to play football, not to play trumpet
al borges denard fusion cuisine
Around suppertime Monday my synapses kicked in again, and I could think about anything from that game other that GURGLE GURGLE, BAWWHHHH, and 'WHHAAAAT?'. The first thing that came back was the 77-yard pass to Hemingway while wearing Kapron Lewis-Moore as an ankle bracelet. Then the rest of the memories returned, and I remembered I was getting aggravated earlier about how ridiculous it was to be using Denard Robinson like John Navarre. Chris Brown's Twitter feed wasn't helping:
…and neither was watching Henne and Brady demolish each others' defenses from under center on Monday. Of course Denard is Denard and makes magical unicorn rainbows, so hell why not have the best rushing QB in history sit in the pocket then lob an end-zone fade to a 5'9 receiver? I'm not being totally sarcastic: the guy may be 6'0 but he can also stand outside the pocket with a 300-pound defender hanging on his legs like your sister's kids after dessert, then chuck a perfect zinger from his back shoulder to a receiver behind the coverage. By this point any other QB would be eating turf; Ben Roethlisberger would be eating turf.
Magical Denard is magical and is actually capable of throwing perfect spirals with a rusher in his face from a 7-step drop if you ask him to, and he is getting better at doing so. He's obviously still learning the technique—Hoke in the Monday presser:
He was the first one to come off the field after one [bad play] and say, ‘My footwork was bad.’ So that’s good to see.
I think we can safely extrapolate this was after the first interception. To actually say the I-form is responsible for any more than that (and that flimsy) we're gonna need to dig a bit deeper. And since memory of formation beyond that and the "Shades of Aaron Shea" fullback pass betrays, let's just look at all the plays run under center vs Notre Dame (mega thanks to Boyz n da Pahokee, who gets a long overdue points bump for his Every Snap Videos):
"DRV" = which play in that drive, so 3 is 3rd play, etc.
|1||3||M33||1st||10||RUSH||Hopkins, S.||2||MANBALL 1|
|2||1||N45||1st||10||RUSH||Hopkins, S.||2||MANBALL 2|
|3||2||M29||2nd||10||RUSH||Hopkins, S.||3||MANBALL 3|
|3||4||M43||1st||10||PASS||INTERCEPTION||0||Footwork was bad.|
|4||2||N45||2nd||15||PASS||McColgan, J||15||1st Down|
|4||3||N26||1st||10||PASS||INTERCEPTION||0||Why? Why did you throw this?|
That's 8 plays where bad things happened (<4 yards to turnover) from under center, and 7 where good things happened (counting Hopkins getting stuffed and fumbling as a "good thing"), and accounts for about 35% of the offensive plays yet 100% of Michigan's scoring plays on the day (WHHAAAAAAT?). Those six in microcosm:
- Jump ball to Hemingway in single coverage. Is short (that's good) and Hemingway makes a play then dives for the pylon. (GOOD)
- Denard rolls out, finds nobody, magically picks his way through a forest of ND defenders to get to the 1. (LUCKY…that we have Denard)
- Goal Line. Hopkins runs straight into leaping linebackers, fumbles, Denard picks it up and accelerates into the end zone.* (LUCKY)
- Perfectly executed Incredibly Surprising Waggle that finds McColgan open on a wheel, and brings back memories of Aaron Shea. Then again if Carr did this on 2nd and 15… (GOOD)
- Drops back, has to loft ball over collapsing defenders, Gallon goes up to get it, and Gary Gray becomes the Stevie Brown(-3) of Notre Dame. (LUCKY)
Perfectly executed fake-bootleg screen. Smith makes this happen by out-accelerating a tackle then slipping through a few more before 'Tree can get the last block. Note: this was out of ACE Twins. (
LUCKYEDIT: GOOD--I hear you board. This is the kind of under-center play that plays to these guys' strengths)
- Smith motions out of the TB spot to split end and…Ah hell, you deserve to relive it. (Ufer style)
Let me know when your synapses are functioning again. Actually, don't. Watch that a few more times.
When you've woken up and convinced yourself all over again that this is indeed real life and the score will be like that forever, I see 15 plays run under center of which eight did nothing and at least four or five only did something only because a fumble bounced right to Denard or Gary Gray can't cover. The touchdowns are red herrings. Wonderful, magical, sapphire herrings.
Not counting goal line, kneel downs, 3rd and long/short, and times when we needed to get 80 yards in 30 seconds or whatnot (i.e. the last two drives), Michigan ran 61.76% of its plays out of the shotgun. So this is still a 60% spread offense. When you break out the yardage on the remaining plays, it's easy to see why:
|Formation||PASS YPA||RUSH YPA||TOTAL YPA|
(the one sack was from the shotgun, and counted as passing yards)
It's early in the season and Denard is still learning how to run this offense and by "this offense" I mean like 40% of the offense, with the rest being the stuff mostly similar to what he did last year. It does seem his recurring accuracy problems are related re-learning dropback QB footwork but except for when he says so directly it's hard to see how that affects the efficacy of formations.
The big thing is the rushing! Small sample and all but against our first real competition (and ND is a good rush defense) Michigan put up better-than-Rich-Rod numbers out of the gun and was broken-Hart-vs.-mid-aughts OSU out of the I. The staggering difference in rushing yardage out of the I versus shotgun may be as simple as Denard's rushing ability versus that of the RBs: had Hopkins found the cutback lanes in his two rushes under center perhaps that I-Form rush YPA is up around a Lloydball-ian 3.5. That's still a huge difference. Denard in the gun means Denard as a rushing threat. Notre Dame mostly chose to play the rushing threat and force him to pass (and this worked pretty well), and yet he still got 7.46 YPA because one guy in the hole is never enough.
Two games into a new staff, got the W, very limited sample, receivers are the receivers, his legs are his legs, not likely to face a better MLB than Te'o, caveat caveat caveat caveat, but at this point (caveat caveat) I don't think lining up under center is working.
* It was watching this play that I realized I had seen enough of Denard running that I can recognize his unique style…like you know how you could pick out a Mike Hart moving silhouette with no other clues? I think I could do that with Denard now.
9/10/2011 – Michigan 35, Notre Dame 31 – 2-0
is this real life?
Not only can Denard Robinson redefine All-America teams, average nearly 500 yards per game against Notre Dame, and pilot the most insane fourth quarter Michigan Stadium has ever seen, but he can sum up what happened on Saturday in a single word:
If you still need evidence that Denard can do things other people can't, there you go. Because I've got nothing. I can gape, slack-jawed and twitching, if you'd like. Oh, and I can put my finger between my lips and go "brrrrrrrrrbbrbrbrbrbrbrbrbrrbb" with crazy googly eyes. Also I can spin in a circle going "yip yip yip yip yip."
These are my capabilities. All other functions are currently offline. Attempt to access higher cognition and you will receive 503 Gateway Not Found.
That's fine. There's nothing to say that "brrrrrrbrbrbrbrbrrbrbrb" doesn't cover anyway. I am so high, you guys. I don't even know what I'm saying.
Seriously. I'm really struggling here to put words in the computer. I guess… okay.
The thing I really really hated about the first three quarters (other than everything) was the way the offense made Denard mortal. This extended beyond the usual reasons 90 yards of offense in a half make you homicidal. Not only were we lost and hopeless in our first serious game after returning nine starters from one of the nation's most explosive offenses, but the guy who didn't transfer when his offense got fired out from under him was busy playing out everyone's worst-case scenarios.
I don't think I can take football games in which I'd rather have Alex Carder than Denard Robinson. A return of freshman Denard looking like a sad panda is too depressing for a multitude of reasons but mostly because just look at him:
Shoehorning him into an offense that doesn't fit him is a crime against man and panda and manpanda. He had to be dying in the first half as he flung balls to Tacopants and ran waggles the entire stadium could predict. People twittered me about moving him to RB so Gardner can get on the field. I couldn't block them from my phone. The tweets sat there, whispering evil things into my ear.
As I projected Denard's state of mind my own got inky black. The road ahead seemed like another two years of painful rebuilding towards a goal Denard will never see, his career relegated to that of Brandon Graham when Desmond Howard seemed in reach. It's going to kill me if Denard ends up a really good player on a mediocre team for the duration of his career and Michigan doesn't end up making anyone who wants 16 in the future wear a patch with dreads on it. It's going to be worse if he's not even a really good player. Someone is at fault for this travesty.
I was running advanced equations of blame assignment amongst Bill Martin, Rich Rodriguez, Al Borges, Dave Brandon, and bloody fate when Denard rolled out. Corralled by a Notre Dame defender, he stood perfectly still but still delivered a game-changing dart to Junior Hemingway before two more ND players could close in.
From there the delirium took over.
That game was delirious because of the many improbable events stacked on each other. Jeremy Gallon jump-ball touchdowns. Tommy Rees's aiming device locked on Michael Floyd. Tommy Rees throwing a ball backwards for no reason. More jump balls to Junior Hemingway and Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon turning invisible with 23 seconds left. All the reasons it left you with your finger between your teeth are reasons to wonder about the smoothness of this transition (not very), the repeatability of such miracles (even less).
This isn't to blame anyone—it seems that coaches are who they are and as much as I want to, you can't hire a guy based on the two years left you've got with Denard. But I hope I'm not the only one who felt a sense of foreboding in the midst of the joy and relief. We've seen this script the last two years, and never has it been as rickety.
Michigan has to fix some stuff—lots of stuff—by the Big Ten season. The stakes are only Denard's career, everyone's faith in the Ethical Les Miles theory of Hoke's success, and the very survival of pandas in the wild. I'll take the escape. I wonder what happens when the drugs wear off and real life reasserts itself.
For now, though:
The game is ova!
Non-Bullets Of WHAT?
Pantheon placement. I think this is below Braylonfest—but only just—in the competition for Best Comeback Ever (that people 32 or under remember). For Michigan to pull Braylonfest out they had to recover an onside kick and survive not just triple overtime by an oft-forgotten 50-yard field goal attempt at the end of regulation that was set up by a horrible pass interference call.
A good proxy for the level of kickass in your comeback is how many people left the stadium early. While there were some people who took off when ND made it 24-7, they don't compare to the legions who left early during that MSU game. And winning that eventually got Michigan a Rose Bowl appearance. The season-long significance of this ND game is going to be lower.
It easily beats out the Buffalo Stampede game, since it's not against Minnesota or in the Metrodome, and then it's a long way to fourth place.
As far as best game ever… it depends on what you're rating it on. I like my defining victories to be well-played and not hinge on the opposing quarterback throwing the ball backwards for no reason. In terms of pure drama it's up there but with both teams unranked and not looking likely to defy that I'd say most Ohio State games before we stopped being competitive had more salt to them. We lost all the ones that came down to the last play, though.
The entire Denard interview. If you missed this, you should fix that:
Commence the bitching about the offense. Watching Michigan run a play-action bomb from the I-formation after averaging exactly two yards per carry out of the I on previous attempts was exactly what I was beating into the ground over the offseason. No one is scared of Michigan's crappy backs running power out of the I-form so no one has to cheat to it. Thus instead of Worst Waldo plays featuring Roy Roundtree and twenty yards of grass we got a lot of hopeful downfield jump balls into excellent coverage.
Michigan was lucky as hell to get most of those. That was a Jeff Bowden special right there. I'm not alone in this. There has to be some adaptation now that we know the relative success rates of manball and Denardball. When Denard's averaging 7.5 YPC (sack excluded) and the rest of the backs under are 2, power is a lost cause.
Denard has to be the focal point of the offense, fragile or no. And the new offense seemed to remove Denard's legs as the primary threat without actually reducing his carries: he had 15 carries* in just 50 snaps. Project that to last year's 72 offensive snaps per game and Denard would have carried 22(!) times. What's the point of throwing away snaps on two-yard runs from the I?
Primary thing that may just work. "Chuck it up to Hemingway" may be the world's most primitive passing game but dang if it doesn't work. Hemingway not only has great leaping ability, he's enormous and therefore capable of boxing out opponents. Add in an uncanny knack for being able to high-point the ball and he's a hell of a lot like Marquise Walker before Walker got the dropsies as a senior.
Primary thing that did work from under center. Vincent Smith's throwback screen touchdown was a great call since it used Denard's legs. He rolls, defense freaks, he throws back, Smith should have an easy touchdown if any of the offensive linemen block that one linebacker, Smith makes it happen anyway. Contrast with the earlier screen where a short Denard has to float a ball over a guy leaping in his face and ends up throwing it eight yards too far and getting it picked off.
And introducing… Facepalm Guy. The facepalm guy from the sad fugee face picture in the "So I Was Like" post: the the new Lloyd Brady? He's already won an award for "Media Criticism" from Doctor Saturday.
1) He caught ESPN's camera's capturing his facepalm moment and gave them an oh-no-you-di'in't:
2) After the game he… well, he did this:
Can a brother get a Facepalm Guy touchdown Jesus photoshop?
(HT to MGoUser Haterade.)
Defensive events. Brandon Herron and Mike Jones were supposedly out with injury but if I had to guess they were not so badly hurt they couldn't play and Michigan was trying out their other options at WLB. Desmond Morgan started, played poorly—he got trucked like he was in a BTN practice highlight-type substance—and was yanked. Then Brandin Hawthorne came in and may have been plausible. He knifed into the backfield for one key TFL on third and short. I'm guessing he was at least partially responsible for a number of Cierre Wood runs that went for big yardage, but we'll see. WLB remains a sore spot.
The other sore spot is an alarming, unexpected one: WDE. Craig Roh had zero tackles for the second straight week and while he did get a QB hurry or two he seems less impactful from that spot than he did last year. I mean, last year he split two ND linemen and picked up a huge TFL en route to a +11 day. This year he'll be lucky to break even. Hopefully he's still sick. I wonder if we see more Black in the short term.
How did Jordan Kovacs only have eight tackles?
BONUS: Will Campbell got held! By an offensive lineman!
Special teams. Matt Wile has been at least average spelling Hagerup, and with only one more real-ish game left before the latter returns it looks like Michigan will escape that suspension without much real damage. I still hate the regular punt. If ND's John Goodman hadn't made inexplicable fair catches he had tons of room on two of Wile's five punts despite Wile's excellent hangtime.
The patch thing. It's pretty cool. Some potential tweaks and additions:
- Should we un-retire numbers? I could get behind a 98 if it meant someone was going to be sitting in front of a locker that said Tom Harmon. You'd have to ask whoever the nearest relative is.
Further locker room additions. Everyone who's been an All-American should have their name engraved in a fashion more understated than this legends designation…
...but still be there. Having Chappius and Oosterbaan and Friedman and McKenzie and Dierdorf and Long's names up in the locker room would be a nice way to recognize All-Americans past.
- Next up. AC and Woodson. If they don't put the retired numbers back in circulation. Jake Long would probably be next up way down the road.
- The patch is too big. That's just, like, my opinion, man.
So there's this. Exploit your children for fun and profit:
Profit not applicable.
Pom-poms and RAWK and crowd noise. Is it just me or was the stadium not actually very loud when it would help out the most? The pom-poms encouraged people to use their hands shaking pom-poms instead of making noise and while the piped-in music was indeed loud, when it cut out the people in the stadium making noise were largely going "OH oh oh oh oh, OH oh oh oh oh" instead of "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA." The latter is louder.
Putting aside the insults to the Great Tradition they represent, is the noise level created by the frippery mostly cosmetic? It has seemed much louder in Michigan Stadium—I was frustrated as I was screaming myself hoarse on the last drive while people around me shook their little plastic thingies. Plastic thingy shaking is not that intimidating, people.
And then there's the guy two rows in front of you who's shaking the thing constantly so you can't see the game. In the South they have a protocol about these things: raise that thing above your shoulder during a play and you're not getting that arm back. Here we get them every five years or so and there's always someone who thinks row 14 is the last one.
ST3 goes inside the box score. Michael Scarn says trying to describe that game was like taking a picture of Bigfoot. Post-ND MonuMental riff by ppToilet. (You can't choose your username, man, it chooses you.) MonuMental himself shows up to modify his Denard action figure for the occasion.
Pretty much the best. An obviously drunk Jeff at Maize Pages digs up the fantastically entertaining Roundtree-Shaw Newlywed game BTN video in response to the delerium.
Photo galleries and assorted media. Pregame shots from MNB Nation. Other shots from MNBN. The Shredder took a zillion shots. Tailgating from AnnArbor.com. Also the game. Here's a great stadium shot from Melanie Maxwell:
Also here's this dude:
The whole gallery is worth checking out.
Wolverine Historian put together a 28 minute highlight reel.
Column-type events. Wojo. More Wojo. MVictors also fills you in on the techno viking behind Hoke: yes, it's Steve Everitt, and no, you do not want to get between him and his cubs. Kyle Meinke says Denard was a big part of the offense and the running backs weren't and that's not so cool. Florek in the Daily.
UGA/M dual-fan Michael at Braves & Birds wonders whether it's better to play poorly and win (as Michigan did) or play well and lose (as Georgia did).
Entertaining serieseses of bullets. MVictors:
On the sunny side, they pulled out all the stops in the press box for the media on hand. Witness the butter dish of victory:
This might have been Brandon's special bonus.
[Robinson's] total of 446 yards and 5 touchdowns was excellent, but how he got there was strange. Through three quarters of football, he was 4-for-14 passing (if that accuracy rate sounds familiarly horrible, that's because it's the same as Michigan's kickers circa 2010) for 136 yards, 1 touchdown, and 2 interceptions. In the fourth stanza, Robinson went 8-for-11 for 217 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception, plus a recovered Stephen Hopkins fumble that he turned into a touchdown.
That graph is intended as a baseline estimator for a team's real-time win probability and is independent of situation, but the site also offers a crude win probability calculator, which, while it's calibrated to an NFL scale, can at least give us a decent estimate of how unlikely Michigan's victory was: four percent, Michigan's win probability after Notre Dame's slot receiver scampered into the endzone without a defender in site. Denard Robinson laughs at your probabilities and says, "Really? Oh man, that's crazy," and throws the ball to Jeremy Gallon standing alone in the Notre Dame secondary.
Maize and Blue Nation wins best headline: "The Denard. The Denard. The Denard."
National takes: Adam Jacobi marvels and notes that Robinson couldn't throw the ball even when he was completing passes; he also points out that uh… the Big Ten is not so much this year. Doctor Saturday:
Here, instead of merely covering poorly, Notre Dame subsequently failed to cover Wolverine receiver Jeremy Gallon at all, incredibly freeing him for a 64-yard sprint to the Irish 16-yard line with eight seconds left for a) A couple shots at the winning touchdown; b) A shot at a field goal to tie; or c) A confused catastrophe that left 110,000 people contemplated mass hara-kiri. With all of every one of those people secretly fearing c), Robinson delivered the dagger.
Robinson was, again, heroic for Michigan. He has brutalized the Irish the past two seasons, rolling up a mind-boggling 948 yards of total offense to go with eight TDs. His performance in the fourth quarter Saturday night was downright epic: 7 of 9, 202 yards, three passing touchdowns to go with six carries for 24 yards and another TD. In all, he accounted for a staggering 226 of his team's 229 yards.
In Case You Live Under A Rock
Other stuff: Festivities you won't go to because you have a tailgate. Soccer doubleheader tonight, though: men at 5, women at 7:30. The MZone provides Know Your Foe. BWS previews the Irish. One Foot Down reviews the Michigan offense. Too little data so they make big, but it's worthwhile.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Notre Dame|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
September 10th 2011
|THE LINE||Notre Dame -3|
|TELEVISION||National on ESPN|
|WEATHER||High sixties dropping to low sixties; 40% chance of rain; NO SUN!!!!|
|MY AWESOME KELLY NICKNAME||Zach De La Coacha|
Run Offense vs. Notre Dame
This remains an enigma after an abbreviated, well-in-hand game against a MAC opponent. Michigan mixed a bunch of different formations and blocking schemes—minus the stretch—en route to 7.3 YPC.
What they'll do when a rivalry game is on the line bears little relation to what they were running out with a two-score-or-better lead against Western Michigan. But if I had to guess, and I do, it will look more like Michigan's first possession than the rest of the game. When they got the ball for the first time they were down a touchdown and there was no guarantee the defense wasn't still a flaming tire fire.
On that drive Michigan operated exclusively from the shotgun and ran Robinson four times. When they were nervous, they went back to the well. In a huge, meme-establishing matchup for Brady Hoke's career he might as well run those power plays with 1) his best running back, 2) an extra blocker, and 3) the possibility of QB Draw Oh Noes.
In addition to a wide array of QB power, look for the zone read. Michigan ran it to good success late and Notre Dame was irresponsible on the zone read against USF. Three times in the first half they let the outside guy in the zone read break contain. Once it was an inverted veer on which both the give and take would have picked up eight or so. While USF's overall stats were bleah, they moved the ball fairly well in the first half despite having absolutely no hope of completing a pass longer than zero yards. In the second half they were content to run the ball into stacked lines.
[SIDE NOTE: One reason the zone read was successful may have been a USF tweak to it: running it out of the pistol. Michigan's current setup isn't far off. After the QB steps forward, he's almost at pistol depth. The difference is the positioning of the running back. In the pistol he gives nothing away because he can head to either side of the QB. In the traditional shotgun the zone read is on one side or the other. You can flip this assumption with speed options and other plays that make the optioned-off guy a playside defender, but Michigan hasn't done this and the pistol seems like a cheap way to sow uncertainty in the defense. I don't expect to see it against ND, or ever, since Borges is focused on other things.]
As for the rest of Notre Dame's run defense, it remains largely the same. They've got a bad situation at ILB next to Te'o, where Carlo Calabrese lost his job to Dan Fox… and then Fox was pulled for Calabrese midway through the USF game. The outside linebackers seem a bit confused. The ends are good, though—I can see Lewan handling Ethan Johnson but on the other side of the line Michigan might want to option off Kapron Lewis-Moore. That's a matchup that does not favor Huyge. Michigan will remain left-sided.
I hesitate to offer much in the way of predictions given the uncertainty here—I think Michigan will struggle to move the ball on the ground from under center, but there are opportunities to get a defense that seemed vulnerable to confusion last week out of position.
Key Matchup: Molk/Omameh/Barnum against NTs Cwynar and Nix. If Michigan is going to run power they're going to have to blow the NT off the ball in the 3-4. That will be much easier when the relatively slight Cwynar (6'4", 285) is in. Nix is a 340 pound hambeast who, while only a redshirt freshman, may be able to stand up to double teams.
But can he deal with Molk reaching him? I'll be watching ND's substitution on the nose and how Michigan reacts to it. I'm hoping they make Nix move laterally while pounding Cwynar.
Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame
This is also almost totally unknown. BJ Daniels is awful. In the first half when USF racked up 16 of their 23 points, Daniels completed zero (0!) passes past the LOS. The only thing we can take from the USF game is that Notre Dame has trouble defending bubble screens. The Bulls consistently racked up 5-10 yards despite the wholesale suck of Daniels. Chalk up some free yards on the outside.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame's late-season defensive surge came against Utah, Army, and the backup quarterbacks at USC and Miami. The former was passing in a driving rain storm; the latter had 282 yards on 33 attempts and a passer efficiency rating of 152.
What data we have on Notre Dame's pass defense leans towards not so good, but it's mostly "ask again later." Denard Robinson got thirteen dodgy attempts against Western. A lot of different things are within the realm of possibility.
These are basically the same teams as last year, when Denard went 24 of 40 for 244 yards and a touchdown, but extrapolating from that is dangerous. Michigan debuted QB Draw Oh Noes for a 30 yard touchdown, got something similar for another seam throw down the sidelines to Odoms, could have had a couple more to Roundtree, etc. Michigan's snag package was new, too. All the things Denard could do were new. Not so much anymore. He'll will have to do new things against a veteran secondary. Every starter is a senior. They remember what happened to them last year.
Meanwhile, Michigan has a new offensive coordinator with a totally different passing game that he has already installed. We did see a QB Oh Noes or two against Western and a lot of familiar things, though, and it's not like Borges can't dial up a high-low read of a cornerback. The issue will not be slants and flares and various underneath passes but the mid-level stuff and beyond, particularly getting the same results out of Denard without getting him killed or asking him to fit it in a tiny window.
So who knows?
Key Matchup: Borges vs Acquisition Of The Big Easy Play. Even assuming that Denard just had an off day and is about as accurate as he was last year, Michigan's not going to go up and down the field just based on his arm. The omnipresent threat of the run and the lack of safeties that implies will be critical. I think Borges knows this and will take advantage, but to do that he's got to force those safeties into the box with Denard's feet, or at least the zone read.
Run Defense vs. Notre Dame
Against USF, Notre Dame's rushing offense looked a lot like Michigan's might over the course of the season. They operated from the shotgun and ran tons of power from it. They didn't use the quarterback on these things, but they still go good yardage. Starting tailback Cierre Wood is a talent. I've hardly seen Toussaint run so this might sound dumb, but the two backs are carbon copies: fast, agile, bouncy, with an inside edge. Wood might be a bit more athletic but it's hard to tell given the limited evidence available.
Wood averaged 5 YPC on the day. While he was less than explosive against a USF team that lost three starters off its line, the Bulls were a solid defensive team last year and project to be one again. Backup power back Jonas Gray did 4.3 but also lost a back-breaking fumble that was returned 98 yards for a touchdown; he's a guy who just runs straight ahead and gets what he can. Wood is the threat.
Notre Dame's line is powerful—virtually every guy on it was recruited by Michigan. On short yardage their ability to cave in the center of the USF line was impressive. Often backs had to do little other than run up the backs of their offensive linemen to pick up a good gain. When Notre Dame pulls they often pull two linemen because center Braxton Cave is agile enough to get outside. He and a backside tackle will frequently show up at the point of attack—don't think Notre Dame can't put MANBALL yards on your face because there isn't an H-back on the field.
As for Michigan, they brought on a 220 pound true freshman to play DE in their passing spread and got burned for it. Other than that the Broncos didn't pick up much. At night in temperate conditions expect much more from the starters than we saw in week one. Brennen Beyer will be relegated to the bench and hypothetical extra DE will be Jake Ryan, who was an impact pass rusher last week. The rest of the line should be able to hold up on the interior, and Kenny Demens will be hard to run past.
Unfortunately, it's not hard to envision Wood exploiting Michigan's weak edges with his ability to bounce outside. It will be easy to lose contain against him; Michigan's outside linebackers were thoroughly bleah against Western; Michigan will lose contain. If Wood doesn't go over 100 yards that will be a surprise. Holding him to 4 YPC instead of the 5 and getting Kovacs to slice him down to live another down will be keys. They'll get yards. Michigan has to make them earn touchdowns.
Key Matchup: Mike Martin vs Cave, etc. Martin is supposed to be banged up. If he's ineffective that takes a major source of the zero-yard plays Michigan needs to kick ND off the field out of play. This is the time to Make A Statement.
Pass Defense vs. Notre Dame
Last year this was either walk-ons at QB for the Irish or DOOM. This year the guy who got yanked in favor of that walk-on after doing this…
…is in charge. Unfortunately, he's not fresh off the pickle farm anymore. Now a sophomore, Tommy Rees came in at halftime after Crist had bombed himself down the depth chart and lit up the USF secondary to the tune of 296 yards on 34 attempts. He was victimized by drops, one of which led to a crippling interception. (The other INT was Rees's brain going "FLOYDFLOYDFLOYDFLOYDFLOYD" despite Floyd being double covered.)
Rees's situation was a major factor in those numbers. South Florida entered the second half up 16 and played to not give up the big play. Almost a third of Rees's yards came on an all-but-meaningless drive that started on the ND 11 with two minutes left and USF leading by ten. Before that he was playing strictly against a GERG-style three man rush that never got home. He was able to leisurely survey the defense and grind down the field as USF gambled that playing like idiots wouldn't catch up to them before the end of the game*. He was really good at this.
And then there's Michael Floyd (@ right), who I don't have to describe to you. ND's other receivers are just all right. Theo Riddick might be good if he learns to catch. TJ Jones is currently holding his binky tight and sucking his thumb in case the bad man yells at him again. Tight end Tyler Eifert isn't Rudolph, but he is pretty good. He'll be a source of frustration.
Michigan's situation here is far less doom-ridden than last year. Woolfolk should return. I'm betting they put him over the top of Floyd in the hopes that his speed and height can break up some of the deep stuff. Avery and Floyd both had their moments against Western and will put the theory that Tony Gibson's real name is Debbie and real profession is pop start to the test. Kovacs seems like he's moving to genuinely good. The main issue is the situation at non-Kovacs safety. In the nickel Michigan figures to be running much of the day that was Carvin Johnson or Marvin Robinson, neither of whom seems ready for primetime. I wonder if Michigan will roll out Avery as that nickel corner—something he played last year—and move Gordon back to the safety spot.
Meanwhile up front, Michigan used an array of blitzes to freak Alex Carder out. They didn't get much pass rush from the front four save freshman Jake Ryan, but the starters were sat for much of the game due to punishing heat. I don't think that override what we've seen for the careers of Martin and Roh and Van Bergen. They'll get to the QB whether by blitzing or not. Rees will probably get a read first.
Key Matchup: Mattison's zone blitzing against Rees's ability to react quickly. Some of the blitzes won't get home and Michigan will give up chunks. What happens when Michigan's blitzes do slip guys through unblocked will decide the game. Does Rees panic and throw balls up for grabs? Does he shut down like a deer in the headlights as Kovacs bears down and he can't find a receiver? Or does he zing evil passes to evil Mike Floyd for evil yardage that makes us lose?
*[Seriously: Skip Holtz went full Lloyd in this one. It was a little repulsive to watch. If ND didn't have the worst case of butterfingers they would have blown the lead, deservedly. The only thing I thought during the second half was "I hate football coaches."]
You'd think this would be a huge advantage for Notre Dame but last week David Ruffer missed a chip shot field goal, Ben Turk averaged 34 yards on five shankalicious punts, and USF ripped off a 34-yard punt return—their only opportunity of the game. Notre Dame's got problems, too.
It's still a Notre Dame advantage because Ruffer has an excellent track record; Gibbons does not.
Key Matchup: GIBBONS YOU PUT IT THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS AAAAAA
I call him "Brian Kitty"
- The extreme efficacy of Mattison's blitzes turns out to be playing against a crappy WMU line and those four-man zone blitzes aren't getting home.
- Uncertainty at the safety spot opposite Kovacs bites Michigan in the ass like it did last year.
- Denard is operating from under center.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Rees starts chucking it off his back foot because his ribsies are hurty.
- Nix == zone stretch == Omameh-Te'o reunion
- Brian Kelly's head turns mauve.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 6 (Baseline 5; –1 Home night game with frickin' firewurks, +1 for Mike Floyd aaaiaigh, –1 for Mike Floyd didn't do crap last year…, +1 for Because of Walk-on Stuff And Cam Gordon Making Him Irrelevant, +1 for Ugh More Freshmen DL, +1 for Denard's Not Getting 500 Yards This Time, –1 for True Sophomore With Scant Experience Against Mad Mattison)
Desperate need to win level: 8 (Baseline 5; +1 for Let's Get This Party Started Right, +1 for The Sky's A Different Color And It's On Another Channel, +1 for It's Notre Dame And They Are Very Annoying, +1 for A Win Probably Means Borges Is The Platonic Ideal Of Borges, –1 for It's Not Like We're Playing For A National Title This Year)
Loss will cause me to... make even more insufferable comments about the stupidity of MANBALL
Win will cause me to... WOO SHOTGUN MANBALL
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
I always hate this section because predictions are stupid. I hate it even more now because predictions in this specific case are even stupider than stupid. There's all the uncertainty above and then the possibility of yet more pounding rain. So, like, I don't know, man.
But strictures and conventions. After watching the ND game I'm a lot less worried about the yardage disparity against USF. Skip Holtz went into full turtle mode at halftime(!) of a game he led by two scores. It was gross. In the first half USF moved the ball pretty well but had fewer opportunities to rack up yards because of a defensive TD and terrible, terrible punting by ND.
USF ranked 112th in returning starters according to Phil Steele and still features terrible BJ Daniels, who is terrible, as their quarterback. Under the circumstances I might have pulled the Holtz there too. And when they finally got scared after ND missed a chip-shot FG to bring them within a score, they took the offense out of the garage for an 80-yard, 14-play touchdown march.
So… don't put too much stock into Rees's performance. He was allowed a ton of easy underneath throws with no pressure at all. He's a true sophomore who was a generic three-star out of high school. Severe meltdown is possible. Unfortunately, that goes both ways since Rees is throwing to Michael Floyd.
Michigan is almost totally unknown. We got some encouraging notes from Al Borges in a brief window and we saw some sexy NFL style zone blitz packages that promise to rattle quarterbacks all year. Mattison will have more in the drawer. And then there's last year and Denard running forever and ever amen.
I think it comes down to turnovers. Given what we saw last week, the relative abilities of the opposing teams to get pressure on the quarterbacks, and an admittedly hypothetical improvement in Denard Robinson's ball security, that slightly favors Michigan.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Michigan's shotgun breakdown is approximately what it was last week and Robinson nears 20 carries out of necessity.
- Borges brings back the stretch when Nix gets in and Molk kills him to the point where Nix ain't in no more.
- Michael Floyd destroys M to the tune of 150 yards and two TDs. Many of these will be on Rees panic bombs as Michigan rushes him.
- Michigan, 26-24.
9/3/2011 – Michigan 34, Western Michigan 10 – 0.75-0
Q: What is awesome about the above photograph?
A: Brady Hoke's Joe Paterno impression. Look, ma, no headset.
On a day that lacked much in the way of emotional import—Brock Mealer did not touch the banner, Denard Robinson did not introduce himself by plunging from the heavens, mostly I felt hot or wet—the thing to do was read too much into the future of Michigan football based on little. We're going on even less than the rest of college football is after their opening-weekend bludgeonings since Mother Nature and inflexible regulation prevented a full game from being played. Things are fuzzy.
They'll remain that way for most of the season. Hell, they'll remain that way until Michigan's OL/DL depth chart crisis passes in two to three years. But I got the things I wanted the most, the things I spent large sections of the offseason hoping for, arguing would be true, or declaring to be the only sane thing a sane person could do.
BRADY HOKE IS NOT RICH RODRIGUEZ IN RE: COORDINATOR MEDDLING
Rodriguez's problem was never his selection of defensive coordinators, it was his refusal to trust them to do their jobs. The thing about Hoke is this: he does. At SDSU he hired Rocky Long to run a 3-3-5; Rocky Long ran a 3-3-5, and it was pretty good, and now he's the head coach. He hired Al Borges to run a passing-oriented West Coast offense; Borges ran a passing-oriented West Coast offense that wasn't quite as good as Michigan's in FEI's eyes but was still top 20. If he "gets" anything it's that he's a former defensive lineman with a narrowly defined set of assets that does not include being a genius of any variety—he's never been a coordinator. So he's hired two guys with very long, very successful resumes to do that stuff for him.
PRO STYLE IS INSANE STYLE
Switching to an actual pro-style offense would be doing exactly what Michigan did last year when it installed the 3-3-5 despite the total unsuitability of its personnel for the scheme.
DON'T FRIGGIN TOUCH ANYTHING OR I'LL CUT YOU
MOAR SHOTGUN PLZ
Check, check, good enough. Michigan was 70% shotgun.
The offseason was spent exploring the a disconnect between Brady Hoke's words and his teams' actions. The fear was that This being Michigan, for God's sake, would change his attitude from "whatever works" to "the expectation is for the position." That latter was the infamous Carr-era slogan that symbolized a stubborn adherence to out-executing the opposition. It led to things like a thousand Mike Hart zone stretches where he made four yards only after dodging guys in the backfield. I really, really did not want to go back to the days when Michigan's running plays could be described as "left" or "right."
Brady Hoke's words said the first play Saturday would be power; Brady Hoke's team ran the QB stretch that was amongst the most frequent playcalls a year ago. As the game progressed it was clear there had been quite a few modifications. It was also clear that there was enough of the Denard offense in there to go to it when Michigan needs to.
This would have been obvious to all if Denard hadn't chucked a QB Oh Noes well behind Drew Dileo on Michigan's final touchdown drive. If that's accurate Dileo scores on a play eerily similar to those of last year and everyone except Craig James is talking about how different the offense isn't.
That's good right now, and better down the road. It's been a long time since Michigan fans could say their head coach hired the best people for the job and let them get on with it.
Non-Bullets Not About Football
Brady Hoke knew this would happen. On the way back to the locker room his team speared themselves some dinner.
Increment the Grimsrud meter. Last year when Michigan decided that terrorists were likely to explode the stadium with sealed, clear bottles of water, everyone complained until David Brandon rolled his eyes and offered the plebes a freebie for the opener because it was hot.
On Saturday it was ninety degrees and you could buy a not-even-cold bottle of water for four bucks, get a complimentary three-ounce dixie cup, or hit up the Absopure stations. At least until they ran out:
Connor Dean, a Michigan student working at one of the Absopure Hydration stations at the stadium, said his station had exhausted nearly its entire 450-gallon supply of water by halftime.
Dean said a hydration station would typically go through about 225 gallons of water for an entire game. “This is crazy for a normal game,” Dean said.
The athletic department got lucky as hell that the skies opened up shortly afterwards. Even as it was the number of people conking out because of the heat overwhelmed Huron Valley Ambulance:
With temperatures on the field reportedly reaching 120 degrees, the heat overwhelmed fans at Michigan Stadium. Huron Valley Ambulance says the high number of heat-related cases it handled caused it to call for backup from the Ann Arbor Fire Department.
HVA officials said a count of the number of fans who've been treated for heat-related concerns would not be available until later Saturday, and they were too busy to provide even an estimate.
"It's extremely busy at Michigan Stadium,'' said Terry Pappas, communications supervisor for HVA. "We have multiple heat-related incidents and the Ann Arbor Fire Department is helping.''
If it's really about safety, the Absopure stations should be handing out 25-ounce bottles of water that cost ten cents instead of providing little cups you have to wait for and can't get back to your seats effectively. The athletic department's horseshit doublespeak about safety and convenience increased those issues so they could hawk some extra bottles of water. They're using 9/11 as cover. That's appalling.
Apparently posting We Are ND was the right idea for the wrong reasons. We have officially Freekbass'd ourselves, as the Dog Groomers' song was played three times to amaze and delight people who would rather hear these guys…
we are… DOG GROOMERS
we will… SHAVE YOUR DOG'S HAIR INTO A PLEASING SHAPE
also we have a band!
…than the Michigan Marching Band.
We're worse. While they've got a rapping hobbit, We Are ND was an internet-only phenomenon quickly clarified as a student project. It aired once at some banquet or something. We're playing music from The Best of Hot Topic in the stadium. This is the inevitable result when middle-aged middle-managers from Middle America try to be cool: massive failure.
What was so bad about a guy in the band beating out a steady rhythm as the crowd chants "Let's Go Blue"? Why does "This is Michigan, for God's sake" apply to running power off-tackle but not keeping the stadium atmosphere intact? Is there someone in the athletic department who really wishes he was running a regional arena in Charlotte, NC, with an ECHL team and regular WWE visits? Why does the guy on the left still look like an accountant? Who is the guy on the right kidding? Is the bald guy in the middle just photobombing this shot? I fear these questions are unanswerable.
In the spirit of ND Nation banning "Michigan sucks" posts, I will end taunting ND about We Are ND until piped in music is excised from the stadium. We are We Are ND.
Meanwhile, our band is metal. Western's band said "screw this" and showed up in white T-shirts and shorts so they wouldn't die. Ten of them still had to be treated for heat issues. Michigan's band roared out of the tunnel in full dark-blue regalia; while we don't have casualty numbers for them the mere fact that none of them died before completing the anthem is metal. One firehorse for the band.
Analogy to mandatory minimum sentencing goes here. The NCAA's CYA guideline about lightning strikes was the reason Michigan couldn't finish (or all but finish) yesterday's game. The sun had already come out by the time the teams finished getting off the field for the first delay, and that was the reason there was more than a few minutes left on the clock when the seriously dangerous storm rolled in.
Anyone looking at the weather radar could tell you that by the time they delayed the game it was perfectly safe, but lawsuit avoidance rules everything around me, and thus we get a silly abbreviated game that makes the value proposition of a 70 dollar ticket to watch Western Michigan play even dodgier. Boo.
Argh. So last year I'd get to my seat and tweet personnel stuff I noticed in warmups. This year I did the same and just got a bunch of replies that can be summarized as "duh." This is because the U announced suspensions/unavailability an hour before the game. Next time it would be nice if M could do that earlier or not at all. kthxbye.
Non-Bullets About Football
Depth chart/practice rumor updates. The offense was as expected. Brandon Moore got some time as the second TE, which is good.
On defense, Frank Clark had gotten hyped up this fall but it was Brennen Beyer who got a ton of time as a rush end. His main contribution was opening a few cutback lanes for Western. Also infrequently seen: Brink and Heininger. I'm guessing that's an artifact of playing a passing spread… but we'll see a passing spread next week. I'm hoping the massive substitutions were because of the weather and that RVB/Martin/Roh will get way more time against ND. Herron was a surprise starter at WLB and Avery started opposite Woolfolk.
I received a bunch of tweets predicting Carvin Johnson would not score well in UFR, and then he was replaced by Marvin Robinson. Will be interesting to see if that works out.
So weird in so many ways. The game would have been short even if it was long, if you know what I mean. There were all of two drives in the first quarter and Brandon Herron robbed Michigan's offense of two opportunities. As a result the offense only had five and a half drives to work with. They scored 3.5 touchdowns and went three and out twice.
Short term prognosis: grimmer? Less grim? We'll have to see what the UFR looks like but Western went up and down the field against Michigan in a manner reminiscent of everyone against last year's D… and scored ten points. Michigan forced two turnovers with QB pressure and held the best quarterback in the state to 5.9 YPA.
Hack out the Kovacs sacks and WMU averaged 4.9 YPC, which is not good when you're playing a MAC team with two fresh JUCO transfer backups at guard. Also hoping that's a result of the heavy rotation.
The offense had those three and outs, and because of the weird nature of the game that was enough for their output to seem somewhat worrying. They did give the impression they were about to blow the doors off when the game got called, having just blown down the field in three plays and moved the ball into the Western half of the field when the game was called.
Pressure existed. When Mattison figured out rushing four wasn't getting home he turned things around by blitzing like mad. One series late in the first half saw him go cover zero three straight times. On each play a Michigan player would tear up the middle unblocked, forcing Carder to chuck it off his back foot. JT Floyd made a play on the first; the second two were hypothetically open but Carder couldn't get it right because he was busy eating someone's facemask.
Hurray lack of GERG.
Running backs. Toussaint's getting good reviews everywhere and it'll be no different here. To me his most exciting moment was an eight-yard run late when he was cutting behind the backside tackle. He momentarily looked like he'd head inside of Lewan, sucking the linebacker inside, then burst back behind him to pick up good yardage. That was a "whoah, he can do that?" moment reminiscent of his high school film.
My only complaint is that on his long run he tried to truck the safety instead of angling away from him and probably cost himself 10 more yards. That mentality is helpful when he's running up the middle, maybe.
Kovacs preview 2012 preview. There is a 100% chance this is one of the images used for Kovacs next year:
Things I miss. A couple tactical decisions that seem suboptimal:
- The spread punt. I thought it was remarkably effective at holding down return yardage because it gave you six gunners instead of two. When Michigan punted, if the returner got past the first two guys he had 15 yards before the next wave showed up. The only disadvantage is the near-impossibility of faking from it.
- No huddle offense. I liked the concept of tempo as something you were capable of shifting on a regular basis, and it seemed like a good idea to remove the burden of calling audibles from the quarterback.
This is not an endorsement of Rich Rodriguez. Hoke uber alles.
COUCHDATE! Alex Carder, pictured above, just turned the ball over three times and averaged a terrible 5.9 YPA—more than a yard less than the national average—against last year's #108 defense. What do you think this means, Graham Couch?
This weekend — considering the performances of Carder, Denard Robinson and Kirk Cousins — in everyone's eyes, it should be a viable argument, even if not a certain one.
… Even though I truly believe Carder is the best college QB in the state, this column was an interesting social experiment alone, though it wasn't intended to be. … the argument against Carder by so many who had barely heard of him — and the manner in which they argued — was absurd.
It was an interesting social experiment: can a beat writer actually get criticized for being an embarrassing homer by a fan of the team he's covering? Survey says:
As a Western alum living 2k miles away, I really wish the Broncos had a better beat writer.
Sorry GC but I hate your style and you come off as a whiny, rambling, non-objective homer. I can appreciate the passion you have for defending our boys but just put the shovel down because you're digging a deeper hole for yourself. Just stick to the facts and give us information about our teams. You lose all credibility and professionalism as soon as you try to sell the reader your opinions.
Circle gets the square. /gameshow'd
AnnArbor.com surveys the changes at the golf course and find people are happier this year but still a little peeved that there had to be any changes at all.
MVictors and John Kryk find previous times when Michigan games have ended before full time. They're mostly from the days when you could accidentally play a 23-minute third quarter before anyone noticed. Greg also explores whether or not Brandon Herron's interception return TD was the longest in Michigan history or if Tom Harmon has him beat.
Shooting Blue returns with a long gameday review. Pop Evil "could only be worse" if the lead singer clubbed seals while Godwinning himself. Maize and Go Blue hit up Oklahoma this weekend and returns with a trip report.
Column type things: Wojo references the "numbingly familiar" defense. Get Rid of the Seaward is enjoy its first Michigan season in a while with normal LDH levels, which means cancer remission. Denard on Toussaint. Maize And Go Blue recaps the game. Holdin' the Rope:
As the rain fell and Brady Hoke patrolled the field as if he'd been around for a while already, as if it was undeniably his field and his program and not one that had just been handed to him only 8 months ago, it was hard not to come away with certain vague feelings of goodness, that something that was more good than bad had just transpired, a feeling of warmth that may or may not be ephemeral. The Era of Good Feelings continues. James Monroe's got nothing on Brady Hoke.
Aaaaaand the Hoover Street Rag "writes under the influence of muscle relaxers and pain killers."
More bullets can be found at TTB…
Apparently it doesn't matter who coaches the special teams, whether it's an offensive or defensive guy, etc. Some Michigan fans hated that defensive backs coach Tony Gibson was in charge of special teams because he was one of only four defensive coaches under Rodriguez. Now an offensive guy (tight ends coach Dan Ferrigno) is coaching special teams, and they're still bad. Kick returner Kelvin Grady doesn't look like anything special and made a bad decision to leave the endzone. Brendan Gibbons had a low extra point attempt blocked. Western Michigan averaged 31 yards per kickoff return and consistently had excellent field position.
and The Wolverine Blog.
And if you're looking for a few bullets on Michigan State, A Beautiful Day For Football provides. Sounds like that OL is going to be a problem. Also Minnesota and Northwestern had meaningful outings—Heiko will debut a weekly thing covering opponents tomorrow.
Is Al Borges going to play to his strengths or Denard's?
Borges has been talking about lots of wide receivers and lots of shotgun since people started him asking the obvious question of the offseason. This has not kept people from asking him "yeah, but how much?" The only thing Borges could have done to get people to cease and desist is present a signed contract guaranteeing a certain number of shotgun snaps and QB Draw Oh Noes.
He didn't quite do that in his interview with the BTN crew when they hit up Ann Arbor, but he came closer than he ever had before:
Point blank: Denard "is the priority." (Readers wishing to contrast with Rich Rodriguez are asked to focus on his obsession with a poorly-run 3-3-5, not his inability to squeeze maximum production out of the ragtag 2008 offense.)
The spring game disputes this version of reality:
They kept running the waggle and Denard could not get anything out of it. There was a guy in his face the whole time; the resulting throws were frequently incomplete due to inaccuracy. In the video above when Hoke references a couple of "drops" the best examples the BTN can dig up are Drew Dileo almost making a spectacular one-handed stab and Darryl Stonum almost making a spectacular sideline lay-out.
Maybe in a tackle football game he can escape that contain guy on the regular, but that seems like a high variance strategy with limited upside. Option 1: beats corner guy, is on corner, has shot at running some probably not immense distance or hitting a crossing route of some variety. Option 2: second and 20. There's a reason the waggle is strictly an occasional changeup—whenever you've got the ball and are spending time with your back to the defense there's a chance something awful is going to happen, like John Navarre getting blown up in that one MSU game.
But after the game Borges said Denard would run more "in the real world" and that's a long time ago now and every indication we've had since is that the offense isn't going to be a whole lot different than it was last year.
ONE: it suggests that Al Borges is awesome. His career has hinted from this as it rambled from scrambling Forcier-a-like Cade McNown to brutal play-action annihilation with Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams, and Jason Campbell to a flexible multi-formation West Coast attack featuring Ryan Lindley in any formation you care to name. Now he's got the squarest peg he's ever run across and he's busily shaving his offense to match.
TWO: This is the way to go, especially now. In the NFL, shotgun formations are more efficient:
Shotgun formations are generally more efficient than formations with the quarterback under center.
Over the past three seasons, offenses have averaged 5.9 yards per play from Shotgun, but just 5.1 yards per play with the quarterback under center. This wide split exists even if you analyze the data to try to weed out biases like teams using Shotgun more often on third-and-long, or against prevent defenses in the fourth quarter. Shotgun offense is more efficient if you only look at the first half, on every down, and even if you only look at running back carries rather than passes and scrambles.
In college, running quarterbacks have a real advantage that the Mathlete stumbled across while trying to figure something else out:
In Denard's specific case the threat of a run from him is the reason he could surge to 20th in passer efficiency (Chad Henne 2006: 26th) one year after being totally incompetent.
Al Borges is going to do his damndest to keep Denard productive, upright, and beaming.
How much will Borges's lack of familiarity with cheetahs in Porsches strapped to jet engines and dropped out of an airplane hurt the offense?
It is going to hurt somewhat. Pretty much the only thing Rodriguez was consistently awesome at was introducing wrinkles in the run game that consistently produced. Remember that dreamlike first half against Penn State in 2008 when Brandon Minor emerged from nowhere and raged his way down PSU's throat? Rodriguez was fantastic at that stuff.
It petered out in his first two years because he had nothing to go to—no constraints—when the defense started cheating on him. With Robinson the wrinkles not only to the run game but to the defense-crippling QB Draw Oh Noes resulted in either points or plays where the points were there for the taking if only the players could have executed. Maybe the fundamentals were lacking. I tend to think of these things as youth and bloody fate. Either way you could see the outline of something great and tentacled in Michigan's fumbling missteps and blown opportunities. Rodriguez's offense was gorgeous in how it gave defenses awful choices.
Al Borges can do that. In his first year at Auburn, Jason Campbell averaged 10 YPA. Ten! That is a great many yards per attempt.
I'm not sure he can do that with Denard. 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.
Is anyone going to help Denard out?
I think so. Injuries laid up Shaw and Toussaint last year; both are apparently healthy. It's also possible that Vincent Smith will be closer to his late freshman form now that he's almost two years removed from his ACL tear. Add in a sophomore Hopkins and a couple freshmen and there are a lot more bullets in the chamber than there were last year, when Michigan was down to Smith and a fumble-prone Hopkins most of the season.
Without a similar plague of injuries, whoever emerges from those six guys is going to be better than the one who emerged from two. That's still going to hold true even when the grim reaper scythes one of Shaw or Toussaint down in the Big Ten opener. (Don't even think this isn't happening.) Getting production out of the tailback is key. If they can do that they can approximate last year's offense without putting undue pressure on Denard's bones.
In the passing game the #1 candidate to turn incompletions and short gains into longer ones is Junior Hemingway. He averaged 18.5 yards a catch last year and showed signs of being a guy you can just chuck it to because he'll come down with it. A fully healthy, senior Hemingway is a potential breakout performer.
Is the offensive line cut out for this?
Las year's offensive line was a B+. They didn't get an A because of a zillion Taylor Lewan penalties and mediocre play at right tackle. The interior line was very good. This year everyone is back save Steve Schilling and Perry Dorrestein. Dorrestein was a replacement level starter and Schilling has a touted, capable backup entering his redshirt junior year. Four starters return.
If this is not a great offensive line it will be because of a mismatch between what they were recruited to do and what they've been asked to do. Of late there has been a surge in OL skepticism from the premium practice reports on the message boards; I interpret this as a bunch of power being run not very effectively by a crew that should be running primarily zone.
If "this" is old-school MANBALL running, the answer is no. If it's a hybrid between last year and MANBALL, they'll get by. If they're making people cheat on the zone they will kill.
Michigan will backslide. But let's set the point from which they will backslide: I believe the advanced metrics. Michigan's field position was terrible, field goals were terrible, turnovers were terrible, and so forth and so on. We would have gotten a better picture of this offense if the field position they gained was honored either by the special teams or the defense. What happened last year was a lot of excellent play marred by turnovers from a true sophomore first-year starter with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
If Michigan did not have the #2 offense in the country last year, they weren't far off. What we had going last year was both explosive on the ground (5.6 YPC exceeded Carr's best effort this decade by almost a yard and a half) and in the air:
Last season, his first as a full-time starter in former coach Rich Rodriguez's spread offense, Robinson had 16 runs that covered at least 20 yards and seven that exceeded 30 yards. He had at least one 20-yard gain in nine of the Wolverines' 13 games last season. He scored touchdowns on runs of 87, 72, 47, 32 and 32 yards. He also had 12 pass completions of more than 40 yards. That's more than Stanford's Andrew Luck.
Criticisms about Michigan's inability to score points against elite defenses mostly boil down to inopportune turnovers and bad defense. In games against Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State, Michigan averaged nearly 440 yards. Because of the defense, special teams, and Denard's high turnover rate they didn't turn those yards into enough points—and they still scored 28 or more in three of those games. The bowl game was the only real clunker.
It was for real and it returns everyone save Steve Schilling, Martell Webb, and Darryl Stonum. Those three guys have upperclass replacements that should do just fine. The main issues with maintaining last year's level of productivity are:
- Regression to the mean.
- Keeping Denard upright.
- Not suffering more than two injuries on the OL or at TE.
- Having horrible enough field position to lead the country in long TD drives again.
- Not screwing it up.
#2 is the biggest problem. The most efficient version of the offense is also the one most likely to get Denard knocked
up out. They'll move away from that when they can, which will mean a hit. This is some version of #4: not screwing it up. I don't think they will. We will get some symbolic MANBALL—the first play against WMU is probably going to be power out of the I-form that goes for three yards—to please the Great Tradition and then Borges will get down to the business of being a coordinator instead of Mike DeBord.
Let's hit shift and comma!
- junior Denard > sophomore Denard
- Toussaint/Shaw/Smith/Hopkins > younger, more injured versions of same
- junior Patrick Omameh > sophomore Omameh
- sophomore Taylor Lewan >> Huyge/Lewan/Penaltyfest
- Huyge/Schofield > Huyge/Dorrestein
- David Molk == David Molk
- Junior Hemingway == Junior Hemingway
- Roundtree/Grady == Roundtree/Grady
- Ricky Barnum < Steve Schilling
- Kevin Koger/Brandon Moore < Koger/Webb
- Martavious Odoms < Darryl Stonum
- This is still going to be a very good offense, and this year they should have points to show for it.
Last Year's Stupid Predictions
Michigan 2010 finishes atop the rush YPC chart above without considering the UMass game and by a considerable margin.
Gardner ends up burning his redshirt in very, very frustrating fashion, because…
Check-ish. Michigan is trying to un-burn that redshirt.
Denard is pretty much your starting quarterback all year, but…
…Forcier plays in every game, bailing Michigan out in one critical fourth quarter.
Not quite every game but lots of them. Forcier did bail Michigan out against Illinois and came damn near doing so against Iowa.
Vincent Smith gets the most touches amongst the running backs. Second: Shaw. Third: Toussaint. Fourth: Hopkins.
Pretty close. Toussaint's injuries knocked him out.
Robinson is Michigan's leading rusher.
All too easy.
Darryl Stonum does not exactly go Chris Henry on the planet but does greatly increase production via a series of big plays: 30 catches, 650 yards, 6 touchdowns.
Stonum did see his production increase to 633 yards but it took him 49 catches to get there. The Chris Henry lite of the offense was Junior Hemingway, who had 593 yards on 32 catches.
Michigan breaks out the triple option with regularity, using Hopkins as the dive back and Shaw/Smith the pitch guy. They also dig out those WVU formations where the slot motions into the backfield, with Grady the man beneficiary.
This Year's Stupid Predictions
- Yards per carry drop quite a bit but nose above 5.
- 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.
- Denard rushes for 1200 yards. His interception rate falls significantly but is still not great.
- Michigan runs more zone blocking than gap blocking. When they do gap block they are a left-handed team thanks to Taylor Lewan.
- Koger's production is up a bit but total TE catches only go up slightly: 20 last year, 30 this year.
- Huyge gives way to Schofield mid-year.
- 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.
JoePa as Rivers Cuomo.
Apparently JoePa is a closet hipster. I knew it all along! Just look at his shirt in the golf cart at practice. Couple that with the short pants, white socks, thick-rimmed glasses...hipster all the way. Thoughts?
Paterno vs Hipster: FIGHT
Emailer: flawless victory.
A manball transition theory.
After reading your posts on Denard and the shotgun, I began thinking about what might be an appropriate Way Forward for Hoke, Borges, Denard and U-M fandom.
I agree with most everyone that last year's spread-and-shred offense was very good despite having a first-year QB starter, turnover issues and the lack of a consistently dependable RB in the backfield. However we all know that was last season, and the new coaching staff isn't going that same route. I think a three-year transition from spread to West Coast offense is what Borges needs to consider. It could go something like this:
2011: passing spread, a la Missouri with Chase Daniels or the Michigan-Florida Cap One Bowl game in 2007. Plenty of shotgun, still plenty of Denard dilithium. The distribution of running/passing plays goes from 60/40 last year to something approaching 50/50. Borges gets the benefit of the short passing game that he desires, takes advantage of a very skilled WR group and the learning curve for the whole offense is a lot less steep.
I'm not sure anything featuring Denard Robinson at quarterback can ever be described as a "passing spread," but it stands to reason that as he develops he'll throw more. In any case I'm less concerned with the development of the passing game than what happens on the ground. While what Denard ran last year was effective in the structure of the offense—how many times did he have nowhere to go?—I got the impression it wasn't very sophisticated. They kept updating it. That's fine as far as it goes. I'm guessing Borges's system is more robust.
The ground game is more of a concern. It was pretty good a year ago and with everyone save Schilling and Webb back it should be better this year. It seems doubtful they'll be able to take that incremental move forward if they're changing their bread and butter.
2012: West Coast/spread hybrid, a la last season's Philadelphia Eagles with Michael Vick at QB. A senior Denard should be able to handle most anything thrown his way by this time, and hopefully a consistent threat at RB emerges. Meanwhile, Devin Gardner is getting ready for the spotlight because the transition is nearly complete.
Where are they going to get the personnel? With Barnett out they've got very little at TE/FB. They'll be choosing between Moore/Miller/Kerridge and a third or fourth WR. It's hard to see two of those three on the field for big chunks of the game when the WR options beyond Stonum and Roundtree will be veteran and decent: Gallon, Jerald Robinson, and Dileo will all be juniors—you can split Hayes out as well. The WRs have been getting talked up while no tight end save Koger is mentioned.
Unless Moore and Miller come on big time, Michigan will be all but locked into three-wide sets in 2012.
2013: full-blown West Coast offense. Devin should be ready to take the reins of a team that might resemble last season's San Diego State offense, or U-M teams from the early 2000s.
This seems like the first year they could plausibly run most of their offense from under center. Gardner's big enough to be comfortable in the pocket, they'll have some sophomore tight ends at their disposal, etc.
Maybe this is something that Hoke and Borges are considering and for their sake I hope so. This seems plausible to me but I'm no coach. What do you think?
I don't know yet. We'll have a much better idea when we see this year's offense. If it's as spread-like as Dinardo keeps saying and it performs well it's hard to see them moving away from it for Denard's senior year.
If I had to guess I'd say they are installing a pro-style passing tree right now and will use the parts of it they can with Denard and a bunch of short receivers. By next year that will be almost totally installed. We won't see a drastic shift in the run game until 2013, when the entire interior line ages out and is replaced by Hoke-recruited beef machines. That will be the dawning of the age of Manball.
Someone asks about technique.
I apologize in advance for not already knowing this, but my time on the football field was limited to middle school. I hear Hoke…
Excerpt from interview on Scout.com: "Ryan has been playing the three, Mike Martin has been playing the shade, the one and then a combination of guys, Will can play both the three and the five and the three and the one. Will Heininger can play all three and has.
…talk all the time about the different places our D-linemen can play, but what is the difference between all the different Techniques?
Techniques are addressed in the incomplete but not totally useless UFR FAQ. Here's a recap/primer for people who haven't been around for one of the previous explanations. First, the explanatory image:
Your question addresses the leftmost DE, the NT, and the DT. Bullet time:
- THE FIVE TECH: The leftmost—strongside—DE lines up shaded outside of the strongside tackle. He's a defensive end but he's half DT, too: he often has to take on double teams as teams try to hook him and get outside. When doubled on the line he's usually trying to fend off a TE as the second guy so his task is not quite as difficult as the NT in this regard, but when the offense goes to a spread look he's got a lot more pass rush responsibility. The ideal guy here is someone like Brandon Graham, equally capable of ripping through that double or annihilating the tackle if left alone on pass protection.
- THE ONE TECH: This is the nose tackle. He is supposed to be enormous and immobile. If he's not you can still get a lot of production out of the spot if the guy can split doubles. Martin is the latter variety. "Shade" is a synonym for one-tech/NT—shade means he's not directly lined up over an opponent but he's not halfway between two. In the diagram above the NT is shaded left of the center.
- THE THREE TECH: This is the DT on the weakside. Because of the alignment of the defense he usually gets a one-on-one matchup with the weakside guard. He's got to win that battle for the defense to be effective. Usually this is the smaller, quicker DT, but the best ones are huge and quick. If we had a nose tackle Mike Martin would murder folks here. Being able to go one on one with the G is how Warren Sapp was so much of a factor in the backfield.
The oft-mentioned Theory Of The 4-3 Under states that the five tech and three tech are somewhat interchangeable. Both need to be tough run defenders with a secondary focus on pass rush. They're big hulking plus-sized DEs or somewhat smaller DTs; sitting and anchoring against doubles is less important than getting penetration by beating your opponent. The strongside DE is usually a more important run defender because he's vulnerable to a lot more double teams.
Are we still better than State at basketball?
Michigan swept Michigan State last year. (awesome)
Compared with last year, how does Michigan match up with Michigan State this year? More favorably, worse, or about the same? I know it is way early, but considering player losses, incoming players, and current player development.
That depends on how much value you place on Darius Morris and how well you think Trey Burke can replace him.
In terms of players, minutes, and usage lost Michigan has an advantage. Michigan lost only Morris, who was on the court 86% of the time and used 29% of possessions when he was out there. Michigan State lost:
- Kalin Lucas (83% minutes, 27% possessions)
- Durrell Summers (73%, 21%)
- Garrick Sherman (30%, 14%)
- Mike Kebler (24%, 9%)
At first blush that's encouraging, but losing low-efficiency usage is not a big deal. Morris combined massive usage with a high ORtg (109); all of the players State lost save Lucas had turrible numbers. The departures are a push at best. State's only going to miss one of the absent. Both teams replace their offense's main engine. Michigan's engine was significantly better.
Year-to-year improvement should be advantage Michigan. As we've discussed over and over again, last year M was one of the youngest teams in the country. Michigan State was about 70th percentile. Juniors like Draymond Green and Delvon Roe are not likely to get a ton better; freshmen like Tim Hardaway Jr., Evan Smotrycz, and Jordan Morgan are. State has a couple wildcards in Keith Appling and Adriean Payne. Michigan has the above three plus the ever-expanding Jon Horford.
State's best argument is their recruiting class, which includes five star Branden Dawson. Depending on the service you prefer, Michigan can match the rest of the class with Brundidge, Burke, and Bielfeldt. Not Dawson. He's kind of a big deal.
I'd guess Michigan is narrowly better next year unless State gets an extra quantum leap from one of their young guys. Burke and Dawson's adjustments to college will be the biggest factor.
UPDATE: I totally forgot MSU's addition of Valpo grad-year transfer Brandon Wood, an All-Horizon first team player who might swing the advantage to MSU. /shakes fist at grad transfer rule