(Note: This is my first diary and I'm relatively new to the mgocommunity. This is simply a portrait of my experiences within Michigan football and The Rivalry).
On The Eve of Battle
Today Michigan football is in a dark space. Hopes that flew beyond control early in the season have all but been brought to earth. In a way, I think everything that has happened has set Saturday's game up to be a barn burner. For one, the game is at noon, and even though I think the game was at noon last year it has been taken out of that slot in years past (unfortunately IMO). For all intents and purposes OSU has nothing to play for and they are doing their best to try to hype this game up, despite the fact that they are disrespecting the game by wearing those God awful throwbacks. That point aside, they've won The Game the past five years, they've wrapped up the Rose Bowl, and Michigan is on a skid to say the least. For all intents and purposes this game should not be close.
The beauty of it is that games aren't played on paper. On this very site there have been posts, and diaries, and threads all dedicated to breaking down every game in every way possible. I do this myself. It's only human nature to try to give oneself control and perspective in a situation where they have no direct impact on the outcome.
I've been a Michigan fan for as long as I can remember. I've been to The Big House a handful of times and hugged or high-fived complete strangers after every big play. I've shared in the heart breaking and soul crushing defeat when we outplayed Colorado only to have a hail mary answered (along with Mo going for two too damn much). When I found out Lloyd was retiring and Rich Rod was taking over I was excited and that excitement only increased after we dethroned Tebow in the Capital One Bowl showing an offense that had never been more exciting in the Carr era.
I didn't expect 2008 to go as bad as it did, but I wore my Michigan sweatshirt to work almost everyday in broad view of my coworkers at 4 a.m., many of home root for MSU or other schools. Continuing into this year, I have watched every game even to the point where I couldn't watch anymore. My story is only one in a million other stories told here and elsewhere that make my heart swell with pride to be a Michigan man even in the dark times.
It is just football to some, and I don't lose my perspective on life (at least I don't think) as I am active in ministry (that's the only mention I will make of religion going forward), but to me Michigan football is so much more. At times my obsession with Michigan football seems more like a drug than a medicine, especially in the dark times surrounding the program. It is still a diversion from some of the things happening in my own life, and for that I am greatful, as I lost the aforementioned job and live in Michigan where jobs are about as common as wins over the Buckeyes this decade (and don't think that didn't sting to type).
The one thing that really irks me though, is why I can remain supportive of our coach and team when so many others reflect their pain into the program, seemingly trying to rip it apart. My diary will not change that fact, and it will also not affect the outcome of tomorrow's game at high noon. I do have an illogical hope, however, and it is a seemingly baseless hope. Even ripped apart as I have felt since MSU as well as feeling hopeless since Illinois, I have felt some source of inspiration this week. I have told myself that it's just my Michigan bias combined with my Buckeye hate, and that still could be true, but I have come to the boards here and found similar hope.
I can't lie and say I haven't been critical of Rodriguez, but I have never thought it wise to fire him and never thought it a good thing to let my criticism affect my support. Though the predators in the media and in the Hell that is Coumbus are waiting for another opportunity to strike Michigan and coach Rod another blow, I am making an appeal on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the '69 rebirth of Michigan football.
Though we have no direct role in the outcome, I know the true fans will be doing everything they can to transfer their passion to the players. As much as we can we should not worry about the implications a loss or win can mean. I can only hope that the passion I feel is matched in preparation, in practice, in the locker room and in the game. I think the problems that have arisen have to do with the expectations we have all had being spoiled for too long. We will succeed again.
After the game tomorrow I will still wear my Michigan gear with pride, and not just because we have a good basketball team. Regardless of outcome, let's keep things in perspective and realize that as bad as things seem we will beat the Bucks again, be it this year or next year or in twenty. I only ask that we do what we can to support the team without letting our emotions cause us to put our energy in the wrong places. If you are putting energy into getting coach Rod fired, that is energy wasted that could be spent cheering the team on. I'd rather be positive when I don't have control than negative.
That's all I have to say, other than: Go Michigan! Beat the Bucks!
(hope this wasn't a waste of space, but if it is I will go back to just enjoying others content; I feel too strongly about tomorrow not to pass on my hope)
Rush OffenseMichigan Rush Offense: +2 (25th Nationally, 2nd Big Ten)
Ohio State Rush Defense: +2 (27, 3)
|New Mexico State||9||1.7||27||58||2.15||0|
After a slow start against Navy, Tresselball has been in full effect. Except for a mild let down vs Minnesota, Ohio State has been positive against the run since week 2. Michigan, on the other hand has been a bit all over the place this year. Michigan, although second in the Big 10 in rushing, has gone 4-4 in terms of positive and negative games vs non-MAC competition. On top of that, none of those 8 games have been within 3 points of 0.
Projected outcome: +0, 35 carries, 130 yards 1TD
Pass OffenseMichigan Pass Offense: +1 (44, 4)
Ohio State Pass Defense: +7 (9, 2)
|New Mexico State||9||5.6||16||0||1||16||7|
Ohio State presents a defense that, depending on how you look at it, either had a chink in the armor exposed last week to Iowa's backup qb, or a dominant pass defense that got a little complacent. Although this unit hasn't been as consistent as the rushing defense unit, it has generally wavered between good and great throughout the year.
Michigan hasn't been able to put up huge games (no Big 10 game as high as OSU's Big 10 average) but they have shown solid growth in the passing game over the last month or so, largely tied to the emergence of Roundtree.
Projected Outcome: -6, 18/30 175 yards 2 TD 1 INT
Michigan Rush Defense: -2 (96, 9)
Ohio State Rush Offense: +1 (33, 3)
|New Mexico State||9||6.1||47||313||6.7||3|
This is a unit that has killed Michigan all year long, and an Ohio State unit that has been their backbone. It is interesting to note that both teams have had 4 of their top 5 performances of the season in the last couple weeks. The difference is that Ohio State has gone from decent to really good and Michigan has gone from terrible to not totally terrible
Projected Outcome: -3, 45 carries 210 yards 3 TD
Pass DefenseMichigan Pass Defense: -1 (63, 7)
Ohio State Pass Offense: +0 (58, 7)
|New Mexico State||9||2.3||244||2||0||34||15|
The Michigan pass defense has a very strong negative trend throughout the season. The good news? is that it's can't get much worse. Seriously, the Wisconsin game was the 996th best performance of pass defense out of 1114 that I have ranked this year. The interesting thing about OSU is that with Tresselball this year, the more they throw, the worse they do. When the Buckeyes have thrown the ball less than 20 times, they average +2.2 and have had their two best passing games of the year. When they have thrown the ball more than 20 times, they have averaged -1.1 and had their 3 worst games of the year. You have to think that the gameplan is going to be to keep the ball on the ground. Although this could be a positive, efficient game for OSU through the air, the knowledge that our pass defense could only be exposed to a minimum of attempts sounds pretty good at this point.
Projected Outcome: -1, 15/24 160 yards 1 TD 0 INT
The Rest of the PictureKicking: Michigan
Michigan Kickoff: OSU
Ohio State Kickoff: Michigan
Michigan Punt: Michigan
Ohio State Punt: OSU
All Special Teams: Push
Pace: As we prepare for another fast vs slow, contrast in styles matchup on Saturday, I am wondering if picking up the pace could be a winning strategy? We are not the most talented team in this matchup and more possessions generally favors the better team, but I have to wonder if we can make the game move faster and take OSU out of their comfort zone (even if it exposes a weakness or three) if that could be a path to upset?
Turnovers: 55 points. That's the difference in value between Ohio State's turnover performance YTD (+38) vs Michigan's (-17). 55 points will get you a long way. It is also the hallmark of the grind it out strategy. You have to own the swing plays and there are no swing plays bigger than turnovers. Even with the large divide, there are positive signs. Michigan has only lost 21 points to interceptions thrown this year, which is best in the Big 10. And interceptions are where OSU has made their living this year, racking up a +54 on picks for the season. If Michigan can keep away from bad interceptions, and a pick up a lucky bounce or two, could be a ball game.
PredictionsMichigan 21 Ohio State 31
The regular numbers are pretty stacked against Michigan this week, but with the type of tight game Ohio State likes to play, a key turnover or special teams play could present a window of opportunity to steal one this weekend.
Minnesota 14 Iowa 27
Wisconsin 31 Northwestern 17
Purdue 28 Indiana 27
Penn St 28 Michigan St 24
UConn 28 Notre Dame 35
Michigan Football is but a part of one of the world's best universities. And a cultural touchstone in one of the best college and socially aware towns in the world.
Michigan Football is actually Meeeeeechigan Football.
Michigan Football is growing up with Bob Ufer, be it family gatherings around the radio to listen to road games or wearing gigantic headphones straight from the 1970s over your ears to keep up with the action while at the game. Michigan Football is the indelible spirit and Maize and Blue partisanship that Ufer instilled in many a generation of fans. It's General Patton's horn. It's God Bless Your Cotton Picking Maize and Blue Hearts.
Michigan Football is Great To Be A Michigan Wolverine.
Michigan Football is my grandmother's fried chicken during a tailgate. Its been over 20 years since I had any, but I can still taste it on my tongue at times if the right aroma is wafting around the golf course on game day.
Michigan Football is Wangler to Carter on the last play, Elvis to Desmond on 4th and 1 and Forcier to Matthews with time running out.
Michigan Football is Stewart to Westbrook, Rocket Ishmael kick returns and Spartan Bob to TJ Duckett.
Michigan Football is Paul Girgash, John Vitale, Phillip Brabbs, Vada Murray and Elliot Mealor. You're family once you come here. You did (or in Mealor's case doing) us proud on the field. Your battles are our battles. Always.
Michigan Football is Jamie Morris, Mike Hart, Jim Harbaugh, Chadd Henne, Jake Long, Jon Jansen, Curtis Greer, Lamar Woodley, David Harris, Erik Anderson, Andy Canavinno, Tony Boles, Allen Jefferson, Mike Taylor and Steve Everitt. Michigan Football is Rich Hewlett, Chris Zurbrugh, Demetrious Brown, Steven Threet, Justin Fargas, Sam McGuffie, Brandon Minor, Brandon Graham, Stevie Brown, Obi Ezeh, Zoltan Mesko and David Moosman.
Michigan Football is Super Cid and Super Cede, David Cone, Nick Sheridan and Jordan Kovacs.
Michigan Football is Hail to Victors, Varsity, Hurrah for the Yellow and Blue and Let's Go Blue.
Michigan Football is the Michigan Marching Band, all members past and present without whose spirit the Big House would not nearly be as cool a place. You are the heart and soul of the fanbase. It's the halftime shows. It's Rocky and Bullwinkle, the High Step, Tempation and because you cant have one without the other the Hawaiin War Chant. Its William Revelli, Jerry Billik, George Cavendar, Eric Becher, Jamie Nix, Scott Boerma, and the Man Up Front.
Michigan Football is hating Ohio State, despising Notre Dame, begrudginly tolerating Penn State and ignoring, except for one week, Michigan State.
Michigan Football is being so dominant that Rose Bowl Organizers decided to hold, among other things, Chariot Races in the many years between the first and second actuall football games because nobody could touch the Wolverines and Fielding Yost's Boys.
Michigan Football is Stanford scoring 13 points in the final two minutes, Warren Moon's air show, the Phantom Touchdown and the lethal combo of Vince Young and Dusty Magnum.
Michigan Football is Buth Woolfolk's 182 yards, Leroy Hoard's 142 yards, Tyrone Wheatley's 236 yards, Griese to Streets, Woodson picking off Leaf in the endzone, Brady to Terrell and Lloyd over Urban.
Michigan Football is Yost, Oosterbaan, Kipke, Crisler and Elliot. Michigan Football is Bo, Mo, Llloyd, Hanlon, Gittleson, DeBord and Hermann. Michigan Football is Rodridguez, Magee, Barwis, Frey and GERG.
Michigan Football is long distance calls to my grandfather after every game to rehash the events. Michigan Football is breaking down in a heap of tears after the '98 MSU game because for the first time ever I didnt have a grandfather to call after a big game.
Michigan Football is hugging my brother as the seconds ticked away in this year's Notre Dame game. Michigan Football is jumping up and down with my father after D-War's interception in the fourth quarter against Indiana. A pair of moments of unbridled joy between family members who dont always get along and see eye to eye. A pair of moments that will always define the 2009 beyond anything else we've seen on the the field this season.
Michigan Football is my grandmother's crush on her Little Anthony Carter. Michigan Football is my mother exclaiming her love for Shoelace after the season opener.
Michigan Football has always been family. From my blood relatives to lifelong friends I've tailgated with to this amazing community of invisible e-friends forged the last couple of seasons.
Michigan Football is the Hole that Yost Dug, that Canham Carpeted, and that Bo Sold Out.
Michigan Football is Michigan Stadium, the coziest big stadium in the entire world. The Big House. The Wrigley Field of college football. The best neighborhood stadium in the land. Where 100,000 of our closest friends gather for church a half dozen Saturdays in the fall.
Michigan Football is the look on someone's face the first time they meander through an entrance tunnel and gaze out onto the field and the mass of humanity around them
Michigan Football is trekking to the 1989 and 1991 OSU games in the world's most beat up RV, not so affectionaly dubbed the Golden Turd. I can still remember the looks of doubt, fear and shock on the people we picked up on the way out of town as we pulled into their driveways. Hey, it made it back and forth and for this teenager it represented a new peak in the world of tailgating that helped set the tone for the college days that were about the begin.
Michigan Football is reprising that venture for the 2009 Game. The Wild Rover isnt any less beat up than the Turd, but its guaranteed to provide us with as much fun. We'll be in the Fingerle Lot just after dawn. If we make it, of course.
Michigan Football is the student section infuriating the prudish types with chants of Bullshit after calls against the home team and throwing teepee on the field after scores (1970s-early1980s) or pelting the field with Marshmellows (late 1980 into the 1990s) or pointing at the other team and yelling 'you suck' after every third down failure (current day).
Michigan Football is an oasis from real life. Like five years ago in the wake of one my closest and dearest friends passing away suddenly, inexplicably and way, way, way too early before her time. We grew up together. Our families went to games together. We're still reeling from this in many way. But, for three hours the day after she passed, Chad and Braylon at least gave us something else to cheer about and get into as they won a classic OT game over Michigan State. I remain convinced that Tiff someone guided some of those fluttering deep bals into the right hands that day. She knew we needed a win.
Michigan Football is the arguments. Jamie Morris or Mike Hart? Who is more clutch, Kolesar, Howard or Braylon? Brady or Henne? You know leaving out Elvis and Harbaugh is a mistake, I think you should reconsider. Better defense, 1985, 1997 or 2006? Better offense, 2000 or 2003? Best win over OSU? Can you really pick? It's like picking your favorite child. Who should start? Who should get carries? How much time should Denard get? What the hell is up with that playcall? Pink Slips, anyone? Why come Brian is so harsh in the UFR's, he doesnt even know the playcall?
Michigan Football is 1985, 1997 and 2003. Michigan Football is 1984, 1987 and 2008. Michigan Football is 12-3-1. Michigan Football is 1-7.
Michigan Football is five consecutive Big 10 Championships from 1988-1992. Michigan Football is four straight four loss seasons from 1993-1996. Michigan Football is the 1997 National Champion.
Michigan Football is heartbreak on third and short, be it on yet another fullback plunge into the line (Bo), an inexplicable passing play (Mo), a zone stretch to the far side of the field that has no chance (Lloyd) to a designed quarterback run with your undersized freshmen signal caller (Rich). And who said Rodriguez doesn't understand Michigan tradition?
Michigan Football is the Cook Family Tailgate, a tradition dating back to the 1950s that eventually inspired the genius (or insanity) behind mgoblog. Michigan Football is lifelong fan and lifelong friend Tyler flying odd hours in the night and morning to take his kids Fielding and Tess to their first games. Michigan Football is MJV leaving well before sun up in Chicago and arriving home in the late hours of the night so he can take his young son to his first games.
Michigan Football is Grandma and Grandpa Mac taking a seven-year-old Jamie Mac to his first games waaaaay baaaack in 1979, setting off a lifelong love affair with the program, school and city. It's Uncle Mac and Father Mac stuffing extra beers in my oversized Army coat, after more alcohol restrictions were put in place because nobody searches a 12-year-old. It's sitting in the exact same seats some 30 years later and never failing to think of all of them the instant I walk into the stadium. It's shedding a tear of fondness each home game as I remember all the good times over the decades those seats have brought me and my family. Michigan Football is the thousand of other stories just like this one.
Michigan Football is a young Tim Sullivan casting aside his central Ohio roots for a better place and a cooler football addiction. Michigan Football is the thousand of new students who flock to Ann Arbor every year as freshmen who never gave football a thought, but become rabid lifers after their first four quarters in the student section. Make no mistake, you are the backbone of this fan base and dont let fools like me tell you otherwise just because you dont know who Tripp Welbourne is.
Michigan Football is poaching football studs out of Ohio to play for the good guys. Where would the program have been just in the last two decades withouth the likes of John Kolesar, Vada Murray, Desmond Howard, Elvis Grabc, Jarrod Bunch, Ricky Powers, Jon Vaughn, Marcus Ray, Charles Woodson, Prescott Burgess and Shawn Crable? Getting Ohio kids to cross the state line is one of Michigan Football's oldest and most important traditions.
Michigan Football is Kevin Koger, Michael Shaw, Roy Roundtree, Elliot Mealor, Justin Turner, Patrick Omameh, not to mention the seven verbals in the 2010, busting their butts to forward and enhance the above tradition.
Michigan Football means a lot to many people. It binds us as a community and trumps our differences. It provides us with hope, fun, satisfaction, thrilling highs and depressing lows. Michigan Football is life. I know its one of the more important aspects of my life. I couldn't imagine my life without the Maize and Blue in it. My first heroes in life were guys like AC, Wangler, Greer and Woolfolk. Some of my favorite moments in life took place while sitting in Section 14 or watching from afar on TV. Today, my heart breaks for the kids on today's team because they are working so hard and not getting the results that they want.
Michigan Football is on the rise, even if its hard to discern the forward steps in the climb upwards right now. Michigan Football has the best young talent in the conference right now. Like wine, its just needs some time to harvest into something vintage.
Michigan Football will burn the boats tomorrow. Michigan Football is on the ropes, but they will come out swinging tomorrow with their best punches. Michigan Football has always saved its best for when people doubt it the most. Michigan Football will be carried tomorrow by seniors like Brandon Graham, who have one last chance to leave a legacy. Michigan Football will be carried tomorrow by a freshmen quarterback who has shown enough flashes of brilliance that he'll be taking snaps in Pasadena before his career is out. Michigan Football lays it all out on the line when the Scarlett and Gray are on the other side of the field.
Win or lose, I'll be proud of them and cheer them on. And, have fun doing so. That's Michigan Football. They are Michigan Football.
Michigan Football ruled. Michigan Football will rule again. Michigan Football is down, but not out. Michigan Football will be back.
Go Blue! Beat The Bucks!
I'll meet you at Brian's for the victory celebration tomorrow afternoon.
(Oh, and Big 10 Picks......let's go IU +4 over Purdue, Iowa -10 over Minny, NW +7 over Wisco, MSU +3.5 over PSU and UM/OSU Over 47)
In other games, Army pulled out a 22-17 win against VMI in a game that had 3 field goals in the thrid quarter. UCLA crushed Washington State, as expected, 42-7. If you have 7 first downs for the whole game, and the other team has 556 yards of offense, the score is probably not close. Also no surprise that Western beat Eastern to clinch second place in the Michigan Directional bowl. Eastern had 6 turnovers to help them score only 14 points when they had 364 yards of offense. Western scored 3 TDs in the second quarter to end this one early.
This week, we're treated to three sub-.500 games in the MAC. Yes, that means that half of the MAC games feature teams .500 or lower. Eastern goes to keep their perfect season alive against Toledo, Buffalo plays Miami(Obviously NTM), and Akron plays relative powerhouse Bowling Green. Eastern has been well documented in these pages, and looks to have their hands full against Toledo. If I have to type "looks to have their hands full with Toledo," you're a bad team. Toledo has the #22 offense, so this looks to be rather one-sided.
The Buffalo v Miami(Still NTM) game was Wednesday, with Buffalo winning 42-17. Another good metric: if you have 21 first downs, and only need 7 thrid-down conversion attempts, you're probably winning. Buffalo Buffalo buffalo Hawks.
Akron v Bowling Green also look to be lopsided. Bowling Green lost to Missouri by a TD, and has generally beaten up on the lower team in the MAC, with wins against Buffalo, Miami, Ball State, etc. This one could be a defensive battle, with both team's defenses between the 60's and 70's.
In Big Ten games not feauting Michigan, Indiana plays Purdue. Purdue is kind of the anti-Michigan. 4-7, but 3-4 in conference. This is the same Purdue team that beat Ohio State after losing to Minnesota, then got blanked by Wisconsin before, well, we all know what happened next. Indiana should be a well-known entity by this point.
In non-MAC games, CSU plays New Mexico in another "Someone Will Get a Conference Win" bowl. CSU started 3-0, beating CU and Nevada, before the horns came off the ram. New Mexico looks to just beat someone, anyone. Maybe they could play Eastern.
UTEP plays Rice in the "Didn't I Already Do This Game, Conference USA Toilet Bowl Round Robin" series. C-USA is like groundhog day, and I'm sure they look at the MAC and say the same thing. UTEP does have the #30-ranked offense, so they've got that going for them. Which is nice. This game is just edged out by Eastern v Toledo for worst overall ranking, 280 to 303.
Since I featured Army last week, Army v North Texas only gets mentioned for the "Immovable Object, Irresistable Force" award, as Army's #13 defense goes up against North Texas's #28 offense.
One play. For all of you who think that the only thing that matters
is the win-loss record, the end result, the final score; for all of
you calling for the end to this new Era before it's even begun;
for all of you mired in the media's negativity: think only on this.
One play. One play, here and there, and everything would be
Overtime against Michigan State. 4-0 record hanging in the balance.
A miraculous comeback bid gets us to overtime. And then, one play:
Tate misses a read and keeps the ball, when he should have handed
it to Minor. The handoff would likely have led to a touchdown. The
touchdown, so disheartening to MSU, and spirit-lifting to our defense,
might have been enough to get them to the win. One play. One missed
opportunity. And we are 4-1 and not 5-0.
Last drive against Iowa. Denard having just led the team downfield
to close the gap to two. The ball in our hands, and enough time to
move it and try for the winning field goal. Denard rolling out and
Odoms breaking free right in front of him 15 yards downfield. If
he gets the ball he's into Iowa territory with plenty of time on the
clock. If he gets it we have a good shot at a field goal. If he gets
it, we are a Jason Olesnavage kick from 6-0 (assuming the MSU win too).
But he doesn't get it. Denard targets further downfield, and drops it
into the hands of an Iowa defender. One play. And now we're 4-2.
At Illinois. A long pass to Roundtree. If Roundtree just zigs at the
end of the run, cuts away from the approaching safety, the tackle
is nearly impossible to make. Touchdown, 20-7, and Illinois imploding
like they have many times this year. One play. One missed cut. And
one more loss.
One play can kill. These "one plays" have combined to kill this season,
turn a fall full of hope and promise of a new and better Michigan into a
winter of concern, dismay, and even enmity, filled with worries about
who we are and where we are headed.
But one play can birth something too. An extra cut on a kickoff
return that transforms a typical 10-yarder into a game-changing touchdown.
A block that breaks the running back free to rampage through the
secondary. A tackle that saves a touchdown. A kick that sneaks
inside the post instead of bouncing off of it. A pass not an inch too
high or an inch too low, and thus a first down and not an interception.
One play can do all that.
We don't need a miracle on Saturday. We don't need OSU to play their
worst. We don't need a perfect game from our Boys in Blue. We don't
the smartest game plan we've ever had. We don't need the weather to be
What we need is much simpler: One play.
One play to save a season.
One play to define a new program.
Will we get that One Play?
The Mind says no, but the Gut says yes. And today,
and tomorrow, and frankly, forever, I choose to listen
to the Gut.
Prediction for the game: Michigan 23, OSU 21.
Get that One Play for us, and GO BLUE!
Notes: Before getting started, there are a few caveats that need to be addressed.
- In all of my opponent metrics, I removed UM’s totals and then recalculated their numbers. This controls for the variances playing against UM’s offense/defense had on the statistics.
- I did not consider drives at the end of halves/games if they were designed to run the clock down.
- I removed stats against Baby Seal U for obvious reasons – record-breaking offensive days against middling FCS teams tells you nothing about the team except that it is better than a middling FCS team at home. I almost discounted EMU as well (0-10 doesn’t bode well for the English Era), but my wife received her Masters from EMU and thus for matrimonial harmony, the Eagles fly high in the rankings.
- Total yardage determined by rushing+passing and does not include return yardage. Rationale – yes, they affect the numbers somewhat, but not to any great extent and it would have created a whole new series of issues to correct for. This is the same reason why I did not account for penalty yardage.
- Offensive/defense scoring computed based on opposition’s plays, not defensive TDs (Wiscy&Iowa)/safeties (argh!)/return TDs. Did count toward total points, but same rationale as in 4.
- In computing scoring TOP, I did not count scoreless halves because they skewed the numbers needlessly.
- Link to the file can be found here.
So with only The Game standing between UM and either (1) the Pizza Pizza Bowl or (2) another offseason of virulent Freep attacks, I figured it would be a good time to take a step back and analyze this team’s performance this season. Now, I do not possess any particular insights into football that would separate me from the myriad of top-notch members of the MGoCommunity; I’m not a current/former player or coach with valuable insights into schemes, an “insider” with intimate knowledge of the AD’s inner workings, nor a recruiting maven with fresh info relating to future Wolverines.
What I realized, though, was that I could bring a big-picture outlook to this team if I could simply accumulate enough data points so that meaningful analysis was possible. Like many, I’m guilty of looking at a game or two and trying to ascertain some trends, some greater meaning from an incomplete set. So after suffering through the double gut-punches of Illinois and Purdue, I decided that to keep any sense of perspective on this team, I needed to compile the major offensive and defensive stats for the team and see if there was some positive trends, some glimmers of hope moving forward. What follows is the first part of this analysis, focusing on the revamped UM offense.
Going into the season, the lead story surrounding the offense was whether or not the read-option would flourish with two QB prospects physically capable of running the offense, of making the defense pay for biting on run fakes and QB runs. In the season preview, Brian saw the running offense being top-40 overall, based on the return of Brown and Minor, the expected play of non-Threet and non-Sheridan QBs, and the maturation of the offensive line.
For the most part, these expectations were met despite rarely having all the pieces in place. UM currently sits at 21st nationally in rushing offense with about 196 yards/gm, and though that does include Baby Seal U, it also includes MSU inexplicably holding the team to 28 yards when they normally give up about 106 yards/gm. And let’s nor forget the litany of factors that worked against the running game almost all year. The freshmen QBs have struggled at times with reads, and the loss of Molk and the subsequent shifts on the line certainly didn’t help matters. Minor and Brown have each missed significant chunks of the season with injuries, and the team as a whole has struggled to hold on to the damn ball. So to be a top-30 rushing offense while running at about 75% capacity bodes well moving forward.
But wait, what is that you say? You already knew that the running game was the bedrock of the offense, and why am I wasting your time with stuff you already know. Well, have you seen a chart of the running game for the whole season, including averages against only the Big 10/ND (henceforth referred to as “BND”) and removing the highest/lowest performances?
You have. Well…here is it again, with some bonus graphs:
Rushing Offense against ALL opponents
Opp Run Defense
*Difference between actual yardage and expected yardage given up by opposition
**% difference measured by yardage gained/expected yardage given up by opposition
Rushing Offense Averages & Standard Deviations
Remove H/L BND:**
Opp Run Defense
* High game = EMU, Low game = MSU
** High game = Purdue, Low game = MSU
Off the bat, you notice that the team averaged about 4.0 yds/carry against all competition, which is pretty impressive for such a young offense. At its best, West Virginia’s rushing offense averaged about 6 yards a carry, and that was against weaker competition and without corrections for Baby Sloth U and Premature Giraffe A&M. Even better, UM averages over 17 more yds/gm than their opponents usually allow, resulting in a rush offense that is 107% more “productive” than an average team going up against these defenses. And this efficiency was blind to the opponent; Iowa and PSU were both roughed up a bit on the ground even though both have above-average running defenses. Sure, there was also MSU and Wiscy, but those could be explained by a coach’s irrational, single-minded focus on beating the more established program (MSU) and a dearth of second-half offensive series because of a clock-chewing offense (Wiscy – discussed in further detail in the Overall Offense Analysis below).
Now, when you remove the MAC teams, the average dips to 3.2 yds/carry, which is a little distressing. As trolls are want to do, they would argue that this shows RR’s offense does not work in the Big 10, that you need big ol’ rhinos on the offensive line to move the ball successfully and that defenses have “figured out” how to stop the team.
But looking at the numbers with the high/low totals removed both overall and in the BND, I notice some encouraging signs. Against BND competition, the team still averaged about as many yards as the teams normally allowed, and throwing out the aberrations that were MSU and Purdue you have an offense that averaged about 6 more yards per game than expected. I know I’ve hammered on this point already, but that MSU game is a massive outlier here. To put it in perspective, here are things more explainable than MSU holding UM 140(!) yards below their year average, and 86(!!) yards under what MSU gave up against anyone else on the schedule:
As another factor/excuse for the poor numbers against certain teams, fumbles really killed this running offense. PSU and Illinois would likely have had much higher totals if the offense wasn’t giving it back at a near-record clip. The team had 10 fumbles overall, and 5 came in that 2-game span (and 8 if you include Iowa). This team really shot itself in the foot on a number of these plays, leaving yards and points on the field at the worst possible instances.
Injuries also played a major role in the running game’s struggles. Once Molk wound up on the injury list, the running game took a major step back for a couple of weeks until some continuity was reestablished. Losing Brown and especially Minor did hurt the numbers somewhat, but guys like Smith and Shaw filled the gaps nicely, and Robinson and Forcier brought the type of elusiveness and threat to the running game that was missing from last year. When the offensive line started to spring leaks, though, the running game definitely suffered.
Finally, it must be noted that some of the lowish rushing totals against teams like Illinois and PSU was due to the team being behind and resorting to the pass game to get back into those games. Given an adequate defense that helped to keep games closer, my guess is that the team would have averaged 30+ more yards in those games.
Overall, I think the numbers are very encouraging. Give Forcier and Robinson another year in this offense, and the number of bad reads on the option should drastically fall. Robinson should also become a more complete QB, meaning teams will have to respect his passing ability at least enough to buy him some time to run with his shoelaces untied through secondaries from across midwest and a small East Coast state. Losing guys like Brown and Minor will likely hurt productivity for the first few weeks next season as the stable of backs sort themselves out, but overall production probably will not suffer that much because the team never had a full dose of Brown or Minor for the whole season. Lots of those yards are coming back (about 53% of the rushing yards) or easily replaceable with the current and incoming players. This offense looks like those Denver Broncos running games of the late 90’s/00’s – plug in a decent back and the system will help produce solid yardage.
Now, the depth of the offensive line remains an issue, but it looks like there are at least options moving forward. Does that still mean you should continue to sacrifice small animals and cowbells to Angry Michigan Center Hating God? Sure, never hurts. But the running offense looks to be in good shape.
Whereas the rushing offense was expected to be above-average-to-good this year, the passing offense entered the season with numerous question marks. Would a deep threat emerge? Would the young QBs and receivers be able to establish themselves and produce against good competition? Would a slot ninja emerge to kill slow LBs for big gains and provide the type of balance this offense needs?
Obviously, nobody was expecting miracles with two freshmen QBs, a former walk-on, and Febreeze comprising the QB corp. Yet after the first few weeks, I was looking to the heavens as Forcier ate up defenses and crapped Moxie on the way to a 4-0 start and a competent passing game. Then the injuries to Forcier began to affect his ability to stay on the field, Robinson proved to be a run-first, run-second QB, the freshmen hit the metaphorical wall, and defenses realized that UM still couldn’t pass block and had no legit deep threats. Add this all up, and the passing game took a bit of a hit in the middle of the season. It did right itself toward the end, most notably when Roy Roundtree introduced himself as a potential slot ninja along with Odoms. Add to the mix the slew of incoming WRs in this recruiting class, and it is safe to say that the passing offense will continue to grow and become even more explosive next year.
But enough with words; I know why you’re here. And there is nothing wrong with that, no matter what people in the media may say. I mean, if they didn’t want you to see them, why would this page be filled with…
Passing Offense against ALL opponents
|Team||WMU||ND||EMU||Indiana||MSU @||Iowa @||PSU||Illinois @||Purdue||Wiscy @|
|Opp Passing Defense||261.8||237||166||247.5||247.2||169.9||181.9||237.8||196||209.3|
Passing Offense Averages & Standard Deviations
|Overall||StdDev:||BND||StdDev||Remove High/Low*||StdDev||Remove H/L in BND**||StdDev|
|Opp Passing Defense||215.4||35.3||215.8||30.7||218.8||34.2||217.8||31.5|
** High game = Illinois, Low game = PSU
So right off the bat, you probably noticed that the passing game never eclipse 300 yards; heck, it only cracked 240 twice. This was a little shocking to me because (a) it always seemed like passing game was picking up large chinks of yardage when it was humming along, (b) I always presumed that the short passes to the slots would result in voluminous yards after the catch, and (c) I grew up in the era of Dreisbach/Griese/Brady/Navarre/Henne, where passing yards fell from the heavens into the waiting hands of future NFL players like Manningham, Edwards, Hayes, Avant, and Walker. And it is not like the completion percentage was particularly low – 55% overall and 57% against the BND by two freshman QBs is certainly respectable. Plus, when the passes connected, the yardage was significant – around 13 yards/catch, and only two games under 10 yards/catch. And it should be noted that one of those games below 10 yards/catch was EMU, where the offense rolled to 380 yards on the ground. So it was not like Johnny Sears put the fear of God into the coaching staff; there just wasn’t a need to air it out.
So why the relative paucity of passing yards? My guess (and I certainly welcome other opinions) is that the receivers and the QBs never found the confidence and mutual reliance that some earlier teams featured between battery mates. Guys like Henne and Navarre had unflagging confidence in their blue-chip wide receivers; in a pinch, they knew they could throw it up and more likely than not Walker or Edwards was going to come down with it. With a clear alpha acknowledge, guys like Avant and Breaston fell into their appropriate roles and the offense was able to gain the rhythm it needed to function optimally. Plus, the QBs knew they had time because the line kept them upright for the most part, allowing their receivers to work down the field and exploit favorable matchups.
Contrast that with the current team. Both QBs are prone to tuck and run when the pressure comes, and that has been a common theme all season; QBs running around a shifting pocket as blitzers come in free. And when the QBs have had time to throw the ball, there have been just enough drops and overthrown passes that no receiver has emerged as the go-to guy. Mathews has been a nice possession receiver, but his lack of elite speed or size doesn’t make him the safety blanket a young QB likes. I thought Koger would have been the check down receiver of dreams early on, but after a spectacular start the drops started to crop up and Forcier in particular seemed to lose faith in Koger as the season progressed. Now, Roundtree and Odoms have both emerged as legit options going forward, and Junior Hemmingway is tantalizing, but none of them have assumed the mantle of a legit #1 wide receivers on this team, at least not this year.
Another major reason why the yardage has been down in the air is probably due to the fact that the QBs are freshmen (hey, did I mention that earlier?) and they are prone to tuck the ball and run for some daylight when possible. This is especially true of Robinson, who is basically one read and then go, but early in the season Tate was prone to taking off when his first and second options were not immediately open. As the season has progressed, both QBs have become more comfortable passing (the last three weeks have seen significant increases in completion percentages and yardage), and that bodes well moving forward and into next year.
Finally, the lack of passing yards at least early on was due to the fact the team really didn’t need to throw the ball to be competitive. Only recently have games been getting out of hand early; outside of PSU and (maybe) Wiscy, most of the games were competitive well into the third quarter. The coaching staff clearly does not want to put too much pressure on the QBs to throw the ball, so running was a more attractive option until late in the game. It also didn’t help that the team ran into some relatively decent passing defenses (Iowa, PSU, Wiscy) toward the latter part of the season, resulting in some pretty low games.
But despite all the doom and gloom with the passing yardage, every other stat was encouraging. The team was slightly below expected output against the BND, but again that was probably due to the coaching staff limiting the number of attempts plus playing some defense pass defenses. The yardage per completion remained between 12 and 13 yards irrespective of opponents, and neither freshman had particularly bad INT numbers (Forcier with 6, Robinson with 4).
You have to expect the completion percentage to jump about 60% next year as both QBs and the cavalcade of WRs become more acclimated to the system. My prediction is that Forcier will cut down on his rushing stats but passing yardage will go up, and Robinson will become far closer to the dual-threat Shoelace everyone has dreamed about since he signed with UM. There remains concerns about the offensive line’s ability to provide adequate pass protection, but the team showed some flexibility this year with a moving pocket and other means of alleviating the pressure and putting the QB in the best position to make a play. The slot(s) seemed locked down by Roundtree and Odoms for next year, and hopefully a legit deep threat will emerge.
Total Offense and Per-Half Breakdowns
So now that you know the component elements, how did the offense acquit itself this year? Well, see for yourself.
Total Offense against ALL opponents:
|WMU||ND||EMU||Indiana||MSU @||Iowa @||PSU||Illinois @||Purdue||Wiscy @|
|Opp Total Defense||436.1||386||434.8||411.1||360.9||292||274.2||402.9||363||312|
|Average Yds/Scoring play||7.6||9.5||11.8||12.8||6.6||5.7||5.4||4.3||8.4||6.1|
Total Offense Averages & Standard Deviations:
|Overall||StdDev:||BND||StdDev||Remove High/Low*||StdDev||Remove H/L in BND**||StdDev||Removed MSU|
|Opp Total Defense||367.3||58.0||350.3||51.6||370.5||49.2||346.2||44.2||368.0|
** High game = ND, Low game = PSU
So yes, the offense averaged a couple less yards than the opposing defenses typically gave up. That kind of makes sense – the team is 5-6, and by these stats 4-6. They should be a somewhat “average” offense considering who they played. That said, I do not think it can be stressed enough how much the MSU game threw off these stats. Discount that game and the offense is putting up about as many yards are your would expect, and that is pretty amazing when you consider the litany of factors working against this offense. And yes, I recognize that the vast improvements in special teams produced short fields for the offense to work on. So if you feel particularly generous, slap on 5-10 yards to the offensive totals. See if I care.
These stats also shows that you should NEVER discount one man’s obsession with beating an in-state rival, even if that preparation and intensity is never duplicated against anyone else.
As for the times the offense scored, you definitely see the origins of the quick-strike, yardage-chewing beast that once ruled Morgantown and half of the Deep South. When a drive ended in a score, the offense averaged nearly 8 yards per play overall, and 7.3 against the BND. That is impressive given how mediocre the offense was statistically and how good some of the defense they faced played them. With another year under Rodriguez’s tutelage, expect those numbers to go up even more, maybe even topping 8-9 yards against BND.
Breakdown by Half:
Did you really think I would leave you with such a macro analysis? Sure, I plan on really delving into down and distances in the offseason, but I think it is important to see how the team played across halves, when both teams could make “adjustments” and the tone of the game was more pronounced. So what follows are charts that, frankly, nearly killed my eyesight and my computer. But enjoy.
First Half Stats:
Offense Against ALL Opponents – First Half:
|Total Drives - 1st Half||7||6||6||9||3||6||8||4||5||6|
|Total Plays Run||40||29||28||31||21||31||43||37||30||44|
|Total Offensive Points||31||10||24||21||6||7||10||13||24||10|
|Total Points Scored||31||17||24||21||6||14||10||13||24||17|
|Point Differential - 1st half||31||-3||7||-2||-4||-6||-9||6||14||-4|
|Scoring Average TOP||2:20||2:09||1:34||1:33||3:38||4:43||2:39||4:16||2:19||2:51|
|Total Scoring Drives||5||3||4||3||2||1||2||3||4||2|
|Total Scoring Plays||34||19||20||14||18||12||19||31||27||15|
|Total Scoring Yds||259||221.0||251||197||62||72||103||132||252||80|
|Average Scoring Plays||6.8||6.3||5.0||4.7||9.0||12.0||9.5||10.3||6.8||7.5|
|Average Scoring Yds||51.8||73.7||62.8||65.7||31.0||72.0||51.5||44.0||63.0||40.0|
|% Scoring Drives||71.4%||50.0%||66.7%||33.3%||66.7%||16.7%||25.0%||75.0%||80.0%||33.3%|
Offense Against ALL Opponents – Second Half:
|Total Drives - 2nd Half||5||7||7||6||9||7||6||7||8||4|
|Total Plays Run||38||45||26||25||39||37||31||31||40||21|
|Total Points Scored||0||21||21||15||14||14||0||0||12||7|
|Scoring Average TOP||0:00||2:19||1:18||2:03||1:47||4:24||0:00||0:00||1:38||3:04|
|Total Scoring Drives||0||3||3||2||2||2||0||0||2||1|
|Total Scoring Plays||0||20||12||11||16||21||0||0||10||8|
|Total Scoring Yds||0||148||127||122||161||116||0||0||57||60|
|Average Scoring Plays||0.00||6.7||4.0||5.5||8.0||10.5||0.0||0.0||5.0||8.0|
|Average Scoring Yds||0.00||49.3||42.3||61.0||80.5||58.0||0.0||0.0||28.5||60.0|
|% Scoring Drives||0.00%||42.86%||42.86%||33.33%||22.22%||28.57%||0.00%||0.00%||25.00%||25.00%|
Offense Average and Standard Deviation for First Half:
|Overall||StdDev:||BND||StdDev||Remove High/Low*||StdDev||Remove H/L in BND**|
|Total Drives - 1st Half||6.0||1.8||5.9||2.0||6.0||1.2||5.8|
|Total Plays Run||33.4||7.4||33.3||7.7||35.3||6.5||35.7|
|Total Offensive Points||15.6||8.7||12.6||6.5||16.1||8.9||12.3|
|Total Points Scored||17.7||7.5||15.3||5.8||18.8||7.0||15.8|
|Point Differential - 1st half||3.0||12.1||-1.0||7.4||4.5||13.2||-0.3|
|Scoring Average TOP||2:48||1:04||3:01||1:05||2:51||1:04||3:09|
|Total Scoring Drives||2.9||1.2||2.5||0.9||3.0||1.3||2.5|
|Total Scoring Plays||20.9||7.4||19.4||6.5||22.1||7.8||20.5|
|Total Scoring Yds||162.9||81.2||139.9||73.8||171.3||82.3||143.3|
|Average Scoring Plays||7.8||2.4||8.3||2.4||8.0||2.4||8.7|
|Average Scoring Yds||55.5||14.2||55.1||15.8||57.3||12.5||57.4|
|% Scoring Drives||48.3%||42.6%||50.0%||42.9%|
* High game = Indiana, Low game = MSU
** High game = Indiana, Low game = MSU
Offense Average and Standard Deviation – Second Half:
|Overall||Std Dev:||BND||Std Dev:||High/Low Remove*||Std Dev:||H/L BND Remove**||Std Dev:|
|Total Drives - 2nd Half||6.6||1.4||6.75||1.5||6.6||0.9||6.8||0.8|
|Total Plays Run||33.3||7.7||33.6||8.1||34.1||7.0||34.8||7.2|
|Total Points Scored||10.4||8.2||10.4||7.5||10.4||9.1||10.3||8.5|
|Scoring Average TOP||2:22||1:03||2:32||1:02||2:20||1:12||1:44||1:39|
|Total Scoring Drives||1.5||1.2||1.5||1.1||1.5||1.3||1.5||1.2|
|Total Scoring Plays||9.8||7.9||10.8||8.1||9.3||8.6||10.3||9.2|
|Total Scoring Yds||79.1||63.7||83.0||63.1||71.3||64.4||73.8||64.5|
|Average Scoring Plays||4.8||3.8||5.5||3.8||4.0||3.8||4.6||4.1|
|Average Scoring Yds/Play||5.8||4.4||5.9||4.1||5.0||4.6||5.0||4.3|
|Average Scoring Yds||38.0||29.4||42.2||29.7||29.9||26.7||32.8||27.8|
|% Scoring Drives||21.98%||16.71%||22.12%||15.08%||21.58%||18.90%||21.63%||17.79%|
So what do all of these tables mean? I’m not really sure. There clearly are some trends and indicators of how this offense should run. In the first half of games, the offense scores on about half of its possession irrespective of opponent, and does so quickly (about 2:30 minutes/score). It also does so rather spectacularly – over 7 yards per play. Even in games that got away, the offense usually stayed with its opposition for at least a half.
Of course, the second half is a completely different story. Scoring % dipped to 1 in 4 possessions, and yards per scoring play also dropped precariously. So basically the offense slowed down significantly after half time and, even worse, took longer to score when it did. Looking at the situation half-full, the offense took about the same amount to actual game time to score, meaning the quicker pace of the passing game coupled with some runs kept defenses on their toes. Unfortunately, that also means the team relied more heavily on the evolving passing game than the more consistent run game, which led to shorter drives that stalled out.
Now, I think these numbers also go the struggles in the defense all year. While I will tackle the defense in greater detail soon, what you notice is that while the offense moved pretty efficiently in the first half, the second half was marked by fewer drivers that ended quicker. Now, part of the reason was the aforementioned increase in passing because the defense was giving up points at such a rapid clip and the offense tried to keep up. That regretfully fed a cycle UM could not get out of against the likes of Illinois, PSU, and Wiscy – the defense would give up some points, the offense would try to counter by instead stall out quickly, forcing the defense back on the field quickly and into even more pain. ND was probably the team’s best win all season, and it was highlighted by an efficient offense both halves. Conversely, Illinois was probably the worst loss and it featured a massive drop in efficiency across the halves.
EDIT: I forgot to add these two paragraphs to this section, not the defensive analysis forthcoming
But to bag on the defense as the sole reason for the offense's struggles in the second half would be to overlook a myriad of other factors. The defense has been largely consistent all year; consistently average, but still average. When the team was 4-0, it was still handing out yards in alligator-sized chunks, but the offense found a way to keep pace. Against ND and Indiana, the offenses were relatively consistent in terms of scoring rate across both halves. Now, you may argue that those defenses are proverbial tramps - anyone can score on them. And to an extent, I agree. But how does that account for Illinois and Purdue, two teams with equally-trampish defenses that basically shut down UM in the second halves of those games? True, some costly turnovers happened in those games that severely hurt scoring potential, but the yardage didn't dramatically falter or somehow explain away the massive drop-off in scoring.
While this is more based on reaction than analytical fact, I do think the lack of a dominant back and/or receiver really started to wear this team down in the second halves of games and the entire season, especially near the goal line. When this offense is clicking, backs are breaking tackles and driving into the end zone while receivers are finding seams and exploiting them. Roundtree looks to be a legit threat next year in the red zone, but the lack of a healthy Brandon Minor all year really limited what this team could do in the red zone. We all remember Illinois, but there were a couple other games when the team settled for field goals and tough passes instead of just running the ball into the end zone. That goes to a lack of a feature back who is capable of making these types of plays. Note that I didn't say he had to be a beast like Minor'; Mike Hart was one of the best at sniffing out the end zone. The defense is not going to be good for at least 2 years, but it will be helped immensely if the offense can score in the red zone and chew up some clock in the process. A dominant back will go a long way toward meeting that goal.
Final Word: I would love to hear what others think about this post and the data. I have included a link to the file for those to download, and I welcome any suggestions or criticisms. This offense is clearly making headway, and once it shores up its major deficiencies (most notably experience at key positions), I fully expect it to mirror the type of offense that RR has showcased at other schools.