this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
power off tackle
Every time I post a play analysis these days there are a half-dozen people in the comments who mention that if player X did hard thing Y they are not prepared to do then the play would work. This has gotten to the point where I can explicitly prepare for such criticism and find them ignored, as in the most recent one, and find a diary on this site asserting that if player X did hard thing Y something would have worked.
This is extremely frustrating to me, because these are good-faith attempts to paint broader pictures of what I'm seeing down to down, game after game, year after year, as I try to figure out what Michigan football is doing. Various critics, most prominently Space Coyote, make a few small concessions and then go about explaining why play X was a good call and why it would have worked. They implicitly assert things like "Joe Kerridge in a ton of space should deviate from expecting Nebraska to use their slot LB as a force and ably block that guy when that LB believes the inverted veer is coming, has no need to respect the slot receiver because he is covered, and runs directly into Fitzgerald Toussaint."
I disagree with that. I have watched a lot of people play a lot of football and I think that's hard. I'm trying not to have a stance here; I am evaluating whether I think a thing is easy to do or hard and assigning a number to that feel. Coaches tend to think everything is an execution issue. Players should be able to do arbitrarily hard things. Some arrows on a diagram say this should work. Meanwhile I think there's a 10% chance for Kerridge to abort the plan and do anything with hell-for-leather blitzer and judge accordingly. Various guys dying on Borges Hill disagree.
I don't know what might be sufficient other than 175 yards against Nebraska to convince these guys that a poor offensive game plan can even exist, but here are various things that are normally too dull to post in a Picture Pages in which unblocked guys on blitzes obliterate Michigan runners for no or little gain.
These are representative of a larger slice of the game and a general feel that confirmed the Nebraska players' postgame assertions that they were expecting most of what Michigan threw at them. Tomorrow's Picture Pages will cover every play of the game, because this isn't going to work either.
Here is an iso. The slot LB is an eighth guy in the box and crashes down unblocked to tackle.
As this goes for three yards it qualifies as one of Michigan's best plays on the day on the ground. Three yards is not good on first and ten, and there was nothing Michigan could do about it.
Here is a zone play. Nebraska loads up and sends a blitz through a gap that Michigan doesn't pick up as Bosch ends up doubling with Lewan.
However, because of the blitz the only thing Bosch making a very good play to recognize and pick up the charging LB does is send Green to one of the two unblocked guys, either the backside guy ripping down the LOS without thought of checking the QB or a linebacker sitting two yards deep without anyone trying to get him, because Nebraska's blitz has prevented anyone from moving to the second level.
Here is a power play. Nebraska loads up with eight in the box and one deep safety and blitzes.
A Nebraska linebacker ends up shooting the gap behind the Bosch pull and meets Green in the backfield.
Michigan loses two yards and has third and eleven.
Oh for pants' sake.
The offensive line is not in fact overwhelmed here; they are not actually involved because Nebraska's blitz is perfect to destroy the inverted veer.
Items Of Interest
All of this is an execution issue, sure. For a given definition of execution, this is an execution issue. Michigan's hyper-raw OL should be able to block this. They should be able to deal with Nebraska switching gaps and blazing LBs to the point of attack. They should be able to block Nebraska's maniacal run-oriented loaded box. They would do this, if only they could execute.
Except the last one. And the first one. And probably the second and third.
Either you believe that players can be put in positions they can succeed or players are expected to succeed in the positions they are put in. I am in the former camp. The last few Borges defenders are in the latter camp. This entire season Space Coyote has been gamely explaining what should have happened on failed play after failed play without any thought to how difficult what should have happened is.
Players do not exist in a vacuum. Joe Kerridge is trying to block a guy in acres of space and that guy has the jump on him because he knows Funchess is covered, and he knows what Michigan's running. I look at that and I think "Jesus, I do not want to be Joe Kerridge there."
I am admittedly working from a hand-waving feel on this, but it's no worse a feel than whatever Space Coyote has gotten from doing whatever he does with whatever team at a totally different level of competition. I say Michigan puts their players in a spot to work miracles or die, and that this is on both the overall structure of the offense and the predictability of playcalls based on formations and down and distance. Space Coyote makes certain concessions to not seem totally insane and then goes back to hammering the fact that it's all execution.
Kerridge was put in a spot to fail, and did. I'm looking at the play and saying I believe there is a small chance that Kerridge can make a tough play in space; the guys in the comments think that because Kerridge could hypothetically have made a play none of this goes back to the folks in charge.
These plays. The above plays are no-chancers for the offense, because Michigan is running into the teeth of a defense stacked to stop the run and blitzing. In UFR lingo they acquired sizeable rock-paper-scissors minuses. In compensation Michigan got two screens which both got large RPS plus numbers, but the number of downs thrown away in this game running at a Nebraska defense that seemed to be in Michigan's head was alarming. When I add it up, I am guessing things will come out highly negative, and then people will cluck at me about that.
I won't deny that things are more likely to get put in the negative bin there when you have fewer options because you're not good, but in my opinion running plays you suck at into stacked boxes is a bad idea. So is the continued deployment of Toussaint as a pass blocker on plays that take forever to develop. That, too, is an execution issue, but it is nuts to expect him to block guys now, and the offense would be better served if he was used in a pattern or replaced by a fullback or something. Instead… he is not.
But yeah yeah, the expectation is for the position.
Last time, Michigan grinds out six yards on their first snap by using POWER.
Michigan's second snap against Minnesota was more of the same, but a little lighter. Chesson replaced Butt, and Minnesota responded by covering him. They also shifted their line towards Lewan instead of away. The end result was much the same except Michigan didn't have an opportunity to block the last guy because Minnesota didn't have a linebacker bail.
Yes, Michigan can go nuts in the passing game against this kind of alignment, and would later; this drive—this game—is about establishing something even if it's not the most efficient way to go about doing things. After Akron and UConn you can understand this line of thinking.
With the line shifted to Lewan, he's going to kick the guy outside of him, leaving Schofield and Kalis to double the playside DT; Bryant and Kerridge will again lead through the hole.
On the snap, Bryant pulls out and heads around as the double is initiated; Bryant is out so quick that he's almost running into Devin Gardner:
This is a notable improvement from last year. Between the above frame in the next, Schofield blasts the playside DT such that he starts falling inside of Kalis. He'll end up moving to the second level, and picking up the WLB since that guy is not shooting a gap. Unfortunately, someone is shooting a gap: Hageman.
Hageman just about beats Glasgow clean. There is a little bit of delay here that prevents him from swallowing the play in the backfield; this is still pretty bad. But the gap is even more enormous this time at the handoff point. It stretches almost from the hashes to the numbers as Michigan pounds the two playside DL away from each other:
This time Minnesota has sufficient bodies in the hole to deal with it as all three linebackers demand a body. Hageman is threatening enough from behind to force Toussaint to alter his path a bit, but with Kerridge latched onto one linebacker, Bryant about to pop a second, and a cavern to operate in he doesn't slow down the fatal step.
That safety is unaccounted for, though, and waiting two yards downfield.
Toussaint pounds out some YAC.
Items Of Interest
Sometimes you can do everything right and get five yards. At the end of the day there's always one more defender than you have blockers. Here every block save Glasgow's gets executed and contact is still made two yards downfield.
This is both a reason not to get too worried about YPC in this game and wonder about the long-term viability of the tackle over buddy cop movie. When you can execute every block just right and get five yards the opponents is overplaying you like whoah and you are either so confident you are able to get these five yards on every play or locked in a 12-10 death struggle kind of game. Here it turns out to be the former, as Michigan scores touchdowns on 5 of 8 drives, albeit with a lot of help from third and long conversions to Funchess after their grind game clunked out.
However: as mentioned in the last post, tackle over was literally 90% run in this one and when they ran it was 83% run to the tackle side. Is this configuration powerful enough to grind these yards out against actual defenses? Can Michigan get enough play action off of this to keep defenses honest and get the big chunk plays they'll have to if a ton of their offense is grinding out four yards against a stacked front? Is this anything more than a get-healthy gimmick effective against a terrible defense?
I don't know.
This is what Bryant expected to see on the last play. He pulls around and whacks the MLB, like he did on the last play; this time the MLB is not already being blocked because a differently-aligned Minnesota defense scrapes the MLB past Schofield releasing downfield. This is one of those things that may come with experience: the ability to improvise profitably.
Meanwhile, Bryant gets there, hits a guy, woot. This is night and day from last year's guards.
Glasgow did get smoked. Hageman's pretty good, though, and he was very quiet in this one. Hageman's play didn't end up making a tackle but I think it did impact the outcome of this play because…
Toussaint puts his head down and takes what he can get. With all this room Toussaint can threaten both sides of Kerridge's block, and we've seen him dip inside to pop out before. This would be an excellent time to do that if he was not being chased by an angry 300 pound man. As it is he just runs directly upfield into the safety and runs him over for near first down yardage. That's the when-in-doubt solution, and it's the one Toussaint took consistently in this game.
Speaking of which. The bye week seems like it was spent telling Toussaint that if he does not go hard north and south he will be dipped in uncomfortably warm pudding for hours at a time. This is the kind of run where bounce-it hesitation gets you clubbed and there is a guy waiting that he can see; previously he might have tried the thing I mentioned above and gotten tackled at the line. Instead we're talking about the yards he gained after contact instead of trying to calculate how many he lost by trying to avoid it. Thumbs up.
This is now Lewan's day. This is play two. The rest of the game is basically this for Lewan, whether it's pass or run: hello, overmatched donkey about 60 pounds lighter than me. It is time to go out to the numbers. I gave him a ton of half-points that maybe should have been full ones.
I'd planned on posting another Picture Pages this week from the Notre Dame game on the assumption that there wouldn't be much from the Akron game to discuss. Surprise! The good news—ish—is that this continues our discussion of where Michigan's line is.
This is another Toussaint lost yardage play that marks the last time Michigan's run their as-yet-unsuccessful counter to their zone game. ABC provided a slick closeup of events (the difference between doing this for an ABC broadcast and BTN one is enormous—viva ABC), so we'll get a zoomed-in look at goings-on.
ND's in an even front; Michigan has two tight ends. They'll pull Schofield as the rest of the line tries to sell another zone.
Michigan immediately runs into the problems that is Louis Nix, who either isn't buying or is just assigned to slant outside of Glasgow.
That's bad, that'll happen sometimes when you play Nix. As Nix surges upfield of Glasgow, Schofield sees him and knows he's got to deal with that lest Toussaint get swallowed in the backfield.
Glasgow violates the fake rule I made up by turning upfield. Schofield's coming, but he doesn't comprehend that he isn't totally screwed until…
Both guys go to Nix, leaving one of ND's ILBs unblocked. Toussaint makes things worse by trying to bounce around a rampant Nix, and gets chopped down.
That's a two yard loss.
Slow unnecessary for this one.
[After THE JUMP: Notre Dame faces the same problem, finds different results.]
I didn't have the heart to remove Becky's photo from the top of the front page. Weird thing: the (presumed) student equipment manager is in shorts and a tee but Brady has both slacks and a jacket on. I clearly remember Carr was wearing just a white polo all game. Was Brady really jacketed while the other coaches remained unfettered? At 5:27 on the tape you can see long-sleeved Brady walking behind angry Lloyd trying to explain to SEC officials that hitting is allowed in football. Weird. Diaries.
Must Read: Eight Plays and Counting. I'll let EGD announce his latest thing:
This series examines the probable individual matchups Michigan would face against particular 2013 opponents on one of Michigan’s key running plays and one of its key passing plays, as well as defensively against a couple of the opponent’s key plays
So for example he'll take the play at right—the base 26 Power R, a common variation of Michigan's "Power O" (2 means RB carries it, 6 means they're going in the 6-hole, ie between the T and TE, and R means right)—and go through the personnel matchups on that play to see which team has an aggregate advantage. On the above Michigan's likely wins: Lewan on Prince Shembo. Things that seem to favor ND: Braden pulling to find WLB Dan Fox, down-blocks of Jack Miller on Sheldon Day, Kalis on Louis Nix, and Schofield on Tuitt, Joe Kerridge finding Danny Spond for a kick-out block, and Funchess executing a double-team on Tuitt then moving to the 2nd level to get to ND's middle linebacker. Advantage: Notre Dame, though I should point out a down block is one of the easier to accomplish since you start with leverage.
The Notre Dame one has three more plays: a PA pass from our offense, and then Michigan's D versus the Irish's base zone run and one of Kelly's favorite passing plays that we're guaranteed to see because it picks on Jarrod Wilson. Yesterday he posted a second one, which goes over UConn (M's power left and PA deep flood, and UConn's curls vs. Cov2 and 4-verts vs. Cov3). Again, these are things that schematically try to pick on Wilson. Part of that is there aren't many other unknowns on the defense, but I think it's becoming pretty clear where a lot of our attention is going to be early in the season. Prophesy: Wilson will look bad early in the season as offenses consistently do things that try to make him look so. In fact if he doesn't we may have something really nice there.
By the way EGD also updated his Non-Conference Recruiting Watch series a few weeks back. The guy with the Hail to the Thief avatar wins a trophy.
ESS-EEE-SEE! In people having fun with numbers you can find online, stopthewnba pulled January bowl data to show how the Big Ten has fared overall and against the SEC in all those virtual road games. It's not as bad as you might think, except when it comes to Rose Bowls (2-12 in the documented span) and times when a national championship is on the line or an erstwhile title contender dropped down into our range (USC vs. Michigan twice, MSU vs. Alabama). Something isn't right in his spreadsheet since I know for a fact that Northwestern isn't 2-and-anything in bowl games unless the data go back to the 1940s.
More interesting perhaps was maizeonblueaction's look at demographics since 1990 in Big Ten states versus SEC ones. In the comments EGD (man, that guy this week) suggested dividing the numbers by how many major conference (ACC/Big Ten/Big XII/Pac12/SEC plus Notre Dame) teams it has to support. So I did that, except I combined Indiana and Illinois since Chicago is really home territory for the Indiana schools. Result:
|State||Conf||Big5 Teams||2012 Pop (est.)||Share|
|Florida||SEC/ACC||Florida, Miami (YTM), FSU||19,317,568||6,439,189|
|Pennsylvania||BigTen||Penn St, Pitt||12,763,536||6,381,768|
|Texas||SEC/B12||Texas, A&M, TT, TCU, Baylor||26,059,203||5,211,841|
|Michigan||BigTen||Michigan, Michigan St||9,883,360||4,941,680|
|Illinois & Indiana||B1G/Ind||ND, NW, Ill, Pur, Indiana||19,412,589||3,882,518|
|South Carolina||SEC/ACC||S.C., Clemson||4,723,723||2,361,862|
|Iowa||B1G/B12||Iowa, Iowa St||3,074,186||1,537,093|
|Mississippi||SEC||Ole Miss, Miss State||2,984,926||1,492,463|
The demographic shifts matter but not as much as people seem to think: the part of the population that will disproportionately devote their lives to football isn't the part that recently moved to Atlanta or Nashville to work for an insurance company or relocated to Florida because the weather's easier on their joints. Mississippi can support more and better football programs than New Jersey can because life in Mississippi is more likely to suck so hard that people are willing to do anything to their bodies to get those bodies out of there. Not so much for recent Jersey/St. Louis/Philly transplants, but Ohio State's position in Ohio is a major advantage indeed.
This is bound to change now. LSAClassof2000 looked at red zone offense in the Big Ten since 2008: Michigan is second to last in overall success rate to the Hoosiers until you add Maryland and Rutgers, both worse. Less than a quarter of Michigan's red zone trips ended with a passing touchdown in that time. Our 2009 (converting just 2/3rds of possible points) matches Indiana's 2008 for most brutal ever. However this has improved dramatically every year since, and the 2012 team was really good at converting red zone trips into points (5.28 per drive), though getting there (3.54 times per game, about 40th percentile among data points) was a problem. In the comments I resorted the data to see where Michigan's teams fell. Wisconsin had the top three red zone teams. Michigan's 2012 was 12th out of 70. Suggestion for further study: I bet you this correlates to experience of the starting quarterback.
Etc. The Big Ten meets the Big Lebowski—I didn't find the comparisons all that close. K.o.k.Law is reminiscing about going to the basketball championship game. Moderator JustinGoBlue is MGoProfiled by M-Wolverine. Solar team's new car and discussion of semiconductor theory.
[Jump: Best of the Board, Zen]
As you've referenced with KenPom's research several times, it would appear that the best way to defend the 3 point shot is to keep your opponent from shooting them at all. Unfortunately, according to an ESPN insider article, Michigan is allowing its opponents to shoot them on 36.9% of their possessions, which ranks 295th in the nation. Does this concern you? I think we would all hate to see Michigan beaten in the tournament by a less talented opponent with a hot hand from deep because they can't prevent teams from getting off 3 pointers.
Somewhat. The nice thing about Michigan's defense is how few shots at the rim they give up. Michigan's forcing more two-point jumpers than any team in the league except Nebraska:
Team Defensive Summary
% of shots
% of Shots Blocked
Insofar as shots are migrating to three-pointers, they're shots at the rim. So… that's okay. Ideally you'd like to see that Nebraska shot configuration, but to do that the Huskers give up on the idea of offensive rebounding and steals.
I'm not sure what Michigan can do to improve their defense at this point. Forcing a lot of jumpers plus their defensive rebounding and lack of fouls has propped their defense up, and that's about all they can do. They don't have a shotblocker—at least right now, maybe Horford can provide some of that later in the season—or an elite perimeter defender. They rotate out on pick and rolls to prevent guys getting to the basket, and then you have to start rotating away from the corners. Threes inevitably result… if you're not Wisconsin.
As for the tourney, it will be tough for any major underdog to keep up with Michigan's offense, but a second or third round matchup against a good defensive team that takes and hits a lot of threes would be worrisome.
Whenever Michigan gets a 3-star recruit earlier in the process, there tends to be widespread complaining about taking up scholarships that could be filled by more highly rated players. The general response to that is, "I trust the coaches to evaluate players." This got me to thinking that most major programs essentially have their pick of just about any three star player that they want.
My question is, do three star and lower players who go to major programs perform better on average than the total population of three star players?
I understand it would be hard to distinguish between a three star player taken for depth/filling out a roster purposes compared to a three star player who the coaches think are better than their ranking, but I thought it might be an interesting topic to explore.
I'd guess it's actually worse since there's more competition and recruiting sites give recruits at the bottom end of the scale a courtesy bump to three stars 90% of the time a nobody commits to a power program.
At Purdue, everyone is a three-star player and someone has to be relied upon; sometimes you get Kawann Short. At Michigan—at least at Michigan in the near future—the three star is going to have to climb over some other guys to get on the field.
I do think that there is a big difference between a recruitment like Reon Dawson—who Michigan clearly grabbed to fill a previously designated spot that was vacated—or Da'Mario Jones—seemingly offered once Treadwell flitted off—and Channing Stribling, who Michigan liked at camp and then had a very nice senior year. To put in in Gruden terms, did Michigan want THIS GUY or just A GUY?
In your post, "Aging in a Loop", you mentioned how the solid defensive rebounding performance in Columbus proves that we are for real on the boards this year. I agree completely, but it got me wondering how much of that has to do with our sudden ability to actually have three to four non-midgets (relative use of the term, I get it) on the floor at once. I can't remember too many Michigan teams having anything resembling a luxury of length in quite some time.
Have ever looked for or found any statistical correlation between average height and rebounding prowess? Even the least astute observer must realize it will benefit the numbers, but I guess what I'm after is just how much it actually does?
[Note: since this email came in Minnesota did pound Michigan on the offensive boards.]
While much-improved, Michigan still isn't a very big team. Replacing Novak and Douglass with a couple of 6'6" guys and adding McGary into the mix has pushed them to a hair above average on Kenpom's "effective height,"* but that's in the context of 347 D-I teams. There are entire conferences where the 6'10" guy is a tourist attraction. They remain a lot shorter than Kentucky, Arizona, USC, Miami, Gonzaga, Eastern Michigan, and others. Effectively four inches shorter, in fact.
Michigan's moved up in the world in that stat—they've generally hovered around 250th in effective height since Beilein arrived—but I don't think that's the reason they've been so good at rebounding this year. I crammed together the data available on Kenpom to eyeball an ugly scatter plot, and here it is:
Libre Office makes sinfully ugly graphs yo.
That round ball with a dense central cluster is typical of things that are not correlated. You'd find something similar if you graphed hair color versus desire to eat bananas.
There is no correlation between effective height and defensive rebounding. If you insert a trend line into this—something I don't like to do in low-correlation graphs like because it implies that there actually is a trend—it actually goes down as your height goes up, at a surprisingly steep slope. Some people would try to apply some crazy mechanism to make that make sense here; I'm just going to tell you there is no meaning. There does seem to be some correlation between EH and offensive rebounding, but not much of one.
Anecdotally, that enormous Eastern Michigan team Michigan played earlier this year is below average at both facets of rebounding despite having played only a few games against decent competition. They're hideous on the defensive glass.
In general this is good news for Michigan, a team that trades some rebounding muscle for increased offensive effectiveness. But why are they so much better this year than last? Well:
- Luck, always luck.
- Effective height does not capture the difference between Mitch McGary and Evan Smotrycz very well.
- Michigan has not trudged through their Big Ten schedule yet; IIRC they entered conference play last year in the top ten and ended up 9th in conference, dropping to 99th overall.
- Tim Hardaway is serious, man.
- Some teams are abandoning the offensive boards in an effort to choke Michigan's transition game off.
If you asked me to put weights on these things I would give them nearly all equal weight, which means they can expect some regression as #1 and #3 betray them but should realize a significant gain from last year's 9th-place conference finish.
SIDE NOTE: You'll notice that GRIII > Novak is not on that list. While it's true that GRIII is much better on the offensive boards than Novak was, their defensive rebounding is essentially identical, lending credence to the idea that getting on the defensive glass is a matter of effort and positioning while offensive rebounding is more about being a skyscraper-bounding genetic freak. Holla at yo' Petway.
*[IE, if you have a seven-footer who plays 10 minutes and a 6'8" guy who plays 30, the 6'8" guy counts three times more than the seven-footer.]
Brian, Quite often the site discusses the ability of an offensive lineman to pull. Why is this difficult? My understanding is that pulling requires the lineman to:
(0) (set up:) ignore the guys across from him before the snap, because the lineman is about to pull,
(1) after the snap, back up a step or two,
(2) run sideways behind other blockers, and then
(3) find a guy to block.
So what is hard? I'm not saying there isn't anything, I just don't know what it is. Is finding the right guy to block hard? Or backing up and running?
Also, have you thought about doing a basketball version of HTTV?
One of the major takeaways from the clinic swing I did last spring was that everything is hard on the offensive line. I missed most of a three-hour presentation by Darryl Funk on inside zone because I was at Mattison's thing, and when I came in I was too far gone to understand much. I also sat in with a wizened consultant who scribbled various v-shaped diagrams on an ancient projector and demonstrated how if you stepped like so your world would end, and if you stepped like so demons would pour into the world from outside known space, but if you stepped like so there was a slight chance of you living to see dinner.
All of these steps looked identical to me. Offensive line is hard.
So. Consider the pull. You are 300 pounds, and you are lined up across from men who would like to run you over, and you are trying to get to a hole past other 300 pound men before a 200 pound man lined up a gap closer to this hole can get there. On the way you may encounter bulges in the line you have to route around. When you arrive you have to instantly identify the guy to block, reroute your momentum, and get drive on a guy.
This is a tall order. Michigan particularly had difficulty with step 2 the last couple years. Here's a canonical example from the uniformz MSU game. Watch Omameh (second from the bottom):
"Run sideways" goes all wrong there as Omameh arcs slowly and Denard ends up hitting the hole before he does; Denard has to bounce as a result when a block on Bullough is promising as the left side of the line caves in MSU.
To get to the place you are supposed to be you have to execute a series of steps as carefully choreographed as anything on dancing reality TV and be able to adapt on the fly, and you have to be able to redirect your momentum quickly enough to go in three different directions in a short space of time, with enough bulk to be, you know, an offensive lineman. Getting there in time is harder than anything the tailback has to do.
How does this impact Michigan's search for run-game competence in 2013? I hope it doesn't since I'd rather have Schofield back at right tackle than moving back inside.