Hey all. Before we get started, a reminder: Its been 566 days, and counting, since Ohio defeated Michigan in football.
Technically, the offseason is officially OVAH. How so? Because now we have a full(ish) board of games to bet on thanks to the esteemed Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas releasing well over 100 games of the year lines back on Monday. This has become an annual tradition for the casino's sportsbook and, for me, it tells me two things: One, hurry up and get your summer on because pretty soon it will be football season, and, two, it's time to start studying up on these teams and getting them down cold because if it's football season, that also means it's gambling season. For full analysis on the games on the Nugget's betting board, bookmark the JCB. We'll be looking into these throughout the summer. And while we havent produced any posts yet on the subject, we do have a killer Wisconsin preview on the blog this week as well as daily Euro Cup 2012 coverage. For now, lets focus on the five games involving Michigan. Here are the lines as they opened and later adjusted as action came in, with a full breadown following:
|Opponent||Opening Line||Current Line|
|vs Alabama||Bama -12||Bama -10|
|at Notre Dame||ND -1||ND -1|
|vs Michigan St||UM -6||UM -6|
|at Nebraska||UM -2||UM -1|
|at Ohio State||UM -3||Pick 'Em|
WE HAVE A DIFFERING OF OPINIONS: NEBRASKA, OHIO STATE
What jumped right off the page for me is the fact that the Golden Nugget installed Michigan as road chalk in both the Nebraska and Ohio State games. The Nugget's opening line called for Michigan -2 at Nebraska and -3 at Ohio State. This is in direct contrast to the spread projections put forth by Beyond The Bets, which we discussed in the MGoForum last week.
To review, BTB did spread projections on all the scheduled college football games for the upcoming season. Per their numbers, Nebraska was -3 vs Michigan and OSU was -4 vs the Wolverines. In both cases, the first actual betting line was nearly a full touchdown different from the BTB projections. Of the 111 lines the Nugget released, a handful differed a point or two from those BTB projections, but very few had a different team favored which was the case with these two Michigan games. I caught up with Behind The Bets in an email exchange to get their take on the differing opinions on these games. Home field played a big role in their initial numbers and it was revealed that their numbers pegged OSU to be upwards of a 6-point favorite, but given Michigan's bounceback season in 2011, new found skill at defense and rivalry game intensity, BTB felt it more prudent to project a smaller number. They think the Bucks are the best team in the Big 10:
We power rated Ohio State as the best team in the Big Ten. Obviously, the Golden Nugget disagrees and - to some extent - it's apparent that Las Vegas wiseguys do, too. Otherwise, it's likely that the line in the Michigan-Ohio State matchup would have moved from Michigan -3 to Ohio State being favored. At some point, it very well could, and the guess here is that Ohio State will be at least a three-point favorite by kickoff. But that's the great thing about making opinions in June: They aren't exact, we all have different ones, and it makes for some great discussion.
Dont loook too deep into their power rankings calling OSU the league's best team. For one, its only summer. We're all speculating at this point. But more importantly, very little separates the teams at the top of the league. BTB forecasts a conference race thats too close to call. In their rankings, Michigan is just a point behind OSU, and there's a minuscule 3-point difference between OSU, the highest rated team, and the fifth-rated team, in this case MSU. BTB said that Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska are basically dead even in their ratings, and if the Cornhusker game was in Ann Arbor this year, their spread projections might have listed the Wolverines as 5- or 6-point chalk.
One of the themes in past summers in the wake of early betting lines being released was that Books couldnt throw numbers on the board to stop people from betting against Michigan. Whether it was Michigan being an unknown commodity in the wake of coaching changes in 2008 and 2011, or, frankly being a known stinky commodity after losing years in '08 and '09, nobody seemed interested in backing the Wolverines. That might be shifting and seeing the Nugget install the Wolverines initially as road chalk in the Nebraska and OSU games is an example of that changing mindset. The public loves betting on stars and few shine as brightly or are as popular as Denard Xavier Robinson. BTB expects the Wolverines to be a public darling most of the season.
Expect Michigan to be a heavy public team all season long - no different than USC, another storied program who has a Heisman Trophy hopeful at quarterback. And again, the Mattison factor can't be underestimated. The days of watching Greg Robinson's Swiss Cheese defense are over, and Michigan fans can again expect to see the defense make great second-half adjustments and keep them in games they otherwise have no business winning.
However, early action, at least on the Nebraska and OSU games, shows that the early bird gamblers are still going against Michigan. The OSU line was immediately bet down to a pick 'em and enough Cornhusker action was lured in to shave a full point off the Nugget's original line from UM -2 to UM -1. Living in Ohio, I can tell you that word is going around about a pick 'em line for this year's The Game, and I received a handful of texts and emails from Buckeye friends wondering if I was ready to bet them. The answer to that is No. I suspect the Bucks will have a really good season this year. And that come game week, Michigan will be catching a field goal. The smart investor will wait for those points to materialize, so dont pull the trigger just yet.
As for the Nebraska game, I'm a bit more bullish on Michigan and the current line than I was at first blush. When I broke down the 9.5 regular season win total prop for Michigan at the JCB, I wasnt very confident about any bigtime road game, admitting I couldnt even give a lean to a Michigan win in Lincoln. Since then, however, I've done soemthing radical. I rewatched last years game. I have new found Michigan confidence. I had forgotten just how much Michigan dominated the game and worked over Nebraska's allegedly vaunted Black Shirt defense. I recall the game getting out of hand in the second half thanks to some quirky turnovers by Michigan, but if this game was scored like a boxing match, it would have been a rout, all rounds to the Wolverines. It was the best four quarter game Michigan put together all season. Fitzgerald Toussaint was a beast. Michigan's offense was unstoppable. And the Nebraska offense, led by Tyler Martinez, generated no offense without the help of turnovers or after the game had long been decided. You know the woodsheds that Michigan seemed to end every season with under Rodriguez? It was like that, but with the good guys being the bully. After rewatching last year's game, I could buy the Wolverines being the slight chalk that the Nugget has made them. I think people are as unsure as ever on Nebraska. And nobody is interested in laying many points with them and Martinez. If you want my advice, go ahead and take Michigan against Nebraska. But hold on to your money until game week for OSU and wait until Michigan is catching points.
THE MONSTER OPENING GAME: ALABAMA
The online sportsbook 5Dimes got a jump on everybody with this game, releasing a line of Alabama -7 in the dead of winter. Sharps pounded Alabama on that line and eventually the line grew from Bama as one touchdown favorite to two touchdown favorites. To be clear, this wasnt a case of constant, daily action coming in against Michigan, making the line -8 one day, then -9 the next and so on. It was more of a shock and awe type of thing than anything else. That opening line of -7 got so much one side action that the book pulled the line, went back to the drawing board and rereleased it as -14. They seemed to have a found a fair number for the middle of the offseason, but, in the last month, a slow trickle of Michigan money came streaming in, and 5Dimes knocked the line down to 13.5, then to 13 and just before last weekend all the way down to Alabama -12.
When the Nugget released their much ballyhooed lines on Monday, they agreed with the latest 5Dimes shift and hung a Alabama -12 number. And in a sign that BTB's intimations that Michigan could be a public play this year, money did come pouring in on the Wolverines. The line at the Nugget currently sits at Bama -10. However, back at 5Dimes, where the online didnt get the hyped injection of action like the Nugget got on Monday, the line remains -12. So, if you want to bet Michigan and the points, go over and do it at 5Dimes while you can still get an extra two points. You know what I am thinking? I am wondering how sizeable the demographic is who has Alabama -7 on that very early 5Dimes line, but also has Michigan +12 on the Nugget line, or even +13 or +14 on the 5Dimes re-release. I want to watch this game with that crowd. Otherwise, I'm probably going to sit this one out.
I honestly dont have a true feel for exactly how Michigan will fare in this game. I do know that last summer I figured only a miracle could keep the Wolverines in this game. But their performance, especially on defense, a season ago, has at least given me a flicker of real hope in this game. I am not reassured that Alabama has to replace a lot of defensive parts, but it still will be athletic, fast and talented. And still coached by Nick Saban. It's easy imagining them choking Michigan the way similarly frothed defenses from MSU and Va Tech did to the Wolverines a year ago, despite the Renaissaince season. And the Tide's offensive line might be a mismatch going against the inexperienced and unproven Michigan defensive line. This might be the worst matchup for Michigan's defensive line to be playing without stalwarts up front Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen for the first time in years. Eddie Lacy and Jalston Fowler will handle the rock for Bama now that Trent Richardson is in the NFL. They have just theee 100-yard games between them, but I wouldnt be surprised if one of them pops over the century mark in this one, taking advantage of Michigan transition up front. I cant shake the feeling that this game may just take the form of the recent Bama/Penn St matches from the last couple of seasons. Bama strangled those games in their favor, slowly, but surely pulling away for 24-3, 27-11 wins, covering the spread in each. Michigan at least has a much more capable offense than Penn State ever did coming into those games. The playmaking ability of Robinson alone might be enough of an offensive counterpunch for the Wolverines to, unlike PSU, stay in the game and make the Tide sweat in the end. That might not sound like the most optimistic assessment, but a year ago at this time, I figured Michigan would be lucky to stay within three touchdowns of the Tide. #Progress
THE UNDERDOG SERIES: NOTRE DAME
I really dont have any new ways to present this well known factoid of the Michigan-Notre Dame series, so I'll just say it. This is an underdog series, with the dog logging a 21-5 ATS mark and actually winning the series outright on the real scoreboard by a 13-12-1 count. I always say the underdog in this series usually ends up playing its best game of the season. On the current 4-0 SUATS run the dog in this series is riding right now, you could for sure that say the 2008 Irish squad and the 2009 and 2010 Michigan squads didnt play better games or earned bigger wins in those years than what they accomplished in the annual grudge match between these historic programs. You'd be hard pressed to find an annual series that tilts so strongly to the underdog. Clemson-Georgia Tech in the ACC gives it a run for its money. Both games are ones that I will always play the underdog in, no questions asked. Sometimes its that easy to pull the trigger.
I know some partisan Michigan fans will grumble at the audacious lack of respect oddsmakers are giving the Wolverines here by making the Irish the favored team at home. But I want to Wolverines to be the underdog all the time in this matchup. Nothing good really comes from being chalk in this series. The Irish havent covered as chalk in this series since 1982, while the Wolverines have only covered twice as chalk in this series during my adult life. At least Michigan has some history of winning, but not covering in this series like in 1997 and 1999, but those were major escape jobs from our heroes.
The Irish are always a tricky team to handicap. Other than this Michigan game, the Irish are either eye opening dogs--catching double digits against USC and Oklahoma--or do-a-double-take heavy chalk, such as laying 10 points against Miami. Wise guy bettors have long loved Brian Kelly, but so far in two seasons in South Bend, he hasnt rewarded that faith with a great record against the spread. The Irish perpetually seem to be overvalued more than any other team in the early going of college football seasons. The money quote from Kegs 'N Eggs Adam from the above link:
There were also other games later in the season posted, and Vegas is taking plenty of Notre Dame action, again, because they are Notre Dame. The Golden Nugget clearly likes this team and are making lines that stretch beyond protecting themselves against public betting. That’s not the first time we’ve seen that happen, though.
Yes, we have seen it happen. In fact, it's become a little bit of a cottage industry for me (and the JCB, natch) to spend every September betting against the Irish before people realize just how overrated they are and how skewed the lines are as a result. Did you know that Notre Dame is just 32-31 straight up in the month of September and before since Lou Holtz left town? Well, now you do. That nets out to 27-35-1 against the spread, so betting against the Irish on the blind during the opening month of the season has turned a decent profit since 1996. As chalk, they are especially good money burners during the first month of year, logging just a 12-23-1 ATS mark during this stretch. Basically, they have been annual slow starters since Uncle Lou left town and have failed to cover the spread two out of every three times they've been September chalk since then. With the Irish laying 13.5 to Navy, a single point to Michigan and likely to be chalk against Purdue, you'll make money by betting against them in these games if past history is any indication. And even though they've covered the spread the last couple years against MSU, you could probably add in MSU -2.5 to the Fade Notre Dame Early profit mix. It's a Fall Tradition like no other.
THE GREEN ELEPHANT LAYING IN THE WEEDS: MICHIGAN STATE
The Michigan State Spartans, the current program Waterloo (please, no mail from Iowa. kthnxbai). I brought this up last week, but I am inclined to take the points here and side with MSU. I've been picking MSU to at least cover, if not win, pretty much the entire time during their nifty little historic winning streak over Michigan. I feel Michigan is finally ready to win this game and have just the right circumstances to do that this season--game is at home, senior QB, seemingly extra focus finally being put on this game and so on. But will they? I cant see them doing so in anything other than a close fight that goes right down to the gun.
I have a betting paranoia on taking a team thats favored by a decent amount while trying to snap a noteworthy losing streak against Foe X. A great recent example was last year's OSU game where Michigan won, breaking a 7-game losing streak to the Bucks, but failed to cover the closing -8 line. Yes, I realize there was a shaky replay call that overturned a Michigan touchdown late in the game, keeping them from opening a 10-point lead. But that wasnt the last play of the game. And part of my anxiety in these spots stems from situations like that, even if the TD is granted. There is plenty of time for a worthless late score and back door cover. The dreaded Prevent Defense burns chalk bettors every week with late scores. Given how fast OSU scored some of their TDs that afternoon, you cant say that replay was the difference between covering or not. The back door cover would have been in major play. I'm convinced that had the TD stayed on the board, Michigan would still need to recover an on-side kick to finally clinch a victory.
Getting back to this MSU game, I just dont think more than field goal really should separate these teams this year. And as far as that back door cover scenario, Michigan would need to be up more than 13 points in the fourth quarter to avoid the back door threat. I dont see that happening. We'll see how this line evolves between now and October, but right now I would take those points to the bank.
THE KNOWLEDGE will soon be reviewing the 2012 Michigan football season results in a series of posts. This series will consist of two posts: one outlining the overall season results, and other documenting the out of conference results
as per usual, THE KNOWLEDGE will provide individual game pointers before each game to aid the seekers of the ultimate glory: the title of TOP FRIEND OF THE KNOWLEDGE, as THE CHALLENGE makes a successful return to these very pages
in the meanwhile, THE KNOWLEDGE shall tackle the issue of recruiting in this post
the questions asked by many folks is: in the future, will Bo Scarbrough be in the Michigan back field along with Shane Morris, and behind the line of Cameron Robinson and Damian Prince?
many people also were chomping at the bits to coin the awful MIT pun ro refer to the trinity of the Morris-Isaac-Treadwell before the fact that Isaac will not attend Michigan was revealed as time moved from future to present
of course, these people are and were wrong
on the other hand, many is the number of folks who have been dismayed at what they consider to be lackadaisical progress of Michigan's recruiting after the initial burst. these people see OSU and USC stock up on great talent while Michigan is signing long snappers
and these people are worried (rightfully, in their own minds) if Michigan's coaches can keep up with the Meyers and Kiffins of the world - failing to realize that keeping up with such experts of illegal tactics as Meyer is an extraordinary achievement
and these people are wrong as well
so, where to turn for sanity?
to THE KNOWLEDGE of course. THE KNOWLEDGE has a long, illustrious and peerless history of revealing the future correctly even in the midst of highly irregular abnormalities of the spatio-temporal continuum
as a result, THE KNOWLEDGE has soared to great heights countless times leaving every doubter in a trail of dust
thus, THE KNOWLEDGE is the sole course of relieving people's anxieties about the future
those that follow THE KNOWLEDGE shall be worry free
THE KNOWLEDGE has already revealed in these very pages that the 2012 recruit who will have the greatest success is the lowly rated Sione Houma
people that don't understand the future don't know this; hence, they are highly confused ans greatly stressed by such matters as recruiting
the only thing that matters is winning the games and winning with class and integrity; that is the end product all fans care about
since this result is already revealed by THE KNOWLEDGE at the beginning of each season, people should quit worrying about other things and focus only on THE KNOWLEDGE's revelations
THE KNOWLEDGE shall soar and bask in glory as ever
(Click the image to view full size)
For How bad is your fanaticism of Michigan sports? Does it warrant professional psychiatric help like the devotion of Tom Blockham? When I started writing this I tried to consider the type of questions that a shrink might pose to such a patient, and tried to be honest with my own answers as well. I invite you to do the same as Mr. Blockham visits the couch for the next few episodes to analyze his devotion to Michigan.
Tom's reclamation continues on Thursday. Don't miss it.
THE BLOCKHAMS™ runs (typically) every Tuesday here at MGoBlog, and at least
every Thursday on its official home page. Also, don't forget to check out Friday Roughs,
a spontaneous low-end comic based on trending Michigan events,
available on Twitter and Facebook every Friday.
Michigan picks up a commitment and there's a change at the two-spot in this week's recruiting rankings. To answer your question, no, Indiana still doesn't have a commit. Yes, I'm pretty sure they still have a football program. Changes since the last rankings:
6-4-12: Penn State picks up Neiko Robinson.
6-6-12: Michigan picks up Scott Sypniewski. Penn State picks up William Fuller.
6-7-12: Notre Dame picks up Isaac Rochell.
6-8-12: Northwestern picks up Tyler Lancaster, Brad North, and Macan Wilson.
|Big Ten+ Recruiting Class Rankings|
|Rank||School||# Commits||Rivals Avg||Scout Avg||24/7 Avg||ESPN Avg||Avg Avg^|
^The average of the average rankings of the four recruiting services (the previous four columns). The figure is calculated based on the raw numbers and then rounded, so the numbers above may not average out exactly.
NOTE: Unranked recruits are counted as two-star players.
On to the full data after the jump.
Chris Brown of the website "Smart Football" (smartfootball.com) recently published a book called "The Essential Smart Football." In it, Brown compiles a set of previously written website articles that cover a broad range of topics. He organizes the chapters into four parts -- Characters, History, Theory, and Concepts.
In part four Brown offers a chapter titled, "Nick Saban's Defense School."
Given the upcoming game against Alabama I thought it might be interesting to summarize some of the points Brown makes in this chapter and offer a framework for discussion of what Michigan must do to effectively attack this defense and win.
DISCLAIMERS AND STARTING COMMENTS
- I strongly encourage people to pick up a copy of "The Essential Smart Football." It's a very good book.
- The article on Saban was originally written in 2008. I trust it's still relevant, otherwise Brown would not have included it in the book.
- I am by no means an expert in the X's and O's of football. I am, however, trying to learn more.
- I welcome any and all feedback that might help me and others understand further the tactical and strategic nuances of this wonderful game called Football.
SABAN'S PHILOSOPHY OF DEFENSE
The opening few pages of this chapter outlines the essence of Saban and his approach to defense:
- He's a disciple of Belichick ... he was a defensive backs coach under Belichick
- He tends to favor a 3-4, though he'll often go 4-3
- His stated goal is to stop the run on first and second downs
- He focuses on defending inside first, then outside
- He is very aggressive on passing downs
- He is attentive to technique and details
- His favorite defense is a variation on a "Cover 1" which Saban calls a "Cover 1 Robber"
- He tends to play zone with his secondary
Throughout this chapter, Chris Brown makes it clear none of this is particularly revolutionary or "tricky" in any way. At its core it is a relatively simple defensive approach that relies on execution and athletic ability. Alabama clearly gets good athletes. As to execution, Brown ends the chapter with, "Saban demands perfection and has no qualms about spending the grinding hours working on the finer details to make it happen."
"COVER 1 ROBBER" DEFENSE
The basic "Cover 1" defense (sans "Robber") is, as Brown writes, "...quite simple: the '1' refers to a deep safety who aligns in the middle while the offense's potential receivers are covered man-to-man, often with a press or bump-and-run technique. The defense needs a great center fielder at free safety who can stop the deep ball and cover sideline to sideline."
That's the basic "Cover 1." Brown writes that "once you've locked in five guys in man coverage along with a deep free safety, you can do whatever you want with the other five defenders." Further, "with just one free safety deep, the defense can get in a lot of eight-man fronts."
Recall Saban's approach -- stop the run, defend inside first.
The "'Cover 1 Robber' works in a similar manner, except there are only four rushers ... one drops back into an intermediate zone and pays close attention to the QB's eyes to try to 'rob' any pass routes over the middle." Brown writes: "The key is for the floater to be able to read run, screen or pass and to use his eyes to get to the receiver and the ball."
Here's what I think is a very relevant quote from the book -- "Cover 1 Robber is useful -- not perfect -- against spread offense teams with mobile quarterbacks because the floater may not only read the quarterback's eyes on passing downs but also to watch him for scrambles and to mirror him on run plays."
In a different chapter on Al Borges, Brown seeks to compare Borges to Rodriguez in terms of approach. Brown writes: "Under Rodriguez, Robinson was Michigan's offense, which began to eschew even the 'read' part of zone reads in favor of simply having Robinson keep it himself on an outside zone play, time and time again."
I bring this up not to stir that pot again, but to raise a question ... if we stipulate Brown's point, and we factor in another comment by Brown that the Cover 1 Robber is probably the most prevelant defense in the SEC, I wonder if this helps explain (at least in part) the Gator Bowl against Mississippi State?
Without effective constraint plays (see next) the Robber is free to cheat up and (maybe) the free safety as well. For all Denard's skills as a runner, I'm not sure even those skills can overcome two talented defensive players expecting QB runs and shadowing Robinson's playmaking.
Let's get back to Cover 1 Robber. As stated earlier, Saban tends to play zone with his corners, safeties and his "Robber." Brown then differentiates "pattern reading" versus "spot drops" within the zones. In essence, "spot drops" have defenders go to a particular spot within the zone, then react to the QB's eyes and the flight of the ball. In contrast, Brown writes: "Pattern reading, on the other hand, is much like matchup zone in basketball. Defenders are responsible for zones, but they play tight to the receivers who come through those zones." Pattern reading requires defenders who can, as the name implies, recognize passing patterns and react appropriately. And perhaps more importantly it requires well-executed passing-off of receivers to other defenders as receivers run their routes.
Saban likes to run Cover 1 Robber with pattern reading zone coverage. Again, to run this really well (which Alabama tends to do), it requires: (a) very good athletes that (b) understand and execute well.
Now ... there's little doubt Saban has all manner of variations to this, with different looks and adjustments. The point is that this appears to be Saban's favorite defense, or so says Chris Brown in that chapter of the book.
"Essential Smart Football" has a chapter titled, "The Constraint Theory of Offense." The basic idea is that over time a defense will "cheat" defenders up (or back) to attempt an advantage against the offense's base plays. A "constraint" play is one designed to strike at the weakness created by the defense's cheating. Thus an offense with a set of effective constraint plays can make a defense pay for, as Chris Brown writes, "their impatience."
So, for example, if the Robber tends to cheat up on run plays, a "constraint" play would be to hit a crossing receiver in that vacated zone. Do that enough and the cheating defender learns not to cheat up. This puts the defense back into what the offense can (it hopes) attack with its strength.
This brings up two questions I myself can't answer:
- Q1 -- Can Michigan's base offensive strengths match up and gain advantage against Alabama's base defensive play?
- Q2 -- What "constraint" plays does Borges have in mind to counter Alabama "cheating" on defense?
With all this on the table, now comes my attempt to put a framework around the upcoming game against Alabama.
MICHIGAN'S OFFENSE vs. ALABAMA'S DEFENSE
I reiterate my disclaimer earlier -- I'm only a novice at this X's and O's stuff. I eagerly invite more expert insight ... seriously ... help me :-)
It's almost cliche to write that the key to the game is "execution" and "avoiding mistakes." But just because it's cliche does not make it untrue.
Let's just stipulate that the team that plays sloppy, mistake-filled football loses the game. Or said another way, let's assume a reasonable level of execution and go from there. (Given it's the first game of the season that assumption is a bit of a stretch ... but still, we'll start there.)
I'll offer five thoughts as to Michigan's offense against this Cover 1 Robber:
(1) Offensive Line -- in the absence of specific blitz packages, the Cover 1 Robber has only four rushing. The other seven defenders are back in zone or covering potential receivers or runners. So can Michigan's offensive line provide adequate protection against that defensive front? I'm of the thinking that defensive penetration into the backfield is the cornerstone of defeat for an offense. Can Michigan's line, playing reasonably well, keep Alabama's line at bay?
(2) Denard Robinson -- specifically, has his decision making improved such that he can pass against this zone defense loaded with really talented athletes? Further, how well can Denard disguise what his eyes are looking at? In a video of Al Borges a few months back Borges commented how he likes the winged helmets because they allow him (Borges), when reviewing film, to see where the quarterback was looking. It seems reasonable it would also help a defender see where Robinson is looking. If Robinson stares down his receivers too much, that might give Alabama zone defenders enough to read and react.
(3) Receivers -- can they find seams in the Alabama zones and stay open enough for Robinson to reach them? This is predicated the success of item 1 above. Not many teams were successful in that last year. But of course Alabama lost a great deal of last year's talent.
(4) Touissant+Robinson -- meaning, the run game. Alabama is famously tough up the middle. As stated earlier, Saban's philosophy is to defend inside first, then outside. To the extent the run is available at all it may be outside ... and then can Touissant and Robinson exploit? My knowledge of offensive football really falls down here ... I do not know enough about running offense to begin to speculate on how this part of the game might be attacked. Any insights?
(5) Constraint Plays -- what does Borges have up his sleeves to keep the Alabama offense honest? And will whatever he has be effective? One of the things Brown mentions in the book is that the West Coast philosophy as espoused by Bill Walsh was to attack with passing on first and second down precisely because defenses are stacking against the run on first and second. Saban has said as much. Can Borges and Michigan make any hay here? Should they even try?
As I wrap this up I'll confess I'm left with no solid answers. I really don't know what will happen. I have oodles of hope about what will happen, however.
So we're back to cliche -- it's about execution ... first on the line, then in effective play selection and execution against what Alabama offers on defense. From there it becomes which is the better team on the field on that day.
If you’ve read enough of my pieces you know I don’t put a lot of stock in most of what football announcers talk about. Whether it is harmless and/or mindless cliches or things that are flat out wrong, much of football announcer conventional wisdom is more conventional than wisdom.
One of those cliches I wanted to look at was the concept that coaches love to go for the kill shot after a big momentum change like a turnover or a stop on downs. After a big defensive play, are coaches really trying to seize the opportunity and turn an expected possession into a quick score, and if so, is it working.
One thing to note is that a quick change does not significantly impact the offense’s ability to score. After adjusting for field position, there is virtually no difference in the offense’s expected points whether the drive was obtained by turnover, fourth down stop, punt or kickoff. Of course the field position is a win, but intercepting a ball 40 yards downfield on third down yields no existential benefit over knocking it down and fair catching a 40 yard punt on the next play. Punts and stops on fourth down have very slight positive impacts and turnovers actually decrease a team’s likelihood of scoring, but the effect is so small it’s typically not even worth a field goal over the course of an entire season.
So there is no special advantage of the big defensive play for the offensive side, but how often does the offense attempt to capitalize in a big way right off the bat. To evaluate this you have to figure out what you can measure. There aren’t really running plays that are designed to be big plays, except maybe a reverse, but that’s hard to identify over a large set of data. Same with trick plays. You can’t even tell where a pass is thrown. Was it a screen or a deep ball. Both could be incomplete or big plays.
To try and and answer the question the best approximation I could find was how often the first play of a drive was a pass and went for at least 20 yards. More big passing plays than in other situations would be a good indicator that teams were gunning for a quick strike. For the baseline I looked at drives obtained via kickoff, either after a made field goal, touchdown or start of a half. For these drives, only 8.9% of first plays were passes for at least 20 yards.
Drives resulting from a turnover on downs generated the highest deviation in successful attempts down field, producing big pass plays nearly 35% more often than the baseline scenario. Interceptions and punts were right behind with a 32% increase in big play generation. Coaches were still aggressive but to a lesser extent after a recovered fumble or an opponent’s missed field goals, producing big completions just over 20% more often. Despite safeties being a big momentum swing, that was the most conservative scenario for coaches long passes being less likely than any other scenario, even after adjusting for less field to work with. Even with large deviations, we still aren’t talking about this being a regular occurrence. The baseline is just under 9% and no situation generated more than 12% big pass plays.
So even though the question was answered that yes big plays do happen more frequently in this situation, there are still many things that I am unsure about. Is the increase in big plays because the defense is unprepared for the cliche move or because the opportunity for a big pass play is always there but the offense just doesn’t go for it as much in normal course of play. On top of that, is the increase success coming at a risk for offenses. As noted above, despite getting more big plays on the first play of the new drive, offenses aren’t actually scoring any more points on these drives. Maybe for each big momentum piling pass there are two incompletions that put the offense in an unnecessarily risky situation.
Having exhausted the stretches of my data my personal conjecture would be that yes offenses are going for the jugular at a higher rate immediately after a big defensive play. However, this strategy is probably a high deviation, zero average change result for both offense and defense. The evidence points to teams taking more and completing more big passes, but the untold story are the misses which are the likely culprit to the big defensive play not translating into any measurable offensive boom.
Based on the data and my inferences off of it, if I were advising coaches I would not recommend introducing the new risk to the offense and play it straight unless I was in a trailing or underdog situation. Defensivley, I would make sure the team is prepared to cover a big attempt. This should help reduce the likelihood of the big play for the opposing offense and hopefully increase the likelihood of a wasted down, putting the quick start defense in a good position right off of the bat.