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Minnesota Football: 2-Point Conversions and QB Sneaks

Today's topics: Why is Minnesota bad at the QB sneak and should we have gone for 2 against Illinois up 7?

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

It says a lot about the strength of the foundation that the Gopher program sits on when so many Gopher fans remain optimistic about the direction of their program after this tumultuous season. This coaching staff and these players certainly deserve our thanks for their dedication and drive to do things the right way.

Assuming that gentlemanly discussions with our drunken, snowball-throwing, embarrassment to adults everywhere neighbors to the east allow Gopher fans to consider other topics, I'd like to bring up two issues here.

Quarterback Sneaks

The Gophers struggle putting together a competent quarterback sneak. Not only did we have to suffer through Blue-baughs after losing the Little Brown Jug, the end of the first half against the Illini served as a reminder that our QB sneak game is weak. It is frustrating to see an offense that prides itself in its blue collar work ethic remain unable to put together a sneak that gains even half of a yard . Throw in the fact that one of the pillars of this offense is the #QBRUTM, and this issue moves from frustrating to maddening.

The QB sneak relies on fewer variables than most other offensive plays and therefore should be easier to execute. Interior linemen can be stronger or weaker than the defensive front. Defensive linemen can be over the nose or not. If three interior linemen can get a slight push against the defensive line, and a quarterback can read the defensive front at the line of scrimmage well enough to make slight adjustments to generate a crease either right, left, or center, the play should be as simple as the QB putting his shoulders down and driving through his linemen for three or four feet. Of course, linemen could be overpowered and the QB could make a wrong read, but the probability of success should always be present in a well-designed QB sneak.

Let's fast forward this QB conversation to its inevitable conclusion, which is a comparison to Tom Brady. In all seriousness, Tom Brady does execute some of the best QB sneaks in football, and he does it in multiple ways.

The most common method he uses is here:

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This is how a QB sneak should look. You can see the center stays low, drives forward and TB12 follows with ease. First down. Why Miami didn't have anyone over the center is beyond me, but there's no stopping Miami from Miaming in the Miamiest of ways.

Mr. Bundchen also likes to do this every once in a while.

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I hate that move, but I'll speculate that the decision to drive or jump is based on film study of the opponent's tendencies and a read at the line of scrimmage. Points are points, so if this is the solution, I hope Good Mitch can execute.

Compare those two sneaks to Mitch here.

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Mitch stands up and leans his chest into the linemen in front of him. Not only does this give him a greater surface area to be hit backward by defenders, but it prevents Mitch from using his lower-body strength to drive into the endzone. This is virtually identical to the sneak Mitch executed this Saturday with the exception that there was slightly more room to push forward against Illinois. In either case, Mitch is much too vertical and has no forward momentum in his favor.

This all isn't to say that we are the only team with this problem. Here's a gif of Alabama with the same lame chest push of a QB sneak against Arkansas.

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Alabama and Minnesota appear to be conflicted between going high or going low on their sneaks where New England commits to its choice without hesitation. I don't pretend to be an expert on drawing up plays, but I don't think it would be difficult to diagram up a better QB sneak for Minnesota.

2-Point Conversion

While I love the aggressiveness that Tracy Claeys has continually showed in his first month on the job, I do not agree with his choice to go for two when up seven with 1:25 remaining in the game. My very non-scientific opinion is based on answering this question, "Would you rather have to go for two to win the game or stop a two-point conversion to keep the game from going into overtime, where you can still win if you fail?" Over the years, NCAA FBS two-point conversions are successful about 40% of the time. I would prefer to be on defense, stopping a two-point conversion, but that is not to say I'm right. With Steven Richardson, Scott Ekpe, Ace Rogers, and Damarius Travis all out and Cody Poock continuing to play hurt, the middle of the defense is soft. Perhaps it is better to be the one who knocks in this situation.

I found a win probability calculator in order to add some math to my thought. Assuming in all situations that Illinois would have been starting at their 25-yard line with 1:25 to play, Illinois would have had a 6.86% chance of winning if they were down 7, a 3.16% chance down 8, and a 1.41% chance down 9. Channeling my inner John Madden, being up by more points is better in this situation. Boom. Tough actin' Tinactin. These probabilities also seem very low. Would any Gopher fan feel 93.14% certain of victory with the opposing team beginning a drive, down 7 at their own 25 with 1:25 to play? However, any weakness in the formula is likely negated by examining the relativity of each probability against each other. Therefore, the question is whether the 40% chance at a 1.75% increase in probable victory that results in being up by 9 instead of 8 is worth the 60% chance that Illinois' probability of victory would be improved by 3.7% by virtue of only being down 7. Personally, the answer is no, but it is definitely a question where reasonable people can have differences in opinion.