...says Denzel Valentine of Big Ten Tourney favorite MSU, which is 5-7 in its last 12 games. Cumong, man.
(Compare to yesterday's)
We're talking about these seniors. Yesterday was the Class of '08 plus Grady, players who either committed to Rodriguez or at least had time to break their commitments to Michigan after the coaching change. The level of commitment to the program by those guys may have been unparalleled in Michigan history but for some of their fellow seniors from the Class of 2007. This is Part II. It's running long still and I have family in town so the last four guys will have to be a Part III. Anyway, 2007…
This class committed to 'Lloyd Carr's University of Michigan' while the Wolverines were riding the best defense in the country to 3 points shy of playing for the National Championship. Their careers began by watching, redshirted, as The Horror obliterated every shred of mysticism the program had, yet they stuck by Michigan. They stuck by Michigan when their coaches and systems were replaced, stuck by Michigan when outsiders trashed the program and some insiders were actively trying to sabotage it. They stuck by coaches they hadn't chosen, right up until those coaches were shown the door. Then they met with their teammates, told their story, and made sure that when another staff came through the door, everyone would stick by Michigan.
It would be ungracious to not mention some of their classmates who stayed until their health or eligibility ran out: Renaldo Sagesse, a bonhomme Quebecois and one-time 20-year-old freshman. Secret weapon Martell Webb, a blocking tight end whose great contributions to the 2010 offense went largely unremarked. Michael Williams, maligned in these parts as only bad underclassman free safeties can be, who had to choose between the best years of his football career or having a functional brain the rest of his life. And James Rogers, a positional vagabond who finally went wherever he was very needed indeed. And some of the walk-ons like John McColgan, Jered van Slyke, Zac Johnson, Tony Anderson, and Tom Pomarico who've had to earn their roster spots (and some, scholarships) from three different coaching staffs. What follows is the story of eight more guys like that, again in reverse order of length of commitment.
Will Heininger had a story written about him once in the Daily by the inimitable Joe Stapleton. Will was the kid in Michigan gear who became the teenager who knew more about the team than the lifer sitting next to him, who gave up a likely career in baseball to walk on to the team of his dreams. As a redshirt sophomore Heininger beat out scholarship upperclassmen like Sagesse, Greg Banks and Adam Patterson to be the first guy rotated in when Brandon Graham needed a breather. With Graham in the NFL a 2010 starter role was in his grasp, but then Heininger tore his ACL at the end of Spring Practice. He missed the first 10 games of the season, but fought his way back on the field, albeit not yet fully back to form, for Wisconsin, Ohio State and the Gator Bowl.
Finally this year he earned the starting job as a utility D-lineman, over guys like Jibreel Black and Will Campbell. While doing all of this Heininger has been named Academic All-Big Ten every year since '08, and has been nominated for his third Big Ten Distinguished Scholar award.
My Papi, my grandpa, I like to have his initials or his name somewhere on me. My tape, or something like that, during the game to see him always …He’s from Columbus, but he’s a Michigan Man. He’s the biggest influence on my life and he passed just this past spring. He’s a great man and he’s part of the reason I’m here. He’s always out there watching over me."
Brandon Herron was a project*, a Texas (same school as TWoolf) kid built like a safety who played defensive end and projected as a linebacker. He had good athleticism but was consistently listed as something less than 200 which your mind rounds up to 200. He was raaaaaaww.
Raw freshman often don't pan out even if they're recruited by a competent coach for their specific skillset, and that coach then spends five years drilling a single system into the player's brain. Herron didn't have that; he was an afterthought classmate-of-a-recruit body in a "NEED LINEBACKERS LIKE WHOA" class, given first to Steve Szabo (the guy who spoke for Carr's assistants in Bacon's book, now EMU's LB coach), then to Jay Hopson, then to GERG. Other than an ankle injury for a chunk of 2010 his career was a lot of "contributed on special teams."
Herron kept plugging along, even when his name hardly popped up in the carousel of "Which weakside linebacker impressed Mattison today?" of this spring and fall camps. Then on Opening Day 2011 versus WMU he was suddenly the starter and proceeded to score two defensive touchdowns (one a 94-yarder that still stands as the most significant swing play of the year). Those won him a handful of national defensive player of the week awards (UFR of that game revealed his play was really just so-so). Then he got hurt, and fell back behind Hawthorne and the freshmen and his career was cooked.
When Kovacs sacked the quarterback and he forced the fumble, we saw something in the offense so we made a check, which led me to come off the edge so it opened up a hole for him to get through. [The WMU OT] he kind of brushed me off, he didn't really pick me up, so I just kind of went around, then [breaks into huge smile] heard the hit, saw the hit, and saw the ball on the ground, and just went out there, and next thing you know I'm running towards the end zone.
*BONUS: The 'Hello:' article for Herron has their coach saying "I really believe he's a safety" about Woolfolk, and Brian saying 'not gonna happen.' Oh hindsight.
When Coaching Change the First happened, the offensive line was already one year into transitioning from MANBALL blocking to zone. The tackles were senior All Everything Jake Long, Mt. Alex Mitchell, and a collection of eh man-blocking dudes. Redshirting was one of just two offensive linemen (and sole tackle) recruited in 2007, and to be honest the 6'6, 280, two-star obscure guy whose next-best offer was Ball State was more someone's backup plan than a system diamond they'd uncovered. So came Mark Huyge. Brian wrote him off as "Unlikely to ever play extensively."
Huyge sat buried on the depth chart for a few years grumbling about having to puke for Barwis instead of down pizzas for Gittleson, took some padded LSA classes with some of the other dissatisfied guys from the Lloyd era, then watched as successive RR jackrabbits displaced him and finally transferred to Someplace Division II College Tech. That's about how it went, right Mark?
Well, he could have done that. What Huyge did do was embrace the new staff, lifted his way up the depth chart against established returning starters, and by 2009 was Schofielding his way into whatever guard or tackle spot was available. Every time a guy like Omameh in '09, Lewan in '10, or Schofield in '11 emerged to finally displace him, Huyge would manage to either fend that guy off, or pop up to displace the next weakest starter on the line. He's never been spectacular, never threw a safety into Manti Te'o or killed a donkey, but he's been in there, so much now that when he's not there next year I'll be sorely missing him.
Had Michigan got any of the OTs they were after in '07, Huyge would probably have committed to Brady Hoke, then seen Hoke take off for SD State. So when the old staff entered and the new one came, Huyge 'grabbed the helm' as a senior leader and oft team spokesman. He was one of the seniors who organized the "don't anybody bail on your teammates" meetings that held the players together in the darkest days of last winter.
Oh and somewhere in there Huyge also managed to take a thousand bus trips up to North Campus; he'll walk in December with a degree in naval architecture and marine engineering, then marry his fiancee. That must have been what the second star from Scout was for.
“It’s going to be a big one next week. We’ll enjoy this one for a little bit, but the whole emphasis starting back in January when these guys got here was this game coming up. We’ll be really looking forward to them, and we’ll be ready.”
Tomorrow (sorry it's taking so long): Hemingway, Molk, Watson, Woolfolk, RVB.
EDIT: Moved Grady to this group
I've written plenty about the guys from the classes of '07 and '08 who didn't make it to this week. This one's for the guys who did.
Many had to overcome hideous, season-ending injuries to get here. They also stuck around through two paradigm-shifting coaching changes, or watched the guy and the system they committed to run out of town.What they signed up for was multiple Big Ten championships and Rose Bowls, but what they got was the most tumultuous years at Stadium and Main since Yost dug a hole in the ground.
What they leave is a program on the verge of a BCS bowl, on the verge of another reshaping, on the verge of one final chance to beat Ohio State. The leadership they provided helped Michigan avoid another painful transition, and set the tone for more success to come. There have been many great seniors to graduate from Michigan, but it is no derogation of them to say that this class is a bit special. Here are their stories (in reverse order of commitment):
EARLY RICH-RODIGAN JET-SMURFS:
Michael Shaw was the wizard hat to Trotwood teammate Roundtree's snake oil, a Penn State commit (Carr had wanted him as a CB) who switched to Michigan at the last minute. Unlike fellow '08 RB recruits he had neither captured the imagination of the Internet by hurdling fools, nor did he have a name that 13-year-olds use on prank calls. What Shaw had was speed, hands, and a cut-and-bounce move. People thought he might be a slot receiver. The era Shaw played in was replete with RBs of various skillsets, and proximity to Carlos Brown made for exaggerated comparisons. Various injuries made for sporadic appearances. He started the '09 Ohio State game and was nominally the starter at the beginning of this year. Everyone will have to pick their endearing memory of bouncy Shaw; mine will be the block on McNaul against NU (the purple one) and Batman.
"Normally they're keying in on me. I don't know why, but they're keying in on me, so that's where [Denard] gets his yards from … We had an idea they were going to try to contain Denard, but we also thought Notre Dame was going to try to contain him."
Martavious Odoms was billed as the perfect slot bug, the prototypical Rich Rodriguez Pahokee speedster with skillz who's completely overlooked because he's tiny. He was brought in to return kicks and punts, block like a mountain goat, and catch bubble screens. Whenever someone of the old guard complained about "little Florida guys" who "won't make it in the Big Ten," they were talking about Odoms.
Tay almost immediately grabbed that slot position and led the team in receptions as a somewhat fumbly true freshman. His sophomore season it was his mountain goat blocking and magnificent TD against Indiana that prevented a Hoosier loss from ever being added to the pile of Rodriguezian indignities. But he sprained a knee against Penn State and missed the rest of the season while redshirted classmate Roy Roundtree exploded. Odoms returned as the world's smallest outside WR in 2010 until a broken foot knocked him out for the second half of the year. This year several broken bits kept Odoms on the sideline as Gallon emerged, until Odoms reprised the Indy TD (@8:51) against Nebraska.
Denard, can you talk about what you saw on the Odoms TD?
Denard: “Me and Martavious had a race, what, two years ago? So I saw that he can run, and he went right past the defenders and I put it in the air.”
What happened in that race?
Odoms, to Denard: “… What happened?”
Denard: “You have to tell them. You have to tell them.”
Odoms: “No, you should tell them.”
Denard: “Ah … he beat me. He got a win there. He got a win.”
Kelvin Grady committed to Michigan before any of these guys, but for basketball. After his sophomore ('08-'09) season Grady left the backcourt to join his brother in Rich Rod's basketball on grass. Grady also left his sure scholarship, and had to compete with the rest of the walk-ons to earn a football one (he did). Grady19 immediately pushed for playing time in the now crowded slot rotation, showing great route running but not so great hands. Then last year the hands improved—as in he caught almost everything thrown his way—and also became the designated reverse guy.
This year he's rotated in every game, despite there being another guy who's "emerged" at his position every year he's been here (Odoms, Roundtree, Gallon). His eligibility will run out after this season, but Kelvin has already received his Bachelor's degree, and is a year into his Master's in Social Work.
"It crossed my mind that I wouldn't have anything," said Grady, who started 25 basketball games as a freshman before seeing his time reduced last year. "I'd be out. I'd be just like the rest of the guys back home who dropped out of college and didn't have anywhere else to go. But I'm too strong. I've got too much will. I've got a family that supports me. I've got a brother [Kevin, a senior running back for Michigan] that's working hard.
"I just want to say to you Florida boys it's not so bad in Michigan."
Terrence Robinson may not get a 5th year; the Texas 4-star was another slot bug who actually won the job in '08 before Odoms. He caused a Nebraska fumble on special teams this year—I don't know what his plans are if there's a scholarship available.
J.B. Fitzgerald got the Victor Hobson designation in the four-man YMRMFSPA haul of Foote-Hobson-Crable-C.Graham. This was thanks to um, large hands? Fitz also was considered quite raw, needing considerable coaching on his read and reaction skills. In this, it's hard to argue that Michigan didn't fail him, provided Jay Hopson then GERG as his position coaches. Fitzgerald was never a threat to displace Obi Ezeh or Jonas Mouton, except when the coaches got so fed up with those guys they put Fitz in (after they tried Kevin Leach). He did see some starting time at OLB late last year due to injuries, but has since been passed by the likes of Ryan and the freshmen. An academic All-American, Fitz will graduate with a degree in sport management.
"Physical's how we like it." (half of this guy's quotes can be taken out of context, the other half are about his family).
Until 2011, Kevin Koger (not Kroger) was the last head-to-head recruiting battle with [glances around, whispers] you know who in Ohio that Michigan actually won. Brian said he was Carson Butler minus the attitude and projected a future move to defensive end. Damn right about the attitude – Koger is a 2011 team captain and the Ryan Van Bergen of the offense.
Koger raised the hype meter a bit by scoring that TD versus Wisconsin in his first career catch, and then hauling in a one-handed flying stab in garbage time versus WMU in '09 that was more entertaining than Coner throwing D.O.'s to walk-on receivers with Mets' last names. This year he made another ridiculous catch over the middle versus Western. Koger's production on the field hasn't changed much from sharing time with Webb in 2010 (14 catches for 199 yards and 2 TDs) to being the guy in Borges's offense (17 catches for 195 yards and 3 TDs). Blocking Purdue's DEs (at top of screen, blocking 49) was a lot of fun.
In parts of the internet where trite metaphors are allowed, the phrase "Mike Martin is a beast!!!" is stated repeatedly, the number of exclamation marks varying from one to however many it takes to break a keyboard depending on how many yards backwards the poor sap charged with blocking him traveled before reestablishing radio contact. In less savage parts of the internet, people made things like this:
all the time. You can even put him in a micro fleece Balaclava and put Greg Robinson behind him (below) and he still looks like he's about to kill a quarterback any second. So of course Michigan put him in a micro fleece Balaclava and put Greg Robinson behind him. He was still the best player on the defense once Brandon Graham left; actually he beat out Graham for Michigan's '09 DL award.
A late-blooming prospect, Martin got his offer in June after Georgia DT Omar Hunter turned Michigan down. He committed immediately, and remained committed when a flood of others, including ND, came in after the coaching change. Martin arrived able to bench press like NFL first rounders, and ESPN said he looks like a crab.*
He immediately entered the DT rotation with Taylor and Johnson, and then spent the rest of his career here as a nose tackle because Michigan didn't have any other guys on the interior who could demand double teams. GERG's great idea to utilize Martin was to make him the centerpiece of 3-man rushes. After his junior year, Martin's personal accomplishments matched those of Alan Branch, with a far worse supporting cast.
*I think when people say "crab" what they mean is pad level. From now on when I hear "crab" I will declare that prospect someone Michigan must get. I want an entire DL that consists of nothing but crab people who squat 520 and chase QBs like they're Shawn Crable.
Despite having NFL prospects, despite a new coach and staff again again, he stayed. He said:
"‘What are we going to do as a team? Where are we now? We can either not be all in and do what we need to do, or we can work hard together and make sure we’re successful.’ ”
Hoke was also in the room. He remembered Robinson being upset at the media speculating his departure. He remembered fifth-year senior center David Molk getting up in that same meeting and telling everybody the team was going to stick together. …
“When (Robinson) came to us, he was addressing that we as a group — including him — need to make sure that none of the younger guys have doubtful thoughts or might want to stray away,” Martin said. “We didn't want there to be a repeat of last time there was a transfer of a coach.”
Tomorrow: Those Who Stayed (the Class of '07):
Is this not what you expected to see?
This week we're going to try a little Michigan defense word association. I'm gonna say a phrase and you're going to tell me what you're feeling. All set? Okay:
3rd and 1.
Lemme guess: Confidence? Excitement? Anticipation? A center sent airborne by a launching pad named Martin?
It is that, and Jake Ryan coming off the edge and hugging an opponent's running back two yards behind the line of scrimmage. And then it is RVB past his block and stopping all forward progress even though the running back's legs are still moving because Ron Zook told him if he keeps his legs moving he can still get yards. Then Heininger arrives. And maybe Demens, or a safety, and you know for certain it is over. You know, and now you've seen it so many times you think you knew before they even snapped it...
Dragging behind you the silent reproach of a million tear-stained eyes…
You slip out of your depth and out of your mind
Now I want you to wind your mind back one year. Michigan has just defeated Purdue to get to 7-3, with Wisconsin and Ohio State left. Same exercise, I say a phrase, you tell me what your last year brain is feeling:
3rd and 1
Did you ever wonder why we had to run for shelter?
This isn't just your imagination. Opponents' conversion rates on 3rd- or 4th and 1 the last three years, from UFR-ed drives plus Illinois (:
- 2009: 15 for 22 (68.18%)
- 2010: 20 for 28 (71.43%)
- 2011: 12 for 27 (44.44%)
What shall we use to fill the empty spaces?
The going rate, I've been told, is generally 70% so those '09 and '10 numbers are average-ish (help me Enjoy Life, Mathlete, anyone?) That would make sense with RVB and Martin around both years. But it makes this year's numbers just ridiculous. Michigan has stopped their opponent at least once in every game this year. Two of those conversions were from Illinois's 4th quarter drive down 24-7 versus Brink-Campbell-Heininger-Roh-Beyer.
This isn't a competition thing either. When I excise MAC and FCS opponents from all years it's far more pronounced:
- 2009: 10 for 13 (76.92%)
- 2010: 15 for 19 (78.95%)
- 2011: 6 for 19 (31.58%)
Notre Dame (0 for 3), Michigan State (0 for 1), and Iowa (0 for 3) have extant pound-it tailbacks and went a combined zero first downs in 7 attempts. Thanks to the above-mentioned Letterman-collaring 4th quarter TD drive, the Illinois game actually made Michigan look worse than they've been since conference play started.
Of all the things Michigan's defense is doing this year, the sudden and remarkable ability to stone teams on 3rd and 1 is likely a big part of the Mattison Renaissance. Using a simple calculator (made for the NFL), that stop in the 1st quarter was worth 1.56 expected points for Michigan, the equivalent of a 28-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage.
Who could be responsible for such success? Just a couple bricks in the wall:
Don't leave me now. How could you go, when you you know how I need you
to beat to a pulp on a Saturday night? (Greilick|DetNews)
We are really, really going to miss these guys next year, period. But a glance at this year's UFR tracking of 3rd and 1, 4th and 1, and anything from the Michigan 1—not a perfect resource but useful for this at least—and it shows those aren't the only two guys showing up in the hole this year:
|Kenny Demens and Ryan Van Bergen each||6.5||0|
|Campbell, Hawthorne, and Heininger each||2.5||0|
|Black, Morgan & Woolfolk each||1||0|
Just a little pinprick. There'll be no more aaaaaah!
Keep in mind these sorts of plays make guys look overly good in UFR since giving up one yard generally doesn't net anybody minuses while stuffing them in the backfield causes them to rain. The encouraging part is many of these plus-earning pieces will be around next year. Even Campbell (who moved the line backwards in two chances v. Illinois) looks to be an asset in short situations. The cleanup crew of Demens, Roh, and Ryan should be around next year. Of course with freshmen etc. at the big man DL positions next year I expect this outrageous level of success to regress. /shakes Brian's fist at Rodriguez DT recruiting.
After the jump you can re-live the UFRs of every 3rd/4th and short since 2009 (but not Illinois 2011 'cause it's not written yet). This is entirely optional since hopefully my point has been made already. By clicking you agree to absolve MGoBlog of all damages from GERG-related coronary failures, strokes, embolisms, and/or cranial pyrotechnics. Fortunately, I have become comfortably numb.
Remember, remember the 5th of November, the Manball treason and plot.
There's plenty good reason the Manball treason should ever be forgot.
After Notre Dame I picked out Michigan's success running the ball under center versus from a shotgun and found this:
That was two games into the Hoke and Borges era, in the first test against a real defense. A bit of clunky install was expected, if not such a big disparity. Also expected was that Borges would at that point still be running a lot of Power before inevitably realizing the personnel is simply way better at spreading and shredding. Runs from under center that weren't in goal line or 3rd/4th down situations were throwaway downs to set up passes. Runs from the shotgun were mostly 1st down plays that went for good yardage. Once Michigan got down early it was sit back and turn on the guns.
Here's Michigan's ninth game of the season:
… and this is why a small subclass of zealots are already plotting to blow up Parliament.
The ace (not THAT Ace) stuff was 1/3 Denard Jet, which Iowa was prepared for. I tried breaking this up further into inside and outside runs but the sample sizes got too small to be of any use. However I did find that the seven inside runs from the I-form got about 3.57 YPA. It was around 5 until Iowa started sending the linebackers right into it, which counts as making them cheat and opening up some of those passes . So let's not pretend Borges doesn't have an offense when he ISOs with Hopkins followed by Toussaint; it's just nowhere near as good as putting Denard in the gun.
A Desperate Disease Requires a Dangerous Remedy
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
I believe King Hoke and Lord Borgesham are aware of this, which is why the 4th quarter comeback was 27 plays of straight shotgun.* Why they are doing it is the real question. If they're really Manball zealots like Hoke's been telling us they are since he got here, this year doesn't end well.
Perhaps each week the offense game plan is preparing the defense?
If there has been any rhyme or reason to the Borges grab bag (except the Denard Jet package which has five complimentary plays) it's that Michigan's offense tends to come out running its version of what the opponent does a lot of.
* There's one play where they cut back too late from another game and missed the formation – it was a pass to Hemingway I think.
See: trend. Against interior zone loving Iowa, Michigan ran I-form ISOs almost like a base play. Against Purdue it was outside running (although the Wolverines could do whatever they wanted really). The offense versus MSU was slants and TE flares set against the occasional (QB) power off tackle, exactly what Dantonio does with Cousins and Baker. With Northwestern he lined up in all sorts of formations and ran zone to pass, calling everything but Kitchen Sink Z Right while Denard did his best impression of Dan Persa. SD State uses the tunnel screen and I-form and got this started…
JOIN THE TUNNEL SCREEN AND POWER FROM THE I-FORM LIBERATION SOCIETY
STILL WORKING ON THE COLOR SCHEME
NOW ALSO WORKING ON THE NAME
tTSAPFTILS DOES NOT ROLL OFF THE TONGUE
…in the UFR. Minnesota…I don't know, they don't have an offense so we made one up.
All of these plays are Michigan offense plays, for example they ran a lot of the power off-tackle using Denard against MSU. But they're also the closest plays to what the opponent is running.
I need way way way more data to make this more than a hypothesis. It's not a theory. But if we do have a mimic offense, it's not hard to find a reason: Defensive Improvement. Getting this defense from the bottom to gloriously better-than-mediocre has something to do with linebacker alignment and coachspeak words filled with hard consonants, but it also might have a little sacrifice coming with it in the form of offensive grab-bagginess. Perhaps the parts of the Michigan offense most like the opponent's are emphasized each week in order to maximize both units' preparation for that opponent?
That's the best reason I can think of for why, nine games in, Michigan is still going with offensive game-planning that doesn't maximize the talent available to them, until it's the 4th quarter and it's time to cut them loose. Hopefully they've also been using the time saved having the 1st team defense face the 1st Team Mimics to be preparing like hell for Ohio State. Maybe they're preserving Denard so that they can unleash the Denard and Toussaint interior running game from hell. If all this beats that backwards, filthy, imperialist scoundrel of a nation to the south, it'll be worth it to this subject at least.
Handle note: Everyone else uses their name these days, so Internet mask removed. I'm Seth. Misopogon=Seth. No, I never learned how to pronounce "Misopogon" – I think the first and last o's are short and middle one is long.
Michigan is 7-1 right now with four winnable games on the horizon. We have an excellent coaching staff and a team and fanbase united behind them. We have a top 5 recruiting class, yet one of the cleanest programs in the Top 25, and one of the hungriest. A victory over Ohio State this year for the first time seems at least 50% likely. The defense is young but competent, the offense scares people. We have all the Denards.
It took me three sessions to get through Three and Out, and after each one I had to repeat some variation of the above mantra to recalibrate. The book is about the program and the team from the perspective of Rodriguez, it has a hard Michigan bias and got at least one minor fact wrong,* but as an RR-era survivor I couldn't help experiencing it again as a fan. Reliving the Rod years is not a particularly enjoyable experience.
* He gives the program credit for giving Kovacs, an out-of-state player, a scholarship despite out-of-state tuition being much higher, but the AD—and I'm 99.999% sure about this—pays the same (full) cost of attendance for every student athlete. Everyone costs the maximum whether they're suburban Toledo defensive backs, underclass volleyball strikers from Algonac, or intergalactic space punters in the B-school.
What struck me most when reading Bacon's book was how important those years made this all seem. He mentions match points a lot; there were a lot of match points, and not just the football game ones. Like every article in every rag across the country that ragged on our coaches meant organizing a counter-defense. We were blogging for our very lives!
The second, and longest, of those sessions ended around page 415, or Location 8691 for you Kindle readers. Rodriguez was giving his speech at the infamous Bust, moments before the Great Groban-ing finally tipped the scales. I quote the passage:
"We all need to be ONE Michigan. One Michigan. Proud of every era. Proud of every young man, every student athlete who went through this program…
After giving a nod to Michigan tradition, he was now speaking of what his coaches were doing to turn their players into a team of Michigan Men. Now that he understood Michigan traditions, Michigan needed to extend him the respect he needed to lead the program…
The raw emotion of the speech went up a notch.
"Is this worth it?" Behind that question stood all the personal and professional costs of the past three years. "Is this worth it for your family?" he asked, getting choked up.
The answer wasn't clear-cut. It wasn't a matter of feeling sorry for yourself, he said, though the temptation was always there. It was instead seeing "the pain in the coaches' faces and worry and anxiety in your kids' faces." He wasn't speaking just of the losses but also of the personal attacks and the seemingly endless public trial he and his staff and players had been put through.
But, unequivocally, Rodriguez said, the answer was yes. Yes, it was worth it. It was worth it because the differences made in the lives of everyone attached to the program, said, and because of his unquestioning faith in the future greatness of his players and team.
And right there I had to painfully leave it for a day of work. I knew as well as you do where this was going, but without its infamous conclusion I got to ponder the content of the Bust speech and mentally fill in my own ending. In it I had him define "Michigan" and confront the idea of factions…
"If you ask me what side I'm on it's for these players, and the ideals of hard work, excellence, education, loyalty, and honesty which they embody—in a word, 'Michigan.' If you ask our own living legend, Lloyd Carr, who stood as a rock of integrity in a business that makes a mockery of it, what side he's on, it's 'Michigan.' If you ask our millions of fans and alumni what faction they're with, it'll be Michigan! Michigan! Michigan!" etc.
…and then come back to "Is it worth it," where "it" isn't just poor Rich and his staff but the players and the program. This is the thing that Hoke "gets" that Rodriguez didn't: there's nothing that can galvanize Michigan fans like talk about how great Michigan is, and the unity of the fanbase is all-important.
Of course he didn't take that tack but before he Groban-ed himself out of the job Rodriguez did give us a question worth pondering: "Was it worth it?"
Well was it? All the battles, all the interminable defenses, all the GERG and gimpy Gibsonesque defensive backing? The transfers, the divisiveness, the losing, the jihad—were these all worth it if that was the price to chip off the hubris from our program's unique idealism?
The RR years left us with a defense so bad it would literally need the Baltimore Ravens' D.C. and more than one outstanding freshman to even get to okay. It also left a team and a fanbase more united behind our program and our ideals than anytime in recent memory. We may have had to throw one of the rare good guys who can actually coach under the bus to get there, but we did get there. Other than a bit of whining last February, the mistakes made in the last transition have not been repeated, either inside Fort Schembechler or outside of it. The liars and the leaks were exposed. And these players, man. Can you remember a team more worth rooting for?
I got to the end of the book feeling more favorable toward Rodriguez than I was before, but ultimately, like Brian, still glad we've moved on from all that. But in some ways, I'm also glad he came. Because that subtext, the possibilities left unrealized at every match point, all the stuff that was on the tip of the tongue right before everything went Josh Groban, weirdly enough we got to keep all of that, and move on.
Michigan is 7-1 right now with four winnable games on the horizon. We have an excellent coaching staff and a team and fanbase united behind them. We have a top 5 recruiting class, yet one of the cleanest programs in the Top 25, and one of the hungriest. A victory over Ohio State this year for the first time seems at least 50% likely. The defense is young but competent, the offense scares people. We have all the Denards. Hoke and his staff have a lot to do with that, but a lot of that comes from what was built before them. In his own completely inelegant way, Rodriguez left a program in better shape than he found it. Perhaps that can be my last thought on him.
"There are three stages in an actor's career: Who is John Amos? Get me John Amos. Get me a young John Amos." –John Amos | Photo: John T. Greilick, Detroit News
He's listed at 6'4" and 205 lbs. In his career so far – about 50 snaps – he's thrown 24 passes and completed 14 (58.3%) for 186 yards and 1 TD. He's also rushed for 56 yards (96 forward, 40 backwards) and 2 scores. He kinda looks like a young version of that guy who played Admiral Fitzwallace on the West Wing.*
For the last three games Hoke has been working Devin Gardner into the offense more often, either with the "Fritz" formation, the Denard Jet, or in some practiced Gardner-specific packages. How much of a 'rotation' this is can be overstated. Before Marcus Rush's flagrant roughing the passer knocked out Denard on Michigan's last drive I counted 67 snaps, of which 5 were Gardner's alone, 6 used both QBs, and 56 were just Denard. That's about a 90-10 split.
This is an attempt to discuss some prevailing theories as to why Devin is taking away a tenth of snaps from a Davey O'Brien award semifinalist.
* DYK: John Amos played ball for Colorado State back in the day.
THEORY 1: RUNNING QUARTERBACKS ARE FOR SOCIALISTS
The inevitable result of Denard's 2011 regression has been leagues of old blues who see Devin Gardner's hype and strapping physique and decide that anyone who looks more like a Scot Loeffler acolyte must be able to complete more than 30 percent of his passes in a trash tornado. They would be correct on the last bit; 3 for 7 is 43 percent. He also had a play so freshman-y against MSU it got through the entire first stanza of Yakety Sax:
The old men say things like "he's a better fit for Borges' offense," because the columnists they read break down all offenses into Manballicans and Spreadocrats, Borges being of the former (never mind that he's run a different offense at every stop). Their ranks are swelled by the same "Put in Henson" effect that has made 2nd string QBs and goalies so beloved wherever starters are struggling.
But there is evidence that Gardner is a more accurate passer than Robinson, not from the games but because his coaches say that. Hoke at the post-MSU presser:
Can you talk about philosophy of alternating Devin and Denard? “Yeah, we thought we may do some of that, and part of what pushed it over a little more was that it was a windy day, and I think Devin at times can throw the ball a little more accurately.”
So if we take the politics out and pare this theory down to "Gardner is more accurate," that accounts for two plays last week. One was when Denard overthrew Hemingway down the sideline in the 2nd quarter and was yanked for Gardner. Gardner immediately missed a wide open Hopkins for a 50-yard score. Later on they brought in Devin for an important 3rd and 11 early in the 4th quarter; Gardner fumbled the snap.
THEORY 2: THE MOST TALENTED GUYS ON THE FIELD
By recruiting metrics, Gardner is the most talented offensive player on Michigan's team. He was the No. 1 ranked dual-threat QB in 2010 to everybody but ESPN (Bolden), a 5-star to Scout, and the 5th ranked QB to pretty much everyone. Everyone who has a believable opinion about scouting says Devin has every type of it. After a year and change in the program, is there any way we can get some of that it on the field without giving up the rainbows and love and liquid happy of Denards?
Borges after debuting the Fritz:
We talked about it a little bit and after spring football it became apparent Devin was a skilled kid, we just tried to figure out a way we could use him. It’s hard, without literally giving quarterbacks series, and I know they did that here in the past, I’m just not a fan of breaking the starting quarterback’s rhythm by taking him out for another guy.
Game theorists and bloggers love this explanation. Technically they're replacing a receiver so the talent tradeoff is Roundtree for Devin. But if you're already overreacting to Denard and then you have to deal with Devin's legs on the other side, and Devin's arm, and oh yeah there's a running back who can go up the middle or option or (Gotchya!) pass it, you can see how opposing DC's can end up with disorders.
Last week this was very effective. The Denard Jet play netted two first downs that were both a shoestring tackle away from breaking big, and two well-defended fake jets that Gardner dumped off for 4 yards on 1st down, and a ran for 3 yards that should have been 8 if Devin hadn't missed his hole.
THEORY 3: THE LAW OF DIMINISHING DENARDS
Molk(+.5) and Schofield block down, Robinson(+1) finds a small hole and squirts into the secondary for 7 yards, where two linebackers and a safety converge. Denard gets up holding his hand.
The thinking goes, the more you play Denard, the more banged up he gets and thus the worse his performance. Talk during the offseason was all about limiting Robinson's carries. One way to reduce wear is to have him pass more, but his passing this year—scheme is part of it, inaccuracy is most of it—makes that untenable as his 2009-y performance against MSU shows:
This is rushing and passing together, with baby seals and EMUs excised. I was looking for some evidence that Denard's effectiveness goes down the deeper into a year you get but it doesn't show that. What it does show is Denard is less effective against better defenses (duh moment) and that he was very much Freshman Denard against MSU. It was also his passing-iest game yet.
Another way to keep miles off the Robinsonmobile is to drive the Gardner more. The tradeoff is that the best part of this offense is Denard's legs and that defenses have to overreact to that whenever Denard's legs are in the game.
Thus the Fritz and Denard Jet packages, which so far have gotten Denard hit about a third of the time but have Denard's legs as a threat 100% of the time.
THEORY 4: THE TATE FORCIER EFFECT
One of the reasons advanced stats loved Michigan's offense last year is we put up way above average yards against Illinois and Iowa, two statistically good defenses. Those also happen to be Tate Forcier's two extended appearances not in garbage time.
Tate had 597 yards on 84 passing attempts last year, all but 13 of those passes against real Big Ten defenses when filling in for a dinged Denard. With him gone and most of the Big Ten season ahead, this job falls to Devin Gardner. It might be a good idea to come up with a few plays he can do well and get those snaps logged. We've got that. In the Monday presser Hoke elaborated a little bit on the just-Devin package:
When you put Devin in the game, is there a purpose to that? “There’s three plays that we like Devin to run. One was the touchdown that he had against Northwestern -- that boot. And there’s another boot in there that we really wanted him to be a part of besides the combination of them both in there.”
More of this after NW from Borges:
Does it help to have Devin play a couple snaps when Denard was out from a coaching standpoint and from his standpoint? “Oh yeah, absolutely. Because Devin’s a highly skilled kid. He is. When he can go in the game and score a touchdown, really not make any tactical or technical errors, he gains confidence, and we gain confidence in his ability to do it.
Experience is needed. We had a preview of Devin in relief at the end of the MSU game and Gardner twice tried to throw the ball past the L.O.S. (the one above and the TD pass called back). That is an experience problem, and highlights the main reason, in my opinion, for getting Devin snaps: having a backup ready if/when Denard gets his dings. The experience thing is a double edged sword since it seems Robinson needs the experience snaps in this offense just as much as his backup.
In a perfect world Michigan would have an extra 15 snaps per game per quarterback we can throw away to learning. As it is that opportunity has come once this year, against Minnesota. The rest of the way, I figure the coaches will be looking for opportunities to give Devin a few more looks here and there. If he's replacing Denard more than 1 play in 10, it's because the dings have already come.