to play football, not to play trumpet
Michigan technically now has 18 commitments for the 2012 class, if you include S Jeremy Clark who accepted a greyshirt role. Outside of the commitments the coaching staff also secured Illinois WR Bo Dever (6'2", 195 lbs) as a preferred walk on. You know you're doing well on the recruiting trail when you have kids accepting greyshirts and walk on roles and you're not even half way through summer.
That's just how things are going, and it looks like things could wrap up sooner than later for the coaching staff. Here's a look at recent happenings and what could be in the future. As always you can follow me on Twitter @TomVH, or email me with any tips or questions at [email protected].
6'5", 290 lbs.
Garnett has been expressing strong interest in Michigan for some time now. He has stated that he would like to take an official visit, and recently included Michigan in his top list.
I cut my list to eleven. They're Michigan, Notre Dame, USC, Oregon, Washington, UCLA, Auburn, Nebraska, Stanford, Oklahoma, and Cal. I thought it would be easier just to focus on a top eleven rather than all the schools involved.
As for summer visits, it doesn't look like any more unofficials will be in the cards for Garnett.
I don't know if I'm going to take any visits to any other schools. I know I'll take official visits. I've already seen Oregon, USC, UCLA, Washington, Cal, and Stanford. I feel good about Michigan, taking an official out there and seeing the Big House.
Ganett is one of the 150 elite athletes that will be attending "The Opening" in Oregon this week. The event will be televised on ESPNU and will include a good number of Michigan recruits and commitments.
There's going to be a lot of skilled players there. A lot of the guys I've made friendships with are going to be there. I talk to Erik Magnuson and we've talked about schools, where we see each other fitting. It definitely helps to get together with those guys and see who else is being recruiting and who else will be on their team. It makes you feel more comfortable with potential teammates.
Garnett has been very impressed with what Michigan brings to the table and is excited to learn more.
It's just the atmosphere around Michigan, the legacy, the fan support, and the great academics. It's a top notch academic program, and all the games are packed. You don't get that feel on the west coast or anywhere in the nation. Michigan is rolling out NFL linemen and they all have great NFL careers. I think I get a bad stigma being from Washington. You don't think nasty guys come from Washington, but I'm 6-foot-5, and 290-pounds right now. I'm very athletic and I know that's the kind of guys Michigan likes.
It will be interesting to see how offensive line recruiting plays out. Depending on what happens in the near future with other prospects Michigan could be out of spots depending on when Garnett would like to visit.
6'3", 275 lbs.
The five star defensive tackle has been making noise ever since he decommitted from Stanford. Rivals ranks him as the number three best defensive tackle overall in the country, and he told me he has list down to ten.
I don't think I'll be taking any other summer visits. I'm focused on my team more than recruiting right now. I have it narrowed to ten schools though with Arizona, Stanford, Auburn, Cal, Washington, USC, Michigan, UCLA, Florida, and Nebraska.
Shittu is another prospect that has maintained he would like to take an official visit to Michigan. He too will be at The Opening this weekend, and as mentioned will be with Michigan recruits and commitments.
I haven't figured out a specific date yet, but it could possibly be for the Notre Dame night game. I'll be at The Opening this week and I talk recruiting everywhere I go, but I'm mostly going there to have a good time. It's cool to hang out with the committed players to see if your personalities match up.
Defensive tackle is another position that will likely start to fill up soon. The coaching staff have told recruits that they will likely take one interior linemen, but I have to imagine that they will take two at the end of the day. Either way, Shittu says that doesn't bother him.
It's 50% that I'll sign on signing day and 50% that I'll do it at the Army game. Nothing sooner, and if their class fills up then it fills up. I'm making my decision on one of those dates.
The scenario could get interesting with Ondre Pipkins' visit coming up, and instate DT Danny O'Brien saying that he would like to take official visits. If Pipkins decides to make an early decision and the coaches decide to take two defensive tackles it looks like it could be down to Shittu and O'Brien for the last spot. A lot of ifs, but they're in a good place.
6'2", 199 lbs.
Westlake Village, California
I recently reported that Payton had decommitted from USC this past week. He had been feeling uncomfortable with his commitment for awhile, so this wasn't anything that was surprising. He has a lot of interest in Michigan and plans on taking an official visit if things go as planned.
My coach wants me to make a decision relatively soon, but no matter what I want to take an official out to Michigan. We can take official visits during our season as long as we don't miss any Oaks time, miss any class or anything with our teams.
There was recently a CBS Sports article published that quoted Payton as saying, "I'm going to tell you this, it's going to be interesting the next couple of weeks in recruiting…You're going to see a lot of changes. Just think Fab Five." Naturally people began to tie that to Michigan. He clarified what he meant there.
When I said that the reporter, he was just like oh so you're going to Michigan? I told him that I just meant I've been talking to some other recruits and trying to get a fab five group to go to the same school, not necessarily Michigan.
Interesting comments to say the least. The article did clarify what he meant as well, I just thought I'd get him in his own words. If you look at what he said though it sounds like his decision could come soon. We'll see.
Ohio S Jarrod Wilson is announcing his decision on Friday July 8th at 2:30pm EST. He's kept everything close to the vest, but it seems like it will be worthwhile to monitor the announcement.
DT Ondre Pipkins named his top six of Michigan, Tennessee, Alabama, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Florida. He will be visiting Michigan at the end of July or beginning of August. That visit will be big for Michigan to get him on campus.
Offensive line recruiting is starting to get tight, as I mentioned above. I've said this before, but I don't expect Ohio OL Kyle Kalis to take too much longer with his decision. I have been in contact with him this entire time. His decision could likely have an effect on what other prospects decide to do and when they do it. We'll see what happens.
Ohio DE Chris Wormley will be making his decision relatively soon, sometime before the end of the summer.
The Michigan recruits and commitments to watch in The Opening this week are OL Adam Bisnowaty (who Michigan really likes), RB Bri'onte Dunn, OL Erik Magnuson, DT Danny O'Brien, DB Terry Richardson, LB James Ross, DT Aziz Shittu, DB Anthony Standifer, WR Dwayne Stanford, TE Ron Thompson, DE Adolphus Washington, OL Zach Banner, DE Mario Ojemudia, and OL Joshua Garnett. You can watch it on ESPNU on July 7th, 8th, and 9th, at 9pm EST.
The Big House BBQ is July 31st, I will confirm names for that as it gets closer. It looks like it was by invitation.
Off today for the Fourth. See you tomorrow. Until then, Amurrica.
In 2006, David Harris never came off the field for a single defensive play. Then he (and Prescott Burgess) graduated, and the Ezeh/Mouton era was born.
The cheapest thrill in MGoBlogging from '07 to '10 was making an Obi Ezeh joke. Here was a guy with limited ability who was subject to terrible coaching and forced into the center of Michigan's defense – wearing David Harris's number no less – for four terrible years because until Kenny Demens there was no alternative. Since linebacker mistakes are harder to spot than, say, free safety mistakes, you could get a lot of internet cred by intelligently pointing out the flaws in Ezeh's game.
If you hang around enough program insiders, you already know that in all of the important things in life, Obi Ezeh is a spectacular success. On the overwhelming majority of the plays he was involved in, Obi did something other than fail spectacularly. And then there were those times on the field when he failed, spectacularly.
That it took until midway through his senior year to displace Ezeh says a lot about the depth of Michigan's linebacker recruiting, and probably more about the coaching. Four years ago, was this the future we expected?
|Chris Graham||Sr.||Johnny Thompson||Jr.*||Shawn Crable||Sr.*|
|Jonas Mouton||Fr.*||Obi Ezeh||Fr.*||Marrell Evans||Fr.|
|Brandon Logan||Jr.||Austin Panter||Jr.||Brandon Herron||Fr.|
Incoming: (Marcus Wither-)SPOON!
But that AUGGGHHHH was a long time coming. M had a string of bad linebacker recruiting years that ended up giving playing time to a Sarantos and the vastly overrated McClintock a few years earlier before the enterprise was saved by Burgess moving in from safety and a Grand Rapids 2-star running back emerging as all-world MLB David Harris. By 2007 those guys were gone and it was the undersized seniors Graham and Crable, then hope.
The story of 2007 recruiting, other than "PLZ moar DBs!" was "PLZ moar LBs!" Then the LB haul turned out to be a JUCO junior and two fliers, and two of the freshmen transferred, and crippling fear set in. Little bits of happy flakes like "maybe Chris Graham will have a Bennie Joppru renaissance" and "Obi Ezeh practice hype!" and "Jonas Mouton's recruiting pedigree as a safety" were used to provide the necessary optimism to balance the previews that start with a tiny linebacker with Tyrannosaurus arms, yappy trash-talking spear, and blitz-only knife, and end with one guy down the depth chart with any hope of being good.
Tyranno-arms was Chris Graham, who was terrible as a sophomore, didn't play behind Burgess, and came into his senior year expected to raise even more internet ire. The expectation here was for Mouton's loads of talent to push Graham out of the way.
At MLB, Thompson and Ezeh were in a battle. What little had been seen of Thompson led Brian to conclude he was a guy born a generation too late, the best case scenario a Sam Sword who needs to come off the field on passing downs. Ezeh was our knight in Harris-ian armor:
Nobody's seen redshirt freshman Ezeh in the flesh yet, but the indicators on him are good. For one, he is David Harris: a nothing running back recruit out of Grand Rapids who Michigan unearthed and brought in as a linebacker. He even took the newly hallowed #45 once Harris graduated. In the fall he was moved to middle linebacker to compete with Thompson and Panter so he wouldn't spend his year idling behind Crable. Whenever people try to get you on the field, that's a good sign.
We now know that whenever people try to get you on the field, that could be a good sign for you, or a bad sign for the entire unit.
Crable? Ah, Crable. Expert attacker, not made for regular linebacking duties. The SAM position that kind of became Spur and is now again SAM was exactly what Crable was good at. He essentially made Michigan's defense a 5-2, with Crable serving as a sharp knife to terrify bludgeoning offensive linemen and wreak backfield havoc. When he's not doing this, Michigan would go to the nickel, with Brandon Harrison in for Crable. Brian in the preview:
As a 6'6" linebacker with chicken legs and a high center of gravity, he's not the sort to defeat a block and close out a hole. He doesn't make tackles three yards downfield. It's either in the backfield or after long pursuit.
As for depth and future: negligible or less after Mouton and Ezeh. The team was sucking up the departure of Mixon and Patilla, and Brandon Graham's move to DE, leaving just 9 scholarship players, of whom Mouton was the only consensus 4-star or higher. Logan was already a clear Anton Campbell Memorial Special Teamer. Pessimistic practice reports ruled out any immediate usefulness from Panter. Evans was a 2-star reportedly offered on advice that he had a better work ethic than Brandon Minor, according to Brandon Minor. Herron was an athletic project recruit who looked like a receiver. On July 31, 2007, until help arrived from the 2008 class, the future was Ezeh, Mouton, and bleakness:
Mixon transferred, Patilla is likely gone, and Graham is a defensive end. Mouton (who moved down from safety) and Ezeh are both drawing very positive reviews and are odds-on favorites to start next year, but past that we have only the two freshmen, one of whom was a two-star and the other a three-star regarded as a combine freak who needs a lot of work. Depth is also going to be an issue at linebacker going forward; we need at least three in this class.
As for those 2008 recruits, SPOON! was Rival's 160th overall at the time, and the board was full of linebacker prospects. Taylor Hill, a 3.5-star-ish guy was apparently off to Florida (the RR hire turned him back), but M was in good position for 4-star J.B. Fitzgerald, and Christian Wilson was close to coming in, but as an H-back. Because the offer list was so rich and large and positive feeling-y, in-state Kenny Demens didn't have an offer from Michigan, and insiders expected him to end up at that school people go to when they want to go to Michigan but don't have a letter of acceptance from Michigan.
All told, expectations were for a dark period that hopefully saw Mouton emerge as a killer to cover up deficiencies in the Ezeh/Thompson platoon, while the coaches schemed around the 3rd LB spot with two-LB sets (nickel/5-2) or sets that basically act like two-LB (3-3-5, 4-3 under) until the fruits of the 2008 haul ripened. The 2008 preview gave a kind 2 out of 5 rating because if Ezeh got better (rather than worse) each year, he'd be Schilling minus the recruiting hype. At that point Mouton was beaten for the starting gig by the workmanlike (pre-transfer) Marrell Evans, and Panter was your 2008 starting SLB. By Penn State '08 it was Thompson at SAM, Mouton terrible in coverage but awesome at blitzing, and Ezeh a convenient focal point for power running teams, which the Big Ten has those, and we talking about how we totally called it.
Ultimately this meant 'eh' to mediocre linebacker play for 2007-09, and then something approximating good in 2010 when Mouton and Ezeh are 5th year seniors with loads of experience, and the 2008 guys were upperclassmen.
How Did that Turn Out?
This is a picture taken from Brian's picture pages of Mouton losing contain again. RB#32 will now cut behind LT#77 and probably have enough time to cue a celebratory animation as he waltzes toward the end-zone as you throw your controller and curse the EAsshole who programmed suction blocking.
Then you realize this is real life and you go looking for a coach to throttle.
The depth chart at the beginning of 2007 fall practice tells a story, but the rest of the tale of linebacker in the 2007-10 is the clearest case in M history since DeBordian offensive playcalling in which the coaches failed their players.
Whereas the defensive backfield suffered from a lack of guys, the linebacker corps had a some guys with wildly varying abilities The truth of that statement can be found in the era's picture pages that weren't about bad DB play, bad backup DL play, or some bit of insight into the Offensive Genius of Mr. Rodriguez, from lining up Demens incorrectly to the consistent fundamental mistakes made by experienced 5th year seniors. It can be confirmed by the incredibly short careers of various linebacker coaches in this time:
2007: Steve Szabo – Former LB's coach for Jacksonville Jaguars ('94-'02) and DC for B.C. and Colorado State before that. Michigan's LB coach from 2006-'07, was let go with rest of Carr's staff when RR took over, and joined the Carr's-Michigan-in-Exile project of Ron English down the road in Ypsilanti.
2008-'09: Jay Hopson – A favorite MGoWhipping Boy, this Mississippi import couldn't a.) coach linebackers, or b.) recruit Mississippi. He was the fall-guy for the 2009 defense. Brian on Hopson postmortem:
Now that he's actually gone, it's no sugarcoat time: Hopson failed at all aspects of his job at Michigan. At least Tony Gibson can point to the walk-ons and whatnot when attempting to explain what went wrong with his section of the defense; Hopson had two redshirt juniors with three years of starting experience between them. They went backwards, and the big-time recruit backing them up also proved unready.
Meanwhile, a—possibly the—primary reason Michigan lacks depth on the defensive line and might have to turn down a couple of recruits who want to come was Hopson getting "commitments" from two defensive tackles who eventually went to Arkansas and Texas Tech on signing day.
This makes Rodriguez 0/2 on his new hires since coming to Michigan, with Greg Robinson currently sporting an incomplete. If Rodriguez doesn't make it at Michigan the guys he picked to run his defense will be a primary factor.
If the link to that Christmastime '09 post is purple on your browser, it's because I've linked it several times before thanks to this famous bit of prophesy fulfilled: 2010: GERG – You see a man with fantastically groomed white locks who takes the opportunity afforded by his first linebacker ward performing a linebacker play correctly to rub said linebacker's face with a beaver beanie baby. Throttle this man? Y/N
That's not to say they were working with a roster full of Ray Lewis and Jarret Johnsons (like some people). The transfer bug continued, as Evans and three of the '08 commits (Hill, SPOON!, and former safety Brandon Smith) followed Mixon and Patilla out the door. The recruiting story under Carr was, if you can believe it, even more desperate than the defensive backs, evidence: Panter. But where you can't get away from playing 4 DBs on most downs, you can get away with 2 every-down linebacker-y linebackers if you scheme for it, and that's what Michigan essentially did.
The result: zero depth behind the two summon creatures played above. At various points along the way, tiny walk-on Kevin Leach became a nominal starter, and not because of injuries to guys ahead of him. Suboptimal options J.B. Fitzgerald, Craig Roh, Brandon Herron, Mark Moundros and Brandon Smith were all forced into the lineup in hopes of plugging some of those holes between Adam Patterson and wherever Adam Patterson's shoes were landing. If the Opong-Owusu family had produced any more sons, they probably would have played as well.
The real story of 2007 to 2010 though was Mouton and Ezeh. Mouton came to be known in my (fantasy nerdy) head as the Goblin Sapper, equally liable to cause massive to enemies and his own party. Since the NFL apparently thinks they can make a linebacker out of him, and he was actually getting really good coverage drops whenever he knew to do so, I tend to blame the coaches more than Mouton for his 'define erratic' play. We can only wonder if he would have been our best WLB prospect since Dhani. Ezeh? At this point let's just and wish him luck in everything he does.
That's 2/3 of the tale. The third LB position, strongside, turned out fine. Crable was Crablicious in limited duty for English's nickel-happy '07, and in '08 John Thompson got to do his neaderthalish thing when the occasion called for it (which was basically just Wisconsin and MSU). In 2009 the SAM spot became Spur, a straightforward hybrid position that basically combines Brandon Harrison and Shawn Crable into a player who stays on the field for every down. In '09 it turned out to be Stevie Brown's lifetime calling. In 2010 it was the home of a rotating cast of freshmen: two redshirted Gordons and Carvin Johnson, who were not at all disappointing.
5 Point Scale of Expectation vs. Outcome: 3. We knew things were gonna be Mouton, Ezeh and pray for rain, and only hoped that experience, recruiting, plus a breakout or two from among the 2- and 3-stars, would be able to fix that. Ezeh got a little bit worse every year. Mouton had a major regression as a junior from a promising but mistake-y sophomore year, before getting a bit better as a senior. The recruits came but didn't develop. What really nailed this unit was the coaching, both the effects of changing schemes every year, and the overall poor quality of the Hopson/GERG coaching experience. Heading into 2011, the outlook isn't all that different, depending on your excitement level over Kenny Demens in a sensical defense (Brian: high, Misopogon: medium) and trust that one of the WLB guys will be serviceable (Brian: low, Misopogon: medium). For the future, the "I coached Ray Lewis" pitch seems to be working like free ice cream as Mattison has grabbed first dibs on a loaded regional LB class, and Mark Smith, who has followed Hoke around since '03, would really have to work to match the record incompetence of his last two predecessors.
Next week is the d-line and I promise it won't be this depressing again. Look: Biakabutuka going for 313.
Diaries after the jump.
With more new Michigan commits, we're hitting the front page after a hiatus of a couple weeks. Action since last rankings:
6-24-11 Minnesota gains commitment from Eric Murray.
6-26-11 Notre Dame gains commitment from John Turner. Michigan State gains commitment from Nick Tompkins. Michigan gains commitment from Blake Bars.
6-27-11 Purdue gains commitment from Ryan Morris.
6-28-11 Indiana gains commitment from Adam Kranda.
6-29-11 Penn State gains commitment from Joey O'Connor. Purdue gains commitment from Austin Appleby. Minnesota gains commitment from Mitch Leidner.
7-1-11 Indiana gains commitment from Jacob Bailey. Purdue gains commitment from Steffon Martin.
|Big Ten+ Recruiting Class Rankings|
|Rank||School||# Commits||Rivals Avg||Scout Avg||ESPN Avg||24/7 Avg|
*ESPN doesn't rate JUCOs, so Isaac Fruechte is not included in Minnesota's average.
via flickr user larrysphatpage
Almost nothing drives me more insane than someone who proclaims certain numbers to be bad because these other numbers are better without suggesting a mechanism that would make this true. Via Slate, Murray Chass provides the canonical example:
The stats freaks who never saw a decimal point they didn't worship were ecstatic last year when Zack Greinke won the American League Cy Young award while winning only 16 games. Felix Hernandez, who won 19 and whose 2.49 earned run average was second to Greinke's 2.16, would have been my choice, but the stats guys "proved" that Greinke was the correct choice because of his statistical standing in formulaic concoctions in which we mere mortals do not imbibe.
—Murray Chass, murraychass.com, May 9, 2010.
This makes me clench and unclench my fists helplessly. It seems impossible that you could be this venerated New York Times baseball writer without picking up on the fact that AL pitchers have no control over how many runs their team scores. The fists clench and unclench because attempting to model an argument with Murray Chass about this quickly leads into a cul-de-sac where Chass says something condescending about something he doesn't understand and repeats it ad nauseum as if he believes "no blood for oil" or "drill, baby, drill" is a coherent, self-contained, impregnable point of view.
Presenting Jonah Lehrer, who actually manages to write for Wired despite being able to compose the following:
Consider the case of J.J. Barea. During the regular season, the backup point guard had perfectly ordinary statistics, averaging 9.5 ppg and shooting 44 percent from the field. His plus/minus rating was slightly negative. There was no reason to expect big things from such a little player in the playoffs.
And yet, by Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Barea was in the starting lineup. (This promotion came despite the fact that he began the Finals with a 5-for-23 shooting slump and a minus-14 rating.) What Dallas coach Rick Carlisle wisely realized is that Barea possessed something that couldn't be captured in a scorecard, that his speed and energy were virtues even when he missed his layups (and he missed a lot of layups), and that when he made those driving floaters their value exceeded the point score. Because nothing messes with your head like seeing a guy that short score in the lane. Although Barea's statistics still look pretty ordinary — his scoring average fell in the Finals despite the fact that he started — the Mavs have declared that re-signing him is a priority. Because it doesn't matter what the numbers say. Barea won games.
A man who writes for Wired ascribes JJ Barea's value to "nothing messes with your head like seeing a guy that short score in the lane." Fists clenching and unclenching due to impossibility of refuting argument that stupid. Plenty of other people have tried to do so. Some guy at Deadspin who pointed out that the Mavs are amongst the most stat-obsessed teams in the league. A Baseball Prospectus guy tore apart Lehrer's introductory car analogy, in which car buyers who focus on a couple of barely relevant but easily understandable numbers instead of the important, hard-to-quantity data are Bill James, not Joe Morgan.
It doesn't matter, though. These articles always have a tautologically number-negating logic. The argument goes:
- I don't understand statistics*.
- People who understand statistics don't understand intangibles.
- Therefore my understanding is superior.
Now let's talk about Denard Robinson and last year's offense.
*[This lack of understanding can be many things but is always at least this: statistics are a suggestive tool, not math gospel. To be fair, some people use statistics like they are a golden hammer. These people are very annoying and should be yelled at. Just don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. ]
Y WE NO SCORE GOALPOINTS
This came up a lot in the aftermath of the Spring Game, when the quarterbacks strove to make themselves indistinguishable from walk-ons and quite a lot of people put finger under collar and went "uggggghhh." This was met with a round of backlash largely consisting of people pointing at select—sometimes hilariously select—statistics from last year's team in an effort to prove the offense wasn't really that good.
The favorite was a focus on the first halves against good opponents, when Michigan did not score points. This did not escape notice even around here:
The Ohio State game has the power to make whatever happens in it seem like Michigan's season in microcosm, and so the overriding theme of the 2010 season is looking up at the scoreboard at halftime to see Michigan on pace for about 500 yards and about twenty points. Michigan had 238 yards and seven points this time around and instead of a competitive game we got the usual.
Michigan was frustratingly spectacular at getting to the half with almost 300 yards and something like ten points on the board. But using points to evaluate the output of an offense is like using wins to evaluate a pitcher. Events outside the entity you are trying to evaluate have so much impact on that number, it is only a fuzzy explanation of the story.
I have engaged in message board fights and observed many more about whether the Wisconsin game was a failure on the offense's part. At the half the score was 28-0 Wisconsin and the game was as good as over, whereupon Michigan came out of the locker room and scored three straight touchdowns against the UW defense. This would have made the game interesting if Michigan could have forced the Badgers to pass, ever.
My fists do the clenching bit whenever anyone tries to claim the Wisconsin game was evidence Michigan should move away from the spread. The Michigan offense's entire first half:
Michigan drives from their own one yard line to
the Wisconsintheir 35 before punting.
- Michigan drives from their 28 to the Wisconsin 13; Seth Broekhuizen misses a 30-yard field goal.
- Three and out from the 36.
- Three and out from the 40.
(There was also a meaningless two play drive at the end of the half.) That's not a great four drives. It is a great seven drives if you consider the next three. Meanwhile, the final touchdown against UW is often dismissed as "garbage time" but Badger tacklers on that drive include JJ Watt, Patrick Butrym, and Aaron Henry—all starters—and Michigan hit Roundtree three times for more than 20 yards on a three-minute march. That was not Wisconsin's goal. Even if you still dismiss Michigan's last couple drives as garbage you have to acknowledge that the defense's inability to make them meaningful robbed the offense of opportunities to impress for real.
But you're sitting there and your fists are clenching and unclenching and everything is black and doom and blacky black doom, so maybe it's hard to tell.
Transistors don't give a damn
This is the disconnect. While what seems like a fairly large subset of the fanbase saw wholesale collapse in the Wisconsin game, computers saw two units failing immensely and an offense that put up 442 yards on a defense that gave up 321 on average, scored 31-ish points (computers will credit the offense with acquiring the field position for the field goal and deduct the miss from the special teams; if they deduct from the garbage TD they will use a lower denominator when trying to figure out expected points) on a defense that gave up 21. Statistically, Michigan's offense was at least a standard deviation above the mean against the Badgers.
While the Wisconsin game is the biggest outlier between the offense's actual and perceived performance, it's instructive. It is often lumped in with the crap from last year along with Iowa (tenuous case indeed there), MSU, OSU, and the bowl game. There is no reasonable case it should be. This is why statistics are useful, because meat-emotions often overwhelm our capacity for reason.
These are the questions I think we should be asking in our most robotic voices:
What aspects of last year's performance project most strongly to next year's?
There are three reasons for the gap between points and yards: field position, field goal kicking, and turnovers. The latter two combined to see Michigan's redzone scoring rate rank 109th nationally. The first two are almost entirely out of the offense's control. The latter was a huge problem all three years under Rodriguez. However, turnovers notoriously do not correlate year to year, are heavily dependent on quarterback, experience and saw Rich Rodriguez consistently in the black at West Virginia.
Michigan's turnover issues aren't fate, should improve naturally, and are not related to the spread. Most of Michigan's other issues at turning yards into points are not really the offense's.
That leaves an inherent flaw in the spread offense as a potential culprit that has the potential to repeat next year. Point in favor: Michigan was even worse in the redzone in 2009, finishing with just 49% of available points. Point against: Auburn and Oregon finished in the top ten last year. Further point against from a Football Outsiders study of the NFL:
We took … 20 overachievers and measured their performances the season after said overachievement; while their DVOA [ed: something value over average, a fancy stat they have designed to smooth out noise.] in the red zone that initial season exceeded their total offensive DVOA by an average of 33.3 percent, in the following season, their DVOA in the red zone exceeded their total DVOA by an average of 1.3 percent. In other words, the teams' performances in the red zone mirrored how they did outside it, implying the overachieving was a fluke.
We also can measure this by using correlation coefficients, a way of measuring the relationship between two variables that results in a number ranging from minus-1 (at which the two variables have an exact inverse relationship) to plus-1 (at which the variables have a perfectly positive relationship). The correlation between a team's performance in the red zone and its overall offensive performance, year to year, is 0.08 -- essentially nil. Teams simply do not exceed their performance in the first 80 yards once they get to the final 20 on a regular basis.
The evidence suggests Michigan's red zone struggles should revert to the mean; the things that made the offense less than the sum of its yards last year are all small sample size outliers.
What's left that does correlate, or at least correlates better? Everything else. On a play by play basis Michigan's offense does well in standard and advanced metrics, and returns ten starters. If they should be better but weren't (because of things that should revert) and can expect similar performance next year (because of all the returning starters), then what should happen is that the expected and actual meet somewhere south of #2 nationally but well within the schwing range.
Is it better to play to Al Borges's strengths or the offense's strengths?
In 2008 this was easy since the offense had no strengths. In 2011 it's a difficult question. Michigan's transition demands that Borges or Denard (and, importantly, the OL) leaves his comfort zone. This is necessarily going to be suboptimal for someone.
The spring game suggests it will be vastly suboptimal for Denard if Borges gets his way, and it seems a lot easier to change playcalls than turn Denard into Jon Navarre. Unfortunately, it's not that easy. The last few years I've documented the ever-evolving Michigan run offense. Rich Rodriguez kept ahead of the curve by constantly adding new wrinkles to the ground game. He was able to do this because of his vast experience with the spread 'n' shred. Al Borges is a smart guy with a lot of experience but his history suggests his inventiveness may be more oriented towards the passing game. If a good chunk of offensive effectiveness is staying ahead of the game, Borges might be able to do that better from a pro-style offense.
But the following is true even in the NFL:
Shotgun formations are generally more efficient than formations with the quarterback under center.
Over the past three seasons, offenses have averaged 5.9 yards per play from Shotgun, but just 5.1 yards per play with the quarterback under center. This wide split exists even if you analyze the data to try to weed out biases like teams using Shotgun more often on third-and-long, or against prevent defenses in the fourth quarter. Shotgun offense is more efficient if you only look at the first half, on every down, and even if you only look at running back carries rather than passes and scrambles.
With an offense outright designed for the shotgun featuring a quarterback whose main asset is his legs, the cutting-edge effect would have to be absurdly important to make the offense more effective from under center.
Does I-form pro-style help you win in ways undefined by conventional statistics?
This is Brady Hoke's theory when he denigrates the zone-heavy spread offense as an impediment to having a good defense. A quick glance at the top defenses in both conventional and fancy measures suggests this is unlikely. TCU, Boise State, and West Virginia were the top three teams in yardage defense. WVU, Missouri, Oklahoma, Auburn, Oregon, and Mississippi State are all in the top ten in defensive FEI. There appears to be little if any problem with having a top defense opposite your spread 'n' shred offense as long as you account for the increased pace of the spread.
Is it worth sacrificing effectiveness down the road for immediate results?
Unknowable, but there's no better way to quickly put the question marks on Brady Hoke's resume to rest than by having a breakout first season.
Extensive Conclusion Section
MOAR SHOTGUN PLZ
Love the Hoke-pointing inset.
This year's main feature is the price, which is down to a cool $9.99 without a reduction in the amount of content. Other things:
Some guy named Brian from MGoBlog does the usual extensive preview of the offense, defense, special teams, incoming recruits, and overall zeitgeist of the program.
Johnny from RBUAS writes about Denard Robinson, prose flowing like dreads.
Seth Fisher, also known as Misopogon, goes in depth on recruting Ohio. Now more relevant than ever.
Chris Brown of Smart Football attempts to answer the looming offseason question "Al Borges + Denard Robinson == ???" Article is packed with illuminating graphs and some surprising revelations about Manball, or the lack thereof, in Borges's most recent offense.
Brian Fremeau of Football Outsiders attempts to answer another looming question about Michigan football: just how good was Michigan's offense last year and how do they become more efficient this year?
Michael Elkon of Braves and Birds finds out how much improvement Michigan's massive number of returning starters should yield.
Greg Dooley of MVictors recaps the crash-laden, ridiculously-pantsed 1911 season 100 years on.
John Kryk asks members of the massively hyped 1981 team what went wrong on a team that seemed to have it all.
Kryk also goes way back to the days when Nebraska and Notre Dame could not beat down the door of the Big Ten back when it was the Big X.
Craig Ross evaluates his fandom in the aftermath of the last three tumultuous years.
- And various authors put their reputation, honor, and even their very lives on the line in a roundtable addressing critical questions of the day: how many greater-than symbols should we place next to Greg Mattison's name in relation to GERG's? How large and smoky will the crater in Columbus be? Has Kenny Demens broken out already or is he about to? How wrong do you feel about your fuming hat-stomping in the aftermath of Brady Hoke's hire?
All this and at least six ridiculous captions await you. Shipping now; on newstands in about three weeks.