help i've been transported back in time to Jim Tressel's hiring help
It is a statement perpetuated on many outside of Wolverine-fandom in response to the 2010 start, and the deep dark fear inside the hearts of many Michigan fans: This year isn’t going to end up like last year, is it?
The argument for "Yes" usually boils down to the only teams Michigan has beat this year are the same ones they did last year (more or less) before the fallout, oh and because after five games we had a hyped young quarterback last year as well. The response from Michigan fans is subsequently, "Yeah, but Denard!!!"
Until we play a few more games and win one that we didn’t last year, we’re stuck answering the question in purely philosophical form. And who is better at throwing some numbers out there and seeing what sticks than The Mathlete?
Here is the normal disclaimer/overview of what I do for the uninformed:
All numbers included in this article are using my PAN metric: Points Above Normal. PAN is essentially how many points above an average FBS team was a team/unit/player worth. For reference, an average FBS team is approximately equal to Illinois or a top team from the MAC.
All games against FCS teams are excluded, as well as any plays in the second half where one team leads by more than 2 touchdowns or any end-of-half, run-out-the-clock drives.
For this particular exercise I will look at this year’s performance-to-date through two different lenses: 1) raw performance with no adjustment for opponent and 2) an opponent-adjusted view using how that opponent has performed this year to date. Normally I would forgo the unadjusted view to do a comparison but it is still early enough in the season that both views can provide perspective.
The Matchup: Offense
Let me just kill the suspense right now: this offense is better than last year’s. Shocking, I know. Through four FBS games this year, Michigan is averaging an unadjusted +23 PAN per game, +13 rushing and +10 passing. In the four FBS games Michigan won last year, Michigan was +12 overall, +8 rushing and +4 passing, and it’s pretty safe to say that UConn is a solid step up from Western Michigan and BG is probably a slight step up from Eastern.
To put more focus on the magnitude of this season's success, look at last week against Indiana, where the Michigan offense posted a +33 on only 44 plays. The 0.75 points per play is higher (by 10%!) than any other performance in my database, which stretches back to 2003. In fact, Indiana, Bowling Green and UConn are the three highest-rated offensive performances from Michigan I have on record. Western and Eastern Michigan were the only games last year that ranked higher than any game this year (Notre Dame is behind them).
Although impressive under any circumstances, those numbers were all without adjustment for the respective strengths of opponents' defenses. When you look at how Michigan’s performance compares with other offenses that ND, BG, Indiana and Uconn have faced this year, Michigan still comes out pretty well. All four games are at least +6 PAN and the average is +15, with +8 coming on the ground and +7 coming through the air. Last year in the comparable games, Michigan was +8 with +3 coming on the ground and +5 through the air.
Based on the sets of numbers, Michigan initially has been 7 to 11 points-per-game better than year’s offensive unit. This represents a very high level of play.
The Matchup: Defense
Unadjusted, Michigan has allowed +9 PAN per game this season. Almost all the damage has come through the air, and almost all of that was against Indiana. Excluding the Indiana game, the number was +6, with the damage split almost evenly between rush and pass defense. The Hoosiers' performance was +17 PAN with –5 on the ground and +22 through the air. This pushes the overall numbers to +9 with +8 coming through the air.
In the same games last year, Michigan’s defense was much more effective. Through four games, the defense held opponents to –7 PAN and was –6 against the pass. The defense moved to the middle through the rest of the season, finishing –2 PAN on the year, with –1 apiece coming on the ground and in the air.
How you evaluate this year really depends on good you think Indiana’s offense is going to be. If they continue to have success in Big 10 play, Michigan’s defensive prospects could be trending to on-par or slightly better than last year. If you think the Chappellbomb will be a dud against the rest of the Big 10, then last year’s performance is probably a best-case scenario.
One thing to consider about this defense is that its traditional stats are going to look bad no matter what. Based on the pace and success on the offensive side of the ball, Michigan is going to face more aggressive versions of their opponents, and they are going to face them on more drives, especially if the offense keeps scoring within the first minute of touching the ball. Everything you see from me will be adjusted to account for the pace. Remember: just because we gave up a ton of yards, it doesn’t mean that we had a bad day.
I am giving the defense an incomplete so far. Until we see how we fare against MSU and how Indiana does against Ohio State, the verdict is still out. If the defense can hold serve occasionally against Sparty, and Indiana can find some success against the Buckeyes, then the defense should at least be good enough to let us stretch a lead in a few games. If MSU torches us and Ohio St shuts down Chappell and Doss, we could be in for a full season of excruciatingly exciting games.
Our health, especially at key offensive positions, remains good.
The offense remains highly potent against the top tier Big 10 defenses.
The Indiana game was more of a reflection on Indiana’s great passing attack, and not our poor pass defense.
Although it doesn’t look like the defense has progressed like we had hoped (or maybe at all), the dilithium-powered offensive quantum leap has moved this team well beyond last year’s. There are still plenty of question marks out there, but it looks like until we face Ohio State’s defense to end the regular season, a Denard-led offense should be the best unit on the field. That fact alone should make a 2009 like swoon all but impossible. How much better is a question of defensive progress and Denard’s ability to shine as the defenses get better.
It's a big week for Michigan. We've got the msu game Saturday and that means another episode of Other People's Pressers, this time featuring Mark Dantonio. Given the relatively short presser he gave, we have BONUS player presser coverage! Included are some kid named Greg Jones (does a decent impression of that foosball player, Bobby Boucher) and Kirk Cousins (a kid who is said to be able to throw the foosball pretty good here and there)
On with Dantonio...
On the rivalry, the game, and his health:
- He's not missing it. It's too big, too special of a rivalry. Excited that both are 5-0.
- Expects it to be a close game ("throw out the records") and hard-fought.
- Expects to be in the press box for the game.
- Hasn't done much beyond watching film. Doesn't want to rush back and consequently sacrifice his long-term health. (good call, coach)
- This is a big series for him since he's been a part of it since 1995, when he was hired onto Saban's staff at MSU. Played Michigan every year since then (at MSU and OSU) except for 3 years when he was at Cincy.
- Mentions that this game is important for recruiting the in-state younger guys (9th, 10th graders) by getting them excited about the winning team, in addition to having overall season success.
- Avoided a trap question from one reporter about how "the momentum in this rivalry has shifted toward Michigan State's side." Just responds that "you're only as good as your last game." No "little brother" type comments this time.
On the gameplan:
- Tony Lippett (WR, Fr), who apparently also played QB in HS. Very quick, good burst.
- Says the have to swarm the D to the point of attack, get guys to the ball.
- Need to tackle well, because Denard makes people miss and "can go the distance" if they do. Can also pass well and get you there, so big challenge.
- Trusts coordinators Treadwell and Narduzzi implicitly to prepare and lead the team.
Now to Greg Jones...
On defending Michigan:
- As for Denard, says that "the best thing you can do is try to corner him, try to give him a tight space to run with and contain him, go after it when he tries to throw the ball."
- Asked if they're expecting to spy him with one or more guys, says that they'll try a few different looks, but that they "haven't put in a game plan or anything yet at all."
- Must be very disciplined with him. Otherwise - "Guys get tired of chasing. He just busts one out. Stride for stride, he's very, very fast, extremely fast."
- Says it's risky for a QB to basically act like a RB, e.g. heading to the sideline and cutting back in, rather than acting like a QB and just stepping out or sliding. Says Denard is "tough" and "brave."
- Have to be more disciplined and "more smarter" in pursuit.
On the rivalry:
- Not really a hate thing, but more of a strong desire to win.
- Mentioned that the "bow down" thing was big for the team. Gave them a lot of confidence and said that Dantonio was the kind of guy they wanted to play for.
Punter Aaron Bates is up next. Really not much to say, other than that he mentions that Keyshawn Martin is a dangerous return man, that the best strategy is to hang it up high and kick to the sideline.
Next we have LB Eric Gordon...
- Beat ND 3 times, want to do it to Michigan, too. Want to win it for Dantonio.
- It will be a hostile environment, with most of the 110k+ against MSU. Need to prepare the freshman for that.
- Mentions that Denard is a unique player, but they need to stick to their game, which is "getting downhill" and not getting "back on [their] heels"
- Need to fill gaps in the middle and expect the safeties/corners to support on the outside in order to contain Denard. Excited to be the first to slow him down.
- Always will be some trash-talking, but Dantonio teaches them to avoid that stuff, to talk with their pads.
Kirk Cousins is our penultimate player...
- Doesn't care that it's been 43 years since MSU beat UM 3 times in a row, or about trying to outshine Denard. Just wants to win this game.
- Moved to Holland, MI in 7th grade and learned about the rivalry. First exposure was Smoker/Duckett beating UM (blech). Wants kids to talk about MSU Monday morning at school.
- Doesn't fall for the "Michigan's weak defense" question. Talks up UM's talent, LBs 8 (Mouton) and 45 (Ezeh), and the nose tackle (Martin).
- Confident coming off the Wisconsin game, especially because of the way their D stopped Wisconsin's OL and running game.
- The rivalry is big. Mentioned that even night janitors are talking it up to him and hoping for a win.
- Against a guy like Denard, need to control the clock (TOP), run the ball, keep the ball out of their hands. Stick to our gameplan, strengths (same ol' same ol', basically).
Senior CB Chris L. Rucker is the last guy. They actually made it a point to include his middle initial - L, if you were wondering (Ed: They have a junior CB named Chris D. Rucker - no relation).
- Denard is fast, good arm, makes it a challenge (starting to get repetitive, folks).
- Nobody really compares to him as far as opponents he's faced (ok, that's a little different, i guess).
- The WRs are a good group, so it'll be a challenge for the MSU secondary. The UM WRs "can make big plays, make plays in space, make big catches."
And that's all, folks. It got a little repetitive with the same Q's and A's about the rivalry and Denard, frankly, so I got a little lazy with the last few. Also, it's late and I should get to sleep. GO BLUE!
Alternative Title: "We Already Knew This, But I Spent The Entire Day Working On It Just To Be Sure"
I am picking up where my Notre Dame diary left off. No video was readily available for UMass, Bowling Green, or Indiana.
As noted previously, legitimate scouting of an offense should have 2-4 of the most recent games, but time and resources have forced me to focus solely on last week's game. Defensive scouting based on an a single context is limited to what that offense thought necessary to be successful at a moment in time, and impacts the validity of this diary.
Some positive notes are that the Wisconsin game is MSU's most recent, its offense had some success in the game, and it was a pivotal, contentious game (meaning MSU was unlikely to hold back much in order to win).
The focus was on data and not particular players’ ability. I didn’t review the film trying to figure out how good a particular player or position group is. Regardless, I picked up some things I note at the bottom.
I recorded 71 of 75 plays. 2 plays were not on the video and 2 were used to exhaust the clock.
I link to my own site to explain some terms.
Nominal analytical errors certainly exist, but don’t effect points made in a meaningful way.
The Badgers played both a 4-3 and 4-4 front nearly equally. (In some respects the amount doesn't matter because Wisconsin's employment of man coverage makes it less relevant.) I have them in Cover 3 over 50% of the time and in Man Free for another 25%. They didn't try to disguise what they were doing much, making rotations way before the snap. Cover 3 allowed them to bring an extra man up against the run, where they yielded a respectable 3.9 YPC. In man coverage they mostly rolled the corners up to press. I think WIS knew MSU sometimes leaves eligible receivers (TE/WR) in for protection. So when WIS went man, anyone assigned to cover an eligible who stayed in to protect rushed the passer. This forced Cousins to get rid of the ball quicker if the corners could hold out for a few seconds. Indeed, I only have Cousins connecting deep down the field once vs. man (though others ended up there with YAC.)
As you might expect, WIS was not flashy on D, bringing an extra rusher 9 times and an actual blitz twice. When WIS used 5 man games, it always played Man Free behind it. The Wisconsin front 4 and ILBs are very solid. The Front 4 had some ability to generate pressure without extra rushers. Cousins was sacked, hit, or hurried multiple times. MSU offset this some by using more bootlegs or faster developing play action. The biggest problem for WIS was its perimeter guys vs. the run. Often they didn't come close to making the play when it was possible or couldn't get off blocks.
On with the chlorophyll:
By Down & Distance
1 & 10 had 16 runs/9 pass for 64% run. 5 of those passes were play action.
2 & 3 or less - 4/4 run
2 & 7+ - 8 runs, 7 pass (split between dropback/ PAP)
3 & 3 or less - 4/4 run
3 & 4-6 - 4 pass (all 5 step), 1 run
3 & 7+ - 6 pass (all 5 step), 1 run, 1 screen
4 & 1 (x3) - Misdirection pitch, PAP, Iso strong
By Field Zone
Red Zone: 18 plays, 13 run/5 pass for 72% run. Of the 5 passes, 3 were PAP
MSU was never inside its own 15
By Personnel, Backfield, and Formation
11 Personnel (19x)
Used in 1 & 10 seven times, 2nd or 3rd and long another seven times (total)
In 17 of the 19 times 11 personnel was used, MSU lined up in Dallas or (what I call) Dolphin. These are both 2 x 2 sets. Dallas sets the 2 WRs to the field and TE, WR to the boundary. Dolphin is a mirror image with TE, WR to the field and 2 WRs to the boundary. This is the only personnel group where MSU set its passing strength into the boundary (5x).
MSU used a Gun Near/Far backfield 15x, Ace 4x
12 Personnel (17x)
I look at this personnel as MSU's go-to group. It is used in any 2nd down situation and in 3rd and short. To me, this says the offensive brain trust believes it can call a play with this group to get a first down or get themselves into a manageable 3rd down. 15 of 17 times it was used, MSU was in one of these situations.
9 runs/8 pass, 5 of which were play action
- 10 Personnel - in 6 of the 8 times used, it was 3rd and 4+. 6 of the total 8 were 5 step
21 Personnel (9x)
22 Personnel (8x)
7 of 8 plays were in Red Zone, other for 4th & 1 outside red zone
7 were runs, 1 was play action pass for final touchdown of game
This is an odd personnel group for the current age of football and it was employed in no specific situations or portions of the field. Right or wrong, it leads me to believe it was a game-specific wrinkle to mess with WIS or exploit particular defenders. Each time, MSU used a Power I Weak backfield. 4 times MSU ran in that direction.
Zone Run (23x) - Lead (10x); Outside (7x); Inside (5x); Split (1x)
5 Step (16x)
Play Action Pass (10x)
3 Step (4x)
Top 5 Plays By Result
TB Screen +35 (threw over blitzers with man coverage behind, blown assignment)
5 step +35 (Scissors concept; rubbed off defender in man coverage)
Play Action Pass - +30, +26, +24
The ESPN box score has MSU at 60% run overall (45/74)
MSU relationship between personnel on the field, down & distance, and play call is as strong as any you will see. With 3 WRs/1RB on the field you'll probably see a pass and there are probably many yards and/or few downs to go. With 2 RB and 1, 2, or 3 TE it's going to be a run (16 for 19 in this game) and probably 1 & 10 or in the Red Zone. Play action is nominally added to keep the D honest or surprise for big gain/TD. The only time MSU approaches balance is in 12 Personnel (1 RB, 2 TE). As noted before, they use this when they need a chunk of yardage and will mix run, play action, and the occasional 5 step.
I thought I'd pick up more about particular players than I did. I blame this partially on the fact that I think MSU wants to run particular plays in particular spots of the game more than get the ball into certain players hands. Are the skill guys good? Yes. Did MSU showcase any of them due to their ability? No. Also, to repeat, WIS did get good pressure with only a 4-man rush.
What does all of this mean for Michigan's defense? I don't really know other than I would bet on a lot of Cover 3.
- I apologize for the funky formatting. I copied and pasted some of this from Google Docs.
Welcome to week 6, in which we can ignore the MAC for another week. There are a number of in-conference potential blowouts this week, like Oregon v WSU and Wisconsin v Minnesota, but there are two truly ugly games to preview. But first:
Last Week's Recap
Miami mercifully didn't wear their Orange Crush jerseys and hung on to beat Clemson as Clemson shot themselves in the foot, leg, arm, head, etc. with six(!) turnovers. After seeing Syracuse's jerseys last week, I'm holding out for a Clemson v Syracuse bowl game.
Idaho cashed in their frequent flier miles and beat Western Michigan. This game featured neither team rushing for more than 100 yards, plus seven total turnovers and 16 penalties. Western barely cracked 100 yards passing. That's probably all you need to know about that game.
Colorado beat Georgia, and the Buff fans stormed the field like they just won the Big 12 championship or something. And the only reason they won was because of a late Georgia fumble after missing a field goal at the end of a time-consuming drive. Congrats to CU for storming the field on a 1-4 opponent.
This is the kind of week this column was made for, with two (deux!!!) "We're Gonna Win!" games featuring 0-5 teams: Western Kentucky v Florida International, and New Mexico v New Mexico State.
First up, WKY v FIU. You may remember Western Kentucky from such games as 49-10 against Nebraska, 63-28 against Kentucky, or 24-12 against South Florida. The Hilltoppers are a dual-threat (Ed: more like a dual-Threet?): 109th in Points For, and 118th in Points Against. FIU's starting QB has 4 passing TDs on the season, which is one more than WKY's. Fun fact: no team in the SunBelt has a winning record at the moment.
Finally, the "Our State Insect is the Trantula Hawk Wasp" bowl is New Mexico versus New Mexico State. New Mexico's leading rusher has yet to score a rushing TD. This game features New Mexico's 117th/120th ranked offense/defense going against NMSU's 118th/119th offense/defense. I can't write a better scenario than that. This game used to feature the Maloof Trophy, but now just features an Aggie being burned in effigy at the pep rally, which who doesn't do that?
Here's a list of recruits that will be on hand for the Michigan State game this weekend. There are some key visitors this weekend, and next weekend might actually be a bigger game for recruiting. As always this list will grow and shrink as changes happen. I had a request to add star rankings next to players listed, so all rankings will be according to Rivals. Continue to check back here for more updates as the come:
- Devondrick Nealy - (5'10", 175 lbs/ Slot Receiver/ Jefferson County, FL/ 3 Star)
- Marquise Williams - (6'3", 210 lbs/ Quarterback/ Mallard Creek, NC/ 3 Star)
- Jack Miller - Michigan commit
- Kellen Jones - Michigan commit
- Jake Fisher - Michigan commit
- James Elliott - (6'4", 305 lbs/ Offensive Line/ Pensacola, FL/ 3 Star) He'll be back in December as well. He's waiting for a committable offer. If he gets it, expect him to commit.
- Anthony Zettel - (6'4", 250 lbs/ Defensive/Offensive Line/ Ogemaw, MI/ 4 Star)
- Kishon Wilcher - (5'6", 154 lbs/ Cornerback/ Cass Tech, MI/ 3 Star)
- Cardale Jones - (6'5", 217 lbs/ Quarterback/ Glenville, OH/ 3 Star)
- Shan Wynn - (5'7", 148 lbs/ Wide Receiver/ Glenville, OH/ 3 Star)
- Damon Knox - (6'5", 265 lbs/ Defensive end/ Muskegon, MI/ 3 Star)
- Royce Jenkins-Stone - (6'2", 215 lbs/ Linebacker/ Cass Tech, MI)
- Terry Richardson - (5'9", 160 lbs/ Cornerback/ Cass Tech, MI)
- Matt Godin - (6'5", 253 lbs/ Defensive End/Tackle/ Detroit Catholic Central)
- Brian Blackburn - (6'5", 197 lbs/ Quarterback/ Crockett, Mi)
- Danny O'Brien - (6'3", 278 lbs/ Defensive Tackle/ Flint, Mi) Will only be there for the first half, because he has homecoming.
- Hunter Matt - (6'2", 187 lbs/ Linebacker/ Roosevelt, MI)
- Corey Smith - (6'0", 165 lbs/ Wide Receiver/ Buchtel, OH)
- Juwan Lewis - (5'11", 200 lbs/ Running Back/ Muskegon, MI)
Is hard to look at.
...however, happens to be so good-looking as to compensate for her ugly friend.
Now, this is not just a bad analogy or an excuse to look at a picture of Melissa Theuriau [Ed: Who needs an excuse?]; this is relevant to football.
In a previous post immediately post-UMass, I said:
3. It can't get any worse. Now, many of you may laugh at the implication that Wisconsin and OSU can't outperform UMass on Offense, but they pretty much can't. UMass dominated TOP - which will be the number one anti-Denard potion going forward...They employed the perfect beat-Michigan formula...
…and this came to pass on Saturday. Those who want to split hairs might argue that our defense against Indiana was worse than it was against UMass, and I am guessing some might argue the other way around. I would suggest we are debating insignificant differences in horribleness.
Where is the optimism in a defense that has twice in the last three weeks performed at or near its worst? They are called victories. Our offense has been sufficient to score more points than our defense at its worst has given up.
Why do I keep suggesting that this defense can’t get any worse? I, myself, was in a state of near gibbering panic at the thought of what Wisconsin and Michigan State might do against our defense. Then I laughed (I swear alcohol had nothing to do with it). This fear is grounded in the nightmarish unreality of a game without a clock. As of last check, we still have one of these at every game:
Quite simply, UMass and Indiana have both plumbed the depths of the worst case scenario that Wisconsin and MSU can hardly outdo, but may duplicate. They pretty much squeezed in as much offense as the 120th ranked Bend-Don't-Break pass defense is going to allow in a sixty minute game.
Both UMass and Indiana:
Dominated TOP as a mechanism to keep Denard and the Michigan Offense off the field (edit: AND limit the number of possesions). This is relevant in that it accentuates the horrid stats that our defense puts up.
Opponent TOP Michigan TOP UMass 36:67 22:22 Indiana 41:47 18:13
Specialized in long, clock-consuming, play-engorged series at the most damn inopportune time.
UMass 11 plays 53 yards 9 plays 67 yards 9 plays 79 yards 15 plays 70 yards Indiana 11 plays 77 yards 13 plays 99 yards 10 plays 72 yards 12 plays 50 yards 13 plays 80 yards
- (I cannot recall as many long drives as Indiana had in all my years of watching college football. They relentlessly attacked the fundamental weakness of the Bend-Don’t-Break philosophy: take what is given. These opponents, as gracious guests, ate from the buffet set out by our caterer, GERG Special Events.)
Had superb success in drive scoring percentage. I don’t know what the national average is here, but I am willing to bet that those batting averages are all-star worthy. A little help from the Mathlete here would be nice.
Score/Poss Scoring % UMass 6/11 55% Indiana 5/12 42%
So, in order for better teams to do more damage to Michigan than UMass and Indiana, one of the following things must happen:
- Better drive scoring percentage.
- Better defense against our offense.
- Intangible success (turnovers, special teams, injuries, etc.)
…all the while Michigan does not have an appreciable improvement in defensive performance or tactics.
Now, it is possible that a couple teams will score more frequently than did the two teams above, and it is probable that Denard and company will be defended better. And we know that the intangibles, our enemy in past years, will bite us sometime soon. But the prospects are not as grim as you might believe for a couple reasons:
- Chappell’s passes were surgical. I was astounded at his gutsy and precise activity over the middle. I would suggest, based upon propensity for interceptions, that NONE of the remaining QBs possess that level of precision. In other words, our zone passing defense that invites 65 attempts will likely extract more errors out of Cousins, Stanzi, Bolden, Tolzien and Pryor.
- Last year demonstrated that RR’s offense could be defended effectively without the “Pat White” prototype QB that stresses defenses. I have finally seen, like a child slowly realizing the truth about Santa, the RR offensive philosophy embodied in that magical, wide-open slant after Denard fakes a QB iso. Does any defense so ridiculously abandon their zone responsibilities to cope with Sheridan, Threet or even Tate? Of course not. I don’t think any defense that we will face will more calmly react to Denard than the first five have. Oh, most will do better, but marginally so. That includes Norm Parker and Iowa (I predict we shred them).
In the end, I am not predicting that we will finish 12-0 or even 11-1. What I am suggesting is that there is a point where defensive ineffectiveness reaches a saturation point in a Bend-Don’t Break strategy that debunks a dark fear in all our hearts that teams will score more and more and more. Teams will score, but the scoring will look pretty much like what UMass and Indiana scoring looked like. As long as Denard stays healthy, we will be in every game.
The proof will be coming shortly - I will return to mgoboard to take my beating these next seven weeks if this prediction doesn't come true: no Big Ten offense will score more than 40 points on Michigan (OK, maybe one in a perfect storm game).
And the final consolation I take is in the offensive line. Last year, our OLine was horrifying. This year it is a source of strength. Assuming (a big assumption) that RR knows both sides of the football, I see a parallel in our secondary that should possess real depth next year and show similar improvement.