Friday, September 5, 2008

SEC (Mental) Slowness

A while back, I wrote that NFL coaches(I'm talking to you, Herm) should have assistants whose sole job is logical game management. This is even more true in college, because the coach's primary skill must be recruiting, then motivating and preparing his team, then game management-one extra thing. Even so, it is both extremely important and reasonably simple to manage a game competently. It is inexcusable that some coaches do it so poorly, Herm. The two football games I have watched so far involved three SEC teams and three levels of bad strategery.

Tennessee @ UCLA-74 seconds left in the first half, Tenn facing 4th and long at the UCLA 36, clock running. Without weakening my point, I'll note that this can be a difficult decision. Philip Fulmer CALLS TIME-OUT to consider his options. No matter what you decide, you're about to give up the ball, quite possibly with bad field position. Let the clock run! The other team will call time-out! You idiot.

PS Michael Lewis, whose opinion I respect, thinks Phil Fulmer is a hick.

Football is a manly sport. You have to be a tough guy to play it at a high level. The nature of fanhood is that you get to stretch out on the couch drinking beer, eating fried food and farting(also manly activities, I suppose) and simultaneously feel like a participant in intense athletic competition. What has happened is that everybody associated with football has become too secure in his manliness. He is part of a football game, so no matter how egregiously wussy the strategery he recommends or employs, he is still a manly, manly, man. A key principle that applies to almost all competition is that an aggressive, opportunistic approach is essential to success. One must take calculated risks and not be afraid to fail. This concept has been dismissed by the coaching community in favor of CYA. And fans don't realize how bad it is because it's nearly universally(pretty much everyone but Belichick) practiced.

Result: Missed long field goal, UCLA takes over at its 44, ESPN announcer Jesse Palmer says "Kevin Craft(QB) is having a tough first half(3 INT). They should be very conservative and try to end the half tied(or whatever the score was)." I thought-that's the stupidest thing I ever heard. If you don't trust your QB and offense with 70 seconds and excellent field position(and a leftover time-out, thanks to PF), why show up? Craft throws an interception, returned for a touchdown. Fulmer celebrates. Palmer goes on a self-satisfied rant about how right he was. Millions nod in agreement, further convinced that wussy strategery wins football games. *Obligatory Bachelor reference*, Jesse Palmer.

South Carolina @ Vanderbilt- 2:16 left, Vanderbilt up 24-17, SC has 4th and 18 in Vanderbilt territory. SC has 2 time-outs, no 2-minute warning in college football. They punt! The idea is to gain field position, get a defensive stop while using the time-outs, get the ball back with some time left, score. This is HORRIBLE! When the leading team gets the ball in this situation, it is one first-down away from being able to run out the clock. First down-ten yards. WHAT THE FUCK DOES FIELD POSITION MATTER? Okay, it matters if you get the ball back. The leading team punts it back to you, so field position is a wash. But you're losing time and burning your time-outs, making you less likely to score even if you do get a chance. Some estimates I think are close enough-In a typical game, a team has 25 first-downs+touchdowns, 8 turnovers+FGattempts+punts, meaning a single successful sequence of downs is relatively likely. 3 and out is far less likely than commentators make it seem("all they have to do is get a stop!"). And you still have to score! The alternative is to go for it. Let's say you have a 10% chance of converting, another number I made up. If you succeed, you have first down on the 20(or closer) and momentum, whatever that means. You're in business! If you fail, at least you generate some excitement and go down fighting. Besides, the game isn't over. You can still get a stop and get the ball back. What you've lost is the field position you would have gained by punting, let's call it 35 yards. The back door draw is just gravy anyway. Your realistic chance to win is to convert 4th and 18 and score on that possession.

My issue with Vanderbilt is nitpicking by comparison, and the course of action I think is right is something I've never seen before, obviously because I'm the smartest person who's ever watched football and nobody else has thought of it. And this is already really long, so forget it.

Final(for now) notes about punts and commentators:

-Wussy punts state very clearly to all involved that you do not have confidence in your offense.

-Just because it's 4th and 3 and the TV guy says you are "forced to punt" does not make it so. You are the coach. It is your decision.

-When you are behind by 14 with 7 minutes left, a punt is almost never correct, but it is almost always chosen. And TMQ(

read TMQ!

almost always writes "Game Over" in his notebook.

-The coach who frustrates me most is our very own Mangina.

-Actually Norvgina W. Turner(actual name) is worse, the tiebreaker being that he has a great offense and the best running back ever and still does this.

What I love about sports is the high level competition. Football, being the most complex and systemized sport, is to an intelligent fan a competition between coaches and GMs more so than players, who are for the most part the "pieces". Watching the coaches be so stupid makes the game much less enjoyable for me. This is why I am relieved that Belichick wasn't suspended/banned even though he deserves it. The future of intelligent football coaching depends on him. Fearless prediction-by 2025, 2/3 of NFL head coaches will be Belichick disciples or grand-disciples. So that's why he's worth protecting...

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