to play football, not to play trumpet
Harbaugh wants Michigan to have a dominant run game, and that starts with the OL learning to play together and with precision. The starting 5 appear to be set, but he's not naming names.
Could one of the resident MGoFootballExperts please explain why it is that tackles are so much more highly valued than guards? I understand why they'd be a bit more valued, but why is a great OT worth so much more than a great OG, and why are tackles so much harder to replace?
I ask because my NFL team, the Washington NFL franchise, drafted a guard this year and the DC press has surprisingly mixed feelings. This despite the fact that he is, by all accounts I've seen, a skilled beast and the best offensive lineman in the draft. And Washington needs help in the middle! Scherff could start right away! But people are saying that it's just not worth taking a guard with the fifth overall pick. Why not?
Reading all of the debate about the offensive line and the running game, I decided to do some research about the matter. I looked at the 2013 and 2014 YPC and adjusted them against the opponents YPC allowed. I also looked at sacks allowed, and compared them to the opponents average.
Note: I used YPC as a way to control for tempo, and it helps to find a common link between each game. For reference, I added the opponents rushing YPC rank along the y-axis. They are chronological-- CMU is the top and KSU is the bottom of 2013, and App State is the top for 2014.
To start with, I looked at Michigan's total YPC against each team. I then took this number and subtracted each opponents YPC allowed. I outputted this information into a graph, below. Values above 0 are good, values below 0 are bad.
The previous graph shows that out of our 13 games, we rushed better than the opponents average 6 times, and worse 7 times. However, only 2 times did we rush over 1 YPC more than the opponents average. On the flipside, 5 teams held us to 1 YPC less than their average or worse, with 2 teams obliterating us. It appears, IMO, that UCONN found our weakness and other teams after were able to capitalize.
Additionally, Minnesota (at 90th) and Indiana (at 117th) were poor run defense that shut us down. The final 2 games are a bit surprising. OSU can be chalked up to a rivalry game, or so I thought, but even with our backup QB we rushed decently against KSU (though only on 15 attempts).
The following graph shows the same data, but for this year. Some caveats apply: Only 6 games played thus far, with a large portion against poor teams, for instance.
From here, we can see that 2 teams have done better against us than their average, but not by nearly as much as 2013. Additionally, we have done a better job against the defenses we should, and even have an above average performance against what appears to be a good run defending team (Utah).
These numbers are subject to change throughout the season, but there appears to be a window for at least some hope.
Next, I looked at sacks allowed by our OL. Again, I subtracted the defenses average sacks from this number (adjusting it by taking out sacks against us). I did this here to get a view of how we stacked up against their other opponents.
Note: I also did these same graphs without adjusting (by taking out our sacks), and the charts are still roughly the same. The numbers skew a bit, but the trend is still there. Also, the numbers along the y-axis are the opponents rank for sacks per game.
The following graph is from 2013. Here, numbers below 0 are considered good, and numbers above 0 are considered bad.
Similar to the YPC chart, we started better and finished better, but struggled hard in the middle. We gave up an above average amount of sacks against teams ranked 100 and 103, and our best performance was against a team ranked 48. It is understandable to give up some sacks to Nebraska (20), but the amount is concerning. UCONN was the 100th team, by the way, again suggesing that they exposed a huge weakness.
The 2014 chart is next. This is subject to change much more, as the competition and small sample size make a more complete picture.
Thus far, the line appears to actually be doing a much better job of avoiding sacks, compared with how the opponents are playing against other teams. This is even against the 1st and 8th best teams as far as average sacks go. Utah, for instance, is averaging 5.6 sacks per game against everyone, and we "held" them to 4. Rutgers is averaging 4, and we "held" them to 3. Notre Dame is the lone exception this time, and I would contend that is more a product of having the lead that they did and didn't have to worry about us running nearly as much.
And lastly, I looked at a combination of the above. I took the sacks out of the rushing stats, and recalculated both our YPC and the opponents YPCA. The 2013 graph is shown below.
This actually looks worse to me. Now, we only have 4 performances above the average, and one just barely.
The 2014 one is next:
Here instead, we are now below average only once. Our rutgers performance is a bit weaker now, as is Utah, but the other performances are better than in the previous graph.
You are free to draw your own conclusions from these. There is obviously a lot more football to be played, but the early numbers are looking decent. We are running better against better defenses, and actually performing better than average against a couple aggressive defenses. I think the sacks above average might start getting closer to 0 as we move into conference play, but that will be something to keep an eye on.
If you have any suggestions, comments, criticism, etc., please feel free to share. If there is interest, I will try and update this post as the season continues (assuming I have the time to do so).
UPDATE: I have added in a similar analysis using sack percentage. Thank you for the suggestion. I have also done an analysis on YPC, and sack % after the first 6 games from last year as a comparison.
The first graph is for the 2013 sack percentage above average. Negative numbers are good while positive numbers are bad.
As you can see, we still have 6 good performances and 7 poor performances. Unfortunately, all games against an opponent worse than 100 we did poor against. And again, it looks like we had some flaws exposed, but this time it suggests we might actually have done something at the end to fix them. Whether that is scheme, or players just producing and developing, I cannot say.
The numbers so far for 2014 are shown now.
Here, we see that our Rutgers performance was worse than the first analysis shows, and the Minnesota numbers become average. I'm not worried about the average Minnesota numbers because it was just one sack. The Rutgers number scares me a bit more, but if you look at the context I'm not sure it should. We were playing a night game on the road, like against ND. This time, though, we allowed just one sack in the second half, and that was on our opening drive of the 2nd half. Yes, we don't want to give up 3 sacks on those few passing attempts, but just throughout the game we saw some improvement IMO.
Next, I looked at the sack percentage from 2013, but looked at just how our first 6 opponents faired in their first 6 games.
We can see from this that the trends stay mostly in line, surprisingly. The CMU game and the Akron games look better here than they end up, and the UCONN game looks worse. The other games stay about where they are.
Finally, I did the same YPC analysis above, where I took out sacks, and looked at the first 6 games.
What we see is that the first 2 games look better here (CMU and ND), as do the last 2 (Minnesota and PSU). The middle two stayed roughly the same. The game against ND shifted by about 1.25 YPC. I think that this shows that this isn't quite as good as it looked initially, but I don't want to make any sweeping conclusions here.
I wanted to add that I used data from cfbstats.com, and I got the rankings from teamrankings.com.
It is clear that in the absence of DR, we have had a pretty bad running game the last 3 1/4 years and very inconsistent offense. The common thread has been the awful play by our offensive line. It is safe to say that Nuss made a mistake in not making change for the OL coach. I would guess that if he had insisted on bringing his own OL coach, Hoke would have gone along. He does not have a long history with Hoke.
Hello. First Diary entry, woo! [ EDIT: Lol nope, my 2nd. forgot about the one I did in '09]
So, when the offensive line struggles, the claim is frequently made that the offensive line is too small. I heard this alot on call-in radio shows during the RR era, and it's starting to creep back into style, or so it seems to me.
So, I thought let's see just how big Michigan's line is compared to the rest of the B1G. I basically went through every B1G teams site, got the roster and then checked the game participation notes from the most recent game they were in to see who was listed as starting on the OL.
I then computed the average weight of the OL for that team/game.
Notes: I didn't include any TE's or FB. Just from one tackle to the other.
I didn't check for situation subs (unbalanced lines, etc.)
I went by weight alone, didn't look at height. Perhaps I should have gone by body mass index?
Would be nice to do a comparison of games played / experience as well. Maybe next time.
Also some teams rather suspiciously seemed to have players weights in exact increments of 5 pounds. Some teams roster's were worse than others in this regard. But the roster is all I really have to go on, so, it is what it is.
So, here is the sorted list of average weight of offensive lines in the Big Ten.
*If Kalis is in UM's line instead of Glasgow, the average drops to 301.0
Michigan is smack right in the middle. No surprise Wisconsin is tops, by a relatively large margin. Iowa, a somewhat run-first offense, is surprisingly near the bottom. Indiana's potent offense is also only at 295.
The most notable thing here is probably that in terms of weight most lines are roughly the same.
So IMO this shows that Michigan's line isn't undersized. To some this may not be a big deal, but I've always bristled at the claims of UM's line being small for a reason for them struggling. I always felt that is just a knee jerk superficial criticism. It's kind of a pet peeve and I wanted to dispel any such notion.
Raw data below
52 Mason Cole OL 6-5 292 FR
78 Erik Magnuson OL 6-6 294 RS SO
60 Jack Miller OL 6-4 299 RS JR
61 Graham Glasgow OL 6-6 311 RS JR
71 Ben Braden OL 6-6 322 RS SO
67 Kyle Kalis OL 6-5 298 RS SO
average weight: 303.6
w/Kalis instead of Glasgow: 301.0
LT 71 Lewis, Alex 290
LG 68 Cotton, Jake 305
C 56 Pelini, Mark 290
RG 74 Moudy, Mike 305
RT 57 Sterup, Zach 320
LT 66 Cermin, Cameron 303
LG 72 King, Jason 309
C 57 Kugler, Robert 298
RG 70 Roos, Jordan 312
RT 73 Prince, J.J. 302
LT 68 Cvijanovic, S. 310
LG 5H Hill, Alex 310
C 71 Spencer, Joe 300
RG 69 Karras, Ted 310
RT 74 Heitz, Michael 310
LT 65 Campion, Josh 317
LG 52 Epping, Zac 318
C 58 Olson, Tommy 306
RG 77 Bush, Foster 304
RT 78 Lauer, Ben 315
LT 78 Jorgensen, Paul 295
LG 53 Mogus, Geoff 295
C 66 Vitabile, B. 300
RG 57 Frazier, Matt 290
RT 76 Olson, Eric 290
LT 68 Scherff, B. 320
LG 79 Welsh, Sean 285
C 63 Blythe, Austin 290
RG 65 Walsh, Jordan 290
RT 78 Donnal, Andrew 305
LT 68 Decker, Taylor 315
LG 65 Elflein, Pat 300
C 50 Boren, Jacoby 285
RG 54 Price, Billy 312
RT 76 Baldwin, Darryl 307
RT 59 Nelson, Andrew 305
RG 53 Dowrey, Derek 323
C 66 Mangiro, Angelo 309
LG 70 Mahon, Brendan 292
LT 76 Smith, Donovan 335
74 Jack Conklin OT 6-6 303 SO
63 Travis Jackson OL 6-4 291 SR
66 Jack Allen C 6-2 299 JR
76 Donavon Clark OL 6-4 306 JR
79 Kodi Kieler OL 6-6 304 SO
average weight: 300.6
61 Marz, Tyler OL 6-5 321 RS JR
73 Lewallen, DallasOL 6-6 321 RS SR
70 Voltz, Dan OL 6-3 311 RS SO
54 Costigan, Kyle OL 6-5 319 RS SR
78 Havenstein, Rob OL 6-8 333 RS SR
LT 78 Spriggs, Jason 300
LG 68 Kaminski, David 295
C 64 Rahrig, Collin 285
RG 67 Feeney, Dan 305
RT 62 Evans, Ralston 290
T 76 Dunn 300
G 68 Altamirano 290
C 65 Conaboy 295
G 66 Zeller 310
T 55 Doyle 300
Because the one thing we haven't done is talk about the OL enough this offseason, I would like to address some misconceptions about what OL recruting rankings actually mean and what it takes to play OL on the collegiate level.
First up on the mound, recruiting rankings. Recruiting sites rate offensive lineman on pro potential, not college readiness and "pro protential" for a high school lineman is bascally looking at your frame (aka height and arm length) and how well you move your feet. This is why a guy like LTT, who barely knows what he's doing can be a consensus 4*. Scouts saw long arms, wide hips, light feet and 6'7" and named him one of the top 10 high school tackles in the country and all he did to earn that ranking was grow, it had almost nothing to do with his play on the field. When sites say Kyle Kalis is "college ready," they mean he is 6'5" and has 300 lbs of good weight and that's about it. These guys are graded on the physical part of the game which is only about 10% of what it takes to be a good lineman. HOWEVER, it is important because it is the first 10% and if you can't hold up physically, it doesn't matter how good the rest of your game is because DL will just bench press you out of the way as seen here. Joey Burzynski(LG) is stiff armed by CJ Olaniyan and gets no movement. While it helps, having an NFL body is not required to be good in college and there are plenty of examples of players who dominate in college but struggle to make NFL rosters (see David Molk). What makes those guys special is the level of technique they play with and the ability to anticipate the defense.
Which brings us to the main point of this diary, OL play is basically football math. Think of every play as a math problem, and offensive lineman have to figure the solution to the problem in their heads presnap, while alsonknowing the problem may change as soon as the ball is snapped, meaning that they have to figure out the solution to the problem at hand and anticipate every way it can change and solve those problems as well, all in the space off the few seconds they have once the defense aligns. This is why a certain long haired blogger we all know and love screams at his television every fall Saturday for the offense to hurry to the line of scrimmage, so the line (and the QB) can have more time to solve the defensive equation. Every second not at the line of scrimmage solving the defense is a second wasted, and a win for the defense.
College OL play is like Calculus, and 95% of lineman come into college with a just basic understanding of simple arithmetic(Addition, subtraction, mulitplication and division) and some come in basically knowing how to count (LTT). This is because the vast majority of high school offensive line coaches have the equivelent of an 8th grade education in line concepts if they're lucky and the physical advantage a lot of these guys have in high school makes the equations they face pretty easy. At that stage, it is about 80-90% physical and 10-20% mental, because the DL that can challenge them physically are few and far between and overpowering guys doesn't take much brain power. Once they get to college, the physical advantage goes away and defensive equations get much more complicated and they have to realize that they have to learn real math, which can be shocking to some guys. It is the job of the offensive line coach to take these guys who are coming in at some level of elementary school math and get them up to speed. They have to learn the high school level concepts of algebra (run blocking), geometry(identifying who to block) and precalc (pass blocking) before they can even dream of doing calculus i.e. getting on the field. Every different play and protection scheme has its own set of techniques and they change for every different front the defense throws at you. Offensive line man have to know what foot to step with first, in what direction and how far, what their aiming point is, who they are supposed to block, how they are supposed to block them when they get there, where each hand goes, where their head goes, and where their eyes should be looking, all while remembering to play with good knee bend and pad level. All of this has been calculated down to inch level precision and each mistake opens you up to exploitiation by the defense so you have to be perfect, and even then there is no guarantee that the play is successful because everyone else has to do their job too. And they have to learn all that so well that they can do it in their heads so fast they barely think about it, because if every play is a Calc problem, you can't be struggling with the algebra because there is no way you can solve and execute the solution in time to make your block. This largley is what lineman are doing their first 2-3 years on campus, along with getting in the weight room, and why they shouldn't see the field on a good team. For most guys, things start to click in their 3rd year on campus, which explains why most players on the line who meets this criteria under Funk have at least put forth solid production.
Last year, Borges demanded that a line where the most experience guard (post GG to center) was a RS FR, the equivelent of about a High School Sophomore mathematically, to solve differential equations, limits, integrals and applied calculus. The young guys understandably got overwhelmed and didn't improve as much as they could have and when they didn't, they got taken out, further stalling said improvement. That is one the biggest reasons we have a new OC, because the responsiblity of a Coordinator is to put their players in the best possible position to succeed and Borges didn't do that nearly enough. What we don't is if Funk is a good Math teacher because this will be the first year the 2012 class (his first full class) should be expected to fully understand what they are doing. The only players Funk has had the oppurtunity to mold from scratch are Glasgow and Miller, Glasgow has worked out well and Miller didn't meet the requirements for the physical 10%, which is not on anybody but Miller. Whether they come in as a 5* (Kalis, Kugler), 4*(LTT, Bosch, Dawson, Mags, Cole) or even a 3* (Braden, Samuelson) they all must learn the mental part of the game to have any sort of positive production.
What we should be looking for this year if fot the RS Sophomores to be around where Glasgow and Schofield were in 2013 and 2011 respectively. By the Ohio game we should have a middling B1G OL, we won't be good, but we shouldn't be the tire fire of last year either. I think we had the possibility of being 10-1 heading to Columbus with a loss at MSU and competing for a title. If we see more of what we saw last year, it is probably time to start looking for a new OL coach.
EDIT: Space Coyote actually has two great write up on pass blocking techniques and schemes on Maize 'N' Brew: