Saturday, January 02, 2010

Going for two and the win

In the midst of a plethora of college football bowl games being played this week, many Michigan fans are feeling wistful as they have been left home for the second straight year after having played in a bowl game for the previous 33 consecutive seasons. The 2009 Wolverines (5-7) fell one victory shy of qualifying for a bowl game. Looking back over the season, many Michigan fans look back at the overtime loss to Michigan State as the best missed opportunity for the Wolverines to have picked up an additional victory. Michigan had scored a TD with a mere :02 seconds left on the game clock to pull the Wolverines within one. Coaching conservatively, Coach Rod called for the extra point to go for the tie and send the game into overtime. Ultimately, MSU beat Michigan 26-20 in the overtime. In the post-game press conference, Coach Rod said going for two at the end of regulation was never a consideration. Granting that hindsight is 20/20, the better decision may have been to go for two. Michigan was on the road, QB Tate Forcier was exhausted, and the Wolverines had the momentum. Following are three examples (not all of which were successful) of games where the coach decided to go for two and the win.

1984 Orange Bowl

#1 Nebraska (12-0) was playing Miami (Fla.) for the National Championship. The Cornhuskers rallied from a 31-17 deficit and cut the Hurricanes' lead to 31-30 by scoring a TD with :48 remaining in regulation. Rather than go for the tie (there was no OT back then), Nebraska Head Coach Tom Osborne put his title hopes on the line when he went for the two-point conversion.

2007 Fiesta Bowl

Underdog Boise State pulled out all the stops versus traditional power Oklahoma and eventually forced the game into overtime. Down 42-41 in the OT, Broncos' Head Coach Chris Peterson called for a two-point conversion to go for the win. Coach Peterson called a Statue of Liberty play and the rest is history.

2009 Humanitarian Bowl

Idaho Vandals Head Coach Robb Akey made the call to go for two and the win against Bowling Green after the Vandals scored a TD to pull within one with :04 remaining in regulation. Coach Akey's decision paid off as the Vandals converted giving Idaho a 43-42 victory.

There is no doubt that Coach Rod thinks he was right in kicking the extra-point and going for the overtime against MSU. However, as shown by the examples above, sometimes a Head Coach needs to throw caution to the wind and go for the win. If Coach Rod had been able to pull out a win versus MSU, the Wolverines would be playing in a bowl game right now. Instead, Wolverine fans are relegated to wondering "What if" while other Big 10 teams (including 6-6 MSU) play in bowl games. Go Blue!

2009 season team statistics

Michigan finished the 2009 season 5-7 (1-7 in Big 10, tied 10th place) but the won/loss record does not tell the entire story. Here is a look at how the Wolverines fared in 2009 in some key statistical categories (out of 120 FBS teams/11 Conference teams):

Total Offense: 384.5 yards/gm, 60th in NCAA, 7th in Big 10
Rushing Offense: 186.17 yds/gm, 26th in NCAA, 4th in Big 10
Passing Offense: 198.33 yds./gm, 80th in NCAA, 8th in Big 10
Scoring Offense: 29.5 pts/gm, 46th in NCAA, 4th in Big 10

Total Defense: 393.33 yds/gm, 82nd in NCAA, 9th in Big 10
Rushing Defense: 171.92 yds/gm, 91st in NCAA, 10th in Big 10
Pass Effiency Def: 131.79 rating, 72nd in NCAA, 8th in Big 10
Scoring Defense: 27.5 pts/gm, 78th in NCAA, 8th in Big 10

Turnover Margin: -1.00, 115th in NCAA, 11th in Big 10
Red Zone Offense: 67% efficiency, 116th in NCAA, 11th in Big 10
3rd Down Efficiency: 39.76%, 60th in NCAA, 6th in Big 10

Putting the statistics in perspective:

Michigan made vast strides in 2009 in the offensive stats improving on its dismal 2008 performance. Nevertheless, the offense still has a ways to go as it improved from dismal in 2008 to mediocre in 2009. The Wolverines finished 60th in the NCAA (of 120 FBS teams) in Total Offense which placed Michigan exactly in the middle of the pack. The 2009 passing offense still struggled finishing in the bottom one-third of all FBS schools (80th of 120). The running game was a highlight in 2009 (26th in NCAA, 4th in Big 10) but the two top rushers (Brandon Minor w/ 502 yds. and Carlos Brown w/ 480 yds.) are graduating. The leading returning rusher is back-up QB Denard Robinson (351 yds.). Among the returning running backs, Vince Smith (276 yds.) leads the pack with Mike Shaw (185 yds.) and Mike Cox (113 yds.) not far behind. The loss of Minor and Brown to graduation could prove to be a major setback to the Wolverines' running game as the three young running backs who are left behind may not be able to perform right away at the level of the two departing starters.

The 2009 defense struggled mightily as the Wolverines finished the season by losing its last seven (7) Big 10 Conference games. The defense finished in Total Defense ranked in the bottom one-third of all FBS teams (82nd of 120 teams). Unfortunately, the two top players from this lackluster unit are both heading to the pros (Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren). Additionally, the team's leading tackler in 2009 (Stevie Brown) is graduating. Thus, Def. Coordinator Greg Robinson will have his work cut out for him in trying to improve the performance of the defense in 2010.

Go Blue!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Two-year anniversary

Today (January 1, 2010) marks the two-year anniversary of Coach Carr's swan song in the 2008 Capital One Bowl in which Michigan defeated Florida 41-35. Coach Rod was on the Michigan sidelines for the game as a "guest" and he officially took over as the 18th coach in Michigan Football history the following day (January 2, 2008). Ironically, Coach Rod's appearance on the sidelines watching Coach Carr lead the Wolverines to victory is the closest that Rich Rod has gotten to a bowl game since being hired by Michigan on December 17, 2007. Coach Rod (8-16 in two seasons) has nowhere to go but up after guiding the Wolverines to a 3-9 record in 2008 and to a last place finish in the Big Ten Conference (1-7 in conf. play, tied-10th place) in 2009. In fact, Coach Carr won more games in his final season (9 in 2007 season) than Coach Rod has won (8) in TWO seasons. This week Coach Rod will commence his third year at the helm. Here's hoping the Wolverines can return to a bowl game in 2010 with Coach Rod at the reins rather than as a spectator watching Coach Carr. Go Blue!

*Note: Photo of Coach Rodriguez on sidelines during 2008 Capital One Bowl by REINHOLD MATAY/AP Photo.