My first reaction to flipping on to the Big Ten Network was why?!?!
Then, I decided to watch it for historical purposes because I am that desperate for football to start.
One, I'm probably one of those guys here last fall who made Brian do the GI Joe "Kung Fu Grip" thing with his fists.
Two, I pissed off many here with my-Aykroydian Point/Counterpoint response to someone's diary post last November, here, in which I attempted to quantify why despite all the glorious yards last year's offense racked up, it wasn't great, or even good. Scoring DOES SO matter -- you're dead wrong on that point, Brian. It's the whole point of the exercise on offense -- to score. And amazingly, as I pointed out last fall, last year's team wasn't any better at scoring in the first halves of Big Ten games than the 2008 Sheridan/Threet offense. For pointing that out, I was emaciated for my "dishonest" and unfair and amateur statistical acumen, and for my selectivity in looking up only first-half stats of Big Ten games when my intention was to, uh, look up the first-half stats of Big Ten games -- when the damn things tended to be decided in the RR era.
Third, for those who don't know, and despite my criticisms of the 2010 offense in particular, I was and remain a big supporter of Rich Rod's. The guy got a bum deal, was undermined from the get-go. And I wanted his spread offense to fly -- like so many of you, I was way more than ready for its arrival. But all his sins on defense (primarily his selection of, and handling of, his defensive coaches) count as one of his two biggest self-inflicted wounds. The other was his inability to get his team -- even his beloved, potentially dazzling offense -- to play without making so many inevitable killer mistakes (and on offense, not just mistakes by his first-year QBs). There was a disconnect between what he was trying to accomplish on offense and defense.
The 2010 offense:
In November I wasn't, and still am not, prepared to say the 2010 M offense was great. Or even good. It's a results-based world, folks, and last year RR's offense made so many mistakes -- by second- and third-year starters, not just Denard -- that it did not score enough when the game was in the balance. Because when it mattered against the five toughest Big Ten opponents (MSU, Iowa, PSU, Wisc, OSU) -- that is, when the game was anybody's to win early on in those games -- the Michigan offense wasn't good. Wasn't good at scoring. And more often than Brian and many of you probably think, or are willing to admit, it wasn't even often good at moving the damn ball at all. Just as often happened in 2009 in such games, Michigan's get-go success in the first half at moving the ball vs The Big FIve of the Big Ten didn't result in many points, didn't last, and would usually result in the offense going stone cold before halftime. Meantime, of course, our defenders played as 11 turnstiles under some awful coaching. Result? Huge halftime deficit. Happened in all five of those games last fall. But, boy, when we fell behind by two to three touchdowns, hooboy! Our offense became an unstoppable buzzsaw, right? Well, except against MSU and Ohio State. But, hey, everybody wants to believe that no one could stop the offense in the second half, so I'll leave it alone.
And so. To the real point of this diary....
Earlier today, I read Brian's most recent post on Denard and the shotgun, in which he revisited this whole issue, and said in part: "There are three reasons for the gap between points and yards: field position, field goal kicking, and turnovers. The latter two combined to see Michigan's redzone scoring rate rank 109th nationally. The first two are almost entirely out of the offense's control...."
I recall having the feeling last fall that the lack of a decent field goal kicker wasn't that awful an issue, because it seemed we were often converting those fourth-downs when a normal team would attempt a field goal. Today I decided to peruse the play-by-play of the eight Big Ten games last fall to see if that hunch was correct.
It was ... more than even I dared believe.
By my count from the official play-by-play logs, the Michigan offense attempted 16 fourth-down conversions in Big Ten play last fall. Nine were either obvious go-for-its (e.g. trailing by 21 to MSU in the 4th quarter, with a 4th-and-10 on the MSU 28, when every team in America would eschew the FG attempt), or UM was not in FG range (e.g. at Purdue, 2nd quarter, 4th-and-1 at UM 46).
The other seven fourth-down attempts I am dividing into two groups: (1) FG is the likeliest option and only a riverboat gambling coach or a team without a FG kicker would go for it, and (2) FG is only a possible option, either because it'd be very long, or because there was only 1 yard to gain for a first down so going for it is a viable option. The results:
|FOE||QUARTER||SCORE||4th and ...||4th DOWN OUTCOME||DRIVE OUTCOME|
|MSU||1st||0-0||3 @ MSU 28||4-yd rush, 1st down||FG|
|Illinois||2nd||14-21||6 @ Illinois 30||Incomplete||Illinois takes over|
|OSU||1st||0-0||8 @ OSU 28||Incomplete||OSU takes over|
|FOE||QUARTER||SCORE||4th and ...||4th DOWN OUTCOME||DRIVE OUTCOME|
|Iowa||1st||0-0||1 @ Iowa 29||8-yd rush||M touchdown|
|PSU||2nd||7-14||1 @ PSU 13||3-yd rush||FG|
|Illinois||2nd||7-14||9 @ Illinois 33||complete for TD||M touchdown|
|OSU||2nd||0-10||2 @ OSU 34||complete for 13||M touchdown|
Bottom line? If we had tried FGs on all seven of those drives last year, even if we had Adam Vinatieri circa 2002 [Ed-M: or Jason Hanson, ever. /Lionsfan] and he went 7-for-7, the most UM could have scored was 21 points.
As it was? UM got 27 points out of those drives. Six more points.
1. We were all correct when we began screaming early last season for Rich Rodriguez to just go for it on 4th down every time in the red zone.
2. Brady Hoke should continue this practice, forever, unless Adam Vinatieri [/Hanson] can lose 10 years off his legs and regain some college eligibilty.
3. So much for the lack of a FG kicker hurting the offensive scoring output of last year's offense, because it actually HELPED it to score more points than it would have otherwise.
4. Brian is down to two factors to explain UM's lack of offensive scoring output -- poor field position, and turnovers.
We can all dredge up whatever stats we want to, but seven months of digesting last fall's regular season has led me to this conclusion: RichRod's spread offense is a thing of beauty ... when it works. His version of the spread, with his UM players, seemed to work best against bad defenses, and bogged down when it mattered against decent to good defenses. It was sometimes a sumbitch of an offense last year in the second half, when UM usually trailed and trailed badly. But you can't find any statistic to explain how a team with a three-score lead plays softer on D, which schematic decision plays right into the spread offense's strategic aims. That, to me, explains to a certain extent why last year against Big Ten teams UM in the second half scored touchdowns more times (16, excluding Illionis OTs) than it punted (12). On its own that is an amazing statistic. But it's more than offset by the fact that in first halves, UM scored 12 TDs compared to 14 punts, 6 lost fumbles and 5 INTs; FGs made and missed were even, shockingly (3-3).
The lack of a decent RB and the mistakes -- the damn inevitable mistakes -- are what kept RichRod's offense last year from greatness. Not the defense. Go pore over the play-by-play of the MSU, Iowa and Ohio State games. Those games were there for the taking until midway through the 2nd quarter. Even the Penn State and Wisconsin games were close at that point. But then the M offense sputtered and became almost as dead as the defense until halftime in those games.
The UM defense actually played pretty well in the 1st quarter of the MSU, Iowa and Ohio State games. Look it up. Indeed, there was nothing in those pivotal three losses to prevent UM from jumping out to a big lead and forcing the other team to play catchup .. except a good or great scoring offense.
Might this year's team, with a grizzled Denard, have truly been dynamic -- "great"? If a real Big Ten-quality RB had emerged, and RR was able to drastically reduce all the damn mistakes, then yes, it very well could have. Alas.....
The Omaha World Herald's Nebraska football blog, Big Red Today, recently interviewed U-M legend Desmond Howard as part of their ongoing Big Ten Roundup. Never short of an opinion, Howard shares his thoughts on a wide range of topics including Jim Tressel, NCAA rules, Reggie Bush, and Michigan's coaching change.
On Michigan's transition with Brady Hoke:
I don't think Rich Rodriguez was a bad coach. I don't think he was a bad guy. He did the best he could. It just wasn't a good fit. I think Brady Hoke is a much better fit. He understands the culture. He's coached here before. I think it's his dream job. You want someone there that pretty much wants to die there. This is like their end game. I believe that's how Brady Hoke feels about the Michigan job. He was a guy who said he would've walked from San Diego State to Ann Arbor. That's kind of what you want in that position.
Click here to read the entire interview: http://omaha.com/article/20110620/BIGRED/706209847/-1#interview-with-an-icon-desmond-howard
The highly anticipated new book by John U. Bacon that tells the story of Rich Rodriguez's turbulent tenure as Michigan football head coach is now available for pre-order at Amazon.com.
Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football will put you back $17.35 and ships Oct 25, 2011. Interestingly, based on the front cover that appears on the site, the book had a previous title: Third and Long: Three Years with Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines. As noted in the comments below, the new title is clearly more evocative of the reality of the last three years.
Here's the blurb:
The national spotlight never strays from the University of Michigan football team. More people have seen the Wolverines play football—in person and on TV—than any other team in the nation. Michigan boasts the most wins, the best winning percentage, the biggest stadium, the most alumni, the most heated rivalries, and the richest tradition in the game. As their famed fight song proclaims, the Wolverines are "Victors valiant . . . conqu’ring heroes."Or they were, until 2008. The brilliant but star-crossed Rich Rodriguez led the young Wolverines through three of the program’s toughest seasons. With the entire sports world watching, they enjoyed thrilling victories and suffered heartbreaking losses, often falling short in the winner-take-all struggle of big-time college football. Day after day for three years, John U. Bacon watched the drama unfold, from the sidelines to the locker room to the meeting rooms and even the homes of the players and coaches. No sportswriter has ever been granted more intimate access to a top-flight college football program. Now Bacon—an award-winning journalist and coauthor of Bo’s Lasting Lessons—has written a narrative saga in the vein of Friday Night Lights and Season on the Brink.His story is one of hopes raised and dashed; of reputations pumped up, then punctured; and of coaches and youngsters striving to satisfy the demands of a culture that values winning above all else.
Not sure I agree with that last sentence, but whatever. While you're at it, order Dhani Jones' new book: The Sportsman: Unexptected Lessons from an Around-the-World Sports Odyssey discussed here and get the free shipping deal.
[Ed.: I agree with the commenters below that point out that the book's title as published is "Three and Out" and that "Third and Long" must have been a working title that was rejected. The OP was edited to account for this.]
"The biggest thing (is) you can't be changing defenses every year," Carr said on the Sports Pen on ESPN 970-AM. "The players need to learn a system, and you can't learn a system if you're changing every year. (Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison's) brought in the 4-3 defense, and I think we've got to recruit some bigger players."
Rodriguez's offensive and defensive systems were predicated on smaller, quicker players. Many questioned the wisdom of using those players in the Big Ten, where tradition (and weather) generally dictates the use of bigger, stronger players.
"We've been a very, very small team for the last three years," Carr said. "In this conference, to play championship football, you need big people because you're gonna play against big people almost every single week. And when you're a much smaller team, you're gonna wear down, you're gonna get beat up, and you're not gonna be able to finish a season.
"In this conference, it's at the end of the season that you have to be strong if you're going to do the types of things and have the kind of seasons that we've always aspired to have here."
Click here to read the full article: http://www.mlive.com/wolverines/index.ssf/2011/05/lloyd_carr_on_espn_970...
*** WARNING: Freep article ***
I'm not posting this to bash the Freep or to increase the odds that Section 1 blows an O-ring, although I think the guy is probably at risk for that. Maybe someone could modify his hosts file and redirect him to something happy.
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Here's some of what RichRod had to say when honored at Glenville State:
In case that doesn't work:
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Bring out your animated dead horse GIFs. :)