Going For Two Comment Count

Brian September 29th, 2008 at 11:28 AM

Game column coming.

There's been a lot of debate in the aftermath of the Wisconsin game about whether or not Rodriguez made the right call after Johnny Thompson's interception return touchdown put Michigan up 20-19 with about ten minutes left.

The answer: absolutely, and it's not close. Let's break it down into three scenarios:

YOU GET TWO. Okay, you're up three, which means a field goal ties the game instead of winning it.

YOU GET ONE. Field goal means you lose. If you score another touchdown you have a likely-impregnable two score lead.

YOU GET ZERO. Field goal means you lose; if you score another touchdown Wisconsin can tie the game by scoring their own touchdown and going for two.

You can cancel a lot of stuff out because there are only two realistic scenarios in which the go-for-two situation is relevant: one UW field goal or a touchdown for each team and a Wisconsin two-point conversion. In all other cases outside of bizarroland, the decision doesn't matter.

At the time Rodriguez was trying to decide whether or not to go, Michigan had about 180 yards of total offense. Virtually all of that came on two inexplicable long touchdown drives; on Michigan's other ten drives they collected one first down and 31 total yards.

Wisconsin, meanwhile, had been gifted five first-half turnovers and largely squandered them. They had 248 yards of offense on 14 drives. They were averaging 18 yards every time they got the ball, and only had the points they did due to Michigan's largesse and a huge number of opportunities.

This was not exactly that 54-51 Northwestern game, where you were virtually guaranteed to see the opponent skate down the field and punch the ball in. This was a defensive slugfest between two teams heavily biased to the run, and it would take a highly unusual event like Dual Threet loping 60 yards with the Wisconsin secondary in tow to make the difference between one and zero even moderately relevant.

This is in fact what happened, but since Rich Rodriguez isn't the Kwisatz Haderach he didn't know what the future held in store and did the obvious thing: attempt to keep a field goal from beating you. Protesting that "you don't know what's going to happen" is weak sauce when you've got a pretty good idea that scenario A is far less likely than scenario B.

Anyone who disagrees is more than welcome to email me with invitations to high-stakes poker games.


El Trotsky

September 29th, 2008 at 11:31 AM ^

I said this immediately in the live chat after the TD, and was kind of annoyed we had to burn a timeout to get things in order. I'm sure things were nuts on the sidelines though, and can't really complain.


September 29th, 2008 at 11:34 AM ^

Great reference.  Absolutely correct on the two-point analysis.  Anyone who disagress with that either never played football or wears a helmet during the day for safety purposes.


September 29th, 2008 at 11:42 AM ^

As you can see on the diary list, I've already weighed in with my own analysis.

My stance on it was "yes, go for 2," but I disagree with you thinking that this "was not even close."  There was a LOT of time left in the game, which sort of undermines your assertion that "it would take a highly unusual event...to make a difference."  With over 10 minutes left, Wisky and Michigan each were assured of at least 2 more possessions.  It was not a certainty that neither team would be doing any more scoring.


September 29th, 2008 at 11:49 AM ^

Wisconsin wasn't able to punch it in on most of the gifts given to them in the 1st half.  They had even less momentum in the 2nd half.  You make an offense that is struggling decide between kicking a potential fg to tie or go for the td to win rather than just a fg to win.  Now, had this decision come up in the 3Q, then you absolutely kick the xp.


September 29th, 2008 at 11:55 AM ^

I don't believe it's wise to base your decisions off of a successful 2 point conversion.  You have to look at how a failed conversion affects the score and affects your team, and then make your decision based on that.  If a failed conversion doesn't hurt you that much (given the context of the game), then yeah, go for it.

This was not an easy call, IMO.


September 29th, 2008 at 12:07 PM ^

Assuming unsuccessful conversion, then a UM fg forces a TD for Wisc to take the lead and a TD for UM forces a TD +2 for Wisc to tie.  That means you are forcing a struggling offense to get into the endzone twice just to tie.  That outweighs kicking the xp and playing for either no scores for Wisc or an additional score for UM.


September 29th, 2008 at 12:14 PM ^

And that's ultimately the key question:  at that moment in time, do you believe the team will score again?  If the answer is yes, then you probably should just take the XP and put off the 2 point conversion until it's absolutely necessary.  If the answer is no, though, then you go for 2 and maximize your final point tally.  That's what RichRod settled on, and I ever so slightly agreed with him.

I did not feel fantastically confident about Michigan scoring again, but with so much time left, I thought it was possible.  Which is why this was not an easy call.


September 29th, 2008 at 11:46 AM ^

On the 2-point play Threet rolled to the right and was sacked.  Why didn't he just rip that ball into the endzone?  He had a couple of guys there.  IF it were to get intercepted, could Wisconsin run that back for a score? 


September 29th, 2008 at 11:55 AM ^

had that happened, afaik.  having seen the game again since, it looks like Wisconsin had the play well wrapped up.  at the time, i remember thinking "oh they're going to roll the pocket" as soon as i saw Minor line up to Threet's right with the far side of the field full of receivers.  so there's a decent chance that if i guessed right, Wisconsin did too.

El Trotsky

September 29th, 2008 at 12:02 PM ^

Threet definitely should have just thrown it up in the direction of a few of our receivers instead of taking a sack.

Also, I really don't think Rodriguez had to worry about team morale from a missed 2 pointer after the ridiculousness of the previous few plays. 


September 29th, 2008 at 12:03 PM ^

I think it was not even close because you had a Michigan team that had only 21 yards in the first half. There was no guarantee that the team would or could even get a first down the rest of the 4th quarter let alone mount another scoring drive if they decided to kick the extra point to go up by 2.

Sure, 10 minutes left in the 4th would be considered a lot of time if our offense isn't so Jeckyll and Hyde, but this being Michigan 2008, you have to try for points whenever you can get them.

Tim Waymen

September 29th, 2008 at 12:07 PM ^

We had 180 yds of offense and had just scored on a pick-6.  I really didn't think that we would score another TD.  Going for 2 was the right thing to do.  That last TD gave us what could be called "insurance points," but then again, this is football and not baseball.

I actually think that good conditioning really paid off here.  The Wisco team seemed a little tired and the Wolverines were really able to take control. Just awesome.

naked cerebellum

September 29th, 2008 at 12:16 PM ^

Ask yourself when the last time was in college or the pros that a
successful 2-pt conversion at the start of the 4th quarter or earlier
resulted in a win based on that conversion. 

Off the top of my head, I can't recall even one time.  On the other
hand, it is illustrative that on any football weekend, one can point to
a least one game where an early failure (meaning before the last 5
minutes of a game) of a 2-pt conversion resulted in a tie in
regulation, loss or needlessly nerve-wracking finale.

A really solid argument would incorporate a statistical analysis using a large number of games.  But who wants to do that? 

My point is not that Michigan should not have gone for 2 points.  My
point is that it is NOT a no-brainer.   Even teams whose offenses are held
in check for most of the game often manage to move the ball late in
the 4th quarter when the games are close.  Whether this is the result of
prevent defenses or more aggressive, risk-taking strategies by the
offenses is moot.  The fact that it happens on a regular basis changes the probabilities
of the scenarios you listed above.  It may make an "obvious" 2-pt conversion with 15 minutes to go in the game much less certain.


September 29th, 2008 at 12:25 PM ^

Name me one time that a team lost a game last week by going for two with more than 5 minutes left in the game?  You discredit Brian's claim because there is no evidence, then make a claim without any evidence.  It's a no-brainer, you go for two.  99 out of 100 coaches would agree (the lone exception would be Greg Robinson)

naked cerebellum

September 29th, 2008 at 4:31 PM ^

You want an example?  How about SuperBowl XXXVIII, when Carolina missed two 2-point conversions in the fourth quarter, the first of which was attempted w/ 12:39 left in the game.  The final score was 32-29.  Had Carolina kicked both extra points, they could have gone for two on a third 4Q TD they scored with one-minute left in the game. 

I'm not sure why you are so adamant that I provide an example, because one example does not prove my point per se, not to mention that the example may not be analagous to the Michigan game.  Only a study using a decent sample size would be useful.  My question was not proferred as proof, but as anecdotal consideration.  Likewise, Brian's a priori assumptions of probabilities should not necessarily be taken at face value.  And that is my point: not that the 2-point attempt was a bad idea; rather, people's conceptions of likely final scores with a lot of time left in the game are in many cases flawed, and thus have a major effect on strategy.  In other words, it's a NOT no-brainer to me (even though I would have gone for two in the same situation.)  


September 29th, 2008 at 12:21 PM ^

The NFL 2-point chart:


If a team leads by 1, they should go for 2 (assuming they have a 40 percent chance of making it) any time after 21 minutes to go in the game.  Even if you have only a 30 percent chance of making your 2-point conversion, you should still go for 2 any time after 13 minutes to go in the game.

The numbers agree--it's an easy decision.

naked cerebellum

September 29th, 2008 at 1:40 PM ^

My problem with the 2-point conversion chart is that the statisticians who developed it should have included several pages of footnotes--not that anyone would bother to read them.  To arrive at those numbers, they are using estimates for a large number of variables, whose reliability is highly sensitive to time.  The smaller the score discrepancy and fewer the minutes left in the game, the more accurate those estimates are; the converse is also true.  To provide concrete figures for 30 minutes left in a game for example are silly.   No statistician in good faith should offer a definite figure (which creates the illusion of precision) without a glaring caveat emptor.   As an analogy, predicting the temperature and precipitation over the next 48 hours is fairly reliable; predicting an exact temperature (and not just a range) for a day a year from now is much less so.


September 29th, 2008 at 5:08 PM ^

and now Michigan is 0-2 on 2 pt conversions for the season.  When does it make sense to go for 2 with a history like that?

Of course I don't expect Michigan to run at 0% for the rest of this season or for future seasons.  I only bring this up to highlight the fact that there was (and still is) extraordinary uncertainty about this offense.  With that extraordinary uncertainty comes extraordinary difficulty in figuring out what to do on a 2 point conversion.  Saturday was NOT an easy call for RichRod, IMO.


September 29th, 2008 at 12:29 PM ^

Brian, correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't your stance with Appalachain State that we shouldn't have gone for two because it meant Lloyd didn't think we were going to score again?  That was even later in the fourth quarter and we weren't exactly having a field day on offense either.


September 29th, 2008 at 12:38 PM ^

2 > 1

I think it's more of a preference. I thought it was smart to go for 2. Wisky hadn't scored all half and Michigan should play the lead, without a FG-losing threat.



September 29th, 2008 at 12:43 PM ^

I agree with Brian 100%.  At the time of the decision, it was of higher probability that both M and Wisky do not score another touchdown apiece than that they both would.  These offenses sputtered along all day long, and RichRod did the right thing in my eyes.

Anyone that did not speak their dissent on going for 2 between the time Threet headed onto the field for that try, and the time that the ball was snapped need not pile on the side of "1-pointers".

Sgt. Wolverine

September 29th, 2008 at 12:49 PM ^

The way I see it, in that game you couldn't assume any future scoring, so the difference between a 1-point lead and a 2-point lead is pretty much nonexistent (outside the slim chance of a safety); in hindsight, the xp would have been nice to have, but at that point with the game being what it was, the potential benefit of a 3-point lead was most definitely worth the risk.


September 29th, 2008 at 2:01 PM ^

I hate it the majority of the time when teams go for two in the non-obvious situation and I hate the "go for two chart". It is low percentage and saps momentum after a TD. However, in the situation Saturday I was yelling for it. A one point lead gets you very little and a 3 point lead in a defensive battle would have been significant.


September 29th, 2008 at 8:53 PM ^

Brian is right fo shizzy. In the context of the moment, 2-pts is really a no-brainer. But hindsight is 20/20 eh? If you want prescience, go fetch Coach Rod some sandworm bile OR quit yer whinin'