My favorite album of all-time...sadly fitting for the 2013 football season
I'm taking a brief break from grading the position groups to
comment vent about the Copper Bowl and the program in general. Brian's post today was alarmingly similar to my feelings (usually he is far more emo than I am) about the game and the program in general.
What Brady Hoke and his supporters (myself included) has always been able to hang his hat on is that his teams play hard. They don't always play well, but they do play hard. Always.
The Copper Bowl was not just a failure to play defense (we allowed 6.56 yds/play and let KSU covert 7 of 11 third downs) or score TDs despite a surprisingly efficient first-half offense (finished the game at 4.92 yds/play...but only had 53 plays), but it was a failure to show-up.
This sums-up our 2013 season
After spending the entire season trying really hard and not getting good results due to a variety of factors (youth, play-calling, missed assignments, etc) the team was in too much pain to try to crack another coconut. Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison's defense--for the first time--simply didn't appear to have the will to put up another fight.
Those who believe the guillotine would be too kind of a punishment for Al Borges after this season might not want to admit it, but the offensive gameplan was pretty effective. Shane Morris has an unbelievable arm and can make throws that no Michigan QB since Drew Henson could even think about, but his decision-making isn't there yet, as evidenced by what happened late when he was asked to read the whole field and make throws into 8-man coverages. Borges understood this and designed a screen game that let shane make throws but avoided forcing him to pick which guy to throw to. We moved the ball and even tried a fade to Funchess in the endzone...but couldn't score a TD. The offense appeared to be giving effort for at least a few drives, but couldn't get it done. Then they gave-up too: we didn't even hurry when we were down 24-6 with 8:06 remaining.
For the first time in Brady Hoke's tenure, the team simply didn't appear to try. This is sad, alarming, and needs to be addressed. Obviously, Greg Mattison did not become a bad coach between the Ohio game and this debacle. And Hoke did not lose his powers of motivation. But what is clear is that if you give your full effort over-and-over and get nothing but pain, at some point, your body might just say, "not today."
I am someone who believes in looking at the whole picture. The 2013 season's failures are not on the shoulders of just one person (or even two or three) in my estimation; rather a confluence of many unfortunate factors fused into a nuclear disaster. And while there are many reasons for the meltdown, there must be some accountability for what happened in that bowl game.
All that said, if we put together a 10-win season in 2014 and win one of the MSU/OSU games (or both) we will be right back in the hunt as a B1G contender, and the positive momentum could push closer to our goal or returning to national prominence. On the other hand, if we slog to an eight-win (or worse) total in 2014, we risk becoming solidified as a second-tier team...until we re-build again.
Make no mistake about it: that bowl game showing has very real consequences. For the first time, a Brady Hoke team didn't even show-up. And that means 2014 just became even more important to the future of this program and the job-security of everyone on the staff.
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.
(Note: I was just about to post this prior to Brian's post about the "fickle" fans. I actually think this relates very closely to that discussion and doesn't even bring the obvious financial impact into the debate.)
It probably won’t surprise any readers of this site when I say that I’ve had many a debate with fellow fans recently about the way this season has unfolded. One such recent debate with my brother centered around why everyone seems so frustrated and is writing off the OSU game entirely. His argument was that we never used to feel that way under Lloyd Carr – even though Carr had more seasons with 3 or more losses than he did with fewer than 3. The initial theories we debated for why we are so more negative this season were:
- In the information age it is easier to be an arm-chair coach with the advanced metrics, easy to obtain video, sites like MGoBlog, etc.
- We’re headed into year 7 of frustration and are just less patient than we were under Carr.
- Brian Cook is like the pied piper of negativity for his readership and we should all stare at videos of cats and feel better about ourselves instead of letting Brian corrupt our minds.
- Perhaps Carr wasn’t very good and “This Is Michigan” really means “We’re likely to have 3-4 losses and shouldn’t be surprised like we are right now."
That last point got me to thinking – why can’t I remember heading into an OSU game prior to Rich Rodriguez being hired where I felt there was zero chance of winning or that the season was a failure like I have so many times since then? John Cooper obviously helped that perception, but that wasn’t all of it. Why are we so bitter now but weren’t even in Carr years with 3 losses?
Prior to doing the research my hypothesis was that we stayed optimistic as fans because we ALWAYS played close games when Carr was coaching. No matter who we were playing, we had a chance. Our frustration with Carr at times was that he was so conservative that we played down to lesser opponents and that resulted in narrow victories or the occasional surprising upset. But no matter who we were playing, we felt we had a chance.
So I created a chart of Carr’s final decade of coaching. I only went back to 1997 since MGoBlue’s records only go back that far and this is the portion of his career where his reputation was built and what earned him a lifetime contract:
|1998||8-2||7-0||8-3||@ND (36-20), Syr (38-28), @OSU (31-16)||2|
|1999||8-2||5-2||9-2||@MSU (34-31), ILL (35-29)||0|
|2000||7-3||5-2||9-2||@UCLA (23-20), @Purdue (32-31), @NU (54-51)||0|
|2001||8-2||6-1||8-3||@Wash (23-18), @MSU (26-24), OSU (26-20)||0|
|2002||9-2||6-1||9-3||@ND (25-23), Iowa (34-9), @OSU (14-9)||1|
|2003||9-2||6-1||10-2||@ORE (31-27), @Iowa (30-27)||0|
|2004||9-1||7-0||9-2||@ND (28-20), @OSU (37-21)||1|
|2005||7-3||5-2||7-4||ND (17-10), @WI (23-20), MN (23-20), OSU (25-21)||0|
|2007||8-3||6-1||8-4||APSt (34-32), ORE (39-7), @WI (37-21), OSU (14-3)||3|
First, a comment on the chart: I admittedly ignored bowl games in this analysis. I did this because I’m measuring whether fans were still interested, happy, and optimistic leading up to the end of the regular season. Bowl games are a black mark on Carr’s resume, but that’s a separate discussion.
I think I’ve proven the hypothesis to be true. In the span of a decade Carr had only SEVEN games where we lost by more than 10 points. If you throw out his swan-song season of 2007 that number drops to an amazing FOUR. Think about that - in a full ten years we were blown out just four times! This includes trips to Oregon, UCLA, Washington, OSU, MSU, and Notre Dame just to name a few. In Brady Hoke’s three seasons we’ve had as many blowout losses as we had over a ten-year span during Carr’s career.
With Carr we may have had a couple of frustrating losses in a season, but we never entered a game knowing we had no realistic chance to win. THAT is what we’re longing for as fans and why this season feels so different when we look at the OSU game.
But there’s more!
While looking over that chart something else dawned on me that added to the conclusion. Look at the conference record heading into the OSU game. Not once did we enter the OSU game with more than two conference losses. Never!
If you go back to the previous statement that from 1997-2006 we had just four blowout losses you’ll see that two of those were following the national championship season. Yet immediately following those two losses we went on an 8-game winning streak and entered the game against OSU with a 7-0 conference record and chance for a title. So the one season in that period where we looked vulnerable still resulted in the OSU game having immense meaning and hope.
Not only did we compete in every game we played in, we almost always were still in contention for that conference title that Hoke talks about.
When Brady Hoke or any member of the fan base talk about getting back to what defined Michigan, this is what they mean. We were never the national juggernaut that Alabama has become – so dreams of undefeated regular seasons are probably misguided. But what we were for nearly Carr’s entire career (and that of Moeller and Bo before him) was a team that would compete in ANY GAME. We were a team that would get to the end of the season with something on the line more often than not and knew we could compete with OSU every year.
The reason we’re so frustrated and bitter this season is not just because we can’t win the conference title or are still bitter about RichRod – it is because we know we have no realistic chance of competing with OSU. Making matters even worse, we’ve already proven we have no realistic chance of beating our other main rival and get to watch MSU play for a title against OSU.
While I agree with Brian 100% on the financial aspect of the red jerseys we'll see in the stands Saturday, I also believe that if our team was capable of upsetting our undefeated rival the stands would be full of blue jerseys. Just as they were for all of those Carr seasons, despite knowing we weren't headed to the national championship game.
The same bullshit. The guy has lost it. No anger, no emotion, nothing. He seemed not to care.
I assume that this means that Derrick Green will start at RB again this week:
Also Hoke refuses to say whether he will wear long sleeves.
Thilling, I know... but it's news nonetheless. (I mean the former more so than the latter).