good luck with that
1. I bet you're mad because this isn't a spread offense amirite?
I am a spread zealot, it's true. However, I am not crazy. Therefore I am happy that Jim Harbaugh is the coach at Michigan no matter what offense he wants to run.
Meanwhile, the Harbauffense is not a spread but neither is it the old style "expectation is for the position" offense. Harbaugh's offense has a certain reputation…
…and it does live up to that. It goes beyond that. Whereas the late Carr offenses tended to drive one thing into the ground over and over until it settled into a 3.4 YPC groove, Harbaugh loves to troll defenses with constant motion, trap blocking, and—yep—spread elements.
The Sugar Bowl demolition of a Virginia Tech team that a year later would hold Brady Hoke's first team under 200 yards of offense is the canonical example of the motion. Stanford shifted, and shifted some more, and continued shifting until grand cracks developed in VT's run fits.
That relies on the opponent screwing up because of your shifts and is not always going to happen… but it does sometimes. After Stanford had blown it open, Harbaugh deployed a play that I've used at various MGoEvents over the past few months. At each it plays like stand-up comedy:
They practiced that, and then used it as a middle finger.
[After THE JUMP: building Rome, explosions, Rudock]
What is the difference between this run:
…and this run:
If you guessed "the one Harbaugh/Drevno were coaching got yards and the one from Hoke/Borges didn't" you win a running theme of the 2015 offseason. The results are certainly stark; why that's true is what we're interested in.
The Power Play
These are both the same play by the offense, and the same play Brady Hoke promised to make into Michigan's base because it is the manliest of plays. It is Power-O, the one where you pull the backside guard and try to run between the tackles.
You can click for biggers
The play is relatively simple to draw up and complex to execute because it uses a lot of the things zone blocking does, including having the blocking and back react to what the defense does. For all the "manball" talk this isn't ISO, where you slam into each other quickly. Depending on how the coach wants to play it and what defensive alignment you see, the basic gist is to get a double or scoop of the playside DT and kick out the playside DE, then have an avalanche of bodies pour into that hole—if the defense is leaping into that gap you adjust by trying a different hole further outside. Leaving two blockers to seal off the backside, one blocker, usually the backside guard, pulls and becomes the lead blocker—it's up to him to adjust to what he sees when he arrives.
You can run this out of different formations with different personnel, and the one immediately apparent difference in the above diagrams is Michigan was more spread—a flanker (Z) is out on the opposite numbers and the strongside is to the boundary; after the motion this is an "Ace Twins". Stanford ran this with a heavy "22-I" formation, meaning two backs (RB and FB) and two tight ends (Y and H) in an I-form. The benefit Michigan gets from its formation is the guy Stanford would have to block with its fullback Michigan has removed from the play entirely by forcing him to cover the opposite sideline.
What Stanford gets in return for its fullback is matchup problems: the open side of the field is going to be two tight ends and a fullback versus two safeties and a cornerback. Run or pass that can go badly for the defense as these size mismatches turn into lithe safeties eating low-centered fullbacks, and dainty corners on manbeast TEs.
In War of 1812 terms, Michigan is the Americans, sending the fast-sailing frigate Essex in the Pacific so the enemy has to move ships to the Galapagos instead of harassing the Carolinas. Stanford is the British, parking 74-guns ships of the line where engaging them cannot be avoided and trusting the outcome of any forced engagement should turn in their favor. The point is both work to the advantages and disadvantages of the talent on hand. (In this analogy Borges is a guy trying to use Horatio Nelson tactics with a Navy of sloops and brigs).
That being said, it still works as well as anything—people did in fact score points before the spread, and those who scored a lot of them could do so by keeping defenses off balance and with good execution. As we'll see both of those factors played a big role.
[after the jump]
Looking forward to tomorrow's event. Logistical details can be found here.
It's going to be a bit strange. Michigan has never had an actual spring game before. Carr generally provided an open practice with an attached scrimmage and was all too happy to cancel the thing if given any pretext to. Rodriguez seemed to want to play a game but having only seven offensive linemen rather prohibited that. Hoke was cut from Carr's cloth; if possible it seemed like he was even more opposed to the entire idea. Punting exhibitions were ironically common.
These intrasquad practices were always difficult to glean data from, but they did give you a pretty good picture of who was on the first team and who was on the second at that moment. Saturday will not provide much clarity in that department.
If he had a draft order that might, but we don't. We only know that Malzone was the first QB taken and others didn't follow for a while. We can also make a couple of guesses based on the distribution of certain players, but the depth chart will remain fuzzy.
On the other hand, it'll be a better crucible to observe folks in. Ones versus ones and twos versus twos often saw whoever the second string quarterback was spend his day running from large angry men. While this was in fact an excellent preview of Devin Gardner's life, hopefully that won't be the situation going forward. An even spread of talent on both sides may not give us as much insight into who the coaches think is ahead; it should give us more ground to form (admittedly useless) opinions of their own.
But let's form them anyway
There are a few things I'll be looking out for.
hello sirs [Fuller]
The Peppers disposition. We all know Peppers is starting, and his team has two other legit safeties on it—Jeremy Clark and Delano Hill. His team does not have a third corner. The obvious conclusion is that Michigan will be moving Peppers to the slot in nickel situations on Saturday.
That makes a lot of sense. I've been yammering on about Hybrid Space Players forever. Peppers promises to be that, at long last. The Hybrid Space player is a triple threat. He can cover like a corner. He can defend an edge run like a safety. And he can blitz like a linebacker. He resolves a number of the questions spread offenses pose by flat-out winning the one-on-one battles the spread issues, against all comers.
I thought Dymonte Thomas might be that guy until he disappeared down the depth chart. Peppers has, uh, not. How he's deployed is going to be be a fascinating subplot.
How 3-4 is it? How 4-3 is it? We've tackled this in multiple posts over the past few weeks: a lot of inside chatter holds that Michigan is moving to primarily a 3-4 this year. I'll be watching to see how accurate that is. This is going to be difficult with the lack of anything resembling a weakside end on the Blue team. Meanwhile, the Maize team has only Lawrence Marshall.
There is going to be ample shoehorning no matter what happens. The nature of that shoehorning should give us an indicator as to how "multiple" the defense is, and if they're really going to run a 3-4.
Formations and personnel on offense. Harbaugh has the MANBALL rep, but the real calling card of his offense is diversity. A gentleman named Colin Davy presented a measure of offensive complexity/diversity at Sloan and a friend of his sent it along to me. San Francisco is highlighted:
That edition of San Francisco deviated from Harbaugh's first three years, which were more WR-averse than any other team in the NFL. Harbaugh ran a ton of three-wide shotgun last year…
…and San Francisco had its worst offensive output under Harbaugh. Probably not a coincidence.
But even so the thing that leaps out after watching a bunch of Harbaugh games is just how much weird stuff there is. People tend to think manball is synonymous with pro-style, but whatever Harbaugh is doing is its own beast. Unless you've seen anyone else line up in a goal line set on first and ten from their own 30, that is. Maybe you have.
Mixed in with the popular conception of the Harbaugh offense is shotgun, zone read, pistol, you name it. Last year he adapted because he had to—injuries slashed his tight end corps to ribbons. What will that adaptation look like with Michigan's personnel?
We got excited about the result of Canteen vs Countess last year; we should have been worried. [Fuller]
Skill positions. Usually the easiest group to get a handle on because breaking tackles, cutting quickly, and catching the dang ball are somewhat competition-invariant. This is not a hard and fast rule—Freddy Canteen was the star of last year's spring game-type substance and did little when the live bullets started flying. But there are going to be a lot of receivers competing for time and attention as Michigan tries to find a #1.
Quarterback. I may be looking at the quarterbacks to see if any of them are any good. Previous spring games have actually been pretty good about delivering information here: Forcier was a revelation after he enrolled early, Denard was a revelation after his freshman year, Bellomy never looked plausible, and last year was extremely ominous. A first glimpse at Malzone and Speight will be interesting. And has Shane Morris developed enough to stay in the conversation?
Interior DL. Both sides have starters that look like plausible Big Ten starting lines: Henry and Glasgow versus Hurst and Mone. I think Glasgow is going to be Glasgow. (This is a good thing.) The other guys are all potential breakout players if they can put the proverbial It together.
Countess. Lewis is a lock at one corner spot. Countess is a favorite for the other… until Wayne Lyons comes in. Michigan's coaches are again asserting that they want to be a super-aggressive man to man outfit, which was Countess's achilles heel last year. Does having an experienced DBs coach help him out? Is he capable of putting his nose across from a wideout and preventing him from doing what Will Fuller did to him last year?
Norfleet. IT COULD HAPPEN, OKAY.
Hackett's first gameday. Last year's spring game was the worst. Michigan played Phil Collins constantly. The band sat in the corner, irritated that they were even there, until deciding to play for about 20 minutes straight near the end. Their constant noise was the only way to get Special K to cut out his constant noise.
Hackett's recent comments on how he envisions the gameday experience are as encouraging as possible and this will be the first opportunity to see them in action. I'm not expecting miracles immediately. The athletic department is a large ship that takes some time to steer. I will be looking out for gameday changes that might stick.
Tremendous Lloyd quote!
That's a young-looking Lloyd Carr from the 1990 recruiting pamphlet that Bauglieve found on Ebay. In case the photos come down from there eventually I put them on the MGoServer for posterity (click for each):
The comments have mined all sorts of nuggets from these. Count my vote with those who want to see Harbaugh bring back one-handed, shirtless pushups on the Diag. The football fans would feel more connected to the players, and I'm sure the student body would appreciate the peck show way more than the usual entertainment in that space.
Team 138 offers its sarcastic gratitude. Originally posted in the forums, I moved Qmatic's walk through the wasted redshirts on Michigan's roster to the diaries because this is something we're going to be referencing all too often for the next few years. Morris is on there although he had to play once Bellomy tore his ACL because Gardner's ribs were becoming…you know what, let's not get into what Hoke did with Gardner.
I can show you how Hoke's redshirting practices compared to his predecessors because it's tracked on my spreadsheet:
Circumstances played a role in this certainly, but by Hoke's third year the rate of redshirting should have shown a climb into the 70s that a healthy program has. I'll probably address this in a Jimmystats sometime this offseason.
How to Man Your Baughlls
Just a glance at his formations screams old-school, smash-mouth, 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust SPARTAAAA:
Thing is, these offenses are notorious for being predictable in an era of S&C parity. So why does it work?
Tell us, dragonchild.
Deep head trauma is bad. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a horrible, progressive, degenerative disease of the brain long known to the sports world as "punch drunk." The provable link between it and repetitive brain trauma (specifically deep trauma, i.e. not all concussions) is meaningful to football especially because there is a clear moral dilemma in rooting for people to do a thing that can do that to them.
Neurologists released a study awhile ago that linked the age of first exposure to football and cognitive impairment. As happens with released studies, a few people who read the peer reviewed journals pour over it, and media folk read the title, decided if it fit their favorite narrative, and either canonized it or ripped it.
TSS wrote a diary this week to walk you through the study and what it actually says, which is that the progression of CTE is suggestively linear from the point you started playing football.
Best of the Board
BUT IT DOESN'T HAVE ITS OWN LOGO
Over the last couple of weeks it came out that the extremity of the student body's distribution of doucheiness is trying to Create the Future™ of Michigan-themed game day music. What I mean by that:
My best friend was not being hyperbolic about his freshman roommate.
Wolverine Devotee decided to use this as a reminder that we have traditional songs beyond The Victors. Hot Time might have been relegated to history, but we still sing Varsity during the pre-game, and Let's Go Blue!, and the cowbell cheer, as well as several covers the band has adopted (Blues Brothers, Temptation, Hawaiian War Chant), and the alma mater. If, like me, you've been singing "Denard Robinson, Robinson oh Robinson" to Varsity since Brian suggested it, maybe it's time we all learn the lyrics. They are (music):
Men of Michigan onto victory, Ev'ry man in ev'ry play.
Michigan expects her Varsity to win today!
Rah! Rah! Rah-rah-rah! Win for Michigan!
Varsity, Down the field.
Never yield, Raise high our shield.
March on to victory for Michigan,
(And the Maize and Blue)
Oh Varsity, We're for you,
Here for you to cheer for you.
We have no fear for you. Oh Varsity! (repeat)
At the risk of moving myself incrementally rightward in the douchechart, I posit that Michigan's second fight song is a better composition than 90% of fight songs.
COYLE V. SCHEMBECHLER
Michigan House '75 has a brother in law who played from '69 to '73 with, among other legends, 1972 captain and right guard Tom Coyle, who passed away in 2012. This was how Coyle was recruited to Michigan:
He and Tommy had just gotten back from a job and were covered in paint. This and twelve other kids running around when Bo and Malony arrive. Old Man Coyle proceeds to pass beers around to everyone including Tommy. Bo is shocked, turns to Mrs. Coyle and says, "Excuse me Mrs. Coyle," and then turns to Tommy - "If you drink that beer, I'm going to kick your ass!"
Bo was no teetotaler, but he did refuse to do Michigan Replay if Budweiser was sponsoring it. So guess what happens then, or read on.
Your Moment of Zen:
via Dr. Sap
"I think we'll always run the option because what it can do to defenses." –Jim Harbaugh
Harbaugh's offensive philosophy
So who remembers a time when Michigan recruiting wasn't wholly depressing, and we had a recruiting tracker wiki to follow the names and their respective levels of interest?
|Your new friend for January. Find it under Useful Stuff.|
: I do! I do!
Mr. Blue! Hi there Mr. Blue!
: I'm so excited to get everyone on campus and build this class. TEXT ALL THE RECRUITS!
Well you can do that Mr. Blue.
: Hey, I've been getting those texts. We should all come visit together guys. Is it true Tyrone Wheatley is on staff?
: As have I. Verily this is all data I must consider.
Happy teeth! Data! Guys, it's been forever!
: Wait, I missed those. Do you have my number right?
: I remain 100% committed to Just Fired the Coach I Committed To U, but can you guys add me to the chain anyway?
: Sure thing Nefarious Eduardo!
: I've been following you guys on the tracker that umhero put together but if you want to add me too it's spelled S.a.d. J.o.s.h and my cell is 734-…
So those fellas have returned thanks to the work of umhero. I made it a wiki and added it to the bar above.
Well they're not from the Midwest. EGD had an interesting point to make regarding the comparison of Harbaugh's staff to Hoke's. Brady's guys were all very familiar with the Midwest, and that bore out with a very strong regional recruiting profile. It was already a good assumption that Harbaugh would be stretching his territory from sea to shining sea. I map each coach's region of greatest competence:
The only Texas connection they have is Fisch's short tenure with the Texans. Harbaugh prefers his staff to recruit their own positions but these regional connections matter a great deal in getting that guy in with coaches and players.
In a World Where Everybody Has to Say What They Mean in Pictures. Ron Utah imagined what various dudes in the Great Harbaughning would have said if they'd been absolutely candid. I actually think he got a lot of the thinks wrong, so I'll take a stab at them:
: So Jim when did you decide you wanted to be the head coach of Michigan?
[After the jump: more of Jim Harbaugh's pictorial answers to the CC questions, and where recruiting happens]
META: Okay hivemind, I think I'm gonna break the Tuesday column formerly known as Hokepoints (and Museday) into different columns, alternating between stat stuff and Xs and Os stuff. Gimme name ideas. Jimmystats and Jimmypens? I'm at a loss.
Lynn Sladky, AP via Freep.
In his profile in heroism on Harbaugh yesterday, Brian mentioned that THIS pro-style offense at least sometimes does things other than what the defense wants/expects/prepared for:
Those 5.2s [rushing YPC in 2009, 2010 and 2011 at Stanfard] are crazy given the context—on par with Rodriguez's Denard-era run games minus, you know, Denard. This is not a scheme that's just "run it until you stop it"—Harbaugh is trying to screw with your run fits every play.
I thought I'd get into that screwing just a bit because one thing we haven't seen much of at Michigan is someone who knows how to run a power offense correctly. We've seen DeBord and Borges run it poorly, and we've seen Nussmeier try to mold it onto a horizontal spread while still fulfilling Hoke's mandate that at least one tight end must be doing something he's bad at every play.
For something approximating what I expect Michigan will run I went back to the last game Harbaugh coached in college, the 2011 Orange Bowl. Stanford faced Bud Foster's quarters defense, which is helpful since VT's scheme is from the same tree that Michigan State and Ohio State now run.
This was an evisceration. Stanford called 27 running plays and got 300 yards (8.6 YPC) from them. You can remove garbage time (optional since Harbaugh was still running his offense full-bore at 34-12) and it's still 182 yards on 22 carries, for 8.3 YPC. A lot of those were deep gashes—60 yards, 26 yards, 56 yards—which is what you'd expect against a defense that usually gives its safeties gap assignments. I'll show you how the first of those gashes was set up.
Step 1: Scissors.
The first play from scrimmage Stanford came out in a standard I-formation: inline fullback, tight end off the line. Anyone who's scouted Stanford would guess they're going to run their bread 'n butter play: Power-O. We've been over that one before: the backside guard pulls, everyone else has to pin defenders in their spots, and then that pulling guard and the fullback and the RB all come downhill at the MLB, and the resulting yardage is determined by the resulting collision.
Harbaugh showed it without running it with a clever counter that sold the defense on Power-O then had the FB reverse direction and head into the flat, where the rolling out Andrew Luck had essentially a vertical option play on the isolated DB (I labeled him the BCB but I think I got him and the FS confused on the diagram):
He ran a West Coast play from the shotgun on the ensuing 1st down, and then on 2nd and 4 tried to put a power run on the backside with a pass look:
This was blown up by the MLB shooting the gap abandoned by the pulling right guard. A third down pass attempt was blown up when a blitzer wasn't picked up.
[After the jump: how to make the defense eat rock.]