Mike Lantry, 1972
So I couldn't in good conscience do a basketball or hockey or softball roundtable question the week of the Ohio State game, lest Bo leap from his grave and stab out my eyes.* On the other hand I've been around here long enough to know what it means when the otters and Big Lebowski references come out (I don't know what posting the game column at 5 a.m. means but it's probably bad).
In that "game column"-type thing Brian suggested a future that's basically 20 years of the late-Carr program. Perhaps a more detailed assessment is in order:
Play out the next four years of Michigan football (If you think Coach X is replaced by Coach Y you can incorporate that into your fantasy.)? What are some of the potential pitfalls along the way? Any reassessment on our rivals going forward?
*People were asking what happened to the Blog That Yost Built.
Mathlete: If I would have charted my optimistically realistic expectations entering the Hoke era, here is what it would look like versus achievement on a completely arbitrary scale.
One year of lucky over-achievement, then a year of par and this year. The trajectory is all wrong but the total results are about right. With the strong recruiting and a quality group coming of players moving into the upper class I still think last year could be close to expectations. After nearly three seasons here would be my grades for Hoke and the coordinators:
Brady Hoke: Incomplete
Greg Mattison: A
Al Borges: D (GERG gave up 37 points to UMass, Borges at least torched Indiana)
Hoke gets an incomplete pending how the offense turns out next year. The defense is his specialty and their solid progression is a positive sign. Whether Borges survives to next year or not and if he stays and how much things get better (it has to get better, right?) will be the major determiner of his grade. Most of the offensive failures to date aren't on Hoke in my mind, but everything going forward will be.
|The future on defense is Tacos. [Upchurch]|
That's a long preamble to the original question, what do the next four years look like?
Next year the defense will be good, probably very good. The offense who knows. At this point I think anything is possible. Borges could get fired but probably won't. He could stay and things could be marginally better, he could stay and things could click and they could be good but probably still frustrating.
Beyond 2014 the defense should be consistently good. Historically, defenses loaded with talent like Michigan is bringing have a pretty low variance. They may not always be elite, but it's pretty hard for them to be bad. I really don't know what to say about the offense. Anything is possible, they could turn into Stanford next year or they could limp through a couple more years of Borges, with enough talent and a good enough defense to keep things intact but not good enough to compete with the best teams on the schedule.
As to the rivals, the only question for Ohio State is, can Urban maintain success at one place for an extended period? He has never stayed in one place for more than six seasons. As long as he is there Ohio State should be pretty similar to what we've seen from him to date. Are they going to go undefeated every year, certainly not, their win streak hasn't exactly come against murderers row. But the schedule isn't going to get a lot tougher in the Big Ten and I would expect their regular season win total to reach double digits more often than not.
Across the state, it's a bit more complex. Does Narduzzi leave after this year? How high of a level can the defense maintain with Dantonio but no Narduzzi. If he stays or Dantonio can keep things moving without him, the Spartans aren't going anywhere. The offense will probably never be good enough to put them at a consistently elite level, but they should be a real player in the East division. If the defense can't stay elite, Michigan State's chances of staying competitive at the top year after a year probably leave too.
Brennen Beyer won't forget that moment. Long after Al Borges is just a name from a past that may or may not haunt us as fans, the Canton native who stayed close to home will delight in telling his family and friends about the time he—a defensive end—scored a touchdown; he'll have the football to prove it, and the final score of the game will be largely irrelevant.
These moments have been frustratingly few and far between this season, especially this month; even in the shadow of defeat, however, they provide fleeting flashes of joy, even when we're doing our best to detach emotionally.
When Devin Gardner rolled out, couldn't reach the corner, then threw aside Tanner Miller like a defective Weeble-Wobble before hitting A.J. Williams for his first career reception—in the end zone, no less—my reaction wasn't to slump back onto the couch, muttering something about Al Borges's doomed waggles; it was "F*** YEAH, DEVIN." Maybe not so profound or eloquent, but damn if it didn't feel good.
Then Michigan lost, miserably, and I drove home in a funk. But they had their moments, and so did I.
[After THE JUMP, basketball moments.]
[No MGoQuestions because of Thanksgiving and ennui. Audio for the following transcription is courtesy of Chantel Jennings.]
“As far as last game, I was disappointed that we gave up that lead. That’s not what our defense tries to do. No matter what happens, we have to hold onto it. But moving forward, we’ve got to get this one.”
What kind of challenges does Braxton Miller give you?
“Braxton Miller is a great football player. I am very very impressed with his development. He’s becoming a complete quarterback. He’s not only a tremendous athlete but he’s got a very good arm and he’s making a lot of great decisions. I mean, he’s going to be a great challenge. That’s why they are who they are. He’s really done a great job.”
It is a media tradition to hammer at flailing coaches with frowny-face serious questions about how hard everything is on the players and coaches and such because they have to put up with this howling pack of fans. And I try not to get exercised about anything that comes out of that, just like I try to roll my eyes and move on at every article about a triumph in the face of The Critics. Coaches arrive at press conferences at one goal: to get out without saying something notable. When they do say something notable, it is a mistake.
But I'm pissed off anyway. Hoke fielded a question about what is going to be a sea of red in Michigan Stadium:
"You know, people are fickle," Hoke said. "That's just the way it is. That's the world we live in."
This is of course horseshit. It's horseshit on the level of "we need to run a pro-style offense so we can stop Big Ten offense," i.e., the greatest and grandest horseshit in all the world. Hercules is required to shovel this. The big reveal from the last 20 years of media development is that fans are the only people left who aren't fickle. They can't stop watching, and what's more they can't stop watching live with all those lovely commercials interspersed. Fans submit themselves until they have commercials memorized. Until they are legendary.
In all other areas of television consumption I go out of my way to avoid commercials, going so far as to not watch recent seasons of shows I like until they arrive on Netflix. It will be four years before I see the Patton Oswalt filibuster in context. This is why every time a rights deal expires, networks treat the newly single package of games like it's the last cabbage patch doll on Black Friday.
Meanwhile, the people in charge have decided to test the edges of that fandom with an explosion in ticket prices. Paul Campos:
Here’s the price of a regular admission (not student) University of Michigan football ticket over time.
(All figures are in 2012 dollars, rounded to the nearest dollar. I couldn’t find 1970 and 1980 so I substituted the nearest available year).
This year a seat on the 15 yard line is 129 dollars with the PSL, almost three times as much as it was in 2000 and almost four times as much as it was in 1990, in constant 2012 dollars.
Ryan Field was half Michigan fans, for some reason [Bryan Fuller]
In Michigan's specific case, they have beaten Ohio State once in the last nine years and are two-touchdown home underdogs. They are getting gouged on ticket prices in an unprecedented fashion. The athletic department has made it absolutely clear that it has no loyalty to them with "dynamic pricing" that only goes one way. Up.
There is a breaking point for even the most zealous fan. I'm the guy with the blog that's his career and I'm at mine. The only reason I am going on Saturday is because I would feel shame at not going. Absent the weird moral imperatives of fandom, I would be doing anything else. Like bowling, which I hate.
Everybody in blue in that stadium—and it will still be a majority, probably—is paying for the privilege of having their heart punched. Unlike you, they are not getting three million dollars to watch Michigan shuffle around like a syphilitic pig who thinks everything's a truffle. Collectively they are in fact giving you those three million dollars. Collectively they built the stadium you play in and the opulent locker rooms you dress in.
So take your "fickle" and shove it. Angry, sure. Impatient, sure. Because we are locked into this thing we do every week that we pretty much hate. We do so out of a sense of loyalty that the program goddamn well doesn't reciprocate with its 500 dollar waiting lists and worst access level in the country—the team that is going to stuff you in a locker on Saturday has open practices in front of the entire student section—and scheduling goddamned Appalachian State because the athletic director thinks it's cute. Any reasonable person would look at the recent history of Michigan football and go do anything else. We're here because we're locked in.
You? You've got a buyout.
It is not the fans' fault that this program is awful to be a fan of. It's not Rich Rodriguez's fault. Anyone who sells their ticket for whatever they can get—currently 60 bucks and dropping from 80 yesterday—is only making a logical decision to not get punched in the soul dong on Saturday.
I'll hate them all the same, but half out of envy this time. They are no longer mindless wallets. They don't give a crap if Brady Hoke calls them fickle, and don't write articles on the internet about it. They are logical people.
The reason Michigan Stadium is going to be half-red on Saturday isn't because of "the world we live in" except insofar as it contains a Michigan football team that people at Abu Ghraib wouldn't show prisoners.
Note: Most of of my long "here's a handy guide for Borges complaining" post got deleted. Here's a few bits of it.
So I did the thing where I update (finally) the UFR database, then self-UFR the last game because this damn column comes before Brian does the UFR for the latest one, and then I say things about all the things. Let's just cut to the things:
Yards per play (# attempts in parentheses) of normal downs by formation.
|Opponent||Shotgun||Ace||I-Form||Pistol||Tackle Over||Goal line||Total YPP|
|Central Michigan||6.7 (17)||7.7 (21)||7 (19)||3 (2)||-||1.5 (2)||6.8|
|Notre Dame||7.4 (14)||10.6 (22)||3.2 (13)||4.4 (14)||-||-||7.0|
|Akron||21.8 (11)||5.6 (19)||4.5 (18)||-1.8 (5)||-||-||7.6|
|Connecticut||5 (25)||2.8 (19)||1.8 (12)||3.5 (4)||-||4 (1)||3.6|
|Minnesota||6.1 (9)||4.9 (7)||1.7 (7)||-||5.8 (20)||-||5.0|
|Penn State||3.6 (16)||7.7 (22)||3.8 (9)||6.4 (7)||0.8 (11)||-||4.8|
|Indiana||7.2 (34)||14.1 (14)||8.8 (16)||4 (1)||11 (8)||-||9.2|
|Michigan State||5.3 (23)||7.4 (7)||1.8 (4)||0.1 (12)||-||-||4.0|
|Nebraska||4 (23)||0.3 (7)||1.8 (12)||6.3 (6)||-||0 (1)||3.1|
|Northwestern||5.4 (16)||4.7 (21)||5 (24)||11 (3)||-||-1 (2)||5.1|
|Iowa||2.7 (23)||1.2 (9)||5 (13)||4 (2)||-||-||3.1|
|Total||6.1 (33%)||6.7 (27%)||4.6 (23%)||3.6 (9%)||5.5 (6%)||0.8 (1%)||5.6|
What's left out are 2-minute drills, 3rd/4th down and longer than 6, and any short situations.
And yards per play by how spread, i.e. the # of receivers in formation, they got each game, with % of plays they lined up that way in parentheses:
|Central Michigan||2.33||1.5 (3%)||2 (3%)||8.1 (56%)||7 (33%)||-1.3 (5%)||-|
|Notre Dame||2.29||-||-0.8 (6%)||8.6 (59%)||5.5 (35%)||-||-|
|Akron||2.23||-||9 (4%)||5.5 (70%)||13.5 (26%)||-||-|
|Connecticut||2.33||4 (2%)||2.5 (7%)||2.9 (49%)||4.5 (43%)||-||-|
|Minnesota||1.70||2 (5%)||4 (35%)||5.4 (47%)||7.7 (14%)||-||-|
|Penn State||2.14||-||5.7 (14%)||5.2 (58%)||3.7 (28%)||-||-|
|Indiana||2.66||-0.5 (3%)||16.2 (7%)||9.7 (40%)||10.7 (23%)||6.5 (27%)||-|
|Michigan State||3.00||-||-8 (2%)||4.1 (26%)||4.8 (41%)||3.6 (30%)||-|
|Nebraska||2.47||0 (2%)||3.7 (6%)||0.5 (43%)||6.3 (41%)||1.3 (8%)||-|
|Northwestern||2.15||-1 (3%)||2.2 (8%)||4.9 (64%)||5.7 (23%)||18.0 (3%)||-|
|Iowa||2.91||-||-1 (2%)||3.6 (38%)||2.1 (30%)||3.8 (26%)||3.5 (4%)|
|All games||2.38||0.8 (2%)||4.6 (8%)||5.7 (51%)||6.2 (30%)||4.8 (9%)||3.5 (<1%)|
My base assumption was that when Michigan goes more spread they're putting the B+ receiving threat of Dileo, or the C+ receiving of Chesson on the field, and usually moving the C- blocking/D- receiving of A.J. Williams or Joe Kerridge off of it.
The Fetal Position Theory of Offense
However going to wider looks didn't seem to do much good against Iowa or Michigan State (that one at least M was behind for a good portion). That's because of a lot of things, one of those being that despite spreading it out, Michigan's been leaving those guys anyway. Both players are probably the best blockers of their position groups, but that's not saying much. Meanwhile they give up pretty much any threat of doing something other than blocking, and opponents have used that opportunity to tee off. Since neither is good enough to pick up a majority of those blitzes, there've been a lot of messes in the backfield as a result.
Iowa blew up Michigan's penultimate drive with back-to-back A-gap blitzes. On the first Kerridge was in to pass block and got lit up by the blitzer, who was immediately into Gardner. On the second they had Green in there and had him run a pattern that the defense ignored. With immediate pressure Gardner ignored Green and chucked a pass into an unready Funchess's back. That is progress, but the lesson is just doing the thing you ought to be good at doesn't fix the problem; you have to practice doing it as well.
But even when they do spread like a boss, there's a lot of things going wrong. Look that this play, the penultimate (so rare you get to use that word twice in a day) offensive one of the game for Michigan:
Starts at 0:53:38 if browser player isn't working.
There's so many ways to win here, but nothing comes of them.
1. There's bubble action. Though of course they don't throw it despite it being open because this isn't a check (Michigan's checks are only to ISO or the pistol speed option). And Funchess, not Gallon or—infinite ARRRGHHH—Norfleet, is still the designated bubble screen guy. Anyway with the safety deep and bailing, the bubble is 7-12 free yards if Michigan can recognize it and throw it, but that has to be built into the offense. The way Borges has been using the bubble screen is on called plays. It was cool that he threatened it out of a more open look—previously it seemed his capitulation to this one play was predicated solely on its usefulness for running from heavy sets. The way Rodriguez used—and the way Urban will deploy it against us on Saturday—is it was as an instant check to things opponents did to hamper his zone read game.
|Fuller captured one of the ultra-rare instances of a shotgun-Kerridge play that wasn't him blocking.|
2. Tipped zone blitz. That end spread out and the obviously blitzing linebackers suggests there's going to be a zone blitz pre-snap but there's just 6 seconds on the playclock at that moment so they don't really get to adjust to that. Still, this is a win for an outside run, since that DE is going to drop back and stand where a great block would normally deposit him.
3. Center and guard versus linebackers. This ought to be a win. Those LBs stunt their blitz a bit so that the first gets a 2-for-1 and the second can slice in free. By coming up pre-snap they made it harder for Glasgow to get off the combo and pick up his guy, but he just has to come off the double and take a half-step sideways to block that gap. Here's where agility in a spread center helps you, and where the lack of it hurts Glasgow, even when he knows what he's supposed to do.
4. Magnuson starts the play far to the playside of that tackle. That's a big advantage for the offense. The DT indeed slants into Mags, then chucks him and gets to the outside, totally blowing that advantage.
5. It's Devin Gardner and Fitz Toussaint in the backfield, so chances of a missed tackle are pretty good. However Gardner is at about 45% right now because he's been beat up so badly in the last few weeks, and Toussaint's pass blocking problems are part of what's inviting these interior blitzes, since the downside for the defense (having that guy violently cut to the ground while a receiver slants into the unoccupied territory) is unlikely from Michigan's offense.
Also Jackson's is hesitant with his block, and is set up to spring Funchess to the outside, so that nickel guy is going to be free to tackle after just a few.
So going to a spread isn't going to fix everything. The formation did give them more room and opened up the bubble, but Michigan can't access those yards because they come to the line too late to see anything in the defense and adjust to it, and hasn't practiced doing that. The defensive playcall made Glasgow's athleticism the key to the key block, but that's not Glasgow's strength. And crappy blocking elsewhere meant this play was still dead in four ways. Such is Michigan's offense. They're not all good at any one thing, and they don't do the things that some of them are good at, and the end result is a lot of plays where guys are forced to execute the things they're bad at.
The Little Bubble Package: Dead?
Here's how the Bubble-or-Run package has fared:
Iowa was crashing the backside SAM and had their safety ready to pounce on the bubble (even if Funchess didn't drop one). I think there's something you can do about that (dare I say rollout?). Running it against Northwestern was cool, but I would have expected Borges to know by now that's it's scouted and lead off with that third counter. Or add it to the scrap heap with the rest of the fancy things he's tried. I'm sure a picture pages is coming so I won't get further into it.
There are several lists circulating around out there so I decided to reach out to as many prospects as I could to confirm either that they will be in attendance or that they won’t be. Every name below I have personally confirmed their presence or absence. These lists are of course always quite fluid and even from places like Rivals or 247 there are constantly changes. I will post updates as the week progresses.
LB-Darrin Kirkland Jr.