There’s a simple solution to Miners’ kicking problem: Don’t kick

When the other team scores on the first play from scrimmage and then ads two more touchdowns in the first quarter, there’s a good chance you’re going to lose the game.

That was certainly the experience of Nevada Union last week, when the Miners gave up three quick scores and eventually lost 29-20 to Oakmont High School.

What could go wrong?

But the one thing that really frustrated coach Brad Sparks was the team’s kicking–or rather, its inability to do it. The Miners missed the only extra point they attempted, and bad punts continually put them in bad field position.

“I’m over the top frustrated with the kicking game…,” he said after the game. “I’m getting to the point where I will never kick the ball again the rest of the year, except kickoffs.

“Shoot, I might not even kick the ball on kickoff. We might just stand there and throw the ball across the field, I don’t know.”

Actually, Sparks is onto something. Just ask Kevin Kelley, coach of highly successful Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Ark. Pulaski, currently 5-1 this season, never punts and always kicks off onside. Always.

Kelley, who has won two state championships in the almost 10 years he’s coached the team, is a stats nerd who developed his great insight after reading an analysis of 2,000 games played over a 3-year period by a Harvard professor.

Two things became really clear to Kelley: Field position, valued by every coach you’ve ever heard from, is overrated, and keeping possession of the ball is extremely important.

One way to increase your time of possession is to go for it on fourth down instead of punting. Kelley explains the proposition this way when its fourth down and you have the ball on your own 5-yard line:

If you go for the first down and don’t make it, the other team will score a touchdown 92 percent of the time. If you punt, the other team gets the ball around the 40-yard line and scores a TD 77 percent of the time.

That’s not a big difference in terms of scoring odds, and the odds get even better when you figure in the conversion rate. Kelley said his team converts on fourth down 50 percent of the time. That makes it worthwhile to forego the punt and go for it.

Similar thinking goes into the onside kick. On an average high school kickoff, the receiving team gets the ball on its 33. If Pulaski tries an onside kick and fails, the receiving team gets the ball on its 47–not a huge difference in field position.

But Pulaski recovers the onside kick 20 percent of the time (and the other team knows they’re going to do it!) and that makes a huge difference in turnovers. As every football fans knows, the team that wins the turnover battle wins the game 80 percent of the time.

This is just another example of how analytics is changing sports: Baseball teams now employ shifts that shouldn’t work but do, basketball teams know that shooting a lot of 3-point shots can cover up a lot of weaknesses, and football teams know that passing is a lot more effective than running the ball.

So Sparks should follow Pulaski’s lead and quit kicking the football. He’ll be less frustrated and the Miners might actually win a few league games.

Posted in Nevada Union football, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ignoring the 800-pound gorilla over there in the corner

Alison Lehman has been on the job as county CEO for a little over a month now, and she is already getting plenty of advice on how to do the job.

CEO Alison Lehman Leading from behind

A chunk of it came recently from Terry McAteer, former county superintendent of schools and now a member of The Union’s editorial board. Writing in the paper, he urged Lehman to become a bold leader.

The county “has just been ‘bobbing along'” since the recession, in need of a “grand vision from (Lehman) which outlines where we as a community are headed. We are currently in a leadership void,” he wrote.

McAteer’s advice to Lehman: “We want you to lead! We want you to be bold!”

If she takes McAteer’s advice, Lehman will probably be unemployed.

We have been “bobbing along” for the last decade because the 800-pound gorilla in the corner–that would be the county Board of Supervisors–doesn’t seem to feel a sense of urgency when it comes to solving the county’s core problems.

Lehman’s predecessor, Rick Haffey, got the job after his predecessor got caught in the NH2020 controversy and couldn’t survive a shift of the board from a 4-1 liberal majority to a 3-2 conservative majority.

Haffey learned from that experience, and managed to last 15 years in the job by, as he put it, “flying under the radar,” expressing his opinions in private and letting the supervisors take the lead.

In an exit interview with The Union, Haffey recalled how he spoke with at least one member of the board every day. “On occasion, I’d talk to all five multiple times,” he said. “They come in and express their opinions on a wide variety of subjects.”

You can bet they just weren’t bouncing ideas off Haffey. Many of those calls involved complaints from constituents or pet peeves of the supes that required action from various county departments.

And we know of at least a couple of instances when the supes took direct action. Ed Scofield short circuited the process when the county planning department was dealing with the proposal to build a Dollar General store in Alta Sierra, and Dan Miller got the ball moving on a proposal that had been laying around a year to grant special concessions to River Valley Community Bank.

Then there were the times Haffey fell on his sword, writing letters to The Union when the supes were feeling the heat from critics. And who can forget the art display controversy at the Rood Center, when well-known art critic Supervisor Sue Horne said some–shall we say–family unfriendly items were on display. Haffey took the blame for that.

Lehman worked for Haffey for several years and knows all this. She also knows that if she wants to keep her job, it’s best to let her bosses take the lead and do what she’s told.

Posted in County CEO Alison Lehman, Nevada County Board of Supervisors, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

This guy makes Trump sound wishy-washy

Conservative candidate Jair Bolsonaro was the leading vote getter in the first round of voting to elect Brazil’s next president, and is expected to win the October 28 runoff.

Bolsonaro’s main attraction to voters is that he has managed to avoid being implicated in any of the political scandals that have engulfed the country’s political elite in recent years.

Voters are clearly fed up with corruption and crime, and are looking to Bolsonaro to get both under control. Like most populists elected in the last 2 years, he is viewed as the anti-establishment candidate who will overturn the established order. Voters may be getting more than they bargained for.

His plan to get crime under control includes the loosening of gun laws for self-defense and giving police “carte blanche” to kill suspected criminals. Due process? What do you expect from an ex-army officer was staunchly defends Brazil’s past dictatorship.

But there’s more. Balsonaro has defended torture, advocated beating children to stop them from turning gay, argued that women deserve lower pay than men, and said minorities must “bow to the majority or simply disappear.”

Finally, in a country that has endured a massive recession, Bolsonaro proudly states he knows nothing about economics. God help the world’s fourth largest democracy.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

No wonder conservatives love Brett Kavanaugh

“This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled by apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election…Revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars of money from outside left-wing opposition groups.”

–Brett Cavanaugh, responding to charges of sexual harassment and other unjudicial behavior

There’s nothing conservatives like better than a good conspiracy theory: It makes it so easy to understand the complex world we live in and the unwillingness of many Americans to roll over for Donald Trump.

He didn’t go into detail about “outside left-wing opposition groups,” but Kavanaugh was probably referring to billionaire investor George Soros, who is apparently the source of every anti-Trump demonstration launched in the last two years.

Conservatives want to believe that only people paid by the likes of Soros would oppose the president. I can’t wait to see this kind of thinking applied to the issues the Supreme Court has to deal with.

Posted in Donald Trump, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Bear River has a near death experience but remains undefeated

Clinging to a lead of 2 points entering the fourth quarter will test the mettle of any team, particularly if the team won its five previous games by an average of 45 points.

But Bear River’s football team proved up to the challenge last week when it scored a 4th quarter touchdown to finally put away Center by a final score of 16-7 in the league opener for both schools.

Now that it has escaped the equivalent of a near death experience, life should get easier for the Bruins tonight when they host an undermanned Lindhurst team. Look for a final score that resembles what the team did in its first 5 games.

Meanwhile, Nevada Union showed that its pre-league record of 3-2 (the team’s best in several years) was more illusion than reality as Placer simply took apart the Miners. Apparently dropping down 2 rungs in competition to become competitive wasn’t far enough.

Expect more of the same this week as NU entertains Oakmont, a team that should be about 4 touchdowns better than the host.

*          *          *

The top 3 of the Foothill 4 won their games last week to remain closely bunched at the top of our ratings. Only Placer among the leaders figures to have a tough game this week, so Colfax and Bear River will probably be fighting it out for the top spot next week.

This week’s rankings are:

  1. Bear River        6-0         136.3
  2. Placer                6-0         132.8
  3. Colfax                6-0         132.0
  4. Nevada Union  3-3          86.4

This week’s predictions:

Oakmont over Nevada Union by 25.5 points

Rio Linda over Placer by 5 points

Bear River over Lindhurst by 45.5 points

Colfax over Marysville by 38.5 points

Last week’s results: I predicted Nevada Union would be blown out by Placer (it was) and that Bear River would be win a close game (it did).  But I was off on Colfax, which I said would lose to Foothill. It won by 17 points. Still, I’ll take a 2-1 record to start the season.

Posted in Bear River football, Colfax football, Nevada Union football, Placer football, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Is Bear River this good? Are Miners really back from the dead? We’ll find out starting tonight


Is Bear River’s football team as dominant as it appeared to be when it flattened its 5 non-league opponents? Is Nevada Union back from the dead after 5 seasons of truly horrible football?

Well, it’s hard to tell as both team begin league play tonight because their opposition to date has been less than formidable.

With 13 players back from last year’s section championship team, the Bruins are expected to do well–they should be a year better (experience does that at their age) and they know they can win tight games.

BR has started the season like a house on fire, winning each of its games by an average of 45 points. The Bruins have scored 50 or more points 3 times and 49 points twice. Meanwhile, their defense have given up just 31 points.

But then you look at teams they played: A combined record of 7-18. Just one of them has a winning record. So how good are the Bruins?

Tonight’s league opener against Center (4-1) should provide a partial answer to that questions. Center is by far the strongest team BR has faced this season, and if my power numbers are accurate, should lose a close game to the Bruins.

After enduring almost a decade as the punching bag for the Sierra Foothill League, Nevada Union has dropped down 2 notches in class to join the newly formed Foothill Valley League.

The Miners appear to be improving as the season progresses, going into tonight’s league opener against Placer on a 3-game winning streak  after dropping their first two. That’s more wins than they’ve had in an entire season for several years.

But non-league records can be deceiving. The Miners’ 3 wins have come against teams with a combined record of 1-14 while the 2 teams that beat them are 6-6 at this point in the season.

Placer (5-0) is the first team NU has faced this season with a winning record, and the power numbers suggest things will not got well in Auburn tonight. On the other hand, Placer is one of the few teams NU has played well against in recent years, and beat last year’s section championship team.

Here are my predictions for tonight’s league openers involving the Foothill 4:

Bear River over Center by 3.5 points

Placer over Nevada Union by 44 points

Foothill over Colfax by 20 points

*                *                *

Three of the Foothill 4 enter league play with perfect 5-0 records, and all of them have winning records. But all 4 teams played soft non-league schedules so it’s difficult to decide if these records are for real or mirages.

We’ll start finding out for real tonight. Here is each school’s power rating going into tonight’s games:

  1. Bear River          5-0          134.1
  2. Colfax                  5-0          132.1
  3. Placer                  5-0          128.2
  4. Nevada Union   3-2            86.9
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Musk’s mad at the media for reporting the truth

Tesla founder Elon Musk is becoming increasingly disenchanted with the media’s treatment of his company, and he’s threatening to return fire.

Tesla has received plenty of negative media coverage recently: Missed production schedules, questions about working conditions at its factories, a negative review by Consumer Reports, and criticism for abandoning the people’s car, the $35,000 version of the Model 3.

Elon Musk: Down on media

Musk said this kind of coverage is driven by reporters under pressure to get “max clicks”–the modern version of “they just want to sell more newspapers”–and is biased because of advertising by auto makers and oil companies.

“The holier-than-thou hypocrisy of big media companies who lay claim to the truth, but publish only enough to sugar-coat the lie, is why the public no longer respects them,” he tweeted recently. “Going to create a site where the public can rate the core truth of any article & track the credibility score over time of each journalist, editor & publication. Thinking of calling it Pravda.”

He didn’t explain how the public is supposed to rate the “core truth” of an article it didn’t research or report on, but nobody bothers with the facts anyway when it comes expressing an opinion on the internet.

The idea reflects Musk’s penchant for publicly battling media outlets, analysts and investors who raise questions about his business, a tradition of high-tech hot-shots who come to resent the media after early encomiums turn to criticism when their companies’ performance doesn’t live up to the hype.

Even successful companies eventually turn on the media. Despite Apple’s success and generally glowing media coverage, Steve Jobs came to loathed the media over time, still reflected today in the company’s penchant for being closed-mouthed with the media and paranoia about any employee who leaks to the media. (It produced a multi-page internal memo on the subject recently, which of course was leaked to the media.)

Like many of his peers, Musk over promises, under delivers, and then wonders why he gets criticized. The company has repeatedly blown production targets in recent years as it burns through billions of dollars in cash, and now it has essentially conceded it is giving up producing a car for the masses.

Long derided as a manufacturer of expensive toys ($75,000 and up) for eco-elitists, Tesla announced it would produce a car for the masses–the Model 3–for around $35,000. That prompted nearly 500,000 people to put down $1,000 deposits for the car. Now Musk has announced a new $78,000 version of the Model 3, conceding the $35,000 version would cause the company to “lose money and die” if built right away.

“The problem is investors have given Tesla a nearly $50 billion market cap in the belief the company will up-end the global auto market, not become a niche, high-end electric-car company,” The Wall Street Journal reporter Charley Grant wrote recently in its “Heard on the Street” column. “What that latter company is worth is hard to say, but it isn’t the current market valuation.”

No wonder Musk’s upset with the media.

Posted in Economy, Environment, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments