"Coach Mattison told me what the Ravens were about, what he thought," Beyer said. "He definitely encouraged me. I hold his opinion in high regard."
Taco-ranked starters are far more likely than Glasgows [Fuller]
Every year, as college football recruiting becomes the only football thing left to pay attention to until spring, we are suddenly struck by an army of pundits so arrogantly attached to their "recruiting stars don't matter" narratives that they don't bother to care that math is against them.
Michigan typically gets taken to the woodshed in these articles for recurrently not matching recruiting expectations with on-field results. This discrepancy does exist beyond the normal J.T. Turners that everybody gets, and for various interrelated reasons: attrition spikes, spottily shoddy coaching, program instability, recruiting shortfalls. Anecdotally, there are examples I can point to, especially in the early aughts, when an otherwise two-star athlete was bumped to a three-star because Michigan offered. That explains less about how Wisconsin and Michigan State thrive on 2- and 3-stars, and more about how Michigan has recruited very few guys under a consensus 3-star.
However every time we find a new way to compare recruiting data to performance data, we consistently discover that recruiting stars handed out by the services correlate to better players. No, a 5-star isn't an instant superstar, but the 25-30 five-stars each season are consistently found to be about twice as likely to meet some performance metric (NFL draft, All-conference, team success, etc.) as the pool of 200-odd four-stars, who are consistently more likely to meet performance thresholds of the 400-odd three-stars, etc.
Today I present a new metric for proving it: starts.
|Example of raw data, via UM Bentley Library.|
ALL the Starts
My project over Christmas was to take the data from Bentley's team pages (example at right), scrub the hell out of it, and produce a database of who started what years, at what positions, at what age, with what recruiting hype, etc.
A few weeks back I released the initial results of my starts data. We noticed there were a lot of problems in that. I went back and did a lot of fixing, mostly just finding more weird errors in the Bentley pages I'd culled the data from, sometimes emailing the guys themselves to ask things like "Was there a game in 2001 that either you or B.J. didn't start?"
I think I've got it cleaned up now; at least the total number of starts for each season matches 22 players per game.
Recruiting By Starts
Starting in 1996 we start getting relatively uniform star rankings for recruits, though I had to translate Lemming rankings and such into stars (he had position rankings and national lists that line up with what we call recruits today). So I took the average of available star ratings of all players to appear on Michigan's Bentley rosters from the Class of 1996 through the Class of 2010, and put 'em against the number of starts generated. Guess what: recruiting actually matters.
|2- or 2.5-stars||29||271||9.3|
Even with Michigan's notorious luck, the 5-stars were expected to give you about two seasons of starts, compared to the 8 or 9 games you'll get out of a 2- or 3-star. That is significant, and offers a bit more evidence toward the general statement about recruiting stars: the higher the star rating, the more likely he is to be a good college football player, though at best you're at 50-50.
As for walk-ons, I've linked to the list of the 217 guys in that time period who made the Bentley rosters and weren't special teamers, in case you doubt me. The Order of St. Kovacs have accomplished great things for Michigan, but turning up one of those guys anywhere other than fullback has been rare indeed.
I'm going to try to use the starts data above to get predictive. The scatter plot of the 1996-2010 group was pretty linear so I'm just going to plug in a linear equation:
Expected Starts on Avg M Team = Stars x 5.30 - 6.35
And that gives us a reasonable expectation of Michigan starts to expect from a class based on their rankings:
click big makes
For the Class of 2011-2014 projections, I just guessed by hand, so those projections are going to be increasingly inaccurate once I'm predicting 2017 starters and whatnot.
The chart above has two stories to tell: 1) The strength of a recruiting class is strongly correlated to the value that class will produce in starters, and 2) the damage done by attrition to the 2005 and 2010 classes created ripple effects for several classes afterwards.
An Average Michigan Team:
By some quick averages I was able to get an average makeup of a starting 22. I took the average number of starts by experience (i.e. year in the program) for the classes of 1995-2010, adjusted those numbers for a 13-game schedule, then divided by 13 games to get an idea of what the starters ought to be against years of interest.
|Senior / RS Jr||7||5||4||8||8||6||8||9|
|Junior / RS So||6||10||5||4||7||7||5||6|
|Soph / RS Fr||3||3||6||2||1||2||3||4|
|AVG starter age||3.55||3.27||3.18||3.82||3.50||3.27||3.77||3.50|
By this the last two teams look extraordinarily young—about as young as the 2008 team or younger. The 2012 team by contrast seems like a wasted opportunity. FWIW I counted Devin, not Denard, as the quarterback, or it would have been even older. That fits the narrative: 2012 was a wasted opportunity, as a line with three 5th year seniors (two of whom were long-term productive starters) plus Lewan and Schofield was coached into one of the worst offensive lines in memory.
Five on five. [Upchurch]
When news broke recently that Jabrill Peppers was moving to safety, Brian threw up a quick explanatory post, Why Peppers Might Be A Safety, talking about how modern spread offenses dictate modern quarters defenses, which in turn dictate that the safety over the slot is the glamour position du jour.
An offensive innovation like the zone read will open up the entire book again as coaches figure out ways of running all the things they already like out of new looks, new play-action, etc. But defensive innovation, with a few notable exceptions, is much more reactive.
Often what we call a "new defense" is just rediscovering an old, unsound thing that takes away the thing offenses are doing these days. The 46 defense was bringing a safety down. The zone blitz was having a defensive end playing coverage. The Tampa 2 had a middle linebacker responsible for deep middle coverage. The 3-4 made three linemen responsible for six gaps. And the hybrid man/zones of today put your deep coverage into the middle of the run-stopping game.
The way a defensive innovation becomes a sustainably great defense is great players. Dantonio's quarters dominated college football with a string of NFL-bound defensive backs. The 3-4's proliferation through the NFL was accompanied by a rush on anything that looked like Vince Wilfork. The Steel Curtain (the first Tampa 2) was built around Jack Lambert. Miami (NFL Miami)'s "No Name" zone blitz defense had a 6'5/248 lb. track star named Bill Stanfill at WDE. And the '80s Bears could pull off this crap:
…because that "46" was the jersey number of one Doug Plank.
You don't need to be a football guru to see what made the 46 defense tough: there are eight dudes in the box, six of whom are just a few steps from the quarterback. Running into a stacked box is futile (DO YOU HEAR ME? DO YOU HEAR ME, AL?!?). You can try to identify who's blitzing and throw to holes in the coverage before they arrive, but you'd better have Dan Marino.
[After the jump: how to 46 a modern offense]
Fred Jackson has been a fixture at Michigan going back not one but two undefeated seasons. He arrived in 1992 to join Gary Moeller's staff. Since then, including a two-season stint as Lloyd Carr's first offensive coordinator, Jackson coached (and showered superfluous praise upon) over 100 running backs.
This site has correctly pointed out numerous flaws in the RBs over the last few seasons. It's difficult to diagnose what's coaching and what's just a certain back's ability. Every time we run into Vincent Smith, which is often, either Brian or I have pestered him about why nobody else can block like he could, and Vince just smiles and says "it's hard." Jackson himself has said that vision and ability are nature, blocking is a mentality, and the most he can really do is teach them whom to block.
|Best Backs of the Jackson Era|
|*Powers had another 1,945 yds at
5.07 YPA prior to Jackson's arrival
His results are mixed; Jackson coached four of the top ten leading rushers in school history (and his guys blocked for a fifth). On the other hand only two of his guys—Wheatley and Biakubutuka—cracked 5 yards per carry for their careers, a feat accomplished by nine of the guys coached by Jackson's predecessor Tirrell Burton.
What isn't hard to find is effusive praise about Jackson as a person and as a coach, from his former wards to high school coaches across Michigan. Like the coaches of Canham's era, Fred is a permanent fixture of the Michigan Athletic Department, a relationship that goes back to when Fred was Rick Leach's quarterbacks coach in high school.
The thing that really kept Jackson here through the tenure of four coaches was his ability to recruit the state of Michigan. There was a time when Michigan barely had to work to get homegrown kids, when Michigan Replay was the best access most local coaches had to any college football program, and the local press ignored anyone else. Today the in-state rival is on a roll, and there are as many Saban/Perles/Duffy/Dantonio guys in the state's coaching ranks as there are Michigan dudes. While Michigan's mainstream beat has four Rosenbergs trying to make a name for themselves at the expense of the program for every Angelique, the Spartans own an army of slappies. The current generation of recruits were born after the peak of Carr, and can only remember a few crazy 4-point wins over Notre Dame as great Michigan moments.
Michigan has veritably owned Michigan regardless.
This month, Jackson retired, the position he held for 23 years going to one of his first acolytes at Michigan. I choose not to let such a career pass quietly. I also choose not to review his career statistically, or at least not by utter performance. Rather, I'd like to chart our way through this long career in simple carries. Full data is here.
The bar graphs after the jump don't tell a story; they're there help jog the stories of so many storied running backs and fullbacks to come through here since I was 12.
[After the jump, a review of the backs in the Time of Jackson and the carry distribution between them from game to game.]
My biggest takeaway from last night is Michigan will need a very strong and well-coached front seven if Harbaugh is to pull a 1969 next Thanksgiving weekend.
The key to Michigan's dramatic defensive improvement in 2011 was that Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison gave Michigan's defense an identity. They went to a 4-3 under, single-gap run defense that Mattison brought from the Ravens, and over the course of the year found the best fits for the guys on hand.
|Durkin knew Mattison from his Charlie Weis pants days. [photo: Joe Raymond|Freep]|
You remember, despite the relative success of this transition, that some fits were more or less awkward than others. Jake Ryan was a perfect SAM. Ryan Van Bergen worked as a 3-tech or a 5-tech. Mike Martin played nose because nobody else could, and his disruption was deployed with a lot of stunts, or weird stuff like when they came up in an Okie and Martin dropped back to essentially MLB. Roh at WDE was a solid run defender but wasn't built to take advantage of that WDE-tackle matchup that's supposed to produce natural pressure.
Last year of course they went to a 4-3 over base alignment, making Jake Ryan into an awkward MLB because the alternative was Beyer as a really awkward 5-tech. The kicker: offenses were forcing Michigan to play nickel 50% to 90% of snaps, which made Ryan into either an undersized defensive end, or a guy on the sideline.
JMFR is gone but Mattison will still be around, joined by new defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin. At the Cleveland event last night I suggested Mattison’s role will be as sensei to Durkin, who hasn’t really flown solo yet (Muschamp was very involved with that defense).
It adds up to a belief that Michigan won’t change its defensive style for 2015, but what is that style? Coverages are another matter; just speaking to the front seven: should they be the under that they recruited for, or the over they transitioned to?
Refresher on 4-3 philosophy
Mattison and Durkin both coached (Durkin as a graduate assistant for one year) under Bob Davie at Notre Dame, who with Jackie Sherrill developed the Texas A&M "Wrecking Crew" defense. Jimmy Johnson (another Sherrill acolyte) took it a step further in Miami, and Pete Carroll now runs in Seattle.
You’ll note that they used different alignments. Johnson’s defenses were the genesis of the 4-3 over, and so influential that this is what people usually mean by “4-3” defense, as opposed to Tom Landry’s base version. Carroll’s been coaching the 4-3 under since he learned it directly from Monte Kiffin, who developed it at Nebraska.
The under alignment was not the base concept; the real philosophy in Kiffin's terms was to give his defensive linemen simple assignments so they could play with aggression and disruption. The benefit of one-gapping is no defensive linemen stopping to diagnose the play. Once the ball is snapped, all of these defenses want those brains thinking "go!", "put my hat in a gap," "be a factor," and "attack that block!"
Mattison used a mix in Baltimore because he had Ngata, but at Michigan he’s had an almost exclusively gap-attacking defense. The question has been what alignment to run it out of, and that’s a question of which players fit it best.
(Start at 1:17)
So which alignment is Michigan going with this year? I think again it’s a question of personnel? I make diagram.
Michigan’s short on red dudes
The above is my attempt at showing the spectrum of qualities emphasized by the front seven positions in the 4-3 over versus the 4-3 under. I also gave a small approximation of color fits for guys I know something about (Spur-like objects like Gant and Wangler left out because I ran out of colors to depict DB-ness).
It's meant to show what we mean when we talk about the why nothing's a perfect fit for the talent on hand. Suggestions for improved shading are welcome. Takeaway from this experiment: Michigan's front the next few years may be better at throwing out different looks than it will be at rotating through shark teeth.
If you trust my judgment on the shading above, the over appears to remain the best fit for the guys we have, provided they can find some backup ends (the glut of DE/DT tweeners remains). As Mattison mentioned in the video above, the half of the time you’re in nickel to counter a 3- or more-wide look, you’re in an over anyway. D.J. Durkin used a lot of smaller players and changed things up a ton at Florida, and I expect the future will be a truly multiple defense with versatile front seven players. I expect when they can’t run Ojemudia and Charlton out there at the ends, Durkin will experiment with linebacker-ish dudes out there.
Meta: Hokepoints is now alternating bi-weekly features. Jimmystats is the one where we play with Excel, H4 is the one where we play with Playmaker or get misty-eyed. Thank you readers who submitted name ideas.
Not all upperclassmen are good, but having upperclassmen is good. [Fuller]
I keep a few different databases on Michigan players for various uses, and Bosch's transfer initiated a two-day time sink into updating the big roster one. It now includes number of starts each guy since the 1993 class had in his career, along with the recruiting profile and career summary. Have at it, diarists:
Some stuff I generated with it:
The Holy Balls 2010 attrition chart:
Bigging it makes it clicker.
The retention rate isn't the number of players who stuck, it's the number of total eligible seasons the class would have produced if every freshman played four (and every junior transfer played two, etc.). If somebody ever says there was nothing good about the Hoke era, point at the 2012-2014 classes. I do expect the transition costs and other levies of time will reduce those triple towers eventually, but that is a very good start, especially the 2012 group who came in after 11-2 and got not that since.
The flipside of course is that 2010 class, which spent exactly half of its eligibility not on Michigan's roster. And that was followed by the 2011 "process" class, which more on that in a minute. I also tracked the reasons for losses:
[Jump for that a bunch more charts and tables you can use to wow your friends, like the average number of starts for a 5-star recruit]
META: Okay hivemind, I think I'm gonna break the Tuesday column formerly known as Hokepoints (and Museday) into different columns, alternating between stat stuff and Xs and Os stuff. Gimme name ideas. Jimmystats and Jimmypens? I'm at a loss.
Lynn Sladky, AP via Freep.
In his profile in heroism on Harbaugh yesterday, Brian mentioned that THIS pro-style offense at least sometimes does things other than what the defense wants/expects/prepared for:
Those 5.2s [rushing YPC in 2009, 2010 and 2011 at Stanfard] are crazy given the context—on par with Rodriguez's Denard-era run games minus, you know, Denard. This is not a scheme that's just "run it until you stop it"—Harbaugh is trying to screw with your run fits every play.
I thought I'd get into that screwing just a bit because one thing we haven't seen much of at Michigan is someone who knows how to run a power offense correctly. We've seen DeBord and Borges run it poorly, and we've seen Nussmeier try to mold it onto a horizontal spread while still fulfilling Hoke's mandate that at least one tight end must be doing something he's bad at every play.
For something approximating what I expect Michigan will run I went back to the last game Harbaugh coached in college, the 2011 Orange Bowl. Stanford faced Bud Foster's quarters defense, which is helpful since VT's scheme is from the same tree that Michigan State and Ohio State now run.
This was an evisceration. Stanford called 27 running plays and got 300 yards (8.6 YPC) from them. You can remove garbage time (optional since Harbaugh was still running his offense full-bore at 34-12) and it's still 182 yards on 22 carries, for 8.3 YPC. A lot of those were deep gashes—60 yards, 26 yards, 56 yards—which is what you'd expect against a defense that usually gives its safeties gap assignments. I'll show you how the first of those gashes was set up.
Step 1: Scissors.
The first play from scrimmage Stanford came out in a standard I-formation: inline fullback, tight end off the line. Anyone who's scouted Stanford would guess they're going to run their bread 'n butter play: Power-O. We've been over that one before: the backside guard pulls, everyone else has to pin defenders in their spots, and then that pulling guard and the fullback and the RB all come downhill at the MLB, and the resulting yardage is determined by the resulting collision.
Harbaugh showed it without running it with a clever counter that sold the defense on Power-O then had the FB reverse direction and head into the flat, where the rolling out Andrew Luck had essentially a vertical option play on the isolated DB (I labeled him the BCB but I think I got him and the FS confused on the diagram):
He ran a West Coast play from the shotgun on the ensuing 1st down, and then on 2nd and 4 tried to put a power run on the backside with a pass look:
This was blown up by the MLB shooting the gap abandoned by the pulling right guard. A third down pass attempt was blown up when a blitzer wasn't picked up.
[After the jump: how to make the defense eat rock.]