there would have to be some to wash away
Are you glad you scheduled San Diego State? "Uh ... no."
How did this game turn into running Denard 25 times? Was that part of the game plan? “Uh, no, we don’t want to get him beat up. We’re going to play in a pretty physical league, so we have to make sure we get it out of the way. I thought Vince and those guys did a nice job. Vince and Touss’, did a good job running the football. It takes a toll on your body. He’s not the biggest guy in the world.”
How much of defensive struggle in the first quarter was them outscheming you vs. them winning the battle up front? “I think that the jet sweep, which is part of their offense -- it hasn’t been a huge part depending on different things that you watch game-wise, but I thought that was really where they hurt us early in the football game. But after the guys settled down and got used to where they tried to leverage you, they played pretty well.”
Can Vincent Smith be the lead back? “He ran the ball pretty well today. Until you analyze it, look at it, and really evaluate it, I would hate to say that.”
Thomas Gordon made two big plays. Talk about him, please. “Thomas had a really good summer, and it starts there [with] what he did with his weight and how he reported to camp. I think his attitude and Michigan football being important to him, and his teammates being important, and just the way he’s come to practice everyday, I’m really proud of him for doing those things. It’s paying off for him and paying off for us.”
Did the team seem flat early? “No -- [Eastern Michigan’s coaches] are good coaches too. I think they had a good plan. I think a lot of the movement and some of those things, they’re a little bit unconventional as it is from that standpoint. I thought they did a good job.”
What can you do to get passing game going? “I think we just have to be better with our feet. Setting our feet on some of our throws. That’s usually where it starts with our quarterback. We need to do a better job there. It would have helped with some possessions early in the ballgame, if we make a couple first downs.”
This is the third game you started slow on defense. Is there a way to combat that? “If there was, I think we would have tried to do that. We just have to execute some things better. There’s not a real answer to it besides we have to keep working on it and keep playing hard with it. Guys have to do a great job in practice, which they have. That part of our team has really made some good strides. It’s coming along.”
Can you talk about in-game adjustments to shore up defense? “You always have the things that you want to run from a defensive perspective. And there’s also things that may be on the fringe. We were pretty vanilla and pretty base today. But there’s a couple movements Greg called that helped us. A couple adjustments coverage-wise that helped us. More on the run support than the actually coverage.”
When it was 28-3, did you think about giving Devin some snaps? “Not really. I’ve been around this game a long time, and I never feel real comfortable until it’s :00 on the clock. We wanted to down and put the ball in the endzone, and unfortunately we didn’t.”
Assess how the defensive front did today. “I felt them a little more this week. I felt Mike, I felt Craig, and Ryan. I felt those three guys than I have.”
Running game -- what started clicking for you, and how big was it to have Vincent Smith to complement Denard? “It’s huge. I’m not going to sit here and tell you it’s not. The offensive staff came in at halftime, and said, ‘This is what we liked, this is how we’re want to align it formationally, this is how we need to tweak the blocking of it,’ and it went pretty well. Vince did a nice job. He made one cut too many on one run, but he did a nice job with his vision, and I thought Fitz did also.”
When you get a tailback going, what does it do for confidence of running backs as a whole? “They’re all very competitive. I also think they all want to play. But I think they also are very supportive of each other.”
Jibreel made a difference out there. Talk about him. “I think Jibreel’s played pretty consistent the last two games. I just didn’t feel him as much as I felt those other guys.”
Another big play by Kovacs on fourth-and-one. What happened? “It was a man coverage situation, and he was locked on that guy, and he did a tremendous job of beating the guy to the edge, to be honest with you. It’s something that Curt Mallory had worked with those guys all week.”
You’re off to a 3-0 start. This happened the last few years, too. Tougher opponents ahead. Cold shower? “Tougher opponents – I think they’re all tough. Believe me. College football – they’re all tough. Every game is such a from-the-neck-up football game. We’re a different team. I mean, yeah, we’ve been there, but we have to improve so much tomorrow when we look at the film and see, maybe we got out-leveraged here on this and why. There’s some urgency things when you’re setting up front, and guys getting lined up and all those things. Not getting technical, but we’ve got to go to work. I am not the funnest guy in the world like I am today, but Sunday to Friday, we have work to do.”
Second week in a row Gallon’s done some good things. Talk about him. “Well I think Jeremy’s another one of those guys who really, you could sense some things in his demeanor. Change in the spring. He had a really good summer, and good fall camp. He’s earning respect because of how he’s coming to work, how he’s playing.”
Denard had some problems passing. What do you want to see from receivers to help him out? “That one interception, that was kind of a bang-bang deal. I think Junior – if he comes back a little bit more, he maybe could have bodied the guy more and been in a better position. We’re pleased with our quarterback and I’m glad he’s at Michigan.”
You talked about Denard setting his feet. How hard is it to get him to set his feet when he loves to run so much? “I think it always is [hard] when you have a guy who can make multiple plays because of his athelticism. There’s no doubt that it’s a little more difficult. It is, and he’s done a nice job, and we just have to keep working, and he’s got to keep working on it and focusing and concentrating on that improvement in his game.”
Are Herron and Cam Gordon close to coming back? “Cam is real close, and so is Herron. I would think they’d both be ready next week.”
We didn’t see a lot of power runs today. A lot of spread instead. Is this by design or just playing more to Denard’s strengths as the game goes along? “It’s kind of what we’ve been since we started in the spring, to be honest with you. The quarterback power is still the power play, the read zone a little bit, and a couple things how we’re blocking that a little bit different depending on front. When we got I-backs today -- and Phil Snow’s a tremendous defensive coordinator, the guy has a tremendous pedigree -- he was going to load the box. That’s when we had a couple opportunities with some throws, because it’s all man coverage. You connect on those and the game changes a little bit.”
Thoughts on next game? “A guy from San Diego would ask that, wouldn’t he? I tell you, we have our hands full. That’s a very good football team, and a wel- coached football team, and a talented team. We’re going to try and get by the next 12 hours and then focus on that one.”
Glad you scheduled them? “Uh … no.”
Craig Roh got some stats today. Talk about him, too, please. “I thought he played more physical today. I thought he played with a little bit of a different mentality. He was aggressive. And you can really tell how he prepared all week he was going to do a great job for us today.”
Michael Schofield made an appearance -- what happened with Ricky Barnum? “His shoe came off. He’s got big feet. To get a big shoe on a big foot, sometimes it takes time.”
The way you guys end the game isn’t how you always start the game. What’s the deal? “I think it’s a little bit of both. I think both units, offensively and defensively … their respective coaches do a tremendous job of gathering information during possessions during the first half and coming in there as a group and each other’s room, taking some things out, putting some things in, making some adjustments, and relaying them to the kids so they can understand it. We [as coaches] can understand it all we want, but it doesn’t do us any good. If they understand it, then you’re going to make progress.”
When Denard struggles in the passing game, do you actively give him more carries to get him into rhythm? “I don’t know if we do that. I think your comfort level that you always want your quarterback to have is important, because he and the center and the only two guys that will touch the ball every play. Al looked at where we were and what we needed to do, and because we have worked on both styles so much, it’s easy to revert back and forth.”
News (and other important items) bullets:
- Hopkins will be major contributor, can compete for starting position at RB
- Borges wants to use less shotgun -- Saturday wasn't representative
- Mattison does not plan to put any one cornerback on Michael Floyd all game
- Woolfolk is healthy and practicing at full speed
- Woolfolk will remain on special teams
- Barnum will be back this week
- <3 Kovacs
Coach, you look great. “Well, thank you.”
How would you assess Denard’s performance? “He managed the offense very well first time out. He had very few errors. A couple of deals, but nothing catastrophic, which is really all you ask for the first time out. He didn’t create the big plays that he’s used to, but our tailbacks did. So as long as somebody does, we’ll be fine. Eventually that part of his game will surface.”
Did you get use enough plays on offense you wanted to? “Oh, it wasn’t even close. We ran 39 plays. I mean, we didn’t even scratch the surface. There was so much left in the bag, just the way the game went, which is kind of good. Didn’t even begin to approach our menu.”
The one play where Denard scrambled and almost threw a pick, did you use that as a teaching moment? “Of all the plays he had, that was the only play that was a little higher risk. After the fact, he realized he should have probably checked the ball down to the tight end in the flat, but he got a little greedy on that one. But for the most part his decision-making was fairly accurate, other than a play or two.”
Is it hard to get a gauge of your offense with only 39 plays? “Yeah, a little bit. But you have 39 to judge, [so] judge and go from there. It was incomplete in so many ways. But it was a win, and we’ll take it, and we’ll go from there. We got another week to practice.”
This horse isn’t dead yet. Let’s beat it some more. Fitz vs. Shaw? “Both of them showed up. We ended up playing them both, probably Fitz a little more than Shaw, but Shaw did some nice things.”
Can you comment on Notre Dame’s defense? “They’re legitimate. Their third-down percentage -- [USF] got two or three third down conversions on them. If you look at their numbers, South Florida didn’t move the ball very well on them. And just because of the circumstances of the game, they lost, but the defense, I thought, was outstanding. Te’o the linebacker was as active and as physical a player I’ve seen in a while, and that’s quite a statement. He is a good football player. They get pass rush with only four guys. They don’t have to blitz, which is disconcerting. They’re good on the back end -- Harrison’s around the ball all the time. Ball hawk, physical, well-coached. They use their hands real well up front on the line. They’re good.”
What do you see in Harrison Smith? “I think he puts himself in position real well. He doesn’t get out of position a lot. He’s got a feel for where the ball’s going. It looks like he plays smart. He’s physical. He’s just one of those guys I’m sure they count on.”
Passes were distributed pretty evenly between receivers against Western. Is that going to be how you do it for the rest of the season? “Not necessarily, no. I think there’s going to be games where you’ll see one guy catch a bunch of balls, and the other guy won’t catch as many, and vice versa. Once you get into the battle, you don’t know how it’s going to go, so you’re never sure exactly who’s going to get it. Now you design certain plays to go to certain guys, but because of the nature of the defense you’re not going to get it to those guys. You always want a degree of distribution, but I’m not obsessed with [the idea that] everybody needs to catch x amount of balls. I could care less about that. What I care about is taking what the defense gives you, and if that means one guy catches ten passes, then so be it.”
How did Denard do under center going through his reads? “I thought he did a pretty darn good job. For his first time, his under center play was really good. His shotgun play was -- that’s kind of his power zone, and that’s why we’re going to use that and do that stuff. His under center play was solid. His mechanics in terms of exchange, tracks and things -- had a couple of errors on some tracks, but for the most part was pretty reliable.”
Only two of Denard’s runs were scrambles. Were you pleased with patience in pocket? “He did a nice job on one scramble particularly. I think he got a first down. He came off one of his receivers a little quick -- but for the most part, what you have to understand is you want him to give the pass a chance, but you don’t want to be so obsessed with him always wanting to check the ball down, because he is the best checkdown you could have. So what could be perceived as impatience is sometimes a little more designed than you might think.”
Talk about that NFL pass to Grady? “That was the second option. That was a good play. They jumped the slide play, and he threw the ball. That was a nice play by him. He reset his feet, got his hips set, and he hit [Grady] right in stride. That was totally designed. And no scramble there.”
How would you assess O-line play re: Schofield vs. Barnum? “Mike had a good game. Mike did a good job. He was very solid in there. And now this week, we’ll see how the thing goes [between Schofield and Barnum]. It’s nice to know [Schofield] can, if that makes any sense.”
Is Barnum back in the lineup for Notre Dame? “Oh yeah. Absolutely.”
Talk about going for it on fourth and one. Whose call is it? “It’s my playcall, but it’s [Hoke’s] decision.”
Do you coach Denard on his scrambling or do you allow him to improvise? “When the protection breaks down or the pocket gets pushed or for some reason he can’t see, he has to go to an improv mode. All our improv has structure, but Denard does a lot in there that I don’t draw on the board. The one thing you don’t want to do is inhibit a playmaker. A guy that can do some things, you don’t want to make him so that he’s so robotic he’s not doing what he’s capable of doing. Yeah, there’s structure within our improvisation, but his ability to create -- I always talk about create without doing something stupid. He’s living by the law pretty good, knock on wood.”
Would you have gone completely vanilla if there had been a fourth quarter? “Had we scored on the last drive, we probably would have gotten a little more physical. It’s hard to say, but when we get ahead, we like to run the football if we can without being too conservative.”
Is the ratio of shotgun vs. under center what you’ll stick to the rest of the season? “No, no … no. The game had no balance to it with regard to that. If we had played a fourth quarter, we would have been right about where we wanted it.”
Would Devin Gardner have gotten some snaps? “I don’t know. We’ll see. I couldn’t tell you. That’s up to Brady.”
Is Hopkins going to have a role this week? “Oh, absolutely. You bet. He was in the fold big time. Before he couldn’t play, but now that he’s back, he’s going to be a factor. He’s a good player. He brings something to the table. He’s a big back that you like to have.”
Is he competing for the starting job? “They’re all competing still. I’m not counting him out of the mix.”
(more after the jump)
A photo of the elusive Greg Mattison in his natural habitat.
Can you share what it’s like to have coached on both sides of rivalry? “It’s a great rivalry. I mean, you’re talking about two of the greatest schools in college football in athletics. I don’t think there are any better when you look at the whole package of it. I know it’s a huge rivalry for everybody involved in it. It’s Michigan. It’s Notre Dame. That’s what it is.”
Was it weird when you went from Michigan to Notre Dame? “Yeah, it was hard. I can tell you that was hard because it was Michigan … you know, I can’t honestly say if I even really knew what a big rivalry that was. I never grew up being a Notre Dame fan. I’m a Lutheran, not a Catholic. When you do that decision based on family, once you’ve made that decision, you kind of go, ‘Whoa.’ But I had a great eight years there. Got to see my family through school and my daughter in collge there, so that made it a really, really good deal.”
Assess defensive performance early in the game and how you adjusted later? “The thing that happened is what you kind of worry about happening when you have so many guys that haven’t played a lot of football. You probably got the toughest scenario you could get because it was a very fast paced -- they were switching personnel groups in and out without us really being able to see what they were, and you got defenses that you’re playing for certain personnel groups that you hadn’t against a different group. This young group needs to see everything.
“Then it goes down to when a team hurries like that and speeds up the pace, communication is everything, and that’s something we’ve been harping on. With a young group of guys and young linebackers that haven’t played a lot, the communication is the first thing -- when it all happens -- it goes. [During] that [first] drive, there was a number things that we weren’t aligned correctly on. And we’re not good enough to do that. We’re not good enough to not be perfect at what we’re doing. Once they came off the side and we settled them down, and we just said, ‘Hey listen. There’s a whole ball game ahead of us. If we get these things corrected we’ll be fine.’ And then we get the interception, and [we] let them pick back up again.”
Hoke wasn’t happy with D-line play. “Neither was I.” What stuck out to you? “I wouldn’t just single out the defensive line. When we looked at that tape, I knew what I would see. That is not how we want to play defense. Our whole thing is stopping the run. Some of those runs were me -- I’m calling pressures to try to get after the quarterback and he runs a draw, and we didn’t fit our gaps right. That kind of thing happens. Others they weren’t. We have to be able to stop the run. Anytime a team runs the football on your defense, you can’t have a great day. I think a lot of our fits, our backers fitting, our defensive line knocking them back, playing real physical every snap, all those things have to improve.
“The one positive thing in the entire game, though, was we kept the ball inside and in front for the most part. We can’t allow a big play [to become] a homerun play, and that quarterback is a big time quarterback, and that wide receiver is a great wide receiver. So our guys did keep the ball inside and in front, so we could get more guys on the tackles.”
Rees vs. Crist? “Well, I think that they’re both very good quarterbacks. The one thing that you have to understand with Rees is he was the starting quarterback the last four games [of 2010] and they won all four. And then he goes in this game in a half and throws for 300-some yards or whatever. So obviously he’s a guy that when he goes in ball games, he does a great job. I think both of them are very talented. You wouldn’t be at a school like Notre dame or Michigan if you didn’t have talent. I think they both have good arms, and they both appear to be very intelligent, and they both have a great wide receiver."
How do you get D-line up to where you want it to be? Will you keep blitzing as much? “It depends if a team is going to throw as much as [Western Michigan] threw. It all depends on what the team does. We won’t sit back and play zone coverage until we have the ability to get a rush with a four-man front. And that comes from technique -- that comes from a lot of things. It’s not fair to that secondary and it’s not fair to that underneath coverage to let a quarterback like that hold it. I’m not going to say I’m a guy that’s going to blitz every down, but when it dictates it, then I think you have to.”
Do you need to get more production out of Craig Roh? “Definitely. He has to play better. One of the things we addressed is that we had too many players in that defense that did not get production. We have a big chart up in our hallway [where] you get points for tackles, for assists, for caused fumbles, all those kind of things, and then you also get minus points for missed assignments, missed tackles, that kind of thing. [Ed-M: Mattison keeps a UFR!!!] On our defense we had too many guys that didn’t have a lot of points. You had one guy that had 47 points: Jordan Kovacs. So we gotta get more guys get production. And Craig’s one of those guys. We’ve gotta get more out of him. I think he knows that, and he understands. He saw the film himself. He understands he’s a better football player than that.”
What makes Kovacs so special? “He’s a football player. He’s a Michigan football player. If you had a team of eight of those. I’m not going to say 11. Eight of those. You might sit on a lawn chair and watch the game. That hit that he came on one of the pressures -- you all saw the picture. It was what you tell and what you coach. Put your face right through his chest. Wrap him up. Eyes up. And he put his helmet right through the football. The thing that people didn’t see on that was he was in the endzone almost the same time as Herron after he had caused a fumble and made the hit. That’s what Michigan defense is about. The same thing happened that was a positive -- Jake Ryan on his tipped [pass]. He hit the gournd after he tipped it, [and] he was the first guy down there next to Herron. And that’s what we’ve been talking about. That’s a great sign. Now we gotta keep doing that all the way through a ball game.”
Did Herron just happen to be in right place at right time or was he actively doing things right? “He was where he was supposed to be. He executed the defense and good things happen. Thank goodness he’s fast. He never looks like he’s running that fast, but not many people catch him.”
Kovacs said he expected to have fewer tackles in this new scheme. But he led the team in tackles on Saturday. At what point is that going to change? “I hope soon. You hit it right on the head. When your safety is making a lot of tackles, that’s not a good thing. It’s a good thing we have Jordan Kovacs, but that’s not a good thing [for him to be making all the tackles]. That happened a number of times -- if a linebacker were where he was supposed to be, he would have made that tackle. The great news though is Jordan was where he was supposed to be, and I think at times when I’ve watched, he’s been up in there too far, because he’s been trying to make [the tackle], and all of a sudden if he misses the tackle, [the other player] is gone.”
Does having a guy like Kovacs allow you to do more with the defense? “Well it allows you to call it without wincing. No no … I have confidence in the entire defense. I wasn’t pleased with our performance. I was pleased with the win. I was pleased with the turnover margin, but as a defense I can’t say I was pleased because I really, really believe in my heart we can be much, much better than this. And we have to be. We have to play better defense than what we did. “
How do you defend Michael Floyd? “You better make sure, number one, that you’re playing with great technique on him. If you don’t -- in the back end -- if you don’t play with perfect technique, you’re going to get exposed. I think the second thing is you can’t allow the quarterback all day to throw to him, and I think you have to give him a number of different coverages so he doesn’t know all the time what you’re getting.”
Are you going to play one cornerback on him the entire game? “No.”
Was Woolfolk on pace for Kovacs’ level of production before he left the game? “He made some very physical hits on those bubble screens, which was great to see. I would love to see him play that game. He needed that. I would have loved to have that thing go four quarters. We needed it. We need every second of playing under pressure that we can get. But I’m glad that we got out of there like we did, and we got a victory, and now we just got to improve more.”
Was Woolfolk going full speed in practice today? “Uh huh.”
Will you lobby to keep him off special teams? “No. No I won’t. honestly, I will not … special teams play is a huge, huge part in our defense -- if you saw where we started on defense after a number of those kickoffs. There’s three equal parts to the game, and I’ve seen too many coaches that will say, ‘I gotta have that guy.’ Okay then put another guy [on special teams] that doesn’t do as well and you’ll see how fast that ball comes back. We really believe in that here.”
What do you and Hoke talk about on headset? “He doesn’t have it on, does he?” But he said he did! “Oh I don’t even know. I tell you what, to be honest, he probably can hear everything I’m saying without the headset on, so I don’t know. Brady is -- he is tremendous on the sideline. After that first drive -- because he’s a great defensive coach -- He was over there saying the same things I was saying to those guys. A lot of head coaches might not have reacted like he did. And that pays dividends, because we trust these guys. We believe that they’re going to try as hard as they can. Now we gotta get their tehcnique better, we gotta get a lot of thigns better as coaches, but they’re going to try it, and they’re going to do it. Just like today’s practice. There was a whole bunch of mistakes … but you know what? They went hard. And we’ll get those corrected. We just gotta keep on eliminating those mistakes.”
MGoBlog: where no sleeping dog is left to lie, and no dead horse is to remain unbeaten. -Blue in South Bend
In re: shotgun + Denard + site obsession with Denard in shotgun, Football Study Hall put up a post with interception rates that highlights one of the many problems Michigan had turning yards into points last year: Denard's interception rate. Amongst a sample of 100 D-I quarterbacks* he finishes 84th. The only BCS quarterbacks to do worse were Garrett Gilbert, Stephen Garcia, Jeremiah Masoli, Steven Threet, BJ Daniels, and Jacory Harris. This is not good company. Harris and Garcia are 1-2 on this list…
THE ZESTY INTERCEPTION WATCH.
1. Jacory Harris. The nation's leader in zesty interceptions won't let being benched stop him. If it gets too bad with new boss Al Golden, he'll just go throw 'em in the street if he has to, because swag like Jacory's never sleeps, and when it does it lands wherever it wants.
2. Stephen Garcia. With confidence. With verve. With GARCIA.
…and the omission of BJ Daniels, who either throws an 87 yard touchdown or three interceptions every play, must have been an oversight thanks to South Florida's ability to fade into the background.
Denard's interceptions weren't zesty. They were like—and I say this in all seriousness—watching the cutest puppy in the world fly headlong into another puppy's head, killing both. The defense was like watching the puppy blood run into the gutter. This is the most precise analogy ever made. Also the field goal kicking was like watching the deceased puppies reanimate just so they could poop all over everything. The Rich Rodriguez era: defined.
Right. So forwards into the endless and admittedly pretty pointless discussion about the best thing to do for the team the next couple years when they have a 5'11" dreadlocked bolt of lightning at quarterback. My position is blindingly clear: Shotgun Today, Shotgun Tomorrow, Shotgun Forever. For the next two years, at least.
Objections raised from the comments largely revolve around the idea that last year's turnover and redzone performances were flukes that should be expected to magically repair themselves. An example:
I think its a pretty big reach to say there's any "evidence" to suggest that the offense will revert to the mean. College Football red zone offenses are not random occurrences within a normal population. Oregon and Auburn weren't so good in the red zone because they got randomly lucky. Michigan wasn't terrible because we weren't randomly unlucky.
The offense was terrible in the red zone because:
1) Nobody could make a FG longer than 25 yards (this isn't something that will revert until someone can kick the ball)
2) Our offense simply didn't work as well in the red zone (I don't know why---playcalling, B1G defenses, nerves, but it isn't something that happened because of random chance)
There is no guaranteed regression to the mean in nonrandom circumstances, like football. Michigan was terrible in the red zone because being terrible in the red zone WAS the mean for Michigan in 2010.
You hope #1 will be solved by the addition of Matt Wile. We are all gunshy about this but highly rated kickers—which Wile was by the end of the year—usually do well. That actually turns out to be irrelevant, about which see this long footnote**. The redzone issues come down to two things: turnovers, about which see above, and giving the ball back on downs.
Michigan did the latter four times last year, all of them late in already-decided games (one against Wisconsin and OSU, two against Mississippi State). They missed one field goal. They failed to score eleven more times because they straight-up turned the ball over.
As far as #2, the whole reason people do these study things and use stats is to have something to argue against people who use the word "simply" as their conversational gambit. Oh, it's simple to you, is it? Well, fine then. I guess you and your galaxy-spanning intellect win. It is possible that NFL football is so different than college football that studies do not cross over, but it is extremely unlikely, and that FO study showed really good redzone teams one year are almost precisely average the next.
In Michigan's case they should expect more than randomness to work in their favor. The common thread of Rich Rodriguez's tenure at Michigan was young or terrible quarterbacks. Three years of Threet/Sheridan, Forcier/Denard, Denard/Forcier should see you give away turnovers like they're candy. There are no upperclassmen on that list except the walk-on; there's only a few confused snaps from a hopelessly raw Denard preventing that list from having any sophomore starters.
The spread 'n' shred in general and Rodriguez in particular haven't shown they are turnover-prone. On the contrary, being able to run 70% of the time and have a good offense should cut down on turnovers since passes are inherently more risky.
From Maize 'n' Brew:
And that is what this comes down to. Common sense. Your eyes. If your eyes are telling you that you're watching a turd of a football game, well... you are. If your reaction to the Wisconsin Michigan game was that Michigan just got completely curb stomped by Wisconsin in the first half, mounted a minor comeback when Wisconsin took a third quarter nap, and then still got blown out by 20 points at home, well... that's what you saw. Perhaps the stats tell a different story. Maybe. But while the stats say that Michigan ran up an astounding 442 yards against Wisconsin they don't relate what actually happened at the game.
I try to back up my opinions with statistical evidence because the use of tools is the thing that separates bloggers and chimpanzees from other primates like newspaper columnists and sports talk radio hosts not on WTKA.
If you want to go on your gut, I can do that too: Michigan has a 5'11"-ish quarterback who ran for 1700 yards last year and an offensive line that's now 100% recruited to zone block all day. They don't really have a promising running back. I feel, like, not good, man, about Michigan in the I-form.
Or I could say that "common sense" suggests that Wisconsin was not trying to let Michigan score in the third quarter and that the overall results should be taken in appropriate context, but then we're back to feelings, man.
What Is The Core?
I just don't see how the spread offense is responsible for turnovers except insofar as it puts an erratic Denard Robinson on the field instead of a finely-polished artillery piece, and who wants to fix Michigan's issues by replacing Denard Robinson?
/Munn Ice Arena
/people stapling each other's hands to their sides just in case they have a hand-raising seizure
Not having Denard drop back from center does not make his throwing mechanics worse. If anything it allows him to ignore a complicated facet of football—NFL coaches are constantly bitching that college quarterbacks no longer know how to execute a five-step drop—and focus on throwing it to the guy who's really open because you're not running the ball.
Meanwhile, the run game was kind of good last year despite having the worst set of tailbacks at Michigan since at least that year BJ Askew got half the carries. This is directly attributable to putting Robinson in a position to run, something an I-form doesn't.
The idea is that you have certain plays that always work on the whiteboard against the defense you hope to see — the pass play that always works against Cover 3, the run play that works against the 4-3 under without the linebackers cheating inside. Yes, it is what works on paper. But we don’t live in a perfect world: the “constraint” plays are designed to make sure you live in one that is as close as possible to the world you want, the world on the whiteboard.
Constraint plays thus work on defenders who cheat. For example, the safety might get tired of watching you break big runs up the middle, so he begins to cheat up. Now you call play-action and make him pay for his impatience. The outside linebackers cheat in for the same reason; to stop the run. Now you throw the bubble screen, run the bootleg passes to the flat, and make them pay for their impatience. Now the defensive ends begin rushing hard upfield; you trap, draw, and screen them to make them pay for getting out of position. If that defensive end played honest your tackle could block him; if he flies upfield he cannot. Constraint plays make them get back to basics. Once they get back to playing honest football, you go back to the whiteboard and beat them with your bread and butter.
The argument here is about the core of the offense: in the I-form that's Denard dropping back to pass or handing off to someone else. In the shotgun it's the zone running game. As the core of the offense you can't remove Denard from the game. You cheat and then there's a guy wide open. While Denard's legs are a terrifying constraint, Michigan has to force the opponent to cheat to use them.
I'll believe these tailbacks and this offensive line and this almost total lack of fullback and tight end can do that running power up the middle when I see it. If they can't you've just taken the most dangerous weapon in college football*** out of the game. You shouldn't do that. It's common sense.
*[I'm not sure why there were 100 quarterbacks instead of approximately 120 + a few injury replacements, so keep that in mind.]
**[Long aside on Michigan's historically awful field goal kicking goes here. Nonnair posted a diary asserting that the lack of field goal kicking was not a factor in red zone efficiency because Michigan actually scored more points than they could have if they kicked it:
The other seven fourth-down attempts I am dividing into two groups: (1) FG is the likeliest option and only a riverboat gambling coach or a team without a FG kicker would go for it, and (2) FG is only a possible option, either because it'd be very long, or because there was only 1 yard to gain for a first down so going for it is a viable option.
Bottom line? If we had tried FGs on all seven of those drives last year, even if we had Adam Vinatieri circa 2002 and he went 7-for-7, the most UM could have scored was 21 points.
As it was? UM got 27 points out of those drives. Six more points.
This is only one half of the equation, though, because Michigan did attempt a bunch of field goals and they went like this:
All that red in the Michigan zone is value earned by the offense that was lost by the kicker on obvious kicking opportunities. So on the field goals Michigan tried last year, we threw away 16 points, versus the six this study shows M getting back by being forced to do a statistically correct thing that teams don't usually do because their fans don't trust statistics.
Misopogon threw this behind a jump on Sunday.
Nonnair turns out to be right: the field goal kicking did not have much of an impact on the red zone efficiency because Michigan's misses are all clustered just outside. However, the statistically correct behavior Michigan engaged in also had no effect. Six of the seven attempts were outside the red zone and the one that was inside it, a fourth and one from the Penn State 13, was converted and led to a field goal anyway.
So we're down to just the massive turnovers. I hope this section has highlighted how goofy red zone efficiency is.]
***[Other than Charles Robinson.]
via flickr user larrysphatpage
Almost nothing drives me more insane than someone who proclaims certain numbers to be bad because these other numbers are better without suggesting a mechanism that would make this true. Via Slate, Murray Chass provides the canonical example:
The stats freaks who never saw a decimal point they didn't worship were ecstatic last year when Zack Greinke won the American League Cy Young award while winning only 16 games. Felix Hernandez, who won 19 and whose 2.49 earned run average was second to Greinke's 2.16, would have been my choice, but the stats guys "proved" that Greinke was the correct choice because of his statistical standing in formulaic concoctions in which we mere mortals do not imbibe.
—Murray Chass, murraychass.com, May 9, 2010.
This makes me clench and unclench my fists helplessly. It seems impossible that you could be this venerated New York Times baseball writer without picking up on the fact that AL pitchers have no control over how many runs their team scores. The fists clench and unclench because attempting to model an argument with Murray Chass about this quickly leads into a cul-de-sac where Chass says something condescending about something he doesn't understand and repeats it ad nauseum as if he believes "no blood for oil" or "drill, baby, drill" is a coherent, self-contained, impregnable point of view.
Presenting Jonah Lehrer, who actually manages to write for Wired despite being able to compose the following:
Consider the case of J.J. Barea. During the regular season, the backup point guard had perfectly ordinary statistics, averaging 9.5 ppg and shooting 44 percent from the field. His plus/minus rating was slightly negative. There was no reason to expect big things from such a little player in the playoffs.
And yet, by Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Barea was in the starting lineup. (This promotion came despite the fact that he began the Finals with a 5-for-23 shooting slump and a minus-14 rating.) What Dallas coach Rick Carlisle wisely realized is that Barea possessed something that couldn't be captured in a scorecard, that his speed and energy were virtues even when he missed his layups (and he missed a lot of layups), and that when he made those driving floaters their value exceeded the point score. Because nothing messes with your head like seeing a guy that short score in the lane. Although Barea's statistics still look pretty ordinary — his scoring average fell in the Finals despite the fact that he started — the Mavs have declared that re-signing him is a priority. Because it doesn't matter what the numbers say. Barea won games.
A man who writes for Wired ascribes JJ Barea's value to "nothing messes with your head like seeing a guy that short score in the lane." Fists clenching and unclenching due to impossibility of refuting argument that stupid. Plenty of other people have tried to do so. Some guy at Deadspin who pointed out that the Mavs are amongst the most stat-obsessed teams in the league. A Baseball Prospectus guy tore apart Lehrer's introductory car analogy, in which car buyers who focus on a couple of barely relevant but easily understandable numbers instead of the important, hard-to-quantity data are Bill James, not Joe Morgan.
It doesn't matter, though. These articles always have a tautologically number-negating logic. The argument goes:
- I don't understand statistics*.
- People who understand statistics don't understand intangibles.
- Therefore my understanding is superior.
Now let's talk about Denard Robinson and last year's offense.
*[This lack of understanding can be many things but is always at least this: statistics are a suggestive tool, not math gospel. To be fair, some people use statistics like they are a golden hammer. These people are very annoying and should be yelled at. Just don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. ]
Y WE NO SCORE GOALPOINTS
This came up a lot in the aftermath of the Spring Game, when the quarterbacks strove to make themselves indistinguishable from walk-ons and quite a lot of people put finger under collar and went "uggggghhh." This was met with a round of backlash largely consisting of people pointing at select—sometimes hilariously select—statistics from last year's team in an effort to prove the offense wasn't really that good.
The favorite was a focus on the first halves against good opponents, when Michigan did not score points. This did not escape notice even around here:
The Ohio State game has the power to make whatever happens in it seem like Michigan's season in microcosm, and so the overriding theme of the 2010 season is looking up at the scoreboard at halftime to see Michigan on pace for about 500 yards and about twenty points. Michigan had 238 yards and seven points this time around and instead of a competitive game we got the usual.
Michigan was frustratingly spectacular at getting to the half with almost 300 yards and something like ten points on the board. But using points to evaluate the output of an offense is like using wins to evaluate a pitcher. Events outside the entity you are trying to evaluate have so much impact on that number, it is only a fuzzy explanation of the story.
I have engaged in message board fights and observed many more about whether the Wisconsin game was a failure on the offense's part. At the half the score was 28-0 Wisconsin and the game was as good as over, whereupon Michigan came out of the locker room and scored three straight touchdowns against the UW defense. This would have made the game interesting if Michigan could have forced the Badgers to pass, ever.
My fists do the clenching bit whenever anyone tries to claim the Wisconsin game was evidence Michigan should move away from the spread. The Michigan offense's entire first half:
Michigan drives from their own one yard line to
the Wisconsintheir 35 before punting.
- Michigan drives from their 28 to the Wisconsin 13; Seth Broekhuizen misses a 30-yard field goal.
- Three and out from the 36.
- Three and out from the 40.
(There was also a meaningless two play drive at the end of the half.) That's not a great four drives. It is a great seven drives if you consider the next three. Meanwhile, the final touchdown against UW is often dismissed as "garbage time" but Badger tacklers on that drive include JJ Watt, Patrick Butrym, and Aaron Henry—all starters—and Michigan hit Roundtree three times for more than 20 yards on a three-minute march. That was not Wisconsin's goal. Even if you still dismiss Michigan's last couple drives as garbage you have to acknowledge that the defense's inability to make them meaningful robbed the offense of opportunities to impress for real.
But you're sitting there and your fists are clenching and unclenching and everything is black and doom and blacky black doom, so maybe it's hard to tell.
Transistors don't give a damn
This is the disconnect. While what seems like a fairly large subset of the fanbase saw wholesale collapse in the Wisconsin game, computers saw two units failing immensely and an offense that put up 442 yards on a defense that gave up 321 on average, scored 31-ish points (computers will credit the offense with acquiring the field position for the field goal and deduct the miss from the special teams; if they deduct from the garbage TD they will use a lower denominator when trying to figure out expected points) on a defense that gave up 21. Statistically, Michigan's offense was at least a standard deviation above the mean against the Badgers.
While the Wisconsin game is the biggest outlier between the offense's actual and perceived performance, it's instructive. It is often lumped in with the crap from last year along with Iowa (tenuous case indeed there), MSU, OSU, and the bowl game. There is no reasonable case it should be. This is why statistics are useful, because meat-emotions often overwhelm our capacity for reason.
These are the questions I think we should be asking in our most robotic voices:
What aspects of last year's performance project most strongly to next year's?
There are three reasons for the gap between points and yards: field position, field goal kicking, and turnovers. The latter two combined to see Michigan's redzone scoring rate rank 109th nationally. The first two are almost entirely out of the offense's control. The latter was a huge problem all three years under Rodriguez. However, turnovers notoriously do not correlate year to year, are heavily dependent on quarterback, experience and saw Rich Rodriguez consistently in the black at West Virginia.
Michigan's turnover issues aren't fate, should improve naturally, and are not related to the spread. Most of Michigan's other issues at turning yards into points are not really the offense's.
That leaves an inherent flaw in the spread offense as a potential culprit that has the potential to repeat next year. Point in favor: Michigan was even worse in the redzone in 2009, finishing with just 49% of available points. Point against: Auburn and Oregon finished in the top ten last year. Further point against from a Football Outsiders study of the NFL:
We took … 20 overachievers and measured their performances the season after said overachievement; while their DVOA [ed: something value over average, a fancy stat they have designed to smooth out noise.] in the red zone that initial season exceeded their total offensive DVOA by an average of 33.3 percent, in the following season, their DVOA in the red zone exceeded their total DVOA by an average of 1.3 percent. In other words, the teams' performances in the red zone mirrored how they did outside it, implying the overachieving was a fluke.
We also can measure this by using correlation coefficients, a way of measuring the relationship between two variables that results in a number ranging from minus-1 (at which the two variables have an exact inverse relationship) to plus-1 (at which the variables have a perfectly positive relationship). The correlation between a team's performance in the red zone and its overall offensive performance, year to year, is 0.08 -- essentially nil. Teams simply do not exceed their performance in the first 80 yards once they get to the final 20 on a regular basis.
The evidence suggests Michigan's red zone struggles should revert to the mean; the things that made the offense less than the sum of its yards last year are all small sample size outliers.
What's left that does correlate, or at least correlates better? Everything else. On a play by play basis Michigan's offense does well in standard and advanced metrics, and returns ten starters. If they should be better but weren't (because of things that should revert) and can expect similar performance next year (because of all the returning starters), then what should happen is that the expected and actual meet somewhere south of #2 nationally but well within the schwing range.
Is it better to play to Al Borges's strengths or the offense's strengths?
In 2008 this was easy since the offense had no strengths. In 2011 it's a difficult question. Michigan's transition demands that Borges or Denard (and, importantly, the OL) leaves his comfort zone. This is necessarily going to be suboptimal for someone.
The spring game suggests it will be vastly suboptimal for Denard if Borges gets his way, and it seems a lot easier to change playcalls than turn Denard into Jon Navarre. Unfortunately, it's not that easy. The last few years I've documented the ever-evolving Michigan run offense. Rich Rodriguez kept ahead of the curve by constantly adding new wrinkles to the ground game. He was able to do this because of his vast experience with the spread 'n' shred. Al Borges is a smart guy with a lot of experience but his history suggests his inventiveness may be more oriented towards the passing game. If a good chunk of offensive effectiveness is staying ahead of the game, Borges might be able to do that better from a pro-style offense.
But the following is true even in the NFL:
Shotgun formations are generally more efficient than formations with the quarterback under center.
Over the past three seasons, offenses have averaged 5.9 yards per play from Shotgun, but just 5.1 yards per play with the quarterback under center. This wide split exists even if you analyze the data to try to weed out biases like teams using Shotgun more often on third-and-long, or against prevent defenses in the fourth quarter. Shotgun offense is more efficient if you only look at the first half, on every down, and even if you only look at running back carries rather than passes and scrambles.
With an offense outright designed for the shotgun featuring a quarterback whose main asset is his legs, the cutting-edge effect would have to be absurdly important to make the offense more effective from under center.
Does I-form pro-style help you win in ways undefined by conventional statistics?
This is Brady Hoke's theory when he denigrates the zone-heavy spread offense as an impediment to having a good defense. A quick glance at the top defenses in both conventional and fancy measures suggests this is unlikely. TCU, Boise State, and West Virginia were the top three teams in yardage defense. WVU, Missouri, Oklahoma, Auburn, Oregon, and Mississippi State are all in the top ten in defensive FEI. There appears to be little if any problem with having a top defense opposite your spread 'n' shred offense as long as you account for the increased pace of the spread.
Is it worth sacrificing effectiveness down the road for immediate results?
Unknowable, but there's no better way to quickly put the question marks on Brady Hoke's resume to rest than by having a breakout first season.
Extensive Conclusion Section
MOAR SHOTGUN PLZ
Movin' on up. Prepare to be annoyed:
Michigan has increased ticket prices for the 2011 football season.
Individual game tickets will be $70 for games against Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, San Diego State, Minnesota and Purdue. The night game against Notre Dame, and the Nebraska and Ohio State games are considered "premium" games and will cost $85.
Michigan hasn't raised prices in seven years, so some increase was overdue but tickets went up slightly less than twenty dollars on average. I'm not sure how much more the market will bear, and neither is the U—they're offering partial season ticket packages now. Clearly they've eaten through most, if not all, of the waitlist and are now in a situation where they're going to have to get creative to fill the stadium.
Insert the usual muttering about short-term corporate thinking here.
This. Chunkums has been deployed:
Speaking of. I was extremely glad to see a post from Doctor Saturday titled "The worst thing about Jim Tressel" that coldly lays out why tatgate should be met with a much stronger response from the NCAA than OSU's two-game wrist tickling. I'm a partisan so the thought that my reaction to the affair is loony is always present. This helps mitigate that:
…not only did Tressel maintain his silence to the NCAA. Not only did he lie to reporters. Not only did he not cut his losses and take his medicine, like a humbled man who had already gotten away with something. Instead, he actively pushed the envelope to keep the ineligible players — now officially ruled ineligible by the NCAA — on the field. Like an inside man in a robbery watching his accomplices being led away in handcuffs, bailing them out of jail and coming back for the rest of the money anyway. (And then publicly lecturing them about their crime.) Ohio State treated winning the Sugar Bowl like an end to itself, a big score, and risked everything — or at least the first half of the 2011 season — to get it.
And it worked.
Hinton later says the NCAA "almost can't go far enough" after Ohio State hoodwinked them into allowing those guys to play in the Sugar Bowl. He's a Southern Miss alum who is the "shades of gray" guy he claims at the beginning of the piece and is invulnerable to the HATERZ response*, so… yeah. This is a big deal.
*[Except he's not because people who say HATERZ cannot be dissuaded from saying HATERZ.]
We're going to kill you for your attempted help. If you thought it would be bad news for the lawyer who tipped Tressel off, you're right:
Cicero, a walk-on player at Ohio State in the early 1980s, said he has received a few death threats this week. Tressel became an assistant coach at Ohio State during Cicero's senior year in 1983.
"I'm not the Judas in this situation, you know. I feel like Peter, but I'm not the Judas," Cicero said.
This isn't LOLOHIO. After watching the Fab Five documentary I'm sure there are Michigan fans scribbling out racist letters to Jalen Rose who would be happy to forward along a death threat to any Michigan equivalent of Cicero. I mention it just because everyone saw this coming despite Cicero's obvious affection for the program. Actually, wait—I just remembered Ryan Hamby got death threats for dropping a pass. Scratch that. Resume LOLOHIO.
Cicero has some harsher words, too, for the guy who turned his effort to help into a major scandadl.
Playoff one, playoff two, playoff three. Doc Sat has also provided his official playoff proposal, one that hews fairly close to the one I keep pushing. (Also there's a long post aimed at a playoff skeptic if anyone's interested in the philosophical reasons.) Mine is built around a restricted field of six teams, no autobids, byes, and home games. His is built around a slightly less restricted field of ten teams, autobids, byes, and home games.
I like mine better—which is why it's mine—because I'd rather live in a world where this year's UConn team isn't a lamb to be slaughtered when a small field is necessarily going to leave some teams with a vague chance of winning the whole thing out. DocSat's still grasps the three-point tao of a college football playoff:
- Reward in-season success more heavily than most playoffs do by having byes and allow teams to play at home.
- Restrict the size of the field so 9-3 teams are told to GTFO.
- Create a system that guarantees the last team standing also has the best resume.
The more I think about that last one the more I think it would be hard to create a playoff that didn't do this as long as you kept the field relatively small, but the byes and home games aid greatly.
The gun. Every time I start talking about what Michigan's offense is going to look like under Al Borges it comes back to one simple question: they can't really put Denard under center, can they? They can, it seems, but they won't all the time:
Q: How do you tweak the offense to suit Denard Robinson’s strengths?
A: We’re a pro-style offense. We’re not going to be shotgun every play. But we’ll probably favor a little more gun now than we did last year at State, and we ran quite a bit of shotgun last year.
But because of him, and some of the things you can do in the gun with him, we’ll be in a little more gun than we have in the past. But to say we’re going to be a gun team? No, we’re going to line up under center and come downhill on our runs.
Operating from behind center with Denard limits his running to Incredibly Surprising QB Draws, Incredibly Surprising Bootleg Passes, and scrambles Denard almost refused to take last year. It's hard to see how Michigan gets Robinson the thousand yards rushing Borges said they'd like from him unless they use the gun plenty, and it's good to see something explicit saying they will.
I bet people don't like going under center and in crunch time it's an offense that looks quite a bit like last year's—remember the read option was not a huge feature.
Elsewhere in that Q&A from the luncheon, Borges repeats the thing about getting Robinson prepared for the NFL that we've heard since the new guys arrived. This I don't like so much. I don't care if Robinson impresses NFL scouts with his footwork on a seven-step drop for many reasons. It doesn't win football games, for one. For two, NFL scouts won't care how impressive his footwork is because he'll be a wide receiver on draft boards. He's 5'11" tops. He's not playing quarterback in the NFL unless he turns into Lightspeed Drew Brees, and while I love Denard in a way Leviticus (PAYNE) would disapprove of that's highly unlikely.
Boo. Bruins Draft watch scouts 2012 hockey commit Boo Nieves:
…excellent NHL prospect given his natural size, skating and offensive skills. At 6-3, 185 has the frame to be an attractive option in the pros when he fills out. Outstanding skater who accelerates quickly and is extremely agile and elusive. Explosive burst and separation gear; can turn defenders easily as he attacks with speed to the outside and isn't afraid to go into traffic. Excellent stickhandler; confident with the puck and wants it on his stick. Highly creative and just seems to have a knack for making plays all over the offensive zone.
There's a couple paragraphs more at the link; the upshot is that Nieves is a potential first rounder if he continues playing the way he is even if he sticks around prep school for another year instead of heading to the USHL or (guh) OHL. Michigan wouldn't mind that since Matt Herr is his coach.