"Rodrick Williams Jr.'s 10-month old, 2-foot-long savannah monitor named "Kill" gets the RB some strange looks when they go for walks together."
Fred Jackson has been a fixture at Michigan going back not one but two undefeated seasons. He arrived in 1992 to join Gary Moeller's staff. Since then, including a two-season stint as Lloyd Carr's first offensive coordinator, Jackson coached (and showered superfluous praise upon) over 100 running backs.
This site has correctly pointed out numerous flaws in the RBs over the last few seasons. It's difficult to diagnose what's coaching and what's just a certain back's ability. Every time we run into Vincent Smith, which is often, either Brian or I have pestered him about why nobody else can block like he could, and Vince just smiles and says "it's hard." Jackson himself has said that vision and ability are nature, blocking is a mentality, and the most he can really do is teach them whom to block.
|Best Backs of the Jackson Era|
|*Powers had another 1,945 yds at
5.07 YPA prior to Jackson's arrival
His results are mixed; Jackson coached four of the top ten leading rushers in school history (and his guys blocked for a fifth). On the other hand only two of his guys—Wheatley and Biakubutuka—cracked 5 yards per carry for their careers, a feat accomplished by nine of the guys coached by Jackson's predecessor Tirrell Burton.
What isn't hard to find is effusive praise about Jackson as a person and as a coach, from his former wards to high school coaches across Michigan. Like the coaches of Canham's era, Fred is a permanent fixture of the Michigan Athletic Department, a relationship that goes back to when Fred was Rick Leach's quarterbacks coach in high school.
The thing that really kept Jackson here through the tenure of four coaches was his ability to recruit the state of Michigan. There was a time when Michigan barely had to work to get homegrown kids, when Michigan Replay was the best access most local coaches had to any college football program, and the local press ignored anyone else. Today the in-state rival is on a roll, and there are as many Saban/Perles/Duffy/Dantonio guys in the state's coaching ranks as there are Michigan dudes. While Michigan's mainstream beat has four Rosenbergs trying to make a name for themselves at the expense of the program for every Angelique, the Spartans own an army of slappies. The current generation of recruits were born after the peak of Carr, and can only remember a few crazy 4-point wins over Notre Dame as great Michigan moments.
Michigan has veritably owned Michigan regardless.
This month, Jackson retired, the position he held for 23 years going to one of his first acolytes at Michigan. I choose not to let such a career pass quietly. I also choose not to review his career statistically, or at least not by utter performance. Rather, I'd like to chart our way through this long career in simple carries. Full data is here.
The bar graphs after the jump don't tell a story; they're there help jog the stories of so many storied running backs and fullbacks to come through here since I was 12.
[After the jump, a review of the backs in the Time of Jackson and the carry distribution between them from game to game.]
It's over. Hooray?
And lo, it ended. It ended for us before the new year, and now it's all over, all of it: the season, the BCS, the goofy bowl scheduling. Next year, there are three large games on New Year's Eve and three large games on New Year's Day, two of which are national semifinals leading to a final the next week.
The BCS itself was sent off with a grander finale than it deserved, a taut back-and-forth affair between Florida State and pretty-much-arbitrarily-chosen Auburn that worked out, unlike near-arbitrary matchups that ended up in one sided blowouts with another team with a near-identical resume looked on in disgust. With the playoff these outrages have been reduced in intensity and spread over a greater number of teams, which seems like progress.
How long this holds before expansion and realignment kicks in, I don't know. I tend to think we'll end up with an eight-team playoff sooner rather than later, and from there who knows what happens. Someone will say "but we can get more money," probably, and then things spiral on and on.
At the very least, a bunch of bad ideas have ceased to impact college football, like
- Coaches voting on teams they haven't seen and have a huge conflict of interest about
- Retired coaches voting based on what Oklahoma was like in 1975
- Computer polls that can't take margin of victory or anything else into account
- Richard Billingsley
Whether the new ideas are better is yet to be seen; they almost can't be worse.
OH GOOD. Penn State may have been an incestuous mockery of an athletic department for years, but by God did they turn that around quickly. Bill O'Brien goes so well that an NFL team scoops him up after two years and their sanction-riddled mess of a program heading for a crater is about hire away…
— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) January 7, 2014
...the guy who turned Vanderbilt from a 2-10 type outfit into a consistent bowl participant and all-around thorn in the side of the SEC. Ace and I are trying to come up with the last Big Ten coach to have 1) a job at the time of his hire and 2) a resume better than Franklin's, and, well…
[12:22 PM] Ace: is it bad that kevin wilson was the first name that came to mind?
[12:22 PM] Brian Cook: #ImitateAdam_Jacobi
…we're having some difficulty. Ace throws out Dantonio, but Dantonio's record in three years at Cincinnati was 18-17. Best we've got is Gary Andersen at Wisconsin, who implemented a hugely impressive build at Utah State. But I dunno man, Vandy is coming off back to back 9-4 years. Vandy. Which is in the SEC.
Not sure how good of a cultural fit the fiery, weird Franklin (remember that thing about how he only hires guys with hot wives?) will be at Penn State, but for a team in their situation to poach the hot up and coming SEC guy is impressive.
Unless this is all agents getting their dude a raise, but there's a lot of smoke here indicating he's the guy. Which will mean Michigan is in a division with Urban, Dantonio, and Franklin. Plus Randy Edsall. It's not all bad, I guess.
That was awesome, do it more. Twitter was agog about the ESPN News section of ESPN's BCS overkill broadcast, as it featured coaches (and Chris Spielman and Matt Millen) with instant off the cuff reactions to what was going on. I was with Twitter. Spielman's fervor for assignments came through clearly as he steamed about Auburn's screen touchdown, and then Kevin Sumlin jumped in to say that is what Auburn does, they put the eye candy in front of you for just those reasons, and everything was just terrific.
A few suggestions:
- Everyone do this all the time. Seriously, I would watch Glen Mason in a room just dying in disgust as he tries to watch Michigan run the ball. This may qualify as torture under the Geneva Convention; if it doesn't, do it.
- The game is the most important bit, so make it the whole screen, with the coaches popping in with small PIP boxes. The All-22 camera angle combined with the smaller box for the actual game was problematic, and I have a huge TV. Maximize the game size; no need to cut to visuals of Spielman, et al., when I can hear them talking.
- Cut two guys. One guy to run things, one D guy, one O guy, and Spielman.
- Send small electric shocks to anyone who talks in platitudes, like Paul Chryst did much of the night.
What I have been trying to express all year. Smart Football profiles Gus Malzahn for Grantland. This is the core of the offensive philosophy that brought Auburn from 0-8 in the SEC to the precipice of the national title in one year with a converted cornerback at QB:
Malzahn had never been in charge of an offense before. Searching for help, he turned to a book famous in coaching circles, The Delaware Wing-T: An Order of Football, by Harold "Tubby" Raymond, and followed it "word-for-word."
The genius of Raymond's book is that it's not merely a collection of football plays, though there's still plenty of that. Instead, it's primarily a treatise on how to think about offensive football. "The Wing-T is more than a formation," Raymond wrote. "It is sequence football." The animating idea behind Raymond's "Delaware" wing-T was his belief that the best offenses were built around a tightly wound collection of plays that fit together so that defenses effectively dictated the next play; each time a team tries to stop one thing, it opens itself up to something else. Beginning in the 1950s and lasting into the early 2000s — first as an assistant under wing-T innovator David Nelson, then as head coach from the mid-1960s on — Raymond fielded teams that devastated defenses. If the opposition tried to stop his base plays, Raymond had counters to his counters, counters to his counters to his counters, and so on. He amplified this "sequential" approach by "utilizing the misdirection theme to its fullest." With a dizzying array of motions, backfield actions, and fakes, Raymond correctly determined that defenses wouldn't be able to stop his offense if they couldn't find the ball.
Auburn's offense is a modernized version of that. It's like Fritz Crisler, basically, except not as wacky. Michigan does not have a tightly wound collection of plays, partially because they can't execute basic runs and partially because that's just not how Al Borges rolls. Borges does have sets of plays that are interrelated, but instead of piling wrinkle on wrinkle like Malzahn does—his thing this year was double arc blocks…
…Borges goes to a different package once his previous stuff has been figured out. And they dispense with the frippery. To me that's a philosophical thing on par with huddling.
How do you run the ball in college football? The top 25 teams in yards per carry this year, with offense type appended (note: distinction between spread to run teams and passing spread teams largely based on how many yards the QB had. Generally spread to run teams had 500+ QB rushing yards, and usually 700+).
|1||Ohio State||6.8||Spread to run|
|3||Northern Illinois||6.35||Spread to run|
|4||Auburn||6.3||Spread to run|
|5||Oregon||6.26||Spread to run|
|6||New Mexico||6.14||Spread to run|
|9||Missouri||5.66||Spread to run|
|10||Florida State||5.63||Passing spread|
|15||Arizona||5.32||Spread to run|
|19||BYU||5.23||Spread to run|
|20||Oklahoma||5.21||Spread to run|
|21||Texas A&M||5.17||Spread to run|
|22||Wyoming||5.1||Spread to run|
Yeah, it's possible to have a good running game by going under center and grinding it out, but is it likely? Four of the top 25 teams are pro-style outfits, one of which is Alabama and their overwhelming talent. Is Michigan going to be Wisconsin? I hope so, because that's the only way we get on this list.
Dolla dolla bill. We have money. Some of it comes from the only incompetent Germans.
According to a study done by the Portland Business Journal, Michigan's contract with Adidas (which is currently set to expire in 2016) is the most lucrative apparel deal in the country. Yes, more than Oregon's flashy contractual arrangement with Nike.
Per the study, Michigan currently receives a total of $8.2 million annually from Adidas stemming from the contract signed in 2007 between the two parties.
Michigan receives $4.4 million in equipment and apparel, and $3.8 million in cash. That's more than twice as much as the next-highest school in the Big Ten, Nebraska, which makes a total of $4 million from Adidas.
Part of that is the fact that Michigan has so many sports, which drives up the equipment and apparel bit. I wonder what will happen in 2016; that Most Favored Nation status Martin acquired has long driven ND crazy and Michigan's national appeal has… uh… suffered in recent years. The brand, if you will. Maybe we'll run an ad campaign about how we know our football is terrible so we changed our football sauce.
The dorm room has a shrine to Fred Jackson they call "Like Borobudur but more majestic"
Seth, doctor of blogging, is acting residential advisor for South-of-South Quad Residence Hall, Floor 1. Having heard reports that the occupant of Rm. 219, registered as "Michigan's Running Game" has 'not been himself' lately, the good doctor attempts to ascertain the source of his charge's recent morosity. He knocks on the door…
So, hey Michigan's Running Game.
Alright if I come in?
You've been kinda quiet this semester.
… Look, I haven't known you to be the kind of dude to go into a shell. Not since you broke up with DeBord, anyway. Um, you okay there man?
Oh you know, things.
|Year||Rush YPC*||Rush S&P+||Rk|
* (Called running plays when Denard is QB, no short situations. 2012 stats are through Nebraska because this is from my UFR database and Brian hasn't UFR'ed Minnesota yet. S&P+ is a
Fremeau EDIT: Bill Connelly (they're all football outsiders) stat that measures success based on down, field position, and strength of opponent. Higher is better. FWIW these stats have been screwy this year but I think rushing yardage is the part that's actually working.)
That's…that's not so bad man, 5.77 YPC is pretty respectable.
Yeah but I'm supposed to be much better than 'pretty respectable.'
Cause Denard and Toussaint and most of the line back?
That and I'm MICHIGAN fergodsakes. Plus I think a lot of that 5.77 is Denard shooting off long runs against Air Force and Purdue. Here's a table so you know what I mean.
I see. Wait, what the hell is that?
A table of all the runs charted in that stat. So like that gray peak is the 2010 offense getting lots of 4-yard runs, and the yellow peak is the 2011 offense getting stopped for just 2 yards a lot. And the lines at the bottom are polynomial trend lines.
Poly—? Dammit man, I'm a doctor, not a physicist.
See how the yellow and gray lines follow the same trend but the blue one doesn't? The 2012 offense is ripping off big runs more often, but not getting those 5- to 12-yard runs with the same regularity.
I understand. I'll see if I can find what's going on. You mind if I ask some questions?
[After THE JUMP: Is it for want of play calling, tougher competition, or Molk?]
1. Can you answer the same quarterback question everyone's been answering since the spring game?
Sweet hot pickle John The Baptist, the fictional questioners are just as persistent as the real ones. One last time: I expect Denard Robinson to get the start against UConn. Rumor has it the team has already been informed.
The premium sites are engaged in a war of information about the #2. Scout is claiming Gardner has haxored the offense and will plug into the matrix sooner rather than later; Rivals says Forcier's come on like gangbusters of late and is hinting he'll end up starting sooner rather than later. Both of their mumbles are of the "I'm just saying" variety where blame can't be assigned retroactively but credit sure can; both are seriously hedging on Denard Robinson.
I don't buy either much, but I buy the latter way more than the former. My personal obsevations are in line with UMGoBlog's assessment of the spring performances of each. Gardner:
@ the :24 mark: here you can see the game moving really fast around him. His feet slow down because his brain is working overtime to process all the info available. Finally, he leans back away from the contact on his delivery, which will normally cause the ball to sail, or fall well short.
@ the :38 mark: this may be his "can't teach that" moment. With Tate and DR, we have to roll the QB one way or the other to attack the middle. They cannot see over the line. Here, DG confidently steps into the pocket and throws a nice, although low, pass in a deep in route. As he continues to develop, he physical stature may end up being a large advantage for him in the QB race.
@ the 1:15 mark: we see some of the TF-like play making ability. He escapes the rush, but works back INTO the pocket to keep all his options alive down the field. Very good poise for the young guy in his first spring.
@ the 1:55 mark: this is not the first example on this film, but the ball HAS to come out quicker here. Giving the LB/DB time to read this play is a huge mistake and really hung the RB out to dry. Again, no doubt understandable with DG's inexperience, but this is a HUGE thing that must improve before I will call him "Game Ready".
@ the 2:23 mark: SHEESH! Protect the ball above all else, especially at your own goal line. As soon as he felt the hands around him, that ball should have been thrown to the Off. Coord. on the sideline. Live to fight another play.
It keeps going like that, promise alternating with the freshman mistakes we've gotten all too accustomed to the past couple years. Reports from the fall scrimmage, which was all of two weeks ago, are similar. Downplaying the one horrible interception is "a mistake but…" neglects Gardner's tendency to just chuck things when he got pressure. It didn't happen often, but when it did he responded—all together now—like a freshman. I'm done with this true freshman stuff. We've seen the chart, right? Michigan ran out a drilled-from-birth prodigy last year, got significantly above average performance from him, and still had a creaky offense. Devin Gardner is not that good yet. I have every confidence he will be that good in time, but not yet.
Forcier remains Forcier, hopefully minus many of the crippling turnovers. Denard, well;
@ the :59 mark: he is rolling left and fires a strike over the middle. I cannot overstate the difficulty of this throw. Very Impressive.
@ the 1:30 mark: he cannot find a target and tucks and runs. It will be beneficial at some point for him to learn to 1)identify targets earlier 2)throw it away 3)get out of bounds and avoid unnecessary hits.
@ the 1:40 mark: he makes a perfect read on the option. Watch the DE on the O's left side completely bite down on the run. Other Big Ten teams will not bite this hard. They know DR is the bigger threat. He will have to hand off more this year.
@ the 2:20 mark: he hits Roundtree for the 98 yarder. Beautiful touch on this pass! However, his throws out to the slots and RB's on the bubble screens and hitches need to be this accurate. They aren't yet.
Denard is ridiculous. He will be given the first shot because of this, and it will be up to him to keep it. No one can take it away from him; he'll have to give it away. If I had to put numbers on it, there's a 65% chance Denard is the primary quarterback, a 30% chance Tate is, and a 5% chance Devin is.
2. Why should I be excited at all when the "Rodriguez leap" amounted to finishing ninth in total and scoring offense in conference play?
Last year around about the Notre Dame game some very excitable people were proclaiming things about the Rodriguez Leap, something Doctor Saturday identified as a strong trend in Rodriguez-coached offenses to blow up in year two. Michigan's was coming from so far back and running in place when it came to quarterback experience, so that initial prowess ended up being a mirage. Michigan was way, way better, but still pretty meh. So the above conference stats exist.
While those may be literally true, they don't exactly feel right, do they? Michigan's offense did fall off considerably after a scorching start, but whenever that stat gets brought up it seems wrong. Michigan had the misfortune of missing two below-average defensive teams in Northwestern and Minnesota, after all.
That is more intuitively correct than raw things like points or yards per game and, since it is conference-only, sidesteps the Baby Seal U issue. Michigan's offense was seventh, a hair away from fifth. That's not good but it is a major step forward after they were last by a mile in '08.
Besides, it's possible they actually made the RR leap. Seriously. The problem is how far back they were coming from. As last year's preview noted:
…even if Rodriguez makes a leap similar to that turned in by his 2002 West Virginia team—probably the most comparable since they were coming from so far back—Michigan will only improve to 68th in total offense.
Sans BSU, Michigan would have finished 78th. With BSU they finished 59th, and since all the other teams that played super tomato cans didn't have them stripped out by when I say they would have finished 78th, splitting the difference seems reasonable. We're back to 68th in total offense again.
The best RR leaps to date were virtually identical improvements at Tulane and West Virginia where year two saw yardage output increase by 21%. If you discount BSU, Michigan went from 290 yards of total offense to 353. That's a 22% increase. While it's a lot easier to go from godawful to bad than go from bad to average or average to great, at previous stops Rodriguez had the luxury of installing an experienced quarterback in year two. With Michigan's chaos there (and Rodriguez's inability to get a viable quarterback in his first recruiting class), they did not have that luxury.
And here's the thing: with the quarterbacks going from freshmen to sophomores and some number of starters back ranging between seven and ten—depending on how you assess players like Roy Roundtree, Martavious Odoms, Patrick Omameh, Mark Huyge, Perry Dorrestein, and a couple others—isn't it plausible to expect another leap in year three? Tacking on 17%—the average yardage increase in previous RR leaps, discounting last year at Michigan—to Michigan's BSU-free yardage yields 414 yards per game for Michigan, which would be good for 32nd nationally.
- There was a leap,
- It was hard to find because they were coming from so far back, and
- There should be another leap this year.
This could be worth a small "woo," or something.
3. Can the running game take a… well… can it improve a… aw, hell, can it make a leap? The leap?
Last year Michigan obliterated their best YPC mark since the turn of the century, posting a 4.52 well clear of 2006's previous high water mark of 4.27. All right, yes, Michigan's demolition of Baby Seal U (54 carries, 461 yards) is heavily distorting, and if you pull it out Michigan's season YPC drops a half-yard. That drops it to third, as you can see at right. Since most of the seasons there had a nonconference cupcake that wasn't good but also wasn't quite as distorting (in 2006, for example, Michigan put up 246 yards on 51 carries against Vanderbilt in addition to their two MAC snacks), that sells '09 a short.
So. Despite missing their best and most critical lineman for most of the year, suffering a number of bad snaps that ended up looking like –20 yard carries as a result of that, and spending most of the year down at least one of their senior tailbacks, and running out freshman quarterbacks. Michigan posted one of the better YPC numbers of the last decade of Michigan football. They were solidly third. I'm throwing this on the pile of evidence that Rodriguez's approach to the ground game is just plain better than Carr's.
Meanwhile, I'm not too concerned about the lost personnel on the line. Omameh should be better than the Moosman/Huyge/frosh Omameh combo over the course of the year. Molk was clearly better than Moosman as a center, something that was addressed in the Illinois game:
Moosman is not as good as Molk on tough reach blocks. Lot of cutbacks against Illinois because the playside DT did not get sealed. Cutbacks are tougher sledding, usually.
Here's a successful run from Brown on which Moosman does not seal his guy and Brown has to hit it up behind Moosman in front of Schilling:
From what I've seen, Molk is more likely to actually get that block on the frontside. He won't do it all the time and the cutback can be effective but then you're relying on the backside block, which is often a tough one.
Ortmann to Huyge/Lewan probably won't matter much; tackles aren't that important in the spread 'n' shred run game. The only other losses are at tailback, where Minor managed just 96 carries a year ago. His average YPC was 5.2, only slightly better than the team average in I-A games. Brown, meanwhile, finished the above run like this:
It's not like either of the lost guys was 1) that great, 2) ever healthy, or 3) irreplaceable. Here's a preview of a stupid prediction: Michigan 2010 tops that YPC table.
4. What about the tackles?
Yeah… that's the thing. Michigan has depth and talent at the skill positions and the interior line. The quarterbacks have been discussed ad nauseum—while they won't be great the best of the three options available will be at least average and possibly (probably?) good. Michigan can take some hits and still expect good things to happen… except at tackle.
There Michigan has two guys who did not play well last year and two redshirt freshmen. Though Taylor Lewan has a boatload of hype he's just one guy, and a freshman at that. Meanwhile, Mark Huyge and Perry Dorrestein took turns playing Slight Hindrance To Guy Forcing Forcier Out Of The Pocket; both were benched for the other at some point. It's clearly the weak spot.
There are reasons to hope:
- Experience helps out offensive linemen more than other position groups.
- Huyge was undersized but is no longer.
- Dorrestein was struggling with a back injury most of this year.
- Frey's coaching saw Ortmann improve substantially in his final season.
- Lewan does have a boatload of hype and provides a viable third option if one of the starters struggle.
A step forward is likely. Even so, at the end of the year the thing that will have held the offense back from great heights will probably be an inability to keep defensive ends away from the quarterback.
This rocket has two stages, the second of which should kick in this year. There's more experience everywhere, plenty of talent to go around, multiple options at quarterback, some of whom are scholarship non-freshmen: Michigan's offense will be much better in 2010. Now for the greater-than-less-thans!
- Sophomore Tate/Denard >>> Freshman Tate/Denard
- David Molk >> David Moosman
- Senior Schilling > Junior Schilling
- Patrick Omameh >> Moosman/Huyge/Omameh chaos
- Stonum in HD > Stonum in black and white
- Roundtree/Grady > Odoms/Roundtree/Grady
- Tight ends > younger versions of themselves
- Five-headed running back monster == constantly injured seniors with younger versions of running back monster.
- Martavious Odoms == Greg Mathews
- Perry Dorrestein == The better of Dorrestein/Huyge
- Mark Huyge < Mark Ortmann
As stated above, RR Leap 2 would hop Michigan up to 32nd nationally in yardage even without the benefit of a tomato can I-AA game. Put that back in and Michigan should find itself in the bottom third of the nation's top 25 offenses.
Things that can make this not happen: tackles are bad and or injured. Quarterbacks do not progress like they should. The tailback situation is a muddled heap of mediocrity. Things that can make this pessimistic: Stonum blows up. Toussaint or Cox blows up. Denard really is that good.
Last Year's Stupid Predictions
- ESSENTIALLY CORRECT IF SLIGHTLY OPTIMISITIC: Minor misses two games with injury [note: chalk!]. [Minor missed Western and Ohio State; he also sat out against DSU, if that matters, and was seriously limited for much of the rest of the season.]
- RIGHT DESPITE INJURY: People expect Vincent Smith to be the 2010 starter.
- WRONG BECAUSE OF INJURY: Junior Hemingway is your leading downfield receiver (ie: Odoms is in the running but we aren't counting screens). [Roundtree blew up late; Hemingway finished well behind Mathews amongst outside WRs.]
- PRETTY CLOSE: Denard runs for 450 yards and throws about ten times. [350 yards and 31 attempts.]
- NOT PARTICULARLY ACCURATE: Michigan uses a huge multiplicity of formations on offense, debuting new stuff frequently and ending the year with a huge (hur) package. [Michigan never busted out
- WRONG: A two-back three-WR set is most common, though sometimes that third WR will be a tight end in the slot. [Michigan went 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB most often.]
- OPTIMISTIC EVEN COUNTING BABY SEAL U: As noted, Michigan finishes somewhere between 40th and 50th in total yardage. [59th.]
This Year's Stupid Predictions
- Michigan 2010 finishes atop the rush YPC chart above without considering the UMass game and by a considerable margin.
- Gardner ends up burning his redshirt in very, very frustrating fashion, because…
- …Denard is pretty much your starting quarterback all year, but…
- …Forcier plays in every game, bailing Michigan out in one critical fourth quarter.
- Vincent Smith gets the most touches amongst the running backs. Second: Shaw. Third: Toussaint. Fourth: Hopkins.
- Robinson is Michigan's leading rusher.
- Darryl Stonum does not exactly go Chris Henry on the planet but does greatly increase production via a series of big plays: 30 catches, 650 yards, 6 touchdowns.
- Michigan breaks out the triple option with regularity, using Hopkins as the dive back and Shaw/Smith the pitch guy. They also dig out those WVU formations where the slot motions into the backfield, with Grady the man beneficiary.
Note: video from last year is lightboxed; previous years will take you off the page.
Was Tate Forcier immaculately conceived or what?
a chorus of seraphim, a light from above
It's not analysis to state that the Tate Forcier's ability to function as an honest-to-god Big Ten quarterback, or lack thereof, will have more impact on Michigan's 2009 season than anything else. It's just obvious.
Many bits have already given their lives to bring you thousands upon thousands of words about Forcier's quarterback boot-camp background, Michigan's quarterback situation last year, Rodriguez's offense vis-a-vis young starting quarterbacks, and then all of that stuff again in triplicate. If you've been paying attention even a little bit you know all this: shaped by homeschooling, his father, and Marv Marinovich, Forcier enters a veritable wunderkind in technique, accuracy, and—unfortunately—size. He's pretty shifty but not a human bolt of lightning. He occasionally tries to do too much. And so on.
The things I think:
- Forcier's high school career and spring game indicate great proficiency in many things Michigan lacked last year. The ability to throw a bubble screen and a seam. The consistent ability to exploit that step on a guy Michigan's offense is designed to create. A fairly decent running ability.
- Rodriguez's offense is as n00b friendly as these things get. Reading coverages is somewhat replaced with reading the defensive end or, in the case of a scrape exchange, the linebacker. There are a lot of short throws that don't require reads, either, and Rodriguez's previous young quarterbacks have been something between functional and quality.
- Forcier will get his head taken off and make some comical facepalm errors. He does scramble around too much and I can see the odd 20-yard sack in his future. Plus, the senior-year interception spike may be wholly attributable to a wretched offensive line but it also suggests that Forcier's more likely to Favre it than take a minimal loss and live to fight again. This will probably cost Michigan one close game they're in.
Forcier will be above-average for a freshman quarterback. This won't make him good, exactly, but it'll seem fantastic.
Which run offense is the real run offense?
One last time: Michigan's run offense over the second half of the season was above-average in five of six games, significantly so in three, and 25% better than you would expect from a hypothetical average team. Extrapolated over the course of a season, that would see Michigan rank #30 in rushing offense.
Is that a realistic picture going forward? I think it's more realistic than what preceded it, when Sam McGuffie was the primary back and the offensive line was in total disarray. With every lineman and the vast bulk of the carries over the second half of the season returning, you'd expect Michigan to at least tread water. More functional quarterbacking, both by land and air, should keep defenses less focused on the tailbacks. And Rodriguez, of course, has a history of mondo rush offenses. You'd expect the increase in proficiency to be greater than normal going from year one to year two.
This is going to sound hugely improbable, but you can see the hazy outline of a top 20 or even top 10 rushing offense in last year's numbers and the returning personnel. And though that sounds ridiculously optimistic, I can't find any factors arguing against the production Michigan found over the second half of the season other than the tendency of Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown to injure themselves in ways conventional and improbable.
Do I think that will happen? Not top ten. But there should be a major leap forward from last year's 59th. If you need any more evidence that Rodriguez knows what he's doing, this is by far the most remarkable stat in the last decade of Michigan football. Here's Michigan's yards per carry for every year available in the NCAA's online archive:
Last year's Michigan rush offense was above average given the dataset. Not much above average, but far from last and almost on par with the 2007 offense. This system works.
Will anyone emerge as a bonafide star amongst the mass of pass-receiving targets?
Michigan has a lot of options at receiver, with three or four guys on the outside, three in the slot, and two tight ends. All have the potential to contribute, but none seem likely to emerge into the death ninja deep threat that's seemed Michigan's birthright since Desmond Howard's time.
There are two guys on the roster with the sort of recruiting accolades and offers that would lead one to think they could be that guy, and both of them are sophomores: Junior Hemingway and Darryl Stonum. Stonum's been disappointing so far, though, and his freshman year was marked by a lot of balls that might not have been outright drops but were catchable incompletions. Hemingway's shown promise when not afflicted by injury, which was rarely. Both had a ton of offers and considerable recruiting hype (before Hemingway was dropped last second, anyway).
I think the answer here is "no." But the nice thing is that Rodriguez's offense has gotten along just fine without deep threats since it's so explosive on the ground. With Brown, Shaw, and Robinson all capable of turning in long touchdowns, Michigan can get its share of big plays even without the deep ball.
Not that it wouldn't be helpful. See Chris Henry's brief and trouble-strewn career, which was also paired with a remarkably high yards per catch.
Why did the offense fail so spectacularly in second halves? Could Barwis be something other than God?
I've guessed at the answer to this vexing question a couple times before, but it's worth reiterating:
Michigan is getting shut down because their offense is not diverse enough. They add in a new package of stuff, like the wheels against ND and the MINOR RAGE against Penn State, and it works for a while because it's new; then the opponent adjusts and that's gone; Michigan isn't consistent enough at any one part of their offense to force teams into uncomfortable situations as they try to defend it. This was the hope of Minor Rage after the Penn State game. It did not work out.
Michigan was able to catch opponents off guard with new packages several times. But they had such limited capabilities that they couldn't consistently make opponents pay for cheating to their new packages. Threet couldn't throw bubble screens and Sheridan couldn't throw much of anything. The receivers and quarterbacks couldn't make secondaries pay for coming up against the run. By missing second-level blocks, the offensive line did not make opponents pay when excellent play calls saw gaping holes open. It was easy to adjust to Michigan because everything they did was a variation on the one thing they could do.
This shouldn't be the case this year, at least not so severely. Michigan might be limited because they're forced to deploy a freshman quarterback but he's polished, came in for spring, and has a backup that gets the kind of MS Paint tribute you see at right. (MGoBlog: the home of all your MS paint fan art needs.)
I think we'll look back at Michigan's second-half offensive ineptitude as an aberration after the year.
It's a given that the offense will bounce up after finishing last year 109th in total offense and 99th in scoring offense. How far and how fast is yet to be determined.
The OMG top 20 rush offense hypothesized above is probably out of reach. I have zero good reasons for asserting this except maybe the vague idea that instead of getting aggressive against the run, 2008 opponents saw Michigan's clown car offense and decided to sit back and watch Michigan shoot itself in the foot. That happens to be total speculation I never bothered to write down in any of last year's UFRs and seems way less valid than "excellent second half performance from which literally everyone returns." I guess I'm asserting something in the 25-30 range. I guess.
The other half of the equation is far murkier. I'm leery about the pass protection, especially at tackle. There's no obvious go-to receiver and only one and a half plausible options for that role. Everyone except Greg Mathews and a couple of tailbacks is young, young, young. It'll be better, obviously, but the passing offense could finish anywhere from 70th to 30th and I'd be able to retroactively justify that finish.
I don't know… add it all together and this looks like a considerably above-average BCS offense with a true freshman at quarterback. So let's ding them and slot them in from 40th to 50th.
Last Year's Stupid Predictions
- CALL IT A PUSH: People are very excited about Martavious Odoms going into 2009, like Steve Breaston excited.
- OH GOD WHY IS THIS RIGHT: Sheridan starts off the starting quarterback, is replaced at some point, but ends the season as the guy.
- SET ASIDE: Junior Hemingway establishes himself a starter midseason.
- PUSH: The running back situation involves a mess of players; Minor, Brown, McGuffie, and Shaw all see 100 carries. Brown has the best YPC.
- WRONG: Michigan has a better offense in-conference than they did last year. (Ninth.)
- WRONG: Ricky Barnum ends up starting five or six games.
- REALLY REALLY WRONG: Michigan is around 50th in yardage.
This Year's Stupid Predictions
- Minor misses two games with injury [note: chalk!].
- People expect Vincent Smith to be the 2010 starter.
- Junior Hemingway is your leading downfield receiver (ie: Odoms is in the running but we aren't counting screens).
- Denard runs for 450 yards and throws about ten times.
- Michigan uses a huge multiplicity of formations on offense, debuting new stuff frequently and ending the year with a huge (hur) package.
- A two-back three-WR set is most common, though sometimes that third WR will be a tight end in the slot.
- As noted, Michigan finishes somewhere between 40th and 50th in total yardage.
Does it concern you that Michigan takes verbals from kids who have never even been on the campus in Ann Arbor? I noticed on your blog that a recent comment mentioned that he's been to EMU, but never U-M. This doesn't appear to be normal to me and may be cause for some kids to decommit at a later date.
I wasn't sure if this was due to RR pressuring kids into committing or if it's just due to young, inexperienced kids making sudden reactive decisions. Whatever the RR method is, I would like to see him go after some better players. The Big Ten isn't going to improve much with one of their benchmark schools continually fighting over most of their recruits with powerhouses such as Tulsa, Duke, and Rutgers instead of Texas, USC, and Florida.
FTR: the player you're talking about is TX DE Holmes Onwukaife, who is apparently not committed after all. But the point stands.
I don't have any hard numbers on this, but just as a guy who follows recruiting pretty closely I can tell you my impression is this is a nationwide phenomenon as players get more used to the idea of a verbal commitment being more of a reservation than a, you know, commitment. Michigan is more exposed to this than most under Rodriguez because they recruit a lot from distant areas of the country.
As far as concern goes: it doesn't register. I think you have to take such a verbal commitment lightly and recruit as if the player in question is uncommitted but has a declared leader, but taking the commit certainly doesn't reduce your chances of landing him. I guess it might reduce the chances of landing another player at the same position, but everyone has to deal with this in a new era of early verbals and frequent decommits.
I would also like to see Rodriguez nail down a wide variety of the country's best players, and I don't think this year is representative of his recruiting: in RR's previous 1.5 classes at Michigan he's brought in a large number of four stars with good offers. This year's parade of middling sorts is a natural consequence of going 3-9.
That was an interesting stat about UM beating the other teams rushing defense per average in all of their last 6 games other then MSU.
Initially, I wondered if that was due to the high volume of carries but I looked it up and in 4 of the last 6 games, UM's yds/rushing attempt was actually higher then the opponents average too. The two that weren't were MSU and OSU. OSU gave up an average of 3.5 yds/rush attempt and UM averaged 2.7 yds/rush attempt.
What makes these stats even more impressive was that you know the defenses were focused on shutting down the running game and the short passing game until Threet/Sheridan proved they were viable threats in the downfield passing game.
It does bode well for 2009, especially if UM/Forcier can improve in the passing game (could it be worse?).
Keep up the good work.
This isn't so much a question as an addendum, I guess, but some commentary: Michigan's rushing game went from a train wreck to silently competent by the end of last season despite the quarterback fiasco, which is an impressive accomplishment. With literally everyone who had a significant hand in that back for a second year in the system, the arrow points resolutely up here.
HOWEVA, I am a bit concerned that part of the success was due to novelty and that next season won't be quite as fruitful as the numbers above and the returning starters imply. In the second half of the Penn State game Michigan got shut down when PSU adjusted to the MINOR RAGE, and the efficiency of the offense dipped. Michigan won't get that advantage of surprise this year.
Also, FWIW, it does sound like that round of cuts Calipari executed at Kentucky weren't quite as bad as it sounded:
I agree with you that Calipari's over-signing and the inevitable cuts associated with it will be ugly. I don't find the first three to go to be upsetting or nearly as despicable as being Sabanized, though. I know that you pride yourself in being a very informed person, so if you have a minute to read over the following and take it into consideration the next time you write something about Kentucky basketball, I'd appreciate it.
Jared Carter didn't apply for a 5th year medical redshirt. He'd already participated in Senior Night, because it was already known that he would not be back next year. I see no difference in that and the handful of football players that don't come back for a 5th year at any given school in the country.
Donald Williams was in a weird situation. I think Gillispie picked him up at a bar somewhere at the 11th hour. (He commited on 8/27/08.) UK had an extra scholarship available, so they took a shot on a guy with offers from UAB, New Orleans, St. John's and the like. He showed up and ended up redshirting, and Gillispie told him that his scholarship would likely just be a one year deal, because he had an extra available for that year only. Again, it's no surprise that he would not be on scholarship at UK next year, regardless of who the coach was.
The third person to be "cut" was A.J. Stewart. If any of these three were politely given the boot, it was he. A.J. had been suspended for falling asleep in team meetings, missing class, and he even quit the team at one point last season. He was reinstated after a player vote to give him yet another chance. He was going to have to miss the first semester of next season because of academic issues. This guy will be better off transferring somewhere and getting his stuff together.
The next round of cuts is where things will probably get interesting, and I'll probably email you again with all sorts of justifications and ridiculousness, but I honestly feel pretty good about these first three.
Thanks for your time,
Jeremy Herrmann (Yes, that Herrmann)
So what sounded like three guys getting axed was more like one with a Reed Baker and an Amadou Ba thrown in. With Jodie Meeks is in the draft for good, Kentucky is now waiting on its recruits to qualify; if they do there will be one more outright cut.
Is this good? No. It is still worse than Alabama by a long shot, and if there's any justice in the APR Kentucky will find themselves looking at scholarship penalties in the near future—losing a guy who's ineligible is a double hit. But it's not as bad as it looked earlier.