He's pushing you away :(
FL RB Demetrius Hart, the consensus top recruit in Michigan's class of 2011, announced today that he has decommitted, and will instead give his pledge to Alabama. This move has been rumored for a few weeks, and has now come to fruition.
This situation sucks, but there are a few things to keep in mind. You can't praise the "OMG SNAKE OILZ!~!~!~!~!~!~!" Rich Rodriguez used to land the likes of Roy Roundtree and Jibreel Black without realizing that sometimes, what goes around comes around.
On the other hand, perhaps the most annoying part is that the school gaining from Michigan's loss is Alabama, where it's likely he'll be kicked off the team in a couple years to make room for the Next Big Thing within a couple years anyway. See - they're already getting started making room for him!
This is unlikely to be the only decommit in this class, even once the coaching situation is settled. For all recruiting classes - but this one especially - it's probably best to wait and see how it all plays out.
Have you been outside today? I wouldn't recommend it. It's cold. It's gray. It's just windy enough to ring the side of the road with ice, and penetrate your jeans so that when you get back inside somewhere, a good thigh rub will be in order. You're used to this: it's Winter in Ann Arbor.
But for a moment yesterday it wasn't. For a moment, the sun came out and it was 50 degrees. For a moment, Michigan's defense was attacking plays and the offense was rolling down the field and into the end-zone. For a moment, Michigan led 7-0. For a moment, I remembered watching the UConn game, when the ice laid down by Woolfolk's injury and Turner's departure was thawed by the revelation of Denard.
Then the sun disappeared. The temperature dropped. The wind picked up. Michigan's defense reverted to its season-long status as a minor inconvenience to opponent scoring, and Michigan's offense became an experiment to see how many ways they could find to make Roundtree drop a 4th down pass without the viewers switching to Penn State/Florida. And so the vicious, three-year winter of Michigan football continued in its lazy, hazy way, finding new jackets to penetrate and souls within to crush.
To pretend like there wasn't something beautiful about the Rich Rodriguez era is to say there was never any reason yesterday to be outside. The moments of joy have been fleeting: the overtime Tatefest against Illinois, two comeback victories over Notre Dame, UConn. Each sparse day in the sun we took for a sign of Spring. This is because we are Michigan, one of the great programs, and the great programs know greatness will return the same way the inhabitants of Earth know the snow can't last forever.
Tomorrow night Stanford will play Virginia Tech, and we'll see if whatever Jim Harbaugh has done to the Cardinal could beat the closest analogue to Lloyd's last Michigan team you'll ever find. Later in the week Dave Brandon will ascend the podium of Gobbler's Knob, pull out a prognosticating marmot, and tell us whether he sees Rich Rod's shadow. Either way, this winter isn't going to be over until our defense has the talent and structure and experience to stop somebody, which will take a lot more than six weeks on anybody's calendar.
Is it possible that the winter of our discontent can last forever? Well, sure, it's theoretically possible. But it would also take a major climatic shift for that to happen, because Michigan's place in the college football solar system is backed by a huge national audience, a ridiculously wealthy alumni base, the biggest stadium in the country, and an axis set by Yost when the universe was still young. Plus our helmets have wings.
On the other hand you can bet this winter still has at least one more good storm left in it. If you're going to survive it with your soul intact, I recommend a thick coat.
On Faith, Science & Business
I have a rough memory from something in college where we discussed three different paradigms of thinking. The trick was to identify which type your audience is and use his kind of reasoning: if you have a "believer," then discuss agreed-upon moral precepts; if it's a pragmatist make analogies to previous "successes," and follow these proven-successful decision-making processes; if it's a scientist, make the case with data and then argue against yourself until you've shown you can exhaust rebuttals. Nobody is just one or the other, but you're probably aligned more toward one and/or against one.
For the Believers:
Blazefire came in with a short essay on faith in leadership, specifically one's head coach.
During a sermon, a pastor once said that when you ask God for something, there are three possible answers; Yes, No, and Wait. I couldn't argue with this statement. That's logical for a request made of anyone or any being. The requestee can either say "yes", and provide, say "no" and refuse to provide, or say "wait, maybe later", and put something off till a later time. The implication of all this was to help understand God's answers, so on and so forth. That isn't really the part that hit me as far as the game and the program are concerned. The part that hit me was in the answer "wait".
For the Pragmatists:
Thanks to iawolve, we get a peek into how David Brandon's mind may be working given his experience as CEO of a private firm, from the point of view of another who has been through that same gauntlet and learned similar lessons. A few conclusions:
What does this all mean? It means Brandon spent 1999 through 2004 (IPO) under the management of Bain Capital. He survived the gauntlet and remained the CEO post-IPO for another 6 years. He would be a person that believes in:
- Pay for performance
- Strict monitoring of progress
- Taking chances by changing the status quo in order to achieve results
- No surprises
For the Scientists:
You've met Enjoy Life: author of your weekly in-season looks at college football's sabermetrics, as well as turnover tracking. This week, in true scientist's form, he calls his own work generally useless because, well, that's what the numbers say:
Uh yeah, we have all been wrong (myself included). I started looking at turnovers (TOs) in detail after the 2008 season when Michigan went 3-9 with a turnover margin (TOM) of –10. I wrote a series of diaries that concluded double digit TOs were caused primarily by the skill & experience of a team and not primarily by luck. Thus, good teams tend to have positive TOMs and poor teams tend to have negative TOMs. This is basically the opposite of believing that TOs are a primary factor in determining whether a team is good (i.e. winning record) or poor (i.e. losing record) – sorry, Phil Steele.
Previews That Didn't Say We'd Get Clobbered
At this point it's not all that helpful, but two hours before kickoff yesterday, jamiemac of Just Cover Blog finally hit "post" on this masterpiece, which previewed the smart money on the Gator Bowl. Jamie's conclusions gave warning that something ugly was possibly about to unfold, noting that RR has not been covering the spread in Big Ten play, and noting a likely (extant?) motivation question for Michigan.
When judging this Michigan team, you have to take into account their mental state with the coaching situation swirling around. We've seen West Virginia and Miami look like they'd rather be a million other places than playing with their coaching situation. But we've also seen Maryland rally around their deposed coach and play lights out. We also saw Oklahoma State send off their offensive coordinator Holgerson with a great effort, despite him splitting a lot of time between places in the bowl run-up, because the players were genuinely happy for him. None of the Michigan players know who is coaching them next year. But, they know who is coaching them this year. It's Rodriguez. As a fan, I'm proud at how the coaches have handled this situation. That will carry over to their players. I think the Wolverines will play hard for this coaching staff. This will be a lot more like the Maryland effort and nothing like we was with the Canes and 'Neers. At least that's what I keep telling myself.
Yes, then we got curb-stomped.
Still, though its shelf life was short, considering I didn't get last week's DD out until Tuesday so is my list of contenders; this is your Diarist of the Week.
Also written on deadline, BlueSeoul, on advice from counsel, gave us a final preview of the Gator Bowl based on his analysis of each game:
Well, maybe those last two were different, but it didn't matter. Based on the results, you'd have to say that Tressel has been a master when it comes to The Game.
If RR were going to make one of those for the gator bowl, it should read something like this:
- Stop #28
- Stop Relf with run blitzes
- Pressure Relf up the middle on passing downs
- Don't let Relf pull the ball down on a scramble and head up the middle
- Yes, this means designed draws too! Especially on the designed draws!!
- For god's sake, if you have to choose between going after Relf or someone else, go after Relf!!!!
- Seriously, RELF!
Apparently, he forgot "CATCH THE DAMN BALL" and, uh, "play football."
Michigan Paintball: This is serious. Michigan, in our quest to be better at everything, now competes in Paintball. It ain't varsity, but team member heffman has the lowdown on the team's successful start.
Michigan Men's Ice Hockey: For a brief moment this week, "CC" on this blog meant "Colorado College," not the other thing. During this time I managed to score tickets to see Michigan defeat CC at the Joe and replace that ugly green banner with a maize and blue one. Of course, I need not have gone through the trouble, since CC alum denverblue managed to preview the thing down to the color of Jaden Schwartz's bloomers.
Next week we'll let you know who's Michigan's head coach, and talk about how much longer this winter will last. Until then, maybe just stay indoors.
Usual post-disaster measures have been implemented: you need to be a "basic user" (100 points) to comment and "trusted" to start yet another redundant thread. Kitten:
Happy New Year!
Liveblog Chaos Mitigation Post taco taco taco. Also apparently six Mississippi State starters have a "stomach virus" important enough to mention on ESPN.
Michigan has the worst field goal kickers in the country and will use them only when facing preposterous situations like fourth and goal from the fifteen. One of MSU's kickers is basically a Michigan kicker but he was replaced and the new guy is 9 of 11. [shakes fist at sky.]
The punt games are a wash. MSU is 28th in net punting; Will Hagerup and co are a couple yards off of that but it's not a big enough difference to expect it will matter. MSU was decent at punt returns but Bumphis has all but one on the year so that's a question mark for them; Michigan will just fair catch it. Kickoffs are also a wash, though Michigan gave up a KR touchdown against OSU in their last game.
Key Matchup: DON'T ALLOW A DAMN TOUCHDOWN
- The first triple option pitch is so open it's not like there's anyone to blame.
- No one knows how to run a 3-3-5 still.
- Someone calls a halftime press conference.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- We're all like "oh, right, Mike Martin is a beast, I forgot."
- A healthy Denard is zinging accurate balls hither and thither.
- Greg Robinson's beaver makes frequent appearances for whatever reason.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 5 (Baseline 5; +1 for We're Playing The Illinois Offense Again, –1 for But Denard Is Healthy And So Is Odoms And So Isn't MSU's Best WR, +1 for Mississippi State's Defense Will Not Be As Accommodating As Illinois, +1 for Burn The Gardner Shirt Or Run Wildcat If—When—Robinson Gets His Ding, –1 for Chris Relf's Erratic Throwing Is Defense-Invariant, –1 for Healthy Mike Martin, +1 for Mad Cowbell Disease)
Desperate need to win level: 8 (Baseline 5; +1 8-5 Is Undeniable Progress, –1 for That Might Not Matter One Whit Anyway, +1 for The Faint Memory Of January Happy Events Is Like Motes Of Dust In A Room Half-Remembered, +1 for The Slight Chance It Might Impact Our Ability To Watch Denard Finish His Career Here, +1 for I Just Want To Win A Damn Game, –1 for I Know It's Over And Oh It Never Really Began But In My Heart It Was So Real, +1 for Seriously, Win.)
Loss will cause me to... sigh and brace for a press conference.
Win will cause me to... smile and brace for a press conference.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
I hate this section because predictions are stupid. I always have. That's why the bolded text is whining. I want Michigan to win so I think Michigan will win. I fear Michigan will lose so I think Michigan will lose. You see that behavior in the BlogPoll: the most irrationally exuberant voters are always from some team doing well at that second with caviar dreams and the most irrationally negative voters have just watched their puppy run over and loathe everything. I'm caught between the two, and don't really know what to expect in a game that seems like a replay of the Illinois game. The Illinois game turned out to be rather close.
A couple other blogospheric predictions have dispensed with the idea that predictions are anything other than hopes, with Blue Seoul declaring…
I hate making predictions, especially when the two teams are close. So instead I'll just put what I hope happens.
…and BWS saying…
This is probably a homer's prediction, but I don't like picking against Michigan when a game looks not only winnable but more or less like a coin flip
…and I'm here to tell you that I don't know what's going on, man. I want Michigan to win, so I'll predict them to win because I can, in defiance of Vegas and the vague hope it matters. I'll spare people the talking myself into it bit.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Demens is still aligned like an idiot would align him and MSU counters are highly effective, but Martin's presence makes the interior inverted stuff mostly ineffective.
- Michigan has two fifty-yard-plus touchdowns.
- Michigan gives up two fifty-yard-plus touchdowns.
- Michigan, 31-28, with Justin Meram erupting from the locker room with ten seconds left to boot a 200 yard field goal.
Run Defense vs. Mississippi State
The most terrifying bit of the game lies in here. You've heard it before but: this offense is Illinois part II. Chris Relf is a big, stocky runner with some talented sidekicks in a system that runs a ton of option until you freak out about it, then nails you for freaking out about it. They also effectively deploy the new hot thing in college football:
This isn't a veer of any sort but it is inverted,—the quarterback is the upfield threat—power-ish,—backside tackle(!) pulls around—and effective. Their running game is as diverse and almost as hard to stop as Michigan's. Michigan finished the year 11th, MSU 16th. The "almost" comes with a deeper look at the numbers: MSU runs a freaking ton, with 561 carries on the year against just 265 passes. That's a hefty 68% run rate reminiscent of Pat White's days at West Virginia. The Bulldogs average a full yard less per carry than Michigan, and that's a large chunk of the reason FEI has Michigan the #2 offense in the country and Mississippi State #72.
You can chalk that up to a distinct lack of Denard Robinson. Chris Relf is more Cam Newton than Robinson, albeit a version of Cam Newton without the ability to run away from Patrick Peterson. He's a tough inside runner with good vision and the occasional sweet move downfield but he's not a bolt of lightning. The reason MSU runs so much inverted stuff is to take advantage of his interior power.
On the outside the answer was a combination of Vick Ballard and LaDarius Perkins. Ballard is the team's leading rusher with around 900 yards, with Relf at 700 and Perkins at 500 and guys down the list picking up spare yards here and there. Michigan won't see slot receiver extraordinaire Chad Bumphis due to injury, so his role taking end-arounds, reverses, and jet sweeps figures to fall to Perkins. He's he fastest guy they've got left. Blue Seoul:
He's extremely dangerous on edge running plays. Especially the sweep. Expect him to carry the ball 5-10 times. But they'll probably have another 5-10 plays designed to go to him on either screens, wheel routes, or some other trickery.
With the extra practices, expect him to line up in the slot and then motion around, possibly to the backfield or to get the ball on a jet sweep.
Ballard is more of a north-south guy with good top end speed but not a whole lot of wiggle. Watch if MSU tips their option plays by tailback—Blue Seoul says Ballard was de-emphasized as the pitch guy as the season went along because he had a tough time maintaining the proper relationship with the QB.
Michigan will also have to watch for the shovel. While technically a pass play it's more like a different twist on the triple option. Remember that TE Gonzalez getting guaranteed first downs for Florida by pulling across the formation and taking a shovel pitch from Tim Tebow? Yeah, that has migrated over to Mississippi State. MSU lacks a TE with ridiculous athleticism so they will align in a wing set with one of the tailbacks as an H-back and then run the shovel away from the strength of the formation.
The MSU offensive line seems pretty mediocre to me but as he got deeper into the Bulldog season Blue Seoul came away with a certain appreciation for the tackles and center. Not so much the guards or the depth:
The only weak spot is #62. He is a good run blocker, but has made several mistakes in pass protection. I suggest running a lot of two man stunts or blitzes on his side making him choose who to block and who to let go.
There seems to be a significant talent/experience dropoff when the backups come in. In the one game where they had to shuffle linemen around because of injuries, Ballard was held in check and things were not pretty.
As far as Michigan goes, who knows what the hell we'll see. Everyone's pulling for a four-man line and whatnot but this actually seems like a game the 3-3-5 was built for—a matchup against a dedicated spread rushing attack. Expect to see Jordan Kovacs in the box 90% of the time on running downs as Michigan deploys an extra man on the edge in an attempt to slow down the option they couldn't against Illinois. Kovacs made some critical mistakes in that game that were compounded by the youth of a freshly-inserted Ray Vinopal and an odd scheme that saw Jonas Mouton rendered mostly useless.
Michigan's best hope for a surprisingly good performance rests in the ankles of Mike Martin, which have been pronounced 100%. If he can go full bore we'll see the combination of Actual Mike Martin and Kenny Demens we never really got in the regular season. Greg Robinson will line Demens up two feet from the guard and get him obliterated but I'm saying there's a chance of usefulness.
Key Matchup: Jordan Kovacs and Cam Gordon against the option. The edge safeties will be key players against a play Michigan struggled badly against in the Illinois game. They've got to correct their mistakes.
Pass Defense vs. Mississippi State
I don't think you're supposed to hold it like that.
Here's the other bit of why FEI is so down on the MSU offense relative to Michigan's:
That is a UFR chart of Relf's performance against Kentucky and it's basically on par with Denard Robinson… as a freshman. You remember what that was like. It wasn't very good. Massive caveat: that was by far the worst game of the season for Relf. I did the Arkansas game, too, and here it is:
That's better but still pretty ugly. Relf ended up 20 of 30 for 224 yards, which is a decent 7.4 YPA. His receivers dropped no easy ones—they could have bailed him out on two or three bad throws—and his deep balls were wildly off target. His successes came mostly on plays where he had all day in the pocket and could zing darts across the middle of the field, and on several plays he was reduced to ineffective scrambling after holding the ball a long, long time.
His two key deficiencies as a passer are that tendency and his total inability to hit deep balls. Blue Seoul suggests putting the corners in all inside leverage all the time and blitzing like Manny Diaz is in charge and I agree—in third and long situations Michigan should drop eight only as a changeup and send waves of blitzers, playing the percentages when it comes to Relf and tough throws.
At receiver, with Bumphis out the main guys are Chris Smith and Arceto Clark, with Brandon Heavens a third option. All are sophomores that seem pedestrian, though it's hard to tell given the limited opportunities they receive. They don't get much downfield separation but seem sure-handed.
Pass protection has not been good. Despite passing only 32% of the time Mississippi State gives up almost two sacks a game. They're 53rd in the NCAA's raw stats but would be well down the list if the NCAA ranked by sacks per pass attempt; against Arkansas there were a lot of blitz pickup breakdowns. Bizarrely, though, Arkansas is 6th nationally in sacks and still left Relf back in the pocket for ages for most of that game.
Mississippi State will attack the level between the linebackers and safeties on play action, attempting to hit chunk plays on digs and seams and whatnot; Relf's limitations and their lack of a go-to receiver makes deep balls futile unless the opponent massively busts a coverage, which Michigan will do twice. Relf's likely to miss it when it happens or miss the throw anyway.
On the other hand, the Michigan secondary.
Oh all right, the Michigan secondary: Jebus. What is it? Does it exist? We could ram them through a particle accelerator to find out if not for "laws" that you should keep off my body, kthx, and by body I mean joke physics experiment. Keep your laws off my joke physics experiment.
But seriously folks, Michigan cornerbacks should force guys outside and deep and hope Relf's accuracy is as advertised, with the linebackers getting appropriate depth on play action drops and the deep safety coming up into that middle range where Mississippi State makes its hay. Will they do this without getting burned? Probably not.
Key Matchup: Martin, Roh, and Van Bergen getting to Relf against (hopefully) single blocking afforded by a lack of stupid three man rushes I hate so very much.