I think you will get your wish.
"Bright youth passes swiftly as a thought." — Theognis
There is no "next year."
Not in today's college basketball, where Kentucky wins a national championship starting three freshmen and two sophomores, the NBA draft age limit creates a one-year holding pen for the sport's brightest young stars, and no graduating senior was selected in this year's lottery. It's not a new reality—as Michigan, home of the Fab Five, should well know—but one that's reaching its apex in the Age of Calipari.
This year's Michigan squad is no exception. The star of the show is sophomore point guard Trey Burke, who nearly exited for the pro ranks in April and, if all goes well, won't be back the next time around. A pair of precocious freshmen, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III, will start and hopefully star—three more newcomers should play prominent roles. The grizzled veteran of the team's core, junior swingman Tim Hardaway Jr., is still unable to legally imbibe.
John Beilein is building for the future, and a bright future it is. After sharing a Big Ten title last season, however, and then pulling in Michigan's finest recruiting class since the Ed Martin era, the Wolverines carry a top-five preseason ranking and expectations to win now. While the hype may be slightly overblown, anything less than the program's first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 1994 would be considered a disappointment.
How the team reaches that point is still very much in question. Hardaway, plagued by a balky jumper, ceded the role of lead dog to Burke as the season wore on in 2011-12; if he regains his stroke, he could emerge as the top scoring option. The presence of Jordan Morgan, McGary, and a healthy Jon Horford up front gives Beilein new-found depth and versatility with his lineup—Beilein spoke at media day of an offseason spent studying NBA film to see how the pros utilize two post players, a luxury he hasn't been afforded during his time in Ann Arbor. For their part, McGary and Robinson must live up to sky-high recruiting hype if this team hopes to deliver on their potential.
The extent to which the Wolverines miss Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, and Even Smotrycz depends largely on another freshman, Nik Stauskas, and his ability to connect from the outside. Yet another freshman, Spike Albrecht, will be called upon to replace "timeout" as Burke's backup. One more first-year guard, Caris LeVert, has earned rave reviews in practice and could provide scoring punch off the bench.
Despite the inexperience and uncertainty, this team represents Beilein's surest bet to take this program to the next level, and could very well be his best shot for a long time. That may sound rash, but the Wolverines have been close to the leap before, only to fall back: the Amaker tenure crumbled despite early promise, the 2009-10 squad faltered despite making the tournament with the same nucleus the year before, and even last year's team tripped up against 13-seed Ohio in the Big Dance. Trey Burke probably isn't walking through that door next year. There's no guarantee Tim Hardaway Jr. will, either. For that matter, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III have one-and-done potential if all goes well (too well, perhaps).
As the season tips off tonight in a refurbished Crisler Center, there's a distinct sense of urgency—not just to prove that this program is going places, but that they've already arrived. If the season goes according to plan, there won't be need for talk of next year, and that will truly signal the new age of Michigan basketball.
Denard is Michigan and Michigan is Denard. The defense has stepped up to mitigate that statement on the team front, but it's more true than ever for the offense. More true than last year, definitely.
One fine gentleman on the internet, known only as @jemather prompted me to look into how true it was for Michigan and how the Wolverine reliance on Denard matched up against other one-man shows.
For methodology I looked at every player who has at least 50 combined rushes and passes this season, that got me a group of 313 players. I then compared what the EV (not opponent adjusted) was for each of the plays where they passed or carried the ball. That number was then compared to the per-play average for every play their team ran that they didn’t pass or rush. Based on this route, Dri Archer of Kent State is college football’s most valuable player on a per-play basis. On 71 plays, Archer averaged 0.54 pts/play while the rest of his teammates averaged 0.04 pts/play on other plays. Coming in second, Denard Xavier Robinson. With a significantly higher 247 plays, Denard has average 0.23 pts/play while the non-Denard portion is a mirrored –0.23 pts/play. The only other major conference player over 0.35 is Kansas State’s Collin Klein at a 0.42 difference.
The concept of team replacement value is probably more true when you combine the per play average with number of plays for a total points added. By this measure, Denard still comes in second to a small college player. This time its quarterback Kolton Browning from Louisiana -Monroe. Browning’s 385 plays push his total value to the Warhawks for the season to 129 points, followed by Robinson’s 114 point contribution to Michigan. Here is your major college top 10.
|2||Collin Klein||Kansas St||213||90|
|4||Matt McGloin||Penn St||318||86|
|5||Logan Thomas||Virginia Tech||275||77|
|7||Taylor Kelly||Arizona St||220||64|
All quarterbacks leading the way. In fact, the top 32 spots all go to quarterbacks, reinforcing my belief that running backs are overrated. Dri Archer is the top running back at 35 points above team average. Venric Mark is the top major college running back at +30 for Northwestern.
The bottom line is that so far this season no player has been more crucial to his team’s success than Denard Robinson. His play hasn’t been perfect but when one player is responsible for half of his team’s points, its probably better to have him in the lineup. I am not looking forward to next year. I am too scared to look at what the best seasons by true freshman quarterbacks have been, but that still might be better than the alternative.
The same concept of most valuable player can be flipped to look at least valuable players. [Ed-S: In baseball they call this the Neifi Perez Factor. e-fact!] These are the players who keeping the ball in their hand is doing the most damage to their own team. It’s not just theoretical, these are the players who on a per play basis are doing less than their teammates are.
|4||Bryn Renner||North Carolina||294||-39|
Again, all quarterbacks. Hope you are enjoying the Vandenberg/Davis era Hawkeyes!
Biggest swing plays
+9%: Gibbons is good from 52 yards to put Michigan on the board
+11%: Martinez fumbles setting up Michigan with a chance for points before the half
+9%: Ojemudia intercepts Martinez
-8%: Martinez to Bell for the opening score
-22%: Bellomy intercepted by Smith and returned 53 yards
-10%: Maher hits from 51 yards
-8%: Bellomy intercepted by Stafford
-All the percents: Denard leaves the game
Denard Robinson: –1, +2%
Russell Bellomy: –12, –40%
Fitzgerald Toussaint: –3, –3%
Defense: +5, +18%
Michigan went into Lincoln as the underdog so the loss doesn’t alter the 8-win most likely projection. The performance did knock the expected win chances for the next three games from the 80’s to the 70’s, along with making Ohio a longer shot. The net effect is that although eight wins is still most likely, the odds of hitting nine wins is greatly reduced and seven wins is very much in play. The model assumes Denard plays the rest of the season but there is a negative portion from the Nebraska game for the time he was out.
Norm Chow is considered an offensive genius but he is apparently still a conventional decision maker when it comes to fourth down. With about six and a half minutes left, Hawaii trailed Colorado State by 8 and faced fourth and six at the Colorado State 39. Rather than push the field position and try to tie the game, Chow elected to punt, ultimately gaining 26 yards of field position. The Rams would take three minutes off the clock and give the Warriors back the ball at their own eight. Hawaii would not go on to win the game. Norm Chow is your Ron Zook Memorial Dumb Punt of the Week Award Winner.
Honorable mention for the week in dumb game theory is a joint award for Charlie Weis and Mack Brown who were simultaneously trying to shoot themselves in the foot at the end of the Kansas’s failed upset bid over Texas.
If you follow me or more likely Brian on twitter, you know that the blog’s current pet peeve is not using your timeouts on defense when the other team is about to score late, even if you lead. Kansas was leading by 3 and Texas had 1st and Goal at the 3 with 1:16 left on the clock. Texas only had one timeout left so there were two possible outcomes, Texas scores or is stopped. If Texas is stopped, Kansas can run out the clock, there is no downside to Kansas keeping more time on the clock. If Texas scored, the time becomes valuable to Kansas, not Texas. With 1:16 left on the clock and one timeout. Texas has plenty of time to make whatever play calls they want and an incentive to burn the clock. Kansas responds to this situation by not using their timeouts, not after a first down rush and not after a second down rush. Texas responds by rushing to the line each time. The good news for Longhorn fans is they scored a touchdown with only 8 seconds left. The bad news is that they shouldn’t have had to rush, especially with a timeout in their pocket. Kansas should have received the ball with just under a minute left instead of 8 seconds. The good news is that Kanas had two timeouts to use when they took over at their own 27 with 8 seconds left.
A game that seemed like a laugher not that long ago is all of the sudden close enough to be nervous. What does Michigan get out of its quarterback? If it's anything close to regular Denard the offense should be fine this week. If not, then who knows. After losing two quarterbacks, Minnesota has found two solid starts from Phillip Nelson, the only Gopher QB to post two positive games this season. The Michigan defense controls the game but the offense is unable to blow the game open.
Michigan 21 Minnesota 15
Yesterday's Picture Pages covered extensive confusion on Michigan's part as they tried to run basic isos against a basic defense but couldn't get the ILBs blocked, with a side of playcalls that leave guys alone in the hopes that accounting for end-around motion or the threat of an option play will draw players away from the actual threat.
A second major reason Nebraska had unblocked guys all over the place was blockers seeing a player shoot past them quickly and reacting. I've been doing this for a while now and this sort of thing has become one of my pet peeves. A blocker will see a defensive player run past them clean. They now have two options:
- Turn around and get that guy.
- Know—or at least hope—that wasn't your guy and find someone else to block.
Door A never works. They don't block the guy they missed, and they don't block anyone further downfield. When another blocker takes care of the aggressive player or the ballcarrier outruns him, the play is still screwed up because another defender is coming free.
This happened to Michigan on consecutive plays at the end of the first quarter. On the first, Michigan runs the veer from a 4-wide formation. Nebraska responds with two safeties at about ten yards and 5.5 guys in the box, as was their wont:
You can see the nickelback cheating off Dileo presnap, and he will come.
Remember earlier in the year when I was complaining that the linebackers didn't seem to understand that when the line slanted one way they should be moving against it since that is where the ball is likely to end up? This is an offensive version of that.
Dileo should know these things when the corner comes:
- Michigan is running the inverted veer.
- A blitzing corner is invariably the defense's force player—he contains and forces the runner inside.
- On an inverted veer the force player will be optioned off by the running back. The quarterback will have the ball going vertically.
So does he need to block the corner? No. Will he block the corner? Well, this post exists, so deduct for yourself.
Michigan snaps the ball and runs the veer. Barnum pulls. Here's the mesh point:
45 degrees from downhill—okay
The playside end is hugging the back of the tackle who's ignoring him. This is normally a give by Robinson, and Michigan has picked up some decent chunks early by giving. Denard pulls this time, which is good because that corner is coming to make the give a likely TFL. Nebraska made it easy by tipping that the nickelback was coming presnap.
Dileo should move to the next level, but he turns and starts pursuing the nickelback.
90 degrees! alert!
Argh. At this point the guy is gone, and even if Dileo makes contact there's a good chance he'll pick up a block in the back call. To add insult to injury, trying to block this guy you can't block is purposeless—he's already going to be optioned off.
- Barnum picks up the end.
- Schofield gets his free release and engages the MLB.
The coast is clear!
turned around: dead
Dawwwww, unblocked safety. Unblocked safeties.
Five yards, and Dileo comes back in at the end to go "dawwwwww."
If Dileo can cut that safety like Joe Reynolds did against State, that is six points. Even if the safety keeps his feet and contains, that's likely a first down.
[AFTER THE JUMP: dawwwww not again.]
[Things got a little pushed back this week in part due to the basketball preview. FFFF is going up now, obviously, and the recruiting roundup is bumped to Friday. There will be a final basketball outlook piece this afternoon and I'll be covering the NMU game tonight.]
Just for you, Brian
Thanks to some DVR-related hijinks and the scarcity of Minnesota football torrents, this week I'm breaking down the Minnesota-Wisconsin matchup from two weekends ago, a game that ended in a 38-13 Wisconsin victory. This was the first start for true freshman Philip Nelson, who looked like a freshman but not an entirely overwhelmed one, and an awful game for the Gopher defense, which ceded 337 rushing yards on 6.2 ypc.
To the breakdown!
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Very, very spread—before I stopped charting with the score 38-13 midway through the fourth, Minnesota had run exactly two offensive snaps from under center, one coming on a third-and-short.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Mostly zone read stuff for the Gophers, though they'll also mix in some gap blocking principles.
Hurry it up or grind it out? With a freshman QB, Minnesota wasn't going too high-tempo; this isn't unusual, as they currently plod along at 110th in the country in adjusted plays per game.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Assuming Nelson sticks at quarterback, which is the plan, the Gopher QB provides a running threat but not a big-play threat; aside from a 17-yard scamper when he shockingly juked Chris Borland in space, Nelson averaged just 3.3 yards per carry and didn't get any yards that weren't provided by the blocking. I'll give him a 5; if quarterback-turned-receiver Marqueis Gray is forced into action, Michigan faces a much better athlete that probably merits an 8.
Dangerman: The aforementioned Gray is Minnesota's best athlete at any position. He's only got eight catches this season as a result of bouncing between receiver and quarterback, but he's the only Gopher who really poses a major matchup problem at 6'4", 245 lbs., with impressive athleticism. Nelson targeted Gray frequently against the Badgers, though their timing was often off; he's a big target and a nice safety valve to have on the outside.
Zook Factor: Nothing too egregious from Jerry Kill on this day, though after Minnesota's touchdown late in the third quarter, he attempted an onsides kick by lining up practically his entire kickoff team between the hashes—rather obvious, guys—instead of going for a surprise onsides kick. Wisconsin recovered with relative ease.
Hennechart: Nelson was most accurate when going up the seam off play-action, largely because those plays (one of which is detailed in the breakdown below) usually netted a wide-open receiver. When asked to read coverage or fit a pass into a small window, he struggled—not surprising for a freshman throwing his first career passes:
Asterisks denote a BRX or INX—an especially bad read or inaccurate throw—and Nelson had one of each on his pair of interceptions; the first came on an ugly overthrow on a deep hitch that allowed a recovering defensive back to jump and grab, the second when he threw a slant into an unseen linebacker in underneath coverage.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown, including one of the better-blocked runs you'll ever see (by Wisconsin, of course)]
Formation notes: Much of the game was spent with Michigan in 2WR looks, leading to a lot of 4-3's like this with the linebackers shifted over the slot and a cornerback overhanging. When the receivers were split instead of twinned Michigan either got a straight up 4-3 even with two deep safeties or a shifted 4-4 look.
When Michigan spread the field, Nebraska defenders would go with them. Against three wide looks you got this:
And against four wide looks it was usually this:
Occasionally a safety would screw down but there weren't enough snaps with Denard on the field and M in a true spread to test it. Interestingly enough, I saw both Oregon and Arizona run double stacks last weekend like Borges does, except when they ran double stacks those stacks were damn near the edge of the field.
Substitution notes: Nothing new except for the obvious switch at QB. Rawls still can't get a snap. Funchess is playing all over the field, but rarely as an in-line TE.
[After the jump: it's okay and then DOOOOM.]
Bowlettes [Updated for clarity]:
- Devin Gardner has been taking most of the snaps at QB this week. Denard is obviously limited during his recovery, but I think it's curious that Bellomy has gotten only "a couple," regardless of whether he's the No. 1 or No. 2 backup. You'd expect Gardner and Bellomy to split reps equally and compete for the top backup spot. Plausible explanation: Bellomy is also limited by some undisclosed injury. (I don't know for sure, but it's an educated guess.) Either way, it sounds like Gardner is the bona fide starting QB until Denard recovers.
- As of now, Denard is expected back for Saturday. Hoke says the final call on the quarterback situation will be made just before game time. If you have been paying attention to Michigan's football program over the last season and a half, however, you have surmised that Michigan is highly unlikely to make this kind of decision just before game time. That decision will probably be made very soon if it has not been made already.
- If the distribution of QB snaps (see above) and Michigan's track record for saying things that turn out not to be true (e.g. previous injury reports and recovery projections, most notably during the Nebraska game, "Michigan says Denard will return to the game in the second half ...") are any indication, I would guess the probability that Denard plays on Saturday is around 50%, maybe less. In the absence of real information though, anything is possible; I'm not optimistic, but I never am.
- Amara Darboh and Joe Reynolds have gotten the reps at receiver that Gardner is now missing.
“Thought we came out yesterday and had a really good practice. That’s good to see. We didn’t play as well as we’d like to. I think everybody understands that, but I think we’ve moved forward and did a lot of things as a team very well. Competed very well. We’re pretty physical with each other, which is always a good thing. You don’t have guys feeling sorry for themselves, so the intensity level was good.”
Can you talk at all about the division of snaps at quarterback?
“You know, I couldn’t give you an exact number, to be honest with you. You know, Denard took some, Devin took a lot, and then Russell took a couple.”
Will Denard play on Saturday?
“We’re planning on it.”
Does he have any physical limitations?
“Not really. Not right now. He’s better. It’s not all the way cleared up yet, but it’s better.”