It Is Entirely Debatable

I’ve rewritten the intro to this post 10 times. Each time I keep getting nicer about it. One intro suggested Biscuit start writing for Bleacher Report. Suffice it to say, I disagree with Biscuit’s “FAIL” post below, but more than anything, I disagree with this point of view…

This isn’t debatable or something you can defend ‘depending on the circumstances.’ You just TAKE THE 3! This is obvious and easy. You have a half to play. You TAKE YOU POINTS.

Parly I disagree because it strikes me as frustration-fueled. Mostly I disagree because it’s plainly wrong. There’s absolutely no actual analysis in Biscuit’s argument. Here, I’ll show you why it’s completely wrong. I’ll just go ahead and debate it.

Biscuit feels the decision to try for a touchdown over the field goal try was obviously incorrect and something that should have disappeared with the departure of Weis. I feel that there are plenty of arguments that could be made, the decision is non-trivial, and there was plenty of nuance to complicate things.

So that I may spell out my viewpoint one final time, let me just go ahead and do so here. If you disagree, fine, you can spell that out in the comments. I wont reply. This sort of thing is a holy-war of coaching decisions, and neither side will ever see eye-to-eye on the matter, even if there were data on this exact matter to provide empirical evidence.

  • Given Kelly’s statements during the game and today, it’s clear that he had no idea whether Crist was ever coming back to the game.
  • Given that, it’s reasonable to act under the assumption that the offense will not operate any better in the 2nd half than it has since Crist left the game.
  • After Crist’s departure, the ND offensive drives leading up to this decision had resulted in the following: 1 yard gained, Interception; 1 yard lost, Punt; 7 yards gained, Punt; 19 yards gained, Punt; 22 yards gained, Punt; 23 yards gained, Interception; 24 yards gained, Punt;
  • Only 1 of those Crist-less drives ended in Michigan territory – at the Michigan 47 yard line. The other 6 never got beyond the ND 48.
  • Meanwhile, during all of that offensive ineptitude, Crist’s status just kept getting drawn out. At first, he was going to sit “the rest of the 1st quarter.” Then it was “the rest of the half.” At some point, there was apparently some hope of a return before the half, but the doctors decided to sit him to be safe. Kelly must now operate under the belief that Crist isn’t coming back at all.
  • The point at which a decision needed to be made was set up by a 37 yard reception on 3rd and 10. It was a bit of lightning-in-a-bottle facilitated by a defense giving up the under to protect the EZ and concede a field goal if necessary because, well…
  • ND was down 14 points and showed the opponent absolutely no ability to produce any offense.
  • Now here’s where the disagreements start to show up. The argument from the pro-FG group, when not arguing “play the percentages” while probably having no idea of the actual percentages, tends to be “go out on a high note” and “take the points.” Both of which are notions that depend on the field goal being “automatic,” which, recent kicking-game positives aside, I find laughable coming from ND fans. But further…
  • I question the notion that taking 3, and getting within 11, thus making it either a 2 TD, or 1 TD + 2 pt conversion + FG game is much of a “boost” for “the boys.” “The Boys” ain’t stupid, and they know damned well that they’re still 11 points behind a team with a devastating QB on their side while our “boys” are playing with a QB who couldn’t start at a community college. This isn’t Mr. Roger’s Feel-Good About Yourself Hour. Take the FG during the first time you’ve even sniffed the EZ? You sure that’s not looking more like a waiving of the white flag to “the boys?” [eye roll]
  • And let’s get back to the scenarios had a FG been tried. Worst case, you try the “easy” way, and either miss or get blocked, and then you’re dead. Deader than dead. You just tried the easy way, and failed. Lesson learned: stop trying. Best case: You make it. You’re still heading into the locker room down 11, with no signs presented through the entire first half that you’ll see the EZ again. Hell, it took one big break/gift to get that 37 yard pass down to the Michigan 3. How many more of those you gonna get while your 2-on-a-scale-of-10 3rd string QB is leading you in the 2nd half?
  • Not to continue to beat up Nate, as I think he certainly did his best and I’m sure he’s an asset to the team in some way, but part of Biscuit’s “position” was that “you have a half to play.” Which I believe can be extrapolated to “anything could happen!” Sure. Just as anything could happen while you’re trying to kick the field goal.
  • To answer anyone arguing that our 3rd string QB could have been “coached up” during the half-time to facilitate a better offensive production in the 2nd half, my response: The kid couldn’t get a starting job at a community college. Sure, miracles happen on the football field, but most of you are arguing to take the “percentages” and the “points” when you argue to take the FG. I doubt “miracle” is listed under the “likely” column in the table of percentages.
  • What you can do as a coach, however, is instruct – instruct your defense and your special teams to attack, and seek to create points. Fumble returns, interception returns, kickoff returns, and punt returns for touchdowns happen often in the college football game relative to miracle stories of 3rd string QBs leading their team to 2 TDs or 1 TD, a 2 point conversion, and a field goal in the 2nd half.
  • So then you seek to eliminate the need for further big breaks. You seek to narrow the gap between you and the opponent as much as possible. You seek to make it a 7 point game, and hope that your defense or special teams can make a play in the 2nd half to tie it up.
  • I also find the argument that Crist came back, so clearly, Kelly should have taken the FG irritating. It assumes that something changing in the past wouldn’t thus immediately have ramifications in the exact same game in the next half. It forgets everything taught in a survey-level philosophy course. It’s the “change this one bad thing but keep it all the same otherwise” argument you get from 8 year olds, and it deserves no further attention than a sneer and a snicker.

So there, despite what Biscuit states was undebatable, I just did it. It wasn’t that hard, and didn’t even require any stretches of imagination. Q.E.D.

There is nuance and art to coaching college football – in pretty much ever facet. We as a nation of fans have become entirely too comfortable digging for reasons why ND lost. We’ve become entirely too comfortable digging for reasons to be hopeful despite the losses. We’ve become entirely too comfortable with the losses. From Kelly’s presser today, I take it that he senses that perhaps the players have become too comfortable with the losses too, so long as they can claim to have played hard. Perhaps the fans are guilty as well. I’m as guilty as the next fan, searching for silver linings and dark clouds, depending on the overall weather forecast. But I read fans throwing around terms like “undebatable” and “indictment.” I see folks making comparisons to failed coaches of the past. I think we need to fight such urges just as we need to fight urges to find any parallels between Kelly and past greats. We’re so anxious to get to the end of the story that we’re unwilling to simply let the wins and losses fall as they may, and seek to extrapolate the conclusion by digging through the ephemera. I suppose we wouldn’t have much content on HLS if we didn’t do some of that, but I also think we need to be more careful with our digging. We have a unique opportunity to be part of the “thought leaders” among ND and college football fans, and while it really is just a game, we aren’t doing anyone any favors by taking that opportunity lightly.

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  • GB

    I guess I can see both sides now as far as the FG. However, the D needs lots of work if ND is to go any place. It is deja vu all over again with the D.

  • GB

    Lately, I cannot read the right part of the blog because the right side of the site overshadows about a few words on the right side of the blog part. Do you know how to fix this? I really like your blog.

  • GB

    One more thing. I missed most of the first quarter since I had to work. Why did Rees not play more? I thought he was #2.

  • TXIrish2

    This is a good post. Going for the 3 is entirely debatable, even though some people think its an easy call. Definitely comparing Kelly to Weis isn’t necessary.

    I took a lot of positives from this game, maybe I shouldn’t have. Robinson was obviously out of his mind. He got more yards on us than UConn, but I think that’s not important because against UConn they got to take their foot off the gas.

    I think the Defense actually played pretty well, have to disagree with GB. Especially with 3 turnovers and all those punts, 28 points ain’t bad.

    Crist has some improvement to do, and obviously if he can’t stay healthy things will get ugly. Still this is only game #2 under Kelly. I really think things are going to continue to improve, so I’m feeling good about the future.

  • the biscuit

    Yes it’s debatable. Yes, I often use a ton of hyperbole and yes there was a lot of frustration coming out in my 2am post. I am sure a lot of what you said went through BKs head and I get all the arguments for the decision. But I wholeheartedly disagree with that reasoning. I think the guy panicked. There’s no way for me to ‘prove’ that taking the points is the right call. It’s my opinion, I am fine with it being characterized as that, and that’s why I write on this blog – to give my opinion and hear others’. To me, it was Fail. Big time.

    I like to put my real thoughts here and I’m not going to sugar coat it so I come across like a ‘thought leader’. I’m a freaking fan, and I think its absurd to go for it there. Someone else, you, whoever, can think different. All fine by me.

    I don’t take this blog or the conversation “lightly” in the way you imply – I don’t just randomly say junk I don’t believe. But, I also am not here trying to be some intellectual beacon either. I think its fine to say Michigan sucks, I think its fine to mock everyone, and I think its fine to flip out when I see our new, ‘prepared’ coach make what I see as a bonehead call.

    My position is based on the percentages, the play call he made which relied heavily on that QB that couldn’t start at a JC making a ‘touch pass’ and your instruction bit – bc I think the 11 pt lead is more manageable than 14 for those things to work.
    I said right when it happened that we needed the 3, and didn’t form that opinion after I saw how it played out. I also never said that everything else wouldve been the same, so assigning me the logic of an 8 year old that I never employed is just innaccurate.

    And finally, I’m not all negative because of this game or this one decision. Yes, I hated the decision and despite your attempts to defend it, find it very wrong. But I haven’t bailed on Kelly, I am not as down after the L as I thought I’d be, and I think we have a chance to have a solid season, still.

    But I still think he was wrong, and I most certainly will reserve my right to rant and yell in ALL CAPS in righteous anger and frustration as a fan, and blogger. Otherwise, you’re right, we wouldn’t have much content. And, I wouldn’t have any way to get this stuff out, and I would explode. Literally. Plus, if we all just agree, what the hell will we argue about? Nothing. And that’s not debatable. Wanna debate that?

  • NJBaseball

    Excellent points. I was wondering if I was the only one who thought the TD try wasn’t a bad idea.

    I especially love this line: “We’re so anxious to get to the end of the story that we’re unwilling to simply let the wins and losses fall as they may, and seek to extrapolate the conclusion by digging through the ephemera.” I think that sums us up pretty well.

    • the biscuit

      DMQ,and you NJ, are of course 100 percent right on this. But if we just waited for the season to play out,and then discussed it, what fun would that be?

  • the biscuit

    Oh, and for the last time, I didn’t say that Weis and Kelly are the same, that Kelly is as bad as Weis, or whatever. I said that 2 decisions he made were Weis-like in that they felt like needless gambles way too early in a game. Kelly is not Weis and I don’t think he’ll end up like Weis. But those 2 calls felt like last year’s pressing for no reason to me.

  • http://rut4nd TLNDMA

    I still agree with Biscuit. Domer, without going into all of them, some of your arguments or points are flawed. For instance, field goals are not automatic, but 20 yd FGs are the closest you will get to “automatic”.
    My argument for Kelly’s decision would be this. He has stated previously that situations like this are planned for and the calls already made days ahead. He does this to take emotion out of the decision. If that’s the case then at least he took the emotion out of the decision. But you still should kick the field goal.

  • shoutboxx

    I totally agree with this post.

  • http://rut4nd TLNDMA

    Different topic, I have a question for you guys. Does it seem to you that the only rec’s involved in the pass game so far are, Floyd, Jones and Rudolph? Where are the other guys and the rbs? Is this just a matter of Crist being comfortable or some other reason? Where’s Riddick, Kumara and Goodman? Is it just too early? Opinions?

    • SDI

      Agree, and I think I said something similar in another comment. I think that BK is really high on Riddick’s play making ability once he has the ball in his hands. But either he isn’t running good routes or he and Crist are just not in sync because he has not produced anything much yet. I would like to see Kamara or others get more reps at least until Riddick starts to hit his stride.

    • GB

      Where’s Floyd? He has not been playing great this year with his dropsies. The only receivers really producing are Rudolph and Jones.

  • Jed

    At that point in the game I thought that they should have take the FG because it would have given them a small amount of momentum going into the locker room. I watched Washington and Dallas play last night and a Dallas offsides penalty on a made FG attempt gave Washington a first down. I said don’t take points off of the board and sure enough Washington had to kick again and botched the snap. Take what you can get every time down the field.

  • Dan

    Couldn’t. Agree. More.

  • Pat

    Since you struggled coming up with a title, I think it should have been, “Making A Mountain of a Mole Hill.” I just don’t see that one decision as pivotal to the game. No way it’s bigger than giving up an 87 yard TD run, or, what I really think is the story of the game, Crist going down injured.

    Fine, our QB went down. Sour grapes, I guess. No moral victories. Losing still sucks, every time. But I’m not ready to throw the coach or this team under the bus. We probably need a SLIGHTLY bigger sample size before we start evaluating the Brian Kelly Era in earnest.

    • the biscuit

      Pat, who is evaluating the Brian Kelly era? My post addressed a single play. Why is everyone taking my dislike of a single play and extrapolating to the game, then the program, now the freaking era? C’mon people, let’s read better.

      Pat, this is meant towards everyone that’s taking my narrow focus and widening it, not just you.

      • Pat

        Biscuit, no harm done. Truthfully, I wasn’t directing those comments at you. I shared my views under your post on the issue. In fact, we both agree to kick the FG there.

        My comments were meant to address the idea that some of us have gotten comfortable with losing and were looking for silver linings and sugarcoat. My response was simply to say, that’s not true, at least for me; that despite the loss, we do need to give Kelly a tad bit more time before we start declaring that losing will be or is in some way accommodated at Notre Dame.

        • The Biscuit


    • SDI

      I don’t think anyone is trying to evaluate the Brian Kelly era in earnest. It was one call that had a big impact on the game. Biscuit didn’t like it and said so. I agree with him.
      The odds of Ruffer (not Brandon Walker or Nate Whitaker) making what was essentially an extra point are extremely high. The odds of Montana (who completed less than 50% of his passes from anywhere on the field) completing a pass into the end zone on a short field are unacceptably low. Take the points, hope that it gives your team some momentum and confidence, and pray that Crist comes back. I don’t think it was a terrible decision, but it was unnecessarily risky and thus the fair comparison (on this one occassion NOT in general to Weis).

      • http://rut4nd TLNDMA

        Well said SDI. Now about the flea flicker…….Kelly will get it done, we could dissect every call.

  • Danno27

    So I swore off reading ND blogs after Saturday’s game. I guess staying off until Monday is a “moral victory” for me. Keep holy the Lord’s Day right.

    @Biscuit: I agree with your frustration. I thought (in the moment) that with Montana at the helm it was the wrong choice. With That Personnel. I wouldn’t have if Crist was in there, which is interesting given they probably wouldn’t have been in that position in the first place if Crist had been in. I haven’t read your post yet so I won’t comment on that, but I think frustration with this game is best placed on the rotten situation the Irish were in – nobbled at our own QB position while facing a fiend at opposing QB. Especially knowing that Richrod is sitting fat and happy on the other sideline having this kid make him look like a genius.

    That said, maybe the number one takeaway from this game is this: We’re screwed if Crist goes down. Even the defense played better once he came back in, probably because they didn’t feel the entire weight of the game on their shoulders.

    @TLNDMA: Agreed, and even Floyd has been an afterthought until late in the game. I think the Purue game he had a big gainer at the end that made his effort seem more crucial, and then this game he had a 3 catch, 34 yard game until the last 27 seconds. Maybe it’s Crist’s comfort zone, just taking his first read? I definitely would like to see them use Kamara’s and Floyd’s physicality more…

  • JM

    I have to agree with Danno that the biggest take away from this game is we are absolutely screwed if Crist goes down again; the other thing though is Crist didn’t look that great in the second half, so even with him, we have a long slow road to recovery in front of us. Setting aside whether going for the end zone with a QB who hasn’t shown a lot of accuracy at the end of the first half was the right call, once the call was made, the most aggravating thing to me was that even though Kelly said it was a teaching moment (end of the half, you have to give your receivers at least a chance to make a play), Crist didn’t learn anything because we face the same situation at the end of the game and still sail the ball out the back of the end zone. Now it could simply be lack of skill or accuracy at this point, but I am concerned that we have a team of slow learners. They are trying, but it’s just going to take a lot longer to learn to play like a Kelly team than we would like to see.

    • The Biscuit

      And Crist missed that same pass twice to Floyd against Purdue. Thats something that needs taught, badly.

      And yes, there are other takeaways from the game. I havent gotten there yet.

    • Pat

      Crist looked bad in the second half? Really? The guy who quarterbacked 17 unanswered points and got us back into the game? The guy who threw a perfect strike between the corner and the safety coverage to TJ Jones for a long score and later threw a rope to Kyle Rudolph for a 95 yard TD score, probably the most incredible play we’ve seen from Notre Dame football in, oh, I don’t know, about a decade (but I’m open to suggestions on that one)? I don’t know his exact number in the second half but pulling from memory, it doesn’t seem like we are even talking about the same guy.

      Now, I will say, Dayne will act his age and experience sometimes, i.e. the INT & throwing out of the back of the endzone, and, generally, I think he can be too conservative. But I think he’s got a very, very high ceiling and with a good coach, which I believe Kelly is, I think we can expect him to get better week by week.

  • VicPaul

    Couldn’t agree with this post more. Gotta try for the TD. Our team needed something, Nate needed something and the fans needed something to hang our hat on going into the locker room. You make that play and the place goes nuts. Did it work out? well no, but you still gotta try. 3 points does nothing for your confidence. Go Irish Beat Sparty!!!!

  • OderName

    I said at the time (see Shoutbox archives) to take the FG and still stand by that, but I can definitely see both sides of the argument. I also agree that the really frustrating part of the game was the winning drive by MSucks, less so the FG. It’s game two, and despite what I said emotionally on the shoutbox, it’s still Honeymoon time for BK, meaning simply that we don’t know enough to pass judgment.

    • OderName

      P.S.: I also want to say how happy I am to have found a new home in HLS in the post-BGS era. Just wish I had found you guys earlier – but it’s fun to go back and read the archives when I feel like getting nothing done at work for a few hours.

      • The Biscuit

        You’re very welcome here and we’re glad to have ya. There’s a lot of stuff back there. If you go back to the very beginning, you’ll see a pretty vivid evolution from me ranting and DMQ giving detailed stats to….me ranting and DMQ giving detailed stats.

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  • DCIrish7

    I can’t believe no one has brought up the play call. Yes we went for the TD, fine – probably not the best decision, but understandable if you don’t know whether Crist is coming back or not.

    But if you do decide to go for the TD why on earth do you call that play? How about the 5 yard out to Rudolph that no one in 2 years has been able to stop? How about sweeping to Allen or Wood and just let them out run the guy to the corner – I guarantee you they can get 3 yards by just diving at the pylon. But no, you call a difficult pass over the linebackers into coverage asking your 3rd string QB to drop it right at the back of the endzone. THAT is the real error here, not whether or not to kick it.

    • The Biscuit

      agree as well. if you’re going to make that call, pick a better percentage play.

  • peter

    As Brian at MGoBlog wrote:

    While we’re on the topic, Kelly’s decision to go for it from the three at the end of the first half has come in for rampant bashing by Notre Dame fans because it didn’t work out but to me it seems like one of those decisions that’s so close there’s no right or wrong answer. We happen to have a huge database of one-shot plays from the three because that’s where two-point conversions are attempted from. The expected value of a field goal from there is basically 3 points. The expected value of going for it is 45% of 7, or 3.15 points… if you assume an average defense and offense. Michigan does not have an average defense but Notre Dame’s offense while directed by a third-string walk-on is probably even further below average, so in terms of pure points expected I’m betting Kelly gave up a little when he went for it. On the other hand, when you’re down 14 points and you might not get many opportunities to score because you’re down to the third-string walk-on you take variance where you can; you should be willing to give up some expectation for it. My gut feeling was that I was unhappy with the decision to go, which means it’s probably the right call.

  • theIrishLion10

    I loved the call to go for the TD before the half. I followed BK and his UC team, and I knew that was a situation where he would go for the touchdown rather than just taking the 3. That is how he coaches, and his success in those situations through his time at CMU and UC (despite the failure saturday) are what got him to ND. BK is aggressive in the big games, and this type of thing will come around for us.

    I was also impressed by our defense, despite what DR did to us. We are tackling better in open field, we are playing aggressive and with emotion, and things aren’t easy for opponents anymore (unless we give them 8 yards of cushion on the LOS on the final drive). I love the attitude im seeing from our defense to this point, something we missed under Weis.