“The player development is the main thing I like (about Michigan),” Williams said. “You can see that they develop their players. They get them in the gym and they work them hard. And their hard work pays off.”
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.
That is 2,728 pounds—1.24 metric tons—in the box for those weighing at home.
On 1st and 10. MANBRAAAHHHLLL!!!
Before the Minnesota game I tweeted that I'd be perfectly content if Borges debuted a completely new package and used it to beat up on the Gophers at home a la 2011. So here I am, being content.
The unbalanced stuff I'm sure Brian will picture page and Space Coyote and Burgeoning Wolverine Star will peel it apart as well; since they know more about that stuff I'll leave it to them. What I would like to do is look at the heavy formations in the macro: how Big did Michigan actually go, how effective it was on a yards-per-play basis, and whether it matches the personnel.
By "big" I mean fewer receivers in the formation. The lower that number, the more backs and TEs, and thus the "heavier" the formation. How big?
Average Receivers in Formation:
|2013 games 1-4||2.30||2.29|
|2013 Minnesota||1.83 (!)||1.79 (!)|
That is big—like we should all have pronounced brow ridges and live in caves and the equipment sponsor is Mousterian big. I counted Funchess as a WR when he was in a 2-point stance; if you file him as a half tight end (you shouldn't) it gets even heavier. A lot of the three-wide was on the time-sensitive last drive of the 1st half—that you should count.
Did it work? Did it work better than the stuff Michigan has been doing until now? Did they always run to the side they unbalanced? We see after the jump.
Taylor on an island [Upchurch]
Brian forwarded me a mailbag question regarding where Michigan's defense is getting attacked through the air, i.e. are there certain coverage areas that have been particularly weak? It took me most of a day to chart every passing play; the resulting post is rather straightforward. Consider this your bye week from my logorrhea.
Data are here.
What I tracked:
1) Where the ball starts (hash or center). If the tackles lined up inside the hash it was "center"
2) Which zone it was thrown to, on a telephone keypad grid. 1, 4, and 7 are around the numbers to the sideline; 2, 5, and 8 are the area around the opposite hash to the wide side only, and 3, 6, and 9 are down the middle.
If a ball was on the line I always erred to the zone closest to the quarterback. This makes sense if you imagine a player covering Zone 6 will be responsible for carrying a player through that zone, and would be in better position to defend that pass than a guy over him.
3) Which side (strong or weak) of the defense. I noted "Strong" as wherever the SAM lined up in 4-3 sets and where Countess lined up in nickel sets. Once or twice this conflicted with the offense but it's better this way for identifying which players are being targeted.
Weakside/boundary players, usually: R.Taylor, Wilson, Ross/Bolden, Beyer (as WDE) on nickel, Clark on 4-3.
Strongside/field players, usually: Countess, C.Gordon, Beyer (as SAM) on 4-3, Clark on nickel, T.Gordon, Morgan/Bolden, Stribling/Hollowell/Lewis/Avery.
Sacks, throwaways, scrambles, and other such events that took the emphasis on coverage were excised. I couldn't reward those things which occurred because coverage was good enough to make them happen so keep that in mind as you read.
Unlike other UFRs you may have read, this one comes with about 20x the NORFLEET! Michigan kickoffs were on Tuesday. Here's kick returns.
Michigan's deep set is usually Gedeon, Houma and Rawls then Dileo as a lead blocker (sets up opposite side of the field in case it goes there), and Norfleet returning. Houma and Rawls double the first guy to arrive while Gedeon's job is to wall off the second arrival so there's a hole between them. Up high it's like everybody else: four guys start just past the 50, two on the 40. Their job is to run downfield, then find somebody to hit and sustain that block. I'm sure Space Coyote is going to have a name for this but here's what it looks like:
After his injury Drake Johnson was replaced by Ross (vs ND) or Furman (elsewise). They change it up a lot up front. When Funchess was hurt Jackson folded back there. Hayes and Chesson rotated in at times.
Ball arrives after the...
So I kind of misunderstood a direction by Brian when I said I wanted to address special teams—he wanted stats on dinosaur punting and I thought he meant UFR all the things he doesn't.
What sparked my interest was coffin corner kicking. NCAA moved the kickoff spot to the 35 and made touchbacks start on the 25 as in incentive to cut down on kickoff return (and ensuing concussions). Inadvertently (or maybe not) they took away the advantage gained by teams with big-legged touchback machines. To regain that advantage, schools that can recruit kickers are teaching them to put the ball higher and in a spot where returners have to field it but are likely to be swallowed short of the 25 after they do.
Against CMU I noticed Wile seemed particularly good at placing balls right in that deep left corner, the same thing I've done on every football videogame ever once I mastered the timing of the kickoff bar. This seems very hard to do in real life: you need to put the ball high enough to let your coverage get there but not deep enough that they let it go through the end zone, and far enough from the sideline that it won't go out of bounds, but far enough inside of the hash that you can use the sideline as a force defender. Do it well consistently and that's perhaps 50 yards of field position a game.
It's my first time UFR'ing these so gonna have to set some ground rules:
Points: Number of points given out reflects where the play ended up, figuring 1 point roughly equals 5 yards of field position, baseline: 25 yard line.
Glossary: The "From" column is where the kick originated, given as yard line then horizontal position ("L"=left hash, etc.). "Rtn" (return) is how far the returner ran it, "Rlt" (result) is where the ball's placed. "Tchbk" (touchback) means it's on the 25. "Corner L" means they kicked it from the left hash and try to have it come down near the goal line and relatively near the sideline; "Deep L" means they just kicked it deep along the hash mark. "Center" means they kick it toward the middle and come down the same.
Things: Note that Michigan typically kicks off from the left hash despite their right-footed kicker.
Okay, got a UFR macro reverse-engineered in Xcel. Got some torrents. Got a…oh, bolded, chart-demanding subconscious, you there?
Okay let's do this.
[After the jump]