This is our off-season strategy, and I love it
It's easy to forget that the "Hail Mary" is not just a football play, but also a prayer. While Brady Hoke's desired scheme is more Lloyd Carr than Rich Rodriguez, his coaching approach is certainly closer to Art Briles' play-calling than Mike DeBord's.
So what the hell does that mean?
I love--as I believe most do--Hoke's aggressiveness on fourth down. But we've learned quite a bit more about his willingness to go "all in" this off-season, and the result will be a 2014 team that looks drastically different from its predecessor. No less than six position changes that could affect the starting line-up, a new offensive coordinator, and significant scheme change on defense. This is the "Hail Mary" off-season: it is both a long, risky pass, and a prayer.
2013, to me, was The Season of Infinite Pain. It wasn't just the losing, it was the way we lost. The go-backwards offense that decided four downs were just too many combined with a defense that seemed to know exactly when to self-destruct made for a season that was excrutiatingly painful to watch, and I believe that the manner in which we lost (and won) was even more of a factor in our recruiting death spiral than the record itself. In the few games where the offense did click (Notre Dame, Indiana, Ohio) the defense couldn't keep-up, and the offensive line was never even close to adequate.
I hope we're all still smiling in December
So what did Brady Hoke do about this? He fired his friend and Offensive Coordinator--with whom he'd had lots of success. He made wholesale changes to the positions the defensive staff coaches, and removed himself as a position coach. He will be instituting a new scheme on both sides of the ball--completely new on offense, and moving from a 4-3 Under to a 4-3 Over on defense. Make no mistake about it, this change on defense is almost as significant as moving from a 3-4 to a 4-3 (but not as significant as going to a 3-3-5). On top of that, Hoke is reshuffling a slew of starters and key back-ups.
Here's what I love about this:
- It's all on Hoke. If this season ends in disaster, the J. Ira and Blah Blah Blah Coach will be the last place for the finger to point. It's mostly his roster, the coaching staff has been rebuilt, player positions have been changed. The answer to the question, "Can Brady Hoke coach?" is now clearly: "See 2014 season."
- The courage to change. I get Brian's negativity about some of the changes. A new OC? A new scheme on defense? Changing the position of your best player on defense (maybe the best player on the team)? It all smacks of desperation. That's scary as hell, and should make you nervous. It makes me nervous. But last year was awful, and here is a coach saying, "You know what? We have to make significant changes. Tweaks aren't going to do it." He's admitting the failure--not just through coachspeak--and making changes that could turn things around.
- Win or lose, this should be better to watch. Devin Gardner called it "a new style of practice." We know that Nussmeier at least practiced the no huddle at Alabama. Whether or not we see U-M stopping for a group chat between every play this season, I would expect the offense to move more quickly and the QBs to have more time at the line. I can damn near guarantee you'll see some of the constraint plays many on this board have been clamoring for, since Nuss' has always used WR screens and extended hand-offs. And we now know that Devin Funchess will be playing "on the outside." Nussmeier has always used a balanced attack that focuses on getting the ball in the hands of his playmakers and scoring points. Even if our offense doesn't set records this year, it should be a lot more fun to watch.
- Defense, too. The Tampa Two defenses that were en vogue in the NLF in the early '00's (and longer for the Lions) proved that "bend-but-don't-break" defense could work. Forcing the offense to plod towards the end zone and use all their downs increases the chances of a mistake and forces an offense to be more precise. I have two problems with that: 1) It's much harder to do against a no-huddle offense, since you can't rotate your D-Line as much, which MUST get pressure. 2) It's not as fun to watch. Last season, it often seemed like Mattison's "Keep the ball inside and in front" mantra mostly meant, "If you want a first down passing over the middle, we're happy to give it to you." Compounding that frustration was the snake-bitten (or gypsy-cursed) outside coverage that always seemed to be in the right place at the right time but didn't make the play. Even though we produced 17 INTs and nearly as many turnovers as we did in 2011 (when we recovered a ridiculous 20 fumbles) it never felt like a game-changing or play-making defense, mostly because there were far too many times when we let teams like Akron, Penn State, Indiana, 2nd-half Iowa, Ohio State, and Kansas State move the ball seemingly at will. Too many times, when it mattered most, our defense whiffed. Hoke says NO MORE! The changes that have been made public about positions and scheme strongly suggest we are moving to a high-pressure, in your face defense closer to MSU's style than Monte Kiffin's. I expect more blitzing, more play-making, and more TFLs. Might we get torched more often? Maybe, but I'd rather watch that brand of football, and I think players (and recruits) would rather play that way.
- Musical chairs on defense. Moving Keith Heitzman to TE is a virtual no-lose change: here's a guy who had been passed by younger players at SDE, switching to a position he played in high school where we need toughness and depth. But moving your best defender (and maybe player) to MLB from what was closer to a 3-4 OLB? It's a gamble, and not a small one. The upside is huge: if you go right, Jake Ryan is there; if you go left, JMFR is there. Starting from the middle, he has the potential to be involved in every play. But what if he's not very good at his new job? What if JRIII gets put on his ass by opposing TEs? What if Desmond Morgan is too slow to play the WILL in a 4-3 Over? Hoke took his deepest, most experienced position group on the entire team and changed everything. If it works, it could be beautiful. If it doesn't, he could be fired. But Jake Ryan went from 6.8 tackles/game to 3.7 and, even more alarming, from 1.27 TFLs/game to 0.56. Sure, some of that is the injury, but some of that is opposing teams saying, "We're not letting him beat us." Now? Defensive coordinators will have to fool Ryan to beat him, because we already know he can shed blocks and move sideline-to-sideline. If he can diagnose plays, he's going to kick some serious ass in 2014. And now Mattison is his position coach.
Do these changes make me nervous? Of course. These are huge changes, and change always brings risk. But, to me, these changes seem to directly address the issues--both in terms of success and enjoyment--that made 2013 so damn unwatchable. And win or lose, we'll know what we have in a head coach.
What it all boils down to is this: it's Hoke's fourth season, and very much the fourth quarter in a game he's losing to stay on as Michigan's blah blah blah Head Coach. And he's not calling the safe, conservative I-form off tackle play, or even the single-back play-action post; while it may require some help from the heavens, he's calling the fucking Hail Mary.
We'll just have to pray it works.
This seems like a perfect opportunity for a history lesson.
As you remember, John Beilein was on the hot seat to start his fourth year at Michigan.
He had one season of success in his first three years, but that was with players recruited by the former coach.
HIs third year was supposed to be good, but at the begining of 2010 ......
Michigan may very well have been the most underachieving team in the entire nation, and it has now lost its two most talented players.....
Yeah, but what about that NCAA berth, you say? Well, Beilein rode a tandem of stars with very little around them ... and they were both recruited by Amaker. So you have a coach who has only had success based on using two players, and he didn't recruit either one of them.
To start his fourth year, things looked BLEAK. Article here.
Of course, Michigan is a current Division 1 team which is supposed to be competing in a power conference.
And the coach who was supposed to be turning this program around is entering his fourth season.....
Basically, Beilein is not the answer Michigan thought it had last year at this time. The sooner the administration realizes it, the sooner it can begin to rebuild the program. Again.
Interesting? And, isnt it supposed to be easier to turn around a baskebtall program quicker (kids play earlier, etc.)?
If you are looking for an example of a football coach who looked lost after three years, look no further than Pat Narduzzi heading into his fourth year:
Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State defensive coordinator: Offense was hardly a problem for the Spartans in 2009. At 29.7 points per game, they ranked second in the Big Ten in scoring. However, the Spartans allowed 26.3 points per game, which ranked in the lower half of the conference. They weren’t much better last season on defense. The root of the problem has been a porous pass defense, one that allowed a league-high 267.6 yards per game. The Spartans have the offense, led by quarterback Kirk Cousins, to make a run at a league title, but questions remain on whether the defense improve enough to alleviate some of the pressure on the offense. If the defense can’t, head coach Mark Dantonio could be looking for a new defensive coordinator.
As if the recruitment of Malik McDowell needed anymore "Wait... What?!" moments, TheWolverine released an interview with Lawrence Marshall earlier that included a pretty shocking quote:
"I told him he should go there if he wanted to - I'm happy for him at MSU," Marshall said. That was the school he wanted to go to. But he came to school today and was basically telling me he was going to Michigan. When the letter was on the table and he signed it, I thought he was going to Michigan.
When I first got there this morning he was leaning toward Michigan and telling me he was going to Michigan, so when he announced it, I was shocked."
Wait...WHAT?! I am now trapped in a glass case of emotion. It should be noted that McDowell's LOI is still not in, so who knows where he will end up.
To preface - I am a Rivals guy. That is to say I get my crootin' info from Rivals.
I got to thinking how the meme on Hoke aside from the actual play on the football field has been "well at least he is killing it on the recruiting trail." I took a quick look at the class rankings...
RR hired 2007
RR responsible for classes 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011
2008 2009 2010 2011
UM 10 8 20 21
OSU 4 3 25 11
Hoke hired 2011
Hoke responsible for classes 2012, 2013 and 2014
2012 2013 2014
UM 7 5 27
OSU 4 2 2
It is 2014 and all, but sorry we aren't really doing that well on the recruiting trail : (
What is the formula?
Rivals Rating points + Rivals250 Bonus Points = Total Points
Rivals Rating (RR) Scale (Top 20 rated commitments)
(Rivals Rating = Points)
6.1 = 150 points
6.0 = 135 points
5.9 = 120 points
5.8 = 105 points
5.7 = 90 points
5.6 = 75 points
5.5 = 60 points
5.4 = 45 points
5.3 = 30 points
5.2 = 15 points
*Prospects without an assigned rating will count for no points. All FBS committed prospects will have a rating once evaluated and rankings are updated.
A lot has been made on the board lately about the struggles of the Michigan defensive line. My question is about disbursement of coaches and how it impacts player development. When Jerry Montgomery left for Oklahoma we hired Roy Manning to coach linebackers and the joke was consistent prior to Montgomery leaving that he was in the Beyonce coaching position. However, with Mattison have DC responsibilities and Hoke having HC responsibilities and no dedicated D-Line coach are those players getting enough individual or position group attention to develop like other positions or am I overthinking the importance of having dedicated position coaches?
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.