don't mess with jon chait
Profiling, again. The Daily continues its streak of crushing everyone out there with Michigan football profiles, this time hitting up Deerfield Beach for the Denard Robinson story. Cue adorable child who doesn't like you stealing her soul:
Also let's not forget that making Shoelace, Denard Robinson, for uh, shirt, you know, within the NCAA—that isn't legal.
The story itself is another epic five-pager. Sounds like he was a natural:
“He loved to run that ball,” Huggins says, looking over his old stomping grounds at Westside Park. “He’d tell me, ‘Coach, call quarterback sneak!’ I’d tell him no, to hand it off, and so he’d fake the handoff and keep it and run for a ton of yards.”
Zone read from the start. This is a read the whole thing situation.
From "it won't work in the Big Ten" to this. Illinois blog Hail to the Orange (wait… what?) on Saturday:
The difference is, and the major problem on Saturday, was that with Michigan when we bit, we paid dearly, every time. It seemed as though just one missed tackle, one bad angle and the punishment was a touchdown. We were running a contain game most of the day against Denard, and we paid because there was relatively little pressure against him, giving his receivers too much time to get open, and when combined with a play action always were open. The result: 305 PASSING yards from the Nard dog.
There were of course some bright spots. We have continued the trend of taking the ball away from the other team and not giving it back. (Five TO's recovered, to one lost.) Against teams not made out of tiny track stars coated in butter, this will equate to a win.
We will not see another team this offensively talented this season (pending a bowl bid) generally we can improve our decision making in the secondary enough to not give up constant 75 yard bombs, at least I hope not.
Here's the crazy thing: that first bit on "paid dearly, every time" isn't even true. You know that interception Denard zinged over Webb's head? That's either a touchdown or Webb gets run down from behind as Michigan switched up the QB Lead Oh Noes from the slot receiver to the TE. The safety who intercepted the ball was headed for Roundtree and dead meat until the ball went ZING. I've got two separate RPS+3 plays that end in disaster for Michigan already. If anything, Michigan's immolation of the Illinois defense is even more impressive on review because it could have been considerably worse if Denard makes a few better throws. I think we've established that Denard's not going to make great throws all the time, but man… in the UFR Michigan's going to have a huge RPS number.
The whole thing's driven Vic Koennig to despondency:
"They get you in a run, run, run mode then they drop back and hit a pass on you. They had us running around and not doing anything well."
Fair? No. Accurate? Yes. User Tom Pickle with the win.
Sorry about nearly killing you. That guy who got plowed on the sideline during Tate's double personal foul keeper in overtime was actually Channel 7's Don Shane. The two shared a heartwarming moment afterwards:
He's got the flags to prove it, Don.
More advanced metricing. Michigan's moved up to #3 nationally in FO's S&P ratings… on offense. They're just behind Auburn and Boise State, #1 on "standard downs" and #6 on pass downs. Ohio State(!) is a surprising #5, and then the next Big Ten team is #17 Wisconsin. Michigan is #98 on defense. Woo.
I also asked Brian Fremeau for Michigan's kickoff numbers to see if that aspect of the game is actually hurting them much. I asked him last week and never got around to posting them, so these are a little out of date. In an effort to reduce confusion I'm going to flip signs so negative is always bad and positive is good. The units here are in average points away from expectation.
Kickoffs: –0.054 (79th)
Kick Return: –0.099 (95th)
Punts: +0.101 (13th)
Punt return: –0.023 (77th)
What this means is for every ten Michigan punts Michigan has saved a point in expected field position; for every ten kick returns they've lost a point in expected field position. So.
- Points on kickoffs (58): -3.1
- Points on kick returns (56): -5.5
- Points on punts (30): +3.0
- Points on punt returns(40): –0.9
Grand total: around –6.5 pending how Michigan's performance against Illinois changes the numbers (I'm guessing it doesn't change much since Michigan gave up some good returns but also busted the long one before the half).
Meanwhile, Michigan's no longer national-worst kickers (up to 117!) are –1.0 per FGA. They've attempted 11, so the field goal situation is almost twice as damaging as the rest of it. All told Michigan's losing about two points a game on special teams, which doesn't sound like much until you consider that flipping that stat would take Michigan's scoring margin from +5 to +9.
Belated Free Press denouement. I had football to talk about and didn't get around to this but a few bits and pieces to wrap up the jihad. A national take from Doc Sat:
The tepid infractions that came to light as a result of the Freep's digging are the minimum you'd expect to find at any sprawling program operating under a massive handbook, as the basic cost of employing fallible human beings while continuing to dead-lift with the Joneses. Other programs, however, weren't the target of an investigation by a major metropolitan newspaper that left no stone unturned in its efforts to make a splash against a high-profile coach who almost immediately cleaved the fan base down the middle. Michigan was, which is why it was Michigan that was forced to roll its eyes and slap itself on the wrist in halfhearted contrition as the "probation" label is applied for the first time in school history.
Chait drops Chaitbombs to the point where the fiancée thinks she should use this…
Here's the headline of one report: "RichRod gets win, but still needs more on field" Here's the headline of a second: "UM's violations deemed major, but not serious" And here's a third: "NCAA's verdict: Rodriguez ignored rules; U-M gets more probation"
Those headlines came from ESPN, the Detroit News, and the Detroit Free Press. You can probably guess which was which.
“We apologized yesterday because we made mistakes. I’m kinda waiting for somebody from the media to apologize for mistakes they made. And I’m not sure that’s ever going to happen, but that would be a nice thing, wouldn’t it?”
And of course the guy who asked if Rodriguez would be fired and got a death glare was Drew Sharp. Brandon should have asked "when is the Free Press going to fire you?"
Etc.: Wisconsin's John Clay and starting center Peter Konz are "iffy" for this week's game against Indiana. Sounds like they should be good to go for Michigan but sprains can be weird. This Week In Schadenfreude does not feature Colorado because no Colorado fans care anymore. Anything can happen in dead coach walking situations and fans will just shrug and talk about who the next guy is going to be. Michigan State is 9-1 for the first time in a million years and they still can't sell out their game against Purdue without resorting to two-for-one deals.
Guest post from Jon Chait, who needed a platform via which to respond.
So Brian yesterday noted Deadspin’s foray into the “Let’s Accuse A Coach We Don’t Like Of Violating NCAA Regulations Without Bothering To Learn What The Regulations Say” genre popularized by the Detroit Free Press. I wanted to chime in because that same post featured a not-very-insightful shot at yours truly.
Yesterday I wrote a column for Rivals pointing out that, while it’s fine for Michael Rosenberg to express his strong anti-Rich Rodriguez opinions in his sports columns, allowing a columnist with such a strong viewpoint to write an anonymously-sourced investigative news article on the same topic of his obsession is improper.
Deadspin’s Dashiell Bennett drops the gotcha on me:
Jonathan Chait stepped down from his high horse at The New Republic to lambaste the Freep's Michael Rosenberg for his anti-Rich Rod bias, stating that no place he worked would ever let an opinion writer do hard news about a subject he was so "passionate" about. Interesting, if true. I wonder if any of those fine, upstanding newspapers Chait's talking about would let an alumnus (UM, Class of '94) attack another writer because they published dirt about an organization he used to be associated with?
Jesus. Was I writing an investigative news article in a newspaper about a topic which I have strong opinions on? No, I was not. Nor should I. Having lambasted the Freep’s journalistic ethics, if I were to go to the Detroit News and propose they hire me to write an expose about how Freep sports editors are laundering money for the Cali drug cartel to fund their kitten-strangling hobby, the News should definitely not hire me. In fact, I hereby authorize every newspaper in the country to reject any future entreaties by me to report and write investigative news stories on any subject in which I have previously expressed strong opinions.
It’s perfectly ethical for Rosenberg to wage his anti-Rodriguez jihad in his sports column. Dumb, unpersuasive, misleading, sometimes factually inaccurate, yes, but not unethical. It’s likewise perfectly ethical for me to opine about the University of Michigan, despite having graduated from it. But if Dashiell Bennett learned he was the subject of an investigative news story in the New York Times, authored by me, reporting on the scandal of people who are allowed to write sports blogs despite having IQs under 90, he would probably feel that something unethical had transpired.
Guest post from Jon Chait here on the field conditions, which I overlooked in the game recap. They were pretty awful in person, where you could see the downfield coverage try not to fall over. I neither endorse or un-endorse Jon's viewpoint.
It's astonishing to me that all the commentary about the Michigan-Ohio State game has missed what seems clearly to be the dominant factor of the game: the shoddy field conditions, which crippled both defenses.
Before anybody accuses me of simple Michigan homer-ism, let me concede a couple points:
1. Ohio State made its best effort to create a playable field
2. Ohio State outplayed Michigan and won fairly
3. There are plenty of good reasons to avoid a rematch in the title game - for one, it's impossible to know with any precision which two teams are best, so providing an interesting match-up ought to be an important consideration, and rematches are generally less interesting.
Nonetheless, the most popular argument against a rematch is that Michigan "had its chance." That argument loses much of its force if you consider just how badly the field distorted the game November 18.
For those who don't know, Ohio State had had to completely re-sod its field twice this year, including once in November. The latest re-sodding obviously did not take root, which should not be a surprise for the Midwest in November, and the result was a loose carpet of grass that provided very little traction. It was a lot like running on a rug that sits on a hardwood floor. You can run straight pretty well, but if you try to change direction quickly you're likely to fall.
Why did this hurt the defense? Because offensive players know when they're going to cut, and they can get their bodies under control before planting. Defensive players, who have to react instantaneously, can't keep up. The result was a farce. Neither team could cover anybody. Neither defensive line could get any penetration against the run, or generate any pass rush. (If neither lineman can move quickly, the result is a stalemate, which benefits the offense.)
Most sports reporters and fans missed the full extent of this distortion for a simple reason; it produced lots of scoring, and most sports fans think high scoring means a great game. But the results make it pretty clear that the scoring was grotesquely inflated by the field. These were pretty universally regarded as the two best defenses in college football. Yet Ohio State scored more points against Michigan than it did against all but three opponents. Michigan scored more offensive points against Ohio State than it did against anybody. Mike Hart averaged more per carry against OSU than he did against all but two opponents. And so on. That wasn't a football game, it was a video game.
There were some ways in which offensive players were hurt. Chad Henne overthrew a sure touchdown pass to Mario Manningham because Manningham couldn't get out of his break at normal speed. It's probably no coincidence that the shifty Anthony Gonzalez, OSU's leading receiver, had less yardage than straight-line speed demon Ted Ginn.
Did the field benefit Ohio State vis a vis Michigan? I think it probably did, though you could argue the point. The Buckeyes had more experience playing on a shoddy field (and Michigan's 11 point second half margin would suggest that getting used to the field helped.) Turning the game into a shootout probably suited OSU's style more comfortably than Michigan's.
But the point is not which team benefited over the other. The point is that the game itself was massively distorted by the field conditions. For a comparison, in 1950 Michigan and Ohio State played a famous game in a blizzard, and Michigan won 9-3, with a blocked punt for a touchdown, despite not gaining a first down. As Ohio State's alumni magazine recalled, "The snow, wind, and insecure footing made the game a mockery - an imitation of football only by a stretch of the imagination."
Now, the terrible Ohio State field last Saturday did not distort the game as much as the 1950 blizzard did, but it distorted it quite a bit. The fact was simply obscured because it was the defenses rather than the offenses that primarily suffered. Michigan certainly deserved to win the Snow Bowl in 1950, but you can't say the game proved a lot about its superiority to Ohio State.
The same is true, to a lesser but still very significant degree, of last weekend's Turf Bowl. If Michigan and Ohio State were to play on a decent field, the game would like nothing like the one that took place on November 18. Ohio State would have an even chance - perhaps a slightly better than even chance - of winning. But there would not be anything like 81 points or 900 yards of offense. It would be, in other words, a far more fair contest of which team is better.