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AN ACUTE CASE OF MICHIGANITIS
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Soo, yes... the biggest February weekend in recent Michigan history is in the books,
and like the rest of us, Tom Blockham is still recovering. If you think MICHIGANITIS
is a fabrication... just ask your wife on a Saturday morning, or your boss on a Friday
afternoon. It's real, and it was a true PANDEMIC Saturday and Sunday.
May it show no mercy in 2012.
For those of you that publish blogs, contribute stories, or otherwise comment on the
goings on of all things Michigan, you can probably agree that it was no small feat trying
to find the right words to do it justice. I can handily say this was not my first attempt
at addressing The Best Weekend Ever in the comic strip medium-- but in the end it
just came back to the characters, which I hope you've enjoyed getting to know better.
Speaking of which... new character alert for Thursday's strip. Stay tuned.
THE BLOCKHAMS™ runs every Tuesday here at MGoBlog, and at least every
Thursday on its official home page. Also, don't forget to check out our newest
feature, Friday Roughs, a spontaneous low-end comic based on trending
Michigan events, available on Twitter and Facebook every Friday.
Follow THE BLOCKHAMS™ on Twitter at @theblockhams.
I'd also like your collective help! I'd like to invite everyone to
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If I break 250 by Friday I'll promise an extra strip that day on top of the Friday Rough!
LIKE THE BLOCKHAMS™ on your own Facebook page today and get updates
for every strip as soon as it's posted. Thanks again and GO BLUE!
Way back before Michigan filled half of their 2013 class—aka last week—the Wolverines offered Belton (TX) TE Durham Smythe. We'll see if Michigan decides they want to take a third tight end in the class at this point, but if they do, they'll give a hard look at the 6'6", 230-pound Texan, who currently holds offers from Baylor, Florida, Ole Miss, Stanford, TCU, Texas, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech. I caught up with Durham shortly after he received his offer to talk about his recruitment:
ACE: How's everything going with your recruitment, and what schools do you hold offers from right now?
DURHAM: It's been getting pretty busy lately over the last two weeks. As of right now I have offers from Texas Tech, Baylor, Texas, TCU, Ole Miss, Michigan, Stanford, and I'm possibly leaving out one or two, but those are the ones as of recently.
ACE: With those coming in all pretty recently, have you been able to figure out a list of leaders or is it too soon to say?
DURHAM: It's still pretty early, so it's a little bit too soon to say, but I'm going to try to distinguish them coming in the next couple of weeks. I'm taking a trip to A&M this weekend and two weeks from now I'll visit Stanford, on March 1st and 2nd. After those visits I'll try to evaluate everything, try to get a top list, ranking, and just see if I need to take any further visits.
ACE: You mentioned getting the Michigan offer recently. Who has been in contact with you from Michigan and what was your reaction to getting the offer?
DURHAM: Actually pretty much every coach on the offensive side of the ball talked to me this morning. I haven't been in too heavy contact with them recently. My head coach just talked to them a little bit and they called this morning; I talked to them for about 30 minutes on the phone, got a little bit of a rundown and everything of the program, what they want to do the next couple years, and got the offer, so it was a good phone call.
ACE: What's your impression of Michigan as a school? Is that a place you'd be interested in visiting and what do you know about them?
DURHAM: It definitely is. It's a great school and has a great surrounding area. Obviously it's a great program, it's the most winning program in college football history, so that's huge. The Big House, 115,000 people, so it's big-time football, it's everything you could really ask for. Just because of those thing it's definitely worth a look.
ACE: Going back to your junior season, how do you think you performed and what kind of numbers did you put up?
DURHAM: We run kind of a spread and also pro-style offense at the same time, we run a little bit of both. It was good. As a team we probably could have done a little bit better, go deeper into the playoffs, but individually I was pretty happy with my performance on the year. I think I had close to 30 catches for about 400 yards and four touchdowns.
ACE: If you had to scout yourself, what would you say are the biggest strengths of your game and what are you working on to improve your game for your senior year and on to the next level?
DURHAM: My strengths, I would say, probably versatility, being able to do different things, being able to flex out, play the H-back position, play the regular tight end position, and being able to catch the ball. On weaknesses, something I'm trying to work on is I'm trying to put on weight in the offseason; that will help me with strength and blocking, so that's something I'm trying to work on.
ACE: You mentioned a couple of visit plans. Do you have any plans in terms of going to any camps over the offseason?
DURHAM: Not yet. What I'm going to try to do is after these two visits is sit down, see what I need to do in terms of camps and other visits, and I'll go from there.
ACE: You made it up to Texas's junior day. What was it like being at the junior day at Texas and also getting an offer from them?
DURHAM: It was really cool. I got to meet a bunch of great recruits down there. Obviously, the facilities and academic side of the school are fantastic, so that was good to see first-hand. Also, I really enjoyed being able to meet some of the players. Actually, Texas's starting quarterback, David Ash, came from our high school and we're pretty good friends, so I got to talk to him a little bit. It was a good overall visit.
ACE: Once you're done taking visits and it's time to evaluate schools, what are going to be the main factors that you're going to be looking at when it comes time to make a decision?
DURHAM: Obviously seeing how they use a tight end in their offense, see how much they're using that. Hopefully I'll be able to take an extra visit to these schools once I narrow it down to be able to get a view for the total atmosphere, and I'll go from there.
ACE: You mentioned playing in a spread and pro-style offense. Is there a particular style that you prefer?
DURHAM: Not anything specific. Really either one works for me, since I feel like I can fit into either. I don't really prefer one that's an actual listing, really, it's just how they use the tight end in the offense. If it's a spread, how they're using the tight end, if it's a pro-style, how are they using the tight end, that's what I really look at.
ACE: Going away from the football field, what's something about you, whether it's a hobby or just something about you, that you think people would like to know about you?
DURHAM: Football is everything I guess, off the field is just playing video games, football everything. Other than that, there's actually a lake in our hometown that's kind of a hotspot, so I spend as much time as possible there when I'm not involved in football.
ACE: Is that like a swimming hole kind of spot, or fishing, taking boats...
DURHAM: It's all of that put together. It's pretty nice.
Since Michigan's 5-2 win over LSU on February 4th, the Wolverines have endured two tough losses. The February 11 road trip to Seattle ended poorly for #28 Michigan, who dropped the doubles point and all but one singles match en route to a dismal 6-1 loss at the hands of #26 Washington. Designated 1 court #6 Evan King lost in straight sets to #15 Kyle McMorrow, 6-3, 7-6. Only Barrett Franks on 5 court held on to win his singles match over Max Manthou, 7-6, 6-7, 1-0. As an added bonus, we got an awesome picture of Barrett courtesy of MGoBlue.com.
Look into those eyes. No pity lurks there.
The worst kind of loss is a rivalry loss, and Michigan's 4-3 loss to #30 Notre Dame at the Varsity Tennis Center February 18th was truly heart-rending. The match came down to 3 court featuring freshman Alex Petrone of Michigan versus Sam Keeton of Notre Dame. The match ended 3-6, 6-5, 7-6 in favor of Mr. Keeton, who dominated the third-set tiebreaker with five straight points en route to the win.
However, some positives came from the match as well. Michigan doubles again dominated, winning all three of their matches. Alex Buzzi had a nice win on 6 court, winning 7-5, 7-5. Evan King dropped the first set but ended strong, winning 1-6, 6-3, 7-5. It is unfortunate that Petrone did not come through in the clutch for Michigan, but he is only a freshman. Petrone and Zhu have nowhere to go but up, and the whole team is still young. Thank goodness we have another year with Evan King! He's so fun to watch play. In fact MGoBlue has some fairly detailed video coverage of the M-ND match available for free, if you are interested.
So, I'm sure everyone has seen the sign that OSU has in their football building comparing the majors of Michigan and OSU football players. The list seemed awfully small and incomplete to me, so I decided to look into the numbers myself. I got my info from the Sugar Bowl Media Guide and from OSU's 2011-2012 Football Information Guide (strangely enough, OSU's website listed no media guide from their losing effort to John Brantley in the Gator Bowl). You'll be unsurprised to learn that "Baseball America rated [Joe Bauserman] as having the best changeup in the Pirates' farm system." I would've thought it was his knuckeball, but changeup is pretty hilarious too. You really can't make this stuff up.
|Major||# of players|
|Afro-American and African Studies||4|
|Brain, Behavior and Cognitive Science||2|
|Arab, Armenian, Persian, Turkish and Islamic Studies||1|
|Business Administration - Ross School of Business||1|
|Cellular and Molecular Biology||1|
|Master of Social Work||1|
|Masters of Accounting - Ross School of Business||1|
|Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering||1|
|Physics and Mathematics||1|
I didn't break up Kinesiology School students, but if I did it'd be a split of about 65/35 between Sport Management and Movement Science, with maybe one Physical Education thrown in.
|Major||# of players|
|Sport and Leisure Studies||7|
|Family Resource Management||7|
|Management and Industry||4|
|Construction Systems Management||1|
|Fisheries and Wildlife Management||1|
|Middle Childhood Education||1|
|Real Estate and Urban Analysis||1|
A couple of notes. First, the hilariously named "exploring" is apparently not a major but a way for undeclared kids to take a survey of a variety of courses. Sounds eerily similar to a General Studies major, doesn't it? Second, Joe Bauserman is your Fisheries and Wildlife Mangement major. Third, "famiy resource management" isn't as much of a joke as it sounds like, appearing to be basically a watered-down finance or financial planning degree that tells you how not to lose all the money, cars and tattoos that you accrue.
I was going to make this a diary (and still might) and try to add to the discussion started by Ramzy's take, but I've got stuff to do. All I'll say for now is that I'm pretty sure the reason you don't see more business or engineering students on Michigan's roster is the incredibly difficult admissions standards of those schools.
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.