in town for free camps
Yesterday I put up an analysis of a simple iso that cut back behind Mike Martin and picked up ten yards. In the comments Magnus mentioned he thought this must be a mistake on someone's part because when you have the DT and MLB both heading to the playside A gap your defense is no longer "gap sound"—ie does not have one guy in every place a tailback can go—and things like ten yard iso plays result.
This resulted in some discussion about how the MLB's job in the 3-3-5 is to "make the nose right", IE fill the other A gap depending on what the nose does. This is a phrase unleashed to the world by Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 DVD, and I think it's what West Virginia does with its middle linebacker. It's evidently not what Michigan is doing with Demens when he's aligned in what I've come to think of as the Gergbacker position. Demens doesn't have time to make anyone right because he's too close to the play; he picks a side of the line and goes into the guard.
Another commenter complained that I shouldn't criticize Van Bergen for getting locked out upfield on this particular play because I can't be sure what his assignment is. That's true and a frustration I often have but amongst Wisconsin's brain-melting array of second half runs there is a serendipitous iso that Michigan stops that demonstrates the trends from yesterday's post and suggests that the key guy on a cutback is indeed the backside DE.
It's first and ten on the Michigan 41 in the midst of Wisconsin's first soul-crushing ground based touchdown drive of the second half. Wisconsin comes out in the same I-form they showed on the play featured yesterday. Michigan goes with basically the same stack look as well, though they've flipped Kovacs and Avery. The backup DL (Banks, Patterson, Black) is in:
A moment after the snap we see a difference: the backside tackle is releasing downfield instead of blocking Banks out of the play. That's left to the TE. He gets slanted under:
A moment later we see that Patterson is getting playside of the center… and Demens is shooting into the same gap to take on whoever shows up. Banks is sliding down the line behind them; also note that Jibreel Black has beaten the block of the RT and is coming upfield.
At the handoff point Patterson is beating his guy and Demens is about to slam into a guard at the LOS. In doing so he halts all progress from both the G bubbled over him and the FB. Massive cutback lane would result, except Banks is right on the center's hip. Black is now through the tackle totally and converging; tailback has nowhere to go:
Wad of bodies…
…and two yards.
So. To continue the Week of Defensiveness, usually these plays are picked because they illustrate a larger trend—Kenny Demens runs at the playside guard all day and eats facemask, and I'm pretty sure the design of this defense has a backside DE assigned to an A-gap. My choice here was between criticizing Van Bergen for getting locked out so easily or Greg Robinson for putting him in a tough position. The right answer is some of both, probably.
Object lesson type objects:
- This is a slight variation on the play yesterday. Yesterday Wisconsin kept the backside T in to block Van Bergen and ended up blocking Mouton with a guard. Here the guard attempts to slide over on Patterson and the T is assigned Mouton. These seem like subtly different playcalls with the first designed to cut back and the second to go straight upfield.
- Kenny Demens really does just run to the playside A gap all game, where he enjoys a scone with the DT. Here it works, though the next play is a 12 yard Down G run, the play after a four yard power play, and the play after that a 23-yard Down G touchdown.
- So that means your options on the cutback are backside DE or no one. Here Banks gets a relatively easy task since the guy lined up over him heads downfield and he can just slide along the line; Van Bergen had that guy blocking him. Still, the results were not so good and were repeated on a number of other runs.
- I'm pretty sure this is a bad idea. And not just on general principles! Having the backside DE clean up behind the NT seems like a thing that would work in the 4-3 where the backside DE is actually a DT inside of the tackle. In this scheme he releases downfield or he's got what seems like easy work to seal out a guy who's supposed to be an A-gap player.
- How about Jibreel Black beating a block and being useful on a run play? Woo progress!
For live updates of the games I'm attending, follow me on Twitter @varsityblue. If you can help out finding articles on any of the commits, @reply me on Twitter or e-mail me, and I'll try to include your contribution.
New Commit MI RB Justice Hayes
Game 1. Grand Blanc defeated Carman-Ainsworth 21-7. Hayes had a good game:
Hayes finished with 149 yards on 18 carries. He also threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to quarterback Ryan Morley, who began the play by tossing a lateral to Hayes. Hayes attracted a pass rush, then threw to his left to Morley, who had plenty of room down the left sideline with 8:20 left in the first quarter.
"There were guys in my area, so I had to hurry up and get if off quick," Hayes said. "It was a very difficult throw for me."
...but also fumbled in the end zone, giving Carman-Ainsworth their only score.
Game 2. Grand Blanc was pasted by Canton, 20-62. Hayes had just 20 yards on 9 carries.
Game 3. Grand Blanc dropped an overtime decision to Milford, 35-42. Hayes did most of his damage as a receiver:
Justice Hayes caught 11 passes for 98 yards and one score
His junior teammate Detrick Goff got most of the rushing yardage.
Game 4. Hayes missed the game with a wrist injury as Grand Blanc beat Brighton 27-20. More on the wrist injury:
As for Hayes, Delaney doesn’t know when his star running back will be able to play again. “At first it was thought to be a bad sprain, but the swelling never went down,” Delaney said. “It looked as bad last week on Friday as it did on Saturday morning the previous week. He’s gone around to different places and gotten different opinions. It seems to be a problem in the wrist with a small bone. We’re trying to get it figured out.”
The injury turned out to be a broken wrist, and Justice missed the remainder of the season. Grand Blanc would finish 7-4, losing in the second round of the State Playoffs to Lake Orion.
FL RB Demetrius Hart
Running back Demetrius Hart rushed for 118 yards and accounted for three touchdowns — two rushing, one receiving — to lead the Panthers in a 52-3 rout.
|Demetrius Hart 2010|
|Cypress Creek||W 52-0||14||168||4||12.00||1||7||0||7.00||3||24||0||8.00|
|Oak Ridge||W 56-28||21||126||3||6.00||4||37||1||9.25||1||5||0||5.00|
|West Orange||W 49-6||11||121||4||11.00||4||24||0||6.00||2||69||1||34.50|
This week: Dr. Phillips hosts Oak Ridge in Round 2 of the State Playoffs next Friday.
FL OL Tony Posada
This week: Plant faces Newsome in Round 2 of the State Playoffs.
OH OL Jack Miller
Last Week: Pregame Fluff:
“Even though we're only 16, 17, 18-year-old kids,” Miller said, “we kind of know what this means in the big picture [of Toledo football history]. For us seniors, this is our last year and it's the last year of the City League [for St. John's, Whitmer and others]. On so many different levels, this game is very meaningful.”
Miller was also named 1st-Team All-District, and the District Lineman of the Year.
This week: 11-2 St. John's has ended their season with both losses coming at the hands of Whitmer.
MI DE/LB Brennen Beyer
Last week: Plymouth upset Rockford 20-17 in the State Semifinals. Beyer was the star of the show:
"Obviously, (Beyer) is an outstanding athlete," said Rockford coach Ralph Munger, whose team ended its season 11-2. "The quarterback made the throw and he made the catch with two guys in coverage. But you have to make plays and deny plays, and we didn't make enough big plays today." ...
"(Beyer) is a great kid, and he just keeps playing," Plymouth coach Mike Sawchuk said. "As a coach, obviously, you have doubt (when they score that touchdown with just over a minute to play), but these kids never quit.
Beyer made plays on both sides of the ball for Plymouth. He caught his team's first touchdown early in the first quarter and, on defense, he caused problems for the Rockford offense all game from the defensive end position... Beyer had five catches for 105 yards.
PlymouthCantonSports has much more:
"I ran a streak and our coach said to high-point the ball," said Beyer, describing his incredible reception. "That's what I did. It was surreal. I didn't even know what was happening. I was so dead tired, but it felt incredible. This feels so great. I just want to close my eyes and try to remember this moment for the rest of my life." ...
Plymouth's defense was outstanding the entire afternoon. Beyer led the way with seven tackles and three sacks.
This week: The 11-2 Wildcats will take on Lake Orion at Ford Field on Friday at 1PM. The game will be televised on FSN+ and MHSAA.tv.
TX LB Kellen Jones
Kellen Jones' team lost 22-21 on the last play of the game, a 38 yard field goal. Kellen left in the fourth quarter with a high ankle sprain, but he had 9 total tackles, 6 solo, 3 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FF.
So there's that. Final chart below:
|Kellen Jones 2010|
|Trinity Christian||W 33-7||11||5||1||0||0||0|
|Worthing||W 20-12||DNP - ankle|
|St. Thomas||W 28-10||11||3||1||0||0||0|
|Houston Christian||W 37-13||9||3||1||0||0||0|
|Houston Christian||W 49-7||8||1||1||0||0||1|
|St. Thomas||W 33-28||13||2||0||0||0||0|
|Bishop Lynch||L 21-22||9||3||1||1||0||0|
This week: St. Pius has seen their season come to an end.
MI CB Delonte Hollowell
Next Week: The 12-1 Technicians have seen their season end.
FL CB Dallas Crawford
South had 161 rushing yards and Crawford completed 11 of 14 attempts for 163 yards and two TDs.
Sammy Watkins had... a 23-yard TD pass to Crawford.
Dallas dedicated his performance to his father, who passed away last Friday:
“He was my biggest fan... He taught me everything I know,” Crawford said. “He taught me how to throw a football.”
Article 2. Rest in Peace, Steven Crawford.
|Dallas Crawford 2010|
|Cypress Lake||W 39-0||9||10||90.00||118||11.80||1||0||6||24||4.00||2||0||0|
|Bishop Verot||W 35-3||18||23||78.26||299||13.00||4||0||9||12||1.33||1||0||0|
|Gulf Coast||W 49-7||12||16||75.00||277||17.31||3||1||11||34||3.09||1||0||0|
|North Fort Myers||W 34-0||7||13||53.85||88||6.77||2||0||5||38||7.60||0||2||1|
|Fort Myers||W 43-10||10||13||76.92||144||11.08||1||0||12||38||3.17||2||0||0|
This week: Undefeateds square off as South Fort Myers travels to 11-0 Naples in Round 2 of the State Playoffs.
FL QB Kevin Sousa
Lake Nona's season has ended with a 1-9 record. Sousa finished with 125/226 passing for 1936 yards with 13 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Rushing, he had 120 attempts for 835 yards and 6 touchdowns. For a full game-by-game stat breakdown, check out last week's FNL post.
MI WR Shawn Conway
Seaholm's season is over, with a 4-5 record. Conway finished the year with about 22 catches for 375 yards, and 11 kick/punt returns for 393 yards.
MI OL Jake Fisher
Traverse City West's season is over, with a 6-4 record and a loss in the first round of the State Playoffs.
OH DE Chris Rock
DeSales's season ended at 5-6 with a loss in the first round of the State Playoffs.
OH CB/S Greg Brown
Fremont Ross's season is over, with a 9-2 record and a loss in the first round of the State Playoffs. Brown was named All-District.
[Ed-M: bumped from diary - MGoBlog's recruiting editor updates the status of defensive recruitment]
Since Justice Hayes just committed, and there were still people looking around to see if it was ok to ask if he plays defense, I thought I would help them out. Here's a look at who's left on the defensive front for Michigan recruiting.
First, who's committed so far:
|Brennen Beyer||DE||6'4", 225 lbs.||4 Star|
|Demetrius Hart||RB||5'8", 190 lbs.||4 Star|
|Justice Hayes||RB/Slot||5'10", 175 lbs.||4 Star|
|Dallas Crawford||DB||5'10", 185 lbs.||3 Star|
|Shawn Conway||WR||6'4", 183 lbs.||3 Star|
|Greg Brown||DB||5'10", 180 lbs.||3 Star|
|Jake Fisher||OL||6'7", 260 lbs.||3 Star|
|Delonte Hollowell||DB||5'8", 162 lbs.||3 Star|
|Kellen Jones||LB||6'1", 209 lbs.||3 Star|
|Jack Miller||OL||6'4", 270 lbs.||3 Star|
|Tony Posada||OL||6'5", 315 lbs.||3 Star|
|Chris Rock||DE/DT||6'5", 250 lbs.||3 Star|
|Kevin Sousa||QB||6'2", 220 lbs.||3 Star|
For those counting at home, that's six commitments out of thirteen that are on the defensive side of the ball. There are around 9 spots left, give or take, for Michigan to fill up this class with. These are the current defensive recruits that Michigan has a shot with.
6'4", 255 lbs.
West Branch, MI
|4 Stars||Junior Highlights|
|Zettel is waiting until after the season is over to make his announcement. He has already taken his official to Iowa (Nov. 20th), he's visiting Penn State this weekend, and will be at Michigan on December 10th for the Big Chill.|
6'5", 230 lbs.
|Philadelphia, PA||4 star||Deion Runs Fast|
|Barnes has Michigan in his top five along with Georgia, Penn State, Pitt, and South Carolina. He has mentioned several times he plans on visiting after the season. He may visit for December 10th as well.|
2011 Defensive Tackle Prospects
6'2", 275 lbs.
Lake City, FL
|4 Star||Junior Highlights|
|Jernigan has Michigan in his top group with LSU, Alabama, and Florida State. He has made some recent trips to Florida, so I wouldn't count them out. I've been hearing a lot lately about Timmy, and a recruit actually told me that Jernigan really likes Michigan. He's concerned with our defensive scheme, however, so we'll see what happens.|
6'3", 275 lbs.
|Hyattsville, MD||4 Star||Junior Highlights|
|Cooper is planning a winter visit to Michigan, and outside of Jernigan, is probably Michigan's best option at defensive tackle. His season ended in the WCAC championship game this weekend, so he's now focusing on recruiting.|
6'1", 310 lbs.
|4 Star||Junior Highlights|
|While Johnson continues to list Michigan in his top group, I don't think he'll end up choosing the Wolverines. His name is still on the radar, but not likely.|
6'3", 210 lbs.
|4 Star||Junior Highlights|
|As everyone knows, Frost just got back from his official visit to Michigan. This visit came at the perfect time for Frost, and for Michigan. He will take officials to LSU and Cal, and is going to try to make it back up to Michigan again before deciding at the US Army game. Frost will be an early enrollee. I included him here for argument sake, since he is also being recruited for receiver.|
6'1", 225 lbs.
|Holland, MI||3 Star||Senior Highlights|
|Morgan is a lifelong Michigan fan, and was beyond excited to receive his offer. He took an unofficial visit with his dad to the Illinois game, and will be back for an official visit on December 10th. He's taking his time, but I expect him to be in this class. If Michigan grabs Morgan and Frost, that will be a nice linebacker haul for the 2011 class with Kellen Jones already on board.|
5'10", 170 lbs.
Owings Mills, MD
|4 Star||Senior Highlights|
|Countess has a top four of Georgia Tech, Maryland, NC State and Michigan. It's been rumored that Michigan is in the lead, but Georgia Tech might be right there with them. Countess plans on visiting December 3rd, and will also be playing in the US Army game.|
6'1", 170 lbs.
|Houma, LA||3 Star||N/A|
|If Michigan missed on Countess, they may finally offer Kitchen. Kitchen has said he's a big fan of Michigan, and would most likely commit if offered.|
5'11", 185 lbs.
|4 Star||Junior Highlights|
|Walls has already been to Michigan several times, including an official visit for the U Conn game. He has since taken visits to Oregon and Cal. I still think Michigan is in a good position, but I think Oregon has made a good impression on him. Due to an illness in his family he had put recruiting on the back burner. He still plans on taking a few more visits before he announces.|
6'0", 190 lbs.
|Ft. Lauderdale, FL||4 Star||Senior Highlights|
|Lyons recently announced that Michigan will get one of his official visits. That was huge news for the Wolverines, as they seem to be climbing up his list. Wayne plans on being up at Michigan on December 3rd, and then out to Nebraska on December 10th. He has already taken visits to Notre Dame, Stanford, and UCLA. Michigan is making a move with the talented safety.|
6'2", 210 lbs.
|5 Star||2010 Spring Game|
|I'm including Karlos on this list because he still maintains that he will visit Michigan. The visit will probably take place in January. I've heard that it's not likely he will switch from FSU, but there's at least a small chance. He has been recruiting hard for FSU, so don't get your hopes up, but who knows what could happen with a visit.|
6'2", 190 lbs.
|5 Star||Junior Highlights|
I'm including Ha'Sean for the same reason that I'm including Karlos, he still plans on visiting Michigan. I have heard that there's a small chance that he changes his mind from Alabama. Don't get your hopes up here either, but with his teammates selling Michigan and his visit you never know.
Michigan obviously doesn't have enough room to take everyone, and they're still looking for a few more offensive positions like tight end and offensive line. Most of the decision time tables for these recruits are after the season, or during the Army All American game. That should give Michigan plenty of time for visits, and a little extra push with coaching visits too.
Emotionally, this is an odd week for me. I find that I don't care about Ohio State at all. They're a very good team that's going to win in a not-that-competitive game on Saturday, like they always do. I get irritated at the hurr hurr coming from the Ohio State blogosphere but mostly because Michigan's so far from their level that it seems like a waste of time.
My hate still exists but it's focused internally, as the emails pile up and message boards pile on because I have the audacity to say if it was my decision I'd keep Rich Rodriguez on the condition he reshapes the defensive staff in such a way that we can expect them to do one boring thing reasonably well. I've explained why. In a sentence, the offense is excellent and should maintain that level over the next two years as the defense digs itself out from a massive hole.
This has caused the wing of the Michigan fanbase that thinks keeping Rodriguez is absolutely insane to search high and low for various metrics in which Michigan doesn't rate well. They can't take any of the basic stats...
|Rushing Offense||10||257.36||Georgia Tech||319.36||1||Michigan||257.36|
|Total Offense||5||514.55||Oklahoma St.||552||1||Michigan||514.55|
|Sacks Allowed||T-11||0.91||Stanford||0.36||1||Penn St.||0.91|
…and they certainly can't take any of the advanced metrics that rank Michigan second* and fifth nationally, so they resort to things like in-conference points per drive. Michigan is tied for third in the league in that metric.
If you are using this stat, you have decided that Rich Rodriguez should go and are backfilling reasons. If you're trying to downplay Michigan's second-half points against Iowa, Penn State and Wisconsin, you're doing the same thing. Michigan got back in those games by scoring often and quickly, by bombing away. Michigan scoring drives against Wisconsin lasted 3:57, 0:22, 2:19, and 2:57. They could do this because defenses were aligned to stop Michigan's powerful ground game even with big second-half leads, which is why Denard Robinson racked up a bunch of deep completions against single-covered WRs in the second half. Prevent defenses do not give up sixty yard touchdowns to tight ends, as Penn State did.
The whole reason the FO stats exist is to smooth out differences in opportunities and schedule strength as best they can and they indicate that whatever problems Michigan has don't include being the nation's #15 scoring offense against a schedule with two real nonconference opponents and without Northwestern (82nd in FEI D) and Minnesota (98th).
David Brandon's got a tough decision ahead of him—something it only seems that people who are still in favor of Rodriguez returning acknowledge—because the offense is elegantly constructed and deadly. Michigan's quarterback couldn't throw a pass straight in the first half and the receivers couldn't catch it when he did, but they still ended the day with more points than any Michigan team had scored against Wisconsin since 1990. The 31 they put up on Penn State were the most since 2000. They're solidly in the top five of the best metrics available with two seniors and a sophomore quarterback. They're going to obliterate the best rushing YPC mark Carr put up since the turn of the century by over a yard and finish in the top 20 in passing efficiency.
Anyone seriously arguing that Michigan's offense is not a reason to keep Rodriguez around is a raving lunatic. Period. I'm tired of being vilified for using numbers in non-abusive ways, but that's what we've come to. My hate week is about other Michigan fans.
*(FEI ranks Michigan second but has not been updated for last Week's games. Since Michigan put up a touchdown better than Wisconsin's scoring average any drop from Michigan will be minimal.)
So… Greg Robinson doesn't know how to run a 3-3-5. For whatever reason, Michigan is running a 3-3-5. This results in situations like this first quarter run for the Badgers that echoes several themes from the This Is Not A Stack post: by lining up his MLB just behind his nose tackle he dooms that guy to take one step to the playside, whereupon he is eaten by a guard who has no one lined up over him. Even if Michigan successfully plugs that hole they are crazy vulnerable to cutbacks and counters.
It's second and three on Wisconsin's second drive of the day. they come out in an I-form with twins to the field side. Michigan aligns in its stack formation with Jordan Kovacs—supposedly the bandit—aligned to the strong side of the formation, with Cam Gordon hovering over the wide receiver stack to the outside:
Wisconsin's going to run a simple iso play that's designed to go off the right side of the line. You can see in shot two Demens's alignment just three yards off the LOS:
Martin's getting momentarily doubled in the shot below but the G peels off quickly to block the rolled-up Demens. On the backside Ryan Van Bergen has gotten kicked out and Mouton is staring down a free release from the backside G:
Demens is swallowed. I think the idea here is to force Wisconsin to come off their double of Martin quickly, allowing him to run free and eat people, but don't quote me on that. Ezeh is attacking the FB, and there's nothing on the frontside:
Because Martin has slanted past the center and Van Bergen has gotten kicked out there's a big cutback lane. Mouton is in a bad situation, essentially standing still as a guard comes out on him. Demens is getting blocked; the OG has his arm around his back. This never gets called holding but he's being held:
Mouton gets blasted three yards downfield and gives up the inside. Courtney Avery was filling from his overhang spot and could have maybe held this under three yards but once Mouton gets hit in that position the RB cut past him and it's up to Demens and/or Martin to spin of blocks and close it down.
They can't. Vinopal is forced to tackle ten yards downfield.
Object lesson type objects:
- Theory as to the deployment of Kenny Demens two feet from his NT. Demens threatens to shoot into the backfield immediately on plays like this, which seriously reduces the time Wisconsin guards have to double Mike Martin. This allows Martin to use his quickness to slant under the center, get to the playside, and close off holes.
- Problem with the deployment of Kenny Demens two feet from his NT. Once you're engaged with an OL he is going to grab you and delay you and let go before he gets a flag, so you can attempt to get off him and close down the massive cutback hole you've opened up by shooting both your MLB and NT to the playside but you're probably not going to make it.
- Second problem with the deployment. I imagine it has something to do with opponents' consistent ability to hit balls over the linebackers and in front of the safeties; having your linebackers five yards off the LOS gives them more time to reduce throwing windows. I've charted basically all of Tolzein's throws and three or four could have been shut down if the linebackers had been a yard or three deeper.
- WTF Van Bergen? When Michigan is aligned in this fashion the overhang guy—in this case Courtney Avery—is in great position to shut down anything that bounces all the way outside to the short side. With both Demens and Martin headed playside RVB should be flowing down the line, relying on Kovacs to bounce anything that gets behind him and Avery to clean up. Instead he gets upfield and seals himself, basically, leaving Mouton in acres of space with a guard bubbled over him.
- Mouton could do better here, too. It's never good when you're taking on an OL three yards downfield and that OL is moving while you're not.
Ironically, I think this MLB deployment would have worked out okay for Ezeh, who's a big guy with some pop but terribly indecisive. Here there's not much of a decision. Line goes one way, you pound the playside guard ASAP. It seems like a waste for Demens, who has displayed good read and react skills in his brief career as a starter.
I was looking for an adjustment here where Michigan would defense something like this by not having Demens right at the LOS but haven't found it yet. I've seen a lot of small guys getting battered and crappy pursuit angles. I'm not sure if my haziness on what the appropriate play is is my fault or the defense's fault; it seems like Michigan players are making basic errors but it could be a shifting scheme in which a guy like JB Fitzgerald's attempt to defeat a downblock sees him go from the LOS at the snap to six yards off the LOS outside the hashmarks.
More than anything this seems like another example where the scheme is either incoherent or the players don't know what they're doing. Van Bergen getting upfield is the killer here and makes no sense given the alignment of the D.
[Ed: bumped for general interestingness.]
Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielma made the following statement after the Badgers 48-28 victory over Michigan on Saturday:
"We're not the spread offense, so it's not sexy," he said. "We're not on the [top] of everybody's wish list. But I tell you what—48 points is fun."
This, after Michigan’s vaunted offense had stalled out at inopportune times and Wisconsin’s pro-style attack had done as it pleased throughout the game en route to 48 points on 558 yards with only one punt along the way. The Wisconsin offense had more fun than Michigan’s.
Despite claims that it cannot be successful in major college football, there is little doubt that the spread offense, in general, works at the highest level of the NCAA. The top two teams in the nation this season, Oregon and Auburn, both employ it in some fashion. The spread is viable, just as the pro-style is viable. However, there is wide variation in productivity across teams within the same basic offensive scheme.
Michigan’s spread offense this year has been something of a revelation, thanks largely to the ascendance of Denard Robinson. The feats that Robinson has accomplished as a true sophomore in his first season as a starter are truly remarkable. This is virtually indisputable. With two games remaining in the season, he has already broken the all-time FBS rushing record for a quarterback and has become the first player in NCAA history to pass for 2,000 yards while rushing for 1,500. His season has been an historic one.
Behind Robinson, Michigan’s offense has been at the top of the Big Ten and in the top five nationally for much of the season in terms of yards per game. Big plays abound, and 500-yard games have become more the rule than the exception. This prolific output has created much buzz around the offensive side of the ball (and stand in stark contrast the immense struggles of the defense). Indeed, the offense has almost single-“sidedly” carried the team to victories against Illinois, Indiana, and Notre Dame, and its fluency has become the loudest argument for Rich Rodriguez to stay at the helm in Ann Arbor beyond this season.
However, the offense has been outshined in Michigan’s losses. In these contests, Michigan's offense didn't just fail to play like a top-five unit nationally. It wasn't the better unit on the field during the game. In these games, Michigan produced 377, 522, 423, and 442 yards against Michigan State, Iowa, Penn State, and Wisconsin, respectively, while yielding 536, 383, 435, and 558 yards. Michigan’s maligned defense was party to these opponents’ gaudy offensive outputs, but Michigan’s offense did not keep pace. Not surprisingly, these four opponents also have some of the best scoring defenses of the teams that Michigan has faced this year, and the question arises as to whether Michigan’s “sexy” offense can be successful against good defensive teams.
The offense has improved in three seasons under Rodriguez, and, even now, it remains young. Its leader, Robinson, is a true sophomore, as is starting tailback Vincent Smith. The starting offensive line has only one senior [ed: depending on the health of Perry Dorrestein] and the wide receiver corps has none. One could argue that there is still room for growth and that the trajectory demonstrated over the past two years under Rodriguez is positive. Still, it bears examining exactly where the offense is at present. Is it an unstoppable force or a paper tiger? Or something in between? This analysis dissects the Michigan offense with one game to go in the 2010 season.
Yards, scoring, games, and drives
Michigan’s offense works fast. There is no huddle. They get to the line of scrimmage quickly. They gain yards in chunks. They score in a flash. All of this, in part, leads to shorter times of possession per drive, which generally leads to more drives per game (the defense giving up long, run-laden drives to the opponent notwithstanding). Michigan, as of November 19, had the most drives in the Big Ten this season (105, tied with Illinois) against BCS competition. Wisconsin had the fewest number of drives in the Big Ten against BCS opponents with 71.
A more useful way of understanding offensive effectiveness than looking at yards per game is to examine what an offense does with a typical drive. The importance of drives was illustrated in the first half of the Michigan-Wisconsin game, as Michigan had only four full drives to work with. What a team does with a drive is a means of measuring offense that allows for fair cross-team comparison. As of Friday, Michigan averaged 2.57 points per drive (PPD) this season against BCS teams, good for third in the Big Ten, behind Wisconsin (3.72) and Ohio State (3.19) and tied with Iowa.
Table 1 - Points per drive against BCS opponents
Calculated with data from www.cfbstats.com: drives = punts + fumbles lost + interceptions + failed 4th down conversions + FG attempts + TDs
Michigan’s offense is above-average relative to other teams in the conference in this stat but not as dominant as the yardage number suggest. Stated alternatively, this statistic suggests that Michigan scores a touchdown roughly one out of three drives against BCS competition. When taking into consideration the number of drives in which an offense has an opportunity to score, Michigan's offense is still among the leaders in the Big Ten.
“Michigan’s offense can score on anybody”
It goes without saying that an offense typically performs worse against a better defense. One would expect an offense to do less with a typical drive against a good defense compared to a bad defense. However, with Michigan this season, this relationship is ambiguous. Table 2 shows Michigan's BCS opponents’ points-allowed-per-game (PAPG) against BCS competition alongside Michigan’s PPD against them.
Table 2 - Michigan's PPD by BCS opponent and opponent's scoring defense against BCS competition
Calculated with data from boxscores at www.mgoblue.com and team statistics from www.cfbstats.com
Michigan’s most productive games, in terms of PPD, came against Indiana, Connecticut, Penn State, Illinois, and Wisconsin, in that order. Against these foes, Michigan’s PPD was better than what would be considered average in the Big Ten this season and better than their own average through the Wisconsin game. Indiana has the worst scoring defense among Michigan’s nine BCS opponents, and Michigan’s offense enjoyed their best PPD output against them. Otherwise, Connecticut has the fifth best scoring defense, Penn State the seventh, Illinois the sixth, and Wisconsin the third. Michigan’s worst PPD came against Purdue, who has a poor scoring defense (eighth among opponents), but weather conditions during that game may explain this apparent deviation. Further, it could be argued that Connecticut’s relatively low points-allowed-per-game is due their membership in the Big East and a weaker slate of BCS competition. Regardless, with a sample size of well over one hundred drives, opponents’ scoring defense does not predict Michigan’s PPD with statistical significance (p = .42). These results would appear to support claims that Michigan’s productive offense can “score against anybody” and could perhaps provide evidence against arguments that Rodriguez’s spread offense cannot succeed against good defensive teams.
All drives are not created equal
The success of a drive varies in importance based on the circumstances of the game. Scoring a touchdown when the score is tied is more valuable than scoring a touchdown when down 30. One criticism of the Michigan offense this season is that it struggles to capitalize on opportunities to extend leads and put teams away. Table 3 shows that Michigan has scored a touchdown on 48% of drives when the game is tied, 44% of drives when they are behind, and only 17% of drives when they are ahead. This difference in scoring percentage across these three situational categories is statistically significant (χ = 12.12, p < .05). Michigan’s drives are apparently more successful when the score is even or when they are behind. They have scored touchdowns at a much lower rate when in position to go up by multiple scores.
Table 3 - Michigan's situational drive scoring outcomes (count and row percentages shown)
|No points||Field goal||Touchdown||PPD|
|Ahead||34 (81%)||1 (2%)||7 (17%)||1.21|
|Tied||10 (44%)||2 (9%)||11 (48%)||3.61|
|Behind||22 (51%)||2 (5%)||19 (44%)||3.23|
Calculated with data from boxscores at www.mgoblue.com
A further criticism of Michigan’s offense is that it not only fails to put games away when presented with an opportunity, but also that it is successful against good defenses only when the game is already out of hand, that is, when the opponent is ahead by a wide margin. In all games against BCS competition, Michigan has scored touchdowns on 46% of drives that begin with them down by ten or more points; they have scored touchdowns on only 30% of drives that begin with them within ten points, tied, or ahead. This difference, however, is not statistically significant (p = .21). How does this difference bear out against good defenses?
The best defenses Michigan has faced this year are Iowa, Michigan State, and Wisconsin, which are also three of the top four teams in the Big Ten (along with Ohio State). Against these teams, Michigan’s offense has performed well when they are down by ten or more points. In these large-deficit scenarios, the offense has averaged 2.80 PPD, above their overall season average and toward the top end of the Big Ten. When down by ten or more, they have scored touchdowns on eight of 20 occasions, a rate of 40%. When the game is close (i.e., when Michigan is within ten, tied, or ahead) the story is considerably different for this team. When the game is still in the balance, Michigan has averaged 1.43 PPD, with two field goals and two touchdowns (14% rate) in 14 opportunities—this is significantly worse than when the deficit is large (χ = 4.87, p < .10).
Table 4 - Michigan's situational drive scoring outcomes against top defenses (count and row percentages shown)
|No points||Field goal||Touchdown||PPD|
|Down 10+ points||12 (60%)||0 (0%)||8 (40%)||2.80|
|Within 10 points, tied, or ahead||10 (71%)||2 (14%)||2 (14%)||1.43|
Calculated with data from boxscores at www.mgoblue.com
The data show that Michigan’s offense has been poor—as bad as the worst Big Ten teams’ average PPD output—against the best teams in the Big Ten when the game is close. Their most impressive offensive work against these good teams has come once they already trail significantly, in which case they have performed above-average relative to average Big Ten PPD standards.
So is the Michigan offense an elite offense?
Looking at the success of offensive drives, a statistic that controls for the pace of the game and the number of overall opportunities an offense has, Michigan has a good offense relative to the rest of the Big Ten—they are tied for third in productivity with Iowa, behind Wisconsin and Ohio State. Michigan averages the most yards per game and has scored the second most points in the conference, but they have also had the most opportunities to accumulate yards and points, most likely due to the fast pace at which they execute their offense, the quickness with which they have sometimes scored, and their high rate of turnovers. They are third best in the Big Ten at capitalizing on drives.
So, is Michigan’s spread offense under Rodriguez elite? The answer appears to be, “circumstantially.” They perform very well when the game is tied or when they trail. The offense struggles, however, to pull away when they have a lead. Further, the offense has struggled in close-game situations against the best Big Ten teams. There is much variability in how the offense performs, dependent, in part, on the score of the game when the offense assumes possession.
This situational inconsistency may be attributable to a variety of factors (e.g., youth and inexperience on offense, conservative play-calling when ahead, nerves), and one can speculate as to which are most salient. These analyses are intended to deconstruct the offense and offer a more nuanced picture of the state of that side of the ball, beyond a rough yards- or points-per-game. With the travails of Michigan’s defense this season, it is tempting (and perhaps healthful) to look at the offense as being “solid” and not something to worry about. Compared to the defensive unit, this may be true, but there are interesting and complicated phenomena at play with Michigan’s sexy side, as well.
Other tidbits from the data
Starting field position does not significantly affect the likelihood of the Michigan offense scoring a touchdown (odds ratio = .98, p = .20).
Michigan’s offensive productivity, in terms of PPD, is highest in the first quarter (2.81), followed by the third (2.72), fourth (2.33), and second (2.00) quarters.
Michigan’s offensive productivity against good defenses (Iowa, Michigan State, and Wisconsin), in terms of PPD, is highest by far in the third quarter (3.50), followed by the fourth (2.63), first (1.43), and second (1.11) quarters.
Michigan has yet to score on its third drive of any game versus a BCS opponent this season; its highest PPD is on its second drive of the game (4.22).
There is variation in the point outcome of a drive, that is, some drives end in zero points, some in three, some in seven. This variation may be due to factors associated with the opponent (e.g., the quality of their defense) or factors associated just with the drive (e.g., whether the team is ahead or behind when the drive begins). Cluster analyses show that almost 100% of the variance in Michigan’s points earned on a drive is due to factors associated with the unique drive. This suggests that our opponent, per se, has little bearing on the outcome of a drive, once one takes into consideration unique aspects of the drive, such as the how far ahead or behind Michigan is.