so much for that
Or, a selection of emails that are sort of old:
I noticed something potentially of interest in the Hennechart. There's an absolute lack of batted balls. There are ZERO and Tate's reputed to be a midget. By comparison, Navarre was a giant, and I seem to recall that one of the most frustrating things about watching him was that he would seemingly fire at will into the raised arms of D-lineman (I don't have a Hennechart reference to back that up because it hadn't been invented yet, right?).
So, questions: Is this schematic? Does our offense now somehow help our QBs avoid the batted ball in ways that the previous offense did not? (A comparison of Tate vs. Death last year might help as a reference, but Death wasn't very good, so…) Does Tate have a special knack for avoiding batted balls? He's always been short and Navarre was probably always tall, so maybe it's something he developed by necessity, whereas Navarre never had to worry about that sort of thing until he reached college.
Forcier got his first two batted balls of the year against Iowa, and both were on third down when Broderick Binns just sat back and waited for Forcier to throw his way; he wasn't even rushing. Even so, the batted ball phenomenon is seriously reduced from past years. The reasons are partially schematic, as Michigan runs a lot of rollouts that open up passing lanes, and partially Tate creating his own fake rollouts by bugging out of the pocket after his first read is covered. As Michigan moves to more pocket passing they'll see the batted balls creep up, but it's not likely to ever approach the frustrating levels it did when Navarre was the statuesque Michigan pocket passer of choice.
Are Kovacs and Leach on scholarship? I know they are referred to as walk-ons but are they now on scholarship?
If not, what are the odds that Kovacs and possibly Leach earn scholarships this year? Kovacs is appears like he is going to be a major contributor the rest of the year with Leach seeing some time too.
I realize that there aren't many scholarships left, but RR also wants to develop a solid walk on program. I've always figured that one of the ways to make sure you have a good walk on program is for the walk on's to know that there's a chance, albeit very slim, that you could earn a scholarship.
Obviously, the fans and I'm sure RR would like to use the scholarships on incoming fresh but if Kovacs keeps up his play and isn't on scholarship, how do you tell him he hasn't earned one?
Michigan's only got 76 scholarship players on the roster now, but teams always hand out bonus scholarships to their walk-ons when they end up short. I'd assume Sheridan, Kovacs, Leach, Heininger, Olesnavage, and Pomarico (the long snapper) are all getting this year of school for free. Three other guys who are less obvious are also getting money.
Those scholarships—all scholarships, actually—are one-year deals. If Michigan fills out its roster next year the walk-ons will be out of luck; usually what happens is Michigan fills up in February and then sees some offseason attrition that opens up a couple slots, but not nine, for the top of the walk-on crop. Kovacs, who looks like he'll start the whole year, might be an exception to that.
I am curious to hear your thoughts on whether or not Tate and Denard have been making the right reads on the zone read option. I've seen a lot of criticism directed at these two indicating that they are keeping it too often and making the wrong read. I know RR has said he'd like to have them not have as many carries. My question is this - are they actually making the wrong reads? On the zone read option, Isn't the correct read against the scrape exchange for the QB to keep it? Or do they need to read the scraping LB/DB (the guy filling the hole vacated by the backside DE)? It just seems a little knee-jerk to say that they are keeping it too often. I know we've come up with a set of plays to counter the scrape exchange, but I'd be curious to hear how the scrape exchange has impacted the reads on the bread-and-butter zone read option play.
I realize it's difficult to assess whether they are making the right reads as we have no idea if a play was a called run or keeper but it might be interesting to try and track whether it appears the correct read was made when you are doing the offensive UFRs.
This was before the Iowa game and an interesting development in that game: Michigan blocked the backside end frequently and, I believe, had Forcier read the appropriate "scrape" linebacker if he read anyone at all. It looked like Michigan took away many of Forcier's reads in the run game and just told him to hand off to the back, because Iowa frequently left no one for contain on him and he did not keep the ball.
The one time he did, though, he made a wrong read, pulling the ball from Minor when the backside DE was keeping contain; he managed to juke the guy and pick up six yards anyway. This has been a frequent occurrence, which isn't unexpected when you're dealing with a true freshman adjusting to a ton of backside games.
The thing I'm wondering about: where is the zone read with Denard Robinson? He's run a ton of draws and called runs but other than a reverse pitch here and there, there's been precious little misdirection from the Robinson package.
what’s the difference between the zone read dive and the zone read veer? is a “veer” just the term for any play that reads the frontside instead of the backside?
The "zone read dive," or zone counter dive, is not a read play. Michigan pulls the TE to the backside to block the DE back there and always hands it off with the intent of hitting the gap between that DE and the rest of the line, which down blocks. The play gets rid of the extra defender that read plays get rid of by assuming a linebacker to that side of the line has containment on the QB and will run himself out of the play. While it looks like Forcier has an option on the play, he really doesn't.
The veer is a true read play on which the tailback's desired hole is between the backside tackle and the backside DE*. If Viddler had any idea what fair use was I could show you some killer examples from Brandon Minor a year ago, but alas it is not to be. But the idea is this: you block down.** This looks exactly like a stretch play until it's too late and all the DL have slanted past the OL and out of the play. The QB reads the backside DE like a normal zone read, but the tailback cuts hard and swift upfield behind everything, hitting into the secondary immediately since the DE's been dragged outside. Minor had touchdowns on it against Purdue and Wisconsin where he ran virtually untouched into the endzone.
Opponents took away the veer most of the year by crashing the DE down and scraping, which necessitated Michigan's response to that. By the end of the Michigan State game it was clear they weren't scraping, so Michigan ran a version of the veer that was bleedingly open, but Forcier kept it and turned a lot of yards into four.
The key takeaway: any time
*(In Michigan's offense so far. It has a lot of different forms.)
**(Blocking down is the polar opposite of stretch or reach blocking. You basically shove a guy you started playside of; this always leaves an unblocked defender or two behind you. Power off tackle plays seek to get rid of him by pulling guards and tight ends around; the veer tries to do it with a read.)
You have mentioned a couple of times that the performance of the Michigan rush offense against Michigan State the past two years has been a statistical outlier. I think you have also mentioned that this may be a result of State spending more than the usual amount of preparation time for this game. If that is the case, how much more time do you think State is putting toward Michigan than a typical opponent and what kind of negative impact might that have on State since that would be time they are not spending on their current opponent?
Steve Sharik has it from sources inside the MSU program that Dantonio came up with much of the defensive game plan himself, which is unusual. MSU blogs have been complaining about Pat Narduzzi all year. So, yes, Dantonio "gets the rivalry" and Rodriguez "has an injured freshman quarterback."
As far as the question: one thing I might have overlooked in the aftermath of the State game was State getting a test run against Michigan's offense when they played Central Michigan. That did not go well, obviously, but it did give State an entire game film with which to scout themselves and fix a bunch of their problems. Then they went out and laid an egg against Wisconsin in all aspects of the game… it's hard to not see the correlation. Too bad Illinois is such a debacle or we would have gotten some more interesting information out of that game.
Old Mailbag Updates
On old spellin' guy:
Regarding the emailer who asked about Old Michigan Spelling Guy last week, I can confirm that both OMSG and Superfan were in attendance for Homecoming against Indiana. OMSG did the cheers, and Superfan just wielded his cowbell (feel like I should say "of Truth" or something after that).
I didn't know about either of these guys 'til this year; I've normally sat in the southeast corner prior to this year. But I saw Superfan doing these cheers against Western and knew what the emailer was talking about. Where OMSG has been for the other games is beyond me. But since they sat next to each other, Superfan would probably know if asked.
So… he's fine, workin' his magic. On the thing that isn't people shaking keys:
Brian,As a sort of answer to the question about the 3rd down student cheer.I had student tickets from 04-08 and I was at the WMU game also in the student section. I don't really know what to call the cheer, it really just started last year. The band broke out some new (at least I don't remember hearing it before last year) song they play on 3rd downs. As they play it the band director and some of the band sticks their hands out and shakes their hands and fingers, which is why some of the students have picked it up and started doing it along with them. I've noticed that some of the students still pull out the keys and some do the little hand wiggle thing, it's kinda split. I'm not sure what the motivation was for the new song and hand thing, it surprised me a little last year when I saw it the first time. If there was some sort of message to the students last year about doing the new cheer I missed it somehow. As far as I know, the students that started doing it just picked it up from seeing the band do it.Jesse
As I’m assuming you’ve heard by now, that cheer has been used by the Marching Band for decades. I was in the MMB starting in 1993 and we used it back then. And we use it as part of our cadence to and from the stadium. Now, you may be correct about when it was picked up by the football team and then the fans. I remember some of the football players picking up on it late in my tenure (93-97) when we’d do a practice performance for them in the fall. Whether it was specifically 1997 or not I don’t know.
Anyway, thought I’d pass that along. The band usually does the “Great to be….” And “Go Michigan, Beat the XXXX” cheer as part of every game’s cadence.
Adam R. Cole
New Items, But Slightly Old
Brian – I'm sure you are no stranger to this complaint - is it just me, or does Pam Ward's announcing just crawl under your skin and annoy the **** out of you? Her ad hoc commentary is so pointless, is, at best, pawned from the media guide, and sounds no different than what you would imagine to hear if you ever decided to watch a college volleyball game or gymnastics tournament. She can't offer any meaningful insight on football strategy. Her announcing actually made me madder and more hostile while watching the "survivorfest" vs. IU last weekend. She does not belong in a football booth. Is there any way we can get ESPN to permanently put her on Northwestern duty (except, of course when we play them)?
I'm with you. It's not that Pam Ward is a woman, it's that she's terrible. The difference between Ward and McDonough, who was terrific in a game just as crazy, was striking. McDonough injected the game with more drama; his "DROPPED!" on Savoy's drop was outstanding, as was the rest of his call. Ward has this crazy ability to suck energy out of a play. On Indiana's 85-yarder, well…
She doesn't start talking about the play until Willis is ten yards downfield, and when she does it's "Wow, big run out for Darius Willis. Willis down the left sideline. Nobody's going to catch him." She can't sound excited. That's why she's on nooners on ESPN2, I guess. It's Michigan's job to make this irrelevant by getting good enough to get out of that timeslot or hammer their opponents to the point where Ward's lack of excitement mirrors the game.
While I've seen most of the team improve compared to last season, I'm mystified by the punt return. I've got know-it-alls around my section yelling for Mathews head after all his fair catching, but could it be this new fangled punt formation that is affecting the statistics? I know Michigan is using the same type of coverage and while I still think Space Emperor is the reason why our punt coverage is good, could it also be the formation?
I don't care much about Mathews calling a lot of fair catches since he's had little opportunity to actually make any returns. The problem has come when Mathews doesn't field punts. He gave up about 50 yards of field position against Eastern Michigan and failed to field one punt against Indiana that should have been easily acquirable.
Fielding the punt seems about all you can do these days. As you noted, the spread punt formation now sends six players downfield immediately, severely reducing the ability of opponents to get good returns. A brief trip to the spreadsheet to compare 2000's stats with 2008's indicates there's some meat to this theory: In 2000, 46% of punts were returned with team averaging 10.1 yards each. By last year, the spread of the spread punt formation had seen punt return percentage drop to 39% and return average drop a full yard to 9.1. Since there are still a bunch of teams running old-school formations, those numbers underestimate the increased efficiency of the spread punt formation at least somewhat. Anecdotally, I think the difference is considerable.
As returns drop, "catch the damn ball" becomes an increasingly important part of being a good punt returner. Mathews has done that, except when he hasn't, and I'm fine with him back there.
Side note: I'm sick of fair catches. I'd like to see the NCAA institute the NFL rule; in the NFL you can have an illegal man downfield on a punt. I assume that rule is the only thing preventing the widespread adoption of the spread punt in the NFL; the numbers prove its efficacy.
You probably already covered this but:
It is suggested that Rich Rod can do more with less and our current lack of high star recruits is related to the 3-9 record so as Rich Rod began to put winning seasons together at West Va did his recruiting classes increase in its ranking? Does/will a Rich Rod program attract a highly ranked recruit or does his program with its level of intensity scare them away (ie Justin Boren = Seantrel Henderson)?
When Rodriguez was hired I touched on this in Rodriguez's Profile In Heroism:
That 2008 class would finish #23 as well, so there was a noticeable uptick in WVU's recruiting rankings towards the tail end of Rodriguez's career there. (The 2006 class was very small, and recruiting rankings are always biased towards large classes; that dip is an anomaly.) Bill Stewart and Doc Holliday (mostly Holiday) have continued that trend. How much of that is courtesy WVU's increased national profile and how much is on the supposed recruiting aces on WVU's new staff no one will ever know.
Meanwhile at Michigan, Rodriguez added nine recruits to Carr's final class and all of them except one or two, IIRC, had four stars on one of the two major sites. His second class finished #6 nationally after Rivals accounted for losses to academics and baseball and whatnot (cough cough Ole Miss). Rodriguez, clearly, likes high profile mofos about as much as any other coach around, and when positioned at a school like Michigan can do a pretty good job of acquiring said high profile mofos. The reputed intensity of the program might be a turnoff to some but to others, like Craig Roh, it's a selling point.
Long term I expect Rodriguez will recruit on about the same level as Carr did. This class isn't going to be a great one because of 3-9, not any desire or deficiency on Rodriguez's part.
More on that:
Given our early season success, it is apparent that this season has more upside than most of us had anticipated – both in terms of wins and the corresponding (generally) positive media attention generated. In your opinion (e-pinion?), if we were to theoretically get to 9-10 wins (including a bowl game), will the fact that we took so many commits early have limited the upside of our recruiting class? It seems like a lot more guys who weren’t giving us a look prior to the season are now at least considering it, and we may or may not have room for everyone we would have liked to have taken.
Conversely, is it possible that OSU has limited the upside of their class by taking too few players prior to the season now that they are in a state of semi-turmoil? (Maybe I’m overestimating internet grumbling here, but the current pub can’t be doing great things with recruits.)
Apologies for the over-use of parentheses, and thanks in advance for any thoughts!
Phillip Zinda ‘05
Well… yes, theoretically. But probably not really. I've followed recruiting a long time and it's almost an iron law that an implosion-type season will be followed by a relatively weak recruiting class.
Holding out in the hopes of turning your fortunes around doesn't help that much. With the accelerated recruiting timetable, kids you like but aren't great would go off the board and then you'd be hoping 1) your turnaround would happen like whoah and 2) there would be enough open-minded folk out there to fill up your class. Not likely in the current environment. I do expect that Michigan's turnaround will provide a small bump, but these days the relationships you build happen when players are juniors or younger, at summer camps early and summer visits and fall unofficials as juniors.
1) I am a little worried about the defense and time of possession in the spread offense. Do defenses on spread teams get more worn down (more plays, etc)? Are there examples of excellent defenses on spread teams from the past? I can't think of any off the top of my head.
2) Has anyone attempted to empirically test the changes in noise level on the field after the lux boxes went up? I would imagine somebody has measured decibels in the past (although I wonder if decibels is the best measure of the impact of crown noise on an opposing team.
Thanks for all your hard work on this.
1) Do you count Florida or Oklahoma or Texas as spread teams? Last year Florida's defense was better than its offense. Oklahoma's warp-speed attack wasn't as successful but there are some false assumptions built into total yardage numbers. Oklahoma and their opponents averaged almost 13 possessions a game last year, 20% more than Texas did. Adjust for that reality and viola:
Oklahoma’s offense is now rated a more reasonable shade under 11% better than Texas’ offense. And whereas Texas’ defensive advantage was nearly 27% it is now just over 8% in the new analysis.
That still wasn't great, as Texas finished 51st in total defense, but how much of that had to do with the Big 12's offensive explosion last year? It's hard to tell.
As far as pace and time of possession and Michigan go: this year, 90-yard touchdowns or kick return touchdowns are going to result in defense fatigue, walk-ons hitting the field, and poor defensive performance. It's not a coincidence that the defense gave up two long touchdown drives immediately after Notre Dame had a long field goal drive and Stonum returned that kick. So, yes, the severe lack of depth this year might make it more sensible to keep things at a leisurely pace. Long term, though, powers should be doing what Oklahoma did last year. More possessions reduces overall variance by increasing the number of trials and makes it unlikely an inferior team can hang with you.
2) Not to my knowledge.
I'm not sure to what extent you've already addressed this, but I am wondering what your thoughts are regarding Devin Gardner next year. From what I've heard/seen Gardner is a phenomenal athlete, and has recently improved his throwing motion to the point where I believe rivals has him the highest rated QB in the country. I really appreciate what Tate has brought to the table this year, but I think he is limited by his physical abilities. I don't think it's reasonable to sit Gardner just because Forcier is doing a good job if Gardner lives up to his potential. Do you see a two quarterback situation in the future? Assuming Forcier continues to play well, and Gardner keeps playing like the #1 QB recruit in the country, what do you foresee happening in the next 3 years at the quarterback position?
Michigan should try its hardest to redshirt Gardner next year. Getting two years of separation between him and the freshmen will be really important down the line. He's not likely to be better than Forcier fresh out of high school, especially if he doesn't enroll early. (Current status of that: maybe, maybe not.) In 2014 you have these choices at quarterback: fifth-year senior Devin Gardner or Anyone Else. I'm going with Gardner.
Assuming Michigan does manage to get a redshirt on the guy, in 2011 and 2012 he'll be available. At that point you probably turn Robinson into a bizarre hybrid of Antwaan Randle-El and Percy Harvin* and Gardner into Tim Tebow circa his freshman year. Forcier plays the Chris Leak role. Implementing a Michigan version of the Gator Heavy gets Gardner playing time, fills a potential hole in Michigan's offense, and promises the occasional awesome jump pass. Also… goal-line sets with both Forcier and Gardner on the field promise to be chaotic fun. Fade to Gardner? Wolverine Heavy? Hell, let's throw Robinson in there too and do a triple-reverse play action jump pass. WOOOOO.
*(Hhhyarrrrr! It has four legs and four arms and can run around the sun!)
After reading the Dinosaur Schematic Advantage and the Smart Football smackdown of Tressel, I've been thinking about what this means for the U-M/OSU rivalry in both the near and long term. I know it's early to already be thinking about this year's game (then again, maybe it's never too early), but do you see this current Michigan team being close enough in talent to OSU to be able to win it based on home-field and schematic advantage? There are obvious concerns with the defense and depth, but maybe Tressel isn't capable of fully exploiting them?
And for the long-term, do you believe that Rich Rod's innovation and tactical mind will be able to make up for the institutional advantages that OSU has (money, better home state, less competition for recruits in-state comes to mind) to give Michigan an edge in 2-3 years when the program has maximized its potential? My best case scenario is a Carr over Cooper or Tressel over Carr -style domination eventually. I would love to hear your (mostly speculative) thoughts.
Mike Forster, Class of '05
The short term in a word: no. Ohio State's good at lining up and out-executing folk they have a talent advantage over and that will be true in spades when their offense is on the field. And their defense is going to be very difficult for Michigan to handle with so many young kids everywhere and without a true deep threat on the roster (unless Stonum gets way better or Hemingway is faster than he seems).
In the long term: that is, indeed, the best case scenario. It's not likely to happen just because of math: both recent streaks have seen their share of flukes where the other team should have won but for life-on-the-margins type stuff. The edges of binomial distributions are uncommon. And those streaks were helped along by poor coaching from the other side of the aisle. Tressel may not be Urban Meyer but he's not Lloyd Carr over the last few years of his term. His decline phase is just beginning if it's beginning at all and at his age (56) he can probably coach another 8-10 years before becoming an anchor.
Anyways, you've mentioned several times that you have season tix—do you also attend all road games? I suppose Sparty is probably a given, but have you traveled to, say, Kinnick or Camp Randall? My goal is to visit all the B10 stadiums (been to 5 so far - MSU, PU, PSU, NW & UM obvs), and I was wondering if you had a favorite road venue or notable road game that sticks out to you (07 MSU for me). This season I'll be going to State for the 2nd time as well as Illinois Memorial for the first time.
Once again, many thanks for the excellence of the blog.
P.S. Autodesk sucks. I hate them.
P.P.S. M-Den is full of win.
I don't go to all the road games but I usually hit 1-3 per year depending on how the team is doing and where the road games are. I've been to Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State, Illinois, and Northwestern, with a first trip to Iowa on the docket this year. (I'm also going to Madison, but in February for an outdoor hockey game.) To your questions: Northwestern is my favorite road venue, if only because it's a road venue in little but name and it's situated next to Lake Michigan and there's always some place to crash because if you went to Michigan and don't know anyone who lives in Chicago you probably lived in Baits all four years and never left your room. Also no one attempts to throttle you. I'm annoyed when NU isn't on the schedule.
Favorite game: also '07 MSU for multiple reasons. There was, of course, the lead up to the game with Dantonio and "moment of silence" and "we won two games today" and Mike Hart etc etc etc. I ended up in the Michigan student section, which was a jolt after a few years away from that scene in one of the real blue-hair sections of Michigan Stadium. And two minutes before the opening kickoff an idiot state fan chewing on an unlit cigar accused me of sitting in his seat. I wasn't, but the State fan insisted to the point where he got the ushers, who were all prepared to do some bootin' until they saw I was actually in my seat. It turned out that the guy had the seat next to mine. He eventually swapped with some Michigan students who were three rows below us. It was weird.
Anyway, all that meant I was pretty fired up. And then the way the game turned, with Michigan jumping out to a significant halftime lead and State coming back to lead by 3 and then 10 and then someone whacking Chad Henne's shoddy Southeast Asian motherboard in just the right spot, followed by robot Henne enacting a mini version of Braylonfest… well, it was extremely satisfying afterwards.
PS: Hey, Autodesk provided yrs truly with the nest egg via which the blog's first couple of years as a job—in the same way Walmart greeter is a job—were tolerable. Also I still have some stock of theirs. So go Autodesk.
PPS: Yes, now that you mention it, the M-Den is full of win. Also when you do not mention it.
I noticed during the game and again in your UFR that Will Campbell got zero playing time against ND. This was especially evident in the 2nd half when it seemed that the dline was rotating new guys in on every play with WC not one of them. I also recall he only played in scrub time against Western. With a dline sorely lacking depth, is Campbell in the doghouse? Is he not as good as we thought? Or is this more a case of a freshman just being behind veterans on the depth chart. For a dline sorely lacking depth, it seems hard to believe a highly recruited player cant crack this rotation, even as a freshman.
Thanks, and Go Blue!
(This email was sent before the EMU game, but remains relevant now because Campbell saw a couple of goal line plays and little else.) Dude: I don't know. I'm seriously bothered by the prevalence of walk-ons in the two-deep and the lack of mega-recruits. Justin Turner didn't see the field at all against Eastern—even Teric Jones did—and now looks like a certain redshirt. Demens, Fitzgerald, and Smith are all apparently behind walk-on Kevin Leach at linebacker. And erstwhile spring starter Vlad Emilien is behind Kovacs and possibly Van Slyke at safety.
At least Campbell has an excuse that's a bit better than those guys: Renaldo Sagesse is about the only legitimate depth player on the entire defense and has turned in a fair number of plays in limited time spelling Mike Martin. He's getting about the same amount of time you'd expect a third-string freshman to get, no matter how hyped.
I'd like to see Michigan try running Martin and Sagesse out there at the same time, like everyone else; if that happens with some consistency against big beef machine teams then Campbell will see more extensive time.
During Rich Rod's first summer, we were looking forward to bringing in Kevin Newsome and Shavodrick Beaver at QB. Both guys were relatively unpolished but with high upside. Not the type of guys that you would be comfortable with to start as freshmen to say the least. Do you think that RR anticipated a rocky first year and the need to win early in year two, and possibly directed Michigan's recruiting more toward QBs able to come in and play right away? Would you even go so far to say that Michigan may have cooled on Newsome and Beaver at the chance they land Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. Regardless, as a trade, we got the better end of the deal.
I have no idea what happened with Michigan's quarterback recruiting but have heard from a couple reliable sources that Kevin Newsome's commitment was always as solid as paper tissue and that was one reason Michigan continued to pursue Tate Forcier heavily despite having two guys nominally in the fold. (The other reason: duh.) I mentioned this at the time and will restate it now: while Kevin Newsome seemed to have excellent upside he was not a great fit for what Michigan needed this year. They needed Tate Forcier, a guy who'd been relentlessly drilled to be a quarterback from the womb and would be polished (and foolhardy) enough to step into the starting lineup fresh out of high school. Newsome, who's looked inept so far in spring and limited garbage time, was not that guy. Was that motivation to get rid of Newsome? Probably not. I think Michigan would have taken three quarterbacks last year if they could have latched onto that many.
Beaver I don't know about. He was a well-regarded recruit who supposedly picked up an offer from Texas to play wide receiver, so you'd think Michigan would try to hold onto him even if they were gaga about Denard Robinson (which, again: duh), too. I don't think either decommit was a Jordan Barnes sort.
I have a question re: the defensive alignments. In the Notre Dame Defensive UFR, you commented a couple of times on the fact that Michigan's pre-snap alignments made no sense. Who's responsibility is it for the way the defense aligns? The coaches obviously put in the personnel package as far as a 4-3-4, 4-2-5, but they cannot know until the offense lines up what type of look they are going to get. Does a player (I'm assuming it'd be Obi since he's the MLB and they are traditionally the "quarterback of the offense") set up the defense or do the players look to the sideline for direction from their coaches? Thanks in advance.
The only presnap alignments that I found bizarre were the ones in which Obi Ezeh aligned at safety depth a few times on obvious passing downs. That was indeed strange. The only thing I can figure is that it was a version of the Tampa two defense that's popular in the NFL. Tampa two allows you to bracket both outside receivers without giving up the deep middle—an excellent idea against Notre Dame's terrors on the outside, but maybe not so much when ND also has a great pass-receiving tight end. And when Michigan did line up in their weird Ezeh-as-safety formation, ND hit Kyle Rudolph on a simple slant that went for big yardage.
I've seen Michigan roll out the same formation once so far against EMU, so it might be something we see occasionally down the road. I've yet to determine what the point of it is.
No Q Just A
On to some emails that are more helpful than anything else.
Just wanted to add some more evidence re: your post on the noise level at the new stadium. Yes, it is absolutely, positively louder. Carl Grapentine, long-time voice of the MMB and now the PA guy, too, wrote me this after the game this weekend:
It was as loud as I've ever heard it at Michigan Stadium. Those two new massive structures on either side of the field are like giant resonators.
Keep in mind this is Carl's 40th year doing games from the press box; that's a pretty significant body of work from which to make that statement. Didn't want to post this in the public comments, though.
I have the same beef with the MMB as you; I was in section 13 at the WMU game and we could hardly hear the band. Thought it might just be the placement, but think your analysis is right. Needs more horns, less winds.
BTW, love the blog; it's part of my daily must-reads.
UM class of '87
Johnathan Chapman-Rienstra (JCR)
FWIW. More fuel for the luxury box fire.
No A Just Q
Questions I can't answer:
I was at the Eastern/UM game Saturday and noticed the student section doing a chant where they extend their arms at the opposing team and wiggle their fingers... sort of like they're "jinxing" them. It sounds like the students are saying, "boo" or "ooh." At first I thought it was the "key play" chant where they shake their keys, but there were no keys in their hands. Can you enlighten me?
Um… I have no idea what this email refers to. Any help?
I'm pretty sure your tickets aren't near mine. I sit in section 19, row 76.
As long as I've been in these seats, and my old seats in section 17, fifteen years or so, there's been an old guy with a knit cap that sits near the very front of (I think) section 18. After every Michigan TD, he would go down to the front row, stand up, face the crowd, and get the crowd involved in a cheer where he (and the fans) would spell out M-I-C-H-I-G-A-N with his arms.
After sitting through every minute (!) of every home game, AND the ND game at ND last year, I did not make it to the ND game this year. (I know, I know...) However, I was at Western and Eastern. And Old Michigan Spelling Guy (i don't know anything better to call him) wasn't at EITHER game. My wife and I are very concerned.
The guy I call "Superfan" (wears the cape, helmet pattern do-rag, glasses, plays cowbell, gets on TV at a lot of away games) also sits near the front and has taken over the M-I-C-H-I-G-A-N spelling. I love "Superfan" and his mad-crazy cowbell skills, but it isn't the same for the M-I-C-H-I-G-A-N. And beyond just football games, I really do care about Old Michigan Spelling Guy.
Do you know, or can you ask your vast readership if anyone knows, the fate of Old Michigan Spelling Guy? Hopefully, he's just evangelizing in another part of the stadium.
I am nowhere near this guy but I have seen him from across the stadium and envied those sections for being near a guy doing the Michigan locomotive cheer because some old guy demanded they do it. Anyone have an answer for this emailer?
Brian, when was the last time that Michigan won and all 3 of our traditional rivals lost (like on Saturday)? Has this ever happened?
The answer to this can be found about 15 minutes deep into yesterday's podcast. Mwa ha ha.
Okay: Jamiemac did the research and the last time this happened was October 2nd, 2004.
- Michigan blew out Indiana 35-14.
- Ohio State lost in overtime to Northwestern 33-27.
- Michigan State got smoked by Iowa 38-16.
- And Notre Dame got annihilated by Purdue 41-16.
I'll take Saturday over those results easy. We also brought this up on the podcast: this sort of event needs a name so we can refer to [NAME] I, [NAME] II, and so on with Saturday marking the AFL-NFL merger, as it were. If we want we can count backwards from there and let the 2004 event be 0—it predates the blog—and any previous be negative. But we need a name. MGoMinions, you have your charge.
On that play at the end of the game when Clausen went deep on 2nd and 10 against Warren, I am pretty confident that the fly pattern was not called from the huddle. I think Weis probably had a much more conservative play called (like a hitch or quick out or comeback on the sideline) but as soon as Warren rolled up into press-man, the WR and the QB automatically know that the WR is going to run a jet. So, while I agree 100% that Weis should have run the ball on second - or at least gone away from Warren, who was in his guy's shirt on all but two plays - I don't think he called for the Home Run.
What a game for tons of recruits to attend, btw. Perfect.
Whoah: I've been arguing that throwing the ball on second and ten is a good idea as long as it's not some crazy bomb. Just because Warren is in press coverage doesn't mean you can't get Rudolph open or slip Hughes out of the backfield or do any number of other things that don't involve a long sideline route against Donovan Warren. And you certainly don't let your QB check to a balls-to-the-wall call when going 35 is called for. Especially with timeouts you don't care about. Take one and get it right.
Aaaand now lets get to the emails that have flooded my mailbox about quarterbacks not named Tate Forcier:
I understand that we need to have two viable QBs b/c of the always possible (GOD-FORBID) chance of injury to the one, but what are the chances that we can utilize DR as a WR? If not this year, how about next year (When Gardner is here)? It seems that DR would burn almost everyone trying to cover him, if he has the ability to catch. Thanks!
This, or a variant of it, has been rampant speculation anywhere one Michigan fan can communicate to another: what do we do with a man who is made of dilithium now that we have all converted to the Church of Tate? In two words: I dunno.
This year you have to keep him at quarterback and work on his ability to play the position as extensively as possible. If Michigan's up 38 against Eastern all remaining offensive drives should be Robinson throwing every down. Establishing himself as a viable option at QB will make his cameos throughout the rest of the season more effective and provide Michigan some non-Sheridan depth at a position that really needs it. That's the rest of this year.
As for next year, and beyond… even that's tough. At this point I assume you dearly want to redshirt Devin Gardner (about whom more in a sec), which would be difficult if Robinson moved to another position. At the same time, you don't want Robinson wiling his time away on the bench; you probably want both Forcier and Robinson on the field.
How do you do that if Robinson's a quarterback? I think you play two quarterbacks. We saw a little bit of this in the last game when Forcier motioned out into the slot and Robinson basically became a wildcat QB; in the future, especially when Minor and Brown leave, I think you might see a good deal of both QBs in the same backfield, with Robinson acting as a sort of Percy Harvin jet ninja who actually throws several time a game. If it works really, really well it might be the base offense.
While we're on the topic, here's a prescient email from before the ND game:
After watching the Michigan-Western Michigan on Saturday, not only was I relieved by finally attending a win in the season-opener, but I was also intrigued by the possibilities of the two-quarterback system (not even going to say three-quarterback system, because that would mean DEATH). Tate and Denard reminded me of a very-poor man's version of Florida in 2006 with Chris Leak and Tim Tebow. With Tate in the game the defense expects him to throw but he has a threat to run (Leak), and with Denard in the game the defense expects him to run with a smaller threat to throw (Tebow). This opens the door up for big plays with the defense cheating one way or the other. If Denard can get into the game around 20-25 plays per game, and can be semi-effective throwing the ball I think the ceiling for the offense is very high. Then again, we are talking about two freshmen, and it was only Western Michigan, but even the possibility that Michigan has two viable, complementary quarterbacks (that aren't last year's quarterbacks) got me excited for the rest of the season.
So, I was wondering what you think we can expect from the two-quarterback system for the rest of the year... and if this scheme is successful going forward, should we plan on this being the norm, or just a way to see which quarterback will separate himself from the other?
We all witness Forcier achieve separation last week but that does not mean Robinson, who should improve more rapidly than Forcier because he's farther away from his ceiling, won't get viable towards the end of the year. It's going to be very hard for opposing safeties to not come up when Robinson starts running around, and at some point this year he will pull up and hit someone running wide open. Against Notre Dame's blitz-mad offense in his second game, Robinson was not prepared. He'll be way more viable two months from now against mid-level Big Ten teams. Don't expect him to be as small a part of the offense going forward as he was against Notre Dame.
And now to Devin Gardner:
Has the success of Tate Forcier in the early going had any affect on the commitment of Devin Gardner?
U of M in TX
This is another question I've gotten a dozen times and can only really answer with "I don't know." But when Gardner committed he knew there were two freshman quarterbacks in front of him and that one of them would likely be an entrenched starter when he arrived. He's made several comments in the aftermath of his commitment to the effect of "I am a strong Michigan commitment," and yes everyone says that up until the point they don't but he can't say much else to reassure us and has made no motion that would indicate a soft commitment.
So I don't think so. And it's not like the situation anywhere local is much better. Ohio State snubbed him in favor of Montana's kid and with "Lebron in Cleats" looking decidedly un-Lebron he'd have to wait for two years behind Pryor anyway, and given the quarterback depth at Ohio State (virtually none) a redshirt might not be possible. And no other major local program is spread friendly except Penn State, which already has Kevin Newsome, Paul Jones, and Robert Bolden in the last two classes.
I live 10 miles from Scripps Ranch, but never got a chance to see Tate play down here. However, I do have an idea about the teams he's played down here and the teams he's playing up there, and after watching all the youtube clips I'm having troubling thoughts about the possibility that some linebacker might remove Tate's head from his shoulders early in the season. This makes our depth chart look like this:
- Next of Kin
- The Guy We Put In The Formation Because We Can't Direct Snap To The Other Team
What do you think of Tate's ability to avoid tackles, and more importantly, decapitation?
It will help a lot if Michigan ends up with a consistent counterpunch to the scrape exchange Western was running most of the day. Smart Football has a primer on the thing if you want detail. If you just want a sentence: on a scrape read the backside defensive end automatically crashes down on the TB and quarterback contain falls to a linebacker or, sometimes, a cornerback. Since the quarterback is supposed to read the defensive end, that means he'll keep the ball and then meet a linebacker, often in the backfield.
This is a frequent response to the zone read. Last summer, I UFRed the West Virginia offense against Rutgers and saw Schiano's guys do this on almost every play:
(Big original here.) This is a variant on the scrape where the backside DE is tasked with the gap on the backside and it confused West Virginia for a while until they started running the QB directly at it and busting Slaton into the open field. A lot of teams are going to play games with Michigan in an attempt to screw up their reads.
It's not good. Tate was keeping the ball a lot and then dancing past linebackers and corners for 3-5 yards.
You've already seen a couple of counter-punches. One is the backside veer that looks like a zone read but sees a fullback or h-back pull to wipe out the normally unblocked DE. The idea here is for the back to quickly hit the gap between the DE and the DT, as it's just been vacated by the scraping linebacker. Done properly, it sees a running back shoot immediately into cavernous space, as Brandon Minor did on touchdowns against Wisconsin and Purdue. (Viddler's finally really killed my account dead, so I can't bring it to you. Lo siento.)
The other counter-punch you've seen was deployed frequently against Western: the zone read to a bubble or long handoff. Unless the opponent is getting super-aggressive you'll usually see soft coverage behind the corner version of the scrape—it's basically a corner run blitz—and since the corner to your side is coming up to take you, the wideout over there tends to be wide open.
A more direct answer to your question: yes, I'm sure the coaches would rather have Tate throw and other people run. Rodriguez on the 23 carries his quarterbacks provided:
"That’s probably more than we’re accustomed to," Rodriguez said. "We probably gave more, particularly to Denard in the first game, just so they would get the experience."
That is likely to be their high water mark for the season, Forcier particularly.
Although I don’t think that recommending voluntary workouts makes them involuntary, the NCAA is probably going to come up with some new vague description of non-countable time. My question is that every D-1 coach since the beginning of time has used extra drills, runs, etc. as a requirement for disgraced players to earn their way back onto the playing field. If I recall correctly even the oft revered Lloyd Carr had Manningham do weeks of extra stadium climbs to make up for failing two drug tests. If there is any fallout from this probe will it change the way coaches administer in-house punishment from now on?
I don't know about Manningham and stairs, but it was public knowledge that Adrian Arrington had a strict 6-AM stairs regimen to get through if he was going to remain on the team after a couple of disciplinary instances.
A couple of people have mentioned this: these workouts are most definitely not voluntary, as the alternative is finding another school, and yet no one's ever brought this up. The only thing I can think of is that the Arrington punishment and other like things fit underneath the eight-hours-supervised a week.
This whole NCAA violations ridiculousness has made me miss the days of Carr's stern skepticism and distance with the media. Would Carr have let two freshman talk to the media so candidly? Will this cause Rodriquez to clamp down on which players are made available for interviews (what is the policy now?)? If the Free Press has to eat their words, what would be the ramification in the press corps for them?
Thanks and GO BLUE!
Since the freshmen were interviewed at Media Day, I don't think you'll see that access curtailed except to certain members of the media who abused it. More broadly, I know all player interviews have to be approved by the department and you might see the freshmen harder to get at in the future, especially if you are on the Enemies List.
The thing is: it's not like the freshmen here said anything that they shouldn't have. They merely described their summer conditioning activities. No "everybody murders" here, just a description of lifting and working on coverage and watching film. It wasn't even particularly candid. It was just a boilerplate description of activities every football program does. If there's someone at fault here, it's not them.
As to the Free Press ending up with zero after an investigation: the ramifications will be zero. They'll probably get an award anyway. No one at the Free Press is going to get a one-on-one with anyone associated with the program, again, but pulling credentials is a guaranteed media firestorm and who wants another one of those?
One question: Is it louder?
It didn't seem obviously louder except a few times when there seemed to be an echo, which implies that noise is getting reflected back into the stadium. It wasn't exactly a tense game, though, and Michigan Stadium doesn't get really loud unless it's called upon to do so. If Notre Dame has the ball for a key fourth quarter drive that's when we'll find out.
I should point out that other people think it's way louder, although I can't find that tab I thought I had open.