In the picture pages post today, I feel I noted something of some significance. This isn’t supposed to be a post to puff out my own chest, rather, I merely want to give the
other side of the argument my side of the argument for what it really is.
As an aside, there have been numerous people that have constantly misconstrued my argument lately. I understand that by taking a particular unpopular stance so strongly, that I have opened myself up to criticism. But within this article I also want to make clear up some of my stance, so towards the end I will get into some of that. Much of these will be related to the comments I made earlier (if not copy and pasted), the major difference is that I now have the opportunity to add accompanying pictures and diagrams to go with it. This is of importance because football isn’t really a sport that is best described with words. You can try to be as descriptive as possible, but there will always be a certain amount of failure to accurately convey your thoughts through this medium. So the pictures/diagrams help in that regard. So let’s begin.
Set Up and Play Design
I’m going to copy and paste Brian’s set up to his post as he does a good job getting us there.
Michigan comes out with an H-back and two tailbacks in a twins formation, which necessarily means that the slot receiver is not an eligible receiver. Nebraska responds with 7.5 in the box, with the gray area defender just about splitting the difference between Funchess and the tackle.
I’ll get to the covered receiver part later, I want to start off with the basics here about what the intention of this play is. Let’s first start with the most fundamental concept of any run play: the blocking scheme.
Inverted veer works with a Power O blocking scheme. Power is a type of man/gap blocking scheme, while “O” indicates the pulling of the backside guard. A simple power play looks like this.
The inverted veer meanwhile, takes the fullback and erases him. It utilizes the option read to kick out the DE because the DE must commit to the QB or the RB. If the DE commits to the RB, the QB reads this and shoots through the lane inside of him. If the DE commits to the QB, the QB gives to the RB and the RB attacks the edge. Here’s how the inverted veer looks:
Now, let’s first act like there is no FB involved in the play so we can address the offensive line and TE first. As noted, this is a standard power blocking scheme. No one, from any of the offensive linemen, to the TE, do things differently than they would if this was a Power O run from under center. But the defense aligns in a way that makes running power difficult. This is an even front, stacked front, meaning the DL is aligned 5-2-2-5 as far as gaps. That’s outside shoulder of the OT and inside shoulder of the OG. The stack indicates that the OLBs are stacked over the DEs.
Well, to the front side this is similar to what a 4-3 Under will look like, but instead of the LB brought up on the LOS like Michigan often does with Jake Ryan, they’ve stacked him behind the DE.
This isn’t the exact defensive formation, but the blocking scheme is exactly the same (the only difference is the OC has one less shoulder to down block the backside DT and that the LB are shaded further from playside).
If you’re wondering what some of the things are in the diagram, the green boxes are the blocking calls that should be understood or made. As for the defensive formation, just for reference, the “G” means the NT that is usually lined up in a 1-tech slides out to the guards inside shoulder (often utilized to stop Iso) and the Loose is the SAM position loose from the LOS.
What you see is an adjustment in the blocking scheme. This is automatic and should be called and understood. Any team that runs power should make this adjustment. Why? Because that playside DE is very tight to the formation and becomes extremely difficult to kick out. His position pre-snap is already squeezing the hole that power is intended to go through, so rather than slam into that wall, it’s easier to down block him and seal the outside for the RB.
Now, here is how that applies to the inverted veer.
You see now that the person being optioned is that OLB (SAM) rather than the DE because of the defensive alignment.
Now let’s add the FB in the inverted veer. Power blocking makes another small adjustment when you have two lead blockers. If you remember back in the Tackle Over days, Michigan would utilize the U-back as a first lead blocker and a FB as a second. It was the U-back that was first through and responsible for the kick defender. The FB has some reads, but generally will try to get beyond the kick player and knock the first odd color jersey he sees.
More accurately, let’s look at it with an overhang defender. The way the FB is going to treat this is to go block that guy. If that guy tries to gain depth into the backfield, the FB will just carry him with his momentum. If he tries to go inside of him, he’ll simply arch block him. This is what that looks like:
Now let’s apply that to the inverted veer. It’s the same exact thing. The first lead blocker through takes the kick defender (here, that is the playside OLB). The fullback goes and finds the next off color jersey, typically to the outside. Generally, he will block this in a somewhat similar way, erring on the side of scooping the gray area defender. What that does is give a massive alley for Fitz to run through. It also forces that gray area defender to fight that block, regardless of if it blocks him from DG because he knows he must respect Fitz to run. That means if the blocking up front is done properly, DG has more than enough room and time to go straight up field and beyond that gray area defender before cutting out into the same lane that Fitz would run in.
So that’s how the play is designed to be run. Combined with the slot receiver taking the playside safety, everyone on the playside is blocked and a defined seam is established.
Why Run This Play?
I’m not really going to get into why you run the inverted veer, as that’s just a play more or less that has some pretty clear positives as far as reading a defender and threatening a defense with the RB and QB. But why put in the FB?
A common way teams defend the inverted veer is similar to ways that defenses have adapted to defend the read option: they force the QB’s read to be wrong. Essentially, this is a scrape exchange.
In the instance of an inverted veer, they’ll bring a defender off the edge that the QB can’t read or see because the QB is busy reading his key. The key typically is the DE.
Here’s a give look:
Here’s a keep look:
And here’s how a scrape exchange looks:
See that the read is still the same player for the QB. The QB’s read is to give. What the QB doesn’t see is the guy that is coming right into Fitz at the handoff. The defense is making DG’s reads wrong and there is nothing he can do about it.
So, to counter this, you add a FB. This is similar to what Rich Rod did with a U-back to kick the backside on a read option. Essentially, it’s making the QB’s read right by blocking the exchange defender. This means the QB just has to read his key and is fine. This is an adjustment to take advantage of a defensive look and seal the defense inside. Effectively, it’s acting similar to a bubble screen would act as it’s sealing the defense inside and attack the edge and alley with the RB (rather than a slot receiver). It’s a horizontal constraint on top of the normal inverted veer play.
Why Doesn’t it Work?
I’ll save some time and copy and paste a bit:
So the problem is two-fold: Kerridge completely whiffs his block because he archs too wide. His goal is essentially to scoop that gray area defender like he's trying to do in the MSU clip, note in that clip how he passes off the read DE and tries to get to the second level where he blocks no one because the safety he wants to block shot the gap instead (in theory here, his eyes are in the wrong place, there should be some adjustment that allows for DG to read the safety crashing and for Kerridge to scoop the DE, and DG should give here in that instance, but was likely hoping that guy would just follow Fitz and he'd have a clear path to a TD by having the option essentially block two-defenders, but as expected, it doesn't). The second problem is the fact that two people (Schofield and the TE) aren't on the same page as to what the power blocking adjustment should be.
The Big Picture
So we see this is messed up here. It is an execution issue. Alright. So what’s the deal. Quasi-rant in copy and paste mode:
Now, I don't think as far as the missed communication that it's because the blocking scheme is too complex. Much and most of their run scheme settles around a power blocking scheme. That should be better. The play against Nebraska should be executed better, but there were two huge botched assignments. The play against MSU is tougher and something that clearly wasn't repped enough (on the coaches). The FB nor Gardner made the correct adjustment to a safety shooting a gap. They might have repped it a few times, but clearly it wasn't enough to be familiar with how to adjust it in game.
It's basic Power O blocking fundamentals with two lead blockers (here, the two lead blockers are the option read and then the FB rather than a U-back and then a FB).
This is the problem that I've had with the "too many things that they aren't good at anything" argument. Veer option is based on a running scheme they utilize anyway (essentially a down G) but you don't have to pull because your kick block is the option. Inverted veer is Power blocking all the way. It is their base run play with the same exact assignments and adjustements. Nebraska does absolutely nothing that shows this play is tipped, they don't play it any way other than how a standard defense would play it. But Michigan can't get out of it's own way.
And this is the argument that I've had since PSU. It is execution. This play should work. It is 100% execution. Borges has Nebraska exactly how he wants them. Michigan is missing assignments in their base blocking scheme that they've repped thousands of times from under center, from pistol, from ace, from shotgun. That's not just on the players. Why the hell isn't the coaching staff able to get the players to block their base scheme? Why is it taking so long? Youth is part of it, yes. But at this point they should be able to block the run they utilize 75% of the time, including on their counters. It's on the coaches but it's not because of the play call. The play call is perfect. Why the hell aren't the players able to execute? Part of that, a lot of that, is youth. And part and a lot of that is they aren't getting through to these kids. It's the argument that I've made that's been misinterpreted since the start of all this. It's the same thing over and over again. Why can't they block their most basic, most repetitively run play in the entire playbook?
It’s not that there is too much in the playbook, I don’t believe that. That seems like a plausible answer when you isolate inverted veer from the rest of the offense. But it's not isolated from the rest of the offense. It's a Power O play with Gardner making a read. Blocking is exactly the same as Power O. It's their most repped play in the entire playbook.
So how can you make it easier? They've taken out most of the difficult things. 75+% of the runs are the same damn blocking scheme. Counter Power, Inverted Veer, Veer option, Power, that accounts for the vast majority of the plays and all those plays have their roots in the same blocking structure. They still can't get it done. It's not about reducing the playbook anymore, they literally can't without just running from the I formation or just inverted veer. They can literally only reduce it by having the same blocking scheme and the same run action behind it, and that would only make matters worse because blocking is the primary issue.
And I know the execution thing rings of cliché as well, but it is absolutely true. This grab bag theory that all these plays are independent of one another isn't correct. They do have some tweaks. Zone stretch is now intended to be a constraint. Same with the counter. But the base of the run game comes back to power over 75% of the time I can promise that.
So it’s part youth. Certainly youth is a valid reason for some of these issues. But it’s also coaching. I can reiterate that until my face turns blue and some people won’t accept that I said it. But there is a fundamental flaw transferring the knowledge of this scheme to the players. This is not a difficult scheme. It’s a scheme taught to high schoolers all across the country. Sure, it gets a bit more complex at this level, and it gets a lot faster and you have to be much better at executing, but the basic, mental problems?
Why No Vertical Constraint?
Trust me when I say I would like a vertical constraint (pop pass) out of this look as much as anyone. My goal in this section is to try to explain why it may not be in the playbook right now with so many other issues in this offense.
But I seem to remember a pop pass off of it once or twice last year (I believe with Denard at QB). Honestly can't say why Borges hasn't run a false mesh, slide protection pop pass off of this look yet this year. I would like him too as well unless. My guess is that he's uncomfortable with DG making that read in traffic (he's worried about someone undercutting it or scrapping into it is my guess, and DG not processing it fast enough).
This is intended to argue one way or another if that play should be in there (I would personally like it), it's just trying to give perspective on if it's been run before and why an OC may shy away from it.
Why Cover Funchess?
Again, guesses for the most part, but realistically:
As I said, I hate covering receivers. It is a tip to the defense that it's likely run (where, they don't know). That said, you would be surprised how many defenses will still trot a DB out to cover that guy.
Anyway, the reason here is because Borges wanted a guy to block the playside safety. He wanted to form an alley on that side for Fitz. The FB takes the slot defender, Funchess takes the safety, and Gallon takes the CB. Everyone else is sealed inside. That's the only reason he did it, was to get the play completely blocked playside, which it should have been.
They need to cover the TE or Funchess because he wanted to run to strength and wanted that slot blocker. So the TE or Funchess had to be covered. Now, typically I'd say "alright, cover the TE, don't cover your 2nd biggest threat". But a couple things could have gone into the thinking here.
- But have the TE off the line you open up plays to the backside of the formation with the inverted veer look (including counter schemes and how the FB would leak out into the flat later). So in a way, it keeps the box defenders more honest, which they succeeded in doing (they didn't all crash playside on the snap before reading the play).
- They wanted to know what that slot defender was doing. They didn't want to run him off, they want a clear target for the FB. Funchess covered, that guy comes. Maybe that was something they saw on film and were trying to take advantage of. But there's a real possibility that they didn't want to force the FB to read "is that guy going with the WR, do I pick up the filling alley safety or does Funchess, so do I switch to his guy?" etc.
My guess is more #1 than #2, but it depends on what they saw on film.
So what’s the point in all this? Is it to blindly defend Borges? No. The intention isn’t to blindly defend the coaches. The intention is to look at what is happening and figure out where the issue is. Here is a very, very clear example of a bigger picture. It is execution. The coaches aren’t lying about that and it isn’t a copout answer. This is a play where Al Borges got everything he wanted and more from Nebraska. Nebraska, who had a player say they knew every play that was coming, did nothing to stop this play because of any tip or tendency. They stopped it because Michigan can’t get out of their own way. They can’t execute their most basic blocking scheme that they practice and rep more than any other. This points to youth, and this fails to a failure by the coaching staff to adequately teach these players to do one of their most fundamental plays. Both of those are under the execution umbrella.
And this goes beyond this play. This goes to the pass protection schemes. This goes to how I’ve seen veer option blocked. This goes to how every single run play pretty much ever this year is blocked. There are a few players that seem to “get it”, there are some that get it sometimes and not others, and then there are the young or inexperienced that clearly don’t. It’s a fundamental issue that isn’t play calling, it isn’t scheme, it isn’t about huddling or not huddling. It’s not about if you prefer certain screens (I’d like more screens), it’s not about play action or 3-step drops or hot routes. It is as simple as people continuing to fail at doing their jobs. That’s not just calling out the players; that’s also calling out the coaches for putting out a product, for not teaching their students, in a way that allows them to succeed. They are in positions to succeed, probably positions to the best of what they rep day in and day out in practice, but the mental aspect, the thought process, the confidence to know what they are doing without questioning it or doing it wrong is not there. And that is the major failure in this offense right now. This play only exemplifies that.
Holy Offensive Extravaganza Batman! In the interest of time, I'm going to break format again, skip the introductory paragraph and get right to the numbers. Michigan gained 1237 yards on 98 plays, accruing 73 first downs in the process. Devin Gardner led the way with 712 yards passing. Jeremy Gallon's 26 receptions accounted for 560 of those yards. The rushing game returned in grand style, with Fitz Toussaint running for 234 yards and 8 touchdowns, behind a line featuring a fourth string left guard and three high school seniors. Michigan won the time of possession battle, 52:12 to 7:48. Michigan punted negative three times, and finished seven for four on third down conversions. Raymon Taylor led the defense with 37 tackles and 16 pass breakups. Yes, these numbers are completely made up. They are ridiculous, but so are these numbers:
Burst of Impetus
* Early in the game, it was obvious that Indiana was throwing to the receiver guarded by Raymon Taylor. Taylor got beat deep, giving up a 59 yard TD to IU. On the next drive, they went back at Taylor, hitting Latimer for a 14 yard gain. After an incomplete pass and a five yard run, Sudfeld went back towards Taylor. Taylor absolutely lit up the TE, Bolser, forcing an incompletion. Later in the first quarter, on another third down, Indiana went back at Taylor down the sideline. He just barely turned his head around and got another deflection. Later in the game he got another PBU on third down and forced a field goal. The boxscore lists him with 4 of Michigan's 5 pass breakups. He did make 9 tackles, so it's obvious Indiana was targeting him and giving him opportunities. He wasn't perfect, BUT HE MADE PLAYS. In a back and forth game, the key to winning was who was going to be able to break serve. Indiana was 8 of 14 on third down. Half of those stops are directly attributable to Taylor. The other defensive player who MADE PLAYS (2 of them, in fact) was Thomas Gordon. He did not record a tackle, but he did make two huge interceptions that gave the Impetus back to Michigan both times.
* Devin Gardner was 21 for 29 with ZERO INTERCEPTIONS! (That's not difficult to do when IU's DBs were rarely in the same time zone as our WRs, and the line provided good protection for the most part.)
* He threw for 503 yards, 2 TDs, and a long of 70 yards (thanks to Gallon.)
* His bad habit of flinging wild throws to avoid sacks returned, but fortunately, did not result in any INTs.
* Al Borges is the QB coach. Is Al the one responsible for teaching Devin how to pitch the ball to Fitz? I'm, of course, referring to the fumble. It was attributed to Fitz, but the pitch was the problem. I have a hard time picturing in my mind, Al out on the field giving Gardner instructions on the proper way to pitch the ball back to the RB.
* After suffering through the 27 for 27 documentary, Fitz ran 32 times for 151 yards net. The longest run was only 27 yards, so this is not one of those cases where a guy's stats are inflated by a 60 or 70 yard TD run. He scored 4 TDs.
* Derrick Green pitched in 21 yards on 6 carries.
V. Sinha Legends Jersey
* Jeremy Gallons actual stats were 14 receptions for 369 yards and 2 TDs. He caught 2/3 of Gardner's completions.
* Devin Funchess was the second option, catching 4 balls for 84 yards. Towards the end of the game UofM was trying to run out the clock. They faced a 3rd and 6. Instead of running on third down, Al called for a pass. 38 yards later, Funchess had given UofM another first down, and three more opportunities to run clock. I think that is the go-for-the-win attitude that we became accustomed to under Brady Hoke, that was sadly missing last week against PSU.
* Jeremy Jackson returned to the field, catching 2 balls for 23 yards.
* I love Dileo and if I were in charge of the offense, I'd involve him more, so what I'm going to say next may amount to heresy. Is it possible that he's not getting open on the other ~60 plays, or that he's not great at blocking? I also wonder if he got hurt, because he wasn't back there fielding punts. Maybe Borges just wanted to give Devin a slightly bigger target in Jackson.
* Midway through the first quarter, Joey Burzynski got hurt. So let's review our situation at Left Guard this year. Glasgow started the season there, only to move to center in an attempt to shore up the middle. Chris Bryant was the next man in. He's either injured or not as effective as the staff would like, so he was replaced by Burzynski. When he got hurt, Kyle Bosch entered the lineup. Yep, our 4th string left guard. Indiana did get 2 sacks and 7 TFLs, but I can honestly say, I didn't notice Bosch out there, and that's a compliment for a lineman. He may have made a mistake or two, or missed an assignment, but I didn't notice.
* A bruised and bloodied Taylor Lewan returned to the lineup. I was a little worried before the game started, as Lewan showed very little enthusiasm jumping up to touch the M Club banner. To think he could be making millions of dollars today, all I can say is thank you, we appreciate your effort and loyalty to our shared University.
* I would be remiss not to mention Graham Glasgow's hustle. At the end of Gallon's 70 yard run after the catch, Glasgow was right there. There were several other long plays where I noticed Glasgow hustling down the field looking for another block. The guy can move for someone his size.
Norf and Souf
* Norfleet returned 6 kicks for 121 yards. He made a couple poor decisions, but on average, the results were fine.
* So is this blocked FG thing something I'm going to have to worry about for the rest of the season?
* Five of Wile's 10 kickoffs were touchbacks. IU didn't do much with 4 of the 5 they returned.
* On one kickoff, we kicked from the 50 due to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on IU. Doesn't game theory demand an onside-kick there? Or at least a high, short, coverage kick where you can pin them back inside the 20? If they recover the onside kick, they get the ball at their own 35. Instead, we kicked it out of the endzone and they got the ball at the 25. For 10 yards, I'd take that chance at getting the ball back. This was not a field position game. This was a ball possession game, as in, if you had possession of the ball you were likely going to score.
I'm an international umpire
* The refs let them play. IU had 3 penalties for 20 yards and Michigan had 4 for 15 yards. I noticed some holding and maybe some DBs getting to the WR a little early, but nothing outrageous, and the officials didn't get nitpicky. I'd rather they call a foul a foul, but it kept the flow of the game going nicely, and they were consistent, which is all you can ask for.
* I covered the important stuff in the Impetus section. We got some stops.
* Help me out, Alannis Morrissette, is it ironic that we ended the game by sacking IU's QB? I say yes.
* Besides Taylor's 9 tackles, JR3 had 8, Jourdan Lewis and Morgan had 5, and Wilson had 4. That's a lot of DBs, but that's to be expected in a game like this.
* It seemed like neither defense could stop the opposing offense. In fact, it seemed like neither team faced many difficult third downs. So I decided to review the play-by-play and see how the two teams did on first and second down. My numbers aren't quite adding up, but they are close to being accurate. In the all-important second down conversion stat, Michigan dominated Indiana going 14 for 26, to Indiana's 10 for 24. On first down, Michigan was 14 for 41 to Indiana's 10 for 35. That's right, we had 35 first downs, and gained 28 of them, 80%, on either first or second down. Indiana's defense is horrible.
* I mentioned in the Game 1 diary that my dad passed away from cancer this summer. Michigan broke out the pink accoutrements to raise awareness. I think most people are "aware" of the major cancers - breast, lung, prostrate, etc. In fact, my dad was a five year survivor of prostate cancer. Spending our limited resources attacking the most common cancers makes sense (Spock would agree, the needs of the many, etc.) but let's also spend some time raising awareness of the less common cancers, because these are often the ones that aren't diagnosed in a timely manner. A year and a half ago, dad was diagnosed with urothelial cancer. The problem was mis-diagnosed for a good 3-4 months, during which time the cancer may have doubled in size and changed from something that could be dealt with, to something that was fatal. I'm all for raising awareness, but I also think we need to be doing more in terms of improving diagnosis and treatment options.
My dad took my brother to the Anthony Carter/IU game. I suppose I should be jealous of my brother for that, but I was the one who got to hear Bob Ufer call the play. So who was the lucky one? HONK! HONK! HONK! HONK! HONK!!!
Is Borges TRYING to do this on first down?
Much has been made of Al Borges using first down much like the CFL uses fourth down. I wanted to know exactly what has been happening to us on first down this year. Is the play-calling really that bad, or is AB hamstrung by a turnover-prone QB? How stubborn is the play-calling? Are we a bad passing team on first down?
What's open for debate is whether or not Hoke is mandating the first down MANBALL attempt. What's not open for debate are the results:
Chart? Chart of 1st down rushing attempts. NYP = Negative Yardage Plays
This is the story you know. For me, it was even worse than I thought in one respect (NYP%) and better than I expected in another (YPP). The 3.5 YPP feels high, but that's because nearly one in five times we go backwards. And, 11 more times, we gained nothing. That means that 27.3% of the time--more than one in four plays--we end-up in 2nd and 10 or longer. Those are drive killers.
But that average still feels high...what's brining it up? Glad you asked. Gardner has only had one NYP on his first down attempts, and averages 4.9 YPA when he runs it. When you add in the WR runs with DG, the YPA jumps to 6.6. What this means is that if you remove the 21 attempts by non-RBs on first down, you end-up with 2.9 YPA. That's more like it.
So, 59% of the time, we're running our RBs on first down, and averaging 2.9 YPA. Even that sounds good (isn't that three yards and a cloud of dust?) until you remember that only TWO of the NYPs happened between the QB/WR carries, and there was one bad snap. That leaves 22 NYP out of 110 RB attempts--an even 20%--that we go backwards with our RB on 1st.
Want me to make it hurt more? Okay. Add-in the zero yardage plays, and it's 33/110 (30%) NYP. Yep. We have a 30% chance of ending-up in 2nd and 10 or longer when we run with a RB.
Should we be passing more? I really wasn't sure about this. Can we trust DG to be throwing on first down? There's only one way to know...
THIS! This is much, MUCH better than I thought it would be. In fact, it's TOO good (I'll explain in a moment). We only pass 29.4% of the time on first down, but man, does it work. We average a ridiculous 12.6 yards per play (this includes scrambles), have only 14 incomplete passes (25%), and DG is MUCH less turnover-prone, throwing INTs at a rate of only 3.6%. There have been only three negative plays (sacks or TFLs).
It is obvious that our tendencies set us up for big passing plays on first down. But is it worth it? To end-up in 2nd and 10 or worse 30% of the time we try MANBALL? We end-up at 2nd and 10 (or worse) 34% of the time when we throw (including INTs), so the risk is almost exactly the same. The reward is more than four times better. That's a good investment.
The reason I believe these numbers are too good is that they indicate that our run tendencies on first down are so strong that there is wide open space to be had in the passing game. I'm not telling you anything you didn't already know, but now it's quantified into a ridiculous 12.6 YPP.
This is a problem because it means that defenses are staying in stacked fronts against us and betting we simply won't even try to pass. We aren't good at run-blocking, but we're REALLY bad at run-blocking against stacked fronts. Against both Akron and UConn, the running game took off when the defenses backed out of their stacked fronts when they had the lead late.
And what about those two INTs? Both were on go routes way down the field. AB dials-up bombs on first down, which is fine, but I think it's clear there's room for some short-to-intermediate stuff.
Furthermore, if you want your QB to stop turning the ball over, stop putting him in 2nd and 3rd and long--ALL of DG's INTs have come with distances of 5 yards or more to go.
TL;DR - While passing more on first down is likely decrease its effectiveness, it is still FAR better than running with our RBs, and it should open-up some space to be better at that.
Running for our lives...against UConn
2013. The season of Manball. The season of Devin Gardner. The thumping of CMU. The return of Ol' 98. The full bucket of KFC after Notre Dame. The...WTF just happened?
Brady Hoke appeared poised to repeat the third-year success of past Michigan coaches with more of his recruits taking the field and the full installation of his offensive philosophy of MANBALL. An easier schedule meant 9 wins was almost a worst-case-scenario. Ohio at home was going to be the most significant edition of "The Game" since 2006.
Is it time to throw all of that away?
Michigan is 4-0 heading into its first bye week, but never has undefeated felt so much like a funeral. CMU went as expected, Notre Dame was pure joy; now there is an anxious certainty that armageddon is just around the corner.
You know it's bad when the gif is from The Shining
But I thought, "Maybe it's not as bad as it looks. Maybe there is some semblance of hope in the numbers that I'm just not able to see now." So I set out to find solace in statistics, in search of some great white buffalo to sooth my soul.
Let's start with Akron. We're talking about a team that has picked-up only 17 recruits ranked above two stars on rivals in the last five years. To put that in perspective, Michigan had 17 players with FOUR stars or better in the 2013 class alone. Saying there is a "talent gap" is like calling the Grand Canyon a pothole.
Maybe a chart will make me feel better:
|Date||Opponent||Surface||Result||Rush Yards||Pass Yards||Plays||Total Yards||Yards/Play|
|08/29/13||@ UCF||Grass||L 7-38||134||116||60||250||4.17|
|09/07/13||James Madison||Turf||W 35-33||69||287||57||356||6.25|
|09/14/13||@ 18 Michigan||Turf||L 24-28||107||311||79||418||5.29|
This is Akron's offensive output through their first four games. UCF held Akron to 168 fewer yards and 1.12 fewer yards/play. How bad is 5.29 yards/play? Last season, only Alabama, Northwestern, Ohio State, and South Carolina averaged more yards/play against us. All of those teams finished the season ranked #17 or higher. UMass averaged 3.92 yards/play; Purdue 3.49; Illinois 2.53. Even Nebraska only posted 5.02, while Air Force managed 4.63.
Not since GERG has a cupcake been able to move the ball so effectively against Michigan, and even the 2008 defense had a better average yards/play than 5.29. So yeah, that's really bad. I'm not feeling any better yet. Maybe another chart?
|Date||Opponent||Surface||Result||Rush Yards||Pass Yards||Plays||Total Yards||Yards/Play|
|08/31/13||Central Mich.||Turf||W 59-9||242||221||68||463||6.81|
|09/07/13||22 Notre Dame||Turf||W 41-30||166||294||72||460||6.39|
|09/21/13||@ Connecticut||Grass||W 24-21||192||97||72||289||4.01|
That's better. Our offense cranked out 6.85 yards/play vs. Akron--even better than we did against CMU. Sure, there were some negative plays and the MANBALL didn't really get going until late, but you can't argue the offense wasn't productive when it piled-up 425 yards on just 62 plays. The real problem was the 62 plays--a number indicative of bad defense and turnovers. If we get to 70 plays--roughly our average in the three other games--we're looking at about 480 yards of offense.
But there was something in that chart that bothered me...
HOLY $#!%!!! We only managed 4.01 yards/play agasint UConn? The only game we did worse than that in 2012 was Nebraska. We put up 4.80 yards/play agasint 'Bama, 5.26 against MSU, and even managed 4.53 against ND. Only MSU and VaTech held us under 4.01 yards/play in 2011 (3.73 and 3.54, respectively) and NO ONE kept us that low in 2010. In 2009, Penn State held us to 3.42. Three teams did in 2008--but those three teams had a combined seven losses. In 2007, Penn State allowed just 3.91, while Ohio didn't let us move: we averaged just 1.49 yards/play.
What do you notice about all those teams? They're good. Most of them were really good. I am not willing to go back further than 2007, but I seriously doubt Michigan has ever had such a poor offensive performance against a cupcake. We averaged 6.22 in The Horror.
I need more chart.
|Date||Opponent||Surface||Result||Rush Yards||Pass Yards||Plays||Total Yards||Yards/Play|
|09/21/13||18 Michigan||Grass||L 21-24||47||159||57||206||3.61|
UConn managed just 3.61 yards/play against us. That's basically what MSU and VaTech did to us in 2011, and it's far better than Towson or Maryland fared against the Huskies. It's even better than the 3.68 yards/play we allowed to CMU. Only Purdue and Illinois were held to lower yards/play in 2012, and only Illinois in 2011. Miami (NTM) and Delaware State were the only teams held under that average in the RR era, and in 2007 we held Minnesota to 3.50 and Notre Dame to...1.44.
In the Akron game, the defense was really, really bad. Against an opponent whose players barely make the Rivals rankings. In the UConn game, the offense was even worse. While UConn's 40 three-star recruits (and one four-star!) in the last five classes make Akron jealous, they're hardly a football powerhouse.
The good news is that only one side of the ball sucked in both games (although special teams certainly haven't helped much). That kept us from a second-coming of The Horror. The bad news is that we are capable of playing at historically bad levels on both sides of the ball. Elite teams don't do that.
Based on the last two weeks, it's hard to look at any of our remaining games and feel totally secure. We're not playing anyone as bad as Akron or UConn the rest of the way. If our offense plays like they just did, Minnesota could beat us. If our defense plays like they did against Akron, Indiana could beat us. I just threw-up in my mouth thinking about that.
If we can get the team to play to its potential on both sides of the ball, we could definitely still get to double-digits in the win column. That's a big "if". For now, I'm revising my 10-2 prediction to 8-4. We could easily lose four-out-of-five in November, or Penn State could trip us in October.
It's frustrating that I am this nervous/anxious for the Minnesota game as a measuring stick.
Hoke: A.J. Williams and Courtney Avery are back— Michigan Football (@umichfootball) September 18, 2013
Gardner: Johnny Manziel sent me a text after the game telling me to keep my head up— Michigan Football (@umichfootball) September 18, 2013
I'm not sure how much to read into this:
Hoke on if same starting five OL will start Saturday "I don't know yet. We'll see what happens"— angelique (@chengelis) September 18, 2013