At press time, Harbaugh had sent Michigan’s athletic department an envelope containing a heavily annotated seating chart, a list of the 63,000 seat views he had found unsatisfactory, and a glowing 70-page report on section 25, row 12, seat 9, which he claimed is “exactly what the great sport of football is all about.”
Turnover margin is a notoriously jittery stat that does not often repeat year to year. Turnovers are infrequent and hugely impactful, so they tend to wander all over the place without much rhyme or reason, slaying or rescuing seasons. Yes, there are obvious repeatable factors that correlate with good or bad turnover margin on a macro level. Get to the quarterback and he will explode in a confetti of bad decisions; allow the opponent to get to yours and watch the same thing occur.
On a micro level, sometimes you eat the bear… sometimes the bear eats you.
Michigan ate the bear last year, recovering around 75% of available fumbles. I know people want to believe there is a narrative that supports this model of football. When I returned from the Mattison coaching clinic presentation, one of the items I mentioned was that Michigan treats all incompletions as live balls in practice. I didn't think that was much of an explanation but a lot of commenters seized on it.
There does not have to be a reason that events transpire. It's not an Eastern thing. Sometimes you eat the bear. Sometimes the bear eats you.
Michigan ate the bear last year, and how. SBN's Bill Connolly put together a stat called "adjusted turnover margin" that assumes an NCAA-average fumble recovery rate (50.3% for the D) and NCAA-average PBU-to-INT ratio (21.9%), compares it to your actual turnovers gained, and calculates a points per game figure Connolly figures is just the bounce of the ball. Drum roll…
Five Teams Who Benefited Most From Turnovers Luck
1. Michigan (+3.97 points/game)
2. Maryland (+3.97)
3. N.C. State (+3.61)
4. South Carolina (+3.61)
5. Oklahoma State (+3.40)
I am Jack's utter lack of surprise. Michigan's overall fumble recovery rate of 75% was first in the nation by a whopping eight percent! (Maryland was #2 at 67%.) They were three standard deviations above the mean! They were a full standard deviation above the #2 team in the country! This aggression against regression to the mean will not stand!
This is the point where I talk about how lucky Michigan got last year and a lot of people say "nuh-uh." This gets a little frustrating on both ends. I get frustrated that something like that Sugar Bowl doesn't bring the point home; people who disagree with me get frustrated that I'm downplaying Michigan's success or being grim about next year.
They're not entirely wrong. I do think that if you replayed the 2011 season 1,000 times Michigan ends up 11-2 in relatively few of them. They were only sort of close in one of their losses*, won two-and-a-half nailbiters** and acquired 10 more turnovers than Connolly's model expects. Michigan also had the benefit of a soft schedule (no Wisconsin or Penn State) in a down Big Ten and an Ohio State team in shambles after tatgate. It was pretty uninspiring in terms of 11-2 years featuring wins over ND, OSU, and a BCS opponent despite undergoing massive transition costs and operating with a slap-dash, attrition-ravaged roster.
Which is to say: WOOOOOOOOOOO. Yes. Score.
But once we get past the woo and start talking about setting expectations for year two we should not base it off what Michigan did last year but what they should have done, what they lost to graduation and attrition, who they return and add, and who they play. We should start with the premise that Michigan was super lucky last year and probably won't be this year.
This doesn't mean their turnover margin is doomed. It just means their turnover margin is doomed unless Denard Robinson becomes a lot more responsible with the ball. Michigan got away with being –7 in interceptions because of the fumble surplus. That covered up a lot of blemishes last year.
What should we expect Michigan's turnover margin to be next year?
I am arguing it will be worse. I made similar arguments for much of the Rich Rodriguez era when Michigan was hugely negative every year and dammit it never changed.
Experience at quarterback. This is a double whammy to the good for Michigan: they've got a senior starter entering his third year and—even more important—his second year in Al Borges's system. A number of Michigan's turrible interceptions a year ago came paired with hand-wavingly-open receivers Michigan's quarterbacks just missed, like this one Gardner chucked against Purdue:
The ball is in the air here, but it's going to the double-covered Gallon instead of the hand-wavingly open Junior Hemingway. This wasn't pressure—Gardner had all day—it was a huge coverage misread. In year two these things should significantly diminish.
Fitzgerald Toussaint could be Mike Hart-like. IIRC Toussaint has not fumbled as a Michigan ballcarrier. As carries move to him from other sources—largely the fumble-prone Denard—Michigan should reduce the number of fumbles that can go against them. Fumble prevention/extraction is a skill.
The defense should be sack happy. Michigan finished 29th last year without getting great production out of its three-tech or weakside defensive end. Will Heininger had one sack last year; Craig Roh and Jibreel Black combined for 5.5. If the moves of Roh and Black inside upgrade the pass rush at three positions, the blitz-mad Mattison D will be in QBs' faces even more than they were last year.
Complicating factor: Mike Martin only had 3.5 sacks last year but his disruption opened things up for other people.
Protection should be good if the line is healthy. Lewan is an all Big Ten left tackle (at least) and Schofield is a touted recruit with a year of quality playing time under his belt with all the tools to pass protect on the edge. Wicked blind-side hits on Denard should be rare.
Denard is just turnover-prone. This has been a fact by air and ground ever since he hit the field. While he's going to improve with experience, sometimes players never have that light bulb pop on. Toussaint will shift some carries to his five points of contact but Denard will still get a bunch of carries, and he'll cough the ball up some.
Chucking sure interceptions up to Hemingway will result in interceptions because Hemingway is gone. Unless these are going to Gardner.
Hello massive reversion to the mean on fumble recoveries. If Michigan recovers over 70% of available fumbles this year I'll eat a lemon. Probably at the Rose Bowl.
If a tackle goes down, yeesh. Everyone's assumption is that this would see Kyle Kalis step in at right tackle. Mega-hyped recruit… and a true freshman.
Seriously, Denard is walking variance. I think Michigan will preserve its fairly positive TO margin. If they don't, we will all be sad about Denard's inability to shake the turnover bug. I can't predict he'll be better or worse until we see him play.
There's a reason a couple departing seniors picked Robinson—who was an All-American as a sophomore, remember—as a "breakout player" in that Rothstein article from yesterday($). He could break out. He could run in place, and not know which it will be makes predictions here even more useless than they have been in the past.
You may now return to thinking about Taylor Lewan on a tandem bike.
*[Even if Michigan does score against Iowa they have to get a two-point conversion and then win in OT, which is like a 20% shot.]
**[OSU should not have been since there was no reason to overturn the Toussaint TD that would have ended it.]
Paws for a cause. If you've got a desire to have Michigan football players wait on you, you are in luck:
"Celebrity waiters" is a new phrase to me. Proceeds go to the local Humane Society; tickets can be purchased here. Order the coconut so your waiter can rip it open with his bare hands. This is not an opportunity that often comes.
I told you so. If the equation "Jersey Shore == Bronzed Juggalos" holds true, last fall's assertion is now approved by the Michigan State athletic director himself:
Mike "the Situation" Sorrentino of Jersey Shore is going to be a #Spartan fan this season. Catch him at a game in Spartan Stadium.
Dave Brandon didn't do anything today, but point Dave Brandon. The Only Colors is at a loss for words but not gifs.
Peering into your basket-soul. Basketball recruiting suddenly turned into hockey recruiting, where it's all like "this kid isn't coming forever but he seems pretty good." It's a risk, but one you might feel like you have to take these days. /yells at cloud
But UMHoops points out Beilein's track record with early commits is stellar:
Glenn Robinson III was considered a second-tier prospect in the state of Indiana but impressed Beilein at Elite Camp and picked up a scholarship offer, since then he’s exploded into to a top-75 player. Tim Hardaway Jr. impressed at Elite Camp and committed shortly after, two years later he was one of the top freshmen in the Big Ten. Now that’s not to say that Beilein uses the six hours at his camp as the only evaluation tool, he’s been down to watch Hatch and Donnal play with their high school squads on many occasions over the last year.
That does not use all the available evidence: Beilein picked up Evan Smotrycz before he rose in the rankings; Jordan Morgan was a recruit so questionable even his dad was like "really?"; Trey Burke fell at AAU-only Rivals but rose elsewhere after a stellar senior year saw him named Ohio Mr. Basketball. Also, Pittsnogle and Gansey and etc. Beilein's got an eye. In this regard he is the anti-Amaker.
Michigan is after a point guard in the 2013 class and appears to be operating under the assumption they have a fourth scholarship available in either 2012 or 2013 that will probably go to a shooting guard or face-up four.
Haters going to notice your blatant contradiction. Excellent catch by Oversigning.com. Here's Nick Saban discussing the SEC's meaningful but not perfect new legislation on kicking kids the the curb. Before passage:
"In my opinion, it would really affect the quality in our league," Saban said. "You can't know the attrition from signing day until August, which guys who're going to be fifth-year seniors that decide they don't want to come back and play football. Well, you can't count those guys. You're going to have to tell those guys they're going to have to decide in January.
"I don't really feel that it's going to create any management issues that's going to affect the quality of play," Saban calmly said Thursday before his annual charity golf tournament that benefits his "Nick's Kids" program. "I think it's all good."
Oversigning.com describes this as "craw-fishing," which is inexplicable to me but yeah: that dude is totally craw-fishing. What a jerk.
They eat the pig. You know who else needs to feel the pimp hand of the NCAA? North Carolina. Their car business is now just as transparently illicit as Ohio State's:
It appears that one UNC football player accrued 93 parking tickets under nine license plate numbers between October 2007 and August 2009, according to parking records UNC released Thursday and a database search of the University’s Department of Public Safety website. …
The plates in question corresponded to cars including a gray Dodge, a gray Nissan, a black Acura, a black Honda and a green BMW, according to the records.
Greg Little had nine license plates in 22 months. The student newspaper discovered this by searching a public database after UNC was finally sued into releasing records requested under the FOIA act. There is obviously some combination of car trouble, generous grandmothers from poor sections of Durham, footloose and fancy-free car swapping on the whims of a young man feeling the wind in his hair, and OBVIOUS EXTRA BENEFITS UNC WAS BEING SLAPPED IN THE FACE WITH EVERY TIME HE GOT A PARKING TICKET, WHICH WAS APPARENTLY ON A DAILY BASIS that explains how this may have occurred.
Meanwhile, phone records show John Blake was talking to Marvin Austin and Gary Wichard when they were on one of their non-kosher trips. They're going to get hammered, too.
(HT: Doctor Saturday.)
What is luck? Baby don't hurt me, no more. A follow-up to the Pythagorean post from this morning: was Michigan State actually lucky last year? If you listen to Pythagorean expectations, they were. They were the luckiest dang team in the study period, exceeding expectations by a whopping 2.4 wins.
If you're using a more conventional measure of record in close games, they weren't even close to the luckiest team. By my count there were three: wins over ND (34-31, OT), Northwestern (35-27 with a cosmetic touchdown for MSU at the very end), and Purdue (35-31). A six point win over Penn State does not count since PSU scored a touchdown with under a minute left to make the final score more attractive; MSU was a long way from losing that.
3-0 in close games is a bit lucky but nothing out of the ordinary for any team that finishes 11-2. While you would expect any team with 11 wins to regress the next season, there's nothing there that suggests MSU should be unusually likely to drop back to .500 or thereabouts.
The Pythagorean method is blown away by MSU's two losses, utter hammerings at the hands of Iowa and Alabama. I'm not convinced those are as meaningful as the formula would have it.
Etc.: Nobody closes the barn door like the Ohio State Buckeyes. Yost renovations are go. Renaldo Sagesse making his way in the CFL. NCAA poking around agent-type dudes in South Florida, investigating a selection of SEC schools and Ohio State. Doctor Saturday renews call for "East" and "West" division names, which is endorsed by this space. Holdin' the Rope fires up the nostalgia machine and takes us back to the 2010 Indiana game. Remember when Ohio State had a football program? Weird!
This is real? Um, so, this is apparently what Michigan is wearing for the Big Chill:
That is hideous. It's going to be the worst thing I ever see a Michigan team wear live. That's not a Wolverine. It's a ferret or something, and the day-glo yellow is something Oregon would be comfortable with, and I can see the 1980s Vancouver Canucks think the shoulder striping is wicked.
Other people like it, I guess, but man… put me in the "no" column.
Maybe yes, maybe no. Depending on how you define luck, Michigan has either been lucky or unlucky. The lucky part: Michigan is 4-0 in close games, though I think defining the UMass game as "close" is a stretch since onside kicks are recovered about 10% of the time when the opponent knows it's coming. If the UMass game was close than Michigan's games against Penn State and Iowa were close since Michigan had ample opportunity to get a stop that would give them a chance to tie.
Anyway, so they're 3-0 in close games but they're also hammering opponents in total yards and have been undone by yet another ugly turnover margin and terrible special teams. Braves and Birds puts together a chart with various interesting numbers:
To the chart we go!
YPP Off. YPP Def. YPP Mar. Sagarin SRS Ohio State 6.1 4.2 +1.9 88.22 15.36 Iowa 6.2 4.9 +1.3 86.17 15.29 Mich. State 6.0 5.2 +.8 79.56 12.16 Wisconsin 5.9 5.4 +.5 79.37 11.59 Illinois 5.1 5.2 -.1 79.29 9.06 Michigan 6.9 6.3 +.6 74.48 5.21 Penn State 5.5 5.9 -.4 73.84 5.02 NW 5.4 5.8 -.4 66.94 -0.63 Indiana 4.7 7.3 -2.6 63.63 -0.08 Purdue 4.2 5.3 -1.1 59.62 -6.07 Minn. 5.0 6.4 -1.4 58.57 -9.43
(Note: the yardage numbers come only from games against BCS conference opponents. This includes games against Notre Dame.)
Michigan's yards per play margin is on par with the weaker teams challenging for the conference title and well clear of the conference rabble, even with a defense far worse than anyone save Indiana and Minnesota. Where Michigan falls apart are the places not found on the chart, in turnovers and special teams. At least this year there's a clear reason for the turnover margin: the defense. Michigan's lost 17 turnovers this year; the NCAA average is 15.75. The defense has only acquired ten. Assuming Denard can lower his interception rate like most quarterbacks do, next year Michigan can finally approach turnover parity if the defense takes the significant step forward it could.
Anyway, B&B pulled out this chart because he'd created one for the SEC as a vehicle to discuss whether Georgia had been unlucky (conclusion: yes) and tried to figure out if the same was true for Michigan. He concludes it's a mixed bag and I agree; Michigan may have been unlucky to suffer scads of turnovers against MSU and Iowa but since a lot of those TOs resulted from Denard's now-established tendency to throw behind his receiver that's more an effect of talent limitations than bloody fate.
There's significantly more wobble in the TO numbers than most anything else year to year but certain things do reliably cause turnovers: quarterback inexperience and pressure. Michigan's had a lot of inexperience, little pressure on the opponent, and little pressure on Michigan. Results are average TO numbers against and terrible for.
Arithmetic, yo. The fundamental flaw with Spread Is Dead rhetoric is a fundamental change in the nature of offense when the quarterback can both run and throw. In an article for the Wolverine, Jon Chait gets the point across:
It's worth keeping all this in mind when you hear sports commentators announce that defenses have "caught up to the spread." It's partially true, but only partially… The part they haven't caught up to is having a quarterback in the shotgun who can read an un-blocked defender and keep the ball on almost any running play. That is the real game-changer in the spread system. It alters the entire arithmetic of the game, allowing the offense to always have enough blockers to account for the defenders in the box, while also forcing defenses into stripped-down pass coverages. Defenses can't catch up to this dynamic because you can't "catch up to" arithmetic.
The most striking thing about the Rodriguez videos everyone pored over in the aftermath of his hire was his assumption about the number of safeties he would face: one… or zero? That's the arithmetic that sees Michigan averaging over six yards a carry along with two other true spread 'n' shreds (Oregon and Auburn) and two other teams whose quarterbacks average just under 100 yards a game (Nevada and Nebraska). At the same time Michigan averages 9.2(!) YPA, because the safety question is now one or zero instead of one or two*.
*(With some limited exceptions, like Iowa. Iowa gave up over 500 yards only to see Michigan thwart itself spectacularly; since the 28 they gave up there was only exceeded by Wisconsin—Arizona got a ton of points on ST—that's kinda sorta a reason the question about safeties has changed.)
Gapping it. Given the first two bullets this table from Doctor Saturday won't be a surprise:
The Mathete's been tracking this disparity too and by his numbers, which go back to 2002, Michigan has a bigger gap between O and D performance than anyone. In my eyes this is a reason to keep Rodriguez around since it should be easier to find an average defense with an established elite offensive mind in place than revamp the program considerably.
Ballin' out of control. If you didn't see this happen you are like me but I can appreciate it in retrospect:
Your offense has the ball on its own 12-yard line with a 30-28 lead and 3:39 to play in the fourth quarter. The defense has just used the first of three timeouts. Your quarterback, who you've already tried to bench on two separate occasions this season before injuries forced him back into the lineup, completes an eight-yard pass on 3rd-and-9. You let the clock run down to 2:50, then call your first timeout. Now facing a 4th-and-1 from your own 19-yard line with a two-point lead and less than three minutes to play, do you:
a) Punt and play defense;
b) Line up like you're going for it in an effort to draw the defense offsides, then use your second timeout and punt if the defense doesn't jump;
c) Seriously, anything other than a punt risks a turnover with the ball already in prime position for the game-winning field goal. Just kick it already;
d) Are we really still debating this?
e) Spit as hard as you can and actually go for it.
Randy Edsall and mansome Jordan Todman went for it, got four yards, and got to kneel out the game after another couple first downs. This is spectacular for the following reasons:
- Todman finished with 37 carries for 220 yards and had already established he was capable of running down Pitt's throat
- Tino Sunseri had completed 20 of 28 passes for 220 yards and had just brought Pitt within two two minutes ago.
- If you don't make it you sell out to stop them from getting a first down and get the ball back with a shot at the win, but…
- It's fourth and one and your tailback has 200 yards. You're going to make it.
You could tell Zook wanted to go for it on several fourth and ones Michigan forced, but the closest he came to pulling the trigger was taking a delay of game on one. A tip of the cap to Edsall for overcoming his dread and getting a well-deserved win. People invariably call this "guts" or "balls" and while it is gutsy it's also the right call. God, I just thought about Lloyd Carr punting from the OSU 34 in 2005.
NEW TOPIC: no Big East team now has fewer than three losses and 8-4 looks like the best case scenario for the conference champion. Fire the Big East.
Scrub is a guy who can't get no love from me. Pro bowl cornerback supposed height chart from Touch The Banner:
Not much to tell except once you start getting shorter than 5'10" your shot at the super big time gets dim. I'd like to see an equivalent of this with All Conference teams to see what the breakdown is there. I bet it's shorter.
Four verts. Remember that second and twenty two Illinois converted easily? Yeah, that was four verticals against cover three, I think, and that didn't work so well. Here's a primer on what to do about it—mostly get those linebackers ten yards deep as soon as they read pass. In that down and distance that should have been "before the snap," but Michigan had them all tight and they didn't get sufficient distance, or a chuck, and Vinopal was way too deep, and bang.
Etc.: Soony Saad shot Michigan past MSU in the Big Ten soccer tournament yesterday despite Justin Meram getting a second yellow for celebration after he tied the game. They play Wisconsin today for a shot at the final. The bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace from last weekend. Holdin' the Rope reminisces about childhood visits to West Lafayette. An interview with Jon Falk.