at least something good happened this week
Molk as Rimington finalist: check, plus. Kelvin Grady's 30 catches: not so much.
Spring football is over, meaning we're entering the darkest days of the offseason, the times when college football bloggers must get creative (aigh!) and come up with something, anything, to post while hoping nobody on the team gets arrested (usually as a product of being as bored with the offseason as us).
This is one of those posts.
Last year, Brian went HAM with his football preview, churning out so much content that I ended up previewing Western lest the first game pass without comment. Now I get to look back on all of Brian's hard work, use hindsight as a crutch to make me look intelligent, and critique his predictions. It's up to you to decide whether it's coincidence that I'm doing this while he's rather incapacitated.
This review will be posted in three parts. Today, I'll look at the offensive personnel. Later, I'll tackle the defense (ooh, role reversal), then finally look at special teams and Brian's "stupid predictions," (his term, not mine). This first post was less fun than I expected; outside of some inflated projections for the wide receivers, Brian kinda nailed it when it came to the offense. BOO.
Koger's role will be up to him. He'll be somewhere between a B- and B+ blocker and will have opportunities to establish himself a major part of the passing game. Our sample size on his hands is still very small and the bad part is now two years removed and he's quite an athlete—his upside is high. I can't help but think he's been held back by things other than Rich Rodriguez's preferences, though. I'm betting on a good but unmemorable senior year.
I have a difficult time coming up with a better description for Kevin Koger's final Michigan season. He was a solid, but unspectacular, blocker who recorded 23 catches for 244 yards and four touchdowns. That was more production than he'd had under Rodriguez, but I had to check MGoBlue to see if he even earned All-Big Ten honorable mention (he did). My lasting memories of Koger will remain the insane catch against Western in 2009 and his battles with the dropsies the next year, along with his "KogerNotKroger" Twitter handle.
The Mouton comparison is ominous since we just watched that guy start for three years without getting any better, but Lewan hasn't suffered at the hands of poor coaching yet and won't in the future. This should be the year he drops the crazy hot girl act and establishes himself as an All Big Ten left tackle. He'll still be a little penalty-prone but it will be worth it.
Taylor Lewan earned second-team All-B1G honors from the coaches, honorable mention from the media, and generally was the team's best non-Molk offensive lineman. He still took a few dumb penalties, but not as many as he did in 2010. Again, spot on, old chap.
That is admittedly me trying to find a concern. David Molk is great. You can never tell which interior linemen are going to be up for postseason awards but I'll be incensed if he's not All Big Ten after a healthy year. I think he'll be a Rimington finalist.
See: picture at top of post.
Al Borges is going to do his damndest to keep Denard productive, upright, and beaming.
Check, check, and of course, check.
He'll give Denard a more sophisticated offense that he won't execute as well as Borges needs him to; he'll use Denard's legs but not quite as effectively as Rodriguez would have. These guys are good because they've spent a lot of time specializing in ways that make them successful. There is a necessary lack of efficiency once they get outside their comfort zones.
It was a near-impossible task for Denard to replicate his 2010 rushing production under Borges, especially since the coaches explicitly stated that wasn't at all the goal. He still finished as the team's leading rusher, broke the 1,000-yard barrier, scored 16 rushing touchdowns, and averaged over five yards per carry. As for the execution of the offense as a whole: yup, there were some efficiency issues. Yards/attempt, completion percentage, and passing efficiency all dropped, while interceptions rose to an unsightly 15. This prediction didn't exactly go out on a limb, but that didn't make it any less right.
Yards per carry drop quite a bit but nose above 5.
2010 YPC: 5.58.
2011 YPC: 5.15.
If [Junior Hemingway] can manage [to stay healthy] through the season he's going to end the year with a ton of catches. Even if the Michigan offense doesn't go full MANBALL right away continued development from Denard Robinson will make difficult pro-style throws that frequently target outside wide receivers more feasible; Borges's offense will make them more frequent. Combine that with Hemingway's main skill and there will be jump balls for the taking.
ALL OF THE JUMP BALLS. This piece of prognostication would've made it into the above category if not for this next bit:
If he can maintain his 18.5 YPC he'll challenge Roundtree for the most receiving yards on the team. Expect a bit under 1,000 yards from him.
Hemingway actually averaged a tic above 20 YPC and still led the team in receptions, but leading the team meant catching 34 passes for 699 yards. Junior did manage to stay healthy, which was nice, and then stole all of our hearts during (and after) the Sugar Bowl. Y U NO PREDICT HE STEAL OUR HEARTS, BRIAN?
Huyge's flexibility will allow Michigan to flip Schofield onto the field if anyone other than Molk goes down. He's likely to start a few games in preparation for a full time role in 2011… unless he rips the job away from Huyge right now.
Given the way Huyge's career has gone and the general vibe coming from camp chatter and Funk's public statements, that's a strong possibility. Huyge's never been much of a pass blocker and Michigan's offense is going to require quite a bit more of that as Robinson starts making more and more five and seven step drops.
This was right on in that a non-Molk OL (Ricky Barnum) went down with an injury, and Michael Schofield was the man to replace him. What Brian didn't see coming—and I don't think anyone predicted this—is that Huyge would remain at tackle while Schofield filled in admirably at left guard, keeping the job even after Barnum returned.
Tousssaint [extra 's' there, boss] seems to have that jittery short-range quickness that allows little guys to survive, even thrive, as they pick their way through the chaos.
I'm hoping he emerges as the guy. If he beats out a healthy Shaw he'll be well on his way to translating that tape to college, and I could get used to a jump-cutting Houdini with sprinter's speed. Toussaint is the offense's Roh: the wildcard. Anything from Mike Hart (except crappy :( ) to Mike Hart (except fast!) is possible.
No full credit here what with the significant hedging and the fact that Brian had Michael Shaw listed as the (tenuous) starter, even though that's because Brady Hoke flat-out said so before the season. Instead, Toussaint was the man all year, rushing for 1,041 yards on 5.6 YPC and surpassing all reasonable expectations in the process. Fitz's speed turned out to be more of the sprinter's variety than what he showed in his previous, injury-plagued season, and the jump-cuts were plentiful. He wasn't quite Mike Hart (except fast!); Michigan didn't need that with Denard playing quarterback. The potential is there, however.
Michigan finishes around 15th in FEI and other advance metrics. By yardage they drop to about the same spot; scoring offense increases from 25th to match.
Brian actually underestimated the offense in terms of the advanced metrics—9th in FEI—though successfully predicted that it wouldn't quite match the #2 rank of the previous year. Yardage fell to 42nd in the country, and scoring offense was 26th. The larger point remained true—the offense was quite efficient, but not quite at the level of 2010's spread-and-shred—but the raw numbers didn't quite match up.
Not So Much
Roundtree's production will drop this year as Michigan tries to get Hemingway and Koger more involved. He can't expect set the single-game receiving record every year. He'll still run neck and neck with Hemingway fro [sic] the most receiving yards on the team. [Ed-S: hey, I remember that vacation--it was nice]
Roundtree's production did drop, just more significantly than expected. With QB OH NOES mostly gone from the offense (and Roundtree flat-out dropping the one such opportunity I recall), he finished with just 19 catches for 355 yards, well behind both Hemingway and Jeremy Gallon on the stat sheet. Speaking of Gallon...
Entering his final season [Kelvin] Grady's best shot at extensive playing time is based on 1) a lot of three wide and 2) Roundtree playing mostly on the outside. In that situation he's the established veteran. He'd get a crack at screens and seams and whatnot en route to a breakout mini-'Tree year. More likely is a moderately increased role as Roundtree bounces inside and out with around 30 catches.
First, a sadface— :( —for the lack of screens, not to mention blitheringly wide-open seams. Now, Grady's final stat line: five catches, 75 yards. Brian did recover with a nice hedge—"It could go sour for Grady if Jeremy Gallon translates chatter into playing time"—especially since Gallon produced Grady's projected stat line: 31 catches netting 453 yards. Still, swing and a miss on which player would produce said stat line, and I'm really reaching for stuff to critique here
Denard rushes for 1200 yards. His interception rate falls significantly but is still not great.
Shaw claims the starting job to himself in week four, gets injured shortly after, and Toussaint takes over. Both are much better than Smith at making extra yards. At the end of the year they've all got somewhere between 400 and 800 yards.
Toussaint's rapid rise wasn't foreseen by Brian, who expected more of a backfield-by-committee, especially in the early going. Shaw never captured the starting job, appeared in nine games, and finished with 199 yards on 31 carries. That made Shaw a more effective runner than Smith, who had 298 yards on 50 carries, but both were surprisingly effective (6.42 YPC for Shaw, 5.96 for Smith, though obviously in limited action for both).
Hopkins creates windows other backs don't. When three yards and a cloud of dust is a win, he'll be in there.
Or he'll continue putting the ball on the ground—see: Denard's immaculate rushing TD against Notre Dame—and get relegated to fullback.
it's always a good time for this picture
The start of spring practice is an annual opportunity to dust off the stuff you posted titled "2012 outlook" in the aftermath of the bowl game, slightly revise it, and post it again. AnnArbor.com has a series previewing every position group… which… like… basically it's all the same except a couple places. I won't go into that much detail but it does feel like time for some State of the Team bullets after they got a lot of detail from Hoke in an interview.
Offensive line reshuffling. All those moves you've been hearing about since Danny Coale's misery finally ended in early January are now official per the head man:
To shore up those issues, Hoke said he is making several personnel changes as the Wolverines kick off their 14-practice spring camp Saturday.
The most prominent of those moves impacts redshirt senior Ricky Barnum, the former starting left guard who now will receive the first crack at replacing the Rimington Award-winning Molk at center. …
Returning centers Rocko Khoury, a senior, and Jack Miller, a redshirt freshman, also will be given a shot to win the job.
Meantime, Hoke said junior Michael Schofield, who filled in for Barnum at left guard, will slide back to his natural position of right tackle. He can play anywhere but center on the line, but his 6-foot-7, 299-pound frame makes him an ideal fit at tackle.
It appears the most wide-open job could be the vacated left guard position. When asked who were candidates for it, Hoke first mentioned Elliott Mealer, a senior who has played sparingly in his career.
"His opportunity, his time has come," Hoke said.
Schofield to right tackle, testing Barnum at center: both very much expected. Just look at Schofield's arms and frame at right. Dude is built to pass block. I expect he'll be an upgrade on Mark Huyge.
Chris Bryant is Mealer's main competition at left guard, but Miller and Khoury will be an indirect threat. If either is better than the potential starter at left guard they'll shuffle Barnum back to guard and roll with it.
A prediction: Barnum spends all of spring at center but slides back to guard in fall as Miller proves himself the best option for the fifth guy on the line. I don't think they're wild about Khoury and want to give themselves more options at center. College-ready Kyle Kalis will probably be given a crash course at right tackle to give Michigan a scholarship option in the event of an injury to one of the starters.
Defensive tackle reshuffling. You also know about Michigan throwing its top two guys at WDE inside, paving the way for the quicker Clark/Beyer generation of pass rush terror. We have little clarity on what positions a lot of guys will be playing in there, and spring will be an opportunity to figure out just where the most terrifying hole is on the depth chart.
Roh is a strongside end now and Black a three-tech. Where do Campbell and Washington go? Are Wilkins, Ash, and Rock viable options? Is Keith Heitzman a guy who can provide some depth as a redshirt freshman?
Linebacker pressing. Jake Ryan is a lock atop the depth chart. Elsewhere there have been some rumors that Kenny Demens could find his job under threat. Meanwhile, Desmond Morgan is a hitter without a ton of athleticism who will get tested by redshirt freshman Antonio Poole and two of Michigan's three early enrollees, Joe Bolden and Kaleb Ringer. Bolden's probably an MLB in an ideal world and Ringer seems like a redshirt candidate, but once the pads go on those perceptions can change quickly.
Brandin Hawthorne's also around. He lost his job last year and it's clear Michigan thinks he's too small for the spot but I have this nagging feeling M is missing out on something by not incorporating him into the nickel package. His speed could be useful in coverage and on blitzes.
Wat? Let me untangle this bit of technical speak for you:
Hoke said linebacker Jordan Paskorz and defensive end Chris Eddins are moving to tight end "to get an on-the-line guy who can block a five-tech, or move a six-tech." Both could vie for time in the fall after the departure of starters Kevin Koger and Steve Watson.
A five tech is a strongside defensive end. He would be coming from the interior on an outside play and the TE can't get run over; on an inside play if the tight end is getting the five he's probably doing so as part of a double.
A six tech is what happens to a 4-3 under defense when the weakside end gets a tight end to him. In that case he has to bunker down and take on that tight end; if he gets sealed to the inside the corner is going to be there. Michigan wants a guy who can take a Clark or a Beyer or a Roh and get rid of him.
If you're reading the piles of players moving to tight end as a shot across the bow of the incumbents, you're probably right.
Scholarship clarity coming. Sounds like we might get another departure or two in the near future:
When asked if any players have left the program since the conclusion of last season, Hoke said he would "address that issue Friday" and declined further comment. His first news conference of spring camp is scheduled for noon Friday at Schembechler Hall.
He did say he doesn't expect to incur any academic problems.
A number of candidates bubble to mind but we'll find out in a couple days so no need to go speculating. If two scholarship guys exit before spring practice I'm bumping my projected class size to 24. Football teams don't go ten months without losing anyone. Also I like the idea of pushing this class to 24 a great deal. That's three WR, three LB, a couple DL, and a couple roving wild card supers unless Michigan goes ahead with that third TE.
This will not be a surprise to BWS readers, but dangit I also have my veer package and I'm going to run it. Because so there.
NOMENCLATURE NOTE. This from Chris Brown on nomenclature complaints:
Also I saw your note on whether the play should be labeled an "inverted veer." Others may disagree, but to me the fact that there's a guard pull doesn't make it not a "veer" -- you can have a veer play with all kinds of block schemes ("down" schemes, inside zone schemes but leaving a guy unblocked). The regular veer is just where the RB and QB go to the same side and you leave a defender unblocked. I may be responsible for the "inverted veer" name from naming it that a couple of years ago but I hear coaches call it that all the time now. "Dash read" is the other way to call it but that's not all that descriptive.
I put up a post on the scheme from this year. I note in there that you can run the play with either power blocking and a guard pull or zone blocking; I know teams that do both. Just depends how you want to deal with the second level.
I've been calling it inverted veer for a long time and it's not wrong-wrong—"veer" generally means leaving a playside DE unblocked, which the play does. I'll keep calling it that and note when it does not feature a pulling G.
Show show. Michigan finally—finally—made the inverted veer a primary part of their offense, fulfilling a desire I've had ever since Smart Football posted on the thing way back when. It worked really well, from Denard's 41 yard touchdown to open the scoring to Denard's six yard touchdown to continue the scoring, to… yeah. You get it.
The veer was perhaps the core play of an offense that did this to Ohio State:
- three and out
- 47-yard touchdown drive
- 52-yard touchdown drive
- three and out
- Michigan gets a first down, whereupon Denard fumbles
- 80-yard touchdown drive
- 80-yard touchdown drive
- 40-yard drive from own nine followed by punt disaster
- 75-yard touchdown drive
- 80-yard touchdown drive that morphs into 54-yard field goal drive thanks to replay incompetence and penaltyfest
Without looking it up I guarantee you that is Michigan's best-ever offensive performance against the Great Satan in the modern era. That is a short game and 38 legitimately acquired points. Ten real drives, six touchdowns, four of them 75 yards or longer, two three and outs. An average of 46 yards a drive. As weird and disappointing as Michigan's defensive performance was, the offense made up for it in spades.
And the thing is, I'm not sure Michigan is even running the veer that well. You know how Denard had to juke that guy on his 41-yard touchdown? He shouldn't have had to. Omameh blocked the guy the play options off:
With a lead blocker taking the corner you can see the read is Shazier here. Shazier indicates he's flaring out (or Denard just pulls because that seems to be the default on the veer). The pull is a good default since Shazier has a nasty tendency to have no idea where the ball is on plays like this, a major reason Penn State tore up the Buckeye run D. (It's worth noting that for all the panting about Shazier once Sweat went out OSU opponents ran for 6.1 (PSU) and 6.2 YPC (Michigan).)
Here the mesh has already transpired, Denard has pulled, Shazier is still charging at Toussaint, and Denard is going to get a bunch of yards once Omameh blocks MLB Sabino.
SPOILER ALERT: Omameh is not going to block Sabino.
WOOP WOOP WOOP
Now, Omameh does latch on to Shazier. And Shazier has no momentum since he held up and started going backwards; Omameh Te'o's the dude back into a safety with a little help from an improvising Toussaint. I'm a ol' softie so I gave him a plus one despite a missed assignment.
Denard sees grass. Denard runs. Some dude waves a pompom in front of his kneel, which is frustrating but apropos.
This is what pom poms are for: to block vision.
Items of Interest
That is not how they draw it up. They draw it up with Omameh blocking Sabino and Denard jetting past Shazier directly upfield. Here it works out well, but the other play I hate BWS for beating me to had a sadface outcome:
Schofield did the exact same thing Omameh did on this play, blocking the guy who the play options off. The guy way behind the LOS who isn't John Simon? Dude ran himself there because he had no idea who had the ball. Schofield should be moving to the second level to pick off S Orhian Johnson.
This time Denard makes the wrong cut and gets two yards.
As BWS says:
For me, this isn't quite as frustrating as when Michigan fails to run from under center. This seems like a repetition issue. Neither Omameh or Schofield have practiced this blocking scheme as much as they probably should, and pulling across the formation and finding the right defender to block is probably one of those things that just takes getting used to.
That said ARGHHH. Block the right guy. I wonder what goes through Denard's mind during a play like this. "Yes, yes, got'em. Remember, take a knee. Troll Tebow. Chest bump. Hoke Point." Tackled.
This wasn't an issue on the six-yard Denard TD, on which the optioned guy was the way-upfield DE and Hopkins ran outside, taking Shazier with him before blocking him. Denard ended up cutting behind Huyge, who released downfield; Schofield pulled and got a block on Johnson.
BTW, the above-picture play was part of Michigan's second (and last!) three and out. Borges uber alles.
Even with that! Okay, the above is frustrating, but, God, look at all that space. How many times do you think Denard gets corralled there? And what is the payoff when he isn't?
Borges's wonky little adjustment from earlier in the season here is using a lead blocker for the sweep action, which pulls a second defender outside—one evidently unprepared to make this read since nobody ever thinks Denard has it—and makes the pull even more dangerous because of hockey power play analogy*. The veer forces that safety into the box and still works.
[You have a bigger advantage 4 on 3 than 5 on 4; here equal numbers with Denard in space is basically a power play.]
ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: MOUNTAIN GOAT. Where is the safety? Jeremy Gallon turned him into a smoking heap of scrap metal.
And he knows it.
BAM BAM BAM BAM
I don't know what it is about five-eight guys from Florida. Their agility helps them in open space, for one, and their height means they are unusually able to get into the chests of opposing defensive backs. And there's some mountain goat in those boys somewhere.
Rep that, rep that, rep that. There are things other than "pulling guard doesn't block the optioned guy" that seemed like they could be coached up: on one play that ended up a give John Simon split the difference between the two potential ballcarriers and managed to spin Toussaint around at the LOS.
Denard could/should be riding the mesh point a little longer to force that DE to commit when it's not obvious. Maybe not; that is a great play by a great player and sometimes that's just going to happen. I just remember Juice Williams holding that thing forever, until the DE freaked out and took off for the tailback, and then being a 500-foot-tall robot.
Play action lack frustrating. Michigan went to a play action look off of this that turned into a five yard scramble instead of a potentially huge play because there were two unblocked guys on the edge and one blocker (who didn't block anyone). This has been a consistent frustration going back to the last couple years of the Rodriguez era: Michigan struggles to effectively run deep play action because the nature of their shotgun run game often leaves players unblocked and forces quick throws.
Rodriguez avoided this with QB Oh Noes pop passes on which Denard faked his iso and then dropped to pass. No pulling linemen, no edge issues, no guys who must be left alone for the play to seem convincing. I'm hoping Borges works something out to get big plays off counters to this over the offseason.
Hemingway slot business.
As I understand it, you use smaller, quicker WR's in the slot because they are matched up against lumbering LB's who can't keep up. You then use bigger, stronger WR's on the outside against the smaller CB's. It seems like we use Hemmingway in the slot quite often with Gallon or Odoms on the outside. Am I missing something here? I just don't understand why Hemmingway is in the slot so much. It's not like he is Floyd or Calvin Johnson, and they are trying to move him all over the field to keep defenses question because they are so freaked out about Hemmingway.
If you're not going to screen with those slots or use them as runners, there's not a whole lot of point to making those slot dudes little buggers. Putting your top WR there does get you some advantages.
One: it's hard to jam the guy since he's starting off the line of scrimmage and many defenses don't feature a guy directly over the slot. Two: you're essentially preventing the opponent's top corner from covering the guy man to man. If that's not the case you're forcing a nickel package on the field and forcing that corner away from his regular spot. This can have negative impacts on run fills from both members of the secondary. Three: hypothetically your big guy is a relatively good blocker and having him in the slot can help you attack the edge. This works better when we're talking about Floyd or BJ Cunningham.
Just because Hemingway isn't Floyd or Megatron doesn't mean he's not the closest thing Michigan has available, and since the Michigan offense involves zero quick throws to the slot, putting him there doesn't cost you anything.
A timely response on next year's OL.
Despite the awesome win at Illinois this week I still felt like Omameh had a rough day as I saw him get beat on a few occasions. Here's a question for you - based on the outlook for 2012, do you think the coaches might consider moving him to RT and keeping Schofield and Barnum as the two guards? Maybe Omameh just isn't cut out for mauling large DT or pulling, which is what the guard needs to do in this offense.
I think that's a possibility, but one that will depend on how quickly Chris Bryant progresses and how ready to play Kyle Kalis is more than Schofield.
I bet a dollar Schofield is the starting right tackle next year. He was neck and neck with Huyge for the starting job there before Barnum went down; Omameh has not played tackle in two or three years; there are no other tackles on the dang roster. If Schofield isn't the second-best pass protector on the team next year I'll be shocked. So he goes outside.
That means Omameh moving to tackle makes him a backup. Is that a realistic possibility for a would-be three year starter competing with freshmen, one of them a true freshman? Normally the answer there would be "no way" but watching him get chucked to the ground by Illinois (and everybody else) and seeing Omameh's inexperience pulling makes you wonder. He's been hurt more than anyone else on the offense by the coaching change and it's not a huge stretch to see a 340-pound mauler displace him, no matter the experience difference.
That might not be a bad thing. Omameh as the #6 lineman means there is a #6 lineman. Right now that looks far from guaranteed.
MGoBlog ruins relationships.
I've been dating an LSU alum for almost 3 months. In the week leading up to their big game I made the mistake of explaining (unsolicited) the ethical shortcomings of oversigning and the significant competitive advantage that it promotes. She follows CFB sparingly and didn't have much to say about the topic, but at her friends' game party on Saturday night she made sure to have the LSU contingent confront me. The return arguments went something like "you're jealous", "it's a numbers game", and "my friend's cousin plays for the team, he's not very good and he hasn't been cut", etc.
I'm no longer concerned with proving my point but rather with the chasm that oversigning has created in our relationship. Needless to say, she didn't agree with me and said that she just wanted me to be an LSU fan with her. Naturally, I want her to follow Michigan, too. I'm conflicted because I can't reconcile supporting Les Miles or the SEC with my own values. What's a man to do?
If your girlfriend is following LSU only sparingly she will not be able to tell the difference between your mild affection for the Hat's grass-eating insanity and a genuine desire for LSU to win. That will get you through games against the SEC West's collection of robot mercenary Bible salesmen. LSU is the lesser evil in their division if only because Miles is Loki incarnate.
Past that I can't help you. LSU had an assistant coach fired for arranging illicit benefits for a recruit. LSU's oversigning practices are just short of Alabama's for overall odiousness. LSU is mixed up in the Lyles scouting thing. If they were exposed to the same level of scrutiny OSU just went through, Baton Rouge would be a smoking, deliciously-scented crater. They're fun, I guess. I hate fun.
It kind of sounds like this girl is not a winner, anyway. Having her friends dogpile on you to offer sports talk radio opinions about oversigning is not a good sign. "Hey, I know what my boyfriend will like: being berated by a room full of people." Find a nice Texas alum so you can accuse the Longhorns of destroying college football, preferably at a Mack Brown house party.
[ED-S: Pro-tip: don't take relationship advice from Brian unless your relationship is based on an incomparable understanding of college football]
Coaching: it matters.
this year; last year
There's been a long line of assertions about college football being highly dependent on unusually gifted/determined athletes (It's not about X's and O's; it's about Jimmies and Joes comes to mind), and that coaching is more an area where the game can be lost and talent squandered (Ron Zook) or the marginal advantages in the same team strategy add up to wins over equally talented teams (Jim Tressel).
While it seems that some players excel regardless of coaching (Brandon Graham, Jordan Kovacs), the turnaround of Michigan's defense seems to be as good a test case as any for how coaching affects performance. They improved dramatically, but they did it opposite an offense that was similarly potent and returned almost everyone from a year ago, played similar caliber teams if not the same teams, and employed youth effectively in the secondary in stark contrast to previous years.
In light of this, all things being equal, how big a difference do you think having great versus "just good" coaching makes in college football (Like if Michigan had hired anyone who had the misfortune of not being born a Raven's defensive coordinator), setting aside that it only needs to be one point better in each game for the win?
The only thing Greg Mattison and Greg Robinson have in common other than first names—I'm pretty sure they're not even the same species—is their ability to mutter "scheme is overrated" when asked a question they don't really feel like answering. But if this year's Michigan defense has taught anyone anything it's that yes, scheme matters a lot. So does technique coaching.
Michigan did not go from 108th in the country to top 20 by replacing their players. They did it by playing a defense that made sense, delivering remarkably effective zone blitzes, and making certain total scrubs a lot better at football.
Scheme matters. So does everything else. Acquiring your pieces is a third of the game. Developing them into football players is a third. And deploying them effectively is a third.
GRADES AT THESE THINGS FOR VARIOUS THINGS
- Acquire: C-
- Develop: F
- Deploy: F
2011 Michigan defense
- Acquire: C+
- Develop: A
- Deploy: A-
- Acquire: B+
- Develop: B+
- Deploy: A
- Acquire: A-
- Develop: A-
- Deploy: C
Jim Tressel regime
- Acquire: A*
- Develop: A-
- Deploy: A-
Brady Hoke so far (tenuous)
- Acquire: A
- Develop: A-
- Deploy: B+ (provisional)
Fight over the niggling half-grades if you must. To answer the guy's question, the difference between great and "just good" schematic coaching in college football is not a massive difference in win percentage—it's not going to win you three games a year—but when you're at the level Michigan expects to be, edging out an extra half-win per year has a massive impact on the overall prestige of your program. The difference between 6-6 and 7-5 is nothing. The difference between 10-2 and 11-1 is immense, as Wisconsin and their omission from national title discussion have found out.
*[Illicit or no.]
Spread: we wants it forever.
A question that I would love to hear Borges asked is, given the fact that he has run a lot of spread this year, for really the first time in his career because of Denard, has it influenced his offensive philosophy? How he will approach game planning in future?
He always talks about how he's changed over the years and added things to his concepts, and I would love to hear him talk about that. I have a hope that we actually do not move completely away from the spread once Denard is gone--I would love it if we retained some of that concept and retained the ability to run the ball from the QB position. I think it really complicates defensive planning to have a dual threat guy back there (no offense Shane Morris). Is it possible to have Heiko ask a question of that sort?
No one can be certain, but since your question conjured forth an image of Heiko trudging to a press conference with "Taps" playing in the background… eh… I'm guessing not so much. When these guys came in they told everyone in no uncertain terms that Michigan football was running power down your throat, and they kept trying to do that from time to time no matter how spectacularly ineffective it had proven.
Is the Denard Robinson experience going to change that? Probably not. Borges has been an offensive coordinator for decades. Two years of Denard are just a couple additional logs on an already raging fire of this metaphor makes no sense. When he's gone Borges will have Gardner, Bellomy, Shane Morris, and a clobberating OL of Lewan, Barnum, Miller, Kalis, and Schofield with Chris Bryant and others waiting in the wings. He might (should?) have Bri'onte Dunn. Even if he's learned some cool stuff over the past couple years there's not much he'll be able to carry over with the personnel he'll have. While Gardner's pretty fast he's nowhere near the runner Denard is. (Rodriguez's disastrous OL recruiting helps smooth this transition: all the underclass Omamehs are air.)
Maybe we'll see a zone read or two, an inverted veer here and there, but even now it's obvious what Borges wants to do despite not being able to do it even a little.
I do find this a little depressing, but only a little. If Michigan puts together a pro-style offense with personnel like they had through most of the aughts and actually lets it rip that promises to be fun, especially with Ohio State transitioning to an offense that wants different things than Michigan will. I'd still like them to take runs at QBs like Braxton Miller and Devin Gardner, but I think they will—they took Bellomy, who is a mobile guy with the ability to develop into a thrower.
News bullets and other important things:
- Brennen Beyer is the only major injury the team is dealing with. He hurt his leg.
- Barnum is practicing, will get consideration to start.
From file, just to spice things up. Still can't believe this game happened.
“This is a great week to follow college football. Obviously with this game, I thought we had a very good practice yesterday. Hopefully we can follow that up today with our preparation. Our seniors have done a tremendous job with really the focus and the things that we need to do as a team and being the leaders out there, so it’s been good so far this week, and we just have a lot of work ahead of us.”
You say the focus was up. Has the focus gone to another level this week?
“You know, I think there’s been a lot of consistency, which is what we want to have a on weekly basis. I can’t tell you if it’s up more, but I think they understand how fun this game is.”
Do you feel like they’re focused on the fun and opportunity rather than the pressure and stakes?
“I think the consistency that we’ve had week to week, I think that the intensity of it and doing all those things has been good. I think they’ve been pretty focused on it.”
“This group doesn’t get tight very often.”
(more after the jump)
Complaining about the lack of bubble screens in Michigan's offense has become a hobby-horse here. Some people find this weird. I admit that a focus on one particular play, no matter what it is, is often missing the forest for a tree, and my focus on a play that picks up eight yards if run well is a little maniacal. But I see a lot of things not work and think 1) the bubble is open and 2) that might have worked if the bubble wasn't open.
While the bubble seems like an option you can take or leave, it's actually a key way to make every player on the offense an effective blocker every play. When Magee goes to his cutups in those videos about the spread 'n' shred philosophy, the guy asking most of the questions* wants to see bubbles first.
*[who I think is Harvard's coach since he talks about playing Columbia and a pizza place on "Comm Ave" that Google reveals is in Boston.]
The bubble is a constraint that opens up other things and forces the defense into positions it would rather not take. Michigan saw this first hand, as a series of first half bubbles forced Jake Ryan into the slot against Northwestern. Even that wasn't enough to hold down the single bubble the Wildcats ran in the second half before fumbles and interceptions and Michigan scoring on every drive terminated Northwestern's ability to use them.
It's not just a play. It's part of a coherent whole. Spreading the field stresses the defense only if you make the D cover everyone horizontally. Smart Football explained a long Oregon touchdown in the recent Stanford game and I was struck by the difference between the way Stanford defends this play…
…and the way Illinois defended a similarly unbalanced formation from Michigan:
That is a similar setup with one extra guy in the backfield. The highlighted defender to the top of the screen is the equivalent of #3 at the top of the Stanford defense (not the guy on the line)… unless the highlighted guy at the bottom—the corner—is. Someone on this defense is not respecting the threat of Junior Hemingway.
Michigan will run the play I've been calling "inverted veer", which is probably not the best terminology since various people say people call it "dash" and since it features a guy pulling to the frontside of the play it's not really a "veer"—if you care about these things. It's too late for me since I've got a tag, but you can still save yourself.
Anyway, on the snap, before the mesh point, it is clear that both highlighted defenders are going to get involved in the run defense.
Where is the equivalent guy in the Stanford play?
His feet are the ones bugging out for the bubble at the top of the screen. This effectively blocks a defender without having to engage that receiver's potentially crap blocking skills.
Junior Hemingway's existence, in contrast, is pointlessly lonely:
There isn't anyone within five yards of him by the time the mesh point passes. Even before the mesh it's clear the bubble is going to be open, if it was being run.
Anyway, at the mesh point the containing DE is containing so Denard pulls.
This options off a DE; the slot guy is being taken by Hopkins; the playside LB will get kicked by the pulling Omameh. There is no one for the corner, and this has turned into a run up the middle.
This is pretty much dead at this point. Michigan's got some problems on the line, too: you can see that the Lewan/Schofield combo block hasn't even sealed the playside DT, let alone the WLB… but that's just another reason the play isn't going to work since Denard is tackled in the backfield by that backside CB:
Pile of bodies, no gain, third down.
Items of Interest
This isn't to say I think Borges did a bad job in this game. I did get a little frustrated by the forays into the I that were spectacularly unsuccessful—before the Toussaint runs in garbage time Michigan had run seven times out of the I for –1 yards—and the lack of responses to the increasingly aggressive Illinois defense. HOWEVA, in context the move was to go conservative and get out of Dodge; before that was the move he tore up a good defense and was thwarted largely by things out of his control.
There are multiple issues with this play and I'm not suggesting the bubble is a panacea. I am saying it is going to work for tons of yards here, but it's not the only reason this play gets thumped.
The threat of the bubble effectively options off another defender. This means more space for people who are good in space, one more opportunity to blow something for the defense, and mitigates the following.
Receivers' blocking eh… not so good. On the play where Denard fumbled he actually had a good setup for the pull: the backside DE has shuffled down the line and Koger went around him to the edge.
Unfortunately, Junior Hemingway's consistently crap blocking reared its head on this play and the slot LB—who is actually covering the WR on this play—created problems.
Denard has to cut back. If Michigan's running a bubble this guy is either outside of the hash or Denard's throwing it to Hemingway or the Illinois defense is getting super aggressive and opening itself up to a Worst Waldo play. Since he's just a wide receiver who can't block Denard loses an opportunity to burst into a ton of space.
Lack of bubbles = lack of big plays (that aren't chuck and hope)? If you're looking for a culprit when it comes to the lack of long plays that are very open, the lack of the humble bubble screen is a candidate. When you spread the field and make the defense defend all eleven players on every play, a single breakdown means big yards. If you're covering every WR man to man and trying to leave two deep safeties, this is the result:
Michigan has put a lot less stress on safeties this year because they run a bunch of plays from a formation in which opponent safeties think "if they run it will be for half a yard" and when they're in the shotgun they aren't really in the spread, if you catch my drift. By not attacking the outside consistently Michigan lets opponents defend them with two deep.
In the inverted veer above the guy on Hemingway starts 13 yards off the LOS, which means the free safety can come down on the run without worrying about an Oh Noes.
Also bubbles work, yo. I mean, sure, opponents freaked out about them in the RR era since they were a foundational component of the offense but when they were run they worked, and when opponents run them against Michigan (or State vs Iowa) they pick up chunks. When you can get a chunk on first down you have a low-pressure environment to probe with your run game.
This is clearly a philosophical thing that is permanent. I'll drop it now, and this is not a criticism of Al Borges's overall philosophy—we have no idea what that's going to be like. It's clear, however, that the vast bulk of teams who use the quarterback as a runner believe the bubble is an integral part of the effectiveness of the offense. Michigan doesn't, and unless Borges can explain that in a way better than "don't ask me about it" its absence will rankle.