i like 'em both
One of my pet peeves when discussing college football is the conventional "wisdom" that there are supposedly set-in-stone rules about going for 2. Broadcasters constantly say that "coaches have a chart" that tells them when they should go for 2, based simply on the score.
I doubt this is the case, because I imagine coaches know that going for 2 is a decision that must be made based on the context of the situation. It's complicated and risky, and it's not always clear what the right thing to do is. No scoring chart will be able to take all the important factors into account.
What are those factors? Aside from the obvious factor of...
1. What's the score?
...there are, in my opinion, at least three other questions that must be asked, all with the assumption of a missed 2 point conversion:
2. How much time is left in the game?
3. Do I believe the opponent will score again?
4. Do I believe my team will score again after that?
My philosophy on 2 point conversions: assume you'll miss, and only go for 2 if it could make a difference in the score, there is little time left in the game, and/or there won't be any more scoring done by my team. In other words, I believe the 2 point conversion should be put off until the last score. That way, missing the 2 point conversion doesn't unnecessarily hurt your team's chances of victory.
Questions 2, 3, and 4 are related, of course- with little time left in a game, for example, there will most likely be little to no more scoring done by anyone. But again, the context matters- a lights out offense like Texas Tech might believe they'll do more scoring with only 3 minutes left in the game, whereas a slug offense like Virginia Tech might feel they are done scoring with 6 minutes left in the game.
With all this in mind, let's turn to this past weekend's game: should Michigan have gone for 2 after the Thompson interception?
Reading through the liveblog transcript, there seemed to be universal and instinctive agreement that yes, Michigan should go for 2. Everyone quickly came to that decision and expressed confusion about RichRod's decision to take a time out to think about it. Based on that, I assume everyone was looking at the scoreboard as the only factor in the decision. But let's look at the context:
1. The score was 20-19. A successful 2 point conversion prevents a subsequent Wisconsin field goal from winning the game. The score says "Go For It."
2. But there was over 10 minutes left in the game. Each team has at least 2 more possessions coming. Time left says "Go For It Later, Not Now."
3. The Wisky offense was not doing much, kicking FGs off of turnovers in the first half. One big run in the first half set up their lone touchdown. They had yet to score in the second half. Their quarterback was not showing himself to be anything special, having just thrown a Pick 6. Was Wisconsin done scoring for the day, even with more than 10 minutes left? It appeared so. A Wisky score appeared unlikely, but even on the off chance that they pull something together, that was offset by the off chance of a successful 2 point conversion by Michigan. Wisky offense says "Go For It and Ensure Overtime, Just In Case."
4. But the Michigan offense wasn't really a solid bet either way. The offense had been a little, uh, erratic. 21 total yards and multiple turnovers in the first half was just plain awful. A solid drive for a TD and a big TD run by Minor in the second half, however, had raised hopes. Was Michigan done scoring for the day, even with more than 10 minutes left? Maybe, maybe not.
That's why I believe RichRod took a timeout- it wasn't clear whether Michigan was done scoring or not, and he needed a moment to think about it.
It was a gamble, and as it turned out it hurt the team. If he ended up deciding to just take the PAT, then the ensuing touchdown would have put Michigan up by more than one score (28-19), and the game would have effectively been on ice. Michigan scoring again wasn't out of the realm of possibility- the Wisky defense had been on the field for a LOT of the second half, and they were starting to get pushed around. There was at least a hint of foresight that indicated another Michigan score.
Instead, RichRod gambled on the thought that they wouldn't get another chance to score, so he may as well get some while the getting's good. Michigan did score again, though, and the chance to ice game had already been lost in the previous 2 point conversion. Because of the failed 2 point conversion, Wisconsin was only down by one score and still had a chance to tie. As we all saw, everything worked out, but when Beckum caught the 2 point conversion pass (and before we saw the flags), for a moment Michigan's failed 2 point conversion loomed large.
Ultimately, I agreed with the call to go for 2- I was still unsure about Michigan's ability to score again, despite the gobs of time left on the clock and the tired Wisky defense. My point, however, is that this was NOT an easy call. This was NOT a "no-brainer." And in hindsight, it was the wrong call.
These decisions are NOT easy, and they depend on more nebulous things than just the score.
I am sorry to post my weekly recap late and in half-assed form, but life is hectic right now. I definately have even deeper appreciation for what Brian and others do to keep their blogs up and running. Kudos.
So that was a game that both gave me and cured my heartburn. I watched just about every play except for the last 4 minutes of the first half (how in the world we had two interceptions and only gave up 3 points???!) and the 3rd down roughing the passer play (was creating a super-pizza). Obviously we stunk, and then magically we didn't.
- RichRod is a great coach. This win firmly cemented this for me. This team had no business getting off the mat to fight for this win. He is a great, great leader.
- Our defense was impressive all day. Twice facing a short field, the Badgers had to settle for FGs. It really shows what our D can do when given 27 yards to defend instead of 15 as in the ND game.
- I think Wisconsin is a good team and that our run defense is really improving.
- I know this isn't much by way of analysis but I have no time for more.
Hats Off!!! Awards:
- Mike Barwis - Our team finally came through in the end because they were in much better physical condition. While Wisconsin's cheese eating fatties tired, our guys looked strong all game long.
- RichRod - While I have deep respect for our previous three coaches and I believe that they too would have lead a comeback, none of them (with the possible exception of Bo in 1969) had to pick up a team playing as bad as Michigan played in the first half. Just wow. I will never count out a RR lead team again.
- Johnny Thompson - Great concentration on that int and then what a run into the endzone. After seemingly causing so many problems against ND (thank you Brian for UFR), he is now a hero in one of Michigan's top all time wins. Hats Off!!! to you sir.
- Brandon Graham - Dude was a monster out there. Might have saved the game forcing that fumble when Wisky looked ready to score with 3 minutes left.
- Brett Bielema - It seemed to me that he changed his gameplan to readily, almost in panic when Michigan scored their second touchdown. The Badgers came out throwing and gifted us Thompson's int-TD immediately. I have no doubt that this guy can coach, but RR just pwned him. Plus not using Beckum and Clay more of the game seemed strange.
This team has serious problems ahead. I really don't think we can take much from this performance going forward except this: Michigan will be better conditioned than the opponent almost assuredly and always have a shot at winning. Illinois is winnable next week as I don't see their defense stuffing us as well as Wisky's did. Juice may cause problems with his feet, but I can feel the M Defense's confidence grow. Threet will have more confidence himself after a full game of not being yanked no matter how badly he was sucking. He may return to ND game form and if so, I see a win. This game gave us a legit shot at a bowl game and hence, a successful season. I now believe we can beat anybody left on the schedual, but I am still only seeing 7-5 overall.
I'm still giddy about Saturday. What a comeback, what a game, what a win!
I did get some texts from friends after we were up 27-19 asking the same question I was thinking: "Don't you wish we had kicked that PAT after the 3rd TD?" If we kick the PAT, we're up 21-19, then after the subsequent TD would have been up 28-19 leaving Wisconsin needing a TD and a FG.
This is a major pet peeve of mine. I'd like to know what people's thoughts are about going for the two-point conversion. Here's my view:
1) In general, unless there is less than ~7 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, don't go for two.
2) Exception #1: You are down so much that the only possible chance you have is multiples of 8. e.g. There is 1:15 left to go in the third quarter and you're down 24 points. If you score, go ahead and try for 8 each time.
3) Exception #2: The weather is so bad you might not ever score again. e.g. Notre Dame two weeks ago: We are down 28-17 for part of the 2nd quarter and all of the third. If we had scored a TD late in the third quarter, I might have gone for 2, to get us within 3. (Alas, that never ended up being one of the things we had to wrestle with that day...)
So once you've got less than half of the fourth quarter to go, pull out your chart that tells you whether or not to go for it; otherwise, kick the PAT, take your point and move on. I understand that this one is somewhat philosophical. Sort of like how some coaches will never take the FG off the board even if the penalty would give them a first down. Or deciding whether to double or just hit your 11 against the dealer's ten. Maybe the important thing is just being consistent.
Obviously, nobody knew Threet had the 58 yard run in him, or that we'd go score the next TD. And if we'd gotten the 2, AND the subsequent TD and PAT, then the game would have been REALLY out of reach. Still, it is still frightening that we were a penalty and some great D-line pressure away from OVERTIME yesterday.
In my 30+ years as a UM fan, I've had my share of disappointments: The Miracle at Michigan, The loss at Oregon, the UT and USC Rose Bowls, A Thomas fumble against NW, etc, etc.. I always thought it was some higher power's hate for any team I support. Yesterday, before the half, I was sure that was the case.
I remember last year I would titter like a schoolgirl watching Notre Dame highlights and think to myself "How could any team be THAT bad?". Before the half, and the whole Notre Dame game, UM was THAT bad. I realized that this year was going to be tough, but this is a bit much. My support for the team never faltered, but doubt started to creep into my mind. When Matthews fumbled, I was pretty sure that I had done something wrong in my life that I was being punished for. The red hot fire poker that always seems to touch the side of my stomach when UM is losing started to hit the Kelvin scale. I was on the liveblog, and the comments were starting to turn from WTF to outrage(note: kudos to moderators for keeping out the very negative ones).
During halftime, the realist in me knew this game was over: 19 points down, -7 passing yards, and an offense that was a impotent as Hugh Hefner. The other half of me(read: drunk) was saying"it's only 19 points, and the D is playing pretty damn good. Cue Lloyd Christmas: "So YOU'RE SAYING THERE'S A CHANCE!!!"
I can't remember the last time I actually jumped as high or ran a complete lap around my house like I did when Thompson ran that pick back. My neighbor actually came by tio see it everything was OK, because she heard "someone screaming like a maniac" It's 20 some odd hours later, and I still have the "I just got laid. Twice." smile on my face.
I watched the Minny and MSU comeback games, and they were great, but those UM teams were expected to win. This one was different. This team was abominamal vs ND, and looked hapless in the first half. This win is more special to me, because these guys were dead, and didn't give up(hats off to the D and Shaffer).
All is quiet on the gastrointestinal front today.
There were no expectations. We came into this game expecting a loss, hoping to be competitive. Michigan came out flat. The fumbles were over and over and over again. Why the hell can't somebody hold onto the ball!!!!????? By halftime it was apparent that this was not to be. Threet was in a daze. WTF was he doing in the first half? He was rocking Tacopants all over the field.
Halftime was great. The MMB had this bad ass Ferris Bueller performance wherein the band leader, Cody, was playing the part of Ferris. He was sick and couldn't go to the game. After that they went into this elaborate rendition of the movie:
- They faked the "sausage king of Chicago" part of Ferris Bueller by having Cody say his name was Jim Tressel..complete with a fake Jim Tressel guy in the background (sweatervest and all).
- They had Lloyd hold and "Save Cody" sign and they showed an old man wearing a"Joe Pa" shirt.
- They had the whole segment wherein Cody (or Ferris) runs home to beat his parents, complete with jumps and the crazy music and Cody shaking hands with some chicks.
- Cody runs onto the field and leads the band in The Victors (complete with Cody touching his head to the turf minus the hat!!)
At this point I said jokingly to my wife "That was so great, I almost forgot how bad this game is. You know what??? I bet you Cody is the catalyst to a come back!!" Just after that I talked to my buddy in Florida. He's a big Michigan fan. I told him, "you wait, Rich Rod will change things up, Michigan is going to tear it up in the second half."
BOOM....4 wide, the rest of the way. Threet was a changed man. They started to move the chains. 1st down, 1st down, 1st down.................TD to Koger!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The energy in Michigan Stadium was building.
The D played as hard as I've ever seen. They would not give an inch. They just beat the ever-loving hell out of Wisky's QB, RB's and their OL. Holy shit that D was dominate!!! Wisky couldn't do shit but punt.
Then you have Steven "Pat White" Threet busting a run by the Defensive End for like 70 yards!!! The boy has wheels! I've never felt such electricity in Michigan Stadium!!!! The crowd was unreal!!! We were lucky, all the lame ass nancy bitch ass fans had left!!! F THEM!!!! We love Michigan Football and we were staying to the end!!!!!!!!! OH GOOD LORD THANK YOU FOR GETTING THOSE LAME ASS BITCHES OUT OF THERE!!!!! WHAT A CROWD!!! Once those A-holes that hate Michigan left, we were subject to one of the best crowds in the history of Michigan Stadium. In the 500th game!! On top of all the excitement Johnny F'n Thompson gets a pick six!!!! I was jumping all over the stands, I think I hurt my hip.
The crowd was great! The team was unstoppable. If you booed those kids today, shame on you. You suck balls, and you're a total ass. There was no quit today in those kids, despite you dickheads and your booing. I wasn't about to quit on my team, and I cheered them the entire game. If you booed Steven Threet, then f you. You're an ass, and don't bother coming to any other games because you suck and we don't want you. Michigan Football will survive without your negativity.
Alright, sorry. I'm just so pumped about that game.
At the end of the game, I'm thinking, holy crap, Michigan just beat a team coached by Lloyd Carr! Didn't they? I love Lloyd, he's a great guy, a great coach. But, I couldn't help but feel like if Lloyd had a 19 point lead, he would play the game EXACTLY like Wisconsin did, wouldn't he?? It felt GREAT to be on the other side of that coin. I kept thinking that Wisconsin was playing scared. They had no pulse out there, Michigan sucked the life out of them and it couldn't have been sweeter. I just couldn't help but think that Wisconsin's performance reminded me of the Michigan of old.
BUT.....The Michigan of new is still the Michigan of old. Somehow, someway, I knew they were going to be competitive. The tradition of this program, built off the yells and screams and leadership of guys like Yost and Crisler and Bo, somehow permeates everything that happens. And therein lies the beauty of Rodriguez. He has maintained this tradition, this undying believe in victory and honor and the Michigan way. It was shown today. It was proven today. Michigan Football is more than just one play, one fumble, one coach. It's everybody, from you, to me, to Coach Rodriguez, to Bo. It's real. It's tangible. It's inspiring, and above all it will not quit, it will not die, it will not bow down to you boo bird bitches. I love Michigan Football, and today's game is every reason why and more.
The offense started to move the ball when it passed to set up the run. Traditionally offenses rush to loosen the defense for the pass. In passing to set up the run, RR sort of abandoned his spread-option/zone read, for a more traditional offense that worked on this particular day. That worries me. He knows the personnel he has and seems a little stubborn. He transitioned to a more traditional scheme at halftime. Admittedly halftime is the time to make adjustments, but IMO it was obvious well before the half that an adjustment was needed and his failure to adjust is attributable to wanting to win his way. He faces a tough decision - if he continues to use a more pro-style offense we'll probably see more success and slow the transition to a fulltime spread-option/zone read team. If Threet succeeds fans will insist on keeping him as the starter even if RR wants to use a more mobile qb next year (Beaver or Forcier), who is more suited to RR's scheme. I think using a greater mix of pro-style formations gives us a better chance to win this year, but I'm not sure RR wants to do it that way.