Sports psychology in Canesport Magazine – October 11, 2011 – John F Murray – Publisher’s Note: “Mind Games” is a column written for CaneSport each week by John Murray, a noted sports psychologist and author who has developed an index for evaluating the mental performance of players and coaches in games. We think it will provide all of us with a unique viewpoint as the Hurricanes navigate through the season.
I’d like to begin by saying congrats to this young team and congrats to coach Al Golden for never quitting in Blacksburg. Being completely dominated 21-7 at the half, the crowd noise almost unbearable, this team could have quit.
The national television audience added pressure, and a string of past defeats to V-Tech hung like thick smog in the air. And still, still this team fought, still this team grinded and came back.
If it had not been for that final stop at the end (or a few other factors you’ll discover), this Hurricanes team really could have won. It was one of the most exciting college football games I’ve ever seen, and definitely the most exciting college game I’ve ever rated with the MPI.
Football is a team sport, and the MPI ratings focus on team and not individual accomplishments. As a team, Virginia Tech outperformed Miami overall .515 to .473 on MPI-T. They were also better on 13 of 14 MPI statistics. For these reasons, it is not surprising that Virginia Tech won. They should have won, and if they had not won with that kind of dominance it would have been strange indeed.
Despite the team nature of football, there are times when it is also appropriate to give individual credit where it is due. In this case, Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas was the player with the single greatest influence on the outcome. He went 23 for 25 for 310 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. No matter how much we hate these facts, Miami fans should give Thomas credit for such a masterful display of quarterbacking.
Given the quarterback play, it was hardly surprising that the single best unit on the field that day was the V-Tech offense (MPI-O=.609, 93rd percentile) and that Virginia Tech amassed 482 total yards, placing them at the 96th percentile on this traditional value.
Miami was excellent on offense too in this epic shootout (MPI-O=.540, 67th percentile) and had even more total net yards (519, 98th percentile). We must also credit emerging superstar Lamar Miller for his 166 yards rushing performance.
While net yards gained is one measure of offensive firepower, the MPI-O statistic correlates much higher with winning than net yards. This makes sense, since MPI-O is a cumulative rating of every meaningful play on offense on a scale of .000 to 1.000, whereas net yards can be quite misleading, as just one big run or pass will throw off the accuracy and inflate the number disproportionately.
Clearly, Virginia Tech had a much better offensive performance (about 61% of perfection compared with Miami’s 54%), but both offenses dominated (V-Tech’s MPI-OD=84th percentile, Miami’s MPI-OD=72nd percentile), and again, this is a credit to the amazing play of that explosive Tech passing game.
However, it should also be noted that Miami’s rushing performance (236 yards) was very rare – at the 98th percentile – and this is a great sign of progress along with better passing.
I was very honest about the defense in my Mind Games column before this game, not in an attempt to bash any player or coach (I want this team to win!), but simply because the numbers after four games clearly indicated a major discrepancy between offense and defense.
I wanted the team to know precisely how really different those two units were. Sadly, the pattern continued in this game and Miami’s defense did not play well (MPI-D=.415, 13th percentile).
What you might not realize, however, is that Virginia Tech’s defense played even worse (MPI-D=.386, 5th percentile!). While it is true that Miami’s defense played 3% better than Virginia Tech’s defense, that is the same as saying that Custer defended himself effectively at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Dead is dead, and both defenses were bad.
One possible underappreciated factor in this quarterback derby was the matchup of special teams units. While Miami was superb in the first four games, they stumbled mightily in Blacksburg (MPI-ST=.423, 12th percentile) and were much worse than Virginia Tech’s special teams (MPI-ST=.607, 87th percentile).
Had Miami’s special teams performed like in previous games, UM might have won. As it stood they were dominated by V-Tech’s special teams by about 19 percentage points (MPI-STD=88th percentile).
What about pressure play? V-Tech was better overall, but neither team really shined in the clutch. Penalties and other mistakes in pressure situations for both teams offset great plays under pressure (MPI-TP=.481 for V-Tech, 41st percentile, MPI-TP=.427 for Miami, 22nd percentile).
Miami had the penalty bug again – (9) compared with 5 for V-Tech – but the Hurricanes had zero turnovers to Virginia Tech’s one. Overall, this slightly favors Miami since turnovers are much more costly. But nine penalties are always too many. The crowd noise probably had a major role in a few on the offensive line in the first half.
In summary, Virginia Tech performed better than average overall and beat a Miami team that performed below average overall. In this epic offensive shootout, the 1,001 total yards gained by both teams occurs roughly in less than 1 of 100 games played. Virginia Tech was almost perfect passing the ball as Logan Thomas made Stanford’s Andrew Luck almost seem to be human. The Virginia Tech special teams dominated Miami’s special teams.
At this point, let’s glimpse at a big picture of the entire season.
After five games, Miami is averaging .506 overall on the MPI-T, which is slightly above average and at the 56th percentile. On offense, Miami is averaging .538 (66th percentile), and on special teams Miami is averaging .599 (85th percentile).
Miami’s defense is still the weakest link (MPI-D=.458, 33rd percentile) and Miami is averaging better in pressure situations on offense (53rd percentile) than on defense (31st percentile).
There is likely major growth here as the Canes withstood pressure and crowd noise, a major deficit, and history, and they almost did the improbable by winning.
The huge heart and no-quit attitude of this UM team tells me that they have stepped it up a notch and will have even more pride and confidence going forward. I think Coach Golden is smart and doing a good job that is not easy.
What can we expect with upcoming opponent North Carolina at their house? This is no doubt another tough challenge, but it will make Miami better from the experience. A win, of course, would do wonders for this team’s confidence. To grab a win against UNC, I have outlined 5 performance related goals below:
Goal 1: Improve Defensive Performance to at least .480: This is a very reasonable goal set only 2% above the season average of .458. It is very attainable, but the players need to dig deep and execute the fundamentals, while coaches have to come up with a smart plan to slow or stop the 43rd best rushing team in the nation.
Goal 2: Improve Special Teams to at least .600: The V Tech game was an off week for special teams, but I expect for them to get it back this week with better kickoffs and tackling on coverage, better blocking and runbacks, and solid field goal kicking, punting and punt coverage.
Goal 3: Improve Offensive Firepower to at Least .550: The running and passing game really exploded last game and this balance is awesome. Performing above the overall season average for offense (.538) would be a sign of continued progress. Jacory Harris is getting better and better and this is exciting to watch.
Goal 4: Reduce Penalties from 9 to 5: It will be loud again this Saturday, but UM now has a week of experience to pull from as they go into foreign territory. Five penalties is average for a team, and that is a reasonable goal to ask for and it should help immensely.
Goal 5: Win the Turnover Battle Again: The Canes were +1 in the important Takeaway minus Giveaway category. If they do it once again or even better at +2, their chances for a win on the road are exponentially increased.
Thanks to many who emailed your support for what I am writing about in this column with the MPI and the team performance statistics. Many of you now understand the importance and benefits of this new way of rating games that includes mental performance in the rating, and also in giving percentiles that show how average or extreme a particular performance is. For those who still do not understand, please keep reading.
We all know that the offense has been better than the defense this year, yet it’s still important to know precisely how much better a particular unit has been to set goals, anticipate the future, know where we are heading and so much more.
If there were no speedometer in your car, would you be able to regulate your speed and avoid tickets? Probably so, but speedometers make it easier. If I had no watch or clock, how would I know when my client’s hour of mental coaching was up?
Lack of precise measurement causes error, confusion and chaos. Measurement is the key to documenting and understanding performance, but the usual football statistics rarely if ever offer percentiles, do not include mental performance in the ratings, and do not provide standardized numbers to allow game comparisons.
If you have not read my new book yet where I explain all this, I would encourage you to do so soon. It also aims to remove many stigmas about the mental game in sports in general, and the book is titled: “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History.”
Thanks and Go Canes!
Dr. John F. Murray, described as “The Freud of Football” by the Washington Post, is a South Florida native and licensed clinical and sports psychologist in Palm Beach. He provides mental coaching and sports psychology services, counseling, speeches and seminars. He recently authored his second book, “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History,” destroying stigmas about the mental game in sports and showing football teams how to perform better and win more games by enhancing team performance assessments and training. For further information call Dr. Murray at 561-596-9898, visit johnfmurray.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.