also duty-free guys falling over and grabbing their shins
Running for our lives...against UConn
2013. The season of Manball. The season of Devin Gardner. The thumping of CMU. The return of Ol' 98. The full bucket of KFC after Notre Dame. The...WTF just happened?
Brady Hoke appeared poised to repeat the third-year success of past Michigan coaches with more of his recruits taking the field and the full installation of his offensive philosophy of MANBALL. An easier schedule meant 9 wins was almost a worst-case-scenario. Ohio at home was going to be the most significant edition of "The Game" since 2006.
Is it time to throw all of that away?
Michigan is 4-0 heading into its first bye week, but never has undefeated felt so much like a funeral. CMU went as expected, Notre Dame was pure joy; now there is an anxious certainty that armageddon is just around the corner.
You know it's bad when the gif is from The Shining
But I thought, "Maybe it's not as bad as it looks. Maybe there is some semblance of hope in the numbers that I'm just not able to see now." So I set out to find solace in statistics, in search of some great white buffalo to sooth my soul.
Let's start with Akron. We're talking about a team that has picked-up only 17 recruits ranked above two stars on rivals in the last five years. To put that in perspective, Michigan had 17 players with FOUR stars or better in the 2013 class alone. Saying there is a "talent gap" is like calling the Grand Canyon a pothole.
Maybe a chart will make me feel better:
|Date||Opponent||Surface||Result||Rush Yards||Pass Yards||Plays||Total Yards||Yards/Play|
|08/29/13||@ UCF||Grass||L 7-38||134||116||60||250||4.17|
|09/07/13||James Madison||Turf||W 35-33||69||287||57||356||6.25|
|09/14/13||@ 18 Michigan||Turf||L 24-28||107||311||79||418||5.29|
This is Akron's offensive output through their first four games. UCF held Akron to 168 fewer yards and 1.12 fewer yards/play. How bad is 5.29 yards/play? Last season, only Alabama, Northwestern, Ohio State, and South Carolina averaged more yards/play against us. All of those teams finished the season ranked #17 or higher. UMass averaged 3.92 yards/play; Purdue 3.49; Illinois 2.53. Even Nebraska only posted 5.02, while Air Force managed 4.63.
Not since GERG has a cupcake been able to move the ball so effectively against Michigan, and even the 2008 defense had a better average yards/play than 5.29. So yeah, that's really bad. I'm not feeling any better yet. Maybe another chart?
|Date||Opponent||Surface||Result||Rush Yards||Pass Yards||Plays||Total Yards||Yards/Play|
|08/31/13||Central Mich.||Turf||W 59-9||242||221||68||463||6.81|
|09/07/13||22 Notre Dame||Turf||W 41-30||166||294||72||460||6.39|
|09/21/13||@ Connecticut||Grass||W 24-21||192||97||72||289||4.01|
That's better. Our offense cranked out 6.85 yards/play vs. Akron--even better than we did against CMU. Sure, there were some negative plays and the MANBALL didn't really get going until late, but you can't argue the offense wasn't productive when it piled-up 425 yards on just 62 plays. The real problem was the 62 plays--a number indicative of bad defense and turnovers. If we get to 70 plays--roughly our average in the three other games--we're looking at about 480 yards of offense.
But there was something in that chart that bothered me...
HOLY $#!%!!! We only managed 4.01 yards/play agasint UConn? The only game we did worse than that in 2012 was Nebraska. We put up 4.80 yards/play agasint 'Bama, 5.26 against MSU, and even managed 4.53 against ND. Only MSU and VaTech held us under 4.01 yards/play in 2011 (3.73 and 3.54, respectively) and NO ONE kept us that low in 2010. In 2009, Penn State held us to 3.42. Three teams did in 2008--but those three teams had a combined seven losses. In 2007, Penn State allowed just 3.91, while Ohio didn't let us move: we averaged just 1.49 yards/play.
What do you notice about all those teams? They're good. Most of them were really good. I am not willing to go back further than 2007, but I seriously doubt Michigan has ever had such a poor offensive performance against a cupcake. We averaged 6.22 in The Horror.
I need more chart.
|Date||Opponent||Surface||Result||Rush Yards||Pass Yards||Plays||Total Yards||Yards/Play|
|09/21/13||18 Michigan||Grass||L 21-24||47||159||57||206||3.61|
UConn managed just 3.61 yards/play against us. That's basically what MSU and VaTech did to us in 2011, and it's far better than Towson or Maryland fared against the Huskies. It's even better than the 3.68 yards/play we allowed to CMU. Only Purdue and Illinois were held to lower yards/play in 2012, and only Illinois in 2011. Miami (NTM) and Delaware State were the only teams held under that average in the RR era, and in 2007 we held Minnesota to 3.50 and Notre Dame to...1.44.
In the Akron game, the defense was really, really bad. Against an opponent whose players barely make the Rivals rankings. In the UConn game, the offense was even worse. While UConn's 40 three-star recruits (and one four-star!) in the last five classes make Akron jealous, they're hardly a football powerhouse.
The good news is that only one side of the ball sucked in both games (although special teams certainly haven't helped much). That kept us from a second-coming of The Horror. The bad news is that we are capable of playing at historically bad levels on both sides of the ball. Elite teams don't do that.
Based on the last two weeks, it's hard to look at any of our remaining games and feel totally secure. We're not playing anyone as bad as Akron or UConn the rest of the way. If our offense plays like they just did, Minnesota could beat us. If our defense plays like they did against Akron, Indiana could beat us. I just threw-up in my mouth thinking about that.
If we can get the team to play to its potential on both sides of the ball, we could definitely still get to double-digits in the win column. That's a big "if". For now, I'm revising my 10-2 prediction to 8-4. We could easily lose four-out-of-five in November, or Penn State could trip us in October.
It's frustrating that I am this nervous/anxious for the Minnesota game as a measuring stick.
In the past, I have been loudly outspoken that many of Borges's bad game plans (read: OSU) have been just as much or more because of poor execution, which has been contrary to the tidal force of this blog and most Michigan fans. I've prefaced this by saying that poor execution is just as much on the coaches as it is on the players, and that by saying "execution was the main problem", I wasn't claiming Borges's gets a free ride.
Well, this last Saturday I tweeted out something to the extent of "Borges's called a hell of a game," and I want to preface that with the fact that the players are just as responsible for that because of their execution as Borges's and the coaching staff are for calling the plays and preparing the team to execute.
The point is, neither is anything without the other. Borges apparently called a wonderful game, but if the players execute like they did against OSU, the play calling looks mediocre at best. Maybe this could go elsewhere in one of the many threads about this topic, but as a fairly outspoken member of the board, I wanted to let this come full circle. No game boils down to an OC called a bad game, and no game comes down to an OC called a great game. This is what happens when the two come together. This is the outcome when neither has to be perfect (because neither playcalling nor execution was perfect), but both were for the most part very good.
EDIT: Title change to not come off as flaming.
This will be a bit of an abbreviated post because, well, 59-9 tells a pretty compelling story. Sure, I will try to tease out some larger trends from the game, but the biggest takeaway is that UM destroyed a MAC team in the way you expect the winningest program in college football history to do so, and nobody really seemed that surprised. Given the relative struggles the past half-dozen years, that’s the biggest Best I can point out.
Best: The least sexy 59 points you’ll ever see
As Brian noted in his “Five Questions, Five Answers” preview, the Al Borges offense we’re going to see is not the spread that was trotted out under RR and limped along until the end of the Denard era. While I take issue with the “wrong side of history” supposition of this decision, I agree with Brian that Borges’s offense will remain dynamic and creative enough that the ghost of Mike Debord will stay in his comically 90’s room for the foreseeable future.
That’s like, totally your opinion
But 52 points were scored by this offense without much in the way of trickeration or going for 2 points on the first two TDs, you twerp. It was an efficient, dominant performance with wrinkles here and there but also a consistent scheme that was frankly missing during the Transition. As Ace noted there are questions about the line, but Kalis MANBALLED a couple of guys and held up well; I expect Miller to struggle at times but should improve with more reps to at least competent. This offense will undoubtedly struggle at times when teams are able to collapse the inside of the line, and the WRs need to create more separation than they did today, but overall it felt like the type of performance one expected from this unit. It should be the best in the conference unless OSU figures out how to block people, and even then I think the plethora of backs and TEs will continue to keep Devin reasonably clean and away from too many hits running the ball.
Best: Who needs redshirts?
The usual suspects played – Morris, Smith, and Green on offense; Charlton and Thomas on defense. Not unexpected burning men like Gedeon, Butt, and Stribling also suited up, and while I’m a little annoyed if Gedeon only plays on special teams this year, you have to think the coaches like what he brings on defense to push him into a more prominent role. Lewis is a bit of a head scratcher, but Norfleet had some troubles early on with returns and Lewis is a shifty guy in space. But overall, I’m not a fan of redshirting except when the guy in question really wouldn’t help you (i.e. most linemen, small-ish WRs, anybody in the secondary unless they are unbelievable), and basically everyone who played acquitted himself well enough to warrant more playing time in some capacity.
So yeah, the defense looked REALLY fast out there. Thomas on the punt block practically yanked the ball out of the punter’s hands, and throughout the game CMU players were hit as soon as they touched the ball. Early on it seemed like Countess was playing off the WRs too much, but then every time the ball was sent their way he stuck the receiver almost immediately. Other than one or two plays toward the end, the secondary kept everyone in front of them and rarely did you see much separation. Under Hoke, it sometimes felt like Mattison and co. had to gameplan teams into spots to compensate for a lack of athleticism at certain positions; at least after today it looks like those limitations are disappearing quickly. It isn’t quite LSU/Alabama speedsters out there quite yet, but this is another check in the “good recruiting” checklist for this staff.
Worst: We can’t have nice things
Listen, I’m as neurotic and cynical as the next guy when it comes to sports, but at some point it just gets old. I will admit to being a bit down about the early play calling and will remain a Borges questioner until such time as I learn how college offenses work, but at some point the liveblog became one big bit*hing session+ once it was clear UM was going to run away with the game. All of a sudden you have people questioning Derrick Green’s ability to run through contact, Frank Clark’s inability to get to the QB (I will admit to being in this group initially), and every non-TD run or non-intercepted completion as proof that some component of the team wasn’t “working” or was a point of concern. The hive mind of the liveblogs can adopt misguided stances and I get that it shouldn’t be taken seriously, but the team just scored 59 points against a bowl team, held them to a couple of field goal attempts with 3(!) of 14 drives longer than 30 yards, and averaged 5.1 yards per carry and 10.5 yards per attempt. They played pretty well folks; let’s enjoy the win for at least a day before we all try to Gladwell our way through trends from one game.
+ I never understand *’ing out the vowel in a cuss word. I think we all know that “f*ck” doesn’t refer to one-time Tiger’s first basemen Robert Fick, yet everyone apparently thinks removing the ‘i’ in sh*t is going to throw everyone off the scent. Either blot out the whole word or leave it alone. /HOTSPORTSTAKE
Had 106 yards on 4 returns, and was a couple of broken tackles away from housing at least 1 of those returns. He also recorded 38 yards on his one run, and overall looked like a dynamic component of the offense. He’ll never be an every-down back and I doubt he’ll reach the heights of Breaston (who seemingly was both faster a bit more elusive in small spaces), but he gives this team a legitimate return man for the first time since, I don’t know, McGuffie, and the type of guy who can take those once-a-game Ronald Bellomy WR runs and make them work because the other team can’t immediately assume that’s why he’s on the field.
Worst: Out of Nowhere!
Fair warning: this section is going to be one big wrestling analogy. Since I was around 6 years old, I’ve been a huge fan of professional wrestling. I watch it on television, Hulu, and Youtube every chance I can. I once rented every Wrestlemania (9 of them at the time) and watched them straight, without blinking, and probably lost a gallon of water with the drool that fell from my mouth. I loved Jake Roberts and Damien so much I cried when Earthquake “squished” him during their feud. I was a little Hulkster, then a member of the Warrior nation, followed by a heartbroken Rocker fan (seeing Shawn kick Marty Jannetty and throw him through the barbershop window taught me to never trust anyone in a leather jacket). I was a fan of the Dangerous Alliance and marked out so hard when Stunning Steve became Stone Cold and ushered in the Attitude Era along with DX, the Rock and Sock Connection, Kurt Angle, and washed-up MMA guys like Tank Abbott and Ken Shamrock. Hogan creating the NWO with Kevin Nash and Scott Hall set the world on fire for a bit, and Goldberg speared anyone with a pulse into next Tuesday. TLC wasn’t a way to treat a lady or a TV channel with weird shows about future diabetes sufferers; it was a brutal contest with enough splintered tables and broken limbs to remind you how fragile the human body is. Innovators like Chris Jericho and Rey Mysterio showed you little guys could rise to the top, and Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit shed the “Vanilla Midgets” label to become champions even though their careers ended suddenly (and in Benoit’s case, horribly). Even with the relatively fallow period that followed Brock Lesnar’s departure to NFL training camps and, ultimately, the UFC, I still enjoyed watching Batista, JBL, Orton, John Cena, and the rest soldier on. And with the ascension of “Indy” guys likes CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, plus the healthy growth of the development system and the indy feds like ROH, PWG, CZW, and the like, it is a good time to be a fan.
Over this time, I’ve seen the medium evolve and grow, and mostly for the better. Guys train harder and take better care of their bodies, match quality is higher, and storytelling has evolved to the point where major sports blogs have writers dedicated to covering it. It isn’t necessarily still real to me, but I definitely see it maintaining a place in my sports life going forward.
One change I have noticed over the years, though, is the proliferation of “spontaneous” in-ring moments and moves that you just didn’t see back in the 80’s and early 90’s. It used to be when a guy was going to hit his “finisher”, he had some setup – Hogan gave you the big boot before running the ropes and dropping the leg; Ric Flair gave you the knee breaker and then actually had to lock in the figure-four; and even “quick hitters” like the Ultimate Warrior and Shawn Michaels still had some setup before they finished you off with their splash or superkick. But around the time Austin hit the scene, guys started in with the reversals and the quick finishers; Stunners to everyone, Diamond Cutters off chokeslams, Tombstones off cross bodies and Sweet Chin Musics off jumping attacks. Now every move was “out of nowhere”, culminating in Randy Orton RKO’ing literally everybody off ever-more convoluted triple-lindys. As Brandon Stroud of With Leather always laments, guys just need to stop jumping around Orton and they’ll win all the time.
So what’s my point? Well, one of the things that has changed about following college sports is that because of the multitude of mediums covering the games, you really aren’t “surprised” by anything before the teams step on the field. Sure, Gordon being suspended for the first game was relatively unknown, but even then there was a board post on the topic two hours before the game. I knew the vast majority of the depth chart weeks before it was released, heard the insider buzz about certain players stepping up while others floundered, and even knew the basic structure of the offense and defense, including quite a few wrinkles, despite the best attempts by the Fort to keep them under wraps. On one hand it makes fandom more engrossing and “fun” because my knowledge is more thorough and nuanced, but the “Christmas morning” feel of watching the team line up that first game is lost a bit when you’ve already read about the N64 and Easy-Bake oven in the nondescript box three weeks ago. And with all that information, expectations can explode to unreasonable levels; witness the post above with people complaining about the young running backs.
The inexorable march of progress is such that we’ll only get more insider information and in-depth analyses of players and recruits, and on the whole that is a positive for both fans and the game. To be a well-rounded fan, you need to read and keep up on your teams to an almost-unhealthy degree; otherwise you are basically Skip Bayless or Lou Holtz without the clothing budget. About the only time you can ever be surprised anymore is when you….
Best: Play the Game
For despite all of the predictions and charts, the acronyms and the tomes written about the game, nobody knows will happen during the game until the teams actually line up. Fitz looked great out there, making cuts and accelerating through holes opened up be a much-improved offensive line. Devin looked shaky earlier but played well in the end, accounting for over 200 yards in about 2.5 quarters of work. Morris, Green, and Smith all had their turns out there and showed promise. the depth on defense, previously a figment of the fevered imagination of our benevolent overlord, showed up in spades. Countess looked like the corner everyone expected last year before he was hurt, while Thomas, Wilson, Stribling, Morgan, Ross, and Gordon all stepped into more prominent roles and played well (I recognize Wilson blew at least one assignment). Even guys like Clark, whom I’m more down on than others, played reasonably well. I know it’s one game, but it was nice to be surprised by guys actually playing football in a game that mattered.
Worst: Big Ten!
Oh where to start. MSU struggled to move the ball against the other, other directional school last night, and no amount of BTN spit-shining will change that. As noted earlier, OSU went for 2 twice because (a) Meyer wanted to make a point, and (b) that point is that he is a *ick. And even with all of that early success, a 4-8 Buffalo team was touch-and-go with the #2 team in the country, at home, for most of the game. Illinois looked competent against Southern Illinois but still only won by 8, Cincy pounded Purdue by 35 as perennial Most Awesome Name candidate Munchie Legaux stood tall in the pocket. PSU held on against Syracuse but looked like it will be years until the effects of those sanctions allow them to regain their stronger position in the conference, and Wiscy ran over UMass like they always do against overmatched squads who are lactose intolerant. At least they can run the ball with James White. Oh yeah, and Iowa lost to NIU because of course they would. At time of this post teams like NW and Nebraska are still playing, but I doubt we’ll learn much about either team win or lose (though if they lose to Wyoming and/or Cal, I’m going to book my tickets for Indy tomorrow).
But overall, it was not a banner weekend for the conference. The Big 10 isn’t great at football outside of the top couple of teams; that’s been an annoying reality for a couple of years now. The conference isn’t dying or falling behind anyone not named the SEC, but the Big 2, Little 10 mantra is gaining traction every day, and I’m not seeing much evidence down the pipeline that it will change any time soon.
Best: UTL II
Hey, it might be fun…
David Harris, Greg Mattison, Brady Hoke, Al Borges and David Brandon all joined "The Rundown" sports radio show on WBBL The Ball this morning for their Michigan Wednesday of their tailgate tour.
Dr. and Bently are pretty terrible to listen to, but Mattison had some good nuggets when talking about the defense, specifically the players we could see a lot of. Nothing earth shattering, but worth the listen.
Thankfully the Michigan Men make it worth listening to.
I haven't posted these regularly because I didn't want to spam the board with things I wrote on another site. But football talk has come to crawl as we wait for fall camp to begin, so I thought it would be a good time for those that want to catch up on what's inside the playbook of some of the B1G teams.
Hopefully this is enough football talk to get people through the weekend and up to fall camp.
Inside the Playbook - Will take you to a page with links to all articles
How Urban Meyer's spread borrowed from the single wing (with lots of old timey Michigan footage in the single wing)
I will not use an Outback Bowl pic, because uniformz
Devin Gardner replaces the most exciting--and perhaps most-liked--player in Michigan history. The QB-turned-WR-turned-QB got his first chance to lead his childhood favorite for Michigan's final five games in 2012, and did so with stunning success. For 9-out-of-10 halves, the Michigan passing offense was more efficient and more potent than it had been in years, with the only stinker coming in the second stanza of the Ohio debacle.
Against three ranked teams (NW, OSU, and South Carolina), Michigan scored 38, 21, and 28 points--and the 21 all came in one half. Michigan converted a ridiculous 56% of their 3rd downs with DG running the offense, which would have been good for #1 in the country.
The question: Is a five-game stretch during which the offense was a transitional patchwork of schemes and strategies from the Borges-Denard Fusion Cuisine model a good sample from which to predict DG's 2013 production?
The answer to that question is almost certainly NO. The reality is that only one game--the Outback Bowl--offered enough time for the offense to install a pro-style attack, and even for that game the unique talents of #16 were significantly altering Michigan's tendencies. So...where might we find a decent sample?
How dare he wear red
I'm not going to pretend Ryan Lindley is a perfect comparison: Lindley was a three-star recruit with offers from SDSU and...Idaho. He played in the Mountain West and never faced a team like Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio, or South Carolina. But there are some similarities, and perhaps most importantly:
Al is clearly excited he can still get his fist in front of his belly
The 2010 Ryan Lindley was the QB for a 9-4 SDSU team--roughly the average (or just below average) expectations for the 2013 version of the Wolverines. This is important, because a team losing a lot of games will throw more, and a team winning a lot of games will run more. /broad generalization
In 2010, the Aztecs (that's San Diego State's mascot) threw the ball 426 times and ran it 439. That's a 49/51 pass/run ratio, which is, like, really balanced. I expect Michigan to look similar this year, and perhaps be slightly more run-heavy since that seems to the strength of the young O-line (and it's easier for young guys). By comparison, in the five games where DG was QB in 2012, Michigan ran the ball 59% of the time, even though three of those games were extremely close. The Outback Bowl was more balanced, but still had to get #16 more involved, and finished with a 45/55 pass/run ratio.
Back to Lindley. He is similar to DG in that he is very strong-armed but maybe not as accurate as you'd like. DG is more accurate, and far more athletic, although Lindley moved decently and could throw on the run. I don't think Borges will call the plays that differently, but may coach DG to run a bit more when the lanes are there. Here's Lindley's 2010 stats:
That would be the best passing season in U-M history (yards and TDs), and by some distance (499 yards and 3 TDs). SDSU had two very good receivers who accounted for 136 (56%) of the team's 244 receptions and 67% of the teams passing yards. In fact, their third leading receiver (by yardage) wasn't a receiver at all--it was RB Brandon Sullivan (26 rec, 383 yds). The number four guy was a TE named Gavin Escobar, who is now in the NFL and racked-up 29 catches, 323 yards, and 4 TDs. I mention that because I believe those numbers are least we can expect from Funchess this year, and because I believe we'll have much more receiving production from our backfield.
Here are DG's numbers from last season, actual and extrapolated:
Even with the extrapolations, DG has nearly 100 fewer attempts than Lindley did. Again, I expect that to change, and would guess that DG will probably throw the ball 350-400 times. Michigan ran 820 plays in 2012, and I believe blowouts will allow DG to sit out a few quarters, giving around 20 attempts to other QBs.
The 2013 U-M version of Borges' WCO seems unlikely to have two near-equal WRs atop its receiving chart. Jeremy Gallon will likely lead all receivers, but Borges has a long history of having two primary WR targets in his offense, and that is good news for Amara Darboh. I expect that whoever emerges as the #2 WR will vastly exceed expectations and have at least 40 grabs. Of course, Funchess could take on that role, but that hasn't been the Borges pattern.
So what happens if you extraploate DG's numbers with another 50 attempts or so? Really good stuff:
Those stats would have made DG #16 in yards, #2 in yards/att, #9 in TD passes, and #8 in QB Rating nationally in 2012. He would still rank #66 in att/game, so we're not talking about a pass-happy offense.
In terms of Michigan history, that would be #1 in passing yardage, moving well ahead of Navarre's 3,331 in '03. It would be #1 in TDs, well ahead of Henne's 25 in '04. And it would be tied for #4 in completions. But before you say, "No way does DG set single-season records in yardage and TDs his first year as a starter!" consider this: DG's extrapolated 2012 numbers would make him #2 in yardage and #1 in TDs--and that was running a watered-down version of Borges' WCO. Even if you bump DG's yds/att down to Lindley's 9.1, you still finish with the #1 passing offense in U-M history, with Devin throwing for 3,412 yards.
This is obviously not a perfect prediction, but it is reasonable to believe that DG has a very good chance of having one of the best passing seasons in Michigan football history. Before you get too excited about that remember this, too: Lindley's '10 Aztecs went 9-4.