Mason NEEDS this, Pistons, after all you've put him through
Warning, I have a feeling this entry is going to be a little longer than my typical diary, bordering on TL:DR length. But that's OK, since this is my "own personal section of MGoBlog, to post in" as I like. If you don't like it, feel free to scroll down to the link.
If you check my avatar, you'll see I joined this Blog in September, 2010, for Rich Rod's last season. I spent that first season making ridiculous comparisons between Cam Gordon and Ronnie Lott. I was a freshman. For as many good posts that I made that first year, I metaphorically jumped offsides numerous times, a la Kyle Kalis. Once I got the hang of things around here, I think I started improving. Heck, Misopogon (as he was known back in the day) even bumped one of my board topics to the diary section at the start of my sophomore season. I've been bringing you the link to the boxscore ever since. Why do I do this? My reason back then was that I thought that something was missing from this Blog. Every sports section I read as a kid had a page of boxscores. How can one truly appreciate what happened in a game if one does not have numbers to back up their feelings? Quantitative analysis uber alles! Besides, I figured that you, the MGoReader, were going to go to MGoBlue.com anyway, so the least I could do for the blog is to provide a link and get a few more page views (read: advertising dollars) for the Blog, since I was too cheap to contribute to the Beveled Guilt.
I don't know who to attribute this quote to, but someone once said of freshmen, the greatest thing about them is they become sophomores. I expect dramatic improvement from Kalis and all the other freshmen who saw the field this season, and from the few who were redshirted. I guess that leaves me cautiously optimistic about Team 135. I won't be predicting a 13-1 season for them like I did for Team 134 (yes, I seriously underestimated the effect that an inexperienced interior offensive line would have on the offense. I should know better.) Getting back to me for a moment. Metaphorically, I'm finishing up my senior season on the Blog. The question for me is, did I redshirt that first year with my ridiculous comments? Or is there some youngster out there with a tribal tattoo on his left biceps and a penchant for writing about boxscores? Should I step aside for him/her, oh who am I kidding, him, and start writing about the Detroit Lions' boxscores? Part of me says it's time to step aside. I feel the same way after a grueling fantasy baseball season, but come March, I'm first in line to sign back up. I'll see how I feel in August.
Since this is my personal section of MGoBlog, I want to take the opportunity to address the 800 pound gorilla, the 500 pound elephant, and the 90 pound mole on Ginny Sacrimoni's butt.* These items are, in order, "fickle fans," "mailing it in," and the decision to go for two. First, the "fickle fans" comment. I took a swipe at the students in my Rush song parody post earlier in the week. I apologize. Even though the now omnipresent empty rows at the top of the student section were once again visible, I saw hardly any red in that sea of yellow pom-poms. However, in the alumni section, while not quite a sea of red, numerous buckeyes were spotted. Maybe that's because it's harder to scalp student tickets. I don't know. I do know that the renovated Big House provides our team with one of the better home field advantages in college football, and it's a shame to give that up due to being 17 point underdogs. During the first half, as Michigan kept taking the lead, I began to sense the makings of the Bill Simmons classic, "No one believed in us game." Now, I don't think Brady Hoke called the fans fickle to build on that, "no one believes in you, let's go prove them wrong" mentality, but it didn't hurt. The players sure came out motivated to win one for THE TEAM, THE TEAM, THE TEAM. But like Brian, I was upset at Brady for calling out the fans, the ones who indirectly pay his salary.
Next up, "Mailing it in." I was recently assigned a mentee from the University of Michigan's College of Engineering. In our initial meeting, one of the things he mentioned that he'd like to get out of our partnership is an understanding of how I balance work and life. I've given this some thought, and I think the advice I'd give him or you or Brian, for whatever it's worth, is when you are starting out in your career, you should choose to put your career first. When I was a grad student at UofM, the first paper I had to give was at a conference that was scheduled the week after Thanksgiving. My experiments were not going as expected and I found myself a few charts short of a full presentation with a few days to go prior to my flight. As Thanksgiving approached, it dawned on me that I was going to have to choose between Thanksgiving dinner with my family, and getting that extra data that would make my talk more meaningful. So I worked till 5pm on Thanksgiving day, grabbed a couple students from Hong Kong who had nowhere else to go for Thanksgiving, and headed to the Grand Buffet. Of course, by 6pm on Thanksgiving, they were completely out of Turkey, and every other meat product, so I think I had soup, spaghetti, and garlic bread for dinner. Twenty years later, I'm established in my career. I'm happy where I'm at workwise, so I took Wednesday off and wrote a silly song parody for MGoBlog. Time and situations matter. Prince looked cool wearing a puffy shirt in the movie Purple Rain. Ten years later, Jerry Seinfeld made a whole episode around the puffy shirt. "But I don't want to look like a pirate!" So if Brian Cook decides to take a week off and not write up UFRs, I think that says more about the success of this blog than anything else. He has built something great here, and if he wants to spend Turkey Day with family, more power to him. But if the same urge hits next year, might I suggest assigning the defensive UFR to Heiko and the offense to Ace. Present it to them as a learning experience and an opportunity to take on a stretch assignment. They are young. They can write up the UFRs and then head to the Grand Buffet for soup and salad and complain about their boss.
Third, the "go for 2" decision. I'm going to focus on this more in the sections after the link. In defense of Brady's decision, I should just point out that Lou Holtz thought he should go to OT and leave it at that. Pardon the war metaphor, but I think it gets my point across. We are in a battle with Ohio State. So far, we are winning the war, 58-45-6, but OSU is catching up quicker than we'd like. There are a couple sports-related things that I'd prefer not to witness in my lifetime. One is having some team catch us in all-time wins, and two is Ohio State taking the edge in the all-time record. While we lost the battle this year, I think Brady's decision to go for two will help us in the future. Recruits like uniformz and coaches with onions. Brady is a players' coach and a guy I'd want to go to war with. That can only help with recruiting. The future is, dare I say it, bright. Highlighter yellow bright.
*I watched the series finale of the Soprano's on Friday. I watched the earlier seasons numerous times. It seems every time I'd introduce the show to someone else, I'd start from the beginning and rewatch the series. So I probably saw season one 7 times, season two 6 times, and so on and so forth. I recently realized that I haven't rewatched the final season since watching the final episode that left me wanting more answers. As I sat watching that final episode again, I felt myself hoping for a different ending, as crazy as that sounds. But then, when Steve Perry sang, "Don't Stop," that final time, the realization sunk in that the ending is set in stone. I may not like it (I don't) but I'm going to have to live with it. What does this have to do with football? I suspect that sometime in the future, say 5 to 10 years from now, ESPN Classic or the B1G Network will reshow this UofM / OSU game and label it as a classic. I'll probably watch a few minutes until remembering how the game ends, and then I will sadly change the channel. For however great this game was (especially for fans of offensive football) the ending will always be the same, and that sucks.
Burst of Impetus
* On our first possession, Gardner threw a screen to Gallon that went for 84 yards. On one play, we accumulated more than half the yardage we put up against Iowa. We effectively said to Ohio State, "If you want to dress like Indiana, we're going to treat you like Indiana." Eventually, the impetus faded and Ohio State was able to build a 14 point lead and seemingly take control of the game. However, Michigan never gave up. A huge forced fumble got us back in the game (hey, Todd Blackledge, STFU, that was not a "gift" turnover. Michigan raked that ball free.) After the Penn State game, and after I calmed down a little, I rescinded my call to fire Borges. Instead, I said he should be evaluated at season's end. Before the game, I thought he was dead man walking (hence, the Ballad of Borges.) Now? I just don't know. The team did not quit on him like they did with Rodriguez. Call me crazy, but if Devin comes back for a 5th season, and I think and hope he will, I think he and Borges deserve an opportunity to finish what they started. Handing Devin another new coordinator in year 5 just continues the chaos.
* I know, no politics or religion, but the pun was unavoidable. Ben Gedeon, Thomas Gordon, and Raymon Taylor led us with 6 tackles each. Joe Bolden was 4th with 5 tackles. The young linebackers played well at times, but they were dealing with OSU linemen seemingly on every play. Perhaps Ross would have more quickness to avoid some blocks, but I think he's a little undersized and would get trucked by Hyde like everyone else.
* We had 18 players in the defensive stats to Ohio's 20. That may be the first time that the opposition has had more players show up in the defensive stats. That's partly due to Michigan running 82 plays to Ohio's 61, and our depth being hurt due to injuries.
* Frank Clark only had one tackle. We needed more production out of him. He did have one QH that wasn't credited to him. OK, I'll admit it, I have no idea what constitutes a QH. I thought it was a QB hurry or QB hit, but Clark deposited Miller on his backside early in the game and doesn't have a QH to show for it.
* QWash didn't register a stat. If he was commanding double teams and freeing up linebackers, that would be acceptable. Instead, Ohio averaged 8.5 YPC.
* I don't know how to defend the spread. The folks that claimed it wouldn't work in the Big Ten are swimming around aimlessly in a fetid soup of cognitive dissonance today. I saw numerous posters after the game complain that Mattison didn't put 8 or 9 in the box to stop Hyde. What, and leave two wide receivers completely uncovered? The best you can do against the spread is put 7 in the box and go man-to-man with the WRs. But then you need your 4th best cover corner to stay with their WR, and if the running back breaks through the box, there is no safety to clean up. No, the best you can hope for is to win one-on-one battles along the line and get to the mesh point before they can option you. We did this once with Jake Ryan. Auburn did this numerous times to Oregon in the championship game a few years ago when Fairly and some other dude shut down Oregon. We don't have the Fairly and other dudes we need on the d-line yet.
* Gardner finished 32 for 45 for 451 yards and 4 TDs. That's good for 71%. So getting back to the end-of-game situation. A successful pass basically wins the game. He's 71% for the day. That beats a 50/50 chance in OT. Additionally, he couldn't walk anymore, so that somewhat limits your attack in OT.
* ABC showed that Gardner had thrown 110 passes without an interception, as if trying to jinx him into a poor throw. DAMN YOU ABC!!! And yet, according to Todd Blackledge, Gardner has turnover problems. I see pro quarterbacks throw INTs all the time. Yes, I watch the Lions, how did you know? I think Gardner is being held up to a ridiculously high standard. Yes, I'd like to see fewer INTs next year, and better ball control, but stuff happens. Even the great and powerful Carlos Hyde fumbles occassionally.
20 Pound Cheeseburgers
* We have a running game to talk about, whoo-hoo! A week after I noticed that De'Veon Smith had exactly one yard lost this season, in the season of TFLs, he led us with 57 yards on 7 carries. That was boosted by a 38 yard run, but again, he had no carries of negative yardage. (I thought I saw Kalis trip him up in the backfield for a yard loss, but the boxscore doesn't lie.) Smith runs north and south and gets to the hole quickly. He may miss some gaping holes as a result, but the negative plays are minimized. I like the way he runs. I wish he had 4 years of eligibility left.
* Derrick Green had 12 carries and no lost yards.
* Fitz Toussaint had 5 carries and no lost yards.
* Imagine what the odds would have been for Michigan running the ball 24 times with RBs and having zero lost yards. All this behind an offensive line starting it's 5th different left guard of the season. Kudos to Kyle Kalis for not giving up, fighting back, and earning his starting spot again.
* I thought Kerridge's blocking was much improved, except for one pass block where he got shoved into Gardner. I'd rather he attack the defender than try to backpedal while staying in front of the defender.
V. Sinha Legends Jersey
* What more can be said about Jeremy Gallon? He'll go down as one of the all-time greats.
* What was truly impressive about the receiving stats is that 9 different players caught passes. That kind of diversity prevents the defense from focusing on two receivers, helping everybody get open. Jake Butt caught five balls for 85 yards and a TD, and caused me to exclaim, "WIDE OPEN BUTT," and "GO BUTT!"
* Dileo caught five passes, and a few of them were not 4 yard button hooks that the defense knows is coming. Regarding the 2 point conversion, I watched the first two Michigan drives again this morning. On the second TD, we were lined up just like we were for the 2 point play. Instead of passing to Dileo, Gardner ran the option away from the triple stack and basically waltzed into the endzone untouched. I think that would have worked again, assuming Gardner still had the ability to move his legs. The TD occurred 3 hours earlier, so I think the Ohio defense would have forgotten about it by then. Oh well. I really shouldn't complain about one bad play call out of 82.
Norf and Souf
* Norfleet had the kick return we were all waiting for called back by a bogus holding call. The blocker had his hands inside the defender's jersey, the defender was backpedaling, and a third player bumped into the M blocker and ohio defender. This caused the ohio guy to lose his balance and get pancaked. How was that a holding penalty? If that's holding, you could call Ohio's o-line for holding every play. It seems they are coached up to grab the defender by the name on the back of his jersey and shove him where they want.
Go for the Win
* In overtime, you need 25 yards to score a TD. I checked the drive chart, thinking this would confirm my gut feeling that going for 2 was the right call. Ohio State had 11 real possessions. They gained at least 25 yards on 7 of them. Michigan had 11 real drives (not counting the end of half because Brady didn't try to mount a drive.) We gained at least 25 yards on 8 of them. Hmmm, maybe Lou Holtz was right.
* We had 31 first downs to their 23. So our offense was at least as consistent as their's, if not moreso. Hmmm, I'm really starting to doubt myself.
* Yeah, but Ohio State averaged 8.6 yards per play. That's basically a TD in OT every three plays. Yeah, but we averaged 7.4 yards per play, that's hardly a significant difference.
* But we gained our yards passing while they gained their's running, and more bad things can happen passing than running (sacks, incompletions, interceptions.)
* In addition, our starting FG kicker was in street clothes and our QB was a bag of bones loosely held together by duct-tape and chewing gum.
* OK, I convinced me, go for the win. Everything was perfect, except for the final play when the guy with the members only jacket emerged from the bathroom and put a bullet in our collective temple. We never saw it coming.
This might be the worst t-shirt ever
I still remember the first time someone asked to see my ID. I was a junior in college, and walking into a casino. I proudly withdrew my Michigan driver's license and handed it to the bouncer. He looked at me, saw my beaming face, and chuckled. He knew what I didn't: that I would start to hate being asked for ID after it happened approximately twice more; by then I just wanted to get where I was going or buy what I was buying without having to reach into my pocket and pull my ID out of my wallet. Leave me alone, man. I'm old enough.
Of course, these days, I take more pleasure in being carded. It rarely happends, but when it does, I'm pleased to reveal that I have been older than 21 for...a long time.
This diary will examine the experience of our overall roster. I decided I wanted to go beyond the O-Line and look at the whole picture. This concept basically occurred to me when I realized I was no longer completely committed to BRADYHOKE4EVER. I love the guy, and think he can be successful, but our offense is approaching the ineptitude that our defense achieved under RR, and that is indefensible. But I want the facts before I judge.
I'm wading into some dark waters here. Some people are going to see this diary as an effort to indict (again) Rich Rodriguez. Right here it says that's not what I'm doing--in fact, RR is a great coach, and I wish he had succeeded at U-M. Others will see it as an apology for Al Borges; NO. Al Borges deserves no apologies. After Saturday, I am no longer in favor of giving AB another year. Don't get me wrong--I'm not calling for him to be fired, but I'm not against him being put out to pasture. If he's replaced, however, it better be with someone who has a similar philosophy, because, as this diary shows, transitions can SUCK.
Here are the raw numbers for Michigan:
|Yr||# of players||%||Walkons||Scholars||%|
On their own, these numbers seem almost self-evident: RR and The Process left us with a roster that is almost completely useless for Hoke's philosophical brand of football. But how do they compare with other schools, and how do they compare with other schools that have recently undergone a coaching staff transition?
Because I have a life and lots of work to do that I can only justify avoiding for so long, I only studied the data of five other schools (because they were easy to find with the Googles): Wisconsin, Nebraska, Texas A&M, Ohio State, and Florida State. All of these programs have had coaching changes since 2008, and they are all relatively strong programs that compete for conference championships. Here are their breakdowns:
This is just for the scholarship players. While there is some variance across these five programs, there are some stark differences when comparing any of them to the Michigan roster. Only Texas A&M has a higher percentage of first-year players, but their second-year percentage is tiny. Ohio State is the only school to have more than two-fifths of their roster devoted to first and second year players, but at 54%, they are still 6.7 percentage points (12.4%) below Michigan. Here are the averages for the five, including the totals for players in their first two years and players and in their last three years:
|Yrs||Sample Five||2/3 totals|
Not surprisingly, players in their first and second years compose roughly 2/5 of the roster, with players in their third year or later accounting for about 60%. For Michigan, though, these numbers are drastically--and alarmingly--different. Over 60% of our roster is composed of guys who have been with the program for two years or less. Our roster is upside down. Here are the deltas for our roster versus the average:
|Yrs||Delta||% diff||2/3 delta||% diff|
Basically, we have almost 50% more youth and one-third less experience. We will require baby-sitting for another year.
What's even more striking is our dearth of experience on defense: we have just eight scholarship players in their fourth or fifth year in the program. Mattison has turned us into a competent defense despite lacking seasoned veterans, and next year he'll once again have just three fifth-year players.We have, on average, 28.4% more first-year players and 76.5% (!!!) more second-year players. The third year is the least significant difference, where we are about 19% behind the average. In years four and five the difference is vast, but nothing like year two.
Conclusions and Error Sources. We are ridiculously young. Our proportionally gigantic second-year class will be helping to even things out next year, but we'll still be real short on fiftth-year players.
For me, this gives me hope for Hoke. I like Brady; I think he's a genuine, good-hearted man with a teacher's heart. He's a strong recruiter, and he doesn't make the public misstatements that so often tripped-up his predecessor, but he must get this offense turned around or he'll face the same fate. To be honest, I'd rather have a good man as our head coach than a douche who can win games. The trick is finding both, and both you must be if you want to satisfy perhaps the most demanding fanbase in all of college football.
Obviously, youth alone is not enough to tell the story. But it obvious that Hoke inherited a roster that was ill-equipped to handle his demands. I belive that must be a factor when judging his performance.
The obvious error source is the small sample size of the average. That said, Wisconsin has a brand new coach, Ohio and A&M have second-year HCs, and Jimbo started at Florida State in 2010. Only Bo Pelini has more than four years on the job (started in '08). I suspect, if anything, these rosters are more youth-slanted than average, especially when you consider the impact of Ohio State's switch to the spread-no-huddle.
TL;DR - Michigan is extremely inexperienced, and only next year will we have a roster of normal proportions. Greg Mattison has made it work anyway. Hoke has a valid reason for under-performance so far, but starting next year that begins to fade. At this point, even accounting for youth, I can't stand behind Borges anymore.
This diary is a fuller exposition of a quick chart that I threw together and posted in Ace's recap of the Iowa game. I've expanded the analysis somewhat and corrected at least one mistake.
In essence, I wanted to chart the offensive regression that we've all witnessed over the course of the season, especially post-Minnesota.
First, let's just chart yards per play (maize dots indicate losses):
The overall regression is clear, with a big spike against Indiana. That was a great offensive performance, but Indiana. Overall there's a clear regression, especially in Big Ten play.
The problem is that not all defenses are created equal. To try to correct for that, I've divided Michigan's yards per play by the average yards per play allowed by each team:
Here you can see that the Indiana performance is still quite good -- we did better against them than the average team. But you can also see the below-average performances (anything below 100%): UConn, Penn State, Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Iowa.
Notice how poor our performance against Nebraska was: our yards per play (2.778) was only 53% of the average offensive performance allowed by Nebraska (5.27).
I also charted yards per carry by the running backs:
This is a little bit harder to correct for, since defensive rushing stats include sacks, etc. Nevertheless there's a clear negative trend, and in no case have we averaged more than 5 YPC by running backs in any game.
Finally, yards per pass:
The slope here is a bit flatter, but it is still negative. Perhaps the fall-off over the past several weeks can be attributed to injury? DG's also not getting yards rushing the way he did earlier in the season. DG rushed for 82 yards in the Notre Dame game, for example, and for 121 yards against Penn State.
In conclusion: this is grim. Very grim indeed.
Brian Meets Al Borges
(A satirical comedy by: maizenblue92)
(Brian upon having a scheduled meeting with Michigan OC Al Borges wanders down the halls of Schembechler Hall until he sees the name placard with the information he is looking for. Brian enters a room with only three lights overhead creating a well-lit center of the room and shadowed corners. There is only a white board on otherwise plain walls. Al Borges sits alone on one of two bean bag chairs in the room, sipping on a Zima, and facing the doorway. Two large guards stand in each corner behind the bean bag chair designated for Brain.)
Guard One: Borges, your guest has arrived.
(Borges speaks in an agitated, yet methodical and confident tone. Kind of like the villain in any given movie)
Borges: Ah, yes the man who keeps sending people to ask me about bubble screens at pressers.
(looking around at the office, taken aghast)
Brian: Wow! This was not what I was expecting.
Borges: Welcome Brian, I have been expecting you. Please have a seat.
(gesturing toward the bean bag chair)
Brian: Yeah, you should have been expecting me; I set up a meeting with you like two weeks ago. Do I have to sit on one of those to? Do you have anything else to sit on?
Borges: No, now please take a seat so we can talk.
(the two guards each put a hand on Brian’s shoulders forcing him into the bean bag chair)
Are you thirsty Brian? Would like a Zima to quench your thirst?
(Borges gestures a bottle toward him)
Brian: No thanks. Wait, did you say Zima?! No one has had one of those since, like, 1995. And no one with taste buds has ever had one. And do we really have to have these two guards here? They don’t really seem necessary.
Borges: The Zima is non-negotiable and yes, the guards are necessary. In case you haven’t heard, I am not a very popular man at the moment in Ann Arbor and I think it best I don’t take chances right now.
(muffled so Borges doesn’t hear, but so he kind of does)
Brian: Sounds like your offensive game plan.
Borges: What was that?
Borges: So, Brian, what would like to talk about?
Brian: Let’s start with the obvious. Why don’t you like bubble screens?
Borges: Ah geez, not this shit again. We just don’t run that play.
Brian: But why? It gets the extra man out of the box. It is easy yards most of the time. And they keep hits off of your QB. And don’t try to give me some sorry excuse that they don’t belong in a pro-style offense. Every goddamn NFL has them!
(Borges says this with a completely straight face and takes a sip of Zima)
Borges: You want to know the real reason? Every time a bubble screen is run Santa gets a titty-twister. And I will not aid in Santa’s torture.
(Brian facial expression is one of disbelief and shock)
Brian: What are you talking about! You can’t possibly be serious! You are fucking with me right? This is a joke, right?
Borges: ‘Fraid not. That is what I believe. That and running into 9-man boxes.
Brian: But…that doesn’t make…any sense.
Borges: Still probably the best reason you have heard for an OC not running bubble screens in today’s college football.
Brian: Actually…yeah…it is. Probably because there is not a logical reason not to.
Borges: Can we move on?
Brian: Fine. What is up with the 2-man routes with max protect and play action?
Borges: Well you see, with the respect our run game deserves opponents have no choice but to bite on play action. They never see it coming.
(Brian is becoming very irritated)
Brian: Are you serious? Not one thing you just said is true.
Borges: How so?
Brian: One, our run game is terrible. Old nuns with osteoporosis could stop. Two, no one has bitten on it yet because, three, all of your plays are tipped. Quite badly tipped. There are 6-year-olds calling out the play before it happens. That is not a joke, that is actually happening.
Borges: That is why I put in that veer thing that no one ever sees co-
Brian: I am going to cut you off right there. When you run veer, it is so obvious that teams are blitzing two guys into the exact hole. Another thing, why do you keep running such deep routes when we can’t block anybody? Devin Gardner is getting killed out there!
Borges: We just need to go out and execute better. We have a solid game plan. Just need to execute.
Brian: Oh no. You are not getting away with that Hoke press conference, cookie-cutter crap answer. You did not and have addressed a single point I have made.
Borges: What about the Santa answer?
Brian: Forget about fucking Santa!
Borges: Looks like someone is not getting presents this year.
(Brian fights with all of his might to restrain himself from doing something stupid)
Brian: I mean an answer that makes sense!
Borges: You haven’t had any of your Zima.
Brian: Because I don’t want a goddamn Zima! I want real answers!
(Both individuals are becoming more adversarial)
Borges: Fine, if you are so critical of my offensive game plan. Nay, genius! What do suggest I do?
Brian: Well, you have an O-line that can’t protect very long, a mostly accurate QB, and pretty good weapons on the outside. So, a quick, no huddle passing spread. It hides your flaws and accentuates your strengths.
Borges: Why the fuck would I run a communist system like that?
Brian: Because when you fall behind and go to it to get back in the game the offense has been pretty successful with it. You had your deepest drive of the game against MSU with it. It worked on Nebraska and you used some of those elements well against Notre Dame.
Borges: Eh, no.
Brian: What? Why?
Borges: Because it is important to establish a downhill run game and establish the line of scrimmage. Because that is how we play at Michigan!
(Borges is becoming defiant in his defense of MANBALL!!!)
Brian: But you don’t have the people to do that! You can’t block! You are running the ball with 7 blockers and 9 defenders.
Borges: Eventually…we will run through it. And break a long one. Then play action will work.
(an angry tone shifts to one that is almost pleading by the end of the statement)
Brian: Ahhh! Listen here you little fat man! It is getting to a point where I have to root for Michigan, my alma mater, to fall behind in games. Why? Because when they do fall behind you have no choice but to abandon your futile run game. And call nothing but passes. Not just passes, but short passes on every down and it works. And why can’t we do that every drive? Pass on almost every down.
Borges: Because then we would be predictable.
Brian: GGGGAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!! I’ll kill you!
(Brian loses control and lunges at Borges. This knocks over his untouched Zima, spilling it all over the floor. No sooner than Brian gets out of his chair do the guards in the office grab him and throw him back onto his beanbag chair. They continue to hold him there for a few moments until he has calmed down.)
(Brian now sits there bleary-eyed and disoriented from rage.)
Borges: Alright, let’s wrap this up, there is a Golden Girls marathon on in 15. Anything else you want to talk about?
(Brian’s voice and facial expressions are completely devoid of any emotion)
Brian: No. No. ‘Cause if I keep talking…to you…I will probably try and finish the job.
Borges: Alright I gotta go prepare for…uh…ah shit who is it again? Eaaa-? Weee-? Nooorr-?
(Brian answers in a whisper as he slowly stands and heads for the door; not sure this is even still reality)
Borges: That’s who it is, thank you. Well, see you around Brian. Good talk. Oh, actually, one more thing Brian.
(asking out of morbid curiousity)
Borges: Would like a Zima for the road?
Brian: (muffled grumble sounds)
(Brian also lets out an anger twitch at the request. Followed by him slowly turning and heading down the hall)
Borges: Nice guy.
(from down the hall)
Brian: Your beer is shit!
*Some of the formating got messed up copying this over so bear with me if there was some difficulty reading it properly.
In the picture pages post today, I feel I noted something of some significance. This isn’t supposed to be a post to puff out my own chest, rather, I merely want to give the
other side of the argument my side of the argument for what it really is.
As an aside, there have been numerous people that have constantly misconstrued my argument lately. I understand that by taking a particular unpopular stance so strongly, that I have opened myself up to criticism. But within this article I also want to make clear up some of my stance, so towards the end I will get into some of that. Much of these will be related to the comments I made earlier (if not copy and pasted), the major difference is that I now have the opportunity to add accompanying pictures and diagrams to go with it. This is of importance because football isn’t really a sport that is best described with words. You can try to be as descriptive as possible, but there will always be a certain amount of failure to accurately convey your thoughts through this medium. So the pictures/diagrams help in that regard. So let’s begin.
Set Up and Play Design
I’m going to copy and paste Brian’s set up to his post as he does a good job getting us there.
Michigan comes out with an H-back and two tailbacks in a twins formation, which necessarily means that the slot receiver is not an eligible receiver. Nebraska responds with 7.5 in the box, with the gray area defender just about splitting the difference between Funchess and the tackle.
I’ll get to the covered receiver part later, I want to start off with the basics here about what the intention of this play is. Let’s first start with the most fundamental concept of any run play: the blocking scheme.
Inverted veer works with a Power O blocking scheme. Power is a type of man/gap blocking scheme, while “O” indicates the pulling of the backside guard. A simple power play looks like this.
The inverted veer meanwhile, takes the fullback and erases him. It utilizes the option read to kick out the DE because the DE must commit to the QB or the RB. If the DE commits to the RB, the QB reads this and shoots through the lane inside of him. If the DE commits to the QB, the QB gives to the RB and the RB attacks the edge. Here’s how the inverted veer looks:
Now, let’s first act like there is no FB involved in the play so we can address the offensive line and TE first. As noted, this is a standard power blocking scheme. No one, from any of the offensive linemen, to the TE, do things differently than they would if this was a Power O run from under center. But the defense aligns in a way that makes running power difficult. This is an even front, stacked front, meaning the DL is aligned 5-2-2-5 as far as gaps. That’s outside shoulder of the OT and inside shoulder of the OG. The stack indicates that the OLBs are stacked over the DEs.
Well, to the front side this is similar to what a 4-3 Under will look like, but instead of the LB brought up on the LOS like Michigan often does with Jake Ryan, they’ve stacked him behind the DE.
This isn’t the exact defensive formation, but the blocking scheme is exactly the same (the only difference is the OC has one less shoulder to down block the backside DT and that the LB are shaded further from playside).
If you’re wondering what some of the things are in the diagram, the green boxes are the blocking calls that should be understood or made. As for the defensive formation, just for reference, the “G” means the NT that is usually lined up in a 1-tech slides out to the guards inside shoulder (often utilized to stop Iso) and the Loose is the SAM position loose from the LOS.
What you see is an adjustment in the blocking scheme. This is automatic and should be called and understood. Any team that runs power should make this adjustment. Why? Because that playside DE is very tight to the formation and becomes extremely difficult to kick out. His position pre-snap is already squeezing the hole that power is intended to go through, so rather than slam into that wall, it’s easier to down block him and seal the outside for the RB.
Now, here is how that applies to the inverted veer.
You see now that the person being optioned is that OLB (SAM) rather than the DE because of the defensive alignment.
Now let’s add the FB in the inverted veer. Power blocking makes another small adjustment when you have two lead blockers. If you remember back in the Tackle Over days, Michigan would utilize the U-back as a first lead blocker and a FB as a second. It was the U-back that was first through and responsible for the kick defender. The FB has some reads, but generally will try to get beyond the kick player and knock the first odd color jersey he sees.
More accurately, let’s look at it with an overhang defender. The way the FB is going to treat this is to go block that guy. If that guy tries to gain depth into the backfield, the FB will just carry him with his momentum. If he tries to go inside of him, he’ll simply arch block him. This is what that looks like:
Now let’s apply that to the inverted veer. It’s the same exact thing. The first lead blocker through takes the kick defender (here, that is the playside OLB). The fullback goes and finds the next off color jersey, typically to the outside. Generally, he will block this in a somewhat similar way, erring on the side of scooping the gray area defender. What that does is give a massive alley for Fitz to run through. It also forces that gray area defender to fight that block, regardless of if it blocks him from DG because he knows he must respect Fitz to run. That means if the blocking up front is done properly, DG has more than enough room and time to go straight up field and beyond that gray area defender before cutting out into the same lane that Fitz would run in.
So that’s how the play is designed to be run. Combined with the slot receiver taking the playside safety, everyone on the playside is blocked and a defined seam is established.
Why Run This Play?
I’m not really going to get into why you run the inverted veer, as that’s just a play more or less that has some pretty clear positives as far as reading a defender and threatening a defense with the RB and QB. But why put in the FB?
A common way teams defend the inverted veer is similar to ways that defenses have adapted to defend the read option: they force the QB’s read to be wrong. Essentially, this is a scrape exchange.
In the instance of an inverted veer, they’ll bring a defender off the edge that the QB can’t read or see because the QB is busy reading his key. The key typically is the DE.
Here’s a give look:
Here’s a keep look:
And here’s how a scrape exchange looks:
See that the read is still the same player for the QB. The QB’s read is to give. What the QB doesn’t see is the guy that is coming right into Fitz at the handoff. The defense is making DG’s reads wrong and there is nothing he can do about it.
So, to counter this, you add a FB. This is similar to what Rich Rod did with a U-back to kick the backside on a read option. Essentially, it’s making the QB’s read right by blocking the exchange defender. This means the QB just has to read his key and is fine. This is an adjustment to take advantage of a defensive look and seal the defense inside. Effectively, it’s acting similar to a bubble screen would act as it’s sealing the defense inside and attack the edge and alley with the RB (rather than a slot receiver). It’s a horizontal constraint on top of the normal inverted veer play.
Why Doesn’t it Work?
I’ll save some time and copy and paste a bit:
So the problem is two-fold: Kerridge completely whiffs his block because he archs too wide. His goal is essentially to scoop that gray area defender like he's trying to do in the MSU clip, note in that clip how he passes off the read DE and tries to get to the second level where he blocks no one because the safety he wants to block shot the gap instead (in theory here, his eyes are in the wrong place, there should be some adjustment that allows for DG to read the safety crashing and for Kerridge to scoop the DE, and DG should give here in that instance, but was likely hoping that guy would just follow Fitz and he'd have a clear path to a TD by having the option essentially block two-defenders, but as expected, it doesn't). The second problem is the fact that two people (Schofield and the TE) aren't on the same page as to what the power blocking adjustment should be.
The Big Picture
So we see this is messed up here. It is an execution issue. Alright. So what’s the deal. Quasi-rant in copy and paste mode:
Now, I don't think as far as the missed communication that it's because the blocking scheme is too complex. Much and most of their run scheme settles around a power blocking scheme. That should be better. The play against Nebraska should be executed better, but there were two huge botched assignments. The play against MSU is tougher and something that clearly wasn't repped enough (on the coaches). The FB nor Gardner made the correct adjustment to a safety shooting a gap. They might have repped it a few times, but clearly it wasn't enough to be familiar with how to adjust it in game.
It's basic Power O blocking fundamentals with two lead blockers (here, the two lead blockers are the option read and then the FB rather than a U-back and then a FB).
This is the problem that I've had with the "too many things that they aren't good at anything" argument. Veer option is based on a running scheme they utilize anyway (essentially a down G) but you don't have to pull because your kick block is the option. Inverted veer is Power blocking all the way. It is their base run play with the same exact assignments and adjustements. Nebraska does absolutely nothing that shows this play is tipped, they don't play it any way other than how a standard defense would play it. But Michigan can't get out of it's own way.
And this is the argument that I've had since PSU. It is execution. This play should work. It is 100% execution. Borges has Nebraska exactly how he wants them. Michigan is missing assignments in their base blocking scheme that they've repped thousands of times from under center, from pistol, from ace, from shotgun. That's not just on the players. Why the hell isn't the coaching staff able to get the players to block their base scheme? Why is it taking so long? Youth is part of it, yes. But at this point they should be able to block the run they utilize 75% of the time, including on their counters. It's on the coaches but it's not because of the play call. The play call is perfect. Why the hell aren't the players able to execute? Part of that, a lot of that, is youth. And part and a lot of that is they aren't getting through to these kids. It's the argument that I've made that's been misinterpreted since the start of all this. It's the same thing over and over again. Why can't they block their most basic, most repetitively run play in the entire playbook?
It’s not that there is too much in the playbook, I don’t believe that. That seems like a plausible answer when you isolate inverted veer from the rest of the offense. But it's not isolated from the rest of the offense. It's a Power O play with Gardner making a read. Blocking is exactly the same as Power O. It's their most repped play in the entire playbook.
So how can you make it easier? They've taken out most of the difficult things. 75+% of the runs are the same damn blocking scheme. Counter Power, Inverted Veer, Veer option, Power, that accounts for the vast majority of the plays and all those plays have their roots in the same blocking structure. They still can't get it done. It's not about reducing the playbook anymore, they literally can't without just running from the I formation or just inverted veer. They can literally only reduce it by having the same blocking scheme and the same run action behind it, and that would only make matters worse because blocking is the primary issue.
And I know the execution thing rings of cliché as well, but it is absolutely true. This grab bag theory that all these plays are independent of one another isn't correct. They do have some tweaks. Zone stretch is now intended to be a constraint. Same with the counter. But the base of the run game comes back to power over 75% of the time I can promise that.
So it’s part youth. Certainly youth is a valid reason for some of these issues. But it’s also coaching. I can reiterate that until my face turns blue and some people won’t accept that I said it. But there is a fundamental flaw transferring the knowledge of this scheme to the players. This is not a difficult scheme. It’s a scheme taught to high schoolers all across the country. Sure, it gets a bit more complex at this level, and it gets a lot faster and you have to be much better at executing, but the basic, mental problems?
Why No Vertical Constraint?
Trust me when I say I would like a vertical constraint (pop pass) out of this look as much as anyone. My goal in this section is to try to explain why it may not be in the playbook right now with so many other issues in this offense.
But I seem to remember a pop pass off of it once or twice last year (I believe with Denard at QB). Honestly can't say why Borges hasn't run a false mesh, slide protection pop pass off of this look yet this year. I would like him too as well unless. My guess is that he's uncomfortable with DG making that read in traffic (he's worried about someone undercutting it or scrapping into it is my guess, and DG not processing it fast enough).
This is intended to argue one way or another if that play should be in there (I would personally like it), it's just trying to give perspective on if it's been run before and why an OC may shy away from it.
Why Cover Funchess?
Again, guesses for the most part, but realistically:
As I said, I hate covering receivers. It is a tip to the defense that it's likely run (where, they don't know). That said, you would be surprised how many defenses will still trot a DB out to cover that guy.
Anyway, the reason here is because Borges wanted a guy to block the playside safety. He wanted to form an alley on that side for Fitz. The FB takes the slot defender, Funchess takes the safety, and Gallon takes the CB. Everyone else is sealed inside. That's the only reason he did it, was to get the play completely blocked playside, which it should have been.
They need to cover the TE or Funchess because he wanted to run to strength and wanted that slot blocker. So the TE or Funchess had to be covered. Now, typically I'd say "alright, cover the TE, don't cover your 2nd biggest threat". But a couple things could have gone into the thinking here.
- But have the TE off the line you open up plays to the backside of the formation with the inverted veer look (including counter schemes and how the FB would leak out into the flat later). So in a way, it keeps the box defenders more honest, which they succeeded in doing (they didn't all crash playside on the snap before reading the play).
- They wanted to know what that slot defender was doing. They didn't want to run him off, they want a clear target for the FB. Funchess covered, that guy comes. Maybe that was something they saw on film and were trying to take advantage of. But there's a real possibility that they didn't want to force the FB to read "is that guy going with the WR, do I pick up the filling alley safety or does Funchess, so do I switch to his guy?" etc.
My guess is more #1 than #2, but it depends on what they saw on film.
So what’s the point in all this? Is it to blindly defend Borges? No. The intention isn’t to blindly defend the coaches. The intention is to look at what is happening and figure out where the issue is. Here is a very, very clear example of a bigger picture. It is execution. The coaches aren’t lying about that and it isn’t a copout answer. This is a play where Al Borges got everything he wanted and more from Nebraska. Nebraska, who had a player say they knew every play that was coming, did nothing to stop this play because of any tip or tendency. They stopped it because Michigan can’t get out of their own way. They can’t execute their most basic blocking scheme that they practice and rep more than any other. This points to youth, and this fails to a failure by the coaching staff to adequately teach these players to do one of their most fundamental plays. Both of those are under the execution umbrella.
And this goes beyond this play. This goes to the pass protection schemes. This goes to how I’ve seen veer option blocked. This goes to how every single run play pretty much ever this year is blocked. There are a few players that seem to “get it”, there are some that get it sometimes and not others, and then there are the young or inexperienced that clearly don’t. It’s a fundamental issue that isn’t play calling, it isn’t scheme, it isn’t about huddling or not huddling. It’s not about if you prefer certain screens (I’d like more screens), it’s not about play action or 3-step drops or hot routes. It is as simple as people continuing to fail at doing their jobs. That’s not just calling out the players; that’s also calling out the coaches for putting out a product, for not teaching their students, in a way that allows them to succeed. They are in positions to succeed, probably positions to the best of what they rep day in and day out in practice, but the mental aspect, the thought process, the confidence to know what they are doing without questioning it or doing it wrong is not there. And that is the major failure in this offense right now. This play only exemplifies that.
Rerum omnium magister usus.
Experience is the teacher of all things.
Julius Caesar, Commentarii de Bello Civili, Book 2, Chapter 8
Setting. As the 2013 football season rolls on, the problems in Michigan’s run game have become more and more glaring. This has led to much ballyhooing and debate as to the main causes of Michigan’s ground game woes. The most basic argument is whether our problems are caused by weakness on the line or at the running back position. Brian’s UFRs come into play here, and while Fitz and the gang haven’t been perfect by any means, the play-by-play breakdowns seem to suggest that the problem lies with our offensive line. A phalanx our line is not.
Identifying the line as the problem, however, has not really made anyone very content. Rather it’s sparked a debate between the baby blamers – those who see Michigan’s youth as the source of their problems – and the crappy coach contingent – those who find fault with our coaches development of our o-line talent, not to mention play calling.
Previous Work. The MGoCommunity has already produced some solid work on this topic. The Mathlete’s preseason study looked at other teams who had offensive lines with an 1st round NFL pick combined with 2+ freshmen. Although he eventually admitted that we were still probably a year away, his comparison grouped us with the likes of Alabama, Oregon, and Stanford. GuloGulo’s diary from back in September looked at the relationship between average o-line experience in the Big 10 and success mainly defined as yards per play. After the first four weeks of the season, he concluded that we were about average in both experience and success. Gameboy’s recent diaries have shown that Michigan’s line is relatively young whether you take a “number of years in the program” or “number of previous starts” approach.
Questions. In this study I want to delve a little deeper into what we mean by “experience,” what we mean by “success,” and how those two variables are actually related. I will attempt to answer four questions:
- Can offensive line experience explain run game success?
- Are years or starts a better measure of experience?
- Is interior line experience more important that tackle experience?
- Is average experience a better measure than the weakest link?
Definitions. Neither experience nor success have single and obvious definitions. With regard to the o-line, success could be defined by wins, yards per play, yards per rush, sack percentage, or play-by-play results a la UFR. For the first part of this study, I use yards per carry as my metric for success. Experience, likewise, can be defined in a variety of ways, including the number of years in the program, the number of starts, or the number of snaps. This analysis primarily uses the number of years in the program as its measure for experience. This isn’t because it’s necessarily the best measure – we’ll test that in a bit – but rather because it’s the measure that’s easiest to find information about. Redoing this study with a start- or snap-focused measure of experience would be a worthwhile endeavor. In the graphs below, the year of the players are equated with numbers, so that freshman = 1, red shirt freshman = 1.5, sophomore = 2, red shirt sophomore = 2.5, and so on.
Data. The data for this study are drawn from this 2013 season. All 125 FBS teams are included. The YPC stats come from ESPN and the experience info comes from the a scouting site. Because this isn’t necessarily about Michigan’s o-line this year, but rather about the general relationship between offensive line experience and success, data from any recent season should apply though. Giving this thing some time depth would probably improve its efficacy. The stats are current as of 11/6/2013. All the images are from the MGoBlog flickr account; Bryan Fuller gets the credit, I believe.
This is a primarily quantitative study, but I’m in no way a statistician. My background is in Classics, as in Greek and Roman studies, so although I’ve tried brush up on my stats, there’s certainly the possibility that these metrics aren’t employed or interpreted perfectly. Feel free to correct me.
With that said, it’s probably useful to give a brief overview of the statistical measures in an attempt to describe what they actually tell us. I’m looking at 4 main metrics: correlation coefficient, r-squared, p-value, and slope of the linear trend line.
Correlation coefficient: The correlation coefficient quantifies the degree of linear relation between two variables. The coefficient ranges from -1.0 to 1.0, and the larger the absolute value of the coefficient, the stronger the relationship. This will provide a single number for the strength of the relationship between o-line experience and yards per carry.
R-squared: The r-squared provides a measure for the amount of variance in one variable that can be explained by another variable. This will be used to assess how much of the variance in yards per carry can be explained by o-line experience. It’s important to note here that there are obviously many other factors other than experience that govern running game efficiency (coaching, scheme, running back skill, etc.). A low r-squared doesn’t necessarily mean that experience is unimportant, just that other factors are also important.
P-value: The p-value let's us know whether our results are statistically significant; more specifically it provides a measure to assess whether we should discard the null hypothesis. In this case, the null hypothesis is that there is no relationship between o-line experience and running game success. The p-value ranges from 0 to 1. A small p-value, < 0.05, suggests that we reject the null hypothesis, while a large p-value suggests we retain it. If p-values are low, we should have faith in the relationship between experience and success; if they are high we should feel less confident about that relationship.
Slope of linear trend line: The trend lines in the graphs below show the linear relationship between experience and success. The slopes of that lines indicate the extent to which we’d expect YPC to change as a result of a change in experience. For example, if the slope was 0.5, the data would suggest that an extra year of average o-line experience is worth ½ of a yard per carry.
Question 1: Can offensive line experience explain run game success?
Good habits formed during youth make all the difference. - Aristotle
The scatter plot below depicts the relationship between average offensive line experience in years and yards per carry. Click for enlarged scatterplot with all BCS teams labeled.
The data broadly confirm what we’d expect. This is good! This means that we’re right in claiming our youth is (partially) the problem. The older your offensive line is, on average, the more yards per carry that team produces. The correlational coefficient is 0.16 for this data set, indicating that there’s a slightly positive correlation between offensive line experience and yards per carry. The r-squared is small, however, suggesting that only about 3% of the variation in teams’ yards per carry can be attributed to the experience of the offensive line. A p-value of 0.07 is marginal, meaning that it’s not particularly clear whether we should interpret these results as significant or not. Let’s start by giving experience the benefit of the doubt though, and for the time we can conclude that experience does indeed influence ground game success. The slope of the linear trend line suggests that an extra year of average experience is worth about 1/3 of a yard per carry.
At first glance, there does seem to be a positive correlation between o-line experience and YPC, although there is still a lot of variance in YPC that cannot be explained by experience.
Question 2: Are years or starts a better measure of experience?
One of the arguments against the approach taken in question one is that an offensive lineman’s number of previous starts is a better measure of experience than the number of years he’s been in the program. Let’s take a look; the graph below plots this alternate measure of experience against yards per carry. Click to enlarge and see Oregon and Wisconsin put up 6.7 YPC despite having less total starts along the o-line than Michigan.
The relationship between the number of previous OL starts and yards per carry generally mirrors the pattern produced when the number of years in the program is taken into consideration. The correlation coefficient is actually slightly higher (0.23 compared to 0.16), suggesting that starts is indeed a slightly better measure than years in the program for the purpose of predicting o-line success. The r-squared suggests that previous starts can explain about 5% of the variance in yards per carry, and a p-value of 0.01 indicates that these results are indeed significant. The slope of the line suggests that each extra start is worth about 1/100 of a yard per carry, meaning that 50 extra stars is worth about ½ a yard, and 100 extra starts is worth about a full extra yard per carry.
Now that the data show that “number of starts” is probably a better measure of offensive line success, I’m going to revert to “number of years in the program” as my main metric of experience. This is simply due to the convenience of the data. If someone can get number of starts for all the programs, that should improve things. Perhaps another day.
Question 3: Is interior line experience more important than tackle experience?
Why doesn't Lewan make everything okay?
One of the most common arguments against using the average or total experience of the entire offensive line is that all spots along the line are not created equal. Lewan being an awesome LT doesn’t help our RG Mags getting crushed by the NT. Essentially, interior line experience is more important than tackle experience. But does it really matter whether your experience comes on the interior or exterior of the line?
Let’s start with tackle experience first. The graph below shows the relationship between the average experience of each team’s tackles and their YPC.
Check out Michigan and Purdue with their bookend fifth year senior tackles. This doesn’t bode well for a positive relationship. Looking across the entire spectrum of the FBS, there appears to be no correlation between the experience of a team’s tackles and their ability to run the ball successfully. Once again, this is good news for us. It’s not that we’re not taking advantage of our great tackles, it appears that on the whole, tackle experience just doesn’t influence ground game success all that much. The correlation coefficient is a measly 0.02, the r-squared is <0.01, and the p-value is 0.81, which is incredibly high. The slope of the trend line suggests a very, very slight decrease in YPC as tackles increase in age, which doesn't make any sense at all.
This is really interesting actually, as all metrics suggest there is essentially no connection between tackle experience and yards per carry. If tackles aren’t the cause of the correlation between total experience and YPC, then it must be the interior of the line, right? Click to enlarge and see us at the children's table with UCLA and Purdue.
It appears as though the “our interior line is full of infants” excuse is actually a pretty good one. With a correlation coefficient of 0.22, the relationship between these two variables is stronger than when offensive line experience as a whole is averaged (in years) and an order of magnitude stronger than the correlation between tackle experience and YPC. The r-squared indicates about 5% of YPC variation can be explained by experience along the interior of the line, and a p-value of 0.01 suggests these results are significant. The slope of the trend line suggests an extra year, on average, is worth about 1/3 of a yard per carry.
If you extrapolate that out over the course of a season, that’s about 150-200 extra yards of rushing per year (Michigan had 502 rushing attempts in 2012 according to ESPN). Interior line experience does seem to be a big deal. Also, we’re one of the 3 youngest teams out of 125 FBS teams in terms of interior line experience. That is young indeed.
Question 4: Is average experience a better measure than the weakest link?
The foundation of every state is the education of its youth. - Diogenes
Thus far the data have shown that interior line experience is a better predictor of running game success than total offensive line experience. The next question is whether average interior line experience is a better predictor of success than the “weakest link” along the line. In this case we’ll call the youngest person on the interior of the line the weakest link. This really has nothing to do with their ability, it’s just a measure of their experience in the program. Click to enlarge and see Auburn averaging 6+ YPC while starting a true freshman interior lineman.
It looks as though there is something to the “weakest link” argument. The correlation coefficient in this case is 0.29, which stands as our strongest correlation yet between some measure of experience and yards per carry. The r-squared indicates that this measure can explain about 8% of YPC variation, and a p-value of 0.01 suggests that these results are indeed significant. The slope here once again suggests that an extra year is worth about 1/3 of a yard per carry.
The fact that the age of a team's youngest interior offensive lineman is a better predictor of run game success than its average offensive line experience, or even the average experience of just the interior line, is rather unexpected. This should bode well for Michigan's future along the line as we gain experience and depth in future seasons.
First off, offensive line experience leaves a lot of the variance in yards per carry unexplained. So even though this study supports the conclusion that offensive line experience does indeed influence success in the running game, there are clearly many other factors that also play a role.
In this study, experience has been measured in in two ways, both as “years in the program” and as “number of starts.” While both serve as decent predictors of success in the running game as judged by YPC, number of starts seems to be the better measure. Unfortunately, it’s also the measure that is more time-intensive to track. When looking at the outer vs. interior line, the data suggest that success on the ground is much more closely tied to the experience of the interior line than it is to either the tackles or even the average experience of the line as a whole. Surprisingly, tackle experience seems to be completely irrelevant as a predictor of run game success. Finally, the level of experience of the least-experienced person on the interior line serves as an even better metric for predicting running game efficiency. The “weakest link” argument appears to hold water.
Unit of Measurement
|R-Squared||P-Value||Effect on YPC|
|Total Experience||Years||0.16||0.03||0.07||Extra year = +1/3 yard|
|Total Experience||Starts||0.23||0.05||0.01||Extra 10 starts = +1/10 yard|
|Interior Line Experience||Years||0.22||0.05||0.01||Extra year = +1/3 yard|
|Youngest Interior Lineman||Years||0.29||0.08||0.01||
Extra year = +1/3 yard
What does this mean for Michigan? As Gameboy showed us in his diaries, Michigan is young along the O-Line, whether you’re judging by years in the program or by number of starts. What I hope to have demonstrated here is that (a) being young really does matter, and (b) we’re especially young where it matters most (i.e., tied for 2nd youngest on the interior OL out of 125 FBS teams).
Borges and Funk in happier times
There’s been a lot of heat on Borges and Funk recently, and it’s appropriate to ask whether this study indicts or absolves them. Unfortunately, I think the data tend to side step the question. The fact that o-line experience does seem to influence YPC, and especially the finding that interior line experience seems to be of utmost importance, combined with Michigan’s position with regard to these measures (i.e., they fall almost exactly along the linear trend line in both the interior line experience graph and in the weakest link graph), would initially suggest that the line is performing about as expected.
This doesn't let the staff off the hook. The relatively low r-squared values would indicate that there is a lot more than just experience that goes into producing a successful running attack. Coaching, both in terms of scheme and player development, is probably one of the most influential factors in governing run game success, and this study doesn’t attempt to measure or control for that aspect of the game. Moreover, this study doesn't account for talent along the offensive line, which would probably suggest Michigan is underperforming relative to the recruiting rankings. Strength of schedule is also omitted. Having played CMU, Akron, UConn, Indiana, and Nebraska, adding this variable could also raise our team's expected YPC, and in doing so lower our performance relative to expectations.
According to the eyeball test, the apparent regression along the offensive line would seem to indicate that there are some seriously problematic coaching issues. There are several BCS programs with similar youth-related issues on the interior line, both when experience is averaged (e.g., UCLA) and when experience is defined by the youngest interior lineman (e.g., Notre Dame, Arkansas, and Auburn), and these programs still manage to perform significantly better than us in terms of yards per carry. When viewed within the context of the entire FBS, however, the data suggest that Michigan’s youth is a real and influential issue.
On the bright side, this should give us hope for future seasons. As our interior line matures, both in terms of average experience and in terms of its weakest link, we should improve. This only holds, of course, if all the other factors that go into producing a successful offensive line – namely coaching scheme and player development – are on par with the rest of college football. That, unfortunately, is not guaranteed.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it did progressively grow bigger and better until it reached a point where it dominated at the point of attack. Let’s hope our offensive line can do the same.
Coming in part 2: Shouldn’t our veteran tackles at least make us better at pass protection?!?
Awww, come on.
 Actually, upon further review, I’m not so sure this is accurate. Over the course of 8 games, Fitz has 5 positive UFR games, 2 negative, and 1 around zero, while the OL has 5 positive UFR games, 2 negative, and 1 around zero. Obviously RB and OL numbers aren’t perfectly commensurate, but this probably suggests the blame should be shared.