no time for love, Dr. Jones.
(Click the Image to See Full Size Version)
Drastic measures... and drastic drawings.
THE BLOCKHAMS™ runs (typically) every week here at MGoBlog and on its official home page. Also, don't forget to check out the Friday Fun, my weekly single panel comic based on trending Michigan events, available on Twitter and the home page every Friday.
“Bring me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
Look, we need to talk. I’m worried about you. I mean, look at you. There are bags under your eyes, you’re pale, I mean…look, something just isn’t right. It’s the loss to Penn State, isn’t it? I haven’t seen you this upset after a loss since…well, since that other guy (you know, the one who wore the red wrist band) was still in town.
Guess what? I’ve got something to soothe your chapped and chafed sports-soul. It’s Michigan hockey. Weren’t expecting that after last year, were ya? Frankly, neither was I. And yet here we are, just two games into the new season and last year seems like a memory that we might just be able to get rid of and finally move on from. Last year was a memory burr; it hung around longer than it should have and felt like it might be impossible to get rid of, but once it was gone there was such sweet relief. See, a win over a Boston College squad that’s one of the top five in the country isn’t enough to do it alone. It’s the combination of not only winning but also showing defensive acumen and energy and situational awareness that’s so reassuring.
The official scoring sheet says that Michigan outshot BC over the course of the game, but let’s dig a little deeper. Below you’ll find Corsi tables, and if you aren’t sure what Corsi is read this post from last week.
Things didn't look good early on. Michigan was keeping up with Boston College, but that's about it. Granted, they did get a nice power play snipe from Luke Moffatt (whose performance was the focal point of Brian's excellent post), but that's about it. It seemed as though Michigan was doing all they could just to hang on for 20 minutes; hanging around for 60 is an entirely different thing, and winning that next 40 minutes is a different animal entirely.
Well, looks like the tables are starting to turn. Michigan and BC went back and forth this period, but Michigan looked better getting the puck out of their zone and moving it through the neutral zone. The shot totals above don't match the official scoring sheet, so it's worth noting the caveat that comes with this analysis; when the game is only available in standard def that's what I have to watch it in, and it can be hard to tell whether the puck hit the goalie or went just wide. Having said that, I do believe in what I saw and wrote down. We'll see how this takes shape over the course of the season.
The numbers end up looking like Michigan dominated the period, but that isn't how it began. BC carried the play in the first few minutes, and Michigan was allowing this to happen. They moved a forward high to defend and were dumping the puck in. Midway through the period this changed, and Michigan dropped the conservative schtick and started to move the puck again. One thing that went well: passing toa teammate on a zone entry and letting them carry the puck in instead of dumping it into the corner.
Michigan outplayed a higher ranked opponent by forechecking hard, backchecking hard, and making intelligent passes to keep the puck moving and away from the opponent. Michigan won. Read that again. Now do it again. Michigan (yes, that Michigan) beat an incredibly talented team and by game’s end made them look overmatched. Whether Michigan hockey is really back remains to be seen but this is certainly the only way to start.
As for overall shot percentages, I’ll let Seth handle that. He had a cool table in last week’s Dear Diary post and I don’t want to step on his toes because intellectual property, man. A quick programming note: I read your comments on the last article and haven’t given up on goal-by-goal analysis posts. I’m going to continue with this (because I think collecting the data over a full season will be worthwhile) but also start GBGA’s when the B1G season starts. Also, I can only do Corsi analyses for games that I have in full, so there won’t be one for the RIT game. Should be a Corsi post for this weekend's games, though, so look for that next week.
On Saturday, I had the distinct pleasure of attending my first Michigan away game, attending it as a 29th birthday present, which fell on that same day. My accompaniment for the game was none other than a friend and MSU grad from New York. You see, I had gone to the MSU at OSU game with him a few years back and we decided that Penn State was a good game to spend a weekend at my in-laws cabin in Central Pennsylvania. My immediate family and in-laws were there. And they are all Buckeye fans (except my 3 year old son, who is very much into saying Go Blue, though he still doesn't grasp the concept). Yada, yada, company you keep, bla, bla, bla.
Sparty and I got our tickets well in advance. A homecoming game at night seemed to predicate that. Our reasoning was confirmed as I saw very few scalpers outside the stadium. At Penn State, they have giant rolling grass hills that can more than accomodate the parking for the game. The problem is that you have to buy parking passes. In advance, they are $10, but on gameday, they charge $40. Both he and I had known about the parking passes, but failed to buy them in advance. If I had it to do over again, I would have bought the passes. We parked off the road about a mile from the stadium, which was free. We also had literally zero traffic until we hit the highway, which was nice. The parking was on Puddintown Road. Unfortunately, we missed out on the bulk of the tailgating, which was huge due to the cheap price of parking. There were likely tens of thousands of vehicles all crammed into a few giant lots.
(Damon's Grill, stock)
We rolled into Happy Valley at around 11:40am. State College has the lower-middle class feel of any random rural Michigan town, only larger. Picture Jackson, MI with a college in it. Sparty insisted we stop at the first spot we found to watch Michigan State adequately beat Indiana. That first place was a Damon's Grill by a hotel, which meant that a large portion of the lunchgoers were Michigan fans. It was a generally suitable "generic sports bar" to a T. Slightly dingy, but with a bevy of HD TVs on every wall. Their menu featured an item for each Big Ten school. "The Wolverine" was a chicken and bacon club with pepperjack cheese and chipotle mayo. It sounded delicious, but I got the generic appetizer sampler as I prefer food without spit in it. The phrase "Can I get a liter of soda... for a Michigan Fan?!?" resounded.
During the first half, I found myself rooting hard for Indiana. But by the second half, I was pulling for the Spartans to pull away so we could make our way to campus. Sometime in the 3rd quarter, Sparty informed me that Gardner would throw two picks and lose a fumble. Had he known who Nostradamus was, I'm sure he would have reminded me of this fact. A small part of me wanted Gardner to lose an inconsequential turnover in the second half so that smug bastard would be wrong. We left Damon's towards the start of the 4th quarter once MSU went up three scores.
After a short walk in unseasonably sunny and warm weather, we arrived at the stadium. I haven't been on a college campus in about 4 years, so I'm just entering that phase where being on campus means I'm the awkward old guy. We didn't stop to tailgate with anyone. I had a decent beer buzz, but what was I supposed to do? Swoop in and pick off a football being thrown from father to son, then offer myself one of their beers? I'm a pretty social guy, but nobody prompted any conversations on my way in. No sarcastic Michigan comments, no "good luck" wishes. It dawned on me quickly that parking BFE was a bad choice, as sobriety would set in before game time. In briefly eavesdropping on passing conversations, though, I can confirm that soroity girls still literally say literally about literally everything. When I was younger, it was cute. Now it is just kind of grating.
So we sauntered through the tailgate for a bit before arriving at the stadium. It was the typical tailgate wares. Grills, beers, underage drinking, and footballs. The only thing I did see which was new was a game in which opposite sides threw a frisbee into a barrel. The barrel had an opening up top and a slit in front for the frisbee to pass. Teammates were able to bat the frisbee to help direct it. Points were scored for various outcomes. It was like east coast cornhole. There was also a game where what looked to be litter boxes were filled with sand, and inside the sand was a coffee tin that people tossed rings into. Likely an artifact of the past, when everyone from Pennsylvania was a carnie in some sense of the word. I did not see any cornhole, though we played it at the cabin all weekend.
(gate E, stock)
Upon reaching the stadium, my first impression was that it was a high school bleacher on sterroids. The entrance gates take you into a spiders web of beams that support a thin layer of sheet metal which makes up the floor of the stands. The corrugation of the stands gave the impression that the floor was paper thin. It was actually kind of spooky how little metal stood between you and a catastophic fall. It got even spookier remembering how thin the bleacher floors were when everyone started stomping in unison late in the game. The whole stadium shook.
Our seats were located in EHU, directly below the luxury suites. The stadium is much more compact than the Big House, giving it the illusion of being much smaller. The announced 107,000 + crowd did not seem to add up to a packed Michigan Stadium. The benefits to this, though, were crowd volume, and though our seats were nosebleed, they were still awesome seats. The only bad seats appeared to be the third deck in each endzone.
(view from EHU, stock)
What struck me about the crowd was not the raucousness (though that was there), but the fact that everything was done in lock step. The "We Are" "Penn State" thing is annoying, but in person, it is a very intimidating thing. There was no argument over standing or sitting. It seemed everyone knew when to stand, which corresponded to all plays in the fourth quarter and OT. The crowd quieted on their offensive possessions. You all saw how white the white out was. None of those shirts were handed out, only the pom poms. I just had a sense of a crowd who knew exactly what they were doing. The student section was clearly GA. They filed in slowly and steadily, like a swimming pool being filled with milk, the sea of white creeping slowly up to the upper deck.
At one point in the game, I got a text message that asked "Are you sick of that stupid wildcat call yet???" to which I replied "Rawwaaawwwrrrr!!!". There is no way to overstate how annoying that cat call was. It was played at every opportunity, and then some. It sounded like a really loud gay guy kept teasing his friend for being too sassy, "Rawwwrr!" PSU needs a new DJ in their stands, as the sound was so crappy. There was no cross fades between songs, and that damned wildcat interrupted the canned music, completely out of beat. I'll hear that raaawwwawwwr in my nightmares, I'm sure.
I won't go into the game, other than the fact that there were some plays in which our receivers were further away from a PSU player than I was. It was nauseating to see us not capitalize on this.
The crowd was as expected. Overtime was surreal. Trying to portray how it felt to be sitting after the PI call in the 4th overtime would be pointless. I had my head in my hands, surrounded by a hornet's nest of activity. There was never another moment in my life so contradictory. My emotional state was completely out of mesh with the entire crowd. It was weird. Sparty was standing next to me jumping up and down. He's a dick. The crowd was loud. One giant unison of dick. They shook my hands, said "What a game!" I extended my hand as well. They were all dicks.
My reception by the fans was overall pretty tame. Coincidentally, my contact ripped in half just after the game ended, causing tears to pour down my cheeks. It was no use explaining this. The hive must have seen it funny to see a grown man cry. Sparty was filled in on the contact situation, he thought it hilarious.
Walking back out through the tailgate, I heard two "Michigan sucks" and a single "F*** you" from a guy driving by in a car. Car guy is always the most offensive, as he doesn't have to answer for his taunts. That's to be expected, although it got pretty scary when the crowd turned on the refs late in the fourth. I'm sure my reception would have been more colorful if Michigan had pulled it off.
Altogether, the experience was a solid B. It did not exceed my expectations, but given the outcome of the game, it went about as well as I could expect. I did get very drunk back at the cabin, still alone in my misery, surrounded by Sparty and the OSU fans. But that one was on me.
In the “What is the Source of Our Run Blocking Issues” thread, I offered my list of things we are doing poorly (hint: everything). This Diary delves deeper into each of those items by examining an example of each in a brief picture page format. Let’s jump right in.
1. Bad individual technique. A lot of plays start from a fresh line of scrimmage 2 yards behind where the ball was snapped because of just plain getting beat 1 vs 1.
Example: First play of Michigan’s second possession.
Pic1: Butt motions next to AJ Williams, who is the defacto LT since Lewan is lined up outside of Schofield on the right in "Tackle Over."
Pic2: Michigan runs outside zone away from Lewan/Schofield. This goes about how you'd expect. Bryant and Williams both take a step laterally and allow their guys to get in on them with leverage. Before the ball is even handed off, they’ve each ceded 2 yards. Bonus: Schofield releases without chipping the DT, leaving Lewan an impossible angle.
Pic3: By the time Fitz gets the ball he has a wall of bodies in front of him 5 yards behind the line. The DT Lewan had no chance at is also there to prevent any hope of a cutback. Michigan would go on to throw for short gain on 2nd down, then Gardner throws his first pick on 3rd.
Remember when, before the season began, I read some tea leaves and used this ranking of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series as a metaphor for the various possible scenarios? Remember how I predicted we’d win 9 or even 10 games? Those days were awesome, man. Unfortunately, right now we’re staring at one of the most underwhelming 5-1 midseason records I can imagine, highlighted by almost losing to both Akron and UCONN. For the record, Akron and UCONN are now a combined 1-11.
It was bad enough when we were 5-0, but then again, we’d just pasted Minnesota, a not-completely-terrible Big 10 team, so things looked like they were on the up. All we needed was a win over an equally not-completely-terrible Penn State to ensure a bowl game and finally put to rest the notion that 2013 is some sick re-run of 2009.
Things started poorly. Turnovers gifted Penn State with 14 points, as we’ve gifted opposing teams all season. Al Borges continued to call the zone stretch to Toussaint, and as usual, these plays typically went for 0 to -2 yards. But then we opened things up. Gardner threw. He ran. He did not turn the ball over.
Yet, for some reason, with us up 10 and less than 2 minutes left to play, the wheels came off and Borges returned to…the stuff that didn’t work in the first half. Now, running a zone stretch or inside power in overtime when all you need is an FG would already be a Captain Obvious call if you had Mike Hart and were averaging 4-5 yards per carry. But it simply doesn’t make any sense whatsoever when you’re up, you’re in one of the loudest, most difficult stadiums to play in, you have a chance to win and yet you know that your kicker is having an off day and--crucially--your running backs are averaging under a yard per carry. On the other side of the equation, on both PSU’s final regulation TD drive and the winning drive in overtime, Mattison dialed up a few too many soft cover 2s against a team that passes pretty well when they protect the quarterback, but terrible when they don’t. Hoke, Borges and, yes, even Mattison played not-to-lose and guess what? We lost.
Now, as an aside, can we please bury the notion that this result had anything to do with inherent superiority of offensive scheme or philosophy? We didn’t lose because “MANBALL” (i.e. i-formations, power running, play-action and so forth) is inherently worse than “basketball on grass.” (i.e. shotgun spread formations, read-option running, constraint passing and so forth). We lost because our coaches called plays we don’t have the personnel for, then called them again and again when it should have been clear that we couldn’t execute them. Wisconsin, Stanford and Alabama can. We cannot. It’s that simple.
The question now is: where does this leave us? And the answer is still somewhere between 2009 and 2011, but the center point in that distribution has shifted downwards towards 2010. I’ll go through each remaining game one-by-one and tell you what I think our chances are.
The Remaining Games
1. Home vs. Indiana: .67 probability of winning
They have offense but not much defense. We have Charlie Sheen on offense and soft cuddly zone on defense. But Ryan and Lewan should be back full-time, we’re at home and we can actually be aggressive on both sides of the ball, so the question really is whether we will. If we are, we win. If we’re not, we don’t.
2. Away vs. Michigan State: .40 probability of winning
East Lansing is not a happy place for us, especially in the Mark Dantonio era. And Sparty’s defense is as good as ever. That’s bad. On the other hand, they are not a good offensive team. That’s good. But their offense is getting better and they like to throw to tight ends. That’s bad. Expect a close one, but don’t expect a win.
3. Home vs. Nebraska: .60 probability of winning
Nebraska is a lot like Indiana, but with a higher national profile. We beat them handily two years ago and were on the road to beating them last year until Denard went down. If Borges stops pretending he has the 2006 offense and just sticks to the plays he has the personnel for, I think we surprise the national folks with a comfortable win here. But that’s a significant “if.”
4. Away vs. Northwestern: .40 probability of winning
At one point I had this as low as .33, but then Northwestern laid that egg against Wisconsin and, well, they just didn’t look all that scary anymore. Mind you, neither do we, it’s away (sort of) and we’ve had issues with spread offenses so far. As I see it, this will all come down to Mattison and the defense he rolls with. High-tempo spread offenses tend to result in death for the soft cover 2, so look for a lot of blitzing. If now, how are we going to keep them under 45?
5. At Iowa Hawkeyes: .67 probability of winning
Before the PSU own goal, I would have picked Iowa as the most likely candidate for “loss we didn’t see coming.” I can just hope we see it coming this time and don’t get into a Dinoball pissing contest with Kirk Ferentz like we did in 2011, you know, the one we still don’t have the personnel for.
6. Home vs. Ohio: .25 probability of winning
I had this as a tossup at the beginning of the year, in part because I didn’t expect Gardner’s turnoveritis, did expect 3-5 YPC from the running backs and figured we’d keep blitzing because that’s what Mattison does best. We are clearly not the team I expected us to be at this point. On the other hand, Ohio is exactly the team I expected them to be at this point—nationally overrated but coasting through a piss-easy schedule, and clearly the best of this middling bunch we call the Big 10 conference. The game’s at home, which gives us a puncher’s chance, but does anyone seriously see us winning? Seriously? They have tight ends too. And a mobile quarerback. And a defensive line that can get pressure all on its own.
The (Updated) Math
5.00 + 2(.67) + .60 + 2(.40) + .25 = 7.98
Hey that’s…not as bad as expected! On the other hand, we’ve gone from expecting a 9-10 win season to hoping we can salvage 8 wins and thus not look like we’re going backwards. And truth be told, I’m even pessimistic about getting 8, as there isn’t a single game left on the schedule that I’d characterize as “in the bag.” We’ll know a lot more when we see how the coaches and players react to this bit of adversity.
(Updated) Song of Ice and Fire Scenarios
1. A Clash of Kings.
Scenario: Non-stop action and death dealing! Our offensive line grows up quickly, and the move from experience to talent proves fundamental to a revitalized ground game, while Devin Gardner gets enough pass protection to tear up the Big 10’s mostly mediocre defenses. Meanwhile, we hold serve on run defense and even improve against the pass, which is enough to stymie the few good offenses we face. We stare down an invasion from
Stannis Baratheon Urban Meyer and repel him with our wildfire defense and an epic flanking movement passing offense.
Record: 12-0. We run the table and get to the Big 10 Championship Game, where we probably face Ohio for the second time in a week. A BCS bowl is a lock.
P = .05. Essentially, this would be our equivalent of what Notre Dame did last year, and would require a similar amount of luck and collapsing of the once-scary opponents (in our case Ohio and Sparty, in their case Oklahoma and USC). The Clash of Kings scenario is more likely than running the table was in 2012, but still not exactly likely. Ohio is going to be good, and though we can certainly beat them, Sparty is always fired up against us and especially when playing at home. Plus there’s uncertainty tied to the rest of the road games—are we talented, experienced and lucky enough to not blow any of them and still beat all the rivals? Maybe, but probably not. P=.00. ELIMINATED. We don’t have a “revitalized ground game” and our pass defense is terrible.
2. A Storm of Swords
Scenario: We go red wedding on the Big 10 but get caught with our pants down in the toilet at one inopportune moment. Everything else from scenario #1 still applies.
Record: 11-1. We either run the table up to The Game or beat Ohio and lose to one of the other likely candidates. We probably get a Big 10 Championship Game out of it, though that would depend on the others; either way we still get our best regular season since 1997.
P = .15. Okay, now we’re talking plausible-ish! Of course, all the disclaimers for scenario #1 apply here as well, with the caveat that we’re allowed our one bad day. That automatically makes it more likely, as even Alabama has had that over the past two years. Unfortunately, I see too many question marks on the roster to really get behind this scenario: an inexperienced interior O-line, no clear sense of whether we’ll get a pass rush, questions of whether Countess, Fitz and Ryan can return to form after rehabbing from serious injuries, etc. While I do expect these things to turn out well, when the entirety of the season is considered, they may not manifest positively in each and every game. P=.01. Still technically possible, but as Brian likes to say, CUMONG MAN. See above.
3. A Game of Thrones
Scenario: Taut. Gripping. Tantalizing yet never delivering that crucial victory. We are generally awesome, and kick some ass in
the Whispering Wood The Game/Conquest of the Juggalos, but run into a few roadblocks on the way.
Record: 10-2. Likely losses = 1 of Sparty/Ohio and 1 more from your “tossups,” “likely-buts” and ND. Whether we win the Legends Division in its final year depends on whom we lose to and how they do over the course of the season. Just like it did in 2011.
P = .30. Though the rational part of my brain is a bit more conservative, the enthusiastic, emotional fan part feels as if this is the way things will play out. It just keeps repeating “schedule, schedule, the schedule is faaaavorable” until I believe it’s more true than “roster, roster, the roster is inexpeeerienced.” P=.10. This could happen. I mean, it’s not likely, but the whole scenario was predicated on 1 loss against Sparty/Ohio and 1 from the tossup category, which included PSU. A guy can dream, right?
4. A Feast for Crows
Scenario: A mostly enjoyable ride that ultimately doesn’t live up to hopes and expectations.
Record: 9-3. I’d guess this means we lose ¾ out of the “likely-but” and “tossup” games. An early loss to ND (considering we don’t have Ryan and will be working out experience issues on the O-line) is not out of the realm of possibility either.
P = .35. Unfortunately, but not too unfortunately, the math suggests this is the most likely scenario, slightly beating out the more palatable 10-2 (since both of the estimates produce predicted win totals under 10). It would still constitute a bit of progress from 2012, though. That’s good. But it will probably produce a cavalcade of obnoxious “I told you so” columns from everyone’s “favorite” Freep columnist that evince a total disregard for logic and rationality. That’s bad. P=.20. Very much still in the running, but has gone from the center point of the probability distribution to the right slope. We’d have to win all the games we should win (Indiana, Nebraska and Iowa) and one of the ones we’re not in good position for at the moment (Sparty, Northwestern or Ohio). Doable, but remember--we almost lost back-to-back games against Akron and UCONN.
5. A Dance with Dragons
Scenario: Where are we going? Why is this
Quentyn Martell section [insert player] injury rehab taking so long to resolve? Why is this Jon Snow/Danaerys storyline offense so boring and listless?
Record: 8-4 or lower [let’s say 7-5 even though I didn’t do that at the time] Things just don’t go as planned. Maybe that’s due to an injury, or maybe something just doesn’t work on offense and we don’t have Denard to bail us out with his legs.
Last year we went 8-4 in the regular season, having played eventual national champion Alabama (away), eventual runner-up Notre Dame (away), eventual undefeated Ohio (away) and a decent-ish Nebraska team (away) after losing Denard and not, apparently, wanting to put Devin in. The idea that we’ll do the same or worse when there’s no Alabama, a crappier Notre Dame at home, Nebraska at home and Ohio at home strikes me as unlikely. But it isn’t impossible to imagine either, especially considering our lack of depth at key positions cough quarterback cough. P=.50. The offense is boring and listless, unless you count "not knowing if we will run the plays that usually get us yards, or go with the plays that almost always end in TFLs" as excitement. The whole “maybe something just doesn’t work on offense and we don’t have Denard to bail us out with his legs” thing is half right, because Devin does just fine with his legs. Too bad our coaches think we play in Tuscaloosa and have 8 years of oversigned, 4/5 star-rich recruiting classes to work with.
6. George R. R. Martin’s Secret Viserys/Joffrey Slash Fiction
Scenario: It’s 2009 again, yo!
Record: 6-6 or 5-7. We go 1-5 or 0-6 over the last stretch. Someone on the staff gets fired.
Probability: .19. Yes, we have to entertain this possibility now.*
DEPRESSO ADENDUM: If anyone thinks this is unlikely, I suggest you remember what it was like in 2009, when we were 4-2 but had just lost a sqeaker to a pretty good iteration of the Ferentz Hawkeyes. Did you seriously, at any point, entertain the idea that we'd go 1-5 over the second half of the season? Sure, I didn't exactly expect to beat Ohio, Penn State or Wisconsin that year, but wins over fairly crappy Illinois and Purdue teams seemed likely, and it wasn't unimaginable that we might pull of an upset either. I saw us as that transitional 7-5/8-4 Rich Rod team well on the road to 2007 WVU-style domination. You probably did too. In reality we were a 5-7 team on the road to nowhere.
OPTIMISITIC ADENDUM TO THE DEPRESSO ADENDUM: All that said, we did sort of have a horrific defense that was poorly coached at the positional level, overseen by GERG, and meddled with by Rodriguez. I don't see anything like that on our offense, which does seem able to do its job when not shackled by the obstinate insistence that we are another team entirely. So yeah, possible but not that likely.