to play football, not to play trumpet
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.