1. How does the shift back to the 4-3 under fit the personnel?
left: stack no blitzy. right: 4-3, though an even 4-3, not the under
Better than the 3-3-5-type-substance but it's not going to be a huge difference. Fits:
- BETTER: Roh (LB/DE to WDE), Demens (MLB to MLB with guys in front of him)
- SAME: RVB(DE to SDE/DT), Martin (NT to NT), Heininger (DE to SDE), Gordon (spur to SLB), Jones (WLB to WLB), Gordon (FS to FS), cornerbacks
- WORSE: Kovacs (bandit to SS)
Craig Roh and Jibreel Black were men without a position last year. Though Roh actually help up pretty well when he moved to the DL late, he was still miscast as a DE in a three-man line. Black just got crushed. This year both will be playing weakside DE, where they can get after one tackle.
Kenny Demens will be shielded by two senior defensive tackles, allowing him to flow to the ball like he did against Iowa. Michigan set of small, quick WLBs is better suited for the 4-3 since it will be harder for opponents to get a hat on them.
The major negative is not finding a way to keep the two safeties near the LOS. Both are effective blitzers who are a little dodgy in a deep half.
2. How big is the coaching upgrade? Will the transition hurt more than it?
The Mathlete's numbers suggest a coaching change is a drag on the improvement of very bad defenses worth about eight spots. It seems flabbergasting that that could be the case for this specific situation, however. dnak438 found a GERG effect of approximately negative 30(!) spots. While you should take that with a grain of salt because the sample size there is extremely small, each grain adds to a pile threatening to eclipse the Schwarzschild radius. Going from Greg Robinson not running a system he knows to Greg Mattison teaching exactly what he's taught for a zillion years has to be a positive even in the short term.
What causes that drag? Probably a system change. How long has Michigan been running its current system? Six games. They've probably got more experience running the under than the 3-3-5.
Then there are the position coaches: Adam Braithwaite was a grad assistant promoted to LB coach without the usual stops at East Nowhere State. Tony Gibson was reputed to be mostly a recruiter. Bruce Tall seemed pretty good but in his place Michigan has Hoke, Mattison, and Jerry Montgomery. That's an upgrade across the board.
3. Why is everybody so suicidal when the personnel doesn't look entirely doomy?
doug karsch interviewing popular perception about the defense. via firstbase
Slap me for saying this but the starting lineup isn't that scary save for two spots: SDE, where walk-ons Will Heininger and Nathan Brink are backed up by Nobody At All, and WLB, where four cats are fighting in a sack. You know what they say about WLBs: if you've got four you don't have any.
The rest of the line is Martin, Van Bergen, and Roh. Demens is promising at linebacker and they've got a couple of good options at SAM. And the secondary isn't awesome but Avery/Woolfolk/Kovacs/Gordon looks like it could be below average, which will seem like heaven. This year's edition of "Are You Experienced?" sees Michigan move towards average. There's still a gap, but it's narrowing. The Decimated Defense series also sees its Michigan number creep towards sane.
So why is everyone, including myself, afraid of going 7-5 this year with just about everyone back everywhere?
Well, there's depth. Once you get past those starters its scary. There are three backups I wouldn't wince upon seeing enter on the field: Black, Jake Ryan, and Carvin Johnson. I guess Brink fits in there as well but only because he'd be spotting another walk-on. Everyone else on the line has been beaten out by Brink and Heininger, I have little faith in JT Floyd, and even if Marell Evans was injured at Hampton he's done little in four years of football. When injuries happen the dropoff will be severe. It won't even take injuries for the defensive line to wane in effectiveness. Modern football rotates the DL. Michigan has a choice between tired starters and ineffective backups.
Even so I still can't work up the same sense of bowel-crippling panic I had last year when I believed the secondary would tread "horrible, polluted, razor-blade-filled, despair-laden water." Let's poke around at
PROJECTED FRESHMAN CONTRIBUTORS
2010: Black, Gordon, Gordon, Johnson, Avery, Talbott
2011: Maybe Ash
2010: 4-3 under, 3-4, 3-3-5
2011: 4-3 under
RADICAL MIDSEASON SWITCH TO ENTIRELY DIFFERENT SYSTEM
2010: Third year running
2011: Hell no
2010: Rubbing a stuffed beaver in your face
2011: Navy SEAL tridents
Michigan wasn't just rocking an underclass two-deep, they were rocking a freshman-heavy two deep. This could work out! For a given definition of work out!
4. What is with Will Campbell? Isn't the situation at SDE just horrible?
Man, I don't know about Campbell. Maybe his center of gravity is just too high. Maybe he'll never learn technique in the same way Mike Cox can't remember to run into the hole.
The situation at SDE is caused by whatever it is with Will Campbell and will not be encouraging. Heininger was already a non-entity in the passing game and that was 28 pounds ago. And who the hell knows about Brink? I'm guessing Mattison is just trying to get that spot to hold up against double teams in the run game and will rely on Roh/Martin/Van Bergen to get the pass rush. If they can do that it's a win.
Can they do that? Why do I ask myself unanswerable questions?
Michigan will be much, much better this year. How much better depends on:
- The health of key, irreplaceable pieces. These are Martin, Demens, Van Bergen, and the starting corners.
- The improvement of last year's freshmen. Avery, both Gordons, and Black all have the potential to leap forward Darius Morris style.
- Nathan Brink. If Michigan's unearthed something here that not only makes SDE acceptable it means the guys he beat out are potentially serviceable.
- Craig Roh. He could be anything from Tim Jamison to James Hall.
The first bit is unknowable but I can hazard guesses on the latter three: two of the four freshmen above will be startlingly good. Two will be meh. I'm guessing Thomas Gordon and Avery are the former. Brink will not be as bad as everyone feared but that SDE spot is going to be averaging +2 for the season, which is bad. Roh will be in the 75th percentile of his range, a fringe All Big Ten guy.
When I wrote that the D should improve but "not enough" I didn't account for a GERG/RR effect that is real. They'll be better than 82nd in advanced metrics this year by a long shot.
Now, behold the greater-thans and less-thans!
- senior Mike Martin with ankles > Mike Martin
- junior Craig Roh playing his actual position >>> linebacker Craig Roh
- junior Demens >> sophomore Demens/Ezeh
- sophomore Cam Gordon > freshman Gordon/Gordon/Johnson
- Woolfolk >>> Rogers
- sophomore Avery >> freshman Avery/Floyd
- T. Gordon/Johnson >> Gordon/Vinopal
- senior RVB == junior RVB
- Kovacs == Kovacs
- Heininger/Brink == Banks
- Jones/Hawthorne/Herron/Morgan << Mouton
It's going to take two years to dig out of this hole completely but I think the defense will rebound more effectively than stats and conventional wisdom suggest.
Last Year's Stupid Predictions
Fumbles recovered double to ten.
Michigan recovered seven.
The secondary is actually better than last year's secondary because long touchdowns are less frequent. It will still be very bad.
First sentence: false. Second: true.
Mouton is much better, leads the team in TFLs and sacks, and is still incredibly frustrating.
Very accurate. Mouton led the team in tackles (117), was in a three-way tie for TFLs (8.5, Kovacs and RVB tied) and had two sacks. RVB (4) and Banks (3) beat him but not by much in a pathetic year for sacks.
Mike Martin is great and should get first-team Big Ten recognition, though he probably won't.
This might have actually transpired if he hadn't gotten laid up with high ankle sprains. Before he was chopped down against MSU he was playing very, very well.
Mark Moundros holds on to the starting MLB job all season.
Michigan manages a modest improvement in yards allowed, getting up to the 60-70 range nationally.
Not so much: Michigan dipped to 110th.
More accurate than anyone thought possible.
This Year's Stupid Predictions
- Courtney Avery busts out. Going into next year people are talking about him as an All Big Ten performer.
- Kenny Demens leads the team in tackles with Northwestern-MLB-type numbers.
- Brink is a legitimate player, better than Greg Banks was last year. The biggest source of pain on the defense is the WLB.
- Craig Roh leads the team in sacks with eight.
- Sacks almost double from 1.4 per game to 2.4. That would be a move from 98th to around 30th.
- Turnovers forced go from 19 to 27.
- Michigan noses just above average in yardage allowed. Advanced metrics have them about 50th.
- EVERYTHING SEEMS WONDERFUL
When you've been blogging almost daily for almost six years you end up writing a bunch of things you regret. Here's a all-timer from last year's special teams preview:
Just don't fumble and we're good. Unless kicker is a black hole, but what's the worst that could happen?
I am so, so sorry. This is the worst that could happen:
That's the best kicker in the country, Nebraska's Alex Henery, and the worst, Michigan's two-headed monster. The whole picture wasn't quite that bad—when not suspended, Will Hagerup was quite good—but the complete inability to kick a field goal overrode all other positives and negatives, casting a pall of total incompetence over the unit. Jeremy Gallon's remarkable knack for doing the exact wrong thing 80% the time and fumbling the other 20% was a significant aid.
But this year we've totally got a new kicker! And far more options in the return game! And Hagerup's back! That's the ticket!
WHAT THE BALLS WHY IS THIS MAN'S PICTURE HERE
Everyone was terribly excited about freshman Matt Wile. He kicked at the Army game. He was not either of the guys responsible for the above graph. Therefore win. Therefore kicker. Therefore 35 yard field goals are feasible.
So of course Brendan Gibbons wins the job. Gibbons made one of four field goals in the first four games last year and biffed an extra point, whereupon he was sat down until the Wisconsin game. He attempted one field goal the rest of the year, that in the Gator Bowl whitewashing. He missed.
The idea of Gibbons hitting the field again gives me hives. At least this time around there's another option, though it's an option that lost out to Brendan Gibbons. Guh.
I always punt on kickers I haven't seen play but the chances Michigan has come up totally incompetent on two straight scholarship guys is low. Either Gibbons has gotten a lot better or they're trying not to put too much on Wile's plate.
There's some case for the former. Last year Rodriguez was claiming field goals were his "biggest concern" on a team starting air at cornerback; Hoke has been much more sanguine. Maybe that's just bravado, but it seems like he's doing better in practice. Kickers are weird. It would be very kicker-y if Gibbons finally got it together.
Predictions? There are no predictions here.
Rating: 3, then 5
Will Hagerup is back. Everyone says he's thundering punts off the top of the practice facility, Zoltan-style. He is also suspended for the first four games of the season. If staying home for last year's Ohio State game was a warning shot across the bow, missing the first four games of this season is an out-and-out broadside. Whatever his issues are it's safe to presume he's on his last strike.
If he manages to get through September without immolating his career, Michigan will have one of those punters color commentators call a "weapon" whenever he strolls onto the field. In Hagerup's case this is almost not hyperbolic. His 72-yard bomb was indisputably the play of the Purdue game:
After a shaky start featuring shanks and a blocked punt Hagerup quickly became one of the country's best. In Big Ten play he averaged 44.0 yards a kick, which would have been good for 19th nationally if sustained over the entire season. He was just a freshman, so it's reasonable to write off the early struggles as nerves and project that Hagerup will at least match those numbers when he's not suspended. Improvement is likely, and that takes him into the top ten nationally.
But he is suspended for the nonconference season. It appears that Wile will take his place. Some guy named Tom hit up his high school coach for his stats in that department:
Here are Wile's stats from his senior, junior, and sophomore years as a punter:
Year Punts Yards Average Long Inside 20 2010 40 1447 36.18 54 13 2009 31 1247 40.23 61 6 2008 16 586 36.63 54 6
Here is a video of him in 2010 at a kicking camp. He kicks five balls and averages 51.2 yards. Probably the most recent data of his abilities. He was also the punter during the Army All American game.
The dip as a senior is a little bothersome but the surge in balls inside the twenty means he was doing a lot more punting on a short field. Hitting 38 or 40 on a regular basis is a downgrade from Hagerup but one Michigan will live with. More problematic is the possibility Wile did not win the kicking job because he's already slated to kick off and punt the first few games.
Kickoffs and Return Units
This was miserable last year and one of the main perpetrators of the misery, Jeremy Gallon, is back as the punt returner. This is inexplicable to me:
Jeremy Gallon special teams error limit: determined. It is ten billion. I'm obviously on the tolerant side of the scale when it comes to coaching errors (outside of obvious game theory errors, about which I have an Al Qaeda level of zealotry) but JESUS GOD RICH RODRIGUEZ WHY DID YOU LET JEREMY GALLON RETURN KICKS AND PUNTS FOR TEN GAMES.
Gallon must be Steve Breaston in practice or something because he's held onto a job he's been terrible at through six million fumbles and a coaching change. Maybe he's better now. If he's not maybe they'll finally let Dileo return stuff. A change can't take as long as it did last year.
The other major issue in this department was (again) the kickers. Gibbons and Broekhuizen couldn't get kickoffs anywhere near the endzone and when Hagerup was deputized midway through the year he wasn't much better. Wile grabbed that job as soon as he showed up so improvement is expected here.
How much does this matter? After the Illinois game I pinged Brian Fremeau for advanced metrics on the special teams and he got back to me with numbers that said Michigan was well below average on kickoffs both ways, but had top-tier punting and only slightly below average punt returns. By that point in the season those four forces had combined to cost Michigan about a touchdown. I think that's low since Fremeau's numbers don't account for the field position Gallon gave up by letting punts roll all over the place*; add in a few more games and Michigan probably gave away two touchdowns of field postion over the course of the season. That's pretty significant.
Can a special teams coach fix this? Eh. One of the takeaways from the punting demo was the personnel: starters everywhere, lots of skill position guys. They'll head towards average because of that, reversion to the mean, and Wile.
Gallon and the kick returners? Ask again later. I'm not expecting miracles. Just HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL.
*[I assume so, anyway. I don't know how you'd even begin trying to account for that.]
Now that Brian has burned through the position previews and depth charts in beautiful excruciating detail, there is little for me to add to the personnel side, so I wanted to look a little deeper at the schedule portion to see how we got to the 8-4 I projected last week.
I also wanted to add a bit of addendum to the Denard struggles on passing downs meme, so to not clutter the site any further I have dropped that at the end of this column for those interested.
Throughout the season, I will be posting a weekly column on Wed/Thurs. I will try and pick out interesting tidbits and trends from the numbers as the week goes. If you have any questions you would like to see answered in the column or ideas on angles, don’t hesitate to hit me up on the twitters.
As always, your handy reference guide is here.
So which are the 8 wins?
Well, it doesn’t really work that way. Obviously no game is certain and no prediction is either. To get to 8-4 I assign values to each team based on the prior three seasons' performance and returning starters at QB and defense. These are factors that I have found significantly improve a season’s forecast.
Each team is then pitted against their schedule, accounting for home field which is worth about 3 points for the home team each game. Each game then gets a spread and a likelihood of winning. When you play out those probabilities, some seasons ended up with as few as 1 win and some ended up with 12. Nearly three quarters ended up with seven, eight or nine wins. My calculated odds of missing out on a bowl are about 1 in 29, about the same odds of winning 11. Going 12-0 is rated at 1 in 327. This is all assuming that Michigan plays at the projected level. If they play better or worse than I have projected, the numbers can and will change.
All that was to say, the eight wins and the four losses change each scenario. The most likely version has losses to Ohio, Nebraska, Michigan St and Notre Dame, but even that scenario is only a 1 in 60 shot. In fact the most likely specific scenario is 6-6 with losses to Illinois and Iowa added to the mix, but that’s still a 1 in 55 shot.
In summary, here is how the percentages break out:
The Individual Teams
|Opponent||2010 PAN||2008-'09 Avg||Returning Starters||Total PAN||Michigan Odds|
|San Diego St||6.3||-6.0||-0.6||-0.5||85%|
The numbers quickly break out into four groups:
Eastern Michigan and Minnesota coming into the Big House without much hope. Eastern was bad every year considered and only gets a slight uptick from returning starters. No points awarded for hiring Mike Hart.
Minnesota saw last year plummet below already-low-for-a-Big-Ten-team values and returning starters push them down slightly further.
Just Don’t Screw It Up
Western Michigan, San Diego St, Purdue, and at Northwestern all seem pretty safe on their own, but there is only a 55% chance we go 4-0 in these four games. Successfully do that and a nine-win season becomes a more attainable. Dropping one or more will make it tougher to top last season’s win total in the regular season.
Notre Dame, at Iowa and at Illinois all place Michigan a percent or two below 50/50. 5-2 between these last two groups keeps us on pace to 8 wins. Iowa overachieved last year but is brought down to earth thanks to a depleted roster. Illinois is heading in the opposite direction after [NAME REDACTED] made one last run to save his job. Notre Dame is the highest rated of the bunch as Brian Kelly begins to purge the Weis ratings from the books. The Domers get the benefit of a strong returning group but are in the mix with Iowa and Illinois thanks to an under the lights meet-up in Ann Arbor.
There’s a Clock for That
OK, so we don’t have a countdown clock for that school down south and four states over (Nebraska), but Ohio and State form the last group. To hold serve on an 8-win season, expect one win out of this group. Ohio has been the cream of the Big Ten for the last several years, but graduation and Tressel-gate have dropped the Buckeyes into the mix. Michigan State and Nebraska both saw 6+ point improvements last season and have a decent group returning. Nebraska should definitely be the better team, but they won’t have the luxury of home field.
PS: Denard and Passing Downs
In general, my data supports what Burgeoning Wolverine Star found on Denard and passing downs. I was curious about which down and distances that Denard excelled and what was their value. For the season, Denard was a non-opponent-adjusted +70 for the season. This includes rushes, passes, sacks, fumbles, picks, everything but garbage time. This is a huge number.
I broke down where the +70 came from situationally.
|Down & Distance||PAN|
|2nd & Long (8-10)||21.5|
|1st & 10||21.2|
|2nd & Med (4-7)||18.7|
|3rd & Short (1-3)||12.0|
|2nd & Short (1-3)||6.9|
|3rd & Med (4-7)||1.5|
|2nd & XL (11+)||(0.4)|
|3rd & Long (8-10)||(4.9)|
|3rd & XL (11+)||(6.6)|
Denard was light years ahead on 1st and 2nd down but considerably below average on 3rd down with at least 8 yards to go. In fact, he was pretty good at 3rd and short and started quickly falling from there.
Ultimately, as long as the offense didn’t lose ground on first down they were still in good shape. Denard could turn a mediocre 1st down around quickly, but if Michigan wasn’t able to get into a third down distance that was manageable, the offense quickly become below average.
No more pictures of multiple dudes we've never seen play at media day. No more projecting things from a spring game performance. No more first-year starters, walk-ons, underclassmen, uncertainty, or woe. No more charts about how some guy was pretty good for a freshman.
There is only one person we are going to talk about this year.
On a paper-thin roster lacking in stars Denard Robinson stands alone. For all the fretting about a lack of playmakers on the offense, basically the same set of guys finished 8th in total yardage last year and better than that in the advanced metrics that try to account for variations in schedule strength and opportunity.
Denard is an offense worth of playmakers himself.
|HE RUNS||HE THROWS|
|he runs draws!||whippy, live arm!|
|the ur lead draw||zings to covered 'Tree|
|no soup for safety||zips one in|
|darting past hands||slant rope|
|"that's six"||tight window|
|also six||nails Grady|
|part of good UW day||plausible deep!|
|he runs power!||gorgeous deep ball|
|shoestring tackle||deep corner|
|barely run OOB||steps back to bomb|
|he improvises!||the heave|
|zipping by the MLB||back shoulder toss?|
|weaving read keeper||developing touch!|
|actual scramble||gorgeous floater pass|
|he zone reads!||down in the hole|
|keeper W TE assist||beauty soft fade|
|wide open corner||qb oh noes!|
|he jukes !||fake bubble doom|
|Wisconsin TD||blindingly wide open|
|four missed tackles||cover zero in the alps|
|WOOPS Calabrese||dart to Hemingway|
|WOOPS a safety||when bad is really bad!|
|he punts!||gets 'Tree killed|
|Pooch punt||The X is for XTREME|
When it was all said and done Denard Robinson had shattered a half-dozen team and NCAA records. This is the kind of thing that gets you on All-America teams, so a bunch of different organizations put him on All-America teams.
These organizations go back to the days when passing was for communists and every team was led by a quarterback with more rushing attempts than passing yards. They should be used to the Fraziers and the Crouches that show up on their lists.
They are, but Denard was something else, something that caused the Football Writers Association of America to dump the word "running" from the previously very explicit "running back" spot so they could cram Robinson on their first team next to LaMichael James and Kellen Moore. Denard's 2010 was spent redefining what one man can do.
That was damn near everything. Robinson was the nation's fourth-leading rusher with 1702 yards on 256 carries; he shattered the I-A record for rushing yards by a quarterback. Vincent Smith was second on the team with 601 yards. Denard was 20th in passer efficiency with 2570 yards on 291 attempts, 18 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. He averaged just under 20 carries per game in addition to all his passing attempts, got knocked out of damn near every game, watched Tate Forcier lead comebacks against Iowa and Illinois, and listened to every pundit in the world say the offense must not rest entirely on his shoulders lest we break him.
Do I even need to tell anyone this? Recapping Denard Robinson's 2010 is like reminding you about the time you fell out of an airplane. You remember. It was exhilarating, terrifying, and is etched into his memory forever. I probably don't need to tell you this. But here are some fun highlights anyway.
THE TOP FIVE THINGS DENARD ROBINSON DID IN 2010
5: I'M FROM TECMO BOWL, SORRY
4: WOOP WOOP SCORE
3: RANDOM LONG DRAW TOUCHDOWN THAT IS ALL RLDTDS
2: MAN UP CRAB
1: DENNIS BERGKAMP DENNIS BERGKAMP DENNIS BERGKAMP
That felt nice. Now to this year's business.
WE CAN MAKE HIM BETTER
Denard has spent the offseason working really hard and smiling at people. What are the areas in which Denard can improve? There are some. Really. There are three.
It's okay to scramble. This would be a much better example if it wasn't a spectacular long touchdown but sometimes your negative Denard Robinson highlight is also a spectacular long touchdown. Raise your hand if you had a slow-motion "nooooo" moment the instant Denard cocked his arm to throw that one pass to Junior Hemingway against Illinois.
Well done, well done YOU'RE DENARD ROBINSON AND THERE'S NO ONE WITHIN TEN YARDS OF YOU JUST RUUUUUUN.
Borges has been harping on this since his arrival. The latest version:
"If nobody's open, the broken play is probably the hardest play to stop in college football, any football," Robinson said Wednesday during a break in the Wolverines' preparations for their opener Saturday against Western Michigan.
He had been asked if he's been encouraged to scramble if the read isn't there.
Reading between those not-so-subtle lines, the answer was a resounding yes.
Hopefully we see some movement forward with the legs when Denard breaks the pocket.
If you miss, don't miss so spectacularly. Robinson's never going to be Ryan Mallet when it comes to zinging it in between levels in the zone, and that's fine. His accuracy isn't as thrilling as it seemed in his first couple games, and that's fine, too. It's still pretty dang good. Here's his UFR chart:
|2009, All Of It||1||7||6(2)||3(1)||4||4||-||-||?||-||44%|
Those numbers are slightly south of Chad Henne but not by much. But we start having issues when Denard not only misses but misses by a country mile. Many of his interceptions were like this:
LOL WUT. The chart shows he was performing at a near-Henne level when it came to downfield accuracy last year, but it doesn't show this:
That success rate has to be wrong.
It's not wrong, it just doesn't weight passes based on how damaging the particular inaccurate ball is. Against MSU, Denard threw the following balls not to his receiver:
- Endzone interception #1 on route Roundtree had two steps on. [Zero points]
- Wide open Stonum on fly route about 20 yards downfield that's airmailed. [Three points]
- Hitch to Odoms on second and nine from the 11 that would have been first and goal. [Zero points]
- Endzone interception #2 on slant that Hemingway was open on. [Zero points]
- Covered slant zinged over Grady [Zero points]
- Bubble too far in front of Roundtree. [Seven points]
- Other interception on route where Grady had plenty of room to the inside of the field but the ball was way, way too far outside, allowing sinking corner to react and intercept. [Zero points]
How big of a deal is it to throw a bubble screen a step in front of a receiver? One unit of big deal. How big of a deal is it to throw a makeable 20 yard touchdown over someone's head on third and three? Two, three units of big deal. How big of a deal is it to throw endzone interceptions when you have open receivers? Five units of big deal.
Denard had too many units of big deal per miss last year. This is because he was one year removed from being a novelty freak show.
He will get better. Robinson's decision making is always going to be easier than your average quarterback because he doesn't get a heavy rush and can use his legs as the world's most deadly play action fake. He's just got to throw it to the guy.
That Denard managed to finish 20th in passer efficiency despite being 84th of 100 qualifying QBs in interception rate is testament to how deadly the offense is if he can just throw straight. Hopefully Borges's focus and Denard relentless workrate cuts down on the throws that are Pryor armpunt specials. He just needs to miss less badly.
Shift the ball outside and when you get hit hold onto it like whoah. Robinson's turnover issues are not limited to the passing game. Michigan lost 14 fumbles last year, tied for 15th-worst in the country. Though I'm not sure how many were on Denard since he was the offense it's safe to say a high proportion of them were his. His ball security needs to be improved.
Also he could get out of bounds if they've got an angle on you.
Chris at Burgeoning Wolverine Star had an intuition about Robinson's effectiveness that he put into numbers. Those numbers bore his intuition out spectacularly. It's about Denard on passing downs. You'd expect he was less effective, but how much less effective is impressive and sobering:
||Passing Downs||Season totals|
|QB runs (YPC)||19 (7.9)||256 (6.6)|
|Scrambles (YDs)||5 (31)|
When robbed of his legs Robinson went from lethal to slightly better than 2008's Threet/Sheridan combo and their 5.1 YPA. A freshman Tate Forcier hit the NCAA mean of 7.2. Last year Michigan was an offense that had to stay ahead of the chains like those old Nebraska options teams. Third and long was over.
He'll do better this year. He remains a guy who gets his yards because the opponents are so focused on his legs that they do stuff like you see in the highlight clips above. I've trashed Gerry Dinardo for some goofy tweets about Michigan needing to run power to help the defense, but his analysis about the offense is hauntingly on the money:
"If you put Denard under center and you don't run designed quarterback runs — and I'm not sure whether they are or not — I think you become very easy to defend. They don't have a dominant tailback, Denard's not a typical under-the-center, drop-back or play-action quarterback, so I'm not sure where the offensive explosion is going to be generated.
"I think we've just watched this in Columbus when Terrelle Pryor is underneath the center and doesn't have a designed run, they struggle. So I think as you continue to put (Robinson) under center, if he's not moving the ball, and you put him in the shotgun, it's the same as last year — nobody can tackle him even if you don't block everyone you're supposed to block.
"What happens if you're not as explosive with him under the center as you are in the shotgun? You're going to revert back to some of the things they've done the last couple of years."
This is what I was talking about when I described my fear they would turn Robinson's legs from a threat you have to account for on every play into a nice bonus. Unless Michigan gets a bust-out year from one, possibly two, skill position players, the only thing on the offense that will force opponents to cheat is Denard Uber Alles. You either build your offense around that and roll the dice on Denard staying healthy or you degrade the offense's effectiveness until you need Superman to stop being Clark Kent and get in the damn phone booth.
This is an incredibly tricky balance. The instant Denard gets dinged everyone will moan that they're relying too much on him. Every drive that sputters because Denard is not deployed at maximum threat level will cause people to moan they're not relying enough on him. If Michigan had a defense that could give the offense some cover they could play it conservatively. Instead they have a tire fire Greg Mattison is valiantly hosing down.
If Michigan is going to keep Denard upright without sabotaging their offense, they will have to get progression from Denard as a passer even when he can't threaten a run. Running power with these running backs and this line isn't going to cut it.
When Denard inevitably gets banged up, Devin Gardner will be the guy flinging his helmet on and handing off a couple times. He filled that role in the first few games of 2010 before Tate Forcier reasserted himself in the backup role, whereupon Gardner came down with an extensively documented back malady en route to a medical redshirt. A recent NCAA policy change means we don't know if he actually got it or not, but that's a worry for 2014.
Gardner's action consisted of ten passes, seven of which were complete for 85 yards and a touchdown, and seven rushes for 21 yards and another TD. Everything except one negative four yard rush was against Bowling Green.
His other appearances on the field have been in a couple of spring games and the fall scrimmage/punting demo. In them he's looked kind of horrible. Disclaimers about practice apply, but I haven't seen what the usually glowing reports about him are talking about. I place equal faith in my lying eyes observing practice and someone else's lying eyes observing practice, so that's a push. If pressed into service this year he'll be an obvious downgrade; next year is when he'll be truly serviceable.
The third guy on the roster is Russell Bellomy, who is a true freshman. All knowledge about him is encapsulated in his recruiting profile. Unless disaster hits the two guys in front of him he'll redshirt. He's a raw, athletic thrower who's kind of like Tate Forcier if Forcier had played baseball during his summers instead of hanging out with Marv Marinovich. That's good and bad.
This was filmed last year. I know this seems very 2008 Ohio, but they're behind the times. It was 2010.
This is also by Pop Evil. They turned into a bunch of hair metal posers just last year. Before that they were were "Muskegon's Menudo," and before that they were dog groomers. They're still dog groomers but now they have a band so they can test out exciting new techniques on each other.
Doubling down on… us? Bill Connolly is a smart person who does good things with stats, so he (and his models) know Michigan had a hugely positive yards per play margin last year and that turnovers don't correlate that well year to year and Michigan finally has a returning quarterback so they could bounce significantly forward this year.
This is a little much, though:
Five Predictions for the Big Ten in 2011:
1. Michigan wins the damn Legends Division. That's right.
5. Oh why the hell not ... Michigan beats Wisconsin in the conference title game. Might as well go all-in, right?
That is all in like whoah. If any part of this transpires Brady Hoke is king and Bill Connolly will be assaulted for lottery numbers.
The main problem with this is his model takes recruiting into account and Michigan's recruiting has been a paper tiger for a while now.
I'll take it! An NFL scout type guy on SI.com drops David Molk on his list of NFL prospects… but only to call him overrated. Still, I'll take this description:
Overrated: David Molk, Michigan -- Molk is considered the top center in the country by a number of scouts, yet in our opinion there are better senior centers in his conference.
I'll take "a number of scouts" believing he's the top center in the country over one dude disagreeing.
This is a fake thing. Iowa graduated leather magnet Tyler Sash last year. They are Iowa so they'll replace him with a walk-on. This is the filthy lie about this walk-on's name that BHGP expects us to believe:
Collin Sleeper (#16, Junior (RS), 6'2", 200, Solon (IA) HS)
We know absolutely nothing about Collin Sleeper.
It's not that we know absolutely nothing. It's that we know exactly what we're supposed to know. He's a junior walk-on from Solon who has never played a down of college football and is now the starting strong safety. He was completely unrecruited and unscouted by the services. According to him, he's fast. He played halfback for the James Morris-led Iowa high school juggernaut 10 miles up the road from Iowa City. He reportedly played Denard Robinson on the scout team last year. His name is Sleeper, for chrissake.
THAT IS A LIE, SIR. Your walk-on safety is named "Sleeper" and my new running back recruit runs a 4.3 40. Eighteen fakes out of five, you Hawkeye bastards. Eighteen fakes.
This is a dumb thing. WMU beatwriter Greg Couch on the state of Michigan's quarterbacks:
I think Alex Carder is the best college quarterback in the state. Denard Robinson is a great athlete, but I'd bet you if Carder were in that program, they'd find a different role (flanker, perhaps) for Robinson. MSU's Kirk Cousins isn't even close.
That is literally the dumbest thing I have seen written about football in the state of Michigan not related to Rich Rodriguez. In games against ND and MSU last year Carder averaged 5.4 YPA—Threet/Sheridan numbers—and threw two TDs to three interceptions. He had 104 yards on 33 attempts against Idaho in a 33-13 loss. Playing a MAC schedule he finished 35th in passer efficiency. Cousins was 18th and Robinson 20th playing in the Big Ten.
This is not a surrounding talent issue. According to Couch WR Jordan White "would be an All Big Ten wideout." He proved this by averaging a whopping 10.5 yards per catch against MSU and Notre Dame. But sure, a MAC team with a better quarterback than Kirk Cousins and Denard Robinson and an All Big Ten wideout went 6-6 last year in the MAC.
This guy also thinks Denard Robinson is "Juice Williams with wheels," which is like saying "Carlos Brown but fast." Guh. Insert Billy Madison quote here.
I hope Chris Brown didn't get fired… or do I? He's gone from near-hibernation to putting out ridiculously good content consistently. There was the speed option post I linked in a previous UV, then a description of the inverted veer option Michigan tried a couple times last year and Auburn rode to national title. I don't think we're going to see it again, which is sad-making. I was so excited about it last year even though they never quite got it right.
End. The USHL's president is awesome. Some Canadian hockey radio guys were pondering a USHL-CHL matchup as a way to get a true North American junior championship, which prompted USHL prez Skip Prince to write them an open letter that said "Ready to do it" and bombed the CHL's model. This is a dagger. I'm going to quote a big chunk of it:
It’s odd to hear second-tier status ascribed to the USHL, the notion of “Well, if you’re going to go to college, then the USHL is the best place to go.” There’s an implicit demotion there – an implied statement “…because I guess you’ve decided you’re not good enough to go pro.” Really? So that’s an either-or decision?
No. It’s not. Our website equally celebrates the 165 NHL alumni we sport and the 283 college commitments we have in hand. They go together. It’s our pyramid at work. The fact is, 35% of the young men wearing an NCAA Division I sweater this past year – more than one out of every three rostered players in college hockey – is a USHL alum. That’s extraordinary. That 3% of those kids make it to the NHL is also extraordinary. The fact that’s right on par with the CHL is not extraordinary – not to us – but somehow that gets lost in translation.
So we are damn proud of that special 3% - and the other 97%. Every – every – player departing the USHL this year, who was eligible for NCAA play, had a Division I commitment in hand. Last year we were one short of perfect, a great young man who chose Division III instead. Match that.
Sure, there are those who depart from the USHL-to-college-to-NHL route, and take the CHL direction instead. We’re well aware of the four well-publicized de-commitments this past month. Point given. The CHL gets four great players. Hey - we celebrate them, and hope they all do well. That’s American freedom of choice.
We just think it’s a risk they didn’t need to take. Each and every one of those players had just as great a chance of making the NHL playing college hockey, lifting and getting better, over a time period they control, as they do with the two-year bet they’ve now made. But we know each of those young men, and our competitiveness does not stop us from wanting that bet to play out for all of them.
About 95% of the CHL would be better served in college. There's not enough room for all of them, unfortunately, but unless you're getting a massive under the table payment or can't hack classes you should probably go to college.
Flyover spoilers. Stop reading now if you like your planes all surprising. Notre Dame is going to be overkill city:
10 Sep vs. Notre Dame: The Yankee Air Force's C-47 Skytrain "Yankee Doodle Dandy" will conduct a pregame flyover and a two-soldier parachute team from the 101st Airborne Division (The Screaming Eagles) will drop into the stadium during the halftime program (one each in the two end zones). Prior to the game, the Michigan and Notre Dame NROTC Units will contest their annual flag football game on Friday, 9 Sep at 7 pm at Oosterbaan Fieldhouse. Stop by and cheer on your fellow students.
Nebraska and OSU will also have flyovers; Purdue(?!) is tentatively scheduled for one as well. Not sure why they'd do one for Purdue unless they're bombing the World's Somewhat Large Drum.
Etc.: Jason Whitlock writes a panting piece on Hoke day after he writes one of his odious race-baiting idiot columns, this one directed at the incredibly irresponsible Charles Robinson. Yes, that Charles Robinson. As a result I can't really take the former seriously. The lesson is always that Jason Whitlock is an asshat.
Rating: 3 of 5.
|Mike Shaw||Sr.||John McColgan||Sr.*|
|Fitzgerald Toussaint||So.*||Steve Watson||Sr.*|
|Vincent Smith||Jr.||Joe Kerridge||Fr.|
For some reason I feel real good about this group of guys.
The Tenuous Starter
|carlos brown fast…|
|just runs by the SLB|
|make a decisive cut|
|burst into the open field|
|cuts hard backside|
|…but doesn't fall over if you breathe on him|
|runs through three tackles|
|spins for YAC|
|keeps balance on goal line|
|always falls funny|
|just UMass but still|
|vision can be laughable|
|complete stop in hole|
After two years of injury, redshirt sophomore Fitzgerald Toussaint seemed on his way to Bolivia. Maybe that judgment was a bit hasty, but he was healthy for chunks of last year and couldn't push his way past a thoroughly mediocre group in front of him (he had eight carries), so the internet jumped to conclusions. That's what the internet does.
The internet has recently jumped to another conclusion based on rapturous scrimmage reports and Toussaint getting the Golden Carry in front of the media before they were abruptly ushered out of practice. Everyone else can go to Bolivia: we're going with Fitz.
The thing is this also happened last year. Toussaint redshirted due to a shoulder injury, then started building up the hype train. By the time last fall's preview rolled around, Fred Jackson had called him Mike Hart (except fast) and Chris Perry (except fast) and local insiders were saying he was a "clear #1" in the tailback derby.
Toussaint followed this surge in momentum up by damaging himself. An ankle injury took him down late in last year's fall camp. He was was listed as "out" on the injury report for UConn and Notre Dame and didn't play against UMass. When he got on the field against Bowling Green he ripped off a long run and a touchdown… and then immediately hurt his knee. He was then out for Iowa, MSU, Illinois, and Penn State. To date he's been china in a bull shop.
While the Jackson hype spotlight has moved on to the new freshman hotness, Hoke and Borges have focused on Toussaint. So have the papers, though when they focus on him they are lying like a boss:
"I wasn't as comfortable (last year) as I am in this offense," said Stephen Hopkins (6-0, 228).
Fitzgerald Toussaint, like Hopkins, is a bigger back — stronger and more physical, and this type of offense fits his style.
"I like this offense a little bit better," said Toussaint (5-10, 195). "It's smash-mouth football."
Guh? Toussaint is not large. He is a bigger back in the way Mike Hart is a bigger back: not at all (except fast!). All round knowledge must be reshaped to fit into the new square knowledge holes.
If Toussaint grabs the job he'll be closer to Hart than Shaw or Hopkins. I'm not sure if he is Except Fast—that long run above features BGSU players running him down from behind, but he was the 60M state champ in high school. Hopefully his injury issues were the cause.
Because of those issues, we have little more than the BGSU runs and his high school tape to go on. That tape again:
I like it. It makes me tingly. Tousssaint seems to have that jittery short-range quickness that allows little guys to survive, even thrive, as they pick their way through the chaos.
I'm hoping he emerges as the guy. If he beats out a healthy Shaw he'll be well on his way to translating that tape to college, and I could get used to a jump-cutting Houdini with sprinter's speed. Toussaint is the offense's Roh: the wildcard. Anything from Mike Hart (except crappy :( ) to Mike Hart (except fast!) is possible.
Third Down Back
|gets what you give him…|
|here's a free touchdown|
|Y U NO FAST|
|…and sometimes more|
|whiffed Purdue tackle|
|dancing past Huskies|
|slips through small holes|
|flare screen specialist|
|LB + Smith = easy slant|
|srsly about slant|
|still flare specialist|
|cuts charging slot LB|
|pops S pretty good|
When Al Borges said Michigan had settled on a third down back but he wouldn't tell the public who it was, the existence of the role was far more interesting than who it might be. It was bloody obvious who it was: Vincent Smith. He is 5'6" and the coaches have spent the fall gushing about his toughness. He played as a freshman because he was a better pass blocker than anyone else after Minor got too banged up to stay in if he wasn't running. If you need some one to leak out into the flat or annihilate a blitzer, he's your guy.
That's what they mean, right? They don't mean to run him on third and freaking one over and over again, do they? I'm not thinking about this possibility. Eat it, paranoid fears of irrational coaching decisions past.
Those taken care of, Smith has actually suffered a demotion by taking the new role. He was the only Michigan player to exceed 50% of Denard's carries last year. He didn't tear up the field with them, averaging a meh 4.5 YPC. The clips at right are not exactly "wow" moments. Smith seems to have a good sense for how his blocking will set up; he does not break many tackles or drag carriers for YAC, nor does he juke guys out of their jocks. He's just a guy.
The hope with Smith is that the ACL injury he sustained in the '09 Ohio State game was not entirely healed last year, or at least Smith had not recovered the jitterbug agility that caused me to attribute "top-end shiftiness" to him, channel my inner Fred Jackson by comparing Smith to Hart after he did this…
…and declare "I will not be dissuaded" that he would start next year (check) and be good (eh… not so much). This year will determine whether that was excessive enthusiams based on small sample size or the real, ACL-having Smith.
Smith's lack of rushing yards was one thing, but the weird thing was his lack of involvement in the passing game. After making ten catches in less than a game and a half at the end of his freshman year, he made only 15 during the entirety of 2010. That's quite a bit what less than the "30, 40, even 50" I predicted before the season. This year he'll probably get towards the 30 range; his rushing attempts will dip but not that much unless you believe the two guys in front of him are going to be super mega healthy, which would be a silly thing to believe. Like his Pahokee teammate Odoms, Smith is a useful piece opponents won't lose sleep over.
|massive short yardage overreaction|
|not Vincent Smith|
|can move laterally|
|good agility for beef machine|
|lead block for Denard|
|kicking out for Denard|
|great vision here|
|clubs PSU LB|
Now we descend into the woolly depths. Sophomore Stephen Hopkins is a surprise find down here. A big mooseback with no competition on the roster when it comes to being 230 pounds and capable of carrying a football, Hopkins was hailed as the obvious solution to the tailback issue once Hoke installed MANBALL. Hell, I was arguing that even sans manball Hopkins and his blocking heft were the best fit in a Denard-heavy running offense.
So of course Hopkins has been a virtual non-entity this fall. He did show up in a Media Day interview seeming chipper and vowing he hadn't played a snap at fullback; other than that he's been invisible save a couple of "oh and that guy" references from the coaches.
The insider chatter keeps mentioning the doghouse, and eagle-eyed observers of the season preview of Inside Michigan Football caught him doing something called "log rolling," which I thought was when you tried not to fall off a log into a lake. It turns out to also refer to a punitive activity people inflict on football players. Hopkins is doing it. So… yeah, he's in the doghouse. Since that doesn't seem to be a weight problem it's an off-field issue.
Whatever it is it will have to be serious if it's going to knock Hopkins off the field long term. He's the only guy on the roster with a plausible claim to being a short-yardage mauler, and we're all sick of watching Vincent Smith on third and one. He fills a role and fills it well; unless the Rawls hype is something other than the usual Fred Jackson stuff Hopkins will be the guy they call on when they want to MAN some BALLS in a VAN down by the FIRST DOWN MARKER.
I think he'll have a role elsewhere as well. That thump-thump section at right makes a good case that if you're trying to maximize Denard's effectiveness Hopkins is your guy. While Smith is the best pass blocker available, when he impacts a linebacker he's just trying to stall him. He does not do this:
Hopkins creates windows other backs don't. When three yards and a cloud of dust is a win, he'll be in there.
After Hopkins it's freshmen and obscurity. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the Jackson family the least obscure kid down here is Thomas Rawls. He's Mark Ingram except faster… or Kevin Grady not asked to run stretch plays. Even before he was laid up with a shoulder issue in fall camp he'd fallen behind the veterans. Catching up now is going to be difficult. If he's as difficult to tackle as the Jacksons say he could wrest the short yardage job from Hopkins while he's in the doghouse; more realistically he'll get a few carries here and there in preparation for more serious efforts in 2012 and beyond. Fellow freshman Justice Hayes [recruiting profile] looks like he'll redshirt. A move to receiver is a possibility.
Finally, redshirt junior Mike Cox finds himself buried on the depth chart even after the coaching change he celebrated with some unwise tweets. He can be the most physically talented running back on the roster all he wants. He's just about out of chances, and he's nowhere near the field. We'll always have long runs in garbage time, Mike.
We've seen very little from Michigan fullbacks since the advent of the Rodriguez era. When it came time to bulk up Rodriguez would just run Robinson at the line, bring in Webb and Koger at the same time, or use one of the tailbacks as a lead blocker.
Appearances by John McColgan were infrequent, too infrequent to draw conclusions. He did catch one of those two-yard touchdown passes fullbacks are always reeling in and whack Clayborn with help from Huyge on a third and short against Iowa.
He's a senior and should be all right. Moving Steve Watson to an H-back type spot suggests he won't be anything more than a specialist. I'm betting fullbacks are only more prevalent when Michigan is "imposing its will" on an opponent, and by "imposing its will" I mean "boring the hell out of everyone in the third quarter against a MAC opponent." Here is the mandatory fluff article about his increased role in MANBALL anyway.