Football favors the bold/View From the Bleachers
Each week the View From The Bleachers will take a deeper look at some aspect of Michigan Tech athletics. While we will be focusing on football today, hockey and basketball will be incorporated as those sports start anew. Have questions you want addressed? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or @michaelbleach on Twitter. All conspiracy theories will be investigated thoroughly.
HOUGHTON – Against a less-talented Walsh squad last Saturday, the Michigan Tech football team dominated in all three phases of the game.*
*Four, if you want to count which offensive and defensive coordinators were more original in their press box pontifications. The walls of the Sherman Field press box are delightfully thin.
The Huskies enjoyed three times as many yards as the Cavaliers, doubled the time of possession battle, were more efficient on third down and won the turnover total. You can easily make bingo with that checklist of clich coaching pre-game goals.
Naturally, I want to focus on the one area the Huskies struggled.
Tech entered the red zone seven times Saturday and six times came away with points. One touchdown – on a beautiful 7-yard fade catch from junior wide receiver Brandon Cowie that showed off boundary feet Jordy Nelson would be proud of – and a new Husky record five-field goals for kicker Garrett Mead.
Only this underachievement alone prevented the game from reaching the lofty heights of “a lot, to a little” final score.
But it is the drive that stalled out at the Walsh 6-yard line – the one time Tech didn’t score any points inside the red zone – that presents the most intrigue.
Up just 10-0 at the start of the second quarter, the Huskies had marched (15 plays, 7:15 elapsed from the clock) to politely knock at the Walsh doorstep.
When refused entrance, Tech head coach Tom Kearly decided to bash his way in. Facing a third-and-two from the 7-yard line, he dialed up fullback belly play for short yardage master Cole Welch.* Walsh stood strong, however, limiting the senior to a yard, bringing about a fourth-and-one.
*Career statline of 50 rushes, 87 yards and 10 touchdowns. Never has three feet felt so good.
The choices: Kick a chip shot field goal and take a 13-0 lead, or go for it, and risk “taking points off the board,” with a potential touchdown as the reward.
Kearly chose to go with option B, calling for a QB sneak from Tyler Scarlett, which in a fit of pique unseen for the rest of the game, Walsh stopped.
Conventional wisdom – I can almost hear Troy Aikman and Phil Simms bemoaning the decision from their separate network soapboxes – says you never take points off the board that early in the game.
As The View From The Bleachers despises conventional wisdom*, I would like to take a moment to applaud Kearly for making the correct decision. Mathematically, years of data back the Tech head coach up. Check out the 4th Down Calculator at Advancenflstats. com for a more in-depth look at the situation, which states that Tech should always go for it if they believe they have a 68 percent chance of succeeding.
And with that personnel, the Huskies should be well north of 68 percent.
*In fact, when economist John Kenneth Galbraith popularized the term in the 1950s, he was using the phrase pejoratively, as an example of the dangers of group or lemming-think. The more you know.
But even outside the statistics, the psychology of the decision is most laudable.
Coaches, across any sport, at any level, are too often paralyzed by the fear of failure, or perhaps more significantly, the fear of embarrassment. It’s just how we humans are built. Multiple experiments have shown that the average person feels greater pain over losing a $20 bill, than the pleasure received for unexpectedly finding a $20 bill.
But it is a coach’s job to fight or ignore that nature. Giving your team a greater chance to win is often looked over for the more conventional – there’s that word again – decision, that even if it backfires, will not bring significant criticism with it. It may as well be called the Ron Rivera Conundrum.
In this case, the end result was negligible. The Huskies didn’t score, but given that Walsh now had to travel 94 yards across the field, were able to force a punt and make the whole situation a wash.
It is the process, not the result that matters, though.
In a situation where Kearly easily could have taken the conventional way out, the coach instead went against the grain to give his team better shot at victory.
It deserves to be recognized. It may not have mattered much for the likes of Walsh, but stiffer upcoming tests with Grand Valley and Northern Michigan loom, where smaller margins matter.
Husky fans should be comforted they have a coach willing find an edge outside the standard box.