FWIW. Michigan doesn't seem inclined to get re-involved.
Disclaimer: I played Fullback for a D3 college team so I represent the offensive position this blog distains most. This also makes me a Walmart Wolverine so I'm actually the two most distasteful things combined, almost as if Brandon wanted to troll Brian by hiring a German Marketing Intern nickleback fan that wins Karaoke contests singing Creed while advocating for all-maize uniformz and inverted helmet colors to be worn at the next edition of The Game as his big “revenue generation” project.
At any rate, on the football stuff here is what I think:
What ails team 134 - you're all somewhat right and all a little bit wrong:
Criticism #1 YOUTH -
M Coaches= you can't overcome a young Oline, y'all don't understand
Everyone Else= that’s no excuse, you suck at coaching definitely the Oline coach sucks, this is unacceptable
WWF take:You're both right; back when I was in school and we ran the offset I because I was usually too slow to block the POWER from the normal I. Actually I take that back, it was outside zone where I was too slow to get to the corner from the normal I.
At any rate, we had a 198 lb freshman center forced into action; the kid belonged in a Chem lab not on a football field but at any rate he was all we had after an injury. Kid got blown back every play but he was a quick study and by the end of the season he was semi-servicible. By the end of his senior season he had put on about 15 lbs of muscle and we could even run an ISO to the back side B gap without me having to block the D lineman running through. The C is critical for all the reasons you point, out communicating the front so the QB can get the right check with me play and the line calls. It's a lot for physically challenged guy to do (thinking of Miller here) and even worse a young one. We at least had experienced guards who helped a lot, but if the call was wrong then it blew up from there.
My junior year we lost both of our senior tackles and had to replace them with a sophomore and a freshman. Total disaster similar to MSU+Nebraska - no run game, multiple sacks etc. guys would get confused in protection especially against blitzes. Luckily for them I was a "lineman in the backfield" and could take on a D end from my now well-rehearsed ability to run POWER.
The other issue here was we kept trying to MANBALL when we were usually on average 20 lbs lighter, weaker and .3 slower than our opposition (obvs not a problem at M). The issue here was not only that but actually "playing fast" when you are accustomed to the system, know all the checks and responsibilities, then you have a seasoned and strong offensive interior a la Stanford.
At our best, we had a situation where we could manball, despite our physical shortcomings, because we could be variable. We had a play (outside zone) with a constraint, counter where backside G/T pull and slow fullback blocks the backside D end out of same offset I used to run outside zone. We also had a play action bootleg off of the counter. We ran Power, we ran ISO. We used to have a game with the RBs and Oline where we guessed each other’s assignments in Pass Pro by play and defensive formation. Whoever won made the other group run an extra sprint at the end of practice. This game was played by upperclassman/starters usually and the underclassman stayed silent lest they raise their hand, be wrong and the reason everyone had to run which got you an Incognito. The freshman center guy was annoyingly good at this. When the two tackles went down this game was no longer played and we went back to reviewing everyone's responsibility thrice.
What I described above is a situation where any coach would struggle... but this; this is a desmadre completa. The fact that we are playing true/RS frosh over basically anyone else on the interior is certainly a sign of bad recruiting but, even worse, a sign of bad planning and indecisiveness by the coaching staff. It seems they thought they could get away with a two platoon team, one being the more Devin/Toussaint friendly RR transitioners that would be the lead (ND Offense) and then MANBALL1 piloted by Derrick Green or some serviceable mishmash of the two. Instead we got transitionballnegative63 and the passion of the Gardner. In light of this I have a task for the MgoBlog team - maybe Heiko - get inside an oline grading session and figure out if Glasgow or Miller has a worse incorrect line call to missed assignment ratio. If Funk is playing the "mentally worse" of the two he is probably more of a “tough guy” Oline coach than cerebral one who is going to figure out what to do with a line that has the least experience of any in his career and thus merits all of the criticism meted out by the unwashed masses. Just a guess here.
Criticism #2 Coaches are stubbornly sticking to what they want to run vs. what works -
M Coaches= we are calling what works in practice that suits who we want to be and what we think we can do limited by our limitations
Everyone Else= you suck at coaching
WWF take:Agree with the fans. Another awesome analogy was when I was pressed into service as an overweight out of shape freshman that had only seen ST and mop up duty. Starter gets injured. Coach calls me out in front of team, I get nervous, get crushed on first block where they send me out on POWER to block 275 lb DE. Does not end well. Coach pulls me over on the sideline and says, "We will run Power till we bleed"!
When we lost yards the next time we called that play when I was pancaked by said DE and I ran off the field to apologize and that was met with, "Tell that to the 33 other guys you just let down" Harsh lesson in reality that did nothing for my confidence. Not sure that the plays or the calls are putting the players in the position to succeed or gain confidence.
Insert demands for short passing game here. Here is another great possible analog to this year from bad D3 coaching. We were winning against a team that we had probably been outscored 107-3 by over the last two meetings with a "dink and dunk" slant approach antithetical to MANBALL where we ran our 2 min drill to start the game. We the players were happy with said success, but somehow it was deemed by the HC that we were not running enough ISO and POWER! Sadly, we reverted to that and the result was predictable 7-0 turned into 63-7.
Also this created a rift in the team with older players not recruited by that coach but by the previous one who ran a split back, run and shoot type approach. They felt they had been more successful with the previous style and wanted more similar plays called.. Anyone for a Shotgun-5 wide slant to Tay Odoms?
This should be the easiest thing for Borges to revert to, put Fitz/Norfleet in the slot with Dileo and Gallon and Funch/Chesson/Butt on the outside or Flex TE. Put some of these “incompetent” defenses in the Nickel and see if their Dbacks can get home. Pull a Tressel 2006! Make the Blitzer(s) run farther and give the Oline more time to target, easier checks and leave Devin with simple instructions. Three seconds, three decisions: 1)Throw at blitz if open, if not look to receiver 2, if not throw away. Out of this, run a QB draw, motion slot into a RB draw/QB lead draw once the D is burned badly enough via short passing to back off on the blitz. Bad pass blocking/Blitz pickup complexity are somewhat mitigated and simple hot routes have a better chance of succeeding against a competent D.
It seems like the coaches are asking a first year computer science student to execute stored procedures without teaching them to write a "Select" statement first - (Yes I come from the 90s). For me this is the worst indictment of Borges’ lack of adaptation and to a lesser extent, Hoke's own identity crisis - how many times in the pre-season did you hear Lewan say "We're a downhill team now". I like the comment from a post that read something to the effect of "Borges seems like a guy who knows 4890 plays but only uses 12." Also, Identity is great when you have a seasoned program like Stanford, but when you have a bunch of little wolverine cubs that you want to grow into polar bear killers, you have to know they are blind and feed them mothers' milk, not expect them to go hunting on their own in the big bad forest. Rodriguez actually gave Borges a blueprint for success here where he could slowly mix in ManBall plays using the same basic blocking schemes. I think we should've stayed on the "Denard-special" O for one more year, more for the program’s success, than the development of the line as a MANBALL LINE and also for Devin and the young skill guys to have success early, remembering that Devin is developmentally a soph QB after the PSU game – not sure which game was his 12th start.
Criticism #3 Borges is tipping his calls w/formation and calling to tendency-
M Coaches= we are limited because of our youth; we need to execute better
Everyone Else= you suck at coaching and chess and Rochambeau and Life
WWF take:Agree with the fans and the coaches. When you have problems 1 and 2 working together the tendency issue then can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even good constraint plays or formation changes can be anticipated if you run essentially the same type of play with the down and distance and/or tip with formation and personnel. The coaches want to keep the game plans simple so that the players can execute what they presumably showed they were capable of in practice and other games. The issue here is about balance between the two. This can be avoided with better game planning as well as better in game calls, not just passing on First down, but doing something completely different like running a lead draw on first down out of a formation that you had primarily passed successfully from the week prior, but if your line can't execute then that you don't have that option.
We had a play where instead of blocking the will on the outside zone I'd run a wheel route. We ran motion before it for the QB to determine if Man/Zone, if man we called the run (I was slow and wouldn't beat most Will in pass coverage) if zone we called the wheel route and Id catch it in the hole between flat and safety for a first down almost every time. This is the opposite of what most teams would expect. Then we reversed that in a particular game and I caught the only 30+ yard pass of my career when I used my 4.99999 forty speed to smoke the Will (if only it had been from the 30 yard line going in, damn you Wild Bill!) This was during my Junior/Senior year when most people were seasoned and knew their responsibilities and also against a sucky team.
On the other hand when we were starting in our youth, these plays were a gleam in the OCs eye. We were too busy figuring who to target on outside zone, ISO and power given the different fronts and blitz packages you would see from the different teams on our schedule. Most of them knew that based on down and distance if they saw offset I it was either counter or rollout off the counter. The rollout worked early on (See Borgess PA from Ace) but as teams caught on, our sure fire first down on that play was shut down. We varied it by running the same two plays against tendency and then finally put in an iso and iso play action out of the same formation which worked for one game.
Strangely, though we were able to execute better when we ran the two minute offense because we had less time to think about all of those variables and remember the playcall if a run (it was one of three) and inside-out for pass pro as a general rule. We were adjusting to a new scheme with old personnel, young in critical positions and outcoached on a number of occasions. This resulted in a bad season by even our mediocre standards. For M it's a situation where Borges' hands are tied but I think the effect is magnified by his reticence to go away from unsuccessful play calls/formations.
I think a little of all of this is what is ailing our (not so) beloved Team 134 and while it's a huge stretch to compare one person's 15 year old experience in D3 college football with the sports' most successful program, however I believe there are some parallels 1) young players' reaction to pressure and complexity 2) Coaches failing with over-reliance on system vs. personnel 3) those two combining to exacerbate game planning and play calling problems that are probably going to crop up in a less obvious but more impactful way (OSU 2012) because well, people are people and they have channels burned into their neurons. I'm not sure that Al is fresh enough at this point to adapt and barring an unbelievable turnaround and the biggest upset in the history of The Game, which will have everyone apologizing and calling Hoke, the BO REDUX, I think Brady and DB need to act quickly to minimize disruption with recruits like Speight, Malzone and all the other stud offensive guys that will be following Hand to Alabama.
Finally, as fans the best thing we can do is not to boo the players and whine and complain on message boards that they and their parents read, but rather support them so that they feel that in the end, despite the challenges, it was worth it to come to Michigan because it's Michigan and regardless of what happens on the staff they will have stability in their playing career and get a quality education. Ultimately, the likes of Kerridge and Houma should be able to come back to AA, have someone buy them a beer and hear stories about how much that 2013 season sucked, or how terrific the turnaround was but that they love M regardless for what it is and the impact the experience had on their lives. That is the Michigan Difference. If we can add “winning football games” to that statement then you have the recipe for a badly awaited return to relevance. If you want to complain about building a program and recruiting issues, look at yourself first; fans now play a critical role in recruits’ perception of a program. If you want to represent a team and school whose motto is "The Leaders and Best" then don't whine like a little bitch when the going gets tough; do what you would expect the players to do: miss a block, learn from it and move on - and yes I'm targeting this message to myself (COACHTV guess what - they can't hear you) as much as everyone else.
But then again I'm just a Walmart Wolverine Fullback so what the fuck do I know...
[Moved to Diaries to keep folks informed]
[Update 11/13: Todd Howard is confirmed]
[Update 11/7: Talked to some former players, who are going to try to come. A lot of guys coach so if the season's over (ie they lose in the playofffs) they'll make it.]
Q: What's the exact opposite of the East Lansing experience?
A: The Evanston experience.
Northwestern fans are eminently likeable, not that you really need to be alone on a purple sea since half the seats in Ryan are going to be filled with people in maize:
The above is the t-shirt that people going on the Northwestern trip with Sports Power Weekends will receive, along with a game ticket, hotel room for two nights, transportation, gift cards, and an MGoStore discount. For Friday night's entertainment, Jared of SPW has engaged the services of…US GUYS.
There's still some spots left on the SPW trip and I highly recommend you jump on that if you're considering going to the NW game—it gets down to just $350/person if you can get three of your friends to come along.
Since we'll be there anyway we'd like to also invite any readers from Chicago to come join us at:
Which is a huge (as in we get lots of space) Michigan bar. Details-like things:
When: Friday, November 15, from 6-9PM CST.
Where: Moe's Cantina River North 155 W. Kinzie St., Chicago, IL 60654, one block north of the Chicago River between LaSalle and N Wells. M: Merchandise Mart.
What: Q&A Session with Brian, and talking with people who don't need it explained that we had a true freshman guard starting against Max Bullough, i.e. other MGoBlog readers.
RSVP below, or show up.
In the picture pages post today, I feel I noted something of some significance. This isn’t supposed to be a post to puff out my own chest, rather, I merely want to give the
other side of the argument my side of the argument for what it really is.
As an aside, there have been numerous people that have constantly misconstrued my argument lately. I understand that by taking a particular unpopular stance so strongly, that I have opened myself up to criticism. But within this article I also want to make clear up some of my stance, so towards the end I will get into some of that. Much of these will be related to the comments I made earlier (if not copy and pasted), the major difference is that I now have the opportunity to add accompanying pictures and diagrams to go with it. This is of importance because football isn’t really a sport that is best described with words. You can try to be as descriptive as possible, but there will always be a certain amount of failure to accurately convey your thoughts through this medium. So the pictures/diagrams help in that regard. So let’s begin.
Set Up and Play Design
I’m going to copy and paste Brian’s set up to his post as he does a good job getting us there.
Michigan comes out with an H-back and two tailbacks in a twins formation, which necessarily means that the slot receiver is not an eligible receiver. Nebraska responds with 7.5 in the box, with the gray area defender just about splitting the difference between Funchess and the tackle.
I’ll get to the covered receiver part later, I want to start off with the basics here about what the intention of this play is. Let’s first start with the most fundamental concept of any run play: the blocking scheme.
Inverted veer works with a Power O blocking scheme. Power is a type of man/gap blocking scheme, while “O” indicates the pulling of the backside guard. A simple power play looks like this.
The inverted veer meanwhile, takes the fullback and erases him. It utilizes the option read to kick out the DE because the DE must commit to the QB or the RB. If the DE commits to the RB, the QB reads this and shoots through the lane inside of him. If the DE commits to the QB, the QB gives to the RB and the RB attacks the edge. Here’s how the inverted veer looks:
Now, let’s first act like there is no FB involved in the play so we can address the offensive line and TE first. As noted, this is a standard power blocking scheme. No one, from any of the offensive linemen, to the TE, do things differently than they would if this was a Power O run from under center. But the defense aligns in a way that makes running power difficult. This is an even front, stacked front, meaning the DL is aligned 5-2-2-5 as far as gaps. That’s outside shoulder of the OT and inside shoulder of the OG. The stack indicates that the OLBs are stacked over the DEs.
Well, to the front side this is similar to what a 4-3 Under will look like, but instead of the LB brought up on the LOS like Michigan often does with Jake Ryan, they’ve stacked him behind the DE.
This isn’t the exact defensive formation, but the blocking scheme is exactly the same (the only difference is the OC has one less shoulder to down block the backside DT and that the LB are shaded further from playside).
If you’re wondering what some of the things are in the diagram, the green boxes are the blocking calls that should be understood or made. As for the defensive formation, just for reference, the “G” means the NT that is usually lined up in a 1-tech slides out to the guards inside shoulder (often utilized to stop Iso) and the Loose is the SAM position loose from the LOS.
What you see is an adjustment in the blocking scheme. This is automatic and should be called and understood. Any team that runs power should make this adjustment. Why? Because that playside DE is very tight to the formation and becomes extremely difficult to kick out. His position pre-snap is already squeezing the hole that power is intended to go through, so rather than slam into that wall, it’s easier to down block him and seal the outside for the RB.
Now, here is how that applies to the inverted veer.
You see now that the person being optioned is that OLB (SAM) rather than the DE because of the defensive alignment.
Now let’s add the FB in the inverted veer. Power blocking makes another small adjustment when you have two lead blockers. If you remember back in the Tackle Over days, Michigan would utilize the U-back as a first lead blocker and a FB as a second. It was the U-back that was first through and responsible for the kick defender. The FB has some reads, but generally will try to get beyond the kick player and knock the first odd color jersey he sees.
More accurately, let’s look at it with an overhang defender. The way the FB is going to treat this is to go block that guy. If that guy tries to gain depth into the backfield, the FB will just carry him with his momentum. If he tries to go inside of him, he’ll simply arch block him. This is what that looks like:
Now let’s apply that to the inverted veer. It’s the same exact thing. The first lead blocker through takes the kick defender (here, that is the playside OLB). The fullback goes and finds the next off color jersey, typically to the outside. Generally, he will block this in a somewhat similar way, erring on the side of scooping the gray area defender. What that does is give a massive alley for Fitz to run through. It also forces that gray area defender to fight that block, regardless of if it blocks him from DG because he knows he must respect Fitz to run. That means if the blocking up front is done properly, DG has more than enough room and time to go straight up field and beyond that gray area defender before cutting out into the same lane that Fitz would run in.
So that’s how the play is designed to be run. Combined with the slot receiver taking the playside safety, everyone on the playside is blocked and a defined seam is established.
Why Run This Play?
I’m not really going to get into why you run the inverted veer, as that’s just a play more or less that has some pretty clear positives as far as reading a defender and threatening a defense with the RB and QB. But why put in the FB?
A common way teams defend the inverted veer is similar to ways that defenses have adapted to defend the read option: they force the QB’s read to be wrong. Essentially, this is a scrape exchange.
In the instance of an inverted veer, they’ll bring a defender off the edge that the QB can’t read or see because the QB is busy reading his key. The key typically is the DE.
Here’s a give look:
Here’s a keep look:
And here’s how a scrape exchange looks:
See that the read is still the same player for the QB. The QB’s read is to give. What the QB doesn’t see is the guy that is coming right into Fitz at the handoff. The defense is making DG’s reads wrong and there is nothing he can do about it.
So, to counter this, you add a FB. This is similar to what Rich Rod did with a U-back to kick the backside on a read option. Essentially, it’s making the QB’s read right by blocking the exchange defender. This means the QB just has to read his key and is fine. This is an adjustment to take advantage of a defensive look and seal the defense inside. Effectively, it’s acting similar to a bubble screen would act as it’s sealing the defense inside and attack the edge and alley with the RB (rather than a slot receiver). It’s a horizontal constraint on top of the normal inverted veer play.
Why Doesn’t it Work?
I’ll save some time and copy and paste a bit:
So the problem is two-fold: Kerridge completely whiffs his block because he archs too wide. His goal is essentially to scoop that gray area defender like he's trying to do in the MSU clip, note in that clip how he passes off the read DE and tries to get to the second level where he blocks no one because the safety he wants to block shot the gap instead (in theory here, his eyes are in the wrong place, there should be some adjustment that allows for DG to read the safety crashing and for Kerridge to scoop the DE, and DG should give here in that instance, but was likely hoping that guy would just follow Fitz and he'd have a clear path to a TD by having the option essentially block two-defenders, but as expected, it doesn't). The second problem is the fact that two people (Schofield and the TE) aren't on the same page as to what the power blocking adjustment should be.
The Big Picture
So we see this is messed up here. It is an execution issue. Alright. So what’s the deal. Quasi-rant in copy and paste mode:
Now, I don't think as far as the missed communication that it's because the blocking scheme is too complex. Much and most of their run scheme settles around a power blocking scheme. That should be better. The play against Nebraska should be executed better, but there were two huge botched assignments. The play against MSU is tougher and something that clearly wasn't repped enough (on the coaches). The FB nor Gardner made the correct adjustment to a safety shooting a gap. They might have repped it a few times, but clearly it wasn't enough to be familiar with how to adjust it in game.
It's basic Power O blocking fundamentals with two lead blockers (here, the two lead blockers are the option read and then the FB rather than a U-back and then a FB).
This is the problem that I've had with the "too many things that they aren't good at anything" argument. Veer option is based on a running scheme they utilize anyway (essentially a down G) but you don't have to pull because your kick block is the option. Inverted veer is Power blocking all the way. It is their base run play with the same exact assignments and adjustements. Nebraska does absolutely nothing that shows this play is tipped, they don't play it any way other than how a standard defense would play it. But Michigan can't get out of it's own way.
And this is the argument that I've had since PSU. It is execution. This play should work. It is 100% execution. Borges has Nebraska exactly how he wants them. Michigan is missing assignments in their base blocking scheme that they've repped thousands of times from under center, from pistol, from ace, from shotgun. That's not just on the players. Why the hell isn't the coaching staff able to get the players to block their base scheme? Why is it taking so long? Youth is part of it, yes. But at this point they should be able to block the run they utilize 75% of the time, including on their counters. It's on the coaches but it's not because of the play call. The play call is perfect. Why the hell aren't the players able to execute? Part of that, a lot of that, is youth. And part and a lot of that is they aren't getting through to these kids. It's the argument that I've made that's been misinterpreted since the start of all this. It's the same thing over and over again. Why can't they block their most basic, most repetitively run play in the entire playbook?
It’s not that there is too much in the playbook, I don’t believe that. That seems like a plausible answer when you isolate inverted veer from the rest of the offense. But it's not isolated from the rest of the offense. It's a Power O play with Gardner making a read. Blocking is exactly the same as Power O. It's their most repped play in the entire playbook.
So how can you make it easier? They've taken out most of the difficult things. 75+% of the runs are the same damn blocking scheme. Counter Power, Inverted Veer, Veer option, Power, that accounts for the vast majority of the plays and all those plays have their roots in the same blocking structure. They still can't get it done. It's not about reducing the playbook anymore, they literally can't without just running from the I formation or just inverted veer. They can literally only reduce it by having the same blocking scheme and the same run action behind it, and that would only make matters worse because blocking is the primary issue.
And I know the execution thing rings of cliché as well, but it is absolutely true. This grab bag theory that all these plays are independent of one another isn't correct. They do have some tweaks. Zone stretch is now intended to be a constraint. Same with the counter. But the base of the run game comes back to power over 75% of the time I can promise that.
So it’s part youth. Certainly youth is a valid reason for some of these issues. But it’s also coaching. I can reiterate that until my face turns blue and some people won’t accept that I said it. But there is a fundamental flaw transferring the knowledge of this scheme to the players. This is not a difficult scheme. It’s a scheme taught to high schoolers all across the country. Sure, it gets a bit more complex at this level, and it gets a lot faster and you have to be much better at executing, but the basic, mental problems?
Why No Vertical Constraint?
Trust me when I say I would like a vertical constraint (pop pass) out of this look as much as anyone. My goal in this section is to try to explain why it may not be in the playbook right now with so many other issues in this offense.
But I seem to remember a pop pass off of it once or twice last year (I believe with Denard at QB). Honestly can't say why Borges hasn't run a false mesh, slide protection pop pass off of this look yet this year. I would like him too as well unless. My guess is that he's uncomfortable with DG making that read in traffic (he's worried about someone undercutting it or scrapping into it is my guess, and DG not processing it fast enough).
This is intended to argue one way or another if that play should be in there (I would personally like it), it's just trying to give perspective on if it's been run before and why an OC may shy away from it.
Why Cover Funchess?
Again, guesses for the most part, but realistically:
As I said, I hate covering receivers. It is a tip to the defense that it's likely run (where, they don't know). That said, you would be surprised how many defenses will still trot a DB out to cover that guy.
Anyway, the reason here is because Borges wanted a guy to block the playside safety. He wanted to form an alley on that side for Fitz. The FB takes the slot defender, Funchess takes the safety, and Gallon takes the CB. Everyone else is sealed inside. That's the only reason he did it, was to get the play completely blocked playside, which it should have been.
They need to cover the TE or Funchess because he wanted to run to strength and wanted that slot blocker. So the TE or Funchess had to be covered. Now, typically I'd say "alright, cover the TE, don't cover your 2nd biggest threat". But a couple things could have gone into the thinking here.
- But have the TE off the line you open up plays to the backside of the formation with the inverted veer look (including counter schemes and how the FB would leak out into the flat later). So in a way, it keeps the box defenders more honest, which they succeeded in doing (they didn't all crash playside on the snap before reading the play).
- They wanted to know what that slot defender was doing. They didn't want to run him off, they want a clear target for the FB. Funchess covered, that guy comes. Maybe that was something they saw on film and were trying to take advantage of. But there's a real possibility that they didn't want to force the FB to read "is that guy going with the WR, do I pick up the filling alley safety or does Funchess, so do I switch to his guy?" etc.
My guess is more #1 than #2, but it depends on what they saw on film.
So what’s the point in all this? Is it to blindly defend Borges? No. The intention isn’t to blindly defend the coaches. The intention is to look at what is happening and figure out where the issue is. Here is a very, very clear example of a bigger picture. It is execution. The coaches aren’t lying about that and it isn’t a copout answer. This is a play where Al Borges got everything he wanted and more from Nebraska. Nebraska, who had a player say they knew every play that was coming, did nothing to stop this play because of any tip or tendency. They stopped it because Michigan can’t get out of their own way. They can’t execute their most basic blocking scheme that they practice and rep more than any other. This points to youth, and this fails to a failure by the coaching staff to adequately teach these players to do one of their most fundamental plays. Both of those are under the execution umbrella.
And this goes beyond this play. This goes to the pass protection schemes. This goes to how I’ve seen veer option blocked. This goes to how every single run play pretty much ever this year is blocked. There are a few players that seem to “get it”, there are some that get it sometimes and not others, and then there are the young or inexperienced that clearly don’t. It’s a fundamental issue that isn’t play calling, it isn’t scheme, it isn’t about huddling or not huddling. It’s not about if you prefer certain screens (I’d like more screens), it’s not about play action or 3-step drops or hot routes. It is as simple as people continuing to fail at doing their jobs. That’s not just calling out the players; that’s also calling out the coaches for putting out a product, for not teaching their students, in a way that allows them to succeed. They are in positions to succeed, probably positions to the best of what they rep day in and day out in practice, but the mental aspect, the thought process, the confidence to know what they are doing without questioning it or doing it wrong is not there. And that is the major failure in this offense right now. This play only exemplifies that.
Rerum omnium magister usus.
Experience is the teacher of all things.
Julius Caesar, Commentarii de Bello Civili, Book 2, Chapter 8
Setting. As the 2013 football season rolls on, the problems in Michigan’s run game have become more and more glaring. This has led to much ballyhooing and debate as to the main causes of Michigan’s ground game woes. The most basic argument is whether our problems are caused by weakness on the line or at the running back position. Brian’s UFRs come into play here, and while Fitz and the gang haven’t been perfect by any means, the play-by-play breakdowns seem to suggest that the problem lies with our offensive line. A phalanx our line is not.
Identifying the line as the problem, however, has not really made anyone very content. Rather it’s sparked a debate between the baby blamers – those who see Michigan’s youth as the source of their problems – and the crappy coach contingent – those who find fault with our coaches development of our o-line talent, not to mention play calling.
Previous Work. The MGoCommunity has already produced some solid work on this topic. The Mathlete’s preseason study looked at other teams who had offensive lines with an 1st round NFL pick combined with 2+ freshmen. Although he eventually admitted that we were still probably a year away, his comparison grouped us with the likes of Alabama, Oregon, and Stanford. GuloGulo’s diary from back in September looked at the relationship between average o-line experience in the Big 10 and success mainly defined as yards per play. After the first four weeks of the season, he concluded that we were about average in both experience and success. Gameboy’s recent diaries have shown that Michigan’s line is relatively young whether you take a “number of years in the program” or “number of previous starts” approach.
Questions. In this study I want to delve a little deeper into what we mean by “experience,” what we mean by “success,” and how those two variables are actually related. I will attempt to answer four questions:
- Can offensive line experience explain run game success?
- Are years or starts a better measure of experience?
- Is interior line experience more important that tackle experience?
- Is average experience a better measure than the weakest link?
Definitions. Neither experience nor success have single and obvious definitions. With regard to the o-line, success could be defined by wins, yards per play, yards per rush, sack percentage, or play-by-play results a la UFR. For the first part of this study, I use yards per carry as my metric for success. Experience, likewise, can be defined in a variety of ways, including the number of years in the program, the number of starts, or the number of snaps. This analysis primarily uses the number of years in the program as its measure for experience. This isn’t because it’s necessarily the best measure – we’ll test that in a bit – but rather because it’s the measure that’s easiest to find information about. Redoing this study with a start- or snap-focused measure of experience would be a worthwhile endeavor. In the graphs below, the year of the players are equated with numbers, so that freshman = 1, red shirt freshman = 1.5, sophomore = 2, red shirt sophomore = 2.5, and so on.
Data. The data for this study are drawn from this 2013 season. All 125 FBS teams are included. The YPC stats come from ESPN and the experience info comes from the a scouting site. Because this isn’t necessarily about Michigan’s o-line this year, but rather about the general relationship between offensive line experience and success, data from any recent season should apply though. Giving this thing some time depth would probably improve its efficacy. The stats are current as of 11/6/2013. All the images are from the MGoBlog flickr account; Bryan Fuller gets the credit, I believe.
This is a primarily quantitative study, but I’m in no way a statistician. My background is in Classics, as in Greek and Roman studies, so although I’ve tried brush up on my stats, there’s certainly the possibility that these metrics aren’t employed or interpreted perfectly. Feel free to correct me.
With that said, it’s probably useful to give a brief overview of the statistical measures in an attempt to describe what they actually tell us. I’m looking at 4 main metrics: correlation coefficient, r-squared, p-value, and slope of the linear trend line.
Correlation coefficient: The correlation coefficient quantifies the degree of linear relation between two variables. The coefficient ranges from -1.0 to 1.0, and the larger the absolute value of the coefficient, the stronger the relationship. This will provide a single number for the strength of the relationship between o-line experience and yards per carry.
R-squared: The r-squared provides a measure for the amount of variance in one variable that can be explained by another variable. This will be used to assess how much of the variance in yards per carry can be explained by o-line experience. It’s important to note here that there are obviously many other factors other than experience that govern running game efficiency (coaching, scheme, running back skill, etc.). A low r-squared doesn’t necessarily mean that experience is unimportant, just that other factors are also important.
P-value: The p-value let's us know whether our results are statistically significant; more specifically it provides a measure to assess whether we should discard the null hypothesis. In this case, the null hypothesis is that there is no relationship between o-line experience and running game success. The p-value ranges from 0 to 1. A small p-value, < 0.05, suggests that we reject the null hypothesis, while a large p-value suggests we retain it. If p-values are low, we should have faith in the relationship between experience and success; if they are high we should feel less confident about that relationship.
Slope of linear trend line: The trend lines in the graphs below show the linear relationship between experience and success. The slopes of that lines indicate the extent to which we’d expect YPC to change as a result of a change in experience. For example, if the slope was 0.5, the data would suggest that an extra year of average o-line experience is worth ½ of a yard per carry.
Question 1: Can offensive line experience explain run game success?
Good habits formed during youth make all the difference. - Aristotle
The scatter plot below depicts the relationship between average offensive line experience in years and yards per carry. Click for enlarged scatterplot with all BCS teams labeled.
The data broadly confirm what we’d expect. This is good! This means that we’re right in claiming our youth is (partially) the problem. The older your offensive line is, on average, the more yards per carry that team produces. The correlational coefficient is 0.16 for this data set, indicating that there’s a slightly positive correlation between offensive line experience and yards per carry. The r-squared is small, however, suggesting that only about 3% of the variation in teams’ yards per carry can be attributed to the experience of the offensive line. A p-value of 0.07 is marginal, meaning that it’s not particularly clear whether we should interpret these results as significant or not. Let’s start by giving experience the benefit of the doubt though, and for the time we can conclude that experience does indeed influence ground game success. The slope of the linear trend line suggests that an extra year of average experience is worth about 1/3 of a yard per carry.
At first glance, there does seem to be a positive correlation between o-line experience and YPC, although there is still a lot of variance in YPC that cannot be explained by experience.
Question 2: Are years or starts a better measure of experience?
One of the arguments against the approach taken in question one is that an offensive lineman’s number of previous starts is a better measure of experience than the number of years he’s been in the program. Let’s take a look; the graph below plots this alternate measure of experience against yards per carry. Click to enlarge and see Oregon and Wisconsin put up 6.7 YPC despite having less total starts along the o-line than Michigan.
The relationship between the number of previous OL starts and yards per carry generally mirrors the pattern produced when the number of years in the program is taken into consideration. The correlation coefficient is actually slightly higher (0.23 compared to 0.16), suggesting that starts is indeed a slightly better measure than years in the program for the purpose of predicting o-line success. The r-squared suggests that previous starts can explain about 5% of the variance in yards per carry, and a p-value of 0.01 indicates that these results are indeed significant. The slope of the line suggests that each extra start is worth about 1/100 of a yard per carry, meaning that 50 extra stars is worth about ½ a yard, and 100 extra starts is worth about a full extra yard per carry.
Now that the data show that “number of starts” is probably a better measure of offensive line success, I’m going to revert to “number of years in the program” as my main metric of experience. This is simply due to the convenience of the data. If someone can get number of starts for all the programs, that should improve things. Perhaps another day.
Question 3: Is interior line experience more important than tackle experience?
Why doesn't Lewan make everything okay?
One of the most common arguments against using the average or total experience of the entire offensive line is that all spots along the line are not created equal. Lewan being an awesome LT doesn’t help our RG Mags getting crushed by the NT. Essentially, interior line experience is more important than tackle experience. But does it really matter whether your experience comes on the interior or exterior of the line?
Let’s start with tackle experience first. The graph below shows the relationship between the average experience of each team’s tackles and their YPC.
Check out Michigan and Purdue with their bookend fifth year senior tackles. This doesn’t bode well for a positive relationship. Looking across the entire spectrum of the FBS, there appears to be no correlation between the experience of a team’s tackles and their ability to run the ball successfully. Once again, this is good news for us. It’s not that we’re not taking advantage of our great tackles, it appears that on the whole, tackle experience just doesn’t influence ground game success all that much. The correlation coefficient is a measly 0.02, the r-squared is <0.01, and the p-value is 0.81, which is incredibly high. The slope of the trend line suggests a very, very slight decrease in YPC as tackles increase in age, which doesn't make any sense at all.
This is really interesting actually, as all metrics suggest there is essentially no connection between tackle experience and yards per carry. If tackles aren’t the cause of the correlation between total experience and YPC, then it must be the interior of the line, right? Click to enlarge and see us at the children's table with UCLA and Purdue.
It appears as though the “our interior line is full of infants” excuse is actually a pretty good one. With a correlation coefficient of 0.22, the relationship between these two variables is stronger than when offensive line experience as a whole is averaged (in years) and an order of magnitude stronger than the correlation between tackle experience and YPC. The r-squared indicates about 5% of YPC variation can be explained by experience along the interior of the line, and a p-value of 0.01 suggests these results are significant. The slope of the trend line suggests an extra year, on average, is worth about 1/3 of a yard per carry.
If you extrapolate that out over the course of a season, that’s about 150-200 extra yards of rushing per year (Michigan had 502 rushing attempts in 2012 according to ESPN). Interior line experience does seem to be a big deal. Also, we’re one of the 3 youngest teams out of 125 FBS teams in terms of interior line experience. That is young indeed.
Question 4: Is average experience a better measure than the weakest link?
The foundation of every state is the education of its youth. - Diogenes
Thus far the data have shown that interior line experience is a better predictor of running game success than total offensive line experience. The next question is whether average interior line experience is a better predictor of success than the “weakest link” along the line. In this case we’ll call the youngest person on the interior of the line the weakest link. This really has nothing to do with their ability, it’s just a measure of their experience in the program. Click to enlarge and see Auburn averaging 6+ YPC while starting a true freshman interior lineman.
It looks as though there is something to the “weakest link” argument. The correlation coefficient in this case is 0.29, which stands as our strongest correlation yet between some measure of experience and yards per carry. The r-squared indicates that this measure can explain about 8% of YPC variation, and a p-value of 0.01 suggests that these results are indeed significant. The slope here once again suggests that an extra year is worth about 1/3 of a yard per carry.
The fact that the age of a team's youngest interior offensive lineman is a better predictor of run game success than its average offensive line experience, or even the average experience of just the interior line, is rather unexpected. This should bode well for Michigan's future along the line as we gain experience and depth in future seasons.
First off, offensive line experience leaves a lot of the variance in yards per carry unexplained. So even though this study supports the conclusion that offensive line experience does indeed influence success in the running game, there are clearly many other factors that also play a role.
In this study, experience has been measured in in two ways, both as “years in the program” and as “number of starts.” While both serve as decent predictors of success in the running game as judged by YPC, number of starts seems to be the better measure. Unfortunately, it’s also the measure that is more time-intensive to track. When looking at the outer vs. interior line, the data suggest that success on the ground is much more closely tied to the experience of the interior line than it is to either the tackles or even the average experience of the line as a whole. Surprisingly, tackle experience seems to be completely irrelevant as a predictor of run game success. Finally, the level of experience of the least-experienced person on the interior line serves as an even better metric for predicting running game efficiency. The “weakest link” argument appears to hold water.
Unit of Measurement
|R-Squared||P-Value||Effect on YPC|
|Total Experience||Years||0.16||0.03||0.07||Extra year = +1/3 yard|
|Total Experience||Starts||0.23||0.05||0.01||Extra 10 starts = +1/10 yard|
|Interior Line Experience||Years||0.22||0.05||0.01||Extra year = +1/3 yard|
|Youngest Interior Lineman||Years||0.29||0.08||0.01||
Extra year = +1/3 yard
What does this mean for Michigan? As Gameboy showed us in his diaries, Michigan is young along the O-Line, whether you’re judging by years in the program or by number of starts. What I hope to have demonstrated here is that (a) being young really does matter, and (b) we’re especially young where it matters most (i.e., tied for 2nd youngest on the interior OL out of 125 FBS teams).
Borges and Funk in happier times
There’s been a lot of heat on Borges and Funk recently, and it’s appropriate to ask whether this study indicts or absolves them. Unfortunately, I think the data tend to side step the question. The fact that o-line experience does seem to influence YPC, and especially the finding that interior line experience seems to be of utmost importance, combined with Michigan’s position with regard to these measures (i.e., they fall almost exactly along the linear trend line in both the interior line experience graph and in the weakest link graph), would initially suggest that the line is performing about as expected.
This doesn't let the staff off the hook. The relatively low r-squared values would indicate that there is a lot more than just experience that goes into producing a successful running attack. Coaching, both in terms of scheme and player development, is probably one of the most influential factors in governing run game success, and this study doesn’t attempt to measure or control for that aspect of the game. Moreover, this study doesn't account for talent along the offensive line, which would probably suggest Michigan is underperforming relative to the recruiting rankings. Strength of schedule is also omitted. Having played CMU, Akron, UConn, Indiana, and Nebraska, adding this variable could also raise our team's expected YPC, and in doing so lower our performance relative to expectations.
According to the eyeball test, the apparent regression along the offensive line would seem to indicate that there are some seriously problematic coaching issues. There are several BCS programs with similar youth-related issues on the interior line, both when experience is averaged (e.g., UCLA) and when experience is defined by the youngest interior lineman (e.g., Notre Dame, Arkansas, and Auburn), and these programs still manage to perform significantly better than us in terms of yards per carry. When viewed within the context of the entire FBS, however, the data suggest that Michigan’s youth is a real and influential issue.
On the bright side, this should give us hope for future seasons. As our interior line matures, both in terms of average experience and in terms of its weakest link, we should improve. This only holds, of course, if all the other factors that go into producing a successful offensive line – namely coaching scheme and player development – are on par with the rest of college football. That, unfortunately, is not guaranteed.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it did progressively grow bigger and better until it reached a point where it dominated at the point of attack. Let’s hope our offensive line can do the same.
Coming in part 2: Shouldn’t our veteran tackles at least make us better at pass protection?!?
Awww, come on.
 Actually, upon further review, I’m not so sure this is accurate. Over the course of 8 games, Fitz has 5 positive UFR games, 2 negative, and 1 around zero, while the OL has 5 positive UFR games, 2 negative, and 1 around zero. Obviously RB and OL numbers aren’t perfectly commensurate, but this probably suggests the blame should be shared.
The weekly roundup gets somewhat less enjoyable with each loss, but here's the chart nevertheless. I've incorporated Seth's suggestion of including last week's rankings for comparative purposes. Last week's rankings are indicated with a less opaque icon; if you can't see it at all, it's because the ranking hasn't changed much at all.
Click to embiggen:
So, we seem to have a four-tier B1G:
- Good teams: Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State
- Above-average teams: Nebraska, Minnesota, Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa, and Indiana is in this group, too, despite their schizophrenic nature (excellent offense, abysmal defense).
- Below-average teams: Illinois, Penn State
- Horrible teams: Purdue
What The Hell Is Going On Out Here!: In unison, the entire Michigan fan base was quoting Vince Lombardi on Saturday. Gardner has just one giveaway in the last 2 games and the offense has NEVER looked worse. If this is what ball security looks like --- fagetta bout it! Devin looks tentative on just about every throw and every run. I'm not buying the "lack of talent on the O line" either. This is just horrible, horrible play calling/coaching. Unless something changes drastically, M is looking at 6-6 (and how does 10-2, 8-4, 6-6 look for the first 3 years).
Synopsis: Michigan's TOM for the game was +2.0 and that should have been enough for a victory. The first takeaway resulted in 2 yards in 3 plays and a missed 52 yard FG. The second takeaway was run, run, run for a massive total of 3 yards and a 40 yard FG. You don't win very many football games when scoring only 13 points.
For the year M is now dead even at 0.0 TOM and improved to #62. Turnovers were not a primary factor in determining which team won the game. Tam Gordon forced a fumble that was recovered by Wormley and Norfleet recovered the muffed punt
and ran it in for the touchdown. Stupid rule if you ask me.
Next Week: For the year, Northwestern is somewhat better than Michigan for turnovers. NW has 1.8 giveaways per game ranked #70 and 2.4 takeaways per game ranked #17 with a +0.60 TOM per game ranked #25. Oddly, NW has a worse TOM at home (+0.2/game) versus on the road (+1.0/game). NW is ranked #3 for interception takeaways with 2.0 per game. Michigan has a TOM of –0.7 for road games.
National Rankings: All rankings include games between two FBS teams ONLY and are from TeamRankings except for forced fumbles which is from CFBStats. The four columns with *** show the best correlation to offense and defense (per Advanced NFL stats).
This chart shows Expected Points for various yard lines.
This chart shows the basis of EP calculations for each turnover.