also duty-free guys falling over and grabbing their shins
standard APR picture lead now with more apropos-ness
[sportswriter impression] This time, they're serious. [/sportswriter impression]
No, seriously, they appear to be serious. The NCAA announced (and then quickly approved) a massive increase in the APR's toothiness by requiring a 930 for a sport to participate in postseason play, whether it's the NCAA tournament or bowl games.
That's good for Michigan, which has only brushed up against penalties due to the unprecedented transferfest that took place upon Rodriguez's arrival. Once coaching transitions are out of the way they'll be well clear of 930 in every sport. Meanwhile, teams like Purdue, Ohio State, and Indiana have all seen their basketball programs suffer sanctions for falling beneath the 925 mark. They'll have to be more careful about one-and-dones and academic risks, i.e. recruit more like John Beilein.
As far as football goes, if you're worried about the Rodriguez anchor (an 897 2008 APR), don't be. The Bylaw Blog says the 2014-2015 APR will be the first point at which the new regulation will go into effect. At that point the anchor will have rolled off. The only yearly APR number to count then will be last year's score, an okay 946. Michigan's attrition during this coaching search has been less extensive and more likely to get waived (three medical scholarships and just the one academic implosion). This year's class has a lot of 3.8 GPAs and no immediately apparent academic risks—they'll be fine.
The Bylaw Blog also says it's critical to get rid of the one year lag in the APR. Michigan won't find out its 2010-11 number until next summer. I'd also suggest the thing has to be more transparent. Right now we just get a number; in the future they have to show how they got that number, because it's serious now. It's not going to fly with people if Kentucky basketball can boot seven guys off the team and not even have its APR flinch. Each APR report should come with
- The number of players who got through the year.
- The number of players who left the team
- The number of players who left who the school got a pass for and why
Right now trying to figure out your APR is fraught with difficulty; it needs to be more transparent, within FERPA reason.
Other retreat items
Stewart Mandel highlights these three things as areas the NCAA will look to overhaul in the near future:
Based on comments made this week, and Thursday's evidence that these things really can come to fruition, we should expect major changes in three other areas over the next six to nine months:
• An overhaul of the current enforcement process. Emmert and the presidents spoke universally of a desire to cut down on the many "nuisance rules" (free lunches, text-message limits, etc.) that take up an inordinate amount of compliance officers' time while beefing up penalties for deliberate, egregious rules violations. This will likely include expanding the classifications for infractions from the current and vague duo of "major" and "secondary."
• Allowing individual conferences, if they so choose, to implement full cost-of-attendance scholarships (as Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany first pushed for last spring) and/or multiyear scholarships. The obvious implication is that only the richest conferences could afford to do so, which in traditional NCAA parlance represents dreaded "competitive equity" issues. But the presidents seem to be lock-step with the commissioners in believing said imbalance already exists.
• Raising initial academic eligibility standards both for high school seniors and juco transfers. No specifics were offered, but they could be along the lines of SEC commissioner Mike Slive's proposal to increase incoming students' minimum core GPA from 2.0 to 2.5.
Kelvin Sampson and his quivering upper lip are listening to "Killing Me Softly" on repeat. It's time for more Selfish Homer Perspective!
- Overhaul enforcement to cut down on nuisance rules + hamsandwiching real violators: Can we retroactively de-major our stretching/GA violations? No? Bollocks. Good for Michigan and its general lack of "deliberate, egregious rules violations."
- Full cost of attendance: Not relevant in football and basketball since anyone Michigan is recruiting against will implement FCOA. I guess we won't lose QB recruits to Tulsa. Good to very good in smaller sports: some elite hockey programs are D-II and may not be able to afford a system-wide FCOA; 3-5k per year can't hurt when it comes to battling OHL teams; a lot of equivalency sports do recruit against MAC-type schools that happen to be very good in some smaller sports (Akron soccer, various baseball schools) and this is basically extra scholarships for them.
- Raising initial standards. I will believe this one when I see it but clearly good for Michigan, which is attractive to high-academic kids and never takes JUCOs.
And now the Student Welfare Gadfly perspective:
- Enforcement overhaul: Meh.
- FCOA: obviously good as it actually funnels some of the insane buckets of cash to the kids making those—and apparently all the ones spending it, but I'd rather it goes there than a coach or administrator.
- Initial standards: Tricky. Slive's proposal didn't prohibit kids who fell under the standards from attending, I believe, it just prevented them from playing. Kids in school taking up roster space having to learn is good; shuffling more of them off to dubious JUCOs is not so much.
Mandel is gobsmacked by how sensible everything sounds and how quickly they made a huge structural change with the APR stuff and it's hard to argue. The NCAA seems serious this time around. Seriously.
[Ed: this marks the debut of the Mathlete in an official capcity for the site.]
I guess when I was born and my parents named me Brett they know that I wouldn’t ever mean it if I said I was retired. An unwillingness to stay out of the game comes with the birth certificate.
When I last left we had no coach, no momentum and the school formerly known as Ohio State was coming off a big win over the SEC after avoiding serious repercussins from a minor tattoo incident. Today Hoke-a-mania rules all, a probable top 5 recruiting class is just about wrapped up and Ohio is staring into a great unknown with a new QB and head coach.
When I ran down the prospects from a host of candidates in January, Brady Hoke provided two nice charts about which I had this to say about his time at Ball State:
Better than I expected, actually. Slow steady growth taking the program from terrible to average over four years and then a big leap forward. The team obviously fell apart in two years under Parrish. The good news is that the team progressed well over a long period of time, the bad news is that during all the period at the helm, Hoke only produced one above average team.
Then at San Diego State:
San Diego St has shown nice improvement during Hoke’s time there. The Aztecs have improved by over 7 points each of the last two seasons. The big jump has been repairing a terrible defense (-11 in two preceding years) and turning them into an above average group by year 2. The offense has improved as well, but the majority of change has been driven by the defense.
So we have a track record for Coach Hoke at turning bad teams into good teams, what do the first year prospects look like for a new coach inheriting a team with a season like Michigan just put in the books.
The numbers you saw above and most you will see from me are based on my Points Above Normal (PAN) metric. It is a simple number that is exactly what the descriptor indicates; it tells you how many points above an average team a team or unit is. It adjusts for quality of opponent, excludes 1AA cupcake games and any plays where the lead is 17+ in the second half. +7 will probably get you in the top 25. +14 should put you in a BCS bowl and +21 is typically good enough for a title shot.
Last year Michigan finished +2 with a +10 on offense and a –6 on defense (the remaining gap comes from special teams). Because the offense/defense spread was the one of the ten biggest over the last 8 years, it will make more specific comparisons difficult and we’ll restrict the study to teams around +2 overall.
Since 2005, 18 BCS conference schools have undergone a coaching change after a season between +0 and +4.
|Team||Season||Conf||Change||New Coach||Old Coach|
|Arizona St||2007||PAC 10||7||7||1|
|Kansas St||2006||Big XII||0||1||1|
|S Florida||2010||Big East||0||2||2|
|Oklahoma St||2005||Big XII||-7||-3||4|
Dennis Erickson, Gene Chizik, Jimbo Fisher and Brian Kelly all pushed their new teams ahead by at least five points in their first seasons while Dan Hawkins, Turner Gill, Ed Orgeron and Mike Gundy all saw their teams take the biggest dips in year one.
On average, teams regressed by about a point per game in the first year of a new coach versus the previous year under the departed coach.
In general, a new coach coming into a BCS program coming off a season similar to Michigan’s don’t trend toward major changes in either direction, but some big swings have come under similar situations.
The Offense and the Defense
Regression to the mean will be the friend and foe of Michigan this year. The offense will be hard pressed to maintain the high levels of success and the defense will almost certainly make a step forward. The question is how much in each direction.
In my database of the last 8 years, there have been 58 BCS teams that had defenses within 2 points of Michigan’s lowly –6 from last year. Across those teams, the following year saw teams improve on the defensive side by about 4 points. 21 of the 58 teams showed improvements of a touchdown or more.
The offensive side shows similar numbers. Only 35 teams over the timeframe were within two points of Michigan’s +10 last season. Of those 35, 8 improved from there and the other 27 declined. The average change mirrored the defense at 4 points to average. The teams who were able to buck the trend were truly elite offenses. Of the four teams to go from Michigan’s range and improve by more than 2 points, two were the 2005 finalists Texas and USC, Oklahoma’s basketball on grass of 2008 and Florida in Tebow’s Heisman winning season of 2007.
Between a coaching change and where the offense and defense landed from last season, the strongest indicator that Michigan will move forward is in the success that Brady Hoke has had taking mid- and low-level programs, and consistently moving them forward. Beyond that, the optimistic scenario is ride the Hoke wave, Mattison gets a returner-heavy defense to make the leap and finding a combination of new and old on offense to hold on to all the success we can. A realistically optimistic outcome is probably a 5-point improvement generated on the back of the defense, a top 25 finish and the table set for 2012. The historical mean points to a worse offense, better defense but ultimately similar 7-8 wins.
No team in my database history has lost a coach after the kind of season (+16) that Ohio had in 2010. Five schools have been at least +10 and gone through a coaching change.
|Team||Season||Conf||Change||New Coach||Old Coach|
|W Virginia||2008||Big East||-11||1||12|
Of those five, Chip Kelly is the only one to push the team forward. Les Miles was able to keep LSU at a very high level while the successors to Brian Kelly, Rich Rodriguez and Bobby Petrino all saw significant drops in their first seasons on the job. A quick look says Ohio is most likely to fall somewhere between Miles and the Big East schools.
An artist has no home in Europe except in Paris.
EPIC. Thujone's latest paint opus has panels for Tate Forcier, Big Ten expansion, and Les Miles, but this is where it's at:
As always, Thujone comes with a CARTOON PENIS warning. Do not click if you are in a situation where being caught looking at a cartoon penis would be compromising.
Epic in the other direction. Chris Brown's latest at Smart Football is one of those posts that instantly illuminates a part of football that was murky before, and this one even comes with locally-relevant content. He describes the "snag" and "y-stick" plays you may have seen in your copy of NCAA 12 (or any year since '08 since they haven't changed it since). They incorporate stretches both vertical (i.e., making a cover two cornerback pick between a high guy and a low guy) and horizontal (i.e., making a flat defender pick between an outside guy and an inside guy) with routes that do well against man coverage.
Presenting that concept taking candy from a baby:
The snag is so synonymous with the triangle concept that some teams simply call it “triangle.” The basic concept involves one receiver in the deep third on a corner route (good by itself against man-to-man), one receiver in the flat, often a runningback or inside receiver (which can also be good against man from a bunch-set), and a third receiver on the “snag” route, sometimes also known as a “slant-settle” or a “mini-curl.”
As a general matter, against a Cover Two defense the quarterback will have a high/low read of the cornerback; if he sinks back he can throw it to the inside receiver in the flat; if the cornerback drops he will throw it to the corner route behind the cornerback, as shown in the clip below.
Against a Cover Three defense, the cornerback should take away the corner route by dropping into the deep third, but the snag/mini-curl and the flat should put a horizontal stretch on the flat defender and one of the two should be open.
At times like this I think to myself "boy, I hope I got that right." Drumroll…
NFW Michigan can defend this as aligned, as Rogers(-1) has a nasty choice between giving up the corner or the flat and chooses poorly by not sinking into the corner. (Cover -2, RPS -2); Gordon has no prayer of getting over in time and can only hope to tackle. Also, Avery(-1) appears to be abandoning his zone to ride the WR on a little hitch farther, which means the flat is wide open; Michigan is putting lots of guys in the same areas on their zone drops
Not bad. Michigan didn't even make that snag hard; by the time the ball is gone Mouton and Ezeh are within a yard of each other and Avery isn't much farther away. I still don't think there was any way for Michigan to defend this staple play as aligned, which points to the incoherence of the defense. Everything from last year points to the incoherence of the defense, sure.
Outdoor hockey is go. The on-again-off-again outdoor game in Cleveland is on again, this time officially. It's January 15th.
I wonder what the fan breakdown will be. This one's a bit farther than the Big House but still an easy drive and Ohio State fans don't usually turn out for hockey. They do make an exception for Michigan, though, and they'll probably make a larger one for the outdoor game PR stunt. 50-50?
Let's be friends. Dimitri Martin has a one-liner about bumper stickers: "to me, all bumper stickers say the same thing: 'let's not be friends.' This is one of two exceptions:
You know what happened in 1973, I'm sure. If not MVictors has you covered.
The other exception: once I saw a guy with a black bumper sticker that read CASH, as in Johnny.
I'm surprised it took this long. Greg Mattison has declared his team a "blitzing" team:
Very aggressive. I'll take anything more than three guys this year. Also, feel the soothing reassurance of Greg Mattison talking vis a vis Greg Robinson.
Euroleague says thanks. Someone credible enough to get retweeted by Pete Thamel says he "keeps hearing" NBA owners are pushing for an eligibility structure similar to the NFL. I.E.: you can't enter the draft until you're three years out of high school.
At that point wouldn't a lot of kids scheduled to be one-and-done GTFO? It's one thing when you've got to cool your heels for a year nailing cheerleaders and maybe taking a few classes. Three years is a totally different matter. The money will be bigger overseas since they can expect some high-level performances when the #1 pick in the NBA draft is 21.
Football can get away with their structure because there's nowhere else to play and they're almost always right: you should not be playing in the NFL less than three years after prom because you will die. The Adrian Petersons of the world are exceedingly rare. In basketball there are a dozen guys coming out of high school every year who can be all right NBA players right away.
Etc.: NCAA may or may not have sent a second "we're investigating you, buddy" letter to OSU. Wholly unreliable local radio host "The Torg" says "Ellis" from the SI story has talked to the NCAA, so take that for what it's worth.
Yesterday I posted about Brady Hoke's offensive philosophy and how his actions haven't matched up with his words. Unfortunately, a large part of that post was based on a massive misunderstanding of the data at CFBStats. I thought first downs were first down playcalling. They were how first downs were acquired, which is a totally different stat.
I called upon the Mathlete to fix this massive boner and he rose to the occasion. Brady Hoke's first down playcalling versus the national average, according to these parameters…
Only 1st and 10s
Only between the 20's
Only in competitive time/score situations
Run PCT is Run/(Run + Pass) excluding penalties
National average from 2008-2010 was 56% Run
Hoke 2008: 55%
Hoke 2010: 54%
…not significantly different from the populace at large. This obliterates my argument that Hoke passed to set up the run. He's not neolithic but neither is he Secret Mike Leach.
Of course, with Denard Robinson and 6 YPC you could run on 70% of first downs and that would be a good idea. It's all about context.
Left: Jake Ryan. Right: Brandon Herron
Do you think Jake Ryan has a chance to play WLB now that Kellen is off the team? The coaches seem to love what he brings so why stick him behind Cam Gordon when you can get him on the field? Thanks
I think that's unlikely. For one, in today's Countdown to Kickoff Brandon Herron announces he's moved to WLB now. When spring started he was at SLB. By the time it ended he was at MLB. Now he's at WLB. The coaches appear to like what they've got at the other two spots enough to roll with Gordon/Ryan and Evans/Demens.
For two, the Great Oft-Repeated Hybrid 4-3 Theory states that Michigan's 4-3 under is about halfway between a traditional 4-3 and a 3-4 and that the SLB actually has about as much in common with the WDE as the WLB. Very hypothetically certain SLBs could also play one of those other spots but they would have to be very versatile and very experienced, which Jake Ryan isn't really.
Ryan's strength appears to be hearing the lamentation of the women after he pillages the offensive backfield. In the 4-3 under the linebacker best suited to get upfield quickly is the SLB. His weakness is probably executing deep zone drops a la Mouton last year; at SLB his coverage responsibilities are usually "chuck this tight end and head out into the flat."
In this defense he's SLB all the way, as it plays into his vertical attacking style. If you were really going to move one of the SLB strivers Cam Gordon is probably the guy. People at least thought he could play safety. They were insane people, sure. Good point.
If you're looking for a backup option at WLB I think Thomas Gordon is your man. He's small and is specifically slotted into a nickelback role but if Jones falters he's got some of that experience stuff; I thought he played pretty well last year. He will be a fixture against spread teams and see quite a bit of time in other games.
I'm curious to get your take on how you think the running game is going to work out this year now that the weights of the OL have come out. As you briefly mentioned in the roster overanalysis, these guys are hardly designed for the power game. A cursory glance at Wisconsin's roster reveals that anyone even close to competing for a starting position is 315-330 and our linemen top out at 302. That's not exactly tiny, but clearly reflects the zone blocking system they were crafted in.
Everyone out there seems to regard the offensive line as a strength because they're experienced, but how skeptical are you that the line won't have it's troubles in running situations? And is there any sort of precedent out there for this o-line transition from the spread to more pro-style/west coast style offense?
Man, I don't know. Michigan ran some power stuff last year with decent success but that was as a changeup, not the bread and butter. As the bread and butter it's tough to see them battering opponents. If they really want to run I-form power all the time next year, YPC averages will drop to Carr-era levels (4 YPC) instead of the schwingy bits of last year (almost 6!).
How much of that schwing is the offensive line and how much is the vast superiority of Denard Robinson to the rest of the mediocre running back corps? Counter rhetorical question: how much can Michigan take advantage of that superiority without Rodriguez's constant subtle adjustments?
Aw, hell, those aren't rhetorical:
- Large chunks of it were just Denard being ridiculous. Run power with Denard from the gun and life will be okay.
- Quite a bit. A lot of the stuff Michigan ran last year was simple. They largely abandoned the zone read and the blocking flexibility I was so excited about is a trademark of Borges's most recent offense. I may have been overreacting to Rodriguez's genius-type-substance after the Debord years when literally everything was a goddamn stretch. Maybe I'd never analyzed an offense other than "you know what's coming, try to stop it, oops you did let's punt."
Michigan's not going to be able to run power 20 times a game and get by on sheer brawn. I don't think they'll try, though. Hoke talks about power but when the rubber hits the road Borges seems to play to his players' strengths. If they operate out of the shotgun and run Denard 10-15 times a game they'll still be decent. They can even run power from it if they want:
That's not the A gap, but let's work our way up to that. Part of effectively running power is getting to the place you're supposed to be. With this line getting that guard outside the tackle is going to be easier than obliterating the NT.
It will probably never happen, but what do you think about this proposal to address the lack of big time opponents in the non-conference:
Teams are allowed to schedule a 13th game as a "pre-season game" against a FCS school before the season starts. The schools could get a little more practice and charge half price for the game. You'd still get all of the parking and concessions money. By having that "half price" game then you offset the down side of playing a big away game. Then instead of making one of these cup-cake games count toward your overall record and take up a valuable spot on your schedule you can make it pre-season and then schedule a real opponent.
That's actually an idea Rodriguez promoted from time to time, and it's a good one. Institutionalizing the FCS game as an exhibition turns it from a waste of everyone's time to a mildly diverting opportunity for extra football without too much extra brain damage. You're kidding yourself if you think anyone will charge half price, but if I could get a guarantee that the extra game every year would be against a reasonable BCS opponent I'd happily shell out the extra whatever dollars.
But as you say, will never happen.
Are there any players on this team right now that you consider "sure-things" for their production? I would have said there are only two - Martin and Hagerup. Now one of those has been suspended. I think the OL should be good but is learning a new scheme. I like the thought of Demens and Woolfolk for a full season, but do we really know what to expect from them and this new defense?
Production is maybe not the right thing to be sure about. How can you be sure about any of that when schemes are changing?
I do think I have a handle on certain players. They might not perform as expected because they're being asked to do certain things they haven't done in the past, but Molk, Roundtree, Hemingway, Van Bergen, and Kovacs are pretty well established in my mind at this point. That's not very many, and I guess that's your point.
Even before Brady Hoke started answering questions like this…
Q: How will Denard Robinson fit in this offense?
A: This is Michigan!
Q: What do you think about the goings-on in Columbus?
A: Though we have great respect for the Akron State Golden Bobcats, this remains Michigan.
Q: What kind of off—
A: THIS IS MICHIGAN TREMENDOUS
A: TREMENDOUS VAN OUSTANDING RIVER
/teaches journalist about Mad Magicians
…he expressed a certain disdain for fancy things like zone running, which is neither fancy or new or soft and has been used by teams from the Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos to, you know, Michigan under Lloyd Carr. He swore up and down to everyone who attended the coaches' clinic that "A-gap power"—three yards and a cloud of dust, think Jehuu Caulcrick—would be Michigan's signature play. He has expressed a certain approach to offense that sends spread friendly folk like yrs truly and Braves & Birds into twitchy fits. His stated approach is neolithic.
So… like… WTF?
SAN DIEGO STATE 1st DOWN RUN/PASS BREAKDOWN, 2010
|09/04/10||Nicholls St.||Grass||W 47-0||10||12||1||23|
|09/11/10||@ New Mexico St.||Grass||W 41-21||8||13||3||24|
|09/18/10||@ 18 Missouri||Turf||L 24-27||5||10||2||17|
|09/25/10||Utah St.||Grass||W 41-7||9||9||0||18|
|10/09/10||@ Brigham Young||Grass||L 21-24||3||9||0||12|
|10/16/10||Air Force||Grass||W 27-25||8||8||0||16|
|10/23/10||@ New Mexico||Grass||W 30-20||8||12||2||22|
|10/30/10||@ Wyoming||Turf||W 48-38||2||15||3||20|
|11/06/10||Colorado St.||Grass||W 24-19||8||10||1||19|
|11/13/10||@ 2 TCU||Grass||L 35-40||1||6||0||7|
|12/23/10||+ Navy||Grass||W 35-14||14||12||1||27|
San Diego State passed on 63% of its first downs. In tight games* SDSU passed on 79% of first downs. This was not a catchup effect. Missouri led by more than one score for all of 41 seconds; against Utah SDSU ran out to a 27-10 lead before bleeding it away down the stretch. This has something to do with Ryan Lindley and some all-conference receivers but SDSU was very slightly run biased in 2010 (51%), managing a respectable 4.8 YPC. In 2010, especially when it counted, San Diego State passed to set up the run.
Where the hell is A-gap power? Why the hell did The Mountain West Connection write this about Hoke's candidacy for the job?
Hoke would bring in another non-traditonal Big 10 offense to Ann Arbor. It would be a spread offense, but instead of having an offense where there is a dual threat quarterback he plays three, four and five wide receiver sets.
Where's the manball?
*[Missouri, BYU, Air Force, TCU, and Utah. CSU excluded because the narrow scoreline was due to a touchdown with 2:43 left.]
Is the manball in previous teams?
Hoke's previous SDSU team threw even more but was not very good. They were especially un-good at running, so numbers from that season reflect necessity instead of philosophy. And Hoke only had two years in San Diego, so maybe he wasn't able to mold his team into the A-gap power six fullback monstrosity he yearns for.
How about the apex of his Ball State career?
BALL STATE 1st DOWN RUN/PASS BREAKDOWN, 2008
|09/13/08||@ Akron||Turf||W 41-24||14||13||3||30|
|09/20/08||@ Indiana||Turf||W 42-20||12||9||3||24|
|09/27/08||Kent St.||Turf||W 41-20||8||17||1||26|
|10/04/08||@ Toledo||Turf||W 31-0||11||13||0||24|
|10/11/08||@ Western Ky.||Turf||W 24-7||9||9||3||21|
|10/25/08||Eastern Mich.||Turf||W 38-16||8||11||2||21|
|11/05/08||Northern Ill.||Turf||W 45-14||7||14||4||25|
|11/11/08||@ Miami (Ohio)||Turf||W 31-16||9||12||0||21|
|11/19/08||@ Central Mich.||Turf||W 31-24||13||8||2||23|
|11/25/08||Western Mich.||Turf||W 45-22||8||11||0||19|
|12/05/08||+ Buffalo||Turf||L 24-42||10||19||1||30|
|01/06/09||+ Tulsa||Turf||L 13-45||3||6||0||9|
Hoke's first downs under Stan Parrish were also pass-biased. Again, Nate Davis had something to do with that but Ball State was significantly more run-biased than 2010 SDSU: 520 rushes to 405 passes, with those rushes picking up 5 yards a pop. A team that ran 56% of the time threw on 55% of first downs.
HOWEVA, that's not a huge difference from late-era Carr behavior. I know this surprises you. I clicked the link three times just to make sure it wasn't having fun, but in 2007 Michigan passed on 54% of first downs despite playing Ryan Mallett for significant chunks of the season. They also ran on 56% of all plays. That may be an artifact of Michigan not being able to run very well (4 YPC; insert infamous stretch against OSU here). In 2006, a monstrously run-biased outfit (62% at 4.3 YPC while the passing game was averaging 7.7) was 50-50 on first down.
Is the manball in the offensive structure?
Meanwhile, Chris Brown has the most interesting single factoid in Wolverines Kickoff 2011. It's about SDSU's bowl game, the one after which Ken Niumatalolo said "that's as good of an offense as we've seen." In that game, the Aztecs ran more zone-blocked plays than gap-blocked plays en route to a rout. Here's an inside zone:
A few plays later the Aztecs would bust out their first power of the night. Notably, it was a "constraint" play—one designed to keep the defense honest. They lined up in a pro set and handed it to the fullback for the second time all year. On third and two they manballed up. Result:
Starting running back Ronnie Hillman averaged 8.1 YPC without any distorting 80-yarders (long of 37) and finished the day with 228 yards. San Diego State's defense did not appear to have a stroke while watching this.
So how does that jive with this?
When asked recently about the influence of Oregon’s offense, Hoke subtly revealed his disdain for the tactical shift Michigan experienced under Rodriguez. He is convinced that modern spread option offenses can be counterproductive to the core values of smashmouth football and are, therefore, to be avoided.
“Right, wrong or indifferent, when you’re zone blocking all the time -- when you’re playing basketball on grass -- you practice against that all spring, you practice against it all fall and then you’re going to play a two-back team that wants to knock you off the football,” Hoke said. “I don’t think you’re prepared.
It… like… doesn't. Unless Hoke just wants to have some power around so his defense doesn't turn into a bunch of lily-livered ninnyhammers and doesn't actually care how much it gets deployed in actual games. This would be good for the next couple years when what Hoke wants and what Hoke has will be severely mismatched.
Is the manball curling up in the fetal position with a narrow lead?
Unfortunately for manball-is-just-talk theorists, that above-mentioned close-ish Colorado State game featured an event familiar to Michigan fans. After Colorado State scored with about three minutes left to draw within five, SDSU ran three times for two yards and gave the ball back to the Rams having run only 53 seconds off the clock. They ran on 2nd 7 and 3rd and 9. Very MANBALL.
The way the Aztecs lost the Missouri game is also terribly familiar. They picked off Blaine Gabbert with 1:47 left, ran 25 seconds off the clock, and punted on 4th and 8 from the Missouri 35. It took the Tigers two plays to score the winning touchdown. To be fair, freshman Ronnie Hillman caused coaching blood vessels to explode when he ran out of bounds on the first play of the drive and the Aztecs did throw on third down. To be ruthless, that throw was a screen or something equivalently conservative (it lost a yard) and once it was completed the situation was 4th and 8 for the win or a 20-yard punt. Hoke chose the punt. He chose poorly.
Against Air Force the Aztecs faced a 4th and goal from the two with about nine minutes left. They led by eight. Hoke called for the field goal team. That's not indefensible*; it is conservative. Hoke watched his kicker Broekgibbons it anyway.
On the other hand, in the Utah game San Diego State kept firing after leaping out to a big lead (obviously). There's no evidence they ever put the scoring offense away except in a couple of end-game scenarios.
*[It's probably the right call. Going from 8 to 11 forces the opponent to score two TDs to win instead of one and a two-point conversion. Getting the touchdown gives you a tie in the unlikely event an option team with 12 points so far gets two touchdowns and a conversion in the final nine minutes. A failure does leave the opponent on its own two.
As it happened, Air Force did score two touchdowns in the final nine minutes. Unfortunately for the Falcons, sandwiched between them was a one-play SDSU touchdown drive and they lost anyway.]
The things that are said contradict each other
Hoke says he wants the team to act in a certain way—toughness toughness toughness—while simultaneously saying he will not futz with Al Borges. Al Borges has shown a predilection for lots of vertical passing and apparently does not care one way or the other about gap vs zone blocking. Hoke says he dislikes zone running and uses it plenty. He's recruiting large men to squash men who are not quite as large but has maybe 1.5 tight ends and Denard Robinson right now.
What Hoke wants is clear, and what he has is not what he wants. The record implies that he'll be relatively flexible. Michigan will still see a drop in yardage/fancy metric performance because they're spending time revamping instead of refining, but if under center isn't working they'll ditch it. Hell, against Navy SDSU's first drive formations looked like this:
- Shotgun 3-wide
- Shotgun 3-wide
- Shotgun 3-wide
- Shotgun 3-wide
- Shotgun 3-wide
- Shotgun 3-wide
They even ran a zone read. It went for a yard, but by God they ran it. When push comes to shove I think Michigan will go with what works, whatever that is.