Unlike last week, this is pretty positive. It was actually quite a bit harder to write, though, which makes me think that I’m more engaged when I’m in a bad mood. Let’s hope I’m not handed another opportunity to test that theory this season.
I like it when a flower or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete. It's so fuckin' heroic. – George Carlin
Last week against PSU, the UM defense put forth an “heroic” effort to hold the Nittany Lions to 43 points over 4 OTs. It was the type of game where the obvious structural fissures and blatant player deficiencies you usually expect after giving up 43 points simply did not exist; you could pick at the seams but the whole tapestry did not unravel spectacularly.
Against Indiana, UM gave up 47 points in regulation, allowing 572 yards in total offense and 8 scoring drives that averaged 53 yards on only 5 plays per. On paper, it looked like most of the nightmare games UM had defensively under RR or any time they played a spread team like Oregon or Jarious Jackson-led Notre Dame under Carr. Just one of those games where the defense couldn’t get off the field to save its life, and the opposition was, at best, slightly inconvenienced on its way to the endzone.
But a funny thing happened on the way to eradication: the defense played well enough to win. In no way should that be construed as “great” or even “good” because, well, this is still a results-based sport and for all of the advanced metrics and acronyms, 7.5 yard per play (and closer to 8 if you factor out that last desperation drive) allowed isn’t going to cut it.
That said, this wasn’t a game where UM was outclassed or, really, even out-schemed. True, there were a couple of busted plays caused by the Hoosiers’ maddening tempo, including a 59-yarder to Latimer for the game’s first score as well as as couple of long completions in the 3rd quarter when Roberson found Stoner for a 42-yarder and Wynn Worst Waldo’ing for a TD. But in addition to the two interceptions recorded by the defense, there were probably 3-4 others that were close to being turnovers, including the 67 yarder by Hughes and a sequence in the 2nd quarter where Taylor (?) had a near-pick on Roberson that was followed by a crazy 33-yard TD to Wynn to pull IU within 7. As with last week’s post-Crisis final drive, those plays sometimes happen against you without rhyme or reason.
And after surrendering 23 points to IU in the 3rd quarter, the defense clamped down in the 4th, allowing only 7 points and forcing two turnovers (including a quick one after the Gardner fumble) as well as a game-ending sack by Frank Clark. For 3/4 of the game, the defense held IU to about a TD a quarter; a couple of breakdowns and luck made a 16-point win look closer than it was. And yes, saying a “couple of breakdowns” is like saying The Room had a “couple of issues” with editing and plot. Given all that, while I wouldn’t frame this game as a particularly heroic one by Mattison’s crew, it was at least “recklessly effective".
Best: The Only Defense is a Good Offense
I’ll get into my feelings about the offense later on (spoiler alert: MSU scored 42 points against IU in a single game!) but it must be said that the offense performed exactly the role it needed to in this game. IU’s offense is incredibly fast-paced and up-tempo; to steal a line from official MSU sponsor TapOut, IU tries to overwhelm the opposition with punches in bunches. Kevin Wilson, in-between absolutely eradicating Big Red gum and fuming during tense interviews with former UM offensive linemen, predicates a fast-strike offense that never wins the TOP battle because it doesn’t need to.
Early on, though, it seemed like the defense had IU basically figured out; UM forced a punt on 4 of the first 5 drives, including a couple of 3-and-outs. Of course, they did get tempo’d on a 4 play, 72 yard TD drive, but overall it seemed like IU’s offense was getting stymied by UM’s tight coverage and solid line play. At the same time, UM’s offense kept chugging along, scoring 4 TDs on their first 6 possessions and having a FG blocked because science.
But starting midway through the 2nd quarter all the way to the start of the 4th, IU started rolling with Tre Roberson and the defense had no real answer. All of a sudden, the defense couldn’t get off the field without giving up points, it seemed like IU had a 14 guys on every play, and my leftover Pad Thai tasted not like a bastardized version of a Bangkok dish but merely despair. UM’s only hope was to weather the storm by matching IU’s scoring barrage, one nutso drive at a time.
And that’s exactly what they did, with a couple of bumps along the way. Both fumbles were quickly rectified by Thomas Gordon INTs that UM was able to capitalize on, and the only other non-score on those 9 second-half possessions was a quick 3-and-out. There was no “field position battle” or alternative strategy by either offense; the goal was to score a touchdown on every drive, and while IU certainly was the faster squad out there, UM just kept plugging along at an efficient pace until IU’s mistakes caught up with them. The announcers characterized it as two boxers throwing haymakers; I thought it more like one of those 40-yard dash videos where a couple of players were superimposed on top of each other to distinguish individual progress during the sprint.
Both offenses were tenuously in competition with each other, but it felt more like a race to 60 points than anything resembling a pitched back-and-forth confrontation. It was admittedly somewhat surreal to watch, though in the joyous sense of seeing your team decimate an overmatched opponent and in the sense of, you know, the rest of the season.
Worst: The Shuffle
A football team is an ever-changing and evolving creature; due to injuries, performance, or purely feel, changes need to be made throughout the year to get as close to perfection as possible. With UM, the most significant and consistent changes have been made to the offensive line, which if last week’s special 27 for 27 didn’t drive the point home, is a bit in shambles. While the tackles are both experienced and will be playing in the NFL next year, the rest of the line is ludicrously young and/or inexperienced while also experiencing nearly week-by-week upheaval between the guards and center. Both Joe Burzynski and Erik Magnuson received their first starts of the year, replacing recent first-time starters Chris Bryant and Kyle Kallis, and once Burzynski went out due to injury Kyle Bosch stepped in as a true freshman.
While I do not doubt for a moment that these changes are due to both real and perceived lack of performance, one has to wonder if all of these changes are at least partially responsible for those deficiencies. The one thing you hear most often about an offensive line is that it benefits immensely from familiarity and maturation as a unit, that the more often these same 5 guys line up the better they’ll be as they learn the line calls, identify blocking assignments, and generally get a feel for how each other plays. But when you are replacing 3/5 of your line every couple of weeks with progressively less experienced players, while also installing a bunch of wonky-ish formations, you really shouldn’t be surprised if the same problems and holes keep reappearing. For example, on Fitz’s first TD on 4th and 1, the inside of the line was absolutely crushed; only be bouncing outside did Fitz find the endzone. Now, if that sounds familiar to you, welcome to the 2013-2014 Michigan Wolverines. Your pitchfork and Thundershirt is in the mail.
I know the stats say the line did a decent job (4.6 ypc on 54 carries) run-blocking and only gave up 2 sacks, but it again looked like a line in transition, which is not a positive sign 2/3 of the way into the season.
Best: Secret Santa
I’m not sure what the Secret Santa policy is on the team, but if I’m Jeremy Gallon I would give Devin Funchess all of the gift baskets given how his move to WR has opened up the field for Rocket Boots. While Funchess pulled in the lion’s share of the catches against Minny, Gallon has 21 catches for 464 yards and 3 TDs in the past two games and looks to be back to his All B1G-caliber mark most expected after the ND game.
Similarly, Devin Gardner has transformed from a terrifying pick-six machine into what most people expected when the year began: a dynamic playmaker who will make some bad throws but who can also pick you apart on the ground or in the air when the weapons around him are thoroughly deployed. Obviously the ultimate goal would be for Funchess to follow the Tyler Eifert model of terrifying TE/WR who can actually block on running plays, but so far his move to WR has not only led to great numbers for him (23.1 ypc and 3 TDs in the past 3 games, which would rank him #5 nationally if he kept it up for the year) but also a demonstrative improvement for the other players in the passing game.
Worst: Knowing is Half the Battle, Unless Said Battle is Against Indiana’s Defense
Jeremy Gallon started off UM’s second drive with a simple WR screen that he turned into a 70 yard completion. It was a great playcall at the time because the Indiana DBs had shifted their coverage distance from “city-sized” cushion to a “state-sized” one, and Gallon is hard enough to tackle when you are on top of him that giving him any space to move was an invitation for awesomeness. So a little later on, Devin Gardner took the snap, faked what I presume was a bubble screen, and handed off to Green for a nice gain. One can only presume at that moment, Heiko did something like this:
Certainly the liveblog exploded with a mixture of jubilation and confusion; happy that the playbook was opening up a bit but also wondering if either Al Borges was purposely trolling the fanbase or if he was seriously considering using gimmicky ideas like “misdirection” and “adapting to the defense.”
Unfortunately, I’ve seen this Al Borges before; it isn’t Good Borges or Bad Borges, but instead Irrelevant Borges because his playcalling was never tested by a competent defensive unit. Call me a Borges Denier, but I don’t even know if he was calling plays this week; a 14-year-old fan could have snuck into the booth and nobody thought to check.
IU couldn’t really stop the run, even when the offensive line brought out five Vuvuzelas and announced where they were going. Penetration and swarming sometimes led to stops, but even this offensive line was able to impose its will. Heck, the one TO by Fitz was due to Gardner trying a toss play that probably would have worked HAD THEY EVER PRACTICED IT. Even with this mishap, Fitz had his beast game of the year by a country mile, scoring 4 times while averaging 4.7 yards on 32 carries and a long of 27. And when a wide receiver sets a conference record while a QB sets both passing and total yardage records at the same school where Denard Robinson played Notre Dame and Illinois numerous times, you know the secondary was just escorting the ball to the receivers.
A win is a win, though, and 751 yards in total offense (on only 83 plays!) is 128 more yards given up against than any other competitor this season (Mizzou put up 623). Al Borges called a fine game and the offense executed immensely well. But the free-wheeling, spread-ish offense we saw by Borges isn’t going to stick around against the rest the conference slate, just like it didn’t against OSU last year, Iowa in 2011, or PSU this year. If anything, this game will simply be viewed as reinforcing the tendencies we’ve seen already, except that instead of averaging under a yard per carry IU’s derpitude resulted in a record-setting game. It remains an offense that screams ‘zig’ (Devin-centric attack with some up-tempo thrown in) while Borges remains determined to zag. It worked this week, but that’s the thing about Indiana: you only get to play them once.
Worst: Poor Secondary or
Best: Limited YACs?
If you haven’t gathered yet, I’m relatively positive about the defense this week, at least compared to my very lukewarm feelings about the offense. That doesn’t mean it was a great day by the unit, especially the secondary. As noted earlier, a couple of those long completions were due to dumb luck or great throws (Jourdan Lewis in particular was victimized by a great throw along the sideline), but IU clearly identified Raymon Taylor as a weak spot and attacked him mercilessly early on. He led the team with 4 pass breakups but also was in on 9 tackles, including 7 solo. By comparison, Countess was only responsible for 1 PBU and 3 tackles, and outside of a couple of plays seemed to keep pace. When one of your corners is seeing that much action, its usually not because he’s just flying all over the field, or at least not purposely doing so within the flow of the defense.
A number of IU’s long gains were because the secondary couldn’t get into position properly, either failing to align in the right coverage or simply trailing plays that started up before they were set. Outside of more preparation against this type of offense or “being better” I’m not sure how the unit can really improve on its performance, at least as currently constructed. Thomas Gordon’s two INTs definitely alleviate the sting a bit, though I’m guessing at least a couple of the long TDs were because either Gordon or Wilson failed to shift over to help out the DBs.
That said, there were relatively few blown plays resulting from missed tackles. The 67-yarder was somewhat due to a failure to tackle after the contested reception, and I’m sure I’m missing another couple plays, but usually a defender was there when the pass was completed to limit the damage. The longest run by a back all day (and apparently all year) was 20 yards, which is totally acceptable given the circumstances.
Best: I Must Be Drunk
This is apparently where I absolutely lose my mind and talk up the defense some more. Sure it was a cheap one at the end of the game, but Frank Clark had another sack and has 4.5 in 4 games. Given the speed by which IU gets the ball out, the two sacks recorded by the team are understandable. The line’s continued improvement along with Ryan’s return gives me hope that there might be some disruption forthcoming. And the linebackers, in particular Bolden, played reasonably well, though I’d trust Brian’s detailed analysis far more than my naked-eye observations. IU had some success running the ball, especially once Roberson took over, but it always felt limited, as if the defense was giving up 4-5 yards on the ground to protect against the pass. Probably something related to bending vs. breaking.
I’ve been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, and if you haven’t read it yet I won’t spoil it except to say it is absolutely like every other book he’s ever written. It’s the type of book wherein you’ll be annoyed that he is playing a little fast and loose with statistics, the underlying results of papers, and how a quasi-fictional narrative can be spun in a pop-sci book, but also glean enough interesting anecdotes and believable results that you’ll feel slightly smarter at your next soiree .
Personally, I enjoy the books but take them with a hefty grain of salt; I definitely wouldn’t use them as citations but I have looked into some of the topics more deeply after reading his takes. And one of the stronger takeaways from this book is that strengths and weaknesses are often subjective, based purely on the perceptions and biases of each party involved.
The titular tale of David and Goliath is turned on its head, as Gladwell discusses the fact that powerful but immobile Goliath (who likely was suffering from the same condition that afflicted people like Gheorghe Muresan and Andre the Giant) was no match for the fleet-footed David because the battlefield favored the swift artillery, only nobody had considered disrupting the paradigm until the stone fell the giant. He then pointed to numerous other examples in which the “underdog” military held its ground against a superior force by fighting in an atypical style, and only when these smaller forces adopted more “classical” styles that favored numerical advantage over other factors did they start to lose. In effect, he argues, the status quo works best when everyone agrees to abide by its terms; deviate even a bit and the inefficiencies are there for the taking.
Watching IU on offense, I saw how their up-tempo offense could flummox defenses for games; when the offense is already lined up mere seconds after the ball is placed, the defense has a very small window in which to react and respond. On offense, you only need that one point of failure, that one missed assignment or sloppy tackle, to score. Your line doesn’t have to be big and powerful, and your skill players can be pretty average, because you are maximizing the issues created by slow-reacting defenders getting into position.
But on defense, everyone really does need to be on the same page, or at least a reasonable facsimile. That’s why you typically see the most successful defenses against spread attacks be veteran-laden; you need kids who can react to the formations with minimal communication from the coaches. RR’s offenses ran into problems when the PSU’s, MSU’s, and OSU’s of the world could keep pace. And that points to the reality that defenses are far more reliant on overall talent than offense; you can disguise coverages and blitz from as many angles as you want, but you need guys who JUST MAKE PLAYS to keep you in the game. IU doesn’t have that, and that’s how a pretty average offense was able to drop 63 points on them. I shudder to think how IU would handle a team like themselves, but more talented; OkSt. or TT would run them off the field by halftime, and I don’t even think the NCAA would let them match up against Oregon. It’s why when the clearly-aroused Glen Mason spoke of IU’s youth on defense and the expected improvement it would see as it matured, I had to scoff a bit. For all of Indiana’s polish on offense, that defense hasn’t been “good” in decades, and no amount of “coaching them up” and father time will matter if the players just aren’t that talented.
I guess my point is that while I’m never going to be a big fan of Al Borges or the offensive philosophy of this team, I care far more about how this team’s defense evolves and grows over the next couple of years. It is undoubtedly cliche, but you have to be able to stop the other guy at least a couple of times in order to win, and a dominant defense with a competent-if-infuriating offense feels like a more efficient outfit than a hack-and-slash offense with a sieve in the front 7. Obviously one can dream of both, but the fact we have yet to really see a team pull it off makes me think it is harder than one thinks. Given the coaching staff and the philosophy they have installed, I’m bracing myself to see the status quo shaken up once or twice a season but only as a tease.
Bestest: Bouncing Baby Programming Note
This is probably more personal than many of you care to know, but BronxBlueWife and I are expecting our first mini Wolverine in the next week or so. Because I am a shot-caller, I’m hoping the baby arrives during the bye week and I’m at least semi-capable of scribbling down thoughts thru the end of the season. But if not, this might become a less-frequent weekly, at least until the sleep deprivation shifts from a sharp pain to a dull, perpetual one.
Earlier this year, Seth had an incredible analysis of Gallon’s 2012 numbers that compared Jeremy Gallon's statistical output to receivers around the country in 2012 and Michigan receivers from 2005-12 (obviously post-Braylon). It basically showed that he’s been the best since Braylon for us.
Although I don’t think we’ll ever say Gallon was better than Braylon, it is interesting to see where yesterday’s numbers leave him both all-time, and with respect to single-season stats.
If you remove Gallon’s lowest and highest yardage totals this year (because 361 yards receiving is a major outlier) and apply it to 6 more games this season (assuming we don’t make the B1G Championship game and have 7 more), Gallon’s projected to finish the season with 1,348 yards receiving — surpassing Braylon’s single-season record of 1,300. That’s averaging of 86 yards/game the rest of the way.
At the pace he’s on, here’s roughly where he would finish (didn’t remove the max and min for TD and Rec because I’m lazy it doesn’t matter as much):
- Receiving yards-Season: 1,348 (Best-evaaa), already 19th
- Receptions-Season: 83 (4th-best)
- Touchdowns-Season: 13 (6th-best), already tied for 20th
- Career Yards: 2,679 (3rd all-time), already 11th
- Career Receptions: 167 (4th-best), already 13th
Career Receiving TD: 21 (7th all-time), already 11th
There’s a lot to factor in to where he’ll actually finish (ie. Can he stay healthy? How many blowouts will we have where we just don’t throw the ball in the second half? (lol) How will he perform against the tougher defenses ahead? etc.), but given how stressful this year has been, it’s nice to see Gallon putting together an outstanding year to finish out a highly productive career.
Thanks, No. 10/No. 21.
Holy Offensive Extravaganza Batman! In the interest of time, I'm going to break format again, skip the introductory paragraph and get right to the numbers. Michigan gained 1237 yards on 98 plays, accruing 73 first downs in the process. Devin Gardner led the way with 712 yards passing. Jeremy Gallon's 26 receptions accounted for 560 of those yards. The rushing game returned in grand style, with Fitz Toussaint running for 234 yards and 8 touchdowns, behind a line featuring a fourth string left guard and three high school seniors. Michigan won the time of possession battle, 52:12 to 7:48. Michigan punted negative three times, and finished seven for four on third down conversions. Raymon Taylor led the defense with 37 tackles and 16 pass breakups. Yes, these numbers are completely made up. They are ridiculous, but so are these numbers:
Burst of Impetus
* Early in the game, it was obvious that Indiana was throwing to the receiver guarded by Raymon Taylor. Taylor got beat deep, giving up a 59 yard TD to IU. On the next drive, they went back at Taylor, hitting Latimer for a 14 yard gain. After an incomplete pass and a five yard run, Sudfeld went back towards Taylor. Taylor absolutely lit up the TE, Bolser, forcing an incompletion. Later in the first quarter, on another third down, Indiana went back at Taylor down the sideline. He just barely turned his head around and got another deflection. Later in the game he got another PBU on third down and forced a field goal. The boxscore lists him with 4 of Michigan's 5 pass breakups. He did make 9 tackles, so it's obvious Indiana was targeting him and giving him opportunities. He wasn't perfect, BUT HE MADE PLAYS. In a back and forth game, the key to winning was who was going to be able to break serve. Indiana was 8 of 14 on third down. Half of those stops are directly attributable to Taylor. The other defensive player who MADE PLAYS (2 of them, in fact) was Thomas Gordon. He did not record a tackle, but he did make two huge interceptions that gave the Impetus back to Michigan both times.
* Devin Gardner was 21 for 29 with ZERO INTERCEPTIONS! (That's not difficult to do when IU's DBs were rarely in the same time zone as our WRs, and the line provided good protection for the most part.)
* He threw for 503 yards, 2 TDs, and a long of 70 yards (thanks to Gallon.)
* His bad habit of flinging wild throws to avoid sacks returned, but fortunately, did not result in any INTs.
* Al Borges is the QB coach. Is Al the one responsible for teaching Devin how to pitch the ball to Fitz? I'm, of course, referring to the fumble. It was attributed to Fitz, but the pitch was the problem. I have a hard time picturing in my mind, Al out on the field giving Gardner instructions on the proper way to pitch the ball back to the RB.
* After suffering through the 27 for 27 documentary, Fitz ran 32 times for 151 yards net. The longest run was only 27 yards, so this is not one of those cases where a guy's stats are inflated by a 60 or 70 yard TD run. He scored 4 TDs.
* Derrick Green pitched in 21 yards on 6 carries.
V. Sinha Legends Jersey
* Jeremy Gallons actual stats were 14 receptions for 369 yards and 2 TDs. He caught 2/3 of Gardner's completions.
* Devin Funchess was the second option, catching 4 balls for 84 yards. Towards the end of the game UofM was trying to run out the clock. They faced a 3rd and 6. Instead of running on third down, Al called for a pass. 38 yards later, Funchess had given UofM another first down, and three more opportunities to run clock. I think that is the go-for-the-win attitude that we became accustomed to under Brady Hoke, that was sadly missing last week against PSU.
* Jeremy Jackson returned to the field, catching 2 balls for 23 yards.
* I love Dileo and if I were in charge of the offense, I'd involve him more, so what I'm going to say next may amount to heresy. Is it possible that he's not getting open on the other ~60 plays, or that he's not great at blocking? I also wonder if he got hurt, because he wasn't back there fielding punts. Maybe Borges just wanted to give Devin a slightly bigger target in Jackson.
* Midway through the first quarter, Joey Burzynski got hurt. So let's review our situation at Left Guard this year. Glasgow started the season there, only to move to center in an attempt to shore up the middle. Chris Bryant was the next man in. He's either injured or not as effective as the staff would like, so he was replaced by Burzynski. When he got hurt, Kyle Bosch entered the lineup. Yep, our 4th string left guard. Indiana did get 2 sacks and 7 TFLs, but I can honestly say, I didn't notice Bosch out there, and that's a compliment for a lineman. He may have made a mistake or two, or missed an assignment, but I didn't notice.
* A bruised and bloodied Taylor Lewan returned to the lineup. I was a little worried before the game started, as Lewan showed very little enthusiasm jumping up to touch the M Club banner. To think he could be making millions of dollars today, all I can say is thank you, we appreciate your effort and loyalty to our shared University.
* I would be remiss not to mention Graham Glasgow's hustle. At the end of Gallon's 70 yard run after the catch, Glasgow was right there. There were several other long plays where I noticed Glasgow hustling down the field looking for another block. The guy can move for someone his size.
Norf and Souf
* Norfleet returned 6 kicks for 121 yards. He made a couple poor decisions, but on average, the results were fine.
* So is this blocked FG thing something I'm going to have to worry about for the rest of the season?
* Five of Wile's 10 kickoffs were touchbacks. IU didn't do much with 4 of the 5 they returned.
* On one kickoff, we kicked from the 50 due to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on IU. Doesn't game theory demand an onside-kick there? Or at least a high, short, coverage kick where you can pin them back inside the 20? If they recover the onside kick, they get the ball at their own 35. Instead, we kicked it out of the endzone and they got the ball at the 25. For 10 yards, I'd take that chance at getting the ball back. This was not a field position game. This was a ball possession game, as in, if you had possession of the ball you were likely going to score.
I'm an international umpire
* The refs let them play. IU had 3 penalties for 20 yards and Michigan had 4 for 15 yards. I noticed some holding and maybe some DBs getting to the WR a little early, but nothing outrageous, and the officials didn't get nitpicky. I'd rather they call a foul a foul, but it kept the flow of the game going nicely, and they were consistent, which is all you can ask for.
* I covered the important stuff in the Impetus section. We got some stops.
* Help me out, Alannis Morrissette, is it ironic that we ended the game by sacking IU's QB? I say yes.
* Besides Taylor's 9 tackles, JR3 had 8, Jourdan Lewis and Morgan had 5, and Wilson had 4. That's a lot of DBs, but that's to be expected in a game like this.
* It seemed like neither defense could stop the opposing offense. In fact, it seemed like neither team faced many difficult third downs. So I decided to review the play-by-play and see how the two teams did on first and second down. My numbers aren't quite adding up, but they are close to being accurate. In the all-important second down conversion stat, Michigan dominated Indiana going 14 for 26, to Indiana's 10 for 24. On first down, Michigan was 14 for 41 to Indiana's 10 for 35. That's right, we had 35 first downs, and gained 28 of them, 80%, on either first or second down. Indiana's defense is horrible.
* I mentioned in the Game 1 diary that my dad passed away from cancer this summer. Michigan broke out the pink accoutrements to raise awareness. I think most people are "aware" of the major cancers - breast, lung, prostrate, etc. In fact, my dad was a five year survivor of prostate cancer. Spending our limited resources attacking the most common cancers makes sense (Spock would agree, the needs of the many, etc.) but let's also spend some time raising awareness of the less common cancers, because these are often the ones that aren't diagnosed in a timely manner. A year and a half ago, dad was diagnosed with urothelial cancer. The problem was mis-diagnosed for a good 3-4 months, during which time the cancer may have doubled in size and changed from something that could be dealt with, to something that was fatal. I'm all for raising awareness, but I also think we need to be doing more in terms of improving diagnosis and treatment options.
My dad took my brother to the Anthony Carter/IU game. I suppose I should be jealous of my brother for that, but I was the one who got to hear Bob Ufer call the play. So who was the lucky one? HONK! HONK! HONK! HONK! HONK!!!
Inspired by this post on Football Study Hall, I decided to evaluate the B1G (+Rutgers and Maryland) using the advanced FEI statistics (which are explained here). These statistics take strength of schedule into account (raw numbers are here).
The figure below (click to embiggen) plots offensive F/+ on the y-axis and defensive F/+ on the x-axis. Good, balanced teams are in the upper right-hand corner, and bad teams are in the lower left-hand corner.
You can see that Indiana sticks out as a good-offense, bad-defense team, whereas MSU is a good-defense team that is average offensively. Only five teams are above-average on offense and defense: Northwestern, Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
From a Michigan perspective, perhaps these numbers are encouraging. Despite all the problems with the running game, our offense is above average, both overall and within the B1G. So too is our defense, which will only get better as Jake Ryan works his way into the lineup. Unfortunately our upcoming schedule is difficult. We only play one more team that is on the negative side defensively (Indiana), and its offense ranks very highly. And of teams left on the schedule, only Iowa and Michigan State, both good defensive teams, have below-average offenses.
Is Borges TRYING to do this on first down?
Much has been made of Al Borges using first down much like the CFL uses fourth down. I wanted to know exactly what has been happening to us on first down this year. Is the play-calling really that bad, or is AB hamstrung by a turnover-prone QB? How stubborn is the play-calling? Are we a bad passing team on first down?
What's open for debate is whether or not Hoke is mandating the first down MANBALL attempt. What's not open for debate are the results:
Chart? Chart of 1st down rushing attempts. NYP = Negative Yardage Plays
This is the story you know. For me, it was even worse than I thought in one respect (NYP%) and better than I expected in another (YPP). The 3.5 YPP feels high, but that's because nearly one in five times we go backwards. And, 11 more times, we gained nothing. That means that 27.3% of the time--more than one in four plays--we end-up in 2nd and 10 or longer. Those are drive killers.
But that average still feels high...what's brining it up? Glad you asked. Gardner has only had one NYP on his first down attempts, and averages 4.9 YPA when he runs it. When you add in the WR runs with DG, the YPA jumps to 6.6. What this means is that if you remove the 21 attempts by non-RBs on first down, you end-up with 2.9 YPA. That's more like it.
So, 59% of the time, we're running our RBs on first down, and averaging 2.9 YPA. Even that sounds good (isn't that three yards and a cloud of dust?) until you remember that only TWO of the NYPs happened between the QB/WR carries, and there was one bad snap. That leaves 22 NYP out of 110 RB attempts--an even 20%--that we go backwards with our RB on 1st.
Want me to make it hurt more? Okay. Add-in the zero yardage plays, and it's 33/110 (30%) NYP. Yep. We have a 30% chance of ending-up in 2nd and 10 or longer when we run with a RB.
Should we be passing more? I really wasn't sure about this. Can we trust DG to be throwing on first down? There's only one way to know...
THIS! This is much, MUCH better than I thought it would be. In fact, it's TOO good (I'll explain in a moment). We only pass 29.4% of the time on first down, but man, does it work. We average a ridiculous 12.6 yards per play (this includes scrambles), have only 14 incomplete passes (25%), and DG is MUCH less turnover-prone, throwing INTs at a rate of only 3.6%. There have been only three negative plays (sacks or TFLs).
It is obvious that our tendencies set us up for big passing plays on first down. But is it worth it? To end-up in 2nd and 10 or worse 30% of the time we try MANBALL? We end-up at 2nd and 10 (or worse) 34% of the time when we throw (including INTs), so the risk is almost exactly the same. The reward is more than four times better. That's a good investment.
The reason I believe these numbers are too good is that they indicate that our run tendencies on first down are so strong that there is wide open space to be had in the passing game. I'm not telling you anything you didn't already know, but now it's quantified into a ridiculous 12.6 YPP.
This is a problem because it means that defenses are staying in stacked fronts against us and betting we simply won't even try to pass. We aren't good at run-blocking, but we're REALLY bad at run-blocking against stacked fronts. Against both Akron and UConn, the running game took off when the defenses backed out of their stacked fronts when they had the lead late.
And what about those two INTs? Both were on go routes way down the field. AB dials-up bombs on first down, which is fine, but I think it's clear there's room for some short-to-intermediate stuff.
Furthermore, if you want your QB to stop turning the ball over, stop putting him in 2nd and 3rd and long--ALL of DG's INTs have come with distances of 5 yards or more to go.
TL;DR - While passing more on first down is likely decrease its effectiveness, it is still FAR better than running with our RBs, and it should open-up some space to be better at that.
Get ready for a pretty cool, cloudy, rainy day, and a bit breezy too! A cold front is pushing across SE Michigan and will make it into Canada/the Ohio Valley Saturday afternoon. Although that system will clear our area, a mid-level system will keep rain in the forecast for game day. While as of now most of the rain looks to fall in the morning and become more scattered in the afternoon, I'd bring along the raincoat just in case. Let's send those Hoosiers home with a loss in their pocket!
Probably not a morning for the iced coffee! Temps remain in the low 40s through sunrise-about 8am. Cloud cover has increased during the overnight and we're waking up to mainly overcast skies and passing rain showers. A light breeze out of the WSW will start the day, but winds will pick up throughout the morning and into the afternoon. By mid-morning, winds are out of the WSW at about 10mph (small leaves and twigs blow about). Heading into lunchtime, they're up in the low teens, and we begin to get gusts around 15mph (small trees sway, papers blow about). Lunchtime temps will be nearing 45 degrees, but with the winds expect it to still feel like the low-40s. Cloudy conditions prevail, with light showers across the area.
Sweatshirts on for this one - 46 degrees at the kickoff! Happy mid-October Michigan! Still feeling a bit of a wind chill in the low 40s. Winds are out of the WSW at about 12mph, with gusts in the mid teens possible (you'd see some white caps on the water, it's a moderate breeze). Any bits of sun will be few and far between - lots of clouds hanging around and a light passing shower is possible too.
Might be time for some hot chocolate! Still hanging on to the mid 40s, some of the clouds, and the chance of rain. Still relatively breezy, with winds staying out of the WSW around 10mph or so. The wind will die down more and more during the later part of the game.
Walking out of those gates with a win - and probably headed for somewhere warm, even if it's to grab a cold one! Temperatures will be dropping quickly throughout the evening. Looking at about 45 leaving the game, 43 by the end of dinner, 40 for your late night activities, and into the upper 30s for that walk home after closing time. Winds will begin to calm during the end of the game, falling to about 7mph, and staying between 3-5mph the entire evening and into Sunday. A decent amount of the clouds will stay with us, and a slight chance of rain will hang around until we head into Sunday morning. Go Blue!