Space Coyote: "Play calling put players in a position to succeed."

Submitted by stephenrjking on October 17th, 2013 at 1:22 PM…

Space Coyote brings a provocative play by play counter-assessment of Al's playcalls, and concludes with support of Al's overall game.

Personally, I think he's partially right: Al Borges used a lot more variety and counter work than people give him credit for, and given the weaknesses and strengths of the team, produced a gameplan that was good enough put Michigan up by ten in the fourth quarter.

When you have no OL and a QB that turns it over, your options are limited, and he worked with those options.

Where I hold Borges responsible? He's the offensive coordinator. He bears some responsibility for the line being bad in the first place. More significantly, he is the QB coach, and I don't have a lot of faith in him in that capacity. I wonder how much of Devin's TO trouble is coaching related.


Monocle Smile

October 17th, 2013 at 1:30 PM ^

Yes, the offense does some things well and did those things to score points in the second half. My primary criticism is that Borges went AWAY from that stuff and into stuff we definitely suck at doing.

Small sample size, but for a guy who claims he's all about "waist-down" mechanics with QBs, the footwork of neither Denard nor Gardner seems to have developed during his tenure.

Space Coyote

October 17th, 2013 at 1:34 PM ^

I do disagree. I know on the clock killing drive he was conservative, but it was within reason. After that, in OT2 and OT4, he was far from conservative. He called almost the exact same game plan as the one he called in teh 3rd quarter to put Michigan ahead.

He didn't go away from it except when killing clock or needing chip shot, make them 90% of the time FGs, and even then in OT3 he was relatively aggressive given the circumstances.


October 17th, 2013 at 1:43 PM ^

I don't agree that the OT fg's, in particular the OT1 fg was a 90%. I don't want to rely on a 40fg by a college kicker ever, maybe with an experienced NFL kicker I can accept that. But playing for a 40 yard fg, especially with a kicker who had only attempted 1 fg the entire year of over 40 yards until that attempt and a carrer mark around 50% on fgs over 40, plus add that it is a pressure situation of a game winning fg in overtime on the road in a hostile envorinment in happy valley for a team looking for its first B1G title in a decade, that is past conservative and on to stupid. i don't care who calls this a chip shot, in college football it just is not.


October 17th, 2013 at 1:48 PM ^

I wish they had gained a few yards, putting Gibbons within that zone where stats suggest that the FG is high percentage. For what it's worth, they got exactly the same scenario that they got in the Sugar Bowl, when Gibbons won the game. We weren't furious about how that turned out.

A much bigger problem would be an interception or a sack, both of which are very much a possibility with Gardner under center. I might have chosen differently, but I can accept the logic there.


October 17th, 2013 at 1:55 PM ^

Yep, there is an argument either way. Both could have succeeded and both could have failed. If the FG is hit we aren't talking about. If they go for more yards and turn it over or get sacked we are probably discussing them being to aggressive. One way they have no faith in Gardner the other way they have no faith in Gibbons. Pick your poison.


October 17th, 2013 at 2:00 PM ^

just because somehting worked once does not meen it is the correct strategy. sure on 4th down i wanted us to kick rather than go for it because it is the only option. i was at that sugar bowl and pissed that we ran 3 straight times in OT, especially after VT's kicker had just missed a 37ish yards in the OT.

and this doesn't even take into account how the penn st defense was playing in OT, giving free yards to the receivers.


October 17th, 2013 at 2:11 PM ^

The fact that something worked once, and that that one time was the only time you tried it, certainly means that it's a defensible strategy.

It may not be the best, depending on your perspective, but had Gibbon's made the field goal no one would have complained, just like everyone forgot after the sugar bowl and UGA's OT win over Tennessee the week before, where they did exactly the same thing.


October 17th, 2013 at 2:32 PM ^

You're missing the point. The point is the OT1 strategy was based off of information available at the time that A) you were in this situation before and it worked swimmingly, B) Other teams in this situation have succeeded by doing this, and C) our kicker has been pretty money. After the kick got blocked, the coaches saw that C) wasn't necessarily true anymore and adjusted accordingly. That's what they're supposed to do. Of all the errors the coaches made, predicting your special teams line would let a guy through AND your kicker would line drive it simultaneously isn't one that can be reasonably pinned on them, IMO. That's classic Monday morning quarterbacking.

coastal blue

October 17th, 2013 at 2:44 PM ^

Honestly, what game did you watch? 

What about two Toussaint carries and a Devin Gardner "centering" came from something that had worked "swimmingly" during the game? 

A 40 yard field goal in a hostile environment after you've already missed a game winning kick is not an automatic thing, yet Borges called plays like it was. 



October 17th, 2013 at 3:16 PM ^

every field goal is exactly the same

It was pretty damn close to the same.

....Myer then lined up for a 37-yard field goal, but pushed it to the right, giving Michigan the ball and the opportunity to win the game with a field goal Michigan played conservatively on its drive, beginning on Tech's 25-yard line. Michigan handed the ball to Toussaint three straight times, which saw runs of three, two, and zero yards respectively. After a Tech timeout in an attempt to ice the kicker, Gibbons kicked a 37-yard field goal to give Michigan the victory and its first BCS win since the 2000 Orange Bowl.

Oh right, I forgot teams never change

You're right about that one. Brendan Gibbons hadn't broken the school record for consecutive field goals yet in the Sugar Bowl.

coastal blue

October 17th, 2013 at 3:19 PM ^

Outdoors, much more hostile crowd, just missed his last kick, longer kick. Yep exactly the same. Like I said, I'm not sure you even watched the same game as everyone else. Also, we at least tried for yards on all three plays in the Sugar Bowl. 

But right, exactly the same. Good job. 


October 17th, 2013 at 3:25 PM ^

You're picking nits to support your Monday morning quarterbacking. It wasn't windy, it was 3 yards longer and the one he just missed was 52 yards, dead nuts straight and missed just short.

You're acting like running it 3 times and kicking all of a sudden isn't standard operating procedure in that situation because it happened to not work out for us this time.


October 17th, 2013 at 3:41 PM ^

To be honest, I have no clue if it is standard operating procedure? In my albeit novice opinion of simply watching a ton of college football (as a fan; not someone that tries to disect plays), it seems like most coaches actually try to get some positive yardage to set up either a touchdown or an easier FG. Outside of the B1G, which is probably the least creative conference in the country, most teams seem to actually move the ball during OT, instead of hanging back.

Within the paradigm of reasonability, "playing the odds" is what separates a conservative coach from a coach that goes for the juggular, IMO. Sucks to say, but I really can't help but wonder what a coach like Saban or Meyer would have done in that situation. 

coastal blue

October 17th, 2013 at 3:42 PM ^

I'm saying that if the goal is to make the field goal as easy as possible for your kicker who just missed a GW in a hostile environment, then running three times with a RB averaging a yard a carry - who has also had a host of negative plays - behind an offensive line that has proven incapable of blocking for him is not the best strategy to win the game. 

But you can continue to pretend that it is. And don't be mad that I proved your example to be false. 



October 17th, 2013 at 3:52 PM ^

I wasn't the one who got the snark train rolling my man.

You're entitled to your opinion. Hindsight is 20/20, so since it didn't work out I guess I can't say your reasoning is wrong. I also think the way they played it is hardly indefensible either, as evidenced by the zero complaints when it goes right.

FWIW, I don't like the play call of running up the gut for the reasons you described and I've said so many times, but I think strategy wise, keeping it on the ground is still the right call.

coastal blue

October 17th, 2013 at 3:57 PM ^

Yes, you're right: strategy-wise its good playcalling if you have the 1997 offensive line with Mike Hart running behind it. You can imagine good things happening. You can imagine positive yardage, first downs and short field goals.

Because we have the 2013 line minus Taylor Lewan with Fitz Toussaint running behind it, it is bad strategy if we are doing everything we can to win the game. 

Its that simple. And I think that is what upsets people and makes them try to come up with complex arguments because they think the more analysis they put into it, it will somehow change overcome the right answer because the right answer is a simple one. 


October 17th, 2013 at 4:21 PM ^

Our arguments aren't complex. In fact, most of the rebuttals are along the lines of, "that's old fashioned". It is old fashioned. It is simple. Not complex at all. The correct strategy for calling offensive plays in OT when all one needs is a FG and one has a very reliable kicker is to run it until either you score or the defense makes you kick.

I guess the complexity, if it exists at all, to our argument is that we prefer to hand the ball off to a guy who doesn't fumble as opposed to having our fumble-prone QB run it. You can argue that point, and you might be right, but anything else is silly.


October 17th, 2013 at 4:31 PM ^

"The correct strategy for calling offensive plays in OT when all one needs is a FG and one has a very reliable kicker is to run it until either you score or the defense makes you kick."


No, that is the most common strategy. That in no way makes it correct.


Coaches regularly engage in lots of risk averse strategies that aren't statistically supported.



Red is Blue

October 18th, 2013 at 8:15 AM ^

To zero in on one play, I don't get the 3rd and short logic in 3OT.  At that point the kicker has already come up short and had one blocked. Don’t you need to consider that he is normally money from this range, but events have conspired that could have shaken his confidence? Also, if you’re going to be conservative, why not just kick on third down? That way if you get a bad snap you could possibly try again on 4th down. If the argument for conservative running the play on 3rd down is that you might end up with a first, what is the logic behind that? If the right call was to be conservative on 3rd down so as to not ruin your chances for a short FG, wouldn’t that also be the right call in the subsequent series (had they achieved first down)?


October 17th, 2013 at 6:36 PM ^

there are different blocking schemes, who is going to account for blitzers, what to do when the defense changes things up? Just thinking back to all the difficulty we had running the ball during the game suggests it's not as easy as it looks.


October 17th, 2013 at 4:24 PM ^

Because we have the 2013 line minus Taylor Lewan with Fitz Toussaint running behind it, it is bad strategy if we are doing everything we can to win the game.

Conversely, we also have 2013 Devin Gardner who has thrown 10 INTs on 146 attempts this year (6.9%). It's not nearly the black and white decision you're making it out to be.


October 17th, 2013 at 4:43 PM ^

Serious question, do you have statistics showing settling for a FG in this situation is a bad idea? I'd imagine it's hard to quantify and the sample size is low.

EDIT: Interestingly, Mathelete's Win Odd's chart shows us going up to 90% upon PSU missing and staying above 80% until we missed the FG, despite losing some yardage. I don't know enough about how he comes up with the numbers to know if this data is appropriate for this situation though.


October 17th, 2013 at 5:35 PM ^

Conversely Gibbons is 83% total (I can't find it broken down by distance, if you can that'd be interesting), with a long of 52. He did just miss one earlier, but on the other hand it was dead straight and easily good from 40. He also made one earlier of a similar distance. (I know we're getting a little bit into feelingsball here and away from data).

You also have to consider the risk of TO by being too aggressive. DG is throwing INTs at a rate of 6.9%. Say you go to the extreme and air it out 3 times consecutively. His odds of throwing a pick in 3 attempts is 19%. Even without a INT you have no guarantee you'll make yards either (8.3 YPA, but super high variance), you may also get sacked (4 sacks for 15 attempts this game) 

Like I said, it's a hard thing to quantify.


October 18th, 2013 at 7:54 AM ^

Look at the length (for the entire NCAA) of the average make vs. the average miss.


The average length of all made field goals is around 33 yards.


The average length of all missed field goals is just about 40 yard even.


Based on the numbers, there is a SHARP drop off in success rate for college kickers at right around the 40 yard mark.



October 17th, 2013 at 6:27 PM ^

A. Are you saying Coach Borges was thinking about the Sugar Bowl win a couple years back when he decided what plays he was going to call in the first OT of the Penn State game? I don't think that is what coach Borges was thinking about. I tend to side on Space Coyote on this one, he was confident Gibbons could kick the FG and called plays in preparation for that event most probably 3 plays down the line.

B, why do you even suggest what you wrote? 'In this situation', you can't just pop any two teams at that place on the field and use that as some kind of evidence that, yeah, this is what we should do. There are so many variables: Fatigue, mental status, importance of the game, did a female streaker with the finest set of boobs just run across the field? The only similar teams that truly should be compared to that situation are the two that have just finished regulation.

C, I don't believe the guy who blocked the FG got through the line, I believe the kick was blocked by one of the linemen or DB jumping up. I believe Gibbons felt the pressure of being in an OT game and , facing a long FG, did not give it his best effort.

He was not put in a position to succeed. To put the team in a position to succeed and win the game is what  "they're supposed to do" and what occurred in the first OT did not do that.


October 17th, 2013 at 7:15 PM ^

A) No, I don't think that was his actual thought process. I'm just giving data points on why it was a defensible, if not ultimately correct, decision

B) I agree to an extent. I think Borges needed to take into account the fact that running up the gut wasn't working very well more. I think he did after the first OT in some respects. I do think some prior history has to be part of your decision though. Gibbon's percentages from that range recently, Gardner's tendency to throw picks all season, and on the other side the OL's struggles. It's a hard call whether to air it out and be aggressive vs preserving the FG. I'm not even necessarily saying it was the right call (the results obviously weren't correct), just that in the moment you can't definitively say it was the wrong one either like some suggest.

C) It was their second from the right edge guy squirting through inside our the guy on the end of our line. Not sure if it was his fault or the guy next to him. Probably a little of both.

On your last point. How is 80 yards with 51 seconds and no time outs for the other team not a position to succeed? How is making a 42 yarder to win not a position to succeed? or a 32 yarder after that? How about stopping a 4 and 1? We had a lot of chances to succeed and didn't. You can argue it could have been done differently, done better, but you have the advantage of hindsight. The only indefensible thing the coaches did all night was miss the delay of game time out and maybe run up the middle too much, but again, we had plenty of shots to salt the game away.