the season has truly begun now
Surrounded by a sea of sugarcane, this poverty-ravaged town on the southeastern edge of Lake Okeechobee always has been one of the country's most fertile football areas.
It's a place where players chase rabbits from burning brush to gain speed, college coaches begin recruiting trips and Friday nights produce future NFL stars. Football is the main diversion in Belle Glade, aka "Muck City," a place so depressed it lacks a big discount store and even a movie theater.
Now football is being threatened.
When U.S. Sugar Corp. -- the nation's largest sugarcane producer -- agreed in June to sell its nearly 300 square miles of farmland to the state for $1.75 billion, the deal was touted as an environmental victory for the government's ongoing Everglades restoration project. But for the community, it's a big blow.
In what is already one of the country's poorest areas, about 1,700 U.S. Sugar employees will lose their jobs when the transfer to the state is consummated in six years. The rest of the local economy, which mostly supports U.S. Sugar and its employees, will also suffer.
"The only thing most people around here know how to do is grow sugar and play football," 70-year-old resident Jack Brown said. "Without sugar, there will be no football."
The town of about 15,000, which got its nickname from its soil's black muck, has football talent just as rich.
Jacksonville Jaguars running back Fred Taylor, Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes and dozens of other current and former NFL players call Belle Glade home. The four major programs in the area -- Glades Central, Pahokee, Glades Day and Clewiston -- have combined to win 17 state championships. Glades Central, the best of the four, has won six titles.
Pahokee, eight miles north along the lake's shore, produced Arizona Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin among others. Glades Central and Pahokee have combined to send 48 players into professional football.
More at link...
If anybody has read the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated, you'll see that the spread is a main topic of interest for obvious reasons. The most exciting thing that can be gleaned from the article? Nobody knows how to stop it, though everybody is trying. They do offer two common suggestions from exasperated defensive coordinators: more athletic defensive linemen and linebackers and surer tackling. The good news is that that's the best they can come up with, but they're working feverishly to thwart the spread read-option attack.
It appears that the best way to combat the spread starts at the recruiting level. This is very encouraging news because, simply put, we play in the Big Ten. Though the team down south is slowly moving towards a more Florida-esque hybrid offense, the general trend in the successful Big Ten offenses starts with establishing a power running, smash mouth football-type running attack. Power, power, power. The best way to stop that type of offense, as noted in the Conservative Revolution post, is with beefier linemen and linebackers. This poses a conundrum indeed for any Big Ten team that Michigan faces: recruit for speed or power? Since most teams don't have a Mike Barwis, it's difficult to get both.
When we finally recruit the personnel we need, and get them integrated, we'll be playing like speedy Florida (with many of their home-grown players) against the ill-equipped likes of OSU, Wisconsin, Illinois, etc... Hopefully everybody in the Big Ten will attempt to adapt their play accordingly, and the Big Ten as a whole will improve and enjoy a return to unprecedented prominence as we once had.
I keep reading about how new RR's offense is, and this is true, but really only kind of. Actually, it is more football coming full circle as defenses adjust their personnel to "new" offenses. Another thing people tend to say is that it is these inventive (sometimes even called "gimmick") offenses are creating more parity in college football. Well, of course they are. But it's not because they're new at all- and it is not the technique itself that creates parity- it's simply a change in strategy. It's because clever coaches are reinventing old techniques. The spread option itself does not create parity any more than the West Coast, or the power option. It's the change in strategy that creates parity, or indeed, if a good team stays ahead of the curve, hegemony. If in 1986, you had said you thought the "next big thing" would be Pop Warner, I think there's a chance that people would have given you a funny look and said that you were wrong. Any technique used well creates parity- that's what it's for. It's not exactly a new thing for smaller underdog teams to develop a new strategy or reinvent an old one to give them an advantage. That is what RR is doing. People probably think that the power option that Bo ran will never be "the next big thing" again. That is wrong. It is wrong as surely as Pop Warner is alive and well again.
In the early part of the century, Pop Warner popularized what was called the Carlisle, or single wing offense.
Helpful wikipedia refresher article:
I think anyone studying this will be surprised how similar it is to the read option of RR. The qb doesn't block as much in the modern game, but many of the runs and formations AND READS are surprisingly similar. Don't the diagrams in the wikipedia article look surprisingly familiar? This works well with talented athletic players- Jim Thorpe, and more recently Slaton and White. It's not even really true that the modern read option necessarily throws much more. (remember when Pat WHite had to pass against Pittsburgh? It was worse than watching Bo's teams throw.) A popular misconception is that "old" offenses didn't throw much, which is sort of incorrect- Bo' s offenses didn't throw much (or at least not often). Jim Thorpe was prolific with the "forward pass" and it wasn't until later that less "creative" power offenses became popular. The beauty of the spread, as Rodriguez has already shown with Shaun King and Pat White, is that it is versatile and can accomodate a wide variety of skilled player- and it's not necessarily only for running the ball. So why was it "abandoned"?
Simply, defenses adapted. And coaches began to look for a new way to get past them. They developed the T (full house) and later the power option. The versatile defenses that adapted to combat the single wing were vulnerable to getting the hell pounded out of them. Large backs became more useful to run over linebackers good at pursuing the wing. Eventually, that's Bo and Woody. They actually threw less than previously- it wasn't that no one knew how to pass, it's simply that the new offense was less dependent on it. The passes that they did throw were deep, meant to punish defenses that came too close. Go back and watch a Bo game from the late 1970's or early 80's, you'll be surprised how often they go deep- much more than Lloyd Carr did. What they hated was the medium passing game- it just didn't accomplish their objectives.
Defenses adapted again. They developed big tackles to occupy blockers, and big blot-out-the sun linebackers that could better take on linemen and fullbacks and stop the run. Fast ends were for pass rushing and holding the outside, and safeties were for run support. This system used fast corners to cover the pass, but the linebackers, especially inside backers, weren't invlolved much in pass coverage, and even the safeties mostly just had deep responsibilities. This is the now-dreaded read and react, which was actually a good defense- just not against medium passing offenses that were already in place by the time my generation saw it.
The solution to that, as mentioned, and we discovered in the 80's and 90's, was the intermediate passing game, manifesting itself in a number of variations, including the "West Coast" and eventually what Carr adopted- a "pro style" offense that relied heavily on medium passing. It's not an accident that Carr's quarterbacks had so many more attempts than Bo's- but a much lower average-per-completion rate and -not surprisingly- not that many more touchdowns, since Bo was always going for a touchdown when he threw. A Bo quarterback would go 6 for 13 with 180 yards and two scores. A Lloyd one might get the same but take 25 attempts to get there, and complete a much higher percentage of passes along the way. These new offenses tried to isolate players vulnerable from the power option system. They used pass catching backs and athletic tight ends to isolate big clunky linebackers, and long middle routes to isolate safeties that were to slow or not very adaptive. Routes had more eligible receivers to isolate slower players.
Defenses responded to that in a couple of ways. One was the Tampa Two and its derivatives. Safeties and linebackers have much more pass responsibility. Middle linebackers were smaller and faster to be able to do well in pass coverage, even downfield. Tackles are much more dynamic and are expected to be active in the pass rush. The read and react defenses became pressure and pursuit defenses. Well, of course there's a way to repond to a pressure and pursuit defense. Safeties became linebackers, linebackers became defensive ends, and they all ran real fast.
One is to take advatage of its smaller size and run right at it, a la the team from Columbus, and also Wisconsin, which still are successful despite having very "conservative" offenses. They are using a superior running game to control the ball and come right at the more pursuit oriented linebackers. Another way is of course misdirection. The read option misdirects or avoids the active pursuing defense. So this isn't really new- it's a rediscovery of older tactics to combat modern defenses. It's really coming full circle. Actually, it's Carr's offense that was willing to throw to backs (Bo notoriously hated screens) and to the tight end that was different from "Michigan football". It just appears to have been the same because 1. Carr still preferred to run when he could and 2. his offense was still "conservative" compared to other offenses of the time. But his offense really wasn't much like Bo's anymore. RR is actually going back (WAY back, to even before Bo) to the good old days of the wing. He has wing players. His pint-sized athletic receivers are perfect for the wing- they're extra backs, they catch short passes and they're really fast. But they're not going to go deep much, but that's not exactly the point.
So, actually, RR is a conservative revolution. He's not ending the days of Bo, he's going back to before Bo.
Eventually, in the future, the pursuit defense will settle down a bit to cope with the read offense. And when it does, mark my words, somebody is going to re-invent the power option or the T. And everyone will talk about how revolutionary it is. And it will be- to some extent. It will be another conservative revolution, just like this one.
We interupt our daily hyperventilating countdown to the start of the football season and the Utah opener, to bring you a little Olympic chatter.
You may have heard of some kid named Micheal Phelps. It's possible he's been on one or two magazine covers in recent weeks. Phelps mania begins tonight at the Beijing games. After coralling six gold (of a total eight medals) in the '04 games in Athens, Phelps is chasing history again as he tries to get eight goals and break Mark Spitz's record. Ever since his Greek bounty, Phelps has been attending UM, training with the elite swim team Club Wolverine, and serving as a volunter assistant for the University's team, that way allowing himself to collect beacoup endorsement dollars. It's a perk of being the greatest swimmer in the world.
His pursuit of history takes center stage tonight. NBC twisted enough arms so that all the swimming finals will be swum in the morning hours in China. The result? All those events will be shown live by the network during their primetime broadcasts. From now until next Saturday night, expect a heavy dose of Phelps, the bathing beauties of the US Women's team and a little Australian rivalry to stir the pot.
Phelps' event tonight is the 400 Individual Medley. That's 100 yards (two laps) of butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle. According to the schedules on the nbc website, the 400 IM will be at 10 pm tonight and is the first of the four finals going off tonight. I dont know if we can trust those schedules, though, so I will be tuning in when the primetime begins at 8. Apparently, the beach volleyball team of May/Walsh will have a live match before the swimming, so I'll gladly watch those bikini's while waiting for the swimming. Here's the breakdown of tonight's first showdown for Phelps:
Toughest race for Phelps? Conventional wisdom is claiming this will be his hardest event to win gold in. We'll see, but that analysis misses a lot of key points such as this will be the most fresh Phelps will be in any of his other possible finals this week. He says it's his favorite event, so he will come out blazing. He has swum 11 of the fastest 22 times (and six of the fastest eight) in the history of this event. He is the current world record holder and has set said record seven different times. Since setting the mark for the first time six years ago, he has lowered that mark by nearly six seconds (it now sits at 4:05.25). He is the defending gold medalist. Is it worth mentioning that he has never lost a race in this event in international competition? Probably, just a little.
Capital One Bowl Maybe the reason the experts claim this will be his toughest individual race of the entire meet is the quality of his top rival in this race: fellow countryman Ryan Lochte. Lochte is a champion swimmer from the University of Florida. Consider this race the Capital One Bowl of the Olympics as Wolverine and Gator but heads. Lochte has medaled in past Olympics and World Championships, but rarely wins gold because he loses out to Phelps, perhaps the greatest ever, in the IMs and to Aaron Piersol, this decade's best backstroker, in those events. He's a laid back dude, but seems convinced he can pull off the upset tonight. Lothe has said several times that if he can hang with Phelps until the breaststroke legs that he can take him.
Watch the turns You've heard of a basketball player dominating the boards. Well, Phelps dominates the wall. Watch his turns. What he does off the wall just doesn't look human. He's a human dolphin. He can lag back a stroke during the body of the pool, but come out of a turn a stroke ahead. That could be the difference tonight. In the epic battle at the US Trials in the 200 IM, Phelps out touched Lochte by .02 seconds (setting a world record in the process) and did it on strength of those turns. They will be making seven flips on the wall during this race tonight and thats a big advantge for Phelps.
Want to bet Phelps? Take ot a loan Oddsmakers doubt this will be his toughest final of the Games. He was -1000 ( one must wager a grand to win a hundred, thats some pretty bitter juice) when most books took the race of the board when the prelims started. Pinnacle Sports (which does not take bets from people in the US) still has live odds up and Phelps is now -1700 to win tonight's gold. No one else is on the board, but you can take the field at 12 to 1. Expect a fast swim. The odds of the world record going down is a solid favorite of -170.
Phelps victory strategy It might take a world record for Phelps. Lothe qualified in three events for these games, finishing second at the trials losing out each time to a world record effort. Twice by Phelps.
Not all nerves are wrecked the same This morning while watching both indoor and beach volleyball announcer were critical of the poor early play of U.S. teams citing nerves while playing their Olympic opener. Contrast that to Phelps qualifying heat this morning. Announcers on that race wondered if he was swimming too well and too fast as he was under world record pace for the first four laps. As it was, Phelps cruised to an Olympic record this morning. Nice opening statement. Loche qualifed in fifth, but he obviously eased up the final half lap as he had his heat and spot in the finals in hand. Both did an excellent job it seems of leaving something in the tank for tonight.
Quick turnaround or a day in the life of jamiemac They swam those heats this morning, but that was night time in China. After a night of sleep, they will wake up and swim off for the gold. In the 12 hours since, I have run four miles, done a load of laundry, cleaned my kitchen, took care of horses, spent a couple hours by the side of a pool and now have had a couple of brewskis. I could not imagine having to gear up to swim a high stakes international race on such a short turnaround. Ok, so they've been sleeping. But I am pretty sure that after swimming eight laps, you could give me a night of sleep and I still would not be able to drag myself out of bed. It will be interesting to see how all the swimmers throughout this week handle some of these quick turnarounds. Maybe it keeps a lot of world records from falling. We'll see.
Prediction At most, this is a two person race, and I'm going with Phelps. He'll be the frontrunner after the fly and back. He's so improved in the breast that Loche might catch up with Phelps, but he wont be able to gain control of the race. The final turn on the freestyle leg will be the difference putting Phelps ahead for good. They both ought to be pushing world record pace. Its an American 1-2 finish. I would be stunned if Phelps and Loche dont go 1-2 in some fashion. As for bronze, the Hungarian Lazlo Czesch is the pick on paper, but he sometimes has struggled in bigger events. I like the Canadien swimmer, Brians Johns to snare a surprise medal. With nobody watching he snuck in second behind Lochte in the qualifying heat. Maybe he does the same thing tonight when the rest of field has given up on chasing the two Americans? I will say despite the Phelps prediction, if I were to put cash on the event, I would take a small flier on the 12-1 field and hope Loche breaks through with the swim of his life. Laying that kind of juice on the favorite--even if it looks like such a sure thing--is not prudent. Just ask the folks with Big Brown "to win" tickets for the Belmont.
Wait, there is another maize and blue swimmer tonight? Hurrah for the Yellow and Blue Lets quickly give another Club Wolverine swimmer some pub as well. Former UM swimmer Peter Vanderkaay will be swimming in the 400 freestyle final tonight. He is a major threat for the medal podium in what is one of the more wide open events of the swim meet. This event has been the domain of Aussie Ian Thorp for the last two Olympics. He's retired, and now this is anyone's race. Aussie Grant Hacket and North Korean Park Tae Hwan have been projected by SI to win Gold and Silver. But, Hacket only qualified with the fifth best time and Park the third best. The Aussie is dominant at longer distances, particularily the 1500, and Park might be better in a more sprint race. I dont trust SI's projections in this (or in football for that matter!) race. American Larsen Jensen is the American record holder and Vanderkaay has been one the most improved swimmers in international play the last couple of years. Both can win. Watch to see if home pool advantage comes into play tonight. China's Lin Zhnag surprised Park to win their heat this morning, helped by the large home contigent pushing him through his surge down the stretch. They will be yelling in full throat tonight and he could easily use that and get on the medal stand.
Just about everyone in this race can win it and certainly any of the eight swimmers can grab a spot on the medal podium. Right now, Park is the betting favorite at 2-1 with Hackett and Jensen at 3-1. Zhang is 5-1 and Vanderkaay is the long shot of sorts at 12-1. I like Jensen in this one, only because he looked the smoothest in this morning's prelim heats. I feel good about Vanderkaay getting a medal, but its not because SI tabbed him for the bronze. Maybe its just a hunch that his wolverine paw gets in on the wall ahead of most of the others. He'll go bronze with Park getting Silver. I'd put money on both Americans in this one, however, and come out ahead.
Either way, I expect all four American men racing in finals tonight to earn a medal. And, it will be a good night for the maize and blue.
Transitions are never smooth - some are just better than others. The transition from Lloyd Carr to Rich Rodriguez has been bumpy to say the least, and this is before any meaningful football has been played.
I think most rational Michigan fans knew/know that season is going to be ugly. Personally, I just hope that Michigan keeps its post-season bowl streak intact Though lately, I think 8 or 9 total wins is possible.
In the long term, I think there is potential for great things. I like that Rodriguez is aggressive and hungry. I like that he believes in well conditioned players and wants to make Michigan tough like it was in the past. Still, in the pit of my stomach, I'm don't know what to expect from the Rodriguez era. In fact, I'm still not sure it was the right hire.
Was there a better hire out there? I don't know. If I had to pick, I would have gone with Miles because of his ties to the school (and in hindsight, his National Championship doesn't hurt either). For some reason, I just see the Rodriguez era being either total domination or total disaster - nothing really in between. Why total disaster?
- The hiring process. It's well known that Rodriguez was not the first choice.
- The handling of the buyout. Worst litigation strategy ever.
- Current recruiting, specifically the number of 3 stars being offered so early
- Impression that Rodriguez's teams are more offense oriented. Will he overlook the importance of defense?
- The man himself. Definitely not as polished as Lloyd (sans interactions with media)
I think the above bullets are just more irrational fears. Looking at "soft" factors and projecting them on the bigger picture of wins and losses. Maybe its just getting used to something new and different. I'll be the first to admit I have no solid evidence that Rodriguez will bomb, but as of right now, based on his tenure so far, I'm not sold.
Hopefully, Rodriguez will make Michigan an annual contender for the National Championship. Hopefully, Rodriguez will be our Roy Williams and not our Bill Gutridge or Matt Doherty.
Hey guys, I appreciate the feedback on my diary entry. First, I want to re-iterated that I didn't say we are a lock to roll through teams like the Texas 06 team or the Oklahoma 07 team. I just wanted to provide an optimistic outlook because I have not seen one yet. I feel that the comparisons are very similar. I knew there would be questions regarding the offensive line. I didn't forget to account for them, I was actually just late for a work out and didn't have time to finish. Every time I'm late for a workout I get yelled at by the imaginary Mike Barwis in my head that I use to motivate myself. It's always something along the lines of...
Imaginary Mike Barwis: "Hey thanks for finally bringing your little baby nuts to the work out. I'm sure you have a lot of important things to do in your free time, all I do is breed wild wolves in my free time. No big Fucking deal or anything."
In terms of the differentiation between offensive lines, Texas' 06 team did return 3 starters, one of whom was an all-big 12 selection (Justin Blaylock). Meanwhile Oklahoma's team also returned 3 starters, one being all-worldy guard Duke Robinson. This is a huge discrepancy between the talent of our offensive line and theirs. I agree 100%, but I will explain to you why it is still a valid comparison in my mind.
Given our personnel, I believe when people talk about how bad and inexperienced our offensive line is, they are expecting a Notre Dame-esque collapse. No doubt, an offensive line performance similar to theirs would be disastrous. The Notre Dame offensive line frequently allowed opposing defenders to throw parties at Jimmy Clausen's house. Clausen even managed to become the first quarterback in the history of football to get sacked while attempting to take a knee (Just kidding... but seriously). Let me explain why this will not happen. First, I truly in my heart believe Mike Barwis would never allow his players to be pushed around and physically abused like the ND offensive line. Yes this line is inexperienced and yes this line has played very poorly when given the opportunity, but wouldn't you be slacking if you were a sophomore linemen playing behind Jake Long? I understand that Justin Boren and Stephen Schilling were able to leap frog this class of linemen, but it wasn't seniors getting beaten out by freshmen, it was a red-shirt freshmen and a true sophomore beating out red-shirt sophomores. And Boren (as much as I hate his guts) was a freak of athletic nature who was already the strongest person on the team, meanwhile Schilling was a 5 star recruit believed to have the best footwork of any linemen in the 06 class. Now that these linemen have the motivation (or had the motivation beaten into them), I believe you will see them perform at a much higher level than before.
So what if this new level still isn't that good? Well, fortunately that can also be accounted for. The spread offense preaches.... spreading. Before you stop reading, here me out. Although this offensive line is not as good as the last years, the funny thing is, they really don't have to be. Notre Dame's offensive line was ill- equipped to protect Clausen in pro-style sets with 5-7 step drops. Michigan's current offensive line is also ill-equipped to protect Threet in pro-style sets as well. However, Threet will be working out of the shotgun spread where the ball is delivered much quicker and where defenders will have to travel a farther distance to get to the quarterback. The emphasis on bubble and flanker screens will keep blitzers and defensive linemen honest (so would the zone read, to an extent, but I'm hoping you don't see Threet running that very often). Also, blitzers are easier to account for in the spread, as corners often have to start their blitz before the snap of the ball. Also, although the talent of Michigan's current offensive line is much weaker than previous years, the athleticism is not. Therefore, they will also be more capable of protecting Threet when defenders get tired from the no huddle hurry-up offense. Case in point, this past West Virginia team had only one linemen who was a first team all-big east selection (remember we're talking about the big-east) and yet they were still able to put up 48 points on Oklahoma, who many believed to be a top 5 defense. Obviously, Pat White/Steve Slaton/Noel Devine had a lot to do with that, but come on, I'm just saying. A dominant offensive line is not a pre-requisite for a successful spread offense. Do you want another example, how bout Florida, who's offensive line featured two true freshmen and a converted defensive linemen at the end of the year. They still managed to score a lot of points against very good defenses.
I understand that the discrepancy in offensive lines may seem to crack my comparison between Texas 06 and Oklahoma 07, but I just want to state that I believe the spread offense lightens the necessity for an absolutely dominant offensive line. I think people will be surprised at how good this team performs. I'm not saying 10 wins, but I'm sure we will get to a bowl. It seems silly, but a lot of people seem worried about our consecutive bowl streak.
Addressing other comments that I thought were interesting:
How will the line cope with the blitzing of Tenuta?
The answer is not very well. But what teams do handle the blitzes of Tenuta? No matter who they play, Tenuta will game plan a way to get to the quarterback.
The coaching change is also a big differentiation between Michigan and Texas 06 and Oklahoma 07:
This is also very true, but I just want to re-state that the Capital One Bowl proved we can run a spread. Yes, it is a new scheme, but so was the one we used in the Capital One Bowl. If you tell me that that is the offense we had all year, then you're wrong. They put together an offensive game plan in one month and could have used it the rest of the year if we would have played more games. There will be struggles adapting, but we're not going from a veer offense to a throwing spread. I don't remember anyone looking loss or confused during the bowl game. Even Carson Butler knew what he was doing, and we're talking about Carson Butler (Don't get it twisted though, I actually love Carson Butler, he's my wolverine and my tiger). Someone pointed out the even more drastic change in offensive schemes implemented at Cincinnati and the success that they had. In terms of personnel, we do recruit talent that can play in a spread. Tony Clemons, Daryl Stonum, and Junior Hemmingway have the speed to play in the slot. They may not have the wiggle to shake their way to 50 yard touchdowns off bubble screens, but they can get 10-15 yards. Also, a majority of high school players that we recruited come from offenses where they line up all over the field. Some play quarterback, running back, slot, flanker, and corner, so the adjustment from a 3 receiver set to a 3 receiver shotgun spread isn't too overwhelming for them. In fact, for players like Carlos Brown, it's all too familiar. There will be mistakes as the Michigan players learn the new scheme but the beauty is, opposing defenders have to learn our new scheme too.