Previously: The story, the secondary, the linebackers, the defensive line, the offensive line, the receivers, the running backs, the quarterbacks, special teams, defensive questions, offensive questions.
The theory of turnover margin: it is nearly random. Teams that find themselves at one end or the other at the end of the year are highly likely to rebound towards the average. So teams towards the top will tend to be overrated and vice versa. Nonrandom factors to evaluate: quarterback experience, quarterback pressure applied and received, and odd running backs like Mike Hart who just don't fumble.
|Year||Margin||Int +||Fumb +||Sacks +||Int -||Fumb -||Sacks -|
|2007||0.15 (41st)||14||15||2.46(33rd)||14||13||2.17 (67th)|
|2008||-.83 (104th)||9||11||2.42(33rd)||12||18||1.83 (57th)|
|2009||-1.00 (115th)||11||5||1.83(68th)||15||13||2.33 (83rd)|
WELCOME TO YET ANOTHER YEAR where I predict Michigan's turnover rate plunges towards zero. I'm seriously this time though.
For the first time on this chart Michigan should have a non-insane person running things. In 2007, it was either injured Henne or Mallet; 2008 was death, 2009 was freshmen QBs, and last year was essentially a redshirt freshman. With Denard's return this is the first time since 2006 Michigan can expect their QB to be less turnover prone than the year before. (This obviously goes out the window in the event of a major injury to Denard. Also out the window: life, hope, puppies.)
But… I'm seriously this time. Even if Rodriguez had some weird evil turnover juju when he was around he's gone. Turnovers regress like a mofo. People have argued with me about this plenty and I do believe them somewhat:
- NFL turnover margins regress like a mofo and always will.
- College TO margins might have extra regression because low turnover teams tend to have senior quarterbacks and then break in new ones, and high turnover teams tend to have young quarterbacks who return. What looks like randomness is potentially roster turnover.
- Sucky defenses case fewer turnovers because things are easy.
So Rodriguez-era stuff was negative because the defenses were turrible and the quarterbacks were young. The defense does trace a largely negative track as it declines from 29 turnovers in the last Carr year to 20 in RR year 1, 16 in RR year 2, and 19 in RR year 3. Turnovers from the offense are about constant in the era of lots of freshmen, but in 2006 Michigan coughed it up just 12 times.
If Robinson remains healthy Michigan should improve significantly. The defense has to suck less and Robinson's responsibility should improve rapidly relative to players more than a year removed from being novelty freak shows. I'm afraid that Robinson is just a fumble-prone guy—Mike Hart didn't need experience to hold on to the damn ball—but the interception rate should dip considerably.
On the other side of the ball, a defense that rushes more than three players and has Martin, RVB, and Roh should get back to at least average in sacks. The center of the Gaussian distribution here is probably –3 turnovers on the year; even that would be massive improvement.
Position Switch Starters
Theory of position switches: if you are starting or considering starting a guy who was playing somewhere else a year ago, that position is in trouble. There are degrees of this. When Notre Dame moved Travis Thomas, a useful backup at tailback, to linebacker and then declared him a starter, there was no way that could end well. Wisconsin's flip of LB Travis Beckum to tight end was less ominous because Wisconsin had a solid linebacking corps and Beckum hadn't established himself on that side of the ball. Michigan flipping Prescott Burgess from SLB to WLB or PSU moving Dan Connor inside don't register here: we're talking major moves that indicate a serious lack somewhere.
Last year there were a half-dozen of varying severity. This year I'm not sure there are any, except insofar as people on the defense are all switching positions because of the scheme change. I'm not sure how much those count.
Here's a dossier:
- RVB is now a full time three-tech instead of a 5-tech on a three-man line. He's already started as a three tech in his career.
- Roh is now a WDE full time instead of a 3-3-5 OLB/DE.
- Kenny Demens is now a MLB instead of a snack for a guard.
- Thomas Gordon is a starting safety instead of a SLB/safety-type-object.
- Some wide receivers are flipping outside from the slot.
- Third string TE Steve Watson was on defense last year.
None of this comes anywhere close to Mark Moundros maybe starting at LB, Cam Gordon starting at FS, and Roh moving to LB. Anyone who's starting is moving to a spot they've played before or goddamn well should have (Roh).
The lone exception is Thomas Gordon, who is going to be playing at a new position after being a random DB his freshman year, then a spur. That's still not flipping sides of the ball. It is a concern. At least this year there are no obvious panic moves. Sliding Gordon from a nickelback to safety is not starting John Ferrara or pushing Mark Moundros as the solution at MLB.
An Embarrassing Prediction, No Doubt
There's no bottom if Denard and a couple of other key defensive players are hurt. Leaving the worst-worst case out, a relatively healthy Michigan has no business losing to WMU, EMU, Minnesota, or Purdue at home.
San Diego State, Northwestern, Illinois are all losable but Denard should be able to snake at least one of those. 5-7 is the floor.
The schedule is fairly soft, with no true road games until Michigan State (the game at Northwestern will be at least half M fans) and both Penn State and Wisconsin rotating off. If the offense maintains its current level of productivity and Mattison mediocres the defense real good, the only game that still seems entirely out of reach is Nebraska.
That's not to say Michigan can reasonably expect to win all games in reach. Taking more than two from Notre Dame, Michigan State, Iowa, and the Akron State Golden Bobcats seems to be irrational optimism. 9-3 is about all you can reasonably hope for.
There are a lot of ugly predictions like 5-7, 6-6, and 7-5 from the newspaper folk after their fifty words on the running backs* and it's easy to see why if you're looking at the surface. If you look at the final scores of last year's games it's easy to find extra losses but not extra wins.
If you look at the yardage margins and turnovers it's an entirely different picture. Michigan is poised for a big bounce. Robinson should cut down on his enormous mistakes considerably and a defense that bothers to rush will increase those of opponents. Nineteen starters return; Brendan Gibbons will either be much better or quickly replaced. GERG is gone. The offense will change and that's a drag but the things that made Robinson so insane are not that hard to exploit and he is still rapidly developing. This looks like a team that had a combination of bad luck and youth last year that should improve by leaps and bounds.
The catch: depth. It is a huge issue on both sides of the ball, with a half-dozen players essentially irreplaceable. Injuries happen; with Michigan which injuries will be huge. Huyge or Heininger or Cam Gordon going down is no big deal. Losing Denard or Martin or Demens is massive. A fully healthy Michigan looks like a (fringe) contender for a division crown, but football teams are not fully healthy.
|9/24||SDSU||Lean to win|
|10/8||@ NU||Lean to win|
|10/15||@ MSU||Lean to loss|
|11/12||@ Illinois||Lean to win|
|11/26||Akron State||Lean to loss|
Wisconsin, Penn State, Indiana
I add it up and I come up with eight wins and change. Assume one irreplaceable player is annihilated and that comes back down to an even 8-4. Unlike last year, when I predicted 7-5 but thought 6-6 was more likely than 8-4, I think Michigan is more likely to surprise to the positive until such time as we have another Woolfolk ankle explosion pity party.
Some commenters have suggested that the exactingly specific predictions in the previous posts today suggest I'd be predicting something better than 8-4, but I think turnovers, while getting much better, will still be in the red. Though the special teams issues can't be as bad they will still be a problem that could kill Michigan in a close game.
Also, 50th in advanced metrics is still bleh territory since they correct for schedule strength. For example, that's worse than Purdue and Penn State last year; the Nittany Lions gave up at least 21 points in every Big Ten game and Purdue got bombed for at least 34 five times in conference.
*["Michael Shaw is expected to start but power back Fitzgerald Toussaint will also see time. If he had any newshole anymore we would tell you about Vincent Smith, but oh well."
/end running back "scouting".]
|WHAT||Michigan vs Western Michigan|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
|WHEN||3:30 Eastern, September 3rd 2011|
|THE LINE||Michigan -14|
|TELEVISION||ABC/ESPN2/ESPN3.com (Coverage Map)|
Run Offense vs. Western Michigan
Michigan returns Denard Robinson (who did this on his first collegiate snap, against Western, for the zero of you who need to be reminded), four starting offensive linemen, and a host of running backs of all shapes and sizes from a team that finished 13th in the country in rushing yards per game last season. The running game, especially Robinson's ability to be pure football magic, will still be the strength of this offense, even if the picture at running back isn't crystal-clear. I trust that Al Borges will find a way to get this offense to run for a bunch of yards, even if it isn't in the form of Denard left, Denard right, Denard up the middle.
Western returns all four starters on the defensive line, but one of those starters is a 6'5", 210-pound defensive end (Paul Hazel, #99)—I believe Taylor Lewan refers to those as "crippled runt donkeys"—and you can expect to see the Wolverines attack Hazel's side of the line with great frequency. The Broncos also must replace both of their starting outside linebackers with inexperienced true sophomores, although senior middle linebacker Mitch Zajac returns after leading the team with 97 tackles in 2010.
Key Matchup: The Interior Line vs. Western Michigan's Defensive Tackles.
The one area in this matchup where I can see the Wolverines getting tested is in the middle of the line, where WMU has a big pair of DTs who can slash into the backfield — 5'11", 303-pound Travonte Boles recorded 4.5 tackles for loss as a true freshman starter last year, while senior Drew Nowak (6'4", 292) tallied 6.5 TFLs two years ago before his production dropped off slightly last year. While these two aren't world-beaters, they'll provide an interesting litmus test for the undersized (at least for the MANBALL power run game) middle of the Michigan line, especially if Borges calls for a lot of man blocking.
Overall however the Wolverines should have a decided advantage in this category, and the key matchup could easily be "Denard Robinson vs. The Sideline." Seriously, Shoelace, please consider the sideline to be your friend, at least when it means avoiding a head-hunting defender.
Pass Offense vs. Western Michigan
The Broncos were mediocre against the pass last year, finishing 74th in the nation in opponent pass efficiency, but they struggled in their two games against BCS competition — Michigan State only threw the ball 22 times in a 38-14 victory, but managed 8.5 yards per attempt, while Notre Dame torched WMU to the tune of 299 yards and four touchdowns on 30 passes. They also got lit up by Central Michigan in a losing effort. The Wolverines should be able to throw for some yards early on, with the onslaught only stopping by virtue of mercy.
Western Michigan does feature redshirt senior free safety Doug Wiggins, who transferred from Miami (YTM) and started eight games last season, and sophomore cornerback Lewis Toler, who was named first-team All-MAC last year after recording an impressive 14 pass breakups. However the listed starter at the corner spot across from Toler is senior Aaron Winchester, who last season was Western's starting running back. He's also 5'6", so say hello to Junior Hemingway, jump-ball specialist.
The Bronco front four does present a decent pass-rush threat, with Hazel's eight sacks leading the way last year, including a 1.5-sack performance against Notre Dame, but Denard Robinson is pretty hard to track down — while the offensive line certainly deserves credit for allowing .85 sacks per game last year, Robinson's mobility had a lot to do with that number.
Key Matchup: Denard Robinson vs. Timing.
From last weekend's punt-tacular scrimmage thing:
Denard had a hard time finding receivers. A few crisp rhythm throws, a lot of ball-patting, scrambling, and difficult sideline improv throws. Not sure if that's on him or the WRs. Gallon twice ran comebacks that the quarterbacks expected to be fly routes, so they've got some pro-style sight reading in the O. Not functional sight reading, but sight reading nonetheless.
It would be nice if said sight reading was a little more functional, especially against a secondary so ripe for picking apart. It's probably going to take at least a few weeks for Denard to get down some basic timing with his receivers at full game speed, but with Notre Dame looming in week two, he needs to develop some go-to plays that can make the passing offense a threat. Since one-hand touch on the quarterback doesn't fly as a legitimate tackling method in real games, the hope here is that the passing game will open up as defenses have to respect the dilithium. Like every other team that's ever watched film of Denard, the Broncos will utilize "spies" on defense, but good luck with this:
“We got to have somebody that’s going to run him down, or get him before we have to run him down,” [WMU head coach Bill] Cubit said.
You can't ask your defense to do the impossible, coach. You just can't. Cubit should know that better than anyone, as the article linked above is all about how Denard's First Run is still the stuff of legends in Kalamazoo.
Run Defense vs. Western Michigan
Western Michigan's running game was, frankly, pathetic last season — they averaged just 3.9 yards per carry as a team. A part of this is due to the team allowing 2.5 sacks a game, but the bigger issue was giving now-cornerback Winchester more carries than any other running back despite his paltry 2.9 ypc. Quarterback Alex Carder led the team with 109 attempts and six rushing TDs, but finished with just 226 yards — again, sacks were an issue, but his legs are not a lethal weapon by any means. Taking over the starting job is sophomore Tevin Drake, who averaged 10.3 yards per carry (!) last season on 40 carries. All but eight of his yards, however, came against Ball State, Akron, EMU, Kent State, and Bowling Green — he struggled to find room on four carries against Notre Dame, the only other team against whom he appeared. Expect redshirt sophomore Brian Fields (6.5 ypc in 2010) to see a fair amount of action as well.
An even greater concern for the Broncos is their offensive line, which already had just two returning starters (including ex-Wolverine Dann O'Neill, who will line up at right tackle) and now is dealing with injuries to two projected starters on the interior of the line. Western is now forced to start two JuCo guards in their first year with the program, and this isn't exactly a supreme vote of confidence from their head coach:
"I'm not losing any sleep at night, but we know it's a concern," said Cubit, who considers Uitalia perhaps the best athlete WMU has had on its offensive line in his coaching tenure. "We've got to make sure we don't put those guys in tough spots."
Prepare for MARTIN SMASH.
Key Matchup: Michigan's Outside Linebackers vs. Losing Contain.
Michigan will be breaking in a pair of new starting outside linebackers themselves, and I still have nightmares of Jonas Mouton WHY DID YOU GIVE UP THE OUTSIDE WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYY.
Cam Gordon and Mike Jones are your starting outside linebackers; Gordon is at his third position as a Wolverine in three years, while Jones missed almost the entirety of 2010 with a broken leg. With the exception of Thomas Gordon at free safety, I'll be watching this pair more closely than any other Wolverine defender, especially with a couple big-play threats (at least against MAC competition) at running back for WMU. Michigan should be able to shut down Western's rushing attack, and the only way they don't is if the outside linebackers don't do their jobs.
Pass Defense vs. Western Michigan
Kalamazoo Gazette reporter Graham Couch thinks the best quarterback in the state will be on the field on Saturday. He also thinks that quarterback is Western's Alex Carder. He is hilariously wrong:
That is literally the dumbest thing I have seen written about football in the state of Michigan not related to Rich Rodriguez. In games against ND and MSU last year Carder averaged 5.4 YPA—Threet/Sheridan numbers—and threw two TDs to three interceptions. He had 104 yards on 33 attempts against Idaho in a 33-13 loss. Playing a MAC schedule he finished 35th in passer efficiency. Cousins was 18th and Robinson 20th playing in the Big Ten.
This is not a surrounding talent issue. According to Couch WR Jordan White "would be an All Big Ten wideout." He proved this by averaging a whopping 10.5 yards per catch against MSU and Notre Dame. But sure, a MAC team with a better quarterback than Kirk Cousins and Denard Robinson and an All Big Ten wideout went 6-6 last year in the MAC.
That's not to say Carder is terrible—he threw for 30 touchdowns against 12 interceptions and should improve in his second year as a starter—but he is capable of turning the ball over six times against Toledo. The Broncos do return two senior starters at receiver in White (1,378 yards receiving in 2010) and Robert Arnheim (235 yards last year after posting 759 in '09), but they lack a true deep threat and no tight end caught more than nine passes for them last season.
The Wolverines, of course, get Troy Woolfolk back from the Tragic Leg Explosion of 2010, and the secondary can do nothing but improve from last year's craptastic performance. Do not make me feel terrible for writing that sentence, Michigan, or this will be a very, very long year. If nothing else, the front seven should be able to get some major pressure on Carder against that extremely inexperienced offensive line, which should help bail out the pass defense
Key Matchup: Troy Woolfolk/Courtney Avery vs. Jordan White.
Hey, an actual matchup! While they aren't Montana-to-Rice, as Graham Couch would have you believe, Carder-to-White is still a dangerous and established combination. We'll see if Greg Mattison decides to just stick Woolfolk, his top corner, on White all game or if he lets Avery get a crack at him in coverage as well, but either way we'll get a decent gauge on how much those two have improved since the last time we saw them suit up. If T-Wolf locks down White, then there's a shot the Wolverines have a passable number one corner, which would be more than welcome. If Avery knows where to be in zone coverage and continues to show he's solid in man-to-man, we may even have two passable starting cornerbacks. Hooray!
Western Michigan has a solid kicking game, with two seniors returning at the specialist positions — kicker John Potter (10-12 FGs, long of 42 last year) and punter Ben Armer (40.6 yards per punt). The Broncos had three different players who returned either 13 or 14 kickoffs last year, with the most successful being senior receiver Dervon Wallace, who averaged 27.2 yards per return and took one back to the house. Jordan White handled the punt returns and averaged an unremarkable 6.1 yards last year, and he's ceded the top spot on the depth chart to 5'5", 160-pound running back Dareyon Chance.
Michigan has Brendan Gibbons kicking, true freshman Matt Wile punting, and Jeremy Gallon returning kicks. When the Wolverine special teams are on the field, I will not be breathing.
Key Matchup: HOLD ONTO THE DAMN BALL.
Also, KICK THE DAMN BALL BETWEEN THE UPRIGHTS.
- Carder-to-White actually resembles Montana-to-Rice
- The Broncos find room to run on the edge
- Denard Robinson is still throwing routes that the receivers aren't running
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- You be like dang
- Denard repeats the '09 run, just over and over
- Someone in blue makes a field goal
Fear/Paranoia Level: 2 (Baseline: 5, +1 for We Have No Idea What the Offense Will Look Like, +1 for Same With the Defense, -1 for Alex Carder is Not Joe Montana Regardless of What Insane Beat Reporter Claims, -1 for We Did This Two Years Ago, -1 for 210-pound Defensive End, -2 for They're Starting Two JuCo Guys Against Mike Martin and RVB)
Desperate Need to Win Level: 10 (Baseline: 5, +1 for First Game of the Hoke Era, +1 for We Don't Lose to MAC Teams Not Named Toledo, +1 for It's Western, For Goodness Sake, +1 for Please Don't Do This to Me, +1 for Seriously, That Mascot is Blatantly High and We Can't Lose to a Team Whose Mascot is Horse Towelie)
Loss will cause me to... Question Dave Brandon's "process" again, and likely lose my press credential after just one game in the, er, process.
Win will cause me to... Continue to not be able to focus on anything except the Notre Dame game no matter what I'm doing.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Simply put, I'll believe a MAC-level team can slow down Denard Robinson when I see it. Al Borges may try to establish a pro-style passing game and some between-the-tackles running from the tailbacks, but if things don't go well, he's got one hell of a backup plan — unleash Shoelace. The offense will put up points, and it will just be a matter of when, how efficiently, and by what means. If it's with precision passing and Mike Shaw breaking runs with Denard under center, cackle away.
The defense may have some trouble early on with Carder, despite my derision, but I can't get the thought out of my head that when the team had an entire fall camp to prepare for UConn last year, they somehow held a future BCS team (Big East shenanigans be damned) to ten points. That was last year's defense with GERG at the helm. This year's defense would've been greatly improved even if Greg Mattison didn't leave one of the NFL's best gigs to come back to Ann Arbor.
I don't think this one will be close, so therefore—thankfully—special teams should not matter much except to help us all sleep well at night. Or not. Probably not. But we can hope, right?
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Junior Hemingway has at least 100 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
- Denard Robinson carries the ball ten times, a few of them on broken passing plays, and leaves the game (healthy, please) by the second half.
- Thomas Gordon comes away with an interception and doesn't give up any big plays. I'm totally asking for it with this one.
- Michigan, 41-17.
Is Al Borges going to play to his strengths or Denard's?
Borges has been talking about lots of wide receivers and lots of shotgun since people started him asking the obvious question of the offseason. This has not kept people from asking him "yeah, but how much?" The only thing Borges could have done to get people to cease and desist is present a signed contract guaranteeing a certain number of shotgun snaps and QB Draw Oh Noes.
He didn't quite do that in his interview with the BTN crew when they hit up Ann Arbor, but he came closer than he ever had before:
Point blank: Denard "is the priority." (Readers wishing to contrast with Rich Rodriguez are asked to focus on his obsession with a poorly-run 3-3-5, not his inability to squeeze maximum production out of the ragtag 2008 offense.)
The spring game disputes this version of reality:
They kept running the waggle and Denard could not get anything out of it. There was a guy in his face the whole time; the resulting throws were frequently incomplete due to inaccuracy. In the video above when Hoke references a couple of "drops" the best examples the BTN can dig up are Drew Dileo almost making a spectacular one-handed stab and Darryl Stonum almost making a spectacular sideline lay-out.
Maybe in a tackle football game he can escape that contain guy on the regular, but that seems like a high variance strategy with limited upside. Option 1: beats corner guy, is on corner, has shot at running some probably not immense distance or hitting a crossing route of some variety. Option 2: second and 20. There's a reason the waggle is strictly an occasional changeup—whenever you've got the ball and are spending time with your back to the defense there's a chance something awful is going to happen, like John Navarre getting blown up in that one MSU game.
But after the game Borges said Denard would run more "in the real world" and that's a long time ago now and every indication we've had since is that the offense isn't going to be a whole lot different than it was last year.
ONE: it suggests that Al Borges is awesome. His career has hinted from this as it rambled from scrambling Forcier-a-like Cade McNown to brutal play-action annihilation with Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams, and Jason Campbell to a flexible multi-formation West Coast attack featuring Ryan Lindley in any formation you care to name. Now he's got the squarest peg he's ever run across and he's busily shaving his offense to match.
TWO: This is the way to go, especially now. In the NFL, shotgun formations are more efficient:
Shotgun formations are generally more efficient than formations with the quarterback under center.
Over the past three seasons, offenses have averaged 5.9 yards per play from Shotgun, but just 5.1 yards per play with the quarterback under center. This wide split exists even if you analyze the data to try to weed out biases like teams using Shotgun more often on third-and-long, or against prevent defenses in the fourth quarter. Shotgun offense is more efficient if you only look at the first half, on every down, and even if you only look at running back carries rather than passes and scrambles.
In college, running quarterbacks have a real advantage that the Mathlete stumbled across while trying to figure something else out:
In Denard's specific case the threat of a run from him is the reason he could surge to 20th in passer efficiency (Chad Henne 2006: 26th) one year after being totally incompetent.
Al Borges is going to do his damndest to keep Denard productive, upright, and beaming.
How much will Borges's lack of familiarity with cheetahs in Porsches strapped to jet engines and dropped out of an airplane hurt the offense?
It is going to hurt somewhat. Pretty much the only thing Rodriguez was consistently awesome at was introducing wrinkles in the run game that consistently produced. Remember that dreamlike first half against Penn State in 2008 when Brandon Minor emerged from nowhere and raged his way down PSU's throat? Rodriguez was fantastic at that stuff.
It petered out in his first two years because he had nothing to go to—no constraints—when the defense started cheating on him. With Robinson the wrinkles not only to the run game but to the defense-crippling QB Draw Oh Noes resulted in either points or plays where the points were there for the taking if only the players could have executed. Maybe the fundamentals were lacking. I tend to think of these things as youth and bloody fate. Either way you could see the outline of something great and tentacled in Michigan's fumbling missteps and blown opportunities. Rodriguez's offense was gorgeous in how it gave defenses awful choices.
Al Borges can do that. In his first year at Auburn, Jason Campbell averaged 10 YPA. Ten! That is a great many yards per attempt.
I'm not sure he can do that with Denard. He'll give Denard a more sophisticated offense that he won't execute as well as Borges needs him to; he'll use Denard's legs but not quite as effectively as Rodriguez would have. These guys are good because they've spent a lot of time specializing in ways that make them successful. There is a necessary lack of efficiency once they get outside their comfort zones.
Is anyone going to help Denard out?
I think so. Injuries laid up Shaw and Toussaint last year; both are apparently healthy. It's also possible that Vincent Smith will be closer to his late freshman form now that he's almost two years removed from his ACL tear. Add in a sophomore Hopkins and a couple freshmen and there are a lot more bullets in the chamber than there were last year, when Michigan was down to Smith and a fumble-prone Hopkins most of the season.
Without a similar plague of injuries, whoever emerges from those six guys is going to be better than the one who emerged from two. That's still going to hold true even when the grim reaper scythes one of Shaw or Toussaint down in the Big Ten opener. (Don't even think this isn't happening.) Getting production out of the tailback is key. If they can do that they can approximate last year's offense without putting undue pressure on Denard's bones.
In the passing game the #1 candidate to turn incompletions and short gains into longer ones is Junior Hemingway. He averaged 18.5 yards a catch last year and showed signs of being a guy you can just chuck it to because he'll come down with it. A fully healthy, senior Hemingway is a potential breakout performer.
Is the offensive line cut out for this?
Las year's offensive line was a B+. They didn't get an A because of a zillion Taylor Lewan penalties and mediocre play at right tackle. The interior line was very good. This year everyone is back save Steve Schilling and Perry Dorrestein. Dorrestein was a replacement level starter and Schilling has a touted, capable backup entering his redshirt junior year. Four starters return.
If this is not a great offensive line it will be because of a mismatch between what they were recruited to do and what they've been asked to do. Of late there has been a surge in OL skepticism from the premium practice reports on the message boards; I interpret this as a bunch of power being run not very effectively by a crew that should be running primarily zone.
If "this" is old-school MANBALL running, the answer is no. If it's a hybrid between last year and MANBALL, they'll get by. If they're making people cheat on the zone they will kill.
Michigan will backslide. But let's set the point from which they will backslide: I believe the advanced metrics. Michigan's field position was terrible, field goals were terrible, turnovers were terrible, and so forth and so on. We would have gotten a better picture of this offense if the field position they gained was honored either by the special teams or the defense. What happened last year was a lot of excellent play marred by turnovers from a true sophomore first-year starter with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
If Michigan did not have the #2 offense in the country last year, they weren't far off. What we had going last year was both explosive on the ground (5.6 YPC exceeded Carr's best effort this decade by almost a yard and a half) and in the air:
Last season, his first as a full-time starter in former coach Rich Rodriguez's spread offense, Robinson had 16 runs that covered at least 20 yards and seven that exceeded 30 yards. He had at least one 20-yard gain in nine of the Wolverines' 13 games last season. He scored touchdowns on runs of 87, 72, 47, 32 and 32 yards. He also had 12 pass completions of more than 40 yards. That's more than Stanford's Andrew Luck.
Criticisms about Michigan's inability to score points against elite defenses mostly boil down to inopportune turnovers and bad defense. In games against Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State, Michigan averaged nearly 440 yards. Because of the defense, special teams, and Denard's high turnover rate they didn't turn those yards into enough points—and they still scored 28 or more in three of those games. The bowl game was the only real clunker.
It was for real and it returns everyone save Steve Schilling, Martell Webb, and Darryl Stonum. Those three guys have upperclass replacements that should do just fine. The main issues with maintaining last year's level of productivity are:
- Regression to the mean.
- Keeping Denard upright.
- Not suffering more than two injuries on the OL or at TE.
- Having horrible enough field position to lead the country in long TD drives again.
- Not screwing it up.
#2 is the biggest problem. The most efficient version of the offense is also the one most likely to get Denard knocked
up out. They'll move away from that when they can, which will mean a hit. This is some version of #4: not screwing it up. I don't think they will. We will get some symbolic MANBALL—the first play against WMU is probably going to be power out of the I-form that goes for three yards—to please the Great Tradition and then Borges will get down to the business of being a coordinator instead of Mike DeBord.
Let's hit shift and comma!
- junior Denard > sophomore Denard
- Toussaint/Shaw/Smith/Hopkins > younger, more injured versions of same
- junior Patrick Omameh > sophomore Omameh
- sophomore Taylor Lewan >> Huyge/Lewan/Penaltyfest
- Huyge/Schofield > Huyge/Dorrestein
- David Molk == David Molk
- Junior Hemingway == Junior Hemingway
- Roundtree/Grady == Roundtree/Grady
- Ricky Barnum < Steve Schilling
- Kevin Koger/Brandon Moore < Koger/Webb
- Martavious Odoms < Darryl Stonum
- This is still going to be a very good offense, and this year they should have points to show for it.
Last Year's Stupid Predictions
Michigan 2010 finishes atop the rush YPC chart above without considering the UMass game and by a considerable margin.
Gardner ends up burning his redshirt in very, very frustrating fashion, because…
Check-ish. Michigan is trying to un-burn that redshirt.
Denard is pretty much your starting quarterback all year, but…
…Forcier plays in every game, bailing Michigan out in one critical fourth quarter.
Not quite every game but lots of them. Forcier did bail Michigan out against Illinois and came damn near doing so against Iowa.
Vincent Smith gets the most touches amongst the running backs. Second: Shaw. Third: Toussaint. Fourth: Hopkins.
Pretty close. Toussaint's injuries knocked him out.
Robinson is Michigan's leading rusher.
All too easy.
Darryl Stonum does not exactly go Chris Henry on the planet but does greatly increase production via a series of big plays: 30 catches, 650 yards, 6 touchdowns.
Stonum did see his production increase to 633 yards but it took him 49 catches to get there. The Chris Henry lite of the offense was Junior Hemingway, who had 593 yards on 32 catches.
Michigan breaks out the triple option with regularity, using Hopkins as the dive back and Shaw/Smith the pitch guy. They also dig out those WVU formations where the slot motions into the backfield, with Grady the man beneficiary.
This Year's Stupid Predictions
- Yards per carry drop quite a bit but nose above 5.
- Shaw claims the starting job to himself in week four, gets injured shortly after, and Toussaint takes over. Both are much better than Smith at making extra yards. At the end of the year they've all got somewhere between 400 and 800 yards.
- Denard rushes for 1200 yards. His interception rate falls significantly but is still not great.
- Michigan runs more zone blocking than gap blocking. When they do gap block they are a left-handed team thanks to Taylor Lewan.
- Koger's production is up a bit but total TE catches only go up slightly: 20 last year, 30 this year.
- Huyge gives way to Schofield mid-year.
- Michigan finishes around 15th in FEI and other advance metrics. By yardage they drop to about the same spot; scoring offense increases from 25th to match.
...more day until the Michigan Wolverines run out under their banner into the hallowed field with a single goal. The field will be Yost's. The helmets will be Crisler's, the philosophy Kipke's. They'll come, athletes with the grace of Oosterbaan, the decency of Elliott, the humanity of Carr, and the heart of Bo.
This team was built by the game's greatest living engineer, who failed in part because he didn't pay homage to the foundation he was building upon. It is now led by a man who married the only girl he ever wanted and after he took the only job he ever dreamed of, she asked him how much he will make and he realized he hadn't even thought to ask.
What legacy will Brady Hoke leave at Michigan? What attributes will he contribute to this program so great that its fans are best known for their arrogance, and that each time Fielding's giant room is expanded, nobody need bother to ask if they can fill it? You are welcome now to ask if the variegated bricks left by Hoke's predecessors are truly attributes you'd choose, or if the moral relativist landscape of college football makes all this talk of morality pure hypocrisy. You probably think Kipke's "the best offense is a good defense" needs to be simplified to "score, and don't be scored upon," in much the same way as Aristotle's "it wants to be on the ground" got dropped for Newton's "everything falls."
Those bricks are set; they are part of the edifice's charm, and those perceived as trying to change them will be dealt with severely. They are our traditions, like Denarded being there when the bell tolls to let us know how long until the Michigan Wolverines run out on the field again.
The 19th bricklayer leads the 133nd team into its 132nd season. Each of those players are here because they chose to be. They wanted to play in that stadium, to wear those helmets, to follow that philosophy. They wanted to be counted among the great athletes, the good guys, the smart guys, the victors, the best. They came for the system; they came to become legends. As much as we may click our tongues at mention of the nebulous "Michigan Man," this is what they have come here to be, and this is what Brady Hoke has come here to define. This is our team. Hail them.
Your Diarist of the Week WolverSwede with a sing-along, No Laces Tied. It may speak for itself:
Look at me, look at me
Scoring and I won't stop
And it feels so good to be alive and top
My speed's unrivaled
My likeness, a blur
My moves are humbling
My passing is pure
It's also kind of ironic since the Flobots song is about arrogance and how it can corrupt you, while Denard is the least arrogant thing about our whole operation. I still loved it.
I also loved this personal Wolverine history of gobluehtown:
Things were never the same after that trip to Eugene. Rumors about Lloyd’s health. Chris Webber in federal court. Tommy Amaker. Antonio Bass’ knee. My freshman, sophomore against Ohio St. Football Armageddon. Bo gone. Freep Derp. My senior year was the worst. The Horror, Oregon, Losing Chad, Wisconsin, and Ohio St. The rain, the score, Tressel: it all was a massive dong punch.
That's it for the emotional stuff. Now for the helpful: NStank made a trip to Canton to watch Michigan RB target (and OSU commit) Bri'onte Dunn, coming back with the best scouting report I've yet seen on him. He even got us some video.
Last week Bocheezu was writing up summaries of Brian's WTKA show in the thread and in this space I suggested he do a weekly write-up. And dude—he listened! Awesome follows. There's some good stuff in there that hasn't been on the main page.
stubob is back with his Ugly Game of the Week. With so tune-up games against bodybags that pretty much means the whole schedule. This is where I mention I'm pissed I couldn't get the 'Cuse/Wake game last night – it looked pretty exciting on my sports app.
I wrote an addendum to Ace's Thursday Recruiting to predict who would get left out of Duane Long's Top 50 players in Ohio. Spoiler: Wormley and Kalis are probably in, Gant no.
Best of the Board
IS IT DA NA NA NA NA NA NA or DUN DA NA NA NA-NA?
Bdsisme is trying to get the cadence right for the bell cheer:
I've heard it so many different ways in different parts of the stadium but I agree it sounds like a beat's missing there. Anyway you gotta love a thread where this is peoples' replies:
Side question: For the last verse are you in favor of the seven-hit version:
Dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun
Or the the nine hit version:
Dun, dun, dun, dun, dun-dun-dun, da-dun.
I've always favored the simple seven hit version because I think the last rendition is aimed at getting the fans to clap and shout and I don't like the cowbell taking away from it.
THE MICHIGAN DIFFERENCE
Michigan's got by far the best school ads to play during games – I actually walked down the aisle at my wedding to that xylophonic version of The Victors from the hospital commercial. M-Wolverine found the new ones for this year.
THE ART, THE ART, THE ART?!?
Whatever shall you make your wallpaper this year now that monuMental has chosen to have a life instead of making cool backgrounds for us? It took two more threads but the MGoDenizens have managed to create a gallery of options:
HOW THE BIG TEN BREAKS A TIE:
Thank Everyone Murders for finding out how the Big Ten will decide divisional ties, and then fixing it when Alton discovered ESPN had this totally wrong. How it breaks down:
- If it's a 2-way tie, Head to Head. In a three-way tie:
- In-division record (so beating Ohio State doesn't count as much as beating MSU /shakes fist)
- Compare records against next highest placed teams (so beating Iowa matters more than beating MSU)
- Records against all common conf. opponents
- Highest team in BCS (first one at end of conference season /shakes fist at SEC coaches who use their votes to manipulate things)
- If the two highest teams are ranked next to each other it's the team with the best winning % not counting "excluded games" which I think means MAC teams count but FCS schools don't so DON'T SCHEDULE FCS TEAMS
- Random drawing (i.e. they pick the team that'll get higher ratings)
1. How does the shift back to the 4-3 under fit the personnel?
left: stack no blitzy. right: 4-3, though an even 4-3, not the under
Better than the 3-3-5-type-substance but it's not going to be a huge difference. Fits:
- BETTER: Roh (LB/DE to WDE), Demens (MLB to MLB with guys in front of him)
- SAME: RVB(DE to SDE/DT), Martin (NT to NT), Heininger (DE to SDE), Gordon (spur to SLB), Jones (WLB to WLB), Gordon (FS to FS), cornerbacks
- WORSE: Kovacs (bandit to SS)
Craig Roh and Jibreel Black were men without a position last year. Though Roh actually help up pretty well when he moved to the DL late, he was still miscast as a DE in a three-man line. Black just got crushed. This year both will be playing weakside DE, where they can get after one tackle.
Kenny Demens will be shielded by two senior defensive tackles, allowing him to flow to the ball like he did against Iowa. Michigan set of small, quick WLBs is better suited for the 4-3 since it will be harder for opponents to get a hat on them.
The major negative is not finding a way to keep the two safeties near the LOS. Both are effective blitzers who are a little dodgy in a deep half.
2. How big is the coaching upgrade? Will the transition hurt more than it?
The Mathlete's numbers suggest a coaching change is a drag on the improvement of very bad defenses worth about eight spots. It seems flabbergasting that that could be the case for this specific situation, however. dnak438 found a GERG effect of approximately negative 30(!) spots. While you should take that with a grain of salt because the sample size there is extremely small, each grain adds to a pile threatening to eclipse the Schwarzschild radius. Going from Greg Robinson not running a system he knows to Greg Mattison teaching exactly what he's taught for a zillion years has to be a positive even in the short term.
What causes that drag? Probably a system change. How long has Michigan been running its current system? Six games. They've probably got more experience running the under than the 3-3-5.
Then there are the position coaches: Adam Braithwaite was a grad assistant promoted to LB coach without the usual stops at East Nowhere State. Tony Gibson was reputed to be mostly a recruiter. Bruce Tall seemed pretty good but in his place Michigan has Hoke, Mattison, and Jerry Montgomery. That's an upgrade across the board.
3. Why is everybody so suicidal when the personnel doesn't look entirely doomy?
doug karsch interviewing popular perception about the defense. via firstbase
Slap me for saying this but the starting lineup isn't that scary save for two spots: SDE, where walk-ons Will Heininger and Nathan Brink are backed up by Nobody At All, and WLB, where four cats are fighting in a sack. You know what they say about WLBs: if you've got four you don't have any.
The rest of the line is Martin, Van Bergen, and Roh. Demens is promising at linebacker and they've got a couple of good options at SAM. And the secondary isn't awesome but Avery/Woolfolk/Kovacs/Gordon looks like it could be below average, which will seem like heaven. This year's edition of "Are You Experienced?" sees Michigan move towards average. There's still a gap, but it's narrowing. The Decimated Defense series also sees its Michigan number creep towards sane.
So why is everyone, including myself, afraid of going 7-5 this year with just about everyone back everywhere?
Well, there's depth. Once you get past those starters its scary. There are three backups I wouldn't wince upon seeing enter on the field: Black, Jake Ryan, and Carvin Johnson. I guess Brink fits in there as well but only because he'd be spotting another walk-on. Everyone else on the line has been beaten out by Brink and Heininger, I have little faith in JT Floyd, and even if Marell Evans was injured at Hampton he's done little in four years of football. When injuries happen the dropoff will be severe. It won't even take injuries for the defensive line to wane in effectiveness. Modern football rotates the DL. Michigan has a choice between tired starters and ineffective backups.
Even so I still can't work up the same sense of bowel-crippling panic I had last year when I believed the secondary would tread "horrible, polluted, razor-blade-filled, despair-laden water." Let's poke around at
PROJECTED FRESHMAN CONTRIBUTORS
2010: Black, Gordon, Gordon, Johnson, Avery, Talbott
2011: Maybe Ash
2010: 4-3 under, 3-4, 3-3-5
2011: 4-3 under
RADICAL MIDSEASON SWITCH TO ENTIRELY DIFFERENT SYSTEM
2010: Third year running
2011: Hell no
2010: Rubbing a stuffed beaver in your face
2011: Navy SEAL tridents
Michigan wasn't just rocking an underclass two-deep, they were rocking a freshman-heavy two deep. This could work out! For a given definition of work out!
4. What is with Will Campbell? Isn't the situation at SDE just horrible?
Man, I don't know about Campbell. Maybe his center of gravity is just too high. Maybe he'll never learn technique in the same way Mike Cox can't remember to run into the hole.
The situation at SDE is caused by whatever it is with Will Campbell and will not be encouraging. Heininger was already a non-entity in the passing game and that was 28 pounds ago. And who the hell knows about Brink? I'm guessing Mattison is just trying to get that spot to hold up against double teams in the run game and will rely on Roh/Martin/Van Bergen to get the pass rush. If they can do that it's a win.
Can they do that? Why do I ask myself unanswerable questions?
Michigan will be much, much better this year. How much better depends on:
- The health of key, irreplaceable pieces. These are Martin, Demens, Van Bergen, and the starting corners.
- The improvement of last year's freshmen. Avery, both Gordons, and Black all have the potential to leap forward Darius Morris style.
- Nathan Brink. If Michigan's unearthed something here that not only makes SDE acceptable it means the guys he beat out are potentially serviceable.
- Craig Roh. He could be anything from Tim Jamison to James Hall.
The first bit is unknowable but I can hazard guesses on the latter three: two of the four freshmen above will be startlingly good. Two will be meh. I'm guessing Thomas Gordon and Avery are the former. Brink will not be as bad as everyone feared but that SDE spot is going to be averaging +2 for the season, which is bad. Roh will be in the 75th percentile of his range, a fringe All Big Ten guy.
When I wrote that the D should improve but "not enough" I didn't account for a GERG/RR effect that is real. They'll be better than 82nd in advanced metrics this year by a long shot.
Now, behold the greater-thans and less-thans!
- senior Mike Martin with ankles > Mike Martin
- junior Craig Roh playing his actual position >>> linebacker Craig Roh
- junior Demens >> sophomore Demens/Ezeh
- sophomore Cam Gordon > freshman Gordon/Gordon/Johnson
- Woolfolk >>> Rogers
- sophomore Avery >> freshman Avery/Floyd
- T. Gordon/Johnson >> Gordon/Vinopal
- senior RVB == junior RVB
- Kovacs == Kovacs
- Heininger/Brink == Banks
- Jones/Hawthorne/Herron/Morgan << Mouton
It's going to take two years to dig out of this hole completely but I think the defense will rebound more effectively than stats and conventional wisdom suggest.
Last Year's Stupid Predictions
Fumbles recovered double to ten.
Michigan recovered seven.
The secondary is actually better than last year's secondary because long touchdowns are less frequent. It will still be very bad.
First sentence: false. Second: true.
Mouton is much better, leads the team in TFLs and sacks, and is still incredibly frustrating.
Very accurate. Mouton led the team in tackles (117), was in a three-way tie for TFLs (8.5, Kovacs and RVB tied) and had two sacks. RVB (4) and Banks (3) beat him but not by much in a pathetic year for sacks.
Mike Martin is great and should get first-team Big Ten recognition, though he probably won't.
This might have actually transpired if he hadn't gotten laid up with high ankle sprains. Before he was chopped down against MSU he was playing very, very well.
Mark Moundros holds on to the starting MLB job all season.
Michigan manages a modest improvement in yards allowed, getting up to the 60-70 range nationally.
Not so much: Michigan dipped to 110th.
More accurate than anyone thought possible.
This Year's Stupid Predictions
- Courtney Avery busts out. Going into next year people are talking about him as an All Big Ten performer.
- Kenny Demens leads the team in tackles with Northwestern-MLB-type numbers.
- Brink is a legitimate player, better than Greg Banks was last year. The biggest source of pain on the defense is the WLB.
- Craig Roh leads the team in sacks with eight.
- Sacks almost double from 1.4 per game to 2.4. That would be a move from 98th to around 30th.
- Turnovers forced go from 19 to 27.
- Michigan noses just above average in yardage allowed. Advanced metrics have them about 50th.
- EVERYTHING SEEMS WONDERFUL
When you've been blogging almost daily for almost six years you end up writing a bunch of things you regret. Here's a all-timer from last year's special teams preview:
Just don't fumble and we're good. Unless kicker is a black hole, but what's the worst that could happen?
I am so, so sorry. This is the worst that could happen:
That's the best kicker in the country, Nebraska's Alex Henery, and the worst, Michigan's two-headed monster. The whole picture wasn't quite that bad—when not suspended, Will Hagerup was quite good—but the complete inability to kick a field goal overrode all other positives and negatives, casting a pall of total incompetence over the unit. Jeremy Gallon's remarkable knack for doing the exact wrong thing 80% the time and fumbling the other 20% was a significant aid.
But this year we've totally got a new kicker! And far more options in the return game! And Hagerup's back! That's the ticket!
WHAT THE BALLS WHY IS THIS MAN'S PICTURE HERE
Everyone was terribly excited about freshman Matt Wile. He kicked at the Army game. He was not either of the guys responsible for the above graph. Therefore win. Therefore kicker. Therefore 35 yard field goals are feasible.
So of course Brendan Gibbons wins the job. Gibbons made one of four field goals in the first four games last year and biffed an extra point, whereupon he was sat down until the Wisconsin game. He attempted one field goal the rest of the year, that in the Gator Bowl whitewashing. He missed.
The idea of Gibbons hitting the field again gives me hives. At least this time around there's another option, though it's an option that lost out to Brendan Gibbons. Guh.
I always punt on kickers I haven't seen play but the chances Michigan has come up totally incompetent on two straight scholarship guys is low. Either Gibbons has gotten a lot better or they're trying not to put too much on Wile's plate.
There's some case for the former. Last year Rodriguez was claiming field goals were his "biggest concern" on a team starting air at cornerback; Hoke has been much more sanguine. Maybe that's just bravado, but it seems like he's doing better in practice. Kickers are weird. It would be very kicker-y if Gibbons finally got it together.
Predictions? There are no predictions here.
Rating: 3, then 5
Will Hagerup is back. Everyone says he's thundering punts off the top of the practice facility, Zoltan-style. He is also suspended for the first four games of the season. If staying home for last year's Ohio State game was a warning shot across the bow, missing the first four games of this season is an out-and-out broadside. Whatever his issues are it's safe to presume he's on his last strike.
If he manages to get through September without immolating his career, Michigan will have one of those punters color commentators call a "weapon" whenever he strolls onto the field. In Hagerup's case this is almost not hyperbolic. His 72-yard bomb was indisputably the play of the Purdue game:
After a shaky start featuring shanks and a blocked punt Hagerup quickly became one of the country's best. In Big Ten play he averaged 44.0 yards a kick, which would have been good for 19th nationally if sustained over the entire season. He was just a freshman, so it's reasonable to write off the early struggles as nerves and project that Hagerup will at least match those numbers when he's not suspended. Improvement is likely, and that takes him into the top ten nationally.
But he is suspended for the nonconference season. It appears that Wile will take his place. Some guy named Tom hit up his high school coach for his stats in that department:
Here are Wile's stats from his senior, junior, and sophomore years as a punter:
Year Punts Yards Average Long Inside 20 2010 40 1447 36.18 54 13 2009 31 1247 40.23 61 6 2008 16 586 36.63 54 6
Here is a video of him in 2010 at a kicking camp. He kicks five balls and averages 51.2 yards. Probably the most recent data of his abilities. He was also the punter during the Army All American game.
The dip as a senior is a little bothersome but the surge in balls inside the twenty means he was doing a lot more punting on a short field. Hitting 38 or 40 on a regular basis is a downgrade from Hagerup but one Michigan will live with. More problematic is the possibility Wile did not win the kicking job because he's already slated to kick off and punt the first few games.
Kickoffs and Return Units
This was miserable last year and one of the main perpetrators of the misery, Jeremy Gallon, is back as the punt returner. This is inexplicable to me:
Jeremy Gallon special teams error limit: determined. It is ten billion. I'm obviously on the tolerant side of the scale when it comes to coaching errors (outside of obvious game theory errors, about which I have an Al Qaeda level of zealotry) but JESUS GOD RICH RODRIGUEZ WHY DID YOU LET JEREMY GALLON RETURN KICKS AND PUNTS FOR TEN GAMES.
Gallon must be Steve Breaston in practice or something because he's held onto a job he's been terrible at through six million fumbles and a coaching change. Maybe he's better now. If he's not maybe they'll finally let Dileo return stuff. A change can't take as long as it did last year.
The other major issue in this department was (again) the kickers. Gibbons and Broekhuizen couldn't get kickoffs anywhere near the endzone and when Hagerup was deputized midway through the year he wasn't much better. Wile grabbed that job as soon as he showed up so improvement is expected here.
How much does this matter? After the Illinois game I pinged Brian Fremeau for advanced metrics on the special teams and he got back to me with numbers that said Michigan was well below average on kickoffs both ways, but had top-tier punting and only slightly below average punt returns. By that point in the season those four forces had combined to cost Michigan about a touchdown. I think that's low since Fremeau's numbers don't account for the field position Gallon gave up by letting punts roll all over the place*; add in a few more games and Michigan probably gave away two touchdowns of field postion over the course of the season. That's pretty significant.
Can a special teams coach fix this? Eh. One of the takeaways from the punting demo was the personnel: starters everywhere, lots of skill position guys. They'll head towards average because of that, reversion to the mean, and Wile.
Gallon and the kick returners? Ask again later. I'm not expecting miracles. Just HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL.
*[I assume so, anyway. I don't know how you'd even begin trying to account for that.]