Every week on VSiN’s morning show “Follow The Money”, Mike Palm gives an entertaining recap of the five most interesting things in sports betting and culture.
Here’s that segment:
5. Insane in the Tumpane
Last Tuesday night at Citi Field in New York, the Mets took on the Marlins in a game that could be circled as one of the reasons they blew the East. With two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning 2B Jeff McNeil reached on a single against Marlins’ reliever Richard Bleier. During the next at bat to 1B Pete Alonso, Bleier was called for not one, not two, but three balks by first time base umpire John Tumpane, bringing McNeil around to score. Bleier became the first pitcher since the Pirates’ Jim Gott in 1988 to be called for three balks in one inning.
In 303 big league appearances before Tuesday, Bleier had never been called for a balk. After the game Bleier said, “Words cannot describe what happened in that inning on my end. I don't know. It was wild. It's the same move I've been doing for 300 innings, and here we are. I watched the video…I completely disagree.”
You may remember Tumpane, who became a full time MLB umpire in 2016, for a fateful afternoon in Pittsburgh on June 28, 2017. That afternoon, Tumpane was taking a walk before the evening game at PNC Park. He noticed a woman climbing over a railing above the Allegheny River. Tumpane rushed over and locked both of his arms around the woman's back. Tumpane told the woman that he cared about her, and that she would be alright. The woman told Tumpane, “I want to end it. I want to be in a better place.” At times she dangled both feet off the bridge’s edge putting her full weight on his arms. But Tumpane prevented her from falling to the river until police and an ambulance arrived and helped lift her back over the railing.
Since that day the Pirates are 330-457, a .419 winning percentage.
4. Hail Mary Challenges
As 689 Circa Survivor entries held their breath into the 4th quarter at Lambeau Field on Sunday. the 10 point favorite Packers were tied 24 all with the New England Patriots. Green Bay faced 3rd and 8 from the Patriot 40 with just over 2 minutes remaining. Aaron Rodgers connected with Romeo Doubs in the end zone but Doubs failed to maintain possession as the ball touched the ground and the pass was ruled incomplete. On the Packers sideline, Head Coach Matt LaFleur was ruminating over challenging the call. Assistant QB Coach Connor Lewis had seen the replay and was in LaFleur’s headset telling him not to challenge the call. The situation was as obvious as the ball hitting the ground. The Packers had to punt to the Patriots having two time outs. If they could force a 3 and out the worst case scenario would be getting the ball back near midfield with around a minute to go. An unsuccessful challenge would mean the Patriots could essentially run out the clock and force overtime. And LaFleur challenged.
The Packers pinned the Patriots at their own 2. The Patriots ran the ball 3 times and punted back to the Packers with less than 10 seconds remaining. The game headed to OT where New England took over at midfield after a Packers punt but stalled and punted it back from the Packers 46 on 4th and 5. 12 plays later Mason Crosby kicked a 31-yard FG as overtime expired to give the Packers a 27-24 victory.
Why did LaFleur challenge? “I'm not too proud of that moment. That was an emotional decision. It was a great learning lesson. You can never make those emotional decisions in the heat of battle. You know better. You have to survive the ground. Connor Lewis, he's up in the box, and he's in my ear quote and he said, ‘I don't think so.’ He said we shouldn't challenge it. I just made an emotional decision. It was almost like throwing a Hail Mary. That could have came back and bit us in the butt. I'd rather learn from that, being on this side, thank God our guys bailed me out in that regard. Definitely the worst decision of the day by me.”
Maybe LaFleur should worry more about trusting his coaches and making rational decisions instead of worrying about firing up the Packer fans and being their head cheer leader. His offense looked lost for most of the day against a Patriots defense that gave up 37 to the Ravens.
3. PJ Row the Boat A-Ground
I’ve given Minnesota’s PJ Fleck credit for being the best game manager in football – college or NFL. Saturday’s performance in Minneapolis against Purdue has me questioning my assertion.
Let’s start out with the very first thing that troubled me about this game, a game I cashed an under 52 ticket on. No. 21 Minnesota was a 12-point favorite throughout the week. When it was announced on Friday that Boilermaker QB Aidan O’Connell would return to the lineup after a one game absence the line dropped to 9.5. At no point during the week did anyone from Minnesota - or anyone else for that matter - suggest the Gophers tailback Mohamed Ibrahim would not be available to play after what appeared to be a minor ankle injury the week before. Fleck said after the game that “Mo was close to going. I thought he might go. But we are always going to keep our players safe.”
Now onto the game. Trailing 7-0 with 3:45 remaining in the first quarter, Minnesota faced 4th and 1 from its own 29-yard line. Fleck decided to go for it and called on back up QB Cole Kramer to make the line to gain. It didn’t happen and the Gophers took over in FG range. They tacked on 3 more points to take a 10-0 lead. Purdue would pull the upset 20-10.
Fleck said after the game “I felt like we needed to do something. It only cost us three points, but it was worth it. I would do it again. We got to be able to get 4th and one. We got to get something moving.” So what if you make it? You have the ball on your own 30. How is that momentum? The reward to risk profile isn’t there.
I need to revise my previous statement: Fleck may be the best game manager with a lead. He is brilliant at milking the clock in the fourth quarter with disciplined play calling and clock management. When he isn’t on the choo choo, it’s a different ball game. There is a reason Fleck is 2-19 when his teams trail at halftime.
2. Houston, We Have a Problem
Friday night the Tulane Green Wave took on the University of Houston Cougars in Texas. Even though Tulane was on its third string QB, the game went to Overtime tied at 21. Houston won the toss and elected to go on offense. The Cougars gained 7 yards on 3 plays and facing 4th and 3 kicked a 36-yard field goal. Tulane took 3 plays to get in the end zone, winning 27-24.
Why would Houston Coach Dana Holgorsen elect to go on offense first in OT? Let’s listen to his explanation: “Have you ever heard of analytics? Our overtime strategy it's always gonna be take the ball. So we went back over the last six years and over the last six years 54% of the teams that had the ball first won. Over the last three years 56% of the teams that had the ball first won. I think that's enough to move in the needle.”
To refute Holgorsen’s logic, I’d like to call on Baltimore Raven’s Head Coach John Harbaugh, explaining why he didn’t elect to kick to kick a FG on 4th and goal from the 2 tied with Buffalo 20-20 with just over 4 minutes to go on Sunday. “I felt like it gave us the best chance to win the game. If we kick a field goal there, now it's not a three down game anymore it's a four-down game. You put your defense at a disadvantage because they've got four downs to convert all the way down the field and a chance again score 7 and then you lose a game on a touchdown.”
Well said Coach Harbaugh. Could you give Coach Holgorsen a call?
1. For the Love of Chryst
On Sunday night, the University of Wisconsin announced it had fired Head Football Coach Paul Chryst during his eighth season on the job. Defensive Coordinator Jim Leonhard was named interim head coach. Wisconsin was 2-3 to start the campaign including upset home losses to Washington State and Illinois.
Did Wisconsin make the right decision in firing Chryst? Chryst was 67-26 at Wisconsin, 43-18 in Big 10 play. Bo Pelini was 67-27 at Nebraska, 39-17 in conference play. Jim Harbaugh also started at Michigan the same year Chryst did in Wisconsin, 2015. Harbaugh is 66-24 and 44-17 in the Big Ten. And since 2015 at Iowa, Kirk Ferentz is 66-27 and 43-20 in Big Ten Play.
How about bowl records? Pelini and Ferentz 3-3, Harbaugh 1-5. Chryst 6-1 in bowls, his only loss in the Rose Bowl to a Justin Herbert led Oregon Ducks team in a game that will be remembered for a controversial offensive pass interference call against the Badgers on a potential game winning drive.
Chryst’s record compares favorably to all three. But let’s throw out the Harbaugh comparison. Chryst didn’t make a CFB Playoff and doesn’t have the NFL pedigree of Harbaugh. Let’s also draw a line through Pelini. Nebraska’s football expectations certainly exceed Wisconsin’s expectations. After all the Huskers dismissed little Frank Solich after going 58-19 and 33-15 in league play with two Top 10 finishes.
The closest true comp is Ferentz. Programs with similar track records and expectations. Chryst matches up favorably with Ferentz on all counts and hasn’t had to endure any controversies about lack of inclusiveness within the football culture. Good luck to Wisconsin (with apologies to The Fray) figuring out who they are, who they are not, and who they wanna be. Nebraska has yet to figure out who they are. And Michigan refuses to acknowledge who they are not.