Incompetence on a level that Michigan unlocked against Michigan State and Nebraska cannot be achieved by one man or even one team (MSU is good at defense, and hey, Nebraska did some good things). There's still the possibility that Borges and his charges are sabotaging themselves, but since that's impossible to prove let's permit that they do in fact wish to progress the ball forward, and parse out how much responsibility lies in the various inadvertent factors.
I thought I'd take us back through a timeline of the events that led to the state of the offensive roster, picking up blame on the way.
I wish we could blame this whole thing on the old coach. Wouldn't it be the most ironic thing if the great guru of offense was really at fault for Michigan's offensive woes? There are really three things I think we can lay at his feet, in order of importance:
- Hired DCs he couldn't work with and made them run defenses they didn't understand, thus dooming Michigan to another coaching transition.
- Recruited just one OL in the 2010 class.
- Didn't recruit a single tight end or fullback, nor a running back who can block except Smith, whom he didn't redshirt.
Michigan's 2009-2011 tight end recruits.
Tight End, Briefly
We've had #1 out, and #3 is debatable: Y U NO RECRUIT THE BREAD AND BUTTER OF BORGES'S OFFENSE, GUY WHO INVENTED THE OFFENSE THAT MADE BORGES'S OFFENSE OBSOLETE? I can't blame him for skipping fullbacks or running backs who can block since he had a track record of developing fullbacks from the walk-on program, while his backs, e.g. Toussaint, were recruited to operate in space. I wish he'd redshirted Vincent Smith, or gotten a medical for him.
But I do think he could have seen the need for tight ends even before the abilities of Koger and Webb opened his eyes to that. Rodriguez ignored the position for two years, and when he started looking again it was for the 2011 class that was devastated by Rosenberg and The Process: Hoke and Borges went on the hunt for last-minute TEs in 2011 and came back with Chris Barnett, a vagabond of the type that Michigan typically stays away from. Barnett transferred almost right away; I put that on having just a few weeks.
Tight end is another position that typically requires a lot of development, but Michigan knew by mid-2011 that its 2013 starters would be, at most, true sophomores, and knew a year later that neither of their 2012 recruits were much for blocking. At this point any sane human would not have made the ability of their tight ends to block a key component of their offense.
Offensive Line, Longly
|Rodriguez put all of his eggs in the 2011 OL recruiting basket, and Michigan ended up with all their eggs in a project recruit's basket.|
As for the OL, the failure to recruit just one offensive lineman in 2010 is the centerpiece of modern bitching. Is that fair? Here's a line from Brian in Mike Schofield's recruiting post, dated June 2009:
"Michigan didn't need a huge offensive line class one year after taking six big uglies and graduating zero, but you never want fewer than three and you always want quality."
So yes it is established MGoPrecedent that fewer than three OL in a class no matter how much meat you have stacked for the meat god is not cutting it.
Offensive line recruiting happens a bit earlier than most other positions. Since they're unlikely to be starting for several years (even redshirt freshmen are pretty rare) OL recruits rightly look for coaching stability more than early opportunity. The 2009 class was narrowing down their lists before the 2008 season, and so on. With that said here's a timeline of Michigan offensive line recruiting:
2009 (recruited in early 2008): Tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, and guard Quinton Washington. This despite a huge/mixed haul from 2008, when RR added Barnum and Omameh to Carr's class of O'Neill, Mealer, Wermers and Khoury. For the record O'Neill left the team in June 2009, and Wermers was gone in July (though his World of Warcraft account was presumably active), so the coaches wouldn't have adjusted to either of those departures at that time. Meat for 2013 Meat God: three redshirt seniors, one a potential Jake Long 2.0, can't do more because there's still six guys from the previous class.
[Fail leaps atop fail, after the jump]
So there was a new Bacon book this year. We need to review this book. I'm going to do this with the expectation that you have either read it already or are going to. You should. It is a Bacon book. You are reading MGoBlog; either you are a person who appreciates Bacon or else a visiting Sparty looking for more trolling fodder, in which case help yourself to the board where I promise you there's plenty. Or better yet, read some Bacon—you're in the Big Ten; this concerns you too. And he says the Red Cedar is nice.
This is not a negative review, even though I have a tendency to focus on the "needs work" aspects—I'm the guy who walked out of The Return of the King after five years of unmitigated Peter Jackson man-crushing and complained that there were too many endings. So apologies to John U., who's higher in my esteem than Mr. Jackson and just about everyone whose quotes aren't emblazoned on a wall somewhere, for the plurality of minuses below.
More Bacon. Ever since Bo's Lasting Lessons, the chance to devour a new Bacon book has been somewhat of an event around these parts. As a Michigan fan it would be tough to follow the unparalleled access and insight into the Rich Rod program accomplished with Three and Out, specifically because that unvarnished snapshot was so starkly antithetical to Dave Brandon's meticulous staging of his Michigan show: You knew at the time that no true journalist would be allowed to see behind the bunting again, so it should only come as a mild disappointment that there is little about the Michigan program in this book that you didn't already know.
Fourth and Long: the Fight for the Soul of College Football is four unequal looks at four 2012 Big Ten programs, or four and a half if you count a mini-treatment that Michigan State and Mark Hollis receive as host of an Ohio State road game. In order of detail:
- Penn State from the point of view of its players, former players, coaches, and equipment managers as they find themselves taking the brunt of the Penn State Awful Thing, and the NCAA's and PSU brass's callow responses to it.
- Michigan from Bacon's own point of view of its fans, as those fans interact with Brandon's corporate-itude.
- Ohio State from the P.O.V. of Urban Meyer as he goes from win to win trying to get Zach Boren to like him, and
- Northwestern as the paragon of virtue.
Bacon set out, as is evident from the title and made clear throughout the book, to examine these four schools from different points of view (players, AD, head coach, and president, respectively), and use the findings to determine if any of the Big Ten's current models for college football are sustainable for college football in general. In it he consistently finds players and fans who "get it" while the people in control seek new and better ways to milk it.
But he could only use what he got from each school. With Ohio State the access was mostly restricted to Urban on game days. He brushes against tatgate but doesn't get into the cars or any other "everybody knows, nobody can prove" things—you have to appreciate that Bacon will never accuse somebody without proof (especially considering he's an avowed Michigan fan talking about Ohio State) but it's really hard to talk about college sports and the competitive problems therein without admitting there are relative bad guys. The Gee quote—"I hope he doesn't fire me!"—is in there in reference to the bloated role of college football head coach in America. The closest he comes to pointing out OSU's exceptionalism in this regard is when addressing the carrying off of Tressel after last year's Game:
"The Buckeyes do not run a renegade program, but they once again demonstrated they don't seem to care if their actions make others think they do."
This isn't a complaint; Bacon handled a sticky situation about as well as he could. With Northwestern he got some key interviews, particularly with Pat Fitzgerald, but no warts (this could be because they don't have any).
With Michigan Bacon was outside looking in, so he used some of the Bacon-usual suspects—Carty, the dueling barbershops, the public comments of James Duderstadt and Don Canham, Brian Cook of MGoBlog, etc. There's also an inside look at the Mud Bowl, and most interestingly, a candid interview with Michigan's band director about Send-the-Band-to-Dallas-gate. I was more intrigued by the comments made by Bill Martin on the corporatization of NCAA football, which I'll come back to. The whole Notre Dame saga is covered. Except for the band's comments most of this is old news to you.
The result is a book that's 52% about Penn State trying to survive 2012, with a bunch of stuff thrown in about some other schools and corporations to underscore a point made clear without leaving Happy Valley.
[After the jump: it's just, like, my opinion man.]
Brian mentioned a "triangle" route during the offensive UFR last week. I wanted to highlight that play, not just because I don't remember if we've covered what that means, but because it illustrates how the emergence of Funchess as a complementary deep threat to Gallon makes defenses do unsound (read: relatively easy to exploit) things.
A triangle is another passing concept for picking on zone, and works pretty well against different coverages. We've covered smash/high-low (which attacks the top and bottom of a zone simultaneously) and 4-verts (which gets guys to either side of a zone). A triangle is actually putting dudes to three sides of a zone. It's a slightly more complicated version of high-low, the triple-option version of it if you will.
Here's a play from the Indiana UFR. I want you to watch the bottom of the screen and how the Funchess, Gallon, and Toussaint routes work together:
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||RB||TE||WR||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O24||2||8||Shotgun 4-wide tight||1||1||3||4-3 over||Pass||TE out||Butt||Inc|
|IME Gardner blows this read presnap by going to the short side of the field. He's got three guys on the wide side and Toussaint's flare is going to be open as M runs a triangle there. Instead he's looking at the wheel/out combo M is running a lot this year. Both are covered; Gardner tries to fit a ball into Butt in a tiny window, LB breaks it up. (BR, 1, protection 1/1)|
The left side is a high-low. The right side of the play, even though Gardner didn't go there, is the triangle we're looking at.
I don't know if Gallon's route was a deep curl or an out or flag or whatever; it doesn't matter. I drew curl just to make the picture smaller.
In this case Gallon and Toussaint are smashing the corner's Cover 2 zone, while Funchess's curl route keeps the SAM linebacker from interfering with that. The cornerback went with Gallon (from alignment it was obvious he was more worried about the deep part of his zone than anything underneath), and that left the SAM to deal with Funchess and Toussaint. He chose Funchess, and Toussaint's flare route was open.
Going up early 'cause we're going on WTKA this morning to yap about HTTV Hoops/Hockey from 9-10 with Sam Webb and several of our authors.
What have I done? My brains are going into my feet!
Brady Hoke said his team was prepared for Indiana's ludicrous speed offense, in other words: "Buckle this." Following the science fiction movie at Michigan Stadium last Saturday, the old hypothesis is again making its rounds: teams that don't play up-tempo tend to not be as prepared for teams that do, leading to an uncharacteristically negative defensive performance.
Fortunately there are data here (thank you once again cfbstats.com). They say Indiana is indeed the fastest ship in galaxy.
To get a tempo stat I just divided time of possession (in seconds) by total offensive plays. Games against FCS opponents are removed entirely. The Big Ten by Tempo (all FBS in Google Doc):
It's not perfect since you can't pull out the seconds actually spent in a play, or the actual seconds during clock stoppages because of out of bounds or incomplete passes or first downs, but in the aggregate I think it does the job.* Michigan, as you supposed, is pretty low: 105th, and in the 26th percentile at 28.3 seconds per play. Nothing before or since on Michigan's schedule is like Indiana; for objects in the mirror: CMU is 97th, Notre Dame is 85th, Akron is 58th, UConn 55th.
* Anomaly: thanks to all the stoppages Penn State's offense vs. Michigan charted as fast as Indiana's. That's why I didn't use game-by-game stats, since those sorts of things average out and betray the offense's truer intentions.
High tempo does not equate or really even correlate that strongly with Yards per Play. Observe chart:
Click embiggens (updated)
Cal's offense functions at warp speed but its output isn't any better than Florida's ambles through the swamp. Wisconsin and Alabama both manage to move even slower than we do, and FSU is hardly faster, yet those are elite scoring machines. The linear tilt might be tempo teams winning a few more plays here and there, or it could simply mean the spread guys who run many of the great offenses today are just accidental carriers of up-tempo alleles (like how blue eyes followed the path of Vikings, but didn't necessarily provide any advantage).
The question, however, is not what tempo can do for you, but whether teams on the right side of the chart are more susceptible to those on the left. [Jump to see]
One of the most frustrating problems with Michigan's offense is they appear to be burning a lot of first downs by running Toussaint into stacked lines. Whether it's zone blocked or man, they've been tipping it the same with the same results. The concept has been discussed on here and will be again until it stops; my purpose today is to add some numbers to that discussion.
Love Affair with 2nd and Long. Excising all the non-normal situations (4th quarters, burning clock, attempting a comeback, 2-minute drill at the end of a half) here's a a quick breakdown of playcalls this year on first down:
- 101 handoffs to running backs for 3.0 YPC and 6 TDs
- 28 passes for 10.7 YPA, one interception, and 2 TDs
- 20 play-action passes for 17.8 YPA, one interception and 4 TDs
- 17 options for 5.6 YPA and a TD
- 7 called Gardner runs for 2.7 YPA
- 7 wide receiver runs for 10 YPA
- 4 screens for 5.8 YPA
- 2 false starts
Like basketball the efficiency of the things you do goes down the more you do them, and the efficiency of the counters goes up. I don't doubt that the ridiculous numbers for PA passes above are because it's five times more likely to be a handoff.
Michigan's is not the only bad offense that does this. The thing that MSU was doing when they had Le'Veon Bell was running him into stacked lines again and again to open up the occasional big play for a receiver or tight end. This burned a lot of first downs and killed a lot of drives but when you just need 17 points to win you'll take a high variance in drive results. What made it worthwhile was Bell was one of the best backs in the country at getting yards after contact. If a safety came down to fill the hole Bell could still run (or leap) over that guy and thus set up 2nd and manageable. This year they don't have the OL or the RBs to do that, so they line up to pass on 1st down far more often.
Borges doesn't have the RBs or the OL to do that and haven't adjusted. Instead he's gone the other direction, selling out even further with the unbalanced lines, and running even more often.
- UFR database (through Minn) says…
|YPA, 1st Play of Drive||YPA, All 1st Downs|
…that Michigan's drives are starting off with a whimper. If I take out 4th quarters and situations when Michigan is down more than two scores we're getting just 2.9 YPC on 1st down runs, which is over 73% of 1st down playcalls. But I showed the above because that's what Bill O'Brien was probably looking at when he and his coaches strategized for this game.
Let's play Being Bill O'Brien. This is how he responded. Here's the first play of the game:
[after the jump]
|Road Gardner has been rough Gardner. [Fuller]|
I'm putting this here because it's been brought up a few times on the board and the discussion was getting too long for dear diary. Gardner's (admittedly limited) stats in road games are not great:
We're really just going on three starts plus spot duty. But later today and tomorrow you'll see some Penn State preview posts that claim the depleted Lions are more like their basketball and hockey squads than the typical PSU outfit, so let me be on record that Michigan in that stadium is not a great matchup given Gardner's season so far and his history in away games. In fact I've got a UFR database open right now so let's show that by yards per play on called passes (includes scrambles/sacks):
|2010-'11||9.85 (BG, Minn, Pur)||6.75 (Ill, MSU, NW)|
|2012||9.78 (Iowa, NW)||7.35 (Minn, OSU)|
|2013||9.34 (CMU, ND, Akron, Minn)||4.06 (UConn)|
Before you say "why is his sophomore year…?" there aren't very many attempts there so the weight is mostly on the 10 starts this and last season. That seems pretty stark. The UFR charting bears this out.
Devin in Blue Chart:
Devin in White Chart:
Forever in Blue Jeans Chart:
|Money||talks||sing, dance, walk|
|Honey||is sweet||compare to baby's treat.|
UConn was an all-time low in YPP but part of a trend. The short history of Devin road games read:
- Pre-2012: 3 inaccurate balls, 2 CA+ for 20-yard gains, a PA hitch for 2 yards against MSU and the Yakety sax, and a 4-yd scramble on a Denard Jet.
- Minnesota 2012: Took most of 1st half to warm up, got bailed out a lot by WRs
- OSU 2012: Sacked a few times and lots of late IN's from unset throws out of the pocket.
- UConn 2013: Terrible horrible no good very bad day.
It's a small sample size with little good to recommend it. PSU's defensive backs, meanwhile, are kind of like Michigan in 2010 in that they have one safety-corner hybrid they trust and three they don't. However they've been pretty game so far; the two offenses that torched them were Indiana's Air Raid-like thing that is pretty respectable, and getting Bortles'd. Including their five sacks they're giving up just 5.81 YPA. They're about 40th in every category; 29th in passer rating. That doesn't seem so hard until you consider Gardner's opponents to date are 62nd (ND), 63rd (UConn), 93rd (Minnesota), 108th (CMU), and 117th (Akron). You can save discussion until Brian gets to this part of the preview but count me as nervous here.