I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
I've watched with some fascination as the board and its notable proprietors have discussed the debacle that was last Saturday's game against Penn State. Much of what has been said matches my feelings, and hence there was a bit of catharsis in scanning all the commentary about Borges, the offense, and the rest. Read the Borges Conference Video thread for a good example of this exposition.
What the board has been developing is what I call a Theory of Al Borges. It goes something like this:
- Our goal should be to win games, usually by as much as possible.
- Playcalling should reflect this goal.
- Current playcalling does not always (or even, often) reflect this goal, repeatedly doing things we are "bad" at and not taking what the defense is giving you.
- As related, current playcalling is predictable and thus defenses know exactly what is coming before it is coming.
If these statements are in fact true, it would seem that there is almost no conclusion other than (1) Al Borges is pretty bad at coaching football, and that (2) we are never going to become the offensive juggernaut many of us are hoping for. I will thus call this "Dumb Borges" theory.
Can Al really be that bad at coaching football?
As more time passed since the game, I have found my inner eternal optimist coming out, and have tried to piece together a different theory of the offense. This theory I will call "Smart Borges" theory. It goes something like this:
- Our goal, at this point in the Hoke Era, is not just to win games, but to set up to be a powerhouse in the future.
- To do so, we need to learn to be a power team, a.k.a., Manball.
- Given limited practice time, in-game time is being used not just to win games, but to see whether the O-line, etc., is able to block in certain ways, even if the defense knows it is coming.
- Thus, some fraction of playcalling will be frustrating by design, using games almost as if they are extra practice time.
- The reason this is happening in Year Three (and not Year One) is that Hoke and co. knew coming in that they had to win to establish credibility, and to do so with Denard. They did so, and now that the Denard era is over, are slowly building up to what they actually want to be.
- Thus, this year will feel a bit more like a Year One than perhaps we want, but only because that is exactly what the coaches want to do. And we know, from other examples, that Year Two can be really good.
Long story, short: perhaps the coaches are willing to sacrifice some wins this year to be better in the long run. They are using in-game time to see how the young guys do and give them real practice against live competition. While they are not throwing games away per se, this does have the effect of keeping games closer than we would like. In the Penn State game, it led to a highly improbable loss (after all, how many times are we going to give up a TD with 50 seconds left, or miss three field goals?), and it might lose us a few more games along the way this year. But, if successful, this will set up for a longer-term dynasty.
I desperately want to believe Smart Borges theory. I think there is some evidence for it, notably this excellent post (by rshp1). And like any good theory, it should be testable. If Smart Borges theory is true, I think we can make the following predictions about the upcoming season:
- That in some games this year, particularly where the staff thinks a win is likely, we will run some incredibly predictable and terrible plays. These games will be closer than we would like. Candidates: Indiana (esp. if we were not coming off a loss), maybe Iowa.
- That in "important" games this year, the staff will focus solely on winning, because they are not so oblivious to its importance. In these games, Borges and playcalling will make much more sense. Obvious candidates: MSU, OSU.
- That next year, we will have a much better and sensible run offense, with better blocking and rushing outcomes. And the year after that will be awesome.
So what do you think? Am I a rube for thinking that Smart Borges theory might be true? Which theory do you believe in? Or is there a third theory of what is happening in Michigan Football?
How long should it take to develop a team into a Manball team?
To understand this question better, I scraped some data about Stanford from their first three year's under Harbaugh; recall that before that, Stanford was a bit of a train wreck. Thus, you'd think that if our goal was to be like that, perhaps we'd be able to develop to Stanford's level of manballishness in a similar time period.
Here is a graph of Stanford's run game over the first three years under Harbaugh:
Click here for the full-sized image.
The left y-axis (in darkred) shows the average yards per carry; the right y-axis (gray) shows total rush yards. I've just selected a subset of games (those in the Pac10... er... 12?) to get a consistent snapshot against a certain level of competition.
As you can see, the first year was a train wreck: only one game with a decent total number of yards rushing (Oregon), and most games with a low average (only two around 4 per rush).
However, by year two, Manball was in effect: many games with hundreds of rush yards, and many with high yards per attempt. Wow! Year 2 and already rolling. Year three, a better year record-wise, was similar (perhaps a bit better).
Now, the contrast: Michigan in the first three Hoke/Borges years.
Again, click here for the full-sized image. Similarly, just showing Big 10 competition.
First year was all over the map, but some big games. Next year, the first few games were great. Then, Denard got hurt. And after that, a much less robust rushing attack, hovering around 4 YPC, and few games with substantial rushing yardage. And now, 2013, with another step backwards: not many total yards, and an even lower YPC.
Of course, the jury is still out on this year, and there is a lot of football left. But if the rushing game looks like it has for the beginning of this year...
I guess this play is getting all sorts of hype on the four letter network. Kind of looks like MANBALL.
This is either today's game plan or a Schembechler quote from the early 1970s:
"Take care of the football ... can't give up big plays ... secure the ball ... keep the ball inside and in front and elimate big plays ... stop the run."
The ugly uniforms are ugly.
What is known as "manball" to many on MGoBlog is discussed on the first page of this Stewart Mandel column in SI:
I basically agree with him and I look forward (seriously) to seeing something like that here.
Prior implementations at UMich have been partially flawed (RS freshman WR inserted only on running plays, pre-snap fullback bunny hops in the direction of the run, agonizing lack of adjustments to realigned defenses where required, etc.) but there's no reason it can't be done effectively.