mesmerism! presidential assassinations! circuses on fire!
via @cjzero, obviously
I can't. I just... I can't. Thank you, Northwestern, for being Northwestern.
Consider this an open thread to celebrate(!) a victory(!!) featuring multiple touchdowns!!!
(Shhhhhhh, don't ruin it by mentioning the multiple overtimes part.)
A moment comes when you first start listening to minimalist music—for some people it comes quickly, for some people it never clicks at all—when your perception of time changes. As a musician famously described his first exposure to a Philip Glass opera; his initial boredom was transformed as...
I began to perceive...a whole world where change happens so slowly and carefully that each new harmony or rhythmic addition or subtraction seemed monumental...
...he said as the rhythmic woodblock...no, it's Adams not Glass...the woodblock crack of the pulling Stanford guard's pads as he thumped the Oregon SAM out of the hole play after play after play after...
NO! I will NOT spend my Thursday evening in an altered state of consciousness. So I started using the media timeouts, and then the time between plays (well, at least when Stanford had the ball, which thankfully was just about always) to work on a project I'd started a few days earlier during the Gameboy diaries, pulling participation reports for all 125 FBS teams and pulling roster/bio information to get the classes of their starters on the o-line.
And some of you people think huddles serve no purpose.
Honestly, the Horse Wasn't Dead When I Started
The results are here, usefully tabled in a spreadsheet to save some work for the next sap that starts on one of these projects.
Of course, as I sat down at my computer to do some regression analysis on the data I opened the blog and saw Gandalf's diary covering most of what I was planning to do (and doing a better job of it I might add). But I was taking a slightly different tack and found a couple of wrinkles, so for the sake of the eight of you that are still interested I'll continue on....
First a couple of comments about the dataset (feel free to skip the rest of this section, but it might be important if anyone uses the data for further analysis). Gandalf took his data from depth charts at the ourlads.com scouting site; mine come from the starting lineup listed in each school's participation report in the official game stats for their most recent game against FBS competition (sometimes coaches play with their lineup for games they're treating as exhibitions, give a start to a loyal walk-on for example, so if the most recent game was against a Delaware State I pulled the lineup for the week prior).
The official reports have the virtue, or defect, of being precise accounts of who was on the field. Sometimes that was a problem because everyone doesn't actually use five offensive linemen all the time. Idaho started a game with four, presumably spreading the field with covered, ineligible tight ends and wide receivers. Somebody else came out heavy and listed six. There were also some schools that simply listed their linemen as “OL” without assigning specific positions.
Where possible I straightened those situations out by using the schools' published depth charts. When that didn't work either I looked at third-party depth charts and did my best to reconcile them with the actual starters. It's possible there are a couple of players out of position here, but I don't think it's material.
For teams, usually pistol teams, that flop their line, I assumed the tight end would line up to the right and assigned the quick tackle and guard to the left side and the strong tackle and guard to the right.
For obvious reasons, service academies don't redshirt players. If an academy lineman's bio showed a year in which he didn't see game action, I counted that year as a redshirt and subtracted the year from his class. The point after all was to look at experience, not remaining eligibility.
Additive and Multiplicative Measures of Experience
My starting point was two proposals in the Gameboy diaries. Gameboy himself proposed assigning a value to each player (one point for each year, half a point for a redshirt) and adding them (well, averaging them, which of course is the same thing but for scale). That average appears in the spreadsheet as the GLEM (Gameboy Line Experience Metric).
In a comment to one of the diaries reshp1 suggested an alternative: assigning a value to each player based on experience (conceived as the probability that the player in question will successfully carry out his assignment) and multiplying those values and subtracting the product from one to get the probability that an assignment will be busted on a given play. That probability appears in the spreadsheet as the RBI (Reshp Bust Index). It's basically the weakest-link theory with the additional recognition that anyone might turn out to be the weakest link on a given play.
I focused on the latter metric because conceptually it makes sense to me and because it wasn't treated in Gandalf's diary. Reshp1 pulled the probabilities out of the air, or his hat, or somewhere, but the analysis doesn't seem to be sensitive to the particular choices here. The values are in a lookup table on page 2 of the spreadsheet if anyone wants to play around with alternatives.
Before I go on, a sanity check on Reshp1's metric—a list of the ten youngest lines:
- UCLA (7-2, 4-2)
- Idaho (1-9)
- California (1-9, 0-7)
- Wake Forest (4-6, 2-5)
- Eastern Michigan (2-8, 1-5)
- Western Kentucky (6-4, 2-3)
- Tulane (6-4, 4-2)
- Maryland (5-4, 1-4)
- Arkansas (3-7, 0-6)
- Michigan (6-3, 2-3)
Not a list you want to be on; those are some bad teams right there, combining for a 16-37 record in their respective conferences and that's flattering because it leaves out independent Idaho, who's probably the worst of the lot. (You can point to UCLA if you like as proof that, if everything goes right, you can survive starting multiple freshmen. Arkansas fans are probably pointing to Michigan and saying the same thing.)
The Running Game
Sanity check #2 is to redo Gandalf's work, but with Reshp's metric. Here's a graph of yards per carry vs. RBI:
That looks familiar. R2 is .058; the correlation coefficient is -.24 (these coefficients will all be negative because RBI is smaller for more experienced lines). And if we strip out the tackles and just look at the interior?
R2 is .084, the correlation coefficient is -.29, and it's not a coincidence that this looks an awful lot like Gandalf's chart using “youngest interior lineman”.
Weakest link, check. Experience matters more on the interior than at the tackles, check.
But what I really wanted to do was to look at the impact of o-line experience on an offense as a whole. To do that I've used the offensive component of the Fremeau Efficiency Index, which looks at all offensive drives (except for clock-kills and garbage-time drives) and compares the results to expectations based on the starting field position. By its nature it's pace-adjusted and independent of the effect of the team's defense; they also apply a strength of schedule adjustment.
Here's the chart:
R2 is .026, the correlation coefficient is –.16. The effect’s not as large, but a young line impacts the whole offense, not just the run game.
It made some sense that in the running game experience would matter more in the interior than at the tackles since it's an interior lineman that makes the line calls and the assignments tend to be more complicated inside. It wasn't so clear that this would still hold when the passing game was added in:
but that's what we find. The correlation is greater when we only look at the interior. R2 is .048, the correlation coefficient is -.22.
It's on the interior that experience really matters. And Michigan's interior RBI ranks 123rd of 125 FBS teams.
How Large an Effect?
A lot was made in Gandalf's diary, and especially in the comments, about the low R2 values here, which were seen as a demonstration of the relative unimportance of experience vs. other factors, like coaching.
I see it differently. This is an extremely diverse universe of teams we're looking at here. There are differences between Michigan and Eastern, or between Ohio State and Ohio U., that can't ever be overcome by something as simple as inexperience on the line. A lot of the scatter in these charts is just a matter of big programs being big and small programs being small. Given those enormous differences in baseline levels of the various FBS teams it's amazing to me that we could see anything like 5-8% of a performance difference being credited to any one team demographic, especially when the difference is measured using an SOS-adjusted metric like Fremeau.
And the slopes of these trend lines aren't small. The expected oFEI difference between 2012 Michigan and 2013 Michigan is .32; the actual difference is .197. The expectation, just correcting last year's performance for the youth on the field this year, was for a worse offense than we've actually seen.
Put another way, if you use that trend line to adjust for this year's lack of experience, add the missing .32, Michigan's offense goes to 19th in the nation, right behind Stanford and Louisville. UCLA turns into Oregon. Eastern becomes Bowling Green and maybe English keeps his job. Everybody's happy.
Good Teams are All Alike, Every Bad Team is Bad in its Own Way
I thought I'd try to get a handle on that by comparing each team's performance to the baseline they've established historically. I've averaged the oFEI's for each program for the five-year period from 2008-2012, then calculated the deviation of this year's performance from that average.
Basically, we're now looking at year-to-year deviations in performance within each program.
On the one hand, this gets rid of the scatter due to the vast discrepancy in baseline performance expectations from the top to the bottom of the division.
On the other hand, this also filters out any effect from programs like Wisconsin whose strength largely comes from the fact that they always field powerful, experienced lines. There's not much year-to-year variance there—they're always old, always good.
So it's possible we won't see any bigger correlation here than before...
...what happened? R2 is .009. Two-thirds of the effect is now gone. (A result, by the way, that's consistent no matter what metrics I use for line experience.) Apparently, only a third of the effect we’re looking at is a matter of one-off bad seasons due to a young line; most of the effect is systematic, inherent in particular programs. It's almost as if there were a correlation between poor past performance and current youth, and that's because there is:
There's the missing two-thirds. Historically (well, over the last five years anyway) bad teams are on the left, good programs on the right. There's less current youth (lower Bust Index) as you move right.
A look back at the teams listed earlier provides a clue. It's a mix of historically bad programs like Eastern, struggling FCS converts like Idaho, and programs that have suffered some sort of recent calamity, the kind that makes you decide to hire John L. Smith to be your substitute teacher for a year. Some had horrible recruiting, some had retention problems…each one has had its peculiar issues but every one of them is a program in disarray—some recovering, some not. Teams don’t field multiple freshmen because they want to; they do it because things fell apart.
We'll know more if someone does the study suggested in the comments to Gandalf's diary, looking at overall roster depth instead of just the age of the starters, but I think what's happening here is that the Wisconsin effect is the dominant effect in the study. Good programs don't suffer from youth on their lines because (a) it doesn't happen to them and (b) when it does, it's not a sign of weakness. When Andrus Peat finds his way to the top of the depth chart as a sophomore it's because he's beaten out multiple upperclassmen and won the position. When Kyle Bosch find his way to the top of the depth chart it's by default; the juniors and seniors he's supposed to be competing against aren't on the roster.
I think the next thing I might try, if I were of a mind to keep flogging this, is to do something so straightforward and blunt as to look for a correlation between offensive efficiency and the number of scholarship upperclass o-linemen on a roster (more telling than the percentage, I would guess).
Something's been missing from Michigan gamedays since the free programs ceased being economically viable: scientific gameday predictions that are not at all preordained by the strictures of a column in which one writer takes a positive tack and the other a negative one… something like Punt-Counterpunt.
by Nick RoUMel
Michigan is facing a Northwestern team that come mid-November, has yet to win a Big Ten game. And Northwestern is favored.
This is how far we have fallen.
Remember Spinal Tap, the fictional band that was once hugely popular, but then became so irrelevant that they were billed below a puppet show?
Michigan is Spinal Tap. (And Michigan State is Puppet Show, but that’s another story.)
Bo is spinning in his grave. In fact, everyone who has died since Bo is spinning in his grave. Lou Reed, for example, is spinning in his grave. Even he thinks he can do a better job on the offensive line:
“Put me in Coach, I’m ready to play!”
We are nothing more than a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team. How did that happen? How did Puppet Show achieve supremacy in our state rivalry, with a freshman quarterback and a bunch of scrappy 3-star players?
Can you imagine what Michigan’s record would be with the same coaches and Michigan State’s roster?
Back in the day when I played recreational softball, we had a saying to help our team rally to victory. “Gotta want it.”
Give the Sparties credit – they come to play.
But when have you last seen Michigan WANT IT? The Wolverines go to work, punch the clock, and grouse about the copy machine. “The copier repair guy, he didn’t execute today. … But we’ll make those copies tomorrow, right? And maybe collate them if we have time? … So, wanna hit happy hour? No? OK, See ya tomorrow.”
Gotta want it, Blue. Show me you do. Call me a fair weather fan if you want, but I watch sports for fun and enjoyment. I want to have fun again. Let’s renew our vows. Let’s get high. Let’s play that game where you dress up like a detective and I wear the Spider-Man Underoos … oh, wait. Wrong game. But I can still fantasize:
MICHIGAN 24, NORTHWESTERN 23
By Heiko Yang
Losing is a familiar feeling. I started following Michigan football during the Rich Rod era, so dropping every game in November used to be an expectation, not a disappointing surprise.
What’s unfamiliar about all this is how little hope there seems to be that anything is going to get better any time soon. Until this season, there always seemed to be a fix for every mistake. Can’t throw the ball to convert on third down? Use Denard’s legs. Linebackers getting clubbed to death by offensive linemen? Teach the defensive line how to absorb blocks. Don’t have a viable backup quarterback? Convert Devin Gardner back to QB.
Every time Michigan lost, you could count on seeing adjustments the next game, and those adjustments would work. Last week was the first time under Brady Hoke where those adjustments either didn’t work or weren’t there at all. Unsurprisingly, it was the first time Michigan lost in back-to-back weeks since 2010.
What’s so disappointing about all this is the coaching staff no longer seems to be an all-knowing entity that’s limited only by the execution errors of its players. Until now I likened the football program to a brilliant scientist trying to run a lab full of inexperienced graduate students: the experiments are well designed, and when something fails, it’s usually because someone forgot to add a reagent or contaminated a solution. Technique and fundamentals, that sort of thing. These days I have to wonder whether there’s something inherently wrong with the scientist. He’s so fixated on his favorite hypothesis that he’s forcing his students to repeat the same failed experiments over and over until the lab gets driven into the ground.
As of this morning we have a sample size of two games telling us that the Michigan football program is more likely the latter scenario. By this evening that number will become three. Wait and see for yourself: Michigan’s coaches have suggested all week that Michigan’s offensive game plan will be no different than it was against Michigan State or Nebraska. You’ll know this to be true when Michigan lines up in an ace set on second and long and runs play action or comes out in I form with Derrick Green as the tailback on first down.
Will it work? Can it work? Should it work? “Theoretically,” will be next Tuesday’s Word of the Day.
Michigan 17, Northwestern 24.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Northwestern|
|WHEN||3:30 PM Eastern
November 16th, 2013
|THE LINE||Northwestern -3|
|WEATHER||mid 50s, cloudy, rainy
20 mph winds
why am I going to this
Two teams will play a football game.
Run Offense vs Northwestern
After last weekend it doesn't seem like the opponent matters here. Be they Alabama or an irregular unit of limbs blown off in World War I, eleven entities set in opposition to the Michigan rushing offense will bludgeon it with whatever is handy until it lets out a final wet squeak and collapses in a pile of hypocrisy and charlatanism six inches from its starting point.
But I suppose we have to evaluate. Northwestern's rush defense is middling at best, clubbed for 248 and 286 yards by Ohio State and Wisconsin but able to hold Northwestern in low-scoring games against Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska. Those opponents all piled up 150-ish yards with Nebraska approaching 200 themselves but they required piles of carries to do it: 49 for Minnesota, 41 for Iowa, 50 for Nebraska. Sack adjusted YPCs start out ugly and then are mostly respectable:
- OSU: 5.3
- Wisconsin: 6.4
- Minnesota: 4.3
- Iowa: 3.5
- Nebraska: 4.8
As of last week, Northwestern was just about dead average in the Big Ten at giving up sack adjusted yards on the ground with 4.7 on the season. They didn't play last week, so that holds. They're just flat middling.
The catch, of course, is that all of the teams they've played so far with the possible exception of Iowa can, you know, run the ball. Forward. Michigan patently cannot.
This is the point at which I say things like enormous outliers, no one's had back-to-back negative rushing games since 2008, things are bound to turn around, it just takes a little bit of elbow grease and derring-do. And I do kind of believe bits of that. At some point Michigan will try to take the ball forward on the ground and do so. Northwestern's not that much better than Indiana statistically and Nebraska was… well, it was a series of unblocked blitzes that Michigan never found an answer to.
At some point the dam has to break, at which point a sickly green trail of algae feeding on the broken dreams of Michigan fans will charge forward for three yards a carry. Is that going to be this game? If they want to do it this year, that would be advisable.
Key Matchup: You versus Your Liver. You hate your liver and want to drown it; your liver feels the same way about you, buddy.
[Hit THE JUMP for IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT]
I don't pretend to know the intricacies of football but during the Nebraska game it seemed that Toussaint, in pass protection, would wait for his blocking assignment to come to him before engaging the player. Seeing as Toussaint is significantly smaller then the LB or lineman he's been assigned to block this usually resulted in Toussaint getting pushed backwards (physics and all). Is this how RBs are typically coached to play pass protection?
I mostly stay away from the how of any particular technique failing; more of a "what" guy since I didn't play the game, etc. But to me Toussaint's blocking issues stem from three problems:
- Michigan's line has to resort to slide protections that often expose him to a pass-rushing DE. This is a bad matchup for anyone.
- He's part of that need to resort to slide protections since his recognition isn't good; when he is tasked with identifying guys to pick up he often catches them. Vincent Smith and Mike Hart would find guys and then get some momentum before making contact.
- He hits guys too high sometimes, which makes it easy for them to shed him and attack. Smith and Hart got low, or in Smith's case existed in a perpetual state of low-ness.
3 is his problem, 2 is part his and part a holistic inability to pick up blitzes, and 1 is not his fault.
What's different about this year?
Regarding the offensive line, I saw some comments that intrigued me that intrigued me the other day and I’m curious your perspective.
Borges indicated that another variable in the mix this year is that it’s “the first year in the scheme we’ve wanted to move to.” Based on your work therefore, do you conclude that:
1) There is a significant difference this year in scheme, protections, and what the offense is asking of the o’line?
2) That experienced lines would be impacted by such a scheme change?
3) That inexperienced players would unimpacted (i.e. just as inexperienced)?
4) That therefore the years experience/games experience would also be negatively impacted from a production standpoint.
So that in conclusion – there’s actually hope bc the ones that are young are young and the ones that are supposed to have experience have less experience than one would otherwise understand to be true.
And – that next year or the year after really will be better!
Keep up the good work.
Unfortunately, I'm not seeing a whole lot of evidence for that rationale.
Borges's comments make no sense. This year started out with Michigan running a bunch of stretch plays, which was a departure from what they'd done the first two years… and a staple of the Rodriguez offense. If that's what he meant, he could have just, you know, kept running the stretch.
Instead Michigan was almost exclusively an inside zone and power team their first two years here, and the differences between running those things from under center versus the shotgun are minimal. There has been a more concerted effort to run plays from under center, but that shift was even more pronounced late last year after Gardner took the helm of the offense.
If anything's changed this year from last year in terms of blocking it's that Denard isn't around to bail it out. Borges trying to use him to cover his ass by claiming he somehow couldn't run the schemes he wanted to be cause the guy running behind them was also the one taking the snap is a weak excuse that throws Denard (of all people!) under the bus.
[After THE JUMP: WHY WOULD YOU THINK THAT MAKES ME FEEL BETTER]