One, I'm probably one of those guys here last fall who made Brian do the GI Joe "Kung Fu Grip" thing with his fists.
Two, I pissed off many here with my-Aykroydian Point/Counterpoint response to someone's diary post last November, here, in which I attempted to quantify why despite all the glorious yards last year's offense racked up, it wasn't great, or even good. Scoring DOES SO matter -- you're dead wrong on that point, Brian. It's the whole point of the exercise on offense -- to score. And amazingly, as I pointed out last fall, last year's team wasn't any better at scoring in the first halves of Big Ten games than the 2008 Sheridan/Threet offense. For pointing that out, I was emaciated for my "dishonest" and unfair and amateur statistical acumen, and for my selectivity in looking up only first-half stats of Big Ten games when my intention was to, uh, look up the first-half stats of Big Ten games -- when the damn things tended to be decided in the RR era.
Third, for those who don't know, and despite my criticisms of the 2010 offense in particular, I was and remain a big supporter of Rich Rod's. The guy got a bum deal, was undermined from the get-go. And I wanted his spread offense to fly -- like so many of you, I was way more than ready for its arrival. But all his sins on defense (primarily his selection of, and handling of, his defensive coaches) count as one of his two biggest self-inflicted wounds. The other was his inability to get his team -- even his beloved, potentially dazzling offense -- to play without making so many inevitable killer mistakes (and on offense, not just mistakes by his first-year QBs). There was a disconnect between what he was trying to accomplish on offense and defense.
The 2010 offense:
In November I wasn't, and still am not, prepared to say the 2010 M offense was great. Or even good. It's a results-based world, folks, and last year RR's offense made so many mistakes -- by second- and third-year starters, not just Denard -- that it did not score enough when the game was in the balance. Because when it mattered against the five toughest Big Ten opponents (MSU, Iowa, PSU, Wisc, OSU) -- that is, when the game was anybody's to win early on in those games -- the Michigan offense wasn't good. Wasn't good at scoring. And more often than Brian and many of you probably think, or are willing to admit, it wasn't even often good at moving the damn ball at all. Just as often happened in 2009 in such games, Michigan's get-go success in the first half at moving the ball vs The Big FIve of the Big Ten didn't result in many points, didn't last, and would usually result in the offense going stone cold before halftime. Meantime, of course, our defenders played as 11 turnstiles under some awful coaching. Result? Huge halftime deficit. Happened in all five of those games last fall. But, boy, when we fell behind by two to three touchdowns, hooboy! Our offense became an unstoppable buzzsaw, right? Well, except against MSU and Ohio State. But, hey, everybody wants to believe that no one could stop the offense in the second half, so I'll leave it alone.
And so. To the real point of this diary....
Earlier today, I read Brian's most recent post on Denard and the shotgun, in which he revisited this whole issue, and said in part: "There are three reasons for the gap between points and yards: field position, field goal kicking, and turnovers. The latter two combined to see Michigan's redzone scoring rate rank 109th nationally. The first two are almost entirely out of the offense's control...."
I recall having the feeling last fall that the lack of a decent field goal kicker wasn't that awful an issue, because it seemed we were often converting those fourth-downs when a normal team would attempt a field goal. Today I decided to peruse the play-by-play of the eight Big Ten games last fall to see if that hunch was correct.
It was ... more than even I dared believe.
By my count from the official play-by-play logs, the Michigan offense attempted 16 fourth-down conversions in Big Ten play last fall. Nine were either obvious go-for-its (e.g. trailing by 21 to MSU in the 4th quarter, with a 4th-and-10 on the MSU 28, when every team in America would eschew the FG attempt), or UM was not in FG range (e.g. at Purdue, 2nd quarter, 4th-and-1 at UM 46).
The other seven fourth-down attempts I am dividing into two groups: (1) FG is the likeliest option and only a riverboat gambling coach or a team without a FG kicker would go for it, and (2) FG is only a possible option, either because it'd be very long, or because there was only 1 yard to gain for a first down so going for it is a viable option. The results:
|FOE||QUARTER||SCORE||4th and ...||4th DOWN OUTCOME||DRIVE OUTCOME|
|MSU||1st||0-0||3 @ MSU 28||4-yd rush, 1st down||FG|
|Illinois||2nd||14-21||6 @ Illinois 30||Incomplete||Illinois takes over|
|OSU||1st||0-0||8 @ OSU 28||Incomplete||OSU takes over|
|FOE||QUARTER||SCORE||4th and ...||4th DOWN OUTCOME||DRIVE OUTCOME|
|Iowa||1st||0-0||1 @ Iowa 29||8-yd rush||M touchdown|
|PSU||2nd||7-14||1 @ PSU 13||3-yd rush||FG|
|Illinois||2nd||7-14||9 @ Illinois 33||complete for TD||M touchdown|
|OSU||2nd||0-10||2 @ OSU 34||complete for 13||M touchdown|
Bottom line? If we had tried FGs on all seven of those drives last year, even if we had Adam Vinatieri circa 2002 [Ed-M: or Jason Hanson, ever. /Lionsfan] and he went 7-for-7, the most UM could have scored was 21 points.
As it was? UM got 27 points out of those drives. Six more points.
1. We were all correct when we began screaming early last season for Rich Rodriguez to just go for it on 4th down every time in the red zone.
2. Brady Hoke should continue this practice, forever, unless Adam Vinatieri [/Hanson] can lose 10 years off his legs and regain some college eligibilty.
3. So much for the lack of a FG kicker hurting the offensive scoring output of last year's offense, because it actually HELPED it to score more points than it would have otherwise.
4. Brian is down to two factors to explain UM's lack of offensive scoring output -- poor field position, and turnovers.
We can all dredge up whatever stats we want to, but seven months of digesting last fall's regular season has led me to this conclusion: RichRod's spread offense is a thing of beauty ... when it works. His version of the spread, with his UM players, seemed to work best against bad defenses, and bogged down when it mattered against decent to good defenses. It was sometimes a sumbitch of an offense last year in the second half, when UM usually trailed and trailed badly. But you can't find any statistic to explain how a team with a three-score lead plays softer on D, which schematic decision plays right into the spread offense's strategic aims. That, to me, explains to a certain extent why last year against Big Ten teams UM in the second half scored touchdowns more times (16, excluding Illionis OTs) than it punted (12). On its own that is an amazing statistic. But it's more than offset by the fact that in first halves, UM scored 12 TDs compared to 14 punts, 6 lost fumbles and 5 INTs; FGs made and missed were even, shockingly (3-3).
The lack of a decent RB and the mistakes -- the damn inevitable mistakes -- are what kept RichRod's offense last year from greatness. Not the defense. Go pore over the play-by-play of the MSU, Iowa and Ohio State games. Those games were there for the taking until midway through the 2nd quarter. Even the Penn State and Wisconsin games were close at that point. But then the M offense sputtered and became almost as dead as the defense until halftime in those games.
The UM defense actually played pretty well in the 1st quarter of the MSU, Iowa and Ohio State games. Look it up. Indeed, there was nothing in those pivotal three losses to prevent UM from jumping out to a big lead and forcing the other team to play catchup .. except a good or great scoring offense.
Might this year's team, with a grizzled Denard, have truly been dynamic -- "great"? If a real Big Ten-quality RB had emerged, and RR was able to drastically reduce all the damn mistakes, then yes, it very well could have. Alas.....
When California offensive lineman Erik Magnuson committed to Michigan the fans were excited, but were still unsure of just what or who they were getting with the talented prospect. A 6-foot-6, 275-pound four star offensive lineman with around 20 offers from the biggest programs in the country typically means you have a star on your hands. His position on the field and geographic location however made it hard for fans to get a read on whether Magnuson was worthy of the hype.
Magnuson's head coach Sean Sovacool believes that Michigan is getting the real deal with Erik. "He's one of the most athletic offensive linemen in the country," he said. "That's his big selling point is that he's a real athlete. At that size, a full 6-foot-6 and 280 plus pounds he can run with just about everybody on the team. It's ridiculous how athletic he is." While Magnuson is slated for the offensive line at the next level he often tries to play defensive end, tight end, and even wide receiver sometimes in practice.
Coach Sovacool mentioned Erik's playful and fun side, but was quick to reply with how dedicated he is on the field. "He's a jokester and has a lot of fun, but he's got an edge, he's not afraid of anyone," he said. "He works his butt off and has that midwest blue collar approach. Always competitive, almost overly enthusiastic sometimes, very energetic. He's a big time kid." Magnuson was one of the few prospects invited to both the Army and Under Armour All American games, and chose to play in the Army All American game in January.
Sovacool had spent six years coaching at Palomar Community College prior to manning the La Costa Canyon High program. His experience there saw numerous division one athletes come through, but he still believes Magnuson is one of the best he's seen. "There's a few names that come to mind when you think about Erik. Outside of those couple guys though he's kind of in his own category," his coach said. "He has camp film online doing some drills and it's like are you kidding me? The footwork at his size is great."
The attention that high school prospects get compared to JUCO prospects is somewhat different, but Erik has handled it all in stride from what his coach can tell. "I don't think he could have dealt with all this any better. He worked hard, did his due diligence and made the choice," said Sovacool. "He was very responsible returning phone calls and emails, and he did a great job handling all that attention." La Costa Canyon and their coaching staff were used to the attention, though, with former players like WR Kenny Stills at Oklahoma and DE Ian Seau at Kansas State.They had been there before and knew what to expect with Erik.
The coaches had also heard the sales pitch from college programs before, and believe that there was one school that stood out above the rest. "Coach Ferrigno did a hell of a job recruiting Erik. I think they did the best job out of everyone," he said. "I know Coach Hoke and he did a very good job recruiting him. He's a real personable guy and that's a quality you have to have because sometimes you're more of a politician than a ball coach." The comfortability with the coaching staff ended up being a huge selling point for Magnuson, and the fact that they were honest with him really seemed to hit home. "They were being real with him, and you can kind of see the guys that aren't," said his coach. "It was can I play tight end? No. Can I return kicks? No, you're here to play tackle. Not that he was asking that but they were just real about it. They told him you're going to be a part of something special and Erik found that refreshing."
It was refreshing enough for Magnuson to commit to the Michigan coaching staff in person while on a visit to Ann Arbor. The decision was right for Erik and he knew Michigan was the place for him, even if it was his coach's rival school. "I'm a buckeye fan, I have family back in Ohio and they gave me a hard time about it, but it's all in fun," he said. "I called and emailed Ohio State three times about Erik and didn't hear a single thing back from them. I know sometimes they think West coast kids can't play but they're about to find out on Saturdays," his coach said. Erik was also kind enough to bring a Michigan t-shirt back from his visit for his coach, just in case he wanted to change sides.
I posted this last year during all the conference re-alignment buzz, but I thought I would re-post it again today in honor of Nebraska's 1st day in the B1G.
(It turns out I was a little off on Iowa and Wisconsin. There's more true Iowa hate there than I realized. The Wisconsin hate was ruined a ltiile bit by the B1G by putting them IN THE WRONG DIVISION.)
Anyway . . .
Nebraska fans: Who you'll hate in the Big 10 and why.
You will instantly hate Ohio State. Everyone always does. You will find their fans ignorant, crass, and crude. You will wonder why there are not jail cells in Ohio Stadium like there are in the Pros. Of all of the Big 10 schools, Ohio State will remind you the most of a Big 12 South school.
You will find Michigan fans arrogant with a sense of entitlement, but for no justifiable reason. They will be knowledgeable and friendly when you visit their house, but they will talk about you behind your back. You will get so sick of hearing about the split 1997 National Championship that you will gladly give them the crystal trophy from your half of the title, just to shut them up. Of all of the Big 10 teams, Michigan fans will treat you like a guest in "their" conference the longest.
Penn State will be assigned to you as one of your designated rivals. You will not be asked your opinion about this. It will be for the Big 10's convenience, not yours. You will try to play along, but you won't actually hate Penn State. You will find their constant whining about the refs, the scheduling, the weather, the whatever, to be pathetic. You'll pity them more than hate them.
You will not hate Michigan State at first. Until they finally beat you. Then you will hate Michigan State. That one win is all you'll hear about until your ears bleed. It won't matter if you beat them the next 9 years in a row, that one win is all you'll hear about. Nobody gets more mileage out of one win per decade than Michigan State.
You will feel compelled to hate Iowa because of proximity. The rivalry will be intense and passionate, but as long as you win your fair share, it will never quite digress into true pure hatred. You will be a little disappointed by this.
This will be your biggest rival. When you look in the mirror, you will see Wisconsin. Everything you like about yourself you will see in Wisconsin. Everything you don't like about yourself you will see in Wisconsin. You both currently occupy the position of kings of honest, in-your-face, power football. The Big 10 town won't be big enough for the both of you.
Illinois will annoy the hell out of you. They will show up once a year and declare themselves your biggest rival, even though you'll have no recollection of actually losing to them. After your game with them, you will completely forget all about them until next year when they will remind you again.
You will dread playing Minnesota. Not because of the hatred of a bitter rivalry, but because there is just nothing to gain. If you win, it was what you were supposed to do. If you lose, it will always be in the back of your mind: We just lost to Minnesota. Is this the inflection point of a lousy season? Ask Penn State about this.
You will admire and respect Northwestern for how, against the odds of being a small private academic school, they still field some competitive winning teams. You will show your admiration and respect by beating the crap out of them.
Indiana and Purdue:
You won't care at all about Indiana and Purdue. You will feel bad about this. But you still won't care.
My next diary entry was supposed to be Part III in my recruiting analysis (Feel free to check out Part I and Part II), but I wanted to address a question/assertion that has appeared several times in the comments of both posts. A lot of readers have asserted that Michigan needs to make headway recruiting Canadian players if they want to compete quickly at the D1 level in lacrosse. Canadians are certainly not new to college lacrosse, after all arguably the two greatest players of all time were the Canadian brothers Gary and Paul Gait, who won 3 National Titles for Syracuse in the late 80s.
In the last two years, however, there has been a spike in interest in Canadian players in the media, particularly ESPN/Inside Lacrosse Magazine’s Quint Kessich. This attention has stemmed from the success of a couple of Canadian players the last couple of years. The most famous is Kevin Crowley of Stony Brook, who was one the NCAA scoring leaders in 2010 and a preseason favorite for the Tewaaraton Trophy in 2011. Hofstra attackmen Jay Card and Jamie Lincoln also impressed many with their breakout performance in 2010 and great follow up in 2011. Sophomore Matt Cockerton had a solid season for NCAA champion Virginia this year, totaling 17 points and showing that Canada produces players than can contribute on the deepest of squads and on the biggest stages. More and more teams are recruiting Canadian players, so do they provide Michigan with a “magic bullet” in recruiting?
What Canadian Players Bring To Your Team
I will admit this is a gross generalization upfront. Obviously each player’s experience and talent are unique, and many Canadian players actually attend school in the US and play here more than in their hometowns, and much of this will sound as asinine as “you recruit football players from Florida because they’re faster!” With that out of the way, here’s how Canadian players in general are different from Americans.
Here is a highlight video of Virginia from 2010.
If you are not familiar with lacrosse, you can get a feel for what the game is like from these camera angles. In lacrosse you always have to keep 3 players on the offensive side of the field, and 4 players on your defensive side. So, although you have 9 field players plus 1 goalie on the field at all times, in settled situations the game is actually played 6v6. The lacrosse field is 120 yards x 60 yards, so that gives the offense a tremendous amount of room to create shots. One player normally will initiate the offense by dodging (driving) to cage, another player will cut to cage/backdoor for an easy shot, and a third player will pop out into space for an outside shot/pull the ball out and regroup. For the vast majority of Americans, this is the only type of lacrosse they play.
Canadians, on the other hand, tend to grow up playing a lot more indoor lacrosse (also called box lacrosse, box or boxla). Lacrosse was a way for hockey rink owners to keep their spaces busy in the summer once the ice melted in Canada (and the Great Lakes), so for the better part of a century this has been how Canadian players were introduced to the game. This is what box lacrosse looks like at the highest level.
It almost looks like two completely different games. While outdoor lacrosse looks like basketball on a soccer field, box lacrosse is hockey played with the ball in the air rather than a puck on the ground (literally. Check out the goalie pads and how they hold their sticks. Also, feel free to check out any of the inordinate number of fight highlights they offer). You play only play 5v5 in box and on field the size of a hockey rink.
With this different experience, Canadians bring a completely different skill set to their teams when they start playing outdoors for American colleges. In box lacrosse, the field is obviously much smaller and the game is more compact, so Canadian players are used to playing in much tighter spaces than Americans. It is a game that rewards quickness in the first step, since the field is smaller burst is much more important than 40 yard dash speed, so Canadian players are very explosive dodgers. They are also used to passing into very, very tight windows, and just as importantly, they are used to catching passes under great duress. Finally, they are used to shooting at a goal that is half the size of a field lacrosse goal and against goalies wearing hockey pads, so they tend to be very accurate shooters with a quick release. When they get to college they don’t lose any of these skills, and they are suddenly given a space twice as big to work with. These skills, again speaking in broad generalities, make Canadians great attackman and crease players. They make great attackman because they are quick, know how to create offense on their own with little space, and are very accurate feeding to the crease, despite not having the full out speed to run 120 yards back and forth with the midfielders. They make great crease players because they are great at catching the ball in traffic, so they get passes other players would miss, and their shot release is so quick and accurate they score before the defense can collapse on them.
Here is a 1 minute highlight of Hofstra’s star Canadian Jamie Lincoln. He’s #8, but you’ll recognize him as they guy involved in every goal for the gold team. The video isn’t great, but you can see how precise his passes are, as well as how creative and accurate his own shot selection is.
So Are Canadians The Key For Michigan Recruiting?
Despite the media attention, the numbers are not there for Canadian recruiting to justify the hype quite yet. There were only 18 Canadian players total on the roster of the Top 8 D1 programs last year, which is 5% of the total rosters. Even Denver, who received the most hype of any team for the way they were recruiting out of Canada since supposedly it was key to their rise from nothing to the Final Four in two years, only has 4 players from our neighbor to the North. According to Laxpower.com, only 29 Canadians total have signed D1 letters for the Class of 2011 (H/T to Tim for passing on that link). That’s 3% of the total players signed for this year, or just under what Virginia alone produced (which itself is not a hotbed).
So, it appears as of now that Canada is not as much an untapped resource as it is a place where it’s very top level players are getting a lot of media attention. And rightly so, since these Canadian players mentioned are tremendous. If Michigan can get top players out of Canada that would be tremendous, but I do not think it’s the land of diamonds in the rough that some have made it out to be.
I’ll be back with Part III next week.
The Michigan coaches have gone after some of the top quarterbacks in the 2012 class including Zeke Pike, Gunner Kiel, and Maty Mauk. Without landing any of their targets yet it has still given hope to a few prospects without an offer from the Wolverines. Trotwood Madison quarterback Mike Simpson (6'2", 208 lbs) showed up to Michigan's camp with intent to impress the coaching staff and the desire to earn an offer.
This wasn't his first time at a Michigan camp, but with the new coaching staff it was like a brand new experience. "I talked to Coach Hoke while I was there and I saw they were doing a lot more under center stuff," he said. "I went to camp when Coach Rich [Rodriguez] was there and everything was shotgun. This was more balanced, and I like that because I think that fits me."
Simpson believes that he can run if necessary, but considers himself a passer first who can make something happen with his legs. "I've only ran for three touchdowns in high school, and I started since my sophomore year," said Simpson. "We ran a spread but we didn't run a lot. I throw the ball a lot, and when we're under center I was looking to pass. You can call me a dual threat quarterback, but I consider myself more dropback."
As for his camp performance he believes he left an impression on the coaches and showed them what he can do. "Coach Smith asked the QB coach how I did and he said really well. Coach Smith told me to call him and talk about everything," Simpson said. No offer has been extended, but Simpson is eager to hear more from the coaching staff. "I'm hoping that they offer. I know that they liked Zeke Pike and then he went to Auburn," he said. "They don't have any other commits, and I know they have a commit from the 2013 class [Shane Morris] but not any in our class."
Mike currently holds offers from Northern Illinois and a couple other smaller schools, but has started to garner more attention as of late. "I heard from Kentucky early on and still do, all the MAC schools really like me, I've also been hearing from Illinois and Boston College lately, too," he said.
Simpson's interest in Michigan is high and part of that comes from one of his best friends. "Kaleb [Ringer] went up to camp with me. He didn't do anything, but he rode up with me," he said. "We play for different schools, I went to Chaminade and then transferred to Trotwood, but we've just known each other for awhile now."
Having that familiar face and friend committed to Michigan has given him a level of comfortability with the Wolverines. Simpson says that he would rather not wait everything out and if Michigan were to come calling it might be difficult to pass up. "If they offered I would talk about it with my family and everyone and look into it," he said. "But with Kaleb [Ringer] going there and me fitting in that system it would be pretty hard for me to say no."
Since there are only roughly nine spots left in the 2012 class it's already time to take a look at more prospects in the 2013 class. With Shane Morris committed and a handful of offers extended, the Michigan coaches are definitely getting a head start.
One 2013 lineman that could start to hear more from Michigan is Illinois offensive tackle Kyle Bosch (6'5", 275 lbs). Bosch has racked up offers from Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State, and West Virginia. He's also hearing from programs outside his offer list, and hopes to hear from more. Here's a look at his film and what he had to say about his recruitment.
TOM: I know it's still early for you but what schools are you hearing from so far?
KYLE: I'm hearing from Notre Dame, Indiana, Illinois, Florida, Ohio State, West Virginia, Michigan State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Arizona, Penn State, Boston College, Stanford, Northwestern, and a couple more.
TOM: Wow, that's a lot. What do you think has gotten you so much attention? What are schools saying about you?
KYLE: Most colleges are saying that I play with a chip on my shoulder and I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty. They also like how I always play to the whistle.
TOM: What about Michigan, are they a school that you hope to hear from?
KYLE: Absolutely. They are not only a great football school but they also put major focus on academics. It has the best of both worlds.
TOM: Do you think you'll get up to Michigan this summer, or for a game? What about summer visits in general?
KYLE: I went to a couple camps this summer but now my camp circuit is done. I actually tried to contact Michigan and tell them I wanted to visit because I was going up there anyways for the MSU camp, but I couldn't get a hold of anyone. I'd love to get up there I just need to figure it out. [TomVH ED: Contact rules are strict, so they probably couldn't call him back. Happens a lot.]
TOM: When you go to evaluate a school what are you looking for?
KYLE: I'm looking for a coaching staff that I could see myself playing four years for and enjoying my time there. I'm also looking at the type of academics they offer because in the end no matter how good you are football will end. You always need something to fall back on.
TOM: You've mentioned academics, do you already have an idea of what you want to major in?
KYLE: Business or political science.
TOM: So it's safe to assume that the business school at each program will be important too?
KYLE: Yeah, that'd be safe to say.
TOM: Ok, and how do you see all this playing out? When do you think you'll try to make your decision?
KYLE: I will probably wait until signing day of my senior year to make my decision.