A great post a few months ago from Brian at MGoBlog went a ways to explaining it. I suggest you read the entire thing to get the whole scope of it, but the gist is this:
|And it's the same for the favorite and reducing their variance:
sometimes it's worth reducing expectation to get it, but only in
certain situations and when you're a considerable favorite. In Bo's
time, Michigan was a considerable favorite much more often and the game
lent itself to low-variance moves: a 40-yard punt is much more valuable
in an era when ten points is a potentially game-winning number. |
Anyway, to the assertion above: modern offenses have more variance to them because they score more. Don't lose sight of expectation here: Missouri had a lot of variance in their scores but that was because they averaged 42 points a game. Michigan had far less but they were averaging 20.
Offenses that do this quickly are actually more predictable because they get in more trials. Moving fast without sacrificing expectation is advantageous to the better team, which is why Oklahoma was in zero even halfway close games against the Big 12 rabble. (Texas is not rabble, obviously.)
Defenses reduce variance by, you know, having safeties that can tackle. The very best defenses are low variance because all of the outcomes have the same result for the opposition: shame and humiliation. In that situation, punting your ass off makes sense, because you're a big favorite, you're not giving the opponent much of an opportunity and you're reducing variance in a way that helps your overall chances of winning. The main problem with Michigan's defense over the last few years has been their suckiness, which by the way increases variance as your defense falls to a point where opponents can drive the field on them regularly.
So what does that mean for Michigan on Saturday? It means they need to chew up as much time off the clock when they have the ball and pray for Terrelle Pryor to arm punt his way to a loss. The other problem here is that it presumes Michigan will be able to stop the OSU offense, um, once or twice or three times, which at this point, seems unlikely.
Having Brandon Minor this week is going to go a long way to make this happen. Without Minor, Michigan's run game (and subsequently, it's most consistent way to run time off the clock) takes a serious hit and depends a lot on Carlos Brown--a player who has made his mark this year on the big play. Vincent Smith, last week, looked like he might have the ability to cut through holes and pick up 4 or 5 yards at a time. If Michigan can get this kind of consistent play from Smith and Minor is out (for the record, it being Minor's last game, I assume he'll play, injured or not), it will go a long way to this end.
When the ball is in Forcier's hand, Michigan is going to need to limit sacks, penalties, and dropped passes. I'd be surprised to see Michigan take more than one shot downfield if they realistically want to win this game--it seems counter intuitive, but the faster Michigan scores, the more chances it gives Pryor and his offense to score. If Ohio State is blowing up Michigan's bubble screens and breaking into the backfield on rushes, Michigan will lose. There's no doubt about it. Also, Michigan is going to need to slow the pace of their offense down. Not that they should huddle up after every play, but taking most of the time off the play clock before snapping the ball would be advantageous.
On the other side of the ball, the key for Michigan is limiting the big play. Ohio State has lived off of the big play this year and has struggled when they haven't gotten it. Misdirection plays are going to be key, like they usually are for OSU, and the safeties' ability to stay home on these will be critical. If Michigan can force Pryor to march down the field, they further take time off the clock and increase the chances that Pryor will throw a pick. It's an uphill battle and Michigan needs to treat it as such if they want to have any chance in this game.