i thought this was america
I’m not a superstitious person, but it’s fun to pretend that there are signs, or that ordinary objects can possess special powers. For example, I often break out the M boxer shorts for big games. Our track record hasn’t been so good in big games recently, so I left the boxer shorts in the dresser drawer for this game. There were two signs that if I were the sort to believe in such things, portended a bright future for the Michigan football team.
First, prior to the game I was listening to my Johnny Cash Pandora station. Out of nowhere, the station started playing “Jambalaya”, by Hank Williams. So what you say? Well, this past weekend I posted a diary comparing M football games to Iron Maiden songs, picking out particularly relevant lyrics. The lyrics to Jambalaya?
Jambalaya, a crawfish pie and a fillet a gumbo…
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou…
The reason this song stood out besides the obvious connection to New Orleans, the Sugar Bowl, and the hope that we’d have big fun at the game, is that my mom would sing this song whenever she cooked Jambalaya. That seems reasonable, except that she wasn’t from the south and never sang any other songs while cooking that I recall. It’s as if something was preparing me from an early age for this year’s Sugar Bowl.
I hope I’ve established the musical connection. Well, the second sign that occurred was the National Anthem being sung by one of the actors from Mad Men (one of my favorite shows) while accompanied by a clarinetist. As a youth, I played the clarinet (until a bizarre badminton accident claimed three of my teeth, but that’s a story for another day.) How often have you seen someone play the National Anthem on the clarinet? For me, the answer was none, until this year’s Sugar Bowl. So as you read through this thoroughly depressing set of stats, remember, that none of these numbers matter except the final score, because this was all preordained. You can’t argue with the signs.
Burst of Impetus
- It’s been awhile since the OSU game, so let me remind you what this section is all about. Basically, it presents the big momentum changing plays of the game. The biggest play was the first 4thand 1 where we stopped VT. Instead of them kicking the FG to go up 9-0, they went for the kill. Martin, Van Bergen and Will Campbell came up with a huge stop. That stopped their momentum.
- Of course, that wouldn’t have meant much if we couldn’t get anything going offensively. When VT got hit with a roughing the punter penalty, it gave us some momentum which allowed the 45 yard TD pass later in the drive.
- At the end of the game, the impetus was swinging back and forth like a tennis ball at Roland Garros (that’s the clay surface where points take forever, as opposed to Wimbledon where it’s one and done.)
Trash Cans Full of Dirt
- I went through the play-by-play link and looked at Virginia Tech’s third and fourth down plays. They converted third downs of 1, 8, 9, 12, 13, and 20 yards. Their average third down conversion was on 3rd and 10.5 yards to go. We stopped them on third down and 3, 3, 4, 5, 5, 7, 7, 11, and 20 yards to go. So the average down and distance to go when we stopped them was 3rd and 6.1. That seems just a little backwards. It’s even weirder on fourth down, where we stopped them twice on 4th and one, but they converted 4th and 11.
- So why did VT have more success on longer down and distance plays? I think the rush suffered from Van Bergen’s early injury and the fact that Thomas is one big dude. His ability to see over the rush was key to finding the open receivers. On third or fourth and short, they tried running and we lived up to the “Trash Cans Full of Dirt” nickname earned in game 1 I believe. On one 4th and one, they tried a QB sneak right into the center of Martin, Van Bergen, and Will Campbell. That was the initial burst of impetus that started turning things around for us.
- 20 players show up in the defensive stats, including 4 tackles for Elliott Mealer. I believe those actually belong to Frank Clark, unless Elliott became a special teams monster without me noticing.
- Kovacs lead the team with 11 tackles, followed by Morgan and Martin with 10 apiece. While I like the balance (a DB, an LB, and a DL) I don’t like having three guys with double digit tackles. We couldn’t keep VT off the field, and when we did stop their drive, our offense couldn’t sustain anything, leading to a large discrepancy in total plays: 76 for VT and 52 for UofM.
- We had 8 TFLs, half of those were by Jake Ryan for an insane 36 yards. He mixed up his TFLs quite nicely, one stopped a fake punt, one was for 22 yards, (hey, if a back wants to run backwards for 22 yards, I say let him. Just be sure to tackle him when he turns around) and one was a classic, “Jake Ryan hates ankles as much as Taylor Lewan hates donkeys” QB sack. I’m sure he leads the team in ankle tackles and it’s not even close. The dude must have some strong hands. (Since I talked about signs in the intro, I watched 10 minutes of “16 Candles” over break. Our Jake Ryan has now replaced the Jake Ryan as my favorite Jake Ryan.)
We Haz Special Teams
- I was going to move this section all the way to the top in honor of us out-Beamerballing Beamerball, but Martin and Van Bergen deserve top billing.
- JB Fitzgerald gets credit for a forced fumble on a kickoff that turned into three points. That play was one of many that were key to getting us to overtime.
- Gibbons, a veritable Van Bergen Mini-Me, was good from 24, 37, and 39 yards. My wife is a brunette, so I’m right there with you Brendan.
- After a rough start for Hagerup, Wile came on to do the punting and averaged 43.7 yards. He also drew a roughing the punter penalty that kept a drive alive and lead to 7 points. Wile had a long of 58 yards, which is what I expect from dome punting. I don’t know why, there is no wind in a dome, it just seems like guys are always killing the ball when punting in a dome.
- After the punting section, they list returns and credit Elliott Mealer with a 7 yard interception return. I’m pretty sure this is a typo and this INT belongs to Frank Clark. Perhaps the stats guys were partying a little too hard after the win. I don’t blame them.
- This was one of those rare games where we reverted back to the original meaning of the word filthy. Denard had 13 carries for 13 yards. He was only 9 of 21 passing with one INT, and several other close calls.
- Touss ran 13 times for only 30 yards. What surprised me was that Touss didn’t get a carry until our 7thoffensive play. I thought we would try to establish him early, since he finished the season as a productive third of our offense (1/3 Touss, 1/3 Denard running, 1/3 Denard passing.) Instead, we saw all sorts of long developing plays, mostly run to the outside, that gave VT’s speedy defense time to react. I think the MANBALL, power up the middle stuff would have worked better, but the Molk injury certainly hurt.
- Another thing missing from the game plan were screen passes - a good counter to an aggressive defense. We tried the one to Vincent Smith. Denard bounced the pass and we never went back to it.
Big John R. Studd Referee Section
- My brother called at halftime and I complained about the refs. He said, “what do you expect from Sun Belt refs?” or something to that effect. While he was just kidding, I took him at face value because they didn’t have a clue.
- All I ask for is consistency. Sometimes DBs were allowed to grab jerseys, and sometimes they weren’t. Every time they missed the hands to the face penalty.
- I think they missed two false starts on Gibbons, but whatever.
- The referee was Jay Stricherz. When I googled him, the first hit said, “Good thing Riley didn't have the crew of referee Jay Stricherz, which has regularly dispensed flags like penny candy off parade floats.“ Apparently, I’m not the only one who has a problem with Jay. It looks like they are a Pac 12 crew FWIW.
- Junior Hemingway. That’s all I got for this section.
- To be fair, 8 players did catch passes, including Jareth Glanda.
- We wore yet another new uniform. I’m so over this by now. I will say that the uniforms the VT cheerleaders were wearing were the ugliest things I’ve seen all season.
- 5G Frank Clark was the only hexadecimalist to register, breaking Matt Cavanaugh’s streak. I think they just lumped all the special teams tackles under Elliott Mealer.
- The announcers were Brad Nessler and Todd Blackledge. I barely paid attention to them. I was a little surprised that was the first UofM game they did all season.
Random, as Yet Unnamed, Bullets
- I put VT in the “respected opponent” column, unlike say, an MSU or ohio, but I’ve got to say this about the halftime university commercials: our walking robot could kick their walking robot’s ass. And I’m not just saying that because I know Prof. Grizzle and he’s a class act. Did you see the commercials? Our robot is practically running while their robot is taking these little baby robot steps.
- Writing these diaries in the middle of the week is painful. If I'm going to do this again next season, I demand we get a Friday or Saturday Bowl Game.
- So the main question everyone is asking is, how do you win a game when you get outgained by 193 yards. Well, we had one turnover to their two, and we stopped them twice on fourth down. That’s a +3 in the extended turnover stat. Even if you assign 40 yards (the average net punt) to each of those, we’re still trailing by 73 yards. The answer is, I just don’t know*. And you know what, I don’t care. We’re Sugar Bowl Champions, and that’s all that matters. And now it’s time to have big fun on the bayou…
* I do know, we scored two touchdowns, and they kicked a bunch of field goals. You’ve got to score TDs when you get the chance. Also, they roughed our punter, which continued our drive. That's basically a negative turnover for us. And even though I bashed the refs, we picked up another ~40 net penalty yards.
Last night Team 132 finished one of the more memorable, rewarding, and unexpected seasons in recent memory. Brian and much of the blogsphere have valiantly focused on what this team accomplished, what they overcame, and how well they have represented the university not just this season, but through their entire careers. But there has been consistent talk among some fans and media types about how "Michigan is back".
With the help of my brother I set out to understand if this 11-2 season with a BCS bowl victory matched some vague definition of Michigan past and thus validates the claim of the program being back. I looked at all seasons in the "Bo era" of UM football to see when the team finished the season with a good record and BCS bowl appearance.
But in order to do that, we need a chart.
Chart you say?
Wait - there is an alter ego in this post too?
Yes - So let's see the chart then!
**UPDATE** In the comments user "Vasav" made a suggestion that we could create a metric that took into account beating OSU, winning the conference, and final ranking to get a "score" for that season. I updated the table below with that metric, though I changed his values somewhat.
- Versus MSU: Win = 0.5, Tie = 0.2, Loss = 0.0
- Versus OSU: Win = 1.0, Tie = 0.5, Loss = 0.0
- Big Ten Finish: 1st = 1.0, Tied for 1st = 0.5, Other = 0.0
- Bowl Outcome: Win = 1.0, Loss = 0.0
- Final AP Rank: 1-5 = 1.0, 6-10 = 0.5, Other = 0.0
There are obvious flaws in this such as the difference between being ranked 5 and 6 costing a significant amount toward the final score or the fact that you can't have "ties" for the conference title like you used to before this season. But it is a starting point and helps sort these seasons, so the table has been updated. (Read below for other updates.)
What did we learn from that?
Well, you can find just about anything on the Bentley LIbrary site.
Besides the shameless plug, what else did we learn?
There are several things that were interesting in this research. Here are a few.
- Carr (2-3) and Bo (3-10) did a lot to promote the belief that the Big Ten can't win big games.
- But they also got to these big games at a very high rate with Carr going to 5 BCS games in 13 years and Bo going to 13 in 21 years. This may be where the "Michigan is back" meme comes from since the five year drought we just lived through had only happened one other time in the past 40 years.
Carr, Mo, and Bo all had several historically great seasons with Carr's 1997, Bo's 1985, and Bo's 1988 standing out perhaps as the best.
- **UPDATE** When applying the "Vasav score" you see these seasons change slightly. Obviously 1997 and 1988 still stack up, but 1985 is lower on the list than 1980 and 1992.
- Damn.....Bo was a great coach. Over time I had sort of felt like his memory was greater than his actual resume, but you can't help being amazed at his tenure. The Rose Bowls, top ten rankings, and conference titles are more than impressive.
- What was it like to be a die-hard fan from 1970 to 1974? In five seasons Bo went 50-4-1, won or tied for the conference title 4 times, finished in the top ten each season and only went to ONE bowl game. Imagine the server damage that would have been done if MGoBlog existed then.
- **UPDATE** Look at how 2006 scores out despite being perhaps Carr's second best team. I think this is a good test of the Vasav score because that great season left such a bitter taste in our mouths for having lost to OSU and then USC when we were perhaps so close to a championship.
Well, those are some nice bullets, but does that mean the people saying "Michigan's Back!" are right?
Can't we just focus on this great season and the heart shown by the members of the team who have put everything they had into this program despite the chaos over the past several years?
No - I need an answer. Is Michigan back? Does this season stack up against the rest?
The answer is "not quite". Finishing with an 11-2 record and BCS win (regardless of how ugly) is amazing and stacks up with some of the best seasons ever. Considering the past 4 years that is a great accomplishment and shows that the program is on the right track and about as "back" as could be dreamed of before this season started.
But there are a couple of things that put it a notch below most of the seasons on the list. First is the fact that Michigan finished as the third best team in the conference behind MSU and Wisconsin, despite the deserved BCS appearance. Classic Michigan teams expected to win the conference and did more often than not. That's the goal and motivation for next year. Another difference is that Michigan will likely finish ranked outside the top ten this year while all but two of the teams on the list finished with a better final ranking.
Hoke has exceeded expectations and has Michigan poised to compete for BCS bowls going forward, even if this season is a slight notch below the great ones of the past 40 years. Bring on Alabama and 2012! Go Blue!
**UPDATE** Response to comments
It is always dangerous to respond to comments, so I'll keep this brief. Obviously I, and most readers of this site, agree with Brady Hoke when he says that Michigan isn't "back" because it never went anywhere. No matter what the record on the field, the men wearing the winged helmets have represented the university with integrity and worked their tails off both on and off the field. The "Michigan is back" meme is used in this post as a backdrop to putting the 2011 season in historical context. Anyone reading this blog has lived and died emotionally with this team no matter their record or coach and can attest to Michigan not needing to be "back."
Likewise, there is no arguing that 2011 was a spectacular season by any measure or metric. The fact that we are even comparing it to the other 24 on this list states that. But this post was a way to both celebrate the past, celebrate 2011, and look forward to areas where we can still improve.
Finally, I intentionally avoided any discussion of late-era Carr or Rodriguez because that isn't relevant. Whatever ill-will or praise you have for either coach does not factor into the on-field significance of their past seasons so I hope we can avoid turning another series of comments into an argument about either coach.
Though Crete (IL) Monee receiver Laquon Treadwell maintains he has no favorites, Michigan has been a constant presence in his recruitment and they are, at the very least, among his leaders. Treadwell picked up offers from Nebraska and Indiana in December to go along with early offers from Michigan and Notre Dame, and the four-star receiver recently was named to the MaxPreps 2011 Junior All-American first team after a stellar junior season. I caught up with Laquon this afternoon, and he talked about the status of his recruitment, including an early top five:
ACE: First of all, I know you added a couple offers in December. Which teams are having the most contact with you right now?
LAQUON: The teams with the most contact would have to be Ohio State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, and Michigan.
ACE: Three of those teams have come through with offers—Nebraska, Michigan, and Notre Dame—and you've also got one from Indiana, correct?
ACE: Would you say you've got any favorites right now?
LAQUON: I don't have any favorites, but I do have a top five that I like.
ACE: And what's the top five?
LAQUON: Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Nebraska, and then Tennessee—oh yeah, I've been hearing from Tennessee, too.
ACE: Did you get a chance to watch the Sugar Bowl last night?
LAQUON: No, I didn't. I was actually watching the [Semper Fidelis] high school All-American game, and then I didn't get a chance to watch.
ACE: How is everything going for you with your basketball season?
LAQUON: It's going good. We're 12-3 right now, just lost in the championship game of a Christmas tournament, but it's going pretty good.
ACE: Are you planning on making it to any junior days or camps during the offseason?
LAQUON: I haven't made any plans about any visits because a lot of coaches have been pretty busy lately and I haven't heard from them, so I haven't had the chance to make any visits happen. I plan on over the offseason trying to do Core 6 [a training facility for high school athletes in Illinois]—they have a showcase thing with Fox [news coverage] and all that.
ACE: We just came out of a dead period for recruiting, but have Michigan's coaches been in contact with you at all recently, or has it been quiet on that front?
LAQUON: It's been quiet, for all the coaches actually. I haven't heard from a coach in about a week, a week or two.
Torrent: 2012 Sugar Bowl 720p MP4 (6.18GB)
Quick and dirty highlights:
MGoBlue's usual lo-fi offering:
Holly Rowe stiffarms the competition:
Trophy presentation and Hemingway interview:
Hoke, Denard, Hemingway, Van Bergen, Gibbons:
Special teams guru Frank Beamer:
NOLA kids are fast learners:
Back at the real job today after a great two weeks of football, ready to start cheering for the team I love, not just the one I
have money on like the uniforms better.
Virginia Tech Preview
PAN, National Rank (leader)
Michigan: +5, 4th (Oregon)
vs VT: +1, 40th
Michigan: +3, 29th (Baylor)
vs VT: +3, 22nd
Michigan: +1, 46th (Alabama)
vs VT: +2, 28th
Michigan: +1, 39th (Texas)
vs. VT: +2, 31st
Michigan: +0, 60th
vs VT: –0, 73rd
A pretty close match-up in all areas except when Michigan is rushing the ball. That’s likely the best avenue for Michigan to leverage. With arrests, suspensions and a late season Michigan surge, special teams could be an opening as well. This should be a close one but this game is Michigan’s to lose, 31-28 Michigan.
Ron Zook Memorial Dumb Punt of the Bowl Season
Haven’t had a chance to review all of the bowl games, but Wisconsin’s first quarter punt has to be the top contender. Two potent offenses, touchdowns on the first three possessions and the Badgers face 4th and 3 at the Oregon 38. Despite the best scrambling QB in college football and an offense geared to pound the ball on the ground against a defense that hadn’t stopped them in their first two drives, Wisconsin played field position. Against Oregon. Two plays later the Black Mamba is flashing chrome 91 yards for a TD in a 7 point Ducks win. Wisconsin is 22/30 on 3rd and 2-4 yards on the season in competitive situations.
Richt/Shaw/NFL Coaching Conservatory
This was just brutal watching teams play for field goals. It’s not a great strategy in the NFL where nearly all the kickers are money inside of 40 and pretty good from 40-55. College kickers, even the good ones, not so much. Here is the table I use to estimate kicker success. From the 25 even a top-notch college kicker is going to miss 20%, an average one is going to miss nearly half the time. Getting a single first down moves the odds significantly.
One other update to the Game Theory Manifesto that I tweeted about during the MSU/Georgia trying not to lose-fest, if you are in the lead and the other team has time-outs left, don’t run up the middle on third down unless you think that’s your best shot to get the first down. The clock is going to stop after your play no matter what. One extra timeout in your opponent’s pocket has very little chance of deciding the game. A first down in most cases will end or nearly end the game. Don’t be careless but if you have a dependable QB like Aaron Murray, throw the ball and give yourself a chance to end the game.