Should We Have Onside Kicked after Koger's TD (The Answer is Yes)

Submitted by Blue_n_Aww on November 4th, 2010 at 5:07 AM

I hadn't seen this discussed anywhere on the boards, but I was drunk for 48 hours after the PSU game (because of the PSU game) so I may have missed it.

I've been thinking about this for a little while now, and my gut tells me that after Kevin Koger's TD catch (and the subsequent facemask penalty on PSU), we should have gone for the onside kick.

Hypothesis: A normal kickoff will result in the opponent starting, on average, about the 25 yard line. Because we got to kick from the 45 rather than the 30, Penn State's expected starting field position from a normal kickoff (touchback) would be only about 5 yards worse. However, an onside kick from the 45 would probably result in PSU's ball at about the 50. Or we get it back, and the chances of us getting it back are actually greater than the increase Penn State gets from 25 free yards.

In order to test my theory, I'm willing to do some math. I'm going to be using the expected points charts found at Advanced NFL stats. I'll be assuming that we'll always force a touchback if we kick off and that whether we're successful or unsuccessful when we onside kick, the ball will be placed at the PSU 45. My goal is to find how often an onside kick needs to be successful to be better than kicking off.

First thing's first: 1st and 10 from the PSU 20 is worth approximately -.5 points to us. It's obviously worth more to any offense facing our defense and thus the negative number would actually be bigger, but for the sake of the argument I'm going to be as conservative as possible.

1st and 10 from the PSU 45 is worth about -1.7 points when PSU recovers. If M gets the ball it's worth 2.2. So we can represent the equilibrium (i.e. the point where kicking away and onside kicking are equal in value) like so: -.5 =2.2y - 1.7(1-y), where y is the likelihood that the onside kick succeeds.

Solve for y to get: .307 so we'd only have to be successful a little over 30% of the time with these parameters to make kicking an onside kick correct. Given that surprise onside kicks are successful 60% of the time in the NFL, it seems like a pretty large mistake not to onside kick in that situation.

In fact, it's pretty easy to imagine a scenario where a team has a very good offense and a very bad defense (just try to imagine such a thing) where we'd only need to be successful 25% of the time or less. For example, if receiving the ball at their 20 is worth a full point for PSU and recovering an onside kick is worth 2.5 for them and 3.5 for us*, the equation would look like: -1=3.5y-2.5(1-y). Then we'd only need to be successful 25% of the time to make going for the onside kick correct.

Add to all this the fact that in this particular game we were down by multiple scores and would have wanted to increase variance, onside kicking in that spot is an absolute no brainer.

*Numbers pulled from my ass



November 4th, 2010 at 5:12 AM ^

I was listening to the game on XM radio at work, which meant I had to listen to the PSU announcers.  They were fully expecting an onside kick in the situation, for the reasons you mentioned above.  With our lousy defense, I thought it would have been worth the gamble.  I wonder though with all our kicking woes if the onside isn't much of an option this year.  With a freshman kicker, it might be difficult to pull off.


November 4th, 2010 at 5:37 AM ^

With our kicking woes and the absence of a dedicated ST coach, you also have to suspect that the amount of time spent on practicing surprise onside kicks has suffered.

I agree with the OP, though, this was certainly a good spot to onside it. Trusting the defense to make a stop has seized to be an option for our 2010 Michigan Wolverines.


November 4th, 2010 at 6:43 AM ^

How does a program like Michigan not have its own Special Teams Coach???!!! Am I the only one this sounds mind boggling too?? Shit, high school teams have coaches who's main responsibility is just Special Teams! I know Coach Dews works with the WR'S now, but during RR's first coaching clinic that I attended Dews was announced as ST coach.  Nonetheless, we should have one!


November 4th, 2010 at 7:01 AM ^

You're only allowed to have 10 coaches total. Again, there are only 6 AQ teams that have a dedicated special teams coach. I do think special teams responsibility should fall to an offensive coach though (probably Magee since he works with Tight Ends).


November 4th, 2010 at 6:52 AM ^

I find that interesting that schools dont have their own ST coach........well if theres a school that should right now, I think it's Michigan. I can count on one hand the amount of big plays our special teams have had this decade. Off the top of my head............Stonum's return against ND and the blocked FG against FL in the Cap One Bowl.

Ellerbe is Yoda

November 4th, 2010 at 9:39 AM ^

Let's see.... Off the top of my head we had a guy named Steve Breaston who was pretty good at special teams. Just a list of the plays he made would cover both hands and both feet.

Brabbs against Washington, Rivas against Minnesota 03 and MSU 05. Onside kick against MSU in 04. Odoms returned a punt for a TD against Purdue in 08 as well. I think Grant Mason took a kick back for a TD or almost for a TD at some point too.

All that aside, am I the only who thinks our special teams are not as bad as people are making them out to be this year? Obviously the kicker situation is terrible but aside from that, Hagerup is quickly improving at punter, our coverage teams have been very good considering the poor kicking on kickoffs. The punt returners have gotten no chance to work. The kickoff returners have certainly been disappointing, but I don't think special teams is this monster we're making it out to be.


November 4th, 2010 at 7:07 AM ^

I'm completely serious when I say we should be kicking it onside each and every time. The defense is already giving up 3.3 points per possession in Big Ten play. If we had a normal defense the equivalent expected value would be if the opposition started every drive on our 30 yard line.


November 4th, 2010 at 7:11 AM ^

You can't count on this defense to make multiple stops in a row.  When you fall down multiple scores, you have to find a way to change the equation, and kicking off from your own 45 is a great opportunity for an onside kick.


November 4th, 2010 at 7:46 AM ^

I completely agree.  I was screaming at the TV for an onside kick at the time (ask all of the annoyed people around me).

While hindsight is 20/20, I think it was clear during the game that we should have kicked it at that time.


November 4th, 2010 at 7:54 AM ^

If the kickers can successfully execute an onside kick, I agree. But, they struggle to keep regular kickoffs inbounds and to make even short field goals. I'd be surprised if there is a kicker on the roster who can put the ball where it needs to be in an onside kick with any consistency.


November 4th, 2010 at 8:48 AM ^

If you were screaming at your tv that we should try an onsides kick (and you have a good argument for it above) would it really be a "surprise" onsides? I'm going to guess that whatever coach is the XX/Special Teams coach was telling every player to be ready for it so the 60% NFL stat you mentioned doesn't apply.

Another thing is that we had Hagerup in there doing our kickoffs. I really wanted them to try SOMETHING like kick it high and not out of the endzone or still try a not surprising onsides but I'm not sure how much experience Hagerup has with those types of kickoffs.


November 4th, 2010 at 12:28 PM ^


Yes, this. As far as I can tell, this was Hagerup's first game kicking off in college, and I don't know if he did in high school(most likely he did) or if he had been practicing it much before this last week. I think asking him to do an onside kick would be a pretty dumb move there, and if you bring one of the other two kickers on the field there after Hagerup kicking off all game you pretty much telegraph the onside kick.

Indiana Blue

November 4th, 2010 at 8:48 AM ^

for the exact same reason that we use the I formaton in short yardage stuations and then hand off to our smallest back (Vincent Smith) who averages zero yards from  I formation runs ...vs. Denard who averages 8 yards per carry  ... AND that answer is ... is, ummm, well I don't have a fucking clue !!!!

Go Blue ! 


November 4th, 2010 at 8:55 AM ^

I thought the same thing while watching the game....our d isn't stopping anyone so why not get the ball in Denard's hands as much as possible....I think the same logic holds true when thinking about the lack of blitzing on defense.


November 4th, 2010 at 9:22 AM ^

He can't go and do 'les miles' type things

IMHO I feel like he has to keep his loses close or the hounds will be out

like bob stoops did when he punted at the end of the texas game instead of going for it


November 4th, 2010 at 12:11 PM ^

There is no way (???) Rodriguez is basing his play calling on the fact that he might be fired.  That would be one of the dumbest things he can do and he doesn't strike me as a dumb man.  A loss is a loss and if an onsides kick meant a better chance of winning, that's what he would have done.  I could be wrong, but I have to assume that is how its working.  Otherwise, Rodriguez is in more trouble than any of us suspect.


November 4th, 2010 at 9:24 AM ^

RR should coordinate with a game theory or math/stats class where he comes up with several different "controversial" or "strategic" scenarios... and gets students to find mathematical answers to what he should do in said scenarios.  Who knows what we'd find.


November 4th, 2010 at 10:17 AM ^

It did take 5 days for MGoBoard to get a decent mathematical model of the situation - and as the OP pointed out, the numbers are assumptions, and the numbers that apply more to Michigan's situation are "pulled from [his] ass."

It's an interesting idea though, to have someone with reams of data and a computer trying to figure out what decision gives your team the best chance for success. But it's still just a model, and one that seems difficult logistically to use during a football game.

And so coaches typically go with the "safer" bet instead of the model's "safer" bet.


November 4th, 2010 at 9:34 AM ^

I don’t think an onsides kick would have been a surprise to Penn State in that situation. The TV announcers, and likely millions of other people, knew that it was a serious possibility.

Therefore, Michigan’s likelihood of success was probably lower than your estimated 60 percent. However, even at a much lower percentage, the onsides kick would have been the right call.


November 4th, 2010 at 9:45 AM ^

Pretty much everyone was thinking onside kick, including PSU. That's why it wouldn't have worked. Besides, your argument is that our defense can't stop anyone anywhere on the field. If that is the case, then it doesn't matter what we do because we can't win the game if they score everytime they have the ball.


November 4th, 2010 at 1:19 PM ^

It's been discussed. I don't actually believe that our defense can't stop anyone because they have come up with many big stops this season.

His conclusion is based on the assumption that our defense can't stop anyone and that the onside kick was a surprise. I disagree with both of those assumptions, which is the point i was trying to get across.


November 4th, 2010 at 2:02 PM ^

I think that we can stop other teams too. We just stop them at a worse rate than most other teams. That’s why the numbers in the second part are the way they are. The statistics bear this out for the year. My first conclusion is based upon numbers I got from a chart measuring NFL defenses. My secondary conclusion is based upon numbers I estimated, and which are likely conservative in relation to our actual points per possession statistic, which I believe is over 3. What do you think possessions from their own 20 and their own 45, respectively, are worth to PSU? If you think we stop other teams as often as an average NFL team does, I don’t know what to tell you.


Once again, just because a kickoff team is "thinking" about an onside kick while in their normal return formation, doesn't mean we wouldn't have an advantage.


November 4th, 2010 at 4:22 PM ^

Given that surprise onside kicks are successful 60% of the time in the NFL

I see few things wrong with this. First, if they are thinking about an onside kick, it's not a surprise. I think someone had a statistic of 20ish% of onside kicks are recovered in college (do you have something supporting your 60%, because I didn't see it in your link). Given that both teams are lined up in normal kicking formations, you might get to 30% due to a numbers advantage to break even with the rest of your math.

My second problem with this logic is that you assume that our kickers are going to actually kick it 10 yards and that our team will wait for it to go 10 yards before touching it. Given our problems on special teams this year, this is a big assumption.

Third, if you expect your defense to be able to stop on an offense but only on occasion, you want to give them the most opportunities to do it on a do or die drive. Having them start at the 20 and have to get 2 extra first downs while playing conservatively increases our chances of stopping them before they get into field goal range.

The only reason we're even talking about this is because they got a decent return and a bad penalty. Had the penalty not happened, we likely stop them, they punt to us, and we score to tie the game.


November 4th, 2010 at 5:09 PM ^

It also explains why only a small percentage of kicks are succesful when you look at the total statistics--it's because teams only attempt them when they're desperate and the other team can match their numbers.

Kickoff coverage teams always have people watching for an onside kick. It's part of that first line's progression. The point is that "surprise" onside kick succeed by and large, not because no one on the other team can fathom that the kicking team might try the onside kick, but because you have an 11 on 5 advantage against their formation.

Your last paragraph makes me wonder if we're even talking about the same play. I'm talking about the kick after Denard's 60 yard TD pass to Koger. After the TD there was a facemask penalty and we kicked it through the endzone for a touchback.

One final note: even if you're correct and we only have a 30% chance to recover, which I think is way too low, and we're breaking even given the very conservative estimates I used, we should STILL onside kick. At that point in the game we were down 14 points, having to kick the ball off, with a quarter and half to go, we should be willing to rachet up the variance, especially if we don't have to give up any expected points.


November 4th, 2010 at 10:21 AM ^

In general I agree.  However, I doubt the coaching staff allows Broekhuizen to spend a couple hours a day practicing on-side kicks when he obviously needs all the time he can to practice:

1)  Kicking the ball through the uprights from farther than 19 yards; and

2)  Not kicking the ball out-of-bounds on kick-offs.

I don't think there is enough practice time (per NCAA rules) to get him to practice 3) on-side kicks


November 4th, 2010 at 10:35 AM ^

I completely agree, not to mention Broekhuizen kicked two normal kickoffs out of bounds in the previous game.

While I appreciate the initial analysis, I think it ignores an important confounding variable: our kicker SUCKS. Tremendously. I just think it's asking too much of him to attempt something that could so easily bite us in the ass.


November 4th, 2010 at 10:44 AM ^

I see your point.  However given the significant possibility that he could send a normal kickoff out of bounds, or at best put it in the end zone and give it to them at the 20 anyway, it might be worth just telling him to kick a grounder at someone and hope for the best.  Worst case they end up on their 40-45.


November 4th, 2010 at 10:50 AM ^

I'm in the camp that says we should do onside kicks all the time, at least a couple per game, and maybe more, with a defense this bad.  Here are some reasons why:

1. About 3 onside kicks per game would give us one additional possession, the equivalent of a turnover.  The tradeoff is losing about 25 yards on each of the other two kicks (from an average starting position near the opponent's 35 to our 40).  Given that our defense usually allows that in 3 plays, I can live with that.  Also, the possession that we would pick up would start in good field position, near midfield. 

2.  Our defense tends to give up long, grinding drives, as we give up a 3rd down completion percentage of about 275%.   While I don't think time of possession is that important, it does indicate that our defense has to spend a lot of time on the field, and with our lack of depth, it would be nice to rest them.  Onside kicks would shorten opponents inevitable scoring drives, so that when we do have a lead and can kick deep, our defense might still have the strength to stop the other team.  Also, when we do recover, it keeps the other team's defense on the field, tiring them out further. 

3.  If we become known as a team that does this, other teams will have to spend practice time on it, decreasing the amount of time they can spend learning to defend Denard or learning to shred our eminently shreddable defense.  There's a reason that Beamerball at Virginia Tech has been so successful for so long: special teams are a huge component of the game and frequently change the outcome. 

4. With all the kickoffs out of bounds, we might as well try something else with a more positive outcome. 

5.  If teams always have to defend the onside kick, it will weaken their return game and give our defense more field to work with when we do kick deep.  I can also envision us doing the sort of "onside pooch" kick, where the ball is lofted behind the "hands team" people near the 40 into the empty space behind that will result from one or two additional people being put near the kickoff to defend the onside kick.  That kind of kick is really great because it just becomes a race to the ball, and even if the opponent recovers, their field position is right where it would have been on a standard kickoff.  Of course, we'd probably kick that out of bounds, but the idea is solid. 


There is a reason that some high school coaches onside kick all the time: it's worth it.  In both the Iowa and Penn State games, we lost by 10, and had a late unsuccessful drive when we were down 10 and had to force passes.  Give us one more possession with a score, and those late drives become situations where we can afford to use Denard's legs as well as his arm.  Since we apparently don't get turnovers anymore, this is a way to artifically win the turnover battle and get additional possessions.  How do you win a game when the opponent scores on every possession?  Have more possessions than they do.