This week’s factor favorite (Upchurch)
1. The Six Factors
|Field Pos||Early Conv||Bonus Yds||Avg 3rd Dist||Adj 3rd Conv||Red Zone|
|Offense||15.3 (42)||55% (40)||211 (36)||7.0 (81)||+14% (13)||7.0 (1)|
|Defense||23.4 (80)||41% (30)||145 (35)||5.1 (34)||+8% (75)||3.4 (26)|
*Game score first, season long national rank in ()
Notre Dame had a field position score advantage, mostly thanks to The Worst Pass Ever. Michigan dominated early conversions while more manageable third downs. Brian Kelly teams have traditionally been geared this way, strongly managing third down distance at the expense of facing more of them. Gallon’s big catch a run providing most of the gap in bonus yards as Mattison’s defensive plan limited yards beyond the sticks.
While Michigan continued to be a very good 3rd down team on offense, Notre Dame did well on third down when they had the ball, even beyond the more manageable distances that they faced. The story of the game though was the red zone. Notre Dame made 5 trips into the red zone and came away with 17 points, Michigan made four trips and scored 28. Michigan won by 11.
Two games into the season the national rankings don’t mean much with cupcakes galore and outliers, everywhere. Still, 18 teams have made at least seven trips to the red zone in competitive situations this season, only Michigan and Oklahoma State have scored on every trip. It’s not going to hold up all season, but the evidence is mounting that Gardner is a red zone genius.
It is also amazing that other than Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Denver and west Texas there are essentially no FBS football recruits between the Pacific coast and I-35. It will be interesting to see what happens with this as geographical boundaries continue to overlap with the ongoing conference expansion.
In the comments I pointed out that this maps on to overall demography. The Mathlete's map of recuits
is not significantly different from the US Census' map of population density by county:
But demography can't explain everything. Some states produce more football talent per capita than others.
Football Study Hall published a blog post today about Where FBS recruits come from, in which they tracked FBS recruits from 2008 to 2013 in raw numbers and per capita (click to their article to see the raw data). Mapped using Google Fusion, the result is the following (click to embiggen):
Map showing FBS recruits per capita by state
This map illustrates the recruiting advantage of the SEC and the South generally: Lousiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida are all well above average in terms of the number of FBS recruits they produce per capita. Texas and Oklahoma are also above average -- and, unfortunately for UT, so is Utah.
The recruiting advantage of Michigan and Ohio
State is also thrown into relief. Although Michigan is below average in the number of football recruits it produces (0.61 recruits per 100k, vs. the national average of 0.75), the state of Ohio is well above average (1.31 recruits per 100k, 9th in the nation), and is of course a consistent and significant source of recruits for UM and OSU.
Nope, Not Déjà Vu:I just sat there in the Big House stunned. I looked over at my two sons (both are in their 30's) and they had that same terrible, horrible, awful look on their faces. THE interception had just happened and I knew we all were thinking exactly the same thing – "Not this again". The comfortable lead had evaporated in less than a few seconds. Would a turnover lead to our doom?
Nope, not this time. Whew!
Synopsis for Turnovers: Here is the overall summary for all games by player (data in yellow was affected by this week's game). Michigan's TOM for the game was +1 and for the year it is now zero – ranked #48. Turnovers were not a primary factor in determining which team won the game.
Norfleet fumbled another punt but no other player has fumbled at all which is a great sign. According to the folks at NFL stats total fumbles (not fumbles lost) shows the best correlation to offense performance. But, Gardner threw THE interception, and now has 3 for the year. M is ranked dead last (#125) for interceptions thrown percentage at 7.4% which is the second stat that correlates to offensive performance.
Countess intercepted two passes and M is now ranked #36 with opponent interception thrown percentage of 3.6%. There were no fumbles by ND but M is still ranked #15 for forced fumbles.
National Rankings: All rankings include games between two FBS teams ONLY and are from TeamRankings except for forced fumbles which is from CFBStats. The four columns with *** show the best correlation to offense and defense (per Advanced NFL stats).
For the past few years, I have attempted to create an objective look into conference superiority. I was sick of the SEC love, and felt that I could develop a metric which allowed for an accurate indication of how the conferences stacked up, sans TV contracts, media bandwaggoning, and regional affiliation.
Before, I used a method that assigned points to each conference based on the W/L percentage of the conference they beat, which I called CPR (Conference Power Ranking). The more I picked over it, the more I realized that the CPR had one fatal flaw - beating Purdue was exactly equal to beating Ohio State or Michigan. It assigned the same number of points. My argument was that over the course of a season, those would balance out, but that was a pretty hollow argument.
This year, I've come up with what I consider a better method of tracking conference power, which I have dubbed the MOVE Rating. Sounds sweet, right? That's because a metric is only as good as it's acronym (Margin of Victory Evaluation). Has a nice ring, right?
So what is MOVE? Because of a small sample size (10-20 out of conference games against a BSC Qualifier for each conference), I set out to attempt to make every game an average vs. average scenario. I feel I have achieved this by using the following formula to handicap the games:
-(Team CMARG-Opponent CMARG*) + AM = MOVE POINTS
*expressed as the EM or expected margin
In this formula, CMARG represents a team's "conference margin" (margin of victory, but a negative number represents an average loss) in that school's conference. So To give an example, Michigan's CMARG over B1G schools last year was 16.38. This means that Michigan beat the "average" B1G team by 16.38 points. That formula is simple, add up all the margins of victory, including negatives, and divide by the number of conference games. Instant CMARG! So since Michigan won by 16.38 over the average B1G team and Alabama won by 24.12 over the average SEC team, the EM (expected margin) of that game was Alabama -7.74. The final tally saw Michigan lose by 27.
That is represented by this for Michigan:
-(16.38-24.12) + -27 = -19.26
and this for Alabama:
-(24.12-16.38) + 27 = 19.26
What that boils down to is that the AVERAGE SEC team was 19.26 better than the AVERAGE B1G team, according to the results of that match. This also accounts for bad teams. Por ejamplo, Illinois lost to Arizona State by 31 points. The MOVE Rating on that game saw Illinois lose 0.40 points for the B1G, as Illinois was expected to lose by 30.6 points, the EM on that game. Their CMARG was -23.38, while Arizona State's CMARG was 7.22.
So now that you see a couple of games worth of MOVE ratings, all you have to do is throw all of a conference's MOVE scores in a pot and divide by the total number of games to receive a MOVE rating for the conference. It's important to note that I am only evaluating the 5 auto-qualifying conference at the time being. I may expand my data to the entire FBS if I have enough time.
Now, there are still some flaws to this system. It does consider each conference to be equal, so if your conference plays a bunch of ACC schools, there will be a bit of a uptick in your MOVE as compared to if your conference plays a bunch of SEC schools. I plan to mitigate that in one of two ways - either take all the conference vs. conference MOVE ratings and divide by 4, or by comparing the MOVE rating for each game compared to the opposing conference MOVE rating, find the difference, then assign a "MOVE2" rating. How much did you beat a team by MORE than the average team beat that conference? For the time being, we will just allow the MOVE rating to stand on it's own.
Ready to see some numbers? I decided that to test my system, I would go back to 2012 and plug in all the data. Let's just say I was disappointed with the results.
Here's your first look at actual data. It's listed in decending order by the MOVE scores. What it says is that the SEC is, on average, two touchdowns better than the average AQ team. Yikes. Also notice that aside from the dismal ACC, the B1G did not do well. Not well at all. What happened to me disproving the superiousness of the SEC or the baditude of the B1G? I'll go conference by conference, but first a couple of notes.
GAMES = Number of games played against AQ schools, including bowls.
W% = Win percentage in those games.
MARG = Average margin of victory (or loss) in said games.
MOVE = Average MOVE score in those games.
- Having a MARG that is noticeably higher than your MOVE indicates that, on average, you are sending out your better teams to play against inferior opponents. For the B1G, think the opposite of "Rose Bowl, Illinois vs USC".
- If you add up all the MOVE scores in this chart, it will not equal 0, however if you multiply the GAMES by the MOVE, then divide by the total number of GAMES, it will be close. It does actually 0 out for auditing, but the fractions are rounded, so the number is a bit off.
On to the conferences...
- The ACC looks worse than they actually are, as more than half of their games are against the SEC.
- Their best performance was actually a 9-point Boston College loss to Northwestern. BC was a 22-point dog, as Nortwestern was good and BC lost to a weak ACC by an average of 15.25. They gained 13 points in that matchup, despite walking away with a loss.
- The most out of whack stat? A 7-point Clemson win over Auburn netted an ugly -36. That's because Auburn was a 43-point dog, after being smashed by the SEC and playing a Clemson team that went 7-1 in the ACC for an average CMARG of +19.13.
(As the B1G is our conference, I will go team by team. It's... not pretty.)
Illinois - As mentioned before, Illinois lost by 31, and yet still almost broke even against an undermatched Arizona State team. They netted -0.40 MOVE on the year.
Indiana - Did not play an AQ school all year. Sadly, this made them the B1G's third best performing team, as 9 B1G teams scored a negative MOVE score.
Iowa - Netted a 0.04 for the year for losing by 3 to an Iowa State team that performed only slightly better in the Big 12. They finished second in the entire B1G in MOVE. With a 0.04. Maybe the ESPN talking heads were right...
Michigan - With great power comes... a 16.38 CMARG. This caused us to lose 19.26 points to Bama, and 13.88 points to South Carolina. We were actually 8.88 point favorites in the SCar game, as their CMARG was only 7.5 in the SEC. The problem with being the big boys in a conference is that you have to produce. We did not, even in a close loss to SCar. Our MOVE for the year, fourth worst in the conference with -16.57.
Michigan State - A 1-point win over TCU in their bowl game netted a -1.25 on the year. Both MSU and TCU were very close to average, with MSU gaining a 1.25 CMARG and TCU holding a -1.00 CMARG for the year.
Minnesota - Conference MOVE champion! Minnesota represented the B1G better than any team, by averaging a -10.38 CMARG, while falling to Texas Tech by only 3 points. This gave Minnesota a 1.82 MOVE rating on the year.
Nebraska - In a word, bi-polar. How else do you explain a CMARG of -0.33 while going 7-2 in the B1G? Oh yeah, giving up 70 to Wisconsin and 63 to OSU will do that. But it is worth repeating, Nebraska went 7-2 in the B1G last year and STILL managed to have a negative margin of victory. That's amazing. Overall, they perfomed to expectations in their OOC schedule, losing to UCLA by 6 but gaining a fraction of MOVE (EM was -6.03) and giving a fraction of MOVE to Georgia by losing the bowl game by 14 (EM was -13.56). They finished at -0.21.
Northwestern - Won all three of their games, but due to an un-NW like 5-3 record in conference, gave up -1.33 MOVE. NW exceeded expectations against Vandy and Miss State, but lost -13 MOVE points to BC in their 9-point victory.
Ohio State - The expected margin of the Cal game was 25.25, but they only won by 7. Good for the third worst MOVE in the league, at -18.25.
Penn State - Speaking of bad, PSU gave -21.75 MOVE to Virginia in the 1-point loss. The EM on that game was 20.75. The -21.75 was their total on the year, good for second worst in the B1G.
Purdue - Bad. They managed to go -25.72 on the year by losing to Oklahoma State by 44. Worst in the conference.
Wisconsin - Charitable to the PAC-12. In two losses close losses, they gave double digit MOVE points to both Oregon State and Stanford. Finished with a -10.67 MOVE.
- Second only to the SEC in MOVE. They actually outperformed every conference they went up against, even though they had the average of a 3-point loss to the PAC-12.
- Baylor and Texas led the way with 28.03 and 24.34 MOVE ratings, respectively.
- The low point of the year saw Oklahoma State, a 2-TD CMARG favorite lose to Arizona by 21, good for a -35.11 beatdown. Oklahoma State, clearly concerned about how this would affect their MOVE, then throttled Purdue by 44.
- The MARG was higher than the MOVE for the PAC-12 in each conference they played. This is because bottom feeders Colorado, Washington State, and Utah all played no AQ schools.
- A 2-8 PAC-12 team in Cal lost to OSU by 7, gaining 18.25 points for the PAC-12. The aforemetnioned Arizona was the big winner though, getting 35.11 points for their 3-TD victory over Oklahoma State.
- All (begrudgingly) hail your power conference. The SEC was 12-5 against AQ schools and on average, an SEC school is worth 2-TD more than their non-SEC equivalent. That really hurts me to write. The good news is that the SEC is looking far weaker this year.
I won't be releasing any MOVE data this year until November, as the stats don't mean much until we get deeper into conference play. The good news is that the B1G has already gone 3-0 against AQ schools. Last year, it was 5-11 (the Lions special) all year. So going 2-11 will be a push type thing. OSU whould beat Cal, from there we only need 1-2 wins to exceed last year. The SEC will also see a big dropoff, as heavyweights Georgia and Florida have already lost OOC. As they are expected to do well within the SEC, that will translate to losing points as well.
HOW THE CONFERENCE IS DOING TWO GAMES IN
We are now two games into the season in the Big Ten, and although the average of two performances is not a lot to go on and we are still trudging through the non-conference opponents, I thought it might be interesting to see where everyone sits on a few basic metrics.
There are in fact two teams that have now scored 100 points or more already, and yes, one of them is indeed our team. The other one is Indiana, as you might suspect, as their conference-best 108 points is bolstered by their opening week embarrassment of Indiana State. Those 73 points were followed up by 35 more points in a loss to Navy, so Michigan is in fact the only currently undefeated Big Ten team with 100 points or more (actually, precisely 100 points for us). The conference averages are below:
Well, if you’ve paid attention to the conference as a whole, then you know that this title goes to the team that has likely played the most lopsided matchups of all to date – Wisconsin. The two teams that I have destroyed by the Badgers combine for precisely zero points. Michigan would actually towards the middle of the conference right now, having given up 39 points for an average of 19.5 per game (over two games, I know). Current averages:
It is in this area that the effects of playing a largely unappealing non-conference slate are likely most apparent, and I don’t doubt that the numbers will moderate in a month or so. The current leader here is again Wisconsin, averaging a cool 602 yards of offense per game even against the stout defensive fronts of Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech. Michigan sits around the middle, awash in a sea of teams that are generating anywhere from 400-500 yards per game so far. Here’s how that looks:
Wisconsin and Michigan State are within 20 yards of being the best teams in this arena right now, and it’s incredible considering the competency of the offenses that these teams have faced to date. The top five here – in terms of the average – are rounded out by Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan in that order. On the extreme end of the spectrum, as scary as Northwestern looks on offense, they aren’t doing an awful lot to stop people right now.
RUSHING OFFENSE & DEFENSE:
The two teams in the conference that you might expect to go to the ground a lot (and they do almost 70% of the time, at least in the past couple seasons) have been doing just that. Wisconsin and Nebraska are the clear frontrunners for rushing offense to date. Michigan is in the lower half at an average of 204 yards per game.
On defense, the stingiest team when it comes to rushing is Michigan State, followed closely by Penn State and Ohio State. Actually, five teams right now – Michigan included – are sitting below 100 yards per game allowed on the ground, which isn’t a bad start at all. Average are below:
PASSING OFFENSE & DEFENSE:
The Big Ten has been doing a lot in the air in these first two games, with four teams coming in at 300 yards or more on average for passing offense. Nathan Scheelhaase put on a nice little show against the same Cincinnati team that pummeled Purdue and as a result, they lead the current averages in the conference. Michigan is a respectable fifth here:
When it comes to stopping things in the air, you might guess that – in the case of Michigan – Saturday sort of hurt the average a little, and you would be right. We are currently seventh in the conference in pass defense, but there are ten games left in the season (well, the regular one). The best team right now? Wisconsin, followed by Indiana, who of course played against a triple-option team last week.
DOWNS AND OTHER ITEMS:
I shall confine this to Michigan specifically since this is getting rather long -
Michigan's ability to sustain drives ranks high in comparison with the rest of the conference. Although we averaging 23.5 first downs per game - which so far is a middling Big Ten performance comparatively - we are converting 59.6% of our third downs and holding opponents to a 41.4% success rate. So far, so good for the two games we have played.
SPECIAL TEAMS STUFF:
I will just let you look at these – we’re towards the middle on both.
So I missed most of this game initially; had family over and only saw parts of the 3rd quarter live while the rest was from a DVR re-watch. Thus, I ignored most of the commentary, stopping only to watch Marshall Mathers absolutely trolling Musberger and Herbie in the booth. That was good fun.
One advantage of DVR’ing the game and watching it largely divorced from the in-the-moment fandom gives you a different appreciation for what happened on a per-play basis but, more importantly, the overall game. It gave me a better appreciation of the big-picture elements of the game, even though at times my notes read like an obsessive serial killer - “Gallon, Gallon, GALLON!”
But enough of that; on to the Best and Worst of the Indiana Fig Things
Best: We’re the one without a Goatee
This is the second result from Google Image for “Doppelganger”
Going into this game, one of the major talking points was whether or not UM-ND was a “rivalry”, with Brian Kelly originally seeing it as a regional tilt and then, once he consulted with Grimace, Tinky Winky, and Count Von Count in the only way I presume they know how, he “clarified” that it was a great and historic one. Various people, mostly on the internet where one is duty-bound to correct all falsehoods, chimed in and waged digital battle until everyone exhaustively looked around and realized anyone not associated with either team viewed this as nothing more than the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers arguing over whose pile of money was best for Scrooge McDuck’ing.
It’s this blue-bloodedness that has always separated ND from the rest of UM’s traditional rivals. MSU is the half-brother who always wants to be taken seriously but inevitably shows up to social events slightly drunk with an un-tucked shirt and some “crazy” story about last weekend that inevitably ends with him in handcuffs and urine-soaked pants. OSU has all of the trappings of a worthy adversary, with a veneer of tradition, success, and bright future that is undeniable. Yet, once you dig a bit deeper you realize he holds his 1st-grade “Super Bee” spelling award far too close to this heart and his treasured idols are jerks, crooks, and hypocrites. They might have success and a hatred will always burn true with them, but the nouveau rich odor is hard to shake. PSU, Nebraska, and Wisconsin keep trying to catch your eye and are always ready to throw down, but it feels forced and unstable as they undergo major changes or fail to live up to their own expectations.
Notre Dame, though, has always felt like a perfect foil for UM, and that’s what renders outside perceptions irrelevant. #1 and #3 in all-time wins, #1 and #2 in Win Percentage, and #1 and #1a in ISOS Percentage (Inflated Sense of Self). Both fanbases see themselves as football royalty but with a healthy perception of their team’s current state, which is absolutely true until any additional evidence is provided that contradicts that ideal. We both scoff at meltdowns from fans of other teams yet conveniently ignore our own, constantly question the integrity of other coaches and teams even though both our programs have had issues in the past, and (like all fans) perpetuate the narrative in which our team is always the noble protagonist valiantly overcoming the dark underbelly of the sport. And yes, both UM and ND have been at the forefront at key moments in the sport’s evolution. Yet in the end, we’re just like everyone else except we won a bunch of games back when guys wore leather helmets and the forward pass was an innovation that kept players from killing each other.
So in a way, Notre Dame and Michigan are destined to always be rivals even when they don’t meet on the field; we both strive to obtain the superiority and nonpareil that only one can possess. But at the same time, the institutions are so similar both on and off the field that to truly “hate” the other is nothing more than an exercise of self-flagellation. And yes, this whole section is one shining example; gotta love the hypocrisy.
Best: The Madden Offense lives!
At this point I imagine the Ven diagram of “People who read MGoBlog diaries” and “People who have played computer football” resembles a perfect solar eclipse, so if you only think of John Madden as a character played by Frank Caliendo, I guess just move on to the next section.
For everyone else, though, UM’s offensive playcalling reminded me of those great 16-bit and early PlayStation/XBox/N64 Madden games where they hadn’t quite figured out how to properly balance player attributes when it came to speedy QBs and so you could call a shotgun pass on basically every down with impunity (I know most people consider Michael Vick circa 2001-2004 as the apex mobile QB in video games, but picking the Eagles with Randall Cunningham or the 49ers with Steve Young led to untold fights when I was in junior high). With one of those guys in the backfield, every pass carried the real possibility of a QB run with about a 1% chance that the defense could stop you before 5-6 yards. And on the off chance that you found yourself on 3rd/4th-and-long, just call for a Hail Mary/4 Verts and you could either throw the ball into the tiniest of windows because your QB had a Howitzer or, to be extra dickish, run for the first while juking every LB about 15 times. A mobile QB was about as close to god mode as one could get on the football field.
Well, with Devin Gardner at QB and Borges overjoyed with a QB who isn’t afraid to scramble sensibly (sorry Denard), UM is trotting out the type of offense that seems largely immune to defensive adjustments. Whereas in years past a collapsing pocket was almost immediately followed by a tuck-and-run, Gardner seems more than happy to move around while his WRs work to get open. And if that doesn’t happen quickly enough, or if there are yards available on the ground, Gardner just gallops 2-3 yards a stride and can pick it up efficiently. A couple of times Gardner basically rolled out, outran with ease an ND player barreling down on him from the edge, and calmly surveyed the field looking for an open Gallon, Dileo, Funchess, basically anyone. At least once he just kept running; other times he’d throw for the first. You didn’t often see that type of play last year, or at least run so easily and successfully, and it seems like it will be a staple in UM’s offense going forward until such time as any defense (i.e. MSU and that’s about it) shows the ability to slow it down.
Best: It’s Super Effective
To start the season, UM has had 22 meaningful drives (i.e. not at the end of the half and/or running out the clock). Of those, they’ve scored TDs on 12 of those drives and another 3 have ended with FGs. Four ended with INTs and they punted 3 other times. 15/22 drives have ended with points (and if you want to be snarky, a 16th ended with points for the opposition), and I think most fans would concur that the offense remains a work in progress. The redzone offense was even better, going 4-4 TDs against ND and, outside of an iffy pass interference on the last scoring drive, with relative ease. It’s getting to the point that once UM gets into the endzone, teams might as well let them score and at least conserve the clock.
Gallon was the shiniest of shiny stars along with Gardner, reeling in 3 TDs and 184 yards while consistently abusing anyone Notre Dame put on him. I know he was a little banged up at the end, but it didn’t look too serious and I can only imagine the holy hell these two will drop on teams like UConn and Iowa going forward.
This is the most effective offense I’ve ever seen at UM during the life of my fandom, and it should only improve as the offensive line gels more and Gardner starts to look for receivers other than Gallon and Dileo more consistently. Unfortunately…
Worst: QB Vision Cone still in experimental mode
I’m sure some of this was dictated by defensive alignments inside as well as comfort on the part of Gardner, but Butt and Funchess, those wacky police partners trying to catch criminals on the mean streets of Ann Arbor if they don’t tackle each other first, coming this fall to Fxx, er, accounted for only 36 yards on 5 catches, which follows up on a 3 for 55 game against CMU that was goosed considerably by Funchess’s 36-yard scamper. They are young and should improve as the season comes along (especially Butt, who appeared to drop and/or run out of position for a couple of balls), but Gardner’s passing cone seems a bit skewed toward Dileo and Gallon and that could very well catch up to him as teams adjust or, knock on wood, one of them gets hurt. For as much as I love the idea of this team’s leading receivers both being eligible for the Pomeroy Award, that would feel like a massive waste of talent at other positions on the field and, frankly, counter-productive to this team’s maturation this year and beyond.
As ST3 noted in the always-excellent Inside the Boxscore, the running game was surprisingly competent, posting 166 yards and 11 first downs against an extremely active and talented (if young at LB) Notre Dame front 7. While Gardner’s legs remained a key player in the ground game, Fitz’s consistent inside running and ability to eke out positive yards at the edges is a major reason why this offense remains so dangerous despite less-than-spectacular numbers on the stat sheet.
I know some people like to joke about “Manball” as 3 yards and a cloud of dust, but to me it has always meant establishing the threat of a running game at least in name, if not in production, so as to open the playbook and keep the opposition off-balance. It’s why people smarter than me become giddy when Kalis and Glasgow successfully pull on a 5-yard run on 1st down, or Fitz is able to run around Lewan’s block on Shempo for the first. It’s about drawing a line here, and saying only your guys shall go further.
What makes this type of manball different than Iowa’s, for example, is that the playcalling followed suit, with Gardner throwing more in shorter yardage situations and even on first down when ND’s LBs started to cheat up. If the mantra of the defensive line is the Right to Rush 4, then Fitz deserves to wear an “Earning Those 4” shirt every day. He’s seemingly come all the way back from that horrible day against Iowa, and he’s a major catalyst for this team’s hot start.
Best: Tackling, and the Lack Thereof
If you didn’t have some weird flashbacks of GERG’s defenses during Gallon’s triple-bounce TD rumble in the first quarter, you are either 4 years old or have repressed those memories until such time as you need to punch aliens. After years of seeing missed arm tackles turning into long TDs, it was refreshing to watch UM put on a veritable tackling clinic against Notre Dame. Even on completed passes, Countess or Taylor was a half-step away and tackling almost immediately, and in the 4th quarter I remember at least one WR screen being blown up by a hard-charging Taylor (?) running through the block to hit the receiver immediately. The LBs and safeties kept everything in front of them and limited yards after contact. Rees finished with 314 yards and 2 TDs, but it took 51 attempts and he only averaged 6.1 ypa along with 2 INTs. He dinked-and-dunked his way down the fields at time (his long completion was only 23 yards), but even his completions were into small windows that his receivers had to earn. Jones, Niklas, and Daniels are dangerous skill-position players, and it felt like the secondary played them to a stand-still.
The defense remains a work-in-progress, and it still feels like a year or two away from truly disruptive, but against a ND offense with some real blue-chip players offensively they more than held their own. I think every UM fan will count that as a win.
Worst: Missing the Firestarter
This probably doesn’t need repeating, but Jake MF Ryan’s presence is sorely missed on this team when it comes to putting pressure on opposing QBs. It’s been two games, and while the CMU numbers weren’t as bad as I originally thought, I remain skeptical that the front four will be able to consistently generate a pass rush against a competent line. Mattison’s defense only sacked Rees once, hit him another time, and only infrequently made him uncomfortable throwing the ball; when they did, it either ended with a poor throw or one of his two INTs. With 51 attempts, including a large number when ND was clearly going to pass, you’d expect much more presence by a defense that seems best suited for pining its ears back and delay-blitzing the crap out of you.
With Ryan back I presume some of those blitzes will hit home, and that should open up rushing lanes for the likes of Clark. Luckily there doesn’t appear to be another team coming up before Ryan’s return that should pose much of a threat passing the ball (MAC! Big East!, 1/4 Big Ten!), but this remains the one noticeable deficiency in an otherwise-stout defensive unit.
Best: Michigan Speed!!!
Just something I loved – on a stretch play early in the first quarter, ND’s RB (I think it was Carlisle) kept trying to string out the play toward the sideline; each time he took a step toward the line, though, another UM player was there to drive him back. The athleticism on the defensive side of the ball, while objectively not much different than during the 90’s/00’s heyday, still feels warp-speed compared to those RR defenses that couldn’t hold the edge to save their lives. Part is probably coaching and positioning, but this defense just flashes to the ball the way good defenses are supposed to, and it is a sight to watch.
Best: Give Him All the Women
Brendan Gibbons was 2/2 this game, breaking the consecutive FG record previously held by Remy Hamilton. if Mattison has the Heininger Certainty Principle, then somebody needs to figure out what Hoke did to Brendan and call it the Gibbons Kicking Catalyst. I know kicking is notoriously wonky and unpredictable, but from 1/5 to the record book is amazing. And Matt Wile deserves continued kudos for booming kickoffs into the end zones as needed.
Worst: Obligatory Wrestling Reference
I’m really not trying to make this a common theme, but it just feels right in this context. As always, feel free to skip this section if you don’t care about professional wrestling.
One of the common tropes in professional wrestling history is to exaggerated ethnicity and treat it as “character” for a grappler. That’s why for years you had evil Kozlovs, the “Polish Hammer” Ivan Putski, dozens of Samoans, the Mexicools (with real riding lawnmower!), Junkyard Dogs, and every other horrible stereotype you can think of perpetrated . While there is undoubtedly a racist component to it, a major reason promoters highlight a wrestler’s ethnicity is because it eliminates the need for nuance and “plays” to everyone regardless of their viewpoint; you boo or cheer because you are told to associate some characteristic with good or bad guys regardless of who they actually are; the man is basically just laundry.
For obvious reasons, this characterization has become less common in recent years, as even the most generic of wrestlers are at least given a chance to be more than their last name or nation of origin. That doesn’t mean, of course, that they must turn their back completely on their heritage; in fact, many of them incorporate parts into their persona. The most prominent example I can think of in recent years is Sheamus, an Irish-born grappler with a red shock of hair, alabaster skin, and pun-approved move names like the Brogue Kick, the High Cross, and the Irish Curse backbreaker. Outside of the ring he has a delightful Irish accent, seems to have a reasonable sense of humor, and can carry himself on the talk show circuit like a champ. In so many ways, he should be loved.
But here’s the thing; if you aren’t a little kid, you probably think Sheamus is kind of a dick. His attempts at humor you mind grating, especially when they inevitably take on sophomoric qualities such as stealing a Mexican aristocrat’s car, eating Mexican food in it, and then pooping in it. He’s rather predictable in the ring, and while the higher-ups tried pushing him as a main-eventer, that fizzled out when people realized he just wasn’t that compelling a figure. He’s kind of a relic of a bygone era, and decades ago probably would have been one of the biggest draws in the Northeast and Midwest.
Notre Dame is the Sheamus of college football, and it’s not just because of the obvious Irish connection. Both seem like they should be a bigger deal than they are, and despite WWE/OWMiM’s (Old White Men in Media’s) attempts to convince us otherwise, that connection to the past isn’t strong enough to ignore the mediocrity of the present. And, I guess, both retain the possibility for rebirth with the proper tweaking; Notre Dame under Kelly look to be returning to at least national competitiveness, and Sheamus is probably a new entrance song and catch phrase from main-eventing a PPV. But right now, the luck of the Irish isn’t smiling on her favored sons.
Best: The Signs!
You guys posted some great ones and it was fun to see them IRL. My two favorite remain “Play like your girlfriend’s are real today” and “Where was the ‘Luck of the Irish’ during the potato famine?” I can only imagine what we’ll see next week with Alabama and A&M.