Gardner's implied question is the same we're all asking [Fuller]
The 2014 football season hinges on whether the offensive line can go from one of the worst in the country to just mediocre. We've mentioned the downsides: it has to replace two NFL tackles. The upside is an offensive coordinator who plans to simplify the things they'll have to do, a ton of talent, and rather good excuses for why the bulk of guys weren't so good (youth compounded by panicky/insane coaching decisions). The competence of coaches replaced, arriving, or remaining can't be determined until they play, so guesses at their 2014 performance have to be extrapolated from what we know of the current players and the typical progression of men like them.
When Michigan was still putting together those 2012 and 2013 classes I looked over the history of our offensive linemen going back to the mid-'90s, because my memory before that is weak.
|Year in program|
|Not on team||1||6||13||17||29|
|% Solid +||1%||11%||21%||29%||37%|
The results were the growth chart below. I've reproduced it with updated data from 2013:
Really it's more specific than the above. If you're the backup to Steve Hutchinson in 2000 you could be pretty solid or terrible, but if you were an interior lineman on the 2013 team and hale and still couldn't crack the depth chart, you were obviously not good at that point. One thing working in our favor is Michigan has historically brought in offensive line classes rated about as highly as the recent crops. If you tried this with MSU over the same period there would be stretches of 2-stars (and, um, personal issues) to throw off the numbers.
A more precise way to show where our OL are at this point is to find closer comparisons to historic players at this point in their careers. I couldn't figure out a good way to show "tracks" before, but I think I've learned enough about table html now to make a crude flow chart. Sample sizes are way too small to say "Kalis will be X good by Y season," but if you can read it to say "At that age, Steve Schilling and Patrick Omameh were both about where Kalis is now." Usefulness is better at capping expectations: you can always say so-and-so was a backup at this point, but Miller's not going to be Molk.
|Not on team (x)||TransferRS||Backup||Solid||Star||Jonathan Goodwin|
|Solid||Star||Star||Jansen, Hutchinson, Backus, Long, Lewan|
|Star||Star||David Brandt, David Baas|
|Solid||Star||Tony Pape, Adam Kraus, Schofield|
|Liability||Solid||Frazier, Petruziello, Bihl, Ortmann|
|Liability||David Moosman, Perry Dorrestein|
|Backup||Ben Mast, Courtney Morgan|
|Backup||Solid||Kurt Anderson, Leo Henige|
|Backup||N. Parker, Denay, Kolodziej, McAvoy|
|Unrenewed||Partchenko, Potts, Christopfel, Gaston, DeBenedictis, Ciulla, Gallimore, Khoury|
|Injuries||Zirbel, Mossa, Sharrow, Brooks, Schifano, C. Bryant, Tannous, A.Brown, Simelis, Berishaj, C.Pace|
|Transfers||Ries, Moltane, Zuttah, Wermers, O'Neill, Posada|
[Discussion after the jump]
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]
This 'Merritt's Mention: How much punning has David Merritt had to put up with? Not enough that he balked at calling his fashion-brand-for-a-cause "Merit." The store donates a fifth of its revenues to college scholarships and educational enrichment programs, and he just opened one in Ann Arbor.
We Start Up Front. In 2009 Michigan started off pretty strong, including an encouraging win over Notre Dame. Maybe the shaky backfield got a little beat up for want of a safety or two but hey: Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. Then it got worse. Then it got worser. Then it got awful. And then there were lots of diaries (myself among them) blaming attrition and poor recruiting on the old coaches and all sorts of things that could explain it other than "this is what will get our coaches fired."
So…offensive line diaries.
A Single Unified Theory of Offensive Lineptidute? Provided by Yeoman and bumped early last week, "Short Ride in a Broken-Down Machine" is the definitive study relating Michigan's offensive issues to young starters on the interior OL. As to the small correlation he had a great answer:
Given those enormous differences in baseline levels of the various FBS teams it's amazing to me that we could see anything like 5-8% of a performance difference being credited to any one team demographic, especially when the difference is measured using an SOS-adjusted metric like Fremeau.
The rubber really hits the pavement when he thought to compare teams to their historical norm, which is a quite elegant stand-in for expectations (including recruiting). Ultimately he found teams that have significant depth and start freshmen are just fine because the freshmen are just that good, but teams in Michigan's situation typically have very large systemic problems. Because fans tend to overstate, there's a reactionary tendency from the more rational among us to think "it's probably not as bad as it looks." Reality check: it's as bad as if we had Idaho's recruiting problems. Yeoman did throw some hope for next year in the comments:
(1) [OTs Do Matter Theory] The Bust Index for the entire line will improve from 75% to 65%, which would improve oFEI by about .06 and move us (all else being equal which of course it isn't) up about ten spots, or
(2) [OTs Don't Matter Theory] The Bust index for the interior will improve from 69% to 46%, which would improve oFEI by about .175 and move us up about about 20 spots.
He followed up with a Kalis-centric study that tracks every (non-juco) 5-star offensive lineman since 2003 and what contributions that player made in Year X. Findings are the good ones mostly started by Year 2, but that there's no cause to worry until they're not starting in Year 3. Actually the biggest thing to worry about is how few actually make good on their promise, not that Kalis hasn't yet. Diarist of the Month, this guy.
Third Down and Guh. The guy in the running with Yeoman is reshp1, who had a great OL diary two weeks ago, and this week decided to get into all those failed 3rd downs. It's UFR-long, so if you promise to read it (okay if you promise to skim through it) I'll share the money table here. Promise. PROMISE! You know what, fine, I'll put it after the jump, so you still have to click on something you lazy straw man of a dear diary reader.
[SITE NOTE: Due to a confluence of things including a long drive home, four overtimes, thrilling CONCACAF qualifier business, the Tigers, this post, and a desire to stab my eyeballs whenever I look at the tape, UFR is not quite done and will go up tomorrow.]
Fitzgerald Toussaint set a Michigan record for sustained futility on Saturday by running for 27 yards on 27 carries. Since 1949, no other back has gotten as many carries without gaining at least twice as many yards. Posterity demands that someone detail what happened.
A note: blame is apportioned. When things are designated playcall it's because I don't believe it's reasonable to expect Michigan to block player X, either because he's an extra guy in the box or he's tearing towards the line of scrimmage on the snap because he has no fear of a pass. You can adjust your personal indignation levels on this based on how reasonable you thought running into stacked boxes was vis a vis Devin Gardner's 13 YPA and constant turnover threat; I'm just trying to figure out how much of the run splat was preordained by playcalls.
Ready? No. I know you're not. But here we go anyway.
Play: Power O
Formation: Tackle over I Form H
Why it didn't work:
- Graham Glasgow ignored the NT.
- Predictable playcall sees PSU linebackers flow hard with effectively nine in the box.
- Jake Butt gets beat badly by a PSU LB in the hole.
Blame: 80% OL, 10% playcall, %10 TE/FB
Play: Zone stretch.
Formation: Tackle over I Form big
Why it didn't work:
- PSU has straight up nine in the box.
- Michigan tries to be clever by running at Williams and Bryant, both of whom get destroyed.
- Schofield leaves immediately, so Lewan has no shot at the backside tackle.
Blame: 30% TE/FB, 30% OL, 40% playcall
Play: Power O
Formation: Tackle over Ace H
Why it didn't work:
- Actually it did work.
- It works because Schofield gets nice push, giving Toussaint a crease. Glasgow gets movement on a DT and the eighth guy in the box for PSU tries to get over to the frontside when he should probably stack this up near the LOS.
Blame: Everyone is happy!
Formation: Tackle over trips TE
Why it didn't work:
- Seven guys in the box against six blockers; extra guy makes the stop.
- PSU WLB doesn't get suckered by the counter, gives Glasgow no shot to block him.
- Kalis gets shed, falling to the ground.
Blame: 80% playcall, 20% OL.
[After THE JUMP: just don't click through. I'm sorry I even did this.]
I don't think I'm exaggerating. It's second and eight after one of Michigan's most successful RB runs of the night. Michigan trails 21-10 with six minutes left in the second quarter. They put some dudes on the field and move them around. When we come back from Matt Millen saying something about something, this process has already started.
Houma and Chesson are switching spots. What this is supposed to do to the defense remains unknown, because it did not happen. Now… there's something odd about this play. Since we don't ever see the outside WR, I don't remember if that's Funchess or Williams or whoever, but Michigan puts him off the screen to the field. Also…
They have no left tackle. They have put their left tackle at super right tackle.
I think this is a run.
Penn State thinks this is a run. They have eight guys in the box against six blockers.
ESPN's camera man thinks this is a run, zooming almost to the box before they even snap the ball.
It's a run. Specifically, it is a zone stretch to the boundary. Because this is the only run it could possibly be, Penn State is prepared for this. Kalis gets driven back. Bryant and Glasgow don't scoop the backside tackle (not that it really matters since there is an unblocked guy in the cutback lane and another unblocked guy checking Gardner).
This looks familiar.
Kalis finally finishes losing his guy, who pushes Toussaint to the edge of the field, where a ninth Penn State defender—a safety lined up over a formation that cannot have a tight end emerge from it to threaten downfield—comes up to tackle for loss…
…if Kalis's guy doesn't do it first.
Third and ten.
Items of Interest
This is the stupidest play in the history of plays. You can't pass because you don't have a right tackle and refuse to throw perimeter screens no matter how blitheringly open they are…
all of these occurred in the first 20 minutes of the game
…and Penn State knows this, so they put eight in the box against six blockers and have a safety overhanging who knows 100% that he has no immediate pass threat to deal with.
I mean, you can see the entire PSU D on the field here:
There is a wide receiver outside of Gallon. Only the dumbest playcall in history could allow a D to align like this and be successful.
You really confused them, though. Having Chesson and Houma switch places is the cherry on top here. Yeah, you fooled 'em up real good right there. Now Penn State's eight in the box against 5 OL and a WR is eight in the box against 5 OL and a FB. Green fields ahead, boys.
They're setting them up for something! If you don't have an automatic check to whatever your clever business is when you see two DBs on 3 WRs, you fail.
Line didn't do well, but whatever. Kalis gets blown up here, but since Michigan just told Penn State the play they were running it's not really the focus.
The bigger picture. This was insane and far from isolated. Michigan kept running tackle over stuff against a defense that was stuffing it even after Taylor Lewan went out. They asked AJ Williams to play left tackle, and because of Borges's increasingly legendary stubbornness they allowed Penn State to align in formations that doomed their crammed-together paleolithic run game without either testing PSU's young and not very quick corners or taking the buckets of free yards these alignments provided.
The bubble screen stuff took on a life of its own over the course of the last year, and it's come up again—a screenshot of Michigan's first snap of the first overtime screaming for a bubble has made the rounds of every message board. To reiterate, the bubble is a constraint: it prevents the defense from lining up in certain ways and thus simplifies your life as an offense since defenses can't pack the box as much without getting free yards on their face. Borges's allergy to getting the ball to guys in a ton of space went from annoying to crippling in this game.
How can anyone have faith in a guy who looks at this when he needs a field goal to win…
…and doesn't throw a bubble because it's not what Vince Lombardi would do? It boggles the mind. A lot of things lost this game for Michigan. Al Borges is high up on that list.
- Jake Ryan will be a decision that may or may not have already been made, but you won't know about it until game time.
- Kyle Kalis was limited in practice yesterday but will be full go today.
- Dennis Norfleet may get an opportunity to return punts again at some point, but it'll have to be a home game.
“We thought we got after it pretty well. Tuesday’s always a heavy work day. Assignment-wise we were pretty good on both sides of the ball. From a fundamental side we have to keep stretching our limits to becoming the best we can fundamentally. I think the guys are really working hard at that. I thought we competed well, and I thought we’re going to have another great workday today with a focus on Penn State but also on us fundamentally getting better.”
Will Jake Ryan play?
“I knew that was going to be the first question. We have another day. We’ll see where he’s at.”
How much did he do yesterday?
“Not much as the other two [SAM linebackers] rep wise.”
Is he holding up pretty well? No soreness?