"Rodrick Williams Jr.'s 10-month old, 2-foot-long savannah monitor named "Kill" gets the RB some strange looks when they go for walks together."
Yesterday the hoops team outclassed a very athletic Memphis squad -- a win due in no small part to John Beilein's superior coaching and preparation. Meanwhile, the football team has put together two solid November wins for the first time in forever, including a thrashing of Nebraska. Going into The Game, this is the best we've felt about our chances to beat the damn Buckeyes in five years.
Which leads me to ask: When was the last time we felt this good about the current and future state of both revenue sports programs at U-M?
I was a Rich Rodriguez fan; I believed he was the breath of fresh air U-M football needed after The Horror and the general decline of the late-Carr era. It didn't work out -- no reason to rehash all that here. But after seeing:
- the way the football team has grown this year;
- the great incoming recruiting class;
- the unbelievable job Hoke and Mattison have done w/the defense; and
- the overall performance against Nebraska
I think few would deny U-M football is on the right path again.
Meanwhile, Beilein has just landed arguably the biggest U-M basketball recruit since Webber in Mitch McGary (plus GRobIII and Nick Stauskas -- not a bad way to round out a recruiting class!). He's answered the one question people had about him coming from W. Virginia -- whether he could recruit on an elite level. And if the current team performs up to expectations, Beilein will have gotten Michigan to the Big Dance in 3 of the past 4 seasons.
Best of all, neither Hoke nor Beilein is a flight risk the way, say, Harbaugh would've been.
I honestly can't remember the last time I felt so good about both the present and future of both programs at the same time. My only thought is fall of 2006, when Carr was having his last great season and the hoops team seemed to be heading at least vaguely in the right direction. (But by that point it was clear Amaker could not put together a coherent offense; meanwhile, Carr was certain to retire soon and the identity of his successor was unclear.)
But as of November 22, 2011, it's great to be a Michigan Wolverine -- and looks to be so well into the future!
p.s. - a sad aside -- I just read the news about Leon Hall tearing his Achilles last week. Damn. He might never be the same player again. But as Ross Tucker at ESPN writes, Hall's decision to sign his big contract extension before the season (rather than risk waiting to cash in after becoming a free agent) was a hell of a smart move in hindsight.
Maybe it won't be like last time...
(edit: Embed fail http://youtu.be/Qpux-Drk6EY?t=37s)
And even if it is, maybe that's not such a bad thing. Ok? ... Ok.
There was something rather familiar about Saturdays' game against Purdue. For the first time in a long time, that felt like "Michigan fergodsakes!" There was just something about the way we dominated and put the game away. It brought back my idealized memories of how Michigan would roll over the rabble of the big ten in year's past.
I enrolled at Michigan in the fall of 1995, Lloyd Carr's first year. And of the 40 odd games that I've attended in person, all but 2 were under his direction.
This wasn't cupcake nonconference, this wasn't baby seal U, this wasn't even one of the worst Minnesota teams in the last half century. This was a normal, lower tier big ten team that was coming off a victory over a previously ranked team. And they had maybe 4 or 5 good plays against us all game. (the screen TD, Denard's INT, the transcontinental to Siller, and maybe you count the final TD and their QB scramble).
The game wasn't as close as the score. Take away their garbage time TD, and give us another 11 points if we execute a little better on the goal line and we're talking about a 40 point blow out.
But it's not just the score that made me reminisce on the Lloyd days. It was the way we did it; we just had better athletes. And we used that advantage to make the game boring. Even though the lead was only 3 possessions, by the middle of the 3rd quarter there was absolutely no drama left that we might blow the game. And it's been a long time since I've felt that way when we've played a bigten team. I guess the Minnesota game didn't make me feel that because they didn't feel like a bigten team, and we were still scoring points. By the time the 4th quarter started on Saturday, I was thinking we'd only get 2 more possessions since we were grinding the clock out so fast.
I actually fell asleep before the game finished, (granted that was about 4 am local time and my BAC was significant). When I woke up, I had the rest of the day to ponder, 'do I like boring old Michiganfergodsakes?'
Was it really so bad?
Towards the end of the Lloyd years, we had grown accustomed to 9 and 10 win seasons and a bowl loss. And frankly we were bored with them. We had become frustrated with having a roster full of NFL talent that would only call dive plays once we had a double digit lead. And then 7-5 came, and we called it "the year of infinite pain". Oh summer child, what did we know of pain? Little did we know that Richrod was coming.
After the Horror, it was pretty clear that Lloyd's retirement was somewhat of a mutual split between him and the fanbase. I freely admit that I was fed up, and wanted change. You can count me amongst those that wanted RR to succeed.
In a way, I loved Lloyd. I still think he's a great role model. If I ever have a son, I would point at Lloyd as someone he should look up to. But toward's the end, I thought that his risk aversion and gameday decision making was impairing our ability to win big games.
There's been a lot of harsh words directed at Lloyd in light of the revelations in John Bacon's book. I don't believe he acted maliciously. I hope not, anyway. I just think Lloyd was just being Lloyd. He never liked the spotlight, and he resented the media. This was apparent from his first news conference (which, if anyone has video of this, I'd love to see it again) in the wake of Moeller's firing.
I like to believe that he was just trying to be loyal to his players. From a program perspective, that might have been a mistake. Ok, it was definitely bad for the program. And the program needed someone to be like Bo, to be the face of the university, to force people to work things out. But that's not who Lloyd was, it just wasn't in his DNA.
The details seem to get lost in history. People forget that things started kinda shaky in '95 and '96. We lost 4 games both years (just one less than the 'year of infinite pain'). And then came the miracle year of 97, and Lloyd could never live up to that standard again. It's like when poor married couples go on an expensive, once in a lifetime honeymoon, all the sex after that just seems a little bit pale in comparison.
Do we really want to go down that road again?
I admit it, I wanted the hot young model. I think Jim Harbaugh would have been very successful as a head coach here. He would have been fiery, and dramatic, and when we finally score 48 points on OSU, he'd have gone for 2. But Harbaugh probably would have gotten bored with us and ran off to the pro's while he still had his looks. So maybe it's better this way. Maybe someday he'll get tired of that and be ready to settle into a comfy college job.
Until then we've got Hoke. Brady Hoke and his magical golden poop. (From top to bottom, I can't remember the bigten ever being weaker. Bigten teams are going to get smashed come bowl time.) Hoke fits like a comfortable old shoe. But he's not the old shoe. He's not kicking field goals on 4th and inches. He's like that old shoe, but back when it had fresh treads.
And then I realized, it's not about da shoes. The thing that changed was me. I'm ready to go back to 9-3 season's again. I'm willing to tolerate 8-4 years if they're balanced with 10-2. I might even be able to stomach the very infrequent 7-5 year if it's offset with a couple 11-1's and 12-0's. And I don't need last second comeback drives against Indiana to be entertained. Saturday's stomping of Purdue was boring, and entertaining, and filled with more satisfaction than I've felt in years.
Play it again, Sam.
So it's week 9, the 8th game of the year, and we're starting to develop some patterns. If you were to blindfold me and make me predict what's going to happen next week, I could just think about this week and rattle off:
- Mike Martin makes a big play
- Craig Roh makes a mistake, but then makes a big play
Kovacs makes a big play
- Jake Ryan has a mental breakdown and loses contain
- Jake Ryan blows someone up in the backfield
- A CB misses a tackle
- Molk makes a great block
- Denard has a sweet run
- Denard has a horrible interception
- XXXX receiver fights for a jump ball or adjusts to the under thrown bomb
- Vincent is wide open for a throwback screen.
- The defense causes a couple of flukeyish takeaways.
And you could probably run that against most of our games this year and not be very far off. The lack of a Vincent screen and a successful jumpball against MSU could easily be blamed for the score deficit of two weeks ago.
The major differences this week were the reverses and the excellent production from the Tailback position.
Let's see that again.
Bad Roh, Good Roh
I've been bitching about our lack of a bubblescreen, because it's a simple fucking play, that works. Especially if you get a favorable matchup with personnel.
On Purdue's first drive, they've got Craig Roh lined up against the slot man. Even though he's into the boundary, he's not going to win a footrace to the sideline.
They only need 3 yards for the first down, and with the Corner playing 8 yards off, the bubble screen is a nearly automatic 5 yards unless the man in Roh's position has a lot more speed in space than Craig.
He's thinking about his flat responsibility in the zone, but what he should be thinking is that he's got to get out to that 2nd man and ignore the blocker.
JT Floyd, doesn't use his hands well enough and lets the blocker get into his body, Roh is almost in position to make a play, but he's taking a bad angle.
Defensive snapshots where more than one defender is on the ground and the ball carrier is hopping past them, are never good for the defense. Morgan is also taking a bad angle and is barely there in time to escort the WR out of bounds after a huge gain.
But when Purdue tried to come back to it on their next drive, we played it much better.
Here's our first appearance of golden poop. We're futzing around with flip-flopping the D-line and Roh is getting a late start. But because he's still running to get in position when the ball is snapped, he's got momentum built up and quickly gets out on the receivers.
This time Floyd does a better job of taking on the blocker and forcing the play back inside.
With Roh in position and Floyd not getting knocked on his ass, the pursuit closes off any cutbacks and the ballcarrier has no place to go.
Mike Martin : Bruce Banner mode
The difference between a good athlete and a great football player is understanding the game. Mike Martin destroys this outside zone read because he recognizes the blocking assignments.
If you haven't watched the excellent (if somewhat corny) video by fishduck, you should check it out. The RB is next to QB so this should be an outside zone play. The O-line all slant to the wideside of the field. If the RB can get to the corner, he should get about 7-10 yards with good blocking as everyone is accounted for except the deep safety. Martin has seen this in practice about a zillion times from the Richrod days and beats his man to the spot and gets penetration. For Oregon, this is no problem, because the cutback is just as good as the designed play.
But Martin sees the cutback and tosses his man to the side so he can come back underneath and make the tackle. Our LB's are actually a little slow to react and would have been in trouble if the RB had continued to bounce it outside.
If it weren't for Martin, this play has a decent design to pick up lots of yards. The guards are scraping off their initial reach blocks and releasing to the 2nd level. Roh is unblocked because it's expected that the QB fake will hold him in position. If the center and left tackle had gotten better blocks, this play gets an easy first down. But Heimerdinger beats his block too.
So the three of them converge to make the gang tackle.
Mike Martin: Getting Angry...
On the safety, Martin had to fight through a hold to get the sack. (and a bit of facemask)
Mike Martin: Hulk Smash! mode
Before we even get to halftime its apparent that the Boiler's can't block Martin one on one, so they keep in the RB to help out.
Martin uses his hands so well. He does an outside move on the left guard and gets by him easily.
The RB sees him come free and moves to pick him up.
When you're a little guy, trying to block a much bigger man, they teach you to go low.
Because this is what happens if you don't go low.
You get sent airborne.
and knocked back 4 yards, (or more if those other guys hadn't been there)
This other angle shows how badly off balance this guy gets knocked back.
Bad Tackling, Good Tackling
Late in the 4th quarter, both starting cornerbacks were in the game when most other starters had left the field. You gotta think that's partly because of a lack of depth at DB, and partly because they both weren't very great at run support or tackling.
On the long screen for a TD, Countess was the only man with a chance to make the play, and he missed.
But I don't really blame him. We got caught in a blitz. This play was always going to be a touchdown unless one of the blockers completely whiffed.
Which almost happened. Blake does a good job to slip the block.
But the blocker had gotten just enough of him to prevent him from making the shoestring tackle. They say football is a game of inches. There's about 6 inches standing between a 5 yard gain and a 50 yard TD.
There's better examples of DB's (mostly Floyd) not breaking down to make the tackle, or not coming up aggressively enough in run support. By I'd rather show them an example of what you're supposed to do.
On this kickoff, Morgan does a great job of taking on the blocker
And then he disengages to make the tackle.
He hits the ball carrier right in the midsection with perfect form and wraps up and holds on until help arrives.
I'll take "improved running game" for $100, Alex
So, it's just Purdue, but that's what I call manball. And it started with our first play from scrimmage.
Purdue has an alignment problem because they didn't pick up the unbalanced line. This might be the first time we've used it extensively this year.
The end is left unblocked because he has to respect Denard on the bootleg. This is fine as long as the guy isn't fast enough to tackle Denard before he can make the handoff (like what MSU did to TSIO). So we've got two pulling lineman and a fullback giving us a huge numbers advantage on the play side.
We get a good kickout block, and Molk does an excellent job of peeling back to get the linebacker. Hopkins is leading through the hole like any good fullback.
Fullback is a deceptively skilled position. You've got to be able to read the hole like a TB and then be both fast enough to get to the block, and big enough to make the block. Here, Hopkins has to choose which of the free men to block. If he picks the linebacker, that ensures a solid gain and puts Fitz one-on-one with the safety with room to make a move. If he thinks the LB won't make the play then he should block the safety which often leads to long TD runs.
He chooses to go after the safety, which I think is the right choice. But without eyes in the back of his head, he doesn't realize that Fitz is making a beeline towards the sideline.
So he ends up not blocking anybody.
And he knows he's got to hit SOMEBODY. That coulda been a TD.(probably not, as the WR didn't sustain his block).
To the house!
So, did Fitz and Shaw perform a Vulcan mind meld during the bye week? If so, it worked. Fitz was bouncing the play outside all day, and Shaw had what I think is his best run of the year by busting through the line. Someone mentioned that Purdue has a better than average interior D-line (i guess) which would explain some of the bouncing outside. But who told Shaw he could run through tackles?
On this Denard fake jetsweep counter pitch, the boilers are in good position to stop the play for a moderate gain. But they've got two guys who are jogging around waiting for the play to develop instead of attacking the LOS. *cough*JTFloyd*cough*. But look at Molk, He's not really designed to be in this play, he's just hustling to make a block.
Fitz is reading the play and sees the defenders over-run it, so he cuts back. . #3 is in pursuit and should close off the cutback. But Molk and now #75 are following the play.
Fitz sees the two unblocked defenders and breaks down to make a move.
It's just at that moment that Molk catches up and gets a twofer. Schofield is also making himself useful by getting in the way of the pursuit.
#2 is in good position to make the stop, but his momentum is in the wrong direction as Fitz is now running against the grain.
But here's the amazing part. When he sees the lane open up in the middle, he just turns on the jets.
This is the speed we haven't really seen from Fitz on the field. Maybe reports of him being dinged up were true and now he's finally healthy. (He should be after having 3 weeks off).
Shaw's TD came from some improvisation on a simple lead dive.
The boiler DT get's a good push up front to disrupt the play. Hopkins has to help block him instead of getting to the free linebacker. Odoms is coming around for the end around fake that will hold the unblocked end.
Shaw sees that the play side is clogged up, so he cuts back. So now he has to deal with an unblocked safety instead of an unblocked LB => more yards.
The right guard doesn't get the best of blocks and his man starts coming off of him to make the tackle. But Shaw sees just enough daylight to make him decide to accelerate through the hole.
Normally, this is where Shaw falls down for a minimal gain, but on this play he keeps his balance.
And he shows off a little leg strength to fight through the contact.
Then he does what he does best and shows off his top gear outracing the defender to the pylon.
I know I've been critical of him on this blog, but that's because he's very frustrating. Physically he's got all the tools to be a great back, ala Chris Perry. His vision might be half a notch down, and I haven't seen him much in the passing game. But he's got the speed, and if he learned how to harness his talents, he could be making runs like this on a regular basis. Anyway, this was a great run.
- The defense is playing so much better than last year. But the last two games have seen waaaaaay too many arm tackles. I'm not liking that.
- One game is not a season. Playcalling vs. Minnesota, Northwestern, and Purdue was great, creative, and effective. Playcalling vs. MSU, eh ... not so much. I hope this isn't establishing a trend where we have zany fun stuff against Iowa and Illinois and go into a shell against NE and TSIO.
- Rocketman! I didn't notice the helmet on the low quality streams
- The theme for homecoming was something about space, and the wavefield got some love on TV. That wavefield was like a 2nd home for me for 3 years.
I just had the priveledge of going to a relatively exclusive talk by Lloyd Carr sponsored by the Jewish Federation. There were probably 30 of us total, and it was held in the house of a guy who had the idea to host a series of talks/get togethers featuring important people in the jewish/local community. The reason he knows Lloyd is that his house was previously Yost's house, the Little Big House as Yost called it, and Lloyd went to visit once. It was an amazing experience, and truly once in a lifetime. Coach Carr was just as classy and smart as expected, and was very kind. We had a short chat about my school, and he (along with everyone these days) asked me where I was thinking about going to college. This question is asked so much that it usually annoys me, but it was Coach Carr so I was to happy to be talking to him to care. Anyways, on to the good stuff.
He started his talk by giving us a quick activity simulating the fundamental football play - the center-quarterback exchange. He walked us through a QB's cadence, and how complex everything is by saying what a QB would say, and having us all clap at the snap. We had some fun with that, and our group had quite a few false starts.
He then got into some stories he had, starting with some advice Bo gave him-the only people who should affect how he coaches are his assistants. The media and fans shouldn't affect it at all (in other words, haters gonna hate, go with your gut). He talked about his first game, and starting a Scott Dreisbach at QB ("Keep in mind that this kid haden't taken a single snap from under center, he had never played a single game.... In other words, we didn't have experience at the position." that last bit got some laughs), and how this advice helped his decision to keep Dreisbach in the game and eventually win it.
My favorite story was about his experience recruiting under Bo. He talked about one kid, a QB from Chicago, who the assistants were very exited about ("This was a kid who could really have stepped in and made an impact on the team"). Him and Bo went to his house on a visit, and the kid kept ordering his mom around like a maid. After only 5 minutes, Bo said "Well, Lloyd, its time for us to go." Lloyd was absolutely shocked that Bo would want to end the visit that early, but Bo had already gotten up so he went with him. Once they left, Bo asked him how they could expect the kid to respect them as coaches if he didn't even respect his own mother. Similarly, there would be many times when Bo liked a kid, but the assistants really didn't want to use an offer on him. Bo had his way though, and Lloyd said that by the end of that kid's 4 years he was a real player. He may not have been the most athletic, but he became a real contributer to the team because of his toughness and heart.
Then he opened it up to questions, and of course the first one was about RR and how he didn't really get those things that Bo had tought Lloyd. Lloyd did a good job of not really saying much about that specifically, but he did say that when he was coach Bo was always part of the program, and was there for him. Lloyd didn't want to be that guy, so he promised himself to stay out of it for 4 years ("Those 4 years are almost up." I'm not sure if Lloyd really meant he would make a lot more statements after the 4 years, but I'm sure he will become more involved in some way). He didn't really say how this affected RR, but the implication is that there were a lot of times when RR was disconnected with the University's history-whether it be past coaches, or whatever. The one thing he did say about RR was that he didn't really think his offense fit in the Big Ten. "If you look at the best teams in the Big Ten - Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, Penn State1, they are all big tough teams. When they line up, the goal is to wear down the other guy. Under RR, Michigan got smaller and faster. And during his 3 years, his teams consistently wore down half way through the year." I'll leave it up to you guys to judge that statement's validity, but I think its interesting to hear from Lloyd, especially because he's been so silent on the whole thing.
Last but not least, he talked about his charity work. He and his wife do (as we know) a ton for Mott, and plenty of other organizations. He said he chose what organizations to give his time and money to by trust and what they do, and he said he did all he did for these organizations because "Well, I've got nothing better do to" (jokingly).
I'm sure there are some things I'm leaving out, but those were the highlights. I hope you got something out of it, I know I always like when someone retells an account like this on mgoblog.
1 Notice that he didn't name MSU. :D
Today, I went for a walk. I left my central campus apartment and headed south on State St., hoping that if I walked slowly enough, by the time I got to the stadium, there would be someone at the gate to take my ticket and let me in. I seriously even took my ticket along, just in case. I walked because I could not read another word or watch another video about Michigan Football (yes, when it comes to Michigan Football, you capitalize the ‘F’). I had no intention of writing anything, but as I walked, I could not fight the urge.
I walked by the ticket office, and saw a couple dozen people picking up their tickets. “Who could possibly wait until today to pick up their tickets,” I wondered. But then again, I called the ticket office in a panic when a friend’s tickets arrived in the mail and I had not yet received mine yet. I hadn’t even checked my mail yet. They were there. That day, I took out my tickets, snapped a picture on my phone and sent it to my brother, a Michigan alum living in Chicago, who wasn’t as much jealous as excited, and will be here with me as many Saturdays as work will allow this fall.
I walked by Schembechler Hall, and thought of Bo. I never met the man, and am not even old enough to have seen the games he coached live, but have read about and watched everything I can about his legend. I like to think that his handshake could have told you all you needed to know about him. Strength, confidence, a touch of brashness and a genuine human-beingness that makes you try to make up words like human-beingness. Probably what it’s like to shake the hand of a 4th generation plumber, his hands strong from wrenching the steel inner workings of his teams, who loves what he does and couldn’t give a damn if you don’t respect his craft. I thought of how many people’s lives he must have touched, how many large, grown men probably heard the news of his passing, silently walked to a room away from their wives and children, and wept. How his death deeply affected millions of people who probably never got closer to him in person than the confines of Michigan Stadium’s railings would allow. I saw what appeared to be two grandfathers with their grandsons walking to take a peek inside Schembechler Hall. I thought of how one day I hope I’m lucky enough to do the same. To pass on what is one of my greatest passions to another generation like so many have before.
As I walked, I saw a pizza delivery car pass with a Pizza House sign atop its roof, and thought of Rich Rodriguez. A couple friends and I would occasionally go to the coach’s radio show on Thursdays to drink beer, eat pizza and listen to Brandstatter and whomever the guest of the day was. There, I met Rich Rodriguez several times. While I had hot and cold feelings about him throughout his tenure, it becomes much more difficult to dislike a man when you meet him. When he turns to your table in commercial breaks, asks you about your future and jokes that he wishes he could have a beer with you. When he meets you only a couple times, you’re nothing more than another fan, and he remembers your name. When you watch him order the free pizza Pizza House provided him with to take home to his wife and kids. I thought of how, regardless of your feelings on him as a coach, you have to be so thankful that he brought Denard Robinson to this program. A young man who redefines his position, loves playing football more than anything in the world, and encapsulates humility and what you want in a student-athlete in a way that is indescribable. I literally hate that last sentence because it falls so incredibly short of capturing everything great about Denard Robinson. Ronald Bellamy’s Underachieving All Stars does the best job I’ve seen. Brian’s not too bad at it either.
I walked past the Al Glick Field House and noticed something I had not seen before. By the Southeast entrance is a stone sign with ‘2009’ engraved in it. I realized its significance. When myself and everyone reading this are long gone, it will remain. There will be a 232nd year of Michigan Football, and 332nd and on and on. The magnitude of a tradition that great and sacred filled me with pride.
I walked past the field hockey fields and thought of Charles Woodson. Strange, right? But the color and texture of the field reminded me of what used to be at Spartan stadium (yep, they get a lowercase ‘s’ in ‘stadium’) when Charles Woodson went on a solo mission into space and landed perfectly back at Cape Canaveral, with his intergalactic pigskin in tow. The man in black and white stripes who could not even contain his own amazement as he reached back and made the most deliberate first down signal for Michigan I’ve ever seen. “Neutrality be damned,” thought that referee, “that was awesome and deserved to be called like a home plate umpire who rings someone up in the bottom of the 9th of a perfect game in game seven of the World Series on a nasty curveball thrown by Cy Young striking out Babe Ruth.” Except more exciting and historic. (Boom, Fred Jacksoned.) I thought of how Charles Woodson an idol to me in my childhood. How when I recently found a journal from my elementary school days, scribbled in awful penmanship and grossly misspelled was, “My hero is Charles Woodson. He plays cornerback for the Oakland Raiders. He went to the University of Michigan. I am going to go to the University of Michigan.” I thought of Saturday afternoons when I would sit with my friends glued to ABC watching every amazing second of every game, then going out in the brisk autumn evening to throw a football around until it got dark. “I’ll be Charles Woodson,” my friend would say. “No, I will,” I’d argue back. We all wanted to play cornerback. Kids who like football do not grow up wanting to play cornerback. They want to be Joe Montana or Barry Sanders, but after 1997, they wanted to be Charles Woodson, too. When I played football in seventh grade, I was a quarterback and the smallest middle linebacker in the history of the universe, because that’s where my coaches wanted me to play. I was number 24, Sir Charles’ number for the Raiders. I wasn’t number 2 only because one of my best friends on the team had a name before mine in the alphabet and got to pick his jersey number first, that bastard. When I left middle school and they let us have our jerseys, I scribbled ‘Woodson’ on the back with a Sharpie. Obsessed probably doesn’t do it justice.
I turned right and headed down the train tracks. I thought of the men that built those tracks, and I bet they liked Michigan Football. I’ll bet they were the kind of households where if someone asked to watch a different game at halftime, the father would say, “we only watch one team in this house. Michigan.” (I’ll confess I stole that from Rudy. And if the timing of black and white TV and railroad construction and televised football don’t match up, screw you for caring.) I thought of warm apple cider spiked with a little whiskey, bratwursts sizzling and smoking on portable grills, the smell of a cigar or two, and the feeling that everything is right in the world on late chilly fall Saturdays in Ann Arbor.
I walked through the parking lot and was in awe of the pantheon that is Michigan Stadium. Or Cathedral. Or Mecca. There’s something magnificent about a building that’s awe-inspiring even when it’s completely void of its purpose and patrons. Like a church you walk around even though there’s no priest or parishioners in it (if you’re into that kind of thing), Michigan Stadium begs to be explored even when you’d be only one of one in there instead of one of 113,000. I can think of no other stadium in the world I’d rather have my favorite football team call home.
I walked as close as I could to the tunnel and saw the Rose Bowl Years painted by the player entrance and thought of Lloyd. A man who I think I’d be proud to be like as a father. A man who supports Mott’s Children’s Hospital as if every child there is his own. If you asked me who the best football coach in the country was, I wouldn’t have hesitated to say Lloyd Carr, right or wrong. Someone who pretty much anyone would love to play golf with, or just talk life. I’m upset with myself right now for waiting this long to talk about Lloyd. My attention span is waning and there are only so many analogies and adjectives left in the keys right now. Suffice it to say, I’m proud to know that Lloyd Carr was a coach for my favorite team. He’s a great man and a pillar of hope in the sometimes selfish, cold and calculated world of college football. If he ran for political office, I wouldn’t vote for him, but not because I don’t think he’d be good at it, because I think he’s above that world, and I’d want to protect him from it.
I walked a little further, and this long walk reminded me of Brady Hoke. A man who would have walked from San Diego. Yes, it’s been talked about so much by idiots like Drew Sharpe that it’s almost annoying, but I still love it. Because I believe him. Like many people, the Brady Hoke hire was scary for me. I wanted Harbaugh. I don’t resent him for going elsewhere. I kind of wanted Les Miles, but was a little leery. I did not initially want Brady Hoke. I knew who he was only because I am a college football NUT, but I wasn’t excited. Then, he had that press conference. Words can only do so much, but sometimes sincerity and emotion can make a big difference. Brady Hoke belongs at Michigan. He has already achieved his dream. Not just to coach college football, but to be the Head Coach at the University of Michigan. People will feel that. I doubt there will ever be a time when Hoke really wants to talk about how many hours he puts in, because he doesn’t care. Not talking about your new salary until after you quit your old job and move your family across the country is kind of crazy. But it’s not crazy if it’s for your dream. I think he would have accepted a 10th of what he’s earning if that’s all Michigan could have afforded. As long as he could’ve provided for his family, he would have been A-OK with that. You know that question from Office Space about what you would do if you won a million dollars ? What would Brady Hoke do if he won 100 million dollars? He would coach the University of Michigan Wolverines, I think. Also, buy lots of sausage. Maybe commision the invention of a time machine to go and convince Chris Farley never to play that Matt Foley guy. Regardless, I have faith, and maybe it’s partially blind faith, about the direction he’ll take Michigan. But that blind faith is part of what makes being a fan so great. The hope for the future success for your team and the belief, even the deep-rooted feeling of a knowledge that your team will be great again. It also is part of what makes the offseason so painstakingly long.
I walked back up Hoover and decided to write this, knowing it would get me that much closer to tomorrow. And tomorrow, I’ll walk back down State St., surrounded by tens of thousands of people who love and believe in the same thing that I do. That walk will be filled with less thoughts, mostly because I’ll just be awash in excitement and anticipation. But there’s a few vague words or feelings concepts or horribly cliché ideas that will run through my brain. Winning. Pride. Championships. Character. Tradition. Michigan Football.
P.S. In the most uplanned and awesome timing ever, we’re now 24 hours from kickoff.
There’s a widespread theory that Lloyd Carr’s career can be split in two phases: a “good” young Carr and a “senile” old Carr. But is it statistically sound?
If you look at straight winning percentage, this seems, well, inconclusive. But, the argument goes, there’s more to success or failure than just winning more than you lose. There’s whom you beat, and who beats you. There’s wins-versus-expectations-of-wins. There’s where you end up ranked. There’s whether you play in a major bowl game, and if you win it. Most importantly, there are those three pesky rivalries, particularly the one with Columbus.
As some have argued, Carr put really competitive teams on the field early on, but later ones tended to disappoint, to flag late in the game, and to underachieve. The four-game stretch between OSU 2006 and Oregon 2007, it has been said, is the worst in recent memory, and this is mentioned as proof that Lloyd Carr had lost it at the end. But did he really?
You could try answering this with winning percentages, bowl appearances and clever argumentation, but mgoblog is a well-known haven for quantification nerds, whose denizens crave robust new measures that capture things the dinostats can’t. After all, aren’t away wins more dramatic than home wins, and home losses more embarrassing than the away ones? Isn’t it more consequential to lose in-conference than outside of it? Doesn’t it feel just that much better to beat Sparty than Purdue? Notre Dame than Illinois? OSU than everyone? My mission was to create new indices of success, measured across the course of a season, that capture more than just wins and losses—also heights soared to, depths plumbed, the intangibles. I created two, which are related to one another, but capture somewhat different aspects of success or failure.
Constructing the Indices
Constructing the indices begin with regular season games. A baseline score is produced for wins and losses, valued at 10 and 0 respectively. To this baseline measure, a series of intangible weights are added for all regular season games. It’s all a little long-winded for here, but I can make it available to anyone who wants to know. The categories are: 1) Who the opponent is; 2) Relative ranking to UM; 3) Home/away; 4) Margin-of-victory; and 5) Performance versus expectations. All scores are ordinal, so it required some subjective decisions on relative worth of these categories, but the same criteria were applied to each case, so it should be reasonably objective.
Let me break down a couple. The best single-game score for the period 1994-2010 was the ecstatic 1996 win at Ohio State, which received a score of 21:
10 (win) + 5 (OSU) + 3 (top 5 opponent) + 1 (away win) + 0 (win by less than 20) + 2 (performed well above expectations) = 21
The worst single-game score (surprise surprise) is The Horror, which received a score of -8. It breaks down like this:
0 (loss) - 0 (non-conference, non-BCS game) -5 (lower league + FCS opponent) -1 (home loss) -0 (loss by less than 20) -2 (performed well below expectations) = -8
Bowl Games and Ranking Bonuses
Bowl games are treated somewhat differently. On the one hand, it’s not right to penalize a team for what’s basically a value-added bonus to the season. On the other, winning is still better than losing. So scoring looks like this:
+5: making any bowl game
+2: making a BCS bowl game
+5: winning the bowl game
+2: winning a BCS bowl game
+/-2: failing to meet/exceeding expectations (broadly defined)
Some examples: 1997 vs. Washington State = 14; 2001 vs. Tennessee = 3; 2004 vs. Texas = 7; and 2007 vs. Florida = 12.
Ranking bonus averages the final BCS and AP rankings, or if prior to the BCS, the Coaches Poll and AP rankings. It works like this:
Which are then granted a bonus or penalty based on preseason expectations. So the 1996 team, with a preseason ranking of 12/11, and which ended up with a final rank of 20, gets a penalty of 1 for ending up below preseason expectations: 2 – 1 = 1. 1997, which ended up with a rank of 1 (we all know the Coaches’ Poll was fixed), began with a preseason rank of 13/14, so that team gets this bonus: 9 + 2 = 11.
EVG and IVG
Total points are added together, and then divided by the number of games played to produce the expected value per game (EVG). The intangible value per game (IVG) index compares subtracts the baseline value for 10 per win with no intangibles, and 0 per loss with no intangibles from total points, and then divides by number of games played (with a 0 value for a missed bowl game). This measures the intangibles solely. Yes, wins produce more positive scores (and losses negative scores), but this measure basically measures elation minus disappointment. As you’ll see, the distributions are similar, but actually more variant than EVG.
Winning PCT, IVG and EVG by Year, 1995-2007
As you can see, EVG and IVG capture more fluctuation from season to season than straight winning percentage does. IVG is something of a counterbalance to Winning PCT, looking solely at the aforementioned intangibles. EVG takes both into account.
A number of things are immediately apparent.
1. EVG and IVG capture more fluctuations than Winning PCT. Carr had an average winning percentage of 0.753. There were 5 seasons when Carr’s teams beat this average, 2 which were basically at the average, and 6 below it.
By contrast, only 4 seasons beat the average EVG of 9.51, while 9 fell below it (while 5 seasons beat the average IVG of 1.99 in terms of IVG, and 8 fell below it). As you can see, there are more discernable peaks and troughs in these indicators than with straight Winning PCT. EVG in particular appears to successfully capture the big picture while taking the significance of individual games into account.
2. Though The Horror was the single-worst game of the Carr era, 2007 as a whole wasn’t Carr’s worst season. It was still on the bottom half of the Carr years, but in terms of EVG it was third worst, after 2001 and 2005. In terms of IVG, it was only fourth worst, after 2001, 2002 and 2005. By EVG, 2005 was Carr’s worst season; by IVG, it’s 2002.
3. Carr’s career does not divide neatly into a “good” early period and a “senile” later period. As the figures show, Carr’s career had four peaks—1997, 1999, 2003 and 2006. By both measures, 1997 was far and away his best season. I had thought that the intangibles might have elevated Tom Brady’s near-NC year in 1999 and/or the Navarre-led 2003 squad that lost to (compliance-dodging) AP national champion USC in the Rose Bowl above the 2006 squad, but they don’t. 2006 scores as Carr’s second best according to Winning PCT and IVG, and third according to EVG. What’s more, when I ran a regression of EVG and IVG by year for 1995-2007, neither produced a statistically significant result, meaning there’s no clear upward or downward trend over time during this period.* Unless we decide to completely ignore the great 2006 team, or some of the disappointing teams from earlier in his career, the good/senile theory looks like a myth we can safely bust.
4. Carr’s teams were most consistent in the middle of his tenure. In terms of EVG, we can say that the years 1995-2000 were more consistent, and less prone to dramatic fluctuations from year to year, than 2001-2007. While not quite good/senile, this does potentially lend itself to critical arguments. With IVG, there’s a sustained trough in the middle (1998-2002), which reflects higher expectations due to the 1997 national championship and too many losses to Michigan State, Notre Dame and marquee non-conference opponents. That makes them the most disappointing stretch of years, when solely considering results versus expectations. That jives with what I remember, especially the 1999 team, my sentimental favorite of the Carr years and one that got so tantalizingly close, but just didn’t make it. 2005 and 2007 also factor in as IVG troughs, but are broken up by 2006, which got a very high IVG score.
So what does this all mean? Some things should already be obvious—Carr had some good years and some bad years, The Horror was horrific, 1997 was awesome, etc. On the other hand, the strongly suggest the “early good/late senile” theory is a myth. Statistically speaking, it didn’t shake out that way. Doesn’t mean we can’t, or shouldn’t, criticize some aspects of Carr’s head coaching career—but let’s look at it dispassionately. The man gave us some great years, and some disappointing ones; they were just more evenly distributed than we remember them.
If enough people want, I’ll do a second round looking at only Big 10 games for Carr. Additionally, I’ve already collected the data for Rodriguez’s 3 years, and thought I could do Moeller’s 4 as well. It’s a lot of work, so I doubt I’ll ever expand to include other teams, though if anyone else finds it interesting enough, I’d be happy to share the methodology.
*True, this violates assumptions of sufficient randomness and sample size, so it’s not conclusive. But it does show that there’s no evident trend among the small number of data points we have.
Coach Carr was the Grand Marshall at today's NASCAR event at MIS. Not sure if anyone else caught it, but I'll have some video to update late. No use of "Tremendous", but he looked pretty good and very ethusiastic!