Over the course of the season there are three key factors that drive the success or failure of a football team:
On a game by game basis you can throw in variance/strategy/luck. It’s pretty tough for a high variance strategy to pay out over the long term but for a particular game playing high variance could be the right decision. Teams like Boise State have found success mostly on execution. Oregon and other non-traditional powers have used offensive systems to drive success. The ones who have done it with talent are easy to spot because that’s where the big-time programs all start.
It would have been unrealistic for Michigan to expect Saturday to be a victory on execution over a Nick Saban coached team. Al Borges was apparently comfortable not pushing any system/variance strategies with his choice of play calling (unless you consider the deep balls his way of playing high variance). That left the major gap between Michigan and Alabama to come down to talent. Michigan and Alabama both have storied histories and bright futures for their football teams, but their current rosters are at very different points.
Here is a look at how Michigan’s roster stacks up to the Big Ten and its non-conference opponents. Methodology here
|Penn St||2,267||Air Force||126|
Michigan certainly has an enviable roster for most of the country, but attrition and recruiting gaps have left the upper-classes of the roster well below the nation’s elite programs. In fact, the gap between Michigan and Alabama is essentially the same as between Michigan and Minnesota. With Michigan not willing (system/variance) or able (execution) to push the other levers, the talent lever came through in full force.
The good news is that there isn’t a team left on the schedule that can do that to Michigan on talent alone. Holding serve on talent puts Michigan at 9-3 and Legends division champs and potentially favored in the B1G Title Game. The talent gap can give and it can take away. Obviously talent is never a guarantee (ask Texas) but with good coaching, Michigan’s talent should put them in a position to be a competitive or win every game remaining on the schedule. The defense seems positioned to possibly pick up some advantage from coaching, and until the full tenants of the passing attack are in place, the offense will likely be middle of the course to slightly above, depending on how the Denard is deployed.
Barring major attrition issues, Michigan will start to move up the talent list over the next several years. I project them to reach current Ohio/ND range in time for the 2014 and potentially hitting the upper echelons when the current freshman enter their senior season. Until that happens, Michigan will either need to be content to see results like they did on Saturday or find different ways to gain advantages over the next two seasons.
Game scores (1st half only)
Denard Robinson: 18 plays, -1.2 EV (points added), -8% WPA (win pct added)
Thomas Rawls: 4 plays, -0.3, -1%
Vincent Smith: 9 plays, -2.0, -1.5%
AJ McCarron: 16 plays, +6.7, +12%
Eddie Lacy: 8 plays, +3.4, +4%
TJ Yeldon: 5 plays, +4.4, +7%
Air Force isn’t charted from its week 1 win against an FCS team, but it plenty efficient, scoring TD’s on 4 of 6 first half drives, with one killed by a 15 yard penalty. The defense pitched a first half shutout but did allow 3 of 5 drives into Falcon territory. My preseason rankings installed Michigan as a nearly three touchdown favorite and I have no reason to think expectations have changed substantially.
Michigan 31 Air Force 10, 98% chance of victory
Ok, so it's another week and another opponent. That means more wallpaper. I will be on vacation during UMass week, so I did the wallpaper early. Honestly, I couldn't get into the Air Force wallpaper as whole-heartedly as I'd have liked, so I apologize for the drop-off in quality on that one. It's still not THAT BAD, but not on the level I've been producing. Sorry.
The UMass wallpaper, on the other hand, I really like it. There may be people out there who have never seen an ad for the new Assassin's Creed or know that it takes place in the Revolutionary War (loose tie to Minutemen). So there you have it, that's your background on my theft/conversion of AC's main character into Denard. Anyway, I'm starting to ramble. I hope you enjoy the wallpapers and get some use from them in the weeks to come.
As always, thanks for your support and I welcome constructive criticism and/or new ideas you'd like to see.
Not a lot of personal input into this diary, but with Brian's front Picture Pages asking who the option read was there has been some confusion of which play is what. It's impossible to know what the play call is on any given down, and Bama did blow up just about everything, but I thought I'd post some diagrams showing what various teams do. Please chime in as well with different names for plays, as different coaches call the same play by different names.
All kinds of information (these pictures) can be found here: http://smartfootball.com/tag/option
Play 1: Zone Read (Read Option)
The offensive line zone blocks and leaves one defensive end (circled) unblocked. The QB then looks to see what this end does. The end picks one player and the QB's job is to make sure the other player has the ball.
There are variations on this (bubble screens etc) that are very nuanced and again, Chris Brown goes over them here http://smartfootball.com/run-game/the-zone-read-gun-triple-option-and-the-quadruple-option
Play 2: DT Read Option (Midline Option)
Very similar play, but here a DT is left unblocked. Lots of teams do this against stud DTs (Oregon optioned off Glenn Dorsey some)
Play 3 - Inverted Veer
The big differences here are that you now have a pulling guard and you leave someone unblocked playside. http://smartfootball.com/run-game/what-is-the-inverted-veer-dash-read
Michigan used this play to dismantle OSU last year as Brian pointed out here: http://mgoblog.com/content/picture-pages-inverted-veer-ftw
Typically your pulling guard and playside tackle would both serve as lead blockers on the 2nd level, but as noted elsewhere Borges and Hoke don't like leaving linemen unblocked. What worked against OSU was the LBs getting caught in the wash and Denard being awesome. I can't find an exact diagram of how we draw it up, but they still option off a DL, then get blocks elsewhere.
So how did Bama blow this up completely? Do we need to worry about teams doing this in the future? By being way more talented and maybe. What Bama did was "absorb" blockers and control them. Hopkins can't block #1, who forces a give. Omameh and Schofield are stuck double teaming DTs and can't get to the next level. Barnum is beat to the hole. If this was a true read play (I dont' know, and as mentioned, the coached don't like unblocked DLs) Hopkins should be on the 2nd level as well.
Do we need to worry about other teams doing this? Maybe, but I don't know who else will have the talent to. If a DL tries to pick off the lead blocker AND force a give, AND 2 DL force double teams so that our OL can't get to the 2nd level AND their LBs beat our pulling guard to the hole... then yes, we're in trouble. I don't think the talent disparity will be as big in future games. If it is, our option game will get blown up.
(Click the image to view full size)
It was sometime around 11pm on Saturday night that I suggested on Twitter that someone try to turn Brian off, the way Princess Leia did to C3PO in the second movie. And even then, in his barely coherent ramblings, he was still the voice of the fan base. There are no words to describe how bad of a woodsheddin' that was. Or are there? Perhaps the most accurate description I read was in the live blog when BIGOZZY86 stated that it "feels like I'm watching a pet die."
Yep, that will definitely be how I remember it, with Musberger's cloyingly saccharine voice reading it back to me for the rest of eternity...
"THE COWBOYS CLASSIC: LIKE WATCHING A PET DIE."
As for the Blockhams, they'll move on. Just as we will. I'm over this, to the point that having to draw this dug back up bones that I'd since buried sometime in the wee Sunday morning hours. We're moving on, and so will the Blockhams. Probably by about, ahh, Thursday.
THE BLOCKHAMS™ runs (typically) every Tuesday here at MGoBlog,
and at least every Thursday on its official home page. Also, don't forget to
check out Friday Roughs, a spontaneous low-end comic based on trending
Michigan events, available on Twitter and Facebook every Friday.
Preseason Prediction (Obviously made before the game): Michigan will end the year with a +8 Turnover Margin (TOM) or better (2011 was +7). Fumble recovery rates which were excellent last year (77% for takeaway and 65% for giveaway) will be closer to the average of 50%. BUT, very good teams have good TOM and M is a very good team this year. In addition, DRob will significantly reduce his interceptions thrown and the experience in the secondary will increase interceptions gained.
Random?: ZooWolverine did an excellent post on the Year-To-Year Correlation of Turnovers. I agree with the conclusions that year-to-year correlation is poor. But, that does not indicate that turnovers themselves are random. I have been analyzing TOs since 2009 (with data going back to 1998 for all FBS teams) and have concluded that TOs are a reflection of the performance of each team (good teams will have better TOMs than poor teams). So, if you had a poor team last year (2010 for M) and a very good team the next year (2011 for M) there should not be a correlation of TOM from year to year. My prediction for TOM for M for this year is based on the prediction that M will be a very good team again this year and is not based on the actual TOM of last year. (Very good teams will have a TOM of +5 or better.)
Uh, yea: Hysterical conclusion is that M is on track for a TOM of –26 for the year! A more reasonable conclusion is that any analysis of anything based on a single game is just silly. My analysis of turnovers has led me to the conclusion that TOs are not random – instead, TOs are a reflection of the relative performance of the teams playing the game. It is obvious that Alabama was a much better team than M and therefore I would expect that Alabama would also win to TO battle.
Synopsis for Turnovers: M ended the game with a TOM of -2. This was a strange game because there were 2 meaningless TOs. Gordon recovered a fumble forced by Taylor on the last play of the half and Bellomy threw his first interception with 1:26 left in the game. These offset each other and did not distort the TOM. Both TOs by M were interceptions by DRob. Whoever decided it was a good game plan to have Denard go back and throw the ball as high and as far as he could (he had actually regressed last year on passes over 15 yards) must have been smoking something.
Synopsis for Expected Point (EP) Analysis: TOs obviously did not impact which team won the game but TOs did significantly impact the margin of victory. Without TOs, M would have lost by approximately 19 points instead of 27. I always thought Michigan would have to play their best game in the Hoke era and end up with a +2 TOM to win this game.
(See the Section on Gory Details below for how the adjustment for Expected Points (EP) is calculated.)
National Rankings: It's only one game so don't get too excited or too panicked. All rankings 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).
The Gory Details
Details for Turnovers: Here is overall summary for all games by player (data in yellow was affected by this week's game).
Expected Point (EP) Analysis: Basically, the probability of scoring depends on the line of scrimmage for the offense. Therefore, the impact of a TO also depends on the yard line where the TO is lost and the yard line where the TO is gained. Each turnover may result in an immediate lost opportunity for the team committing the TO and a potential gain in field position by the opponent. Both of these components can vary dramatically based upon the down when the TO occurred, the yards the TO is returned, and whether the TO was a fumble or an interception.
Here are the details for the game.
The analysis is a bit tricky because: (A) the TO may directly result in lost EP for the offense but (B) only modifies the EP for the team gaining the TO because the team gaining the TO would have gotten another possession even without the TO (due to a punt, KO after a TD, KO after a field goal, etc.). The Net EP Gain must take into account the potential EP gain without the TO. The EP gain without the turnover is based on where the field position would have been for the next possession if the TO had not occurred.
Take a look at DRob's second interception. It was 3-9. Therefore, even if the TO had not occurred (i.e. the pass was incomplete), M would still have given up possession on the next play because they would have punted. The result is that M did not lose any EP. Alabama ran the interception back for a TD and obviously gained 7 EP. But, Alabama would have gotten the ball anyway and would have had a chance to score. Based on a net punt of 36 yards, Alabama would have gotten the ball at the M45 which results in 3.07 EP. Thus, the net EP gain for Alabama is 3.93 and the net differential is 3.93 EP.
If it had been 2-9, M would not have necessarily given up the ball (they still had 3rd down to make a first down). In that case, the TO would result in a loss of 1.02 EP (the probability of scoring from your own 3 yard line is fairly low but not zero). And, the net differential in that case would be 4.95 EP.
The expected point calculations are based on data from Brian Fremeau at BCFToys (he also posts at Football Outsiders). Fremeau's data reflects all offensive possessions played in 2007-2011 FBS vs. FBS games. I "smoothed" the actual data.
Here is a summary of the smoothed expected points.
Its afternoon in the homeroom and they're about to let you go.
And the locker slam on the plan you had tonight.
You’ve been messing around with a boyfriend maybe better left alone.
There's a wise guy that you know could put you right.
Michigan football, we seemed prepared. The hype was there. The players, the Team. If we made such outlandishly long strides during Brady Hoke’s first season, the bounds and leaps we must have taken since the Sugar Bowl could encompass the house that Jerry built. Michigan football is back to the glory it experienced last in the late 90’s. Of course, everyone knew that if Alabama played their best game, they would be very difficult to beat. Just like the seniors guys in high school, the good-looking, football players, they could prey upon sophomore girls with flashy smiles and high-fives. We would be left to clean up the scraps and handle the left-overs.
The game started and the defense took the field. Lacy rush for 2 yards. Defense looked fast. Flying to the ball. Bama incomplete pass. The defense was there anyway. Third down. Good push on defense, two Wolverines, including Jake Ryan, force the throw to…not sure if that’s intentional grounding, but lord knows we get some no-calls our way sometimes. Bama lines up to punt. At this point, I knew we were going to win.
When Bama got the ball back, I was feeling good. So far, our defensive line, the thing I was most concerned about, was seeming to get a pretty strong push against one of the best offensive lines in the nation. Then, Alabama marched down the field, gaining 38 yards on the ground and 23 through the air. The only play during this drive that Alabama didn’t move forward was a false start. The locked slammed. Alabama was the wise guy, and I knew that he was going to put me right. My mind was racing. Maybe we shouldn’t have scheduled a neutral site game against Bama. How come we aren’t playing directional Michigan. Where is Miami(NTM)? We are playing with the big boys now, and we are in for some ...Adult Education.
In the lot the boy that's idling by doesn’t' rev your heart.
Cause it's only lonely spots he shares with you.
And the long halls and the gray walls are gonna split apart.
Believe it or not there's life after high school.
Another three and out for Michigan. Bama gets the ball. Countess goes home. A man opens our locker door again, only to slam it back shut. Bama gets the ball back. Courtney Avery slips. 51 yard TD for Bama. It’s only the first quarter, the game is clearly not over, but as I stand in this parking lot and watch the chances slip away. The single barrel knob creek goes back on the shelf. The Jack Daniel’s comes out. We are on a path right now, and it is dark, and colorless. My buddy calls, one who asked if “I really thought that Michigan has a chance to beat Alabama.” He reminds me “its only the first game.” We had nothing to lose, remember. Nobody (except Mayweather and the rest of the Michigan faithful) thought we had any chance of beating Bama. We were going to show them wrong, it wasn’t supposed to go down like this. Believe it or not, however, the season moves on. It is Monday* already, and that means there are only five days of practice before we get a chance to put some of these pieces back where they belong.
The student body’s got a bad reputation.
What they need is adult education.
Back to school it's a bad situation.
But what you want is an adult education.
Michigan fans, you know, their the worst. Arrogant. Self-entitlement. Haven’t been good for years and still act like nobody can stop us. Similar to becoming an upperclassmen. We own this campus, right? We own it by right, and because the school song says so. “Leaders and the best.” We’ve paid our dues. The Rich Rod years, the under-performing talent from Carr’s final years. Michigan is back, FERGODSAKES. Who can match the style and character of the Wolverines. Certainly, as we get our faces stomped on by a team that is clearly better than us, I held my head high, mostly thanks to the Jack Daniel’s that seemed to be leaving my glass faster than I could refill it. I knew we weren’t going to win, I just refused to believe my own knowledge.
Bama continued to score, and have our way with us on both sides of the ball. Every time Denard threw the ball, I closed my eyes and cringed a bit. I have faith in Denard, I have faith in him winning games that it seems that Michigan has no right in winning. The magic wasn’t there. It was disappointing, especially because of the national spotlight.
The teacher don't know about how to deal with the student body.
And the underclassmen are flashing hot and cool.
All your girlfriends care about the watch you wear and they're talking about it.
Believe it or not there's life after high school.
The Uniforms. I have come to realize that under the current regime (Dave Brandon), the uniforms will be messed with. I know, I know, tradition, blah blah blah. I get it. Don’t change what’s not broken. I have played football in several different uniforms. Never once while I was playing did I think “hmm, this piping on my sleeve is really hampering my ability to compete at a top level.”
By now, it was half-time, and my head was throbbing. All the adrenaline I had started the game with had been slammed up in that locker at the start of the game. I just wanted it to be over. I wanted Bama to stop running the ball. It was painful to watch. The coaches, I could tell that they thought we were ready. They thought they had the plan, they thought they knew. A quote from Mattison popped in to my head. “When you’re pressuring, if a guy like Denard is taking off, it makes it look like it’s not a very good defense sometimes, but you can’t gear everything towards stopping Denard. That’s what we on defense have to always talk about. We have to get ready for the season. We can’t worry about what he’s doing to us.” Does this mean our defense isn’t ready?. Boy is it frustrating.
They're calling it a preparation.
You’re waiting for a separation.
You’re nothing but another odd number,
Memories that you wont remember.
So you got a little education.
And a lot of dedication.
But you want a little night school.
Maybe some of it will rub off on you.
The boys are busy in the mirrors.
Trying to imitate their heroes.
You make it with a false surrender.
More memories you wont remember.
The senior with the junior missus
I wonder what the junior wishes.
That she could graduate to adult.
That she could graduate to adult kisses.
This game, it was a measuring stick for us. As I said before, of course I thought we were going to win. Or show up. Or compete well even after the game was over. It is just so incredibly frustrating that we didn’t play our best game. I don’t know if we would have won. I don’t know if we would have been able to keep it close. But at least, if we had showed up and not had our locker slammed shut, we would have had a chance to use the measuring stick and see where we were at. I won’t remember, at the end of the season, how the Alabama gouged use for an average of 5.5 yards per carry. Yeah, we learned a bit about where we stand next to, potentially the best team this year. But just like when I was in high school, I refuse to believe what I learned, only that we aren’t there yet.
At the end of the night, I was moderately toasted. The glass I was drinking my Jack Daniel’s from had been replaced by the bottle itself. I stared at myself in the mirror, knowing now what my identity was but still refusing to believe it. False surrender, that is what I am showing. I will tell my friends, of course we were going to lose to Bama, they are good at football, very good. But it’s lies. I didn’t think we could lose. I knew we were going to win. The world was going to be shocked. Michigan stamped its foot down last year, as if to remind the country that they are still relevant. Alabama serves as a healthy reminder that we are rebuilding, not rebuilt.
I would like to relate a story to you from 2006. Ball Sate, coached by Brady Hoke, came to the big house. Michigan was currently undefeated. The Cardinals managed to barely lose to Michigan, causing one of Mike Hart's only fumbles of ever (it was counted as a safety, not a fumble). There was a facebook group started called "We made the Big House go quiet." (Facebook was still cool then, yo.) Nate Davis's final desperation heave fell incomplete, and we went home with a loss, and the spirits were high. We would go on to finish that season 5-7, winning both games after we played Michigan. However, Monday morning, Coach Hoke adressed the team. He told us we needed to build on the positives, that we needed to use the energy we had taken with us to Ann Arbor and move forward to the rest of the season. This my friends, is when Coach Hoke told us that "a moral victory is still a .... loss."
I understand that playing Alabama, there was no moral victory. I am proud of the way our players continued to try, long after the game was over. Dennis Norfleet, Devin Gardner, there are certainly positives we can take from this. Jordan Kovacs said it best though.
We can't let Alabama beat us twice