i refuse to even consider this a possibility
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.
[Ed (Misopogon): Bumped to diary for general diary-worthiness]
If, like me, you've heard "So and so is too small for the Big Ten" and wondered if that statement could be supported by data, you might find the following information interesting.
At the expense of some tedious data entry and time, I looked at the depth charts on the Rivals site for teams from several conferences. Shown here are the average weights for the O- and D-lines. (I thought those would be a reasonable proxy for overall team size.)
- Notice that our conference doesn't have the biggest offensive linemen. That would be the SEC.
- Our defensive linemen are noticeably bigger than those of other conferences (SEC excepted). I suppose that might be a reflection of the SMASHMOUTH football favored by Wisconsin, MSU, et al. Not sure, though...
- You have to go to the Sun Belt (!) conference to get relatively small offensive linemen. The Mountain West and WAC conferences are right there with the big boys.
Anyway, the numbers show that the Big Ten isn't anything special size-wise.
Another of my favorite myths or areas of silliness is this remark, which you often hear in pre-game shows: "X's offensive line outweighs Y's defensive line by Z pounds!!!" Of course it does. Any reasonable person understands that offensive linemen have a bigger average size. For the conferences, the average difference ranged from 21.9 to 35.6 pounds. Why state the obvious?
While we're on the subject of myths, one other thing:
The Badgers have just four offensive linemen in the NFL.
For all the glowing praise that Wisconsin's trained mastadons get, you'd think they'd have more players at those positions in the NFL. Four? Not overly impressive ...
All numbers included in this preview 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 situations.
Post Game Notes
The numbers predicted a one-possession win for Michigan and that’s largely how they played out. I audibled against the numbers and said the score might be a bit lower because Michigan might try a UConn game plan, slowing it down and limiting possessions. If that was the gameplan, no one told Denard.
Running the ball was Michigan’s obvious advantage coming in. I projected its worth to be in the range of 9 to 15 points for the game. We ended at the high end, with +16 PAN for the game on the ground. Denard put up his usual +12, while Vincent Smith put up all of his +4 on the long TD run. In four qualifying games Denard now has 4 of the top 14 rushing performances of the season in PAN. Bryce Beall from Houston is the only other player in the country to have two top-30 performances.
The big separation came in the passing game. Every time Michigan dropped back to pass it was basically worth a point. Michigan was +17 PAN on 17 attempts and Denard was +19. In terms of overall quarterback performance, Robinson’s three top-15 performances (the BG game still cracked the top 50!) is compared with only one other player with multiple top-15 appearances.
Ben Chappell's +27 performance was the second-best overall QB performance of the year, and he now has three top-40 games. Robinson and Chappell are the #1 and #2 rated QBs in opponent-adjusted PAN so far this year. Chappell’s number may very well come down as he faces defenses tougher than those of Towson, Western Kentucky, Akron, and Michigan, but there is no doubt that he is an exceptional player.
Indiana’s ground game was labeled by me as a pillow fight going in, and you could say that it ended like that. However, it was a pillow fight that Michigan won. The Hoosiers ended the game –5 on the ground as contrasted with a +22 through the air. Every time Indiana ran the ball it was a time they didn’t throw the ball, and a win for Michigan. At least for Indiana’s sake, the running game kept Michigan from pinning their ears back and rushing the passer…with three.
On predictions outside of Michigan, I almost called the OSU-Illinois score outright, but correctly had Illinois covering. I correctly had Iowa winning but did not have them covering, and I almost called the Michigan St.-Wisconsin score. Minnesota couldn’t put a last minute rally together to make me correct but I did correctly have them covering. I did not see Alabama’s domination over Florida coming and the Stanford over Oregon pick was looking great at halftime but looked terrible by the end. Pretty nice week for my Big 10 picks but I missed big on both of the national games.
Even with all of the struggles on defense, the season total projection keeps on rising. My team ranking has now eliminated the pre-season component and is made up entirely of in-season performance, with 50% of the opponent adjustment coming from 2009 performance and 50% coming from 2010 performance. For some teams there is a wide variation on which form of opponent adjustment is used. Michigan looks much better (ranked #12) based on in-season adjustment, but is still #23 when adjusting opponents based on their prior year success. The hybrid of the two has Michigan a full game ahead of where they were projected going into Indiana.
10 wins is now projected to be the most likely scenario and the odds of running the table have risen to 1 in 18.
Michigan State - 20, 60%
Iowa - 15, 56%
@ Penn State - 48, 66%
Illinois - 46, 83%
@ Purdue - 80, 90%
Wisconsin - 60, 92%
@ Ohio State - 14, 37%
Between the loss to Michigan St and the move to eliminate the preseason portion of ratings, Wisconsin has taken a massive beating in the numbers this week. The move is almost certainly too far but we will find out more as the Big 10 season progresses. Illinois and Michigan St were the big movers up, while Penn St, Wisconsin and Ohio St all dropped back after worse-than-expected showings on Saturday.
Projected Big 10 Standings
After last week things looked like three tiers with a mess in the middle. After this week, things are starting to separate a bit.
- Ohio St
- Michigan St
- Penn St
Switch Wisconsin and Illinois and this seems pretty reasonable, even after so few matchups against quality competition overall. Penn St could be higher but this doesn’t look like a season where defense alone is going to get you very many Big 10 wins.
|8||Oklahoma St||Big XII||15.87|
|12||Texas A&M||Big XII||13.85|
|14||Ohio St||Big Ten||13.51|
|17||Kansas St||Big XII||12.61|
|20||Michigan St||Big Ten||11.99|
On a purely data-driven model like mine there are going to be some oddballs, especially since this is more of a power poll than a rankings. Teams are rewarded strictly for how they performed relative the competition, without regard to win or loss.
Of the biggest head scratchers, Stanford #3 and ahead of Oregon, the Big XII seems highly overvalued and Notre Dame checking in at #25 seems a bit crazy at first, but they went to the wire with both Michigan schools who are obviously both undefeated and their other loss was to the highly rated Stanford squad.