TO THE HOT TAKE CANNON
About Last Saturday:
Michigan 42, Northwestern 24
I wasn't there. Wah wah.
The Road Ahead:
Michigan State (4-1, 1-0 B1G)
Last Game: Bye
Recap: They didn’t play, but I’m going to write mean things about them anyway.
Right now they are as frightening as: Jerel Worthy’s tattoo.
It’s big. It’s ugly. It’s under the skin. It’s going to be there forever. On the other hand, a closer look reveals something misguided about the sense of superiority it portrays. It ends up being actually kind of funny, and years later, whenever the Big Ten becomes a superconference and lets Missouri into the club, it’ll finally make sense.
Oh yeah, about their football team: Objectively, they’re probably around a 6. Personally, they got up to somewhere near an 8 when I watched Michigan’s first half vs. Northwestern and dropped down to a 4 when I watched the second half.
Michigan should worry about: Denard vs. interceptions. The ineffectiveness of the ground game against Northwestern was a bad sign because against Michigan State it’s going to be worse. Denard is going to have to throw it, and I’m going to end up really sick from stress-eating all the press box food. I hope there are meatballs.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Brady Hoke, on Michigan State’s offensive line:
Well, they’re big, which is the normal case.
To their credit, Michigan State does have solid-to-stellar players at QB, RB, and WR, but having a talented 7-on-7 squad doesn’t mean much when the other team puts 11 guys on the field.
When Michigan plays them: This is going to be one of those games where the score will be 14-10 after the first quarter and 14-10 at the end of the third quarter. It’s going to be terrible. Halfway into the second quarter I’m going to start annoying the person sitting next to me with compulsive commentary, especially if Ace isn’t going to East Lansing. He just told me he’s not going. Okay well that sucks. Apologies in advance to whoever ends up sitting next to me.
Michigan wins if they can get to Cousins early and often, especially if they can accomplish that with just a four-man rush.
Next game: No. 11 Missouri Raccoons.
(more after the jump.)
This week’s take on the week that was, and the week to come.
Charting Michigan’s odds of winning throughout Saturday’s game: Brief bumps around the two first half TD’s and then a big climb throughout the third quarter.
Best Three Plays:
1. Denard to Roundtree for 57 yards, 16%
2. Hawthorne intercepts Persa, 14%
3. Kovacs shuts the door on the fourth down option, 13%
Worst Three Plays:
1. Denard Interception #1, –13%
2. Denard Interception #2, –11%
3. Denard Interception #3, –10%
So the three first half picks were the three most damaging plays of the day for Michigan, and Denard only had one play in the top 3. At the end of the day he still ended up +65%!
For the season, Denard’s Win Percentage Added stands at +265%. Each team starts at 50% so they have added 50% per game times 6 games is 300% added. The defense, special teams and non-Denard offensive players have accounted for a total of 35%. Denard’s number is far and away the top in the country so far. Second is Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas at +177%. Russell Wilson is next behind him at +158%.
Rush offense: –1, equal to ND for worst opponent adjusted performance of the season
Pass offense: +12, best of the season (Michigan’s best two games have both come despite 3 interceptions)
Rush defense: –3, worst performance of the season
Pass defense: +1, worst performance of the season
Special Teams: –2, 4th best of the season
Field Position: A rare win for Michigan, picking up a 23-22 win in expected points based on drive starts.
Denard was +12 (+10 passing, +2 rushing), second to ND on the season
Michael Shaw: +2
Vincent Smith: –1
Fitzgerald Toussaint: –5
(Expected value of offensives formations and more after the jump)
File photo by Tim. Because today was a hat day.
Did you have to make significant adjustments at halftime, or was it more just settling down and refocusing? “Well, yeah, there’s some adjustments. There’s always some adjustments. But I think for the most part in the second half we kind of stuck with the plan, we just didn’t turn the ball over. That’s really the difference. When we didn’t turn the ball over, we were much better. Everybody is. That’s not news. We did a couple things differently, but I think sometimes halftime adjustments can be a little bit overrated. Sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re critical.”
Denard said he was just too excited on some of his throws. How much of an issue is that for him in that kind of environment? “Yeah, that can happen to any quarterback. He’s not the first guy to have that happen to him. He was fired up. He’s coming off a really good game, and he really wanted to show up and kind of pick up where he left off. Eventually he did. Early on, when he had a little bit of early trouble getting into rhythm. Once he did, he was really good. We just have to limit our mistakes to incomplete passes. Because incomplete passes -- you can recover from incomplete passes. But when you turn the ball over that hurts a bit more. He knew every time the mistake he made. We went over the tape and doggone it we beat it up one side and down the other. I think he’s getting better. He really is. Other than the turnovers, but in terms of his passing, and his fundamentals were improving. Hence his numbers were gradually going up a little bit.”
(a lot more after the jump.)
We complete our Pulling Mike Schofield trilogy with a reason he may have been so eager to get outside on the play action Tacopants interception: he spent the week getting coached up on getting outside.
You might remember last week's complaining about rollouts that only seemed to get Denard pressured. Borges attributed some of this to "protection." Those issues were on the pulling guard, who twice saw two opponents coming up at Denard, slowed up in a moment of indecision, and blocked no one. Once this was Schofield; once it was Omameh. Schofield's moment of indecision:
Denard had to pull up; he threw off his back foot and the ball sailed over Koger's head.
One week later Michigan went easy on the rollouts so those edge guys aren't so eager to get outside. Their first of the game came deep into Michigan's second drive. Hopkins picked up a questionable holding call on first down and Gallon got eight of that back on a throwback screen, setting up second and twelve from the Northwestern 44.
Michigan comes out with two TEs again, this time in a balanced formation. Northwestern undershifts their line and leaves a strongside linebacker to the outside.
Michigan runs a play action with a mesh point and Schofield pulling across the formation.
By the time the mesh passes, ludicrously aggressive Northwestern linebackers are ludicrously aggressive. The MLB threatens to shoot up in the gap to the outside as Denard pulls.
This time instead of being hesitant, Schofield deepens his pull:
He's moving away from the LOS, and he's not worried about anyone except the backside DE. As Denard sprints out to the corner he makes contact…
And seals the guy. Linebackers can blitz all they want now.
They aren't catching Denard.
He would pick up eight yards before running out of bounds; three plays later Schofield zoomed outside on the Tacopants INT.
This is a bit easier for Schofield. On the Minnesota play there is a second guy scraping to the outside who he has to deal with. Here the outside guy is the outside guy and that is that.
This is still an obvious coaching point for the week. Schofield is headed hell or high water for the corner, not paying attention to anything that may show inside of him and focused on getting that outside guy sealed. As soon as that guy declares himself the contain man Schofield is directed to lock in and get outside of him.
I would not be surprised if the obvious coaching point was in some way responsible for Schofield getting too far outside on the Tacopants INT. It's a play action pass on which he is pulling a week after having the thing that happened against Minnesota happened—negative reinforcement—and three plays after the above play happened—positive reinforcement.
Schofield's in a tough spot as the designated backup at every position except center. He should be the top backup tackle, full stop, and only pull rarely (to date tackles only pull on some outside power plays and the sprint counter). Instead he's starting at guard and having a lot of very complicated things to do on a regular basis.
It's interesting that Michigan chose to pull him over and over despite his relative inexperience. Have they lost faith in Omameh's pulling to the point where they won't run behind Lewan, the most grinding of their OL? Is it because Denard is more of a threat rolling out to his right? Something in Northwestern's defense? I don't know.
This is a pretty impressive drop from Northwestern's #51. On the video it's clear he's steaming towards the LOS, reads what's going on, and drops into Koger's route. Without that Robinson can toss it to him for what looks like a certain first down.
When Michigan can manage this seal good things will happen. I'm not sure they'll be able to consistently. When they can Denard on the edge with receivers is going to equal big gains. The problem with the rollouts against Minnesota was they never got that edge.
That seems like something a defender can force by getting upfield far enough that he won't be sealed. Shooting the gap between a guy maintaining leverage and pressure from the inside is a potential sack. So you have to have something in your arsenal that makes the guy think twice. Not sure what that is; maybe Borges does.
[ED: We're planning a two-parter here, with shorter answers to specific questions posed by commenters in part II. To start it seemed like a good idea to get the background on how this thing came about. Bacon is everything that is not in bold.
*cough* if you are planning on buying the thing you can support the site by purchasing Three and Out through MGoBlog affiliate linkage *cough*]
Most of the “What the hell just happened?” questions I’ll leave for the book, which many of you will likely be reading yourselves in a few weeks. Here, I’m trying to give you information to understand how this book came to be and what I tried to do, not all of which you can find in the book.
So let's talk about how this book came about. You had total unfettered access to Rich Rodriguez? How does that come about? Why would anyone agree to such a thing? What was his motivation?
This book came about largely by dumb luck. With my degree in history (“pre-unemployment”) in my pocket, I got my first job out of Michigan teaching U.S. history and coaching hockey at Culver Academies in Indiana. One of my best students, Greg Farrall, went on to become an All-Big Ten defensive end, and then a successful financial adviser.
We’ve stayed in touch, and in early 2008, he asked for some signed copies of Bo's Lasting Lessons, including one for his former coach at Indiana, Bill Mallory, and another to his boss at the time, Mike Wilcox—who just happened to be Rich Rodriguez’s financial adviser. In fact, when Rodriguez first met with Bill Martin and Mary Sue Coleman in December 2007, they did so at Wilcox’s Toledo office.
One thing led to another, and in July 2008 Wilcox asked me if I’d be interested in getting complete access to Rodriguez’s first Michigan team. I thought about it for a week or so, before concluding I’d be crazy not to jump at this chance.
Rodriguez’s motivation, I believe, was pretty straightforward: by July 2008, he had already been hammered by the press in Morgantown and Michigan, and probably figured he didn’t have much to lose. As he joked at the time, “Charles Manson is also from West Virginia, and right now he’s more popular than I am.” I think he also believed he didn’t have anything to hide, either. So he was willing to take his chances on a guy he’d never met tagging along to tell the story.
The original plan was simply to write about the spread offense coming to one of the country’s most conservative programs and publish a series of stories to a national magazine, in the hope of turning them into a book coauthored by Rodriguez, similar to the one I wrote with Bo Schembechler in 2007. But after the team finished 3-9, however, it was obvious the story was far from over, and that I’d need to write it myself. I was looking at sunk cost. If I bailed then, I’d have nothing to show for it. But if I came back for another year, I might have a great story to tell. That same reasoning held after the second season, too. To Rodriguez’s credit, he didn’t flinch.
We had a short legal agreement that gave him the right to read the final manuscript and comment on factual accuracy, but gave me the right to ignore anything and everything he suggested. The final product is mine, and mine alone, and does not have his approval.
I secured a book contract with a great publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, which eschews sports writers for high brow authors like Ian Frazier, Jonathan Franzen and Jeffrey Eugenides. I felt lucky then, and I still do. They gave me an advance roughly equivalent to a year’s salary. The catch is, of course, the book required three years working full-time, so I’ve spent my life savings to get this done. When I read a few folks online posit that I’m simply out to make a quick buck, I enjoyed a good chuckle. It’s hard to imagine any buck being slower or smaller to make, with no guarantee of critical or commercial success. The book business is notoriously fickle.
I didn’t put one thing in this book just to sell copies. I did not dump my notebook on anyone, providing enough information to make a point and then move on. I kept out more than a few salacious details because they were not sufficiently sourced or they were not relevant to the main questions, and felt like cheap shots.
Likewise, if I was pursuing my own self-interest, the most obvious approach would be to put all the blame on Rodriguez, who is gone and cannot do anything to help me I can think of, and none on Michigan, where I was born, earned two degrees and continue teaching, among other lifelong connections. As I’m sure you know by now, I didn’t do that, either – but if I was trying to please Rodriguez, I can tell you I clearly fell short on that score, too. He has flaws and he made mistakes, and they’re in the book, too.
I realized pretty early in the process that trying to play politics with this would be almost impossible – and probably backfire in any case. So, I settled on the single, simple goal of getting as close to the truth as I possibly could. How close I came will surely be debated in the weeks and months to come, but that was my singular mission, no matter what it costs me.
[Ed: John is too nice to say this but the above section is likely in reference to Michael Rosenberg claiming that he is "misrepresented" in the book because Bacon needs to paint a widely-reviled coach who bombed out in three years as a victim.]
While the target moved a few times, as described above, when I sat down to write the final version from January to July of 2011, I was not setting out to write a “whodunit,” but as accurate a picture as possible of what it’s really like to be a college football player and coach. And not just for any team: the most stable and successful program in college football, which happened to be going through the three most tumultuous years in its long and enviable history. My reporting includes plenty of inside information on the drama constantly swirling around Schembechler Hall during that time, but if this book is going to have any lasting value I believe it will be because it’s the most intimate picture of college football players and coaches any writer has ever been allowed to paint.
Although some readers will surely debate this, I was not out to take sides. That doesn’t mean everyone comes out equally well, any more than a fair referee can ensure both teams will be penalized equally. But I sincerely tried to call everything as fairly as I could and let the readers sort the information for themselves.
Some have suggested that I must have had an axe to grind with Bill Martin, Coach Carr, Dave Brandon and others. Not true. The first two spoke to my classes several times, and I’ve extolled the good work of all three men in numerous pieces – including an ultimately flattering story on Dave Brandon in Bo's Lasting Lessons, and another on Coach Carr’s body of work, on and off the field, after his team lost to Appalachian State. When I won Michigan’s Golden Apple Award in March 2009, I hoped to ask Coach Carr to introduce me, but he was out of town. He said, however, that he would have been happy to do so, and I believe him. I’m also confident, having seen him speak many times on his dual passions for Mott Hospital and education, he would have done a great job.
That’s why, when I started hearing some surprising claims about the Michigan football family, I did not take them seriously. Most of those stories proved to be unfounded, but not all. When I returned to those sources, confirmed their stories, and connected the dots – to the degree I could -- I was stunned. I took no pleasure in these discoveries, nor in reporting them. As I told my first audience for this book in Chicago last week, researching and writing Bo's Lasting Lessons was a labor of love. Three and Out was labor.
I have tried to report unflinchingly on Rodriguez’s flaws and mistakes, but most people already know those—including his historically horrendous defense, his press conference gaffes, and his denouement at the final Football Bust. Michigan’s mistakes were private. Thus when you read them, the latter will likely be more surprising and make a bigger impression.
To produce this book, I started by filling two-dozen two-sided notebooks, eight bankers’ boxes worth of documents, and taking more than 10,000 pages of single-spaced notes from observing 37 games, hundreds of practices and meetings, and interviewing several hundred people. That effort created over 2,000 pages of copy, which we had to slash to the 438 pages that comprise the final manuscript.
All that cutting forced me to drop all photos and an epigraph from Oscar Wilde that I believe neatly sums up the entire three years: “The truth is rarely pure, and never simple.”
That’s exactly what I found in the bizarre dysfunction of the past three seasons. I did not encounter any angels, but I did not discover any devils, either. Almost everyone involved made some mistakes – most unintended, some not – but everyone in these pages had redemptive qualities, often quite remarkable ones. People, it turns out, are complicated.
The book, therefore, is not presented as an argument for this side or that. The reviews we’ve gotten so far (here on MGoBlog, on The Wolverine and on amazon.com) seem to indicate it’s being received in that spirit. “The author,” Publisher’s Weekly writes, “doesn’t shirk from acknowledging Rodriguez’s shortcomings as a coach or discussing the players’ disappointing performances.”
The readers, of course, will come to their own conclusions. And, knowing the wide range of independent-minded Michigan alums and fans, I’m sure those conclusions will run the gamut. But before we get too far down the scorekeeping path, I want to say that while that’s surely a reader’s right, it was not the author’s aim.
How close I came to achieving my goal of producing a fair-minded depiction of a marriage seemingly made in heaven that quickly ended in a disastrous divorce—with the best and worst of college football surrounding it—you can decide for yourself.
-John U. Bacon
p.s. Since folks have asked, I will give the first local book talk and signing at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor on Friday, October 28. I will be updating my schedule on my website very soon (johnubacon.com).
Last time we saw Michael Schofield run by a blitzer coming up an interior gap. That combined with a panicked back-foot throw from Denard to result in an interception on a play that had otherwise opened one of two receivers up for an easy touchdown.
This time we're going to get an almost identical play from the offense, except instead of play action is it QB power. This is the fourth and one Michigan converted en route to the endzone.
The setup is the same: shotgun with twin TEs and twin WRs. Northwestern lines up in an even 4-3 with one of the linebackers over the slot and a safety rolled into the box. For fourth and one this is fairly conservative:
With Denard running the ball Michigan has a blocker for every opponent.
On the snap, Schofield pulls…
…and the SLB blitzes, hell-bent for the gap between the playside DE and DT, both of whom are doubled:
Faced with a similar situation on the last play, Schofield ran by the linebacker:
This time not so much.
With both linebackers gone—the other one ran into the line on the backside—and a double on the playside DE, once Smith kicks out the corner it's an easy conversion.
Items of Interest
Being the pulling guard seems a lot more complicated than you'd think. A lot of power blocking is derp simple: block down on this guy. By contrast, everyone who runs a zone system talks up the need for their linemen to be intelligent because to run the zone you have to make a lot of split second decisions about who to block and when to release.
On these two plays we've seen what happens when a pulling guard gets challenged from a gap he doesn't expect to be threatened. He can miss it, at which point rivers of baby blood, or he can adjust, at which point your unsound defense has put the QB one on one with a safety for bonus bucks. He's got to have the vision and agility to pull that off. That's tough.
This seems like one of the major problems with the pulling scheme: the guards are crappier at it than the defenses are at defending it. Last year when they pulled out power blocking, defenses were trying to defend the zone and often got caught off guard. This year Michigan does not have that luxury. As a result we've seen a lot of plays on which the pulling guard gets caught up in some wash or just takes a bad angle to the hole.
"Adjustments." Is this an adjustment, or is it just telling the guard what he did wrong and not to do it again? In my view, an adjustment is changing your scheme to combat something the other team is doing—like throwing Ryan out on the slot to prevent argh bubble death. Telling your players how to stop screwing up is coaching, but it's not adjusting. What I was trying to say in the game column was that because of the nature of the offense they didn't have to do much adjusting, they just had to stop screwing up, at which point points fall from the sky.
This is not black and white. Borges did bring out some actual adjustments, like using Shaw to get the edge on theses aggressive linebackers, but I think the second-half turnaround was less figuring out what Northwestern was doing and stopping it than having a few specific players fix things the scheme is already telling them to do.
Short yardage numerical advantage. Not running Denard on short yardage is a goofy idea. Here you'd have to be nuts to not run the guy. He gives you the ability to double the playside DE and still block everyone except a safety rolled up. He has to be cautious because if he misses it's six points.
Handing it off, even on a zone read that should occupy some defenders, runs the risk of the defense selling out and Denard missing a read. Going under center takes away one of those doubles and turns the read into a call-and-hope situation.
I can see running conventional stuff in a low-leverage situation like first and goal from the one, sure. Keep the wear and tear down. When it really matters, this is the way to go.
Perfect mirror. This is a perfect mirror of the play that Denard got intercepted on, which is why the latter suckered Northwestern so badly and would have likely resulted in an easy TD if Denard can buy some time or Schofield makes the adjustment.