College football, or should I really say minor league football, has a lot of problems. Fortunately, I went to a university that does not award athletic scholarships. That school, Fair Harvard, is facing its rival today. Like last year, I’m not attending; instead I’m blogging while watching Versus. This will include commentary on The Game, as well as college football. Here we go.
- It’s good to see that Harvard and Yale understand the singularity of the word Captain, unlike the NFL. The Yale Bowl looks surprisingly clean today; they must have chased out the vermin and washed off the graffiti. Seriously, Yale Bowl is really nice. The field is dug out, so you enters through a tunnel, and break out into the middle rows. I think it’s prettier than traditional Harvard stadium. That said, I am not restrained from teasing.
- The front of Yale’s helmets say Yale. For some reason, the front of Harvard’s helmets say Crimson. I wonder if this was true back in the day. Of course, back then there weren’t helmets. And there were many, many more deaths. In 1905, 18 young men died playing the game. Nowadays, if ONE person dies it becomes a major event, with lawsuits and everything. Having double digit deaths would be inconceivable.
- 7:18 remaining, 1st quarter: Harvard’s quarterback is stripped of the football, and Yale recovers. Having scored a field goal the first time, Yale has the ball in Harvard territory again. (Some comments will actually refer to the game.)
- The color commentator is from Princeton. I like him. Here’s a quote – “If there was a betting line on this game in Wall Street between the Harvard and Yale guys …” Actually, Harvard was favored by 6 1/2 points. But it doesn’t look good, as Yale goes ahead 10 to 0. To make things even worse, Harvard drops the kickoff and must start around its 5.
Let’s examine other college football news for a bit. Apparently, Kansas football coach Mark Mangino motivates his players with quotes like this: “He wanted to be a lawyer,” Brown said in a telephone interview from his home in St. Louis. “He messed up, and Mangino said to his face, in front of everybody, ‘You want to be a lawyer? You’re going to be an alcoholic just like your dad.’ ” Great, eh? Mr. Mangino makes $2,300,000 a year to be a bastard like that.
- Harvard mounts a drive, and decides to go for it on 4th and 11 from Yale’s 24. In the NFL, this is not the optimal option, but Harvard’s kicker is nowhere near as good. The pass fails. On offense, Yale tries a double pass, but it’s an Ivy League moment. The first lateral is dropped, leading to a very humorous second pass. There will be several more messes like this.
- The Yale kicker crushes a punt. From where he kicks it, the ball travels over 80 yards. Did the scientists concoct something?
- Harvard runs a shotgun spread offense this year. The quarterback is at full shotgun depth, 6 to 6 1/2 yards behind the center. The best known spread shotgun, Florida with Tim Tebow, sets the quarterback at 5 yards. This may not seem like much, but it changes the focus. In both offenses, the running back is about 5 1/2 yards behind the line. In Harvard’s offense, the running back is in FRONT of the quarterback. This is better for passing. In Florida’s offense, the running back is BEHIND the quarterback, better for running. Given the rushing play calls today, the Florida formation would be better.
- 6:41 2nd quarter: Harvard advances to the 12 yard line. On fourth down, the Crimson attempt a fake field goal. It almost works. The receiver is open, but a charging lineman tips the pass. Sigh. The man – Yale #32 – has a giant wrapped cast on his hand. I didn’t think that was legal. It’s extra blocking power, though he hit the pass with his other arm. I guess it’s OK, though it seems like typical Yale nefariousness.
- 5:10 2nd quarter: Yale runs a sneaky no-huddle quarterback sneak, gaining 9 yards. From this point forward, I see no need to continue adjectives like “sneaky” and “nefarious” for Yale. It goes without saying. On the next play, Yale tries a fake snap. That is more than sly; it’s a penalty.
- 3:15 2nd quarter: On the same drive, Yale goes for it on 4th and 1. Good for them! The statistician in me is happy, though the Bulldogs convert, which makes me more sad. Later, with 1:03 left, Yale attempts another 4th and 1. Hey – they put a Y on the football! It’s a fullback dive, which is a play I respect in that situation. A quarterback can’t get a good start, but a fullback gets a two step running lead. Of course, the fullback fumbles the ball. It’s the Ivy League.
- Yale ends the half with a failed 63 yard field goal attempt. The camera angles on Versus are really weird, again; they use a field level camera for an attempt in the air. The game doesn’t get a sideline reporter, so Yale’s coach, Tom Williams, grabs a headset for the halftime interview. He’s cool. I’m not supposed to like him! He’s having fun, and asks if the announcers are. Asked about the fourth downs, he replies that “We’re trying to win the football game.”
At halftime, “imagine the net worth in the Yale Bowl today.” It’s the only tailgate I’ve seen where people wear bow ties. Since it’s time for a break, let’s look at much less competent coaches.
Example 1: Notre Dame hosts USC on October 17. Notre Dame is down by 7, but driving with under a minute to go in the 4th quarter. It’s fourth down and 10 on the 29. The Notre Dame receiver breaks open, the quarterback throws well, and there’s a completion. There’s also a penalty, because the USC safety dove in and injured the receiver on the ground. Trainers rush onto the field, and the game is stopped.
Notre Dame’s head coach is Charlie Weis. Notre Dame pays him at least $600,000 a year, plus speaking fees and endorsements. If the online compilations are true, Mr. Weis gets total compensation of roughly $4,200,000 per year. The total cost of attendance of all 83 Notre Dame football scholarships is $4,257,900.
Mr. Weis should know that according to the official football rules, FREE in PDF form, the clock will start on the referee’s signal. It’s Rule 3-3-2-e on page 70. Given the length of the injury break, Notre Dame should be ready to snap the ball quickly. Instead, after the clock started, the offense huddled, taking about 15 seconds to get to the line. A few plays later, time expired after 3rd down, with Notre Dame 4 yards away. Really, the clock easily could have expired after 2nd down, but Notre Dame threw a quick pass and got a break. By poor coaching, Notre Dame lost a down and before that had to run a fast developing play that didn’t even throw to the end zone. Maybe the players don’t convert, but the coaches didn’t even give them a chance.
Example 2: USC at Ohio State, September 12. Mr. Jim Tressel coaches the Ohio State University. Mr. Tressel gets around $3,000,000 annually to make optimal decisions. Plus he keeps a job at Ohio State if he wants, even if he steps down. He has tenure!
After this game, ESPN showed video where he actually got questioned about some choices, like kicking a field goal at the 2 yard line instead of trying for a score. “I think your percent chance of making fourth-and-2 probably doesn’t weigh as well as getting your three points,” he said. What does that say about his offense? Also, he’s wrong probabilistically. Quite wrong.
In addition to bad statistics, I want to point out a key play, with 1:14 remaining and USC driving. On earlier short yardage plays, USC has used a quarterback sneak. The way to make that more difficult is to place people on the line. For third and 1 on the Ohio State 5, how many players does Mr. Tressel put near the ball? Five? Six? No. Two. The ESPN link has the play, about 2:40 into the highlight. Unsurprisingly, USC gets the key yard. These types of errors are faults of the coach. I wish I could make tenure with a performance this lousy, as this much smarter commentator deconstructs.
The Harvard coach, Tim Murphy, is not as amusing in his interview. He’s right, though; Harvard needs to convert near the end zone. Let’s get back to the second half.
- Harvard receives the kick and begins to drive. Against Harvard’s spread, Yale’s using primarily a 3-3-5, with three linemen and three linebackers a few yards back. This is good for running, since Harvard has five linemen and a tight end that can block. Unsurprisingly, most of the plays are successful runs.
- 9:25 3rd quarter: On 3rd down and 2 on the 8, the quarterback audibles to a handoff. He had a better option, though; he could have thrown a pop pass to the second receiver, who was uncovered. At least the run converted.
- 7:40 3rd quarter: Yale adds more linemen closer to the goal line, leading to 3rd and goal from the 1. For some reason, Harvard goes under center and tries a running option. Nothing happens. Coach Murphy then calls time out to think of a play, but it’s a stupid one. Instead of the spread option, Harvard runs an tight I formation with the quarterback under center. An off tackle run fails.
Why was this stupid? Because it allows Yale to win the numbers game. Even the Princeton man is smart enough critique this call. In this formation, the quarterback is not going to block, nor the ballcarrier. That leaves 8 Harvard blockers (+1 receiver) against 10 Yale defenders (+1 cover back). Harvard ran to the strong side, which is 5 against 6. The other side is 3 against 4. All the Yale people had to do is stand put, and let the extra player make the tackle. They succeeded. As an alternative, look at the Florida spread. With three receivers out, and the quarterback as a serious threat to run, the potential 7 (+ ballcarrier) against 8. One of the two sides will not have an extra defender. Going that way with successful blocks means a touchdown. That’s preferred.
- 5:08 3rd quarter: So far, the Yale staff is winning the coaching battle, and thus the scoreboard battle. They’re not completely winning, though. A strange punt formation leads to a delay of game and a 5 yard penalty.
- 15:00 4th quarter: Yale goes again on 4th down and 1. The referee examines the spot carefully and gives them the first down. After an injury timeout later in the drive, Yale makes a curious decision. As I mentioned above, the clock restarts after the injury, with a 25 second play clock. Ahead by 10, Yale wants to clock to expire, yet they snap the ball after only seven seconds. On the next play, after another injury break, Yale snaps after about 6 seconds. They failed to run off about 30 seconds here. While it likely won’t matter, it’s still a mistake. Oh yes, Yale missed the short field goal, too.
- They showed footage of Quidditch! Bellarmine needs a Quidditch team! Unfortunately, Slytherin won.
- Yale #10 makes a spectacular hit on a failed jet sweep, as the lead back failed to block him. Unfortunately, he verbally taunts the Harvard player on the ground (watch his head movements). Then, he decides to taunt Harvard receiver #85. Sadly, the officials do not call a penalty. This isn’t Kansas! To the Yale coach’s credit, I do not see Yale #10 on the field for the next play.
- 7:50 4th quarter: Harvard calls a draw on a desperate 4th and 4. Fortunately, Harvard #22 makes a video game spin-a-rama to get the first down. Two plays later, it’s an Ivy League moment. The snap rolls on the ground to the quarterback, who calmly picks it up and fires a long touchdown pass. Yale 10, Harvard 7. Wow! The camera finds two cute Harvard coeds! Wow! I like the sweatshirt: No one ever says, I want to go to Yale when I grow up.
- 2:40 4th quarter: Into a slight breeze, Yale tries a fake punt. This is not unusual, except that they had 22 yards to go. It’s a really cool play, a direct snap end around. Almost everyone was fooled. Fortunately, despite a slip, Harvard #27 recovers, and Yale winds up 6 yards short. The problem with this play is that at 22 yards, the returner will be able to race up to defend. Therefore, you need to assign someone to block him. Yale did, the kicker. That means, though, that there’s a free man, 9 (+ballcarrier) against 10. Somebody has to get fooled. Harvard was not trying for a block, so the linebacker was able to get there. Overall, this was like a 16 yard punt. That’s not very good.
- 1:34 4th quarter: Despite poor footwork on the throw, the Harvard quarterback makes the completion to Harvard’s wideout, who beat the cornerback on a post route. It’s 13-10. Harvard fumbles the point after attempt, in an Ivy League moment, but one Yale man was offsides. With another chance, Harvard converts for the 4 point lead.
- At least Yale didn’t waste those 30 seconds earlier, with about 90 seconds and three timeouts and 80 yards to go. Yale begins their drive. After two completions, the quarterback is hit on a throw! It’s an interception! And Harvard #45 is smart enough to fall down and prevent a fumble!
- Harvard does something smart by running two spread runs that take extra time, but not three. A first down was always unlikely. With 38 seconds left, Harvard must punt. Yale brings all 11 people to the line, which is a mistake. I’ll explain why in a bit. The line holds, and the kick is away. Harvard lets the ball die, and the officials stop the clock. The Princeton man commentator commends Harvard for not picking up the ball. He’s right about that, but there’s a better option. Harvard can bat the ball around as much as they want. It’s a violation, not a penalty, Rule 6-2-3-2-a on page 89 says that Yale just gets the ball at the best possible spot. Harvard ran off 3 seconds by not picking the ball up, but they could have had more by batting the ball across the field. If a Yale player didn’t come to pick it up, Harvard conceivably could have run out the clock.
The problem with football is that people don’t think about these situations. Yes, Yale gets the ball at the 8, with 25 seconds left. Win Probability is High. But Harvard could have made Win Probability even higher! I wonder if those multi-million dollar coaches, like Mr. Mangino, Weis, and Tressel, have thought about that.
- After a sack and a spike, a crazy two-lateral play ends in a Harvard recovery, Crimson storms the field. Though I’m sure Mr. Williams will be pilloried for his 4th and 22 choice, and I agree that it was a suboptimal call, the commentators are correct – it’s not just one bad choice.
Thus ends another football blog. Though it was dicey, Fair Harvard has triumphed. Since my testosterone levels should be elevated now, I think it’s time for the gym.