at least it's not just us?
A very observant MGoUser (I can’t remember who it was though) mentioned in a thread about the Sugar Bowl Jerseys that ALL of Michigan’s athletics jerseys now sport a Block M, across all sports. This wasn’t always the case. The Block M just found its way onto the “normal” home and away football jerseys this year (on the neck)
Not just with Football Jerseys, we’ve seen Block Ms appearing all over campus like never before. No longer is the “split M”
Acceptable, at this point, it’s Block M or Bust.
Old Scoreboard front:
Old Yost Scoreboard:
Now this isn’t a rant, and I’m not trying to criticize Michigan for the proliferation of the Block M. In fact, Michigan is just following current marketing and branding trends. All over the corporate world the trend is towards the simple. Get rid of words, use symbols, and use them everywhere. Simplicity is king.
A few examples of the corporate world:
Michigan is just following industry trends at this point with the Block M. One simple symbol. Everywhere. Get used to seeing this, it’s not going anywhere.
“The Game” has come and gone, the good guys prevailed, and our collective mindset has mostly reoriented to the future, as visions of Sugar Bowls dance in our heads. So is there any reason to rehash the already much-debated issue of the Toussaint Touchdown Takeaway?
Of course there is, because such things live on in Michigan lore forever and sometimes, you have to beat a dead horse just for the sheer fun of it. Besides, I had an unsatisfied curiosity combined with some unaccustomed free time, so I set about to try to resolve the controversy once and for all.
This analysis may not appeal to you unless you are almost equal parts Michigan football fanatic and geometry geek, but in the end, I believe there is an important point to be made here. To discover my purpose, you will have to read on (or cheat and jump to the end).
The Evidence Speaks to Us
I start with Exhibit A below, a camera view that seems to suggest that Fitz planted his knee with the ball just short of the goal line. Almost certainly, it was this view that convinced the replay official to reverse the call on the field and overturn the touchdown. The shot appears to have been taken by a crane-mounted camera hovering about 10 feet in the air just beyond the goal line. It is not an ideal angle from which to make a definitive call. The knee may or may not be in contact with the ground and the relative position of the ball is distorted slightly by the angle. (Note: for formatting reasons, I am including scaled down versions of these screen shots; full resolution captures were used for the actual analysis. Click the photos for larger versions).
I use Exhibit A not to attempt to resolve the issue at hand, but to call attention to the item highlighted in magenta. There is a cameraman clearly visible in the shot and it is his footage that will provide the basis for further analysis. We don’t know his name (Abe Zapruder?), but we have a very good idea of the physical position of his camera. The dashed boundary line he is standing very close to runs 12 feet outside the sideline. By analyzing statistical data on the average height of college cheerleaders, we can fairly accurately estimate the center of the lens to be 5’ 4” off the ground. I estimate his standing position to be 11 feet east of the side line and 2.5 feet south of the goal line. These estimates probably place the camera position reliably within an error sphere less than 1 foot in radius. This is important as we move forward with the analysis.
Let us move on to Exhibit B, which was definitively taken before Toussaint’s knee fell to earth, and Exhibit C, a shot in which he is definitely down. The time interval between these two shots is presumably 1/60th of a second, given the parameters of 720p HD video. I will focus my attention on Exhibit C.
The time has come to let mathematics work its wonderful magic. Again, the viewing angle is not perfect, but because we were able to accurately determine the viewing position of the source camera, some surprisingly precise calculations are possible.
The dimensions and positions of the gridiron lines and hash marks are well known and presumably accurate. The only thing I am not quite sure of is the crown of the playing surface, which appears to be about 6-9 inches at midfield.
This allowed me to create a three-dimensional computer model of the playing surface and made it possible to determine the orientation of the camera (azimuth, elevation, zoom, and tilt) by matching the grid lines appearing within the frame with that of the rendered computer model.
Knowing this, we can now focus on the position of the ball within the frame. A more closely-cropped view is presented in Exhibit D. The projection of the ball in the frame spans about 40 pixels. Therefore we can determine its position within the 2 dimensional space of the video frame to an accuracy of about a quarter of an inch.
The real world has the inconvenient habit of being three-dimensional, so there is one additional parameter required to ascertain the position of the ball relative to the plane of the goal line. This would be the distance from the camera to the ball, or alternatively, the perpendicular distance from the near (Zapruder) sideline to the ball. By examining other angles from the game video and observing grid lines, hash marks, and end zone lettering, this can be determined to be about 90 feet, plus or minus 2 feet.
The final calculation will be slightly sensitive to this distance, so I went ahead and determined the corresponding position of the ball over a range of two foot intervals between 88 and 92 foot distant from the sideline. The plot below (Exhibit E) shows a top down projection of the ball’s position relative to the goal line over the range of possible values. Due to the near perpendicular viewing angle from just off the goal line, the error contribution from this uncertainty is quite small (.3 inches per foot of error) and yet this is the largest source of potential error. Any imprecision in establishing camera position is largely cancelled by adjusting angles to precisely overlay grid line positions within the frame. I won’t bury you with an avalanche of error sensitivity equations; suffice it to say that I am confident that the final estimate of ball position relative to the goal line is accurate to within half an inch.
Based on the best estimate of distance from the sideline (center ball), the results sadly report that Toussaint is holding the ball 2.5 inches short of the goal line with his knee clearly down. So, technically, the officials got the call right. Did the replay official have irrefutable evidence to overturn the call? Of course not! The ball was just inches from the goal line and he did not have the resources to make a definitive determination.
The play was so close that it was not humanly possible for an official on the field to make the call with complete certainty. The difference between touchdown and being down short of the goal line was a matter of inches and hundredths of a second. While the determination was ultimately correct, I think we can also safely claim that the replay official overstepped his authority by reversing the call on the field, based on the “irrefutable evidence” criterion and the limited technology available to him.
But my real point in all of this is to call attention to the fact that making an accurate determination is possible and current technology could accomplish this in real time, using techniques very similar to those employed to superimpose the first down line over the playing field, or track pitch trajectories in a baseball game. There is no need to put sensors in the ball or anything like that and accuracy within a fraction of an inch can be achieved. Higher frame rates and faster shutter speeds (super slow motion) improve the accuracy further.Multiple camera angles help as well. Cameras already have sensors to report their positions and orientations. I am calling on companies like SportVision that do enhanced sports graphics to develop the software to provide accurate ball positioning information to the fans and, dare I say, to the replay officials so that in the future, key plays like this can be accurately adjudicated.
THE KNOWLEDGE has soared all season long and basked in glory as every single "prediction" save one came true. it is now time for some of the followers of THE KNOWLEDGE to have their moment in the sun
as the end of year approaches, THE KNOWLEDGE would like to celebrate the holidays by awarding the TOP FRIEND award and the winner of THE QUESTION posed at the beginning of the season
The inaugural TOP FRIEND OF THE KNOWLEDGE is
Jim Harbaugh Scramble
mighty congratulations to JHS, who shall henceforth be referred to as THE TOP FRIEND on these very pages.
he has achieved the highest honor and greatest accolade awarded on this blog
the winner of the QUESTION (# bowl game suspensions for the Columbus Cheaters) is Trebor
congratulations to this person as well
unfortunately, the award of CO-SOARER of THE KNOWLEDGE is not claimed this year, as no one correctly guessed the MNC game participants
THE KNOWLEDGE shall soon make a posting on the review of the Sugar Bowl game (pointer: Michigan will win). In the new year, the first part of THE PROFILE will be revealed, followed by a look into Michigan's future - 2012 and beyond
Readers from last week will recall I was in Curacao. I visited Aruba, as well. If you ever get the chance to visit Aruba, do it. There are two casinos within walking distance of port, including one having a sportsbook, in Oranjestad (Seaport Casino).
For those of you keeping track, MAC teams are 2-0 in bowl games (Temple and Ohio University). Sun Belt teams are 1-0 (Louisiana-Lafayette). WAC teams are 0-1 (Utah State) and Mountain West teams are 0-2 (Wyoming and San Diego State). The Mountain West Conference should get off the schneid this week, with TCU and Boise State playing this week, two of their best teams.
During the regular season, the Upset Watch reviewed picks from the previous week, noted the bad picks, and pointed out a few games to give the underdog some credit in, even if it was only in Vegas. It also looked at one or two sure-fire favorites (two when Michigan wasn’t playing).
Because this is the bowl season (and our last hurrah for the 2011-2012 regular season), we’ll cover each of the bowl games, splitting them up by week.
Be sure to check out my website, Before Visiting the Sportsbook, throughout the week, for more content.
Temple (9-4) -6.0 Wyoming (8-5). Result: Temple 37 Wyoming 15 [Props to Trebor, Maize and Blue in OH, sammylittle for correctly predicting Temple would cover].
Ohio University (10-4) +3.0 Utah State (7-6). Result: Ohio University 24 Utah State 23 [Props to Trebor, jamiemac, sammylittle for correctly predicting Ohio University would cover].
San Diego State (8-5) -4.5 Louisiana-Lafayette (8-5). Result: Louisiana-Lafayette 32 San Diego State 30.
Only three bowl games will take place between now and the next Upset Watch, which will be on December 20th (we’ll have six bowls on the next Watch). Temple earned an at-large selection to the New Mexico Bowl (since the PAC-12 didn’t fill their bowl allotment) to face the #4 selection from the Mountain West #4, Wyoming, on Saturday (2:00 PM EST/ESPN). The Idaho Bowl will pair Ohio University, the #3 selection from the MAC, against Utah State, the #2 selection from the WAC (5:30 PM EST/ESPN). The final game on Saturday is in New Orleans, with San Diego State, an at large selection since Conference USA did not fill their bowl allotment, against Louisiana-Lafayette, the top choice from the Sun Belt (9:00 PM EST/ESPN).
Marshall (6-6) +5.0 Florida International (8-4) (@ St. Petersburg, FL). The Golden Panthers are 80th in total offense (70th rushing, 69th passing); Marshall is 101st (92nd rushing, 74th passing). Florida International is 33rd in total defense (23rd rushing, 64th passing); the Thundering Herd are 86th (61st rushing, 100th passing). These teams have not met before. Marshall is 6-2 all time in bowl games (4-1 SU in last 5; 4-1 ATS in last 5; 3-1 ATS underdog in last 5). Florida International is 1-0 all time in bowl games (0-0 ATS favorite). Marshall Coach Doc Holliday is 11-13 (11-12-1 ATS, 7-7-1 ATS as an underdog); Florida International Coach Mario Cristobal is 24-37 (31-30 ATS, 11-12 ATS as a favorite). Florida International is 3-5 ATS as a favorite this year (6-6 overall ATS); Marshall is 5-3 ATS as an underdog this year (7-5 overall ATS). Florida International’s last bowl game was the 2010 Little Caesars Bowl, a 34-32 win over Toledo; Marshall’s last bowl game was the 2009 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, a 21-17 win over Ohio University. Take Marshall with the points.
TCU (10-2) -9.5 Louisiana Tech (8-4) (@ San Diego, CA). The Horned Frogs are 28th in total offense (20th rushing, 60th passing); Louisiana Tech is 50th (70th rushing, 45th passing). TCU is 32nd in total defense (29th rushing, 56th passing); the Bulldogs are 55th (25th rushing, 96th passing). These teams have not met before. TCU is 12-14-1 all time in bowl games (4-1 SU in last 5; 2-3 ATS in last 5; 2-3 ATS as a favorite in last 5). Louisiana Tech is 2-2-1 all time in bowl games (2-1 ATS; 1-1 ATS as an underdog). TCU Coach Gary Patterson is 108-30 (70-58-5 ATS, 51-42-3 ATS favorite); Louisiana Tech Coach Sonny Dykes is 5-7 (5-7 ATS, 3-4 ATS underdog). TCU is 4-6-1 ATS as a favorite this year (5-6-1 overall ATS); Louisiana Tech is 6-0 ATS as an underdog this year (10-2 overall ATS). Louisiana Tech’s last bowl game was the 2008 Independence Bowl, a 17-10 win over Northern Illinois; TCU’s last bowl game was the 2010 Rose Bowl, a 21-19 win over Wisconsin. Take TCU to cover the points.
Boise State (11-1) -13.5 Arizona State (6-6) (@ Las Vegas, NV). The Sun Devils are 26th in total offense (78th rushing, 11th passing); Boise State is 9th (40th rushing, 10th passing). Arizona State is 88th in total defense (59th rushing, 107th passing); the Broncos are 16th (22nd rushing, 25th passing). Arizona State leads the series 1-0, with a 56-7 victory over Boise State in 1996. Boise State is 7-4 all time in bowl games (3-2 SU in last 5; 4-1 ATS in last 5; 1-1 ATS as a favorite in last 5). Arizona State is 12-11-1 all time in bowl games (2-3 SU in last 5; 2-3 ATS in last 5; 2-2 ATS as an underdog in last 5). Arizona State Coach Dennis Erickson is 42-43 (41-37-2 ATS, 19-19-2 ATS underdog) since 2001; Boise State Coach Chris Petersen is 72-6 (43-31 ATS, 36-29 ATS favorite). Boise State is 4-8 ATS as a favorite this year (4-8 overall ATS); Arizona State is 3-7 ATS as an underdog this year (4-8 overall ATS). Arizona State’s last bowl game was the 2007 Holiday Bowl, a 52-34 loss to Texas; Boise State’s last bowl game was the 2010 Las Vegas Bowl, a 26-3 win over Utah. Take Boise State to cover the points.
Southern Miss (11-2) -5.5 Nevada (7-5) (@ Honolulu, HI). The Wolfpack are 5th in total offense (8th rushing, 30th passing); Southern Miss is 13th (23rd rushing, 73rd passing). Nevada is 52nd in total defense (56th rushing, 63rd passing); the Golden Eagles are 31st (20th rushing, 69th passing). Southern Miss leads the series 2-0, with a 55-28 victory over Nevada in 1998 and a 35-19 victory in 1997. Southern Miss is 9-10 all time in bowl games (2-3 SU in last 5; 3-2 ATS in last 5; 1-1 ATS as a favorite in last 5). Nevada is 4-7 all time in bowl games (1-4 SU in last 5; 1-4 ATS in last 5; 1-1 ATS as an underdog in last 5). Nevada Coach Chris Ault is 63-39 (61-48 ATS, 14-19 ATS underdog) since 2004; Southern Miss Coach Larry Fedora is 33-19 (27-23 ATS, 19-16 ATS favorite). Southern Miss 5-5 ATS as a favorite this year (8-5 overall ATS); Nevada is 2-1 ATS as an underdog this year (5-7 overall ATS). Southern Miss’s last bowl game was the 2010 Beef ‘O’ Brady Bowl, a 31-28 loss to Louisville; Nevada’s last bowl game was the 2010 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, a 20-13 win over Boston College. Take Southern Miss to cover the points.
Missouri (7-5) -3.5 North Carolina (7-5) (@ Shreveport, LA). The Tigers are 12th in total offense (11th rushing, 57th passing); North Carolina is 52nd (72nd rushing, 43rd passing). Missouri is 61st in total defense (44th rushing, 91st passing); the Tar Heels are 40th (14th rushing, 90th passing). Missouri leads the series 2-0, with a 24-3 victory over North Carolina in 1976 and a 27-14 victory in 1973. Missouri is 12-16 all time in bowl games (2-3 SU in last 5; 2-3 ATS in last 5; 1-3 ATS as a favorite in last 5). North Carolina is 13-15 all time in bowl games (2-3 SU in last 5; 3-2 ATS in last 5; 1-1 ATS as an underdog in last 5). North Carolina Coach Everett Withers is 7-5 (6-6 ATS, 1-2 ATS underdog); Missouri Coach Gary Pinkel is 84-54 (67-64-1 ATS, 35-35-1 ATS favorite) since 2001. Missouri is 2-4 ATS as a favorite this year (6-6 overall ATS); North Carolina is 1-2 ATS as an underdog this year (6-6 overall ATS). Missouri’s last bowl game was the 2010 Insight Bowl, a 27-24 loss to Iowa; North Carolina’s last bowl game was the 2010 Music City Bowl, a 30-27 2OT win over Tennessee. Take Missouri to cover the points.
Western Michigan (7-5) +2.5 Purdue (6-6) (@ Detroit, MI). The Broncos are 23rd in total offense (87th rushing, 8th passing); Purdue is 79th (39th rushing, 82nd passing). Western Michigan is 100th in total defense (107th rushing, 53rd passing); the Boilermakers are 69th (91st rushing, 38th passing). Purdue leads the series 2-0, with a 28-24 victory over Western Michigan in 2002 and a 28-13 victory in 1993. Purdue is 8-7 all time in bowl games (2-3 SU in last 5; 1-4 ATS in last 5; 0-3 ATS as a favorite in last 5). Western Michigan is 0-4 all time in bowl games (1-1 ATS; 1-1 ATS as an underdog). Western Michigan Coach Bill Cubit is 47-38 (38-40-3 ATS, 19-22-2 ATS underdog); Purdue Coach Danny Hope is 15-21 (15-19-2 ATS, 5-9-1 ATS favorite). Western Michigan is 3-2 ATS as an underdog this year (8-4 overall ATS); Purdue is 2-2-1 ATS as favorite this year (5-6-1 overall ATS). Western Michigan’s last bowl game was the 2008 Texas Bowl, a 38-14 loss to Rice; Purdue’s last bowl game was the 2007 Motor City Bowl, in Detroit, a 51-48 win over Central Michigan. Take Western Michigan to cover the points, and win.
Who ya got?
THE BLOCKHAMS ARE COMING.
THE BLOCKHAMS™ is an online comic strip devoted to the life and culture of Michigan fans, as told in the adventures of one multi-generational family and their loyalty to the maize and blue.
Created by soon-to-be outed MGoBlog user "Six Zero," THE BLOCKHAMS™ is to be an ongoing series, with two editions published per week. Every Tuesday it will run on the pages of www.mgoblog.com, the web's premiere Michigan athletics blog and information portal; and every Thursday will see a new strip on the site's own domain, www.theblockhams.com. For the sake of archiving and full catalog reading, each Tuesday strip will also be posted on the official site as well.
Despite previously teasing a January 1st start date, series creator Six Zero has opted to hold the series launch until January 3rd, the date of the team's actual bowl game and pending destruction of the Virginia Tech Hokies. As such, www.theblockhams.com will not be activated until its official launch date.
Although the surname 'Blockham' is obviously a not-so-subtle reference to the familiar 'Block M' brand that represents Ann Arbor's exceptional institution, the series is not affiliated in any way with the University of Michigan and/or its athletic department. The series' creator invites anyone to pronounce the name "Blockham" however they would like, but he phonetically says it as "BLOCK-ums."
At its best, THE BLOCKHAMS™ will be a fun distraction to anyone who loves comics, but it should certainly be understood that the series is a strip about Michigan sports for Michigan fans created by a Michigan fan. There will be inside jokes, obscure trivia and references, and even the occasional criticism. And it will show little mercy to Sparty and Ohio.
For more information on the upcoming release of THE BLOCKHAMS™, please keep a close eye on www.mgoblog.com posts by Six Zero. Business partners interested in advertising opportunities should express an interest on related posts, and further arrangements will be made for direct contact.
THE BLOCKHAMS™ arrive on Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012.
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Go Blue!
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.