things go poorly
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.
It’s not quite the fourth quarter against Notre Dame, but Saturday had as many ups and downs on the Win Chart as any we’ve seen this year.
We’ll go with 5 plays each this week to mark the occasion.
1. Play 112, 14.2%, Robinson to Odoms on 3rd and 11 to give Michigan the lead back for good while the OL gave Denard all day.
2. Play 163, 11.2%, Robinson to Dileo for 28 yards on Michigan’s final drive.
3. Play 22, 11.1%, Robinson runs for 41 yards to tie it up early.
4. Play 165, 9.5%, Robinson runs for 14 yards to keep the clock moving and the drive going late.
5. Play 137, 9.3%, the defense gets in the mix, stopping Miller on 3rd and Goal from the 2, leading to the FG instead of a touchdown.
1. Play 7, –12.8%, Miller goes deep for the first score of the game.
2. Play 95, –12.0%, Miller goes deep a second time to give Ohio a halftime lead.
3. Play 172, –8.8%, Steve Watson’s personal foul pushed 3rd and Goal from difficult to impossible and increases the degree of difficulty on an impending field goal.
4. Play 134, –8.6%, Miller goes for 23 yards to give Ohio 1st and Goal at the 5 late in the third quarter.
5. Play 74, –7.1%, Miller uses my favorite NCAA Football play with an athletic QB, the wrong way speed option for a TD.
Ohio Game Scores
Rushing: +12, tops in Big Ten play and behind only SD St and E Michigan on the year
Passing: +11, second only to Northwestern on the season
Rush Defense: –9, worst score of the season
Pass Defense: –7, only Notre Dame was worse
Special Teams: +3, the late field goal pushed this to the top of the list for this year
Denard: As I tweeted earlier this week, Denard had the 5th best game of any QB this year at +24. It was both his best passing (+13) and best rushing (+11) game of the season. It was only the 7th +10 rushing performance by any QB this year and the first to pair it with a passing number higher then +3!
Toussaint: +1, a solid but not spectacular day.
Miller: Braxton Miller is going to be a force. His +15 (+6/+9) was his best game of the year by 6 points. His three games have been his three best. Had Ohio gone with him from the start Ohio is probably has at least 8 wins now.
Saturday’s +23 was the 9th best opponent adjusted offensive game of the year for any team and the best game in BCS conference play.
Fired Coach Dumb Punt of the Week
Several good candidates this week. Clemson punting from the 35 late in the third trailing by two touchdowns. Ohio punting from the 36 trailing by 6 in the third. This week’s award goes to the $8 Million Dollar Man Mike Sherman who punted from the 41 twice in the second half, going on to blow their
42nd 6th lead of the season and losing the final chapter of the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry on a last second field goal.
Big Ten Projection Recap
Team: Pred W, Pred B1G W
Illinois: 8.0, 4.5
Indiana: 2.9, 0.6
Iowa: 7.8, 4.6
Michigan: 8.0, 4.8
Michigan St: 8.0, 4.7
Minnesota: 3.9, 1.2
Nebraska: 10.1, 6.1
Northwestern: 3.9, 1.7
Ohio: 9.3, 5.8
Penn St: 8.5, 5.2
Purdue: 5.7, 2.7
Wisconsin: 10.3, 6.3
That’s an average error of 1.4 games/team in total and 1.3 in conference play. Ohio was clearly my biggest miss, missing both numbers by about 3 games. Wisconsin was dead on and Iowa, Minnesota, Penn St and Purdue were all pretty close. I had the top and bottom of the Woody division correctly ranked but the middle was a mess. For the Bo division I swapped Nebraska and Sparty both nailed the other 4.
Nationally, picking conference winners went decently. Virginia Tech is favored in the ACC title game, along with other picks of mine like Wisconsin and Oregon. West Virginia is right in the middle of the Big East mess. If Alabama could make a field goal they would be playing for the SEC title and Oklahoma is playing for the Big XII’s BCS berth at bedlam.
In the smaller conferences, Tulsa, Toledo, Boise and Nevada all had shots but fell just short of championships while Troy wasn’t even close in the Sun Belt.
Advanced Metrics All-B1G
Offensive players are listed as PAN (per game)/WPA (total). OL is excluded because I have no stats specific to players. TE are evaluated solely on receiving. Defensive players are listed as Plays/Value (count and magnitude of plays made negative to the offense). Kickers and punters are cumulative for the season.
This is not meant to be absolute, but it is a ranking based solely on the advanced metrics, no judgment calls on my part.
Russell Wilson, Wisconsin +13/+3.4
Montee Ball, Wisconsin +5/+1.2 & Marcus Coker, Iowa +1/+0.7
Drake Dunsmore, Northwestern +3/+0.8
Jeremy Ebert, Northwestern +8/+2.1 & Marvin McNutt, Iowa +7/+1.3 & AJ Jenkins, Illinois +7/+1.3
Broderick Binns, Iowa 47/32 & Whitney Mercilus, Illinois 35/36
Devon Still, Penn St 45/28 & Johnathan Hankins, Ohio 50/21
Jonathan Brown, Illinois 75/41 & Lavonte David, Nebraska 59/29 & Gerald Hodges, Penn St 52/28
Josh Johnson, Purdue 33/21 & Bradley Roby, Ohio 21/27
Brian Peters, Northwestern 32/28 & Drew Astorino, Penn St 34/18
Dan Conroy, Michigan St +12.4
Ben Buchanan, Ohio +10
Denard Robinson, Michigan +7/+3.5
Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan +1/+.4 & Rex Burkhead, Nebraska +0/+.3
Jacob Pedersen, Wisconsin +2/+0.3
BJ Cunningham, Michigan St +7/+1.1 & Nick Toon, Wisconsin +6/+1.0 & Da’Jon McKnight, Minnesota +4/+0.8
John Simon, Ohio 40/25 & Michael Buchanan, Illinois 38/18
Mike Daniels, Iowa 40/22 & Akeem Spence, Illinois 40/18
David Nwabuisi, Northwestern 51/21 & Ian Thomas, Illinois 47/20 & Will Compton, Nebraska 49/18
Tavon Wilson, Illinois 28/17 & Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern 25/17
Jordan Kovacs, Michigan 17/27 & CJ Barnett, Ohio 25/18
Brett Maher, Nebraska +11.8
Cody Webster, Purdue +8
Ryan van Bergen, Mike Martin and Kenny Demens all narrowly missed spots on the second team defense.
Don’t know if articles will be coming weekly, but I have a number of articles and ideas in the hopper for the pre and post-bowl season.
A bowl game preview
The promised Game Theory Manifesto
A 4th down redux, a more detailed look at fourth down decision making with an added tool of offensive and defensive strength sliders for dynamic decision making.
A critique of success rates and the concept of “staying ahead of the chains”
A semi-related post on why I think the running back position is overrated
A more detailed looks at the EV and WPA implications tied to UFR.
EV and WPA by coaches and if I can find a good source of history, coordinators, as well.
Some recruiting themed posts around signing day on the back of a massive recruiting database I am building on the back of my play by play database. I think there is a lot of potential here, just don’t know if I can pull it off.
Any user submitted ideas that are sure to be better than what I have listed so far.
Play 18, +13.4%, Robinson to Roundtree for 46 on 3rd and 8
Play 73, +6.6%, Robinson scores from the 14 on 3rd and 1
Play 52, +6.3% Robinson to Hemingway for 26 on 3rd and 6
Play 46, –11.1%, Martinez to Kinnie for a 54 yard TD
Play 59, –7.6%, Brett Maher hits a 51 yard FG
Plays 54/55, –7.1%, Terrence Moore intercepts Denard (-5.1%) and returns it to the Michigan 34 (-2.0%)
It’s nice to see Denard re-claim the top 3 with both running and passing, all on big third down plays. Also good, when the second most negative play of the day was one that (at that point) was one you had no control over.
Nebraska Game Scores
Rushing: +1, not spectacular but effective
Passing: +9, second only to Northwestern, a very efficient performance
Rush defense: +2, didn’t allow Nebraska to do enough to set up the pass
Pass defense: +3, since ND, no games worse than -2
Special Team: +1, positive for the 4th straight game, even without counting the fumbles
Denard: +14 overall, +11 passing and +2 rushing, only Northwestern and ND were higher at +15
Toussaint: –3, final TD considered garbage time, would have pushed him to par
Martinez -4, +0 pass, -4 rush, his worst game of the year and first negative in the Big 10
Burkhead: +0 on his fewest carries of the year
Heisman and Award Tracking
My top 3 Heisman/QB:
1. RG3, Baylor: +3.39 WPA (2nd), +13 PAN (1st)
2. Russell Wilson, Wisconsin: +3.24 (3rd), +13 (2nd)
3. Kellen Moore, Boise St.: +1.77 (24th), +11 (4th)
Denard Robinson: +2.50 (7th), +5 (28th)
Robert Griffin’s big game against Oklahoma propelled him into the number 1 spot over Russell Wilson. Case Keenum is right in the mix, as well, but Kellen Moore gets the third spot thanks to the games against Georgia and TCU. Andrew Luck remains absent based on his good but not great resume.
1. LaMichael James, Oregon: +.69 (9th), +3 (3rd)
2. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma St: +.39 (24th), +3 (5th)
3. Montee Ball, Wisconsin: +.67 (10th), +3 (7th)
Trent Richardson, Aabama: +.29 (34th), +2 (11th)
Fitz Toussaint: +.22 (40th), +1 (41st)
As you can see from the magnitude of the RB numbers versus the QB numbers, I just can’t justify putting an RB on my Heisman ballot.
1. Kendall Wright, Baylor: +1.94 (4th), +9 (2nd)
2. Gerell Robinson, Arizona St: +2.47 (1st), +8 (7th)
3. Sammy Watkins, Clemson: +1.40 (12th), +8 (4th)
Sammy Watkins has slumped as the season as progressed and Gerell Robinson has come on strong of late. Justin Blackmon’s season has still been strong but nowhere near the dominance he had last year. Former Michigan opponents Jordan White and Jeremy Ebert where near contenders.
1. Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma
2. Whitney Mercilus, Illinois
3. Devon Still, Penn St
1. AJ Johnson, Tennessee
2. Danny Trevathan, Kentucky
3. Johnathan Brown, Illinois
1. Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma
2. Antonio Allen, South Carolina
3. DeQuan Menzie, Alabama
Defensive players are rated based on how many negative EV plays they make and the magnitude of those plays. They are then divided by the number of non-garbage time plays the entire defense has faced so teams that force a lot of three and outs aren’t punished.
Ron Zook Dumb Punt of the Week
Some tough calls this week. Notre Dame and BC both punted from inside the 45 with less than 5 yards to go in the second half, twice! Even though that game was an ug-fest both coaches get awarded dumb punt of the week.
Normally, I would have given the award to Mack Brown at Texas for punting from the 45 on 4th and 5 down 7 in the fourth quarter to Kansas St, but when your defense only gives up 120 yards for the game there is a defensible case for it.
The Game Preview
My son just turned three and he is starting to watch a little bit of football now. He always wears his jersey and says “Go Michigan” and asks every morning if today is a football day. I started getting nervous a couple weeks ago when watching other games he started telling me “I like the red team” for any team with red uniforms. This could not stand. So I started telling him that the red team was bad and he like Michigan. Yesterday I gave him a test and asked him if he liked Michigan or the red team, he yelled “Michigan!” and then told me, unprompted, that the red team is sad. I hope he is right, they deserve to be very, very sad.
PAN, National Rank (leader), B1G Rank (leader)
Michigan: +4, 10th (Georgia Tech), 2nd (Wisconsin)
vs Ohio D: +1, 38th, 6th
Michigan: +2, 41st (Boise St), 5th (Wisconsin)
vs Ohio D: +4, 15th, 3rd
Michigan: +2, 25th (Alabama), 4th (Illinois)
vs Ohio O: +1, 34th, 4th
Michigan: +2, 36th (Oklahoma St), 6th (Penn St)
vs Ohio O: –4, 109th, 12th
Michigan: +0, 74th (Florida St), 8th (Purdue)
Ohio: +2, 23rd, 3rd
A one-dimensional offense against Greg Mattison, yes please. Limit the turnovers and don’t allow any big special teams plays and I think the streak is over. Michigan 28-20
This week was essentially a pick-em so we’ll skip the spread and chart it straight up.
I have been making a few tweaks to the math behind the chart to take out some of the noise, especially on possession changes, hopefully it’s becoming a better product.
Michigan jumps out early, is in good position but can’t close it out for the second and third quarters before finally putting it a way in the fourth.
1. +12.5%, Play 3, Toussaint for 65 on the opening drive.
2. +5.2%, Play 5, Robinson punches it in for the opening score.
3. +5.0%, Play 153, JT Floyd picks Scheelhaase (+1.5%) and takes it back 43 yards (+3.5%).
1. –5.8%, Play 65, Michigan stopped on 4th and goal from the 1.
2. –4.9%, Play 33, Robinson’s first fumble with Michigan driving.
3. –2.7%, Play 137, Scheelhaase runs for a 31 yard score to cut the lead to 10.
Other Notes from Illinois
Last year we had a consistent defense and hoped our offense was good enough to win the game for us. This year we have a consistent defense and hope our offense is good enough to win the game for us. The difference is last year the D was so bad that the offense had to hit home runs to pull it out. This year the defense has consistently held serve and the offensive variability has largely dictated our success or failure.
This week the narrative expanded and not only did the defense hold serve, it produced extra value. This is the first game all season that offense had a negative win percent added (-13%) and the team still won the game. Iowa and Michigan St both saw negative scores but the defense couldn’t do enough to overcome.
How you feel about this game is largely dependent on how you view Illinois. If you view them as a Ron Zook coached mid-level BCS conference team you probably are part of the group that was uninspired about the showing on Saturday. You would probably point to stats such as Michigan had the best field position of any BCS conference team in any game so far this season and still only had 31 points (vs an expected 39 based on field position).
If you view Illinois as a Ron Zook coached mid-level BCS conference team with a stout defense and some weapons on offense, you are probably Brian. I have Illinois’ defense ranked #14 nationally at +7 and third in the Big Ten behind Penn St and MSU. Scheelhaase is a ranked as a top 20 BCS conference QB (+5) and AJ Jenkins is a top 10 receiver (+8, catches only) who was limited to +1 on a season-high 19 targets. I am in the second camp here. The offensive performance was far from perfect but the total performance of the team accounting for Illinois’ stout defense probably puts Saturday as the best/most important win of the year to date.
Rushing: –1, good and bad even out versus strong rush defense
Passing: +8, found some big plays and no meaningful interceptions
Rush defense: +1, decent day against a mediocre run game
Pass defense: +7, in JT we trust, apparently
Special Team: +1, a narrow miss on a FG away from best score of the year
Denard: +1 overall, +4 pass -3 rush, no games higher than +3 since Northwestern
Devin: +3, +5 pass –2 rush, best number of the year
Toussaint: +4, 3rd best of the year for a Michigan back (Fitz vs Purdue and VS vs E Mich, +6)
Scheelhaase: +4, +0 pass, +4 rush
Jenkins: +8 but took a season high 19 targets to get there
Third and Done
So I wrote this up on early in the week only to find that its become a topic across Michigan blogdom this week. Hopefully there is something new for you here, if not rest assured knowing that we own third and one.
Michigan hasn’t just been good on third (or fourth) and one, they have been amazing. Michigan has 15 stops in 27 competitive attempts against them this year. That’s a 44% offensive success rate. The national average is 72%. Michigan is literally getting twice as many stops as the average defense would on third or fourth and one.
Michigan is currently 12th over the last 9 seasons on the conversion rate in this situation. Only 1 of the 11 teams ahead of them have faced more than 18 attempts. The only comparison to what Michigan is doing so far this year is Boston College of 2008 who had 16 stops out of 25 attempts against. In fact, if Michigan gets two more stops on third or fourth and 1, they will have the most stops over the last 9 years in that situation. Michigan has ended a full 7 drives more than the average team would on super short yardage situations.
B1G Championship Game
The loss to Iowa effectively ended Michigan’s chances. I have them listed at 0.3% chance of making the inaugural title game but that assumes that Indiana has a chance to win on the road against Michigan St. A Sparty No on Saturday and a Michigan win puts the odds up over 20%. In total, Michigan needs wins over Nebraska and Ohio and Michigan St to lose to both Indiana and Northwestern. The Spartans hold a commanding 91% chance of making the title game, a win by both Michigan teams on Saturday would clinch it. Nebraska stands at about 8% but need to win out and have Michigan St slip to have any real chance. Iowa technically could win some 3 or 4 way tiebreakers but at less than 1 in 2000 odds, things don’t look so bright.
On the other side of the standings both Wisconsin and Penn St control their own destinies. I give Wisconsin an 84% chance of winning the head to head matchup so they have a 67% chance of reaching the title game. Penn St sits at 27% and thanks the Boilermakers upset over Ohio, those two schools both sit at 3% apiece. For Purdue the path is win out, Ohio beat Penn St, Illinois beat Wisconsin, Michigan beat Ohio and Wisconsin beat Penn St. Ohio isn’t dependent on as many game, but the odds are the same. Win out, Penn St lose out, and Wisconsin lose to Illinois.
My Heisman Thoughts
With some new chaos at the top of the polls, Wisconsin has got to be killing themselves for not being able to defend the deep ball late. It’s put them out of the National Championship race and buried Russell Wilson’s Heisman campaign. I think it should still be kicking. I have him leading in WPA (+3.0) ahead of Case Keenum (+2.8) and Brandon Weedon (+2.2) and EV (+13) ahead of Keenum (+12) and RG3 (+11).
Kellen Moore: +1.5/+10
Andrew Luck: +1.7/+6
Trent Richardson: +.3/+4
Denard still holds up well on WPA at +2.07 but his EV is way down at +4 and barely in the top quarter of all QBs.
PAN, National Rank (leader), Big Ten Rank (leader)
Michigan: +4, 12th (Georgia Tech), 2nd (Wisconsin)
vs. Nebraska D: –0, 63rd, 8th
Fitz: +1 (now in top 30 RB’s)
Michigan: +1, 50th (Boise St), 5th (Wisconsin)
vs. Nebraska D: +2, 30th, 6th
Michigan: +2, 21st (Alabama), 4th (Illinois)
vs. Nebraska O: +0, 53rd, 7th
Taylor Martinez: +1
Rex Burkhead: –1 (24th of 28 back that average 100 yards per game)
Michigan: +2, 39th (Oregon), 7th (Penn St)
vs. Nebraksa O: +3, 25th, 4th
Taylor Martinez: +4
Michigan: –0, 79th (Florida St), 9th (Purdue)
Nebraska: +2, 27th, 3rd
Rex Burkhead has the yards and the carries but my per play valuation point to a Nebraska team that pounds the ball on the ground for yards, but puts points on the board through the air courtesy of a throwing motion that makes Tebow look like Tom Brady. These teams are pretty evenly matched. Mobile QBs that are flawed passers who can succeed on the back of the run game and defenses far below historical precedent but not major deficiencies either. Michigan 31-28
Kick it off like we always do…
The early touchdown saw the unadjusted numbers drop below 30% but the spread adjustment kept the expectation at about 70% or above for the whole game.
Top 3 Plays:
Play #45, +12%, Robinson to Roundtree for 49 yards on 3rd and 20.
Play #73, +11%, Robinson to Gallon for 42 yards and 1st and Goal.
Play #67, +10%, Avery picks off the Marve deflection
Bottom 3 Plays:
Play #6, –18%, TerBush to Bush for 48 yards a Purdue lead.
Play #36, –9%, Robinson picked on third down.
Play #46, –9% Gardner picked for the first time this year.
The story of Saturday was mostly Fitz Toussaint, and rightfully so. His +7 on the day was the best mark for a Michigan running back on the season. In fact, other than Vincent Smith’s +6 against Eastern Michigan no Michigan back had even crossed +3 on the season.
The defense continues to do enough to allow the offense to take hold of the game. After four B1G games this season the defense has had a best Win Percent Added (WPA) of +6% from Saturday to a worst of –7% against Northwestern. That is a incredibly tight window to operate in and means that defense has essentially held serve in every B1G game this season. The offense is still doing the heavy lifting, but at least the defense isn’t adding to load this season.
Grades are in PAN (pts/game) and opponent adjusted.
Rush Offense: +3
Vincent Smith: +1
Pass Offense: +5
Rush Defense: +2
Pass Defense: +0
Special Teams: +1 (best of the year)
A little frustrated with the coverage on the Heisman this year. Apparently the NFL GM’s are now deciding who the best performer is in college football. This isn’t a knock on Andrew Luck, but just because the NFL says he is a sure thing, doesn’t automatically mean he is going to have the most deserving year. He has piled up good stats against bad teams so far and the conversation could still change.
Here are my ratings of the top contenders looking at both PAN and WPA.
Player, School: PAN (Rank), WPA (Rank)
Andrew Luck, Stanford: +6 (25th), +1.7 (8th)
Trent Richardson, Alabama: +4 (2nd RB), +.4 (11th)
Kellen Moore, Boise St: +11 (4th), +2.1 (4th)
Russell Wilson, Wisconsin: +13 (1st), +2.4 (1st)
Case Keenum , Houston: +13 (2nd), +2.2 (3rd)
Denard Robinson, Michigan: +6 (22nd), +2.2 (2nd)
Ron Zook Dumb Punt of the Week
Pickings were a little slimmer this week but this week’s award goes to the Will Muschamp and the Florida Gators. Trailing by 4 in the World’s Largest Non-Alcoholic but Actually a Total Drunkfest Party with a little over 8 minutes to go, the Gators faced 4th and 2 at the Georgia 37. This one works out for the Gators, even though they go on to lose, anyway. After taking a Delay of Game to give the punter more room (the first sign of a dumb punt), Florida manages to down the ball at the 4 and get a three and out. Florida gets the ball back at the 36, trading 2+ minutes on the clock to get a yard and a fresh set of downs, the Gators throw three straight incompletions and then go for the 4th and 10 but fail, never getting the ball back.
Projections and Ranking
If you missed it Monday I posted detailed odds for the B1G championship game. Michigan stands at 9.5% overall. Going 4-0 down the stretch bumps it up to nearly 40%. A loss to division foes Iowa or Nebraska effectively kills the chances where going 3-1 with a loss to either Illinois or Ohio still leaves the odds around 20%.
After an expected win last week against Purdue, the overall win projection for Michigan is relatively unchanged in between 9 and 10 wins.
Opp (Change vs last post)
@Iowa: 67% (-1%)
@Illinois: 55% (+6%)
Nebraska: 56% (-8%)
Ohio: 70% (-7%)
My Top 5
1. Oklahoma St
2. Boise St
15. Michigan St
19. Penn St
PAN, National Rank (leader), B1G Rank (leader)
Michigan: +5, 3rd (Georgia Tech), 1st
Iowa: +1, 53rd, 7th
Michigan: +2, 32nd (Boise), 4th (Wisconsin)
Iowa: –6, 118th, 11th
Michigan: +2, 25th (LSU), 5th (Michigan St)
Iowa: +3, 18th, 3rd
Michigan: +1, 43rd (Oklahoma St), 7th (Michigan St)
Iowa: +3, 23rd, 2nd
Michigan: 0, 88th (Florida St), 10th (Purdue)
Iowa: +1, 49th, 7th
The next three games are all slight Michigan favors before matching up with an improving Ohio team. A home game versus Iowa would make me more comfortable but I still think it goes our way, 37-30 Michigan.
One final note is that based on a little twitter prompting from @cdbarker I have begun work on a game-theory manifesto and it's going to be long, probably to be posted in December. Planned topics include: how to use timeouts, suprise on-side kicks, a better 2-point conversion chart and possibly a revisit of 4th down stategy. Hit me in the comments or @The_Mathlete with other things you would like to see.
Mid-Week metrics will be coming…well, mid-week.
Since we are within four weeks of the end of the regular, running some end of simulations start to make sense. Below are my projections based on my PAN ratings through last weekends games, run through 20,000 simulations and pushed through the Big Ten’s mildly confusing tiebreaking rules.
Odds of an outright win or two-team tie with straight ahead tiebreakers:
Michigan St: 58.3%
Three Way Tie: 6.0%
4 Way Tie: 0.1%
3 or 4 way ties mostly split between Nebraska and Michigan with a couple going Iowa’s way. Any 3+ team ties go against Sparty. The only judgment call I made was assuming in the event of a Michigan/Nebraska/Michigan St tie that went to the BCS computers I assumed that Michigan St would be out due to the ND loss and Michigan would lead Nebraska thanks to the head to head. Doesn’t change much, would swing a couple scenarios away from Michigan if they weren’t ahead.
In the end, Michigan’s odds are about 9.5% to reach the Championship game.
Update: MGoUser But I aint a Crip though had a good comment about Michigan's odds if they win out or go 3-1. Winning out gives Michigan a 37.5% chance of winning the division and going to the championship game. A loss within the division is a killer, odds reduce to 0.3% with a loss against Nebraska and 4.0% if they lose versus Iowa. An Illinois loss drops but winning the rest puts the odds at 21% and winning the next three but dropping to Ohio still means a 17% chance at the inaugural championship game.
Penn St: 42.9%
Three Way Tie: 6.3%
Four Way Tie: 2.1%
Five Way Tie: 0.2%
Despite a two game lead over Wisconsin, Penn St and Wisconsin are about even odds to win the division. Thanks to both of their losses coming out of division, Ohio wins almost any tiebreaker scenario they are in. There are a couple ties that the Buckeyes missed out on and Wisconsin and Purdue! split those.
If Michigan Makes It
Odds on who they would face:
Penn St: 41.2%
Odds Used for Each Game
Minnesota @ Michigan St: 99% MSU
NW @ Nebraska: 99% Nebraska
Indiana @ Ohio: 99% Ohio
Purdue @ Wisconsin: 99% Wisconsin
Michigan @ Iowa: 67% Michigan
What a crappy set of games this weekend
Wisconsin @ Minnesota: 99% Wisconsin
Nebraska @ Penn St: 52% Nebraska
Michigan @ Illinois: 55% Michigan
Michigan St @ Iowa: 71% Michigan St
Ohio @ Purdue: 61% Ohio
Minnesota @ Northwestern: 77% Northwestern
Indiana @ Michigan St: 99% Michigan St
Nebraska @ Michigan: 56% Michigan
Penn St @ Ohio: 57% Ohio
Wisconsin @ Illinois: 72% Wisconsin
Iowa @ Purdue: 54% Purdue
Iowa @ Nebraska: 87% Nebraska
Michigan St @ Northwestern: 89% Michigan St
Purdue @ Indiana: 81% Purdue
Ohio @ Michigan: 70% Michigan
Illinois @ Minnesota: 89% Illinois
Penn St @ Wisconsin: 85% Wisconsin