Monday, October 29, 2007

My Last Word on "The Call"

I've read and heard a lot of criticism of Les Miles' decision to throw for the end zone with less than :10 to play against Auburn, and the more I think about it, and the more I analyze the tape, the more I think it was a darn brilliant move.

OK, maybe not brilliant. What I would have done would have been to call timeout with :40 left and set up a play to get a first down, and then take a few shots towards the end zone. But, if you take that kind of play out of the equation, the decision to take one shot to the end zone and, if necessary, a field goal attempt, was great.

An acquaintance here was criticizing Miles, and was wondering how I could stand to have a coach who was so stupid. I gave him the timeline of the play (the call gets to the huddle at :18; the snap comes at :09; the ball is thrown at :07; Byrd catches it at :04; clocks runs to :01) and told him that under those circumstances, and with a 5th year senior at QB, there was no chance of the clock running out, and if it had, there would have been a video review. He told me, "Most coaches, in that situation, would have run the ball to the middle of the field and called timeout to kick a field goal."

If true, most coaches are damn fools. Here's why:
  • College kickers are extremely unreliable. If you saw Ryan Succop of South Carolina, one of the best kickers in the SEC, miss an overtime, tying 41 yard field goal by about 7-10 yards two nights ago, you saw an illustration of how unreliable college kickers are. And he's one of the BEST. Our kicker is middling at best. Every time I see a college coach deliberately decide to put a game in the hands of his kickers, I wonder if that coach actually watches football. I'm not talking about situations where you have one play to win a game here. I'm talking about coaches who get close to the end zone and then decide to run it to the middle and set up a field goal. Those coaches are playing with fire because quite a lot of kicks are shanked or get blocked, or are simply missed.
  • It was the absolute last thing Auburn was expecting. That gave it a fairly good chance of success, and while the DB on the play was able to keep up with Byrd, he was completely turned around and had absolutely no help. The risk of an interception was minimal (much less, I would say, than the risk of missing a long field goal).
  • They were absolutely in control of the timing of the play. As Miles revealed, there was only one read on the play. If there was safety help on Byrd, Flynn was to throw it away. If there was not, Flynn was to fling it to him. And as shown, the ball reached Byrd with :04 to play. Believe it or not, coaches generally have a good idea of how long it takes to run a play, particularly a bang-bang play like that, and they know it doesn't take 9 seconds.
  • "But what if it was tipped and batted around?" Have you ever seen a ball batted around for 4 seconds? Oh, you have? Have you ever seen a ball batted around for 4 seconds with only two people in the picture? I'm betting you haven't.
  • What if Flynn had been sacked? Well, the play was designed to get the ball of quickly, so the risk of that wasn't all that great. But if he had been sacked, we would have called timeout and kicked a field goal.
  • In addition to some inherent risks of running a pass play (sack, interception), there was also a good chance that the defender would get a pass interference penalty, setting up a relatively easy field on the final play. In fact, it appears from replays that had the ball fallen incomplete, there very well may have been a flag for interference.
What I'm trying to say is that the risks were minimal, and the potential rewards were great. What's more, the risks of NOT taking a shot to the end zone were fairly high, as it would have left us with only a long field goal. One shot. Versus two shots. I don't see how that's a bad thing.

In other news: Rumors continue to swirl about the incident at the Varsity. People claiming inside information say all sorts of things. I'm prepared and ready for anything to happen, but as of right now there is really nothing to report on it.

17 comments:

Joe Blow said...

It's brilliant because it worked. Had the pass been intercepted or Flynn fumbled the ball before throwing it, it would have been an idiotic decision. Unfortunately, that's the way people view coaching decisions.

gerry dorsey said...

lsu fans can go ahead and rationalize les as a genius right now, but i have a feeling the odds are going to swing the other way at some point and he will be crucified.

fwiw, i have a feeling that rp is going to manage to stay out of trouble on this one. i feel its only a matter of time with him as well though.

Richard Pittman said...

"Had the pass been intercepted or Flynn fumbled the ball before throwing it, it would have been an idiotic decision."

Bad things can happen on any play. The conventional wisdom is saying he should have run to the middle of the field and called timeout. On a play like that, you can fumble the snap. You can fumble a handoff. You can fumble on the tackle. You can get a penalty.

Or, most likely of all, YOU CAN MISS THE RESULTING FIELD GOAL.

You just can't coach assuming bad things would happen and then deliberately put the game in the hands of your kicker. THAT'S the foolish move, and I've said it for years. You can't rely on college kickers. They just aren't reliable enough.

You have to play the percentages, and the percentages under THOSE circumstances were to take a shot at the end zone and then try the field goal if you needed it.

"lsu fans can go ahead and rationalize les as a genius right now, but i have a feeling the odds are going to swing the other way at some point and he will be crucified."

Sure, not every call is going to go the right way. It never does. However, I think without Les Miles' 5 4th downs against Florida, we lose that game. We had our backs against the wall for a long time in that game. The only one that was really a tough choice was the last one, when we could have kicked a field goal. Again, though, would you rather put the game in the hands of your kicker who has already missed two? Or would you rather put the ball in the hands of your running back who's been great, when all you need is 18 inches? Plus, with the field goal option, you give the ball back to an offense that had been very successful, giving THEM an opportunity to go down and score.

I think without Les Miles' gutsy calls at the end of games this year, we're sitting at 5-3 instead of 7-1.

gerry dorsey said...

as a man who supports a team that has van tiffin for a kicker, i know all about crappy kickers. however, there is a reason that about 98% of d-1 coaches would have run the ball on that play.

Richard Pittman said...

"however, there is a reason that about 98% of d-1 coaches would have run the ball on that play."

And that reason is that they're unimaginative and scared of failure.

gerry dorsey said...

you win. i will revisit when les is getting fried for making a similar call that fails.

Richard Pittman said...

I read a couple years ago an article talking about statisticians analyzing football. They crunched the numbers and determined that a) coaches were punting more often than optimal and b) coaches were kicking field goals more often than optimal. The numbers crunchers figured out that it would be much better for a team if a coach would be more apt to going for it on 4th and short near midfield or going for touchdowns rather than field goals in the red zone. I think it was in ESPN The Mag (a tremendous failure of a rag for the most part, but it has the occasional thought-provoking piece). And what's more, according to the article (and here we're going away from the numbers and into the psychology), the coaches KNEW this, but simply refused to practice it.

Why? The coaches knew that they would never get criticized for doing the safe thing in most circumstances, even if it would be in the long term interest to take more chances. They know that if you go for it on 4th and 1 from midfield, you'll probably make it 4/5 of the time, but you'll get crucified for that 1/5 of the time it fails, even though the strategy has been a net positive for you. So they punt every time, to avoid getting that criticism for the 1/5 of the time it would hurt to go for it. Fans and media will say "Parcells would have punted," and accuse the coach of being a hotshot and an imbecile for taking such reckless chances ("and at such a crucial time!").

What Miles has been doing is exactly what the people who study the numbers say he SHOULD do. Punt less. Kick fewer field goals. Take more chances. Sure, when you take chances, sometimes those chances fail, and sometimes you'll lose a game you would have won if you'd played it safe. The catch is, by taking chances, you win those games more often than you lose them. And that's the name of the game.

Joe Blow said...

as a man who supports a team that has van tiffin for a kicker

I wish Van would have been a crappy kicker. Ha!

And that reason is that they're unimaginative and scared of failure.

Hey, now...that's a homer statement! Haha, just kidding.

I agree with you about coaches playing percentages, but I don't agree (respectfully) that in that situation, it was the best choice.

Speaking of kicking, how come no one seems to be able to kick field goals in Tiger Stadium? I've never been there. Is there some goofy wind swirl in there or something? Believe it or not, this is actually a serious question.

gerry dorsey said...

I wish Van would have been a crappy kicker. Ha!

dammit...you know who i meant. guess i'm another bama fan living in the past huh??? :-)

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you about college kickers.

I heard from a reliable source that Perilloux will be arrested this afternoon. This guy has been wrong before, but not often.

-Daniel

Richard Pittman said...

:"Speaking of kicking, how come no one seems to be able to kick field goals in Tiger Stadium? I've never been there. Is there some goofy wind swirl in there or something? Believe it or not, this is actually a serious question."

I really have no idea. I think it's just the environment and the pressure. There are no unusual wind or weather patterns that i'm aware of. Conditions are usually close to ideal for kicking. It's not particularly cold, wet, or windy.

"I heard from a reliable source that Perilloux will be arrested this afternoon. This guy has been wrong before, but not often."

The latest on Tigerdroppings is that the incident is not that big of a deal. A bunch of people were slow leaving The Varsity at closing time. Some bouncers roughed them up a little. Nothing more to it really. We'll see how it holds up, but if all that is true there's no reason to have any disciplinary action I think.

gerry dorsey said...

i just think too many coaches don't put a premium on kickers. bama hasn't had a quality kicker since the mid 90's. i was happy to see saban actually pursuing a kicker in recruiting.

uberschuck said...

1) For what it's worth, ESPN is saying they expect Perilloux will be suspended for the Alabama game.

2) On the topic of Les Miles being a risk-taker...he set the tone in his first game with LSU, but I never hear anyone mention it. Remember on our first offensive possession @ ASU he called a fake punt in our own territory. Later that year he went for it on 4th & goal on our first scoring chance when we trailed at Alabama (great play, using Kyle Williams to block for Justin Vincent). I'm not arguing for either side in the Miles is a genius/lucky fool debate. I'm just pointing out that he takes lots of risks relative to other coaches, and he's pretty good at converting.

PurpleTiger006 said...

Dude,

You can't be that Richard Pittman the used to live in G-town, are you?

BTW, as a coach, you are either a hero or a goat. Which one depends on the prevailing winds. And the win/loss record, of course.

Good blog man. I'm going to try to link it to mine, if my f'n computer will let me.

Richard Pittman said...

Gerry, I think your current kicker is pretty good, when he can stay healthy. Yes, coaches don't place a premium on it, but there just aren't that many good kickers to go around. All the coaches could really do more than they're doing to increase the pool of skilled kickers is to hire a kicking coach.

Yes. I am the Richard Pittman who lived in Gonzales. Who may you be?

Joe Blow said...

Gerry, Harpo Marx is pretty good. He needs to learn how to stretch and warm up properly, though. I think he's pulled every muscle in his leg at least once. Leigh Tiffen has a strong leg and good accuracy, but his nerves are still a little iffy.

Anonymous said...

Like I said, my source may be incorrect. But I did hear about a threat of a gun; maybe from Odom or Perriloux.

My question is: What is Perriloux doing even putting himself in a position to be in a fight? At 2:00 AM in Baton Rouge you have to leave bars. If you don't leave, then the bouncer comes and tells you to leave. When that happens, you leave and if you're Perriloux, you go home.

Like the old saying goes, "Nothing good happens after 2:00."

-Daniel