A Quick Sugar Bowl Preview and Game Theory Follow-Ups

Submitted by The Mathlete on January 3rd, 2012 at 3:49 PM

Back at the real job today after a great two weeks of football, ready to start cheering for the team I love, not just the one I have money on like the uniforms better.

Virginia Tech Preview

PAN, National Rank (leader)

Rush Offense

Michigan: +5, 4th (Oregon)

vs VT: +1, 40th

Pass Offense

Michigan: +3, 29th (Baylor)

vs VT: +3, 22nd

Rush Defense

Michigan: +1, 46th (Alabama)

vs VT: +2, 28th

Pass Defense

Michigan: +1, 39th (Texas)

vs. VT: +2, 31st

Special Teams

Michigan: +0, 60th

vs VT: –0, 73rd

A pretty close match-up in all areas except when Michigan is rushing the ball. That’s likely the best avenue for Michigan to leverage. With arrests, suspensions and a late season Michigan surge, special teams could be an opening as well. This should be a close one but this game is Michigan’s to lose, 31-28 Michigan.

Ron Zook Memorial Dumb Punt of the Bowl Season

Haven’t had a chance to review all of the bowl games, but Wisconsin’s first quarter punt has to be the top contender. Two potent offenses, touchdowns on the first three possessions and the Badgers face 4th and 3 at the Oregon 38. Despite the best scrambling QB in college football and an offense geared to pound the ball on the ground against a defense that hadn’t stopped them in their first two drives, Wisconsin played field position. Against Oregon. Two plays later the Black Mamba is flashing chrome 91 yards for a TD in a 7 point Ducks win. Wisconsin is 22/30 on 3rd and 2-4 yards on the season in competitive situations.

Richt/Shaw/NFL Coaching Conservatory

This was just brutal watching teams play for field goals. It’s not a great strategy in the NFL where nearly all the kickers are money inside of 40 and pretty good from 40-55. College kickers, even the good ones, not so much. Here is the table I use to estimate kicker success. From the 25 even a top-notch college kicker is going to miss 20%, an average one is going to miss nearly half the time. Getting a single first down moves the odds significantly. 


One other update to the Game Theory Manifesto that I tweeted about during the MSU/Georgia trying not to lose-fest, if you are in the lead and the other team has time-outs left, don’t run up the middle on third down unless you think that’s your best shot to get the first down. The clock is going to stop after your play no matter what. One extra timeout in your opponent’s pocket has very little chance of deciding the game. A first down in most cases will end or nearly end the game. Don’t be careless but if you have a dependable QB like Aaron Murray, throw the ball and give yourself a chance to end the game.


Gulo Gulo Luscus

January 3rd, 2012 at 2:01 PM ^

Posted in another thread ("game-theory gods"), but had to ask  you directly.  Was this tweet sarcasm or serious?

Odds of making a 42 yard FG, 56%, odds of making even a 32 yard FG, 79%. Easy call to kick it there and not try for a single yard.

Everyone was blasting Richt for the conservatism and it sure seemed like playing for a 3rd down FG was a mistake, but you don't seem like the type to identify that as an "easy call" sarcastically.  Also, which D'Antonio 2 point conversion attempt was the worst, or are they all equally dumb?

The Mathlete

January 3rd, 2012 at 2:23 PM ^

Forgot my sarcasm font on that one. As the chart above shows, that area yards are critical to improving your odds. Wouldn't take a coin flip shot at winning without trying to something more. 

All of the Sparty 2 pt attempts were questionable. The first two were way to early but at least the argument could be made at that point that MSU offense was stalled and you have to try, even if its still the third quarter. By the time the try in the fourth came MSU had started moving the ball on offense. Even though time was getting tighter, there were several possessions left and obviously scenarios where the foregone points would have cost them. If Sparty kicks to go up 21-19, the Georgia TD gives them 25-27 depending on what they decide to do for PAT (I would kick, go up 5), but no matter what, the final MSU TD seals the game. With 14 seconds left I might even take a knee instead of try a point (assuming you were trailing by 4 or 5, not 6), just to avoid what happened to Nebraska. 

Gulo Gulo Luscus

January 3rd, 2012 at 2:34 PM ^

Figured it had to be sarcasm given the large increase in odds, but I guess my detection skills are waning.  D'Antonio is an aggressive coach, so I sort of understand trying to make up for that early safety by going for 2 early.  I thought the 4th quarter miss would burn Sparty in the end, but the other sideline one-upped them on game-theory 101 failure.


January 3rd, 2012 at 4:18 PM ^

Very happy all of my life long "gut feels" are backed up by stats.

Question-  Do you have the data for last second/clutch(ot) kicks?  It seems the conversion rate drops further because the defense is in an all out block situation which might speed up a kickers timing plus the added pressure.

I posted all this yesterday and I just can't wrap my head around why a coach would trust his kicker more than his qb?   The football world is run by a lot of ex players who often times don't even like kickers as non football players.  Yet in the most crucial situations they trust these guys more than they trust the guy who most times they are closest to and trust the most, their quarterback.  It would seem coaches would go the other way and instinctively trust their qb over the odds.

Stanford pulling the ball out of Luck's hands to settle for a fg with plenty of time was just pitiful.  Luck is regarded as the smartest qb in college and a sure fire #1 pick and you don't trust him in regulation and ot to cough up the ball?   I just don't get it.




January 3rd, 2012 at 4:23 PM ^

Stanford has a first down around the 20 with 52 seconds and 3 time-outs.  They run into the pile to center it for a ~35 yd field-goal, and let the clock run down to 3 seconds before using a timeout.  I remarked to my patiently-awaiting-end-of-game wife that even a good college kicker will miss from there at least 1 time in 5 ... and sure enough, they do.  You have the Heisman runner-up in a game where he's been preternaturally accurate (26-30 in regulation with 1 pick - and that one pick was a fantastic effort by the DB to break, leap and come down in bounds), and you're not going to give your kicker another 5 yards?  Run a quick screen or a fade - something low-risk, sure - but get him more yardage.

Ok.St.'s in OT was at least a chip shot and known to be the game-winner, but it still seems like the chances of missing an extra point are greater than the chances of a turnover on a fade or other low-risk play.  Not to mention that if something bad happens like a fumble or bad snap, if you recover you can still try the field goal; if you don't you play OT again.



January 3rd, 2012 at 4:59 PM ^

Sharp was 79 of 80 in his career on extra points and has never missed a field goal inside 30 yards (14 of 14). You'd be hard pressed to find a play so safe it has less than a 1% chance of a turnover against a team with no goal other than to force that turnover, and OSU's short yardage game had been poor throughout the game--they'd already failed once on 1st and goal at the 4.

I didn't have any problem with that call. The others were obviously wrong, of course.

The Barwis Effect

January 3rd, 2012 at 4:49 PM ^

If I'm reading your post from a week or so ago correctly, MSU had a 5% chance of winning that game after throwing that pick on the first posession of OT.  Is that correct?  If so, Richt truly is the master of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

The Mathlete

January 3rd, 2012 at 4:55 PM ^

Correct, from 2007 to the 2011 regular season end, there were 37 OT's where the first team in an overtime period failed to score. Only three times did that team survive to see another period, Arkansas Ms St last year, Fresno St Wyoming in 2009 and Tennessee Kentucky in 2007. That's an 8% chance of surviving to the next period plus about 50/50 to win in the next.


January 3rd, 2012 at 6:01 PM ^

deciding not to try to get a first down with 4 minutes left in the game and a 7 point lead.  Instead they try  3 straight ahead running plays to try and run as much time off the clock as they can.  Then they punt to MSU with 2 minutes left.

They deserved to lose.