it's a major award
[FA Edit: Bumped ahead of coaching kerfluffle due to value.]
So for the past few weeks, we all have noticed the abysmal performances by our defense. There has been lots of ideas tossed around, from GERG being a Defensive Jenius to poor coaching to bad luck/loss of concentration on a few critical plays. One thing that has struck me has been the absolutely atrocious tackling, namely our inability to make one.
Time and again, we have the ball player wrapped up, and then 3 yards later they have picked up the 1st down on 3rd and forever. I thought it was about time to look at tackling, both who is making/missing them and why.
About the analysis:
1. I regarded made tackles as anytime a player made contact with the ballcarrier and that ballcarrier ended up down by contact using solid tackling technique. I did not look at technique of made tackles, as after 1/2 of tape review most of the tackles that were made were of good technique.
2. I classified OOB as out-of-bounds tackles, which could have been a solid tackle out of bounds or a bump out (couldn't find a reasonable way to quantify the difference so they are tackles, but not quite).
3. I designated missed tackles as failing to make a tackle in space, taking an extremely bad angle on a tackle that should have been made, or simply just getting the hit but not bringing down the ballcarrier.
4. Bad Form takes into account any missed tackle that used any of the following:
- Head on the upfield side
- Arm/Jersey tackling
- Any hit at or above the numbers
- Getting "shook" in open field due to not breaking down or overpursuit.
The difference here is missed tackles in my mind sometimes come from being literally overpowered or stiff-armed, not a technique avenue. If the UM defender made the hit with the head on the right side and attempted to wrap up but the ballcarrier just slipped through, I counted this as a missed tackle only.
I reviewed the "every defensive snap" from the MSU and Iowa games and the results are as follows:
|MSU||Total Plays||57||4 TDs|
|Player||Tackles||OOB||Missed Tackles||Bad Form|
So. MSU only, we cant tackle at all.
|Made tackles||OOB||Missed Tackles||Bad Form|
Totals 33 7 18 11
|Plays||Missed Tackles/Bad Form||Missed Tackles/Play||Missed Tackles by Bad Form/Play|
Versus our Offense:
|Tackles||Missed/Bad Form||Missed Tackle/PLay||Missed Tackle from Bad Form/Play|
The numbers in this case really demonstrate how bad we actually are at tackling, and that it is a technique thing.
Solid to great defenses, while they might miss tackles, don't do so using bad technique.
Upon watching again, specifically focusing on tackling, the difference between our D and a Big Ten D is that ours seems to lack that killer instict, getting the ballcarrier to the ground regardless. We don't attack downhill, and we consistently have the head of our tacklers on the wrong side to impede forward progress. This could also be a good reason that we haven't seen a ton of fumbles this year as well, as the most common cause of a fumble is a good ol' helmet on the ball.
While the issue might stem from second-guessing assignments and being a half-second late to the hole, the number of times we went high and behind the ballcarrier in these games its simply shocking. Technique is something you can coach, and something you can keep coaching week in and week out.
Rich Rodriguez's defenders generally point to Kirk Ferentz and Barry Alvarez as examples of coaches who were given bad situations, struggled enormously at first, but then were able to right their ships and become highly successful. If we only give Rich Rod enough time, the argument goes, he will surely do the same thing. CRex's recent diary includes a helpful chart comparing the initial records for the first three seasons of various Big Ten coaches. Once again, Alvarez and Ferentz are the only ultimately successful coaches on the list who did about as badly as Rich Rod in their first three years.
If you look more closely at their performances, the comparisons break down. Both Ferentz and Alvarez struggled greatly through their first three seasons, but they took huge leaps forward in year four, something that it doesn't look like Michigan will be capable of under Rodriguez.
Wisconsin under Alvarez
I was a kid in the late 1980s. I remember Wisconsin at the time as an absolutely atrocious team, one of the two worst in the Big Ten (along with Northwestern). They hired Alvarez in 1990, as indicated in bold on the chart below.
In short, Wisconsin struggled for three years, with gradual improvement, then won Big Ten and Rose Bowl championships in year four. They did slide back a bit, with a losing season in 1995, then ramped up in the Ron Dayne years and have been a very good, occasionally great Big Ten program ever since.
Iowa Under Ferentz
Ferentz inherited the Iowa program in a very similar situation to what Rich Rod had at Michigan. He replaced a beloved coach (Hayden Fry) who had done very well but slipped a bit toward the end of his career. If anything, Fry had fallen further than Lloyd Carr did, posting a very bad final season before Ferentz took over in 1999.
The pattern is strikingly similar. Rock bottom start, gradual improvement, then Big Ten champs in year four. In Ferentz's case, Iowa was 8-0 in the Big Ten in 2002. They didn't play OSU, and their only losses were to Iowa State and to USC's first juggernaut team in the Orange Bowl.
So what does it mean?
I confess that I don't know the details about the circumstances at either Iowa or Wisconsin leading up to the hiring of these coaches. If anyone did follow these programs very closely, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on what their situations were like at the time. But I think it's safe to assume that neither Alvarez nor Ferentz inherited much talent. Iowa was in decline prior to hiring Ferentz, and Wisconsin was terrible prior to hiring Alvarez. Yet these coaches, working with much more difficult recruiting situations than at Michigan, were able to turn their teams into Big Ten champs by year four. Does anyone think Michigan will be close to winning the Big Ten next year?
Can you name any highly successful coach who was unable to build his team into a winner by year four? That's not a rhetorical question. I haven't heard any names mentioned. The usual story is huge success in year two. That's what we see in virtually all the most successful coaches from the last decade: Tressell, Stoops, Carroll, Meyer, Brown, Saban. Am I missing anyone?
It's true, none of those coaches began in as bad a situation as Rich Rod did at Michigan. But Barry Alvarez and Kirk Ferentz did. Highly successful coaches seem to have a very swift upward trajectory when taking over a program. Even if you put them in the absolute worst situation possible, they manage to turn things around amazingly fast. Maybe Rich Rodriguez is an exception to that rule. If he is, he is a rare exception indeed.
Early on this season we celebrated the fact that our defense was no longer giving up multiple 70-yard TDs each game, because this was seen as progress for our young defense, and because those long TDs last year had put pressure on an offense that was not quite ready for prime time. However, since our offense is much stronger and since we now seem to be playing a bend-and-then-break style of defense, would we be better off getting hyper-aggressive on defense and hoping to offset the big plays with a few turnovers? Defensively the results would probably not be dramatically different, but it could help our offense in a couple of related ways:
1) Our offense clearly operates best when playing in rhythm. You can see when we get in a zone and get defenses back on their heels. Sitting for 5-10 minutes while our opponents grind out a 14 play TD drive kills all of our offensive momentum and rhythm.
2) This would put opposing defenses out there for bigger chunks of the game, and our defense out there for smaller chunks of game. It is not really about time of possession, per se, as much as it is about getting out their and running at such a pace as to have their defense gassed for the entire second half, while giving our depleted defense a chance to stay fresh. Once our offense started clicking against both MSU and Iowa, their top players like Jones and Clayborn had to go out for extended breathers because they couldn't keep up. I want to see that every week.
|Nebraska 2007 defensive statistics||Nebraska 2008 defensive statistics|
|Points allowed 455||Points allowed 371|
|PPG 37.9||PPG 28.5|
|First Downs allowed 299||First Downs allowed 228|
|Rush yards allowed 2,786||Rush yards allowed 1514|
|Rush YPC 5.2||Rush YPC 3.6|
|Rushing TD’s allowed 38||Rushing TD’s allowed 24|
|OPP. ATT-COMP-INT 409-236-8||OPP. ATT-COMP-INT 385-222-12|
|Passing yards allowed 2.936||Passing yards allowed 3,034|
|Pass TD’s allowed 20||Pass TD’s allowed 19|
|Pos||2007 Defensive two deep||2008 Defensive two deep|
99 Barry Turner 6-3 250 Jr.
88 Clayton Sievers 6-4 245 Jr
99 Barry Turner 6-3 260 Sr.
Clayton Sievers 6-4 255 Sr
43 Ty Steinkuhler 6-3 285 Jr.
96 Brandon Johnson 6-3 315 Sr.
97 Kevin Dixon 6-3 285 Sr.
43 Ty Steinkuhler 6-3 280 Sr.
93 Ndamukong Suh 6-3 305 Soph.
96 Shurkee Barfield 6-4 310 Jr.
93 Ndamukong Suh 6-3 300 Jr.
56 Shurkee Barfield 6-4 300 Sr
98 Zach Potter 6-7 280 Jr.
95 Pierre Allen 6-5 265 RFr.
98 Zach Potter 6-7 280 Sr.
95 Pierre Allen 6-5 265 Soph.
51 Bo Ruud 6-3 235 Sr.
38 Kyle Moore 6-2 225 RFr.
53 Tyler Wortman 6-3 235 Sr
12 Blake Lawrence 6-2 225 Soph.
13 Corey McKeon 6-1 225 Sr.
40 Lance Brandenburgh 6-1 230 Sr.
52 Phillip Dillard 6-1 238 Jr.
54 Colton Koehler 6-1 230 Jr.
15 Steve Octavien 6-0 240 Sr.
40 Lance Brandenburgh 6-1 230 Sr.
34 Cody Glenn 6-0 230 Sr.
23 Latravis Washington 6-3 225 Soph.
2 Cortney Grixby 5-9 170 Sr.
5 Armando Murillo 6-0 195 Jr.
5 Armando Murillo 6-0 190 Sr.
28 Eric Hagg 6-1 200 Soph
30 Tierre Green 6-1 200 Sr.
9 Bryan Wilson 6-1 205 Sr.
3 Rickey Thenarse 6-0 195 Jr.
33 Matt O'Hanlon 5-11 195 Sr.
9 Bryan Wilson 6-1 205 Sr
4 Larry Asante 6-1 210 Soph.
4 Larry Asante 6-1 210 Jr.
6 Major Culbert 6-0 205 Jr.
|CB||25 Andre Jones 6-0 190 Sr.||21 Prince Amukamara 6-1 195 Soph.|
In 2007 the Nebraska two deep had 5 underclassmen; in 2008 there were 5 underclassmen. The roster was very similar in both seasons. In 2007 Nebraska had a pretty shitty defense composed of mostly upperclassmen, in 2008 with the same amount of upperclassmen there was significant defense improvements. The 2008 defense allowed 84 less points, despite playing an additional game. In 2008 the rush defense improved by 1,272 yards, with the YPC dropping by 1.6 yards.
So what is the cause for this massive one-season turn around? A coaching change. 2008 was Bo Pelini’s FIRST season as head coach. I have been a hardcore Rich Rod supporter so far, but the Penn State game really has me questioning things now. I have been seeing over and over on this site that a coaching change would hinder us for a year or two, rebuild again yada yada but I don’t see why. We are in an almost identical situation to what Nebraska went through this last decade.
In 2007 Bill Callahan’s team went 5-7; in 2008 Bo Pelini went 9-4. I don’t know if I’m ready for a change at HC, but all the transition will hamper us/ we can’t improve talk has to stop. I know that we have A LOT of underclassmen in the secondary and Nebraska didn’t, but those same upperclassmen were terrible for Nebraska then vastly improved the next year.
A big concern seems to be that hiring a pro style coach (Harbaugh) would mean bad things for our offense. I don’t see why this would have to happen; Harbaugh has been running the zone read at Stanford with the top pro prospect Andrew Luck. He actually busted off a real long TD run against USC this weekend off it. Would it be all that crazy that a non spread coach would come in and recognize he has the most explosive player in CFB and run the spread the remainder of Denards career? Devin Gardner also seems like he has the skillset to excel in a pro style system.
The premise, implied or explicit, of all of the "fire RichRod" posts is that he's incapable of putting forth a competitive defense.
In that 2007-8 season, WVU had the seventh-ranked defense (by yardage) in the country. Indeed, in 2010, WVU is ranked fourth defensively under Jeff Casteel.
Here are the total defense / scoring defense rankings for WVU in the last six years:
2005: 15th / 13th
2006: 62nd / 49th
2007: 7th / 8th
2008: 36th / 11th
2009: 36th / 31st
2010: 4th / 5th
I realize that the Big East is not the Big Ten. However, WVU showed in those bowl games that their defense was for real. Jeff Casteel has achieved those rankings running the 3-3-5, FYI.
The point I'm trying to make is: RR is clearly capable of coaching a team with a successful defense. Why hasn't he had one at Michigan? As has been noted many times by many people, (1) because the defense was famously decimated; (2) highly touted recruits haven't worked out and/or left; (3) he naively thought the defense would be fine, and focused heavily on getting the right players on offense given the radical overhaul he needed to execute and has successfully achieved; (4) Jeff Casteel didn't come with him to Michigan.
RR is capable of running a competent defense. Hence, firing him because you think the defense won't get better seems senseless to me. As does firing him because you're frustrated with the losing (as we all are).
There is only one reason to fire RR: because you believe that Michigan will be a more successful football program, over the long haul, with someone else as the coach. In order for that to be true, there needs to be another coach out there, who is available, who you think would win national championships at Michigan. (Keep in mind that Lloyd Carr won one, Gary Moeller won zero, and Bo Schembechler won zero.)
Personally, it's not obvious to me that there is an available coach out there, Harbaugh included, who is clearly superior to RR. If other people believe otherwise, I'm happy to consider persuasive arguments.
Personally, I still believe that once we get a full defensive roster here, with this offense, we will be an awesome team. While it's true that these last three years may well have gone better under a more traditional coach, it's hardly clear that a Harbaugh type could lead us to MNC titles. On the other hand, the RR offense combined with an above-average defense will.
We gave RR time on the offensive side of the ball, and he has given us the best offense we've had at Michigan in generations, along with one of the best individual athletes in Denard we have ever seen here. Let's see how RR does with an upperclassman-led defense before blowing up the program again.