FG kicker? We don't need no stinking FG kicker

FG kicker? We don't need no stinking FG kicker

Submitted by Nonnair on July 2nd, 2011 at 11:44 PM

First, disclosure:

One, I'm probably one of those guys here last fall who made Brian do the GI Joe "Kung Fu Grip" thing with his fists.

Two, I pissed off many here with my-Aykroydian Point/Counterpoint response to someone's diary post last November, here, in which I attempted to quantify why despite all the glorious yards last year's offense racked up, it wasn't great, or even good. Scoring DOES SO matter -- you're dead wrong on that point, Brian. It's the whole point of the exercise on offense -- to score. And amazingly, as I pointed out last fall, last year's team wasn't any better at scoring in the first halves of Big Ten games than the 2008 Sheridan/Threet offense. For pointing that out, I was emaciated for my "dishonest" and unfair and amateur statistical acumen, and for my selectivity in looking up only first-half stats of Big Ten games when my intention was to, uh, look up the first-half stats of Big Ten games -- when the damn things tended to be decided in the RR era. 

Third, for those who don't know, and despite my criticisms of the 2010 offense in particular, I was and remain a big supporter of Rich Rod's. The guy got a bum deal, was undermined from the get-go. And I wanted his spread offense to fly -- like so many of you, I was way more than ready for its arrival. But all his sins on defense (primarily his selection of, and handling of, his defensive coaches) count as one of his two biggest self-inflicted wounds. The other was his inability to get his team -- even his beloved, potentially dazzling offense -- to play without making so many inevitable killer mistakes (and on offense, not just mistakes by his first-year QBs). There was a disconnect between what he was trying to accomplish on offense and defense.

The 2010 offense:

In November I wasn't, and still am not, prepared to say the 2010 M offense was great. Or even good. It's a results-based world, folks, and last year RR's offense made so many mistakes -- by second- and third-year starters, not just Denard -- that it did not score enough when the game was in the balance. Because when it mattered against the five toughest Big Ten opponents (MSU, Iowa, PSU, Wisc, OSU) -- that is, when the game was anybody's to win early on in those games -- the Michigan offense wasn't good. Wasn't good at scoring. And more often than Brian and many of you probably think, or are willing to admit, it wasn't even often good at moving the damn ball at all. Just as often happened in 2009 in such games, Michigan's get-go success in the first half at moving the ball vs The Big FIve of the Big Ten didn't result in many points, didn't last, and would usually result in the offense going stone cold before halftime. Meantime, of course, our defenders played as 11 turnstiles under some awful coaching. Result? Huge halftime deficit. Happened in all five of those games last fall. But, boy, when we fell behind by two to three touchdowns, hooboy! Our offense became an unstoppable buzzsaw, right? Well, except against MSU and Ohio State. But, hey, everybody wants to believe that no one could stop the offense in the second half, so I'll leave it alone.

Thesis:

And so. To the real point of this diary....

Earlier today, I read Brian's most recent post on Denard and the shotgun, in which he revisited this whole issue, and said in part: "There are three reasons for the gap between points and yards: field position, field goal kicking, and turnovers. The latter two combined to see Michigan's redzone scoring rate rank 109th nationally. The first two are almost entirely out of the offense's control...."

I recall having the feeling last fall that the lack of a decent field goal kicker wasn't that awful an issue, because it seemed we were often converting those fourth-downs when a normal team would attempt a field goal. Today I decided to peruse the play-by-play of the eight Big Ten games last fall to see if that hunch was correct.

It was ... more than even I dared believe.

By my count from the official play-by-play logs, the Michigan offense attempted 16 fourth-down conversions in Big Ten play last fall. Nine were either obvious go-for-its (e.g. trailing by 21 to MSU in the 4th quarter, with a 4th-and-10 on the MSU 28, when every team in America would eschew the FG attempt), or UM was not in FG range (e.g. at Purdue, 2nd quarter, 4th-and-1 at UM 46).

The other seven fourth-down attempts I am dividing into two groups: (1) FG is the likeliest option and only a riverboat gambling coach or a team without a FG kicker would go for it, and (2) FG is only a possible option, either because it'd be very long, or because there was only 1 yard to gain for a first down so going for it is a viable option. The results:

(1)

FOE QUARTER SCORE 4th and ... 4th DOWN OUTCOME DRIVE OUTCOME
MSU 1st 0-0 3 @ MSU 28 4-yd rush, 1st down FG
Illinois 2nd 14-21 6 @ Illinois 30 Incomplete Illinois takes over
OSU 1st 0-0 8 @ OSU 28 Incomplete OSU takes over

(2)

FOE QUARTER SCORE 4th and ... 4th DOWN OUTCOME DRIVE OUTCOME
Iowa 1st 0-0 1 @ Iowa 29 8-yd rush M touchdown
PSU 2nd 7-14 1 @ PSU 13 3-yd rush FG
Illinois 2nd 7-14 9 @ Illinois 33 complete for TD M touchdown
OSU 2nd 0-10 2 @ OSU 34 complete for 13 M touchdown

Bottom line?  If we had tried FGs on all seven of those drives last year, even if we had Adam Vinatieri circa 2002 [Ed-M: or Jason Hanson, ever. /Lionsfan] and he went 7-for-7, the most UM could have scored was 21 points.

As it was? UM got 27 points out of those drives. Six more points.

CONCLUSIONS:

1.  We were all correct when we began screaming early last season for Rich Rodriguez to just go for it on 4th down every time in the red zone.

2.  Brady Hoke should continue this practice, forever, unless Adam Vinatieri [/Hanson] can lose 10 years off his legs and regain some college eligibilty.

3.  So much for the lack of a FG kicker hurting the offensive scoring output of last year's offense, because it actually HELPED it to score more points than it would have otherwise.

4.  Brian is down to two factors to explain UM's lack of offensive scoring output -- poor field position, and turnovers.

---

BOTTOM LINE:

We can all dredge up whatever stats we want to, but seven months of digesting last fall's regular season has led me to this conclusion: RichRod's spread offense is a thing of beauty ... when it works. His version of the spread, with his UM players, seemed to work best against bad defenses, and bogged down when it mattered against decent to good defenses. It was sometimes a sumbitch of an offense last year in the second half, when UM usually trailed and trailed badly. But you can't find any statistic to explain how a team with a three-score lead plays softer on D, which schematic decision plays right into the spread offense's strategic aims. That, to me, explains to a certain extent why last year against Big Ten teams UM in the second half scored touchdowns more times (16, excluding Illionis OTs) than it punted (12). On its own that is an amazing statistic. But it's more than offset by the fact that in first halves, UM scored 12 TDs compared to 14 punts, 6 lost fumbles and 5 INTs; FGs made and missed were even, shockingly (3-3).

The lack of a decent RB and the mistakes -- the damn inevitable mistakes -- are what kept RichRod's offense last year from greatness. Not the defense. Go pore over the play-by-play of the MSU, Iowa and Ohio State games. Those games were there for the taking until midway through the 2nd quarter. Even the Penn State and Wisconsin games were close at that point. But then the M offense sputtered and became almost as dead as the defense until halftime in those games.

The UM defense actually played pretty well in the 1st quarter of the MSU, Iowa and Ohio State games. Look it up. Indeed, there was nothing in those pivotal three losses to prevent UM from jumping out to a big lead and forcing the other team to play catchup .. except a good or great scoring offense.

Might this year's team, with a grizzled Denard, have truly been dynamic -- "great"? If a real Big Ten-quality RB had emerged, and RR was able to drastically reduce all the damn mistakes, then yes, it very well could have. Alas.....