If you're reading this site, you're a true Michigan fan. The type that yells "Go Blue" at anyone with two legs and block M on her shirt.
Your commitment goes beyond packing the Big House on Saturdays each fall. You still remember how the sun set over the Rose Bowl in 1998 as Michigan beat Washington State to capture a national title.
Michigan football has rewarded your commitment by winning a lot of football games. The program has the most wins and best winning percentage among all college football programs. This success has been consistent, well, except for a recent 3 year stretch.
The bottom panel shows how a computer algorithm viewed Michigan football each year. The Power Rank algorithm takes a team's margin of victory in each game and adjusts it for their schedule. It makes a difference whether a team plays in the Big Ten or MAC. Last year, Michigan was rated higher (26th) than Northern Illinois (44th) despite having a worse record.
The rating for each team gives an expected margin of victory against an average FBS team. The difference in ratings of two teams gives a predicted margin of victory on a neutral field. For example, Michigan was predicted to beat Michigan State by 5.7 points (including 3 points for a home game at the Big House) last season. Michigan won 12-10. While the visual shows year end ratings, the calculations from before bowl season have predicted 62.8% of bowl game winners over the last 11 years.
These insights into Michigan football jump out from the visual.
23 Years of Sustained Excellence
In 1984, sophomore QB Jim Harbaugh got hurt in the fifth game of the season. Bo didn't have a suitable replacement. Michigan struggled to 6-6 record, finishing 36th in The Power Rank.
For the next 23 years, Michigan football never finished out of the top 25 of the rankings. The teams coached by Bo Schembechler, Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr showed remarkable consistency.
The Rich Rodriguez Years
This consistency came to an abrupt halt when Carr retired and Rich Rodriguez took over as coach. The dip in rating over these 3 years looks like the Grand Canyon compared with Michigan's results on both sides of this era. Rodriguez's teams won more games as the offense picked up his spread scheme. However, the poor defense kept team rating negative during those 3 years.
Michigan had a terrible time with turnovers under Rodriguez. Turnover margin in football is like flipping a coin. The randomness implies that a team with poor turnover margin should do better the following season. However, regression to the mean does not rescue every team. Rodriguez's teams had a consistently terrible turnover margin, with 10, 12, and 10 more giveaways than takeaways in his 3 years.
Boring wins football games
Lloyd Carr did not play the most exciting brand of football. Run, run, pass on offense. Very predictable and boring.
But Lloyd Carr won 122 football games in his 13 years as head coach. He claimed 5 Big Ten titles and a national championship in 1997.
How did he do it? Craig Ross, author of The Obscene Diaries of a Michigan Fan, told me that Carr attempted to "minimize the vagaries of talent and injuries". He probably had turnovers on his mind as well.
To a mathematician like myself, this quote means he understood randomness and tried to minimize its impact on his team. The calculated ratings from 1995 to 2007 show the consistent results from this philosophy. Similar to the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA, Carr put his team in position to win every year. He broke through with a national championship in 1997. Who cares that the algorithm thinks the Big Ten had a down year?
And for anyone who doubts boring wins football, just remember what happened when the exciting spread offense showed up after Carr retired.
The hidden strength of 2005 team
The remarkable 23 years in the top 25 of the rankings includes 2005. Most fans will not remember the 7-5 season fondly, but Michigan finished 10th in The Power Rank.
How can a team with 5 losses get ranked so highly? The Power Rank considers margin of victory and strength of schedule in ranking teams. A team gets credit for staying close with good teams. In 2005, Michigan lost by 4 points to 3rd ranked Ohio State, 7 points to 6th ranked Notre Dame, and 3 points to 19th ranked Wisconsin.
The 2005 team was much better than their record indicated. The Power Rank rated them two touchdowns better than the average FBS team. The core of Jake Long, Chad Henne and Mario Manningham along with a healthy Mike Hart would lead Michigan to an 11-0 start the following year.
Bo's best team was in 1988
Of the last 7 years of Bo Schembechler's coaching tenure, which team was the beat? The 1985 team that beat Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl? Or the 1986 team that finished with 11 wins?
Actually, the ranking algorithm gives a slight edge to the 1988 team. Michigan opened the season with a 2 point loss at Notre Dame. The following week, the Wolverines lost an agonizing 1 point game to Miami when the Hurricanes recovered an onside kick to set up a winning field goal. However, The Power Rank considers margin of victory and strength of schedule in rankings teams. Miami and Notre Dame would finish the season 1st and 2nd (Notre Dame won the national title with an undefeated season).
Michigan went on beat USC in the Rose Bowl and finish 4th in the rankings. The algorithm states they were a point and a half better than the 1985 team. However, the algorithm does not make any kind of definitive statement on the best team. To put this in perspective, the 1988 has a 53% chance of beating the 1985 team on a neutral field.
Get a free postcard of the Michigan visual
As Michigan enters the third year of the Brady Hoke era, the program appears to be climbing out of the Grand Canyon of the Rodriguez years. The Power Rank will continue to use analytics and visualization to break down the program in detail. For example, I apply the algorithm to yards per play to account for strength of schedule in ranking offense and defense.
The best way to keep up to date with this analysis is my free email newsletter. If you sign up, I'll send a postcard of the Michigan visual to you and the next biggest Michigan fan you know. To check it out, click here.
For the True Freshman evaluation I looked at how the quarterback himself fared. To look at how a team’s offense fared I pulled team offensive performance and grouped them by quarterback starts going into the season and quarterback age. For example, last year all quarterbacks from the class of 2011 were grouped together if they redshirted in 2011 or saw spot playing time. If they started as true freshmen they were considered second year starters.
As noted in the prior article, starting true freshmen quarterbacks is not a formula for winning games. Teams with them at the helm operated 3.9 point per game below an average team. For reference, last year’s Michigan State offense was about 5 points below average.
With even one year of seasoning on the bench, that number moves even higher. The NCAA didn’t start publishing official starters by game until 2009 that I can find so this data only represents the last two seasons. There are some small sample sizes in play here but at the same time, the trends are logical and pass a smell test.
Players in their second year have performed better after going through growing pains on the field in year 1, but players from the prior years class tend to have better debuts as second year players as opposed to true freshmen.
For players in their third year, there isn’t much progression for the guys who have been starting from day 1, but the second year starters show a big leap from 2 points below average to over a point above. At this point the value from the extra starting experience has disappeared and the players with a combination of on and off the field time have passed the most experienced group. Their classmates who have sat for two years fare about as well as the second year starters.
By the time players are in their fourth and fifth year in the program, everyone with some starting experience performers at a similar level near 2 points above average. What is interesting is that the one group who is a strong outlier are the guys who have hands full of splinters from all the clipboard handling. Guys who have sat for their first three years on campus typically aren’t worth the wait. Their debuts are typically on par with a player much younger. As with all of these categories there are exceptions all over the place but a guy waiting his turn this long is more often a guy who couldn’t win the job than a guy who was just waiting behind a better option. There are a lot more Joe Bausermans than Tyler Wilsons.
If you flip the chart the more obvious conclusions show up in that the older a quarterback is the better he does. This shows up as consistent across all seasons of starting with the glaring exception of third year players becoming starters for the first time. With 2 or 3 years of eligibility left this looks like the quarterback sweet spot. You have probably given the quarterback a redshirt year to preserve 3 years of starting time. Two years without starting provides the opportunity to learn without getting too stagnant. This window also opens the door up for highly touted recruits to see the field with plenty of time shine without taking too many rough outings to get there.
It should be noted that these are all averages and there are many variances and exceptions to each situation. Just because you are choosing between a true freshmen and a third year player for your starting quarterback doesn’t mean that the third year guy is the best choice. This is just meant to be a high level look at the general progression of quarterback. With that said, getting Shane Morris two years (unless DG blows up and goes pro) or prep could be a big benefit to keeping the offense moving forward through a changing of the guard at quarterback.
The Fab Five,
1997 Football Season and
2013 Championship Pre-Game
The Fab Five:
debuted at now destroyed Cobo Arena against the University of Detroit. Seating under 12,000, Cobo was still a bigger venue than U of D's home court, Calihan Hall.
I decided to go to see the show. I believe they were on the floor together for less than two minutes. I remember lots of turnovers, but we won easily.
Most of the Fab Five games were on TV, and they were great, and fun to watch, back to back Final Fours, off to the NBA.
And then. The scandal. Ed Martin, somehow identifed as a UM "booster," had given money to Michigan players.
A rally for Steve Fisher was held at the Michigan Theatre featuring Jim Brandstatter, among others.
Two days later, he was fired.
So, I tell my daughter, here is my recollection suffused with what I was told by reliable, or maybe not so reliable, sources.
Ed Martin was supposedly a UAW retiree who just liked to be nice to the kids in the hood, though, the better you were at basketball, the nicer he was.
He was never a guy who said, if you go to such and such school, I will reward you. He also gave some kids, like Mr. Webber, money before they were even in high school.
He gave money to kids who went to other schools, like Missouri.
But he was on the Michigan coaches list for comp tickets to some games.
The feds were after him for running a numbers game, an illegal lottery. Turns out gambling profites were the real source of his largesse.
That investigation took forever.
Pure hearsay, as they say in my business, is that the U. S. Attorney in charge of the investigation was a Notre Dame grad who hated Michigan, and so dragged things out on purpose.
Martin himself even died before he could be tried.
It seems to me that, at some point, the focus of his gift giving changed from buying big man on the street status, to laundering his gambling gains. The Webber and post-Webber beneficiaries are alleged to have received hundreds of thousands of dollars. One of Webber's problems was that Martin was trying to get his money back, and Webber said, what money?
Grand juries are one of the least democratic institutions still allowed in our democracy. There is no right to have your attorney present while you are being questioned as a witness. You can be subpoenad, that is, forced under the contempt power, to appear as a witness. If you decline, you can be jailed for contempt until you do testify.
Now, the first rule of practicing criminal law is, get your fee up front. The second rule is, never let your client testify before a grand jury until he is granted immunity for prosecution for anything he testifies about. If the government balks at immunity; your client invokes his 5th amendment privilege against self-incrimination and refuses to testify.
Alas, Mr. Webber's attorney botched this simple rule and allowed him to testify without immunity, and, for reasons still unknown, he lied about getting money from Martin.
Now, there is NCAA law/rules, whatever, which readers of this blog know to be Byzantine, archaic, unfair, unevenly applied, et cetera, and, there is criminal law.
It is perjury to lie to a grand jury, and Mr. Webber copped a plea to that.
Jalen Rose did testify, and freely stated that Martin gave him a few dollars here and there on many occasions. Far as I know, he did so without immunity, but told the truth, so no criminal issue.
However, NCAA issues remained.
There is nothing illegal, or, even immoral, about accepting a gift of money from, anyone. The other three of the Fab Five were not from the Detroit area, and outside the influence of Mr. Martin.
So, the ten year ban on contact from Michigan with the Fab Five ended May, 2013.
Athletic Director Dave Brandon has said Webber has to come forward and take responsibility for his actions. Jalen Rose has intimated the same. Who knows how it will turn out.
Like many others, I have had enough of the Webber drama.
Now, team 84 of Michigan basketball said they welcomed the support of the Fab Five, even donning haircuts honoring them before one game. I believe the Maize hoodies they wore for the Indiana home pre-game were a sort of tribute. So, I yield to the team's wishes on their attendance at the title game.
But this Webber drama, will he or won't he? In our seats before the game, tweets from everyone that Webber was there with his girl friend, but, NOT sitting with the rest of his former teammates.
To whom, according to King and Rose, he has not spoken in over 20 years.
Message to Chris: get over your bad self.
* * * * *
Fortunately, Erin did not fall asleep during this fascinating factual recital from her father.
The weather was great. At one gas stop, I bought a sub and posed with it in front of my face while wearing my "We had subs It was crazy" M Go Blog shirt.
Erin switched from listening to me to her preferred young country music on the radio.
No calls or emails on tickets.
I texted Matt, host of our football tailgate, that I planned on meeting him at his hotel. I figured if I scored some tickets off Craig's list, I would need to print them out somewhere, and I could get that done at the hotel.
My oldest, Janell, could not make this trip, but she saw the 1998 Rose Bowl with me, so she said she had her championship, and this would be Erin's turn.
* * * * *
That game was a BIG ticket issue. I wanted to set up the Rose Bowl trip before the Ohio game, but my wife said oh, no, remember that one year, you got tickets for me and my cousin, and Iowa ended up going. Bad luck to count your chickens before they hatch.
So, we end up with flights that routed through Philadelphia. Whatever. We get there, free lodging at my aunt's house in Arcadia, home of the Santa Anita racetrack.
We left with both girls and without any game tickets.
On arriving at my aunt's, we discover that my dentist's son has a pair we could have. Alleluia!
Turns out he bought two as a Michigan employee, for his brother to use, as he had a conflict because of a wedding to attend. The brother already had tickets from another source, and the dentist, a long time family friend, knew we were looking. Cool.
Erin was not yet 7 at the time, but I still looked for two more tickets, so that we all could go.
Staying out over night on the street on Colorado Boulevard to have front row seats for the parade was part of our plan. I had done this on all three of my prior Rose Bowl trips, and my wife was with me the last time, the loss to UCLA.
I made a sign that said "Need Rose Bowl Tickets" and walked up and down the middle of Colorado Boulevard, a couple of hours before the parade, in front of, literally, tens of thousands of people.
I had two offers, for single tickets, $300 each. I declined.
Should have taken them, turns out they were going for $1,000 a piece before kickoff.
Anyway, my wife said too much money, I will just stay with Erin, you and Janell go.
And lifetime memories were made as we won an exciting game and rejoiced in a perfect season and national championship, and the end of my 0 and 5 personal bowl record.
A Michigan fan sitting next to us thought to offer to take our picture, and it sits proudly on the shelf, each of us smiling broadly and holding up a finger signifying Michigan: #1.
* * * * *
So, we make it to the Atlanta hotel, which is the team hotel, crammed with Michigan fans. The whole interior is an open atrium to the top floor. From the 5th floor, Matt points out where the Robinson family hung out, where the Hardaway family gathered, where the band studied, and so on.
Still no tickets.
So I call my friend back in Ann Arbor, hey, don't have any yet, does your friend still have two?
Let me check, he says.
Back and forth on cell phones, leaving messages, eventually hook up, yes, still available, you can have them, meet us at 8:30 at a specified spot at the stadium.
Matt says hey, we are on the first bus, which, for some reason, leaves before the team, but you can stay and watch them board the bus.
Cool, says Erin.
There is an L shaped line, cordoned off, with some of the band inside, playing our favorite tunes. Maybe 70 or 80 Michigan fans press around the edge. The players and staff enter from the long end of the L, and walk to the corner turning left along the short section of the L that leads outside to the bus. Applause and camera clicks greet each personage. Horford picks up a 3 year old girl from the front row and hoists her above his head, much to her delight.
Of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I notice Mr. Brandon, decked out in a striped blue power suit, just behind me to my left, wearing a puzzled expression as he looks around at the folks in front of him.
My first thought is, he must know how to get on the bus, he would have been on it Saturday, what is the deal?
So I say: May I help you, sir?
We have spoken at events before but I am sure he will not remember me.
And he says, well, I am trying to figure out, how to, -
Then he realizes there is no restraint, just people standing along the short side of the L, and he works his way through.
Damn. I was going to jump in and part the sea for him. Oh, well.
The fan to my left, pushing age 70, says Who was that.
Dave Brandon, says I.
Who is that?
The athletic director for the University of Michigan.
Excited utterance: "He just brushed my clothes!"
* * * * *
The team is off and so should we be. Let's stop and eat, save money over stadium concession prices, and we have enough time.
As I am buying, Erin's agreement is readily secured.
Turns out I got half of a free salad at Wendy's; I stopped eating after pulling a six inch hair out of my meal. No time to order another.
Vehicles multiplying as I approach our parking lot goal when the phone rings.
My ticket connection says: Hey, traffic was not bad for us, we are here early. I look at the clock. Yeah, I think, over half an hour early.
She starts giving directions after I state my location. I am being spoken to as if I were a lifetime Atlanta resident familiar with each street instead of someone who stopped here once for a few hours in 1972.
I see an open lane and veer into it while trying to explain no, I do not know the northeast corner of whatever, when I realize the lane was free because the oncoming traffic was stopped on the other side of the light.
I yell that I have to get off as I am going the wrong way on a one way street and drop my phone on the floor.
Ahh. Calm restored as I am allowed back to the correct side of the thoroughfare, and we proceed to our destination, which looks full already.
No problem, says the parking lot attendant, just follow my directions, leave enough room for the car in the corner next to the entrance to get around you, and you will be fine. OK, spatially challenged as I am, I figure it out, I will be unblocked, in front of the other car, next to the driveway. A perfect location for the quick getaway we need.
One of the great things about Michigan is the extended twilight at our latitude, and, that we are on the edge of the Eastern time zone, so the sun sets later.
Conversely, in Atlanta, it is getting dark much earlier, as we try to locate the folks who still have our tickets, or so I think, having been told only that it is "complicated."
We eventually find each other in the increasingly massive throng pressing into the cordoned off lanes that lead into the stadium.
I am told by one of the four, two couples, that we have to get to the gate before the tickets can even be printed. Yes, that qualifies as complicated.
Even though these tickets were purchased a year ago, they can ONLY be printed when the charge card used to buy them is scanned through a contraption on the belt of the usher, which then prints out four tickets, each the size of a business card. Cool.
We are inside the stadium with the tickets in hand, having yet to be told the price. I am hoping I have enough cash to cover it; Stub Hub prices were not below $245 when I landed these.
Let's see, one of the women says to her husband. They cost $270, and there were two games Saturday, so three games in all, is $90 OK?
Uh. Yes. I pay the $180 and, so far, everything is breaking our way.
THE KNOWLEDGE shall, in this post, reveal the overall 2013 Michigan football season result, the OOC game results, and also a pointer about the NC game
individual Big Ten game results will be reviewed in a later post
Michigan, unfortunately, will not finish the season 14-0
on the other hand, Michigan will not end up as low as 12-2 either
thus, Michigan will end the season at 13-1
this, of course, means that Michigan will play in the BTCG. As THE KNOWLEDGE has already noted on these very pages, Michigan will play osu in that game
most people "predict" Alabama and osu to play for the national championship. however, THE KNOWLEDGE hereby reveals that neither of those teams will make it to that game
many is the number of minnesota fans who are hopeful that this is the year their team finally makes the NC game; however, they are rather incorrect as well
onto the OOC games
most people correctly assume that Michigan will defeat CMU, Akron and UConn rather easily
on the other hand, many is the number of fools who expect the ND game to be difficult. these people do not understand much about anything
Michigan shall absolutely destroy ND and make their followers start spouting excuses by half time ("the kids must have had a tough week of class" etc)
those that doubt these results don't understand THE KNOWLEDGE
when time moves and makes the future the past,
THE KNOWLEDGE shall soar and leave every doubter in a trail of dust
PS: THE 2013 CHALLENGE will debut in a few weeks with great pomp
So I happened to catch “The Big Lebowski” on FLIX the other night and I’ve always found these types of comparisons amusing when it was done using “The Simpsons” and “Game of Thrones”. It’s the offseason. We’re all a little bored. BiSB is bumming us out with ennui on the front page, so I figured this would be fun. So without further ado, here is Big Ten football as characters from Lebowski. Enjoy,,,and discuss if the spirit moves you.
Why is Michigan “Dude”? Well because he’s the protagonist of the movie and Michigan is the protagonist of the B1G. Yeah, this is a total homer thing to say. True the whole unemployed, slacker motif doesn’t really fit with the Michigan image, so if you need a more tangible connection, we have Hash Bash and The Dude likes himself some hash.
A rich and powerful mogul who when the curtain is peeled back is revealed to mostly be a fraud and engaged in an embezzlement scheme. Yeah, I’m comfortable painting the Buckeyes with that brush. But Tressel is gone you say? Yep, still comfortable.
I’m not making the obvious pederast joke in this instance, mainly because the whole Sandusky thing just isn’t funny. The sanctions that followed and the impact it had in turning Penn State into a ridiculous braggadocio is what lead me to tapping PSU as Jesus. Plus both Jesus and Penn State have an awful high opinion of themselves that not many others share. Still despite all the obnoxious flash and flair, the guy can roll and the same will ultimately be true of Penn State….probably.
As long as Bo Pelini makes faces like this, comparisons with Walter are inevitable. Where Walter romanticizes his Vietnam days, Nebraska loves to reflect back on those days when they ruled the Big 8 / Big 12...until Texas and Oklahoma showed them that they weren’t as prominent a program as they believed.
While Donny lacks the anger that we’ve come to expect in your average Spartan, his pitiable inconsequentiality to the other players of the story is undeniable; and that makes Donny very, very Sparty. If there was one school whose cremated ashes would be carelessly discarded from a Folgers coffee can off a random cliff, it would by Michigan State. Tell me I’m wrong.
Whereas Maude is the disenfranchised Lebowski who bristles at her father frittering her family’s money away on gold-digging whores, so it is with Wisconsin. Three Big 10 titles and counting and you still can’t hold onto your head coach or have anybody in the college football world take you seriously.
Purdue is an effete toady, refusing to accept accountability for anything. Any program whose coach accuses another school’s coach of being a Snakeoil Salesman in a Wizards Hat is Brandt. There I said it and I’m not taking it back.
Is it really that much of a stretch to imagine Maryland as a gold-digging ex-pornstar that runs up outrageous debt on her husband’s tab? They’re $50 million in the hole man, she probably just kidnapped herself.
If the Big 10 had an omnipresent narrator that interacted with all the characters while not actually participating in the plot of the story, it would be Northwestern. I also have no problem imagining that Northwestern likes our style.
In this instance, I am taking the easy joke and connecting New Jersey to a loan-sharking pornographer. Sue me, sometimes I get lazy.
Uh, Dude, you know, tomorrow is already the 10thof the month and I haven’t seen that Brown Jug you owe me. You know, just slip it under my door. Also, I finally have my venue for my dance quintet, I’d love it if you came by to see it and give me some notes. Thanks, Dude.
If your school was situated in the middle of a cornfield, it’s not so hard to imagine turning to nihilism…or pornography for that matter. Besides there’s probably a plethora of marmots to be found in Iowa (I have no idea if this is actually true).
When Walter pulls a gun and tells Indiana to mark it zero, Indiana acquiesces and marks it zero. Maybe their toe WAS over the line, maybe it wasn’t, but they're Indiana and they don’t get to win….ever.
Because Illinois remains eternally pissed at Michigan and it’s easy to imagine them doing something as impotent as urinating on a rug as a form of payback.
This series examines the probable individual matchups Michigan would face against particular 2013 opponents on one of Michigan’s key running plays and one of its key passing plays, as well as defensively against a couple of the opponent’s key plays (assuming first-sting personnel in a base defensive alignment). This is the second installment of the series; my debut edition was on Michigan’s marquee non-conference game against Notre Dame. Today, I look at Michigan’s trip to East Hartford that completes the home-and-home against the Connecticut Huskies of the Big East.
Both coaching staffs have turned over since the 2010 edition of this game in A2, a 30-10 Rich Rod gem that christened the renovated Big House. For Michigan, as you know, the spread & shred is out and Manball is in. For UConn, however, we can only speculate.
Last season, UConn struggled mightily to move the ball. The team ranked 110th in total offense and managed only 24 touchdowns all season. So, it shouldn’t be any surprise that Offensive Coordinator George DeLeone is what’s out at UConn. He’s replaced by T.J. Weist, erstwhile Michigan G.A. (1990-903, under Moeller), who spent most of the 2000s coaching various offensive positions at FCS Western Kentucky. That included OC duties from 2003-06, before shifting back to a position/assistant HC spot for the rest of his tenure. Significantly, Weist was there to see WKU adopt the up-tempo spread offense in 2008, before Brian Kelly hired him to coach receivers at Cincinnati in 2009. Weist stayed with the Bobcats under Butch Jones, and finally makes the jump to BCS offensive coordinator starting this fall.
So, what kind of attack will he deploy? Weist’s own description is not very enlightening:
“I believe that you win games running the ball and throwing the football. I’m not going to characterize us as a run the football or throw the football team, but I want to be an aggressive play caller. I want to spread the field; vertically and horizontally. Based on personnel, I want to be able to attack and have a physical offense with a balance to it. We can throw deep; no question. We just need to get the ball to our playmakers. I think we’re going to put our players in the best position to make plays.”
But while we’re waiting for Heiko to penetrate Weist’s offensive soul, the smattering of speculation from the two UConn blogs and the Hartford newspapers, Weist’s extensive work as a position coach for wide receivers, and the presumption that Weist will run something similar to that preferred by the head coaches he worked for all suggest that he’ll implement some kind of up-tempo passing spread. UC blog Down the Drive did a nice three-part series on the differences between Brian Kelly’s offense and Butch Jones’s; whether Weist opts for the more free-form Kelly model or the west coastish Jones version remains to be seen, but either way it looks like we can count on seeing lots of 3- and 4-WR sets and a zone-heavy running game.
The Huskies also lost their defensive coordinator, Dan Brown, who moved to Boston College. Unlike DeLeone, the loss of Brown could be a true setback for the Huskies, as they finished in the top-10 in total defense last season. Brown is replaced by long-time UConn assistant Hank Hughes, who evidently runs some kind of 4-3 front. I haven’t been able to find any more elaborate description of the scheme, so for this exercise I will presume it’s a 4-3 under, like God runs. Now, on to the diagrams.
When Michigan has the ball…
1. 26 Power L
Last time, we looked at UM’s matchups running Power O to the right side against the stout Notre Dame front. That play design called for Ben Braden, M’s likely starting LG, to pull across the formation and lead the back through the hole. But as d_ronii pointed out, practice reports suggest M’s projected new RG, Kyle Kalis, is the team’s best puller—meaning it might be preferable to run Power O to the left side behind Kalis and all-American LT Taylor Lewan. Here’s what that would look like against Connecticut’s 4-3 base front:
LT – Taylor Lewan: double-team (with TE) SDE B.J. McBryde
LG – Ben Braden: downblock NT Shamar Stephen
C – Jack Miller: downblock 3T Angelo Pruitt
RG – Kyle Kalis: pull and lead RB through 6-hole, block MLB Yawin Smallwood
RT – Michael Schofield: downblock WDE Jesse Joseph
TE – Devin Funchess: double-team McBryde, move to second-level and block WLB Jefferson Ashiru
FB – Joey Kerridge: execute kick-out block on SLB Graham Stewart
RB – Fitzgerald Toussaint: follow LG through 6-hole, cut off LG’s block. Note that when running power from I-formation, the back must execute a counter step (toward the backside) before receiving the handoff. This is to allow the LG time to execute his pull.
Taylor Lewan gives Michigan a fearsome presence at the point-of-attack. But with a veteran front, including a preseason All-American of their own at MLB and a highly-regarded 315 lb. player at SDE, UConn has to like their chances defending plays like Power O. They will need to, if UConn wants any shot at upsetting their storied visitors.
2. Play-Action Deep Flood
Two years ago Brian picture-paged a very frustrating play in the 2011 Purdue game on which Devin Gardner, despite having a couple hours in a clean pocket to read and throw, missed a wide-open intermediate receiver and chucked the ball deep into double-coverage for a pick. While DG’s subpar execution proved he wasn’t then ready to command Michigan’s offense, the play design was flawless—and got a 225 lb. YAC machine free twenty yards downfield against cloud coverage. Gardner has had almost two years to correct his mistake on that play, so I’m thinking it’s probably only a matter of time before Al Borges calls it again.
The play involves pre-snap motion to help the QB diagnose the coverage. In the Purdue game, Michigan ran the play against Cover 3, which is a pretty common coverage, so I will assume UConn has a Cover 3 package and is in it on this down. The play features two play-fakes: an iso fake to the tailback, followed by an end-around fake to the slot receiver. The run action helps the receivers get past the linebackers, who ought to be dropping into their zones. The long development also enables the receivers to get great depth in their patterns; by the time the fakes are completed, the quarterback should have a deep option (the corner, at about 40 yards) and an intermediate option (the arrow/drag thing the flanker is running) at about 20 yards. Importantly, both receivers will be in the same deep 1/3 of the field (i.e., thus “flooding” the LCB’s zone), and the routes are designed to gain leverage on the safeties. The QB reads the LCB, who—being responsible for that flooded deep 1/3 (in Cover 3)—finds himself in conflict. If the LCB comes up to play the intermediate receiver, the corner route should be open, and vice-versa.
LT – Taylor Lewan: pass protect vs. WDE Jesse Joseph
LG – Ben Braden: pass protect vs. 3T Angelo Pruitt
C – Jack Miller: pass protect vs. NT Shamar Stephen
RG – Kyle Kalis: pass protect vs. NT Shamar Stephen
RT – Michael Schofield: pass protect vs. SDE B.J. McBryde
TE – Devin Funchess: pass protect vs. SDE B.J. McBryde
SL – Dennis Norfleet: execute end-around fake, then run wheel or quick-out
SE – Jeremy Gallon: run deep corner (7) route
FL – Amara Darboh: motion toward formation (to help diagnose the coverage); run drag (I think) route
TB – Fitzgerald Toussaint: execute iso fake, then pass protect
QB – Devin Gardner: pre-snap, recognize Cover 3; on snap, execute iso fake, then end-around fake; next, read LCB (UConn’s probable corners are Jr. Byron Jones and Sr. Taylor Mack; Jones, who played safety last season, appears the more boundary-ish corner and Mack the more field-ish); throw to whomever the LCB leaves open
Part of the reason this play worked so well against Purdue in 2011 was because that end-around fake went to Denard Robinson. While it can’t go to him this year (*sniff*), a dynamic runner like Norfleet—or even Justice Hayes—probably still presents enough of a threat to command respect from opposing defenders. More importantly, the QB on this play would be the mature RS Junior version of Devin Gardner, rather than the jittery sophomore edition. And across the ball, UConn’s front may be stout against the run, but they will likely struggle to generate much of a pass rush—that means M should have time to run slow developing plays like this one. And UConn also lost arguably the Big East’s best CB duo to graduation this offseason, about which USA Today says “[t]heir departures lend a sense of doom to the proceedings in the secondary.” We all know too well what that feels like, so better them than us.
When UConn has the ball…
3. All Curls
If we proceed on the assumption that T.J. Weist’s offense will look a lot like Butch Jones’s offense at Cincinnati looked, then it makes sense to look first at the play Down the Drive has identified as the base of Jones’s attack—the All Curls. This play stretches the defense horizontally. Before the snap, the QB chooses one side of the field to attack (based on the defensive alignment). At the snap, each receiver runs a 5-10 yard curl, attempting to sell the defenders on vertical routes before curling into open areas. The quarterback reads outside-in, and has an outlet to the releasing RB in the flat.
In Cover 3, there is probably no reliable way to stop this play, as both corners would bail at the snap and leave only four underneath defenders to cover five receivers. So to make this exercise more interesting, let’s presume Michigan is running a Cover 2 Zone scheme on this play. In Cover 2 Zone, the safeties each play a deep ½ while the CBs and LBs defend five underneath zones (other versions of Cover 2 include “Man Under,” in which the safeties play zone in their deep halves while the underneath defenders play man-to-man, and the famous “Tampa 2” defense, in which the MLB drops into a deep middle zone rather than a short underneath zone). It is pretty easy to see from this diagram that Cover 2 Zone is a pretty good coverage to deploy against All Curls:
With the Cover 2 Zone scheme at least giving the defense a chance to stop the play, now we can look at the individual matchups.
BCB Raymon Taylor: Defend the short (<15 yards) zone on the boundary side from the numbers to the sideline against SE Geremy Davis (curl route) and RB Lyle McCombs (releasing to flat)
NCB Dymonte Thomas: Defend the short zone on the boundary side from the numbers to the hash against SL Deshon Foxx
MLB Desmond Morgan: Defend the short zone between the hash marks
ILB James Ross: Defend the short zone on the field side from the numbers to the hash marks against TE Mark Hansson
FCB Blake Countess: Defend the short zone on the field side from the numbers to the sideline against WR Shakim Phillips
SS Thomas Gordon: Defend deep half (TE side)
FS Jarrod Wilson: Defend other deep half
WDE Frank Clark: Rush the QB, defeat LT Jimmy Bennett
3T Jibreel Black: Rush the QB, defeat LG Gus Cruz
NT Quinton Washington: Rush the QB; defeat C Tyler Bullock, RG Steve Green
SDE Chris Wormley (why not?): Rush the QB; defeat RT Kevin Friend
UConn returns a shaky offensive line and graduated both its TE and two best wide receivers from 2012—hardly a recipe for success against a Mattison-coached line and an experienced group of underneath defenders (save the gifted, if young and unproven, NCB Dymonte Thomas). UConn has a veteran QB in Chandler Whitmer, but I don’t see a favorable matchup for the Huskies anywhere on the field.
4. Four Verticals
One good reason to run All Curls is, establishing that play can force a defense to cheat against the short/intermediate passing game and create opportunities in the running game or for big plays over the top. One way to attempt the latter is Four Verticals, a Cover 3 beater that targets the free safety patrolling the deep middle of the field (>15 yards, between the hash marks).
Remember that Cover 3 gets its name from the three defenders (i.e., both CBs and the FS) who play the deep zones over top of underneath defenders. Four Verticals attacks this scheme by forcing those three deep defenders to cover four receivers. The outside WRs occupy the two cornerbacks, leaving just the FS to deal with the two inside receivers. In more advanced versions of the play, one or more of the receivers will run option routes, adjusting their patterns after the snap to exploit the holes in the defensive scheme or coverage techniques.
The simplest way to defend Four Verticals out of Cover 3 is for the underneath defenders need to jam the inside receivers and disrupt their timing, while the FS “splits” inside receivers and stays in a position to defend a throw to either one. I’ll assume for purposes of discussing the assignments that this is the approach Michigan takes, even though the alternative method (having each of the three deep defenders split the two receivers on either side of his 1/3 zone) might be wiser given Michigan’s personnel.
BCB Raymon Taylor: Defend the deep third (>15 yards) zone on the boundary side from the sideline to the hash against SE Geremy Davis
NCB Dymonte Thomas: Defend the short outside ¼ zone on the boundary side
ILB James Ross: Defend the middle short ¼ zone on the boundary side; jam SL Deshon Foxx and carry him 15 yards downfield, pass him off to FS Jerrod Wilson
MLB Desmond Morgan: Defend the middle short ¼ one on the field side; jam TE Mark Hansson and carry him 15 yards downfield; pass him off to FS Jerrod Wilson; pick up RB Lyle McCombs on his angle route
FCB Blake Countess: Defend the deep 1/3 zone on the field side from the sideline to the hash against WR Shakim Phillips
SS Thomas Gordon: Defend the short outside ¼ zone on the field side
FS Jarrod Wilson: Defend deep middle 1/3 zone; split (i.e., keep equidistant from) inside receivers (SL Deshon Foxx and TE Mark Hansson), be a star
WDE Frank Clark: Rush the QB, defeat LT Jimmy Bennett
3T Jibreel Black: Rush the QB, defeat LG Gus Cruz
NT Quinton Washington: Rush the QB; defeat C Tyler Bullock, RG Steve Green
SDE Chris Wormley: Rush the QB; defeat RT Kevin Friend
Jerrod Wilson is a talented young player, but until he proves himself in deep coverage it’s a pretty sure bet that opposing offenses will put him to the test. Whitmer seems to be a competent senior QB, but I won’t call an advantage for UConn’s because, as above, I still think M’s line will get pressure and can’t find any other personnel matchups that favor them.
Based on the foregoing, Michigan will win obvs.
P.S. – I want to take a moment here to point-out that I am not a football coach or any kind of expert on football schemes. I am really just a casual fan who is fascinated by the tactical aspects of football and is very eager to learn more about the game. Most of what I am presenting in these diaries is material that I either just learned, or about which I previously had superficial knowledge and just recently deepened that understanding. But there is much that remains above my head, and undoubtedly much more still that is entirely off my radar. I say this because I am very aware that there could be flaws in my analysis, and hope enlightened readers will not hesitate to point out any mistakes or differences of opinion they may find in my work. A number of commentators were extremely helpful in this regard on my last diary (Space Coyote in particular), and I am very appreciative. As much as I hope I haven’t gotten anything wrong, I fully welcome any such discussion and hope to see it continue. Thanks for reading.