this guy evidently hired to work for AD
Hoke notes coming on Monday. Apologies for minimal editing, but I'm eager to leave the living hell that is McCormick Place.
Why does Denard smile playing football? "It's a game, and I enjoy playing it. Obviously I'm still playing, so I'm still smiling."
Even though there was a switch in offensive scheme, Denard said his first thought was to do whatever it takes to play. Denard doesn't worry about outside perception that he can't throw. He and his teammates know what he can do, and he'll show it on the field. The timing with receivers is looking good. "We've got some deep routes in there, and we have some routes where they can make a choice and get open. It's a good deal."
The biggest thing Denard has been working on this offseason is his footwork. "Keep my feet underneath me so I can make throws anywhere I want to throw it." Stepping up in the pocket is another adjustment he's making. Getting timing down with receivers is another area for improvement.
The team has been working hard all summer. They're getting bigger, faster, and stronger. "The seniors and I, we organized the workouts and 7-on-7s. That was a big thing for this year." Everybody was ready to participate in the offseason workout.
Denard never got to a point where he was leaning toward leaving Michigan. It was tough when Rich was fired, "That's the guy that recruited me, but at the same time, I was with my teammates and my family." David Molk and Ryan Van Bergen gave him the best advice, along with Mike Barwis. They told him that there's no better school or family than the University of Michigan. After he got fired, Coach Rodriguez told Denard to completely buy in to Hoke's system, and he would continue succeeding. It meant a lot to Denard that he told him to continue buying in. Coach Smith (now at Indiana) also told him to buy in 100%. "I bought into Coach Rod's offense, and I'm buying into this offense."
Brady Hoke's first message to the team was to hold each other accountable. "We're Michigan, and we're supposed to compete for the Big Ten every year." "What we've been doing lately is holding each other accountable." If guys aren't doing what it takes to win a Big Ten Championship, their teammates are on them.
The national attention is different after coming from a small town. "It's alright, it's good. I don't do crazy stuff anyhow" so it's not harmful. He likes being recognized around campus, too. It's easy to ignore media hype. "I don't too much care for the hype."
Asked about the Ohio State/Michigan State clocks: "We do have a countdown for the Western Michigan game, so that's the main thing right now. That's the main thing. That's a big game, we have to prove ourselves." Denard grew up watching the Florida/Florida State rivalry, but the Michigan/"Ohio" game is a much bigger rivalry. "It's the border. We fight for Michigan, and they fight for Ohio."
Denard was nicked up a lot last year, but "playing football, you're gonna have nicks and bruises, so you've gotta play through that."
"It's still going to be exciting, we've still got the guys we had last year." There are explosive receivers, and some good running backs. "I know all of them are gonna be ready to play."
Denard isn't usually a vocal leader, but when he has to speak up, he will.
There was no issue getting guys to come to workouts this year. There was pretty much 100% attendance at voluntary workouts, which was not the case last year.
"You get a feel for when you want to run and when you shouldn't run. If you see an open receiver, don't miss him. You want to get him the ball."
Despite last year's individual success, Denard always maintains drive to improve. "How I look at it is always work like I'm second string or third string." He plays and works out with a hunger to improve.
Denard isn't much of a celebrator, so he's not worried about the effects of the new taunting rules that can take scores of the table.
Denard has gained 5-10 pounds since last season.
"I did a lot last year. It's going to be hard to say I can do any more than I did last year, but I think I can do a little more, I can outdo what I did last year."
Low expectations? "They say the 1997 team was one of the teams that was underrated."
Whenever Darryl Stonum earns his way back on the team, he'll be welcomed. "I want him to be back on the team, but it's up to Coach Hoke."
The offensive line has gotten a lot bigger, but they're still mobile.
Denard's improvement: His arm has always been good, he can throw touch passes and the long ball. His arm strength isn't a question: he mangled one of Kevin's fingers with a pass in practice. It's still bent (pictured at right).
"I honestly feel like we don't have a #1 [receiver]." There are a number of guys that can step up and be the top target on a given day. Still sounds like a blessing and a curse to me.
"Dileo, he's deceptively quick." He did well on returns last year, and is now improving his route running and hands.
Jerald Robinson has good hands and body control.
The freshmen don't work out in the same groups as the returning players, and they can't participate in 7-on-7s due to their schedule. They've come out to play catch with some of the guys, though.
Chris Barnett is an established pass-catching threat, and Kevin's advice is to work on blocking. "It's a long season; if you don't play in the first game, you might play the fifth, sixth, seventh game."
In 7-on-7s, Koger is usually covered by Carvin Johnson or Brandon Herron.
Marvin Robinson is a big hitter. It doesn't take him a long run-up to build power.
Troy's return has brought some enthusiasm to the defense because he's a funny guy, and a fun guy to be around. JT Floyd is back as well. "Troy, he's a veteran, he knows where to be at, when to be there, he knows how to disguise coverages well, he drives on the ball really well.
Carvin Johnson is not the fastest, biggest, or strongest guy. "But he has a knack for making plays, he's always around the ball." Kevin has trust in the safeties to make plays.
There's a lot of competition among the linebackers, and there are spots up for grabs. Whoever plays the best in camp will earn starting positions.
Brandon Herron is a fast guy, and Koger has to beat him with technique, and Demens is a strong guy who you have to beat with separation, because if he gets his hands on you, you're done.
"Look at Wisconsin last year, look how many points they put up during the season. They ran a pro-style offense. They ran tight ends a lot of the time. It's proven that a pro-style offense can put up a lot of points."
The offense wants to control the tempo of the game this year. The defense is ready to get back onto the field whenever they need to, but the offense can control the ball.
Outside of Denard, Roy Roundtree and Junior Hemingway are some of the big play guys. Kevin jokes he'll be happy to catch any passes at all this year because there are so many good options for the offense.
Coach Hecklinski has done a good job with the receivers, making sure they do what they have to do.
A lot of the running backs haven't gotten much game experience, so it's exciting to see who will emerge.
There's been a lot of improvement since last year's defense. The seniors especially are working to leave the school the way they want to be remembered. "We've all been through it together. We know what needs to be done. We don't want to have any problems. We don't want to have it be like last year."
"At the end of the day, we don't want to say that Michigan beat Michigan." What happened in the past is gone, and they're excited about what's going to happen in the future.
Martin likes what he saw in the film from spring practice. Everyone looks excited to play defense, and get out on the football field. "There's a lot of worry; guys were doing a lot of thinking on the field." Now, guys are able to not think and simply execute their assignments.
On Greg Mattison: "The guy eats and breathes excellence." He's a great teacher of the game. Hoke and Mattison have credibility, and have proven that they know what they're talking about.
There's a big emphasis on being tough and hardnosed on defense. Hoke gets in the D-Line's faces specifically, because they're where the defense starts. Everything "starts and ends in the trenches." Previous Championship defenses at Michigan were defined by words like "toughness," etc.
Martin, Van Bergen, and a couple of young guys will get a lot of small-group attention from Coach Hoke in practice. Technique and fundamentals are stressed every day. Hoke, Mattison, and Montgomery are all on the same page and teaching the same things. Hand placement, footwork (down to the inches), hip movement, etc., need to be second-nature to the D-linemen, because they can't be overthinking on the field. The coaches are detail-oriented. They also are learning to adjust to the offensive formation without having to think about it.
"I've never seen more clocks in a building. I always know how many days there are until whatever game it is." It's a constant reminder of what is coming ahead. "We know what we have to do come September 3rd."
It's fun to watch film with Coach Mattison because there's active involvement by people, instead of a lecture-type format. They're always learning, and picking Mattison's brain. "Watching film and seeing me drop back, it just looks funny."
The four-man front makes it easier on the point of attack for the defensive line, because somebody is going to have a one-on-one matchup, and there are fewer double teams.
"His attitude and his mindset has totally gotten better." He was in a bit of a comfort zone before, where he wasn't constantly being pushed to improve, because he was a backup. Now he's being counted on, and has answered the call. He's a key component of the defense, as the 3-tech is a key part of Mattison's defensive scheme. "He answered the call and step up to the play. Q's been doing a great job behind him."
The team likes watching Ravens film, because it's a good comparison to what scheme they're going to be running. Otherwise, Mattison doesn't talk about his NFL success (HALOL Charlie Weis). Watching the guys who are the best at their positions helps the players realize what little things they need to do to improve. "I think all the guys are always picking stuff and trying to make their game better."
The defensive line is doing a good job at the point of attack, but their main room for improvement is making the second move and getting off a block to make plays in the backfield.
There's more accountability among players in the weight room this offseason. The new strength staff also puts an emphasis on getting bigger and reps to failure.
Like this, but in a suit. And at a podium. And with other Big Ten coaches and players as well. So basically not like this at all. Sorry.
Since yours truly will be at Big Ten Media Days on Thursday and Friday, time to crowdsource some questions. Those of Michigan players (Denard Robinson, Kevin Koger, and Mike Martin), and coach Brady Hoke are most likely to be asked, but if you have things for other players/coaches that are interesting enough, I may get a chance to ask them at Friday's roundtables.
So, if you have a pressing question (WHEN U SCORED TOUCHDOWN HOW U FEEL?), drop it in the comments here, and I'll ask some of the best ones. You have a couple days to give it your best shot.
MGoBlog: where no sleeping dog is left to lie, and no dead horse is to remain unbeaten. -Blue in South Bend
In re: shotgun + Denard + site obsession with Denard in shotgun, Football Study Hall put up a post with interception rates that highlights one of the many problems Michigan had turning yards into points last year: Denard's interception rate. Amongst a sample of 100 D-I quarterbacks* he finishes 84th. The only BCS quarterbacks to do worse were Garrett Gilbert, Stephen Garcia, Jeremiah Masoli, Steven Threet, BJ Daniels, and Jacory Harris. This is not good company. Harris and Garcia are 1-2 on this list…
THE ZESTY INTERCEPTION WATCH.
1. Jacory Harris. The nation's leader in zesty interceptions won't let being benched stop him. If it gets too bad with new boss Al Golden, he'll just go throw 'em in the street if he has to, because swag like Jacory's never sleeps, and when it does it lands wherever it wants.
2. Stephen Garcia. With confidence. With verve. With GARCIA.
…and the omission of BJ Daniels, who either throws an 87 yard touchdown or three interceptions every play, must have been an oversight thanks to South Florida's ability to fade into the background.
Denard's interceptions weren't zesty. They were like—and I say this in all seriousness—watching the cutest puppy in the world fly headlong into another puppy's head, killing both. The defense was like watching the puppy blood run into the gutter. This is the most precise analogy ever made. Also the field goal kicking was like watching the deceased puppies reanimate just so they could poop all over everything. The Rich Rodriguez era: defined.
Right. So forwards into the endless and admittedly pretty pointless discussion about the best thing to do for the team the next couple years when they have a 5'11" dreadlocked bolt of lightning at quarterback. My position is blindingly clear: Shotgun Today, Shotgun Tomorrow, Shotgun Forever. For the next two years, at least.
Objections raised from the comments largely revolve around the idea that last year's turnover and redzone performances were flukes that should be expected to magically repair themselves. An example:
I think its a pretty big reach to say there's any "evidence" to suggest that the offense will revert to the mean. College Football red zone offenses are not random occurrences within a normal population. Oregon and Auburn weren't so good in the red zone because they got randomly lucky. Michigan wasn't terrible because we weren't randomly unlucky.
The offense was terrible in the red zone because:
1) Nobody could make a FG longer than 25 yards (this isn't something that will revert until someone can kick the ball)
2) Our offense simply didn't work as well in the red zone (I don't know why---playcalling, B1G defenses, nerves, but it isn't something that happened because of random chance)
There is no guaranteed regression to the mean in nonrandom circumstances, like football. Michigan was terrible in the red zone because being terrible in the red zone WAS the mean for Michigan in 2010.
You hope #1 will be solved by the addition of Matt Wile. We are all gunshy about this but highly rated kickers—which Wile was by the end of the year—usually do well. That actually turns out to be irrelevant, about which see this long footnote**. The redzone issues come down to two things: turnovers, about which see above, and giving the ball back on downs.
Michigan did the latter four times last year, all of them late in already-decided games (one against Wisconsin and OSU, two against Mississippi State). They missed one field goal. They failed to score eleven more times because they straight-up turned the ball over.
As far as #2, the whole reason people do these study things and use stats is to have something to argue against people who use the word "simply" as their conversational gambit. Oh, it's simple to you, is it? Well, fine then. I guess you and your galaxy-spanning intellect win. It is possible that NFL football is so different than college football that studies do not cross over, but it is extremely unlikely, and that FO study showed really good redzone teams one year are almost precisely average the next.
In Michigan's case they should expect more than randomness to work in their favor. The common thread of Rich Rodriguez's tenure at Michigan was young or terrible quarterbacks. Three years of Threet/Sheridan, Forcier/Denard, Denard/Forcier should see you give away turnovers like they're candy. There are no upperclassmen on that list except the walk-on; there's only a few confused snaps from a hopelessly raw Denard preventing that list from having any sophomore starters.
The spread 'n' shred in general and Rodriguez in particular haven't shown they are turnover-prone. On the contrary, being able to run 70% of the time and have a good offense should cut down on turnovers since passes are inherently more risky.
From Maize 'n' Brew:
And that is what this comes down to. Common sense. Your eyes. If your eyes are telling you that you're watching a turd of a football game, well... you are. If your reaction to the Wisconsin Michigan game was that Michigan just got completely curb stomped by Wisconsin in the first half, mounted a minor comeback when Wisconsin took a third quarter nap, and then still got blown out by 20 points at home, well... that's what you saw. Perhaps the stats tell a different story. Maybe. But while the stats say that Michigan ran up an astounding 442 yards against Wisconsin they don't relate what actually happened at the game.
I try to back up my opinions with statistical evidence because the use of tools is the thing that separates bloggers and chimpanzees from other primates like newspaper columnists and sports talk radio hosts not on WTKA.
If you want to go on your gut, I can do that too: Michigan has a 5'11"-ish quarterback who ran for 1700 yards last year and an offensive line that's now 100% recruited to zone block all day. They don't really have a promising running back. I feel, like, not good, man, about Michigan in the I-form.
Or I could say that "common sense" suggests that Wisconsin was not trying to let Michigan score in the third quarter and that the overall results should be taken in appropriate context, but then we're back to feelings, man.
What Is The Core?
I just don't see how the spread offense is responsible for turnovers except insofar as it puts an erratic Denard Robinson on the field instead of a finely-polished artillery piece, and who wants to fix Michigan's issues by replacing Denard Robinson?
/Munn Ice Arena
/people stapling each other's hands to their sides just in case they have a hand-raising seizure
Not having Denard drop back from center does not make his throwing mechanics worse. If anything it allows him to ignore a complicated facet of football—NFL coaches are constantly bitching that college quarterbacks no longer know how to execute a five-step drop—and focus on throwing it to the guy who's really open because you're not running the ball.
Meanwhile, the run game was kind of good last year despite having the worst set of tailbacks at Michigan since at least that year BJ Askew got half the carries. This is directly attributable to putting Robinson in a position to run, something an I-form doesn't.
The idea is that you have certain plays that always work on the whiteboard against the defense you hope to see — the pass play that always works against Cover 3, the run play that works against the 4-3 under without the linebackers cheating inside. Yes, it is what works on paper. But we don’t live in a perfect world: the “constraint” plays are designed to make sure you live in one that is as close as possible to the world you want, the world on the whiteboard.
Constraint plays thus work on defenders who cheat. For example, the safety might get tired of watching you break big runs up the middle, so he begins to cheat up. Now you call play-action and make him pay for his impatience. The outside linebackers cheat in for the same reason; to stop the run. Now you throw the bubble screen, run the bootleg passes to the flat, and make them pay for their impatience. Now the defensive ends begin rushing hard upfield; you trap, draw, and screen them to make them pay for getting out of position. If that defensive end played honest your tackle could block him; if he flies upfield he cannot. Constraint plays make them get back to basics. Once they get back to playing honest football, you go back to the whiteboard and beat them with your bread and butter.
The argument here is about the core of the offense: in the I-form that's Denard dropping back to pass or handing off to someone else. In the shotgun it's the zone running game. As the core of the offense you can't remove Denard from the game. You cheat and then there's a guy wide open. While Denard's legs are a terrifying constraint, Michigan has to force the opponent to cheat to use them.
I'll believe these tailbacks and this offensive line and this almost total lack of fullback and tight end can do that running power up the middle when I see it. If they can't you've just taken the most dangerous weapon in college football*** out of the game. You shouldn't do that. It's common sense.
*[I'm not sure why there were 100 quarterbacks instead of approximately 120 + a few injury replacements, so keep that in mind.]
**[Long aside on Michigan's historically awful field goal kicking goes here. Nonnair posted a diary asserting that the lack of field goal kicking was not a factor in red zone efficiency because Michigan actually scored more points than they could have if they kicked it:
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.
Bottom line? If we had tried FGs on all seven of those drives last year, even if we had Adam Vinatieri circa 2002 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.
This is only one half of the equation, though, because Michigan did attempt a bunch of field goals and they went like this:
All that red in the Michigan zone is value earned by the offense that was lost by the kicker on obvious kicking opportunities. So on the field goals Michigan tried last year, we threw away 16 points, versus the six this study shows M getting back by being forced to do a statistically correct thing that teams don't usually do because their fans don't trust statistics.
Misopogon threw this behind a jump on Sunday.
Nonnair turns out to be right: the field goal kicking did not have much of an impact on the red zone efficiency because Michigan's misses are all clustered just outside. However, the statistically correct behavior Michigan engaged in also had no effect. Six of the seven attempts were outside the red zone and the one that was inside it, a fourth and one from the Penn State 13, was converted and led to a field goal anyway.
So we're down to just the massive turnovers. I hope this section has highlighted how goofy red zone efficiency is.]
***[Other than Charles Robinson.]
via flickr user larrysphatpage
Almost nothing drives me more insane than someone who proclaims certain numbers to be bad because these other numbers are better without suggesting a mechanism that would make this true. Via Slate, Murray Chass provides the canonical example:
The stats freaks who never saw a decimal point they didn't worship were ecstatic last year when Zack Greinke won the American League Cy Young award while winning only 16 games. Felix Hernandez, who won 19 and whose 2.49 earned run average was second to Greinke's 2.16, would have been my choice, but the stats guys "proved" that Greinke was the correct choice because of his statistical standing in formulaic concoctions in which we mere mortals do not imbibe.
—Murray Chass, murraychass.com, May 9, 2010.
This makes me clench and unclench my fists helplessly. It seems impossible that you could be this venerated New York Times baseball writer without picking up on the fact that AL pitchers have no control over how many runs their team scores. The fists clench and unclench because attempting to model an argument with Murray Chass about this quickly leads into a cul-de-sac where Chass says something condescending about something he doesn't understand and repeats it ad nauseum as if he believes "no blood for oil" or "drill, baby, drill" is a coherent, self-contained, impregnable point of view.
Presenting Jonah Lehrer, who actually manages to write for Wired despite being able to compose the following:
Consider the case of J.J. Barea. During the regular season, the backup point guard had perfectly ordinary statistics, averaging 9.5 ppg and shooting 44 percent from the field. His plus/minus rating was slightly negative. There was no reason to expect big things from such a little player in the playoffs.
And yet, by Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Barea was in the starting lineup. (This promotion came despite the fact that he began the Finals with a 5-for-23 shooting slump and a minus-14 rating.) What Dallas coach Rick Carlisle wisely realized is that Barea possessed something that couldn't be captured in a scorecard, that his speed and energy were virtues even when he missed his layups (and he missed a lot of layups), and that when he made those driving floaters their value exceeded the point score. Because nothing messes with your head like seeing a guy that short score in the lane. Although Barea's statistics still look pretty ordinary — his scoring average fell in the Finals despite the fact that he started — the Mavs have declared that re-signing him is a priority. Because it doesn't matter what the numbers say. Barea won games.
A man who writes for Wired ascribes JJ Barea's value to "nothing messes with your head like seeing a guy that short score in the lane." Fists clenching and unclenching due to impossibility of refuting argument that stupid. Plenty of other people have tried to do so. Some guy at Deadspin who pointed out that the Mavs are amongst the most stat-obsessed teams in the league. A Baseball Prospectus guy tore apart Lehrer's introductory car analogy, in which car buyers who focus on a couple of barely relevant but easily understandable numbers instead of the important, hard-to-quantity data are Bill James, not Joe Morgan.
It doesn't matter, though. These articles always have a tautologically number-negating logic. The argument goes:
- I don't understand statistics*.
- People who understand statistics don't understand intangibles.
- Therefore my understanding is superior.
Now let's talk about Denard Robinson and last year's offense.
*[This lack of understanding can be many things but is always at least this: statistics are a suggestive tool, not math gospel. To be fair, some people use statistics like they are a golden hammer. These people are very annoying and should be yelled at. Just don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. ]
Y WE NO SCORE GOALPOINTS
This came up a lot in the aftermath of the Spring Game, when the quarterbacks strove to make themselves indistinguishable from walk-ons and quite a lot of people put finger under collar and went "uggggghhh." This was met with a round of backlash largely consisting of people pointing at select—sometimes hilariously select—statistics from last year's team in an effort to prove the offense wasn't really that good.
The favorite was a focus on the first halves against good opponents, when Michigan did not score points. This did not escape notice even around here:
The Ohio State game has the power to make whatever happens in it seem like Michigan's season in microcosm, and so the overriding theme of the 2010 season is looking up at the scoreboard at halftime to see Michigan on pace for about 500 yards and about twenty points. Michigan had 238 yards and seven points this time around and instead of a competitive game we got the usual.
Michigan was frustratingly spectacular at getting to the half with almost 300 yards and something like ten points on the board. But using points to evaluate the output of an offense is like using wins to evaluate a pitcher. Events outside the entity you are trying to evaluate have so much impact on that number, it is only a fuzzy explanation of the story.
I have engaged in message board fights and observed many more about whether the Wisconsin game was a failure on the offense's part. At the half the score was 28-0 Wisconsin and the game was as good as over, whereupon Michigan came out of the locker room and scored three straight touchdowns against the UW defense. This would have made the game interesting if Michigan could have forced the Badgers to pass, ever.
My fists do the clenching bit whenever anyone tries to claim the Wisconsin game was evidence Michigan should move away from the spread. The Michigan offense's entire first half:
Michigan drives from their own one yard line to
the Wisconsintheir 35 before punting.
- Michigan drives from their 28 to the Wisconsin 13; Seth Broekhuizen misses a 30-yard field goal.
- Three and out from the 36.
- Three and out from the 40.
(There was also a meaningless two play drive at the end of the half.) That's not a great four drives. It is a great seven drives if you consider the next three. Meanwhile, the final touchdown against UW is often dismissed as "garbage time" but Badger tacklers on that drive include JJ Watt, Patrick Butrym, and Aaron Henry—all starters—and Michigan hit Roundtree three times for more than 20 yards on a three-minute march. That was not Wisconsin's goal. Even if you still dismiss Michigan's last couple drives as garbage you have to acknowledge that the defense's inability to make them meaningful robbed the offense of opportunities to impress for real.
But you're sitting there and your fists are clenching and unclenching and everything is black and doom and blacky black doom, so maybe it's hard to tell.
Transistors don't give a damn
This is the disconnect. While what seems like a fairly large subset of the fanbase saw wholesale collapse in the Wisconsin game, computers saw two units failing immensely and an offense that put up 442 yards on a defense that gave up 321 on average, scored 31-ish points (computers will credit the offense with acquiring the field position for the field goal and deduct the miss from the special teams; if they deduct from the garbage TD they will use a lower denominator when trying to figure out expected points) on a defense that gave up 21. Statistically, Michigan's offense was at least a standard deviation above the mean against the Badgers.
While the Wisconsin game is the biggest outlier between the offense's actual and perceived performance, it's instructive. It is often lumped in with the crap from last year along with Iowa (tenuous case indeed there), MSU, OSU, and the bowl game. There is no reasonable case it should be. This is why statistics are useful, because meat-emotions often overwhelm our capacity for reason.
These are the questions I think we should be asking in our most robotic voices:
What aspects of last year's performance project most strongly to next year's?
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. The latter was a huge problem all three years under Rodriguez. However, turnovers notoriously do not correlate year to year, are heavily dependent on quarterback, experience and saw Rich Rodriguez consistently in the black at West Virginia.
Michigan's turnover issues aren't fate, should improve naturally, and are not related to the spread. Most of Michigan's other issues at turning yards into points are not really the offense's.
That leaves an inherent flaw in the spread offense as a potential culprit that has the potential to repeat next year. Point in favor: Michigan was even worse in the redzone in 2009, finishing with just 49% of available points. Point against: Auburn and Oregon finished in the top ten last year. Further point against from a Football Outsiders study of the NFL:
We took … 20 overachievers and measured their performances the season after said overachievement; while their DVOA [ed: something value over average, a fancy stat they have designed to smooth out noise.] in the red zone that initial season exceeded their total offensive DVOA by an average of 33.3 percent, in the following season, their DVOA in the red zone exceeded their total DVOA by an average of 1.3 percent. In other words, the teams' performances in the red zone mirrored how they did outside it, implying the overachieving was a fluke.
We also can measure this by using correlation coefficients, a way of measuring the relationship between two variables that results in a number ranging from minus-1 (at which the two variables have an exact inverse relationship) to plus-1 (at which the variables have a perfectly positive relationship). The correlation between a team's performance in the red zone and its overall offensive performance, year to year, is 0.08 -- essentially nil. Teams simply do not exceed their performance in the first 80 yards once they get to the final 20 on a regular basis.
The evidence suggests Michigan's red zone struggles should revert to the mean; the things that made the offense less than the sum of its yards last year are all small sample size outliers.
What's left that does correlate, or at least correlates better? Everything else. On a play by play basis Michigan's offense does well in standard and advanced metrics, and returns ten starters. If they should be better but weren't (because of things that should revert) and can expect similar performance next year (because of all the returning starters), then what should happen is that the expected and actual meet somewhere south of #2 nationally but well within the schwing range.
Is it better to play to Al Borges's strengths or the offense's strengths?
In 2008 this was easy since the offense had no strengths. In 2011 it's a difficult question. Michigan's transition demands that Borges or Denard (and, importantly, the OL) leaves his comfort zone. This is necessarily going to be suboptimal for someone.
The spring game suggests it will be vastly suboptimal for Denard if Borges gets his way, and it seems a lot easier to change playcalls than turn Denard into Jon Navarre. Unfortunately, it's not that easy. The last few years I've documented the ever-evolving Michigan run offense. Rich Rodriguez kept ahead of the curve by constantly adding new wrinkles to the ground game. He was able to do this because of his vast experience with the spread 'n' shred. Al Borges is a smart guy with a lot of experience but his history suggests his inventiveness may be more oriented towards the passing game. If a good chunk of offensive effectiveness is staying ahead of the game, Borges might be able to do that better from a pro-style offense.
But the following is true even in the NFL:
Shotgun formations are generally more efficient than formations with the quarterback under center.
Over the past three seasons, offenses have averaged 5.9 yards per play from Shotgun, but just 5.1 yards per play with the quarterback under center. This wide split exists even if you analyze the data to try to weed out biases like teams using Shotgun more often on third-and-long, or against prevent defenses in the fourth quarter. Shotgun offense is more efficient if you only look at the first half, on every down, and even if you only look at running back carries rather than passes and scrambles.
With an offense outright designed for the shotgun featuring a quarterback whose main asset is his legs, the cutting-edge effect would have to be absurdly important to make the offense more effective from under center.
Does I-form pro-style help you win in ways undefined by conventional statistics?
This is Brady Hoke's theory when he denigrates the zone-heavy spread offense as an impediment to having a good defense. A quick glance at the top defenses in both conventional and fancy measures suggests this is unlikely. TCU, Boise State, and West Virginia were the top three teams in yardage defense. WVU, Missouri, Oklahoma, Auburn, Oregon, and Mississippi State are all in the top ten in defensive FEI. There appears to be little if any problem with having a top defense opposite your spread 'n' shred offense as long as you account for the increased pace of the spread.
Is it worth sacrificing effectiveness down the road for immediate results?
Unknowable, but there's no better way to quickly put the question marks on Brady Hoke's resume to rest than by having a breakout first season.
Extensive Conclusion Section
MOAR SHOTGUN PLZ
Site business. Two things:
- I am getting married this Saturday in a top-secret location far away from any images of Fielding Yost. I am taking Friday and Monday off; Tom and Tim will produce content as per usual. If you've got a diary you want front-paged this would be an opportune time to post it. Content from me will be light this week because a bunch of friends I don't get to see will be in town, etc.
- I'm warning you about this a month ahead of time: honeymoon is in late July for about ten days and I am probably not even going to take my computer.
Your understanding is appreciated.
I'm partial to the rally pickle myself.
Mascot business. I took a rage day so that I wouldn't say anything regrettable in the aftermath of the mascot trial balloon, leaving the rest of the world to offer Dave Brandon a raspberry and Brandon to quickly clarify that while he is all seeing and all knowing he is very very wily and no mascot is pending. Even while doing so he leaves himself an out, saying it "may never happen."
Q: In retrospect do you believe that Brandon announcing the OSU game would be moving to midseason was really a super-clever way to get everyone outraged about it and therefore ensure it doesn't happen?
The M-Zone makes a compelling case that we should not. After that fan explosion we've had the uniform business and the mascot business and at about the same time we've had the night game business. (While I don't care that much about having a night game, it is a departure from tradition.) The evidence points towards Dave Brandon being so intent on "creating the future" that he has absolutely no grasp on what's important to the fanbase until everyone's freaking out about it.
Worse, he spends time belittling the kind of people who do really care. From the inbox:
Below response to my (very short and very respectful) email to Dave Brandon today asking him to reconsider a Michigan mascot. I actually responded to this, against my better judgment, and said that if there's a man in a furry wolverine costume on the sideline than it'll wind up being more life-changing for him than for me.
Please don’t be too concerned over this life-changing topic!
All will be OK…
Have a great weekend!
I'm not sure how this happened since Dave Brandon was actually on the team under Bo, but the current athletic director appears to have no more connection to Michigan's traditions than—wait for it—Rich Rodriguez.
I really care about what goes on inside Michigan Stadium; Brandon thinks this makes me a sap.
At least he's not alone.
Convenient timing. Meanwhile, one of the main counter-arguments against Old Testament kind of guys who like their coffee black, parole denied, and Michigan Stadium old-timey is that if we don't get that cheddar Michigan will be left in the dust by its rivals.
Presenting Michigan's 2012 budget:
For the proposed FY 2012 Operating Budget (described in detail on the following pages), we project an operating surplus of $11.4 million based on operating revenues of $121.2 million and operating expenses of $109.8 million. The budgeted operating surplus will be will be used to fund our ongoing capital needs and facility renewal projects.
Bill Martin's great accomplishment was killing the immediate cheddar issue dead without compromising the brand that packs the largest stadium in the country. Further squeezing starts to impact the uniqueness of the Michigan experience and erodes the reasons people shell out as much as they do.
Unfair and true and BERGKAMP. Here is Denard Robinson's 87-yard touchdown against Notre Dame last year, first narrated by Tom Hammond, then your inner monologue:
It's not fair comparing Tom Hammond to whoever the BERGKAMP guy is, but he does have a point. Maybe Americans get more confused about whether sports is serious business worthy of objectivity or not.
For a counterpoint EDSBS immediately goes to Sean McDonough, who's the first guy I thought of, too:
Q: Franklin is retired and Nessler is now on the NFL network, so is McDonough now the undisputed #1 college football announcer? I can't think of anyone I'd rather have doing a Michigan game.
Welcome to the field. The O-Zone reports on the latest edition of the Big 33 PA-OH All-Star game, in which Ohio annihilated Pennsylvania. Featured amongst the players of interest is WLB signee Antonio Poole:
Antonio Poole, LB Cincinnati Winton Woods 6'0” 195 (Michigan)
I think Poole may have been the most impressive defensive player on the field. He's only listed at 6'0” 195 pounds, but he sticks ball-carriers right between the numbers and they stay stuck. When he's in pursuit, he looks much bigger than he is. He certainly hits much bigger than he is. He may not be big enough to play linebacker in the Big Ten right now, but the Wolverines may not be able to wait.
That's true—WLB is currently Mike Jones and maybe Brandin Hawthorne.
Goalie zen part XVI. Red Line Report is down on this year's crop of goalies but they do have a solid #1. Prepare for the same scouting report you've heard several times before:
The clear-cut No. 1 guy is John Gibson, who combines excellent size and a calm demeanor in the most important games. He plays economically and is strong in the butterfly, using his long legs to take away the bottom half of the net. Gibson is a big netminder who plays big, challenging well and not leaving much space for shooters to look at. He's also calm and patient and allows the play to come to him. We like his mental strength and focus in clutch situations.
They don't like the other Gibson, so John is the only goalie they give a first round grade.
Etc.: Penn State blog Linebacker U interviews Tom for his perspective on Michigan and Penn State recruiting.
Roh: forever hybrid. Woolfolk: forever Woorfork
Is there any possibility we see Troy Woolfolk playing free safety this season? In 2009, it seemed to me that our most effective defensive games were the ones where Woolfolk was playing deep safety (which we called strong that season I believe). While JT Floyd is by no means good, I imagine that as an upperclassmen with some games started, he has a better shot of being effective or at least not terrible playing cornerback than Carvin Johnson or someone similar has at being effective or not terrible at free safety.
Do you agree with my premise? Is there any possibility of this happening?
If Woolfolk had been healthy enough to go through spring practice I could see him moving to safety, as the coaches would have had the time reconfigure their defense to account for that. Since they won't have a fully healthy Woolfolk until fall I'm not sure they have that luxury. He hasn't played the position since about the halfway point of the 2009 season. He'll be rusty either way; moving him only increases the risk a good chunk of his final year will be subpar due to his long layoff.
Anyway, the situation at corner isn't much better than safety. Courtney Avery will be decent but the guy starting next to him in the spring game was a walk-on. I'm not sure how much getting Floyd back is going to help. Last year he seemed worse than both Avery and Talbott and his recruiting profile doesn't exactly scream "this guy is going to get a lot better."
If you're moving Woolfolk the guy starting opposite Avery is either Floyd, a freshman, a walk-on, or a guy who seemingly got beat out by a walk-on this spring. That seems like a worse person to put in the starting lineup than Carvin Johnson, and Woolfolk will probably play better at the position he's more familiar with.
Further adventures in getting all these linebackers on the field.
Could Michigan enhance situational packages in the future running a 3-4 on occasion? Having four really talented linebackers may be too much not to use even though its not like Mattison to do so.
Dios mio, let's just do one thing for a while. Once people are complaining that our defense is too predictable we can start thinking about wacky packages.
Even in a hypothetical future where being predictably good or better is Michigan's biggest problem, when Michigan stems to 3-4 it won't get more linebackers on the field. The thing about the 4-3 under is that it's kind of halfway between a 4-3 and a 3-4. Relative to a straight-up 4-3 SAM linebacker and weakside defensive end are heavier and lighter, respectively, and both usually play on or near the LOS outside of the tackles.
This makes them a lot like mismatched 3-4 OLBs*. The reason Michigan kept calling their WDE a "rush linebacker" through the 90s and most of the 00s is that they used to be a 3-4. If Michigan changed to a 3-4 tomorrow Roh would be a starting OLB. Pulling him off the field in favor of a linebacker is actually making Michigan's fit with that defense worse. What's more, in the event Michigan does start running 3-4 fronts they'll use it as a change from their base defense. They'd like to show it as late as possible so the offense is confused. Flipping Roh/Beyer out for a linebacker tips their hand.
That attempt to find a spot for more than three of Michigan's thirteen linebackers next year is as valiant as "this guy can play position X" but no more likely to smooth out what looks like a roster imbalance. But, again, if the only thing we have to complain about is roster imbalance…
*[The way the defense plays differently is on the line, where opportunities to MAKE PLAYS fall almost exclusively to the linebackers; in the 4-3 under there's more opportunity for those guys to get into the backfield.]
Further adventures in anticipating problems.
Does Michigan recruit any offensive guys any more are we headed to the polar opposite of Rodriguez?
Seems like a ton of postings on the defense, I am wondering how much offensive recruiting success we are having.
This is just like complaints about Rodriguez not recruiting any defensive guys lodged in August of two years ago. That class ended up having more defensive players than offensive ones. Looking back on it the problem with it wasn't too many offensive players it was too few offensive linemen. And that people started bolting from it the instant it was signed. And the lack of a true nose tackle. And the inability to retain a quarterback with a Cone-like last name.
- QB: seemed to be in the lead for Zeke Pike until his Auburn visit and is pursuing all manner of pro-style QB in the Midwest; will get one, then will load up the charm wagon for instater Shane Morris in 2013.
- RB: Plenty of numbers; eight will be on the roster this fall with only Michael Shaw a senior. Will probably swing for the fences this year, taking only a high-profile guy. OSU commit Brionte Dunn will be on campus tomorrow
- WR: Obviously no need for slots; outside is an issue. No one seems particularly likely to commit but Aaron Burbridge buzz now has him in play.
- TE: Set unless there's still mutual interest for Ron Thompson.
- OL: No need for centers. Two guards already in the class and Michigan is considered the leader for highly-touted IL OT Jordan Diamond. Should add another two tackles, but with OL it often pays to wait and see who the Lewans and Omamehs are.
My only concern is at WR. Michigan can afford another Bellomy type this year if they're confident in Morris and while a blue-chip back would be great Michigan has plenty of guys there, including double-Jackson approved Thomas Rawls. At WR the four guys entering year two seem to be largely disappointing and there isn't much else on the roster that isn't short. Being concerned about one or two WRs nine months out from signing day is a manageable issue.
Further adventures in Denard's awesomeness.
Brian -- my friend works for a Charter school in NYC. the students were all assigned to write to someone they consider a leader. not all of the leaders responded to the kids, but #16 did.
check out the attached: a nice break from our passing game concerns ... and also, at long last, a story about Leaders that doesn't involve Legends
Thank you for your letter and for asking me about how to be a leader. First of all, you need to believe in yourself and never just follow people. Always do what you think is right no matter what anyone else does or thinks.
Don’t forget to ask people for help and thank those who help you. Don’t be afraid to work hard, follow directions, and follow your dreams!
Good Luck and Go Blue!