Best: The Gibbons
In baseball, scoring the game-winning run(s) in your final at-bat is regarded as a “walk-off.” The connotation is that the player smoothly performed his duty so well (usually via a homerun) that he can “walk” the bases and enjoy the adulation of a job well done. Well, in adding to his legacy of game-tieing/winning kicks, Brendan Gibbons introduced a new word to the vernacular for game-winning plays: the “Gibbons”. With chaos around him and the weight of the season on his shoulders, he gave this team life that ultimately led them to a stirring victory and, perhaps, changed the final chapters of this wayward football season. After the Sugar Bowl we all thought of Gibbons as a brunette-loving Keith Stone, but after yesterday’s game he has entered into the UM lexicon like “New Math”/“Braylonfest”, “Dilithium”, “Mercury”, the “Threat”, and all of the other cherished moments in UM lore.
Much has been made recently about Gibbons's "struggles" kicking the ball, though if you look at his season stats it was basically a couple of blocked/missed kicks against PSU that were the nadir of his season thus far. Outside of that wacky game, he’s been pretty solid all year; if anything, he’s suffered a bit of regression from his record-setting 16-straight FGs made between last season and this one. His wobbly make last week happens to virtually every kicker from time to time, and any inkling of a “meltdown” was quelled when he drilled his first two FGs into the swirling Evanston wind.
But then the least inspiring 2-minute drive started, and you didn’t know if he’d even have a chance to attempt a makeable kick to tie the game, especially given the playcalling and overall lack of urgency seemingly displayed by the team as it tried to tie the game (I’ll get into that with greater detail below). Throw in a 13-yard sack and a final completion to Gallon with about 13 seconds left and the clock running, and all seemed lost. But then something magical happened, and a team that was so discombobulated that it had to convert two 4th-and-4s on the last drive was able to switch out personnel in mere seconds, spot a wet ball, and send the game into overtime with a no-doubt-about-it (oh gawd, I’m starting to talk like Berman) 44 yarder. Like most readers of this blog, I’ve not been a fan of the special team’s reliance on an archaic punt formation, blocking on FGs, or returns, but this squad and its coach deserve immense credit for executing when it was needed most. I’d also like to point out the great slide by Dileo to get into his holder position, which helped save a second or two that was obviously needed to get the play off.
Best: Northwestern: The ‘Eat Your Vegetables, There are Starving Kids in X’ of College Football
It’s a bit cliche, but I remember my mom whipping out the tired “eat your food, there are kids with far less around the world” argument when I wouldn’t finish my broccoli. Of course, little did she know that broccoli is the most deadly of the vegetables. Regardless, the point was to remind me that there were people out there with it worse off, and not to take for granted the bountiful opportunities before me.
Well, for UM fans those starving children are Northwestern. After a 4-0 start, NW has lost 6 straight, including one game on a last-second Hail Mary from Cereal Empire Progeny Ron Kellogg III and another after being Gibbons’ed with about a second left. Unless they somehow pull off an epic upset against MSU, they will finish with a losing record before they match up against Illinois, and a season that began with talk of a Rose Bowl bid will, at best, end with them playing in some god-forsaken shanty-town (or Detroit) in a late-December bowl game named after a Dave Brandon’s Mortal Enemy or the state in which it is held. So the next time you complain about being “only” 7-3, remember that there are a bunch of future hedge fund associates and medical school colleagues being bummed out for a couple more weeks.
Worst: This is Still the Offense
Lost in the OT victory is the fact this team had 6 points until about 2 seconds left in regulation, and failed to convert on a 3rd down play until OT (going 0-13 in the process). 17 of 24 completions, and 176 of 226 total passing yards, went to Gallon and Funchess, which in one sense feels like a revelation but on the other hand highlights just how dependent this team is on those two winning individual matchups. When the opposition allows it, this is a pretty good receiving core; when the defense can get to Devin and/or bracket the two in coverage there doesn’t appear to be a third option unless Butt is starting to take control of the position (5 catches for 50 yards and a TD the past two weeks). And though I get into it with greater detail below, the running game had a slightly below-average performance, which given the past two weeks makes them f’ing Army out there.
My issue with the offensive gameplan remains the reliance on elements that simply don’t work with nearly enough consistency to warrant the reliance we’ve seen thus far. The announcers noted on that last drive of regulation how the team was able to complete a couple of short passes, and throughout the game it did feel like there was a concerted effort to pick away with short and intermediate routes at times. But there were still far too many two-route formations that screamed pass (or Devin scrambles), and I found myself guessing the offensive call about 75% even with the added wrinkles. And at the most minor hint of establishing a running game, the playcall inevitably came in for a long play-action pass that rarely hit because, again, NW hadn’t been burned enough for them to really start over-playing against the run. Ultimately the game devolved into the Devin Gardner show, which worked because it put the ball in the hands of the most dangerous player on the offense and produced mismatches because the defense had to react to real uncertainty.
I know people will complain that I am focusing too heavily on the negatives and am showing my anti-Borges agenda, and I’ll cop to thinking the guy shouldn’t be the OC anymore. But the fact remains that over the past 12 quarters of regulation, the team has scored exactly 1 TD, and mounted 7 drives of 50 yards or more out of a total of 34 real drives. Again, ignoring the major outlier that was Indiana, this team has averaged about 25 points a game during the conference season, and that includes a pair of 3OT games. It’s a unit that relies on its defense to keep the game close (and at times carve out decent chunks of yardage), and for the money being spent on this staff I’d have expected a more coherent performance even given the weather conditions.
Best: Let Them Play!
It doesn’t seem like too many people took issue with Hoke’s decision to go for the lead with about 5 minutes left in the 4th quarter, and throw my hat into the camp that thought it was the right call. Sure, going for the tie is fine, but this offense hadn’t been able to move the ball much at all throughout the game, and being that close to a game-winning TD made it a no-brainer. At worst you leave NW with poor field position and facing a defense that had largely stymied them all day, and a TD forces NW to drive all the way down the field for the win. With heavy winds and a wet field, that would have been a tall order. Plus, this team had already seemingly played for a tie since the 1st quarter, so it was nice to see Hoke attack convention despite the less-than-optimal results.
To say that Devin Gardner had a “variable” game against Northwestern would be to insult the notions of weak typing and celestial bodies. By raw numbers, Gardner had a slightly below-average game (24/43/226/1TD/0INT) mitigated somewhat by some nasty weather and a remarkably stout Wildcat pass defense. Interspersed amongst those 19 incompletions, though, were a number of throws that this ball-hawking NW defense could have easily caught and returned for TDs, and of which would likely have dramatically altered the outcome of this game. On the first drive along, Gardner threw at least two balls that bounced off defenders’ hands with nothing by grass between them and the endzone, to even the final drive of regulation where a game-ending INT simply slipped away from a DB’s grasp.
And most of these near-turnovers were simply due to bad throws or misreading coverage, from locking onto Funchess on the sideline despite a LB clearly lurking not two steps away to throwing at Innerspace-sized windows. Perhaps it was cosmic penance for some of the wacky interceptions that occurred earlier in the year or Gardner’s private incantations to drive out bad spirits, but Northwestern left dozens of points on that field, any of which would have eliminated the insanity that led to UM’s win. On one hand it was further evidence that Gardner has a great deal maturation ahead of him if the mental aspects of his game are to catch up to his physical skillset, taking him from an inconsistent talent to a transcendent one. On the other, though, it was the first time in weeks that it felt like Gardner was even thinking of throwing the ball aggressively, and credit for this revelation should go to both him and Borges. It wasn’t smooth sailing by any stretch, but at this point in the year I’d rather see them taking chances than going deeper into the well-fortified shell they’ve seemingly occupied since PSU (save for the And-1 mixtape that was IU).
Worst: Out with the Old Poor Damn Toussaint, In with the They Can’t Be Worse
I am an avowed Fitz fan, and have been for most of the year. I thought his struggles running the ball mostly had to do with the offensive line, and I still wouldn’t be surprised to see him catch on in the NFL as a free agent for at least a cup of coffee. He still seems to possess the shiftiness and speed that made him so promising a couple of years ago, even though I’m sure his injuries have taken a toll. And as others have noted, Fred Jackson is a lot of things but “coach able to develop RBs beyond their natural talents” maybe isn’t one of them. But as the past couple of weeks have shown, his struggles as a blocker on passing downs are not going away, and considering he’s a senior who has recorded 26 yards total the past 2 weeks and maybe, possibly a little injured, it was time for a change to Green and Smith.
With the two freshmen in the lineup, the team “rolled” for 4.4 yards per carry from the RB position, and generally looked semi-competent rushing the ball even though even the 4.4 was goosed by two long runs of 23 and 16 yards. Drop those two long runs and the average was closer to 3.2 ypc, but for the first time in a couple of weeks there felt like the threat of running the ball was there for the Wolverines.
Now, caveats aplenty do apply. NW still recorded 10 TFL including 5 sacks, and a couple of those came from said freshmen whiffing on blocks just as badly as Fitz. Green and Smith were intermittently able to run after first contact, but against a mediocre rushing unit in the rain I’d be careful about extrapolating too much. Next week against Iowa will be a truer test, and I’d be surprised if they saw similar success against a decent Hawkeye front 7. It seems a bit unfair to pull Fitz after having him suffer running against the best rushing defense in the country and a hyper-aggressive Cornhusker unit that was calling the offensive plays at the line, but this being results-based grading I suspect his role will be further minimized until such time as Green and/or Smith struggle to run the ball effectively. That may be after the 1st quarter next week, but until then this may be the ignominious end to the star-crossed UM career of PDT.
Best: 9 Points the Hard Way
Some will issue with the fact that I questioned the offensive playcalling despite the weather conditions while ignoring the fact that NW only scored 9 points in regulation. And yes, this particular NW outfit doesn’t possess the dynamic offensive talent we’ve come to expect from the Wildcats, even with Colter and Siemian on the field. Still, the defense faced 11 drives and forced punts on 8 of them, which was doubly impressive given the fact that NW was coming off a bye week and (outside of Venric Marc) had its full complement of offensive weapons. The defense still held the Wildcats to 308 yards on 73 plays in regulation, including a Nordic Minnesota-esque 16-play FG drive on NW’s first drive that (along with UM’s own 12-play FG march) basically ate up the 1st quarter. And perhaps most inspiringly, the unit held its own late in the game, forcing punts on all three 4th-quarter possessions while only giving up about 55 yards.
That said, the unit remains inconsistent. It still can’t produce much in the way of an organic pass rush, though it was able to record two sacks, including Jibreel Black’s final drive-crushing one in OT. It largely kept NW from exposing the edge or gaining many yards after initial contact, and NW averaged under 3 ypc despite running the ball 49 times. And perhaps most excitingly, most completions tended to end with near-immediate tackles, limiting the YAC that is the bread-and-butter of the best spread offenses.
I find it hard to write much more about the defense, simply because it has been remarkably consistent save for about half of the IU game. It bends more than I’d like, but it has always kept UM in the game and rarely blows assignments; in short, it looks well-coached despite having sub-optimal talent. Most importantly, I see how incremental improvements can turn it into a championship-level defense, and the coaches and players seem to have bought into the system that will get them there. Maybe they’ll get blown out of the water by OSU or the bowl opponent, but right now this feels like the next evolutionary step in a dominant defense.
Best: Frank the Tank
I’ll admit to not being a firm believer in the Frank Clark Hype Machine when it left the station at the beginning of the year, but I wanted to point out how nicely he’s come along. Early in the year he just looked like an athlete trying to figure out how to play football; now he seems to get how to play his position with a fair bit of consistency. He isn’t perfect by any means and I’m not sure he’ll ever be a dominant end, but now when a play breaks down it isn’t usually because of something dumb he did, and it does seem like teams are starting to have to gameplan a bit to stop him. I’m not really able to dedicate the time to analyze the tape to confirm how much of an improvement he’s made, but the UFRs have been showing a steady improvement by him as well as Black as the year has progressed.
The game featured a total of 4 penalties for 35 yards, which given the pedigrees of the teams (and the sometime-haughtiness of the fanbases) probably shouldn’t surprise anyone. And unlike in years past, Pat Fitzgerald didn’t jump around and celebrate a late hit, so it was downright civilized in Evanston.
Best/Worst: Freedom is the only way now!
An obvious best for Veterans Day and the overall recognition of the service provided by those in uniform. I’m not getting into the underlying political issues surrounding the development and use of the U.S. military during both wartime and peactime, but only applauding a day that recognizes many of the sacrifices made by those in the military. It always seems a bit weird when sports teams don one-off uniforms designed to recognize the military because they can feel a bit tone-def or commercial, but I tend to believe their hearts are in the right place.
That said, my gawd were those Northwestern uniforms weird looking. I’m usually not a guy who cares about sartorial choices, but from the faux-tattered flag helmets, the military-academy-approved names such as Freedom, Commitment, and Courage nameplates, to the obscene amount of gray during an overcast and dreary game which would end under the lights, it was a bit too jarring especially given the fact Veteran’s Day was nearly a week ago. Looking back, it felt a bit like the Washington Generals were trying to play football, which should have been a good sign for the Wolverines. And unlike UM and their CEO AD, this didn’t feel like an attempt by the NW brass to rake in money; it just felt like good intentions with meh implementation.
Worst: All These High Horses Sure Do Produce a Bunch of Sh*t
So I thought this was settled when it had to be stated AGAIN not to attack players via social media and question their “heart” and “dedication”, but as I delved through the open threads and twitter I saw a number of people say the “Player X (usually Gardner) should be benched” because he was too dumb, too lazy, etc. to play the position. Now, I’m an avowed opponent of Feelings-Ball, and nothing drives me crazier than (usually older) fans challenging the intelligence and dedication of college kids playing a game. So let me again state to all those out there: STOP QUESTIONNING THE INTELLIGENCE AND DEDICATION OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYERS. I’m happy you made it to the Regional finals with your HS team back in 1998 (Go Cougars!), but there is about a 0% chance that most of the Internet could even play a whole series of downs against this level of competition without dying, let alone perform as well as most of these kids have this season. That doesn’t mean you can’t take issue with the results (i.e. pointing out the offensive line has struggled is just making a factual observation; saying that it is because one of the linemen is lazy and stupid is being a dick).
In particular, Devin’s struggles are not because he doesn’t “get” the offense worse than Morris (or more importantly, the mythic Morris who isn’t a freshman playing behind a pretty poor offensive line), but because he is playing in a sub-optimal situation while still learning whatever offensive philosophy the coaches are trying to install along with the other 10 guys on offense. I don’t think there is a racial component involved in much of this taunting (I’d be foolish to believe there isn’t a segment because I saw the same with Denard), since John Navarre is one of the most “classic” QB’s you’ll ever see and people were merciless with him when he played at UM. And while the great “execution” versus “coaching” debate remains just as lively as ever here, you can make the argument about the play on the field without questioning the intrinsic characteristics of the players involved.
Best: False or Real, I’ll Take All the Hope You’ve Got!
Yes it was Northwestern and it was a crazy finish, but this team now has a chance to finish the season with some momentum if they can play up to Iowa and then, maybe, stay competitive with OSU. While I’d be happy with a split, the Buckeyes showed just enough weakness against Illinois to give me a sense that this game could be interesting, and at home in a rivalry you never know. And seeing as how the Buckeyes were passed over by Baylor and Oregon is nipping at their heels, UM could still at least play spoiler like they did during most of Cooper’s run. And along the way, UM still could finish with 10 wins, which would be a pretty amazing accomplishment given the way this season has unfolded.
The knowledgeable MGoReader is aware of the Heininger Certainty Principle that states that by the end of the season, Mattison and Hoke will transform a walk-on/2* level talent into a competent B1G-level starting defensive tackle. On the offensive side of the ball, another principle is in effect: the Heisenborges Uncertainty Principle. This theory states that by the simple act of observing the offense, the impetus of the offense changes, preventing one from determining whether the suckitude of the offense is due to Heisenborges playcalling, or the inexperience of the offensive line. We have recently learned that Brady Hoke thinks there is nothing wrong with the playcalling. I can only assume that he is not observing the offense. What is he doing instead? Methinks he is thinking about brunette girls. Hey, it works for Gibbons.
The Heisenborges Uncertainty Principle pits the Newtonian Mechanics school of thought (MOAR MANBALL!) against Quantum Mechanics (QUANTA SCREENS!) and the wave-particle duality of spread and shread concepts. Applied to Heisenborges, the traditionalists see a wave of defenders crashing through the inexperienced line, gathering TFLs by the bushels. The new school sees individual quanta of defenders beating blocks, one block at a time. The probability distribution function of each and every block working is directly related to the number of blocks that must be executed properly.
In the quantum well that is our rushing attack, our electron has been trapped by the impenetrable barrier of the line of scrimmage. However, quantum mechanics provides for quantum-mechanical tunneling through barriers. If the energy of the running back is great enough for the probability of the running back to exist on the other side of the line of scrimmage, the running back can effectively tunnel through the line of scrimmage and end up on the other side of the defense. How does one increase the energy of the running back? Kinetic energy is 1/2 the mass times velocity squared. One glance at Derrick Green will confirm that he has more mass than Fitzgerald Toussaint, about two 20 lb cheeseburgers worth of extra mass. OK, enough football physics, on to the link.
Burst of Impetus
* Heisenborges' playcalling on the opening drive was brilliant, for the first 8 plays. He hit NU with two first down passes to start the drive. This loosened up the NU defense, allowing the running game to get going (pass to set up the run, what a novel concept.) Six straight successful running plays occurred. Had we time-traveled back to the CMU game? This set up first and goal at the Northwestern 7. Northwestern responded to this by putting 9 in the box, leaving Funchess and Gallon singled up on the outside. A modern offense* would provide for a check to take advantage of NU's response. Instead, we ran into the strength of the defense, lost two yards and the impetus. Instead of scoring a TD and crushing NU's spirit (remember, they had spent the last two weeks dealing with a Hail Mary loss) we gave them hope that they could stop us or that we would revert to form and stop ourselves. In regulation, we were 0 for 13 on third down conversions and NU had no turnovers. The choices for Burst of Impetus were pretty slim, unless you think a 7 yard punt qualifies. Considering we gained -1 yard on the drive after that punt, I don't think much impetus was gained. So I'm going for a 2 yard loss early in the game that gave NU the impetus for the next 55 minutes or so.
*Regarding the modern offense comment, you'll read that other co-ordinators are playing chess while Heisenborges is playing checkers. I don't think that's entirely accurate, because at least with checkers you see where your opponent's pieces are and move accordingly. With Heisenborges, I think he's playing Battleship. He's blind to where his opponent's ships are and he's just lobbing bombs, hoping one connects.
Bent a little, didn't break
* Northwestern's first drive went 49 yards on 16 plays. That's almost exactly 3 yards per play. Once Michigan figured out that 3 times 3 equals 9, and not 10, we held NU in check. The defense recorded four three and outs, and NU had three more drives of only 4 plays. That accounts for half of NU's drives.
* 23 Wolverines recorded at least one tackle, led by JR3 with 13 tackles and one sack. Jibreel Black also had 5 tackles and one huge sack.
* Cam Gordon and Thomas Gordon each had drive-killing TFLs.
* Other than that, the defensive stats are stat-free. There were no forced fumbles, no blocked passes, no QHs, and the only interception and pass break up occurred on the last two plays of the game. Meanwhile, NU's defense had 10 TFLs, 10 pass breakups, five sacks and one QH.
* Willie Henry is this year's Heininger Certainty Principle winner. He had 5 tackles on the day.
* Gardner completed 24 of 43 passes for 226 yards and 1 TD. The boxscore shows the weather as "Cloudy" with 15 mph winds. It sure looked worse than that to me, which should be remembered when we consider Gardner's day. I will make one prediction. When Brian does the UFR, he'll find that Gardner had a respectable 65% DSR... to Northwestern defenders! They just had too many drops.
* While Gardner was only 24 of 43 compared to NU's two-headed monster performance of 23-34, both teams averaged 5.3 yards per attempt. This leads to an interesting philosophical discussion. Is it better to throw many short, completed passes, or hit on the occasional longer pass? Since neither team scored a TD in regulation and looked awful on offense, I'm going with, "it just doesn't matter."
20 Pound Cheeseburgers
* A week after NOT getting a single rushing first down, we had 10 against NU. This is primarily attributable to the running of Derrick Green and an adjustment Heisenborges made (the whole, pass to set up the run concept, i.e., DRAW PLAYS!) Green ran 19 times for 79 yards. It's been so long since we've seen positive rushing yards, I was expecting Green to be over 200 yards in the boxscore. If that's what positive 79 yards looks like, I'll take it.
* De'Veon Smith chipped in an additional 41 yards on 8 carries.
* While Kerridge and Hayes did not get carries, they did provide some level of pass protection. Hayes biffed on one block, leading to a sack, but the improvement - while incremental - was there.
* It's worth remembering that we are dealing with real human beings, not video game characters. Considering all that Fitz has gone through for this program, having to tell him that he was being replaced in the lineup must have been a brutal thing for Hoke or Borges to do. But at the end of the day, the TEAM is more important than any one individual, and it is clear that Green is more productive than Fitz.
V. Sinha Legends Jersey
* Seven wolverines caught passes, including two out of the backfield. Gallon led the way with 10 catches for 115 yards. He had a couple drops, one potentially game-ending. He did make a block on the two point conversion that would make Martavious Odoms proud.
* I saw some push from our O-line for the first time in weeks. I also saw true Frosh Bosch miss a block (understandable) and 5th year senior Schofield miss a few blocks (not as understandable.) Snaps were improved, at least nothing was airmailed this week.
* We were 3 yards better on average kickoff yards, and 7 yards better on net punt yards. Based on those two metrics, we had the better special teams.
* On the last play of regulation, Michigan ran the offense off the field, got the FG unit on, and made a game-tying kick with all within about 11 seconds. At that moment, I had a revelation. Michigan actually does practice game-ending situations. Based on their lethargic two minute drills I had wondered if this was the case. Epic double finger point to the Special Teams coach?
* Gibbons FGs were 25, 28, 44, and 29 yards. I fully understand Hoke going for it on 4th and 2 from NU's 5 late in the game. It's not just the fact that kicking a bunch of short FGs has to be incredibly frustrating. OT is a 50/50 proposition. We averaged 4.2 yards per play. Getting a first down there and a possible TD wins the game. Obviously, we missed, but we still had time to stop them and get the tying FG.
* How does a team record 27 first downs while going 3 for 17 on third down conversions? I do prefer 27 first downs for 27 points to that other 27 for 27.
* How do the FBS leaders in interceptions get their hands on 10 passes, but get zero interceptions?
* How does an official who is looking right at a punted ball crossing into the endzone get overruled by another official half a field away? There was another play where it sure looked to me like the officials had given NU a first down, only to have the replay official confirm the original call that they didn't. Wait, WUT? Let's just say, if I was an NU fan, I'd be pissed at the officials. Poor damn Northwestern.
* How do two teams score a combined 18 points with 60 minutes of possession in regulation and score 28 points in 0 minutes of overtime possession? (OT TOP is recorded as 0:00)
* And finally, this game did provide the answer to a philosophical question that has plagued mankind for ages.
Q: If you place a piece of toast, buttered side up, on the back of Tacocat, and throw it in the air, how will it land?
A: By being dropped by a Northwestern defender.
A moment comes when you first start listening to minimalist music—for some people it comes quickly, for some people it never clicks at all—when your perception of time changes. As a musician famously described his first exposure to a Philip Glass opera; his initial boredom was transformed as...
I began to perceive...a whole world where change happens so slowly and carefully that each new harmony or rhythmic addition or subtraction seemed monumental...
...he said as the rhythmic woodblock...no, it's Adams not Glass...the woodblock crack of the pulling Stanford guard's pads as he thumped the Oregon SAM out of the hole play after play after play after...
NO! I will NOT spend my Thursday evening in an altered state of consciousness. So I started using the media timeouts, and then the time between plays (well, at least when Stanford had the ball, which thankfully was just about always) to work on a project I'd started a few days earlier during the Gameboy diaries, pulling participation reports for all 125 FBS teams and pulling roster/bio information to get the classes of their starters on the o-line.
And some of you people think huddles serve no purpose.
Honestly, the Horse Wasn't Dead When I Started
The results are here, usefully tabled in a spreadsheet to save some work for the next sap that starts on one of these projects.
Of course, as I sat down at my computer to do some regression analysis on the data I opened the blog and saw Gandalf's diary covering most of what I was planning to do (and doing a better job of it I might add). But I was taking a slightly different tack and found a couple of wrinkles, so for the sake of the eight of you that are still interested I'll continue on....
First a couple of comments about the dataset (feel free to skip the rest of this section, but it might be important if anyone uses the data for further analysis). Gandalf took his data from depth charts at the ourlads.com scouting site; mine come from the starting lineup listed in each school's participation report in the official game stats for their most recent game against FBS competition (sometimes coaches play with their lineup for games they're treating as exhibitions, give a start to a loyal walk-on for example, so if the most recent game was against a Delaware State I pulled the lineup for the week prior).
The official reports have the virtue, or defect, of being precise accounts of who was on the field. Sometimes that was a problem because everyone doesn't actually use five offensive linemen all the time. Idaho started a game with four, presumably spreading the field with covered, ineligible tight ends and wide receivers. Somebody else came out heavy and listed six. There were also some schools that simply listed their linemen as “OL” without assigning specific positions.
Where possible I straightened those situations out by using the schools' published depth charts. When that didn't work either I looked at third-party depth charts and did my best to reconcile them with the actual starters. It's possible there are a couple of players out of position here, but I don't think it's material.
For teams, usually pistol teams, that flop their line, I assumed the tight end would line up to the right and assigned the quick tackle and guard to the left side and the strong tackle and guard to the right.
For obvious reasons, service academies don't redshirt players. If an academy lineman's bio showed a year in which he didn't see game action, I counted that year as a redshirt and subtracted the year from his class. The point after all was to look at experience, not remaining eligibility.
Additive and Multiplicative Measures of Experience
My starting point was two proposals in the Gameboy diaries. Gameboy himself proposed assigning a value to each player (one point for each year, half a point for a redshirt) and adding them (well, averaging them, which of course is the same thing but for scale). That average appears in the spreadsheet as the GLEM (Gameboy Line Experience Metric).
In a comment to one of the diaries reshp1 suggested an alternative: assigning a value to each player based on experience (conceived as the probability that the player in question will successfully carry out his assignment) and multiplying those values and subtracting the product from one to get the probability that an assignment will be busted on a given play. That probability appears in the spreadsheet as the RBI (Reshp Bust Index). It's basically the weakest-link theory with the additional recognition that anyone might turn out to be the weakest link on a given play.
I focused on the latter metric because conceptually it makes sense to me and because it wasn't treated in Gandalf's diary. Reshp1 pulled the probabilities out of the air, or his hat, or somewhere, but the analysis doesn't seem to be sensitive to the particular choices here. The values are in a lookup table on page 2 of the spreadsheet if anyone wants to play around with alternatives.
Before I go on, a sanity check on Reshp1's metric—a list of the ten youngest lines:
- UCLA (7-2, 4-2)
- Idaho (1-9)
- California (1-9, 0-7)
- Wake Forest (4-6, 2-5)
- Eastern Michigan (2-8, 1-5)
- Western Kentucky (6-4, 2-3)
- Tulane (6-4, 4-2)
- Maryland (5-4, 1-4)
- Arkansas (3-7, 0-6)
- Michigan (6-3, 2-3)
Not a list you want to be on; those are some bad teams right there, combining for a 16-37 record in their respective conferences and that's flattering because it leaves out independent Idaho, who's probably the worst of the lot. (You can point to UCLA if you like as proof that, if everything goes right, you can survive starting multiple freshmen. Arkansas fans are probably pointing to Michigan and saying the same thing.)
The Running Game
Sanity check #2 is to redo Gandalf's work, but with Reshp's metric. Here's a graph of yards per carry vs. RBI:
That looks familiar. R2 is .058; the correlation coefficient is -.24 (these coefficients will all be negative because RBI is smaller for more experienced lines). And if we strip out the tackles and just look at the interior?
R2 is .084, the correlation coefficient is -.29, and it's not a coincidence that this looks an awful lot like Gandalf's chart using “youngest interior lineman”.
Weakest link, check. Experience matters more on the interior than at the tackles, check.
But what I really wanted to do was to look at the impact of o-line experience on an offense as a whole. To do that I've used the offensive component of the Fremeau Efficiency Index, which looks at all offensive drives (except for clock-kills and garbage-time drives) and compares the results to expectations based on the starting field position. By its nature it's pace-adjusted and independent of the effect of the team's defense; they also apply a strength of schedule adjustment.
Here's the chart:
R2 is .026, the correlation coefficient is –.16. The effect’s not as large, but a young line impacts the whole offense, not just the run game.
It made some sense that in the running game experience would matter more in the interior than at the tackles since it's an interior lineman that makes the line calls and the assignments tend to be more complicated inside. It wasn't so clear that this would still hold when the passing game was added in:
but that's what we find. The correlation is greater when we only look at the interior. R2 is .048, the correlation coefficient is -.22.
It's on the interior that experience really matters. And Michigan's interior RBI ranks 123rd of 125 FBS teams.
How Large an Effect?
A lot was made in Gandalf's diary, and especially in the comments, about the low R2 values here, which were seen as a demonstration of the relative unimportance of experience vs. other factors, like coaching.
I see it differently. This is an extremely diverse universe of teams we're looking at here. There are differences between Michigan and Eastern, or between Ohio State and Ohio U., that can't ever be overcome by something as simple as inexperience on the line. A lot of the scatter in these charts is just a matter of big programs being big and small programs being small. Given those enormous differences in baseline levels of the various FBS teams it's amazing to me that we could see anything like 5-8% of a performance difference being credited to any one team demographic, especially when the difference is measured using an SOS-adjusted metric like Fremeau.
And the slopes of these trend lines aren't small. The expected oFEI difference between 2012 Michigan and 2013 Michigan is .32; the actual difference is .197. The expectation, just correcting last year's performance for the youth on the field this year, was for a worse offense than we've actually seen.
Put another way, if you use that trend line to adjust for this year's lack of experience, add the missing .32, Michigan's offense goes to 19th in the nation, right behind Stanford and Louisville. UCLA turns into Oregon. Eastern becomes Bowling Green and maybe English keeps his job. Everybody's happy.
Good Teams are All Alike, Every Bad Team is Bad in its Own Way
I thought I'd try to get a handle on that by comparing each team's performance to the baseline they've established historically. I've averaged the oFEI's for each program for the five-year period from 2008-2012, then calculated the deviation of this year's performance from that average.
Basically, we're now looking at year-to-year deviations in performance within each program.
On the one hand, this gets rid of the scatter due to the vast discrepancy in baseline performance expectations from the top to the bottom of the division.
On the other hand, this also filters out any effect from programs like Wisconsin whose strength largely comes from the fact that they always field powerful, experienced lines. There's not much year-to-year variance there—they're always old, always good.
So it's possible we won't see any bigger correlation here than before...
...what happened? R2 is .009. Two-thirds of the effect is now gone. (A result, by the way, that's consistent no matter what metrics I use for line experience.) Apparently, only a third of the effect we’re looking at is a matter of one-off bad seasons due to a young line; most of the effect is systematic, inherent in particular programs. It's almost as if there were a correlation between poor past performance and current youth, and that's because there is:
There's the missing two-thirds. Historically (well, over the last five years anyway) bad teams are on the left, good programs on the right. There's less current youth (lower Bust Index) as you move right.
A look back at the teams listed earlier provides a clue. It's a mix of historically bad programs like Eastern, struggling FCS converts like Idaho, and programs that have suffered some sort of recent calamity, the kind that makes you decide to hire John L. Smith to be your substitute teacher for a year. Some had horrible recruiting, some had retention problems…each one has had its peculiar issues but every one of them is a program in disarray—some recovering, some not. Teams don’t field multiple freshmen because they want to; they do it because things fell apart.
We'll know more if someone does the study suggested in the comments to Gandalf's diary, looking at overall roster depth instead of just the age of the starters, but I think what's happening here is that the Wisconsin effect is the dominant effect in the study. Good programs don't suffer from youth on their lines because (a) it doesn't happen to them and (b) when it does, it's not a sign of weakness. When Andrus Peat finds his way to the top of the depth chart as a sophomore it's because he's beaten out multiple upperclassmen and won the position. When Kyle Bosch find his way to the top of the depth chart it's by default; the juniors and seniors he's supposed to be competing against aren't on the roster.
I think the next thing I might try, if I were of a mind to keep flogging this, is to do something so straightforward and blunt as to look for a correlation between offensive efficiency and the number of scholarship upperclass o-linemen on a roster (more telling than the percentage, I would guess).
Breaks in the clouds will become few and far between and the morning will be mainly overcast. We have a slight chance for rain early on, but the main event will arrive later in the day. Temps are lingering in the low 40s before sunrise, but will continually rise as the warm air moves in from the south. And tie down that tent! Winds will also go up throughout the morning, and gusts will start early on. By mid-morning, we've got 45 degrees and steady southerly winds at 18mph with gusts to about 22mph (leaves and twigs are blowing about, small trees sway). Warmer air continues to move in, and by lunchtime we're up to 52 degrees. Winds pick up a bit too - out of the south at 20mph with gusts to about 30mph (empty plastic garbage cans tip over, you can hear the wind "whistling"). The other thing to increase heading into the afternoon is the chance for rain. It will move in from the west - you'll probably see skies darken if you look that way from Ryan Field.
Remember it's a 2:30 CT start! 58 degrees with cloudy skies and rain likely. Humidity levels will be pretty high - so ladies, it's really just a good day for a ponytail or that cute hat! And that wind's not backing down... south winds at 20-22mph, with gusts up to 33mph (it's difficult to use an umbrella, you need to use effort to walk against the wind).
Temps holding at a warm 58 degrees. Overcast, with a pretty good chance of rain, and a rumble of thunder can't be ruled out heading further into the end of the game. Some of the storms this afternoon may be strong- high winds, small hail are possible. Hopefully you remembered or bought the poncho, because the rain may be heavy at times during the second half. Winds have remained high - in the low 20s with gusts in the mid 30s. This is the type of wind that can produce 10ft waves on Lake Michigan.
Leaving this game under cloudy skies. Rain showers are moving through the area, and thunderstorms are likely. Keep in mind, if you are outdoors and can hear thunder - get indoors to be safe. While the main slight risk for severe weather is to the west of the Chicago area, some of the storms may be on the stronger side. Just keep an eye on the weather as storms are possible overnight. Temps stay up near 60 throughout the night, and actually go up a few degrees Sunday morning before falling after lunch. Winds remain out of the south at about 20mph with gusts in the low 30s. For those of you that traveled - Sunday will bring the cold front through, and cause temps to drop, winds to increase and shift, and more storms. Winds will become more out of the SW, in the upper 20s with gusts to about 45mph (this is when it can become more difficult to drive your car). While part of Illinois is in a slight risk for severe weather, Chicago, Indiana, Ohio, Northern Kentucky, and Southern Michigan up to Lansing have been upgraded to be in a moderate risk. Sunday there is a decent risk of severe weather in these locations. The main threats look to be damaging winds and large hail, but tornadoes are also possible.
If you're staying home... Saturday will be a little nicer for the Ann Arbor area (it's always nicer here though right? ;) ) Not a lot of sunshine during the day. Although we'll start the morning in the low 30s, by lunch we've jumped to the mid 40s. Winds will increase after lunch, steady winds at 15mph with gusts in the low 20s possible. Temps will keep rising, and we'll reach the low 50s in early afternoon and stay there. Rain chances arrive for us at home later in the evening hours, and storms come around Sunday. Ann Arbor is included in the moderate risk for severe weather Sunday as well. Go Blue and have safe travels, or have fun watching here at home!
Christina Burkhart is a meteorologist for NBC/ABC in Traverse City, MI. She grew up in Ann Arbor and associates Saturdays with Michigan football. Go Blue!!
mini program. can't wait to do next spring's, honestly.
I'm tired, so you don't get much of an actual explanation on design reasons or any of that jazz. I thought I'd just tone it down a bit since we're all a bit pissy about the football season, Hand, etc. Not flashy, but effective. PLEASE give me ideas you'd like in future wallpapers because I'm hoping for a more MGoBlog-centric development of these wallpapers for basketball season. I'm open to pretty much anything aesthetically-speaking and would love a challenge. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the wallpaper. Go Blue, beat Northwestern and Iowa State this weekend!
Desktop (16:9) -
Mobile-ish (ok, so it's just portrait orientation, I don't want to make tons of variations) -