Smart Notes 9/17/2009

Credit where it is due. Trojan Football Analysis shows that Ohio State’s defensive plan against USC was creative, as they came out in a completely different look than they normally do. Trojan offensive line coach Pat Ruel observed that, “Half [of OSU's] line was playing a Bear front and half was playing an Under front and they were stopping our outside zone running plays.” Offensive linemen Jeff Byers added, “We spent all night trying to adjust to what they were doing up front. They did not come with the stuff we practiced against.” The fact that the offense, Tressel’s main focus, didn’t do the same still troubles me.


- Myles Brand, president of the NCAA, has passed away. There are many sports related obits (including this one from the NY Times), but don’t forget that Brand made serious contributions to his field as a philosophy professor, including “well-known work in metaphysics and epistemology, especially action theory, as a professor at places like Pittsburgh, Arizona, and Illinois/Chicago.”

Rethinking Fourth Downs. From Brian Burke:

Imagine that for decades no one ever thought of the punt. Teams knew nothing else than to run or pass on 4th down. And then one day it’s invented. Some guy comes up to a coach and says, “Kick the ball on every 4th down and the other team gets possession 37 yards further down the field.” The coach would think he was crazy: “Wait, you want me to give up one quarter of my opportunities for a first down on every series…just for 35 yards of field position? Do you realize how much that’s going to kill our chances of scoring?”

[T]hat coach would be absolutely right. . . . Every single serious study of 4th-down decisions has found that, in most situations, teams would be better off by going for the conversion attempt rather than kicking. . . .

. . . I also think it has something to do with what economists call Prospect Theory. In short, almost all people tend to fear losses far more than they value equivalent gains. In this perspective, a punt is considered the “break-even” decision. A failed conversion attempt is seen as a loss, and a successful attempt is seen as a gain. But the loss is feared disproportionately, and the result is clouded decision-making.

- Who does a good job in NFL free agency? Via Pro Football Reference Blog.

- Why are people successful? What motivates? Wilbon:

It’s now a rather famous anecdote in the life and times of Michael Jordan that he was cut from the varsity when he was in high school. You think that’s merely a footnote more than 30 years later? You think Jordan’s forgotten the details or is willing to let go? Guess whom Jordan invited to the Hall of Fame Friday night? Leroy Smith, the kid who took his spot on the high school team. Jordan said he’s still saying “to the coach who picked Leroy over me: ‘You made a mistake, dude.’ “

– A story about quasiparticles. From Gravity and Levity:

Imagine, if you will, that you are an alien from some advanced and distant civilization. You find yourself fascinated by humans, whom you observe from your own planet through an ultra-high-powered telescope. As individuals, you think you know what humans are like: at least you have a sense of their characteristic size and patterns of motion. But you are puzzled by the behavior of large groups of humans. You therefore decide to make a study entitled “the properties of large, densely-packed groups of humans”. You begin your study by turning the gaze of your telescope to the biggest, densest group of humans you can find: the crowd at a football stadium.

The collection of humans inside the football stadium seems at first to be an enormous, chaotic, impossibly-complex collection of individual movements. But after a long period of observation, you see something truly remarkable: the humans begin doing “the wave”. What a startling observation this would be! From 80,000 humans packed together and moving around in a hopelessly complicated mess arises something remarkably simple: a single wave, which moves around the stadium with its own characteristic size and speed. You complete your study by observing “the wave”, writing down laws that describe its size and speed, and trying to predict when and where it will occur in the future.

- “It’s the downside of celebrity without the upside of it.” College athletes under the (social networking) microscope.

- A history of violence. Urban Meyer and Kiffin the Elder have a good relationship. How will that manifest itself when the Son of Kiffin, with Dad in tow, faces the Gators?

- This is unfortunate. “Fatty acids derived from pork bone fat are used as a hardening agent in crayons and also gives them their distinctive smell.” Ugh.

A little late, but I love this. Old media covers from the WizOfOdds.

- Statistical sagas [edited]. The Doc wonders how Georgia beat South Carolina despite the stats; Blutarsky notes that he might not have been paying enough attention to the right ones, and Dawgsports notes that the problem might be in focusing too much on the box score.

A Rand row. Jonathan Chait vs. Will Wilkinson on Ayn Rand.

Defining what makes an offense horrible

My answer can be found over at EDSBS. I go into detail at the link, but the best way I can sum it up is that offenses are like Tolstoy’s families: good offenses tend to be similar in that they all are coherent, have good line play, and have balance in one sense or another, while crappy offenses, like Tolstoy’s unhappy families, are crappy in their own ways.

Check out the full thing.

Smart Notes 9/1/09

I just started a guest-bit at EDSBS, where I’ll be answering fan submitted questions (tweet them to Orson here). This week’s question was about blitzing, both man and zone. Read the full thing here, but here’s a preview:

Zone-blitzing is awash in contradictions: vanilla and endlessly complex; aggressive but conservative. It is vanilla and conservative because it takes a minimum number of guys to competently defend a football field in zone coverage — no one tries to play zone with one safety deep and two guys in underneath zones. Instead, 90-95% of the zone-blitzes you’ll see involve three elements: (1) three guys in “deep” zone coverage; (2) three guys in “underneath” or intermediate to short coverage; and (3) five pass rushers. The complexity comes in how these guys are arranged. . . .

- Brett Favre’s illegal block. I say illegal because whether it was “dirty” is being debated, though either way I think even Favre fans can admit that it was incredibly idiotic and dangerous. “Dirty” implies that he wanted to injure Eugene Wilson; I don’t think anyone can know that.

- Rich Rodriguez, being sued? The hits keep coming. As reported, via the WizOfOdds:

According to the lawsuit, Rodriguez and his partners owe Nexity Bank $3.9 million, including interest and penalties. Rodriguez was served a summons and complaint in his office on Aug. 24, shortly after a Wolverine practice.

Mike Wilcox, who is Rich Rod’s financial advisor, issued a statement Monday night saying the coach is a victim of a real estate Ponzi scheme.

“This is a personal issue, and as coach Rodriguez’s financial advisor, I and his legal counsel will be handling this matter moving forward,” Wilcox said. “We are evaluating legal actions and solutions since the promoter of the scheme is currently awaiting trial on criminal charges.”


Smart Football Podcast 8/31/09

I did a post-cast with the brilliant Bill Connelly of Rock M Nation (and Football Outsiders). Wherein we discuss (me incoherently, Bill with great precision) the following:

1. Missouri vs Illinois
2. The future of Missouri’s spread offense moving from Chase Daniel to Blaine Gabbert
3. The role (and limits) of college football analysis and statistics
4. Rich Rodriguez and NCAA practice rules
5. A PTI-style, Big 12-themed rapid fire round

Thanks again to Bill for running the show. The technical kinks are still to be worked out (including my sounding like I’m telecommuting from the Ozarks), but enjoy the foolishness.

Smart Football/RockMNation podcast 8/31/09

(Note that I was having issues with the embedded audio. If it’s not working I’ll work on it, but the download link should work.)