At press time, Harbaugh had sent Michigan’s athletic department an envelope containing a heavily annotated seating chart, a list of the 63,000 seat views he had found unsatisfactory, and a glowing 70-page report on section 25, row 12, seat 9, which he claimed is “exactly what the great sport of football is all about.”
Full disclosure - this meanders. I’m posting as a diary since, at it essence, this is a fans’ wrestling over how deeply coaches can/should engage in the ‘chess match’ of this sport. Coaches are praised or scored based on the ability to minimize weakness and accentuate strengths. A special ire defends in those situations where a weakness is obvious to all, and (to the casual or untrained observer at least) no schematic/personal adjustments are made in response.
And by chess match, I'm not thinking of the analysis of coaching moves and decisions with a more game theory approach that (oversimplification coming) evaluates from a statistical probability and risk reward perspective. I'm thinking more of how coaches more their pieces, or don't move them, around the board to create or react to match-ups and relative strength of personal.
M faces a common defensive conundrum this year, maximizing the impact of a talented pass rusher surrounded by an otherwise pedestrian unit. Conventional sportscasting wisdom is that you move him around so the defense can’t zero in with double teams. Despite what could be all evidence to the contrary, I promise we’ll see the BG graphic flashed during introductions, and an announcer will tell us, "Michigan is going to try and move him around and let him get after the quarter back."
In my personal football watching experience, this seemly obvious theory craps out more often than not. For every Lawrence Taylor there’s a handful of Jeon Kearses who follow a gangbusters season with a mediocre one, prompting promises to move him around so the offense can’t key on him, which quickly fail and are scraped by the by the coaching staff.
BG is the unquestioned lynch-pin of the defense. The good news is that you couldn’t ask for a better lynch-pin than a pass rushing DE who can hold the point against the run. But preview after preview will tell you that defenses will double and triple (seriously? Triple? Me thinks not) BG to contain him.
This spawned my original question, "So what’s the best way to exploit an offense doubling the DE on passing downs?" If teams are bound and determined to double BG it stands to reason that should create consistent blocking weaknesses such that proper exploitation of the doubles themselves would have equal or greater effect than a singled up BG.
After some thought I abandoned this question, as the obvious answer is, "Depends on how they’re doubling him." I assume most offensive coaches won’t go into the M game planning that they’re going to put a TE to his, slide protection, or keep a back in all day. They’ll get the tackle help in a variety of ways.
Its then up to Greg Robinson or whoever to adapt and adjust on the fly. That is what we expect, right? Watching film to ID how the opposition’s coaches deal with similar problems against past opponents, evaluating that against how he’s being attacked in-game out of certain personal groupings/down and distance, then calling whatever is appropriate to take advantage of the extra attention (rush straight up, run a stunt, bring a delayed blitz behind him or on the other side of the guard to BG’s side, flooding BG’s side with more rushers than they can defense, flooding the other side with rushers, etc.).
But to what degree can coaches make consistently accurate pre-snap forecasts based on that data, and do so fast enough to dial up the proper defensive call and deploy corresponding personal?
Should we expect coaches to be that good? I say “no.”
So we’re back to the alternatives of a) gambling on moving BG around and being aggressive (ARRRHHH) to force their hand, or b) leaving BG at his position, don’t fuck with it too much, and hope the players around him can be taught to identify how he’s being attacked in situations and take advantage accordingly.
For my money, I think you’ve got to leave him be and hope he plays well enough to force those doubles. You evaluate the opponents history and what they’re doing in game, then try to make that perfect call once or twice a half where you ID a tendency early in the play clock and sell out to attack it. I would also say that in certain games, you flip-flop sides with BG for a game or a second half to try and murder a weak tackle.
Wow, that was a lot of words to get to that suggestion.
Elon J. Farnsworth was born in the Wolverine State in 1837. As a young man growing up he always dreamed of joining the cavalry and fighting on the frontier - making gallant charges like the ones he read about in the Napoleonic Wars, but his parents steered him away from that dream. Farnsworth thus chose to attend the University of Michigan.
At UofM, Farnsworth joined the fraternity Chi Psi. One night a drinking party got out of hand and a fellow student was thrown out of a window. The death forced the university to expel the fraternity. So much for the past as a golden era of innocence. Although not having a direct hand in the incident, Farnsworth made the best of the situation. Now an adult and free from his parent's wishes he could pursue his dreams.
He packed up and left Michigan, fostering his cavalry skills as a civilian forager for the army. He later officially joined the army and served in the Utah War, putting down a Mormon uprising out west. After wards, he served as a scout and a Buffalo hunter to the US forts in Colorado.
Then came 1861 and the firing on Fort Sumter. The start of the Civil War. Throughout the early stages of the war he served with distinction and bravery - rising in rank.
On July 1st 1863, a small Pennsylvania town was turned upside down for 3 days as thousands of lives were lost in what would be the bloodiest battle of America's bloodiest war.
Farnsworth's unit arrived to the battle late and performed flanking movements with his cavalry. On the night of July 2nd, he and his men were positioned near the notorious deadly Wheatfield that some soldiers claimed changed hands up to 11 times during the fighting. That night, they could hear the screams from the severely wounded men caught in no-man's land between the Union and Confederate lines. These men were wounded too badly to crawl back to their lines or defend themselves from the pigs in the field that were eating them alive. Hearing their screams gave men nightmares for the rest of their lives.
On July 3rd, the Confederates launched a massive assault across an open field that was beaten back, essentially sealing the victory for the Union in the Battle of Gettysburg. During the tense silence after the failed Confederate attack Farnsworth was ordered to take his cavalry across a field with high grasses hiding boulders strewn about, which would be hard for the horses to navigate through and attack a prepared confederate position. What happens next will come from Henry C. Parsons' words:
"In a moment, Farnsworth rode up. Kilpatrick impetuously repeated the order. Farnsworth, who was a tall man with military bearing, received the order in silence. It was repeated. Farnsworth spoke with emotion: 'General, do you mean it? Shall I throw my handful of men over rough ground, through timber, against a brigade of infantry?'
"Kilpatrick said: 'A handful! You have the four best regiments in the army!' Farnsworth answered: You forget, the first Michigan is detached, the 5th New York you have sent beyond call, and I have nothing left but the 1st Vermont and the 1st West Virginia, regiments fought half to pieces. They are too good men to kill.' Kilpatrick turned, greatly excited and said: 'Do you refuse to obey my orders? If you are afraid to lead the charge, I will lead it.'
"Farnsworth rose in his stirrups and leaned forward, with his sabre half-drawn; he looked magnificent in his passion and cried: 'Take that back!' Kilpatrick rose defiantly, but repentingly said: 'I did not mean it; forget it.' For a moment, nothing was said. (Then) Farnsworth spoke: 'General, if you order the charge I will lead it, but you must take the awful responsibility.' I did not hear the low conversation that followed, but as Farnsworth turned away, he said: 'I will obey your order.' They shook hands and parted in silence. I recall the two young generals at that moment in the shadow of the oaks and against the sunlight, Kilpatrick with his fine gestures, his blond beard, his soft hat turned up jauntily and his face lighted with the joy that always came into it when the charge was sounded. Farnsworth- heavy browed, stern and pale but riding with conscious strength and consecration… two men opposite in every line of character, but both born to desperate daring.
"The direction of our guns was changed… (and) the artillery duel began. A shell shrieked down the line of my front company a few feet above their heads, covering them with leaves and branches. We rode out in columns of fours with drawn sabres. After giving the order to me, General Farnsworth took his place at the head of the 3rd Battalion.
"As the 1st Battalion rode through the line of our dismounted skirmishers who were falling back, they cried to us to halt. As we passed out from the cover of the woods, the 1st West Virginia were falling back in disorder on our left. A frantic horse with one leg torn off by a cannon ball rushed towards us for protection. We rode rapidly to the left and then to the right, across a depression at the left of a stone wall. The sun was blinding and Captain (Oliver T.) Cushman, who rode at my right, shaded his eyes and cried: 'An ambuscade!' We were immediately upon the enemy, and the deadly (Confederate) volley was fired, but it passed over our heads. It was the most concentrated volley I ever heard. Taken by surprise, they had shot over us. With the head of the column we cleared the fence at the right and formed under cover of a hill. The 3rd Battalion under Major (William) Wells, a young officer who bore a charmed life and was destined to pass through many daring encounters… moved out in splendid form to the left of the 1st Battalion, and swept in a great circle to the right around the front of the hill and across our path, then guiding to the left across the valley and up the side of the hill at the base of Round Top. Upon this hill was a field enclosed with heavy stone walls. They charged along the wall and between it and the mountain directly in the rear of several Confederate regiments in position and between them and the 4th Alabama. It was a swift… charge over rocks, through timber, under close enfilading fire. The rush was the war of a hurricane. The direction towards Devil's Den. At the foot of the declivity the column turned left, rode close to a battery, receiving the fire of its support, and swept across the open field and upon the rear of the Texas skirmish line. Farnsworth's horse had fallen; a trooper sprang from the saddle, gave the General his horse and escaped on foot. Captain Cushman and a few others with Farnsworth turned back. The 1st Battalion was again in motion. The enemy's sharpshooters appeared in the rocks above us and opened fire. We rode obliquely up the hill in the direction of Wells, then wheeling to the left between the picket line and the wall. From this point, part of my men turned back with prisoners. The head of the column leapt the wall, into the open field. Farnsworth, seeing the horsemen, raised his sabre and charged as if with an army. At almost the same moment his followers and what remained of the 1st Battalion cut their way through the 15th Alabama, which was wheeling into position at a run and offered little resistance. We charged in the same direction but on opposite sides of the wall that parallels Round Top and within two hundred paces of each other.
"Sergeant (George H.) Duncan, a black-eyed, red-cheeked boy, splendidly mounted, standing in his stirrups, flew past me with his sabre raised and shouted: 'Captain, I'm with you!' and threw up his left hand and fell. My horse recoiled over his dead body, my men swept past and I was a moment alone on the field. The enemy ran up crying 'Surrender!' as if they did not want to shoot me, but as I raised my sabre a gun was planted against my breast and fired; my horse was struck at the same moment and broke frantically through the men, over the wall and down the hill. Corporal Waller overtook me from the left and riding close supported me on my horse. As we rode on he told me how Farnsworth and Cushman fell together.
"I doubt if an order was given beyond the waving of a sabre after the first (order). The officers rode at the front and the men followed and as the officers fell the men pressed on more furiously. In that charge the private in the last file rode as proudly as the General. Farnsworth fell in the enemy's lines with his sabre raised, dead with five wounds, and received a tribute for gallantry from the enemy that his superiors refused. There was no encouragement of on looking armies, no cheer, no bravado. There was consecration and each man felt as he tightened his sabre belt that he was summoned to a ride of death."
Elon Farnsworth died 146 years ago July 3rd for his country.
I hope some of you enjoyed my diary entry, I am packing for a vacation so I don't have time to make it better. Have a great Fourth everyone.
Over the last few years, I have begun thinking more and more that UM football was getting kind of “lucky” and squeaking by and on the verge of things going south if a few breaks went the other way. I decided to look back at UM’s record since 1997 (as far back as I could easily get to on mgoblue.com and a reasonable statement of the “modern era”) and see what UM’s record was in close games. I defined close games as being decided by seven points or less. My reasoning for that distinction being that literally one play could have made the difference in the game. I realize that is somewhat simplistic, but hey, this is probably a somewhat simplistic exercise.
Here are the records. Overall and “close games” in parenthesis.
1997 – 12-0 (4-0)
1998 – 10-3 (3-0)
1999 – 10-2 (7-2)
2000 – 9-3 (3-3)
2001 – 8-4 (2-3)
2002 – 10-3 (5-2)
2003 – 10-3 (2-2)
2004 – 9-3 (3-1)
2005 – 7-5 (3-5)
2006 – 11-2 (1-1)
2007 – 9-4 (4-1)
Total - 105 - 32 (37 - 20)
Looking back, UM won 76.6% of games overall and 64.9% of games decided by a touchdown or less in the last 11 years of the Carr regime. The question then becomes, what is a reasonable expectation for a good and / or elite team for a record in close games? I did a little research and picked 5 “elite” teams and 5 blah / so so / meh teams and looked at how they did. Note: For the elite teams I took their record starting with the second season of their current coach. For the blah teams, I just took the last five years.
USC – 82-9 (11-9)
OSU – 76-14 (18-8)
Florida – 35-6 (7-4)
LSU – 31-9 (9-5)
Georgia – 74-18 (26-12)
Arizona State – 38-24 (10-5)
Oregon – 41-21 (12-7)
Oklahoma State – 34-28 (6-9)
Michigan State – 30-31 (5-16)
Pittsburgh – 33-27 (12-11)
What does this tell us? Umm… I’m not really sure, other than it took me way too long to look all of this up. Some things to note.
- USC hasn’t lost a game by more than a touchdown since Carroll’s first year. Wow.
- USC is pretty average if you get them in a tight game.
- Arizona State doesn’t play many close games. Must be kind of boring to watch.
- Not evident in these stats, but OSU was an amazing 11-1 in 12 games decided by a touchdown or less in ’02 and ’03 (big winning years). Krenzel was probably pretty underrated when it came to getting the job done.
- State was atrocious in close games over the last five years. If they break even in them, John L is probably still there.
- Michigan played more close games than anyone else in this data. A whopping 41.6% of UM’s games were decided by a touchdown or less. This probably doesn’t shock anyone that UM got into too many close games over Carr’s tenure. Only Georgia with 41.3% close games was in the same ball park. The funny thing is, over the last while, I would have picked Georgia out as a UM clone.
- As to my original hypothesis, with the exception of USC, teams with the highest winning percentages overall also had the highest winning percentage in close games. This tells me that Michigan “squeaking by” in those close games wasn’t really luck, it was because they were good. Or they were good because they were lucky. Or when it comes down to it, good and lucky are kind of the same thing. To me, that’s good to see.
- If UM would have won its customary 65% of close games last year, they would have been 5-7, which to me would have been easier to stomach. It wasn’t that far off, really. Beat Toledo and pull out one of Utah, NW, or Purdue and there they are.
- USC, Ohio State, Florida, and Georgia all made significant turnarounds in their respective coaches second years. Granted, none of their first years were as bad as Rodriguez’s, but it’s a good sign.
So there’s all of that, for what it’s worth.
I don't start many topics, but I am so sick of recruiting and troll bashing that I wanted to try to get some discussion going about the season.
I read a rivals article about the MSU game this year and I was thinking about what would be the "most important" (define that as you wish) game of the year.
My pick is MSU. I know OSU has beaten us 5 years in a row and that sucks, but I don't expect to beat them this year and I think the year can still be considered a success if we lose.
I am not as concerned about the recruiting battle between us and MSU as much as some, but I don't want to see a trend and we haven't lost to them two years in a row since the sixties.
But the reason I think it will be the most important is because it is a rivalry game that could be a turning point in the season.
Looking at the schedule:
It is our first road game and against a rival. It is a winnable game with MSU replacing their qb and rb. The game was closer last year than the score indicated and hopefully we will have our snap count better prepared. With a win, we very likely could be 5-0 or 4-1, eclipsing the previous win total. People will be all aboard the UM band wagon if we win. This helps recruiting and my sanity. The rest of the season is rough but there are two very winnable games with Delaware State and Purdue at home, so MSU could be the difference between bowling or not. That is why I think win at MSU, we have a good season, lose there, and I don't think we make a bowl and more people get on the fire Rodriguez pitchfork squad. I also think that winning his first road game will help the team's confidence and may lead to a surprise win or two in the remaining road games.
So what do you think? Is there a make or break game for the team next year? If so, which one?
The Barking Sphincter has just given voice in his post below to a real, though irrational, voice in all our heads. It is wholly irrational because it draws premature conclusions. It is akin to him noticing a blemish on his skin and fainting in horror because he’s sure it is melanoma. Or declaring a pharmaceutical study with an n of 1 is definitive. His world is possible, yes, but not probable given the track record of the coach in question.
Yet he represents, like a monster-shaped shadow on the wall of our room when we were six, the gibbering irrational terror that Michigan football might not get better very soon. Various posters tried turning on the light to show the Sphincter that the shadow is just the three bags of circus peanuts he was saving for a special occasion, but he squeamishly delights in the thought that the monster is real. That’s his problem.
The evidence has been presented. But there is one additional piece of evidence that I want to offer, and it takes this form: Why is the current recruiting class predictive of peril (if you grant that the class finishes out as it has started)?
I have heard people talking about Penn State and Michigan State and Iowa all being much more fearsome than Michigan this upcoming year. But based on what level of talent? For example, the 2007 Penn State class averaged roughly 5.6 for a Rivals Rating. If Jones, Avery and Williamson (who have no RR now) among our current commits get rated around 5.3 or 5.4, then that will be (roughly) where this Michigan class is. Now, I don’t want to do a Sphincter move and use an n of 1; the previous Penn State class was better. But so was ours.
The point is, many, many teams have been, over the years, highly regarded with the kind of talent we’re bringing in now – old WVU teams, second tier SEC teams, teams like Boise State, Big 10 teams not named OSU and Michigan. You’ll slap me with scheme and GERG being new and freshman QBs…but that’s not my point. My point is simply that this level of talent predicts nothing about a decline or about any inability of Rodriguez to win in the future. .
Would all five stars be better? Of course. But this talent – particularly if it fits the scheme – does not predict bad things.
Let’s take Iowa and make my Title relevant. Iowa coaches, to paraphrase Robert Ludlum in the Matarese Circle, would kill their mothers in front of their priests for a class like we are assembling right now. Not one of their last five classes averages the star ratings that this class is averaging. None come close. And, even though Iowa lost Shonn Green and two OLineman to the NFL, they are routinely picked above Michigan with 8-4 and 9-3 being bandied about. Would you take their players above ours? Ferentz over RRod? I am not being naïve – I am aware of various mitigating factors – all I am suggesting is that this recruiting class predicts absolutely nothing at this point. It certainly does not predict, in my opinion, a weak season in three or four years from now when the meat of this class is on the field.
It’s a new day, and time for a new “Blog.”
Well, I saw so much anger and frustration come out with Barking Sphincter Blog I that I decided to stay on topic and continue in my vein of axing just why the hell so many people think Rodriguez should be given so many free passes. But I’m not going to concentrate on Rodriguez here—I’m going to call out the Defenders of the Rod with this one.
The angst UM fans are feeling is polluting the intranets. The Defenders of the Rod (TDoR) come out enforce to rail at anyone who questions not just Rodriguez, but the state of UM football and recruiting. A guy on a premium pay site axes something like, “Hey, who we gonna go after on defense? A lot of highly-ranked defensive recruits are off the board.” WHAMMO. Within minutes this post is swarmed upon as if it was dollar-days at a downriver Wal Mart and Cheeze Whiz was on special. The guy is called a “Chicken Little” a “Debbie Downer” a “Closet Sparty” or is barraged with sarcastic bullshit like, “Hey you’re right. Maybe Michigan should just give up football.” All that ridiculousness aside, the worst part is when the TDoR start justifying 3-9 and why it happened.
I guess the worst record in the history of the program will do that to an emotionally fragile fan base whose identity is based in no small part on the successes and failures of the Wolverines. But it does beg the question: How does a legitimate query about THIS year’s recruiting turn into a self-pitying justification party about the PREVIOUS season? If the TDoR want to put 3-9 behind them, or tell others to do so, why are they always the first ones to bring it up? Take a look at my first blog. I had the vultures all over that post screaming like little girls at a Jonas Brothers concert, and about all they could spit out was “3-9! 3-9! Cupboard bare! Lloyd Bad Man leave no players!” Well, if 3-9 hurts recruiting so badly, how’s come Rich Rod landed some pretty good talent as the season wore on, and did so even after it ended? The dude blew a 40-year streak of non-losing seasons, crashed and burned a 33-year bowl streak, and really good players still signed on.
But THIS year, it’s different. Even after bringing a big time defensive coordinator on board in Greg Robinson. THIS year, 3-9 matters. Gone are the cries of “Yowza! 3-9 and we can still have a top 10 class? We are the ballz!” Gone are the cries of “THIS is gonna be the big year of turnaround! 2009—smokin, baby!” Those rallying shouts have been replaced by “I’m thinking that by 2011 we should be really good.” Bravado moving forward has been replaced by backpedalling and reminding everyone that our poor, young new coach was saddled by horrible players out to get him, Lloyd Carr lurking in the shadows with his non-support or super-secret coven of anti-Rodriguez co-conspirators, and a Michigan Media throwing its full support behind the bible-thumping Prophet of Lansing, Mark Dantonio.
And with all that back pedaling comes the revealing of a very confidence-challenged fan base worried about Michigan falling off the map as so many other Big Timers have. The UM fan base, which never saw a precipitous fall as even remotely possible before 3-9, reels from it and vehemently pounces on anyone who dares question whether Rich Rodriguez can get things back in order. Gone is civil discourse. Gone is acceptance, and discussion with those of differing opinions. These so-called fans, who claim to support a great university known for tolerance and open-mindedness are in stark, dark contrast to the image of Michigan. Many claim to be graduates of the school; to that I say “Bullshit.” Neither their writing, their use of the English language, nor their ignorant closed-mindedness and lack of intelligent conversation speaks to being a graduate of such a great institution of higher learning.
And this is no more proudly on display than when a recruit backs out on a commitment to UM or elects to go elsewhere if the fan base feels they were somehow “led on” by a recruit. Oh, that kid is in for some serious bashing. I remember the backlash against last year’s batch of decommits. Kevin Newsome, Shavodrick Beaver, and all the rest were creamed, called liars, their integrity was challenged, their families were insulted, and all because they simply changed their minds. Often, if not every time, the UM coaching staff had cooled on the kid and the decommit was more of a suggestion to him rather than the recruit just flipping. But no matter; these decommitments evoked a reaction that can not be described as anything but visceral. And all without ANY knowledge of the situation or the recruit in question. The really sad part was that type of reaction came from the majority, not the crazy marginalized sector, as is usually the case with this type of Mob Rule.
So it stands to reason that we now see these angry protestations against those who are, very legitimately, wondering about the status of this once-proud program. I say again: Michigan State is winning a cultural war with UM in the state of Michigan. MSU has “perception” on its side in a big way. Acknowledge it and fight it, or lose 40 years of goodwill and dominance in your own back yard. But again, to accept the challenge offered by Mr. Michigan is Greener means a wave of Maize Ragers raining down on you with the kind of contempt usually reserved for baby seal clubbers or soccer moms.
How long will this go on? Is it true that winning will cure everything? It remains to be seen if Rodriguez will build a winner—how much time does he have? and it remains to be seen—if he has time and does it—whether the “I told you so” crowd will welcome back their fellow UM supporters who, pretty much objectively, have done nothing more than voice warranted concerns.
Have a great weekend people! GO BLUE!