This is maaaaybe premature there, ESPN. Maryland #1 FWIW.
We’ve moved past the brink, boys and girls. Without even knowing that the edge was approaching, we’ve begun tumbling into the depths of winter and spring and early summer: almost a year without a meaningful football game. One moment, you’re making a postmodern commentary on a freak out thread after the Iowa game, the next you’re sitting on a loveseat wearing a box painted as a Rubik’s cube yelling at no one in particular to tackle because there is no one within 5 yards of Evan Royster and there never will be.
I am not writing to you about defensive fronts or about Greg Robinson or about linebacker play or even about Denard Robinson, who is, at least, one good thing about this season. I am writing about one Richard A. Rodriguez, how, no matter what happens for the rest of the season, I will want him to coach the Michigan Wolverines next year and probably the year after that, and, if Dave Brandon does fire him, how I’ll look wistfully after him wherever he ends up.
It’s strange to me that college football coaches hold over their fan bases an almost religious import. In the Kevin Smith movie Dogma, (which was strangely like every other Kevin Smith movie, despite being about Jesus) the lost prophet, Rufus, played by Chris Rock says about religious beliefs, “You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier.” We don’t have ideas about coaches, we have beliefs. When Rodriguez showed up here, I know there were many around who believed he wasn’t the answer, that his offense wouldn’t translate to the Big Ten, that he wasn’t a Michigan man, whatever that is. There were others who didn’t know what to believe, and this was either very exciting or exceedingly frightening. Me? I am no different than any other fan except I believe that Rodriguez is the answer, that given time, he’ll lead us to the glory we always expect, but which always seem to elude us.
But more than that, I love to watch Rodriguez’s teams play. This was the geneses of my belief in Rodriguez. I remember going out of my way to watch those West Virginia teams with Pat White and Noel Devine, and while those two certainly made for a dynamic scoring offense, the thing I loved more than anything else was the way Rodriguez’s teams played for him, how they never stopped trying to beat you, how every game, series, play was a war in and of itself. They say that a team takes on the character of its coach, and I’ve found that to be true of these Michigan teams, that, even if they are outmanned, they’ll fight with you until you knock them out. The first iconic image, for me, of Rodriguez’s tenure here was Steven Threet’s buffalo stampede against Wisconsin in 2008, a triumph of form and deception over power and speed.
When it comes down to it, I’m not really sure from where my faith in Rodriguez comes. Maybe it’s because I was born and raised in Rochester New York and have become accustomed to the language of losing; I point to two Buffalo Bills losses to mark the beginning and end of my childhood (Wide Right and The Music City Miracle respectively). There’s something comforting that comes from supporting a team like that, I suppose.
But, even I grow sick of losing. I grow tired of the endless close calls or not so close calls. And I recognize that he’s not perfect, that he’s at fault for our failures, but I also believe Rodriguez’s will is as strong as any coach in the country, that the leap is coming and coming soon. Beliefs are difficult to change, and I’m not going to claim that what I have here is anything but an article accepted on faith, nor do I have the idea that what I’m writing will change anyone’s mind, one way or the other.
So then what’s the use of this? I’m afraid I don’t have an answer besides saying that sometimes it seems important to state, for the world, what you believe and leave it there, something to mark your leap.
No longer believing in the decimated defense theory.
*This is my first diary and is not in any way meant to disparage the excellent work done by Misopogon and others on this board. It's more of a way to examine my own sanity and perceptions while doing anything but work on a Monday morning. It's also not proofread for the Grammar Nazis.
We all have believed that our defensive woes can be blamed on an empty cupboard in varying degrees. Some entirely Lloyd leaving nothing and others just considered that a small factor for what has become an awful defense. I was in the camp that said Michigan just doesn't have the players and it is a function of depth or lack of it. That all changed this past weekend when I saw first hand how bad this defense is playing.
Saturday night I had officially fallen off the RR bus and no longer believed in him as a head coach. Instead I now thought of him as a great offensive coordinator, but completely out of his league as a head coach in the Big Ten. To me he was the college equivalent of Norv Turner or the Run & Shoot.
Yesterday, while still fuming, I thought about ways I could identify if this was my raw emotions or if there is some statistical basis for my change of heart. As a fan of Peter Drucker I have always thought that one must be able to document any outcomes so I set about looking at the recent history of the Michigan Wolverine defense. What statistics would be relavant to show that I am either being a completely irrational fan or thinking logically.
I settled on 5 defensive statistics that are readily available in a boxscore that I don't think would be affected by a quick scoring offense such as ours. They are: 3rd down efficiency, Pass Completion Percentage, Yards/Completion, Yards/Rush, and turnovers. After settling on them I pulled stats from 2008 to present. What I found tells me that this defense right now is WORSE than last year's unit with those statistics. In some ways it is even worse than the “decimated defense” of 2008. Right now the stats are even weighted more to the cupcake portion of our schedule and we haven't even gotten to Wisconsin or Ohio State.
And now the stats...
3rd down efficiency tells us how often, if ever we are able to get our opponent to punt, try for a field goal, or go for it on 4th down. Essentially this is the “win” down. Win and the offense gets on the field for Denard and Co. to work their magic.
Two years ago on 3rd down our opponents only converted a bit over 1/3 of their opportunities (39%) this year that is up to a 44% rate and I strongly suspect after we finish the Big Ten schedule it will be almost 50%.
Some aspect of this defense would have to improve, right? I mean Lloyd left RR an empty cupboard and he's had time to bring in his recruits and a coordinator that fits his scheme. How are they gashing this defense? Is it run or is it pass?
Looks the correct answer to that question is...both. The Chappell-bombing wasn't a fluke. We've only held one opponent under 60% completion percentage all year and that was the Medivac unit known as Notre Dame.
It is in the above 3 graphs that we see the only improvement over last year's bad defense. We're back to allowing under 4 yards per carry for our opponents. Still higher than the "decimated defense" that Lloyd left which allowed a whopping 3.5 yards per carry (sarcasm).
If all else fails, get the ball more than your opponent. Cause some turnovers and Denard can score us points. That's what I understand GERG teaches instead of tackling.
Well, that's not working out so good either.
Now that I have actually looked at the numbers since RR arrived in Ann Arbor, I can be confident that I'm not being a complete Emo in thinking this just isn't working. I wasn't excited by the hiring of GERG and have been on record with that even before his first game.
Am I calling for RR to be fired...no. But I'm also not defending him anymore. We've become the college equivalent of a Norv Turner coached football team. I have complete faith that Dave Brandon will do the right thing to restore this program, whether it includes RR or not remains to be seen.
I have been an infrequent commenter but daily (often hourly) reader of MGoBlog since before Lloyd retired . (I was sold that Brian correctly told us, on Tuesday before the OSU game, that LC would retire on the forthcoming Monday morning, based on inside info he had. No one in the media had said that previously. It came to pass. I put my full faith and confidence in Brian at that point.)
I am in my 40s with kids, so I am not in a position to let the ups and downs of a college football team dictate my daily mood. If the team does horribly, I can't go around for a few minutes, much less days, acting all sullen. My daughters and wife expect me to be Daddy, not Angry-Against-Everything-Cuz-I'm-A-Michigan-Fan-Guy I actually want to be.
I lay this out as necessary background. I have reserved all judgment to this point. I have in fact defended RR from non-Michigan fans, who have bought into the media that has somehow painted RR as a bad guy. I knew patience is the most important thing to have as the management of a football team (see: Daniel Snyder). This season, even after 5-0, I knew we were facing losses against Sparty and Hawkeye Nation, so I told myself, do not make judgments until after the three-game PSU / U of I / PU stretch. Do not rush to a conclusion yet.
Had a mind change Saturday night. It hasn't gone away since, and now I'm crystal-clear about the future.
I hereby officially declare, as a multidecade U of M fan paying extremely close attention to all circumstances: It is time to replace RR and throw a ton of money at Jim Harbaugh.
It has been complained that people have ranted this weekend about changing coaches without a reasoned basis. I respectfully submit the facts are indisputable.
1. RR's teams are not Big Ten tough. The offense with smaller backs, smaller/fleeter O-line, etc. works great again mediocre and bad teams -- see, ND, UConn, Any MAC Team, Any FCS Team, etc. Against brawny Big Ten teams (meaning, not IU), no so much. While the style of offense has done well for some lesser-ran Big Ten teams to get spotty success (pretty much, Purdue with Drew Breeze and Northwestern), it's my conclusion this offense is not going to produce a consistent winner. But my comment about not being "Big Ten" tough is not limited to the defense. For that we turn to...
2. No excuses for this lack of defense. RR has been coach for 3 years, has had 2 1/2 of his own recruiting classes. The lack of talent in the front 7 is squarely on RR's shoulders, period. Big-name defensive recruits are pretty much not touching us there. There is really nothing in the pipeline, in terms of the underclassmen or incoming classes, that screams massive improvement is on the way. I can give a slight pass to RR for the DBs -- with five 4- or 5-star guys who might have been on this team, but aren't -- and clearly the extreme youth movement there MIGHT, in 2 or 3 years, produce something resembling competency. But, given the lack of Big Ten fight in the front seven, and the lack of hope I have there, the current situation squarely is RR's fault.
3. We aren't getting media love. This might not seem like a big thing, but enough people nationally and locally in the media seem to like dumping on RR -- this ultimately is somewhat like how folks in the Middle East view the USA, it kind of doesn't matter what reality is, it just matters what you hear over, and over, and over, that's all the people believe. This problem will generally serve to disintegrate national support and, thus, recruiting for our program. Ask Notre Dame about that. (BTW, I see sooooo many OSU decals on cars, and on sweatshirts, these days compared to 4-5 years ago -- and I live in Metro DC area. This isn't an accident. Public view of our program is NOT where is used to be a few years ago; the Bball problems clearly contributed to that of course.)
4. Harbaugh!!!! Dude, like, we are STARING at the obvious answer. If he wants to go to the NFL, so be it -- his bro is there, and obviously Jim was one reception away from the super bowl and might fancy another shot at it. But there have been enough indirect sources saying his heart is still in UM, and having been a Bo disciple, I don't question where his heart is. Stanford is no UM: he can't recruit like he wants too -- too many academic restrictions. Still he gets Top 20 classes there. But no way he can out-recruit Oregon or USC at Stanford, just nooo way. So I would guess, he won't be at Stanford long-term, he probably will be looking for the NFL or a B(C)S school where he can get top-notch talent. (I am on record predicting the USC job will open this winter. I could see him there, working with Pat Haden.)
What sells me is, Harbaugh's teams ARE TOUGH. Both on O and D. Did you watch that UCLA game? They smashed the Bruins in the face and laughed about it. They didn't have the athletic talent to stop Oregon, but then again, no one might this year. Otherwise, they are just one royally tough football team -- gee, just like Bo used to field!!!!
We have an obvious solution staring at us. Ask yourself this, if this Spring RR is coaching us and Jim Harbaugh is at another B(C)S school, HOW WILL YOU FEEL? My point exactly. (If he's in the NFL, well, nothing to be done about that.)
I'm all in. I don't need to see more. I know what is coming the last month of the season, so I don't need to say something like "barring a miracle" because there won't be any miracle. I am fully satisfied with the realization that...
The RR experiment has come to its end, and Dave Brandon needs to get Jim to COME HOME. Period.
Rich Rodriguez became head coach at Michigan on December 17, 2007. National signing day in 2008 was February 6th. The first recruiting class and roster/recruit evaluation period that Coach Rodriguez had was all of one game and 2 and a half months. [Ed-M: I put current starters in bold, regular contributors in itals].
Defensive recruits in that first class were:
- Cissoko - got in lots of trouble, now gone
- Demens - got in some trouble, now starting and possibly good
- Fitzgerald - behind Roh on the depth chart, possibly a career backup
- Floyd - starting but ideally would not be
- Taylor Hill - transferred immediately
- Martin - beast
- Brandon Smith - transferred
- Marcus Witherspoon - didn't make it to campus, went to Rutgers, washed out
I tend to look at this class as a bit of a lost class due to the coaching transition. Most players committed to Michigan for Carr, stayed despite the change even though they didn't know the new staff much (and that new staff didn't know them well either), and some left for whatever reason.
2009 - First Full Rodriguez Class
- Isaiah Bell - possible career backup
- Will Campbell - now on offense
- Vlad - transferred
- Cam Gordon - starting safety/spur, redshirt freshman, former wide receiver
- Thomas Gordon - sometime starter, sometime back up at spur, plays regularly, redshirt freshman
- Brandin Hawthorne - special teams
- Mike Jones - backup linebacker, true sophomore, regular backup snaps before season ending injury
- LaLota - transferred
- Roh - pre-Beast on the line, a bit lost as pass defending linebacker
- Justin Turner - transferred
- Witty - never qualified
Another class of mixed results, some guys playing regularly, even starting, others non-factors thus far, and a couple of guys who are no longer on the team.
- Ash - redshirting (long-term project)
- Avery - former high school quarterback playing regularly as a nickelback
- Black - regular in the defensive end rotation
- Cullen Christian - regular in the cornerback rotation
- Dorsey - we know how that ended
- Josh Furman - redshirting
- Carvin - starter at spur/safety when healthy
- Kinard - did not qualify, may be in 2011 class
- Paskorz - redshirting
- M-Rob - recently moved to linebacker, saw snaps v. PSU
- Davion Rogers - left school (academic)
- Jake Ryan -redshirting
- Talbott (DB) - in the regular cornerback rotation
- Talbott (DT) - redshirting
- Ray Vinopal - played sparingly before starting last week
- Ken Wilkins - redshirting
Now let's look at the guys who are playing on this year's defense:
Roh - prebeast Fitzgerald - backup Van Bergen - solid Big10 player Watson - career back up Martin - beast Patterson/Sagesse/Banks - average guys, probably wouldn't start or even play on good defenses Washington - switched to defense last week Black - true freshman Demens - new starter, doing ok, not much playing experience Ezeh - average at best starter now backing up Mouton - talented but inconsistent
Here's where it gets really bad: Gordons - redshirt freshmen Avery, M-Rob, Carvin, Cullen, Talbott, Vinopal - all true freshmen Grit Kovacs - redshirt sophomore former walk on Rogers - senior career back up at wide out and corner Floyd - redshirt sophomore, ok, probably not ready to be a starter
What does it mean? Seven true freshmen and two redshirt freshmen play regularly on defense, most of them in the secondary. The veterans (which I define as guys older than redshirt sophomores) total nine guys, about six of whom wouldn't be playing on a good defense. The defense is bad. This was likely to be the case even if Woolfolk's ankle hadn't blow'd up real good in fall camp. This may have even been the case if Donovan Warren had stayed.
What's the point? The players on the defense that are attributable to Coach Rodriguez and staff are primarily true and redshirt freshmen. I don't have some great metric or link that details the benefit of age and experience on defense but I think we can all agree that relying so heavily on first- and second-year players is a recipe for disaster. It's also one that we would be seeing even if nobody had transferred out or failed to qualify in the Rodriguez era.
Rodriguez Defenses at WVU (database at cfbstats.com only goes back to 2004)
2004: 339 ypg, 36th nationally, 20 ppg, 3.6 ypc, 107 opponent passer rating, 20 turnovers forced
2005: 311 ypg, 15th nationally, 17ppg, 2.9 ypc, 116 opponent passer rating, 21 turnovers forced
2006: 336 ypg, 62nd nationally, 17ppg, 3ypc, 125 opponent passer rating, 16 turnovers forced
2007: 302 ypg, 7th nationally, 18ppg, 3 ypc, 114 opponent passer rating, 24 turnovers forced
Michigan D 2010: 440 ypg, 106th nationally, 30ppg, 4 ypc, 141 opponent passer rating, 9 turnovers forced
So what's my point?
1. Expectations before the season were for a below-average defense even with a healthy Woolfolk. Then he got hurt, Jones got hurt, Demens may have missed the first half of the season due to off-field issues, now Martin is dinged and there is a parade of freshmen in the secondary. For those who are in the Penn State was the final straw camp, what changed in those three-ish hours from the previous 2 months of the season?
2. Coach Rodriguez has a resume that suggests he can build good defenses. At this point he has 2 and a half recruiting classes at Michigan. They won't be any good on defense if they have to rely on this many first and second year players. If you want to focus on the talent that was here when Coach Rodriguez took over, check out Misopogon's Decimated Defense series: http://mgoblog.com/diaries/decimated-defense and http://mgoblog.com/diaries/decimated-defense-part-ii-statisticating [Ed-M: and more recent followups where I said this year would suck, and then said this year does suck because half of the guys who were on the team when I said it would suck have either left, got injured, or just plain suck].
Nobody is happy with these results. Few people want to hear or have the patience to continue to hear, "its early," "they're young," "give him time." But this is simply the truth of the situation at this time. Look at the offense: mostly made up of guys who have been starting/playing significant snaps for all three years of the Rodriguez Era. They are putting up over 500 yards and over 30 points per game, and that's still with two sophomore quarterbacks. I still believe that Rodriguez will be great here but it will take until next year for the defense to be anyware close to average and 2012 for the defense to be above average, because by then he should be operating with mostly upperclassmen on D.
I'm creating this diary to dispel some of the myths that people are trying to believe in hopes of keeping Coach Rodriguez around. If you support keeping him, that is fine, I respect your opinion, but after a careful viewing of the Penn State debacle, my personal opinion is that this team needs to head in a different direction if it can get the right coach.
The Offensive Argument
The theory holds that Rich Rodriguez has come into Michigan and in three years has built an offensive juggernaut that rivals the likes of Oregon or Boise State in terms of scoring offense. On defense he has had some bad luck with attrition and injuries, but that if we give him the necessary time and let him build a defense that is even remotely capable, he will have an unstoppable team given how great the offense is. There are two glaring flaws with this argument.
Flaw #1: The Offense is Not THAT Good
Our offensive production has been overhyped on this blog by an obsession with one statistic: Yards Per Game. Right now, I believe we are ranked #4 in the country in YPG. On this statistic alone rests the entire "offensive" argument. The vital fact that is being forgotten is that in any sport, you cannot gauge a team, or even its offense, on one statistic alone. Take for example, Michigan's ranking in the following statistical categories:
Points per game: 20th
Time of Possession: 92nd
Third Down Conversions: 61st
Red Zone Efficiency: 51st
These statistics were not cherry-picked from a group of low ranking stats. Instead, I chose four random stats that I feel are extremely important in terms of offensive performance. In light of these statistics, it is clear that our offense is not some unstoppable force. It is good. But it isn't the "we score like our hair is on fire every time we touch the ball" machine that some on this board make it out to be. Not even close.
Flaw #2: The Lack of Hope of Defensive Improvement
This one baffles me. The next part of the argument goes that if we give Rich Rodriguez time, he will build a competent defense to match our amazing offense (see Flaw #1 on that point). However, I wonder what gives people the inclination that he will do this. There seems to be no basis for believing that he is the type of coach that will do this. It is clear that he puts very little emphasis on defense, he has recruited bad apples time and time again on that side of the ball, either players who leave the program or don't end up being good anyway. They have not developed the talent that they have had and mediocre players have decided to try for the NFL instead of staying, even though there was a chance they'd go un-drafted) and did.
The track record says that there is no likely foreseeable scenario where Rich Rodriguez builds a suitable defense to match up in the Big Ten.
Perhaps you draw a different conclusion from these facts. My conclusion is that the University of Michigan football program needs to go in a different direction. After three years, a good offense and an atrocious defense just aren't good enough, especially with no expected improvement within the next two years. The record against almost all opponents is terrible and the program has literally become irrelevant.
Starting over and bringing in someone else (perhaps someone closer to the program) is the much better long term solution.
I've been mostly successful this season at keeping my editorial voice out of the weekly wallpapers. However, this week poses several challenges in the "making fun of the opponent" category: a team with a Native American nickname and a program with no discernible traditions. Combine that with my utter disgust after Saturday's game and this is what you get. Actually, I had already finalized the concept for this Illinois wallpaper BEFORE the Penn State game and the original title was "They Be Illin'" but now it is me and you, fellow Michigan fan, who are doin' the illin'. I've changed the title to reflect how I feel at this point in the season; I was so disappointed after the loss at Happy Valley that I almost posted a completely blank wallpaper with the vow to continue posting blank wallpapers until the next win but, after three consecutive losses, designing these wallpapers is the one thing that helps me to move on emotionally (like art therapy).
That said, I haven't completely abandoned hope that this team can meet my original pre-season expectation of 7 wins and I'm firmly in the "let's wait until the last game is played before we cry for firings and lynchings and the like" camp. Here's to hoping that by late on Saturday afternoon we will all have moved on from illin' to celebratin' 6 wins and bowl eligibility.
I had several versions of this wallpaper bouncing around my head last week: everything from tackle twill letters on a retro track jacket to a blinged-out gold chain with diamond-encrusted letters ala Run DMC. I like where this ended up much better; the hoodie and lettering feel appropriately distressed and it gave me a very natural way to turn the last "I" into an apostrophe.
The image below is a preview only. You can get this week's widescreen, 4:3, iPad and mobile wallpapers at The Art. The Art. The Art!.