punting: just say no
My eccentric Oregon financial advisor doppelganger. Smart Football points to a fellow who goes by FishDuck and is all about zone reads, feeding his dog, the violent-yet-genteel devouring of Mike Patrick, and more zone reads:
An interesting point picked up from Chip Kelly's presentations: Oregon has tipped inside/outside zone for six years without ill effect because declaring the play causes people to overreact to it, which opens up constraint plays. More than that, the zone often acts as its own constraint as over-aggressive players flow playside or bunch up inside, opening cutbacks and bounces.
He's also got a video on Oregon's deployment of power, which it uses as a counter to their usual inside zone stuff. We haven't seen this out of Borges yet, but I'm hoping. My desire to see Michigan pair an opposite-side-of-the-line speed option with the inside zone borders on lust. And by "borders on lust" I mean "invades Poland with sexy tanks."
When he was hired in January, Hoke's mission was explicitly to roll back the Rodriguez era, to restore whatever it was that made Michigan feel like Michigan again. To that end, even Wolverine fans seemed to find the sudden proliferation of countdown clocks, macho posturing and various Buckeye-related eccentricities laying it on a little thick. But six weeks in, the Wolverines are right on schedule in the national polls, the Big Ten standings and the weekly stat sheets. If they clear the midseason hurdle Rodriguez's teams never could at Michigan State, they can claim one more phase of the mission accomplished.
Kind of a big deal, this game.
Point: Tim. Reportorial ex-girlfriend Tim, who now goes by the bizarrely long moniker "Tim Sullivan" over at Rivals, was a committed skeptic about Rob Bolden since he was one of a trio of touted in-state quarterbacks in the 2009 recruiting class.
Despite the rankings, Tim said the guy didn't know how to play football. It seems like his scouting prowess has been borne out:
Game Over, Man. Game Over. This quarterback contest is done. Urban Meyer remarked toward the end of Penn State's first offensive drive that at Thursday practice, he did not see Bolden complete a single pass over five yards. This makes sense, as Bolden did not throw a single decent pass on the entire first drive. …
Rob looks completely shattered at this point, and it's time for the coaches, players, and fans to embrace the crazy train that is McGloin Moxie Mania.
It's McGloin o'clock in Bolden's Penn State career. Beaten out by a walk-on, does a transfer again beckon? /NYT headline writer imitation
Point: Hoke. Shudder at the awful puntasaur display in the Iowa-Penn State game:
…Iowa got to the PSU 33, faced 4th and 8... and punted. That Guthrie was able to pin PSU on their own 10-yard line (a solid accomplishment) is irrelevant. Punting from the other team's 33-yard line is A F---ING STUPID AND TERRIBLE IDEA. I don't even need statistics to back me up on that one (although they would). Even if Ferentz didn't want to try to convert on fourth down (4th and 8 isn't easy, obviously), why not give Mike Meyer a crack at a field goal? It was a beautiful day, the ball was lined up near the middle of the field, and Meyer has made 50+ yard field goals in the past (this year, in fact). But no. Ferentz gave a vote of "no confidence" to both Meyer and his offense on that play. Iowa probably deserved to lose the game for that decision alone.
Of course, JoePa was determined to out-conservative -- or out-dumb -- Ferentz; he punted three times from the Iowa side of the field, including late in the game on 4th and 2 from the Iowa 36. If he really didn't think his offense could rip off a two-yard gain against a gassed and reeling Iowa defense, I... I just have no words for the level of neanderthal football thinking on display in this game.
Of course, that coaching blunder on Ferentz's part might be narrowly eclipsed by the decision to eschew running a two-minute offense upon getting the ball at the Iowa 20 with two timeouts and 1:42 to go before halftime. God forbid we try to score there. It's not like we don't have a no huddle offense that's been effective this year or a kicker with decent range. Nope.
Even if trying the field goal with Gibbons is a mistake, it pales in comparison to that business. I cannot express how much I love the Mathlete's new Dumb Punt of the Week feature. The inaugural winner is Ohio State's Frank Solich, who punted on fourth and one from the Buffalo 36. Buffalo has the #91 rushing defense. After an 11 yard punt, Buffalo drove for a touchdown. Ohio State lost by a point. The game theory gods do not take kindly to being spited so grandiosely. (See also: Kirk Ferentz.)
I missed another Hoke game theory bit: he got the ball at the 22 with about two minutes left and did not pull the Ferentz. Robinson rushed for a loss of one on first down, then five straight passes got Michigan to the Northwestern 44 before Robinson's third awful interception set up a Northwestern field goal drive. While we've seen Hoke eschew half-ending drives a couple times this year, those were with a minute or less on the clock, not two.
Now… it didn't work out that time, but these things are never 100%. Did it make sense at the time to try to score with a couple minutes left against Northwestern's defense? Yeah.
Glarb glarb glarb. So when Michigan shuffled its fullback on third and one and got owned I had a conniption fit. This was the result of DeBord Doom re-emergence:
That's the corpse of Steve Watson you see getting annihilated at the LOS. Glarb.
BWS picture-pages this and points out that the shuffling fullback opened up the Gardner rollout TD on which he had either the run or pass; I'm not so sure showing the first play is worth the cost to get a yard when your redzone offense seems to be able to get a yard whenever it wants. I like diabolical machinations better when they're like the above Oregon stuff—plenty diabolical in their own right without the counter.
Mitchbreaks. Mitch McGary's impending Michigan decision now seems far less certain:
Recently, reports came out that Mitch was nearing or had made a decision. However, Tim refutes that notion “He hasn’t made a decision. I just talked to him tonight (Monday night) and we talked about it a little bit. He’s coming home Wednesday night and we’re going to sit down and talk about it. They get a four or five day break this weekend so he’s flying in to O’hare and my older son will pick him up. We’ll be able to sit down and sort things out.”
Likely rumor vector: AAU coach to national guy, national guy tizzy checks in with coach a few more times, everyone wants to back off. Confidence level: reduced, but still high.
Etc.: Denard Robinson is healthier this year because he is homeopathic or something. Mark Huyge has had a tough year. Holdin' the Rope doesn't like "smug, pompous buffoon" Mark Dantoinio. Jon Merrill suspension 50/50 to end his career. Sad face.
Even before Brady Hoke started answering questions like this…
Q: How will Denard Robinson fit in this offense?
A: This is Michigan!
Q: What do you think about the goings-on in Columbus?
A: Though we have great respect for the Akron State Golden Bobcats, this remains Michigan.
Q: What kind of off—
A: THIS IS MICHIGAN TREMENDOUS
A: TREMENDOUS VAN OUSTANDING RIVER
/teaches journalist about Mad Magicians
…he expressed a certain disdain for fancy things like zone running, which is neither fancy or new or soft and has been used by teams from the Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos to, you know, Michigan under Lloyd Carr. He swore up and down to everyone who attended the coaches' clinic that "A-gap power"—three yards and a cloud of dust, think Jehuu Caulcrick—would be Michigan's signature play. He has expressed a certain approach to offense that sends spread friendly folk like yrs truly and Braves & Birds into twitchy fits. His stated approach is neolithic.
So… like… WTF?
SAN DIEGO STATE 1st DOWN RUN/PASS BREAKDOWN, 2010
|09/04/10||Nicholls St.||Grass||W 47-0||10||12||1||23|
|09/11/10||@ New Mexico St.||Grass||W 41-21||8||13||3||24|
|09/18/10||@ 18 Missouri||Turf||L 24-27||5||10||2||17|
|09/25/10||Utah St.||Grass||W 41-7||9||9||0||18|
|10/09/10||@ Brigham Young||Grass||L 21-24||3||9||0||12|
|10/16/10||Air Force||Grass||W 27-25||8||8||0||16|
|10/23/10||@ New Mexico||Grass||W 30-20||8||12||2||22|
|10/30/10||@ Wyoming||Turf||W 48-38||2||15||3||20|
|11/06/10||Colorado St.||Grass||W 24-19||8||10||1||19|
|11/13/10||@ 2 TCU||Grass||L 35-40||1||6||0||7|
|12/23/10||+ Navy||Grass||W 35-14||14||12||1||27|
San Diego State passed on 63% of its first downs. In tight games* SDSU passed on 79% of first downs. This was not a catchup effect. Missouri led by more than one score for all of 41 seconds; against Utah SDSU ran out to a 27-10 lead before bleeding it away down the stretch. This has something to do with Ryan Lindley and some all-conference receivers but SDSU was very slightly run biased in 2010 (51%), managing a respectable 4.8 YPC. In 2010, especially when it counted, San Diego State passed to set up the run.
Where the hell is A-gap power? Why the hell did The Mountain West Connection write this about Hoke's candidacy for the job?
Hoke would bring in another non-traditonal Big 10 offense to Ann Arbor. It would be a spread offense, but instead of having an offense where there is a dual threat quarterback he plays three, four and five wide receiver sets.
Where's the manball?
*[Missouri, BYU, Air Force, TCU, and Utah. CSU excluded because the narrow scoreline was due to a touchdown with 2:43 left.]
Is the manball in previous teams?
Hoke's previous SDSU team threw even more but was not very good. They were especially un-good at running, so numbers from that season reflect necessity instead of philosophy. And Hoke only had two years in San Diego, so maybe he wasn't able to mold his team into the A-gap power six fullback monstrosity he yearns for.
How about the apex of his Ball State career?
BALL STATE 1st DOWN RUN/PASS BREAKDOWN, 2008
|09/13/08||@ Akron||Turf||W 41-24||14||13||3||30|
|09/20/08||@ Indiana||Turf||W 42-20||12||9||3||24|
|09/27/08||Kent St.||Turf||W 41-20||8||17||1||26|
|10/04/08||@ Toledo||Turf||W 31-0||11||13||0||24|
|10/11/08||@ Western Ky.||Turf||W 24-7||9||9||3||21|
|10/25/08||Eastern Mich.||Turf||W 38-16||8||11||2||21|
|11/05/08||Northern Ill.||Turf||W 45-14||7||14||4||25|
|11/11/08||@ Miami (Ohio)||Turf||W 31-16||9||12||0||21|
|11/19/08||@ Central Mich.||Turf||W 31-24||13||8||2||23|
|11/25/08||Western Mich.||Turf||W 45-22||8||11||0||19|
|12/05/08||+ Buffalo||Turf||L 24-42||10||19||1||30|
|01/06/09||+ Tulsa||Turf||L 13-45||3||6||0||9|
Hoke's first downs under Stan Parrish were also pass-biased. Again, Nate Davis had something to do with that but Ball State was significantly more run-biased than 2010 SDSU: 520 rushes to 405 passes, with those rushes picking up 5 yards a pop. A team that ran 56% of the time threw on 55% of first downs.
HOWEVA, that's not a huge difference from late-era Carr behavior. I know this surprises you. I clicked the link three times just to make sure it wasn't having fun, but in 2007 Michigan passed on 54% of first downs despite playing Ryan Mallett for significant chunks of the season. They also ran on 56% of all plays. That may be an artifact of Michigan not being able to run very well (4 YPC; insert infamous stretch against OSU here). In 2006, a monstrously run-biased outfit (62% at 4.3 YPC while the passing game was averaging 7.7) was 50-50 on first down.
Is the manball in the offensive structure?
Meanwhile, Chris Brown has the most interesting single factoid in Wolverines Kickoff 2011. It's about SDSU's bowl game, the one after which Ken Niumatalolo said "that's as good of an offense as we've seen." In that game, the Aztecs ran more zone-blocked plays than gap-blocked plays en route to a rout. Here's an inside zone:
A few plays later the Aztecs would bust out their first power of the night. Notably, it was a "constraint" play—one designed to keep the defense honest. They lined up in a pro set and handed it to the fullback for the second time all year. On third and two they manballed up. Result:
Starting running back Ronnie Hillman averaged 8.1 YPC without any distorting 80-yarders (long of 37) and finished the day with 228 yards. San Diego State's defense did not appear to have a stroke while watching this.
So how does that jive with this?
When asked recently about the influence of Oregon’s offense, Hoke subtly revealed his disdain for the tactical shift Michigan experienced under Rodriguez. He is convinced that modern spread option offenses can be counterproductive to the core values of smashmouth football and are, therefore, to be avoided.
“Right, wrong or indifferent, when you’re zone blocking all the time -- when you’re playing basketball on grass -- you practice against that all spring, you practice against it all fall and then you’re going to play a two-back team that wants to knock you off the football,” Hoke said. “I don’t think you’re prepared.
It… like… doesn't. Unless Hoke just wants to have some power around so his defense doesn't turn into a bunch of lily-livered ninnyhammers and doesn't actually care how much it gets deployed in actual games. This would be good for the next couple years when what Hoke wants and what Hoke has will be severely mismatched.
Is the manball curling up in the fetal position with a narrow lead?
Unfortunately for manball-is-just-talk theorists, that above-mentioned close-ish Colorado State game featured an event familiar to Michigan fans. After Colorado State scored with about three minutes left to draw within five, SDSU ran three times for two yards and gave the ball back to the Rams having run only 53 seconds off the clock. They ran on 2nd 7 and 3rd and 9. Very MANBALL.
The way the Aztecs lost the Missouri game is also terribly familiar. They picked off Blaine Gabbert with 1:47 left, ran 25 seconds off the clock, and punted on 4th and 8 from the Missouri 35. It took the Tigers two plays to score the winning touchdown. To be fair, freshman Ronnie Hillman caused coaching blood vessels to explode when he ran out of bounds on the first play of the drive and the Aztecs did throw on third down. To be ruthless, that throw was a screen or something equivalently conservative (it lost a yard) and once it was completed the situation was 4th and 8 for the win or a 20-yard punt. Hoke chose the punt. He chose poorly.
Against Air Force the Aztecs faced a 4th and goal from the two with about nine minutes left. They led by eight. Hoke called for the field goal team. That's not indefensible*; it is conservative. Hoke watched his kicker Broekgibbons it anyway.
On the other hand, in the Utah game San Diego State kept firing after leaping out to a big lead (obviously). There's no evidence they ever put the scoring offense away except in a couple of end-game scenarios.
*[It's probably the right call. Going from 8 to 11 forces the opponent to score two TDs to win instead of one and a two-point conversion. Getting the touchdown gives you a tie in the unlikely event an option team with 12 points so far gets two touchdowns and a conversion in the final nine minutes. A failure does leave the opponent on its own two.
As it happened, Air Force did score two touchdowns in the final nine minutes. Unfortunately for the Falcons, sandwiched between them was a one-play SDSU touchdown drive and they lost anyway.]
The things that are said contradict each other
Hoke says he wants the team to act in a certain way—toughness toughness toughness—while simultaneously saying he will not futz with Al Borges. Al Borges has shown a predilection for lots of vertical passing and apparently does not care one way or the other about gap vs zone blocking. Hoke says he dislikes zone running and uses it plenty. He's recruiting large men to squash men who are not quite as large but has maybe 1.5 tight ends and Denard Robinson right now.
What Hoke wants is clear, and what he has is not what he wants. The record implies that he'll be relatively flexible. Michigan will still see a drop in yardage/fancy metric performance because they're spending time revamping instead of refining, but if under center isn't working they'll ditch it. Hell, against Navy SDSU's first drive formations looked like this:
- Shotgun 3-wide
- Shotgun 3-wide
- Shotgun 3-wide
- Shotgun 3-wide
- Shotgun 3-wide
- Shotgun 3-wide
They even ran a zone read. It went for a yard, but by God they ran it. When push comes to shove I think Michigan will go with what works, whatever that is.
I was wondering if you could answer the question as to why Jeremy Clark and Michigan would pursue a grey shirt versus a preferred walk-on. In both cases the player has to pay their own way until a scholarship is available. But with a grey shirt you can't practice with the team at all. Is the thinking that they would then get a psuedo sixth year? I would think having the player on campus and practicing with the team as a walk-on that first year would be better than hoping he earns a scholarship by sitting around doing nothing for a year.
Also, I know we all share concerns about the size of this class and where the scholarships will come from - but I have a more specific question for you. How do you feel about only taking one at the DT spot? My thinking is that it is one of the hardest positions to project (cough-Will Campbell-cough), you need a healthy rotation of players, and you need size. I have no idea why the staff wouldn't want two true defensive tackles in this class given the lack of depth and talent at that position. I would even take one lower rated DT in this class if you get a star DT with another scholarship. I think that's far more important than just about every other position at this point.
On grayshirting: you do get a psuedo-sixth year since your eligibility clock does not start ticking until the subsequent year if you are a mid-year enrollee. Clark could enroll, redshirt, and have four years of eligibility starting in in 2014. Enrolling in the fall starts your clock, so the fall of 2012 would be Clark's redshirt year. Also, being a preferred walk-on costs money.
I'm not actually sure what path Clark will take since grayshirting is an overloaded term that refers to both enrolling without a scholarship and not enrolling until winter. It could be either depending on how quickly Michigan thinks they'd want to deploy Clark and if he wants to/can make the financial sacrifice to enroll without a scholarship.
On the defensive tackle spot: I don't think anyone gets Michigan's plan there. When the 2012 class hits campus the only potential nose tackles on the roster are Quinton Washington and Richard Ash; the only three-techs are Will Campbell and Terrance Talbott. Both Talbott and Ash have been dogged with rumors they have health issues and neither was exactly a slam-dunk recruit. No one has played; Michigan took no true DTs a year ago. Campbell will be a senior and Washington a junior.
Meanwhile, the defensive line sees more rotation than any other position in football—Michigan rotated four guys last year even when the options were walk-ons and journeymen like Adam Patterson.
So it seems nuts to me to turn down a consensus four star DT with the offers to match, as it seems they will if Pipkins and O'Brien both want to sign up. Even if they can move some combination of Godin/Wormley/Strobel/Rock/Wilkins inside, those guys are all tall dudes who probably can't deal with the nose.
That leaves essentially no one after Martin graduates. Hoke's made all the right moves so far but if he takes a scholarship fullback over a desperately-needed nose tackle people should question that.
First, the giant scoreboard at Yost: on the post today it indeed appears to be gigantic and I was wondering if you had a chance yet to see if this thing might interfere with sightlines across the ice or corner to corner? Don't know if anyone remembers/cares, but there was a giant block hangy-downy scoreboard there back at Yost in the early 80's and it hung down too far. If you were sitting really high up in the endzones or even in the top couple of rows on the sidelines, the scoreboard actually hung down far enough to block your view across the ice. It was worse than obstructed view at Tiger Stadium, though I guess that might be because Larry Herndon never ran very far. So, the end-zone scoreboards were actually an innovation kind of because there were then no seats obstructed by the scoreboard hanging down. Someone must have thought about that one before they hung this thing, right? I am suspicious of change, get off the lawn, I miss the Apple IIC, etc.
The board is currently closer to the ice than it will be when it is finally deployed, and while it's certainly larger than the current one I don't think it's significantly taller. And the top couple rows on the sidelines are now usually vacant because of overhangs.
Second, we've seen a lot of decision matrices about 4th down, go for it vs. field goal vs punt on different places on the field. Would it be possible for someone to do a historic survey?
For example, I bet that matrix looked a lot different for a 1972 Bo team than for a 1998 Lloyd team because of the efficiency - or not - of the passing game back then. Bo going for it on 4th and 7 with his option teams was a totally different animal than Carr going for it on 4th and 7 with Henne and Braylon. I guess what I'm asking is, can those 4th and charts be adjusted backwards for inflation? I bet they would explain a lot about the evolution of 4th-and theory and about Carr's reluctance to not punt from the opponent's 41.
A historic survey is outside the scope of a mailbag response but it's probably unnecessary anyway since the Mathlete tackled something similar in a past diary that got bumped to the front page. Two charts, one for high offensive expectation…
…and one for low offensive expectation…
…show the increasing viability of the punt as scoring decreases.
Game theory in the paleolithic era was probably better than it was over the past 20 years. It seems we've passed an inflection point where going for it is the choice, but teams are still being coached by guys who came up under old school coaches who had totally different probabilities in their head. It's like adding four cards to a deck and asking 1950s poker players to cope—eventually they'll make a mistake because the game has changed.
I think it is worth noting that the West Coast offense, which Borges favors, can be traced directly back to Sid Gillman, the same Sid Gillman whose offensive style was loathed by manball loving Woody Hayes when the two of them were rivals at Cincinnati and Miami of Ohio respectively. Also, the most famous west coast quarterback of all time is Joe Montana, and he was hardly an immobile pocket passer.
I am probably being overly optimistic, but do you think there is a possibility that Michigan's offense in 2011 will resemble Auburn's 2010 offense in that it will be a hybrid of spread elements and pro-style elements? Yes I realize that Denard's skill set is not identical to Cam Newton's, but based on some of the remarks Borges has made and Hoke's likely realization that Michigan fans aren't going to be patient for wins, I think this is the most likely direction for the offense.
I'm not sure I agree with the above emailer's police work there. Auburns' offense worked so well because they didn't even need any semblance of a pro-style attack because an inverted veer with Cam Newton was short-yardage gold. Newton was recruited to run the same offense he did run. When there was a mismatch between the offensive coordinator's vision, that of the head coach, and available personnel, both Tony Franklin and Tommy Tuberville got fired. Auburn is not a good analogue.
I'm not sure if there is in fact a good analogue for the transformation Denard is going to be asked to make. Usually when you have a talent like him at quarterback the head coach doesn't get fired because you win a bunch of games. I've searched my memory banks for an example of a successful returning spread quarterback dealing with a new, more pro-style system and can only recall the most ironic possible name: Pat White.
White, of course, was coming off of West Virginia's 48-28 demolition of Oklahoma; WVU was third nationally in rushing offense, 15th in yardage, and 9th in scoring. The next year Rodriguez was out and Bill Stewart brought in Jeff Mullen from Wake Forest; Mullen preached balance but seemed to respect the accomplishments of the previous regime:
“I don’t want it to be too much different. You’re talking about a group of men who left here who were very successful coaches, and they installed one of the best offenses in the country. I’m not going to come in here and turn it around,” he said.
WVU still ran the spread but lost some of its maniacal dependence on the run (70% in RR's last year, 63% in Stewart's first) and large chunks of its derring-do. West Virginia lost almost a yard per carry in the transition despite running less and retaining White and Noel Devine. Total yardage dropped to 59th, scoring to 73rd. You will not be thrilled to hear that turnover margin remained as ludicrously good as it was for the bulk of Rodriguez's tenure.
I think something like that dropoff may be in the cards for Michigan. Mullen was no slouch. He was able to staple together decent outfits at Wake Forest despite having a massive injury plague strike his already-depleted roster. But his expertise did not align with the skills of his offense and as a result a bunch of returning starters got a lot less explosive.
I do think Al Borges is going to put together something that tries to take advantage of the parts he has. If I had to guess I'd say Brady Hoke's public statements about manball are just statements—at San Diego State Borges had full sway to do what he wanted, and what he wanted was a lot of different things including quite a bit of zone running. But you can't expect Borges to be Rich Rodriguez when he's spent much of his career fiddling with passing routes instead of the slight adjustments Rodriguez used to keep Robinson ahead of the pack.
The falloff from the transition probably won't be as bad* but if Borges can just maintain Michigan's YPC I'll be thrilled.
*[Reasons: The offense wasn't as good as that WVU unit and shouldn't be exposed to such a withering regression to the mean, Denard is lower on his learning curve than White, there's no equivalent to losing Slaton, general coaching ept-ness will probably go up, field goals.]
10/2/2010 – Michigan 42, Indiana 35 – 5-0, 1-0
When you want to watch ESPNU in Sedona, Arizona, you go to this place called "Sticks and Steaks." To get there you drive past a massive tourist art complex with a faux-native name, a sign exhorting you take advantage of Angel Lightfoot's magic healing crystal expertise, and an enormous, profligate fountain in the middle of the damn desert. Whatever Sedona's purpose was when someone said "screw it" and set up camp in 1902 is gone, replaced by a talent for taking money that was jammed into old ladies' bank accounts and circulating it through the economy again.
Inside this place you'll find TVs, horse betting, and a motley collection of people who would rather be home for three and a half hours on Saturday. In front of me there were a couple peeved Texas fans watching their team get punked by Oklahoma. Behind me there was a Wisconsin guy who asked if I was wearing my lucky Michigan tie. (I wasn't: I'd neglected to bring one and had to drive back to the next town over and stop at their outlet strip mall to get one.) A couple of old women who didn't care about football ate there; as they left one of them said they'd gone to Indiana and was surprised the game was even that close.
I think it was an attempt to comfort me, as I'd spent the hour they were there pulling my hair back over my skull and swearing under my breath. Sometimes not so under my breath, too. I said something about how IU's quarterback was outlandishly good and hoped it was true.
I do not have to tell you this but I will anyway: that game was bizarre.
In the aftermath it stands as a tribute to how useless time of possession is. Michigan's put-upon defense actually got better in the second half of their 98-play version of Ishtar, and it turns out that a touchdown scored in three plays is worth just as much as a touchdown scored in 14. We have sufficient evidence now to declare this finding statistically significant. So that's nice.
In progress it felt like dying from a thousand paper cuts only to be brought back with the crashing thunder of paddles, conscious and fully aware you were about to do it all over again. The opponent holding the ball for 42 minutes might not mean much statistically, but it does make most of the game an agonizing slog.
As a result, records were set across the Michigan fanbase for "most muted response to a 70-yard touchdown." Such a thing wouldn't have been possible even four years ago. I remember thinking to myself "that's 25% of the points we need to win" after the first drive of the '06 Ohio State game, and I was delighted through a whole commercial break. I grew up with angry cold Midwestern football where touchdowns were hard-earned things only somewhat less rare than goals in soccer. Each one was a major step towards your goal, and punting a guy down inside their ten was tantamount to getting the ball back on the fifty.
Now a touchdown is just holding serve. When Denard fumbled the snap on the one I thought "this is going to be a 99-yard touchdown drive," and then it was a 99-yard touchdown drive. It's disorienting, and as Indiana is driving down the field again you can't even figure out who to scream at because no one's in the same zip code as the receiver, and you hate everything about everything because this is MICHIGAN we don't do things like this.
On the other hand, "this is MICHIGAN" also applies to an offense that could end up loaded with NFL talent and still come nowhere near this one. Michigan still has Denard and its blitzkrieg of an offensive line and a bunch of wide-receivers who draw straws to determine who gets this week's monster day. One day when the defense is capable of covering guys here and there, Michigan will club people. At the moment it's about having the ball last.
I got somewhat demonstrative during all of this, which is why the Wisconsin guy asked me about my tie and the Indiana woman offered a ham-fisted attempt at comfort. People found me entertaining as I alternated between brief flashes of happiness and long stretches of sports Tourette's, I guess. I probably would have too.
As I was leaving this other guy who I hadn't even noticed added his bit, jovially saying "Hey, you survived." I had. They had, unlike Texas or Wisconsin or Indiana. The Texas folk hadn't even made it past halftime. The fiancée, still able to engage in small talk beyond grunts and squeaks, asked who he was rooting for. He said "USC, but they don't play yet." When they did, they lost to Washington for the second straight year. There are worse things than getting bombed for 480 yards by Ben Chappell even if it doesn't feel like it at the time.
Stop it. I've defended the three man rush but good lord you have got to be kidding me. I defended the 3-3-5 but that's when I thought it would be used to create a wide variety of four-and-five man fronts with unpredictable blitzing. Michigan probably rushed more than three guys 10% of the time in the second half, and when they did that it was four. I can't support having Craig Roh and using him in zone coverage on every snap.
What's worse was the inane substitution pattern. Every Indiana run in the second half was a wasted down, and probably would have been a wasted down even if you replaced Banks with Roh and brought in a cornerback. One of this defense's few assets is the pass rushing ability of the outside linebackers, but Michigan is going out of its way to avoid using it.
Stop it, but the clock. I would have thrown a shoe at the TV if Michigan had botched time management at the end of the half like Indiana did. How do you get inside the 20 on that drive with a minute or so on the clock and end up with four seconds on third and goal? Indiana let the clock run from 13 seconds to 9 after a first and goal play before calling timeout, which meant they'd just blown an opportunity to run a fourth down. They got the TD anyway, but that was a sequence worthy of Les Miles.
Speaking of decisions like going for it on third there…
How Denard Robinson is like multi-way callers in a limit hold-em game. There is a phenomenon in limit hold-em called "schooling" where a bunch of weak players who call a lot of hands they should ditch accidentally make their play close to right, frustrating more experienced players with a strong hand they'd like to get heads up with.
I think about this every time an opposing coach defies his inner Lovie Smith and goes for it on a fourth-and-Romer down against Michigan or eschews a half-ending field goal attempt in an effort to score the seven it's obvious they'll need to keep up with Denard. Michigan has now faced 15 fourth down attempts on the season, which is double the next-highest total in the Big Ten and triple the average*. They've converted nine of these, turning a bunch of drives that would have been punts or field goal attempts against a less terrifying offense into touchdowns.
The difference is that the coaches' decisions are statistically correct, not just less wrong. Which is not so good for Michigan. Bill Lynch did manage to punt from the Michigan 42 on fourth and short, which just goes to show that it is the nature of all coaches to play it safe. I'm hoping as we get into the stodgy section of the schedule we'll see more insane decisions to punt when Michigan scrapes together a stop. Someone can tell Mark Dantonio and Kirk Ferentz and Joe Paterno that they should go for it, but what are the chances they listen? Maybe 40%?
*(FWIW, I disagree with the author's assertion that the reason Michigan's opponents are exceeding their yardage season averages when they play M is because Michigan is the "red-letter" game on the schedule. It's just because Michigan's defense sucks.)
Same thing on our side of the ball. Michigan should have gone for it on fourth and one in the second half; instead they sent Forcier out to pooch it. I'm fine with the pooch punting in general, as it's impossible to return or even catch one. Michigan netted 39 yards on Forcier's attempt, which would be good for 23rd nationally as a season-long average.
But punting in that situation? No thanks. When your offense is tearing through the opposition like M's offense was that Mathlete chart about correct decisions swings way towards going for it there.
Part of the problem may be the apparent lack of faith in Michigan's bigger backs. Cox didn't appear at all and Hopkins was just used as a blocker; when Vincent Smith is your best TB option (blocking or running) short yardage is less of a certainty. I'm still not a fan of Smith this year despite the long run against IU. He didn't have to do anything except run through a gaping void and run through an attempt to tackle him from behind. He's reliable, but having him at tailback is like having Greg Mathews on punt returns.
It could not be clearer that Michigan doesn't need much time to score.
But what the Wolverines do need is the ability to keep their defense off the field. This defense is young, and it's still learning, and without the Michigan offense, its flaws would be that much more evident.
The Daily's Joe Stapleton also offered something along those lines.
Anyone who's read this blog for longer than a couple weeks knows the general outline of what's to come but whatever here goes: a touchdown is worth seven points no matter how long it takes to score, and having an offense that rips down the field in three or four plays against Indiana is not a bad thing. Against better defenses those opportunities will be much rarer. And what is Denard supposed to do, anyway? Kneel down at the 20?
It's the defense's job to get off the field. The offense is a thing to score points with. Was it good that Roy Roundtree got caught at the three? Not so much. If Michigan wants to bring TOP closer to even they'll have to get much better or blitz like madmen, but since that's a stupid goal to have they should only do the latter if it also makes it more likely they'll get stops.
Slight mitigation. One effect of Michigan's rapid-fire touchdown drives was to inflate Indiana's opportunities. Both teams had twelve bonafide drives in the game. That's 50% more than the opener against UConn; Michigan would have expected to give up 23 points if they'd faced eight IU drives. Which is still terrible, but maybe slightly less so than it seemed.
I was in transit yesterday so no VOAV; apologies. Here's the Michigan defense highlight reel:
Something slightly longer from WH:
In non-video items: a serendipitous sideline photo gallery. Michigan's ridiculous "on pace for" numbers. Mike DeSimone has resumed his incredibly useful photo collecting. Wow, Les Miles. Wow Denard from the Indy Star:
There are certain moments that reveal a potential Heisman Trophy winner's essence, and that came on that final five-play, 73-yard game-winning drive that sealed the 42-35 victory.
"Shoelace'' has got my Heisman vote, and it would take an act of God to make me change my mind.
ESPN's Heisman watch says it's "Robinson and everyone else":
Now it's just getting ridiculous. I mean, at some point shouldn't we stop being amazed? We've seen it for five weeks now. Shouldn't we be used to it? I'm talking, of course, about Michigan QB Denard Robinson, and the answer is no. We haven't seen this type of college football playmaker since … Barry Sanders?
Postgame GERG-RR stills from MVictors are… not so happy. Ace asks if we're jaded already. I'll talk about this more in a bit but despite the stuff about the three-man rush above, complaints like those of BWS…
The real story is that Greg Robinson's defensive schemes do not work. No longer is this a question of defensive talent or improper personnel. No, sadly, this is far more systematic: Greg Robinson's schemes Do Not Work.
I've been advocating a man coverage package for the last three weeks. Robinson has shown it sparingly. Not that I'm more qualified to run this defense, but Robinson's inability--or maybe stubbornness--to show new looks is far and away the most disappointing aspect of this season. Play after play (and now game after game), teams are running quick slants and seven-yard hitch routes and absolutely shredding Michigan's defense. And it's not that the defense looks athletically overmatched. They look unprepared and poorly coached.
…are kind of ridiculous. James Rogers cannot change direction. Jordan Kovacs cannot cover people man to man. There are massive personnel deficiencies that need covering up.
9/17/2010 – Michigan 42, UMass 37 – 3-0
Well… at least it wasn't as grim as it looked a with about a minute before halftime, when my head was in my hands and I could feel the cave feces covering my body as I wished for a merciful death. Maybe an albino salamander would crawl down my throat or something. Then the offense did a large number of very fast things and the defense managed to stop the UMass offense like once or twice and then they managed to not quite blow it at the end.
And so here we are. If you ever wanted to know what it would have been like if Michigan had made that field goal at the end of The Horror you have your answer: not at all good but approximately a trillion times better than the alternative. The stanktastic defensive performance was exactly what Michigan fans feared was going to happen after every defensive back within hailing distance of the two deep exploded, except worse. I kind of expected Wisconsin might put up 37 points on a series of long, grinding drives. Not so much a team that launched a stirring comeback to nip William & Mary.
That combined with the pratfall by UConn against Temple and Notre Dame's admittedly delicious overtime punking leaves an uncomfortable taste in the mouth. Last year around this time I was surveying the outlook after Michigan got significantly outgained by Indiana but escaped by the skin of their teeth. The game column was sarcastically titled "The Soaring Majesty!":
Since we didn't [lose], we should all just breathe a sigh of relief, recalibrate expectations back down a little bit, and move on. Michigan's not at a point where any win against any Big Ten team is one to freak out about. The freshmen quarterbacks remain freshmen and it's becoming clear that the defense has about the same raw talent level that last year's offense had. The only thing keeping them from plunging off a deep, dark cliff is the fact that no position on defense is as singularly important as quarterback is on offense.
Michigan didn't win a game against a non-seal opponent the rest of the year. It was this much fun: no fun.
This is the point where I take a finger, insert it into the collar of my shirt, and make an uncomfortable facial expression David Letterman has mastered and is impossible to Google. (What do you type, "Letterman shirt uncomfortable"? "Letterman neck trick"?)Just imagine you're wearing a tie and your boss has called you into his office during a period of right-sizing and you're a big vaudeville buff. It's like that.
It's like that because of the following facts:
- Jonathan Hernandez had 114 yards on 26 carries with a long of 15.
- John Griffin had 96 yards on 17 carries with a long of 19.
- Kyle Havens went 22 of 29 for 222 yards with a long of 19.
That is a complete demolition at the hands of a I-AA team without even blowing it big. UMass got two short fields when Michigan had a punt blocked and Cam Gordon fumbled an interception, but even dropping those out of the equation UMass drives went FG, punt, TD, punt, TD, fumble, punt, TD, INT; both of the short field drives started around the 25 and ended in Michigan's endzone. And at no point did they get a cheap touchdown due to a secondary implosion. They just ground down the field as if Michigan was the I-AA team. Given the level of competition, it's probably the worst defensive performance of the Rodriguez era, and that's saying something. If not for the Post-Apocalyptic Oregon Game we'd be reaching back to Bump's days to find something worse. The parallels to last year are scary.
I can tell you to look at the yardage and feel better, which still works for me to some extent. Michigan still didn't outgain a BCS opponent until the Purdue game in 2009 and they have a demolition of UConn to their name. I can tell you to look at what Purdue and Indiana and Illinois are doing and count to seven that way and then rely on someone else (MSU? Iowa? Penn State?) getting Denarded for the eighth win that would officially exceed expectations, and that helps too. I can point to Iowa's 2009 season, which started out with a one-point win over Northern Iowa in which the Hawkeyes were outgained and had to block two(!) field goals on consecutive plays to avoid the killer upset. Four games later Iowa survived 24-21 against Arkansas State; they ended the year by whipping Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
All of these things say football is weird and last weekend was probably an aberration and Michigan's defense will be bad but probably not that bad. But it's hard to shake the feeling of deja vu. We jumped out of a plane and went WOOOOOO because everything is fast and fun and now we're trying to ignore the feeling that the parachute might have transferred to West Virginia. Again.
But at least there's Denard, right? Right. The silver lining to all of this is that he's going to have insane stats because Michigan's got no choice. That's the ticket.
Pulaski time. This has been kicking around message boards and my head since I was annoyed that Michigan threw the ball on third and six early in the game and then whiffed another field goal: given the situation, should Michigan emulate that Arkansas high school team that never, ever punts? Consider:
- The offense is pretty awesome, making a successful fourth-down conversion worth more points than it would be if it was still 2008.
- The defense is pretty terrible, making the loss of field position from an unsuccessful conversion less of an issue than it would be with a defense more likely to stop the opponent. A good defense is more likely to get you the ball back approximately where you booted it from; Michigan's is likely to get you the ball back via kickoff.
- Will Hagerup spent the ND game shanking balls into the stands and dropped a snap against UMass, getting his punt blocked.
- The field goal kickers are 1 of 4 and Rodriguez is openly pleading for any student, clueless or not, to try out.
So… yeah. When the Mathlete did a study with his enormous database of plays he concluded that 1) your defense has no impact on the decision (something I disagree with) and 2) that if your offense is good the light is almost always green:
Maybe some of the Mathlete's assumptions are wrong there (he gives an across-the-board 10% increase in conversion percentage) but even an average offense should be going on fourth and medium anywhere near midfield; Michigan is looking considerably better than average.
I'm hoping Rodriguez starts playing with going on fourth down in mind. If anyone was ever going to test the limits of Romer-ian game theory it would be this Michigan team. It's NCAA '11 time.
Probably no need to get alarmed for next week at least. Bowling Green is 1-2 with losses to Tulsa and Troy with a win coming last week over Marshall. In that game, Marshall's QB chucked four interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. MGoUser BGwolverine13 has some information on their season to date. It sounds like the starting quarterback will sit out this week after suffering a concussion, which is doubly bad for BG since their rushing offense is currently 111th nationally at 2.7 YPC.
Is it sad that we're talking about this? Yes.
Yeah, pretty much.
What happened? Michigan's first two opponents went down to defeat over the weekend, too, seriously damaging their value when it comes to projecting the future. You probably know what went down in the MSU-ND game, but UConn losing to Temple 30-16 hurts.
How did that happen? Well, the Huskies did outgain Temple by 34 yards. (WOO!) They went from 16-14 up to 27-16 down via a fumble return touchdown and a four-yard touchdown drive after a big punt return. Zach Frazer appears to be pure awful (4.8 YPA) and their defense grim in all phases. Temple RB Bernard Pierce had 169 yards on 26 carries and his long was just 38; UConn is not good.
Meanwhile, the ND-MSU game was as dead even as you would expect an overtime game to be. Michigan State ended up outgaining ND 477-461, with the final 29 yards for MSU coming on the trick play that's going to make TWIS so fun this afternoon. Notre Dame's defense was thoroughly gashed by land and sea, giving up 203 yards on 43 carries and allowing Kirk Cousins to complete 23 of 33 passes. ND ran Armando Allen just 13 times despite the fact he is very good and was picking up 5.5 yards a crack; Dayne Crist was 32 of 55 for a bunch of yards, one INT, and 4 TDs. The teams had 13 possessions each.
Conclusion? Michigan State is about Michigan's equal and the game will be a shootout nailbiter.
Goals met? On defense obviously none. On special teams obviously none. Jeremy Gallon is on a streak of five straight terrible decisions on difficult punts to field and should either be replaced or given a return buddy who hangs out ten yards in front of him and fields the crappy ones.
On offense, we did see the healthy and productive return of Junior Hemingway. Taylor Lewan got in and was reportedly mauling people, which okay I-AA team but still that's an encouraging sign when your freshman tackle gets in to replace a guy who's played well so far. And Michael Shaw put up some of those yard things that Denard always gets. We did not get to see Cox, Toussaint, or Hopkins, unfortunately. (Toussaint may still be injured. He dressed but was only participating in some drills before the game.)
The one important thing that Michigan seemed to establish is the existence of a Denard deep ball. UMass was playing tight man coverage most of the day and Denard went deep twice to beat it, hitting Kelvin Grady on a deep seam and Stonum on a fly route. Both balls were well thrown. If you add that to the rest of the stuff Denard can do, hoo boy.
A note on the interception: he had Roundtree open for a touchdown but did the same thing he did against ND where he threw the ball on a line, allowing a safety to come underneath it and deflect it to the guy running a step or two behind Roundtree.
Lloyd-ballin' it note. Hated the third and one iso to Vincent Smith, though not getting it wasn't Smith's fault since there was an unblocked guy tearing in from the edge. But the whole advantage of having a running quarterback is that you get that extra blocker, which seems most useful on third and one. Michigan should have a version of Gator Heavy where Koger, Webb, and whichever RB they think is the best blocker line up to the same side of the formation and they just Tebow their way forward.
The Hoover Street Rag tries to maintain calm:
Now, all of the said, consider, if you will, where a Michigan fan might be standing right now. Since September 1, 2007, you have seen your team play 40 games. In that time span as of this weekend, you have seen your team win as many games as they have lost. Twenty Saturdays up, twenty Saturdays down. Twenty times happy, twenty times sad. You have seen hope crushed in the waking moments of a new rising sun. You have seen hope's corpse taken out back and burned repeatedly. You've seen redemption come from unlikely sources. You've seen a cold night in Champaign. You've seen a darn near miracle in Orlando. You've seen a comeback like nothing you've seen before in Ann Arbor. You've seen another quarterback in orange and blue leave flame trails behind him like a time-traveling DeLorean. You've seen a walk-on save the Jug. You've seen a freshman led an unlikely comeback in a shootout. You've seen all hope die on four chances from the one. You've seen an invasion of red into the Big House. You've seen a sophomore do things we only thought that other teams did to Michigan. You've seen 20 wins and 20 losses.So maybe this is why Saturday's performance doesn't bother me. It was a win. The gap between "survives upset bid" or "gets a scare from an FCS school" and losing is a chasm visible from space. We've been on the other side of that chasm, or perhaps more accurately at the bottom of it.
"We were terrible on defense," Roh said. "We just didn't look like we were prepared to play and we didn't make adjustments during the game.
"I promise you'll not see another game like that from us again."
From Roh's lips to Tebow's ears.