"Northwestern fans can be both heartened and disheartened by the loss to Minnesota just like how nineteenth-century resurrectionists were heartened when they pried a heart from a freshly-buried corpse and then disheartened it when they sold it to a disreputable anatomist."
There have been a lot of posts this season that have centered around Talent levels, Coach selection, Bare cupboards, New systems, The Freshman 15 and Adapting to players. Most of which came from one of two camps: “We like RR and are giving him time to hatch the Death Butterfly” or “That dumb Hillbilly is worthless and we’d be better off with Debord and gads and gads of ‘Zone Left’”.
I’ve personally been in the former camp especially when considering what the man had to work with. (And I’d like to also take this moment to give credit to all the guys on the team for really busting their asses this season. We have far too often criticized the talent level and without recognizing that every member of that team has more talent than any five of us put together.)
Well given that the season is over and I can’t find anything better to do with the time I dedicated to Michigan football I went searching from some information on teams in a similar position as our beloved Wolverines.
So looking at the schools that have shown up in the top 25 in the past 5 years (save SMU and So Miss) here are the schools that had new head coaches this season:
Georgia Tech 8-3 (8-4) (records in parenthesis are where I am projecting them to finish)
Texas A&M - 4-7 (4-8)
Nebraska - 7-4 (8-4)
Arkansas - 4-7 (4-8)
Mississippi - 7-4 (8-4)
Washington St - 2-10 (2-11)
UCLA - 4-6 (5-7)
West Virginia - 7-3 (8-4)
Southern Miss - 5-6 (6-6)
SMU - 1-10 (1-11)
Hawaii - 6-5 (7-6)
As you can see all but two teams should finish with a better record than our illustrious 3-9. That said take a look at the percentage of total offense, rushing, receiving and total all purpose rushing that was done by freshman:
Team /Total 0ff/Rushing yds/Rec yds/All Purpose Running yds
SMU /86% /1% /24% /17%
So Miss /63% /19% /40% /25%
Michigan /59% /54% /53% /62%
G-Tech /27% /26% /24% /33%
WSU /16% /23% /10% /16%
Arkansas /15% /14% /36% /40%
Miss /15% /32% /6% /15%
Tex AM /11% /39% /52% /59%
UCLA /11% /37% /33% /24%
Nebraska /3% /6% /1% /4%
WVU /2% /3% /7% /12%
Hawaii /0% /0% /3% /1%
As you can see only SMU and So Miss had larger percent of total offense produced by freshman than use. You will also see that no one is close to us in the amount of rushing production by a freshman. And only Texas A&M is close to us in receiving production and all purpose running yards. It’s worth noting that SMU started a freshman QB in a June Jones offense and S. Miss also started a freshman QB.
Let’s take a look at Offense ranks and strength of schedule (to date) for these teams now
Total offense/ Rank / SOS
SMU /86% /95 /63
So Miss /63% /19 /96
Michigan /59% /112 /10
G-Tech /27% /53 /42
WSU /16% /119 /35
Mississippi /15% /39 /22
Arkansas /15% /54 /7
UCLA /11% /109 /46
Tex AM /11% /69 /29
Nebraska /3% /9 /17
WVU /2% /61 /58
Hawaii /0% /75 /71
As you can see only WSU was worse offensively than we were. That said only Arkansas had a tougher schedule. And the two teams that have more freshman offensive output have a schedule rank of 63 and 96 and are at the bottom of this group in strength of schedule.
Looking at all of that information, I think it’s safe to say RR had the worse situation of all the first year head coaches. And if you look at the schools that really went through “extreme” offensive scheme changes like Michigan did
Team/ record/ Total / Rush yds/ Rec yds /All Purpose/ SOS
offense/ /Running yds /
G-Tech /8-3(8-4) /27% /26% /24% /33% /42
SMU /1-10(1-11) /86%/1% /24% /17% /63
Michigan /3-9 /59% /54% /53% /62% /10
Both schools had fairly easy schedules and aside from the SMU QB neither had nearly the freshman influence that Michigan had.
Bottom line is that experience is so very important in football, especially in cases where there is a coaching change. So before you go off half-cocked about how RR was a bad choice and should be fired, consider the information above. I think it’s safe to say that we should practice a little more patience.
Now that the 2008 football season is mercifully over, many of us are using this blog as a place to vent, analyze, rationalize, and commiserate. I think it helps us through the grieving process. And it's just one more service provided by our kindly proprietor -- thanks, Brian. Since you've provided the space, here goes nothin'....
It's really remarkable that as recently as August 2007, we were throwing the term "national championship" around. Jake and Mike and Chad all came back for their last year... it was gonna be great.... And then the team started and ended badly, and the 2007 season kind of felt like a waste of everybody's time, right up until the exciting bowl victory over Tebow and Urban Meyer redeemed the year and ushered in the era of un-Lloyd-Ball. That bowl win was a bit like an ice cream dessert that makes you forget the unidentifiable things you just ate at an ethnic restaurant.
Then came the whirlwind. RR was hired. Name-calling and allegations and litigation followed. Players were lost through defection and abandonment. The buy-out was settled. On the field, the Spring Game showed us nothing. Summer camp began and ended in a blur of gee-look-at-all-this-new-found-media-access. Puff-piece videos appeared daily on www.mgoblue.com, and it was there, in retrospect, that the first "real" hints of offensive weakness came to light. I remember some of the defensive linemen talking in August, while joking about their new Barwis-ized performance in the weight room, about how the defensive unit largely embraced the thesis (put forth by pundits and fans) that it would have to hold down opponents' scoring to give Michigan a chance in most games. (Note: as of 11/24/08, we're ranked 90th in scoring defense.)
I've been following Michigan football for almost 35 years. I'll write more about that in Part 2 of this essay, but for now I'll just say that everything in my experience told me, after seeing the Utah and Miami games, that this was going to be a losing season. So I was psychologically prepared quite early for what actually transpired (though not as early as some of you were, I'll admit!). It brought back memories of 1984....
Yes, unfortunately, I remembered that Michigan football had once before run the experiment of "what happens if we have no quarterback who is ready to play at the Division 1-A level?" (Substitute "FCS" or whatever stupid name they have now for 1-A.) In 1984 Jim Harbaugh led the Wolverines to a 3-1 start before breaking his arm while trying to dive on a fumble in the MSU game. Chris Zurbrugg was forced into action at QB. Michigan lost that game and went on to defeat only one team with a winning record (Illinois) the rest of the way. A 7-point loss to BYU in the Holiday Bowl gave Bo his only non-winning season record at 6-6, and gave the Cougars the national championship. Harbaugh, of course, healed up and was subsequently a Heisman finalist.
I realize the game isn't exactly the same as it was 24 years ago, and I realize that the QB position was only one of many issues facing the 2008 team, but the 1984 results still serve as an indicator of what might be expected to happen if the only capable quarterback is lost on an otherwise-intact team. The '84 squad went 3-5 in its last 8 games.
Although we didn't know it in August, the 2008 team lacked basic competency not only at QB, but in everything not involving punting or defensive line penetration. (If you want to quibble about placekicking and kick coverage, fine.) Take away Zoltan the Beneficent and the Graham/Jamison sack/TFL machine, and Michigan doesn't crack the top 50 in any other team statistical category. Given that context, it's actually interesting to contemplate how close this team came to matching 1984's 6-6 record. Three more wins would have done it, and I would argue that there were exactly three losses this year where the outcome hinged on a single play:
- Toledo -- missed 26-yd FG attempt at the end (would have gotten into OT at least)
- Purdue -- kill either the fake punt or the hook-and-ladder, and we probably win
- Northwestern -- if Warren's INT return isn't blown dead, it ties the game and changes the momentum
Knowing what we know now, we can say that 6-6 would have been a pretty good achievement for these guys, and whether or not you buy into the theory of single-play differences, all three of the games just mentioned were well within reach.
That actually gives me some hope for 2009. That, and the return of Zoltan and B-Graham (we hope), who represent the two greatest statistical strength areas of 2008. If the team can focus on and address several of its weakest areas, a 6-6 record seems like a very reasonable expectation next year. There are some major areas where I have doubts, based on present and future personnel, about how much progress can be made before next September: QB and O-Line are the two that come to mind first. I can tolerate quite a bit of upheaval and confusion related to the whole new-coaches/new-scheme situation, but there are a few things that really stick in my craw for 2008:
- Turnovers -- 18 fumbles lost, and 12 interceptions?! At Michigan?! Every loss this year went with an even or negative turnover margin. Either the coaches aren't willing to teach basic ball protection techniques, or the players aren't willing to learn them, or else you just have a bunch of young men whose minds are going in so many dozens of different directions that they can't focus on first things first.
- Failure to achieve high tempo. The metric here is the skip-ahead-30-seconds button on the remote control for my DVR. All the emphasis in the late preseason was on conditioning and playing fast in the spread, regardless of the plays being called. Well, I haven't watched the OSU game (and probably won't), but against Northwestern, in the 11th game of the season, the skip-30 button tells me that we were playing significantly slower than the Wildcats through much of the contest. Pressing the button at the end of a Michigan offensive play typically results in the two teams lined up for the next play, with Michigan 3-5 seconds from snapping the ball. Pressing it at the end of a Northwestern offensive play typically results in seeing the next play already in progress, or even finished.
- Poor play up the middle. If you, as an offensive coordinator, could devise a handful of plays that required mobile pass coverage by the linebackers and/or required the safety to make a critical coverage or run-support decision or take a particular angle on the ball, you were largely assured some 50-yard gainers against Michigan's defense. We lack consistent Division-1-A-level play at safety.
- Corners rendered ineffective by "schemes." Notre Dame made our coverage scheme look silly by running a one-receiver deep route. Northwestern defeated it (for their final touchdown) by running a 3-man deep flood. There is something fundamentally wrong when you drop 5 guys into coverage on 3 receivers, and then end up with only the two safeties covering those three receivers 20 yards downfield. Trent and Warren are known to be reasonably capable cover guys. There is no way, given the pressure that the front four were able to bring, that this team should have ended up 81st in passing efficiency defense.
On Special Teams
- Turnovers -- see above. We lack a Div. 1-A kick returner.
The outcome for 2009 will depend on how well the glaring deficiencies can be addressed. Fixing the turnover problem and raising the level of QB play to something like basic Big-Ten competency would probably be sufficient to achieve a .500 record. But we won't be back into championship contention until the additional holes at safety and kick returner are plugged, and critical aspects of the offensive and defensive schemes (such as tempo and pass coverage) are really and truly "installed." Continued improvement on the O-Line is also a requirement.
We have investigated. Due diligence has been done. And we have reached the inescapable conclusion: Scott Shafer plays that one guy on Heroes.
Here is a picture of that guy from Heroes.
http://www.derok.net/images/entertainment/heroes%20jack%20coleman.jpg (pic of Heroes guy)
Here is a picture of Scott Shafer.
http://vmedia.rivals.com/uploads/883/591128.jpg (pic of Scott)
More evidence: Our defense sucked this year. Does this make any sense? Yes, if your defensive coordinator is moonlighting as an actor on an NBC TV show.
Even further evidence: Heroes also sucks. Really. I tried watching it once, and people's heads were getting sawed open. Seriously! No, I didn't watch after that.
Some hope for the Michigan defense next year: Heroes retooled this year by adding some Villains. Similarly, Michigan just added a guy they sometimes call "Vlad the Impaler". You can see where I am going here. The only problem: Heroes is tanking; see this page http://www.tv.com/story/11705.html. Thus, maybe we need to get more creative. Or hire some people from ABC or Fox. Have you seen Jack Bauer lately?
And Brian, can we get some help here on formatting? For god's sake, I just want to write the darn HTML myself. Instead the big help link below tells me that web page addresses are automatically turned into links. Help!
One final thought about the defense: There is a way not to suck. You see, "Jack Coleman", who is supposedly a different person than Scott Shafer, played one other major role on nighttime TV. You might remember him as Steve Carrington. The show was a hit. And the name of that show? Dynasty.
That's right, Dynasty, motherfuckers. Here we come!
I read the post "Sunk Costs" and disagreed with the following point on who is to blame for this past season:
"Lloyd Carr put all his eggs in Mallett's basket, leaving Michigan with David Cone as upperclass QBs this year. His recruiting was obviously rotting slowly, too."
Unlike the Drew Henson situation, Lloyd Carr did not put all of his eggs in the Ryan Mallett basket. When Mallett signed in 2006, Jason Forcier was only a redshirt-sophomore and would've had 2 more years of eligibility left if he had stayed. Once Mallett arrived on campus, Forcier decided to bolt for Stanford, something Lloyd could not have planned for. This turned out to be unfortunate for both sides, as Forcier had to sit out last year (there would've been chances for him to play here) and then played hardly at all this season. He could've been a decent QB here and would surely have been a big step up from Threet or Sheridan this season.
Despite this, Lloyd still had a solid backup plan in place. He signed Steven Threet at the start of the 2007 season. Threet was meant to be a solid back-up to Mallett for 2-3 years that could develop into a potential starter by the time he reached his junior year. This can still happen obviously, he was just pushed into the starting role too early. Also important to keep in mind was that before Lloyd announced his retirement he had signed 4 star QB John Wienke from Illinois, a traditional drop-back player who ended up at Iowa after Carr announced his departure (I don't quite recall if it was before or after the Rodriguez hiring). If Wienke had stayed on he probably would've been better than Sheridan at least this year. Mallett bolted after the bowl game.
The QBs this year were clearly not ready, but Lloyd is not at fault. There was attrition out of his control. A running quarterback would have been great this season but that's not the system he ran and he probably never thought Michigan would hire a coach like Rich Rodriguez. This was just an unfortunate result of a drastic regime change.
As we sift through the ashes of the 2008 Michigan Football Season we’re all wondering what this new era will bring. How do you set expectations for future seasons? What do you do on New Year’s Day when there is no Michigan football to watch? Even though you know it is prudent to give Rodriguez time to mold the team, how much patience will you be able to show when Michigan loses to an inferior opponent in 2009?
So I set about trying to figure out how optimistic we can be for next year. I’m trying hard to find reasons to get excited for next season as opposed to bracing ourselves for another bowl-less finish. (Note to reader – your health and sanity would probably be better off if you set your expectations low for 2009 and even 2010.) Personally, I was a skeptic when they hired Rodriguez and was thinking 6-6 as the over-under for win-loss record but I got pressured into optimism by pieces like this before the 2008 season. So take this with a grain of salt:
Reasons for Optimism:
1. Time – Year number one in a coaching change is always going to be hard, no matter what school, coach, or system you’re running. This year was going to be particularly tough with the returning talent level and the radical change in system. Another year in the program for the players will only help.
2. Depth Chart – When you’re basically starting six freshman on offense, you’re bound to fail. This isn’t basketball where you can get away with that. In football experience counts for a LOT, especially on offense. They return EVERYONE (sorry Pat Massey) from offense. If you look at every position group you’ll see that the only one that clearly suffers a loss is at DL. In twelve positions five of them should get definitely better and only two will likely be worse. That’s reason for optimism.
• QB – IMPROVED.
Threet is more experienced, Sheridan never sees the field again, we have more than one division 1 quality QB in the depth chart. Forcier and Beaver are freshman, but they’re division-1 talent, unlike Feagin and Sheridan.
• RB – IMPROVED.
Assuming no one leaves, the top six running backs return. The top four backs all lost significant time due to injury. That’s not going to happen two seasons in a row. Even losing McGuffie wouldn’t be the end of the world with three freshmen coming in.
• WR – IMPROVED.
The three starters return, two of whom will no longer be freshman. Robinson and Hemmingway should have been significant contributors but sat out the season hurt.
• TE – SLIGHT IMPROVEMENT.
Koger will be improved as a sophomore and full-time starter, but the depth chart is thin.
• FB – NO CHANGE.
Moundros was arguable the best offensive player this season and will be around again.
• OL – IMPROVED
The top thirteen, that’s right – THIRTEEN offensive lineman return. While some of them may be mediocre, a year of experience never hurt anyone. And now all of those red-shirt freshmen are available to challenge for playing time.
• K – SLIGHTLY WORSE
Unfortunately Lopata wasn’t as good in 2008 as he was in 2007, but he was still competent. Turning the duties over to a true freshman or Bryan Wright is likely a downgrade in this position….but not definitely so. Lopata was only 10-15 and that’s not a difficult percentage to match.
• DL – WORSE
Anytime you lose three and maybe even four starters you’re in for a rough transition. Vanbergen and Martin showed excellent potential, but they’re still young and raw. The freshmen will be asked to contribute and that’s not always a good thing at this position. If Graham does stay the down grade won’t be significant, however.
• LB – NO CHANGE
Mouton got better as the season went on and will be a starter from day one. Ezeh is still mediocre, but he won’t be any worse and might get a little better. The third spot is a wild card, but Thompson won’t be hard to replace.
• CB – NO CHANGE
This was the most disappointing position on the field in 2008 so it is hard to think they could get worse. Warren should be better and Cissoko showed promise – at least as much as Trent. The nickel spot could be a wild card.
• S – NO CHANGE
I suppose this could get worse with Stewart and Harrison departing, but I can’t believe this unit could possibly play worse than they did in 2008. Our favorite punching bag will still be around and probably not any better, but there’s hope that he learns from 2008. The other spot is a total wildcard, but it wouldn’t take much to match Stewart’s level of performance.
• P – NO CHANGE
Is there a way to extend Zoltan’s eligibility?
3. Turnovers – It simply cannot be possible that Michigan can match the turnover problems of 2008. If so, that will be the best ever documented proof that there is no all-powerful God. I honestly think that if Michigan would have performed at league average in the return game that they would have won two more games. The previous six seasons Michigan lost an average of 10 fumbles per year. This year they had 18. Imagine picking any 8 fumbles from 2008 and pretending they didn’t happen. The parade of fumbles returning kicks cannot, and will not be repeated in 2009.
4. Schedule – It is hard to say what the level of competition will be in conference, but in 2009 Michigan won’t be playing a top ten Utah team and will be playing Notre Dame, Penn State, and Ohio State at home. MSU loses their workhorse running back and doesn’t have much else going for them. We replace Northwestern and Minnesota with Indiana and Iowa – probably an even swap.
5. Luck – This is a general term meant to summarize Michigan’s performance in close games. In 2008 Michigan went 1-4 in games that came down to a couple of plays. They could have easily won the Utah, Toledo, Northwestern, and Purdue games. Assuming 2-3 more wins from these types of games is not unrealistic. On top of that, the Notre Dame and Michigan State games were decided by 5-8 plays and it isn’t a stretch to think that Michigan could have won one of them. That leaves only the OSU, PSU, and Illinois games as blowouts. In all of those three games Michigan was within a touchdown at half time. Going 9-3 is highly unlikely, but looking at the 2008 you can see how 7-5 is possible.
Those are some fairly convincing arguments for why 2009 could be a fairly dramatic turnaround. The ceiling is probably 8-4, but the floor isn’t 3-9 it is probably 6-6. But before you start looking for hotels on New Years Day, there are a couple of big reasons for pause:
• Beaver and Forcier are significantly better than Feagin and Sheridan, but they’re still going to be true freshmen and that’s never a recipe for success in big time college football.
• It is sadly quite likely that there will be unexpected defections by players who were going go be counted on to contribute in 2009.
• The defense was supposed to be solid in 2008 and was frankly quite bad. A year of experience by the coaches and some modest improvement at LB and S should help, but it is hard to make an argument that the defense will improve.
• Expecting improvement by the OL and WR is very realistic, but they were so inconsistent and poor in 2008 that it is hard to expect them to become above average by 2009.
What other reasons for optimism can you think of? Am I looking too hard at this, are there more reasons to be worried?
Imagine starting a new job in an office and your job duties include generating 25 page expenditure reports for 12 clients that are critical to the survival of your company. You started the job on Monday, and are expected to have it completed by Wednesday afternoon. You are given a pen and paper instead of a calculator, and a typewriter instead of a computer. Now Imagine you are a construction worker and you start a new job where your duty is to move 100 yards of dirt from one job site to another by the end of the day. You are given a shovel and wheelbarrow instead of a dumptruck. Now Imagine you are Jon Bon Jovi and you are supposed to put on a concert in front of 173 rabid Sparty fans and instead of having Richie Sambora in your gay band you have Randy Marsh. Congratulations!!! You have now walked a mile in the shoes of RichRod. I am so incredibly disgusted by the shit this guy has had to take this year I could go on a puking binge until 2009's spring game. I am embarrased to have so many ignorant piles of ass calling themselves Wolverines. It is pathetic and sad the way people have abandoned and shit on this coaching staff and team. People wonder why McGuffie and others are going to transfer. What have people shown them this year to make them want to stay??? People throw shit talk around about RichRod getting fired. Why the hell shouldn't the man quit????? Criticism is one thing, but the personal attacks on coaches and players is beyond absurd. Wake up folks, Jesus Christ himself could not win games with the quarterbacks we had this year. Plain and simple. You can't win division I football games with less then Division III talent. This will be turned around, I have zero doubt. We will again be on top, and I don't want to see 1/2 of you bastards around when that day comes.