"Northwestern fans can be both heartened and disheartened by the loss to Minnesota just like how nineteenth-century resurrectionists were heartened when they pried a heart from a freshly-buried corpse and then disheartened it when they sold it to a disreputable anatomist."
Of the totally surreal and unnecessary things that could ever happen, Denard Robinson issuing an apology for his play against Notre Dame ranks right up there with Ryan Van Bergen claiming fault for the 2010 defense. Not so much that he took responsibility—I wrote in my HTTV article that personal culpability is one the hallmarks of this team—but that watching from above I felt like he wasn't entirely at fault.
Part of that was the drunk dude in my section yelling "awwww c'mon!" at Denard, to which I felt responsibility to point out things like "play-action out of the I-form" or "Schofield just got beat bad." Part of it to was my own culpability for last week's article being all "hey Denard can pass and Borges is doing an incredible job!" So in the mea culpa spirit of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur (pretty much our Christmas) which begins tonight, I admit I have sinned, and that I'm not quite sure who sinned on all of our six turnovers this week. Let's find out where responsibility lies in this six-play al chet, using a combination of Seth's pathetic attempts at UFR-ing, with a bonus chart of culpability.
1. For the sin we have committed against you by trying to get too cute with Vincent Smith, who is not Tom Brady
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||RB||TE||WR||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O10||1||G||Ace TE Trips||1||1||3||4-4 under||Pass||RB Pass||Dileo||INT|
|Dileo and Roundtree lined up as H-backs on same side. Since it's a pass Dileo doesn't block Te'o, who shot into the gap the millisecond he read pitch and pressures Smith. Funchess blocked down an irrelevant crashing DE instead but that's the play. The CB bites hard so Dileo can leaks out into the end zone, where he has the safety beat to the corner, but Smith is 5'6 with the world's best college LB in his face. He jump-balls it way inside of his receiver, so when the safety looks back he is all "ooh, football--take." (INX, 0, Protection N/A, RPS –2)|
When Michigan tried this against Minnesota it was from 30 yards out, and against Minnesota. It did get a guy open in the end zone, and was set up a little bit I believe by some pitch plays earlier. However leaving Te'o unblocked versus a tiny RB is a risk, but Smith has shown in games (and presumably many more times in practice) that he can throw the ball accurately enough.
What I really hated about this play call is there was no reason to get cute. This was meant to be a dagger play, just like the fake dive on 4th and 1 vs. Michigan State was meant to be the dagger in the trash storm game.
Borges likes his daggers. When Brian queried my UFR database on Michigan passing from Ace 3TE sets, I found the Funchess 30-yard (PA TE corner) and Gardner (Waggle) TDs, plus a PA dumpoff for good yards (until it was fumbled) against SD State last year. Daggers. Thing is about the grab-bag and dagger offense is that it doesn't adjust for things that are working, and until that point the offense was working. When Pompey backed out of Rome because he didn't have the troops to defend it, Caesar didn't say "oh waitaminute, this is a trap, I'm gonna go attack the Barbary Coast—ha ha they'll never suspect!" He walked into damn Rome.
Chart of culpability: Borges x2,
ND Te'o is that good, Smith isn't Joe Montana
Mitigating Mitzvah: Jake Ryan sticks a receiver after he gains just 1 yard on 3rd and 4 from the ND37 to force a punt. ND shanks the punt.
After the jump, five plays more depressing than using a day off of work to fast and contemplate what a terrible person you've been all year.
There was once a dream that was called Denard Robinson: Accurate Passer. You could only whisper it; anything more than a whisper and it would vanish…it was so fragile. And I fear that it will not survive the fall.
Last Saturday while watching Andrew Maxwell derf another derpity doo, I half-rhetorically asked the assembled a room full of Spartan fans who's the best passing quarterback in our conference this year. Answers, in order of appearance:
- "CHHIIIRP CHIRRRP" –insects with that leg-rubbing noise
- "Howl" –wolf in the distance
- "How about that little dude on Northwestern?" – a Sparty
- "No he graduated." –another Sparty
- "Shit. Really?" –first Sparty
After three weeks the stats (min=25 attempts) say it's Denard and ol' Tyranno-arm:
His interceptions are dragging down the passer rating, but half are explained by an accurate throw Vincent Smith deflected, and Roundtree getting shoved into last Tuesday by a Bama cornerback. It's just three games in, and the Big Ten competition this year isn't exactly the NFC South, but raise your hand if four weeks ago you thought there might be even a flimsy statistical case for saying "Denard is the best passer in the Big Ten right now."
We've been over his higher efficiency as a runner from the gun ad nauseum, and charted his regression last year as of December, but is he really a better passer when dropping back? Brian's suggested explanations were Pressure, Situation, or Luck (ie sample size). Let's dig into the UFR database and see if there's an answer.
[ROLL'D OUT AFTER THE JUMP]
John T. Greilick|DetNews
This does not a happy Hoke make (2012 stats so far):
Here's Hoke on that in the Monday presser:
Looking at the running game, were there different holes for Denard than for Fitz?
“Well some is we couldn’t get Fitz started. They ran 30 times fire zones -- run fire zones, which they never were that big a team. We call them sharks and stuff like that. But it was a little different. It was a little different. Never could get him started. Some of it we have to block better, some of it on some of the reads, maybe he should have kept the ball twice in there, but I think some of it goes down to number one what we were trying to do, giving Denard the ball, and secondly blocking better. And then you’ve got to give them a little credit, too.”
Throw a dart at a row of newsstands within 400 miles of Ann Arbor and you'll probably puncture a sentence telling the Michigan running backs to step it up. If you do the same with the blogosphere it'll stick in some guy who won't notice because he is running around in panic over all non-Lewan OL. Other potential targets include the "Most of that is Alabama" couch, the floor of "Toussaint only played one game and they took him away by alignment," the wall of "it's early in the season," the "Denard missed some reads" chair, or maybe the "Mealer <<<<(!!!) Molk" bookshelf you just bought at Ikea and discovered to your horror you can't return or reassemble even though you're pretty sure you mixed up two of those bolt-thingies and this is why it keeps coming apart.
This Ikea metaphor for the offensive line is worth exploring but not this moment. This moment I want to figure out which of the above targets are actually getting the most hits, i.e. why aren't the running backs getting any traction?
Instructions after THE JUMP
PREVIOUSLY ON "MGOBLOG WRITERS DRAFT BIG TEN TEAMS SO YOU CAN NOW, FINALLY, VOTE FOR THE TEAM THAT HAS DENARD ON IT"…
Rounds 1-3: At Jim Leyland's lakeside mansion in Somerset, quarterbacks are divided.
Rounds 4-7: In the War Room of the Toledo Ramada Inn, Heiko is replaced by a mysterious stocky middle-aged man with a mustache.
Rounds 8-12: In the Presidential Suite of of the Ishpeming Red Roof Inn, a 1970 Fiat 500 assumes the commissioner's chair, rules all picks must get 30 mpg.
Rounds 13-17: In a Secret Submarine Headquarters Underneath the North Atlantic, iPhones apparently get zero bars.
Rounds 18-something whatever: Onboard the Voyager II Spacecraft at the Edge of the Solar System, quarterbacks are put through a series of zero-grav tests to determine if there is anything they can't do.
Weary and ignoring the complaints of abused livers, SETH, HEIKO, ACE, and something that looks like a lanky sheep dog emerge from a secret lair in the PHOSPHATE MINES of the PACIFIC ISLAND OF NAURU. They ask for your ballot…
Seth "Progress" Fisher/Heiko "Progress" Yang/Ace "Progress" Anbender/Brian "Progress" Cook
POLLS ARE NOW OPEN. Go vote!
The Final Snarkdown
BRIAN COOK AND THE FLYIN' ZOOKS:
OFFENSE: Nathan Scheelhaase (QB, ILL), Fitzgerald Toussaint (RB, M), LeVeon Bell (HB/FB, MSU), Jared Abbrederis (WR, UW), MarQuies Gray (QB/WR, Minn), Kevonte Martin-Manley (WR, Iowa), CJ Fieodorwicz (TE, Iowa), Taylor Lewan (LT, M), Ryan Groy (LG, UW), Matt Stankiewitch (C, PSU), Chris McDonald (RG, MSU), Jack Mewhort (RT, OSU).
DEFENSE: Ra'Shede Hageman (DE, Minnesota), John Simon (DE, OSU), Beau Allen (NT, UW), Akeem Spence (DT, ILL), Jake Ryan (LB, M), Desmond Morgan (LB, M), Denicos Allen (LB, MSU), Terry Hawthorne (CB, ILL), Bradley Roby (CB, OSU), Blake Countess (CB, M), Daimion Stafford (SS, UNL), Christian Bryant (FS, OSU)
I didn't mean to do this but I ended up with a Rodriguez spread'n'shred circa 2007 with a running quarterback, a damn fast outside back, and a fullback type who can rip off runaway beer truck touchdowns. The offensive line is a lot more POWER based but I figure that's fine since Auburn and others have made the inverted veer and related plays major spread drivers. Then you've got an array of excellent WRs with big catching radius: the deep threat (Abbrederis), the unstoppable guy on intermediate routes (Gray), and a promising TE.
The defense is Greg Mattison.
FINAL SNARKDOWN (by Heiko): Dear Brian: You know that red and gray plaid shirt you wear all the time? You should wear it less. Oh, something mean about his team? Ummmm... None of your QBs have a winning record. I've seen Desmond Morgan in person, and he's still really small and liable to get crushed by offensive linemen. And you drafted two LOLphers.
[The drafters still got some splainin' to do. For the rest of the roundtable, and which school had the most picks, and stuff, HIT THE JUMP.]
Several weeks ago Brian sent me an e-mail to say we're going to have a fantasy draft of Big Ten players called "The Draft Where Whoever Picks Denard Wins," and that I was on the clock. (Parts II, III, and IV)
People of the Earth: this is how you recruit for a fantasy league. Actually this is how if you're a college sports site editor you motivate your hypercompetitive (Michigan grads, remember?) staff to become insane experts on the rest of the conference right before football season begins. For that reason, despite quarterbacks chosen out of position and so so much snark, right now we feel as competent as anyone at putting out one of those All-Such-and-Such list things.
The draft is still going on and some of the picks we've made have yet to be revealed, however we have tagged enough positions at this point to post an official-ish pre-season All Big Ten team. There's a few specialists I'll include but won't reveal who drafted them. I'll also follow up either next week or later on this week with a "what we learned about the Big Ten" post that breaks down all the picks by team. This one's about the best by position.
Site note: We're bringing back jumps again so we can fit more content on the front page for you during the season. You see the "Read more" thing below this? CLICK THAT to get to the good stuff.
Background image by mgouser hillhaus
A thing I noticed this offseason while going over the depth and usage of various Michigan defenders is that Mattison used a lot more nickel than we gave him credit for. One thing Ace noted was that we're (finally) recruiting more cornerbacks. We shrugged a bit while losing two more CBs to playing time transferitis this fall, but I don't think we should be shrugging so much.
A little background (skip this if you already know personnel terminology and usage): Defensive coaches tend to match their personnel to the types of players on the field for the offense, NOT the formation. In general the number of backs and tight ends will be matched by linebackers, and the more that come out for receivers the more DBs the defense will send out. Three wide receivers generally means five defensive backs (i.e. nickel), two wide receivers equals four DBs (e.g. 4-3 or 3-4), etc.
The classic personnel shift is on 3rd and long, when the steady rock-pounders make way for the seven-yards-or-bust fellas. But it happens so often despite the situation that it's more accurate to see the game of matching personnel as another strategic aspect of the master's football game.
The offensive personnel is usually expressed in three digits meaning # of RBs, # of tight ends, and # of receivers, respectively. So 113 means 1 RB, 1 TE, and three WRs. Sometimes they'll call that same "eleven" personnel, referring to the first two digits. Examples below; click embiggerates.
How the matching up occurs is up to the coach. You could, for example, play a run-first OLB whenever a fullback is in, and sub him for a more rangy linebacker when the the fullback runs off the field for a tight end who's a known receiving threat. This happens all the time, but it's hard to track the defenses' reactions since we can't tell one linebacker in a formation from another in UFR. We do have data from which we can determine how many receivers were out there at any given time, and it's clear from these data that the more receivers the more defensive backs.
|WRs in Game||DL||LBs||DBs|
The last row is important because it shows Michigan left its base 4-3 Under set for an extra defensive back far more often than otherwise, usually at the expense of a linebacker. We didn't go to a nickel every time three receivers stepped on the field, in fact there were 22 plays charted where Mattison put his 4-3 personnel against four-wide (mostly against Northwestern and Purdue). But the charts not only say that Michigan was forced out of its base 4-3 set often; it says we played more Nickel downs than 4-3.
|Receivers in Formation|
If I remove 4th quarters and all plays that occurred when Michigan was up by more than one score, the 4-3 just barely edges the Nickel, 147 to 140. This isn't opponents trying to play catch-up. It's two things: the personnel that Mattison inherited, and the spread offense forcing Michigan to adapt to it.
Why all the nickel and diming? The first part is a story about outside linebacker. Early in the 2011 season Michigan played Brandon Herron and Brandin Hawthorne at WILL, while at SAM we lost Cam Gordon to injury and his backup was a redshirt freshman. That freshman, Jake Ryan, was earning his way toward more playing time, but in the meantime we still had Carvin Johnson taking snaps at free safety while Thomas Gordon was in at the nickel role. Watch what happened at about mid-season:
That is Gordon moving to free safety and splitting time with Woolfolk, while the freshmen linebackers had their usages increase. Greater faith in Jake and Des explains some of the variance, however the real story is matching personnel:
|San Diego State||2.51||4.38||1.88||43.21%||44.44%||6.17%||6.17%|
I pointed out the two extremes on the schedule with boldation: Northwestern used about twice as many receivers in their formations as Iowa did, but there was a limit to how many defensive backs Michigan would counter with. The nickel served as well for 4 WR as for 3, yet accounted for 4 in 5 plays. However when the opposition went to 2 WR (Iowa), Mattison could spend a majority of the game in the 4-3.
When Michigan's on offense. Nothing is out of the ordinary yet, but when we turn the tables and show how defenses have reacted to Michigan's personnel it gets interesting:
|Season||Avg. Receivers in Formation||Avg. DBs in Formation||Difference|
This is not including anything when Michigan was more than a score down, but the season averages counting everything say about the same thing. I went through the plays and even a few youtubes and yes, in 2010 they played one-high against us despite spreading the field to pass as much as Purdue. Michigan went bigger in 2011, and got more defensive backs, which is counterintuitive except for one factor: opponents in 2010 really really really feared the running game, and tempted Michigan to pass.
Okie dokie. | Greg Shamus via ESPN
One more table to break this down by Michigan's opponents last year, 4th quarters and two-plus-score leads excised:
|Opponent||WRs in formation||DBs in formation||Difference|
|San Diego State||2.44||4.89||2.4|
Nothing really jumps out except perhaps more spread in close games, and SD State's apparent paucity of linebackers (weird—didn't they just have that guy who recruits lots of linebackers there?) Actually that's Charlie Strong's 3-3-5, and the GERG numbers from 2010 are similar due to the same effect.
What it means for this year. Alabama and Air Force aren't going to be spread it out—their challenges are elsewhere. However the Big Ten schedule is spread-heavy, with Ohio State joining the ranks of the many-receivered. Due to recent attrition, Michigan goes into 2012 with just six scholarship cornerbacks for three positions that will be filled half the time. It's a good thing the coaching staff has four guys coming in at corner to replace the one expected departure. These days, in order to keep up with the Joneses, that nickelback position has to be considered as much of a starter as, well, a third receiver.