Mike Lantry, 1972
I was at the game on Saturday with one of my friends from college, who is a pretty sharp guy. As Michigan scored their second TD in overtime, he made a case for going for two right there instead of kicking an extra point and forcing a third period.
His reasoning was that both offenses were likely to score on the next possession so we should try the 2pt conversion now, when Illinois would not have a chance to answer. At the time this line of reasoning sounded okay; however, I decided that it was somewhat unconvincing. The fact is that as long as our win percentage is higher by kicking an extra point than by going for two, we should, quite obviously, kick the extra point.
The question then becomes, is it possible that our chances of converting the 2pt conversion are higher than our chances of winning in a third overtime? In order to determine the answer to this question, I had to consider a few different factors:
1. We were going to be playing offense first, which carries with it a strategic disadvantage. What is the inherent disadvantage that we’d have in the next overtime?
2. What are the chances of our team converting a 2pt conversion? How much more likely are we to convert than an “average” team?
3. How likely is it that the kick to force a third overtime will be successful?
I did a bit of research and found a study that showed that the team that starts on defense wins about 52.25% of the time in the third overtime and later. You can find the study here. And, looking at M’s kicking statistics I’ve found that the team is 46/47 on extra point attempts, 98%. I used that for our success rate in this spot. So when we kick the extra point we’ll win .4775*.98= .468. So if we can convert the 2pt conversion 47% of the time, we should go for 2.
How often should we expect to make a two point conversion? Advanced NFL Stats says that the conversion is good, on average, 44% of the time. So obviously, if we had an average chance of converting, we should kick the extra point. But our offense is significantly above average.
In order to decide how much more often our 2pt conversion would be successful than an average team’s conversion, I divided our total offense in terms of yards/game by the national average. The result is a multiplier which I applied to the average 2 pt conversion percentage. Our total offense per game is 536 and the national average is 384 giving us a multiplier of 1.39 (our multiplier is similar when considering scoring offense). Applied to the average conversion rate of 44%, our new conversion rate should be 61%.
Now this seems pretty high to me, but given the things we’ve seen our offense do this year, I’d be surprised if we didn’t fall somewhere above the 47% necessary to make going for two at the end of overtime correct.
I hadn't seen this discussed anywhere on the boards, but I was drunk for 48 hours after the PSU game (because of the PSU game) so I may have missed it.
I've been thinking about this for a little while now, and my gut tells me that after Kevin Koger's TD catch (and the subsequent facemask penalty on PSU), we should have gone for the onside kick.
Hypothesis: A normal kickoff will result in the opponent starting, on average, about the 25 yard line. Because we got to kick from the 45 rather than the 30, Penn State's expected starting field position from a normal kickoff (touchback) would be only about 5 yards worse. However, an onside kick from the 45 would probably result in PSU's ball at about the 50. Or we get it back, and the chances of us getting it back are actually greater than the increase Penn State gets from 25 free yards.
In order to test my theory, I'm willing to do some math. I'm going to be using the expected points charts found at Advanced NFL stats. I'll be assuming that we'll always force a touchback if we kick off and that whether we're successful or unsuccessful when we onside kick, the ball will be placed at the PSU 45. My goal is to find how often an onside kick needs to be successful to be better than kicking off.
First thing's first: 1st and 10 from the PSU 20 is worth approximately -.5 points to us. It's obviously worth more to any offense facing our defense and thus the negative number would actually be bigger, but for the sake of the argument I'm going to be as conservative as possible.
1st and 10 from the PSU 45 is worth about -1.7 points when PSU recovers. If M gets the ball it's worth 2.2. So we can represent the equilibrium (i.e. the point where kicking away and onside kicking are equal in value) like so: -.5 =2.2y - 1.7(1-y), where y is the likelihood that the onside kick succeeds.
Solve for y to get: .307 so we'd only have to be successful a little over 30% of the time with these parameters to make kicking an onside kick correct. Given that surprise onside kicks are successful 60% of the time in the NFL, it seems like a pretty large mistake not to onside kick in that situation.
In fact, it's pretty easy to imagine a scenario where a team has a very good offense and a very bad defense (just try to imagine such a thing) where we'd only need to be successful 25% of the time or less. For example, if receiving the ball at their 20 is worth a full point for PSU and recovering an onside kick is worth 2.5 for them and 3.5 for us*, the equation would look like: -1=3.5y-2.5(1-y). Then we'd only need to be successful 25% of the time to make going for the onside kick correct.
Add to all this the fact that in this particular game we were down by multiple scores and would have wanted to increase variance, onside kicking in that spot is an absolute no brainer.
*Numbers pulled from my ass
We’ve moved past the brink, boys and girls. Without even knowing that the edge was approaching, we’ve begun tumbling into the depths of winter and spring and early summer: almost a year without a meaningful football game. One moment, you’re making a postmodern commentary on a freak out thread after the Iowa game, the next you’re sitting on a loveseat wearing a box painted as a Rubik’s cube yelling at no one in particular to tackle because there is no one within 5 yards of Evan Royster and there never will be.
I am not writing to you about defensive fronts or about Greg Robinson or about linebacker play or even about Denard Robinson, who is, at least, one good thing about this season. I am writing about one Richard A. Rodriguez, how, no matter what happens for the rest of the season, I will want him to coach the Michigan Wolverines next year and probably the year after that, and, if Dave Brandon does fire him, how I’ll look wistfully after him wherever he ends up.
It’s strange to me that college football coaches hold over their fan bases an almost religious import. In the Kevin Smith movie Dogma, (which was strangely like every other Kevin Smith movie, despite being about Jesus) the lost prophet, Rufus, played by Chris Rock says about religious beliefs, “You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier.” We don’t have ideas about coaches, we have beliefs. When Rodriguez showed up here, I know there were many around who believed he wasn’t the answer, that his offense wouldn’t translate to the Big Ten, that he wasn’t a Michigan man, whatever that is. There were others who didn’t know what to believe, and this was either very exciting or exceedingly frightening. Me? I am no different than any other fan except I believe that Rodriguez is the answer, that given time, he’ll lead us to the glory we always expect, but which always seem to elude us.
But more than that, I love to watch Rodriguez’s teams play. This was the geneses of my belief in Rodriguez. I remember going out of my way to watch those West Virginia teams with Pat White and Noel Devine, and while those two certainly made for a dynamic scoring offense, the thing I loved more than anything else was the way Rodriguez’s teams played for him, how they never stopped trying to beat you, how every game, series, play was a war in and of itself. They say that a team takes on the character of its coach, and I’ve found that to be true of these Michigan teams, that, even if they are outmanned, they’ll fight with you until you knock them out. The first iconic image, for me, of Rodriguez’s tenure here was Steven Threet’s buffalo stampede against Wisconsin in 2008, a triumph of form and deception over power and speed.
When it comes down to it, I’m not really sure from where my faith in Rodriguez comes. Maybe it’s because I was born and raised in Rochester New York and have become accustomed to the language of losing; I point to two Buffalo Bills losses to mark the beginning and end of my childhood (Wide Right and The Music City Miracle respectively). There’s something comforting that comes from supporting a team like that, I suppose.
But, even I grow sick of losing. I grow tired of the endless close calls or not so close calls. And I recognize that he’s not perfect, that he’s at fault for our failures, but I also believe Rodriguez’s will is as strong as any coach in the country, that the leap is coming and coming soon. Beliefs are difficult to change, and I’m not going to claim that what I have here is anything but an article accepted on faith, nor do I have the idea that what I’m writing will change anyone’s mind, one way or the other.
So then what’s the use of this? I’m afraid I don’t have an answer besides saying that sometimes it seems important to state, for the world, what you believe and leave it there, something to mark your leap.