Bill Rapai [set]
I went to the second (consolation) game of the Great Lakes Invitational at Comerica Park. Michigan lost 3-0. Brian said I must write this up, which is just as well since I'm too depressed to write about the football team right now. So.
As a Detroiter (err…Metro-) I appreciate Mike Ilitch. He may be a king of the Sicilian Square people while I'm a firm Foldedsliceitarian, but he's the daddy who won't say no to a Brett Hull or a Prince Fielder even if he just got you a Robitaille/Cabrera. He also funds a third of Detroit charities, renovated FoxTown, and realized the United States needed a Canadian-like hockey development program 30 years before USA Hockey itself got serious about it.
For this, that, and the other thing, nobody in this town can begrudge him anything. Not for weirdly refusing to put Larry Aurie's number (6) in the rafters, or for putting Tiger Stadium in the ground, or for not paying his taxes, because Ilitch is the guy who bought the Dead Things, then stole the GM who built that Islanders dynasty, then drafted Yzerman, then began a postseason streak which has outlasted both of Michigan's.
So when they told him they wanted to have his Red Wings host the Winter Classic (and once the stakeholders could decide on which pizza to order)* nobody could begrudge Mike his demand that Detroit, as opposed to Ann Arbor, should play host city, and that his downtown, bank-monikered ballpark should get a carnival and an ice rink too.
When you got down there and saw the Hockey Hall of Fame tent in the middle of the stadium lot, you could be for this in a rah-rah-good-for-Detroit kind of way. But, like handing that long-term deal to Franzen instead of Hossa, Comerica Park as hockey rink was a contemporarily questionable decision which in hindsight appears to be an awful one.
* [My vote would have been Supino's**]
**[Yes, we are all about superfluous possessives in Detroit. What of it?]
The thing about outdoor hockey is it's supposed to call to mind "pure" hockey, i.e. the game you played with friends under a gunmetal sky after spending twice that long shoveling, until the half-frozen parent you left on the shore decided everybody's going to fall in/catch a cold. I realize not everyone knows what this experience is, and there are myriad social/cultural/class reasons why this is, including SE Michigan geography:
[Jump: CoPa makes for a bad hockey rink, Michigan makes like a bad hockey team, and a hockey stick serves as a passable bat]
Moe (1) and Jabrill (2), via.
In last week's roundtable on the state of the conference I pulled out this table grading the new Big Ten's teams on their 2013 seasons (by Fremeau Efficiency Index) and their futures (by composite 247 score for the 2012-'14 classes):
West | East School FEI Grade Rcrt | School FEI 2013 Rcrt Wisconsin 13th A C+ | OSU 8th A A+ Iowa 30th B C | MSU 9th A B Minnesota 49th C D+ | Michigan 29th B A+ Nebraska 51st C B | Indiana 62nd D+ C NW'ern 60th C- C | PSU 65th D+ B Illinois 75th D C- | Maryland 74th D C+ Purdue 114th F C- | Rutgers 98th E- B- AVG 56th 2.0 2.0 | AVG 49th 2.1 3.0
That's about how I feel: A conference baseline of "C" (ie ranked around 50th) teams with one division recruiting at a "B" level and the other "getting the most out of" C level recruiting.
This I pulled from a spreadsheet of FEI and recruiting data that I'd like to mine further, because if you're looking at a chart it still counts as doing work.
Recruiting = legit, yo/maybe not so legit. So here's a new look at the old stand-by: recruiting on the Y-axis, performance on the X-axis, and a nice, heavy trend line with an R-squared of 0.46 to show an inconvenient-for-narratives correlation. Performance is FEI expressed as a percentile. The composite ranking is a bit more complex: the 2009 (5th year seniors) is weighted at 0.5 the 2010 and 2011 classes at full, the 2012 class at 0.40 and the 2013 at 0.10, which are arbitrary values I assigned based on expectations of how much a class contributes to a given team.
Blicking on it makes it cig.
It says they're correlated, but doesn't necessarily mean one is causing the other. FWIW the r-squared of the Rivals composite determined the same way was .4135; I haven't done Scout or ESPN yet. Look at how the correlation of recruiting %-ile of each class and 2013 performance %-ile changes by year:
|Class||247 R-Squared||Rivals R-Squared|
|2009 (5th yrs)||0.3681||0.3204|
The highest correlation is to the freshman class, and the 3rd-highest is to the class that's not even on campus yet. There's a strong echo effect going on here, wherein the teams that are good today are getting the highest-ranked recruits. The diminishing returns from seniors, I would posit, are because they're the classes hit hardest by attrition, and most likely to have been recruited by a different coach or to a program in very different circumstances.
The other thing that immediately jumped out at me about that chart is look at all the color on top of the black trend line. Those gray dots are mid-major programs, who are largely outperforming expectations from recruiting, versus only one SEC team managing to do so. I bet that's a system bias in the recruiting rankings: there's little to parse between an under-the-radar guy who commits to Purdue versus one going to NIU except one of those is a Big Ten school.
[Jump for MEETING EXPECTATIONS and THE FUTURE]
I write this column once a year to implore college football fans to use a standard, common, descriptive set of names for the bowl games. Try saying "Copper" instead of "Buffalo Wild Wings" for the next month, and just imagine the savings!!!
In the pantheon of annoyances, I admit that companies paying somebody to make you use their name out of context is far less destructive than, say, a university trading scholastic loans as private securities and then jacking up tuition so shareholders can make more money.
Still, it is annoying. The purpose of language is the communication of ideas, and elegance in this is a thing everybody should appreciate. Names are communicative tools that allow the listener to reference all information stored on that thing. When speaking to another college football fan, the name of the bowl ought to conjure up its history and location and place in the pantheon. A name sponsor is a jerk who butts into the middle of your conversation…
…and makes communication of the idea more difficult. Adding syllables (they couldn't call it the B-Dubs Bowl?) adds to the annoyance. It is cold here during bowl season, so I prefer to not expend what limited body heat I have in vocalizing "The Yushityu 2007 Mimetic-Resolution-Cartridge-View-Motherboard-Easy-To-Install-Upgrade For Infernatron/InterLace TP Systems For Home, Office Or Mobile Bowl."*
What to Call Them?
Typically unless it's an older bowl just use the name of the city they play in, and if there are multiple bowls in a city start adding numbers (Tampa II, Cotton II, etc.) If everybody knows a bowl as something because it has been called that for decades, obviously use that.
After [the jump] I'll put up a handy chart of the current bowl slate, complete with sounds you can make to accurately relate meaning to another human, and commercial-free graphics that can do the same. You can keep that open as a tab on your phone or whatever as a reference this month.
The best reason I've been able to come up with for how this Michigan team could put up that kind of yardage against Ohio State is that Ohio State's defensive players are—man, how do I say this without being a total jackass homer rival?—more prone to mental errors than your average Big Ten starters.
|I hereby dedicate this post In memory of the too-short MGoCareer of Heiko "Bubble Screen" Yang. Who needs doctor money anyway?|
Another way to say it: the best and most representative player on that unit is Ryan Shazier, who is basically Jonas Mouton with five years of good coaching. Another way to say it: they're exactly as dumb as they are talented, and that's why a group of 5-stars are just an average defense. I am a total jackass homer rival.
The second-best reason, and the best you can say without coming off like a TJHR, is that which Borges himself apparently gave in the pre-game interview with Musberger: "We emptied the drawer." In other words, they finally ran all of those counters to the things they'd been doing all year.
There will be plenty of time in the months ahead to wonder why it took this long to throw paper, especially when that gamble came up just short (and the last play was a rock that OSU allegedly* RPS'ed) of paying off. For the moment, let's look at one of the "third" things they brought out for this game and what that did for the offense.
* Ohio State's players threw out one of those heartbreaking quotes about being uber-prepared for what was coming, but the play also had Gallon about to break open.
|It's hard to argue Funchess isn't an "ideal" slot ninja, isn't it? [Upchurch]|
The Bubble Package
Yards per attempt; attempts in parentheses:
|MSU||2.0 (1)||8.0 (1)||5.0|
|Northwestern||5.3 (7)||5.7 (3)||5.4|
|Iowa||3.0 (5)||1.0 (2)||2.4|
|Ohio State||4.5 (4)||7.7 (3)||18.0 (1)||7.4|
|TOTALS||4.2 (17)||5.6 (9)||18.0 (1)||5.2|
Michigan does the bubble differently than Rich Rod—he made it an automatic check against the slot defender getting too close to his running game—but both work under the same principle: keep your grubby SAM's hands away from my interior running game!
The Borges Bubble game debuted against Michigan State as a bubble screen(!) that got a remarkable-for-that-day eight yards, followed by a fake bubble (out of the shotgun) to inside zone that got unfortunately blown up by a double-a gap blitz. It really came out in the Northwestern game: ten plays for 5.4 YPP. Of those, three were the bubble screen, four were a fake to an inside zone, and three to an iso. Once it was on film, Iowa adapted but Michigan ran the same (basically) two things they had against the Wildcats. The result was 2.4 YPP on seven tries: 2 bubbles and 5 inside zones.
They run it out of different formations, usually with two tight ends opposite the bubble twins (20/27 plays I have charted were from the Ace twins twin TE or I-form twins). They do run other stuff from these formations but twins (two receivers to one side) with Gallon on the line and Funchess in the slot is a good sign the bubble game is in play.
It's a good fit for this team since it: A) de-emphasizes interior blocking by holding the SAM outside and letting his OL play 5-on-5; B) Utilizes the surprising multi-threats of Gallon (as a blocker) and Funchess (as a slot receiver), and C) Lets them get Derrick Green running downhill.
I don't have Iowa video but I can show you how they adapted. The first time Michigan ran it they threatened blitz with the SAM:
Then had that guy back out and attack Funchess. The idea was to lure Michigan into a screen if this was a check, and then blow it all to hell. Like I said, it's on tape. Fortunately Michigan doesn't run checks; they called run:
Iowa got to play their base defense against that basic zone run, and the result was 5-ish yards. That is rock on rock: it's blockers versus the blocked until safeties arrive, however the SAM was kept away from the running game by the threat of Funchess. The thing is, up to then Michigan only had a rock and a scissors, so Iowa could spend all day in this defense, ceding 3-5 yards when Michigan ran it, and blowing up the bubble constraint.
Here's what this looked like when OSU defended it:
Same playcall as Iowa except since they knew it wasn't a check they didn't bother with fake SAM ("Star" in Buckeye terminology) blitz—just lined him up against Funchess. A screen is dead.
But watch Joey Bosa (#97 on the bottom of OSU's line) get way too upfield and try to knock down the screen pass that isn't coming, thus taking himself completely out of the play. He's matched against Lewan instead of Butt, though, so Michigan was probably going to get something out of that block anyway; you still don't want to make it so easy.
The middle linebacker (#14 Curtis Grant) compounded matters by Obi Ezeh-ing his way to the hole, which gave Kerridge enough time to arrive and pop in an advantageous position. Finally, the safety (#3 Corey "City in Pennsylvania" Brown) took a long time to read the play, backing out a few steps before setting up at the 1st down line. He might have been run through if the other safety (#4 C.J. Barnett) hadn't made his way over, got depth with a neat little athletic step, and helped stop it.
So rock on rock nets a big hole and big yards, because Ohio State's defenders are something-something box of rocks. But they're not the only talent-deficient guys on the field. Michigan's OL screwed up rock on the third bubble package play of the game:
That's inside zone. With the Star taken out by the bubble fake, everyone is blocked except the safety coming down (#3 Corey "a Jewish suburb west of Pittsburgh" Brown). And he was set up outside so if Mags and Glasgow can hold their downfield blocks this could bust huge. However Glasgow and Kalis didn't do a very good job on their exchange—or else the DT (#63 Michael Bennett) just did a great job fighting through it—and the Buckeye DT ends the play with a mouthful. Bennett was bent back when Glasgow released so my inclination here is to point at Kalis and call it ten-man football.
In the Iowa play I wish I had video of, that DE threw off Butt, and the middle linebacker, despite drawing Lewan, managed to attack quick enough to cut off escape until everyone else arrived, which didn't take long since Iowa's safeties were playing with their ears back. However Green's momentum vs the size of those guys got an extra two yards. Here his 240 lbs. are irrelevant against a wall like Bennett.
[After the jump: other things you can make your fist into]
Note: Most of of my long "here's a handy guide for Borges complaining" post got deleted. Here's a few bits of it.
So I did the thing where I update (finally) the UFR database, then self-UFR the last game because this damn column comes before Brian does the UFR for the latest one, and then I say things about all the things. Let's just cut to the things:
Yards per play (# attempts in parentheses) of normal downs by formation.
|Opponent||Shotgun||Ace||I-Form||Pistol||Tackle Over||Goal line||Total YPP|
|Central Michigan||6.7 (17)||7.7 (21)||7 (19)||3 (2)||-||1.5 (2)||6.8|
|Notre Dame||7.4 (14)||10.6 (22)||3.2 (13)||4.4 (14)||-||-||7.0|
|Akron||21.8 (11)||5.6 (19)||4.5 (18)||-1.8 (5)||-||-||7.6|
|Connecticut||5 (25)||2.8 (19)||1.8 (12)||3.5 (4)||-||4 (1)||3.6|
|Minnesota||6.1 (9)||4.9 (7)||1.7 (7)||-||5.8 (20)||-||5.0|
|Penn State||3.6 (16)||7.7 (22)||3.8 (9)||6.4 (7)||0.8 (11)||-||4.8|
|Indiana||7.2 (34)||14.1 (14)||8.8 (16)||4 (1)||11 (8)||-||9.2|
|Michigan State||5.3 (23)||7.4 (7)||1.8 (4)||0.1 (12)||-||-||4.0|
|Nebraska||4 (23)||0.3 (7)||1.8 (12)||6.3 (6)||-||0 (1)||3.1|
|Northwestern||5.4 (16)||4.7 (21)||5 (24)||11 (3)||-||-1 (2)||5.1|
|Iowa||2.7 (23)||1.2 (9)||5 (13)||4 (2)||-||-||3.1|
|Total||6.1 (33%)||6.7 (27%)||4.6 (23%)||3.6 (9%)||5.5 (6%)||0.8 (1%)||5.6|
What's left out are 2-minute drills, 3rd/4th down and longer than 6, and any short situations.
And yards per play by how spread, i.e. the # of receivers in formation, they got each game, with % of plays they lined up that way in parentheses:
|Central Michigan||2.33||1.5 (3%)||2 (3%)||8.1 (56%)||7 (33%)||-1.3 (5%)||-|
|Notre Dame||2.29||-||-0.8 (6%)||8.6 (59%)||5.5 (35%)||-||-|
|Akron||2.23||-||9 (4%)||5.5 (70%)||13.5 (26%)||-||-|
|Connecticut||2.33||4 (2%)||2.5 (7%)||2.9 (49%)||4.5 (43%)||-||-|
|Minnesota||1.70||2 (5%)||4 (35%)||5.4 (47%)||7.7 (14%)||-||-|
|Penn State||2.14||-||5.7 (14%)||5.2 (58%)||3.7 (28%)||-||-|
|Indiana||2.66||-0.5 (3%)||16.2 (7%)||9.7 (40%)||10.7 (23%)||6.5 (27%)||-|
|Michigan State||3.00||-||-8 (2%)||4.1 (26%)||4.8 (41%)||3.6 (30%)||-|
|Nebraska||2.47||0 (2%)||3.7 (6%)||0.5 (43%)||6.3 (41%)||1.3 (8%)||-|
|Northwestern||2.15||-1 (3%)||2.2 (8%)||4.9 (64%)||5.7 (23%)||18.0 (3%)||-|
|Iowa||2.91||-||-1 (2%)||3.6 (38%)||2.1 (30%)||3.8 (26%)||3.5 (4%)|
|All games||2.38||0.8 (2%)||4.6 (8%)||5.7 (51%)||6.2 (30%)||4.8 (9%)||3.5 (<1%)|
My base assumption was that when Michigan goes more spread they're putting the B+ receiving threat of Dileo, or the C+ receiving of Chesson on the field, and usually moving the C- blocking/D- receiving of A.J. Williams or Joe Kerridge off of it.
The Fetal Position Theory of Offense
However going to wider looks didn't seem to do much good against Iowa or Michigan State (that one at least M was behind for a good portion). That's because of a lot of things, one of those being that despite spreading it out, Michigan's been leaving those guys anyway. Both players are probably the best blockers of their position groups, but that's not saying much. Meanwhile they give up pretty much any threat of doing something other than blocking, and opponents have used that opportunity to tee off. Since neither is good enough to pick up a majority of those blitzes, there've been a lot of messes in the backfield as a result.
Iowa blew up Michigan's penultimate drive with back-to-back A-gap blitzes. On the first Kerridge was in to pass block and got lit up by the blitzer, who was immediately into Gardner. On the second they had Green in there and had him run a pattern that the defense ignored. With immediate pressure Gardner ignored Green and chucked a pass into an unready Funchess's back. That is progress, but the lesson is just doing the thing you ought to be good at doesn't fix the problem; you have to practice doing it as well.
But even when they do spread like a boss, there's a lot of things going wrong. Look that this play, the penultimate (so rare you get to use that word twice in a day) offensive one of the game for Michigan:
Starts at 0:53:38 if browser player isn't working.
There's so many ways to win here, but nothing comes of them.
1. There's bubble action. Though of course they don't throw it despite it being open because this isn't a check (Michigan's checks are only to ISO or the pistol speed option). And Funchess, not Gallon or—infinite ARRRGHHH—Norfleet, is still the designated bubble screen guy. Anyway with the safety deep and bailing, the bubble is 7-12 free yards if Michigan can recognize it and throw it, but that has to be built into the offense. The way Borges has been using the bubble screen is on called plays. It was cool that he threatened it out of a more open look—previously it seemed his capitulation to this one play was predicated solely on its usefulness for running from heavy sets. The way Rodriguez used—and the way Urban will deploy it against us on Saturday—is it was as an instant check to things opponents did to hamper his zone read game.
|Fuller captured one of the ultra-rare instances of a shotgun-Kerridge play that wasn't him blocking.|
2. Tipped zone blitz. That end spread out and the obviously blitzing linebackers suggests there's going to be a zone blitz pre-snap but there's just 6 seconds on the playclock at that moment so they don't really get to adjust to that. Still, this is a win for an outside run, since that DE is going to drop back and stand where a great block would normally deposit him.
3. Center and guard versus linebackers. This ought to be a win. Those LBs stunt their blitz a bit so that the first gets a 2-for-1 and the second can slice in free. By coming up pre-snap they made it harder for Glasgow to get off the combo and pick up his guy, but he just has to come off the double and take a half-step sideways to block that gap. Here's where agility in a spread center helps you, and where the lack of it hurts Glasgow, even when he knows what he's supposed to do.
4. Magnuson starts the play far to the playside of that tackle. That's a big advantage for the offense. The DT indeed slants into Mags, then chucks him and gets to the outside, totally blowing that advantage.
5. It's Devin Gardner and Fitz Toussaint in the backfield, so chances of a missed tackle are pretty good. However Gardner is at about 45% right now because he's been beat up so badly in the last few weeks, and Toussaint's pass blocking problems are part of what's inviting these interior blitzes, since the downside for the defense (having that guy violently cut to the ground while a receiver slants into the unoccupied territory) is unlikely from Michigan's offense.
Also Jackson's is hesitant with his block, and is set up to spring Funchess to the outside, so that nickel guy is going to be free to tackle after just a few.
So going to a spread isn't going to fix everything. The formation did give them more room and opened up the bubble, but Michigan can't access those yards because they come to the line too late to see anything in the defense and adjust to it, and hasn't practiced doing that. The defensive playcall made Glasgow's athleticism the key to the key block, but that's not Glasgow's strength. And crappy blocking elsewhere meant this play was still dead in four ways. Such is Michigan's offense. They're not all good at any one thing, and they don't do the things that some of them are good at, and the end result is a lot of plays where guys are forced to execute the things they're bad at.
The Little Bubble Package: Dead?
Here's how the Bubble-or-Run package has fared:
Iowa was crashing the backside SAM and had their safety ready to pounce on the bubble (even if Funchess didn't drop one). I think there's something you can do about that (dare I say rollout?). Running it against Northwestern was cool, but I would have expected Borges to know by now that's it's scouted and lead off with that third counter. Or add it to the scrap heap with the rest of the fancy things he's tried. I'm sure a picture pages is coming so I won't get further into it.
Fuller didn't get a shot of Dileo that he put on Flickr, but he got this 6-yard catch by Butt on 2nd and 5, when Dileo was busy running off two defenders.
The primary complaint with Michigan's offense, rightly, has been with the blocking dudes' problems with blocking dudes. While gathering data on personnel changes throughout the Northwestern game I got an opportunity to look hard enough to have an idea where the UFR will lay blame for 9 points in regulation. Preview: Bosch didn't have a good game. However the freshman guards are a problem solved mostly by experience, i.e. we can't fix it this year.
But if Michigan is looking for an offensive boost it might find one by improving which parts they deploy among the five eligible receiver positions. Which personnel and how they're aligned come with various strengths. Generally the smaller and more spread out, the better to make space for you to operate; conversely the larger and tighter the better to block dudes. I put forth that our blocking dudes are currently pretty bad at blocking dudes, thus it's worth moving some of their snaps to 3rd and 4th receivers.
MANBALL isn't Borgesian
Here's Borges's offense being run at UCLA in 1998, a time when the spread offense was something that won games at Tulane:
Note the 3WR sets pop up plenty. I believe the goal here is to be multifarious, not just very large and good at something. He wants to be impossible to prepare for because at any moment you might put in your 4-4 personnel when you see him trotting out 3 tight ends, and then he'll spread them out and put a 6'6 monster on your tiniest cornerback. This is why they're recruiting Fifty Shades of Shea.
But That's a Long Way Away
Today, they have precious few developed parts to play these "skill" positions. The running backs can't block, either because they're really spread nutrinos (Toussaint, Hayes, Norfleet) or true freshmen (Green, Smith) who didn't need blocking lessons to run over high school fools. The fullbacks are a walk-on they've been developing for awhile but who still misses 1 in 5 blocking assignments, and a RS freshman they recruited out of Utah who needs work.
|Off. Performance vs. NW'ern When Player is On Field
(Only normal downs counted)
From a Borgesian perspective, the tight ends are in even worse shape. Funchess became a receiver because despite all that size he's not much of a blocker. That leaves his classmate A.J. Williams at the top of the depth chart despite the fact that he's not been a very good blocker, and his threat as a passing target fizzles out about three yards downfield. They've got Jake Butt, who like Funchess is more of a receiver at this stage in his career. And just so they have another body there, positional vagaband Jordan Paskorz has been getting a few drives here and there; after him it's burning a redshirt and air.
It would make sense, then, for the receivers to pick up the slack. If you can't block a guy with Williams, you can get that same block by putting a receiver far away from the play, so long as you threaten to go out there if a defender doesn't follow. But there's another problem with the receivers: Gallon is great but tiny, Funchess is great but still raw. Chesson is coming along. Dileo is himself.
And…? The coaches seem to have put every other receiver on the shelf: they've played Jeremy Jackson a lot and gotten little returns. Joe Reynolds seems to be not an option. So every time they go 4-wide, effectively the whole depth chart is out there. Exhaust those guys and the passing game goes away. Or at least this is the best reason I can imagine.
I'm not sure it's a good reason. It seems to me that they're pretty effective the more they spread 'em out, because you're essentially replacing a mediocre-to-bad FB or TE with a slot receiver who is pretty good at that job.
Did You See Dileo's Number in that Chart?
I spent much of yesterday and all night last night charting the personnel moves during last Saturday's game to be able to pull those numbers. The whole thing is here:
There's no way I can go back and do the whole season, unless Brian has a secret code hidden in the UFRs or something. Anyway: 9 YPA when Dileo is out there, and 4.5 to 5.5 when he's not. Here's some other things I found in there.
[After the Jump: What We've Learned]