Patrick: YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOLTAN!
I was in awe. Hmm, not really. I was just excited that Zoltan and special teams didn’t receive the majority of praise, like last year. It seemed like I wrote a great deal of positive things in 2008 regarding Zoltan in articles, but not enough about the rest of the team. Surprise! It’s a brand new season!
After a long offseason full of drama, speculation, and allegations, the 2009 Michigan Wolverine football team took the field on Saturday with nothing but pure confidence and determination. The team had a great deal to prove to not only the fans, but to the coaches and themselves. The 2008 season had left such a sour taste that I’m sure the team wanted nothing more than to rise to the occasion and put all of the doubt and criticism in the rearview. Well, at least for the moment.
First of all, much praise goes to the defense…
The Wolverines were victorious (31-7) over a surprisingly flat Western Michigan team that I had thought to be a pretty solid bunch. Yes, the Broncos are a MAC team! However, that doesn’t necessarily mean cupcake. They were equipped with a strong offense and an NFL-caliber QB (Hiller) that I was almost certain would give the Wolverines secondary fits.
The majority, including myself, were under the impression that the secondary would be the most vulnerable part of the defense, but I was taken by surprise. Donovan Warren and Boubacar Cissoko played at a high level. Cissoko had an on-the-spot interception and Warren did a nice job shutting down the other side of the field. J.T. Floyd (freshman), along with Troy Woolfolk were burned on the only score of the game.
Greg Robinson’s new 3-4 scheme looked well executed and aggressive. I had not seen a defense so tight and cohesive in quite some time. From the way it looked out on the field, both the coverage and tackling seemed to have improved significantly. The only time the Broncos offense gained momentum was during the fourth quarter when the game was already in hand for the Wolverines.
There were some mistakes made, but for once… no one was really victimized, like the notorious Stevie Brown of last season. Perhaps the hybrid LB/ safety role fits him. I will admit that I did think the LB position was the most talented of the whole defense coming into the season. Jonas Mouton also picked off Hiller and Obi Ezeh wreaked serious havoc by applying pressure and stops up the front.
Brandon Graham and the very young, but talented D-line deserves much respect. Hiller and his OL were out of sync for the most part. They were unable to find any offensive rhythm because the penetration and pressure effectively contained the Broncos on almost every series.
I really hate to say this because the term is severely used in the world of sports hyperbole, but…
MIKE MARTIN = BEAST!
Once I noticed that the battle of the trenches was being dominated by the Wolverines on the defensive side of the ball, the tone was set.
The offense had to follow suit… and they did. The offensive start and its overall production basically gave me amnesia in regards to the 2008 version. It all begins with how much improvement came from the OL and the QB position. The OL was quick on its feet and blocked tremendously. There were also great blocks further down the field that allowed plays to be executed successfully with a consistent attack. It really paid off for this unit to be together for a whole season last year because the difference was clearly evident on every drive.
True freshmen QB’s Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson were just what Rodriguez and the offense needed. Granted, this was their first game and there is still a long season to go with mistakes and bumps along the way, BUT… I’m ecstatic to see positive progression and a very high potential of superb playmaking ability from both.
Forcier appears to have poise, speed, and throwing accuracy. He also seems to have leadership qualities, which is extremely valuable from any freshman. Robinson is what I expected. He is very fast and has the ability to improvise and take off when a play slightly breaks down or goes awry. The only thing he needs to improve on is his passing and decision making… and that will come soon. He’s only been practicing with the team for nearly a month. As I stated before, there will definitely be mistakes made by both players, but the upside gives reason for optimism and future victories.
The Wolverines ran the ball at will. Carlos Brown filled in for the injured Brandon Minor and the QB’s also accounted for a good number of yards. There was a great mixture of classic up-the-middle runs, draw plays, and reverses. Michael Shaw looked impressive on a couple of occasions and maybe his fumblitis has been cured. There was even a brief look at Vincent Smith. I expect for Minor to be a go for Notre Dame, but don’t be surprised if Rodriguez uses the two seniors for the majority of the carries, mainly because of their reliability not to turn the ball over.
I’ve been stoked about WR Junior Hemingway for a couple of years now and he finally had his breakout game. Despite being low on the depth chart in 2007 and being injured in 2008, I still had hope that this guy would soon become the deep threat amongst the receiving corp. Greg Matthews did a solid job as a reliable possession receiver and… PLEASE! Give me some more Kelvin Grady! I liked the guy on the hardwood and it appears that he has serious skills on the field as well.
Oh yeah, DERP!
TE Kevin Koger might be a flatout star if he keeps making videogame catches like this one…
I don’t know if he’s a “f**kin soldier“, but he’s apparently a great threat to opposing defenses.
Overall, it was a highly anticipated game and a much needed win for Rodriguez, especially after a week of negativity stemming from the Detroit Free Press article. The resilient coach and his men went out there and made a huge statement for the fans of the maize and blue. Things couldn’t have started out much better, well… except for a couple of sure scoring drives that were halted by silly mistakes and questionable decisions. All seems right in Ann Arbor.
Let’s not start sucking each others d**ks quite yet. It’s just the first game of the season and a tough road lies ahead. They looked damn good, though… and much improved from last season.
Hail to the Victors!
We've seen QB completion percentages rise and rise. Thirty years ago, 45% might have won you the heisman, now it means you're third string. The point is, that just catching balls is not really enough if you're catching all of them behind the line of scrimmage. It's pretty amazing if you pull down a one handed stab ala Koger, but in the modern offense, we need better measuring sticks.
So I'm going to track my new stat categories for this season and beyond, and maybe some smart reporter (is that an oxymoron?) or someone else will pick up on how useful these stats are.
After only one game, they won't be very telling. But as the weeks go by, we'll be able to see which WR are performing relatively better from week to week. We also need some historical context. I said I would go back and review tapes from previous years, but I haven't had the time YET. I still plan on doing it, but it might not happen till after the season. Feel free to do this on your own if you've got lots of time on your hands.
Anyway let's get to it. First up is the raw data, the notes I made while watching the video. Then I'll give the stats, and finally I'll toss in some comments about the week for good measure.
Passing Down Notes:
- 5 yards to hemingway no yac on 1st down
Swing to odoms behind the line gain of 7 but penalty odoms in motion early
2nd 11 pass to carlos for 5 plus 8 yac
2nd and 10 on 28 yardline TD to Hemmingway 17 plus 11 yac
2nd and 12 incomplete to grady on a screen
3rd and 12 incomplete to webb
2nd and 5 4 yards to grady plus 4 yac
1st and 10 incomplete to Hemmingway didn’t look
- 2nd and 5 koger 4 plus 1 yac
2nd and goal from the 8, TD koger redzone
1st and 10 incomplete to matthews broke off route or wrong route
2nd and 10 (robinson) to savoy behind the line for -1 plus 12 yac
2nd and 15 (tate) to shaw for 6 on a comeback, no ruled incomplete
(matthews shaken up)
3rd and 9 screen hemingway for -2 plus 17 yac
1st and 10 incomplete to stonum broke off deep route
3rd and 7 TD hemingway same route as stonum, 36 plus 8 yac
- 2nd and 7 odoms -4 plus 9 yac
1st and 10 hemmingway 8 plus 4 yac limps off the field
2nd and 4 mathews for 0 plus 9 yac
2nd and 3 incomplete to savoy, pressure1st and 20 incomplete to matthews, broke off route Mathews looks really frustrated
- 3rd and 16 INTerception,
mathews was jogging on the goal line, DB undercut Sheridan is chewing out savoy who was wide
1st and 10 grady for -3 plus 9 yac
3rd and 2 incomplete to grady
- 3rd and 15 nearly intercepted
incomplete to matthews
2nd and 9 scramble should have passed
1st and 10 KOGER great 1 handed catch for 20
3rd and goal from the 10 redzone busted play incomplete flag
4th and goal from the 10 redzone incomplete to cox
As always, small sample sizes screw around with efficiency stats. But as the numbers accumulate, these will be more telling. So please have patience.
1st Stat Category: Yards per thrown at
This stat is better than yards per catch because it includes a penalty for players who drop the ball or loaf it on a play and don't get open. Yes they are penalized for having a bad QB but that would affect all the numbers across the board.
C. Brown 13
Stonum, Webb, Cox, Shaw, 0
2nd Stat Category: TD's per Redzone thrown at
This is a stat built for the big men, the goto guys who can get in the endzone. Amazingly, we only attempted 3 redzone passes all day. 1 was a TD to koger, 1 was a busted play, and 1 was the final offensive play from coner
3rd Stat Category: Conversion Efficiency (receiving yards minus (half the yards to go)) multiplied by the down number per thrown at
This is the most complicated stat. This one tells how good a receiver is at continuing a drive. Possesion receivers score high on this metric. Guys that only run fly routes and catch the ball one out of 5 times get killed by this measure.
C. Brown 15
Grady (19) -0.75
(Hmmm.... no one likes negative numbers so I might tweek the formula and make it 1/4 of the yards to go. what do you guys think?)
4th Stat Category: Snag and Go (Total receiving yards/(yards BEFORE the catch)) multiplied by (receptions per thrown at)
I just realized the possibility of having an infinite score here if you have all your catches at the line of scrimmage. The point here was to measure YAC in a meaningful way for guys who catch the ball short, but then have to turn and make something out of it. So I'm going to rethink this category and come up with something better to make the negatives and infinities make sense.
For right now I'll just calculate YAC per thrown at
C. Brown 8
Grady (19) 3.25
Cox, Shaw, Webb 0.0
So what's it all mean? Well obviously Hemingway had an awesome day. Not only did he get the big catches for touchdowns, but his other touches went for conversions, and he even showed a lot of YAC ability. Koger was also excellent, although he has almost no YAC which is what you expect from a larger player, but has a shiny 1.00 for Redzone TD's efficiency.
Most of the other players didn't get enough looks for their numbers to be meaningful. But there was one notable exception. Mathews had a pretty rough day. He only gained positive yardage on two plays and often looked as if he wasn't fully engaged in the play. He did an excellent job on punt returns by simply HOLDING ON TO THE GODDAMN BALL. But he had the demeanor of a guy who is very frustrated. He didn't look happy or excited on the sidelines. Maybe I'm just reading too much into it. On the two catches he made, he got good YAC and converted, but the number of incompletes in his direction brought that stat into negative territory. This is somewhat disappointing as he's our most experienced WR and seemed to have a talent for crossing patterns and deep in's or deep outs. I hope things get turned around for him quickly.
- Will someone tell Mike Patrick to use the term "SOLD OUT" crowd. Not "sell-out" crowd. I feel like he's insulting the stadium.
- That Cheesney song fr(*&)(*^& sucks! I like a lot of different kinds of music, but if it weren't for the mute button I'd probably have to shoot myself before the end of the season.
- After Tate threw the long TD, it looked like Sheridan was unhappy, and explaining something to him, and Tate was like "wut?"
- Boise should be ranked above BYU. BYU beat a team on the road, but minus their best player. Boise absolutely stomped oregon. But they kept bogging down in the redzone
- USC will kill tOSU
- Watching Floyd and Woolfolk bite on the play action was pretty sickening on an otherwise awesome day
- TP is not a smart fellow. If we had him last year we might have gotten 6 or 7 wins and made a bowl but I kind of feel like we dodged a bullet and I'm quite happy with the 2 Frosh we got and Devin Gardner coming in.
- Nice to see the crowd in support of RR
- The Big 10 went 10-1 and is well on its way to having 8 bowl eligible teams but ohio state is still making the conference look bad.
- Florida didn't beat the spread. Wow, that Urban Meyer is a terrible coach. (joking)
- USC's barkley stealing the spotlight from forcier reminds me of adrian peterson doing the same to mike hart.
- The next game is the biggest game of the season! (so far) ND looks like a decent team this year. If we win we could be looking at 8+ wins. If we lose, we're going to struggle to get 6. I hope we win by a small enough amount that Weis doesn't get fired.
- Actually I take that back. I hope we win by 38-0 AGAIN.
Last year there was excitement about the new regime, but this year there was more: we were coming off the 3-9 season, there were revelations of possible NCAA violations, and of course the game itself and how it would play out as we were starting a freshman on a still very young team. Despite the negativity surrounding the program the past week, the feel of the crowd was positive, together; a force to drive and motivate the team in solidarity. In '08 the feel was more of positive expectation of seeing what we were accustomed to seeing, a victory. Despite the newness of the program's direction, we're 'Michigan' and we will overcome any newness; we were there to see the team win as they always had.
The acoustics are clearly improved from last year. Even in '08 the sound 'signature' was noticeably louder than in year's past, but this year the sound reverberations throughout the stadium were even more impressive, creating an aura or a blanket above the stadium. Our seats were behind the goal posts so it must of been even louder towards the center of the stadium. When the cheerleaders were leading us through the spelling of "Michigan" around the stadium, a split second after the section across from us said their letter, an echo of their yell reached our ears.
Game play, especially on the offensive side of the ball was sharper in '09 than in '08. The men knew where to line up. Last year, there was this 'hurry up, times running out' feel to play as players shuffled in and out and simply were unsure of where to line up. Last Saturday it was like clockwork as player platooned in and out and everyone set up with plenty of time on the game clock to spare. In the second half we were lined up so fast I was unsure how were were going to stand around for 15 to 20 seconds to bleed the clock. Throughout the game, Western's defense was unprepared by the efficiency of our offense, consistently moving around and often not set for the next play before it began.
From the first series, execution in '09 was there; the ball was thrown to a receiver 'in space', allowing him either to adjust to move up field or simply keep on going. Last year Nick and Steven used up precious time getting the ball out to the receivers that resulted in little to no space for them to adjust to the next phase of the play. We easily ran 3 maybe 4 plays last Saturday in the time it took us to run two last year.
On the first series we had a 3rd down play that Tate had to scramble to get the first down, shifting and running past three Bronco defenders to get to the first down marker. Last year, that play wouldn't have made it to the first down and probably would have been a loss of yardage. Several times Tate as well as Denard made great plays with their running ability that last year would have resulted in little, no, or even loss of yardage.
The amount of successful plays ran in '09 were significantly greater than in '08. Last year there was so much sputtering, so much inconsistency and confusion that few 3rd down conversions were made. In the stands we couldn't get past starting to cheer the team on, constantly hoping for a first down. Last Saturday there was instant gratification as Tate moved the team down the field quickly for a TD. it was like an IV shot of adrenaline almost from the first play of the series that built upon itself with each successive play, each play for yardage, each first down, culminating with a score. A flow was established and maintained.
The defense looks so much better prepared in '09 than in '08. With the offense struggling last year, the defense was quickly back on the field. It doesn't matter how conditioned you are, you remain on the field much longer than the offense, you are going to get gassed. Confidence wains, the heat on the field gets more oppressive, there is less continuity. Last year, Coach Scafer was placed in an almost lose lose situation: the defense was on the field entirely too long, often placed in a disadvantageous positions, and often on back on the field almost as soon as they left it. Being a new guy in a year of 'newness', Scafer could not adjust to this environment and failed often. This year Coach Robinson's experience and knowledge has the defense more focus and attuned. Throughout the entire game it acquitted itself well. It was great to see the defense bring pressure while at the same time keeping the receivers well covered, which often times didn't happen last year.
Offensive line play is significantly improved; this year we racked up 242 rushing yards while only gaining 36 last year. There were penalties attributed to the unit but aside from that they blocked well, opened up holes for the RB's, and gave the QB's time to throw.
Turnovers were significantly reduced, 3 last year to 1 last Saturday. In '08 the turnovers were a result of pressing and trying to force things, feelings that were not apparent last Saturday. Ironically, the only turnover coming against Western Michigan this past Saturday was a Sheridan pick on a play were he was trying to press the issue.
Last year's game felt chaotic and pressed; folks left the game confused and concerned about the team. This year, the opener was glorious and people didn't want to leave; with 5 minutes left in a game that was well in hand the stands were still full of people. Last year there was nearly a civil war about to erupt concerning Coach Rodriguez, this year with a couple moments left in the first half the crowd erupted in heartfelt chants of "Rich Rodriquez!!!" that resounded throughout the stadium.
The comparison between the starting games of this year and last reveals dramatic improvements between the two squads. Nuances and procedures of the offense have been learned this year and the squad doesn't struggle to simply line up and run the play, they actually can get to the execution portion of the play and get things accomplished. Defensively, the unit looks stout; although it is arguable that last year's squad had more talented personnel, this year's defense looks to be more effective.
The well documented second year turn around expressed by teams under coach Rodriguez can now be understood more clearly when reflecting upon these two games. It appears the '09 squad is prepared to have similar year two success.
The bottom line: UM swept, 25-19, 31-29, 25-20. You can read about it at http://mgoblue.com/volleyball/article.aspx?id=184662. UM beat Tennessee, host Xavier, and ND in the three-day tournament, and are now 5-0 on the year.
Couple of observations from the match:
1. Juliana Paz is a beast. You know how when you watch women’s team sports and there’s often one or two players who just play differently from everyone else (struggling not to use the phrase “play like men”)? That’s Juliana. She’s got a nice vertical, a whip of an arm swing, and is super intense.*
2. On that note, the whole team is very intense, especially Megan Bower. She has the look that was once written about in a theme song for a boxing movie. I liked how she encouraged her teammates but also didn’t suffer foolish plays gladly. She got after her teammates, and I’d wager that they don’t want to get on her bad side.
3. The other terminator on the team is Alex Hunt. She’s a lefty, but plays on the left side (I think she follows the setter Zimmerman). I found this strange, since lefties are usually more effective on the right side. Maybe her blocking isn’t up to snuff, I don’t know. Anyway, she hits what people call a “heavy ball.” Very little rotation on it, and in fact her arm swing isn’t particularly impressive, but she really drives it.
4. Lexi Zimmerman, the setter, is a lot of fun to watch. Very athletic, but also very clever with the ball. She had 4 or 5 kills on dumps to the middle of the floor, but also 2 or 3 more on shots to the deep right corner. I thought her left-side and middle setting were only average, but she's among the best I've seen at flicking it to the right side. She set a back slide in the first game off a really tight pass that made the crowd gasp. Also, her two left-side hitters really make her look good (Paz hit .385 on 39 attacks and Hunt hit a ludicrous .458 on 24 attacks).
5. It was an interesting match in that UM didn’t overpower ND at the net, especially in terms of blocking. I’d say blocking was the weakest part of UM’s game. Attacking, digging, and especially passing are where UM gets it done. I would say that the only phase of the game in which UM clearly outplayed ND was in passing, with Zimmerman’s athletic ability a close second. In other words, the ND setter was probably better at just delivering a hittable ball to the outside, but she wasn’t nearly as able to improvise off a poor pass. So, with UM’s overall better passing and Zimmerman’s ability to make something out of a poor pass, UM usually had better scoring opportunities on every play.
Finally, I would encourage people who live in A2 (and other B11 towns) to go to some matches this year. The team is a lot of fun to watch. Paz, Hunt, and Zimmerman are truly worth the (likely very low) price of admission.
I’ve seen a few matches at Cliff Keen over the years when the team wasn’t very good. I hear good things about how raucous it’s been lately, and the quality of the team this year (and last, of course) should only serve to feed the fans.
* I also may or may not be more than a little in love with her.
1. "Last weekend, the Free Press published a report about the University of Michigan football program that was a month in the making, based on interviews by reporters Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder with former and current players and a detailed review of rules governing the sport."
Yes, this groundbreaking/earth-shattering expose' took a grand total of ONE month to form. This is basically an admission that no work was done to examine the opposite side of things (WVU's clean compliance records, the widespread opinions of current and former - HA see what I did there? - college coaches and players such as Herbstreit, Tressel, et. al., the 99% of current M players and their parents who DON'T think there is any problem with what is going on).
2. "Rodriguez said he would no longer ask players to report for duty on Sundays."
As stated by RR this week, last year players came in on Sundays and had Mondays off, and this year they will have Sundays off and come in on Mondays. Anger makes no mention of this - his implication seems to be that RR feels like he got caught so he is ceasing activities on Sundays to try and atone for his wrongdoings or soothe the worries of his dectractors.
3. "The backlash has included threats against Rosenberg and Snyder. One gem from the fanatical fringe: 'I'm a person of strong moral conviction ... however, I wish nothing but pain and death to you.'"
Also: "Rosenberg is primarily a sports columnist but, like many columnists, is also an excellent reporter. In columns, he's been critical of Rodriguez, as some cyberspace conspiracy theorists point out."
This is a textbook response from someone who cannot refute the claims being made by the other side - you see it all the time in politics: Ignore the 99% of people who have legitimate, logical points and questions and instead focus on the far extreme fringe who say something really dumb and easily refutable. And while you're at it, slap a good ol' ad hominem on it for the cherry on top.
4. "At the annual media day event where reporters mingle with players made available by the coaches, two freshmen on scholarship freely answered questions about the team's off-season programs, including workouts. You can question, as some have, including the father of one freshman, whether we should have quoted them."
That is totally not the issue at all. There is absolutely nothing wrong with quoting freshmen, and no one has argued this. The issue that we fans have is that their quotes were taken and used in such a way that upset Hawthorne and Stokes and motivated them to go to their coach and ask him what they did wrong. When the question about how hard they were working was asked, whichever writer asked it conveniently failed to mention that he was going to use their words in a story alleging that the UM football coaches broke NCAA rules and that the program could suffer possible sanctions as a result.
After reading this half-ass counter-punch, it is painfully obvious as to why the original article got out in the first place - Snyder and Rosenberg's editor is just as clueless as they are.