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!.
All of the 2010 Schedule Wallpapers
[FA Edit: Bumped ahead of coaching kerfluffle due to value.]
So for the past few weeks, we all have noticed the abysmal performances by our defense. There has been lots of ideas tossed around, from GERG being a Defensive Jenius to poor coaching to bad luck/loss of concentration on a few critical plays. One thing that has struck me has been the absolutely atrocious tackling, namely our inability to make one.
Time and again, we have the ball player wrapped up, and then 3 yards later they have picked up the 1st down on 3rd and forever. I thought it was about time to look at tackling, both who is making/missing them and why.
About the analysis:
1. I regarded made tackles as anytime a player made contact with the ballcarrier and that ballcarrier ended up down by contact using solid tackling technique. I did not look at technique of made tackles, as after 1/2 of tape review most of the tackles that were made were of good technique.
2. I classified OOB as out-of-bounds tackles, which could have been a solid tackle out of bounds or a bump out (couldn't find a reasonable way to quantify the difference so they are tackles, but not quite).
3. I designated missed tackles as failing to make a tackle in space, taking an extremely bad angle on a tackle that should have been made, or simply just getting the hit but not bringing down the ballcarrier.
4. Bad Form takes into account any missed tackle that used any of the following:
- Head on the upfield side
- Arm/Jersey tackling
- Any hit at or above the numbers
- Getting "shook" in open field due to not breaking down or overpursuit.
The difference here is missed tackles in my mind sometimes come from being literally overpowered or stiff-armed, not a technique avenue. If the UM defender made the hit with the head on the right side and attempted to wrap up but the ballcarrier just slipped through, I counted this as a missed tackle only.
I reviewed the "every defensive snap" from the MSU and Iowa games and the results are as follows:
|MSU||Total Plays||57||4 TDs|
|Player||Tackles||OOB||Missed Tackles||Bad Form|
So. MSU only, we cant tackle at all.
|Made tackles||OOB||Missed Tackles||Bad Form|
Totals 33 7 18 11
|Plays||Missed Tackles/Bad Form||Missed Tackles/Play||Missed Tackles by Bad Form/Play|
Versus our Offense:
|Tackles||Missed/Bad Form||Missed Tackle/PLay||Missed Tackle from Bad Form/Play|
The numbers in this case really demonstrate how bad we actually are at tackling, and that it is a technique thing.
Solid to great defenses, while they might miss tackles, don't do so using bad technique.
Upon watching again, specifically focusing on tackling, the difference between our D and a Big Ten D is that ours seems to lack that killer instict, getting the ballcarrier to the ground regardless. We don't attack downhill, and we consistently have the head of our tacklers on the wrong side to impede forward progress. This could also be a good reason that we haven't seen a ton of fumbles this year as well, as the most common cause of a fumble is a good ol' helmet on the ball.
While the issue might stem from second-guessing assignments and being a half-second late to the hole, the number of times we went high and behind the ballcarrier in these games its simply shocking. Technique is something you can coach, and something you can keep coaching week in and week out.
Rich Rodriguez's defenders generally point to Kirk Ferentz and Barry Alvarez as examples of coaches who were given bad situations, struggled enormously at first, but then were able to right their ships and become highly successful. If we only give Rich Rod enough time, the argument goes, he will surely do the same thing. CRex's recent diary includes a helpful chart comparing the initial records for the first three seasons of various Big Ten coaches. Once again, Alvarez and Ferentz are the only ultimately successful coaches on the list who did about as badly as Rich Rod in their first three years.
If you look more closely at their performances, the comparisons break down. Both Ferentz and Alvarez struggled greatly through their first three seasons, but they took huge leaps forward in year four, something that it doesn't look like Michigan will be capable of under Rodriguez.
Wisconsin under Alvarez
I was a kid in the late 1980s. I remember Wisconsin at the time as an absolutely atrocious team, one of the two worst in the Big Ten (along with Northwestern). They hired Alvarez in 1990, as indicated in bold on the chart below.
In short, Wisconsin struggled for three years, with gradual improvement, then won Big Ten and Rose Bowl championships in year four. They did slide back a bit, with a losing season in 1995, then ramped up in the Ron Dayne years and have been a very good, occasionally great Big Ten program ever since.
Iowa Under Ferentz
Ferentz inherited the Iowa program in a very similar situation to what Rich Rod had at Michigan. He replaced a beloved coach (Hayden Fry) who had done very well but slipped a bit toward the end of his career. If anything, Fry had fallen further than Lloyd Carr did, posting a very bad final season before Ferentz took over in 1999.
The pattern is strikingly similar. Rock bottom start, gradual improvement, then Big Ten champs in year four. In Ferentz's case, Iowa was 8-0 in the Big Ten in 2002. They didn't play OSU, and their only losses were to Iowa State and to USC's first juggernaut team in the Orange Bowl.
So what does it mean?
I confess that I don't know the details about the circumstances at either Iowa or Wisconsin leading up to the hiring of these coaches. If anyone did follow these programs very closely, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on what their situations were like at the time. But I think it's safe to assume that neither Alvarez nor Ferentz inherited much talent. Iowa was in decline prior to hiring Ferentz, and Wisconsin was terrible prior to hiring Alvarez. Yet these coaches, working with much more difficult recruiting situations than at Michigan, were able to turn their teams into Big Ten champs by year four. Does anyone think Michigan will be close to winning the Big Ten next year?
Can you name any highly successful coach who was unable to build his team into a winner by year four? That's not a rhetorical question. I haven't heard any names mentioned. The usual story is huge success in year two. That's what we see in virtually all the most successful coaches from the last decade: Tressell, Stoops, Carroll, Meyer, Brown, Saban. Am I missing anyone?
It's true, none of those coaches began in as bad a situation as Rich Rod did at Michigan. But Barry Alvarez and Kirk Ferentz did. Highly successful coaches seem to have a very swift upward trajectory when taking over a program. Even if you put them in the absolute worst situation possible, they manage to turn things around amazingly fast. Maybe Rich Rodriguez is an exception to that rule. If he is, he is a rare exception indeed.
|Nebraska 2007 defensive statistics||Nebraska 2008 defensive statistics|
|Points allowed 455||Points allowed 371|
|PPG 37.9||PPG 28.5|
|First Downs allowed 299||First Downs allowed 228|
|Rush yards allowed 2,786||Rush yards allowed 1514|
|Rush YPC 5.2||Rush YPC 3.6|
|Rushing TD’s allowed 38||Rushing TD’s allowed 24|
|OPP. ATT-COMP-INT 409-236-8||OPP. ATT-COMP-INT 385-222-12|
|Passing yards allowed 2.936||Passing yards allowed 3,034|
|Pass TD’s allowed 20||Pass TD’s allowed 19|
|Pos||2007 Defensive two deep||2008 Defensive two deep|
99 Barry Turner 6-3 250 Jr.
88 Clayton Sievers 6-4 245 Jr
99 Barry Turner 6-3 260 Sr.
Clayton Sievers 6-4 255 Sr
43 Ty Steinkuhler 6-3 285 Jr.
96 Brandon Johnson 6-3 315 Sr.
97 Kevin Dixon 6-3 285 Sr.
43 Ty Steinkuhler 6-3 280 Sr.
93 Ndamukong Suh 6-3 305 Soph.
96 Shurkee Barfield 6-4 310 Jr.
93 Ndamukong Suh 6-3 300 Jr.
56 Shurkee Barfield 6-4 300 Sr
98 Zach Potter 6-7 280 Jr.
95 Pierre Allen 6-5 265 RFr.
98 Zach Potter 6-7 280 Sr.
95 Pierre Allen 6-5 265 Soph.
51 Bo Ruud 6-3 235 Sr.
38 Kyle Moore 6-2 225 RFr.
53 Tyler Wortman 6-3 235 Sr
12 Blake Lawrence 6-2 225 Soph.
13 Corey McKeon 6-1 225 Sr.
40 Lance Brandenburgh 6-1 230 Sr.
52 Phillip Dillard 6-1 238 Jr.
54 Colton Koehler 6-1 230 Jr.
15 Steve Octavien 6-0 240 Sr.
40 Lance Brandenburgh 6-1 230 Sr.
34 Cody Glenn 6-0 230 Sr.
23 Latravis Washington 6-3 225 Soph.
2 Cortney Grixby 5-9 170 Sr.
5 Armando Murillo 6-0 195 Jr.
5 Armando Murillo 6-0 190 Sr.
28 Eric Hagg 6-1 200 Soph
30 Tierre Green 6-1 200 Sr.
9 Bryan Wilson 6-1 205 Sr.
3 Rickey Thenarse 6-0 195 Jr.
33 Matt O'Hanlon 5-11 195 Sr.
9 Bryan Wilson 6-1 205 Sr
4 Larry Asante 6-1 210 Soph.
4 Larry Asante 6-1 210 Jr.
6 Major Culbert 6-0 205 Jr.
|CB||25 Andre Jones 6-0 190 Sr.||21 Prince Amukamara 6-1 195 Soph.|
In 2007 the Nebraska two deep had 5 underclassmen; in 2008 there were 5 underclassmen. The roster was very similar in both seasons. In 2007 Nebraska had a pretty shitty defense composed of mostly upperclassmen, in 2008 with the same amount of upperclassmen there was significant defense improvements. The 2008 defense allowed 84 less points, despite playing an additional game. In 2008 the rush defense improved by 1,272 yards, with the YPC dropping by 1.6 yards.
So what is the cause for this massive one-season turn around? A coaching change. 2008 was Bo Pelini’s FIRST season as head coach. I have been a hardcore Rich Rod supporter so far, but the Penn State game really has me questioning things now. I have been seeing over and over on this site that a coaching change would hinder us for a year or two, rebuild again yada yada but I don’t see why. We are in an almost identical situation to what Nebraska went through this last decade.
In 2007 Bill Callahan’s team went 5-7; in 2008 Bo Pelini went 9-4. I don’t know if I’m ready for a change at HC, but all the transition will hamper us/ we can’t improve talk has to stop. I know that we have A LOT of underclassmen in the secondary and Nebraska didn’t, but those same upperclassmen were terrible for Nebraska then vastly improved the next year.
A big concern seems to be that hiring a pro style coach (Harbaugh) would mean bad things for our offense. I don’t see why this would have to happen; Harbaugh has been running the zone read at Stanford with the top pro prospect Andrew Luck. He actually busted off a real long TD run against USC this weekend off it. Would it be all that crazy that a non spread coach would come in and recognize he has the most explosive player in CFB and run the spread the remainder of Denards career? Devin Gardner also seems like he has the skillset to excel in a pro style system.
In honor of Halloween and the equally-traumatizing game yesterday, I bring you this week’s recap as told classic scary movie posters. As always, I welcome comments and criticisms of my movie choices (and especially with scary movies, I will sometimes consider the acting quality in addition to the actual conduct when determining the level of terror associated with it)
The Horror in Happy Valley
Coming off two straight home losses and still smarting from last year’s demolition at the hands of the Nittany Lions, Michigan entered Happy Valley the day before with a mission: to exorcise last year’s and win that all-important 6th game and become bowl eligible after two straight losing seasons. And PSU seemed like a willing partner in this bit of history, as the Lions’ numerous injuries turned once-intimidating Beaver Stadium into a veritable . Not only that, but UM fans were expecting their resident Denard Robinson and the rest of the team to benefit from the rest afforded by the bye week. All pointed to a UM victory, which probably should have been a clue that this game was not going to be .
The first two drives were an of what lay ahead, as UM’s questionable play-calling on third down led to a quick three-and-out, followed up by the first (of what turned out to be many) long, soul-crushing drives by PSU. Led by their ginger, walk-on of a QB, Penn St. roared out of the gates, scoring TDs on 4 of their first 5 drives as Michigan’s defense couldn’t stop with a well-timed stop. To make matters worse, a seemingly fell over the offense, as it failed to generate sustained offense beyond two scoring drives, the futility highlighted by a muffed kick return by Jeremy Gallon that the Wolverines deep in their territory. Staring at a 28-10 deficit and PSU getting the ball to begin the second half, UM fans were in .
The situation only got worse as Penn St. took the opening kickoff of the second half straight down the field and tacked on a FG, ballooning the lead to 31-10 and sending even the most faithful fan into a of questions about this coaching staff and this team, highlighted by the lament of “where was this you call a defense and why doesn’t UM have one?” The team seemed , and the two most pressing question became whether this team would win another game all year and if brought on by copious amounts of alcohol would make the game more palpable.
But then a funny thing happened – the offense began to move down the field quickly, scoring on 3 straight drives and pulling within a TD late into the 4th quarter. Suddenly, one could hear of Wisconsin in 2008, when the plucky Wolverines stormed back and ripped victory from the of defeat. All the team needed was one stop, one PSU mistake. And despite a decent return on the ensuing kick-off, PSU was set to start from their own 35 when a went through every UM faithful’s spine: there was a flag on the play, a personal foul penalty that tacked on 15 more yards to the return on the eventual game-deciding FG drive. The offense tried valiantly to score on the next drive, but as a 4th down pass fell to the ground all hope of a comeback was .
That is the question on everyone’s lips once the lights went out in Happy Valley. Behind a beat-up line and a walk-on, first-time starter at QB, Evan Royster ran around, over, and thru UM’s front with little resistance while Matthew McGloin shredded the secondary with impunity. While poor defensive performances were certainly not to followers of this team, the ease by which PSU moved the ball was truly a . And the offense’s performance, despite some success in the second half, was a of the past few weeks – struggling to score until the team fell behind by double digits, then moving the ball reasonably well as they tried to come back.
So now the familiar questions about the coaching staff have returned; will to coach another year, or will to redemption be littered with more casualties. With Saturday’s game representing completion of the middle third of the season, this team’s future will likely be decided in the Horseshoe, as UM ends the season in Columbus against the Buckeyes. Winnable games against Illinois and Purdue loom the next two weeks, and Wisconsin comes to the Big House to end the home slate in three weeks. Will the for RR and/or GERG’s heads continue to get louder until it is a , or what fans the past three games is simply a rough patch for a maturing team poised to make a strong run to end the season? I don’t think anybody knows, even if they might claim a about how the season will end.
And Because You Read This Far, Some One-Liners About Other Games This Weekend
* The MSU Spartans, saddled with expectations for the first time since the Reagan administration, walked into a in Iowa City, as the shook off last week’s tough loss to the Badgers and demolished Sparty 37-6. indeed.
* I could make a snarky comment after Notre Dame’s heartbreaking loss to Tulsa and the even more painful loss of Crist for the whole season, but considering what happened to them this week my thoughts and best wishes go out to them instead.