I’m not touching the play call itself. Most of have pretty strong feelings about it. Criticizing a failed play in hindsight is usually a pretty lazy thing to do, but Michigan has a set of plays this year that have a firm history of no success and should never be run in critical situations.
But what about the decision itself to go for the 1st down. In the situation there were two possible choices and two possible outcomes for each.
Kick the FG
Go for the 1st
Each choice has an associated odds of success and each outcome has a resulting win odds.
Kick The FG
The safe, NFL worthy decision would have been to kick the field goal (“Take the points,” because field goals are never missed). In a low scoring game this probably gets you to overtime and there are no guarantees you get another chance or that you can take advantage of it. The downside is that with about 5 minutes to go, you are opening the door to give Northwestern the ball with plenty of time to drive the field and run out the clock.
A successful field goal means kicking off in a tie game with about 5 minutes left. In this situation, the team kicking off wins about 46% of the time. A made field goal would have made Michigan a slight underdog.
In the fourth quarter of close games, college kickers make 94% of field goals from inside the 5 yard line. Those are pretty good odds, but still a 1 in 16 chance that the kick is missed or blocked. A missed kick would have given Northwestern the ball at the 20 and dropped Michigan’s odds of winning to 23%.
Go for the First Down
Picking up positive yardage has been a challenge for Michigan the last month. Had they been able to convert for a first down their win odds would jump up to 70% (74% with a touchdown). Still plenty of time for a Northwestern touchdown, but definitely putting Michigan in the driver’s seat.
The failure to secure the first down left Michigan with a 34% chance at victory. Far from over but a lot of leverage on the play.
The Break Even Point
A field goal attempt would have given Michigan a 45% chance at victory once the small chance of a miss or block is factored in. With 70% odds with a first down and 34% odds if they failed to get the first down, Michigan would need to be able to have at least a 30% chance of success to break even on going for the first down. Michigan has had its troubles on offense but a 30% break even point is a low bar. 3rd or 4th and 1’s from inside the 5 are converted at 57% historically. So even if Michigan was half as likely as an average team to convert it still would have been an even decision with kicking the field goal.
If the numbers seem too high or too low there are a couple of follow up dynamics in play. A failed fourth down would have left Northwestern with the ball and the lead late. Coaching history as taught us that this is a recipe for most coaches to curl up into a ball and try and ground out the clock and if they’re lucky get a first down or two. Because of this often failed mentality, giving the other team back the ball with a lead can be more valuable than giving them back the ball with a tie where there is some pressure to push forward.
I think this was absolutely the correct decision to go for the first down in the situation even if the “execution” was less than ideal.
The difference is what the Mathlete alluded to above:
A failed fourth down would have left Northwestern with the ball and the lead late. Coaching history as taught us that this is a recipe for most coaches to curl up into a ball and try and ground out the clock and if they’re lucky get a first down or two. Because of this often failed mentality, giving the other team back the ball with a lead can be more valuable than giving them back the ball with a tie where there is some pressure to push forward.
That is definitely true for a guy like Fitzgerald. If he can sit on the ball, he will.
Isn't kicking the field goal how we lost to Nebraska?
My memory is cloudy but we weren't in scoring field position much. Seems to me the odds are them going from their 25 to their 30ish after we kick and then our odds of doing the same after that with very little time.
IMO this was the only decision as it catalyzes the response and creates intensity on the following drives instead of a bend don't break defense that gets bled to death and allows Northwestern a much less stressful road to the end of the game. Even if we miss we force them to have to score a TD as a fg is still a 1 possession game
And if you look at their choke factor it seems that you want to try and put them in stressful situations. Tie ballgame isn't as stressful.
it was 3rd and 1, and we lost a yard making it 4th and 2. We were 0 for the game on 3rd down and had just lost a yard on 3rd down. Take the points - NW into the wind had scored 3 points total in the 2nd half. Plenty of time for both teams.
Las Vegas welcomes all you that would go for it on 4th down ... from an odds perspective. And incidently the Vegas bet would have been on making it on 4th down ... not who wins the game.
No place on earth I'd rather be on a football Saturday than Michigan Stadium !
1. Why weren't the odds of this season's Michigan team converting 4th and 1 presented?
2. Why weren't the odds of this season's Michigan team scoring a TD from within the red zone presented?
3. Why after all the math is presented, hard science, is the soft science of team psychology used to justify the decision?
If you're going to argue that team B will work harder, or not, score dependent, why bother showing any math, it's irrelevant. While you're speculating about what the other team might do, what do you suppose they'd do if Michigan scores a TD and leaves 3 or 4 minutes on the clock? Why wouldn't NW try to score their own go ahead TD? I mean it isn't like Michigan has never lost a game to a Hail Mary last second TD.
Statically it is about an even proposition between kicking it and going for it. So you have to look at the intangibles. As others have mentioned already we haven't been able to pick up critical short yardage all season, let alone the anemic performance over the last two games. So old MO was not on our side. You have a struggling offense with a sieve of an offense line. The odds of making a first down were more like slim to none. We were lucky to be in the game. You absolutely kick the field goal there. Now you are tied. You are kicking off to them with the wind. You count on your defense to get a stop- -which you would have needed regardless of whether you went for it or not. They would be punting into a stiff wind, and oh by the way their punter just shanked one the last time out. Chances are you get the ball back in good field position and are driving for the go ahead score; not in desperation to try and tie it and not lose.
Don't worry about the horse being blind. . . Just load the wagon! John Madden
As the Mathlete mentioned in this thread Michigan has converted 58% of 3rd/4th and 1 this season. So I am not sure why everyone keeps saying we are horrible at converting short yardage plays. And your "the odds of making the first down were more like slim to none" comment isn't exactly true. In fact we actually ended up converting 2 crucial 4th downs later in the game.
I don't think either kicking the field goal or going for it were bad ideas. I would have kicked it in that situtation but at the same time I liked Hokes call. The specific play call they used wouldn't have been my first choice however.
Double-checked the calculations myself and they're right...of course.
Math doesn't tell us the right decision, but it does inform our opinion. In particular, the breakeven point being only 30% is extremely important and non-intuitive (I think most people would have guessed a much higher number). If you're the coach here and, based on your team's performance so far, think you have a 40% chance of converting, you might not go for it...but you'd be absolutely wrong. We can debate whether Michigan actually had a 30% chance of converting in that moment, but the math tells us what we're shooting for.
the fourth down is only the first aspect of the decision. For the conversion to matter Michigan must then score a TD....what is the probablity of this year's Michigan team scoring a TD from within the redzone? I believe the esteemed Mathlete is wrong to assume Michigan has a 70% chance of scoring a TD after converting the 4th down. At least for this team this season.
So where do you put the TD %, say after a team shanks a punt that travel 7 yards and Michigan takes over at the 10 yard line? Wait ... its not hypothetical. How about the % that after taking all the momentum from the shanked punt that Michigan actually loses 1 yard in 3 plays? Based on experience, the TD % is zero and the losing 1 yard % is 100%.
The above scenario took place immediately preceding the 4th and 2, go for it call.
The fact is we were EXTREMELY lucky... and Borges is still a MORON.
No place on earth I'd rather be on a football Saturday than Michigan Stadium !
I think we both know that is a dumb argument to make. But back to the orignal point of our chances of scoring a TD from inside the 3 if we get the 1st down. Michigans Red Zone TD % this year is 64%, so its not unreasonable to assume that from the 3 yardline and in, it would be higher than 70%.
Given that the argument that the statistical odds of Michigan this season picking up the first down are considerably less than the average 30% is undeniable, given the weather conditions, and other factors already discussed, the odds of wining the game if we score a touchdown are also likely much greater than the 70% given by Mathalete.
Also does anyone remember if the ball was between or on the hashes? I don't remember. Very short field goals are much more difficult from the hash marks because of the angle. Is it possible that the coaches know that Gibbons may have trouble on short angle kicks from one side or the other?
Our defense...had given up late drives the previous two weeks
Isn't that an argument to go for it? If you tie it with that much time left aren't they more likely to try and score and our defense would give up the game losing drive than if they have the lead and play it conservatively?
you need to factor in the wind/rain and Northwestern having to drive into that wind/rain when neither team had done much going that direction all game.
The weather conditions and time remaining flip the going for it decision to bad for me. Kick the FG, games tied looking at OT with 5 min left, still likely to hold NW after the kickoff and get good to decent field position going for the win instead of a mad scramble to tie.
A lot of numbers are being thrown around out of context.The 70% in OP didn't refer to Michigan's chance of scoring a touchdown, and 30% isn't an average, it's how often M would have to convert to make going for it the best decision. Guys, read the post before responding!
Liked the decision to go for it, but not the play call
Liked the decision to go for it, but not the play call. Look at our formation- we're showing run formation. Then look at their D...basically 11 men in the box, expecting a run. Al should at least give the appearance of a dual threat formation, where it isn't obvious whether it's going to be a pass/run. I actually would have preferred a pass play called, because even if that pass play breaks down, Devin can try to run it then.
Going for the tie at that point would have made me uncomfortable, for psychological reasons, more than anything else.
a) Make the kick, and NW has all the time it wants to run or pass, all the way down the field for a TD or FG, or get conservative whenever it wanted, all the way to overtime. Make the first down and score the TD, or at least the FG you run some time off the clock, and NW becomes more one dimensional, which is easier to defend.
b) As effective as the defense has been most of the year, they have had the habit of giving up long drives to the opponent just when we've need a stop the most. (see NE and MSU).
c) I was reminded me of the Carr years, where I almost felt more comfortable when Michigan was trailing in the 4th quarter in a close game, and we had to rely on Brady, Henne, etc. and the offense to do it or else, rather than crawl into a shell, punt the ball away, and go on to lose. Anybody else?
d) The PSU game. At same point Michigan has to develop a more confident, aggressive personality on offense. Leaders and best? Champions of the West? Come on! The playing for FGs in the PSU game really bothered me most this year, not only for this team, but just as importantly, the milquetoast message it sent to recruits.
e)The crisis of confidence (particularly OL and Devin). I believe Borges has been desperately trying to start a fire somehow, someway, to get this team/season/program headed in the right direction, using the wet kindling available. A first down there could have done that. [apologies for the mixed metaphors]
f) If Gibbons had missed the FG? (PSU again?), What would that have done to the kicker/team/season? The good thing about the kick at the end, was they didn't have time to think about it- they just executed.
Mathlete may have done a nice job of looking at the numbers. But the numbers do not tell the entire story of this call. It was a low scoring game (9-6), you are down 3, you are on the road, the weather sucks. You have a terrible offensive line and you struggle running the ball. On top of that...you run away from your best offensive lineman. This situation SCREAMS to take the 3. I have watched Michigan Football for 25 years. This ranks in the top five BONEHEAD calls I have seen.