I thought that myself when I read that article that talked about a Data Scientist(tm)
This was Brady Hoke's first year at Michigan. Music was awesome because a) I was a sophomore in high school, and b) it was just way better than the music when you were a sophomore in high school. Michigan players wore deep dark navy mesh jerseys that stretched tight over massive shoulder pads and neck rolls, and exposed their abs. Most of the incoming Class of 2012 was born. And in 1995, Lloyd Carr took over for Gary Moeller in a move most everybody thought was temporary.
Had the internet at the time been more than BBSs that you logged into over 14.4 baud modems the general fan meltdown might have been better saved for posterity. A lot of folks thought Bo oughtta step back in; I mean you don't go from Schembechler, to his longtime heir apparent, to the affable defensive backs coach with a penchant for quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson. Some tweed jacket might have said it was like going from Henry (Plantagenet), to Richard, to John.*
* OT rules don't cover comments section, so if any of you want to talk Angevins, it's on!
As an officially interim guy (and not a candidate in the initial coaching search), Lloyd built his staff more like a Luke Fickell than an Urban Meyer: no big-name hires, no extra budget, just mostly everybody from the '92 shakeup moving up. The RB coach (Fred Jackson) became the offensive coordinator. The DL coach (Greg Mattison) became the DC. Longtime linebackers coach (really our recruiting guru before that was a coaching position) Bobby Morrison became OL coach, replacing the departed Les Miles. Oregon State DL coach Brady Hoke, hired only a few months ago by Moeller, whom Mattison knew from Western Michigan and Lloyd knew as the dude who was always hanging around Michigan's summer camps, was given just the DEs. Mattison retained the DTs. Carr's additions were DBs coach Vance Bedford out of Oklahoma State, and former Michigan receiver Erik Campbell, who had been an RBs coach with Ball State and Cuse but was given the receivers.
The cupboard at the time wasn't bare, but there were some key losses. Michigan would have to replace senior QB Todd Collins, starting RB Tyrone Wheatley, All-American CB Ty Law, and 1st round draft pick OT Trezelle Jenkins, as well as heart and soul linebacker Steve Morrison. Also gone was nose guard Tony Henderson, OLBs Trevor Pryce, Matt Dyson, and Kerwin Waldroup, and starting short corner Deon Johnson. Still, we were Michigan fans and expected better than 4-loss seasons.
It started in the Pigskin Classic, which back then was the only game that could be played Week 1, and the only way a team could play 12 regular season games. By some golden poop magic, Scott Dreisbach led Michigan back from down 17-0 to 17-12. That afternoon I was in driver's ed, doing the last training hours I needed to graduate, and we were listening to Brandstatter on the radio; at this point the instructor very kindly had me pull over in a Wendy's because I looked like I had to pee. Then on 4th down with 4 seconds left in the 4th quarter, Dreisbach found Mercury Hayes in the corner of the end-zone.
The rest of that year wasn't so 2011-ish. Dreisbach, a Henne-level recruit, was freshman-y maddening for five games, then he got hurt and a walk-on, Brian Griese, finished the last 9 games. Meanwhile the defense got so banged up that only one guy (Jarrett Irons) managed to start all 13 games (true freshman cornerback Charles Woodson, who earned his first start in Game 2, is the only other guy to start 12). We lost to Northwestern because Northwestern was weirdly doing that to everyone in those days (at the time I didn't feel this). We lost to Michigan State after MSU caught a late 4th down pass out of bounds and a yard shy of the marker, and this was ruled a 1st down. We lost to Penn State after they executed a perfect fake FG late. But Biakabutuka ran for 313 yards to beat No. 2 Ohio State (WH)…
…and it was good. Carr was given the job, and despite all expectations to the contrary just a year earlier, his assistants got to keep theirs. Over time he also won over most of the fans who'd doubted him.
Does this mean we'll have a functional DL? There's a story here that's not part of the Emerson-Quoting Good Guy Makes Good storyline, nor the Omigod-This-New-Cornerback(!) storyline. Behind the new Era of Good Feelings was some particularly good news coming from the defensive side of the ball. Michigan in '95 held opponents to 93.2 rushing yards per game, and 88.1 ypg in a Big Ten at its apex. This was an improvement from 112.3 ypg in 1994, which also happened to lead the Big Ten. Michigan in '95 also led the Big Ten in total defense (314.5 ypg) for the first time since 1990. Points per game dropped from 19.3 (38th) to 12.0 (14th). This was despite losing Law and much of the front seven, and changing formation. Carr in '94 was running something like the 3-4 thing that was in vogue during the late exposed-belly period, and looked more like a 5-2. Missing all those 3-4 OLBs, Mattison switched to something like a 4-3 over that let murderous dudes with names like Steele and Irons and Swett and Sword hunt down ballcarriers.
This plays out a bit in the percentage of Michigan's tackles made by position:
|DBs||King, Sanders, Anderson, Thompson, Winters, Noble, Johnson, Law||39.4%||King, Winters, Ray, Hankins, Thompson, Woodson||37.2%|
Since interior DL is where we're petrified this year, let's look there. Mattison turned William Carr into a double-team-demanding nose guard, freeing Jason Horn to go from All-Conference to All-American. Horn was the first of four All-American interior defensive linemen on that team: Carr in '96, Glen Steele in '97, and (then redshirting) Rob Renes in '99. From there they turned Bowens, and then James Hall into rush WDEs, and Ben Huff and Josh Williams into quiet pluggers on some of the great Michigan defenses. They recruited the next generation of specialty guys: Rumishek (who as All-Conference as a senior), Shawn Lazarus, Eric Wilson, Norman Heuer, and the chef doeuvre of the Hoke school for hard-nosed nobody DTs, Grant Bowman.
The positional tackle rates for the 2001-'02 defense is eerily similar to another of recent memory:
|8||DBs||June, Curry, Drake, Shaw, Marlin, LeSueur, B.Williams, Howard||44.7%||June, Shaw, Drake, Combs, Curry, LeSueur, M.Jackson||42.5%||Kovacs, T.Gordon, Carvin, Floyd, Avery, T-Woolf Countess||46.3%|
Obvious difference between future Jet Victor Hobson and Ryan/Beyer – it seems Demens, RVB and Kovacs split that difference. Maybe the SDE thing is a trend but this doesn't say very much; Dan Rumishek was All Big Ten in 2001, and yet wasn't the guy making tackles. From this however I think I'm starting to get an idea of what a Hoke defensive line is supposed to do. The defense pivots on the SDE and NT, and then everybody collapses toward the ball with the DT handling cutbacks and the WDE a common late arrival.
Mattison left in '96, and Hoke, who took over the whole D-line in '97, departed for Ball State after the 2002 season. By then he'd helped recruit planetoids Gabe Watson, Larry Harrison and Alex Ofili, as was as the too-high Pat Massey, but their generation didn't take over until 2004, when Bowman, Heuer and Stevens graduated and Michigan went with a 3-4 again to give LaMarr Woodley a running start (the only other time in memory before this year that Michigan replaced all three of its interior DL).
Unfortunately I can't provide any better evidence that the return of the 1995 D-Line staff will be enough to make a functional defensive line out of Q-Wash, Campbell, Ash, Brink, and some freshmen. But the track record is real.
With my office reopening for the first time since pre-Christmas it feels like the world's worst Monday. By 8:30 tonight it'll feel like Saturday. But the new 2012 calendar with the puppy photos says it's Tuesday, so COLUMN!
I thought with the Sugar Bowl tonight maybe it'd be helpful to go back through some of the spreadsheet-y Musedays from earlier this year and update to see if the conclusions maybe shifted through the year's progression. To sum up the updated talking points:
- Hoke is the best first-year Head Coach in Big Ten history, unless Ara Parseghian is.
- Mattison is more aggressive in selecting number of pass rushers than his predecessor but you'd be surprised to know he has changed his strategy dramatically over the course of this season
- Borges learned to shotgun with Denard and Co., then unlearned that, then re-learned that.
- Our defense is spectacular at stopping short situations.
10/4 – The Gary Moeller Effect
Premise: Coaches who take over a B1G team with Big Ten experience tend to do better than those who don't. So I compared a number of coaches of good memory against their predecessors, and overall.
Findings: Too much noise except the guys who had experience recruiting the Midwest seemed to have much more success than those who didn't.
Update: Another year made Dantonio and Bielema look better. 2011 Michigan's final SRS of 16.85 (pre-bowl) is about even with the Moeller teams of '93 and '94 (as well as 1999, 2000, and surprisingly 2006). Here's the Top Ten single year-to-year improvements (by Simple Ranking System, which is a measure of expected victory margin over a middling team) by a first-year coach in the Big Ten since 1953:
|Rank||Coach||School||Year||SRS||Previous Coach||SRS (Pre)||Change|
|1||Ara Parseghian||Northwestern||1956||8.57||Lou Saban||-9.95||+18.52|
|2||Brady Hoke||Michigan||2011||16.85||Rich Rodriguez||1.39||+15.46|
|3||Phil Dickens||Indiana||1958||6.13||Bob Hicks||-7.86||+13.99|
|4||John Jardine||Wisconsin||1970||9.09||John Coatta||-3.8||+12.89|
|5||Hayden Fry||Iowa||1979||7.26||Bob Commings||-5.5||+12.76|
|6||John L. Smith||MSU||2003||7.95||Bobby Williams||-2.67||+10.62|
|7||Mark Dantonio||MSU||2007||6.69||John L. Smith||-3.14||+9.83|
|8||Earle Bruce||Ohio State||1979||21.71||Woody Hayes||12.99||+8.72|
|9||Joe Tiller||Purdue||1997||8.49||Jim Colletto||-0.09||+8.58|
|10||John Pont||Northwestern||1973||4.52||Alex Agase||-3.5||+8.02|
Holy Uber Alleles Batman! Don't read much into this; the worst dropoff among 82 careers charted was Pat Fitzgerald in 2006. The rest of the Hall of Shame: Lou Saban (Northwestern '55), Gerry DiNardo (Indiana 2002), Tim Brewster (Minn 2007), Rich Rod '08, Gary Moeller (Illinois '77), Jerry Burns (Iowa '61), and for all the lolz, Luke Fickell. ALL the Lolz!
Jump for Mattison's aggression tendencies, the I-form vs. Shotgun numbers updated, and which Pink Floyd album best describes Michigan's 3rd and short defense
Title note: Since Brian moved this column to Wednesday morning, "Museday" is now "Hump Hypotheses," until that name also becomes stupid. New format, same old Miso soup.
Question: Against SD State we finally got to see Michigan play a full game against a pass-oriented offense. Against this Michigan usually sent four rushers, occasionally more. Last year I seem to remember this being three (out of a base 3-3-5) more often. I wonder if the extra rusher is making Michigan more effective against the pass this year?
Declaration of biases: Eeeeee Mattison.
Research: Thx Brian for adding rush stats to UFR since ND 2010. Yoink. Since it's not available yet I had to do my own SD State charting. From this I took out anything that looked like an end-of-half/4th quarter prevent, plus all of the runs, big play-action, waggles, and any plays from inside the 10, which make it hard to gauge if there were any late blitzers. I also excised last year's game against Purdue because that was played in a monsoon against Perry the Torn ACLephant.* Then I went about determining if each of those plays was a "Win" for the defense, defined thusly:
- 1st down: If the offense gained less than 1/2 of the yards for a first down (so 5 yards from 1st and 10) that's a "Win"
- 2nd down: less than 2/3 of the yards to first down=Win
- 3rd or 4th down: if the offense does not get the 1st down
- Turnovers are obviously Wins.
Incompletes go for zero yards—if the pass went to Tacopants, well it's results-based charting. Have at it.
*Michigan spent the whole day rushing three and this worked pretty much 90% of the time.
Hypothesis: We were right to be saying "Michigan sends 3 ARRRGGGHHH!" last year. Sending four this year is helping the defense improve.
Let's test that: In case your eyes haven't picked this up already, Mattison sends more guys after the passer. He's averaging about 4.5 rushers per pass play, versus GERG's 3.9 among those we count from last year. Here's a tendency chart:
This is not just a difference of a 4-3 defense versus a 3-3-5. Mattison has called a lot of zone blitzes where a DL backs into coverage, and the 3-3-5 is designed to often have one or two guys coming. Michigan's defense in 2011 is more aggressive than it was last year. Using the W/L formula above, let's see how much more effective it is because of that:
GERG in 2010:
Contrary to my memory, Robinson's 3-man rushes were kind of effective by this simple win/loss method. Everything else was flipping a coin.
I counted this as sending five; Gordon was covering the RB and
stepped up when he saw his man was in pass pro.
Mattison in 2011:
He's definitely sending more guys. Effectiveness seems to be..wait, down?:
AAHHHHHHH this isn't right. This can't be right. Well for one Mattison barely ever sends three. He did it once versus SDSU, and that when Michigan was up 28-7 with 5 minutes left in the 4th quarter. It went for 15 yards. However when I look at the wins and losses when the game is within 8 points it's still way favoring GERG:
AHHHHHHH. This is literally not what I expected. Maybe my Wins and Losses thing is just stupid. Let's do this by simple yards per play when Michigan rushes…
And there you see it. I may have found what's throwing me off here. The Pass/Fail nature of my system was not showing that when GERG's defense failed, it failed BIG. Look what happens to yards per pass when I only count the "Loss" plays:
|Rush 3||Rush 4||Rush 5||Rush 6||Rush 7|
When the 2010 pass defense failed, it didn't just give up the first down, but often a good chunk afterwards. The 2011 defense is still 50/50 to get the job done on any given passing play, but at least they're living to see the next series more often than not. That means more chances per drive for a turnover.
Last bit, just to see if this is changing running stats:
|Rush YPC||Rush YPG||Rush TDs/Game||Pass TDs/game|
|2010 (All of it)||4.4||188.9||2.6||1.6|
|2011 (4 games)||4.7||156.0||0.5||1.0|
Er. My expectation here was that Rushing YPC would be way down due to an extra rusher being around when a running play is called, but they're actually up a good bit. However the TDs given up are way way down. That combined with not once have we seen a freshman corner vacate his zone in dime, and this defense looks like it's already at mediocre and learning things that might make them good.
Holding this to 15 yards maybe should be a win.
Draw a Conclusion: Mattison hasn't even faced the best teams on his schedule yet so I can't claim anything is better or fixed. What I can say is the theory that the huge flip in turnover margin this year and/or improved defensive back play is probably having a bigger effect on Michigan's apparent defensive improvement than line scheme/aggressiveness. The data are way too close and inconclusive to draw anything for certain, and four games is not enough to assess, especially considering it's the first four games with this defense. But it is kind of interesting to see that rushing the extra guy seems to be doing a better job of keeping down the big plays than having eight men in coverage. That was really unexpected, though again it probably has a lot more to do with the efficacy of the specific defensive backs in coverage more than scheme.
Bonus: here's how they do on each down:
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
Previously: The story, the secondary, the linebackers, the defensive line, the quarterbacks, the running backs, the receivers, the offensive line, special teams, the conference, offensive questions answered(?).
1. What is it?
I keep trying to reconcile quotes like this from Rich Rodriguez…
How have some of the guys responded to the new 3-3-5?
“It is not a true 3-3-5. Again, there is as much as we were doing last year as there is new stuff from the spring. We’ve tried to keep things a little simpler, added a few new things simply because of the youth on defense and we need to play a little faster. ”
…with views of the defense in spring and fall in which Craig Roh hardly ever plays with his hand down. A quick review of Devin Gardner's time in the spring game—which I picked since it was mostly against the first team defense shows 17 snaps on which there's a three man line (a couple of these do have Roh as a standup DE, FWIW) and just six on which he is in a three-point stance, two of those plays where the offense is backed up on their own goal line and the D is expecting a run. In more open play the ratio is a striking 17/21. It certainly looks like Craig Roh is a linebacker who moonlights at defensive end a la Shawn Crable. It looks like a 3-3-5.
Maybe that's an artifact of playing a spread offense and in games against beefy, power-heavy teams Michigan will go to more of a traditional look, but I don't think that'll happen either. Michigan deployed a formation USC calls "Double Eagle" more and more as the year wore on, debuting it against Iowa and deploying it extensively against Ohio State:
This was responsible for Michigan's excellent interior run defense when Ohio State did it's usual DAVE SMASH plays. It was also fundamentally unsound when OSU went unbalanced, but hopefully they fixed that. Either way, only Ohio State has the ability to run it down your throat and switch to a spread n shred—the other beef machine teams in the Big Ten feature pocket passing QBs.
With Ryan Van Bergen and the Sagesse/Banks platoon at defensive end, Michigan's line is four guys who would or could be 4-3 defensive tackles. It seems natural to tuck people inside and and run this thing you've clearly been installing for over a year.
The verdict: it's a 3-3-5 base with four-man lines a "multiple" look Michigan will run for a curveball. The coaches can say it's not a "true" 3-3-5, but to everyone but a football coach it will look like one. Craig Roh is a linebacker, mostly, and Jordan Kovacs is a tiny linebacker. I expect three-man lines to be present on 60-70% of Michigan's snaps this year.
2. Why is the personnel still so doomy?
This is not actually a surprise. The ugly bit about Misopogon's Decimated Defense series—other than all of it—was how little matters were scheduled to improve this year:
…last year was very thin – one or two guys recruited at each level. All told, 11 recruits, meaning if everybody played up to their hype (which never ever happens), we would have had an upperclassman team with some really good players and some really mediocre players. This year, there's a little more play but it's not all that different. Specifically, the tradeoff in upperclass talent is a likely Brandon Graham (6.1) and Renaldo Sagesse (5.6) for two likely Ryan Van Bergens (5.8) and an Obi Ezeh (5.5).
Straight-up, it's probably not a difference, meaning the performance level that Michigan's defense gets from its upperclassmen in 2010 will probably be about what it got from its upperclassmen in 2009. It is still well below that of Ohio State, and like last year, is drawing from a significantly smaller but significantly more talented pool than Michigan State.
Put another way by diarist Jokewood in November:
Comparing Michigan's defensive upperclassmen not only to Ohio State, Penn State, and Notre Dame, but to the rest of the conference as well...
Ohio State - 22
Northwestern - 21
Indiana - 19
Illinois - 19
Michigan State - 19
Penn State - 19
Iowa - 18
Wisconsin - 18
Minnesota - 17
Purdue - 15
Notre Dame - 15
Michigan - 12
The rest of the Big Ten averages 50% more upperclassmen on defense. We are dead last in the conference by a wide margin in terms of experienced defensive players.
Michigan's number in 2010 was scheduled to be a still really crappy 14 before Brandon Smith transferred (and subsequently washed out at Temple), Donovan Warren entered the draft, and Troy Woolfolk exploded. Michigan is down to 11 upperclass defenders, 12 if you count James Rogers, 13 if you count Steve Watson. They've gone nowhere.
The sudden fall attrition has hurt matters, especially since it's been concentrated at the position at which Michigan was most vulnerable, but this was always going to happen.
3. Is there any way the secondary is not a giant flaming disaster area?
The solitary hope is that Michigan was so bad at safety last year that even though they've lost two competent cornerbacks and replaced them with green players they will improve simply by playing bend-don't-break and forcing opponents to put together touchdown drives instead of touchdown plays. That could make the secondary a rickety cart balanced on the edge of a volcano, which sounds pretty good right about now.
How realistic is that? Somewhat, actually. After last season, Jon Chait had a post at the Wolverine with evidence the Woolfolk move backfired badly:
Michigan played six games with Woolfolk at safety -- Western Michigan, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, Indiana, Michigan State, and Ohio State. (I'm ignoring the Delaware State game because the competition level was so abnormal.) Michigan played five games with Woolfolk at cornerback, which forced Michael Williams into the starting lineup and Jordan Kovacs to move out of his more comfortable position. In those five games, Michigan played Iowa, Penn State, Purdue, Illinois and Wisconsin.
You can probably figure out where I'm going with this. In the six Woolfolk-at-safety games, Michigan's opponents gained 380 yards per game. Those six opponents averaged 374 yards on the season overall, which means that Michigan allowed its opponents to gain just a bit more than they did against the remainder of their schedule. This is a poor result, though not an absolutely horrendous one.
But in the five Woolfolk-at-corner games, Michigan gave up 445 yards per game, against opponents who gained 382 yards per game on the season overall. That is a horrendous result. That is a sieve of a defense.
The scoring numbers are even more stark: Michigan went from giving up 23 points a game to 37. Is it really possible that bringing in Mike Williams and moving Jordan Kovacs deep resulted in two extra touchdowns ceded per game?
Well… not quite. The Woolfolk-at-safety games include two MAC opponents, three approximately .500 teams, and Ohio State. The Woolfolk-elsewhere games are much tougher on average because the bulk of the MAC stats were racked up against other MAC teams. If you hack those out this is what it looks like:
|Opponent||Ydg||Scoring||M Ydg||M Score|
[Note: MSU's overtime period was removed to keep everything even.]
Against teams that didn't play a segregated, much easier schedule Michigan was about 20 yards worse than average in yardage and even on scoring. So moving Woolfolk only cost Michigan about 40 yards and nine points a game. That still overstates the effect since MSU did score a touchdown in their overtime period and Ohio State was Tresselballin' it like a mofo, only putting Pryor in the shotgun once Michigan became vaguely threatening. So let's knock our estimate down to 30 yards a game.
What's thirty yards a game in terms of national averages? Kind of a big deal. Michigan would have leapt from 82nd in total defense to 57th—basically average—if they'd just maintained their Woolfolk-at-safety pace.
Plugging the enormous hole at safety would be great, but even if you make the reasonable assumption that Gordon/Kovacs/Robinson is going to be way better than Williams/Kovacs, the massive downgrade at corner means you're probably just treading water. Treading horrible, polluted, razor-blade-filled, despair-laden water.
4. GERG: Brilliant? Terrible? What's Going On?
Punt. Punt punt punt. I have a tendency to get bitchy about coordinators doing things I see as strategically weird and slammed Scott Shafer over the course of the '08 UFRs for transparently nonsensical decisions like hardly ever playing senior nickelback Brandon Harrison (even against spread teams! In favor of Johnny Thompson!) and pulling one of his senior defensive tackles on downs like third and one. The end result:
The picture painted by the above is, in retrospect, one of huge incompetence. Last year Michigan regularly removed functional veteran players in favor of crappy ones that made no sense given the down and distance situations or the offense on the field, and those things only got fixed (-ish) once Shafer was removed from the decision-making process. It's not like the position guys covered themselves in glory with that 3-3-5 against Purdue but at least they pulled their heads out of their butts afterwards and put in the defense Michigan should have been running from day one against spread teams.
I didn't find that kind of complaining much when I went back over the UFRs for '09. The worst thing I found was after the Penn State game:
Why are you such a grump? Iowa put up 30 points and 367 yards of offense to Penn State's 35 and 396 , and Michigan managed to escape that game with way better numbers.
I think it was that all the stuff Penn State was doing came so easy. The Zug touchdowns, the Quarless touchdown, all the long handoffs: all of those plays required nothing more than Penn State not screwing up with wide open receivers. To Clark's credit, he hit all those guys. He then laughed about the primitive defense that Michigan was running, and on review I totally agree: Michigan telegraphed their now-predictable third and long redzone blitzes and got killed. They showed the long handoff was there and got killed. They put Obi Ezeh in man coverage on the edge against Evan Royster and got killed.
That's what the big minus in RPS is there for: I think Robinson got owned by Penn State's offensive brain trust (which is Galen Hall, not Jaypa). This game was slightly reminiscent of the Purdue game a year ago where Michigan switched to a new system and got their brains beaten in by it.
This was mitigated by the situation, obviously:
I don't know. I am sort of mad at Robinson for making it easy by not breaking tendencies with two weeks to prepare. But when you've got Kovacs as your deep safety, what can you do? Kid's smart and can be an effective player in the box but obviously lacks the athleticism to be a deep safety in the Big Ten.
Tactical complaining is absent in other UFRs, though if I'd actually manned up and done the Ohio State one I would have cited the Buckeye Football Analysis link above, in which the guy said he was surprised at how fundamentally unsound Michigan's scheme was, as another negative.
On the other hand, I've been pumping up GERG's work with Roh and Brown constantly and citing his move to linebackers coach as an indication the rest of the staff thinks he's the best option to undo the damage wrought over the past couple years. And, really, what can you do when you're handed the material he was given last year? This has been documented incessantly: given the personnel situation it is totally unsurprising Michigan's defense cratered last year.
So I punt. I'll be looking at the development of Roh and Mouton and seeing if the defense can get off the mat somewhat despite facing down a personnel situation that isn't much better, if it's better at all, than last year's. We'll have a much better idea about Greg Robinson in November.
There were many complaints when I started the preview series off with the secondary and linebackers. People were depressed. They found me depressing. Someone posted something on the message board wondering if I was okay. People of Earth: it is not my fault the back seven on defense is depressing. It just is.
Is there hope? Is there anything resembling it? Maybe. After the Iowa game this is how I diagnosed the D:
On the podcast this week I called the defense "competition-invariant": they have talent and do well when they use it but when they make an error it is so huge that even Indiana can exploit it ruthlessly, so the defense kind of plays the same against everyone.
Maybe GERG can reduce that tendency. Maybe Cam Gordon will 1-0-1 the season. Maybe the linebackers will get less frustrating, and maybe Michigan will give up an annoying number of long drives but not so many awful, really short ones. But here's the greater-thans and less-thans:
- Junior Mike Martin > Mike Martin
- Sophomore Craig Roh >> freshman Craig Roh
- Senior Jonas Mouton with competent coaching > Junior Jonas Mouton with headless chicken tendencies.
- Sophomore Kovacs >> freshman Kovacs/Williams/Smith
- Cam Gordon > Kovacs/Woolfolk/Williams
- Mark Moundros/Obi Ezeh == Obi Ezeh
- Ryan Van Bergen <<< Brandon Graham
- Sagesse/Banks < Ryan Van Bergen
- Carvin Johnson < Stevie Brown
- JT Floyd << Donovan Warren
- Whoever < Woolfolk/Cissoko/Floyd
It's going to be rough. Tony Gibson:
"If we get any more simple, I don't know what we're going to be able to do," Gibson said. "We can't just play one coverage and do that kind of thing.
"These other teams we're playing, they have scholarship kids. They're not going to say, 'OK, Michigan's young back there, we're not going to throw at them.'
I actually think the defense will improve simply by virtue of having some continuity and knowledge of the players, but not by much. Shootouts beckon.
Last Year's Stupid Predictions
- I didn't do any for some reason, and that was the best prediction of all.
This Year's Stupid Predictions
- Fumbles recovered double to ten.
- The secondary is actually better than last year's secondary because long touchdowns are less frequent. It will still be very bad.
- Mouton is much better, leads the team in TFLs and sacks, and is still incredibly frustrating.
- Mike Martin is great and should get first-team Big Ten recognition, though he probably won't.
- Mark Moundros holds on to the starting MLB job all season.
- Michigan manages a modest improvement in yards allowed, getting up to the 60-70 range nationally.
I bolded this in the announcement about Adam Braithwaite's hire but failed to grasp its oddness and potential significance:
University of Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez announced Thursday (Feb. 11) the hiring of Adam Braithwaite as the program’s safeties/outside linebackers coach. … Assistant head coach Tony Gibson will coach the cornerbacks and free safety position.
Your response in the form of a cat—which they should totally do on Jeopardy, BTW:
Braithwaite now coaches the safeties and the outside linebackers. Greg Robinson now coaches the inside linebackers, emphasis on the plural. Tony Gibson now coaches the cornerback and… uh… one safety position. What sense does it make? It makes none. It makes less sense if you believe the premium moderator folk who have been asserting that Michigan is in the odd habit of calling its deep safety "strong" and the guy who rolls up to the line of scrimmage on occasion "free."
So what the hell is going on here? First: however deeply screwed up Michigan's internal lingo about safeties is, my assumption is that the free safety is your deep-zone ballhawk and the strong safety is the guy who rolls up to the line as a semi-linebacker. It would be totally insane to give Gibson the guy at the line and some cornerbacks and Braithwaite one guy at the line and one guy in a deep zone. (Wags may joke here about Rodriguez's previous defensive hires. Take my defensive coordinator… please!)
So that means Gibson is the secondary coach and he is a man in charge of three people. Meanwhile, the outside linebackers coach has a safety or two. Hmm…
Now, I know what you're thinking: ack Donovan Warren is about to get an eight-yard screen in his grill. Or ack Andrew Quarless is about to run straight downfield untouched for a 60-yard touchdown. Or ack… well, we were all around last year. The walls have dents to prove it. The only thing you're not ack-ing is the defensive line. This is a digression.
The particulars of Braithwaite's hire indicate the eight-man front Michigan ran much the second half of last year was not an immensely unsuccessful attempt at emergency triage on a walk-on-laden matador defense but rather the intended base defense going forward. With so many bodies ticketed for Craig Roh's "quick" position, I don't think this presages a move to a straight 3-3-5 like West Virginia ran. The 4-4-ish set above is likely to be Michigan's most frequent alignment, with quick-as-linebacker sprinkled in as a changeup.
It's half 3-3-5, though. Aside from the disposition of the line and the middle linebackers, that's what it is. The secondary aligns like it's a 3-3-5. The "spinner," while technically a linebacker, was safety Stevie Brown last year and will be either Josh Furman, Mike Jones, Isaiah Bell—though he may have moved inside—or Brandin Hawthorne this year. All of the candidates were high school safeties tagged as tweeners except Hawthorne, who was a safety-sized defensive end. Last year the strong safety was Jordan Kovacs (tweener safety), Mike Williams (just a safety), or Brandon Smith (tweener safety), but this year it's likely to be Marvin Robinson, Carvin Johnson or Vlad Emilien: more high school safeties tagged as tweeners. The distinction between the OLB and safety is also in keeping with 3-3-5 principles: most teams have wacky names for the strongside (spur, spinner, ferret) and weakside safety types (hero, bandit, saber-toothed dragon) because they have different roles. As Jeff Casteel explained so elegantly on the incredibly expensive and totally useless (at the time) 3-3-5 DVD I bought, the weakside guy "gets his meat cooked"—does not have to deal with lead blockers—and the strongside guy "gets his meat raw"—oh God, that's Owen Schmitt and I weigh 210 pounds.
If I'm right, this is one hell of a bold experiment for Rodriguez. His ass is in the wind right now and last year's attempt to implement this was a flaming wreck unprecedented in the modern history of Michigan football. I'm not a coach but I do watch unhealthy amounts of college football and I don't think I've ever seen anyone try this 4-2-2-3 style of D—please correct me if this is not the case. It's a gamble.
[Update: Corrected. Virginia Tech does this plenty. Tyler Sellhorn:
Please don't freak out about the defensive changes. Mostly it seems like a move to VaTech's defense. The high school where I coach plays a very similar scheme to VaTech (visited Blacksburg twice to commune with Bud Foster and his staff) and has a similar scheme to what you are suggesting M is declaring.
I think the best terminology for the setup is the 4-2-5 is "multiple" meaning that most of the defensive calls are intended to trick the opposing QB/coaches at the snap. The OLBs are really more like SSs and rotate up and back based on d-call and opposition formation/personnel, and the "FS" is nearly an identical player who can roll down to play the OLB spot as well based on motion/personnel. Up front, lots of stunting (lining up in one gap, crossing into another), lots of gap exchanges, lots of rolling coverages where the OLB/SSs will drop into deep coverage. The scheme is sound. Maybe you should do your HTTV tape study this summer on 4-2-5/VaTech stuff?
The biggest reason teams use the scheme? OLB/SS away from two-reciever side/strong side plays tight behind backside ILB so that he can flow hard to action away, OLB/SS has what you have called the scrape exchange.
Two notes: "flowing hard to action ", whether it was away or not, is definitely what Michigan was doing with Jordan Kovacs when he was the box safety and Woolfolk was deep, and who was the other team hard after Josh Furman? Virginia Tech.]
On the other hand, going from year one in a system to year two will be a rare privilege for these Michigan defenders—it will be the first time in anyone's career other than fifth-year seniors this is the case—and I'm heartened that amongst the flaming wreck at the end of last year there was a semblance of a long-term plan. By God, they were terrible, but they were terrible with purpose. This passes as optimism for the 2010 Michigan fan.
Anyway, we'll find out in spring if my speculation here is correct. I think they've tipped their hand. I have no idea how it's going to work out but at least they're sticking to one thing for the first time ever-ever.
Side note on Gibson-related special teams bitchin'. I've seen or heard a lot of this over the past couple weeks, and have to provide a "dude wait what" to that, too. Michigan's coming off a year in which they finished third in net punting, 23rd in kickoff returns, 62nd in punt returns, and was 11 of 15 on field goals. Taken together, the metrics indicate one of the best units in the conference, if not the country. Critics are likely thinking of Michigan's persistent inability to field a punt in the Rodriguez era, Zoltan Mesko going blue screen of death on his rollout option punt against Michigan State, and a couple roughing the kicker penalties.
Those things do detract, but they're offset by the kickoff coverage—I can't remember a big opposition kick return—and a few punt blocks. Special teams were the least of Michigan's problems last year. They have to replace both specialists this year so there might be a hiccup. Even so, I'm baffled by special teams criticism outside of HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL issues that I think are a little fluky. (Yes, even now.)