Up To Speed - September 27, 2022
Just got back from that beach right there (that's Sunday's sunrise). Having a Thursday night game opens a window for a Friday-to-Monday beach trip, and September is by far the best time of the year for a Friday-to-Monday beach trip (nobody there! water still warm!), so that's what we did.
It was a three couple trip, and the husbands of the other two couples were both Arkansas Razorbacks fans (one wife a Razorback fan, the other wife a Wake Forest fan), so I did spend Saturday night watching some football. And I must say - I never know what to say when I'm the only non-fan in the room watching a DOINK game. It's a very hard thing to "oh man, that sucks, I'm sorry."
Actually, maybe we should begin this Up To Speed with the clock management at the end of that game.
The Clock Management At The End Of That Game
Arkansas is down 2 and driving. A touchdown would force Texas A&M to have to drive for a touchdown of their own; a field goal gives Arkansas a one point lead and opens the window for Texas A&M to win it with their own field goal. Clock is slowly cranking down on the Arkansas drive. 5 minutes... 4 minutes... 3 minutes...
Arkansas has 2nd and 5 at the Texas A&M 15. Something like 2:45 left on the clock. This is when disaster strikes - a low shotgun snap, the QB fumbles it, it gets kicked backwards, and Arkansas falls on it nine yards in the backfield. Now 2nd and 5 has become 3rd and 14.
There's a bunch of confusion from the Arkansas sideline and as they set up for the 3rd and 14 play and now the play clock is under 5. They take a timeout to avoid the penalty. On 3rd and 14, they try to let KJ Jefferson just run for it, he gets one yard (and not a "set up the kicker in the middle of the field" yard, a yard on the hash), and then they let the clock run all the way down to 1 second on the play clock (and 1:35 on the game clock) before taking their second timeout. They bring out the field goal kicker and... he doinks it off the very top of the right upright.
Texas A&M now only has to run out 1:30 with Arkansas only having one timeout, so in that scenario, you need 10 seconds of game play to run it out. They went "delay as much time as possible before kneeling" on first down (then an Arkansas timeout), a running play on second down (Arkansas had no timeouts left so the clock just runs and runs), and then a knee at 40 seconds and the game was over. Couldn't do three knees but the "long knee" plus the running play burned the required 10 seconds meaning they could Victory Formation on third down.
Let's rewind to 2:45 and talk about all of this.
Every Arkansas move from 2:45 to the end was "try to score while leaving as little time as possible". Which is fine. That's how you end a game. The ideal scenario for the Arkansas staff in this game is the third timeout taken with 3 seconds remaining and the ball on the 2 yard line. Chip shot field goal and you win (unless you're Missouri).
But it's so easy to get lost in that. If I'm the Arkansas Eye In The Sky guy (the position I've advocated for since 2009 or so), after the bad snap, I'm in everyone's headset talking about one thing. If we don't score here, these three timeouts are gold. They would allow us to not score and then get the ball back again to attempt to score again (as long as the defense forces a three-and-out).
After the bad snap, for some unknown reason, Arkansas was still in bleed mode. Texas A&M had them in 3rd and 14, which meant Texas A&M was definitely getting the ball back, probably with two minutes left. So even if Arkansas gets the field goal there, Texas A&M will get a two minute drill to try to get into field goal range (i.e. move the ball 35 yards or so). Bleeding clock no longer makes sense at this point. You're not backing them into a corner. Your objective must switch to "if we miss this, we need all three timeouts to get the ball back."
And under that scenario (which I, fortunately or unfortunately, presented to my two Arkansas buddies as we were watching the game live), every clock move was infuriating. Bleed clock down to 3 seconds on the play clock on the 3rd and 14 play and then burn a timeout because you weren't going to get the snap off. Then, after you only get one yard, instead of running the FG team on, you have everyone stand around and do nothing so you can take a timeout with :01 on the play clock (timeout #2). That timeout is your only lifeline if he misses this, and you could have just had the FJ unit trot onto the field and kick it without taking a timeout (you don't even have to hurry! it's just a regular field goal that has to be run within a 40 second play clock!), and you let 40 full seconds run off and then burn your second timeout.
What happens? A doink at 1:30. If Arkansas has all three timeouts, then they can try to force a three and out, lose only 15 seconds on those three plays because they stop the clock after every play, and then get the ball back with around 1:10 left to try to get into FG range again. What did they have instead? One timeout because THEY TOOK TWO MEANINGLESS TIMEOUTS THE PREVIOUS TWO PLAYS WHERE THEY DIDN'T EVEN NEED TO STOP THE CLOCK THEY COULD HAVE JUST RUN A PLAY.
I stayed calm because it wasn't my game, but wasting that second timeout so you can call a TO with :01 on the play clock (instead of just, you know, kicking the field goal within that 40 second play clock window and keeping the timeout) would have had me screaming at the TV. Instead, Saturday night, I started in with "kick this now - why are you bleeding clock?" before realizing I was speaking into a moment where they were the ones dying inside, so I shut my mouth. I let them handle the "why are we wasting a timeout here?" all the way through the end.
Bleed Clock Mode when it's supposed to be Save Those Timeouts Mode drives me absolutely insane. I get the whole "we are trying to win the game, not worrying about the other team getting the ball back" thing. Stay in attack mode, get a TD, and put the game away. But once that bad snap happens, man, Eye In The Sky needs to be all over the headset screaming about saving all three timeouts for a potential three-and-out.
Every team needs an Eye In The Sky Guy. I'll wait for your call, Arkansas. (And then I'll turn you down because I'd only do it for my team.)
Updating the INI
I didn't update the ol' Illiniboard NERDstat Index last week because we didn't play (description of the INI is here). Some of the numbers moved around, but none of them had anything to do with us. This time we had a game, so here's the updated numbers.
First, the four metrics that go into the INI:
SP+ (Bill Connelly)
FPI (ESPN's analytics team)
FEI (Brian Fremeau)
KFord (Kelly Ford)
And here's our current ranking in each:
LOLOLOL. I mean, that right there is what we call a CONSENSUS, people. 47th, 47th, 47th, and 49th. Get with the program, FPI. The average here is 47.5, which means I have to round up to 48, so I'm really gonna need FPI to get it together soon.
Here's the Big Ten West using the INI:
Minnesota - 10
Wisconsin - 22
Iowa - 31
Purdue - 37
Illinois - 48
Nebraska - 75
Northwestern - 100
There's still a lot of preseason numbers in this. NERDstats like these can't just go off of what has happened in these first four weeks. If they did, they'd have crazy things like Kansas ranked above Oklahoma, and if they played tomorrow, Oklahoma probably beats Kansas by 27. These numbers have to maintain some preseason balance until it's just too hard to ignore the "wow, they got A LOT better" teams.
I saw something from Brian Fremeau saying that, depending on the number of games played against FBS competition (he doesn't include stats against FCS opponents), his numbers are between 35% and 60% "preseason" at the moment (a few teams only have three games played against FBS competition; teams like UTEP have played five). So keep that in mind when looking at the list above.
Here's the teams that have moved the most:
Illinois (preseason INI of 75, currently 48): up 27 spots
Minnesota: up 24 spots
Iowa: down 4
Wisconsin: down 7
Northwestern: down 15
Nebraska: down 37
Honestly, these numbers are stunning through four games. Just stunning. I mean, just look at this number:
FPI Bowl Chances for Illinois: 77.0%
There's just so many ways I could talk about all of this. But I have a ton to do today so I'll restrict myself to just one more. Let's see...
Vegas over/under before the season: 4.5 wins
Current win projections for Illinois from Brian Fremeau:
3 wins - 1% chance
4 wins - 7% chance
5 wins - 20% chance
6 wins - 31% chance
7 wins - 26% chance
8 wins - 11% chance
9 wins - 3% chance
Percent chance of hitting the Vegas over? 92%. Chances of going bowling per FEI? 72% chance. Chances to pull off our first winning season (guaranteed, no matter what happens in the bowl game) since 2011 by getting to 7-5 in the regular season? 40% chance.
I just don't know what to do with that. Best chance is for 6 wins. Next best chance is for 7 wins, not 5 wins.
Gonna need more than a pinch - someone slap me to wake me up.
I'll close with this. I'm not sure there's a better way to look at Illinois football right now than to look at the point spread in the Wisconsin game. Yes, part of this is "Wisconsin has already lost twice". But part of this is simply... relevance.
As of this moment, the line in this game - Illinois AT Wisconsin - is 7 points. Take away the three points for home field advantage and the line (which very quickly moved from 9.5 to 7, I should add) says that the oddsmakers and the betting public believe Wisconsin to be four points better than Illinois.
The oddsmakers and the betting public believe Wisconsin to be four points better than Illinois. The preseason Wisconsin over/under was 8.5 wins, and the preseason Illinois over/under was 4.5 wins, and the oddsmakers and the betting public believe Wisconsin to be four points better than Illinois at this moment.
Let's just look at the trend, shall we? We play Wisconsin every year. Starting with 2011 and running through 2022 (our last winning season was 2011), here are the closing lines for each Illinois-Wisconsin game (Wisconsin favored in every game, obviously):
2015 is the obvious outlier there when you look at that list. For that game, Wisconsin had fallen out of the rankings after losing to Iowa 10-6 two weeks prior. The week after that, 4-1 Illinois (having just beaten Nebraska on that G-Mo TD catch) went into Iowa and lost 29-20 (Illini were driving for the win down 26-20 when KeShawn Vaughn fumbled - Iowa kicked a FG to ice it). That same weekend, Wisconsin struggled at home with the Nebraska team Illinois had just beaten (Wisconsin won 23-21). The line for the game in Champaign opened at 6.5 and moved to 5 at game time. Wisconsin, coming to Champaign, for a 2:30 national broadcast against a 4-2 Illini team, possibly vulnerable?
Wisconsin won 24-13 and finished 10-3. Illinois only won one game the rest of the year and finished 5-7.
Take out that outlier (and let's be honest, that 2015 team with its top-25 defense was a 7 or 8-win team that won five games), and you can see the full trend here. Two touchdown spread at the end of the Zook era. Then the line was up in the 20's for six out of the next seven years. Last year down to 12 (in Champaign), this year down to 7 (in Madison). Trending in the right direction.
Ooooh boy we like that.