Every failure has an explanation.
As a result of a crazy work schedule, I caught zero live seconds of MSU football from the Ohio State game through the Nebraska game (at the time I was sad about this, in retrospect it's a bit like getting left off the presumptive helicopter to safety in the monster movie, only to see that helicopter get greedily devoured seconds after liftoff). When I 'unplugged' from the team the current scapegoats coalesced around by the fanbase were (in something like this order): Roushar, Wide Receivers, Johnny Adams, Offensive Line, Maxwell, Samuels, Staten
When I returned around the Northwestern game and over the next two weeks, through were we are now, that list became something like: Roushar, Maxwell, Conroy, Dantonio, Staten, Offensive Line, Samuels, Wide Receivers, Adams.
Well, after finally going through the whole backlog of games, I have my own list. Moving from least blame to most blame (non-blame entities are excluded from the process: Defense, Bell, Sadler, Sims, you may leave the room) I'll try to explain where I think this season went wrong.
First up, is Dan "@#*!%" Conroy.
Poor Dan Conroy. His problems this year really started back in 2010. When you hit 93% of your kicks your first season of kicking, that creates expectations. And when people are used to Swenson, Rayner, and Edinger, they get pretty pissed when you start bringing to mind Goss.
It's kinda not his fault though. Going 14-15 is hardly impossible, nor is making 14 straight field goals attempts as Conroy did to begin his career. Just this year, two kickers have been perfect (one a shocking 21-21) and two others have surpassed Conroy's 93% mark with more attempts. He also, as we'll look at later, had a pretty easy job in 2010. But as an opening performance, it conditions fans to expect greatness. If he was 14-15 this year, maybe he can be 20-20 next year!
But he wasn't 20-20. Or anything close. In 2011, he dropped to 17-23 (73.9%) about average. This season his completion rate dropped again, to just 22-31, or 71%.
I thought you were giving Conroy the least of the blame this year?
Hold on, I'm making the pivot here.
No, Conroy hasn't been nearly the automatic machine this year that he appeared to be in 2010, but for four reasons, I don't hold him responsible for much of this year's blame.
Reason 1: Conroy has kicked a boatload of field goals this season.
Tied for most in the nation, in fact, at 31 attempts.
Now Conroy is a career 77% kicker. Obviously, all field goals are independent of previous attempts, but allow me to stretch probability a little to make a point. If I sent Conroy out to kick 1 field goal, odds are he'll probably make it. If I send him out to kick 5 field goals, odds are he'll probably make 4 (as indeed, he did last weekend vs Minnesota). And as you stretch this number of attempts higher, the number of misses obviously grows as well. If he kicks 20 attempts, he'll probably make 15, but in one of those five attempts missed he has probably blown a pretty crucial kick. Indeed, if we took the summary of Mr. Conroy's career and used that 77% total again over this year's 31 attempts, you'd expect him to hit about 24, two more than he actually did. If you used the 82% completion rate he accrued before this season, you'd expect him to hit about 25 field goals.
So what explains the 2 to 3 field goal difference that feels like it cost MSU a game (or three)? His job got tougher.
Reason 2: Conroy has had a higher percentage of 'hard' kicks every year
|Dan Conroy FG attempts by length|
|1 – 19||20-29||30-39||40-49||50|
|2009||0-0||0 – 0||0-0||1 – 1||0-0|
|2010||1 – 1||2 – 2||7 – 8||3 – 3||1 – 1|
|2011||0-0||7 – 9||4 – 4||4 – 5||2 – 5|
|2012||1 – 1||6 – 6||6 – 10||6 – 11||3 – 3|
For the purpose of this argument, we'll divvy up kicks into two categories: 'easy' and 'hard'.
-Easy kicks: attempts from inside 40 yards (these got made 84.7'% of the time by non-Conroy kickers in the B1G this year)
-Hard kicks: attempts from over 40 or more yards (these got made 54.8% of the time by non-Conroy kickers in the B1G this year)
Conroy has had more long kicks each year by ratio:
|Dan Conroy and the Degree of Difficulty (% of attempts)
And by the raw numbers:
|Dan Conroy and the Degree of Difficulty (# of attempts)
Unlike his first year as a starter, where he was allowed to feast on relatively easy attempts, in 2010 and 2011 he was asked to be a real big boy kicker, and he has struggled more. But despite that he has been above average on these 40+ yard kicks, making 60% of them in 2011 and 64% of them in 2012, compared to the conference-wide 'not much better than a coin flip' conversion rate of 54.8%. In the light of this, I can forgive him a few of his easier misses.
Reason 3: This year, Conroy has been called on to make more hard kicks than nearly anyone in the country.
Let's look at the highest usage kickers and how Conroy stacks up.
|Kickers with 21+ FGA and Hard Kicks|
|Kicker||40-49||50||Hard Attempts||% of Hard Attempts||% of Hard Attempts Made|
|Chris Boswell||5 – 8||6 – 7||15||57.69%||73.33%|
|Dustin Hopkins||6 – 9||5 – 5||14||50.00%||78.57%|
|Dan Conroy||6 – 11||3 – 3||14||45.16%||64.29%|
|Bryson Rose||6 – 8||1 – 5||13||52.00%||53.85%|
|Quinn Sharp||5 – 8||2 – 5||13||44.83%||53.85%|
|Cairo Santos||10 – 10||2 – 2||12||57.14%||100.00%|
|Trey Farquhar||3 – 3||5 – 9||12||48.00%||66.67%|
|Niklas Sade||4 – 8||1 – 3||11||52.38%||45.45%|
|Maikon Bonani||6 – 8||1 – 3||11||50.00%||63.64%|
|Brett Maher||4 – 6||3 – 5||11||45.83%||63.64%|
|Jaden Oberkrom||7 – 8||1 – 3||11||44.00%||72.73%|
|Steven Schott||6 – 7||2 – 4||11||36.67%||72.73%|
|Carey Spear||5 – 7||2 – 3||10||45.45%||70.00%|
|Aaron Jones||3 – 8||2 – 2||10||43.48%||50.00%|
|Kevin Harper||6 – 9||0-1||10||41.67%||60.00%|
|Michel Chapuseaux||4 – 8||2 – 2||10||37.04%||60.00%|
|Jordan Wettstein||4 – 6||0-3||9||42.86%||44.44%|
|Cody Journell||6 – 9||0-0||9||40.91%||66.67%|
|Vincenzo D'Amato||3 – 8||1 – 1||9||39.13%||44.44%|
|Jordan Williamson||3 – 7||0-2||9||39.13%||33.33%|
|Caleb Sturgis||5 – 6||3 – 3||9||33.33%||88.89%|
|Mike Meyer||4 – 7||1 – 1||8||38.10%||62.50%|
|Matt Hogan||1 – 5||3 – 3||8||32.00%||50.00%|
|Jeremiah Detmer||6 – 7||0-1||8||30.77%||75.00%|
|Chase Hover||1 – 4||1 – 4||8||30.77%||25.00%|
|Drew Alleman||3 – 5||0-3||8||28.57%||37.50%|
|Matt Weller||7 – 8||0-0||8||26.67%||87.50%|
|Kyle Brindza||3 – 7||1 – 1||8||25.81%||50.00%|
|Chad Christen||1 – 4||1 – 3||7||33.33%||28.57%|
|Ross Krautman||3 – 6||0-1||7||33.33%||42.86%|
|Ryan Bustin||2 – 5||1 – 2||7||33.33%||42.86%|
|Will Scott||4 – 5||1 – 2||7||33.33%||71.43%|
|Taylor Bertolet||1 – 3||3 – 4||7||31.82%||57.14%|
|Anthony Cantele||4 – 5||0-0||5||23.81%||80.00%|
|Carlos Lopez||2 – 5||0-0||5||22.73%||40.00%|
As you can see, he's tied for 2nd out of these 37 players in total 'hard' attempts.
Conroy is 10th in terms of hard kicks as a percentage of total attempts.
He's 14th in terms of percentage made.
Not great numbers, but ones that seem to solidify him among the top quartile of college kickers this year.
Reason 4: Dan Conroy deserves the doubt of the butterfly effect
It is impossible not to play the 'what if' game with your field goal kicker in a season of close losses. I've done it, you've done it, we've all done it. "If only he'd made that kick..." you say wistfully as you stare at that margin of victory on the scoreboard for your opponent.
And why not? After all:
-Down 7-3 in the second quarter against OSU, Conroy misses a 42 yard kick. MSU loses 17-16
-Down 3-0 in the second quarter against UM, Conroy misses a 38 yard kick. MSU loses 12-10.
-Down 6-5 in the second quarter against NU, Conroy misses a 37 yard kick. MSU loses 23-20.
-Tied 0-0 in the first quarter against NEB, Conroy misses a 49 yard kick. MSU loses 28-24.
In three of these games, it's tempting to look at margin, look at the misses, and start talking about 'clutchness' and 'breaks of the game'. You know, Narratives.
But that's not especially fair. Even if those kicks were all converted, it's hardly a reason to think MSU wins any of those games. In the 1st and 2nd quarters, the end of the game is so far away, that the effects of MSU tying up, or taking a slim lead, or closing the margin at that point are so hard to predict in how they change each team's in-game strategy, that it's folly to try and use them to predict the outcome of the game in and of themselves.
Does it make MSU more likely to win the game? Sure. But are any of these examples anywhere near to Conroy biffing a game winning field goal with a minute left in the 4th quarter? Nope. Butterfly wings creating hurricanes and all that.
High expectations + high profile games + high degree of difficulty + tiny margin of loss = trouble for FG kickers.
Despite this, Conroy had at least an average year with no further context added, and probably even had a good year after one factors in some of the other context. He's off the hook in my book. Others won't be as lucky.