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.]
I write this column every year: a plea for humans of the college football world to use clear language instead of the names they have for bowl games. Truthfully, a brand name for a bowl game communicates something, but think how much more accurately we could communicate if things like geographical location, history, traditions, and common, relatable experiences were more important than who pays the most.
I realize not everybody enjoys the ability to elegantly express ideas to other humans as much as I do, and that mercantile interests can be human interests as well. But since I started using language in my communication, I've experienced a 1000% improvement in comprehension, and I wanted to share that success story with you. Don't believe me? Here are some other humans who've benefited from this same extraordinary device:
: "Hello, I'm Steve, a relatable middle aged white man with the body, hairline, and lifestyle that other middle aged white men envy. My wife Janet and I are proud Bowling Green graduates and big fans of the Falcons. I wanted to get Janet a trip to BGSU's bowl game for Christmas, but when I triumphantly announced "We're going to the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl!" she was very confused. Then I discovered Talking Like a Human Being™, which taught me to tell Janet it's the "Camellia Bowl in Montgomery." Janet was thrilled, because the name communicated to her that we were going to a bowl game in Montgomery, and the flower association made it memorable!"
: "I'm Lewis, a non-threatening yet sexy young African-American businessman with perfect skin. My in-laws are coming to visit our tasteful suburban Atlanta home over Christmas, but they asked me to drive them to the airport the afternoon of December 31st. When I tried to explain that we would have to leave very early because of "Chick-fil-A Bowl" traffic, they thought I meant the South is just that insane over a fast food restaurant. But when I called it the "Peach Bowl," suddenly they could recognize the name of a big traditional football game that they've heard about since the late 1960s, and even offered to order a taxi so that I could stay home and watch it! Thanks, Talking Like a Human Being™!"
: "I'm Krista, a cute and friendly Minnesota undergrad. Men find me very attractive in an approachable way, and women want to be my friend because they wish they looked this good while rocking a knit scarf, high wool socks, and "" stickers on my cheeks. I was so totally stoked by my Gophers' great season, but when I told my girls we were going to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl they were like "that's a crappy one" because until recently that meant the old Copper Bowl. So then I said it was "the old Capital One Bowl," but then they got even more confused because that's now the name of the Orange Bowl—you know, the BCS bowl in Miami that Big East teams used to go to. Then I discovered Talking Like a Human Being™. And once I said "Citrus Bowl" my friends knew that meant the bowl that 2nd place Big Ten teams go to, and they were more excited than that one time our sorority went ice skating with Goldy!"
: "I'm Batman. Specifically, I'm Batman from that 1990s Tim Burton movie with Jack Nicholson that hits all the nerd-nostalgia buttons for men between 25 and 40. When I say 'I'm Batman', people know that I'm Batman, because I've been calling myself Batman since 1939. Could you imagine if I was like: 'I'm Batman, presented by Vizio?' I'm sure I could make some money by doing that but to be honest I'm already filthy rich, and while Alfred assures me I could always use more money, I feel like the incremental revenue wouldn't be worth cheapening 75 years worth of brand equity. So I turned them down and went with Talking Like a Human Being™ instead. Because I'm Batman!"
[After the jump: bowl games in a human language, bowl logos without sponsors on them, and discussion on the whole title sponsorship business]
"Every football team eventually arrives at a lead play: a "Number 1" play, a "bread and butter" play. It is the play that the team knows it must make go, and the one its opponents know they must stop. Continued success with it, of course, makes your Number 1 play, because from that success stems your own team's confidence." –Vince Lombardi
As we discuss coaching candidates we'll invariably get into the same old discussions on what kind of base offense said candidate might want to run. There was some discussion on the board this week and I wanted to expand that discussion into some basic "Rock" plays of various offensive schemes.
It is incorrect to identify any one play (and even more incorrect to identify a specific formation or personnel group) as a complete offense. You always need counters to keep doing the thing you do, and the counters will often borrow directly from some other offensive concept's rock. All offenses will borrow from each other so no breakdown is going to describe more than 60% of any given offense. Most zone blocking offenses throw in man-blocked things (example: inverted veer) to screw with the defense. You can run most of these out of lots of different formations. You can package counters into almost all of them (example: The Borges's Manbubble added a bubble screen to inside manball).
Really what you're describing when you talk about any offense is the thing they do so well that they can do it for 5 or 6 YPP all day long unless defenses do something unsound to stop it (like play man-to-man, or blitz guys out of coverage, etc.). Some examples of offenses and their formation needs (where a need isn't specified, figure they can use any set or formation: spread, tight, 23, ace whatever). I've given the rock plays, and left out the counters and counters to the counters because that gets into way too many variants.
Finally, the terms "pro style" and "spread" are meaningless distinctions. NFL offenses have the luxury of getting super complex: they have passing game coordinators who teach the QBs and WRs Air Raid things then run zone or power blocked things. The spread refers to formations and personnel—it doesn't say anything about whether the QB runs, if it's an option offense, or what tempo it runs at, or even what kind of blocking it uses. What I've done here is break up the offenses into "QB as Run Threat" and "QB Doesn't Have to Run" since the construction of these base plays usually stems from that. Remember, however, that QB running offenses can (and often do) still use blocking right out of Vince Lombardi's favorite play.
QB as Run Threat Offenses:
The FB dive will hit too quickly for anyone but the DE to stop; once the DE bites, the RG moves down to the second level while the QB keeps and heads outside, with the RB in a pitch relationship to defeat the unblocked defender there.
Concept: QB makes a hand-off read then a pitch read.
Makes life especially hard on: Edge defenders who have to string out plays against multiple blockers and maintain discipline.
Formation needs: Two backs.
Helpful skills: QB who can consistently make multiple reads and won't fumble, highly experienced, agile OL, backs who can both run and bock.
Mortal enemy: The Steel Curtain. Stopping the triple option is a team effort; if everybody is capable of defeating blocks, challenging ball-carriers, and swarming to the pitch man there's nowhere to attack.
Examples: Air Force, Nevada, Georgia Tech, Bo's Michigan
[Hit the jump for ZR, QB power, Air Raid, West Coast, Manball, Inside Zone, and the Power Sweep].
Meta: New interim column name is interim. Rhymes with "talkin' points" if you have a heavy Midwest accent. Hakn means to nag in Yiddish, literally to bang on […a pot or teakettle]. The reference.
Every touch is a little bit of magic. [Fuller]
Early last month Brian forwarded me a reader question about the relative experience of Michigan's players, and asked for a lot of research:
What has been the average age and game experience of each of the teams’ skill groups over the course of the season for each of Hoke’s years coaching here?
I’d love to see a table or graph that showed age/game experience by skill group by year of tenure for all the skill groups. Just data.
Everyone says – players aren’t developing. I’m not sure whether it’s true or a function of getting better but younger less experienced guys on the field.
My impression Defense is improving – and that’s where Hoke started recruiting (if memory serves) – those are some of his third year guys now (still juniors and RS Sophs) – getting better all the time. Offense – a year behind defense from age/experience. Mostly Sophs and RS Fresh. If that pattern is right and holds, a defense of 4th and 3rd year guys next year and an offense of 3rd and second year guys should continue to improve the product. No?
Off the cuff, we were plotting out age progression of Hoke's recruiting classes back in 2012 (when most of the 2013 class was signed) and concluding that 2015 was the probable germination point. I think a big part of why Hoke was let go was Michigan doesn't at all seem on track for that to happen. As Hackett mentioned in his press conference, the 2015 team should be one of the most experienced we've fielded in memory across the board (provided there's no mass exodus, which is hardly a guarantee).
Yay for Good News! How Good's Our GNews?
To get a real answer I really think we'd need other teams to compare it with, and that's way too much work. Also not all positions are created equal and relative experience does not say how quality the experienced players are: the 2003 and 2005 teams were nearly identical, but the 2003 was one of the best under Lloyd while the latter we thought of at the time as painful. Deciding which positions mature at what rate and have which effect of outcome is beyond the scope of this study. But I found two ways to approximate an answer:
1) Long ago I started keeping a spreadsheet of players, going back to the mid-'90s, with what years they were on the roster, when they left, and why. With some updating that was able to produce a list of how many scholarship players Michigan had available each year back to '97, broken up by year-in-program and eligibility and whatnot. By that count Michigan has the oldest team in 2015 in the post-championship era, with 85 accumulated years (average at UM for 1997-2014 is 68) since high school on offense and 83 (average is 61) on defense.
2) I scoured the Bentley team history pages (the links at the right on that page), for how many starts each player had. This turned out to be quite the rabbit hole, hence why it took me so long to produce a response. After fixing a bazillion duplicates and spelling errors and whatnots (like for example they have the Gordons mixed up), I had a list of starts by season of every Michigan player going back to 1994, which I've put on Google Docs for your perusal.
There's some other good tabs at that link if you like exploration.
[Money chart and more after the jump]