a terrible blight on our fine country
Miami (NTM), UMass, FIU, Louisiana-Monroe, North Texas, Wake Forest, Oregon State…
What do these teams have in common?
These are the 8 teams that have averaged less than 2 yards per carry from their running backs on first down at least 2 different times this season. This is not a good list to be on. Miami (OH) has done it three times and has fired their coach. You know what is different between the fired Don Treadwell and the Michigan offense. When it wasn’t working they stopped doing it. Against Marshall, Central Michigan and Kentucky they averaged between 1 and 1.7 YPC from their running backs on first down. They gave them the ball 14 times total in those three games.
Against Michigan’s two best opponents, Notre Dame and Penn State, Michigan has averaged 1.7 yards per carry from it’s running backs on first down. Michigan has run the ball 35 times on first down. No other team has called more than 26 running back carries in games with under 2 YPA.
What is Michigan getting for their sacrifice?
Michigan is ranked 41st in bonus yards, my measure of big plays. It’s not a bad number but it doesn't indicate a massive advantage. Michigan’s average third down is 7.6 yards. They haven’t had a single game better than 7 yards to go on average for third down. 95 teams average less than 7 yards to go on third down for the season. 95 teams average third down is better than Michigan’s best game average. Michigan hasn’t even been that great at converting third downs once you account for their horrendous third down to go distance (-3%, 108th out 125). Michigan is getting no discernable advantage from the first down runs.
This has to stop. It’s at the point of absurd. The funny thing is when I initially pulled the numbers, this was Michigan’s second best 1st down day on the ground (a measly 4 and change per attempt) on the season but that was all driven by Devin Gardner. Obviously he can’t take every carry but the playcalling has to dramatically change. Michigan is among some of the worst overall teams in the country when their running backs run the ball on first down, they are the only teams that keeps doing it.
End of Game Punt Call
No issue whatsoever with the decision to punt the ball. Should they have let themselves lose the 5 yards on the delay of game, absolutely not. That was the error. Field goals from the 35 in the fourth quarter or OT are good 40% of the time, but there is a lot of self selection in the group. Only 36 field goals have been made of that distance or longer in the fourth quarter or overtime in the last 10+ seasons. Making a kick of that distance late in the game happens a couple times a year in all of college football.
By kicking it, Michigan forced Penn State to go at least 80 yards with less than minute to go and no time outs. Since 2003, only 6 teams have scored a TD under these circumstances, one of which was Michigan in UTL1. Yes a field goal would have won it but that is a low likelihood possibility. I have no issues at all with the decision to punt.
Since 2007, teams getting to go second on offense in overtime have won 55% of the time. In 287 overtime periods the team going first has gone scoreless 79 times. 13 of those times the second team went scoreless, as well. This hadn’t happened twice in a game until this season, but now it’s happened three times this season. Michigan is the only team since 2007 to blow two freebies in one game.
Missing Three Game Winners
Brendan Gibbons missed three field goals that would have been walk-offs. Twitter user @jquesnelle asked if that had ever been done before? Since 2003 I found five games where a team missed three kicks in fourth quarter or overtime and lost, some of them are brutal, but nobody had three walk off attempts missed/blocked.
Here’s the five to share in the pain.
2003, Cincinnati beats Temple 30-24 in 3OT
- Cincinnati misses 33 yard FG tied with 4:45 left in a tie game
- Temple misses from 37 in the first OT period, Cincinnati blocked from 38
- Cincinnati misses from 41 to start second OT, Temple misses from 51 to follow
- Temple misses from 24 yards in the third OT before Cincinnati scores a TD on the second play to seal the game
2005, LSU beats Auburn 20-17 in OT
- LSU misses a 28 yard FG to open the 4th quarter, leading 14-10
- Auburn comes back and misses a 37 yard FG on the next drive
- Auburn misses a 49 yard FG with 1 second left, game goes into OT tied at 17
- Auburn misses from 40 yards that would have sent it to 2OT
2008 Apple Cup, Washington State beats winless Washington 16-13 in OT
- Washington misses from 40 yards leading by 3
- Washington misses from 28 yards leading by 3 with under 4 remaining
- Leading by 3, Washington punts on 4th and 3 at the WSU 36 and less than a minute on the clock
- After hitting from 22 to start OT, Washington comes back and misses from 37 to open the door for WSU
2010 Liberty Bowl, Arkansas beats East Carolina 20-17 in OT
- East Carolina misses from 42 with a minute remaining and tied
- Gets the ball back 19 seconds later after three Ryan Mallet incompletions and a punt
- Misses again from 39 as time expires
- Opens overtime with a 35 yard miss
2012 Temple 17 UConn 14 in OT
- UConn misses from 42 to start the 4th quarter, leading by 7
- UConn blocked from 45 with 3 minutes left, still leading by 7
- UConn misses from 28 to open overtime
"We want to be able to run the football with a back in the backfield."
- Brady Hoke in 2011 interview upon hiring at Michigan
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle”
- Sun Tzu in The Art of War
Offense: Who We Want To Be
Coach Hoke has made it clear from the word 'go' that his vision for Michigan includes a stout offensive line that fuels a power running game. Wear the opponent down. Use the run to set up the pass. Control the clock. Preserve your defense. He walked into a roster ill-equipped to play this style of offense, but he promised to be patient and flexible during the transition. Denard Robinson can probably tell you whether this was successful or not.
Regardless, Hoke must feel pretty good about making progress toward this goal of a power running game after his first few recruiting classes at Michigan. Top tier offensive line classes in consecutive years. Stud workhorse running backs. Tight end restocked. The pieces are in place for a good power running game at Michigan in the future.
This season is not the future.
Offense: Who We Are
Who are we as an offense? This is a tough question to answer. Let's start with who we are not. Yesterday, we ran 34 plays on first down. Here are the results:
|Play call||No.||Yards per play||<2 yard plays|
|Running back run||17||1.8||11|
In a power running offense, you rely on three to five yard runs on first and second down to gain short-yardage situations on third down. Yesterday we averaged 1.8 yards per play on first down runs, including 11 of 17 plays that went for one yard or less. When Devin Gardner ran on first down, he gained 8.4 yards per play with only one run for less than two yards. On the 12 occassions that passed on first down, we averaged 13.8 yards, including incomplete passes that gain zero yards.
We are not a power running team.
It is not clear that the coaching staff yet appreciates this, and as a result we are succumbing in every battle. It seems that the staff thought that this would be the year that they could transition fully to a power running game base offense. They tried to impose their will against Akron, UConn, Minnesota, and Penn State. In each case, it hasn't worked.
Whatever our opponents' self-knowledge, they can all be sure that when they play Michigan, we will try to operate out of a base offense that runs on first down. Whatever you think about our talent/youth/experience on the offensive line, we have consistently run into walls of defenders who are happy to not have to make decisions but rather just move ahead and fill a running lane.
We need to recognize who we are on offense and make a fundamental shift in approach.
A Note On Psychology
Albert Bandura's theory of self-efficacy explains how people come to believe that they are able to do something well. How people develop confidence in their ability. Devin Gardner's confidence is in the tank right now. It was clear that by the second half of the UConn game, he was trying to not throw interceptions more than he was trying to complete passes. But the coaches aren't helping him.
Self-efficacy theory holds that the best way to build confidence is to cultivate "mastery experiences," opportunities to be successful in the task at hand. In our case, this means giving Gardner easy passes--like screens, quick slants, and running back passes--to allow him to have little successes and rebuild confidence. Right now, we're doing the opposite. We've reacted to his turnovers by going into a shell and reducing his throwing opportunities. This has created a vicious cycle with us running into a loaded box of defenders, failing, then giving Gardner throwing opportunities in third and long situations, where he has less opportuntiy for "mastery." Gardner makes a mistake, loses further confidence. Coaches lose further confidence in his passing ability. Rinse. Repeat.
So, Who Are We, Again?
I'm not a coach, but it seems like, at this point, we need to fundamentally alter our approach to de-emphasize the early down running game. Power football doesn't work with 1.8 yards per first down run. We have had success in the short passing game, including last night. These plays have to become the new normal on first and second down. Whether this is spread or west coast or whatever, the pass has to start setting up the run.
That's not what Hoke wants, but it's better to be honest with oneself than aspirational. Will we make the change? We'll see. We know coaches to be a prideful race.
I usually avoid making comments on this Blog immediately after games, especially after level 10 stomach punch games. But I couldn't help myself last night, and I repeatedly called for Borges to be fired. I realize I'm just a casual fan and no one is going to listen to me, but there was a chorus of people calling for heads to roll last night. It was mostly Borges, but Funk and Hoke were criticized as well.
During the Denard years, this Blog discussed under center vs the shotgun formation to exhaustion. The idea being that it's easier on the quarterback to run the offense from the shotgun formation because they have a better view of the defense, don't have to turn their back to the defense, and can start running downhill immediately, as if they were another running back. This Blog also introduced me to the concept of the Lizard Brain:
The now rapidly developing lizard brain theory of college football coaching states that there is a certain level of pressure above which rationality goes out the window and coaches revert to who they really are.
My general impression was that we did not fair well offensively when starting under center, and that most of our success came from shotgun plays. To quantify my feelings, I rewatched the first half, the last 7 minutes of regulation, and the four overtimes, focused only on the offense. My hypothesis was that Al Borges' lizard brain resurfaced during overtime, and that cost us the game. I'm including all plays, including penalties, passes, and turnovers. So without further ado, let me present my mini ST3FR:
19 plays were run from under center. 12 of those 19 plays gained zero or negative yards. Five plays lost yardage.
17 plays were run from the shotgun. 2 of those plays were incomplete passes that should have been caught, and three resulted in turnovers. The other 12 resulted in positive yards. There were no negative yardage plays.
We head to halftime where mid-game adjustments should be made. I think, wow, let's avoid those negative yardage plays that are putting us in certain passing situations, where PSU can focus on Gallon and go for turnovers. Meanwhile, down 11, Al's Lizard brain kicks in and says, "Shotgun = turnovers, turnovers are bad, must run under center."
Final 7 minutes of regulation
10 plays run from under center gain 9 yards total, with 5 producing zero or negative yards.
4 plays were run from the shotgun. They gained 55 yards and there were no turnovers.
We get to overtime where you start every drive at the 25 yard line. Other than a turnover, the worst thing that can happen is a negative yardage play that pushes you out of FG range. In regulation, I charted 29 plays from under center with 17 gaining no yardage or negative yardage. I charted 21 plays from shotgun and only 5 had negative or zero yardage plays. I'd go with the shotgun formation in OT, but that's just me, a stats guy.
So on the first drive, three plays are run from under center that gain 2 yards. The 40 yard FG attempt is blocked. On the first drive, we just needed a FG to win, so Al went super conservative. He didn't want to risk the turnover by going to the shotgun, even though the turnovers were not related to the formation.
On the second drive, we needed a score, so Al went exclusively shotgun. We gained 18 yards on five plays, but are forced to kick a FG when the officials missed a blatant facemask on PSU. (Ripping a guy's helmet off has to be illegal, right? Refs -1.)
On the third drive, it's back to under center, as all we need is a FG to win. Two plays gain -1 yard, and one gains 10. On second viewing today, it's clear Gallon crossed the 15 yard line, so another -1 to the refs. Bill O'Brien goes for it in a similar situation. We kick the FG.
On the fourth drive, we start under center. PSU gets away with lining up offsides (-1 for the refs) on an incomplete pass, and it's back to shotgun (anyone getting dizzy yet?) An incomplete to Dileo and a delay of game penalty (-1 coaching staff) follow. Gardner gets 6 yards on a shotgun scramble, but we have to settle for a FG. PSU gets a TD and that's the ballgame.
So a day later, do I still think we should fire Borges? I'm willing to give him the rest of the season to turn this around since mid-season changes can lead to chaos. What would I do instead? Devin Gardner is an incredible talent that is being misused. I'd have Al watch film from Vince Young's senior season, and have Heiko ask Borges every week about shotgun vs under center until some neural connection is made in that lizard brain of his.
Blergh of Impetus
* When Clark picked up PSU's fumble to start the second half and returned it for a TD, the impetus was squarely in M's favor. We rode it all the way to a 10 point lead. We kept it for the rest of the half until there was 3:10 left in regulation. Gardner gained 10 yards on a shotgun run to give us first and ten at PSU's 28. That's FG position, and a FG wins the game, so Borges Lizard brain takes over. 1 yard run. 0 yard run. Lizard Brain shutting down. What do I do? Delay of game penalty. We're out of FG position. Momentum inches back to PSU. A three yard loss leads to a punt, and the circus begins...
* We gave up 43 points, 34 in regulation, but the defense is not the reason we lost. PSU was held to 1.9 yards per carry, but I bet nobody is calling for their O-line coach to be fired, or maybe they are. Fans are fickle. We held PSU to 3 for 16 on third down AND turned them over 4 times AND stopped them on 4th down once AND had 4 sacks AND broke up 6 passes AND had 7 TFLs, YET WE LOST! My lizard brain is confused.
* JR3 led us with 10 tackles, a TFL and forced a fumble. Morgan had 8 tackles and Bolden had 6.
* During the first 5 games, Chris Wormley looked like just a guy. He had 4 tackles and 2 TFLs in this one and showed why he got all the hype. I think he belongs on the outside until he puts on some more weight.
* Heitzman blew up a couple plays, including the one time we stopped them on fourth down. He didn't record a stat, but he's my bet for being our Heininger Certainty Principle winner by the end of the year.
* Stribling had only 1 tackle and zero pass breakups. Perhaps if he had played the past three weeks, his timing would have been better.
* Gardner was 15 for 28 passing for 2 TDs and 240 yards. Can someone please introduce him to Drew Dileo? Gardner continues to lock onto Jeremy Gallon, which directly led to the two first half INTs. I don't know, maybe pass to the guys who are single covered and six inches taller than their defenders.
* Gardner ran 24 times for 121 yards net, for an average of 5 yards per carry.
* This is the stat that everyone is throwing around today: Fitz Toussaint ran 27 times for 27 yards.
* His backup, Derrick Green, carried three times for 1 yard.
* Whose fault is that? The backs for not identifying the holes? The line for getting pushed back five yards into the backfield? The o-line coach for not instructing the line what the assignments are? The playcaller for continuing to call plays that aren't working? RichRod for not recruiting any linemen? Bad luck, in the form of an elbow to Lewan's ribcage? Penn State had 11 TFLs. ELEVEN!!!
V. Sinha Legends Jersey
* Gallon had 7 catches for 95 yards, a TD, and drew three penalties against PSU.
* Funchess had 4 catches for 112 yards and two 2 TDs, but then mysteriously disappeared for the 4th quarter and the 4 OTs.
Norf and Souf
* Norfleet's role continues to lessen. I don't get it. He looks like a playmaker to me. I'd try to find ways to get him the ball. He did return three kicks for 88 yards.
* Wile averaged 63.7 yards on his kickoffs, with 5 touchbacks, and he averaged 40.8 yards punting. Hmmm, sounds like the guy has a pretty strong leg. Maybe he could make a 52 yarder.
NOTE: A large part of this is motivated out of frustration, but there's a teachable moment here -- Borges called almost as many tailback runs for <3 yards (16) as the number of inane moves (18) used in the punchline of a comedy sketch. If there's a productive purpose, it's to call to attention just how stubborn the playcalling was last night. I mean, how bad does this have to get before laymen are allowed to question his judgement?
The comedy transcript is for "Black Adder IV, Episode 1: Captain Cook"
The even funnier bits are taken from ESPN's play-by-play from yesterday's game.
Melchett: Field Marshal Haig has formulated a brilliant new tactical plan to ensure final victory in the field.
(lemme guess. . .)
2nd and 1 at MICH 29 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for no gain to the Mich 29
3rd and 1 at MICH 29 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for no gain to the Mich 29
2nd and 1 at MICH 48 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for no gain to the Mich 33
Blackadder: Now, would this brilliant plan involve us climbing out of our trenches and walking slowly towards the enemy sir?
Darling: How can you possibly know that Blackadder? It's classified information.
(gee, lemme think. . .)
2nd and Goal at PSU 5 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for a loss of 2 yards to the PnSt 7
1st and 10 at PSU 16 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for no gain to the PnSt 16
2nd and 10 at MICH 46 Derrick Green rush for a loss of 2 yards to the Mich 44
Blackadder: It's the same plan that we used last time, and the seventeen times before that.
1st and 10 at PSU 41 Derrick Green rush for no gain to the PnSt 41
2nd and 10 at PSU 41 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for 3 yards to the PnSt 38
Melchett: Exactly! And that is what so brilliant about it! We will catch the watchful Hun totally off guard! Doing precisely what we have done eighteen times before is exactly the last thing they'll expect us to do this time! There is however one small problem.
1st and 10 at PSU 28 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for 1 yard to the PnSt 27
2nd and 9 at PSU 27 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for no gain to the PnSt 27
3rd and 14 at PSU 32 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for a loss of 3 yards to the PnSt 35
Blackadder: That everyone always gets slaughtered the first ten seconds.
("you gotta give credit to the other team")
1st and 10 at PSU 25 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for 1 yard to the PnSt 24
2nd and 9 at PSU 24 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for 1 yard to the PnSt 23
Melchett: That's right! And Field Marshal Haig is worried that this may be depressing the men a tadge. So, he's looking to find a way to cheer them up.
(except, you know, doing what works.)
1st and 10 at PSU 25 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for 3 yards to the PnSt 22
1st and 10 at PSU 25 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for no gain to the PnSt 25
3rd and 1 at PSU 16 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for no gain to the PnSt 16
Blackadder: Well, his resignation and suicide would seem the obvious solution.
(I wouldn't go as far as suicide, but point taken. But then again, what would we know about field strategy? Field Marshal Haig FTW!)
There have been several threads already created, attempting to assign blame for yesterday’s debacle of a football game: the coaches, the offense, the defense, etc. While the coaches, players, playcalling, etc. do have a role in the outcome of the game, everyone seems to be shying away from the obvious primary culprit, and that is fan mojo.
Now when I was younger, I was somewhat arrogant and quite a bit arrogant, and I thought I could control the outcome of games by wearing a lucky shirt or chanting “Go Blue!” over and over again. I now know how absurd that is now. I mean it’s scientific. There is no way one fan could control the whole outcome of an entire game. Nobody’s mojo is that good and that would also ignore the influence that thousands of other fans have.
Through my years of wisdom, I’ve come to realize that mojo is a cumulative effect of many, many fans, though sometimes one person’s mojo can be responsible for an individual play or player now and again. For example, my mojo affects Gibbons’ kicking. You may scoff, but I was there helping him all along through most of his record string of successful field goals. I didn’t know I had this affect until the 2011 season. Through 2010 I almost always was leaning on a pillow watching the games. I realized I have no influence on length whatsoever, or on blocks, but I can control the side to side movement of the ball once it’s been kicked. If I sit up straight, the ball goes right down the middle; if I lean to one side, the ball moves close to that upright; if I lean too far or lean the wrong way, there is a miss.
Yesterday, during the overtime where the FG sailed outside the upright, I tried to lean to help the ball go through, but I accidently leaned the wrong way. Had I been in the bathroom or not paying attention, Gibbons probably would have made it on his own. But stupid me, I thought he needed help, and instead of helping, once I saw the kick going slightly off course, in my haste, I accidently leaned the wrong way and pushed the ball wide. I apologize to the coaches, players, fans, and especially to Brendan Gibbons.
Now that’s just one small (yes, and important) part of the game. But there was some bad mojo at work overall too. Nobody can look at that game and not think otherwise. Michigan had good chance after good chance to win, but kept coming up short. So it’s time to fess up. Who else contributed to the loss. Did you wash all the luck out of your stinky lucky socks? Deviate from your usual pregame ritual? Let’s stop this witch hunt for scapegoats among the players and coaches and admit our role in this loss. Who else is willing to step up and take responsibility? Believe me, it's better to get it all out in the open. It's cathartic.
Given the weekly "Guess the score, win a T-shirt" contest, I found myself wondering what kinds of guesses people make. Unfortunately, it is pretty challenging to just scan through the posted guesses and get a real sense (other than most people pick UM, duh). Thus, I decided to collect the scores and make a graph. The result:
Predictions: Points UM will score (x-axis) vs. Points PSU will score (y-axis)
Click here for a larger version, if you'd like.
Users fill in a score prediction: the points Michigan will score and the points PSU will score. The x-axis of the graph shows the former (Michigan's point total) and the y-axis the latter. The line (y=x) divides the guesses into two groups; those below and to the right picking Michigan to win (and colored "maize") and those above and to the left picking PSU to win (colored "Nittany blue"). Some squares have a number in them: this shows how many people picked that particular score (oops to those who picked it second or later). I also colored my own guess in, in red, and I dropped one score where the guess was something like 127-3 (it would make the graph look bad). The last bits of data were collected around 10:30am this morning; later guesses are thus not included.
The main reason I did this was to be able to field a guess that had some "space" around it; closest to the right score wins, correct? If so, you not only want to guess something realistic but also something where not every spot around you in the graph is taken. Unfortunately, this week I guessed a bit early (before the full sample of data was taken). Had I waited until now, I might rather have guessed something like 50-15, which has a lot of room around it, or perhaps something in the 25-3 range.
Some other stats: Overall, 206 people picked UM; 13 picked PSU. For those that picked UM, the average score was 32.6 to 17.8. Does this collective wisdom serve as a good prediction? We will see. For those that picked PSU, the average score was much closer: 26.5 to 21.7. Three score predictions were most popular: 38-17, 31-20, and 31-16, each picked four times.
[UPDATE: Added "AFS" - actual fucking score - above]