Going for 2 is NOT a "no-brainer"

Submitted by cfaller96 on September 29th, 2008 at 11:18 AM

One of my pet peeves when discussing college football is the conventional "wisdom" that there are supposedly set-in-stone rules about going for 2.  Broadcasters constantly say that "coaches have a chart" that tells them when they should go for 2, based simply on the score.

I doubt this is the case, because I imagine coaches know that going for 2 is a decision that must be made based on the context of the situation.  It's complicated and risky, and it's not always clear what the right thing to do is.  No scoring chart will be able to take all the important factors into account.

What are those factors?  Aside from the obvious factor of...

1.  What's the score?

...there are, in my opinion, at least three other questions that must be asked, all with the assumption of a missed 2 point conversion:

2.  How much time is left in the game?

3.  Do I believe the opponent will score again?

4.  Do I believe my team will score again after that?

My philosophy on 2 point conversions:  assume you'll miss, and only go for 2 if it could make a difference in the score, there is little time left in the game, and/or there won't be any more scoring done by my team.  In other words, I believe the 2 point conversion should be put off until the last score.  That way, missing the 2 point conversion doesn't unnecessarily hurt your team's chances of victory.

Questions 2, 3, and 4 are related, of course- with little time left in a game, for example, there will most likely be little to no more scoring done by anyone.  But again, the context matters- a lights out offense like Texas Tech might believe they'll do more scoring with only 3 minutes left in the game, whereas a slug offense like Virginia Tech might feel they are done scoring with 6 minutes left in the game.

With all this in mind, let's turn to this past weekend's game:  should Michigan have gone for 2 after the Thompson interception?

Reading through the liveblog transcript, there seemed to be universal and instinctive agreement that yes, Michigan should go for 2.  Everyone quickly came to that decision and expressed confusion about RichRod's decision to take a time out to think about it.  Based on that, I assume everyone was looking at the scoreboard as the only factor in the decision.  But let's look at the context:

1.  The score was 20-19.  A successful 2 point conversion prevents a subsequent Wisconsin field goal from winning the game.  The score says "Go For It."

2.  But there was over 10 minutes left in the game.  Each team has at least 2 more possessions coming.  Time left says "Go For It Later, Not Now."

3.  The Wisky offense was not doing much, kicking FGs off of turnovers in the first half.  One big run in the first half set up their lone touchdown.  They had yet to score in the second half.  Their quarterback was not showing himself to be anything special, having just thrown a Pick 6.  Was Wisconsin done scoring for the day, even with more than 10 minutes left?  It appeared so.  A Wisky score appeared unlikely, but even on the off chance that they pull something together, that was offset by the off chance of a successful 2 point conversion by Michigan.  Wisky offense says "Go For It and Ensure Overtime, Just In Case."

4.  But the Michigan offense wasn't really a solid bet either way.  The offense had been a little, uh, erratic.  21 total yards and multiple turnovers in the first half was just plain awful.  A solid drive for a TD and a big TD run by Minor in the second half, however, had raised hopes.  Was Michigan done scoring for the day, even with more than 10 minutes left?  Maybe, maybe not.

That's why I believe RichRod took a timeout- it wasn't clear whether Michigan was done scoring or not, and he needed a moment to think about it.

It was a gamble, and as it turned out it hurt the team.  If he ended up deciding to just take the PAT, then the ensuing touchdown would have put Michigan up by more than one score (28-19), and the game would have effectively been on ice.  Michigan scoring again wasn't out of the realm of possibility- the Wisky defense had been on the field for a LOT of the second half, and they were starting to get pushed around.  There was at least a hint of foresight that indicated another Michigan score.

Instead, RichRod gambled on the thought that they wouldn't get another chance to score, so he may as well get some while the getting's good.  Michigan did score again, though, and the chance to ice game had already been lost in the previous 2 point conversion.  Because of the failed 2 point conversion, Wisconsin was only down by one score and still had a chance to tie.  As we all saw, everything worked out, but when Beckum caught the 2 point conversion pass (and before we saw the flags), for a moment Michigan's failed 2 point conversion loomed large.

Ultimately, I agreed with the call to go for 2- I was still unsure about Michigan's ability to score again, despite the gobs of time left on the clock and the tired Wisky defense.  My point, however, is that this was NOT an easy call.  This was NOT a "no-brainer."  And in hindsight, it was the wrong call.

These decisions are NOT easy, and they depend on more nebulous things than just the score.



September 29th, 2008 at 11:41 AM ^

"My point, however, is that this was NOT an easy call. This was NOT a 'no-brainer.' And in hindsight, it was the wrong call."

 You're right, of course, but who's arguing otherwise? I would find it very hard to believe that coaches did not take (2), (3), and (4) into consideration when deciding whether or not to go for two.


September 29th, 2008 at 11:46 AM ^

I dispute the idea that going for 2 was "obvious" or "easy."  And there were a lot of people who felt that there was nothing to think about, and no reason to pause on this decision.

Brian just put up a frontpage post about this, and both Brian and El Trotsky feel that there was nothing to really hold back from the 2 point conversion.  I disagree- this was not an easy call, even though I agreed with it.


September 29th, 2008 at 1:30 PM ^

I see your side of it cfaller but to me that 2pt conversion decision was a no brainer as Brian put it.  Look I agree alot of thought goes into whether there is an appropriate time to go for 2 but lets look at Michigan this last Saturday:

 At the half we had 5 turnovers.

We gave Wisconsin great field position but our defense was pretty good which is why they had so many field goals. 

 Our offense was finally moving the ball but would Wisconsins defense make adjustments? 

 After the way the first half went not to mention the season to this point to me you have to go for it.  Not to mention we had a receiver open if Threet would have thrown it to him.  But I know that is not the point. 

 So basically what I am saying is the way our season has gone and the 1st half had gone for that game to me it was a no brainer as well. 


September 29th, 2008 at 2:09 PM ^

To tell you the truth, I agree with Brian and Rich Rod. You can't assume that you are gonna score again, you can never assume anything in the game of football.  All you can do is play to the situation you are in now.  If he hadnt gone for it, we would've been in the same spot spot for a while, because up by 2 and up by one are the same thing really.  Anybody that says otherwise is dumb.  I would be willing to bet that any D1 coach would go for it, except for maybe Bill Stewart, I dont know if he understands the concept.


September 29th, 2008 at 11:44 AM ^

.....I think you just hit on one of the well known flaws of our current head coach. He tends to lose sight of time and place in a game.

Talk to the intelligent WVA fans....or those who are just neutral, national observers of the game and thats the knock....and its one that a lot of coaches have.

Love RR, but thats twice in four games where he lost sight of the big picture in favor of a high risk, low reward short term gamble. The other being the end of half sequence vs Utah, but I'm done discussing that one.

Again, I'm not being hyper critical at all, just pointing it out. We'll be having these game management discussions throughout the 20-year run of success he'll bring us.


September 29th, 2008 at 11:50 AM ^

Some of the commenters (and IIRC the broadcasters) were like "WTF?" when he took that timeout before the conversion.  I absolutely positively agree with him taking a moment to think it through, and I agree with his ultimate decision to go for it.

Just because the decision ended up being wrong doesn't mean it was the wrong decision at the time.  And again, my point is that this was not an easy call, and a timeout is completely reasonable on a difficult call.

U of M in TX

September 29th, 2008 at 12:06 PM ^

I actually think that the timeout was taken because too many of the Michigan offensive players were busy celebrating and could not get on the field in time, not taken to think it over.  I do think that once the timeout was taken, he did have to assure himself that his initial gut instinct to go for 2 was the correct one.


September 29th, 2008 at 12:03 PM ^

You seem to be making the assumption that Michigan called the timeout to think about going for 2. With the touchdown coming so unexpectedly and so much chaos in the celebration, isn't it possible that they were just unable to get organized in time to properly run the play?


September 29th, 2008 at 12:05 PM ^

But the point of my post is mostly aimed at the people who were like "WTF? Just go for it!" when the timeout came.  Regardless of why RichRod actually called the timeout, my point is that this was NOT an easy call and it would be entirely reasonable for him to take a moment to think about it.

El Trotsky

September 29th, 2008 at 12:06 PM ^

cfaller I think we're just of different minds on this stuff.

As an example, say you are down 15 in the late 3rd or early 4th quarter. I would advocate going for 2 initially so you know whether or not you need 2 scores or 1 later in the game. I would want more information earlier to make more informed decisions later. I take it you would advocate the opposite though?


September 29th, 2008 at 12:36 PM ^

In that scenario, I would advocate waiting on the 2 point conversion.  Remember, being up 2 scores changes the offensive playcalling of your opponent.  By keeping your team "in" the game by being only down 1, it puts pressure on the opponent's playcalling.  He can't just turtle if he's up by 8, but if he's up by 9 then he can probably can get away with it.  Put off the 2 point conversion until absolutely necessary, IMO.

These decisions do illustrate our differing appetites for risk, absolutely.  And I'm fine with people having a more aggressive risk attitude than me, but I'm not fine with people not thinking it through.  Sometimes the decision is obvious no matter what your style, but this was not one of those situations.  This was a hard call.

El Trotsky

September 29th, 2008 at 2:23 PM ^

Yeah I agree that my appetite for risk might be higher than someone else. During the Live Chat I just kind of intuitively said go for two because I just kind of thought that things were so crazy and our offense so night and day that you wouldn't know what we were capable of next that passing up a good opportunity to go up by 3 would have been a mistake.

That said, I've played a lot of poker and pretty much always err on the side of aggression.


September 29th, 2008 at 2:44 PM ^

have a chart.. when your down by so many points, when you are up by so many points etc. but the other thing and the single most important thing is. How confident in your kicking game are you, and how confident in your two point conversion plays are you.

I always want out offense to go for two becasue
#1 our kicker sucks
#2 we have great backs, and a big oline.
#3 even if we only make it half the time, we are breaking even
#4 most importantly defenses are confused, mad, sad, thinking about the last play, and generally wanting to get off the field as fast as they can. Usually a great time to run a play....

general rule is that, "dont chase the point" if you miss an extra point, dont chase after it, untill you have a good moment or until late. and if you have a chance to make a field goal tie you, you go for it in the 4th quarter...


September 29th, 2008 at 5:00 PM ^

gsimmons, I think you're illustrating my point perfectly- the decision to go for 2 depends heavily on the context of the situation, and is rarely a "no-brainer."  IMO, the context of the situation on Saturday slightly favored going for 2, but only slightly.

I agreed with going for 2, but I was very, very nervous about it given how much time was left on the clock.  Tough call.