So there's this.
Attached is a picture I took at the game. I'm sure you've seen people wearing Tacopants jerseys before, but thought it was apropos per Denard's 3 INTs.
I'm not sure what's weirder: that there is an extant "Tacopants" jersey or the guy who emailed it to me thinks I've seen people—multiple people!—wearing them before.
I wonder why the Tacopants jersey guy picked 12. If I was going to create a Tacopants jersey he'd probably be 11 (his height in feet) or 8 (he's Jason Avant's imaginary friend) or 8i (obvious, probably not available). 12 seems random. I guess we are talking about a guy wearing a Tacopants jersey. Random is his middle name. Jason Random Tacopants.
Tacopants man! Explain your decision-making process!
The internets have been all "lolzook" this week after the Illini's esteemed coach decided to go for 2 after scoring to take a 20-13 lead, then told a reporter in the postgame presser that they had a 5-point lead when asked to explain his decision. I'm not trying to push back on the lolzook, because obviously, but the situation brought to mind a piece of anti-CW Game Theory I've always held, although without a single shred of evidence to back me up. Maybe you can draw upon your vast resources to look into this so that next time I bring this up while watching a game with somebody, they won't look at me like I'm Ron Zook at that postgame presser.
Now, to be clear, in the Ill-Ind game, I'd have kicked the extra point there. With that much time left, you maximize expected value.
BUT, if it were the 2nd half with the same situation (scoring 6 to go up 7), I believe that the correct Game Theory move is to go for 2. With possessions limited, the opportunity to make it a 2 score game far outweighs the advantage you gain by forcing a 2-point conversion, rather than an extra point, to tie.
Additionally, if you miss the conversion, and if the opposing team comes back to score, the opposing coach will virtually always elect to kick the extra point to send the game to overtime rather than go for 2, and the win, in regulation. In essence, with a standard-issue coach on the other sideline, the worst-case scenario in the "go-for-2" situation (miss conversion, opposing team scores, and kicks the extra point for a tie) is exactly the same as the worst-case scenario in the "take-the-point" situation (make the kick, opposing team scores and makes the 2-pointer to tie). But, the upside to going for 2 in that situation is significantly greater.
I'm interested to know what you think. I have a similarly insane Game Theory belief about going for 2 when you score to go from down 14 to down 8, but I'll save that for another day.
Brian in Charlottesville
I don't think I agree. In the event of going for two:
Tie: 1 - P(you2)
Going for one:
Win: 1 - P(them2)
With 2PT%s generally under 50% it doesn't seem like the right move. You want the burden of making the two pointer to fall on the opponent.
Also, as the team with the upper hand I also think you want the information about whether the two-pointer is successful to remain unknown. If you get it you've changed the opponent's calculus about how to win by collapsing the waveform. Armed with more perfect knowledge of their situation they will press forward knowing they are down two scores. The temptation to think "we're just one score down" when they are actually 1.6 scores down is strong. It causes a lot of lackadaisical behavior you do not see in teams down two scores late, which you like. So don't accidentally make the opponent play better.
If you pick up a penalty or are Wisconsin or have a gotcha two-pointer or are in a game that's going to end 58-51 the probabilities could swing in favor of going for it yourself; in an average situation leave it to the opponent. As always, context matters.
As for your "insane" theory you should go for it when you score to draw within eight, that is never going to happen in a game but has already been discussed by stat nerd types. This piece even uses the 2005 Notre Dame game as an example:
On September 10th, 2005, the University of Michigan football team was trailing by 14 points when they scored a touchdown with 3:47 left in their game against Notre Dame. Their coach decided to kick an extra point to get within seven points. Even though this strategy is followed in the NCAA and the NFL almost without exception, it is, in general, incorrect. In this paper I will show that the correct strategy in this situation is to immediately attempt the two-point conversion.
This is because you can make your choice about the second two-point conversion with the knowledge about whether the first one succeeded. So your chances, assuming that the 43% number given in the article is correct:
TIE: 57% * 43% = 24.5%
LOSE: 57% * 57% = 32.5%
By adopting that strategy you shift your chance of winning should you come back from the two TD deficit from 50-50 to about 55-45. They use a lot more detailed numbers to reach that conclusion but that's it in a nutshell.
A much better strategy is not be down 14 points.
On the armpit jerseys never dying.
Any thoughts or ideas as to why the defensive linemen switched to the road jerseys of the RR regime in the second half with the yellow piping? Also, Denard was wearing that one of those jerseys on the last drive. I like the look of this year's road jerseys without the yellow piping but wondering if if it is a fit or comfort issue although this year's home jerseys looked like they have the same fit with the wide, open arm-pit area.
Let's let another emailer answer this for me:
You've probably observed the same, but there are issues with the new Adidas techfits. I've seen them getting ripped to shreds at various points this season, and so you have guys like rvb, martin, roh, switch to last year's model in previous games. They were presumably asked to wear the new ones tonight given the more drastic change in appearance with elimination of the thick yellow piping. However, we've already seen rvb change back anyway despite the old piping.
I wouldn't normally care about this except for fact that underlying issue appears to be their tendency to be grabbed in a game-impacting way. Even fitz changed to the old jersey last game against Minn after being dragged down by the new techfit variety. We've seen the same thing happen to denard, although he hasn't switched. This is more annoying than anything else, especially to see potential big(ger) gains get stopped shorter than they should because some defender who was beat desperately was able to get a few fingers on some cloth.
We have seen a lot of guys dragged down by the jersey this year, haven't we? Could the Nike zealots have a point all of a sudden?
On OSU timelines.
I’m writing because I am a little confused about the status of the Ohio State Investigation. I understand the NCAA came out with some findings earlier this year, but is that it? Are there still ongoing investigations? When will the findings/punishment be released?
OSU has proposed (laughable) self-sanctions at this point and had their meeting with the NCAA; they are now waiting for the final word. The comparable moment in the stretching Jihad is the middle of last season for Michigan, when they'd proposed and implemented the practice time penalties. Three months later the NCAA slapped on a token extra year of probation and issued their final report. OSU is in that period now.
Their ongoing issues with Posey, et al., complicate things. The NCAA is supposed to get back in 90 days—which would have been in the next few weeks—but has notified OSU that even more cripplingly obvious evidence the Buckeyes lack institutional control will have to be considered and then ignored.
So we just don't know, dude. Hopefully the new information pushes the decision date past the end of the season, just in case the NCAA decides to toss a bowl ban out. I'm actually surprised Gene Smith didn't announce one after the Nebraska game, because there's nothing the OSU athletic department loves more than brazenly late, transparently insincere actions designed to piss off the nation.
On instant replay ritual.
I'm noticing more and more people are saying that when referees say: "The ruling on the field is confirmed" versus saying: "The ruling on the field stands as called", that they mean two different things, as if there's a level of indisputability that you need to "confirm" a call. I think that it's just two equal ways of saying that there wasn't enough indisputable evidence to overturn.
Can you clarify?
They do mean two different things now. The "ruling is confirmed" means the replay official agrees with the call and "the ruling stands" means he just doesn't know, dude. This doesn't prevent replay officials from being violently wrong all the time, as they were when they did not overturn the Hawthorne interception, and still declaring the ruling "confirmed." This is because replay officials are crazy old Estonian men who have never seen football before in their lives.
About Last Saturday:
Michigan 42, Northwestern 24
I wasn't there. Wah wah.
The Road Ahead:
Michigan State (4-1, 1-0 B1G)
Last Game: Bye
Recap: They didn’t play, but I’m going to write mean things about them anyway.
Right now they are as frightening as: Jerel Worthy’s tattoo.
It’s big. It’s ugly. It’s under the skin. It’s going to be there forever. On the other hand, a closer look reveals something misguided about the sense of superiority it portrays. It ends up being actually kind of funny, and years later, whenever the Big Ten becomes a superconference and lets Missouri into the club, it’ll finally make sense.
Oh yeah, about their football team: Objectively, they’re probably around a 6. Personally, they got up to somewhere near an 8 when I watched Michigan’s first half vs. Northwestern and dropped down to a 4 when I watched the second half.
Michigan should worry about: Denard vs. interceptions. The ineffectiveness of the ground game against Northwestern was a bad sign because against Michigan State it’s going to be worse. Denard is going to have to throw it, and I’m going to end up really sick from stress-eating all the press box food. I hope there are meatballs.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Brady Hoke, on Michigan State’s offensive line:
Well, they’re big, which is the normal case.
To their credit, Michigan State does have solid-to-stellar players at QB, RB, and WR, but having a talented 7-on-7 squad doesn’t mean much when the other team puts 11 guys on the field.
When Michigan plays them: This is going to be one of those games where the score will be 14-10 after the first quarter and 14-10 at the end of the third quarter. It’s going to be terrible. Halfway into the second quarter I’m going to start annoying the person sitting next to me with compulsive commentary, especially if Ace isn’t going to East Lansing. He just told me he’s not going. Okay well that sucks. Apologies in advance to whoever ends up sitting next to me.
Michigan wins if they can get to Cousins early and often, especially if they can accomplish that with just a four-man rush.
Next game: No. 11 Missouri Raccoons.
(more after the jump.)
This week’s take on the week that was, and the week to come.
Charting Michigan’s odds of winning throughout Saturday’s game: Brief bumps around the two first half TD’s and then a big climb throughout the third quarter.
Best Three Plays:
1. Denard to Roundtree for 57 yards, 16%
2. Hawthorne intercepts Persa, 14%
3. Kovacs shuts the door on the fourth down option, 13%
Worst Three Plays:
1. Denard Interception #1, –13%
2. Denard Interception #2, –11%
3. Denard Interception #3, –10%
So the three first half picks were the three most damaging plays of the day for Michigan, and Denard only had one play in the top 3. At the end of the day he still ended up +65%!
For the season, Denard’s Win Percentage Added stands at +265%. Each team starts at 50% so they have added 50% per game times 6 games is 300% added. The defense, special teams and non-Denard offensive players have accounted for a total of 35%. Denard’s number is far and away the top in the country so far. Second is Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas at +177%. Russell Wilson is next behind him at +158%.
Rush offense: –1, equal to ND for worst opponent adjusted performance of the season
Pass offense: +12, best of the season (Michigan’s best two games have both come despite 3 interceptions)
Rush defense: –3, worst performance of the season
Pass defense: +1, worst performance of the season
Special Teams: –2, 4th best of the season
Field Position: A rare win for Michigan, picking up a 23-22 win in expected points based on drive starts.
Denard was +12 (+10 passing, +2 rushing), second to ND on the season
Michael Shaw: +2
Vincent Smith: –1
Fitzgerald Toussaint: –5
(Expected value of offensives formations and more after the jump)
File photo by Tim. Because today was a hat day.
Did you have to make significant adjustments at halftime, or was it more just settling down and refocusing? “Well, yeah, there’s some adjustments. There’s always some adjustments. But I think for the most part in the second half we kind of stuck with the plan, we just didn’t turn the ball over. That’s really the difference. When we didn’t turn the ball over, we were much better. Everybody is. That’s not news. We did a couple things differently, but I think sometimes halftime adjustments can be a little bit overrated. Sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re critical.”
Denard said he was just too excited on some of his throws. How much of an issue is that for him in that kind of environment? “Yeah, that can happen to any quarterback. He’s not the first guy to have that happen to him. He was fired up. He’s coming off a really good game, and he really wanted to show up and kind of pick up where he left off. Eventually he did. Early on, when he had a little bit of early trouble getting into rhythm. Once he did, he was really good. We just have to limit our mistakes to incomplete passes. Because incomplete passes -- you can recover from incomplete passes. But when you turn the ball over that hurts a bit more. He knew every time the mistake he made. We went over the tape and doggone it we beat it up one side and down the other. I think he’s getting better. He really is. Other than the turnovers, but in terms of his passing, and his fundamentals were improving. Hence his numbers were gradually going up a little bit.”
(a lot more after the jump.)
We complete our Pulling Mike Schofield trilogy with a reason he may have been so eager to get outside on the play action Tacopants interception: he spent the week getting coached up on getting outside.
You might remember last week's complaining about rollouts that only seemed to get Denard pressured. Borges attributed some of this to "protection." Those issues were on the pulling guard, who twice saw two opponents coming up at Denard, slowed up in a moment of indecision, and blocked no one. Once this was Schofield; once it was Omameh. Schofield's moment of indecision:
Denard had to pull up; he threw off his back foot and the ball sailed over Koger's head.
One week later Michigan went easy on the rollouts so those edge guys aren't so eager to get outside. Their first of the game came deep into Michigan's second drive. Hopkins picked up a questionable holding call on first down and Gallon got eight of that back on a throwback screen, setting up second and twelve from the Northwestern 44.
Michigan comes out with two TEs again, this time in a balanced formation. Northwestern undershifts their line and leaves a strongside linebacker to the outside.
Michigan runs a play action with a mesh point and Schofield pulling across the formation.
By the time the mesh passes, ludicrously aggressive Northwestern linebackers are ludicrously aggressive. The MLB threatens to shoot up in the gap to the outside as Denard pulls.
This time instead of being hesitant, Schofield deepens his pull:
He's moving away from the LOS, and he's not worried about anyone except the backside DE. As Denard sprints out to the corner he makes contact…
And seals the guy. Linebackers can blitz all they want now.
They aren't catching Denard.
He would pick up eight yards before running out of bounds; three plays later Schofield zoomed outside on the Tacopants INT.
This is a bit easier for Schofield. On the Minnesota play there is a second guy scraping to the outside who he has to deal with. Here the outside guy is the outside guy and that is that.
This is still an obvious coaching point for the week. Schofield is headed hell or high water for the corner, not paying attention to anything that may show inside of him and focused on getting that outside guy sealed. As soon as that guy declares himself the contain man Schofield is directed to lock in and get outside of him.
I would not be surprised if the obvious coaching point was in some way responsible for Schofield getting too far outside on the Tacopants INT. It's a play action pass on which he is pulling a week after having the thing that happened against Minnesota happened—negative reinforcement—and three plays after the above play happened—positive reinforcement.
Schofield's in a tough spot as the designated backup at every position except center. He should be the top backup tackle, full stop, and only pull rarely (to date tackles only pull on some outside power plays and the sprint counter). Instead he's starting at guard and having a lot of very complicated things to do on a regular basis.
It's interesting that Michigan chose to pull him over and over despite his relative inexperience. Have they lost faith in Omameh's pulling to the point where they won't run behind Lewan, the most grinding of their OL? Is it because Denard is more of a threat rolling out to his right? Something in Northwestern's defense? I don't know.
This is a pretty impressive drop from Northwestern's #51. On the video it's clear he's steaming towards the LOS, reads what's going on, and drops into Koger's route. Without that Robinson can toss it to him for what looks like a certain first down.
When Michigan can manage this seal good things will happen. I'm not sure they'll be able to consistently. When they can Denard on the edge with receivers is going to equal big gains. The problem with the rollouts against Minnesota was they never got that edge.
That seems like something a defender can force by getting upfield far enough that he won't be sealed. Shooting the gap between a guy maintaining leverage and pressure from the inside is a potential sack. So you have to have something in your arsenal that makes the guy think twice. Not sure what that is; maybe Borges does.
[ED: We're planning a two-parter here, with shorter answers to specific questions posed by commenters in part II. To start it seemed like a good idea to get the background on how this thing came about. Bacon is everything that is not in bold.
*cough* if you are planning on buying the thing you can support the site by purchasing Three and Out through MGoBlog affiliate linkage *cough*]
Most of the “What the hell just happened?” questions I’ll leave for the book, which many of you will likely be reading yourselves in a few weeks. Here, I’m trying to give you information to understand how this book came to be and what I tried to do, not all of which you can find in the book.
So let's talk about how this book came about. You had total unfettered access to Rich Rodriguez? How does that come about? Why would anyone agree to such a thing? What was his motivation?
This book came about largely by dumb luck. With my degree in history (“pre-unemployment”) in my pocket, I got my first job out of Michigan teaching U.S. history and coaching hockey at Culver Academies in Indiana. One of my best students, Greg Farrall, went on to become an All-Big Ten defensive end, and then a successful financial adviser.
We’ve stayed in touch, and in early 2008, he asked for some signed copies of Bo's Lasting Lessons, including one for his former coach at Indiana, Bill Mallory, and another to his boss at the time, Mike Wilcox—who just happened to be Rich Rodriguez’s financial adviser. In fact, when Rodriguez first met with Bill Martin and Mary Sue Coleman in December 2007, they did so at Wilcox’s Toledo office.
One thing led to another, and in July 2008 Wilcox asked me if I’d be interested in getting complete access to Rodriguez’s first Michigan team. I thought about it for a week or so, before concluding I’d be crazy not to jump at this chance.
Rodriguez’s motivation, I believe, was pretty straightforward: by July 2008, he had already been hammered by the press in Morgantown and Michigan, and probably figured he didn’t have much to lose. As he joked at the time, “Charles Manson is also from West Virginia, and right now he’s more popular than I am.” I think he also believed he didn’t have anything to hide, either. So he was willing to take his chances on a guy he’d never met tagging along to tell the story.
The original plan was simply to write about the spread offense coming to one of the country’s most conservative programs and publish a series of stories to a national magazine, in the hope of turning them into a book coauthored by Rodriguez, similar to the one I wrote with Bo Schembechler in 2007. But after the team finished 3-9, however, it was obvious the story was far from over, and that I’d need to write it myself. I was looking at sunk cost. If I bailed then, I’d have nothing to show for it. But if I came back for another year, I might have a great story to tell. That same reasoning held after the second season, too. To Rodriguez’s credit, he didn’t flinch.
We had a short legal agreement that gave him the right to read the final manuscript and comment on factual accuracy, but gave me the right to ignore anything and everything he suggested. The final product is mine, and mine alone, and does not have his approval.
I secured a book contract with a great publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, which eschews sports writers for high brow authors like Ian Frazier, Jonathan Franzen and Jeffrey Eugenides. I felt lucky then, and I still do. They gave me an advance roughly equivalent to a year’s salary. The catch is, of course, the book required three years working full-time, so I’ve spent my life savings to get this done. When I read a few folks online posit that I’m simply out to make a quick buck, I enjoyed a good chuckle. It’s hard to imagine any buck being slower or smaller to make, with no guarantee of critical or commercial success. The book business is notoriously fickle.
I didn’t put one thing in this book just to sell copies. I did not dump my notebook on anyone, providing enough information to make a point and then move on. I kept out more than a few salacious details because they were not sufficiently sourced or they were not relevant to the main questions, and felt like cheap shots.
Likewise, if I was pursuing my own self-interest, the most obvious approach would be to put all the blame on Rodriguez, who is gone and cannot do anything to help me I can think of, and none on Michigan, where I was born, earned two degrees and continue teaching, among other lifelong connections. As I’m sure you know by now, I didn’t do that, either – but if I was trying to please Rodriguez, I can tell you I clearly fell short on that score, too. He has flaws and he made mistakes, and they’re in the book, too.
I realized pretty early in the process that trying to play politics with this would be almost impossible – and probably backfire in any case. So, I settled on the single, simple goal of getting as close to the truth as I possibly could. How close I came will surely be debated in the weeks and months to come, but that was my singular mission, no matter what it costs me.
[Ed: John is too nice to say this but the above section is likely in reference to Michael Rosenberg claiming that he is "misrepresented" in the book because Bacon needs to paint a widely-reviled coach who bombed out in three years as a victim.]
While the target moved a few times, as described above, when I sat down to write the final version from January to July of 2011, I was not setting out to write a “whodunit,” but as accurate a picture as possible of what it’s really like to be a college football player and coach. And not just for any team: the most stable and successful program in college football, which happened to be going through the three most tumultuous years in its long and enviable history. My reporting includes plenty of inside information on the drama constantly swirling around Schembechler Hall during that time, but if this book is going to have any lasting value I believe it will be because it’s the most intimate picture of college football players and coaches any writer has ever been allowed to paint.
Although some readers will surely debate this, I was not out to take sides. That doesn’t mean everyone comes out equally well, any more than a fair referee can ensure both teams will be penalized equally. But I sincerely tried to call everything as fairly as I could and let the readers sort the information for themselves.
Some have suggested that I must have had an axe to grind with Bill Martin, Coach Carr, Dave Brandon and others. Not true. The first two spoke to my classes several times, and I’ve extolled the good work of all three men in numerous pieces – including an ultimately flattering story on Dave Brandon in Bo's Lasting Lessons, and another on Coach Carr’s body of work, on and off the field, after his team lost to Appalachian State. When I won Michigan’s Golden Apple Award in March 2009, I hoped to ask Coach Carr to introduce me, but he was out of town. He said, however, that he would have been happy to do so, and I believe him. I’m also confident, having seen him speak many times on his dual passions for Mott Hospital and education, he would have done a great job.
That’s why, when I started hearing some surprising claims about the Michigan football family, I did not take them seriously. Most of those stories proved to be unfounded, but not all. When I returned to those sources, confirmed their stories, and connected the dots – to the degree I could -- I was stunned. I took no pleasure in these discoveries, nor in reporting them. As I told my first audience for this book in Chicago last week, researching and writing Bo's Lasting Lessons was a labor of love. Three and Out was labor.
I have tried to report unflinchingly on Rodriguez’s flaws and mistakes, but most people already know those—including his historically horrendous defense, his press conference gaffes, and his denouement at the final Football Bust. Michigan’s mistakes were private. Thus when you read them, the latter will likely be more surprising and make a bigger impression.
To produce this book, I started by filling two-dozen two-sided notebooks, eight bankers’ boxes worth of documents, and taking more than 10,000 pages of single-spaced notes from observing 37 games, hundreds of practices and meetings, and interviewing several hundred people. That effort created over 2,000 pages of copy, which we had to slash to the 438 pages that comprise the final manuscript.
All that cutting forced me to drop all photos and an epigraph from Oscar Wilde that I believe neatly sums up the entire three years: “The truth is rarely pure, and never simple.”
That’s exactly what I found in the bizarre dysfunction of the past three seasons. I did not encounter any angels, but I did not discover any devils, either. Almost everyone involved made some mistakes – most unintended, some not – but everyone in these pages had redemptive qualities, often quite remarkable ones. People, it turns out, are complicated.
The book, therefore, is not presented as an argument for this side or that. The reviews we’ve gotten so far (here on MGoBlog, on The Wolverine and on amazon.com) seem to indicate it’s being received in that spirit. “The author,” Publisher’s Weekly writes, “doesn’t shirk from acknowledging Rodriguez’s shortcomings as a coach or discussing the players’ disappointing performances.”
The readers, of course, will come to their own conclusions. And, knowing the wide range of independent-minded Michigan alums and fans, I’m sure those conclusions will run the gamut. But before we get too far down the scorekeeping path, I want to say that while that’s surely a reader’s right, it was not the author’s aim.
How close I came to achieving my goal of producing a fair-minded depiction of a marriage seemingly made in heaven that quickly ended in a disastrous divorce—with the best and worst of college football surrounding it—you can decide for yourself.
-John U. Bacon
p.s. Since folks have asked, I will give the first local book talk and signing at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor on Friday, October 28. I will be updating my schedule on my website very soon (johnubacon.com).