And now back to our regularly scheduled programming…
Previsouly: Parts 1a, 1b, 1c
I have done a terrible job of branding this series. The idea behind it is that football has changed and coaches haven’t. The game used to be about managing down and distance, putting yourself in a makeable third down, and hoping your defense can win with 17 points. Now offenses are more sophisticated at both running and passing. Third downs that used to be virtually out of reach are still tough but more possible and the upsides of going for bigger chunks of yardage on first and second down have begun to outweigh the risks of longer third downs. This changes how both offensive and defensive coaches need to think and how they allocate resources and personnel. Some pieces are now worth more and others less.
The traditional running game used to be the focal point of this philosophy. The traditional running game is the best football tool for limiting variance on a down by down basis. The quarterbacks job is to hand the ball off, throw a couple of beautiful play action deep balls a game, bail out a third down or two, then feed words like "focused" to the media.
As I spent the last several years combing through nearly ten years of play by play data, I kept coming back to the same question: Why do teams run the ball so much? I parsed the data time after time to try and find something I had missed and I couldn’t find it. Of the top individual PAN seasons among QBs and RBs since 2006, only 3 running backs (Boise St’s Ian Johnson in 2006 and Montee Ball and Trent Richardson this year) cracked the top 100. But PAN doesn’t take into account burning the clock at the end of a game. So I switched to WPA (Win Percent Added) which accounts for the clock. Under WPA rankings, Toby Gerhart in 2009 is the only running back to break into the top 200 seasons. 199 quarterback seasons and only 1 running back season.
Now this isn’t to say that a running game isn’t valuable. Of my ten highest rated offensive seasons noted below only Oklahoma, Hawaii and Houston didn’t feature prominent rushing attacks. In fact of the ten, I would categorize 5 as rushing spreads, 3-4 (Baylor is tough to categorize) as college passing spreads and Wisconsin as a traditional run-first offense.
The running game is alive and well but the traditional running back is harder to justify.
The Wisconsin Case
Montee Ball had an outstanding season and along with Trent Richardson clearly a top 2 back in the country. But was he the most valuable player on his own offense? Here are the traditional numbers for Ball and Russell Wilson
307 att, 1923 yards & 33 TDs rushing (NCAA record 39 overall TD)
225/309, 3175 yards & 33 TD & 4 INT (NCAA record 191.8 pass efficiency)
and the advanced metrics
+6.1 PAN and 0.10 WPA/Game
+11.4 PAN and 0.37 WPA/Game
The Wisconsin offense was a thing of beauty that could have been a national title contender if their –1 defense didn’t lead them to three losses while scoring at least 29 points in each of them.
So who was more responsible, Wilson or Ball? Wilson averaged more yards/play, had almost no turnovers and significantly higher advanced metrics. But let's dig down a bit and compare the two.
Nearly half of all Russell Wilson’s plays (rushes and passes) went for 7 yards or more. Ball had 28% of his plays go for the same distance. For negative plays, they are nearly even with sacks and all Ball without. The area were Montee Ball’s plays went was in the 0-3 yard range, i.e. the manage the down and distance range. This obviously wasn’t a bad season for Ball, it was a great season and he was still dominated by his quarterback in terms of output.
Now this take into consideration down and distance considerations so I put together a similar slide with EV.
Montee Ball had 15% of his plays go for at least a half standard deviation above average. Russell Wilson’s number was twice that at 30% with minimal negative offset.
Looking at a second way, here is there play EV value ranked.
As good as Montee Ball was last year, the offense should have even gone to Wilson, more.
RIP Running Back?
Obviously not as a position but as a premiere position I have a hard time justifying the running back’s historical position as at nearly the same level as the quarterback. Even at their best great running backs at similar value to decent quarterbacks. Two offseasons ago I did a study on returning starters and found that of all positions on the field, returning starts by running backs had the least effect of any position on future team success. Before signing day when I looked at the value of recruiting ranking to future team success, running back recruiting was one of the lowest correlations to future offensive success.
It’s not that running backs can’t be valuable. Montee Ball’s +6 PAN is outstanding. It’s more that a big upside for a running back is rare, hard to predict and is still less than you can get from a quarterback. Of the 29 QB’s and RB’s that were +3 or better last year only five were running backs, the rest were quarterbacks. Running back has become a low marginal production position.
Wrapping This Up Next Week
There is a good argument to be made that Wilson’s success is a byproduct of the attention paid to Ball. It obviously didn’t occur in a vacuum and I have no doubt that Wilson benefited from the attention paid Ball more than vice versa. In next week’s final part of this series we’ll look at how teams can adjust their strategies on both sides of the ball to maximize the new realities.
We now return you to your commitments in progress
Hoke: NEED MORE RECRUITS! Shane, do your thing!
Shane: I got you, coach. On my way to campus to watch us beat Ohio.
Bosch: I’m in.
Shallman: Me too.
Lewis: Sounds like a party. I’ll bring the backfield skills. My teammate and I are planning on coming together.
Dawson: I’ll be there.
Hoke: Basketball team, BEAT OHIO!
Basketball Team: Done, Coach.
Chris Fox: This looks like too much fun to pass up.
Taco: Oh yeah. I’m comin!
Hoke: OK, let’s get some sleep!
Butts: Wait for me!
LTT: Spots are filling up, let me get a seat!
Hoke: Great job, Shane! Welcome to Michigan, boys!
Shane: No problem. I got a date with Erin Andrews.
THE END...for now.
Today we look at the scoring breakdown from the NMU series. 7 goals in a series makes for a pretty long post.
Our first goal of the game came on a blown clear by the Wildcats, Epp is fighting for the puck at the corner boards while the rest of the team is trying to breakout.
Even after a second Michigan player comes down the Northerners still leave Epp by himself to fight, since the other Wildcats are still in position for a breakout no one is there to cover Di Giuseppe.
Goal #2: Powerplay
Nothing special here on the powerplay, but it became obvious early on that anyone in a Michigan sweater who wanted to screen was not going to be challenged.
The shot is off the mark, but anyone who has watched Alex Guptill play this year can tell you that his timing on redirects is outstanding.
The space given is all he needs and the puck is in the net.
I predicted that Jon Merrill would have a bounce back series after last weekends MSU fiasco. The thing that has always separated Merrill from others is his hockey I.Q. You either have it or you don't, things like this can't not be taught.
This play starts out as a regular clear for the Wildcats, nothing special just a puck sent out of the zone.
Head up the whole way Merrill gets the puck from Moffie and finds Deblois cutting through the middle.
The Northerners are all kinds of confused, obviously since the blueliner has closed his legs like he's in shot blocking position.
As you can see they are caught way out of position.
The only play left for NMU is to go for the hook, bring him down and try your luck on the PK. Deblois does a great job of keeping the puck and staying on his feet to finish the play off.
Goal #4: Powerplay
Another Wildcat special teams brakedown. Once again Michigan is not doing anything special with the powerplay, but all four penalty killers get caught down low and can not get back into position.
This is another example of Jon Merrill and his hockey intelligence. He gets this puck at the point and walks it up, with a free screener in front of the net everyone is thinking shot.
He sees Moffie the whole way for the one timer, the no look pass is just icing on the cake.
No chance Ellingson can get over in time as Moffie buries the shot
Series two: Goal #1
After NMU failes to clear the puck out Moffie gathers and brings it over the line.
Moffie connects with Glendening who maybe takes an ill advised shot, I feel like the separation gave him the chance to get closer.
But it doesn't matter because his wrister beats the goaltender clean to the glove side for our first goal of the game.
Goal #2: Powerplay
We begin this powerplay with the puck along the sideboards, once again another screener having his way with the Wildcat defense. This is basic hockey, they don't even try to move him.
Merrill sends it across to Moffie
And back to Merrill again.
Once again we see another example of something you can't teach. Not everyone can play the point on a powerplay, in fact some guys who are great hockey players are awful at running point.
A lot of times what you will see is from a bad the point man is either quick pass or quick shot, which usualy results in a broken up pass or a block. His shot is not there, so instead of forcing it he holds, and holds and waits until the lane that he wants is open.
And we have our second goal of the game.
Along the blueline is Mac Bennett, who sends a long pass across looking for Di Giuseppe.
He overshoots him on the pass and the puck is gathered by series whipping boy Wade Epp.
We don't know exactly what he was trying to do here, he's either trying to bounce the puck off the boards out of the zone or he was expecting his man to be behind him.
Either way he throws the puck right at Luke Glendining, who throws a beautiful pass across to A.J. Treais.
We send our Seniors out with a win.
Torrent: Michigan - Ohio 720p MP4 [fixed]
Burke to Morgan:
More Burke to Morgan:
Douglass & Novak:
Mequon (WI) Homestead DT Brandon Hines may only be a sophomore, but he's already hearing from schools not only in the Midwest, but around the country. At 6'2", 265 pounds, Hines already has great size for a high schooler, and he's garnering interest from schools like Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Oregon, Boston College, and others. I had the chance to speak with the class of 2014 prospect this week, and Brandon gave me some insight into his recruitment, including some potential good news forthcoming from the Wolverines:
ACE: You said you had some exciting news. What's happening on that front?
BRANDON: Basically, I made a new highlight tape, because I broke my hand at the beginning of the season—I had a broken hand for six games, having the club kind of slowed me down. I finally got [tape of] all the games without the club and I made a highlight tape from that, and I think I performed a lot better without that club, and a bunch of colleges seem to think so too. I decided to send that film out, and one of the first coaches I decided to reach out to was Coach Mattison from Michigan, and after I sent him my film I got some really good feedback from him.
ACE: What did Coach Mattison tell you about your film?
BRANDON: I first called him and told him the day before I sent him a text asking him if he got the tape and he said he did. He had a player in his office, so he had the player find my film for him and he told me to call him back in 30 minutes. 30 minutes passes over after I'm done lifting and I gave him a call back. Basically, to my surprise, he said they were extremely impressed and they definitely want me there. I actually talked to him about my film for a little bit and we got to know each other, and he asked me if I had any offers. As of right now, I don't have any offers, but a couple schools have been hinting and when I make my trips out to those schools I'm pretty sure I'll pull out an offer.
When I was talking to [Coach Mattison] he told me he's not going to offer a scholarship over the phone, so he asked me when I was available to come to the school. He said they're going to be on their spring break [soon], but they're going to be done in early March and that's when he wants me to come out there and watch a spring practice and meet the head coach. I'm definitely looking forward to making a visit to Ann Arbor and see what Michigan has to offer.
ACE: Have you made any other visits so far?
BRANDON: Most of my visits are going to take place now. I've been to Wisconsin twice, Michigan State, and NIU, and I also went to Boston College for their junior day. Most of my big-time visits will be taking place from this week up until the end of March, that's when I'm going to be taking my big-time visits to really good schools. First I went up to Wisconsin this [past] weekend for their junior day, then the next weekend I'm heading down to Illinois—I talked to the coach there, Coach Butkus from Illinois, and he's definitely interested, he loved my film, so I'm hoping to get some good news from them. The week after that I think I'm going to be heading down to Arkansas for their junior day, and then the week after that I'll be at Michigan State, then the week after that I'll be at Michigan.
ACE: Are there any other schools have been talking to?
BRANDON: Tennessee—I sent them my film, and that's where my parents are from, so I've got some ties there—Oregon State got my film and they really liked it, and Boston College. A lot of schools are seeing my film. Also Oklahoma State I've been reaching out to and I plan to hear from them in the next couple of days. Then there are schools that have mailed me, schools like Kansas State, UCLA, USC, Wisconsin, Minnesota, there's a long list of schools. That's what I can think of off the top, but those are some of the schools, and then a lot of other Big Ten programs have been sending me mail to the extent that they can.
Things are going at a steady pace but I definitely think if in these next couple weeks I can pick up an offer it's going to pick up a lot more. I also didn't get to send out my film to all the coaches I wanted to, so I feel that once I get that out I'll definitely be in a good position, so it's only good things to come from now on.
ACE: Being just a sophomore and getting this type of attention, what's it like for you? How are you handling it right now?
BRANDON: You know, it's actually nothing new to me at all. I've known about the recruiting process and followed most of it since I was in eighth grade. I can go back and name All-Americans from the U.S. Army game when I was in eighth grade. It's nothing new to me. I've been focused on getting a scholarship for a long time, I think I've prepared myself for it. I know what it's going to be like, I know it's going to get hectic, I know I'm going to get a lot of mail. I know the first and second days I'm able to get recruited, exactly what to expect. I've talked to a lot of other high-caliber players—I talk to [2013 TX recruit] Jake Raulerson, he's a really good guy. I've talked to Kyle Bosch a few times. I talk to [2013 Brookfield, WI DE] Chikwe Obasih, from my state, a lot of other good players. They give me advice and tell me what it's like from time to time, so it's definitely something that I'm prepared for, and I'm really ready to get these offers and hopefully narrow down my choices soon.
ACE: What type of advice are those guys giving you?
BRANDON: When I was a freshman, I thought I needed to get to the U.S. Army combine, gotta get to this combine, this combine, this combine; I went to those combines, did really well, got MVPs at most of them. Then I actually talked to Kyle Bosch about it, and he was like, "You know what man, straight up, they're a waste of money," besides the Army combine and stuff like that. He told me that you've got to get to the college camps, that's what you've gotta do, see the coaches one-on-one and just impress them that way, because it's better to see them first-hand than third-party. Jake Raulerson, he's really religious, a really good guy. That's where I get most of my faith advice from, I guess you could say. I follow that example, he's a really good guy, and he's strong in his faith which is extremely good. It's a lot of different stuff coming from different people, but I definitely appreciate all of it and it helps me.
ACE: When you head out to these schools, what specifically are you looking for? I know it's a long way off, but what's going to come into play when you're trying to pick a college?
BRANDON: School major are definitely a big key for me right now. I'm trying to see what a program is going to be like when I get there. I want to talk to a lot of the players, not just the star players but everyone, like when I went to Wisconsin I talked to Derek Watt, who I threw shot against, I talked to Darius Feaster, who went to my school, and I talked to a lot of other players who aren't the biggest big-time players but will give me the real feedback of the school. Then I'm definitely looking at the campus and the area, that's a big thing for me. I'm from a big city, Milwaukee is a pretty big city. I definitely need someplace where it's kinda populated, a big fan base for a school would be a good thing for me.
Also, the coaching staff, I have to have a coaching staff that pushes people. The coaching staff I'm with at my high school right now, I moved here [to Homestead], and they're tremendous. They're on you all the time no matter what. They will stay on you, they're going to push you, and they're going to push you past your limits. That's something I'm definitely looking for. Today I had a really tough workout with one of our coaches who's one of the to speed trainers in the state, so I'm definitely looking for some high-caliber coaches.
ACE: Looking back on your sophomore year, I know you said you were hurt for a little bit there, but how do you think you played overall?
BRANDON: Coming in sophomore year, I was nervous, really nervous. I guess you'd say my first three games at Homestead I was really nervous, because it's been a really good program, like 10-1 and 11-1. It's a lot to live up to, to play at that level. With the injury I think I performed pretty well. I think when I got to the fifth game I just built a lot of confidence, the team saw a lot of confidence with me and I exceeded [expectations] from there. I pulled in 42 tackles and six sacks. I think I pulled in some pretty good numbers and it was a solid overall season. But I think I'm definitely looking to possibly get to a state title next year. I think we have a lot of good players and we can definitely pull it off if we all work together.
ACE: What would you say your biggest strengths are as a player, and what are you trying to work on to improve for next year and to ultimately earn those scholarships?
BRANDON: I think I'm a good technical player. You see a bit more a technical side to me as opposed to a bull-rush type style. I do a lot of swim moves. I think that's my knack, I have a knack for playing like a skinny person when it comes to using moves. My key strength is definitely my strength—I think I'm pretty advanced with my strength, I think I bench 300 and I squad 405, so I think that's definitely an advantage for me. The thing I want to work on next season is my speed. I want to become a fast player. Being from the South, I think that's something I definitely have to live up to is my speed. I think if I cut a little bit of unnecessary weight I'll be a pretty good player, and that's definitely what I want to be known as coming into my junior year, is more speed than strength.
ACE: Going away from the football field, what's one thing—like a hobby or something—that you like doing that has nothing to do with sports that you'd like people to know about you?
BRANDON: This is so far-fetched from what you'd think. I collect sneakers. That's an odd hobby but I'm really into sneakers and clothing. Besides football, you'll probably catch me online looking at some new shoes. That sounded weird, but...
ACE: My brother is kind of a sneakerhead, so I know where you're coming from. Is there a specific shoe that you're trying to look out for? I know there's some Jordans that are kind of the holy grail, but is there a specific shoe that you're trying to look out for?
BRANDON: I'm not tied to Jordans, but I'm definitely trying to get the Olympic 6s when they come out in July. July is when my birthday is, so they'll be pretty easy to come by. We have a coach at our school, a basketball coach, who's pretty crazy for his sneakers and is actually known for his sneakers. I think he has over 900 shoes, so he's definitely giving me some advice and helping me improve my sneaker game. His name is Brandon Maddox, he's a good guy.
ACE: Man, 900, that's nuts. How many do you have?
BRANDON: I have 45 pairs. I'll buy shoes that I'll wear to school, and then I have my shoes that I just don't touch. I'll just let them sit there, then maybe on a rare occasion like when I go to a formal dinner I'll wear those shoes out. It gets pretty intense. I have a big sneaker collection for my age. Being 15 I can't even get a job, so I don't have the biggest advantage.
|#20 Northern Michigan (14-10-6) at #5 Michigan (18-10-4)|
|2-17-12 7:35pm Big Ten Network|
|2-18-12 5:05pm Fox Sports Detroit|
The last time we faced off against the Wildcats we got a pretty big wake up call. Coming into the series we were ranked #1 and they really used that emotion of playing the top ranked team against us. Add that to the chemistry issues facing the team after losing Kevin Lynch, Hunwick getting ejected and it was a long weekend.
This time it's a little different, NMU is coming into this series with terrible offense. The honest truth is that with decent defense and outstanding goalie numbers, if the offense wasn't so anemic they could be ten spots higher in the AP Poll.
The top line of Gron, Thurber, and Seckel can cause major damage. They score most of the points and play the best defense, after them the Wildcats have almost nothing. Justin Florek is NMU's Lindsay Sparks, he is an offensive nightmare but can't play a lick of defense.
The other issue for the Wildcats is the penalty minutes, towards the end of the roster NMU has a few 8 point scorers who are around the 50 PIMS mark. Althought the PK has been good (7th) they still have to kill more than most of the country (142).
Key Matchup is their top line vs our top pair. Without the depth NMU is going to need the top line to produce, look for Merrill to have a bounce back series after last weekends disaster.
Just like Michigan State, Northern comes into the season with major depth issues on the blueline. Kyle Follmer puts up great offensive numbers but the -1 is awful, that means he has been on the ice for 23 goals this year. They also have a problem staying out of the box, Michigan has one blueliner over 25 PIMS and NMU has none under 25.
The key matchup here is getting started early. Although this unit has been bad at times, they have shown that they can ride a hot goalie for the win. Coreau has the numbers to carry them so they need to get on him fast.
The perfect example of how great numbers don't always translate into wins, Coreau is near the top of the league and his SV% is outstanding. Still he's 10-5-2 because he isnt getting the support in front of him. The matchup is the same as for the defense, we have to get on him before he can get confident.
Stats are not current, MGOBLUE has not updated statistics from the MSU series.
|Phil Di Giuseppe||8-9-17||76||+11||12||17|
I really liked how they played against MSU, the big question was how would the team adjust to the line shuffling without Brown. They had a pretty good series getting 5 goals in the two games. I have given up the Sparks watch, I think it's safe to say he won't score for the rest of the regular season.
Despite the way the series looked our defense played outstanding against Michigan state. The loss doesn't fall on the defense, but on the PK. The first game I was disappointed with how Merrill played and it might have been the worst game of his career. Maybe we are just spoiled to be getting such great proformances game in and game out, but I expect a bounce back tonight.
Taking a look at the PK:
I love what MSU does on this PP, it is designed to attack our 1-2-1 diamond and they execute perfectly. They have the center occupying a penalty killer leaving the wings free, when the puck is cycled down to the corner the left wing crashes.
At this point they have a variety of options, the center is not one of them. They can try back door, the pinching defensemen or get risky and go for the other blueliner who isnt pictured. Our penalty killers have to haul back to the net, but they can't get back in time so he takes it himself.
Hunwick is playing the deflection, expecting a pass through the middle or the back door. Right over his head
Still playing at a high level, nothing he could really do about the PP goals last weekend.
I underestimated NMU the last time we played them, I thought we would roll over them pretty easy. I still think we will this weekend, mostly because NMU is really bad on the road. Also we need these points, we need to finish the season strong for the tourney.