Going for two. I’ve gotten a bunch of emails asking whether Rich Rodriguez should have gone for two instead of kicking the PAT to send the game to overtime against Michigan State. I didn’t get to watch the game closely, but we know what happened: Michigan kicked the PAT and Tate Forcier promptly threw an interception, and Michigan State scored to win the game. The logic of most people who say Rodriguez should have gone for two appears to be something along the lines that Forcier looked dog tired and they needed to win then, and that Michigan had all the momentum and should have used it on that play. I don’t know if I have a definitive answer, but here’s how I look at those judgment calls.
You’re basically comparing two probabilities: One, the chance of succeeding on the two-point play, and second, the chance of winning in overtime. Both numbers have some precedent but also can get clouded by who you’re playing at that moment, how well you’re playing, etc. If Wichita State miraculously gets into that same position against Florida, I’d probably tell them to go for two because, under the NCAA’s unique overtime format, each team has a roughly 50/50 shot at winning before taking into account talent differential, at which time Florida would dominate. We know that two-point tries are successful something between 40-50% of the time, and that is probably greater than the chance of going toe-to-toe with Florida — hence take your 45% chance of winning right there. For Florida, it is the opposite: you want the game to go on so your natural advantage can take over; so kick the PAT and let’s do this. It’s all an offshoot of David and Goliath strategies.
How does that play out in Michigan’s game? Well if Rodriguez thinks he has the better team — including momentum — then it seems to me you play for overtime. That’s because even if you’re better your chance of getting the two-point try caps out at about 50%, whereas the starting point for your chance of winning in OT is 50%, plus whatever natural advantage you have. Had they been playing Southern Cal, the decision is probably the opposite.
The other thing you notice from this is that slight differences in the probabilities can vastly change the right outcome. We know the estimates for overtime and two-point tries, but this was late in the game and therefore those probabilities were dependent to an extent on what had happened earlier. Not necessarily when or how Michigan scored, but fatigue, injuries, and how good the teams were coming in does matter to help revise probabilities going forward. (Again, I’m trying to distinguish revised estimates of forward-looking probabilities with backward-looking events that should have no effect on the decision to go for it or not.) Thus I think Rodriguez’s judgment call (in just this situation at least) was sound at least in the sense that there is no compelling argument that it was flat wrong. If he thought he had the better team — and the records of the teams going into it seemed to indicate that — then overtime seems the wiser move. The bottom line is two-point tries are not high-percentage plays.
(Here’s a thought experiment someone once asked me. This question assumes we know the probabilities with certainty, which if course unrealistic but here goes: You have the ball on the 23 yard line and are down three. Your team and the other team are completely evenly matched. There’s only one second on the clock; time for only one play. Your field goal kicker is mediocre, and is 50/50 from that distance (40 yards) — i.e. 50% of tying the game by kicking it. Or you could go for it and run a pass play, which you estimate had a 33% chance of succeeding. What do you do and why?)
- Big 10 Q&A. I did a Q&A over at The Rivalry, Esq. with the excellent Graham Filler. Topics including Juice Williams, Northwestern, etc. Tomorrow is a post involving me hemorrhaging about Purdue’s ineptitude.
- Mizzou’s run game. The very sharp Dave Matter of the Columbia Daily Tribune takes a look at Gary Pinkel’s Missouri’s running game.
- An easier case. If the Rodriguez situation above is a push, Raheem Morris is not so lucky. Brian Burke shoots up the new Tampa coach’s thought-process:
Raheem Morris is a really optimistic guy: Trailing by 6 points with 4:30 left in the game, the Buccaneers faced a 4th and goal from Washington’s 4-yard line. The Bucs kicked the FG to make the score 16-13 and went on to lose. Columnist Gary Shelton of the St. Petersburg Times wants to know why head coach Raheem Morris didn’t go for the touchdown. That makes at least two of us.
[A]ll things being equal the better decision would have been to go for it. . . . Morris’ decision basically cut his chances of winning by a third. Sure, the particular “flow” and match-ups of the game are factors, but those considerations are usually overblown. Besides, if the game is close enough for it to matter, then the two teams are probably fairly equal, at least for that day.
[But] the more interesting thing is the glimpse inside the mind of an NFL coach. Here’s what Morris said when asked about the decision:
“We wanted to stop them, get the ball back, have an opportunity to go down there and put this thing into overtime. Or to win it. I felt really good about that. It worked out in our favor.”
Notice that actually winning the game was almost an afterthought. Overtime was the goal. Here’s the chain of events Morris was counting on:
- Make the FG
- Make a stop (on the first or second series, so that there is time left)
- Drive into FG range
- Make a second FG
- Score first in overtime, which requires:
- (Half the time) Make another stop
- Drive into FG range again, and
- Make a third FG, or score a TD
And here’s the ‘go for it’ path to winning:
- Get 4 yards on a play
- Make a stop
Which alternative is more plausible? What does this say about the mentality of some NFL coaches? An 0-3 team is 4 yards and a stop away from their first win, and they decide to play the long odds for shot at overtime.
- Safire Sundays. Language Log on William Safire.
- Unlawfully harboring a D-1 talent? Jenks HS Coach Allan Trimble suspends himself after a report emerged showing that he had arranged for a player to live within his district.
- BGS counters up. The Blue-Gray Sky has a nice look at Notre Dame running their “counter play” from a one-back set.