“The player development is the main thing I like (about Michigan),” Williams said. “You can see that they develop their players. They get them in the gym and they work them hard. And their hard work pays off.”
In the aftermath of the CMU game, I’ve seen a few comments about running backs that go something like this: “If you took out X’s long run, his YPC would have only been Y, so he really wasn't that effective,” or variations thereof. This got me thinking a little about the limitations of using YPC to summarize running back performance, so I've put together a couple ways of looking at running back performance against Central.
First off, sample size concerns are rampant. Statisticians frown on many, many things, but they take particular umbrage when you do anything with a really small sample (read: less than 30). But, like our beloved coaches, we live in the real world where we have to make decisions based on incomplete information; so we continue on despite the limitations of the dataset.
Strength of competition is also suspect. We don't know for sure how good CMU will be this year, but we do know they were outscored by fifty points in the only game they've played this year. They may not be great this year.
Yards per carry is calculated by summing all rushing yards for a player and dividing by number of carries, making it an average (or sample mean). A sample mean is a very useful way of summarizing data with one nagging flaw: it is particularly vulnerable to outliers. The median, on the other hand, as the most central value, can be interpreted as a more typical expectation for a dataset. One extremely high or low value will have virtually no impact on the value of the median. Here's an example: Derrick Green's YPC for the CMU game was 6.1, 2 whole yards higher than Toussaint's 4.1. But Green's median carry of 3 is an entire yard shorter than Toussaint's 4. The YPC might lead you to conclude Derrick Green was a better bet for getting yards than Toussaint, but the median says at least 50% of Toussaint's carries went for 4 or more yards in comparison with Green's 3 or more yards. Since If you needed four yards for a first down, you may want to give it to Toussaint. That's potentially valuable information not contained in the YPC. Then there's the pesky fact that TD runs have a maximum length. If we're two yards out from the end zone, that's the maximum the player can get for that carry. This artificially lowers the YPC of a player who gets the ball over the line; in particular Toussaint's YPC would probably have been higher.
The table below contains a few measures of central tendency for the players who had at least 3 carries (three is still too small, but a line had to be drawn somewhere and Rawls' touchdown seemed to merit his inclusion in this list). Rawls gets no standard deviation because three is a small number.
QB Devin Gardner wins the YPC sweepstakes with a blistering 7.4 YPC bolstered by a median carry of 6 yards. I would advocate getting this man some more carries, but that's a) already happening and b) potentially troublesome for our passing game. Regardless, Gardner does a good job here no matter what metric you use: no negative yardage, a great longest run and two touchdowns on only 7 carries. At least for this game, our shiny "more passing-oriented" quarterback was our most effective running back, which speaks a bit to the value of athleticism at that position.
Among the running backs, Toussaint and Green duke it out for maximal effectiveness depending on which measure you use. Green wins on YPC, longest run, and least negative minimum run. Toussaint had a higher median, most touchdowns, and most carries. Rawls has the highest median of the RB's, but since he only had three carries, sample size tells us to pay no heed.
____ Yards and a Cloud of Dust
Hearkening back to the days of Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust (TYaaCoD), I wanted to know who was more reliable if you need three yards every time you rush. The table below contains the percent of carries the player achieved at least three yards, embodying the spirit of slightly-in-jest Schembechlerian Michigan Football.
Personally, though, I find three yards slightly lacking. If you run three yards every rushing play and you rush every play, you end up facing 4th and 1 every series. Our Fearless Leader would still go for it on fourth down every time (Heil Hoke!), but it's not an optimal situation to find yourself in. What you really want is someone who can pick up 3.5 yards or so every play, so you get a new set of downs after every three. The play-by-play is unhelpful in this regard, however, only listing integer values for yards. So I also calculated the Four Yards and a Cloud of Dust (FYaaCoD) metric, which is how the table below is sorted. If you get four yards every carry, you can go on rushing forever.
I did make a slight modification to the success rates of both metrics: I counted a touchdown as a success regardless of how many yards the play was because there is no further to go.
|Row Labels||Total Yds||Carries||TYaaCoD||FYaaCoD|
For TYaaCoD, you would want the following players rushing in order: 1. Green 2. Gardner 3. Rawls 4. Toussaint 5. Smith 6. Johnson. All players are between 50% and 75% successful at getting 3 yards against CMU, which is heartening. Moving to FYaaCoD, you would want 1. Gardner. 2. Rawls 3. Toussaint 4. Green, 5. Johnson 6. Smith.
There's some shuffling when you move to FYaaCoD: Derrick Green drops from first to fourth, and Smith falls to sixth at a slightly disappointing 29% success rate. Rawls still has only three carries, but two of them pass the FYaaCoD test, so he has a terrific success rate of 67%. Almost as good as Devin Gardner, who had over twice as many carries. Devin's ability to scramble is probably for real. Toussaint's actual strength as a running back comes through a bit more on the FYaaCoD metric. On his 14 carries, he hit 4+ yards 57% of the time, and he often surpassed four. That increases the chance of success for future plays, as the distance to the first down marker is smaller.
I thought about running the same analysis with passing yards, but it didn't feel right since yards per catch vary widely based on the play. Your wideout running the deep route will end up with more yards per target than the slot ninja you toss the bubble screens to. That is more schematic than based on individual skill. It is true that running plays are also not all created equal. But every running play starts behind the line of scrimmage and heads as far as possible into enemy space, making comparison a reasonable exercise.
Any statistical summary is just that: a summary. We lose information when we look at average, median, min, max, total yds, TYaaCoD, FYaaCoD, etc. that is available to us in the actual dataset. Our lizard brains just can't process significant amounts of data in numerical form in any reasonably quick fashion. But there is one thing we are great at: reading charts. So I've assembled the information from each rushing effort for everyone with 3+ rushes in order from least yards gained to most. I've colored the touchdowns Highlighter Yellow™ so you can include/exclude them from your mental calculations as needed.
For recent time's sake, Drake Johnson. Fare thee well, 2013 Drake. We hardly knew ye.
A. We were completely misguided to push for Devin-Gardner-to-wide-receiver last year when his natural position is clearly running back. The fact that QB's get an extra blocker has no bearing on this.
B. At this exact moment in time, the staff's decision to go 1. Toussaint 2. Green 3. The Field. is pretty justified. We saw flashes of brilliance from both of them—maybe even more from Green—but Toussaint overall had a better day. If Green sheds a few pounds and picks up just a hair more speed in the process, though—and I think we all expect that to happen— he could become the clear #1 even by mid-October. De'Veon Smith is not yet ready for world-beating, but he did display that vaunted balance. Hold off on judgment on him at this point.
C. Charts are indeed fun to look at.
D. Norfleet had one rushing effort for 38 yds, which I didn't include in this analysis because dividing by zero is difficult and because his YPC would make Brian cry.
Heading into the 2012 season there was much concern over the lack of size of the interior DL. Spring Practice has us convinced that undersized Jibreel Black and hopefully breakout player Will Campbell would be manning those spots and we would survive.
Cut to 2012 Fall Practice and seemingly out of nowhere Quinton Washington emerged as the surprise starter. He went on to have a very good season and hopefully will continue this trend for 2013.
So I pose the question Who will be the surprise breakout starter/contributor for the 2013 season? Here are the candidates:
RB Drake Johnson
Spring Practice was the time for another RB to emerge as Toussiant was still on the shelf and all of the practice reps and carries were there for the taking. Aside from Justice Hayes grabbing the 3rd Down RB spot it didn't seem like anyone else had separated themselves. I was expecting to see more "OR" in the RB depth chart but surprise we see Johnson has used Fall Practice to clearly pass Rawls and the freshman. Speaking of the freshman I think this spot at the depth chart doesn't represent contribution ability but rather the best utilization of eligibility years. Touissant is the clear starter and Hayes should take the majority of 3rd Down plays, leaving only "breather" and "garbage" carries for the other RBs. Better to use Johnson than Green or Smith until and unless either of them show they are ready to take primetime carries.
LG Graham Glasgow
Glasgow had been in a battle with Miller for the Center spot for the Spring Practice and it seemed most of Fall Practice. Only recently did we start hearing Chris Bryant was going to start and almost just as quickly that he had been passed Glasgow. Hopefully Bryant still troublesome knee was not the reason Glasgow took the spot, but rather that once Glasgow got consistent snaps at LG he beat the guy would could have started in 2012. Hopefully this is not similar to 2011 when Barnum was the starter at LG but was injured, making us believe he would be good in 2012.
SLB Brennan Beyer
We have continuously heard praise for Cam Gordon's athleticism and playmaking ability while the only think I remember reading about Beyer that he is a good run defender. Yet he started the Spring Game and remains the co-starter. Here's hoping he has shown significant improvement and all his "hype" has been swallowed up by Fort Schembechler.
My choice for the 2013 Surprise Fall Contributor is Graham Glasgow. Really the only knock against him was his underwhelming recruiting profile, which history has shown means little when dealing with lineman.He is a third year lineman with the size and strength to be a very good player at LG.
How long should we wait for this guy?
There is constant chatter on this board and in the media about how freshmen RBs should be able to contribute right away. The basic tenet of this belief is that if a RB is athletic and is any good, he'll be able to produce right away. Sure, he might not have the nuances of pass protection and route running down, but he should at least be able to pick-up some yards on running downs as a true freshman. Guys like T.J. Yeldon make this easy to believe.
So, I decided to find out how true this is. If you suck as a freshman RB, are you likely to be any good at any point in your career? If Derrick Green doesn't contribute significantly this season, should we ? Going even further, is Rawls a lost cause at this point? Hayes?
Having a little less time than I'd like to do a thorough examination of the data, I used a somewhat limited sample: the top 40 RBs in terms of yards/game from 2012. I broke seasons into three categories: Primary starter (PS), significant back-up (SB), and insignificant season (IS).
These categories are actually surprisingly simple to define: Primary starters are obvious, and guys that are significant contributors at the position are equally easy to separate from the dudes that get trash-time and spot carries. Insignificant seasons also include redshirts, but not medical redshirts. I also took out JUCOs.
Here are the top 40 RBs from 2012 (NOT in order of production):
|2||1||0||Le'Veon Bell||Mich St||JR|
|2||1||0||Joseph Randle||Okla St||JR|
|2||0||0||Jahwan Edwards||Ball State||SO|
|1||0||0||Kenneth Dixon||La Tech||FR|
|2||0||1||Giovani Bernard||N Carolina||SO|
|1||2||1||Kerwynn Williams||Utah State||SR|
|3||0||1||Robbie Rouse||Fresno St||SR|
|1||1||1||Dri Archer||Kent State||JR|
|1||1||1||Carlos Hyde||Ohio State||JR|
|1||0||2||Antonio Andrews||Western Ky||JR|
|1||1||2||Kasey Carrier||New Mexico||JR|
|1||1||2||D.J. Harper||Boise St||SR|
|1||0||3||Zurlon Tipton||C Mich||JR|
|1||0||3||Cody Getz||Air Force||SR|
I have to admit, I was pretty surprised. Only 15 (37.5%) avoided having insignificant or redshirt seasons their first year on campus. And only six (15%) were the primary starters as true freshman, leaving nine (22.5%) as back-ups. That means the vast majority, 25 players (62.5%) spent at least one year doing nothing or next-to-nothing. Of those 25, only four (10%) went from insignificance to starting in one season. The rest (21, 52.5%) spent at least two years developing before becoming starters. And nearly as many (14, 35%) spent multiple years doing almost nothing as jumped right in as contributors (PS or SB) in their true freshmen campaigns. Heck, even Eddie Lacy redshirted.
This is admittedly a small sample size, but it's enough to draw some basic conclusisons:
- Plenty of talented RBs have insignificant seasons; many have more than one
- RARELY does a freshman RB burst onto the scene as a primary starter
- About half of these guys spend at least two years developing before they start
- The experts are idiots (of course, I must admit that I believed the "if they're any good they'll contribute as true freshmen stuff before I looked at it)
And some Michigan-specific conclusions:
- If Green and/or Smith doesn't contribute significantly this year, he's unlikely to start next year
- We shouldn't worry if Green and/or Smith doesn't contribute significantly this year
- Hope is not lost for Hayes, Johnson, or even Rawls.
It's worth noting that a few of the guys that spent multiple seasons developing turned out to be pretty darn good players. Guys like Eddie Lacy, Venric Mark, Carlos Hyde, Kenjon Barner, and Stefphon Jefferson all spent at least a couple seasons as insignificant contributors. On the flipside of that coin, lots of the best talent contributed early: Ka'Deem Carey, Le'Veon Bell, Montee Ball, Johnathan Franklin, and Todd Gurley.
Basically, we don't need to worry if Green and Smith don't contribute this year. It's definitely a good sign if they do, but there are much better things to be concerned about (S, OG, OC, and now WR) in 2013.
This started out as a focus on a great play that James Ross made en route to 8 tackles and several TFL in less than a full games snaps. Safe to say this kid might be pretty good. Anyways, it somewhat evolved into realizing that however talented and large our interior offensive line may be, they're still developing and gelling this spring. Usual caveats apply, I am not a football coach, just an educated fan and former high school player - let me know if you disagree with any assesments.
Link, thanks to mgovideo, one of the biggest free perks for Michigan fans. Play starts at 1:11
Michigan comes out in what Al Borges would probably draw on the first page of his autobiography: offset I with a tight end (the size of a small tackle) and a full back with his hand on the ground. All that's missing is Funchess lined up next to Lewan with Jake Butt in motion and this would turn into what Al Borges probably dreams about at night. The tight camera angle doesn't show the wide receiver personnel or formation, but I'd bet it's some combo of Gallon/Darboh/Jackson/Chesson based on my memory. Lewan appears to be trying to make a check of some kind, but that's just my hope based on the breakdown that happens on the interior. It was not uncommon for him to make line calls last year apparently, so it wouldn't surprise me if he's still encouraged to do so, if not moreso.
The defense, meanwhile is lined up in basically its base 4-3 under, with Beyer and Ross only slightly outside of their normal positions. Ojemudia is offsides, too. Get onsides there, terminator eyes. Your D-lineman are Ojemudia, Willie Henry (who played a lot), Pipkins and Godin (I think).
As the ball is snapped, it's apparent why James Ross was a half a yard closer to the line of scrimmage than Desmond Morgan - he was real excited about his A-gap blitz. Coach Mattison probably was too. We already see that Kalis is pulling: he's opened up his hips well and his first step is directly for the spot Devin Gardner is vacating. Everyone save Kalis and Williams will down block. Kerridge is headed for Godin. Notice that Miller has his sights set on double teaming Henry despite James Ross and his reckless abandon for the A gap. I think this is the first breakdown, and Miller ends up being a non-factor when he probably could have picked up Ross and turned this into a gain. I think he could be good, this is just a growing pain of a young center in the spring.
As Devin reverse pivots and prepares to hand off to Drake Johnson, most of the offensive lineman have done their road grating jobs. Lewan has joined Braden on Pipkins, and Peewee doesn't have a shot against the All-American and his young giant friend. AJ williams has left Ojemudia for Willie Henry and Schofield is prepared to help see him off. Miller, in hopes of sealing off the back side, has now taken himself completely out of the play as I mentioned. Desmond Morgan has read run as well, but I think he heads for the wrong gap. James Ross is already going to be in Kalis' hip-pocket shortly - that's his guard read anyways. Guard pulls, you run right through where he left straight to the ball carrier. Meanwhile, Morgan should be scraping playside as fast as possible until he sees daylight and or Drake Johnson with the ball.
Kalis has his sights for Brennan Beyer. Schofield has Henry sealed and Williams has left him to chip Ojemudia and keep ole laser eyes away from flying down the line. Ross continues his plan to arrive early for his scheduled meeting with Johnson.
Kerridge has stalemated Godin, Kalis is headed upfield ready to for either Beyer, a hypothetical Desmond Morgan or a safety. But, James Ross is not only deadly, but apparently silent. Kalis needs his head on a swivel here - I have a feeling he got a little excited for 5 yards of momentum and a one-one matchup in the open field. Then again, he thinks the backside should have been handled. Anyways, at this point it's pretty clear to Drake Johnson that things are not going to end positively. Could Braden have left Pipkins earlier and found Ross? Possibly, but I'm pretty sure his job is to donkey the guy who is head up on him until there can be no more donkeying and then find someone else.
Drake Johnson, I have a Mr. James Ross here to see you. Again we see Morgan could've taken a better angle, and if Ross were picked up, there is a lane and a freight train named Kyle Kalis headed downfield.
Two yard loss.
P.S. Devin please calm down when celebrating and wrap yourself in bubble wrap.
Mgoblue again has a fluff feature entitled "Get to Know the 2012 Freshmen." (LINK: http://www.mgoblue.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/080612aab.html.)
Highlighted today are Freshmen Jeremy Clark, Blake Bars, and Drake Johnson. Like last year, I assume they will continue this feature on a regular basis. There are snippets of personal interest attached to each of them, and a link to bio info.
On a completely different note, ESPN has up an article on Urban Meyer and a shift in his values, supposedly now balancing home and work (better than when at Florida.) (LINK: http://espn.go.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/8239451/ohio-state-coach-urban-meyer-new-commitment-balancing-work-family-life.) Personally, this article hits home, because I too often have not spent enough time with my wife and children. A good reminder for moms and dads to keep priorities in place.