a terrible blight on our fine country
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]
The way we were
Drew Hallett has a series on MNB called "Film Focus" that's a lot like the stuff Space Coyote used to diary here, i.e. screenshots with the play drawn on them. A few weeks ago Drew called for Michigan to add a packaged bubble screen to the zone read running game that briefly resurfaced in the 1st quarter on Saturday. Then he called this a "pop pass" and referred to the QB OH NOES play from 2010.
I started a long reply to make it clear that those are really two different things from two different offensive play groups, though both are predicated on the same spread concept of using the QB to add another player to the running game. Then I made drawings. Then I had video. Then I had a Hokepoints to save for OSU week.
Interesting things people do on offense are so far from topical right now at Michigan, but between interesting offense and Michigan's offense, which do you really want to read about this moment? Exactly.
Spread offense has been around several decades now, and has therefore had time to branch out and expand. A truly great offense will be great at all aspects: zone read running, WR screens, option routes, pre-snap reads, and packaged post-snap reads. But you don't really get that much time in college football to practice them all, so spread offenses become specialized.
Zone Read and Bubble
Drew showed that the bubble screen could be incorporated as a packaged play with the zone read, and yes teams do this. In fact it's so common now that last adapter in the world Al Borges deployed a packaged run-bubble last year.
The zone read/bubble was the base of Rodriguez's offense at West Virginia, and the genesis of the Rodriguezian slot smurf who could best take advantage of that space, but there's a key difference between RR's West Virginia offense and the "packaged play": when that bubble read is made. At WVU it was a pre-snap read, based on the position of that nickel/SAM/Spur/HSP guy. If he tiptoed into the box: bubble. If he stayed spread out like a good boy Rodriguez could continue running his zone read game.
Packaging makes that read after the snap:
The problem is you now have two reads, i.e. a triple option. Asking a QB to read more than one thing on a play takes a big commitment to that offense, and a quarterback who can/will put the time into it. Denard was an amazing player, but Michigan didn't get very far running the zone read offense with him because for reasons of time (he didn't get to redshirt and was a sophomore when he became a starter) and the level of commitment he could put into film, etc., when dude was constantly rehabbing injuries and trying to be a student.
Keep in mind defenses have seen the zone read for two decades now. They run scrape exchanges, and CB blitzes at it, and deploy dudes like MSU's Marcus Rush (the best I've ever seen at this) who can shut down an entire option game by delaying, delaying, delaying that first read until the rest of the defense arrives to bottle it up. By that point the field corner and safety have beaten those outside blocks, and the harassed QB throwing the bubble is an invitation to a pick six, a slotback blown up in the backfield, or even a backwards pass fumble. The defense has some other schematic things it can throw against it to take advantage of a QB who's too green at reading the package, but the point is they're already trained to blow this up in more ways than walking the HSP down.
[Jump for more fun things that Michigan doesn't do for religious reasons].
We're from the Erik Campbell branch
From 1995 to 2007 Michigan had a Hall of Fame head coach who embodied the ideals of ethics and education within a championship-caliber football program, the thing we're actually referring to when we venerate "Michigan." It won a national championship, usually beat its rivals, took a lot of trips to Pasadena and Orlando, won a share of the Big Ten as often as not, and put more players on NFL rosters than any team save Miami (YTM).
But in two (soon to be three) coaching searches hence, there has been a remarkable lack of suitable head coaching candidates from that 13 season span, and it's all due to the single biggest flaw of its last successful head coach: Lloyd Carr was too loyal to mediocre assistants.
A baseline. I'll start with what I consider normal. A coaching staff will typically go through a lot of dudes. On the whole it's more common for an assistant to get a better job than be fired from their current one, with the caveat that a new head coach most often cleans out the old assistants. One or two new guys per year is normal for a successful coaching staff.
You want fresh blood and fresh ideas coming in, but also a core stability, especially from the guys you lean on for recruiting, and that's why a mix is important. The group is usually a mix of the head coach's best bud, a few lifetime position coaches who are loyal and great fundamental teachers but not coordinator/HC material, and a few up-and-comers who are. Have one spot for a young guy who's loyal to your program and can relate well to the players. In coordinators, unless one of them is your best bud, you optimally expect a pair of strategic operatives who'll be around for three seasons or so before their success gets them a head coaching job. You replace those guys with other up-and-comers, or promote one of yours if you think they're ready.
The head coach can take on one of those roles, since in himself he probably has one of the best possible position coaches or coordinators in the country. You see why Mattison is so valuable to Hoke then, because he's good at his job, and good at recruiting, and doesn't want to leave it. That's the kind of rare luxury who can make a staff extraordinary.
For Lloyd's guys, I'll break it up by group.
|2007||Mike DeBord||Scot Loeffler||Andy Moeller||Erik Campbell||Fred Jackson|
|2006||Mike DeBord||Scot Loeffler||Andy Moeller||Erik Campbell||Fred Jackson|
|2005||Terry Malone||Scot Loeffler||Andy Moeller||Erik Campbell||Fred Jackson|
|2004||Terry Malone||Scot Loeffler||Andy Moeller||Erik Campbell||Fred Jackson|
|2003||Terry Malone||Scot Loeffler||Andy Moeller||Erik Campbell||Fred Jackson|
|2002||Terry Malone||Scot Loeffler||Andy Moeller||Erik Campbell||Fred Jackson|
|2001||Stan Parrish||(Parrish)||Terry Malone||Erik Campbell||Fred Jackson|
|2000||Stan Parrish||(Parrish)||Terry Malone||Erik Campbell||Fred Jackson|
|1999||Mike Debord||Stan Parrish||Terry Malone||Erik Campbell||Fred Jackson|
|1998||Mike Debord||Stan Parrish||Terry Malone||Erik Campbell||Fred Jackson|
|1997||Mike DeBord||Stan Parrish||Terry Malone||Erik Campbell||Fred Jackson|
|1996||Fred Jackson||Stan Parrish||Mike DeBord||Erik Campbell||(Jackson)|
|1995||Fred Jackson||Kit Cartwright||Mike DeBord||Erik Campbell||(Jackson)|
Primary complaint was offense so I'll start there. Number is parentheses is the guy's current age.
Lloyd's first OC, Fred Jackson (64), was promoted more for loyalty than any supposed grasp of the offense. The fan consensus at the time was that Jackson was in over his head, and wasting all of that air-the-ball talent that Moeller had so carefully constructed. The latter half of '96 was brutal (except for OSU), and Jackson was demoted back to RBs coach, where he will remain until the end of eternity.
|The reason we thought Lloyd Carr would only be an interim head coach at first was he made Fred Jackson his first offensive coordinator, i.e. he replaced GARY EFFING MOELLER with a lifetime running backs coach/program glue guy. [photo: Fuller]|
At that point, rather than find a real OC, Lloyd promoted OL coach Mike DeBord (58). It's likely that had the defense not been enough to win a championship with just mediocre offense, DeBord would not have become as entrenched. Nevertheless Michigan spent half of its championship season doinking Chris Howard into stacked lines for two plays then passing on third down, succeeding just enough thanks to a couple of really shining young guys on the offensive line, and spot offensive duty by Woodson.
The DeBord who ran zone left all damn day in 2007 had been a wonderful offensive line coach before that. Prior to 1992 Michigan had Bo's de facto associate HC Jerry Hanlon as OL coach, and then Les Miles, except for a year Bobby Morrison (more on him later) coached it. Moeller hired DeBord after watching Northwestern's theretofore crap OL suddenly not suck in one year, and found a resume of just-as-quick turnarounds at Fort Hays State, Eastern Illinois, Ball State, and Colorado State in a matter of 10 years. From Runyan and Payne to Hutchinson and Backus, DeBord's OL were ready to insert after a year in the system, and usually ready for the NFL after three.
The problem was he approached offense coordination the same way: repetition, execution, toughness. Carr recommended DeBord to CMU as a training ground for eventually taking over Michigan, and when DeBord proved bad even by directional school standards (this was the disaster Brian Kelly remediated), Lloyd made room for him as special teams coach and recruiting guy. The loyalty to DeBord was the biggest complaint we had about Lloyd's tenure, and the caveman-style football they championed survives as a cancerous ideology within the program. As Carr's handpicked successor, DeBord is the personification of this complaint.
Michigan found a spot for him coordinating various non-revenue sports. This seemed nice and natural because dude did dedicate his life to Michigan, but something about DeBord being around now gives me the willies.
[After the jump: the rest of the staffs]