and has loose hips to turn and run without a loss of speed. Displays leaping ability and goes up to high point the football and possesses soft and reliable hands in bringing it down. … Wins all the jump ball contests and is a real running threat to bring the ball back due to his speed and running abilities. Can play the strong and free position with equal talent but is a real intimidating force as a free safety where all of his talents can be utilized even though he can play man to man with the receiver in his zone. …an exceptional athlete that will be even more of a dynamic football player with some lower body bulk and strength.
Hello, nurse. Caveat: as mentioned, Dorsey tore up the turf at the UA combine and immediately agreed to play in the ESPN-sponsored UA game. The WWL has a tendency to puff up the prospects they get their claws on. Not to the extent where 12th nationally isn't worth a cocked eyebrow, but it's worth a mention.
Other sites agree with the bits about how he is a crazy athlete. Other than one negative assessment from Mike Farrell ("didn't separate well or show great ball skills… change of direction didn't scream cornerback") after Florida's Friday Night Lights camp, where he played receiver, it's all stuff like this:
The Florida Gators definitely got a freak athlete in Dorsey. He looks every bit of 6-1 and he is long, rangy and wiry strong. He is raw in coverage and he is not quite there yet as far as his technique and instincts but he has a ton of tools to work with. He is extremely quick twitch and he has phenomenal recovery speed and athleticism.
And this from Barton Simmons:
It's no secret that Dorsey has special speed and athleticism, but his skills translated very effectively to football ability. Though he wants to be a cornerback, safety is really the spot for him on defense. He has great range and has better than average mobility and fluidity. As a downhill player, he demonstrated some real physicality, providing probably the hit of the day from the safety position. Dorsey also lined up some on offense and he is extremely dangerous on that side of the ball as well. As a vertical threat he is a terrifying matchup.
As athletic as any player in the country with his combination of great size, frame, speed, and first step quickness. He's further ahead athletically than as a player. He can get caught turning the wrong way, has trouble getting off blocks, and is sloppy in his tackling form, but with the ball in his hands on returns and letting his instincts as an athlete takeover, he show’s that he’s special. Definition of an upside recruit.
Dorsey flashed the talents he has, but still could have had a bigger impact on the game. Two separate times he went over the top of a receiver streaking down the sidelines to help from his free safety position, had he undercut the receiver those two plays (like he did on the INT) he could have come up with another interception and a big time hit. Dorsey proved the tools are there, it is just a matter of refining them to become a great free safety.
You get the idea.
At Michigan (knock on wood), Dorsey will start at corner. He is fine with this:
"All the schools have said they want me to play on both sides of the ball," he said. "I think I can play any position in the defensive backfield. I can play receiver on the other side of the ball.
"Whatever the team needs is where I want to play," he added.
This makes sense in the context of Michigan's needs and Dorsey's immense physical talents: cornerback is equivalent of tailback on defense, a spot where a talented freshman can come in and play as a freshman. Michigan's seen Leon Hall, Donovan Warren, Charles Woodson, Marlin Jackson, and many others come in with little more than the ability to run ridiculously fast. All have survived, if not excelled. Safety is much more complicated and Michigan is determined to let the Cam Gordon Safety Explosion play out.
As for the academics, a January newspaper article published his ACT score (18) and bluntly stated he "will be qualified," but if Rich Rodriguez is publicly stating that there will be news in a few weeks that qualification remains something that happens in the future. The premium sites are at odds, with Rivals declaring there is very little chance Dorsey qualifies and Scout considerably less strident. They're not exactly brimming with confidence, though. If you put a gun to my head, I'd say Fort Scott CC fans are going to get more use out of this post than y'all. That is a prediction made of 100% speculation: please no panic.
Why Leon Hall? Because I can't compare him to a guy who's currently a sophomore quarterback, right? And I can't compare him to Charles Woodson, peace be upon him, because even if You May Remember Me From Such Players As is not supposed to be a prediction of overall talent there are some things not broached even when it comes to hypothetical playing style comparisons.
Hall, then: a four-star in about the same range as Dorsey on Scout and Rivals, Hall arrived at Michigan a fairly big corner—though he's not as tall as Dorsey—and broke into the starting lineup as a freshman, developed into an All Big Ten corner and Thorpe finalist, and then burned up the track at the NFL combine, laying down a 4.38 in the one environment where you can't yell FAKE. He's currently pretty good, yo.
Guru Reliability: High. Can't be very high because one service is wildly enthusiastic and the others are just plain ol' enthusiastic, but the disagreement is just about technique issues that should
General Excitement Level: Either ridiculously high or nothing. Someone get this man a Kaplan tutor stat.
Projection: If he gets to campus he'll be thrown in the secondary blender immediately and probably see time as a backup or in a nickel package depending on how good Cullen Christian is. Redshirt exceedingly unlikely. Will he get to campus? Ask again later. Actually, don't.
I know they're the Aztecs and it's the Mayans with the calendar and everything, but I still wish this game was scheduled for 2012:
The Wolverines are putting the finishing touches on a deal with San Diego State to round out their 2011 football schedule, sources said, and athletic director Dave Brandon said Monday he’s “having lots of conversations” about future years.
San Diego State is coached by Brady Hoke, a former Carr assistant who was briefly, terrifyingly on the radar during the coaching search and now returns for his ultimate revenge. Or, hopefully, a proper beating. One or the other.
Though "round out" is deployed above. Though Michigan hasn't officially announced any nonconference opponents for next year aside from Notre Dame, they will play Eastern and Western, completing a three tomato-can lineup yet again. Though Brandon makes some noises about doing that crazy Chick-Fil-A game in Atlanta, the next nonconference game against a BCS opponent not named Notre Dame will probably be Michigan's return game against UConn is in 2013. /shakes fist at college football.
Precedent. Matt Marc Precedent. So I'm idling along watching some Wolverine Historian videos, as I am wont to do from time to time, and am watching the '91 Notre Dame game. In it we may see a hint of what Michigan will do with the Terrencible Talbott brothers when they hit campus: Michigan had Marc and Matt Elliott on the team that year and just said "screw it, this will look ridiculous but the fans must be informed":
I look forward to "TERRENCE TALBOTT" stretching down to said Talbott's armpit. Should have named the bigger one Terrence. Also, check out this guy in the endzone when Desmond makes his famous diving fourth-and-one catch:
Numbers 0, Old-Timey Hockey Wisdom 0… But Driving. The NCAA hockey rules committee is thinking about dumping full facemasks in favor of half-shields. This would seem to be an obviously less safe setup unless you're a hockey coach, at which point you resort to the old canards about respect and people getting their sticks up and so forth and so on that are similar to the old-timey complaints about how dumping the two-line pass would somehow clog up the game. Both objections are so counterintuitive that they say more about the person offering the explanation than the rule in question.
I was thinking to myself "it's too bad no one's actually done a study about this" at the same time Western College Hockey was busy finding the studies people have actually done about this. Results:
CONCLUSIONS: The use of a full face shield compared with half face shield by intercollegiate ice hockey players significantly reduced the playing time lost because of concussion, suggesting that concussion severity may be reduced by the use of a full face shield.
Er… that would be the exact opposite finding, one echoed by a second study by the same U of Calgary team and a third by the Mayo Clinic. It is possible that college hockey is less likely to feature severe goonery, but that just blows up the lack of respect argument. Half-shields don't seem to prevent vicious hits that result in season-long suspensions and potential criminal charges. (Fight unsupported anecdotes with unsupported anecdotes, I always say.)
Even if the hockey committee recommends it it's hard to imagine anyone outside the community looking at the available evidence and approving the change. The NCAA is not going to make a pointless move that all available evidence suggests will see more athletes injured.
Q: why is anyone pushing for this change? The only rationale I can see is that it's a way to mitigate junior teams playing up their "NHL style" of play. Moving to half-shields would remove the primary visual differentiator between CHL and NCAA hockey.
Mott content explosion. The WTKA Mott-a-thon and the weekend's Brian Griese-sponsored Mott golf outing have collectively raised a ton of money for the children's hospital—maybe this year fewer than three bucket people will accost me before every hockey game*—and produced a flood of what passes for news in May.
Lloyd Carr on booing kids:
Carr has long held the stance that players should never be booed.
"We all love the University of Michigan and to me, that's where it begins and that's where it ends," Carr said. "I always felt that (in) college football, the players should be treated differently than they are in the NFL because they're going to school every day, they're trying to get degrees.
"Very few percentage-wise are going to play in the NFL. The criticism of the players, the pressure on the players has been dramatically increased because of the price of tickets, (and) all of the salaries we're able to provide coaches. All of that pressure is, I think, not a positive for the game. We have to rememvber, those are 18-, 19-, 20-to 21-year-old kids down there, and a lot of people don't want to hear it."
I hope you heard that, guy I threw an empty water bottle at after the Toledo game.
David Terrell sporting a the beginnings of a crazy Kimbo Slice beard (and Braylon Edwards not sporting a crazy Kimbo Slice beard):
David Brandon on his involvement with Michigan's recruiting:
"I love it. When I was here as a student-athlete, the coaches used me a lot. I love the place and I think I'm a pretty good sales guy, particularly when the product is great. And the product here is great. ... When I'm called upon, if I can convince student-athletes and/or their parents why this is a great place to come and be a part of this tradition, by God I'm going to do it."
Rodriguez on David Molk's status:
“I don’t know where he’s at running wise or anything like that, but I saw him the other day, he walked by the office, and he looks great,” Rodriguez said. “I think he was anxious to do more in the spring but obviously for precautionary reasons we held him out but I think he’ll be 100 percent certainly for August stuff.”
A. "I have only the vaguest recollection of what David Molk looks like since I haven't laid eyes on him since the Penn State game and will not see him until midway through the second quarter of the UConn game, but a complicated information relay involving at least sixteen different intermediaries who were in no way directed to discover information about Molk—one of them, in fact, is a Canadian—has, by happenstance, provided me a hazy outline of his recovery prognosis, which has a 10% chance of being extremely good and a 90% chance of being completely unknowable by me, Rich Rodriguez, for reasons of NCAA regulations and quantum."
A. "As you know, as the University of Michigan's head football coach I only take a minimal interest in the on-going progress of the football team, for reasons of NCAA violations, quantum, and AMC's Breaking Bad."
A. "Devin Gardner is somewhere between 4'1"" and 8'2". So rumor has it, at least. I have no direct knowledge of the situation."
*(Seriously. I just went past two bucket people, third bucket person. Whatever spare change I am going to put in a bucket has been spoken for.)
Another year, another home regional in which you are heavily favored. Michigan was given the #2 overall seed in the softball tournament—Alabama is #1—and will host a regional against Notre Dame, Wright State, and Illinois State this weekend. If you are wondering, yes, geography plays a major role in who goes where. Carol Hutchins:
“It’s why I coach because it makes you feel alive. It’s exciting, that’s what it is. It’s exciting.”
There's a joke in there somewhere, but I can't find it. Illinois and Ohio State are the only other Big Ten teams to make the field; neither are seeds.
Etc.: The Mountain West takes a concrete step towards inviting Boise State. This is happening.
Write a python script to parse mgoblog back unto the dawn on history, get a front page link even if you diss kicking the blog off with a "hello world" post. C syntax ENRAGE python user. Graagh. FYI: apparently about three million words have appeared in posts by yours truly. I won't say I wrote them all given the prevalence of blockquotes on the site, but I probably wrote half of them.
That just happened. Michigan wins the series 2-1 on the most stunning senior day in recent memory. This series has it all - A pitcher's duel, a stunning heart breaker, a come-from-behind win on senior day featuring the two co-captains completing a walk off. If you have ever been a baseball fan, this was the series for you.
W – Gerbe (2-0)… Save – Burgoon (9)
Game one was the pitchers' duel. Michigan managed the early lead thanks to a leadoff walk of Patrick Biondi. After going to third on a perfectly placed hit and run by Toth, going right through the hole vacated by the second baseman, LaMarre would knock him in on a would-be double play, but Northwestern's second baseman double clutched, giving LaMarre just enough time to beat out the throw. After Berset's single, Crank would line out deep to left, gaining an easy sacrifice fly, and Michigan led 2-0.
Alan Oaks was on the mound for Michigan and had a pretty good game. In his 6 innings of work, he gave up 7 hits and 3 runs. Two of those came in the form of solo home runs by Northwestern's third baseman Chris Lashmet. The third run also involved Lashmet. In the 6th, he would single and score on a Zach Morton double that screamed past a diving Lorenz and took a strange hop off the wall, evading Ryan LaMarre in left.
LaMarre would lead the response for Michigan, knocking a triple off the center field wall. This set up Chris Berset up for an easy RBI single.
Oaks would open the 7th with a hard hit double, and the bullpen would take over for Oaks after that, with the game tied at 3 a piece. Gerbe would give up a sac bunt to move the runner to third, but Mike Dufek made a great play on a slow roller by the next batter to gun the runner trying to score and preserve the tie.
In the bottom of the 7th, Biondi got the offense started on a two-out rally. His walk was followed by back-to-back singles by Toth and LaMarre to bring in a run. With the lead, 4-3, it was all Burgoon from here on out.
- The Pen – 3 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 1 K, W, Save
- Anthony Toth – 3/4
- Ryan LaMarre – 2/4, 2 R, 2 RBI, 3B
- Game Time: 2 hours 35 minutes
- Attendance: 1385
- Coley Crank – 0/3 RBI, 3 LOB, SACF
The rest of the series, including the THRILLING CONCLUSION, after the jump.
First things first, for those that were unable to catch them in the liveblog...
I don't want to turn this into a cliche "they said Michigan couldn't threepeat, and nobody outside of Ann Arbor wanted them to win"-type column, but it's the truth. Those who participated in Friday's liveblog got to see the groundswell of hate for Michigan. Opposing players and fans (and probably even coaches) resent Michigan's success, and they resent the support Michigan's program gets. What they don't think about is that Michigan Lacrosse earned this success, and earned the support that they receive from donors.
So maybe Michigan didn't face the same type of adversity as most teams at the MCLA Championships, but the pressure to repeat and being on the wrong side of popular rooting interest were obstacles of their own. Regardless of why it happened, only one team could walk away with the honor of being called "Champion." That team is the Michigan Wolverines.
Arizona State drew first blood, but just like the semifinal game against Chapman, Svet Tintchev wasn't going to let his team get into too deep a hole. Trevor Yealy and Jamison Goldberg also netted first-quarter goals for the Wolverines to go along with another Tintchev tally, but Arizona State notched four of their own for the 5-4 lead.
The second quarter was the difference. From David Reinhard winning the opening faceoff, Michigan dominated time of possession. They did not allow ASU to successfully clear their end of the field until 6:30 had elapsed in the second. Anthony Hrusovsky and Yealy scored Michigan goals; the Sun Devils only managed three shots. Michigan carried a 6-5 lead and the momentum into the locker room.
Just 16 seconds into the second half, Arizona State's Ryan Westfall assisted his brother Tyler, and the game was knotted up once more. Michigan regained the lead on a Yealy tally a minute later. Thomas Paras pushed it to two goals early in the third. WIth just over five minutes left in the quarter, David Rogers fed Clark McIntyre in front of the goal, and McIntyre scored on a beautiful turn-and-shoot to close out the third quarter. Score: 9-7 Michigan.
Reinhard won the opening faceoff of the fourth quarter, and Yealy rewarded his effort by giving Michigan a three-goal lead less than a minute into the fourth. The teams traded possessions (with Michigan's being much longer) until Arizona State's Eric Nelson again closed the gap to two. On the ensuing faceoff, ASU's Ian Anderson scooped up the ground ball, and after a short possession, Ryan Westfall again fed his brother Tyler, and suddenly, the game wasn't so comfortable for the Wolverines.
Matt Asperheim brought the lead back to two with just under seven minutes to go, as the long-stick midfielder's bouncing shot was partially blocked by ASU goalie Dylan Westfall but dribbled between his legs and over the goal line. Though Arizona State won the ensuing faceoff, they were whistled for an offside infraction. Josh Ein fed Clark McIntyre on a quick restart with the Arizona State defense sleeping.
12-9 Wolverines, but the three-goal lead didn't mean game over. The Sun Devils responded a couple minutes later on the extra-man offense to draw within two. Ryan Westfall scored with just 0:08 remaining on the clock. The ensuing faceoff was probably the most important one ever taken by either Arizona State's Kris Saunders or Michigan's Reinhard (though Rhino's taken quite a few other big ones). Reinhard won the draw, and Harry Freid tried to launch the ball down the field to kill the remainder of the clock. The ball went out of bounds, however, and although the clock showed all zeroes the refs determined that 1.5 seconds should be returned to ASU at midfield. The Sun Devil Hail Mary was wide of the net.
Michigan wins 12-11. National Champs.
(Svet Tintchev and Josh Ein pictured at right being all "What up, three in a row" thanks to Mike Brand)
With three consecutive National Championships, and just one game lost in three years (Michigan is 58-1 from 2008-10), the natural question is "where do we go from here?" Michigan, to the ire of every other team, has outgrown the MCLA. The situation has become Michigan v. The Field every year. It's obvious that the Wolverines' coaching, program, and system have set a new standard for club lacrosse, that no one will challenge any time soon.
So does Michigan's Athletic Department finally give this program a chance to compete against the nation's best on the varsity level? There are developments within both Michigan lacrosse and NCAA Division 1 that make it almost a now-or-never proposition for the Wolverines to have a successful transition to the varsity ranks.
First is the fact that Michigan risks stagnating or even regressing if there's nowhere to go but down. If there was competition for the National Championship every year, or if the Wolverines weren't going undefeated (or nearly so) every season, it would be a different story. Michigan's hunger has driven them to success over the past three seasons. Once that hunger is gone, what might happen?
The other development is the growth of Division 1 lacrosse in places other than the East Coast. Ohio State, Penn State, and Notre Dame are all traditional Michigan rivals. All three play varsity lacrosse. Within the past couple years, Michigan's first D-1 varsity program started up at University of Detroit. The University of Denver hired legendary Princeton coach Bill Tierney, and it's only a matter of time before there's championship-level lacrosse being played in the Mountain Time Zone. The window of opportunity is there now.
Do I think it will happen soon? I sure hope so. Those in and around the program are hopeful as well. There won't be immediate national championships. There will probably be more failure than anyone associated with the program is used to experiencing. But that's how growth happens. To show your support for a varsity promotion for Michigan lacrosse, comment here on mgoblog, and visit their website at mgobluelacrosse.com.