These days you can’t open your web browser without finding a discussion of the paranoia that awaits our fellow citizens in 2017……and by that I mean the Michigan offensive line depth chart. (No politics!) The dire nature of this situation really struck me this week after I saw the following things pop up on my favorite Michigan blogs:
- Touch the Banner posted about the fate of every OL recruit for the past several years. In that piece and also in the comments there were discussions about what went wrong.
- Then over at 247 you hear about the minimal chance of Newsome making it back on the field this year, robbing Michigan of its only true LT on the roster and some valuable experience.
- That results in Brian speculating that we’re in for a Bredeson/Kugler/Cole/Onwenu/??? starting five who are backed up with freshmen and guys that have never seen the field.
On top of that, in his “This week in MGoBlog History” piece Maize.Blue Wagner links to a post-Rose Bowl breakdown from Brian in 2007 that talks about the offensive line being the weak link on the team that USC was able to exploit.
Think about that for a moment. A full decade ago this very blog was wringing their hands about how our offensive line performance and recruiting had declined to become the weak link on the team. That was under late-era Lloyd Carr. How are we STILL talking about this ten years later???
To help put this in perspective, Michigan had three OL drafted in 2001 in the first 43 picks – Hutchinson, Backus, and Williams. All of those players went on to have long and productive NFL careers. In the 15 drafts since then, here are the draft picks from the OL position:
- 2004 - Tony Pape #221 (never really played)
- 2005 – David Baas #33 (solid NFL career)
- 2008 – Jake Long #1 (solid, if short NFL career)
- 2011 – Stephen Schilling #201 (brief NFL career)
- 2012 – David Molk #226 (brief NFL career)
- 2014 – Tayor Lewan #11 (off to a good start)
- 2014 – Michael Schofield #95 (too soon to tell)
- 2016 – Graham Glasgow #95 (too soon to tell)
So it took 15 years for Michigan to match the number of top picks that they had in 2001 and of the guys on that list there isn’t a single one that could match the careers of those guys from 2001 (pending the outcome of the young guys). Wow. Besides a few glimmers of hope during the Rodriguez and Hoke era we continue to find ourselves terrified of the depth chart and development of our OL headed into Harbaugh’s third year with the program, a full 15 years later.
Based on the links above, I set about trying to figure out WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN with our 2017 depth chart. I say “should” instead of “could” to make a specific distinction. Things like injuries and off-field issues are completely unpredictable and in an ideal utopia they SHOULD not happen. Things like “Kyle Kalis is the most sure thing OL prospect and will be awesome” COULD have happened, but it didn’t despite being healthy and available his entire career. In other words, what COULD have happened was for some of the recruits to be the studs we thought these past few years and we’d be entering a season with Kugler, Dawson, and other upper classmen dominating on the line. Likewise, we COULD have recruited Ethan Pocic or another star, but it didn’t happen.
Let’s instead look at more of the “fate” side of things and look at what the line SHOULD look like if all of the pieces fell in place due to things outside of the team’s control.
Left Tackle –
- Projected Starter = Ben Bredeson (So, 0.5 years experience)
- Should-be Starter = Grant Newsome (Jr, 1.0 years experience)
- Comment = This assumes Newsome didn’t get the gruesome injury and would be entering his second year as a starter as a true left tackle prospect.
Left Guard –
- Projected Starter = Kugler (Sr, 0.0 years experience)
- Should-be Starter = Kyle Bosch (Sr, 2.5 years experience)
- Comment = Bosch left the team for off-field issues but turned into an all-B12 performer for WVU this past season. Had he worked things out at Michigan he would be entering 2017 as probably our best offensive lineman.
- Projected Starter = Mason Cole (Jr, 2.0 years experience)
- Should-be Starter = Mason Cole
- Comment = Instead of partnering with Bosch to form a dominating pair of experienced upperclassmen, he’s the lone experienced starter on the line and has to be a star for us to have any hope of holding this together.
Right Guard –
- Projected Starter = Michael Onwenu (So, 0.0 years experience)
- Should-be Starter = Bredeson/Kugler/Onwenu
- Comment = This gets a little tricky, but is actually a luxury. By having the other four positions locked down in this fictional universe, the RG spot becomes a free-for-all between the veteran Kugler and two top prospects coming off of their red-shirt years. The likely pick is Bredeson based on what we know. This has the added side effect that Onwenu could move to NT for a season to fill that void since he isn’t needed on the OL.
Right Tackle –
- Projected Starter = Uh…..Nolan Ulizio? (RFr, 0.0 years experience)
- Should-Be Starter = Logan Tulley-Tillman (Sr,1.0 years experience)
- Comment = LTT got into trouble and found himself off the team instead of being in line to be the starter at RT next year. He may have beaten out Newsome in 2016 had he not been stupid. He probably was not projected to be a star, but he at least projected to be a solid veteran starter.
There you have it. Brian’s projected line has three first-year starters, just 2.5 years of starting experience, and a guy playing out of position in Bredeson. In our ideal world situation, we have just one first-year starter that will emerge from a good battle, a healthy 6.5 years of starting experience, no one out of position, redshirts on all of the freshmen, and Onwenu available to play back-up NT.
While we know that OL projections from high school to college are probably the least accurate of any position, physical development is a wild-card, and coaching is critical……the conclusion from this analysis is that fate is also a bitch. This is why you always want 4-5 recruits in every class because you never know what will happen. Let’s hope Harbaugh and Drevno can work some magic this off-season with these guys.
During the WTKA show this morning, the offensive line was brought up in a slightly negative way. I started to think back to when Michigan having a great offensive line was an afterthought, and was basically asumed before any given season started. So my question to the board is, what was the best offensive line you have seen during your time as Michigan fan?
Picture of Steve Hutchinson just for the hell of it:
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.