if you seek an image of the most Wisconsin OL ever, enter here
The NCAA today stunned Ohio State University’s football program by banning it from postseason play after the 2012 season, multiple sources told The Dispatch.
The penalty means Ohio State automatically is out of the running for any bowl, or a Big Ten or national championship next year, just as newly appointed head coach Urban Meyer is wooing recruits to the Buckeyes.
Athletic Director Gene Smith said previously that while Ohio State has been declared a repeat violator that failed to properly monitor its football program, a bowl ban would be out of line with penalties handed to universities with similar violations.
In its ruling to be made public this afternoon, the NCAA Committee of Infractions will levy the bowl ban and two other penalties on top of the ones the university already imposed on itself, the sources said. The NCAA will:
* Strip four more football scholarships over the next three years on top of Ohio State’s prior forfeiture of five scholarships over that span.
* Add an additional year of probation to OSU’s self-imposed two-year probation for the football program, meaning any violations through the 2013 season could draw harsher-than-normal penalties.
I still think it's weak—what happened to the NCAA's two-eyes-for-an-eye policy?—but it's certainly something, something that OSU insiders have been confidently proclaiming would not happen because they were listening to OSU's idiot athletic director. Who is an idiot.
"Stunned." Yeah, I bet you're stunned. The Ohio State athletic department is also stunned that OSU boosters would want to give free things to football players. Other things that stun the OSU AD:
- The sun rising in the morning.
- Malcolm Gladwell drawing grand conclusions from tenuously connected, dubiously supported facts.
- Troy Woolfolk getting injured.
Ohio State won't win the Big Ten next year, either, Urban Meyer has just lied to a bunch of kids, and they will have a roster maximum of 82 for the next few years. I still think that roster maximum should be something like 79, but it could have gone worse.
Hoke pointing + Denard smiling == Christmas
WARNING: Christmas is approaching. You may already know this.
Since no one's going to be on the site anyway, this is an opportunity for the blog to take a little time off. The blog will be mostly dark from Thursday, the 22nd, to Thursday, the 29th. That means I'm not writing anything. I'll pop on enough to bump any diary that seems interesting enough, and it's possible some of the regular contributors might post something.
I wouldn't count on it. It's just that I don't run their lives and they might feel compelled to post something about, say, Eastern Michigan's season. I know that would be weird. This place is weird.
If something major breaks we'll cover it, but nothing major ever breaks over Christmas.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who's contributed to the site over the year, especially those who do so out of the goodness of their heart and a craving for e-attention. Every football season I'm astounded at the quality of the user-generated content around these parts.
Six Zero, Boyz n da Pahokee, Maize_in_spartyland, Enjoy Life, Blue Seoul, AceUofMer, patstansik, Yesman2221, Eye of the Tiger, Ghost Of Bo, CRex, mfan_in_ohio, MaizeAndBlueWahoo, Lordfoul, ST3, mgoweather, LanyardProgram, chunkums, Chris of Dangerous Logic, that guy I photobombed who posted it on the message board, the hundreds of people I've undoubtedly forgotten in the diaries and the board, and even THE_KNOWLEDGE: thank you for helping this new media spectacularrr rumble along.
And most of all the moderators. Thank you, moderators. Without you, this place would be a desiccated horrorscape.
Anyway, content tomorrow and then the break. Merry holiday of choice.
JIM DELANY VS THE COLONIAL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION: FIGHT
Get the Picture unearths the reasons given by 100+ schools for overriding the $2k stipend recently adopted at the behest of the Big Ten and SEC. Two of them are BCS schools: Wake Forest and Rutgers. Rutgers manages to lose buckets of money, so that's obvious. Both schools bring up the Title IX implications as their reasoning, and even if I don't agree with how Title IX is implemented that's a federal mandate you can't get around. It's a legal concern.
Anyway, some of the reasons presented by smaller schools are valid:
The way this legislation was adopted was through channels intended for emergency or non-controversial issues. Neither applies in this case. [Miami (Not That Miami)]
Another reason for overriding this legislation should be the need to at least eliminate its application to FCS football. The football championship division exists because there are about 120 Division I institutions that sponsor football programs and choose to spend less on scholarships, coaching staffs, etc. than the Division I FBS members. Taking a stand against the Cost of Attendance, at least for FCS football, would be consistent with this philosophy. [Tennessee-Martin]
However, many are fist-shakingly cynical, totally oblivious, and/or as misspelled as this blog's "full cost of attedance [sic] scholarships" tag:
The insitution [sic] is not in a position to fund the additional costs associated with the miscellaneous expense. Many institutions are likely to be in the same position which would create a competitive advantage for those insitutions [sic] who had [sic] large budgets [Marshall]
Trying to legislate cost saving in other areas, while adding this potential hugh [sic] expense to institutions [Maryland-Baltimore County]
2011-96 provides an unfair disadvantage to smaller institutions that will struggle to find the funds necessary to provide the additional $2,000 to student-athletes. Some schools may only be able to provide these funds to their revenue producing sports by pulling money away from their other sports which could have a negative impact on the student-athletes involved in those sports. [Wright State]
"Unfair"? Unfair? IS THIS AMERICA OR NOT, YOU LILY-LIVERED PINKOS AT WRIGHT STATE? THIS IS CAPITALISM YO, SINK OR SWIM LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT.
We are a "have-not." This rule benefits the Division I "haves" and would widen the chasm between "BCS" schools and non BCS schools. [Southeastern Louisiana]
Southeastern Louisiana's 2010 athletic department budget shows about 2.5 million in actual money taken in*, almost half of which consists of NCAA distributions from basketball tournament revenue and guarantee games from bigger schools. They should take their 1.1 million a year and say "yes, sir" if they want to keep up the fiction they are capable of competing as a Division I school.
*[They claim 10m in revenues with 6.9 million of that "direct institutional support" and 660k in "indirect facilities and administrative support." Also who knows what the 260k listed as "other" consists of.]
The Board of Directors passed this legislation that will cost 75% of the membership millions of dollars they don’t have. In addition to the obvious costs there are gender-equity implications of this initiative that make the costs even higher. It's not realistic to maintain that this legislation is permissive and not acknowledge the costs it will create because of competitive equity. [Tennessee-Martin]
In 2006, Tennessee-Martin's annual budget for men's basketball was $134,264, 331st of 331 teams then competing in D-I. (Since then 14 additional schools have decided to add basketball programs.) They are making same argument NBA owners make when they demand CBAs that prevent them from throwing outrageous contracts at bad players.
And then there's this from Tennessee Tech:
I want to share a very supportive and knowledgeable university professor's view of this change in legislation. He writes "Perhaps my biggest grievance is the apparent insensitivity and bad timing involved. It seems most dubious to give some student athletes what amounts to "tattoo money" at a time when far too many others are unable to put food on the table, and the institutions themselves are almost all facing choices among various undesirable options.
I'm not sure whether to high five the guy for calling the stipend "tattoo money" or mock this tweed-jacket-with-elbow-patch-wearing pipe smoker for deploying "most dubious" and expecting people to take him seriously. We are not contemplating an invasion of the Hottentots. Your diction is invalid.
I've apparently gone with the mocking option. In retrospect, it was inevitable.
BONUS: A number of overrides have been submitted for the next proposal, 2011-97, which allows institutions to offer scholarships longer than a year. It's like Boise State just came to this planet:
When you combine 2001-97 [multi-year offers] with 2001-96 [FCOA] it creates a culture of brokering. For a prospective student-athlete, the decision as to where to attend college and participate in athletics is most likely the biggest decision they will make at that point in their lives. That tough decision becomes more complicated when the student and his/her family have to factor in what school "offers the best deal" versus where they may want to attend if all offers were for one year without the enticement of 2,000. [Boise State]
I don't even know where to start with this being portrayed as a negative. A "culture of brokering" sounds a lot like "the exact goal of the legislation."
The current system works. We don't need to get into bidding wars where one school offers a $75% for 2 years and the other school then offers 85% for 3, etc., etc. This puts the kid into a situation where they almost need an agent/advisor just to determine the best "deal." Again, if it isn't broke, don't fix it. [Indiana State]
The person who does this for Indiana State watches ice skating exhibitions on Saturdays instead of football. ISU also submitted overrides for every proposal that attempted to increase academic standards.
BTW, Rutgers also objects to this proposal making me think ill of their athletic department. Utah is the only other BCS school to submit an override (because the "Student-Athlete advisory council" is against it since "they feel it locks student-athletes in," which it doesn't, and "eliminates the potential for other athletes to receive aid," which it does by increasing degree completion rates).
With only 48 overrides in for 2011-97, it looks like multi-year grants will pass even if they open the schools up to a horrifying world wherein they have to compete in one of those market things. Commies.
For those tracking Denard's passing acumen the tale has been one of major progression before 2010, followed by regression in 2011 followed by re-progression as he a.) grew more comfortable in Borges's offense, b.) played more out of the shotgun, and c.) gave his staph infection time to heal.
If you were reading the weekly previews this season you would have noticed the space for Michigan's passing game was consistently fretting about Robinson's accuracy. This would be followed by a game with some flash of the laser precision he seemed to possess at times in 2010, followed by a bomb that overshot Hemingway/Roundtree by 20 yards. This was our concern. The more intelligent announcers talked about where his shoulders and toes were at their release, and Borges pressers reiterated the footwork theory.
Then sometime around Purdue-Iowa-Illinois, said all, 2010 Denard worked his way back. I'd like to use this space to test if that was really the case.
The Hennechart you know (screens and Snackycakes have been removed):
|2009||2009, All Of It||1||7||4||2||4||4||-||-||?||44%|
That's lots of numbers. The easy metric to break these down metric is Brian's Downfield Success Rating at the far right. That's Dead-Ons and Catchables divided by all the rest (marginals are excised). But a few years ago, while trying to get a handle on what we had in Forcier, a few users thought to visualize this. I try that now with Denard's career:
I centered in the middle of the marginals to show how good the very goods were and how bad the very bads got. You kind of have to look hard to see it, but there is a regression apparent. Denard seemed to level off in the Big Ten season last year to a good chunk of accurate balls, one or two bad reads, and as many inaccurate as were dead on. For a good part of this year it was that one temptress of a perfectly thrown ball, one to five bad reads, and almost as many balls to Tacopants as the vicinity of his receivers. By Ohio State, on pure downfield success rating, it was just outside the UFR-era hall of fame (on many fewer attempts):
FTR by this metric, the Michigan State game this year is 3rd all time in the hall of shame, better only than Sheridan in the Badge of Fandom Endurance game vs. Northwestern, and Threet versus Purdue. Sheridan being on both lists was one (happy) fluke between games his coaches hardly let him throw more than a screen for fear of triggering an early duck season. 2011 Denard's is the opposite: one bad game amidst a bunch that range between mediocre and okay. His games aren't in the Junior Henne/Early Forcier range; they are about on par with Big Ten Forcier as a freshman, and he's better than freshman Mallett. This is without the legs.
There was also wide variance in number of throws, partly due to game-planning, but also having a lot to do with Borges leaning somewhat more on the running game when Michigan led. Look at the paucity of passes for Michigan against Purdue and Illinois, versus huge stacks for MSU (look at their pressure metric!) and Iowa. The percentages chart below can adjust for that a bit:
Click it to embiggen. I took out a few more bad defenses to make that one if you're wondering why fewer bars. Also those marks are the rankings by FEI of that opponent's pass defense—the worst pass defense would be at the very bottom, the best at the very top. Take with a huge grain of salt since FEI's weird this year. (No way Iowa and Purdue have the same secondary, nor do I believe either are 40 spots worse than Minnesota). Anyway it shows the metric is at least defense-independent.
This one has the story we've been telling: 2010 was fairly static, while 2011 was a dropoff followed by progression in the new offense (and a stinker in a trash tornado in the middle). Denard also maybe scrambled a bit more at the end of the season (the white bars). Overall you'd almost expect the two years to be flipped, with the hard learning and scrambling a sophomore campaign and the leveling off near the peak of the previous year the work of an upperclassman. If you consider time in the system, it's more like the work of a redshirt freshman followed by a true freshman.
The reads are another thing that fixed over time (Nebraska's weekly BR looks bigger in a small sample). The % of bad reads this year all told took a rather scary dip from pushing Sr. Henne to Threet-ish:
I'm ready to believe this was related to the footwork thing. If the staph infection affected him, it couldn't be more than the beating he took last year blamed for the perceived reduction in Big Ten play. There is evidence of greater pressure—the 7 categorized "PR" in the MSU game is one fewer than Brian gave for all of 2010—and all that.
How much this regression "hurt" Michigan this season can be overstated. Using all plays charted in UFR, Denard averaged 6.93 yards per play, as opposed to the 7.25 yards per play in 2010. That's not about bad defenses; against real opponents Denard's 6.55 YPA is better than his 6.30 in 2010. This is a result of the long passes against Notre Dame (10.09 YPP – which is ridiculous), but if we normalize every play longer than that to a cap of 20 yards, this is what he looks like per passing attempt (2010 schedule futzed with to match comparable games):
|Notre Dame||6.00||Notre Dame||7.77|
|Penn State||6.29||SD State||5.88|
|Michigan State||6.10||Michigan State||3.17|
|Ohio State||???||Ohio State||7.35|
Including only non-theoretical defenses (No FCS, EMU, BG, Indiana, WMU, NW), and again, counting everything over 20 yards as 20, Denard was getting 6.47 yards per attempt last year, and got 5.96 per passing attempt this year. That's still good. And it's a good bet, with a second year fusing with Mr. Borges, the performance level he got back to from Iowa through Nebraska is conceivable for the bowl game and beyond. If he can somehow sustain what he did against Ohio State he would be inconceivable.
So I downloaded and scouted VT's game against Duke. Literally everybody I've told this has laughed about the depth of my obsession, but there are good reasons for this. They are:
- Duke runs a spread offense and even brings in an underclass athletic QB type from time to time, so this was a rare opportunity to see VT operate against a zone read.
- The game finished 14-10. How does a team only score 14 on Duke? \
- I could be reasonably assured this content would not overlap with that of BWS or Ace.
- Hey, man, ACC Network action. Can't pass that up.
I have completed this process and will now go through a series of bullet points organized into offense and defense; this is not a FFFF so a more formal treatment of what Virginia Tech does will have to wait for that.
Apologies in advance for the video quality; ACC cappers are not up to the high standards of MGoVideo. Also, this game was originally broadcast in something called "standard definition" because the ACC Network is actually run out of Estonia.
QB Logan Thomas: legs. Thomas is a tank engine, more in the Tebow (huge and slow) mold than Denard (small and fast) or Cam Newton (huge and fast). His advantage in the run game comes when he can thunder straight ahead, which came on an assortment of inverted veers. This is one half of the Logan Thomas run game:
That sort of bulldozer running has the potential to neutralize Michigan's excellent third and short defense. If you don't have to move off the line of scrimmage to get a 6'6", 250 pound guy moving forward, a yard seems assured.
On the other hand, he's no Denard in space. This scramble picks up a decent chunk of yards but just lacks… oomph. This is against Duke, mind you, and Thomas seems plain slow:
While that tank thing still sees him pick up nine yards it's hard to imagine him getting any more than nine. Later in the game he'd break outside the pocket and lumber for the same nine yards John Navarre would have gotten in that situation. He's not a Miller-like threat.
Excise sacks and Thomas has 500 or so yards at 4.3 YPC. He's someone you have to account for on the ground, but he's not going to blow up for 100 yards in the Sugar.
QB Logan Thomas: arm. After watching Posey run circles around the Michigan secondary, Thomas's primary asset—an excellent deep ball—is a worrying one.
But wait, there's more, in the form of a 60-yarder to Danny Coale that hits his WR in stride.
We'll see if his uncanny accuracy over the top was a one-game phenomenon or a consistent thing as more games are added to the dossier. Extremely rough survey says: somewhere in between. Thomas averaged 7.7 YPA this year, which is above average but not spectacular. And Virginia Tech's schedule was not a high mountain—if you think the Big Ten was bad this year (and it was), the ACC was probably worse and VT's toughest nonconference opponent was East Carolina. East Carolina is trying to get fans to buy "virtual bowl" tickets, which are like real bowl tickets except there's no football game and the school selling them actually ends up making money. So… yeah. Not a tough schedule.
Anyway, if Thomas's distressing tendency to drop inch-perfect balls over the top of the secondary is stressing you out, this should help things:
He also forces things into places they cannot go, and does so without any semblance of a rush in his face. This shouldn't be overstated. Thomas had just 9 interceptions on the season. Sometimes, though, he unleashes the dragon.
RB David Wilson. Scary dude. There is no obvious analogue that pops to mind, but if you're thinking Anthony Thomas or Chris Perry you're as close as Michigan backs can come. Perry's probably the best comparison since Wilson has better balance than Thomas. He's also got a wicked stiffarm.
Those quick cuts that juke charging defenders are a regular occurrence, and you can see the size/speed combo that Thomas lacks. He'll be a load on a few plays where he bursts into the secondary. Concede his 120 yards and hope it doesn't hit 150 and it takes 30 carries to get there.
Offensive line. I just don't know about these guys. On the one hand, Duke rarely got a pass rusher within ten feet of Thomas. On the other, Duke's defensive line seemed to hold up pretty well. After running up a bunch of yards but not many points in the first half, VT got stoned more often than not in the second half.
On this play Duke's DE dives inside and gets pancaked by the tackle because he is a Duke DE and not very good; also I think the VT tackles may be solid. A big play threatens after Thomas cuts past a contain guy, but watch the backside guard give a ton of room, allowing the backside DT to run down the line and ankle tackle:
That would have me throwing a –2 at that G, and this was not an isolated incident. They couldn't convert a third and short to save their lives in the second half.
As for the pass rush, yes, "just Duke" caveats apply. VT is heavily run slanted (59%) as well. Still, they gave up only 15 sacks on the year. I did not look at this game in sufficient detail to say exactly why that's the case because the just Duke effect is at its strongest here—they're 93rd in sacks and 110th in TFLs. But to hazard a guess I'd say the tackles are good pass protectors and that's enough when you're rarely giving anyone else reason to believe you'll pass.
Receiving corps. I did not get much of a vibe in this game. A half dozen or more of Thomas's attempts were screens (frequently bubbles) and underneath stuff was usually swarmed. Danny Coale* got open deep for the 60-yard bomb linked above and then disappeared; Jarrett Boykin the 32-yard reception and then averaged 6 yards a catch on five others because they were mostly screens and dink hitches. I plead not enough data.
One guy who did make an impression was TE/H-back Chris Drager, a James-Rogers-like vagabond who bounced to defense and back over the course of his career. He was no backup, though. Drager started all but one game last year at DE. By all rights this should have been a signal of disaster but Drager has amazingly good hands for a guy who spent the last two years playing D. He made a few tough catches; he'll be a priority when VT is trying to move the chains on third and medium.
VT's backup tight end is a mess.
This may be useful in third and not-sneakable and goal line situations.
*[Who VT folk say will be punting(!) in the Sugar Bowl due to a dearth of other options.]
Keys for Michigan
Get to Thomas. Durrr QB pressure good. Yes. This is analysis just one step above the "score more points" school of Keys to Victory.
Three things make it better here. Thomas is not that mobile and if flushed out of the pocket is going to get some number of yards under ten unless something seriously wrong has gone down. He has a long, long delivery, which makes that window when he's made up his mind and has the ball in a dangerous position invitingly open. The Bank of Logan Thomas's Chest has extended hours for helmet deposits. And if Thomas is left alone to survey deep, the results will be not so good.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to mobile QBs: contain (think Iowa vs M) and attack (think MSU). Thomas is a guy to attack. The consequences of providing a running lane are less scary than those of providing time to survey and the chances of success are relatively higher.
Exploit the interior OL. I am of the opinion they kind of suck. When VT sprung a big play it was usually on the linebackers and secondary being slow or befuddled; several times Duke players made block-beating plays to hold down Wilson runs.
Have a centerfielder. You have to see if you can defend the VT run game straight up because you probably can, and then you have to take away that deep middle stuff Thomas can nail. I don't know if this is Woolfolk or Gordon after what we saw against Ohio State—but it's probably Gordon.
Gratuitous Appreciation of Duke Safety
That is all. I just wanted more than six people to see that.
Nothing is more frustrating for a football fan (especially a math/logic centered one) than to see coaches blow basic strategy elements to the game, many of which are black and white. I can be forgiving on a lot. As a 100-and-nothing-pound Mathlete growing up, I knew I wouldn’t do any better out there on the field but I knew a lot of times I could do better at some of the basic decision making and strategy. Coaches learn a lot about football as they progress through careers, but game-theory type strategy seems to be a common blind spot for many coaches to gain the hidden advantage. Luckily Michigan has a coach that had a pretty sharp first year in this regard, hopefully all the other Zookers out there don’t read this (yeah right) and catch up.
Some of what follows will be backed with hard data from my database, other will be solid and based on strong logic without play data backing (I don’t track timeouts in my database) and some will be things unprovable but backed by 30 years of watching the game from a different vantage point.
Issue 1: How to use your timeouts when you are trailing
Always take your timeouts on defense if there are less than 2-3 minutes left, you are trailing and the opponent is running out the full play clock.
Announcers always like to have have those final timeouts in your pocket for that last drive or to get the kicker out there one last time. Although that is a good to have, saving the time up front is a much better option for end game strategy. If your opponent is working to run out the clock, every timeout you take saves you about 38 seconds. On offense, if you have a reasonably efficient 2 minute offense, each timeout is probably worth 10-15 seconds. One timeout on defense is as valuable as 2-3 on offense. The other advantage you have on offense is you are in control of the play, you can restrict your plays to passing, sidelines and first down distance plays that assist in stopping the clock.
A final note on defensive timeouts, never take them immediately after the offense gains a first down. The clock stops to reset the ball and you will have three more opportunities to stop it later. Taking it after the first down is good for about 25 seconds, waiting will give you nearly 15 seconds more savings.
Issue 2: Should you ever use them when you are ahead
If the opponent is in the red zone pressing for a tying or go-ahead score, don’t be afraid to use your timeouts to ensure a chance to retake the lead.
Once the opponent is inside the 20 (and definitely inside the 10) in the final two minutes, losing the lead is a near certainty (especially if a field goal will do the job). If the opponent is drained or nearly drained of timeouts, all the better for you to use yours. They won’t be able to stop you from taking a knee if you do get a stop and you will have more time to come back if they do score on you.
The flip side is also true. Even if you are trailing but driving, if the opponent is already in a position to run out the clock if you are stopped, first priority is obviously scoring, but second should be not rushing to be faster because the goal is to make your drive the last drive. If it fails the game is over either way, if it succeeds you want to minimize the opponent's chance to score. Even if you started as a two-minute offense, if you get to the red zone fast enough it can make sense to slow down a bit. It will likely be your last possession no matter what, any time you are saving is for them and not you.
Note, this situation also applies to a tie game.
Issue 3: How to use your timeouts when you are tied
Tread lightly after first and second down but pull the trigger fast after third down.
As Bret Bielema and Bob Stoops found out this year, you have to be very careful on this one. Taking one after first down is the riskiest. At least Bielema took his with a Sparty offense facing a 2nd and 20. With two more plays left a lot can happen, unless the opponent is backed up deep in their own territory, it’s best to not get greedy after first down.
After second down can still be a bit risky, but at this point you have a much better idea on what the opponent is faced with and what their strategy is. The worse shape and more conservative the opponent is, the more a timeout makes sense.
After third down in a tied game is usually a straightforward decision. Unless their is a chance the other team will attempt a fourth down conversion, use the timeout right away, it’s your last chance to maximize the value of that timeout.
Issue 4: How soon can you take a knee and run out the clock?
Depends on your opponent timeouts,
0 left: 2 minutes and 6 seconds
1 left: 1 minute and 24
2 left: 46 seconds
3 left: 8 seconds
If there are a couple more seconds than this it gets dicey. If you lead by more than 2 points, you can always have your quarterback sprint backwards and run around to burn some time and take a safety if need be.
2 Point Conversions
Rule #1 of 2 point conversions is don’t even think about them until the fourth quarter. No exceptions. Do not chase points, there is too much variability left in the game to give up a point to get to a “nice number” or even worse to “get back” a point from a missed/blocked/botched PAT. Just don’t do it.
Two point conversion rates are hard to get a true number on. The best numbers I can get is somewhere between 40-45% success. This is backed by a limited sample on actual two point conversions and verified by 43% success on 3rd or 4th and goal from the 3.
Situations to go for 2 any time in the fourth quarter (margin before TD is scored):
Down 22: Prior to scoring this you were down 22, 3 touchdown, and 4 PAT points. That can come as 1/1/2 or 0/2/2. Going for two here is the only way to get even but still leave the door open. Make it and its 14, miss and it’s still a two possession game.
Down 15: In the fourth quarter possessions are limited. Forcing the decision early gives you the information on whether its a one or two possession game. Waiting till the second TD can leave you with a false sense that you are playing a one possession game when you have a less than 50% of hitting the 2 point conversion and may be out of time. Going for it after the first score allows you to make more educated timeout, on-side and fourth down decisions. Waiting may make you feel better about it still be a one possession game, but as Brian has said, it’s only a 40% chance of being a one possession game.
Down 14: This is the genius one. Fail and you still have a chance to get it back on the second TD, just as if you kicked it like a risk-averse NFL coach. But if you make it, you are not playing for overtime but the win. Depending on the 2 point conversion odds, this increases your chances of winning by 10-30% (not percentage points, you were down 2 TD in the fourth quarter, your odds are never great). At a 43% success rate this strategy is a 14% improvement of odds. With a good offense at 50% conversion you jump all the way to 29% improvement by going for 2 on the first TD.
Only if there are 2 or fewer possessions left for each team
Down 8, Down 5, Down 1 and Up 6: Same as above, with 3+ possessions left this is probably a no go but with a possession or two each to go. It’s now a one possession game and with very many possessions left there is too much that can happen to risk giving up the point too early.
Only if your opponent has one possession left
Down 2: You hear there’s no difference between 4 and 6 but there is if there are multiple possessions left. Field goals can really mess with this situation; take the point unless the opponent only has one shot left, in which case you might get a little insurance for a missed PAT if you can make yours. Even in this situation I don’t condone going for 2 when you were down 12 to make the deficit 4 or 6. Chances are your opponent is going to be conservative and a field goal is probably the best case scenario for them. Don’t let a FG end your game with an unnecessary risk.
Wanted to break things up a with a little Mgoblog favorite, a chart.
Outcomes from first possession of overtime period.
|Outcome||Win||Loss||Another OT||Win Odds|
|Fail to score||0||32||3||5%|
|Touchdown + PAT||33||4||31||73%|
This data comes from every overtime period from 2007-2011. What you don’t see here is the strong preference this overtime method has for winning the coin flip. There is a lot of talk about the NFL and its 59-60% advantage for the coin flip winner, but in college the coin flip winner holds a solid 56% advantage for getting to go second and knowing what you have to do.
A touchdown on the first possession puts you in great shape. A field goal attempt is OK if necessary, but you better be confident you can make it. Although there is obviously a greater chance of winning with a TD versus a field goal, the odds don’t support a highly aggressive fourth down strategy, especially inside the 10. Even though the temptation is higher close to the goal line, for most teams going for it on 4th and 1 or 2 make sense. Anything beyond that and the best bet is to give the ball to the kicker. Now a great offense or questionable kicking game quickly changes the calculus, but in close, the odds say kick it. Where it is a bit more interesting is on the first set of downs in the game. The odds actually favor a more aggressive 4th down strategy on 4 and 5 or less from the 16-20 on the first set of downs. At this range most college kickers are good but far from automatic; an aggressive play here can pay out.
Another hotly debated overtime question is going for 2 to win after the other team has scored and kicked. 10 out of 44 teams faced with this proposition have gone for it, their record is 4-6, about in line with the 40-45% 2 point conversion expectation. This would seem like a losing proposition but at 45% the odds would be in line with the chances in the next OT since you have to be on offense first. Not really a clear cut answer here, but either way can be justified and the presence of a great offense from either team can quickly make the decision to go for 2 a good one.
Surprise On-Sides Kicks
Do them more.
OK you need more than that? Advanced NFL stats ran the numbers for the NFL and found that success rates for onside kicks are 20% when expected and 60% when not expected. I found a similar spread for college. Out of 663 expected onside kicks in my database, 23% were recovered by the kicking team. Only 146 (about 1 per week) surprise onsides where tried but 64% of those were recovered. The break-even success rate needed for a surprise onside kick is 46%, the market for surprise on-side kicks is definitely undervalued.
Punting In Opponent Territory
One of the many reasons that punting in opponent territory is dumb is that it is usually couched on the assumption that “we’ll pin them deep.” There are two key problems with this assumption. The first is that 36% of punts from opponent territory result in a touchback or never reach the 20, and that’s before any returns are factored in. The second is that it’s pretty tough to actually down it close to the end zone, and unless you are at the 1 or 2, there is no special advantage.
As discussed previously, it is in an offense’s best interest to go super conservative at the 1 or 2. Outside of that it is nearly business as usual. There is only an 8% chance a punt from the opponent's territory is downed at the 1 or 2. It’s over four times more likely to not even pin an opponent inside the 20 than it is to force the offense’s hand by pinning them at the 1 or 2 yard line.
Another problem with an opponent territory punt is that it’s tough to get an even exchange. Punting into the short side of the field limits the best case scenario and assuming you can force a punt from the opponent, gives them a lot of positive variance opportunity. A long bounce going in brings the ball out to the 20, a long bounce kicking out can quickly turn into a 60-yard punt and a total flip of field position.
And of course, you give up a great scoring opportunity punting in opponent territory.
Red Zone Play-Calling
On a first down Red Zone play, teams are more likely to score if it’s a run than a pass if they are at the 8 yard line or closer. Anything between the 9 and the 20 favors a pass on first down. That doesn’t mean that 100% pass is the optimal strategy, just that the play calling should favor the pass (or run inside the 9). For goal to go situations after first down, second down is the ultimate OC’s choice. From anywhere 10 and in on second and goal running and passing have nearly identical touchdown percents. On third and goal, the run still holds up strongly. A called run is more likely to score a TD on anything from the 6 and in than a pass, which owns 7 and up. Again, not saying the strategy should be 100%, but there is real value to favoring the run inside the 7.
Never take a touchback on a kickoff you don’t have to. The expected starting field position on a return from 9 yards deep is still the 21, plus the opportunity for a big play easily offsets the times when you start from the 10-15, which isn’t a big cost for the opportunity.
In a trash tornado game, the biggest value for the wind goes to the team that has it in the first and third quarters, not the fourth. When the wind is strong it usually takes a possession or two for the field position to level back out. Those possessions occur at the beginning of the 2nd and 4th quarters, essentially giving the team with early field position the wind for about 2/3 of the game.
No numbers on this one but unless it's fourth down, stretching out the football is an extremely dumb move. At the goal line you can make a case for it if its 2nd or 3rd down, but there are very few situations where an incremental yard (nearly worthless) can be offset by the fumble risk of stretching the ball out.
Anything I may have missed here that you want to see, hit me up on twitter or in the comments and I’ll find a spot to address in a future article. I intentionally skipped fourth down decision making for this article. It’s too big of a topic. I previously wrote about it here and have an update to the article coming sometime this offseason.
May your holidays be filled with surprise on-side kicks, fourth down attempts and three wise timeouts.