"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
So earlier I got the tweet from @umichfootball that the 2018-2019 conference schedules are out. They WERE up on MGoBlue but when I checked back a half hour later to post it here, they were removed and the article said the conference will announce it at noon.
All I remember seeing was Nebraska at home in 2018 to open the conference slate, and at Wisconsin in 2019 to open conference play. The good thing about 2018-2019 is that in 2018 when Michigan is on the road at both rivals, they bring in an SEC team. They travel the following year to Arkansas when they have both rivals at home. Same deal for the VT series.
I've watched with some fascination as the board and its notable proprietors have discussed the debacle that was last Saturday's game against Penn State. Much of what has been said matches my feelings, and hence there was a bit of catharsis in scanning all the commentary about Borges, the offense, and the rest. Read the Borges Conference Video thread for a good example of this exposition.
What the board has been developing is what I call a Theory of Al Borges. It goes something like this:
- Our goal should be to win games, usually by as much as possible.
- Playcalling should reflect this goal.
- Current playcalling does not always (or even, often) reflect this goal, repeatedly doing things we are "bad" at and not taking what the defense is giving you.
- As related, current playcalling is predictable and thus defenses know exactly what is coming before it is coming.
If these statements are in fact true, it would seem that there is almost no conclusion other than (1) Al Borges is pretty bad at coaching football, and that (2) we are never going to become the offensive juggernaut many of us are hoping for. I will thus call this "Dumb Borges" theory.
Can Al really be that bad at coaching football?
As more time passed since the game, I have found my inner eternal optimist coming out, and have tried to piece together a different theory of the offense. This theory I will call "Smart Borges" theory. It goes something like this:
- Our goal, at this point in the Hoke Era, is not just to win games, but to set up to be a powerhouse in the future.
- To do so, we need to learn to be a power team, a.k.a., Manball.
- Given limited practice time, in-game time is being used not just to win games, but to see whether the O-line, etc., is able to block in certain ways, even if the defense knows it is coming.
- Thus, some fraction of playcalling will be frustrating by design, using games almost as if they are extra practice time.
- The reason this is happening in Year Three (and not Year One) is that Hoke and co. knew coming in that they had to win to establish credibility, and to do so with Denard. They did so, and now that the Denard era is over, are slowly building up to what they actually want to be.
- Thus, this year will feel a bit more like a Year One than perhaps we want, but only because that is exactly what the coaches want to do. And we know, from other examples, that Year Two can be really good.
Long story, short: perhaps the coaches are willing to sacrifice some wins this year to be better in the long run. They are using in-game time to see how the young guys do and give them real practice against live competition. While they are not throwing games away per se, this does have the effect of keeping games closer than we would like. In the Penn State game, it led to a highly improbable loss (after all, how many times are we going to give up a TD with 50 seconds left, or miss three field goals?), and it might lose us a few more games along the way this year. But, if successful, this will set up for a longer-term dynasty.
I desperately want to believe Smart Borges theory. I think there is some evidence for it, notably this excellent post (by rshp1). And like any good theory, it should be testable. If Smart Borges theory is true, I think we can make the following predictions about the upcoming season:
- That in some games this year, particularly where the staff thinks a win is likely, we will run some incredibly predictable and terrible plays. These games will be closer than we would like. Candidates: Indiana (esp. if we were not coming off a loss), maybe Iowa.
- That in "important" games this year, the staff will focus solely on winning, because they are not so oblivious to its importance. In these games, Borges and playcalling will make much more sense. Obvious candidates: MSU, OSU.
- That next year, we will have a much better and sensible run offense, with better blocking and rushing outcomes. And the year after that will be awesome.
So what do you think? Am I a rube for thinking that Smart Borges theory might be true? Which theory do you believe in? Or is there a third theory of what is happening in Michigan Football?
In the “What is the Source of Our Run Blocking Issues” thread, I offered my list of things we are doing poorly (hint: everything). This Diary delves deeper into each of those items by examining an example of each in a brief picture page format. Let’s jump right in.
1. Bad individual technique. A lot of plays start from a fresh line of scrimmage 2 yards behind where the ball was snapped because of just plain getting beat 1 vs 1.
Example: First play of Michigan’s second possession.
Pic1: Butt motions next to AJ Williams, who is the defacto LT since Lewan is lined up outside of Schofield on the right in "Tackle Over."
Pic2: Michigan runs outside zone away from Lewan/Schofield. This goes about how you'd expect. Bryant and Williams both take a step laterally and allow their guys to get in on them with leverage. Before the ball is even handed off, they’ve each ceded 2 yards. Bonus: Schofield releases without chipping the DT, leaving Lewan an impossible angle.
Pic3: By the time Fitz gets the ball he has a wall of bodies in front of him 5 yards behind the line. The DT Lewan had no chance at is also there to prevent any hope of a cutback. Michigan would go on to throw for short gain on 2nd down, then Gardner throws his first pick on 3rd.
Another quick chat with a big time 2015 prospect tonight as I caught up with Denmark native Hjalte Froholdt. Froholdt is currently in America for 10 days taking a bit of a recruiting tour that included a game at Arkansas last week, a stop by Alabama yesterday, another at Florida State today, with his country-wide travels culminating in Ann Arbor Saturday for the game against Indiana.
Froholdt will release a version of his top list after his visit to Ann Arbor Saturday, but he already told me that Michigan will probably be toward the top of his list.
Michigan was in on Froholdt early when they offered him at the beginning of May and at that time he listed Michigan as his definite leader. He spoke very highly of the Wolverines and Coach Mattison back then, but over the summer his recruitment really blew up and he's now being recruited by some of the best programs in the country.
I think Froholdt is the top priority for the Michigan coaches on the interior of the defensive line in 2015, evidenced by only two other DL's having offers at this time and prospects like Tim Setlle and Elijah Taylor not having one.
I think Michigan will stay at or near the top of his list even as his offer list grows and his unorthodox recruitment unwinds.
How long should it take to develop a team into a Manball team?
To understand this question better, I scraped some data about Stanford from their first three year's under Harbaugh; recall that before that, Stanford was a bit of a train wreck. Thus, you'd think that if our goal was to be like that, perhaps we'd be able to develop to Stanford's level of manballishness in a similar time period.
Here is a graph of Stanford's run game over the first three years under Harbaugh:
Click here for the full-sized image.
The left y-axis (in darkred) shows the average yards per carry; the right y-axis (gray) shows total rush yards. I've just selected a subset of games (those in the Pac10... er... 12?) to get a consistent snapshot against a certain level of competition.
As you can see, the first year was a train wreck: only one game with a decent total number of yards rushing (Oregon), and most games with a low average (only two around 4 per rush).
However, by year two, Manball was in effect: many games with hundreds of rush yards, and many with high yards per attempt. Wow! Year 2 and already rolling. Year three, a better year record-wise, was similar (perhaps a bit better).
Now, the contrast: Michigan in the first three Hoke/Borges years.
Again, click here for the full-sized image. Similarly, just showing Big 10 competition.
First year was all over the map, but some big games. Next year, the first few games were great. Then, Denard got hurt. And after that, a much less robust rushing attack, hovering around 4 YPC, and few games with substantial rushing yardage. And now, 2013, with another step backwards: not many total yards, and an even lower YPC.
Of course, the jury is still out on this year, and there is a lot of football left. But if the rushing game looks like it has for the beginning of this year...
A common argument on this board seems to be whether we should stick with MANBALL, or do what fits our personel best? I see no reason why we cant combine the two by running formations that fit our personel, and schemes that fit our philosophy of Power Football.
Personally I would have us line up in shotgun a majority of the time. We are most dangerous when we have Devin lined up 5 yards behind center, plus we can still run a majority of our offense, including Power O.
- We can run single back power with a TE
- We can line up with an H-back and run regular power
- We can run inverted veer (same blocking scheme as power)
- We can also run QB/RB counter (same blocking scheme as power but with G and T, or G and H pulling)
We can also still run our other main running plays such as Inside Zone Read, Outside Zone, and QB draw.
Just the threat of Devin running the football while in the shotgun should help open up creases for our RB's and make life a little easier on our O-Line. This may limit the success of play action passes, but I wouldnt have any problem with occasionally going under center or pistol to add some variety to our offense. To me this is the best way to take advantage of our personel and still be a power football team.