to play football, not to play trumpet
Earlier today (7/7/09) BlueSeoul posted a diary where he discussed the utility of statistics and why new ones are needed. He used Martavious Odoms as an example of why stats don't tell the whole story of a player's effectiveness.
Specifically, he said:
Because what you're not seeing in those stats is the number of drops he had. You're not seeing the number of times he gained 3 yards when we needed 4 on third down. And you're not seeing his pathetic work on returns.
Well, I decided to do a quick look back through the 2008 UFRs to see exactly "how bad" Odoms performed. Looking through the games, there weren't many drops at all (one definitive one against Minnesota where the DB almost broke his knee 4 seconds late). Yes, he had fumbles the last four games. One of those games was the weather-horrific Northwestern game. 6 in 4 games is too much - I'm sure he'd agree with you. However, what I consistently read in the UFRs was that Odoms was put into bad situations by missed blocks and bad throws.
Don't believe me? Here are the relevant notes on Odoms' season:
Utah - Out pass (4 yards);
Bubble screen (-3 yards, bad throw by Sheridan);
Checkdown (4 yards);
Bubble screen (4 yards, bad blocking);
Jailbreak screen (-2 yards, Massey no blocking).
Brian said "Odoms didn't get much of a chance."
Miami (NTM) - First play - Bubble screen (50 yards, "great YAC from Odoms");
Zone read bubble (1 yard; "if a read, Threet screwed up");
Bubble screen (6 yards, no block on LB).
Only 6 balls thrown past LOS, 5 uncatchable. The "worst QBd game in modern era of Michigan football."
ND - Bubble screen (14 yards);
On McGuffie's twirling TD, Odoms got a good block;
Bubble screen (9 yards - Safety read it, Odoms spun out of first tackle);
Zone read bubble (7 yards - thrown significantly behind him, leaping catch and pirouette);
Wheel route (34 yards);
Hitch (5 yards).
Wisconsin - Bubble screen (-2 yards, thrown low, taking Odoms off his feet);
Cross (8 yards, "good job cutting up")
Illinois - PA Flag (26 yards);
Seam (27 yards - good adjustment);
PA Waggle (25 yards);
Bubble screen (6 yards, Mathews whiffs on block);
Hitch (5 yards on 3rd and 2);
Flag (30 yards); Waggle flat (10 yards);
Yes, Odoms fumbled the kickoff after Illinois went up 38-20. Regardless, Odoms was a "hero" according to MGOBLOG.
Toledo - Out. (and btw, up to this game, the UFRs are All McGuffie, Almost All The Time).
Penn State - Hitch (First play - 1 yard, Mathews missed block);
PA Wheel (27 yards);
Screen (5 yards - Koger missed block)
Little Brother - Screen (0 yards, forced inside);
Bubble screen (7 yards on 2nd and 3);
Bubble screen (7 yards on 1st and 10);
Bubble screen (6 yards on 3rd and 1);
Bubble (3 yards on 1st and 10; Koger missed block);
Bubble (7 on 1st and 10; Clemons whiffs on block);
Deep hitch (18 yards);
"Odoms continues to prove himself the best receiver on team."
Purdue - Punt return for touchdown, and fumble on punt;
Bubble screen (6 yards, 1st and 10 - Savoy misses block);
Rollout (3 yards, thrown "crappily" by Threet);
Odoms KO return to Purdue 42;
Bubble (13 yards on 1st and 10 - had to come to full stop before ball arrived);
Bubble (4 yards on 1st and 10);
Brian declares "Odoms" is positive for 2009.
Minnesota - 1st play, bubble (8 yards);
Diamond Screen (-3 yards and fumble - "Stonum messes up - if he gets a block, looks like a TD, instead a fumble")
Bubble (9 yards on 2nd and 3);
Rollout hitch (11 yards on 3rd and 8);
Bubble (3 yards on 1st and 10; Rogers whiffs on block);
Bubble (-4 yards on 1st and 10; safety charged play);
Bubble (15 yards on 1st and 10 - "slippery little bastard" says Brian);
On long Shaw run, Odoms got +1 for attempted downfield block;
Bubble (4 on 2nd and 7; Savoy "weak blocking")
Northwestern - Bubble (8 yards on 1st and 10, and fumble OOB);
Ohio State - Fumbled punt, 5 catches for 37 yards.
What does this prove?
Of the 44 catches that I have a UFR to analyze (you'll remember the WLA did the Ohio State UFR), 6 of the catches were made on throws that were bad enough that Brian felt it was worth mentioning because it affected the play. 12 of Odoms' catches were directly curtailed because of crappy blocking (or whiffs on attempted blocks).
However, on Odoms' 26 catches that were executed with even marginal competence by the QB and the blockers, he averaged 14 yards per catch. His average was pulled down 5 yards a catch by crappy throwing and blocking. That's a significant variance.
Also, you'll notice above that many of his catches were long enough for first downs, which confronts BlueSeoul's assertion that the stats don't show "the number of times he gained 3 yards when we needed 4 on third down." This didn't happen more than 2 or 3 times all year.
While Odoms' fumbles were disappointing, his receiving was not. In a normal year, Odoms wouldn't have seen the field. However, the experience will help him play even better this year, and the depth behind him (Gallon et al), Tate's accuracy, and better blocking will give the offense the versatility to use the slot more effectively this year. And Odoms will be a large reason for that. If he averages 14 yards a catch on predominantly bubble screens and wheel routes this year, I think the offense will be operating pretty darn successfully.
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.
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.
"You show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser" - Alan Johnson, Peep Show
While I know Michigan is really terrible at the footballs this year, there is a shift going on, at least in my mind, and I think several of you have noticed it too. This is not about schemes, or coaches, or Ws and Ls. It's about how we view each game; how we view each loss; how we view each win.
The fear element is gone. Remember that tinge in the back of your head before the App State game? Before OSU '04? That nagging feeling in the back of your head that, every game Michigan played, we should win, not we could win; that we somehow were 'owed' the game and, since "We're Michigan" it's somehow 'crushing' when we lose. Our fears were paralyzing. I think that's one of the reasons there was so much apathy from fans.
When we won, we weren't soaked in joy. We were soaked in relief.
Yes, we now have moved away from the FEAR side of the Life Line, and the only remaining direction to go is toward LOVE.
Now, this doesn't mean I think it doesn't suck to lose, and I think it would be a very bad thing if we continue to post up 3-9 seasons. However being as catastrophically bad as we are this year has had a few interesting effects. Other than about a week of a few MSU students/alums being MSU students/alums, no one is really 'excited' they beat us, broke losing streaks against us, etc.
When PSU beat us, Happy Valley was completely dead. No one even cared. When MSU beat us, I got exactly zero text messages from State fans. I generally get about 7 from them when we lose to them in basketball, and most of said friends care about football just as much or more than they do about basketball.
Now the fear element is in their corner. Could you imagine being a BCS Bowl hopeful team and then lose to a 3-8 team? Football is a strange sport, and crazy things like that happen *cough* USC *cough*.
Next week, I get to watch us play tOSU with no real fear. I am pretty damn sure we will lose to the Buckeyes in epic fashion, sealing a 3-9 season and a 5th straight OSU loss. If a big play or two keeps the game close, I get to hope we win, not fear we lose. It's liberating, and it's exciting, especially with the roulette wheel of a team we have in almost every aspect of the game.
Bring on next Saturday, and bring on next season. I, for one, am excited about it all. Who knows? The underdog spirit in football is one of the most powerful of any sport. Buck the Fuckeyes!
(Warning, I am a historian by trade, not a statistician,
so I may have made some incorrect conclusions, which is why I included
all of the data.)
Michigan's fatal flaw Saturday, literally, was third down
defense. While there were some positives, including two Brandon Graham
sacks, the big plays on third down were the difference in the game.
I've made a chart, because, well, I needed a chart. Basically, I wanted to see if the stats backed up up on this, and certainly, they bore me out. I also hope the formatting remains.
|Quarter||To Go||Result||Pos. Yards||Neg. Yards||Play||Notes|
|1st||16||Converted||23||23 yard pass|
|1st||5||Converted||61||61 yard pass||TOUCHDOWN|
|1st||6||Not Converted||0||Inc. Pass|
|1st||9||Converted||12||12 yard pass|
|2nd||1||Converted||2||2 yard rush|
|2nd||1||Not Converted||-3||(3 yard rush)|
|2nd||10||Not Converted||0||Inc. Pass|
|2nd||8||Not Converted||0||Inc. Pass|
|3rd||12||Not Converted||-7||(7 yard sack)|
|3rd||6||Converted||50||50 yard pass|
|3rd||6||Not Converted||0||Inc. Pass|
|3rd||6||Converted||12||12 yard pass|
|3rd||12||Converted||44||44 yard pass|
|4th||19||Not Converted||-8||(8 yard sack)|
|4th||6||Converted||17||17 yard pass|
|4th||1||Not Converted||0||0 yard rush||Converted on 4th|
|4th||7||Converted||7||7 yard pass||TOUCHDOWN|
|4th||14||Not Converted||-2||(2 yard rush)||Clock Drain|
Basically, Michigan had MSU in an
average of 3rd and 8 and allowed an average of 11.56 yards on all plays,
or 20.73 yards on the positive plays. Two of these plays were actual
So, to show this was not a fluke, I went back and looked at Penn State and Illinois. (I could have looked at Toledo, but that portended doom)
Penn State numbers, average to go 5.93, average gain on all plays 9.75, average gain on positive plays, 18.29 yards.
|Quarter||To Go||Result||Pos. Yards||Neg. Yards||Play||Notes|
|1st||11||Not Converted||0||Inc. Pass|
|2nd||7||Not Converted||0||Inc. Pass|
|2nd||2||Converted||2||2 yard rush|
|2nd||1||Not Converted||-1||Fumble, -1 yard|
|2nd||7||Not Converted||6||6 yard pass|
|2nd||3||Converted||3||3 yard pass||TOUCHDOWN|
|3rd||6||Converted||9||9 yard rush|
|3rd||10||Not Converted||0||Inc. Pass|
|3rd||2||Not Converted||1||1 yard rush|
|3rd||7||Converted||15||15 yard pass|
|4th||10||Converted||11||11 yard pass|
|4th||6||Converted||8||8 yard pass|
|4th||1||Not Converted||0||0 yard rush|
|4th||10||Converted||80||80 yard pass||TOUCHDOWN|
Illinois: Average to go: 7.28. Average yards on
all third down plays (including penalty yards): 10.94. Average yards
gained on conversions: 20.22
|Quarter||To Go||Result||Pos. Yards||Neg. Yards||Play||Notes|
|1st||10||Not Converted||0||Inc. Pass|
|1st||6||Not Converted||6||6 yard pass||After ILL holding|
|2nd||2||Converted||3||3 yard rush|
|2nd||3||Converted||9||9 yard pass|
|2nd||1||Not Converted||-1||(1 yard rush)|
|2nd||10||Not Converted||4||4 yard rush|
|2nd||16||Not Converted||-6||(6 yard rush)|
|3rd||9||Converted||9||9 yard pass||ILL Hold Accepted|
|3rd||10||Converted||77||77 yard pass||TOUCHDOWN|
|3rd||8||Converted||15||15 yard penalty||PI on Harrison|
|3rd||15||Not Converted||4||4 yard pass|
|3rd||12||Converted||14||14 yard pass|
|3rd||6||Not Converted||0||Inc. Pass|
|4th||5||Converted||4||4 yard penalty||PI on Ezeh|
|4th||2||Converted||50||50 yard rush|
|4th||1||Converted||1||1 yard rush||TOUCHDOWN|
|4th||8||Not Converted||3||3 yard rush|
|4th||7||Not Converted||5||5 yard rush|
So, in my mind, the stats bear it out. Michigan is
solid at getting teams into third down situations, only to have them
explode in their face on third down. Six touchdowns, and five plays
over 40 yards. I lack the historical data to know if this is an
all-time low, but it doesn't exactly look good and it certainly at least makes me feel better that I'm not just percieving things this way.
Week Two: Miami (OH) 6, UM 16.
The Good: The Offensive playcalling. The Defensive Line continued to be impressive. The LB play was much improved, but can still get better. The first and second year players (FR, rFR, SO), from a talent/potential standpoint (LBs Ezeh and Mouton, DT Martin, DE RVB, KR BooBoo, RBs McGuffie and Shaw, WR Odoms and Hemingway). Barwis - The team, especially the D gets stronger as the game goes on. Best players: DL (young guys too), "Sam I am", and Shaw (before he got hurt).
The Bad: The offense
struggled after starting the game looking sharp. The QBs still can't seem to complete a pass thrown further than 10 yards downfield (I know why Mario and Adrian left, and feel bad for the current WRs - this year only). The secondary was not sharp. They were bailed out of several long pass plays because of dropped passes by the Miami WRs. Special Teams started off good with a 47 yd FG, but then missed a 41 yd FG and an extra point. In addition, a holding penalty negated a 40-something yard KO return by BooBoo. Why does it seem like UM is playing against the best punters in the Country every week?
Summary: If Week One's Offense could best be summed up as "recruiting next years QB", then this week's Offense started off like it was preparing for "Ludicrous Speed" and ended like it too... Week Two's O got several more big plays and two long TD drives (Improvement). I expect the O to get better each week as the young players get more experienced and the game 'slows down' for them. The Defense continues to meet expectations, although the D needs to stiffen against the middle running game and the secondary needs to catch up to the DL. After two weeks (yes it is too early for this, but I couldn't resist): Coach Shafer (here, here, here, and here) said he wants his D to stop the run; get to the QB (knock him out) and then get to the backup; force turnovers; and score if possible. Measurables (National Rankings): UM is 4th in Rush YPG (41.5), 2nd in Rush YPA (1.1), 1st in Sacks (9), 1st in Sack Yardage (-69), and tied for 38th in Turnovers Gained (4)... so I'd say we are on track.
Week Three: In week two, ND confirmed that they are pretty much the same team as last year. That is great for UM, unfortunately UM is still learning who they are. Each week gets UM's O a little more experience and I expect another improvement this week. If the OL can keep it together, the run game should get even better, and if the QBs can hit a WR downfield (I think they will), then the O could really start to become effective. I think the O makes this step against ND. I really expect the best D performance of the season this week. Coach Shafer played against ND late last year, and is familiar with what ND will try and do. The UM DL can't wait to see the ND OL again (and add more sacks to the resume). Hopefully, the secondary will make a few of the catches that they have just barely missed in the first two weeks. ST will have another chance for a big day with returns. Prediction: UM 24, ND 10.