Monthly Archives September 2019

Hey Nate There Is No Rich Data In Womens Sports

Hey, Nate,I really liked the “Rich Data, Poor Data” story you wrote for ESPN The Magazine’s March 2 Analytics Issue, but I couldn’t help thinking that your first point, “sports has awesome data,” was missing one crucial word: “men’s.”Men’s sports have awesome data.Unfortunately, the beauty and breadth of sports data don’t yet extend to women. There are other ways to cover women’s sports intelligently, but the lack of accessible and complete data is incredibly limiting. We’ve struggled with this at FiveThirtyEight — where our job is to tell compelling stories with data — because of how much more difficult it is to find data that is “accurate, precise and subjected to rigorous quality control” like we’ve come to enjoy in men’s sports. Take the recent news about Diana Taurasi’s decision to leave the WNBA for a salary of $1.5 million in the Russian Premier League. Neil Paine and I wanted to look at the distribution of WNBA player salaries, but as far as we can tell, that data doesn’t exist. There are league averages, but no player-by-player data.It’s pretty crazy that we know how much money Chris Bosh will make in 2018, but we don’t know exactly how much money the former No. 1 draft pick Brittney Griner makes in the WNBA now. (We could speculate based on her rookie salary.) Imagine what this would be like in men’s sports! “We’re not sure how much money Anthony Bennett is making in the NBA right now.”And while you can easily look up all 14,260,129 at-bats in the history of Major League Baseball, I have no idea how many at-bats were taken during the five years of the Women’s Professional Softball League. That league folded — along with any of the data it recorded, presumably — and now the new National Pro Fastpitch league has archives that only go back to 2004. (And it appears that they haven’t been updated since 2009.)With such incomplete data, it’s hard to draw as rich of conclusions about how women play professional softball (better, worse, faster or slower than before?). You can glean a lot more from 85 years of data than from five. There’s not only better historical data, but there’s far more data recorded for men’s sports too. The PGA Tour site, for instance, lists hundreds of performance stats for each player. On the LPGA site, there are only eight.Here’s another example: You know how our colleague Carl Bialik often writes about women’s tennis? He told me how tough it is to find good data. The ATP World Tour has data available for hundreds of men — by year and by surface — as well as individual match stats by set. The WTA, in comparison, only posts data online for the top 10 women in the current year. (Bonus hurdle: It comes locked in a PDF!)There doesn’t seem to be much more parity in college sports data. Asked for NCAA women’s basketball tournament rankings, an NCAA official told me: “The women’s championship does not provide publicly the 1-64 seed list that is then flowed into the S Curve.” But that data is publicly available for the men’s NCAA basketball tournament.We know Barcelona soccer messiah Lionel Messi has a below-average heading percentage, based on a set of data that includes 16,574 players and 24,904 games in both league and international play. But what about Abby Wambach — does she have the greatest international heading percentage of all time? I’m working with data from one World Cup and a few U.S. women’s national soccer team games. I don’t have anything for her club games.If I sound discouraged, I don’t mean to! Like you, I am psyched about the data stories that we haven’t been able to tell in women’s sports but soon will. Just because the data is shittier and more difficult to find doesn’t mean that it’s not out there on random blogs or passionate Twitter feeds. (If you’re compiling women’s sports data or know of good resources, drop us a note in the comments.)And just because the data doesn’t exist doesn’t mean we can’t compile it ourselves or make estimates based on what is available. I just think that in addition to praising the virtues of men’s sports data, we need to acknowledge that good women’s sports data is severely lacking.Best,Allison read more

Bryce Harper Should Have Made 73 Million More

Josh DonaldsonAthletics20137.755.20.554.7 Anthony RendonNationals20146.648.61.846.8 Bryce HarperNationals20159.7$75.4m$2.5m$72.9m Matt CarpenterCardinals20136.748.00.547.5 Josh HamiltonRangers20108.649.93.346.7 Mike TroutAngels201210.566.10.565.6 Josh DonaldsonBlue Jays20158.868.04.363.7 Matt KempDodgers20118.361.37.154.2 Lorenzo CainRoyals20156.953.72.751.0 Jacoby EllsburyRed Sox20118.864.92.462.5 Obviously, this high rank is a function of both Harper’s great season and the ever-escalating market value of major league players. Also, Harper ranks as such a bargain because he’s the victim of a salary structure designed to pay young players nowhere near what they’re worth.4Harper signed a short-term extension last winter, which earned him slightly more in 2015 than he would have gotten under his original rookie contract, but it still pales in comparison to what a long-term extension would have yielded Harper on the open market. So being “valuable” in this sense is a pretty bad thing from a player’s perspective.But from a team’s viewpoint, it’s a bonanza to have a player generate nearly $73 million of excess productivity. And until baseball salaries rise even more in future seasons, giving some other young player the chance to create even more surplus value, Harper can say he was the most valuable MVP in history, in all kinds of ways. Dustin PedroiaRed Sox20117.958.45.852.6 A.J. PollockDiamondbacks20157.054.60.554.0 Mike TroutAngels20159. Ben ZobristRays20098.653.60.453.2 Manny MachadoOrioles20156.953.90.553.4 Jose BautistaBlue Jays20118. Andrew McCutchenPirates20138.359.44.554.9 Ian KinslerRangers20117. Kris BryantCubs20156.248.30.547.8 Josh DonaldsonAthletics20146.951.10.550.6 Paul GoldschmidtDiamondbacks20158. Ben ZobristRays20117.555.64.750.9 Mike TroutAngels20139.971.00.570.5 Kevin KiermaierRays20156.449.90.549.4 Alex GordonRoyals20116.951.41.450.0 Evan LongoriaRays20116.950.92.048.9 Ryan BraunBrewers20117.555.44.351.2 Paul GoldschmidtDiamondbacks20136.647.80.547.3 PLAYERTEAMYEARWARVALUESALARYSURPLUS VALUE To the surprise of no one except maybe Paul Goldschmidt’s friends and family, Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals was named National League MVP on Thursday. Many picked Harper’s Nationals to win the World Series before the season, but they finished as one of the most disappointing teams in recent memory. That wasn’t Harper’s fault, though. He led the majors in wins above replacement (WAR), no matter which version of the metric you look at.Harper deserves the title of “most valuable” if we’re talking on-field performance — his was a fantastic season that probably ranks among the top 50 to 100 in MLB history. But his 2015 campaign also merits that designation if we look at how good he was relative to his salary. By that definition, Harper’s might have even been the most valuable season a baseball player has ever had.FanGraphs has a way of converting a player’s WAR into his monetary value on the open (free agent) market. The site calculates how much teams spend per projected WAR in a given season1Technically, the preceding offseason, since they’re looking at the market for free-agent salaries and those free agents’ projected WAR. and then applies that “market price” to each player’s output at the end of the season. That gives us a sense of how much it would cost to buy the WAR he created. FanGraphs isn’t the only one to perform this calculation — so we’re dealing with a bit of estimation here — but if you take a consensus average, teams were willing to pay about $7.7 million for every additional WAR this season. That means Harper’s 9.7 wins above replacement2Averaging together the WAR values at FanGraphs and would have been valued at a staggering $75.4 million on the open market.That $75.4 million figure is the most that any player’s MLB season has been worth since 2002, the first season for which FanGraphs lists dollar-value estimates.3Although I didn’t use FanGraphs’ individual dollar numbers for my rankings, I did need its league-wide figures to help estimate the going rate per WAR in MLB. And because salaries have grown so dramatically over the past 13 years — Barry Bonds’s outrageously great 12.2 WAR was worth “just” $46 million in 2002 — it’s safe to say that Harper’s 2015 output was also worth the most money of any player’s in baseball history.Of course, a player’s value is not purely about the market value of his performance. Chris Davis and Mookie Betts each produced about 5.4 WAR this season, production valued at $42 million, but Davis was paid $12 million for it; by contrast, Betts was paid $514,500, making him a far better value. And if we look at the surplus value of a player’s WAR beyond what his club paid him, Harper once again had the “most valuable” season of any MLB player since 2002: Carlos GomezBrewers20137.957.24.352.9 Mike TroutAngels20147.958.51.057.5 read more

Donovan McNabb To Philly Fans How You Like Me

Donovan McNabb gets the last laugh with Philadelphia Eagles, sort of. Remember how the fans were happy to see him go, even though he had led the team to two NFC championships? Bet they would take those days now.“Making it to the NFC Championship is not easy, and I think they’re starting to see that right now, that getting to the playoffs and going to the NFC Championship consistently, it’s just not that easy,” McNabb said to ESPN “There are teams right now who have winning records, like the Atlanta Falcons. They’ve done it for so many years, and they get to the playoffs and all of a sudden they’re one-and-done.”The Eagles have struggled this season and have been eliminated from the playoffs, with Michael Vick and Nick Foles not providing the leadership at quarterback or on-field performance to elevate the team. For all his faults, McNabb won.He and Andy Reid at coach won, and now it looks like the fans have turned on Reid, too. McNabb said it is “unfortunate” that the focus has been on the Eagles’ struggles of the past few seasons — 12-19  in the last two seasons when so much was expected.“You look at everything (Reid has) been able to accomplish, I think it outweighs what you’ve seen the last two years,” McNabb said.McNabb led the Eagles to four NFC Championship Game appearances and Super Bowl XXXIX, where Philadelphia fell to the New England Patriots. But McNabb was waved goodbye without reservation among fans in 2012, when he was traded to the Washington Redskins.“It wasn’t about how much we were going to win, it was about how much we were going to win by,” McNabb said about his time with Reid. The Eagles are 130-92-1 and 10-9 in the playoffs during Reid’s 14 seasons with the franchise.“People want to make it look like you have nothing to show for it. Well, we have a lot to show for it,” he said. read more

Michael Jordan I Could Beat LeBron OneonOne But Not

Photo by’s not exactly the LeBron James-Kobe Bryant debate that fueled a heated debate a few years ago, but Michael Jordan inadvertently contributed to it while promoting the NBA 2K14 video game that was released Tuesday.Jordan said he would have beaten a long list of players he would liked to have played while they were each at their peak, including LeBron James, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Julius Erving, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade.“I don’t think I would lose,” Jordan, 50, said in the video.One player he said he was not certain he could defeat is Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant. He could beat all comers “other than to Kobe Bryant,” Jordan said, “because he steals all of my moves.”James said he has wondered how that one-on-one match would go.“MJ said that?,” the Miami Heat superstar said after practice in the Bahamas. “I’ve thought about the match up, but no one will ever see it and it’s not going to happen. It’s good for people to talk about.”Meanwhile, Bryant said on Twitter of Jordan’s comments: “Domino effect. I stole some of his..this generation stole some of mine #thecycle.” read more

Today Is The Sports Equinox

Today, the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB all play games. It’s a sports equinox, the 16th in history: You’re reading Back of the Envelope, an experiment that aims to bring shorter, quicker content to FiveThirtyEight. Will all four leagues play at the same time?They sure will! Indians-Cubs is scheduled for 8:00 p.m ET. At 8:30 Eagles-Cowboys kicks off, and at least three NBA games and two NHL games will already be in progress.Will one city have four teams play?Alas, no. Cleveland and Chicago are the only two MLB teams left. Cleveland hasn’t had an NHL team since the 70s, and the Bulls and Bears aren’t playing on Sunday. Phoenix remains the only city to pull of the feat – the Cardinals, Suns, Coyotes and Diamondbacks all played on Nov. 4, 2001 (the Diamondbacks won the World Series, the other three lost).Not enough sports for me. Are there more sports?There sure are! There are four MLS Conference Semifinals games on Sunday, and all the major European club leagues have matches as well. The World Golf Championship will play its final round, the WTA Finals tennis tournament will draw to a close, and the Marine Corp Marathon will be run in Virginia/D.C. And that’s just to name a few! Check your local listings. Share on Facebook read more

MLBs HitTracking Tool Misses A Lot Of Hits

The introduction of Statcast has marked the beginning of a new era in baseball, at least from a stathead’s perspective. The revolutionary new tracking system calculates metrics such as exit velocity and launch angle, which have already provided us with new insights on baseball’s inner workings. But while Statcast is so far surpassing the wildest dreams of sabermetricians, the tracking system remains a work in progress, with gaps in its powers of observation.The system itself is a technical marvel. A Doppler radar (which tracks high-speed objects, like the ball) combined with a camera tracking array (which tracks low-speed objects, like the players), Statcast integrates these two sources of information to monitor the position and velocity of every object and person on the field. This setup generates a greater volume of data in a single game than was collected in all of MLB’s previous history combined.1Measured in terms of the storage space required to hold this data.But that data isn’t always easy to analyze. Front office analysts I spoke with said that Statcast’s radars frequently lose track of batted balls on atypical trajectories — for example, with extremely high (popup) or low (chopper) angles. In 2015, Statcast failed to provide data on 13.4 percent of all batted balls; it’s gotten a bit better as time has progressed, dropping to 12.5 percent in the first half of 2016 to only 11.2 percent since July.Without a complete track of the batted ball, the computers must extrapolate, and sometimes they fail to report any data on the trajectory or give implausible readings (exit velocities of zero, or improbable home run distances). They can also spit out velocity readings that are just plain inaccurate. These kinds of errors require extensive manual checking and correction for use by front offices, but for public use, such ambiguous batted balls are sometimes discarded.While we can’t measure baseline inaccurate readings, we can try to examine the missing batted balls by cross referencing data from Statcast with pitch-by-pitch data from PitchInfo. That way we can at least see what kinds of balls in play Statcast is most likely to miss entirely.2I used LOESS to smooth the fraction of missing data over time. Batted ball classifications are provided by stringers and so are less precise than Statcast’s launch angle measurements but also more complete. By far the most-missed category of batted balls is popups. That makes sense, since popups tend to leave the bat at extremely high angles, which are difficult for the radar to track. Groundballs have the same problem on the lower end, compounded by the fact that they often produce bounces in the dirt, which can confuse the system.The system does the best with intermediate angles, such as line drives and fly balls, which show the least missing data. But performance has shifted on even these balls over the course of Statcast’s lifespan. In the first half of 2015, 5.1 percent of line drives were missed, which decreased to only 3.5 percent in the second half and 1.5 percent in 2016.3The change in line-drive tracking over the course of 2015 may shed light on one of the remaining concerns about the juiced ball hypothesis. If more low-velocity line drives were tracked in the latter half of 2015 and forward, it may explain why tracked exit velocities appeared to stay flat for line drives but increase for other kinds of hits. If that were the case, capturing more of the not-so-valuable low-velocity line drives would sandbag the value of tracked line drives, causing them to appear to decrease in speed over the course of the year, while untracked line drives would appear to become more valuable. In fact, the average run value of an untracked line drive increased three times as much over the course of 2015 than the same value for an untracked flyball, potentially indicating that more low-velocity batted balls were tracked later in the year. In the case of more intermediate angles, the system can fail when the exit velocity is exceptionally high or low, both of which befuddle the tracking system.4The standard deviation of linear weight value for untracked batted balls in both the fly ball and line drive categories is larger than it is for tracked batted balls, which supports the idea that they are exceptionally high- or low-velocity contacts.There are also serious differences between the implementation of the system at different ballparks. They range from around 7 percent of batted balls missing at Progressive Field in Cleveland and Citi Field in New York (the latter being one of MLB’s Statcast pilot stadiums) to 21.7 percent going missing in Arizona. Five ballparks are missing data for more than 15 percent of batted balls; seven are missing it for less than 10 percent.5The discrepancy between parks in missing data is extremely significant using a logistic regression. Those five ballparks with the most missing data show an average exit velocity among tracked balls in 2016 about a half a mile per hour faster than the overall MLB average, suggesting that they are mostly missing low-velocity balls.Statcast’s tracking problems can affect how we evaluate players. Players with a predisposition towards popups, for example, tend to have those batted balls excised from their records, along with their correspondingly low exit velocities. What remains is an incomplete and potentially misleading subset of their exit velocities. The fraction of tracked batted balls for each player in MLB (with a minimum of 1,000 pitches seen) varies by as much as a factor of 4, with line drive sluggers such as Joey Votto seeing the best tracking (only 5.3 percent of his batted balls are untracked) while groundball-heavy slap hitters such as Scooter Gennett lose more than 19 percent of their batted balls. Three of the top 20 hitters in missing data play for the Arizona Diamondbacks, which is unsurprising since the Arizona stadium fails to track just over a fifth of all balls in play.With so much missing data, it’s impossible to calculate players’ true average exit velocities. However, we can take an educated guess by imputing the exit velocities of their missing batted balls.6To do the imputation, I used the type of batted ball and the result of the batted ball. So, for example, if a player hit an untracked line drive single, I gave it the average exit velocity of other line drive singles. Most players tend to lose exit velocity when you do this, which makes sense because low-exit velocity hits like grounders and popups tend to make up the majority of the missing data. For some hitters, the difference between their exit tracked and imputed exit velocity can be in excess of a mile per hour. Source: Baseball Savant, PitchInfo Paul Goldschmidt92.591.11.52635 Mark Trumbo94.793.31.443 Matt Holliday94.893.11.734 NAMETRACKEDIMPUTEDDIFFERENCETRACKED RANKIMPUTED RANK Jake Lamb93.491.71.71425 Ryan Braun91.189.71.46791 Pedro Alvarez94.292.41.8612 Nelson Cruz95.594.11.411 Jose Bautista93.592.11.41317 AVERAGE EXIT VELOCITY Eric Hosmer94.3 MPH92.3 MPH2.0 MPH513 Giancarlo Stanton95.293.91.422 Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer takes the lead, with just under two miles per hour between his “true” and measured exit velocities. By only measured exit velocity, Hosmer would be the fifth-best in the league, with the four players above him performing at an average weighted Runs Created Plus, a measure overall offensive productivity, of 123. After you adjust for his missing data, however, Hosmer falls to 13th in the league in exit velocity, which is closer to his mediocre offensive production (he’s hitting .275/.333/.433 on the year for a wRC+ of 104).7Generally, imputed exit velocities correlate slightly better (at r=.43) with weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) than raw averages (at r=.41) for all players, although the difference shrinks for players with more batted balls.On the other end of the spectrum, by contrast, very few players see their exit velocities rise when you incorporate missing data. Billy Burns, the Royals’ defensive specialist center fielder, was last in the league in average exit velocity, and he gains the most (+.39 mph) by taking into account untracked balls, which leaves him once again last in the league in imputed exit velocity. Burns just can’t catch a break, with a woeful 51 wRC+ to match that exit velocity.While Burns and Hosmer are the exceptions, Statcast is missing a substantial portion of the batted balls in MLB. It’s also making significant strides forward, with the tracking rate improving consistently this year relative to last. Still, it pays to be aware of the limitations in MLB’s novel technology and how they impact the way we view players like Hosmer in terms of the newest metrics. read more

The Three Epic Early Champions League Showdowns

Man United4518764249+19+6+2 Man City633619874925+24+13+6 Bayern69%45%26%93%61%36%+24%+16%+10% Porto3714541155+4+10 Sevilla33923692+300 Roma4717663217+16+4+1 PSG714425452817-26-16-8 TEAMQTRSSEMISFINALQTRSSEMISFINALQTRSSEMISFINAL Liverpool51239592611+8+3+2 Shakhtar30823792+7+10 The draw for the Champions League round of 16 is set, and even though the first games will not be played for two months, we already know that at least one true European power will be eliminated before the quarterfinals kick off, and a couple more elite clubs could be in trouble. This is because the Champions League draw pitted some of the best teams in the world against each other in early clashes. According to Soccer Power Index, six of the nine best teams to make the knockouts have been drawn against each other. These three matchups — each of which consists of two games, one at each club’s home grounds — should give the Round of 16 a new level of drama.Tottenham Hotspur vs. JuventusJuventus has made the Champions League finals twice in the last three seasons, while Tottenham’s last semifinals appearance in a major tournament came in the 1984 UEFA Cup. SPI nonetheless projects this as a close match, giving Juventus a small 56 to 44 percent advantage in chance to advance. By the underlying numbers, not too much separates these two teams. Spurs may be sixth in the Premier League standings, but the clubs are bunched tightly together, and just four points separate Tottenham from third-place Chelsea. By expected goals, a statistical measure of the quality of chances created and conceded, Tottenham fares even better. The North London side’s plus-17.5 expected goal difference is second-best in the league behind Manchester City.Meanwhile Juventus, despite a 12-2-2 record in Italy, looks somewhat more vulnerable than it has in the past. Through 16 matches in Serie A, Juve has conceded 19 clear scoring chances, which are defined as opportunities in which a player is expected to score, like when a shooter is one-on-one with the goalie. That works out to a little over one clear chance conceded per match, which isn’t bad, but over the last three seasons, Juventus has averaged 20 clear chances conceded per full season — or roughly 0.5 per match. The defense, shorn of superstar Leonardo Bonucci, has not yet fully come together. Tottenham will be hoping that the defense does not cohere before this February clash.Chelsea vs. BarcelonaSPI ranks Barcelona as the best team in the world, and the Blaugranes had the misfortune to draw Chelsea, the world’s ninth-best team. Despite the big names here, SPI projects this matchup to go chalk. Chelsea’s chance of making the quarterfinals dropped from 41 to 24 percent after the draw was announced, while Barcelona’s moved only slightly, from 79 to 76 percent.These two sides’ statistical profiles offer a study in the importance of generating quality chances. This year, Barcelona has outshot its opponents 230 to 162. Chelsea’s shot difference is nearly identical: 240 to 170. However, Barca has outscored its opponents by 31 goals, easily surpassing Chelsea’s plus-15 goal difference. The reason is chance quality, as measured by expected goals. Barcelona has created so many good scoring chances that the club averages 0.16 expected goals per shot. This is not to say Chelsea is just wildly firing everything at net — its 0.1 expected goals per shot attempt is about average but inferior to the otherworldly Barca number. All this is to say that Barcelona deserves its large edge in goals, and this is a big part of the reason that SPI projects Barcelona as big favorites.The hope that Chelsea fans will be clinging to is that the last time the Blues were huge underdogs against Barcelona, they pulled off an all-time upset in the 2012 Champions League semifinals, en route to an unlikely trophy. This year, Chelsea would need another dose of that good fortune in the round of 16.Real Madrid vs. Paris Saint-GermainSpurs-Juve and Chelsea-Barca are fun, but this is the clear marquee matchup of the first round. Real vs. PSG is a matchup you might expect in the semifinals, and it wouldn’t have been half bad as a final. How rough a draw was this for PSG and Madrid? Before the draw, the two teams combined for a 30 percent chance of winning the Champions League, according to Soccer Power Index. Now the teams’ combined chance is only 22 percent. Real Madrid fell from 17 to 13 percent, and PSG dropped from 13 to 9 percent. Manchester City, which was fortunate to draw FC Basel, has moved up to third in the SPI projections for eventual champion, tied with Real Madrid and ahead of PSG.Here’s how the draw affected each team remaining in the tournament based on its projected chance of reaching the semifinals, reaching the finals and winning it all: Madrid and PSG both have oodles of world-class talent, but even with over 40 percent of the season done, both clubs are difficult to evaluate. Real Madrid stands a disappointing fourth in La Liga. Its struggles appear to be mostly with finishing, as Real has scored 27 non-penalty goals but created 35.5 expected goals. If the finishing improves, Real should be fine, and SPI continues to view this side among the world’s best. But any vulnerability in a team that should be as dominant as Real Madrid is a little worrying.PSG pose a harder question still. The Parisian side has dominated Ligue 1 and holds a nine-point lead over second-place Lyon. But Ligue 1 is just not that good. There are no other Ligue 1 sides in the SPI top 20, while Italy has five clubs among the world’s best, Spain has four, and England has its big six. The test will come in the Champions League, which is the only competition where PSG matches up against clubs of similar strength. This showdown with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real, these 180 minutes across two tilts, is why PSG spent untold millions on Neymar last summer and is scheduled to deliver another dump truck worth of cash next summer to turn the loan of Monaco’s Kylian Mbappe into a permanent addition. The duo’s combined 15 goals and 11 assists in Ligue 1 are nice, but given the money the team has spent and the weakness of its league, Neymar and Mbappe can only truly pay off in the Champions League. An opportunity to prove their worth comes early in the round of 16.Whoever emerges from this matchup will be one of the favorites for the trophy, having demonstrated their strength and eliminated a top contender. Juventus562913562913000 Barcelona795636765536-3-10 Besiktas244<171<1-17-30 Basel2351133<1-10-2-1 Chelsea4118724115-17-7-2 Tottenham57241044208-13-4-2 Real Madrid745031553823-19-12-8 BEFORE DRAWAFTER DRAWDIFFERENCE How the draw affected Champions League oddsTeams’ chances of making each round, before and after the draw read more

Five takeaways from Indiana Ohio State is not invincible

OSU defensive players celebrate after making a big stop on defense during the second half against Indiana on Oct. 8. OSU won 38-17. Credit: Mason Swires | Assistant Photo EditorOhio State remained undefeated this season after Saturday’s game against the Hoosiers, but the game was far from easy. The Buckeyes stumbled mightily in the passing game, and allowed big plays to Indiana’s offense. Statistically speaking, the game was ugly compared to the other games for the Buckeyes this season. Redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett completed just nine of 21 passes, but did pick up a passing touchdown late to senior H-back Dontre Wilson.On defense, the Buckeyes held Indiana to 17 points, but sacked redshirt junior quarterback Richard Lagow just once. Redshirt sophomore defensive end Sam Hubbard said the team may not be picking up sacks, but they are still doing their job.Moving forward, OSU is still undefeated, but looked like a much different team from the first four games. Here are five takeaways from Saturday’s game against Indiana.Nick Bosa has arrivedThe 2016 season is well underway for the Buckeyes, and freshman Nick Bosa is making an impact in his limited role.Bosa has been earning more playing time each week, and his presence was especially felt on Saturday. Picking up four tackles, he was in the backfield on multiple occasions, earning 1.5 tackles for loss. Even though he’s been playing since Week 1, Bosa said he finally feels like he is where he needs to be.“It took me a couple games to get my feet under me,” Bosa said. “I think I’m getting better every week, so I’m ready to go.”All told, Bosa has 13 tackles and a pair of sacks so far this year, along with a handful of hurries and hits on the quarterback. His brother, Joey Bosa, at this point in his freshman season: 11 tackles and no sacks. Looks like the younger Bosa may have a leg up on his brother.There’s a reason teams don’t target Gareon Conley’s side of the fieldRedshirt junior Gareon Conley might not be producing eye-popping numbers this year, but he is still the Buckeyes’ primary cornerback, and Conley proved why Saturday against Indiana. Conley deflected away two passes, with both nearly resulting in turnovers for OSU. An Indiana receiver had to wrestle the ball away from Conley each time. The big story of the season has been the ability of redshirt sophomore cornerback Marshon Lattimore to make big time plays. However, Conley has had the ball thrown to his side of the field less, resulting in fewer opportunities to make a play.He may not have an interception this season, but Conley showed he is the lead guy for the Buckeyes’ secondary. He makes a great argument to be called a shutdown corner.Weber can be a workhorse for the Buckeyes in the redzoneAfter Saturday’s 38-17 victory, redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber said he wished OSU would stick to the stuff that works earlier in games, a strange proposition for a guy who scored two rushing touchdowns for the first time in his college career.“When we realize (our week’s game plan) it don’t work, we go back to our normal traits,” Weber said. “I feel like we should do that from the start, but a win’s a win so that’s all I go for.”Regardless, OSU does struggle in the first few minutes of games. That much has been seen multiple times this year. But, something else was clearly established in the game against Indiana. Weber is a load to bring down near the goal line. Weber received the ball twice within the 10-yard line, and proceeded to barrel through the defense on both occasions. The second time, he lept over his own offensive line.Standing at 5-foot-10 and 212 pounds, Weber runs like a man who is more like 6-foot and tips the scale at 240. OSU would be wise to keep feeding him the ball when drives are down inside the redzone.Cameron Johnston is a gemThe punter from Down Under who apparently doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving (because he’s Australian) is better known as redshirt senior punter Cameron Johnston. Punting is an underrated skill in football, but it is valuable to have a punter who can boom the ball deep and pin opponents within the 20-yard line. Johnston, playing off his Australian Rules Football roots, can easily do both.Against the Hoosiers, Johnston had three punts land inside the 20, and four travel 50 or more yards. Flipping the field is a big reason why the defense for OSU has been able to give the offense good field position, forcing the opponents’ punter to kick from deep in his own territory. Johnston will be moving on from Columbus after this year, and most likely won’t be hearing his name called early, if at all, during the NFL draft.Be that as it may, the Geelong, Australia, native is having a great year to go along with a solid career with the Buckeyes.Ohio State is not invincibleAfter the first three weeks of the 2016 season, OSU looked like they were an unstoppable force in the world of college football. After a slow start against Rutgers in which the Buckeyes were able to eventually pull away, most fans still felt OSU was the team to beat.Now, after playing a hard fought game against Indiana, Urban Meyer’s squad seems much more vulnerable than before. After the secondary showed they can be fooled, Barrett played rough and the special teams unit continued to give up big returns and make mistakes. Sure, OSU might be 5-0 at this point, but for the first time this season it appears that some of the youth on the team is showing through, along with the occasional inefficient play at skill positions that haunted the team last season.The Buckeyes will most likely be staying at No. 2 in the AP poll, but don’t expect teams to be blown out week in and week out like the first few weeks. Opponents may be ready to exploit the obvious holes OSU showed against the Hoosiers.Meyer and company will be quick to address the problem areas. But for now, it appears that OSU has shown the chink in its armor. read more

Scouting Michigan What to watch for from the Wolverines

Michigan running back De’Veon Smith (4) goes over Illinois defensive back Stanley Green for a touchdown on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich. Michigan won, 41-8. Credit: Courtesy of TNSIn a game filled with years of ill-will and hatred for the other side, the stakes are high in the 112th all-time meeting between the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes and the No. 3 Michigan Wolverines. Some of college football’s most recognizable names — Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Charles Woodson, Troy Smith, Desmond Howard, Archie Griffin to name a few — have been a part of the most storied rivalry in college football.When asked about his earliest memory of the rivalry, OSU coach Urban Meyer talked about having to skip watching the game for a trip to the mall with his mother. Even from a young age, he knew he was a Buckeye.When asked if there was ever any doubt in which side he would cheer on, Meyer said, “None.”Playoff implications are on the line in Columbus, and each team has arguably its best group on the field in recent history. Michigan, with the dynamic ability of junior linebacker Jabrill Peppers and the hard-nosed running of senior running back De’Veon Smith, have been a dominant force on defense and in the run game all season. A loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes hurt playoff aspirations, but did little to deter the Wolverines and coach Jim Harbaugh from the ultimate goal of the team’s first national championship in nearly 20 years.OSU, with a memorable national championship run just two seasons ago still fresh in the minds of fans, is led by the steady hand of redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett. The cool head of Barrett, mixed with the freak athleticism of redshirt sophomore safety Malik Hooker on defense, has thrust the Buckeyes into the No. 2 spot in the College Football Playoff poll. It’s about more than just pride and bragging rights for a year. It’s about playoff hopes, a chance to hoist a golden trophy and the right to call yourself the best in the country. This time, The Game is more than just a rivalry.OffenseWhile Michigan has struggled at times in the passing game, the experience of redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight has helped guide the Wolverines down the field and into the endzone on 16 occasions. The 6-foot-6 Virginia native has thrown for 15 scores, and even trotted in for his first touchdown of the year against Maryland earlier this season.The problem for the Buckeyes in preparation for The Game has been decided which quarterback to prepare for. Senior transfer quarterback John O’Korn started last Saturday for Michigan after Speight reportedly broke his collarbone in the team’s lone loss of the season against Iowa. In his fill-in role, O’Korn was far from impressive, picking up just 78 total yards without a score.OSU redshirt junior defensive end Tyquan Lewis remained defiantly confident, no matter who is in at quarterback for Michigan on Saturday. “It doesn’t really matter to me because every team has their scheme with what they’re going to do,” he said. “But at the end of the day, it’s about who’s going to put their hand in the dirt and just (go). You can play whatever formation you want to play, we’re going to play whatever defense we have to to dominate.”Regardless of who is chucking the ball down the field for Michigan, Harbaugh’s team benefits from a group of wily veterans at wide receiver with Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson. Darboh, a redshirt senior born in Sierra Leone, leads the team with six touchdowns and will test OSU’s secondary with his large frame and physicality. Chesson, also a redshirt senior, was a force for Michigan last year with nine touchdowns. Since then, the 6-foot-3 wideout has been quiet in terms of scoring with just two touchdowns in 2016, but torched the Buckeyes last season with 111 yards and a score. These two receivers, paired with the ability of redshirt senior tight end Jake Butt to get open downfield, could cause OSU to play catch-up all day long.Against Indiana last weekend, Michigan took to the ground instead of the air, and leaned on one of the team’s best players in Smith. Smith, an Ohio native, is a bruising force out of the backfield and has picked up 22 career touchdowns with the Maize and Blue. Smith has carried the ball 25 times over the last two weeks, compiling 186 yards and a pair of touchdowns.A darkhorse in the run game for Michigan is senior fullback Khalid Hill. With 22 carries for nine touchdowns this year, he truly embodies the nickname of “Michigan’s Human Battering Ram.”DefenseIt’s difficult to label Peppers as just a defensive player with his ability to line up basically anywhere on the field. The jack-of-all-trades lined up in 10 — no, that is not a typo — positions against Michigan State, and plays multiple positions in nearly every game. He is predominantly a linebacker but causes matchup problems wherever Harbaugh places him, so expect to hear his name a few times on Saturday.Even with his big play ability, Barrett said he will not be concerned with just Peppers.“I think he’s a really good player but I mean I guess last year I didn’t seek him out,” he said. “This year, I know he’s playing a different position, but I think what we’re going to do is going to be effective. It’s not going to be me trying to figure out where he is at all times.”Michigan junior linebacker Jabrill Peppers (5) pushes Michigan State safety Chris Frey away during a run in Michigan’s 32-23 victory in Spartan Stadium. Credit: Courtesy of U-M Photography.Senior cornerback Channing Stribling leads the Wolverines with four interceptions in 2016, while he and senior safety Delano Hill have each returned picks for touchdowns this season. “It’s going to be man coverage,” Meyer said. “There’s no secret. It’s what they play, and they’re very good players.”Michigan’s secondary is filled with quality players, but this unit is far from the most intimidating group on the Maize and Blue defense.The defensive front-seven of the Wolverines has been as dominant a unit in the NCAA as any this season. Senior defensive end and Ohio native Taco Charlton has taken the quarterback to the turf six times this year, with Peppers right behind at five sacks. Allowing just 108 yards rushing per game, Michigan’s defense will be an interesting test for an OSU offense that racks up an average of 263 yards on the ground per game.What Michigan’s defense has in keeping opposing offenses from moving the ball, it lacks in creating turnovers. The Wolverines average just 1.5 turnovers per game, grabbing one pick in each contest. While OSU has been careful with the ball for most of the season, the Buckeyes should have no problem in giveaways on Saturday.BreakdownCalling this game is never easy and this year makes things that much more difficult given how well each side has played. With Speight in, Michigan’s offense has functioned at a much higher level. Without him, the Wolverines lose a dynamic ability. Whether or not the redshirt sophomore plays could dictate the outcome.OSU has struggled to slow run games as of late, and having a running back like Smith who can carry a team might give the Buckeyes a nightmare scenario. Expect Harbaugh to put it on the ground as much as possible.Michigan’s defense is hungry to get to quarterbacks, and has injured an astounding five starting signal callers for opposing teams this season. That, paired with the implications of the game, would make any player nervous. That is, except for Barrett, who has his eyes set on the Wolverines.“I don’t even think that far,” he said. I’m just trying to play my best so we can win the game.”Even if Barrett brings his best game, and the Silver Bullets can create a few turnovers, it might not be enough to overcome a powerful Michigan team. Look for a game to remember, but one that might end the playoff hopes for the Buckeyes.Prediction: Michigan 21 – OSU 17 read more

Young gun firing on all cylinders through first two rounds of Memorial

One of three co-leaders after the first day of action at the Memorial Tournament, PGA rookie Rickie Fowler separated himself from the pack on day two with a round of 66 leaving him 13-under for the tournament.“I just feel really comfortable getting out and seeing my name on top of the leaderboard,” said Fowler. “It’s not making me feel much nerves at all.”Shooting 65-66 for a combined score of 131 through two rounds, Fowler is now tied for the lowest two-round total in Memorial history.Chasing Fowler is yesterday’s co-leader Justin Rose, alone in second at 10-under par and Tim Petrovic and 2002 Memorial champion Jim Furyk tied for third at 9-under.At the rate Fowler is playing, however, it seems as though the 21-year-old cooling off is the only way the field can catch him.“If he goes out and plays well, it will be tough to catch him,” said Furyk. “If he goes and shoots another 6- or 7-under, he’s going to have a huge lead. If he doesn’t, he’ll let some other guys back in the tournament.”Following an opening round 67, Mickelson cooled off in round two, shooting 1-under par, good for a tie for eighth going into the weekend.Defending champ Tiger Woods came out stronger in day two but failed to capitalize on a few good opportunities, leaving him 10 shots off the lead at 3-under par.“I hit more good shots today than I did yesterday and really putted well today,” said Woods of Friday’s performance. “I had five lip-outs today, so it could have been a pretty good number.”The cut for the tournament came at 1-over par, leaving 71 players left to battle it out over the weekend for the 2010 Memorial crown. read more

  • Recent Posts

  • Recent Comments

    • Archives

    • Categories

    • Meta

    • Tags