The Hat And Hoke: Bombs Away Comment Count

Brian September 13th, 2011 at 5:13 PM


I want one of these coaches in the fourth quarter and the other at all other times.
Yes, that one. Seriously.

When Michigan took a knee at the end of the first half on Saturday I was frustrated. One of my fears when Hoke was hired is that we were returning to not only the bits of the Carr era that were pretty good, like winning some games and recruiting like the dickens, but the ones that made you crazy, like punting from the 34 on fourth and four against Ohio State. Hoke stoked those a little bit with a press conference statement about liking touchdowns "too," or something. It was a statement that could be read either way; people mostly read it as Lloydball.

I was reminded of this today when I hit up my feeds and found that confirmed puntasaur Kirk Ferentz is getting heavy fire from the normally even-keeled guys at BHGP for a couple of milquetoast decisions he made in the midst of Iowa's triple OT loss to Iowa State. The first was tossing away his final possession from the 20 with 1:17 on the clock, two timeouts, and a kicker who'd already hit from 50. The second was not going for it on fourth and one in the final OT.

No one who remembers the 2005 Iowa game will be surprised by this. Trailing by three, Drew Tate was carving up a flimsy Michigan defense until Iowa got in field goal range, whereupon Ferentz clammed up and kicked for overtime. Iowa lost.

But even people who know about this can be pretty pissed off about it. Patrick Vint:

Not risking a late drive despite having virtually every circumstance in your favor might be MANBALL dogma, passed down from Schembechler to Carr to Tressel to Ferentz, and it might indeed be smart in aggregate to go hyperconservative in close games. The problem is that, while "the percentages" worked for Carr and Tressel, they quite clearly don't apply for Ferentz and his "unique" brand of endgame decisionmaking. On the contrary, Kirk Ferentz is an especially poor coach in close games, and his philosophy is counterproductive on both sides of the ball in late-game situations.

Michigan fans might have some words to say about Carr's effectiveness at playing the percentages—here we recycle the amazing stat that Carr was more likely to win a game if he entered the fourth quarter trailing by a score than winning by one. That's another drunken lament, though, and Vint brings Iowa's startlingly poor record in close games out like a hammer. It's bad.

The thing this reminded me of is that I hadn't mentioned Hoke's decision to go for the win at the end of the game. That seems like a slam dunk but I'm not sure Ferentz or Carr wouldn't have passed it up. It was risky enough to be called "baffling" and draw a comparison to Les Miles from Michigan Monday even though it's not at all baffling. But that's the point: there is a certain brand of football coach/observer that only thinks about the downside, and there's a brand that thinks about expected value. The former would have sent Brendan Gibbons out to kick for OT; the latter eats some grass and lets 'er rip.

In this situation it's a simple equation: is it more likely you score on a fade from the 16 (against Gary Gray) or that you turn the ball over or run out of time? A sack is not a consideration. The fade is the fade and is always thrown. So it's Gray INT or Roundtree TD? That's not close, and it's even further apart when you consider the chances of making the field goal (far from certain) or winning in overtime (less than 50-50). It's easy to kick and lose later. It's hard to man up and take the risk. Hoke took the risk and in doing so a chunk of the pejorative edge off MANBALL.

That's an encouraging data point for people worried that Hoke will bring back Carr's tendency to recruit an NFL All-Pro team on offense but let it idle in neutral because he's too afraid of what might go wrong to push in his chips. It's more than encouraging. It's trend-establishing. Hell, Hoke even said he'd think about going for for it with two seconds left:

Is the 30-second drill different from the two-minute drill? What was the decision like to go for the TD vs. settle for the field goal and then OT? “With eight seconds left? We had two timeouts, so we were at least going to give it a shot in the endzone. If Denard would have scrambled and got tackled, I think we had enough time to call a timeout. I may have gone for the touchdown and gone for the win [anyway]. Why not? I mean, you play to win. That was a good win.”

That is a filthy lie, but lie to me, baby. Back in the day when people were excited about Rodriguez I said he'd come up from nothing and wouldn't expect to win as long as nothing went wrong. That's something that applies to Hoke, who's endured crappy campaigns in the wildfire MAC and knows that when the opportunity to win presents itself, you'd better take it.


Indiana Blue

September 13th, 2011 at 5:22 PM ^

a conservative gunslinger?

Loved the read Brian ... thoughtful and well written.  I was a little worried when I read the first sentence ... as no good coach is going to get aggressive from their own 10 yard line with a minute left in an otherwise god-awful offensive half!

Go Blue!


September 13th, 2011 at 5:29 PM ^

Yeah, I had no issues with that.  You have to play the game situation I think and frankly if you unleash Denard the way he was playing there it struck me as slightly more likely to make it a 13 or 17 point game than to get a score, especially with our kicking game.  I'm liking the in game decision making so far.  Last week went for the 4th and 1 on the 19 against a MAC team.  Under Ferentz (or probably late period Lloyd, slightly younger Lloyd was more aggressive) that's a FG attempt.  I don't think we've had a 4th and medium between the 30 and 40 yet, but that's one I'm interested to see what Hoke does with.


September 13th, 2011 at 9:49 PM ^

But in addition to the INTs on Saturday, in the past he has a bit of a fumbling problem. And on plays where that's exactly what you'd expect us to do from the ten, run Denard, ND knows it and it just gives them a chance to really tee him up a couple of times before the half. Kelly already showed last year the "beat the hell out of Denard" strategy (ineffectively). The chance he breaks off a big on when they know it's coming is low, and a turnover on your ten gets them some crippling points with them getting the ball back after half. If we had gotten any type of return, we should have gone for it.


September 13th, 2011 at 5:28 PM ^

I thought there were a few calls that were ballsy and unconventional.  The one where Denard threw an interception near Gallon on the sideline.  The conservative play would have been to push for field goal position as they were only down 3 at the time.  As you mentioned earlier the defense was balls to the wall on many ocassions.

I can live with MANBALL if we go for it on occasion.  The telling point will be when we are ahead by two touchdowns, how do we play then?


September 13th, 2011 at 5:32 PM ^

Honestly, I was hoping for a zone read there.  There was plenty of time to run and that play had been super effective (why yes, I did play Pokemon as a kid) several times.  Get us down close and then score rather than throw another fade to your 5'8" dude.  I like the philosophy of going for the score (I was half rooting for us to miss the 24-21 PAT so we wouldn't be within a FG and would be forced to try for a TD) but question that particular play call.


September 13th, 2011 at 5:32 PM ^

Nice post, Brian

I was thinking the same thing, and laughing at the very end when I realized Michigan almost used all their time on that play. The Lloyd Carr Game Management Plan That Kirk Ferentz Stole, But Brady Hoke Not Only Won Back But Added The Previously Scorned Les Miles Addendum.

Thats pretty much our team right now, shotgun, I-form, covergage breakdowns be damned


September 13th, 2011 at 5:55 PM ^

Usually, you can count on a play like that taking 6 or 7 seconds at most off the clock. I've seen some that only take 4 seconds off the clock. Honestly, (without going back to confirm) I don't think the clock stopped when it should have because the ref took a second to give the signal. The only way that we eat 8 seconds on that play is if Denard is given a read and sits in the pocket with it.


September 14th, 2011 at 3:31 PM ^


You are correct. That was the debate in clockgate. However, my point is that if they had ruled he had possession when his foot first came down, there is probably an extra second or two on the clock. I think they did the right thing because they couldn't tell if he had full possession of the ball at game time.


September 13th, 2011 at 5:32 PM ^

The most confusing part about that Michigan Monday comparison is that I'm sure he has to remember how bad our FG kicking was last season - I know he chuckled about it multiple times last year. What's crazier, sending out a kicker that went 1-5 last season for his first FG try of the year with the whole game on the line, or trying one more jump ball against a guy that hasn't been able to defend them the whole game?


September 13th, 2011 at 5:34 PM ^

Is it "play for the win at home" or "play for overtime at home"?  If its the former, Hoke played it by the book.  If its the latter, Hoke pleasantly surprised!  Personally, there would be no question about running one more play for the win if I was at the helm.  Go for the win every time in that situation (time left, distance to the endzone, momentum swing).  Hoke definitely redeemed himself after downing the ball to end the second half!



September 13th, 2011 at 6:04 PM ^

It's play for the win on the road because it's not really 50-50 in OT. At home, I think you could argue that playing for overtime is playing for the win. If we had 6 seconds left (no hindsight because I count on that play taking 6-7 seconds), I think centering, TO, FG, OT is your best bet. At 6 seconds, that pass play the threat of running the clock out is too great IMO. I would account for 4 seconds for a quick slant, but the threat of an interception with a QB who has been inaccurate is too great. A run probably doesn't get you in, so centering it makes it easier for your young and inexperienced kicker.


September 13th, 2011 at 8:19 PM ^

I'm not convinced that homefield advantage makes that much of a difference in overtime.  At that point the visiting team has already dealt with it for four quarters. Regardless, even if it does, asking Gibbons or Wile to attempt a pressure-packed FG to send the game into OT would have been a bit unsettling, to say the least. 



September 13th, 2011 at 10:39 PM ^

If you have a shaky defense and an untested FG unit that was awful last season, and DILITHIUM on offense, playing for anything other than TDs in overtime is crazy. In fact, I'm not even sure I'd kick XPs in the first couple of OTs.

Now, if you have the kind of defense that Michigan will hopefully have in a couple of years, and a kicker who likes American scoring rather than Australian-rules scoring, then you have more options.


September 14th, 2011 at 3:42 PM ^

If it doesn't make that big of a difference then "Play for the win on the road" doesn't make sense. In this particular case, though, homefield advantage aside, we would have outscored ND 24-7 in the 4th quarter, which I think puts OT in our favor. I agree that asking them to kick that FG is nerve racking, but I think a centered 35-yard FG and OT is less dangerous than a 16-yard pass to the end zone when it is guaranteed to be the last play of the game.


September 13th, 2011 at 5:39 PM ^

I'm confused about the "flimsy" defense in 2005. I've only been a serious fan for about 4 years and I was under the impression based on media reports that every Michigan defense prior to 2007 was the greatest unit in the history of human existence. No?


September 13th, 2011 at 5:48 PM ^

How many games did we lose on the last drive that year... Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, Nebraska... Tried to lose Penn St. Probably would have lost Iowa save Ferentzball. ND was the only loss that didn't feature a late game collapse and that game had horrors all its own.


September 13th, 2011 at 5:45 PM ^

It was gutsy, and you had to assume barring a disaster there would be 1 or 2 seconds left to try for the tie if need be.  If Denard hadn't been playing so well in the 4th quarter, I could see the decision to just try to kick it.  But I think decisions like that need to be made on a game by game basis, and Hoke definitely made the right call in this game.


September 13th, 2011 at 5:56 PM ^

I think what he is getting at here is outside of some very low-percentage type catches and super lucky bounces, Notre Dame was clearly the better team the entire night.  We have no real between the tackles threat to run it in - heck, V. Smith broke more tackles in that game than Hopkins.  

I know that if we went into overtime, I would have been waiting to lose rather than expecting a win, although maybe that says more about me personally than the talent of our team.  I don't know.


September 13th, 2011 at 5:46 PM ^

Maybe the reason to take a knee at the end of the half was for reasons other than conservative game managment. If you have a player who's underperforming his usual level of talent, one of the best ways to motivate him is to send him a message you don't fully trust in his ability. Coaches usually do this by benching the player. But maybe Hoke was supra-genius enough to realize that telling Denard to take a knee would light a fire under him to an even greater degree. I remember thinking, in fact, that Denard looked pissed when he got the call from the sidelines to take a knee.

He had been playing like he needed to win the game on every play during the first half, and failing miserably because he was focused on the outcome of the game, and not the outcome of the play. Maybe it was Hoke's way of getting him to focus.

Or maybe he was just channeling his inner Lloyd.


September 13th, 2011 at 5:48 PM ^

We were going nowhere in the first half, and a gamble there was high risk.  Best guess, pick six.  At the end of the game, we had the mo, ND was on there heels, why not take a shot.

However, can you imagine the flack Hoke would be getting now if Denard throws another jump ball and gets picked off?

Final thought:  In these situations, everyone always seems to assume that the field goal is a sure thing.  It is not, especially with UM these days.


September 13th, 2011 at 5:50 PM ^

I thought it was a great call to call the fade to Roundtree and not Hemingway. I'm sure everyone, including ND, assumed it was going to Hemingway because he's a jumpball specialist. Roundtree didn't have a catch all game, but he's a proven big 10 receiver and made the play when it mattered.


September 13th, 2011 at 5:51 PM ^

I know the season is young, but Hoke displays manball toughness with that ruthfulness needed when things get tight. Couple that with his calm demeanor on the sidelines after Denards interception, and controversy-less voice(that Harbaugh lacked a bit) behind the microphone, and we just may have made the best hire ever(including Harbaugh). The only thing left to see is if our offense can be tough but explosive like Stanford or Auburn.


September 13th, 2011 at 5:52 PM ^

that going for it with 8 seconds left was the right thing to do.  They had time to take a shot and call a timeout if anyone got tackled inbounds. Not so sure the fade was the best choice, but it sure worked.  A slant that Denard throws if the reciever is open or over everyone's heads through the end zone if the receiver isn't would have been a bit safer in my opinion, then again, they don't pay me to call the plays.

The call that was missed was when ND sent the kickoff through the end zone so no time ran off the clock.  They should have kicked it so someone had to touch it in the field of play like we did on the final kickoff.  That could easily have taken 4 or 5 seconds off the clock and changed the outcome.  So, thank you Brian Kelly for some extra time to work Denard Magic.


September 13th, 2011 at 5:57 PM ^

On the other hand if you squib it and someone fields it competently we get it at the 40 or so, negating the 5 seconds you burned.  I HATE the late squibs.  Trust your defense to not fuck up epically and give up 80 yards in 30 seconds when all you need is to keep everyone in front of you.


September 13th, 2011 at 6:32 PM ^

There's a difference between 8 seconds and time in which one relatively good pass play could get you in field goal range (aka 15 seconds or above).  If you're just allowing a hail mary from the 40 that's fine.  But if you leave them time to have a play before that (or even worse if there's a minute or so left a full drive)... it drives me nuts.  I would rather take the risk with Steve Breaston like Joe Pa (to use a notable example where my theory backfires) than do the conventionally wise thing and concede the 40.


September 13th, 2011 at 6:02 PM ^

Not only is a fade the best choise, it's almost the only choice.  It takes decision-making out of everyone's hands, because decision-making is slow and always, always prone to mistakes no matter who's the quarterback.  Three steps back and let 'er rip.  It's a quick play that's basically guaranteed not to take all 8 seconds and, if it fails, it almost certainly falls harmlessly to earth.  It takes the luck factor out.  No tipped balls, no out-of-position defender in lucky position to make a play.  And it's nigh-impossible to defend if executed well.  To me, the shot at the end zone on a fade route is damn-near a no-brainer.


September 13th, 2011 at 5:57 PM ^

Loved the decision to go for it and, like you, was a bit confused that they didn't even try a couple plays at the end of the first half.  They had a minute and TOs left, and as we've seen, it doesn't always take this team long to score.  So far, I'm fairly pleased with what I'm seeing, though.  I hope they maintain that will to win.  The late-Lloyd squat-on-the-lead-to-win mentality just killed me.  I want to see you out there trying to score points if you're up 50, and I don't give a damn about "sportsmanship".  If you're judged in ballotting on quality of your wins, make every one as good as you can.  I'm not advocating for having starters in in the fourth quarter up by 50, but I want to maintain that killer instinct.