Hello! Given the traffic numbers around these parts, most of you came aboard during this season. Those of you who were around this summer get free hats.* Those of you who were around last summer get free lycra bodysuits.** If you are still around, you should know the following things about the offseason around here:
- Posting will slow. When things are happening, I'll generally keep up an in-season post rate of 2 or 3 a day, most of considerable length. This usually happens around signing day and in the week or two before the season. If the hockey team and basketball team are doing things of note, that may be any time until March or April. If not -- and this season the basketball team definitely fits under "not" -- there will be about one post per day.
- Basketball will not have a lot of effort dumped into it. They're really brutal this season and I'm just not that into college basketball. Hideous refereeing, that kiddie three-point line, and games against Northwestern are detraction enough when your team is better than the Wildcats. When it's debatable? Not so much.
- Hockey will get regular coverage. I know 99% of you don't care. This is your fault, and you should feel shame.
- Attention will wander. Not everything around here will be Michigan-related during the summer. I'll occasionally post about the Pistons and other things.
- Projects will be undertaken. I have heard the cries for a more structured comment system and will endeavor to make that a reality; give me a couple months. I tentatively plan to move to wordpress, integrate a vbulletin system, and resurrect MGoBoard now that there's sufficient traffic for people to use it. This is a major reason for the offseason slowness: the extra time allows me to do other things.
Also planned: more stats and stuff.
- The book returns. Last year I edited Hail To The Victors 2007; a 2008 version is in the works. Charts! Graphs! Hopefully something by Johnny from RBUAS!
There will be a number of UFRs: one for the Citrus, one for the Fiesta, and a couple other WVU games of recent vintage. I hope to get the Pitt game and maybe another loss or two and explore what can go wrong, but haven't found those online yet. Let me know if you find it.
*(Offer not valid.)
1/1/2008 - Michigan 41, Florida 35 - 9-4, 6-2 Big Ten
1/2/2008 - West Virginia 48, Oklahoma 28 - 11-2, 6-2 Big East
Every year in February, people around the country who happen to be something other than Chinese vaguely recognize the existence of the Chinese New Year, a holiday that seems simultaneously old and strangely futuristic, much like the odder outposts of Chinese cooking. ("Oyster cake." The mind reels.) Chinese people, of course, go nuts for the biggest holiday on the calendar.
It's later than it should be, it's flashy, enticing, and rousing, and it seems vaguely superior* to old fashioned New Year's largely because of unfamiliarity: the past two days have been Super Chinese New Football Millennium for Michigan fans.
It was nice to send out the old regime with a rousing win. It was better to see it happen with an offense that looked remarkably similar to Rich Rodriguez's spread 'n' shred. And, truthfully, it was better still to watch West Virginia carve the nation's #9 scoring defense into Sooner tots and hold the nation's #3 scoring offense 15 points under its average. Hell, if West Virginia wasn't forced to play Ryan Mundy they would have yielded two fewer personal fouls and one fewer 60-ish yard pass reception and possibly turned the game into the laugher it always threatened to become.
Rich Rodriguez put that team together, and though he was absent the framework of that team's offense and defense were his responsibility. That team's offensive and defensive coordinators will be Michigan's offensive and defensive coordinators. That team's recruiting coordinator will be Michigan's recruiting coordinator. And that team was a national-championship-caliber one cobbled together from quarterbacks LSU wanted as a wide receiver and terror-beast fullbacks from Division III schools in Wisconsin.
This might have been a good hire.
Meanwhile in Orlando, Michigan put on a show that was at once tantalizing and depressing. Let's be clear: Michigan's ability to put up numbers like this would not have saved them against Wisconsin and Ohio State, when Ryan Mallett and Chad Henne's busted shoulder combined to put up the worst back-to-back quarterbacking performances in Lloyd Carr's career, but it's impossible to watch Michigan refuse to punt after the first quarter and not wonder "what if" about a half-dozen games over the past decade. Even the one standout piece of Lloydery, Michigan's final run-run-run-oops-let's-FG drive, was apparently the result of a screwed up Henne check instead of Lloyd Carr giving his old "how to lose in the fourth quarter" playbook one last spin.
(Not that there should have been the option for a run check there anyway, and it is mighty suspicious that Henne would prefer said run, as it makes no sense unless you've undergone some serious protect-ball-all-costs brainwashing. But nevermind all that. It doesn't matter.)
And any questions about said lose-it-late playbook were obliterated when Ron English did what he'd done all day: make the Florida offensive line look like Ohio State's in the Not Fiesta Bowl last year. He attacked.
The whole team attacked; the whole team looked entirely different, like a group of people determined to make the future something of their own devising. One of the most frustrating aspects of the Carr era was the frequent appearance that Michigan is coached like it is afraid of a poor outcome. For an example, check any late-game punt from inside the opponent's 40. Too often Michigan has passed up the right call in favor of the safe call, and it has cost them.
But not this year, and not in the future. Michigan took control of the Heisman winner, battering him until his final pass wobbled skyward and fell to the ground. West Virginia met every attempted Oklahoma comeback with a thunderous riposte. No shells. No idly hoping things fall your way. No waiting to be given something. Reach out and take it. It's a new year.
- And so it goes when Michigan plays the SEC. Even leaving aside the Vanderbilt game, Michigan is 5-1 against the home of "southern speed" in their last six bowl matchups. Why does the SEC suck so much? Why can't they be competitive against us? Am I enjoying being as parochial and narrow-minded as virtually every football fan south of Maryland? No, not really.
- Do we like the 3-3-5 a little more now? The final numbers were respectable for Oklahoma -- 419 yards and 28 points -- but WVU was ahead so much most of the night that OU was in desperation mode from midway in the third quarter on. OU's final two drives netted a useless 76 yards as WVU was correctly in a full-on prevent; without those this team held OU 100 yards under its season average. (This is obviously not quite fair, but if WVU had been grinding the clock out instead of, like, scoring on the first play of every drive those yards would never have happened; WVU's D faced 14 drives, a hefty total.)
- And that was with OU almost literally holding on every play, the sort of holds that get called "egregious" by the announcers, not the sort of holds Penn State fans envision whenever someone in a winged helmet deigns to block anyone. OU picked up a half-dozen holding calls; another half-dozen must-calls went unnoticed. WVU dominated one of the most grinding, powerful offensive lines in the country with their speed and angles. They did this without the use of their best defensive lineman for most of the night.
- Jeff Casteel would be A-OK by me.
- FOX is a terrible network to watch college football on. At points during the Fiesta last night we were treated to the following instead of onfield action: 1) an ad for some stupid movie, 2) an inversion of the "dingle berry" picture that lit up the hur-hur-hur sections of the blogosphere earlier this year, and most egregiously 3) completely inert Gatorade containers. Anyone who wasn't Pat Haden was completely useless.
- B&B made mention of this, and it's true: the gap between Mike Patrick and Todd Blackledge is immense. Blackledge made the most salient point I've heard an announcer make all year when he pointed out that though Tim Tebow has a gazillion rushing yards and touchdowns, he's not Dennis Dixon or Armanti Edwards and the threat of Owen Schmitt taking off and rumbling through your secondary just doesn't come with the same elevated threat level. I actually said out loud to no one in particular "huh. That's a really good p
oint." Meanwhile, Mike Patrick called Arrington "Harrington" for most of the first half.
- The one downer in an otherwise schwing kind of game yesterday was the parade of personal fouls; twice WVU got not one but two on the same play; both times one of the offenders was Mundy. This is probably a fluke; I'll take a look at RR's penalty yardage over the years at some point in an attempt to confirm. Also, we can blame that on interim head coach Bill Stewart.
- SMQB has us pegged.
- Achtung, pounding PA FB/HB Christian Wilson and your potentially iffy commitment:
This offense... it's not so bad for you.
(*Less chance of waking up with a raging hangover and an ominous creaking/neighing sound coming from the other side of the bed; also the parades seem way more fun.)
The Toledo Blade is causing a tizzy with a piece headlined "Mallett planning to transfer", but the actual texty bits are not so strident:
There is speculation out of Ann Arbor that freshman quarterback Ryan Mallett has decided to leave Michigan and will transfer to UCLA, according to a person close to the team.
CYA to the max, but probably not a good sign.
Perhaps you can take comfort in this?
In his diary entry dated Dec. 30, [MI RB Jonas] Gray writes, "If I had to guess where Terrelle goes, I would say he ends up at Ohio State. I could still see him at Michigan, but he's going to watch the Ryan Mallett situation closely. I know Mallett is going to decide after the (Capital One) bowl game and if he decides to transfer, Terrelle Pryor is going to Michigan. I have a real good feel for that."
Stay stay stay. Questions about the commitment statuses of two of the more highly-rated commits have been answered. Sam McGuffie:
"He was just like, 'You've seen what Noel Devine has done and Steve Slaton, fast guys like that. We can get you the ball like that and incorporate you the same way.' That will be good. Just get me in space and let me shake some people."
"Where I stand right now, the day of the game, I'll make my commitment to Michigan," Cissoko said. "I actually got my hat in the bag. I talked to coach (Rich)Rodriguez and I talked to his staff also so right now everything is going smooth for me."
Meanwhile, Michigan is widely expected to have to deal with a re-recruiting job on one Ryan Mallett, the presumptive starter at quarterback next season should he choose to stick around. Rodriguez on his conversations to date with Mallett:
"I've talked to Ryan twice about it and told him our offensive system can really fit different skill players on offense whether you're a drop-back guy or a multi-purpose quarterback that can run or throw," Rodriguez said. "He's got to trust it. If he doesn't see his fit, that's his decision. We certainly hope he stays around. I think he's a talented young man who's got a lot of ability, and we can fit our system to the best quarterback."
Also of note in that article is one hell of a final, unexplained sentence: "In terms of recruiting for the 2008 class, Rodriguez said he expects to sign a full class of 25."
This would mean serious attrition. At the moment I think Michigan has 19 scholarships open, -- that's what the board says, anyway -- and that's with the projected departures of little-used seniors Grant DeBenedictis and Brett Gallimore (both have a fifth year available, but are unlikely to ever see the field). Mario Manningham's universally expected NFL departure is not included in that, and there are rumblings that Adrian Arrington, Terrance Taylor, and Tim Jamison could enter as well. If all those guys left, 1) that would suck and 2) that would still leave Michigan two scholarships short of 25. One additional departure possibility: redshirt freshman DT Jason Kates, who did not make the bowl trip for unexplained reasons.
Assistant rejiggeration. We know that OC Calvin Magee, recruiting coordinator and defensive backs coach Tony Gibson, and current Michigan running backs coach Fred Jackson will be members of Rich Rodriguez' staff. We know that Ron English, who is now the defensive coordinator at Louisville will not. The assumption past those four was Rodriguez might retain a couple more Michigan assistants -- most likely some combination of Loeffler, Campbell, and Stripling -- and fill in the rest of the gaps with former Mountaineers. In the same article linked above, however, Rodriguez leaves the door open for some outside hires:
[Rodriguez] has not yet finalized his staff. "Not completely," Rodriguez said. "I have some, obviously, in mind. When all the bowl games are over, I'll complete it probably within a week."
Rodriguez said he has not completely ruled out rehiring others from Carr's staff.
"That's yet to be determined," Rodriguez said. "To be fair to everyone, I met with all the guys (on Dec. 20). They were very good, very professional about it. Obviously I'm very loyal to the staff I had at West Virginia, with several of them coming with me and several others, possibly, from other schools."
Probably the most important decision facing Rodriguez at this juncture is whether to bring over current WVU DC Jeff Casteel and continue using the 3-3-5, a defense often derided as doomed against the power rushing attacks that supposedly dominate the Big Ten.
But... like... why is it derided like so? West Virginia's rush defense rankings over the past several years:
That ugly "104" was the year that spurred WVU's shift to the 3-3-5; implementation of said saw their rush defense immediately fly up 74 spots. Since their implementation of the stack, WVU has never finished below average in run defense and has been top twenty the past few years.
Beating up on overmatched opponents? Perhaps. But this is a complete listing of West Virginia's front seven (eight, actually, as the stack is always an eight-man front) draft picks in the odd stack era:
2003 5 144 James Davis LB Detroit Lions
(FWIW, two corners were also taken. In general, the WVU draft history stands as a tribute to Rodriguez's coaching ability. He's had two first-day picks in the entirety of his tenure at WVU, though when Slaton comes out he'll likely make it three. Michigan doubles that in a good year. He must feel like a kid in a candy store.)
WVU does not appear to have a massive talent advantage against the Big East. There is probably something to the theory that one extra game against a nonconference chump helps the stats out, but that's a marginal effect at best.
Does West Virginia's explosive offense get teams behind so quickly that they abandon the run? This does not appear to be a major effect. Rush and pass attempts by WVU opponents the past three years:
|Year||Rush Att||Pass Att|
Over the past three years -- both the apex of Rodriguez' spread 'n' shred offense and West Virginia's run defense -- opponents have run more than half the time.
I went to the trouble of purchasing the 3-3-5 coaching thing video put out by Casteel and WVU the year after their switch, and the interesting thing about it was its complete and wholesale focus on the run game. Every time they explored how they lined up against an opponent, it was player X has the C gap, player Y has the A gap, with only cursory references to what's done in pass coverage. The 3-3-5 is a rush defense that's quite effective despite having all of one NFL player at its disposal during its tenure at West Virginia.
I know John Tenuta is sexy, the Scarlett Johannson of defensive coordinators, but Casteel has quietly assembled an innovative and effective system without a major talent advantage over his competition and would be an attractive candidate even if he was the recently freed coordinator at Georgia Tech instead of Rodriguez' right-hand man.
Note: I previously stated there would be no CapOne UFR due to its general irrelevance for the program going forward, but since that was a pass-based spread offense that seemed to incorporate many facets of what Rodriguez does said irrelevance no longer applies and I'll do one early next week. I'm also downloading a couple WVU games and will provide those later this month.
Videos galore. A pre-bowl fluff piece with Carr:
And Carr's final locker-room speech:
Highlights from the Big Ten Network are at MSC; damn if I can figure out how to embed it, though. There are also kips from frequent clip provider Chris at Dangerous Logic:
TSN has the Arrington catch in all its spectacular glory:
And finally, MSC also links to this BTN video of Shawn Crable calling out Kirk Herbstreit:
Not sure of the wisdom of calling out someone for saying you have no D after giving up 35 points, but whatever.
Torrent is up here; Ten Yard Torrents registration required.