alternate headline: man does job
It's Bo! In Michigan Stadium! Being Bo! Unfortunately, it's with Mitch Albom. But whatever:
WolverineHistorian also has clips from the '86 Ohio State game.
It's Mike Hart! Mitch Albom is thousands of miles away!
He'll grubberize the left flankenoid! Budding "television presenter" Dhani Jones is going to get his rugby on:
"Because Dhani [pronounced Dee-hah-nee] is a defensive lineman [sic], his catching and passing are the things we need to work on.
"All being well, he will come on the field as a flanker. I don't think it will make much difference whether it's blindside or openside.
"We just have to make sure that when he hits someone it is an opponent who has got the ball and that he's not running an illegal blocking move."
A football fan has no place to criticize obscure minutiae in another sport, but I've taken in a few rugby games and find it utterly incomprehensible. It was fun, though, to sit in polite befuddlement as the people around me went nuts about seemingly irrelevant developments... now I know what it's like for people around me.
Defending the man. Anyone who's read this blog for any length of time knows that it consistently advocates for more aggressive playcalling, especially in the tough-FG-or-pooch-punt area of the field from about the 50 to the opponent's 30. Years of screaming "NO!" at Lloyd Carr have created something of an obsession.
This is a mildly tough position to hold in the aftermath of a Super Bowl that featured one ballsy decision to pass up a 48-yard field goal that led to a turnover on downs and a three-point loss. No doubt some toolish sportswriter who believes in things like heart and thinks math is for pencil-necked commies will seize upon this and write a scathingly dumb article about newfangled methods.
HOWEVA, it should be noted that the Romer paper mostly applies to downs like fourth and three, not fourth and thirteen. This graph is the heart of the paper (click for big; it's a little unintelligible at this size):
The solid line represents the point at which kicking and going for it are equal choices; never does it breach ten yards to go and at the 31 yard line it's begun a steep downward pitch into reasonable FG distance. By my estimation, Romer's paper suggests that going for it on fourth and eight is barely defensible; fourth and thirteen is lunacy.
Hatred! In the aftermath of the MSU series, Yost Built took a look at Michigan's odd power play disparity. You'd expect that Michigan, always one of the best teams in the CCHA, would have an advantage when it comes to power play opportunities, right?
This was the case a few years ago, but not so much now:
2007-08: Michigan: 132, Opponents: 141, 8-14-4
2006-07: Michigan: 241, Opponents: 241, 18-19-4
2005-06: Michigan: 254, Opponents: 233, 22-14-5
2004-05: Michigan: 273, Opponents: 244, 21-12-9
2003-04: Michigan: 241, Opponents: 175, 33-3-7
(Note the NMU series numbers are not in here.) A few theories as to Michigan's progressive downturn here:
- The NCAA went through a brief, wonderful period during which they really cracked down on obstruction, which really helped Michigan; this is less heavily emphasized these days.
- Jack Johnson. Self explanatory, no?
- Steve Piotrowksi.
As in "Steve Piotrowski's retirement". The piece of data from the Yost Built post that leaps off the page:
Piotrowski: 10.4 PPO/game, +66, 27-7-4 over 38 games ...
None of the other refs that we frequently have (double digit times over 5 years) is higher [in PPO +/- for M] than +.65/game, whereas Pio is at +1.74/game for Michigan
Piotrowski was universally acclaimed the best ref in the CCHA and possibly the NCAA. He officiated multiple national championship games during the CCHA prolonged absence from said game and is now the CCHA's director of officials. Now he's gone and Michigan can't buy a hooking penalty.
The King of Rationalization. Friday's emo post about the basketball team contained a complain against the WHO WANTS SOME FREEEEE PIZZAAAAA announcer guy. It turns out that the announcer guy gets around the area, announcing things from Tiger baseball to Eastern Michigan basketball and Toledo Storm hockey. He is well loved by the Storm faithful:
"A LOT OF PEOPLE think it's odd that the fans boo me. It goes back to something a former Blade sports reporter wrote. He thought it was horrible that I introduced myself because most announcers don't. So in one of his columns he encouraged people to boo me. I think they were booing me to spite his suggestion. But that's how it started. I took my dad to a game and I told him the fans really like me. When they all booed me he said, 'Robert, I thought you said they liked you.' I told him if they didn't like me,
they wouldn't boo me every night.
Uh... someone fax this guy to South Bend.
In any case, while this guy may be excellent for the Toledo Storm and Eastern Michigan his particular brand of irritating rah-rah is not a fit with the Michigan athletic program and he should be replaced. Or at least tranquilized before games.
Fairly typical criticism following LSU's last second win against Auburn, this from Terry Bowden:
And finally, LSU.
The Tigers from Baton Rouge won another nail biter 30-24 against the Tigers from Auburn. On yet another unbelievable call by coach Les Miles on the last play of the game, he decided to forgo the winning field goal from the 22-yard line and throw a pass into the back of the end zone with eight seconds left. Although the pass was caught with one second showing on the clock, there is a good chance time would have run out if the ball had been dropped or deflected and LSU would have been unable to utilize its last timeout. I nicknamed Coach Miles, "Sparky" after his gutsy fourth-down calls against Florida two weeks ago. But there was nothing gutsy about this one at all. It was just a bad call gone good.
Mark May and others have also offered variations on this. This is wrong. Just so we're all on the same page, here's the final LSU series. It starts on the 25 after a Jacob Hester run with about a minute and a half left:
LSU has a 42 yard field goal set up at this point and 1:30 -- an eternity -- on the clock. LSU strolls to the line on first down and runs Flynn on an option for two yards. LSU declines to go hurry-up. On second down, LSU runs a waggle to the tight end for one yard. The clock continues to roll and roll and roll until nine seconds, when Flynn finally snaps it and chucks it into the endzone for the winning touchdown.
Watch the clock closely: the receiver hauls the ball in with four seconds on the clock. The clock continues to run for three seconds before it stops, giving the erroneous appearance of danger where there was none. If the pass is incomplete Colt David has a shot at a 39-yarder for the win. As a reminder, David is a tetchy kicker who's 3 of 6 from beyond 40 this year and missed an important 36-yarder against Florida.
Genius? Madness? A mixture of the two? Consider:
- Given the alignment of the Auburn defense: eight in the box, safety shaded over to the other side of the field, Flynn knows he was one-on-one coverage on the left.
- The corner is rolled up, not in press but about five yards off the LOS.
- The ball snaps with nine seconds on the clock and is caught with four. There is no serious danger of not getting a final play off.
- Flynn takes a five step drop and chucks it immediately; both running backs stay in to block and pick up blitzers. There is no chance of a sack.
- The high-arcing loop of the ball makes it impossible for anyone to bat it at the line.
The only thing that can go really wrong on this play is for the Auburn cornerback to intercept the ball. Interceptions are highly unusual occurrences, especially in one-on-one coverage that is unlikely to end up bailing out into a deep zone. The chances of something going truly wrong were minute.
The real debate is between Flynn's endzone chuck and hurrying up, throwing a higher percentage pass, and attempting to pick up a first down that would shorten the field goal to a near-automatic range. Is the difference between the relative success rates of a 40-ish yard field goal and a 30-ish yard field goal enough to make the decision to grind out the clock unwise? Is the risk of an Auburn drive that starts with 30 seconds on the clock enough to justify LSU's leisurely pace?
These questions are murky. There are no clear answers here. LSU and Auburn found themselves in a situation much like the end of the Texas-Michigan Rose Bowl where both teams seemed content with a makable but not guaranteed field goal. LSU ran on first down, threw short on second, and let the clock roll. Tommy Tuberville looked on, timeouts in hand, and let the clock roll. LSU baited Auburn into thinking they had reached a mutual compromise, then sprung its trap. In the abstract, it was a brilliant gambit with little downside. In practice, outstanding coverage from the Auburn corner and a timekeeper asleep at the switch made it look like sheer mindless bravado. It was not, even if it appeared like that even to astute observers like Orson and SMQB.
The problem I did have came earlier in the fourth when Miles passed on a fourth and one for a chip shot field goal that pushed the margin to 6. Going from a three-point to a six-point lead is only marginally useful. Yes, it forces the other team to score a touchdown to win but it also increases the effectiveness of the opposing offense by making fourth downs available. It's more defensible given the clock situation (eight minutes left), since having the field goal in your pocket is really useful if Auburn scores a touchdown and you get the ball back with time to mount a drive, but going for it and punching in a touchdown basically ends the game. I would have gone.
The Romer paper is sort of an MGoBlog cause celebre, so it's with great glee that I point out a Michael Lewis article in the most recent ESPN The Magazine($)*. It seems Romer's convincing statistical proof that NFL teams scoff at expectation when making fourth-down decisions has had zero impact. Since its publication NFL teams have actually gone for it less on fourth down (14.5 percent now, 15.1 then). The Sports Economist summarizes Lewis' theory as to why:
Lewis first asks if Romer is simply wrong, but concludes that this is not the case (and I agree). Lewis also wonders if NFL coaches simply can't understand the complexity of Romer's argument. This is a possibility, but Lewis argues the coaches are more than capable of understanding complex arguments. After all, just running an NFL team â€“ as anyone associated with the Detroit Lions has learned in recent years â€“ is quite complex and difficult.
No, Lewis thinks Romer is right and NFL coaches understand his arguments. For Lewis, the reason why coaches fail to heed Romer's wisdom is that coaches do not wish to undermine their reputation in the coaching fraternity. As Lewis puts it "Go for it on fourth down more often than any other coach, and you not only set yourself apart from your peers, but you call into question their intelligence. If your decision doesn't pay off â€“ if you go for it routinely and your team fails â€“ you'll stand accused of malpractice."
Interesting to see this theory in practice on the NCAA level. Two prominent coaches are liable to go for it on any fourth down that looks tempting: USC's Pete Carroll and Notre Dame's Charlie Weis. And you couldn't pick two coaches with more opposite public personas. Carroll, derisively nicknamed "Pom-Pom" by rival fans, shows up dressed like Ricky Bobby, plays practical jokes on his players, and is down with Snoop Dogg. He's the archetypical "players' coach" who is lauded mostly for hiring Norm Chow and his ability to get every OMG shirtless recruit in the country to commit to USC. I don't think it's out of line to suggest that he's regarded more as an organizational figurehead than an Xs-and-Os maven.
Weis, on the other hand, is a supergenius. A tactical master blah blah, you know the drill. He offhandedly implies that other coaches are kinda stupid on a regular basis (and, IMO, is not entirely wrong). He's subject alternately to "he's a genius" swooning and "he ain't no genius" sneering, depending largely on the POV of the author and the results of Notre Dame's most recent game. It's not difficult to imagine a lot of doors closing should he find himself in need of a job at some point in the future.
This is to say that the way a coach acts vastly outweighs what he calls when it comes to media perception. If The Orgeron was to suddenly convert to the Church of Romer (he may have already but hasn't been able to show us since Ole Miss never found itself in fourth and less than 20) and justified it to the media by declaring anyone wanting to question his new strategery would have to defeat him in a shirtless greasy wrestling match, chances are the next day's paper would be conspicuously light on assertions that Orgeron's brain has gotten to big for his, um, brain-britches. Or whatever.
I don't buy it. I don't think fired NFL head coaches panhandling for jobs get turned down because they went for it more often than the league average. So what could possibly explain the gap between Romer game theory and NFL reality? Poker. I've played a lot of it. It's game theory in one of its purest forms, and the lesson it teaches is this: for the vast majority of the population it is hard to play anything other than weakly (ie, betting rarely, raising even more rarely, but calling lots) . Variance is scary. Inexperienced players don't want to risk folding a winner, but neither do they want to risk getting into a big pot with a loser. So they'll call down with third pair or whatever. That's why the most popular games by far are cheap limit games. Most people will take a negative expectation (small limit games have a proportionally huge rake that makes beating the game very difficult) as long as it promises lower variance, because gambling's fun derives largely from fear. People like a little fear. It's rare to run across someone who likes lots of it. This is not a gambling thing, it's a human nature thing. There's a lot of cognitive science behind it. Humans, as a species that relies on the effective application of knowledge to survive as opposed to freakin' huge talons or whatever, are constantly torn between the realms they know, which are safe but boring, and the realms they don't, which expand his knowledge but are dangerous. The end result is a sort of addiction to slightly new experiences and a lot of timid poker.
If coaches are drawn from a fairly typical sample of the population and have a fairly typical amount of risk tolerance (little), then it makes sense that most coaches are tight-weak. The only reason they wouldn't be tight-weak is if it provided some evolutionary advantage -- coaching is nothing if not Darwinistic -- that forced it into the population. Evidence suggests it does: FO found that the most likely to go were Parcells, Belichick (not coincidentally Weis's mentor), Shanahan, Cowher, and Schottenheimer. The Sports Economist extrapolates from Lewis and surmises that crotchety, successful old coaches don't have to care about what their peers think, but maybe you get to be a crotchety, successful old coach because you're more concerned about extending your current job than finding your next one.
So why isn't everyone aggressive by now? Most coaches, Romer-intelligent or not, get fired and replaced with some other guy plucked fresh from the ranks of the coordinators. When you get thrust into the poker of the NFL for the first time, the stakes are high, the depths dizzying, and the consequences of a gamble that backfires severe. The natural inclination of the n00b is to cower and make the safe play. Most of them never live long enough to get out of the kiddie pool and start making moves.
*(I saw an ad for "ESPN the Weekend" something like a month ago. Is anyone reminded of "Spaceballs the Flamethrower?"
- Lone Starr: Yogurt. What is this place? What is it that you do here?
- Yogurt: Merchandising.
- Barf: Merchandising? What's that?
- Yogurt: Merchandising. Come! I'll show you. [to the Dinks] Open up the store
- [Yogurt walks over to a wall filled with Spaceballs merchandise.]
- Yogurt: Merchandising! Merchandising! Where the real money from the movie is made! Spaceballs: the T-shirt, Spaceballs: the Coloring Book, Spaceballs: the Lunchbox, Spaceballs: the Breakfast Cereal. Spaceballs: the Flame Thrower... [fires a short blast from flame thrower]
- Dinks: Oooooohhhh!
- Yogurt: The kids love this one. And last, but not least, Spaceballs: the doll, me.
- [Yogurt squeezes the doll, which says "May the Schwartz be with you!"]
- Yogurt: Adorable.