spoiler alert: i linked this
denard robinson then revived tacopants just to kill him again
Dilemma: The HTTV proofs were delivered at the same time as the game.
First a confession: the last time I bought EA's college football game was 10 (the 2009 season) for PS2. I used to get it every year from the Woodson cover to the Desmond cover and play until it was taking more time than I could excuse because an exercise bike was involved. The exception was '05, which I played for four days before going back to 2004, still the gold standard of the series.
The versions I had were all great for power runs to set up bombs but in the summer of 2009 I was mostly interested in wrecking offensive rushing records with Rich Rod's offense. Like anybody with a touch of ASD, I cannot play until I've filled in and fiddled around with Michigan's rosters. Tate Forcier was like an 80 overall when I was done. Denard was probably set to move to cornerback—remember this was the 2009 offseason, when old men in conference hotels were dancing to Weapon of Choice:
Then I started playing and videogame Forcier would throw 8 interceptions per game because linebackers could leap 100 feet in the air. There was no such thing as an incomplete pass; you threw screens or you threw interceptions. It took just three games for my frustration to turn me off from the series and turn me into one of those people who delights in The Consumerist ripping on EA. Other than goofing around on my 2004 dynasty NCAA the game was dead to me.
Then they put Denard on the cover (and the wife let me get a PS3 once I proved how awesome it is at Netflix). And since I'd moved on from guy at convention hotels to guy who works for a college football blog, it turned out I could get an advance copy of the thing with Denard on the cover in return for telling people how I felt about it. A part of me finds it ridiculous that I can get away with this. Since I've been out of things for awhile (and Misopogal has grown skeptical over all this "work" I've been putting in) I'm gonna deliver the game to Ace after I post this, and next week you'll get a review from someone with a frame of reference within the current console generation. Here's the things you should know now:
1. IT HAS DENARD ON THE COVER. Truly it is the most beautiful thing to grace a cover since...NCAA 06? NCAA 99? A baby swimming toward a dollar on the album where music got its balls back? If Denard was smiling maybe.
I adore all of you!
He is actually the most appropriate cover athlete for a version of this game since they put Ricky Williams on the one with unstoppable running backs because…
2. OPTION OFFENSE is awesome. They completely redid that and now read options work the way they're supposed to. EA also gave the defense its option-crushing corner blitzes and scrape exchanges.
I keep forgetting to sub Green in at FB
However the counter to the counter sucks. They put bubble and PA split end screens in the playbook, but the defense reads these way too quickly on any difficulty worth playing. Also I've found my skill position guys tire so fast that when I go to it I keep getting Jeremy Jackson. Anyway the option stuff is the most fun, specifically the read and triple options. Too bad Michigan went back to the future on offense since...
[after the jump]
There was once a dream that was called Denard Robinson: Accurate Passer. You could only whisper it; anything more than a whisper and it would vanish…it was so fragile. And I fear that it will not survive the fall.
Last Saturday while watching Andrew Maxwell derf another derpity doo, I half-rhetorically asked the assembled a room full of Spartan fans who's the best passing quarterback in our conference this year. Answers, in order of appearance:
- "CHHIIIRP CHIRRRP" –insects with that leg-rubbing noise
- "Howl" –wolf in the distance
- "How about that little dude on Northwestern?" – a Sparty
- "No he graduated." –another Sparty
- "Shit. Really?" –first Sparty
After three weeks the stats (min=25 attempts) say it's Denard and ol' Tyranno-arm:
His interceptions are dragging down the passer rating, but half are explained by an accurate throw Vincent Smith deflected, and Roundtree getting shoved into last Tuesday by a Bama cornerback. It's just three games in, and the Big Ten competition this year isn't exactly the NFC South, but raise your hand if four weeks ago you thought there might be even a flimsy statistical case for saying "Denard is the best passer in the Big Ten right now."
We've been over his higher efficiency as a runner from the gun ad nauseum, and charted his regression last year as of December, but is he really a better passer when dropping back? Brian's suggested explanations were Pressure, Situation, or Luck (ie sample size). Let's dig into the UFR database and see if there's an answer.
[ROLL'D OUT AFTER THE JUMP]
Michigan goes into 2012 with the rarest of all birds (recently at least): a senior returning starter at quarterback. Since we can't count half a season from an injured Henne, the last time we saw this senior-type thing under center was the last time a QB wore 16: Navarre. It's been nine years!
History too has been a bit rough on senior QBs. Brady shared much of his last season with Henson. Todd Collins played almost as much as senior Grbac, who took away half of Michael Taylor's seminal season, who nabbed the bulk of Demetrius Brown's last year.
Since Bo's first year Denard is the 14th senior starter at Michigan. The other 13, by stats:
I'll save you some of the suspense: those are good efficiencies. And when that starter wasn't dinged it made for awesome seasons. Even counting '07, over these 13 seasons Michigan went 127-26-3, went to Pasadena 7 times (plus an Orange and Sugar and no bowl one year when Michigan finished 3rd overall), finished in the Top 10 of the Associated Press 11 times (avg finish: 7th), and won a National Championship. Small sample size and whatnot, but special years do seem to follow the seniors around.
Let's all shake our fists at: Chad Henne shoulder-hating god. Three shakes!
You also probably already figured that since players generally improve year to year, that senior quarterbacks are best. What I'm looking at here is whether there's maybe something about being a senior, whether its age, or whether that mythical senior tag has some weight. To the charts!
Click embiggens. The mythical senior tag didn't seem to do anything except as a function of experience. When broken up by age it wasn't any different than when broken up by how many passes he threw before coming. What age does seem to do is reduce variance. Look at the grouping of 5th year seniors (light blue). There's not enough data here to make a conclusion but I am intrigued by this concept of 5th year players producing no worse than a rating
A better way to decide if age or class means anything at all would be to use the Mathlete's database. Mathlete: you should do this some day: chart year to year improvement of quarterbacks and see what the progression curve looks like. What I'm doing here is just working with Bentley numbers for Michigan quarterbacks, since at least for these guys I can trust we know most of the exigent circumstances behind different swings. Just pulling returning starters and major contributors. In: John Navarre's 77 attempts in 2000, Tate Forcier's 84 attempts in 2010. Out: Drew Henson's 47 attempts in 1998. Show things:
|Year||Avg. Eff Change||Denard|
Denard's freshman to sophomore leap was high, not unheard of. Rick Leach leapt a ludicrous 76.1 points in efficiency between his freshman and sophomore years, a matter of going from 32% completions and 3 TDs to 12 interceptions to 47.6% completion rating and a 13/8 TD/INT ratio. Michael Taylor made a leap similar to Denard's between his Junior and Senior seasons (first and second as at least a part-time starter). Drew Henson, Jim Harbaugh and Demetrius Brown also had huge leaps forward as juniors. If you're smelling a trend, these were all guys who to varying degrees considered "mobile" quarterbacks.
The way efficiency is wired, a shift in TD/INT ratio, a shift in completion %, and a shift in yards per attempt. Big chart of returning passers (either starters or guys who got a significant amount of playing time the year before) so we can see if any one of these factors might stand out. Bolding numbers that I think made the difference:
|1976||Rick Leach, So||105||+5||+15.6%||+10/-4||+2.5||151.1||+76.1|
|2000||Drew Henson, Jr||237||+147||+9.4%||+15/+2||+3.0||159.4||+49.6|
|1985||Jim Harbaugh, Jr*||227||+116||+9.8%||+15/+1||+2.2||157.9||+49.6|
|1988||Demetrius Brown, Jr*||84||-84||+9.5%||-5/-16||+1.8||158.2||+45.5|
|1991||Elvis Grbac, Jr*||254||-12||+6.7%||+4/-4||+1.0||161.7||+24.5|
|1989||Michael Taylor, Sr*||121||-1||-1.1%||+6/-1||+1.1||161.2||+22.8|
|1974||Dennis Franklin, Sr||104||+37||+2.0%||+4/0||+1.0||146.9||+21.4|
|1996||Brian Griese, Jr*||61||-177||+4.0%||-10/-8||+1.8||137.7||+19.0|
|2006||Chad Henne, Jr||328||-54||+3.5%||-1/0||+1.0||143.4||+13.8|
|2003||John Navarre, Sr*||456||+8||+3.9%||+3/+3||+0.8||133.6||+11.4|
|1999||Tom Brady, Sr*||341||-9||+1.6%||+5/-6||+0.1||142.3||+10.6|
|1978||Rick Leach, Sr||158||-16||-2.4%||+2/-3||+0.4||145.5||+10.6|
|1993||Todd Collins, Jr*||296||+195||-1.5%||+10/+4||+1.6||149.3||+9.4|
|1973||Dennis Franklin, Jr||67||-56||+5.8%||-2/+3||+1.3||125.5||+8.8|
|2002||John Navarre, Jr*||448||+63||+1.6%||+2/-6||+0.2||122.2||+5.7|
|1970||Don Moorhead, Sr||190||-20||-1.4%||+2/-1||+0.1||105.0||+4.6|
|1996||Scott Dreisbach, So*||269||+163||+2.6%||+9/-6||-0.5||126.7||+2.8|
|1997||Brian Griese, Sr*||307||+246||+5.5%||+14/+4||-0.9||140.0||+2.3|
|2010||Tate Forcier, So||84||-197||+5.6%||-9/-6||-0.2||130.2||+2.0|
|1982||Steve Smith, Jr||227||+17||+5.8%||-1/+2||-0.3||125.1||-0.6|
|1983||Steve Smith, Sr||205||-22||-0.3%||-1/-5||-0.7||123.0||-2.1|
|2005||Chad Henne, So||382||-17||-1.8%||-2/-4||-0.3||129.6||-3.0|
|1990||Elvis Grbac, So*||266||+150||-4.7%||-8/+6||+0.1||137.2||-3.0|
|1994||Todd Collins, Sr*||288||-8||+0.7%||-3/+4||+0.3||146.0||-3.3|
|1986||Jim Harbaugh, Sr*||277||+50||+1.1%||-8/+5||+1.1||151.7||-6.2|
|2011||Denard Robinson, Jr||258||-33||-7.5%||+2/+4||-0.4||139.7||-9.8|
|1992||Elvis Grbac, Sr*||199||-55||-0.1%||-8/+6||+0.0||150.2||-11.5|
|2007||Chad Henne, Sr||278||-50||-3.6%||-5/+1||-0.7||130.5||-12.8|
|1977||Rick Leach, Jr||174||+69||+4.1%||+2/+1||-1.5||134.9||-16.2|
|1980||John Wangler, Sr*||212||+82||-4.8%||+8/+2||-3.8||131.9||-30.1|
|2001||John Navarre, So*||385||+308||+1.8%||+11/+12||-1.2||116.4||-30.8|
Bolded things of note: If I bolded the name or the amount of attempts you can just discount that guy since his year to year stats are thrown off by a huge difference in his role, e.g. John Navarre went from a guy who murdered MAC teams to full-time Big Ten passer who chucked things in the direction of Marquise Walker. Rick Leach basically learned how to pass a football (to his teammates). Henson and Harbaugh had matching junior leaps as they grew from leggy guy who might throw to polished passers.
Demetrius Brown had his numbers saved by Bo halving the amount of pass plays and going full-tilt option. Tom Brady stopped had a major turnaround in TD/INT as a senior, while Todd Collins and Jim Harbaugh went the other way. Johnny Wangler looks to have suffered (EDIT: was this when Carter injured? This is before my time.) his senior season, as YPA dropped terribly and completion suffered a little. I'm not sure Grbac's TD-INT ration can be explained by the similar loss of Desmond Howard—it's possible Dez's Heisman campaign simply separated itself from two similar yet pedestrian seasons.
What does this all mean for Denard? Most of the seniors touched up their games. Most had their big leaps as juniors, but I should point out of the 13 guys to make the biggest one-year leaps, 8 of them were redshirt juniors or seniors, i.e. Denard's age. Also working for him is running the same offense that he did last year. The transition ultimately came more to him than the other way around, though, so don't expect miracles. Working against him will be the loss of his favorite target, and the effective replacement of a tight end for a second back, which isn't always great for the passing game. Unless a deep threat emerges from the unknowns in the receiver corps, expect his YPA avg. to dip again, with a corresponding rise in completion % (something most seniors seemed to have done). I'd also venture Denard will cut down further on his interception and probably get his TDs up the same as Michigan's mite-y backs and receivers score more with screens. +4/-4 would be excellent. Meanwhile the team will win 10 games, place in the Top 10, and end the season in Pasadena, because that's what Michigan senior quarterbacks do.
For those tracking Denard's passing acumen the tale has been one of major progression before 2010, followed by regression in 2011 followed by re-progression as he a.) grew more comfortable in Borges's offense, b.) played more out of the shotgun, and c.) gave his staph infection time to heal.
If you were reading the weekly previews this season you would have noticed the space for Michigan's passing game was consistently fretting about Robinson's accuracy. This would be followed by a game with some flash of the laser precision he seemed to possess at times in 2010, followed by a bomb that overshot Hemingway/Roundtree by 20 yards. This was our concern. The more intelligent announcers talked about where his shoulders and toes were at their release, and Borges pressers reiterated the footwork theory.
Then sometime around Purdue-Iowa-Illinois, said all, 2010 Denard worked his way back. I'd like to use this space to test if that was really the case.
The Hennechart you know (screens and Snackycakes have been removed):
|2009||2009, All Of It||1||7||4||2||4||4||-||-||?||44%|
That's lots of numbers. The easy metric to break these down metric is Brian's Downfield Success Rating at the far right. That's Dead-Ons and Catchables divided by all the rest (marginals are excised). But a few years ago, while trying to get a handle on what we had in Forcier, a few users thought to visualize this. I try that now with Denard's career:
I centered in the middle of the marginals to show how good the very goods were and how bad the very bads got. You kind of have to look hard to see it, but there is a regression apparent. Denard seemed to level off in the Big Ten season last year to a good chunk of accurate balls, one or two bad reads, and as many inaccurate as were dead on. For a good part of this year it was that one temptress of a perfectly thrown ball, one to five bad reads, and almost as many balls to Tacopants as the vicinity of his receivers. By Ohio State, on pure downfield success rating, it was just outside the UFR-era hall of fame (on many fewer attempts):
FTR by this metric, the Michigan State game this year is 3rd all time in the hall of shame, better only than Sheridan in the Badge of Fandom Endurance game vs. Northwestern, and Threet versus Purdue. Sheridan being on both lists was one (happy) fluke between games his coaches hardly let him throw more than a screen for fear of triggering an early duck season. 2011 Denard's is the opposite: one bad game amidst a bunch that range between mediocre and okay. His games aren't in the Junior Henne/Early Forcier range; they are about on par with Big Ten Forcier as a freshman, and he's better than freshman Mallett. This is without the legs.
There was also wide variance in number of throws, partly due to game-planning, but also having a lot to do with Borges leaning somewhat more on the running game when Michigan led. Look at the paucity of passes for Michigan against Purdue and Illinois, versus huge stacks for MSU (look at their pressure metric!) and Iowa. The percentages chart below can adjust for that a bit:
Click it to embiggen. I took out a few more bad defenses to make that one if you're wondering why fewer bars. Also those marks are the rankings by FEI of that opponent's pass defense—the worst pass defense would be at the very bottom, the best at the very top. Take with a huge grain of salt since FEI's weird this year. (No way Iowa and Purdue have the same secondary, nor do I believe either are 40 spots worse than Minnesota). Anyway it shows the metric is at least defense-independent.
This one has the story we've been telling: 2010 was fairly static, while 2011 was a dropoff followed by progression in the new offense (and a stinker in a trash tornado in the middle). Denard also maybe scrambled a bit more at the end of the season (the white bars). Overall you'd almost expect the two years to be flipped, with the hard learning and scrambling a sophomore campaign and the leveling off near the peak of the previous year the work of an upperclassman. If you consider time in the system, it's more like the work of a redshirt freshman followed by a true freshman.
The reads are another thing that fixed over time (Nebraska's weekly BR looks bigger in a small sample). The % of bad reads this year all told took a rather scary dip from pushing Sr. Henne to Threet-ish:
I'm ready to believe this was related to the footwork thing. If the staph infection affected him, it couldn't be more than the beating he took last year blamed for the perceived reduction in Big Ten play. There is evidence of greater pressure—the 7 categorized "PR" in the MSU game is one fewer than Brian gave for all of 2010—and all that.
How much this regression "hurt" Michigan this season can be overstated. Using all plays charted in UFR, Denard averaged 6.93 yards per play, as opposed to the 7.25 yards per play in 2010. That's not about bad defenses; against real opponents Denard's 6.55 YPA is better than his 6.30 in 2010. This is a result of the long passes against Notre Dame (10.09 YPP – which is ridiculous), but if we normalize every play longer than that to a cap of 20 yards, this is what he looks like per passing attempt (2010 schedule futzed with to match comparable games):
|Notre Dame||6.00||Notre Dame||7.77|
|Penn State||6.29||SD State||5.88|
|Michigan State||6.10||Michigan State||3.17|
|Ohio State||???||Ohio State||7.35|
Including only non-theoretical defenses (No FCS, EMU, BG, Indiana, WMU, NW), and again, counting everything over 20 yards as 20, Denard was getting 6.47 yards per attempt last year, and got 5.96 per passing attempt this year. That's still good. And it's a good bet, with a second year fusing with Mr. Borges, the performance level he got back to from Iowa through Nebraska is conceivable for the bowl game and beyond. If he can somehow sustain what he did against Ohio State he would be inconceivable.