spoiler alert: i linked this
Posts of Misopogonal logorrhea
Will Cameron Gordon bring balance to the force? Will Vlad the Impaler ever transition from psych to sang? Is Marvin the Marvelous Marvel just an empty OMG shirtless? Do 40-times matter at all? Will Misopogon exhaust his annual allotment of rhetorical questions before this deck is even finished? I dunno, but I was seriously freaking about about free safety, man, so I dipped into UFRs of yore and found….hope?
This series has had a strange, long ride. It began with a long thought about the time fall practice began: Is Michigan going to be okay at safety?
As the defensive backfield began to take shape, as two more jarring losses at cornerback destroyed both the brightest spot and brightest hope before the season even began, the functional hope that sparked this diary was violently disposed of. As Michigan's 2010 secondary takes the field today, the same words are forming on the tongue of every observer: "This can not possibly go well."
Let's let the fat lady sing first, shall we?
The Baseline Revisited:
Part I gave us a rundown of Michigan deep safeties of recent memory (spreadsheet). Part II compared the performances of those aforementioned safeties, after attempting to describe this "Not a true 3-3-5" defense we would supposedly trot. It was at this point that our Hero Journey descended into darkness.
What happened was Steve Sharik, resident MGoBlog X's and O's guy, who took one look at my useless description of a Virginia Tech-like 1-High Quarters thing, spat something, then grabbed me by the scruff of my Misoponeck to the nearest bar, sat me down across from a blogger with an intense interest in hamburger, pulled out a stack of play sheets, and attempted to explain to me why this was absolutely insane.
Understand this: I am no more capable of football at an engineering level than my fiancée is of understanding why there are more castles in Wales than England proper. You see, to me, there's no way to look at a Welsh castle without going into Edward I, the expectations of a Plantagenet king, the atrocities he committed, his massive popularity among the regular English, and the huge debts he incurred thanks to the expenses of contemporary warfare, which in turn changed the nature of Parliament and set the Anglophone world on its path toward republicanism – that these symbols of the subjugation of Wales were also, indirectly, the cause of its liberation. At the end of this wrong-side-of-the-road trip and my meaningful explanation, Misopogal's summarizing question was, simply, "so the king from Braveheart was a bad guy?"
Since our last episode I attended my first corporate leadership seminar, which for the uninitiated is exactly like in The Office except everyone is taking it as seriously as Michael, and when they make that joke about 'remember when you were a 30 and thinking about Eminem all the time,' there's no camera for you/Jim to look into and make a "what the fuck" face (Pam isn't actually invited to these meetings).
However, when you get past the bullshit, what they're essentially trying to teach this crowd is that everyone has certain innate attributes, and that these don't ever change. The way to be an effective manager is to focus on employees' best attributes and try to line these up as best you can with the attributes needed for their respective positions.
This is the kind of thing that we sports fans should know better than anyone, though we convince ourselves every player we root for is a potential DaVinci. Obi Ezeh probably doesn't wake from his slumber. Likewise, Mike Hart knows no other way to than forward, and Chad Henne will never be bothered by things that can hurt him, and Brian will never be truly happy unless Michigan is good at football. The mind, like the body, has attributes, and these don't change all that much.
My mind wraps itself around stories, characters, and consequences. To understand an X from an O takes a lot of staring and patient explanation. Sharik's brain, obviously, gets this stuff, and he clearly has a passion for teaching it. But what I was looking for was a synthesis, a "Longshanks = bad?" summary.
In case you can glean more than I, the other occupant of our table, the one engrossed in his burger and fries, came away with this:
When Steve Sharik explained how you defend four verticals in the three-deep coverage Michigan would love to play all year if they can get away with it, he made it clear such a move was how you draw it up but not how it plays out much: frankly, three deep, one-high coverage sucks against four verticals. You know how a bunch of Michigan's passing plays in spring and fall came when the quarterbacks nailed the slot receivers in between levels in zone coverage? That's what happens, Larry, when you meet a stranger in the alps by playing exclusively one-high coverage.
Sharik may be proud of that student. But no matter how much he wore down his pencil, for me, it was all very confusing and not very relevant to my burning question: "What, exactly, are the attributes that would make a functional free safety for Michigan?" So I asked that directly, and Sharik said:
Pressed by time and progressively more urgent buzzes signifying "when r u gonna be home?" texts, the Coach finally gave up on trying to get me to understand more than "when Kovacs is here we're fucked this way; when he's there we're fucked that way," and coughed up a free safety desired attributes list. In order of importance:
Herein, finally, lies the explanation behind why Englemon and his daily 1-0-1 UFR score was more effective than Mundy, and why there's a possibility we are not totally fucked. Ideally, we would want a hard-hitting guy with lightning quicks, and whatever swiveling hips are. Without those attributes, the free safety is going to be less than. They are all important, and the better or worse of each will determine the effectiveness of the player. Since Sean Taylor isn't available (for reasons including Miami commit, expired eligibility, NFL experience having compromised amateur status, and not being alive), the question is really which player has the right total measures of the above, and can he shore up what was a gaping hole in a paperwise better defensive backfield overall.
If this functional competence starts with good instinct, we can identify this with observations like "is always around the ball" or "has a nose for the play." Speed is a 40-time. Intelligence is "knows the playbook inside and out," or "picks things up quickly," and experience is time in program/starts. Tackling and fundamentals are whatever Jordan Kovacs has in spades. Nastiness is "lays the lumber" and "really physical." These are all heuristics – if you want fact, watch the next 12 games.
Let us now search for competence…
What we're praying for in 2010 is anything resembling 2005-'07, minus getting shredded by a Pac Ten school (and an FCS school) in the process.
The 2010 opener depth chart lists Cam Gordon, Jared Van Slyke and Vlad Emilien as the free safeties. It lies. Van Slyke, the walk-on, is injured. Really, the man backing up Jordan Kovacs, Marvin Robinson, is the silent 2nd string man.
These are the guys who could actually play:
For each I will try to provide a matrix of their potential. The ratings are on the star scale. The average can be applied to a star rating, then adjusted in your mind based on the player's level of experience. If a lot of this is familiar, it's because Brian wrote his secondary preview before I got this out, and his was much better.
For the matrices, I assigned arbitrary weights for each skill on a 10-percent linear progression. Instinct is multiplied by 1.2, Speed by 1.1, Intel by 1, Fundamentals by .9, Nastiness by .8, then they're averaged for the rating.
1. Cam Gordon – 6'3, 207 – RS Fr – No. 4
Starting experience: None
Game experience: None
Year in program: 2
By now, I hope you know his story. Cam Gordon was recruited as a receiver when gurus said he made a much better linebacker. He redshirted in '09. Nobody mentioned (non-linebacker-y hybrid) safety, let alone deep safety, until the Spring hype machine went balls over him.
ESPN had this to say on his defensive projection:
"You would never now he was a flashy wide receiver when watching him pursue the football as a hybrid safety/outside linebacker. He chases plays down with good range, burst and intensity."
Instinct seems to be the attribute most often referred to since Cam's takeover of free safety. Tom VH came in with the following in his spring tidbits:
"Cameron Gordon is the most surprising for everyone. His name keeps coming up. I’ve heard that he tackles well and has really good coverage skills. The people I’ve talked to say he’s just a natural ball hawk. Good decision to move him to safety.
This is a giant leap from his recruiting profile, where Brian said his defensive upside was Prescott Burgess. But the reports of "natural" and "ball hawk" have been unanimous and must be believed. If they're wrong, well, look at the other metrics: there's nothing there to justify anything, right?
Speed is not so good.
The same ESPN quote finished with this:
"Top-end speed is a question mark and he does lack great initial burst with ball. That said, Gordon is a great athlete with coveted physical skills to develop as a college player."
Recruiting sites had his 40 times conspicuously absent, but Gordon told Sam Webb he ran a 4.6 at 6'3 and 215. This came in for three FAKE(!)s in Brian's Hello!: post, and isn't good safety speed to begin with. Since Cam is now Barwisized to 10 lbs. under his junior weight and 30 lbs. under his senior weight, and the coaches made him our free safety, I am going for broke and imagining he runs a 4.6. That's not so good.
Intelligence is another low point, at this point. Even being careful not to read too much into things like "chews gum during Sam Webb interview," he also came in for some academic eligibility concerns, and those were coming from Michigan State:
"Also, most early updates on Gordon stated that he was pretty set on playing WR in college, and most experts/teams seem to think his future may be at S/LB. Also, there were whispers about his ability to qualify academically. For one, or both of those reasons, he has very few big time offers."
Gum-chewing and Ebonics are red herrings based in cultural bias; worry that he may not be academically acute enough to play for Mark Dantonio is a red flag.
Even if he doesn't read at a Brandent Englemon level, reading offenses can come with experience; Gordon, in his second year with Michigan, his first on the defense, and having been a late-comer to safety in high school to boot, has none. Optimism on this front may be found in a Spring quote from Woolfolk:
Cameron Gordon has lots of natural ability, and is very good at reading his keys.
But this sounds a lot more like another instinct quote.
Fundamentals have been up and down. He is called a good tackler, but then apparently lost that in the Beanie Bowl fall scrimmage. Concerns about fundamentals are also based strongly in the late switch to safety in high school, and then repeating that switch in college. For this one, I just throw up my hands and call "3."
Here's Sam Webb in his recruiting profile for the Detroit News (now offline)
"At 6-2 and 215 pounds, he has impacted a number of games with bone-jarring hits while playing linebacker or strong safety."
Now tipping the scales at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, and still capable running the 40 in the 4.6 range, Gordon is a bone-jarring presence in the Viking secondary.
Sam Webbs are unanimous: Cam jars bones.
In Gordon's own words, after the fall practice when tackling suddenly became an issue, Cam himself claimed it was going for too many big hits.
“We were in position to make plays - I was in position - but we didn’t wrap up,” Gordon said. “I think we were all a little excited, especially us young guys to show what we could do and we had a breakdown in fundamentals. But those are easily correctable mistakes.
“Something Coach [Tony] Gibson said to me after our scrimmage was, ‘Cam, every hit doesn’t have to be a big hit.’ That’s a key for me and for all the guys. Any tackle is a good tackle. I don’t have to level somebody because in the stat book they all count the same way. I’ll get better and we’ll get better.”
All told, we have a lot of promise. He's not like Englemon. He's actually like nothing we have seen in a long time. Instinct plus hits but not very fast or smart is a combination that has been lacking entirely since 1997. Best guess, he's a really young Jamar Adams. Best hope, he's the other Safety Named Taylor.
2. Marvin Robinson – 6'2, 200 – Fr/Fr – No. 3
3. Vladimir Emilien – 6'1, 204 – So/Jr – No. 5
Instinct: COMING SOON
Speed: Neither of the options ahead are fast: Robinson was a Scout 4.6. Cam was as well. Both were told "you're an NCAA linebacker, son" by recruiting services. But Vlad Emilien is, probably because of injury, really slow.
After last year's Spring Game I tried to put a picture pages together for the board showing the long Carlos Brown touchdown. What had stood out to me then was the first time I had seen Vladimir Emilien directly involved in a play, and how quickly Brown put unbeatable space between himself and our backup free safety:
2009: Carlos Brown runs right by him:
Then, this year, it happened again.
2010: Rountree's Not-Good-Enough-To-Avoid-Dong-Punching Speed is Warp 5 compared to the Impaler:
Note that Rountree catches the ball at the White Team's 32, with Emilien right on his heels on the 31. By the time they've gone 8 yards, Rountree's burst of speed has added another entire yard toward the end zone, and a yard away from the hash as well. By the time they're at the 50, Emilien is trailing by another yard. For comparison, Teric Jones on this play made up about 5 yards on Rountree, running right by Emilien in the process.
I was hopeful after I saw the 2009 Carlos Browning of Vlad that it was simply his knee injury still bothering him, and that he would be 100 percent by fall. Apparently, the speed has not improved/returned, at least since the Spring Game. This isn't a huge surprise. From ESPN via Brian's hello post:
Pass coverage is solid from both three deep and halves coverage. Makes a good break on the pass and times the interception well even though leaping ability is questionable. Physical when separating the receiver from the football. Emilien is a very good athlete that is a real competitor and gives super effort every play. Needs to keep working on strength and tackling techniques. He is a better strong safety candidate than free.
In other words: he's not very fast.
This was buried, by the way, in an interview he did later (linked in Brian's 2009 recruiting post but the link is now dead):
WHAT I DO TO STAY IN SHAPE: "I'm a workaholic; basically all I do is train, train, train. I wake up at 5 a.m. and go train. I run track, too, so I'm trying to keep myself in shape for that. I lift weights. Go on the track and do a couple of 400s to keep my endurance up. I run a couple of 110s, because that's what they run in college. I've got to get used to the college life and make sure my speed is up."
Supposedly before the torn ACL, his speed was listed by Scout as 4.5. This, in Scout's FAKE FAKE FAKE 40-yard-dash world, is slow-safety, fast-linebacker range.
That's not to say he's useless. When the field shortens, and deep coverage is less of an issue than plugging up lanes, stopping anything that slips through the linebackers, and making sure receivers in the end zone are all wrapped in nice warm blankets.
Intelligence: COMING SOON
Fundamentals: COMING SOON
Nastiness: COMING SOON (but you know already).
Brian sees Emilien's precipitous fall down the depth chart and cites Turner-level worry of a bust. I see a clear speed deficiency related to a knee injury that can take three or four years to recover from. As you can see, if he can recapture that speed, Emilien has some tools to be effective.
I am very much rooting for the guy, especially because that deep safety (free? hero?) position is the most worrisome on the team for me, and also because workaholics deserve to be rewarded in sports, and a cursory search reveals the main thing to like about Emilien: he works fucking HARD, man! But it seems, just from these two plays, that Vlad is not fast enough at this point to be a viable deep safety option, especially when the ball's in Michigan territory.
The Attribute Matrix
Based entirely on my observations, and completely subject to argument, here's a quick-try matrix of all the safeties profiled in this series.
|Jamar Adams '07||4||4||4||4||2||3.68|
|Brandent Englemon '06||3||2||5||5||2||3.38|
|Troy Woolfolk '09||3||5||3||3||1||3.12|
|Willis Barringer '05||3||3||5||3||1||3.08|
|Ryan Mundy '06||2||5||3||3||2||3.04|
|Cam Gordon '10||5||2||1||3||4||3.02|
|Brandon Harrison '05||3||3||2||4||2||2.82|
|Marvin Robinson '10||3||2||1||4||4||2.72|
|Jordan Kovacs '09||3||1||3||5||1||2.60|
|Charles Stewart '08||2||3||5||1||1||2.48|
|Vlad Emilien '10||2||1||3||2||5||2.46|
|Steve Brown '08||1||4||3||1||3||2.38|
|Mike Williams '09||1||2||2||1||2||1.58|
|Mike Williams '08||1||2||1||1||2||1.38|
Baseline for pessimism: I was pretty generous with the hype. It could just be the Michigan staff trying to make me feel good. Also, the top projection I can imagine for the backups if Cam goes down is between Brandon Harrison as a freshman and Kovacs's disastrous moonlight there last season; since Kovacs is being pushed by, but has so far held off, Robinson for a position that better fits both of their skill sets, this is probably accurate. Vlad, probably because he's not fully healed, would be a 2008-level disaster. Nobody will be as bad as Mike Williams. Also, for those 3rd and longs, there's no speed option available, what with Teric Jones moving back to running back.
Baseline for optimism: Cam Gordon's 2010 season ends up competent-ish. It's not going to be close to Englemon, let alone Adams. It's not going to be as effective as Woolfolk at free safety last year. It's probably going to come in similar to Ryan Mundy in '06, which was the weak point of a very good defense. But instead of Mundy's frustrating inability to cover a guy despite all the athletic ability one could ask for, we will see Cam in perfect positioning yet beat by talented receivers and tight ends, and competent downfield quarterbacks. It will be sad. On the other hand, we will also likely see more competence against the run than there's been in a very long time.
"Bend but don't break" is a bad characterization. Rather, Gordon will center a defense that gives up few long runs but gets scored on about 50 percent of the time because it cannot stop the passing game. The good news is, to really exploit us, you need a strong-armed QB and some good receivers, and some of the teams on our schedule don't have that.
But you never know. As these guys take the stage, they look like a slow, fat old lady that's going to make a mockery of a show that prizes "studs." Maybe once they open their mouths, we'll be dreaming a dream. And maybe Susan Boyle was such a hit because these things are so rare as to be beyond comprehension. Given the luck at this position in my lifetime, I feel we deserve a little miracle.
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
I hate Henri the Otter of Ennui.
For me, losing hurts. Watching Ezeh bite on a Juice Williams ninja fake hurts. Getting run over by Wisconsin hurts. Getting run around by Purdue hurts. Coming up just short after outplaying Iowa, having a win in East Lansing slip out of our grasps after a tantalizing tie, getting out-coached and out-executed by Penn State: these things hurt.
Henri can turn himself off. He can be blasé about such things. I can’t. I hate Henri for that.
Here’s some things that I seriously thought today:
- “Maybe it’s because I’ve been wearing maize each week.”
- “When have the holders of conventional wisdom ever had to prove themselves?”
- “Is RR just a fantastic offensive or Big East coach promoted beyond his capabilities?”
- “What is the percent chance that RR brings Michigan back to the top of the Big Ten, and what is the percent chance that it could happen under, say, Jim Harbaugh?”
- “Maybe we should just shut down the football program altogether and concentrate on being a hockey monster.”
- “But then we wouldn’t have Barwis.”
- “What have I done to deserve this?”
Because unlike Henri the Otter of Ennui I am incapable of shutting down my feelings, after losses, I grieve. This is part of the grieving process for me: questioning all that is given, thinking the thing that hasn’t been thought for awhile. To quote Dunder Mifflen Paper Co. Regional Manager Michael Scott, “there is such a thing as good grief; just ask Charlie Brown.”
I have tried several ways of dealing with post-loss grief this year, none of which have really done the trick. The best – but least repeatable – method was to go late-season lake perch fishing, catch almost 30 perch and a handful of smallmouth bass, race back home, and throw the still-twitching perch in a frying pan and gorge, all the while lashing out at snarky Spartan family members.
I also tried zoning out to Law & Order reruns with my head in Misopogal’s lap (although this had the probably foreseeable outcome of receiving an assessment on my need for a haircut). I tried drinking copious amounts of whiskey and losing $25.00 to friends who are better at poker than I am. I tried sitting in a grumpy corner during a weekend-long in-law family event, eyeing the guitar case in the corner that would allow me to belt out my sorrows between Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, and Bob Dylan songs, and avoiding eye contact with Misopogal, who has a strict No-Belting-Out-Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, and Bob Dylan Songs-During-Events-With-Her-Side-of-the-Family policy. And I tried sucking back Boddingtons and Stilton Fries in the window seat of Ashley’s while watching the throngs of maize-clad disappointment and waxing half-hearted existentialism with my best friend.
All of these are cathartic in their way. Some got me very full. Some got me very drunk. Some finally got me into the barber shop. But I’m running out of new and exciting coping mechanisms. So my latest is going on MGoBlog with a bevy of stupid questions, which I go on to answer at length using Hamlet and Charlie Brown and The Office and buried Infinite Jest references, i.e. logorrhea.
1. “Maybe it’s because I’ve been wearing maize each week.”
I’m a Johnny-Come-Lately to the whole ‘Maize-Out’ thing. I started wearing maize on Football Saturdays last year. We started really really sucking last year.
This should not be taken for a causal relationship. Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc. Moving on.
2. “When have the holders of conventional wisdom ever had to prove themselves?”
C.S. Lewis had this theory (actually it was more of a mourning observation) that there is no such thing today as a fair argument. There is no right or wrong anymore. Rather, in any disagreement, there is one side that is popular, and another side that is unpopular. The side that is unpopular has the burden of proof, and must argue with perfect clarity. The side that is popular – whether it is right or wrong – is best served by arguing with platitudes and rhetorical tricks. The only way they could possibly lose is actually have a fair argument, therefore a fair argument should be avoided at all costs.
The sports radio you can get in your car in Detroit is all platitudes. It’s also All-Fire-Rich-Rod-All-the-Time these days. Unfortunately, I finished my last CD-on-Tape (a biography of C.S. Lewis) last week and have little else to listen to in the car when stuck in construction-abetted gridlock, and I can’t stand Jim Rome because that guy is more in need of an ass-whopping than any man in history, so I end up listening for like five minutes to Mike Valenti (MSU brah!) and Terry Foster (Drew Sharp Lite) until I’m literally pounding my fists on the dashboard.
This is where having Misopogal around is incredibly important for me, because she knows how to use an Adam Sandler movie quote to make me realize how little it really matters what, say, Mike Valenti or Sean Hannity or those douche bags who say “Unacceptable” while walking out of Michigan Stadium have to say.* I won’t attempt to do her justice on here. Suffice to say that if everyone was as fair and open-minded and good at listening as my fiancé, well, she wouldn’t be as remarkable. People have strong biases and much prefer hearing that they’re right to seeking truths, and if you let this bother you, you will end up a grumpy old Oxfordian who’s as insufferable to others as others are to you.
Fuck Sean Hannity. Fuck Bill Maher. Fuck Mike Valenti and Terry Foster. All they do is reinforce opinions that weren’t going to change anyway. Those who make the important decisions don’t listen to these fucks. I seriously doubt that Mary Sue Coleman and Bill Martin and Bill Martin’s replacement are the type of folk to let Valenti and Foster talk them into felo-de-se.
* “Well, I have a microphone and you don't, so you will listen to every damn word I have to say!”
-The Wedding Singer
3. “Is RR just a fantastic offensive or Big East coach promoted beyond his capabilities?”
The Peter Principle … holds that in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently. Sooner or later they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their "level of incompetence"), and there they remain, being unable to earn further promotions … Peter's Corollary states that "in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out his duties" and adds that "work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence".
Dunder Mifflen’s Michael Scott is the modern paradigm of the Peter Principle. The character was a fantastic salesman because of his everyman charm, * which earned him a promotion to Regional Manager, his spectacular incompetence at which provides the majority of the show’s humor.
The way you avoid the Peter Principle in your own hierarchy is to judge candidates on whether they show the skills required of the higher job.
I think you can make a great Peter Principle case for Charlie Weiss. I don’t think you have as much of a case with Rich Rodriguez. Rodriguez built a national power in West Fucking Virginia. While the Big East is not as on-par with the Big Ten as whatever the SEC version of Sean Hannity is would like you to believe, neither is it that huge of a jump to go from head coach at a Big East school to head coach at a Big Ten school.
I said you don’t have as much of a case. But there is a case. Because Michigan really isn’t “just a Big Ten school.” Michigan is to the Big Ten what Texas is to the Big XII, or Florida State is to the ACC. Wherever you draw the arbitrary line of where college football history doesn’t matter anymore, Michigan is still one of the top programs in a sport that functionally rewards top programs more than any other.
* In my biz we call these guys “handshake guys” – they are not necessarily bright, nor do they even know the real value of what they’re selling, but they interface very well with clients’ handshake guys, with whom they form handshake-guy bonds that generate a ton of inexplicable sales.
There are parts of this job that require much more than a successful Big East coach needs to be successful:
- Winning nationally recognized rivalry games
- Handling a huge amount of media pressure
- Recruiting athletes from anywhere in the country who are coveted by every program in the country
- Placating egos of 21-year-olds with assured NFL futures
- Winning in horrible weather
- Out-coaching guys who are a lock for the coaching Hall of Fame
- Winning when things go against you
- Winning when you are the biggest game of the year for every team you face.
Some of these things we can assess. Others are way too early. I will make a stab at each, with regard to Rich Rod, but include percentages after each to tell you how sure I am of my assessment:
Winning nationally recognized rivalry games.
I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to get a nervous, John Cooper-esque feeling (not helped by the smartest sports guy in my office saying this all the time), that RR doesn’t “get” rivalries. What I mean by that is mostly that he doesn’t know how to blow enough smoke up everyone’s asses about rivalries.*
There is a “it’s basically a football game” attitude that engineers can appreciate, but which makes us LSA folk whinge. I’m starting to think that RR falls in that engineer category, which makes sense since he is widely considered (by the considerably small group of people who actually consider things) to be one of the best football engineering minds in the game. What engineers don’t realize, but LSA folk seem to understand intuitively, is that if you blow enough smoke about something, you can convince yourself and others that it is true, and then your brain can make it come true, and it actually does become true.
There is no good physical explanation for how Bo writing 50** all over the place in 1969 led to a huge upset over Ohio State, or why Bo was able to build off that win to establish a dynasty that lasted almost 40 years. You engineering folk are just gonna have to trust us wussy-ass liberal artfarts on this: for the head coach of Michigan, beating Ohio State matters more than any two wins anywhere on the schedule. And part of the way you beat Ohio State is to be more irrational about beating Ohio State than Ohio State is about beating Michigan. I believe this. I don’t think Rich Rod believes this. 60 percent.
* This was the subject of a recent bout of existentialist post-(Purdue) loss grief therapy in the window of Ashley’s.
** i.e. the amount of points the 1968 Buckeyes put up on Michigan.
Handling a huge amount of media pressure.
This is one of the few jobs in the United States that is conducted in a national fishbowl. People know who’s coaching Michigan like they know who the Vice President is. RR came in with a more open, aw-shucks, honest approach than Lloyd's "Eat the crags in my face, bitches" answer.
The local media's response was to eat him alive.
In media, as in football, those who are in the room for the big stuff are those who have already managed to succeed in the highly competitive, dog-eat-dog industry we work in. The problem with a room full of carnivorous survivors is that predators can't resist weakness (or, like me, find other, less-competitive niches to exploit).
We journalists are as incapable of coming up with a mutually beneficial relationship with a public figure as a bear is incapable of independently coming to a working relationship with a Salmon population. Since the early days, RR has adapted, and adapted very quickly.
Until taking a job like this, there is really no way of assessing how a person will do in it. Think of how many promising politicians have flamed out in the first month of a presidential campaign.
Nobody does well at first. When you enter the fishbowl, you either have the stones to handle it, or you don't. At this point – and it's still early – it is my professional opinion that Rich Rodriguez does absolutely have the cojones to hang in. It may be he'll lose it after a few more years, but I think at this point that is pretty doubtful. We are lucky as all hell because this is a very rare trait, but this is a guy who has been put through the worst we can dish out, often, and early, and come through. I think RR can handle the media. It won't ever be, like Obama-level graceful, but in his own clunky way, this guy's got it. 70 percent.
Recruiting athletes from anywhere in the country who are coveted by every program in the country.
If there's a place on Rich Rodriguez's resume that was cause for concern, this was it. Granted, it's hard to get anyone with an opportunity to go somewhere else to live in Morgantown, W.Va., for four or so years. But RR's teams, wherever he has gone, have been explicitly built with "his" kinds of guys.
This isn't someone who can go in and win with other guys' players, as has been demonstrated so thoroughly by our underperformance of talent the past two years.* The thing is, the real blue chip high school talent pool is small and therefore not so varied. What I mean is that RR won at West Virginia and Clemson and Tulane by taking his hand-picked 3-star guys against someone else's base sample of 3-star guys.
You don't get to hand-pick so much with the smaller 4- and 5-star talent pools. There aren't four 5-star ninja slot guys every year – rather, you get like one national Percy Harvin or Reggie Bush once every four years. This creates a recruiting disadvantage for RR as opposed to Lloyd, whose M.O. was that any 4-star receiver can come here and head to the NFL. As Brian has pointed out, the dynamics of his system will result in lower-rated classes (if much higher than West Virginia).
Even if the system more than makes up for that, this has an unfortunate corollary, in that our rivals (e.g. Ohio State, Notre Dame, USC), get to mop up on what we don't make a play for. There's a limit to what you can do, recruiting-wise, with a system-based program. Just as Beilein probably can never be MSU, I get the feeling that Rich Rod can never be USC. If he's winning just as much, I don't give a damn, but it does leave the door open for USC to be USC, and Ohio State to be Ohio State.
Of course, we may never find out. Early returns are not good. RR went head-to-head with Ohio State for perfect-for-our-system athlete Terrell Pryor, and lost out because Pryor thought the Buckeyes would make him a better pro. That this was a bad decision by Pryor is pretty much not in dispute (Hannityism nonwithstanding). It says something that RR went all-out for a recruit who was clearly better off at Michigan and lost him. However, at this point you can't knock RR too much – there is more evidence that Pryor is a bad decision-maker than there is for RR not being able to be a player in the blue chip recruit market. Seantrel Henderson, 2010's uber recruit, had Michigan a top consideration until the bottom fell out of our season. Until we see Rich Rod recruit with a 10-3 bowl win, we won't really know. 35 percent
* This is the subject of a future blog that I'm working on, but basically he won 3 games with a 5-win talent level last year, and is on pace for 5 wins with a 7-win group of talent this year. These are both within the margin of error, but as I'll show in that future blog, Lloyd almost never (2005 was the lone exception) came more than a game under expectation, and twice at the bottom of the margin of error is not a good sign. For now, you're just gonna have to trust me.
Placating egos of 21-year-olds with assured NFL futures
So far, obviously not a problem. Nuff said. 35 percent.
Winning in horrible weather
I know I'm chancing a visit from Captain Obvious here, but Michigan is in Michigan. September in Ann Arbor is perfect for a wedding (keep your fingers crossed for me), but playing games in Ann Arbor, and Columbus, and Chicagoland, and Madison, and Minneapolis, yada yada in October and November is just crying for chill, rain, wind, sleet, snow, hail, and of course the State of Michigan's specialty, chillrainsleetwindsnowhail.
- Is it all that different, weather-wise, than the Big East? I'm led to believe it is, though not like the difference between Big Ten and SEC.
- Does it affect Rich Rod's teams more than other teams? Well, doesn't it kind of look like it so far?
- Again, we are in small sample territory here. But I'm starting to think that weather and the spread-n-shred are not good buddies. On pretty days, we have shredded. On crummy days, we have been shredded. On surface observation, when it rains on us, it pours.
- Shitty weather is bad for any offense, e.g. 2007 Michigan/Ohio State. The reason I think it hurts us more is that our whole offensive concept is to get ninja buggers in space who then make guys miss. When the ball becomes slick and uncatchable, that limits the places we can go with it, which is counter to the spread's philosophy of keeping everything an optional point-of-attack. When the ground becomes un-maneuverable, that neutralizes a team that tries to beat you by having guys who make sharper cuts.
- The last two years we have gotten worse as the season progressed. Michigan State has gotten better late in the year. Is this because we are more subject to the weather? I don't know. I can only muse. 5 percent.
Out-coaching guys who are a lock for the coaching Hall of Fame
- That Penn State game pissed me off. I thought they looked better prepared for us than we were for them. And we were the guys who got a week against a sacrificial lamb to prepare. We were at home. This is all crap you could hear on the radio and means nothing.
- Was it getting out-coached? Brian had this to say in UFR's new "RPS" metric:
That's on GERG, not Rich Rodriguez. There's more to it than that, but yes, we've been getting out-coached a bit this year, and not just from Joe Paterno. In the Michigan State games of this year and last, Dantonio took personal command of his defenses and had game plans that were as close to perfect against RR as you can come up with.
RPS 6 13 -7 Robinson got pwned.
- Other than that, though, the offense has been conceptually better than everyone else we've faced – execution by the young and talent-deficient has been the O's biggest problem.
- On defense, like woah.
- One thing that I think most any college football fan is incapable of doing is having a completely realistic view of their own head coach. So long as that coach is your coach, you are married, so either you're doing whatever you can to make the relationship work, or you're in the process of destroying the whole thing. So let's look back and see what Michigan fans thought of Rich Rodriguez before "Head Coach of the University of Michigan Football Team" was one of his accolades (from Maize n Brew, 12/10/2007 (emphasis mine)):
So there really there is nothing before Rich Rodriguez arrived in Ann Arbor, nor anything since, to suggest that he's even an average defensive coach. RR relies on his defensive coordinators to handle that.
Positives - Excellent recruiter. Excellent in game coach. Runs a clean program (as far as we know). Seemingly a good guy who would fit into the mantra of a "Michigan Man." Recruits awesomely, awesomely named players.
Negatives - Loss to the Wannstache with a MNC berth on the line. Seriously. That's a significant negative. His players have an uncanny ability to fumble at the worst possible times. Defensive has never been the strongest tool in the utility belt and the Mountaineers generally have to outscore their opponents to win ball games. Limited ties to the Midwest and no ties to Michigan. May benefit from coaching in a weak conference.
At Michigan, his first DC hire was a total, fired-after-first-year flameout, which set back our defensive development by at least a year. His second? I don't know. GERG is in his first year, and has unheard-of depth problems and talent deficiencies. He's also getting pwned in Rock, Paper, Scissors by the Galen Hall and the Spread HD.
It could just be that Jay Hopson sucks. That's been kind of the unofficial premise around here. But I'm also looking at a weak 2008 defensive class, and a 2009 defensive class that didn't go balls-out on defensive backs when balls-out on DBs was like more necessary than any time in recent history. It's too early, but early returns say that Rich Rodriguez is and probably never will be a good defensive coach, and that this puts him at a disadvantage to guys like Paterno, Dantonio, and Bielema in recruiting and developing that side of the ball.
Even if RR had the best DC in the game, not being a defensive guy, in my opinion, will always hurt him. There's a huge difference between the man at the top having every faculty, and the man at the top having to trust his lieutenants.
MnB's Madden-esque way of saying this was "generally have to outscore their opponents to win ball games." Well, you actually ALWAYS have to outscore opponents to win ball games (not counting "Moral Victories," Lions fans). But it might be fair to say that Rodriguez's Michigan teams will have to be extraordinarily successful offensively, because the defense isn't going to win games himself. 40 percent.
Winning when things go against you
This is easy. Basically, if you want to win despite random, no-fault turnovers, and crappy officiating, and Michigan-X-Hating-Gods, etc., then you have to not just be better than other teams but be WAY better and WAY deeper than other teams.
That takes time. And luxury. At this moment, we have neither.
The other thing is attitude. This is another one of those things that engineers don't appreciate, and the poetic know but don't understand. Again, way too early, but RR's teams are now starting to get a bit of a reputation for folding when things go against them. Illinois stands us up at the goal line: utter disaster. Purdue executes a perfect onside kick: instant long touchdown. Wisconsin basically gets gifted a turnover on a bogus roughing the kicker penalty: touchdown, fold, go home.
Of course, we're saying that about the same team that clawed its way back when overmatched against Notre Dame, roared back to tie the MSU game, and hung in there despite five turnovers against Iowa. Or if you prefer, the team that looked like a match for Ohio State in the first half last year. The thing is, when there isn't much hope, there is a performance drop on this team, particularly defensively. My guess is that it's not a lack of heart so much as guys who are normally prone to bad decisions trying to do too much. Either way, you expect the coach to be the guy getting that sort of stuff under control, and it has so far been a profound disappointment that Rich Rodriguez has not been able to do that. 35 percent.
Winning when you are the biggest game of the year for every team you face.
When is the last time you saw a reaction like that from someone who just beat a 2-6 team? Sparties still e-mail photos of the final score to each other. Srsly! I got one last week!
The reason why this is such a big deal to them is because Michigan still has that cachet.
I posited before the Penn State game that maybe we would be overlooked. One of the better Black Shoe Diaries visitors that week was incredulous. Overlook Michigan?
The point is that we don't just face opponents each week – more often than not, we are the second or first game circled on the schedule for every team we play. And that's just when we suck!
What does this have to do with anything?
It means there's more to "getting back" than just having the talent of a typical Carr team again. Maintaining Michigan's place in the standings to go along with its place in college football history means either being so good that you can take anyone's absolute best shot, or being so crazy competitive that you don't want just to win – you want to murder death kill every comer. Of the two, the second sounds easier. Since we haven't been in this situation yet, we have no idea how RR will stand. 0 percent.
4. “What is the percent chance that RR brings Michigan back to the top of the Big Ten, and what is the percent chance that it could happen under, say, Jim Harbaugh?”But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
- Given until 2014, pretty good. Given through 2011, pretty bad.
- How the hell should I know? In the hypothetical of firing RR and hiring Harbaugh today, the chances are pretty slim, for reasons outlined nicely by Brian, and not nearly so nicely by the WLA.
5. “Maybe we should just shut down the football program altogether and concentrate on being a hockey monster.”
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
I wonder if a Northwestern fan has to go through this like every year. For me, justifying having a football program that could bring me such pain is not like something that I've ever considered.
I think losing the football program is a bad idea, and will always be a bad idea.
Let's say we weren't 5-6, but 0-11 right now. And let's say instead of Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren and Tate Forcier and Brandon Minor and Zoltan the Space Emperor et al. we had a lot of Jordan Kovacseses.
This would still be totally worth it, from the walk through the foliage, the by-far cleverest t-shirts of any fanbase, the toppled pumpkins in the streets, a stomach full of Blimpy Burger…
Ann Arbor rocks. Ann Arbor particularly rocks on Football Saturdays. Michigan Football Games would be awesome with half as good of a team as we have now.
We're rebuilding. Rebuilding looks ugly. But if you're sticking around and reading MGoStuff and putting on your M gear and Keep Coming Back, you can now imagine what this thing will look like when Big Ten Championship banners rather than pipes and cables, are hanging from the rafters.
And really, things aren't all that bad.
6. “But then we wouldn’t have Barwis.”
And thus the native hue of resolution
Do you still believe that the best-conditioned team in the land is the one most likely to win?
I'm still in.
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought
8. “What have I done to deserve this?”
Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now?
That's just the thing, Prince Hamlet, this play is about vengeance, and comeuppance arrives for the jester as it does for the prince.
The thing about having a 40-year run at or near the top of college football is that we end up taking things for granted. We imposed our will upon so many 5-6 teams just crying for a bowl game – any bowl game – that we have forgotten what it feels like ourselves.
Now, I think we would make much finer winners than, say, repugnant Ohio State fans. But if we can learn anything as fans from this year, it's humility. For we have indeed been humbled.
- Michigan State, who has come so close and then self-blown so many great victories there's now a saying for it ("Sparty NO!"), got to watch Michigan come back only to snatch defeat from the hands of victory. With an OT interception in the end zone no less.
- Iowa, the team that is always in a position to win, but so often gets punished for every single tiny mistake, leaves a guy wide open for Denard Robinson that would have put Michigan in range for a game-winning field goal, and instead our freshman QB tossed an INT to a double-covered guy.
- Penn State, having held on to their coach since the '60s, finally got a win on the road in awful weather that was vintage out-coaching.
- Illinois, who spent the last three years waiting for their unheard-of collection of recruits to germinate, who walked into this year with one of the Big Ten's best offensive weapons and then inexplicably proved useless all year, finally got a signature home win.
- Purdue, the whiniest program in the country, the whoa-is-me-est guys in the Big Ten, the "we've had a spread since 1996 and all we got was this damn t-shirt" guys, got to excise demons and execute a perfect on-side field goal recovery, got refereeing even they couldn't hate, and finally stuck it to somebody.
- Wisconsin, for whom running the ball up the gut and playing hard defense against the run are practically religion, got to run the ball up the gut and play hard defense against the run, and when they had the lead and the ball at the start of the 4th quarter, they got to keep the ball for the whole 4th quarter. It's not just that we lost these games. It's the way we lost these games. This year is like Big Ten catharsis year, with every team beating us exactly the way that we have been beating them for four decades.
- Fortunately, for us, then, this whole year isn't written yet. And there's still one Big Ten game left, and they have zero karma going for them, and zero catharsis against Michigan that needs to be exercised, and they will show up in a Nike modern mockery of the uniforms they wore for their 1954 split national championship.
- That's the year Michigan had them on the ropes, then couldn't punch it in, and Ohio State drove 99 yards for a touchdown. But that's already happened this year. Excised.
- If there's anyone left in the Big Ten who doesn't deserve to beat Michigan, it's these guys. Karma-wise, we are cleansed. Of course, we also walk in to a fencing match with poisonous linebackers and poison-tipped Ohio State talent.
- By this point, the Buckeyes have exhausted every conceivable reason to beat us. They're going to the Rose Bowl regardless of this or any other outcome. Sweatervest has won virtually every recruiting battle over Rich Rod not including a guy whose knee got blown out. They're not in front of their fans. The lifetime record against Michigan for Tressell is not in doubt. Mike Hart's and Chad Henne's and Jake Long's careers have been left unavenged, as has Bo Schembechler's death. Consecutive wins over Penn State and Iowa have Pryor back in the fanbase's good graces, and OSU back atop the Big Ten, ready to once again blow the conference's reputation with a half-hearted BCS blowout. And as for fanbases generating goodwill, though there be plenty of kind Buckeyes about the world, you will never in college football find such a wretched hive of scum and villainy.
- To come out of this game with a win would take a miracle, the kind of miracle which around here you can build a 40-year dynasty upon. I don't know if it's possible, or if Rich Rod will ever really have the team to beat those guys. But I know that our guys have gone through coaching changes and Barwisizing and hellish officiating and hellish game conditions, and every other hell you can throw at a football program that still has more wins than any other. So I know this: we deserve it more.
- Not the world is particularly fair.
- And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.
After achieving my life-long goal of getting linked to by Dr. Saturday, I did a little updating this morning of the first in the acclaimed "The Decimated Defense" posts.
This mgoboard (mysteriously bumped to a diary) post is so loyal MGoBlog readers can get all the new goodies without re-reading the thing. The first noticeable difference: a Defensive Depth Chart, which looks like this:
NFL All-World Guy
True Freshman Blue Chip or Serviceable backup guy
Old-guy bust who's kind of serviceable now
NFL-ready junior guy
Current Infinite Safety Disaster, who is worse than the walk-on
Legacy who is halfway decent and was our FS until a few weeks ago
Dust mite true freshman who was a running back until a few weeks ago
True freshman recovering from knee surgery who can't be that great if he hasn't seen the field
Red shirt freshman with clear talent deficiency to be serviceable
The 2008 linebacker and DB hauls are a perfect microcosm of Michigan's bigger problems.
Linebacker: At a position that had zero depth left over from previous classes, we brought in four 4-star players: Marcus Witherspoon, Taylor Hill, J.B. Fitzgerald, and Kenny Demens.
Of those, Witherspoon and Hill were lost immediately to attrition. One (Fitzgerald) is on track to be a long-term contributor. One (Demens) seems to be a bust. In this case, Michigan fulfilled its recruitment needs, but was hit by double the expected attrition. Result: one serviceable player when we needed at least two.
Defensive back: At a position that had zero depth left over from pervious classes, we brought in two 4-stars (Brandon Smith and Boubacar Cissoko) and one flier (J.T. Floyd). As with Mouton, Smith was immediately deemed a linebacker, and this was a known likelihood during the recruitment period, so really we brought in just a 4-star and a flier. The 4-star looked to be a bit behind track for his rating, until he got himself kicked off the team. The flier, as was the expected result, was not useful. Result: zero serviceable players when we needed at least two or three.
Linebacker is a clear-cut case of decimation due to attrition. Defensive back is a clear-cut case of decimation due to under-recruiting. Both of these factors have ravaged each class from 2005 to 2008. Along the way, there were some serviceable players picked up, but we are still generally two serviceable players short of the Michigan norm at several linebacker positions and all four defesnive backfield positions, i.e. we are at least 12 good, useful, on-the-roster players away from a normal Michigan defense. That is HUGE!!!
I also updated the charts a bit to reflect the Purdue depth chart changes. That is all.
[Editor's note: holy hell, man. This is like a PhD thesis.]
It hits you like a thousand knives stabbing you all over your body. You can't breathe. You can't think. At least, not about anything but the pain.
I'm searching for a metaphor.
Amidst the phantom flags and the Angry Michigan Hating Bounces and the dropping of babies on 3rd down on Saturday you could not possibly have missed a notable lack of competency in the 11 guys tasked with making sure the other guys score less than we do, otherwise referred to as "Michigan's Defense."
This is Part II of the afore-bumped diary "The Decimated Defense," a look at what has happened to turn Michigan's once vaunted defense into..
I don't have a metaphor...
Something that has a lot of really shiny beautiful parts, that ostensibly looks like something grand and wonderful, but like with some major defect or hole in it, from which pours in death and destruction...
In the wake of, well, that, I'm sure that you, as I, need to understand what happened to Michigan's defense, how we got here, will it get better, and can it be avoided again?
In the first of this series, I went through Michigan's last five classes to see if we could find where and what went wrong in defensive recruiting to lead us to a day when Jordan Kovacs was all that stood between the program and the bottom of the sea. We looked at the cheap rivets, the lack of safety training, and missing life boats, while Brian UFR'ed a really big iceburg.
It was long, and mostly stuff you already knew, and at one point you had to fix yourself a sandwich, but at the end we identified two factors that were very likely contributors:
- Small classes
- High attrition
Today we put that in context. I compared the current rosters to the recruited rosters of Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Penn State, Michigan State and Alabama, to see how each of these teams were built, and what was lost along the way, in order to understand why should so many other luxury liners and loveable tugboats and whatnot stay dry as we face a watery grave?
(Excel spreadsheet lives here.)
Recruiting: Quantity and Quality
Rose: The fall alone would kill you.
Jack: It would hurt. I'm not saying it wouldn't. Tell you the truth, I'm a lot more concerned about that water being so cold.
Here's how Michigan stacked up in pure defensive recruiting from 2005 through 2009 (Rivals ratings used):
|Michigan||Alabama||MSU||Notre Dame||Ohio State||Penn State|
This counts every recruit that came in ready to play defense, except athletes who played their entire careers on offense. It also includes offensive recruits later moved to defense. It excludes walk-ons.
Many nuggets here. Let us bullet:
- Notre Dame fans who blame recruiting for some of their woes have a beef. Their classes have been highly ranked, but even smaller than paltry Michigan's!
- Bama LOL
- Michigan and Penn State recruited pretty similarly. The big difference was that PSU brought in 7 more 2-stars.
- Michigan and Ohio State both recruited 20 players of 3-star caliber, and 3 blue chips, but OSU had 9 more 4-star players during that time.
- Michigan State clearly isn't in the same recruiting league as these others. They're basically averaging one lower star per recruit
- ...but out of a respectable class size.
- Even so, Alabama had more 3-star defensive recruits over this time than Michigan State.
Michigan's closest recruiting analogue here is Penn State, with the high-end (4-5 star) recruiting separated by one more 5-star guy for us. You can call Notre Dame basically a Michigan-light. If anything, the Fighting Irish have been even pickier about talent than U-M, OSU and PSU, except they haven't been as successful at reeling in the big fish as any of the major schools profiled.
For these schools, the distribution seems weighted slightly toward the top, but their bell curves are only slightly ahead of OSU and Bama. However, when placed beside each other, it's easy to see how large amounts of recruits can generate a much more sizeable talent pool from which to draw starters.
So recruiting tells a story, but certainly not the story. Certainly, Alabama and Ohio State recruited the most 4- and 5-star players, and subsequently have great defenses.
Michigan and Penn State should, just going by recruiting, have about the same level of defense, with maybe one more NFL-bound player in Ann Arbor, and maybe a bunch of 2-star guys backing up at Penn State instead of Michigan's walk-ons. Or it would be, if attrition was constant. We will see in the next section that it isn't. But you knew the problem wasn't just recruiting, anyway, since you know that Penn State's defense is legitimately good, and Michigan went into this season steering a pre-WWI luxury liner.
First, though, while we're on pure recruiting, let's look real quick and see if it's actually the age of the recruits that matter. Since they should be theoretically the heart of a great defense, and since the distribution among all schools except Michigan State was fairly equal when it came to 4- versus 5- stars, let's just look at those two groups, and when they came in for each school (MSU left out to spare them the indignation of looking like Antarctica):
|Michigan||Alabama||Notre Dame||Ohio State||Penn State|
[At this point I would ask everyone else to pause for a moment while we give Irish, who has been waiting patiently all this time, an opportunity to assign righteous blame on Ty Willingham. HE did this, precious!]
Okay, so other than an '05-'06 "Domer LOL," did we get anything out of this?
Penn State's great defense has a lot of high-rated juniors and seniors on it -- more than any other school. Michigan was kind of even, but actually should have had more upperclassmen than Bama or Notre Dame. Ohio State has been strong all the way through. Alabama is going to be really really good in a few years.
There's nothing here to suggest Michigan should be really bad. Not yet.
The Other Shoe, of Which Its Current Gravity Situation You Were Well Aware
Rose : Don't you understand? The water is freezing and there aren't enough boats. Not enough by half. Half the people on this ship are going to die.
Cal: Not the better half.
Cal, if you make it off that ship, and if that whole heir-to-a-robber-baron thing doesn't work out for you, you might make a fine SEC recruiting coordinator.
What I'm talking about is Alabama's over-signing strategy, which has been covered many times on this blog. In short, the Crimson Tide under Saban have recruited more guys than they have scholarships for, expecting enough will find reason to get themselves expelled or booted off the team before the count becomes official. The ultimate effect is that Saban has a strong incentive not to keep troubled players, particularly less talented troubled players, in school.
I bring it up now because:
|Def. Recruits||On Roster||On Roster %|
- Michigan has had higher attrition from 2005 to 2009 than Alabama.
- Let's rephrase: Michigan has had higher attrition than a team that has been TRYING TO SHED PLAYERS.
- If Ohio State is pulling a 'Bama, there is zero evidence for it here. They have a reasonable number of recruits, and very low attrition.
- Penn State, as I mentioned before, is a much older team, and therefore has had a lot more time to lose guys to graduation and leaving early for the NFL and whatnot. In that light, their retention rate is pretty darn good.
- Michigan State and OSU ended up with about the same number of recruits on their respective rosters, while Bama was just a bit higher.
- Notre Dame's team is much, much younger, hence the high retention rate.
- Attrition has generally been higher for the teams with coaching changes in the last few years.
- Michigan's 28 scholarship athletes on defense may work on your pre-2005 EA Sports video game (which had a 55-player limit) but is way, way below the competition.
- 58.33 percent, as it turns out, is in fact quite putrid.
[Editor's note: I was working on a post similar to this today that examined the past five years of defensive recruiting with a particular focus on the secondary. This is broader but I may as well not reinvent such a well-put-together wheel. I will take this opportunity at the top of the post to rephrase something I stuck in a mailbag. Here are the members of the secondary in the recruiting classes that comprise this year's team:
2005: None. (Harrison, Sears, Richards all gone.)
2006: None. (Mouton, Brown moved to LB.)
2007: Warren, Woolfolk, Williams, Rogers. (Chambers gone.)
2008: JT Floyd (Smith moved to LB, Cissoko is gone.)
Excluding true freshmen, Michigan has five scholarship players for four starting spots, none of whom are seniors and one of whom is a positional vagabond who was a huge reach even at WR. Attrition has something to do with it, but poor recruiting—the 2006 class didn't have a single corner, and the 2007 class had two reaches and one Notre Dame defection—had much more. With Woolfolk's move Michigan has one scholarship safety on the roster outside of true freshmen. Not to go all ND-fan-talking-about-Ty here, but lord I don't know if anyone could dig themselves out from that.]
[OP note: Part II lives here].
How did it ever come to this?
|NFL All-World Guy||Young Beast||Solid Guy|
|True Freshman Blue Chip or Serviceable backup guy||Old-guy bust who's kind of serviceable now|
|Former Infinite Safety Disaster, now above-average tweener guy||Young guy who's progressing but prone to massive young-guy mistakes||True freshman wunderkind who is still a true freshman|
|Long-time judgment-impaired starter who projected to possible Butkus Watch List but instead regressed and lost job to a walk-on||Nuclear missile equally likely to strike his own territory as his enemy's||Kind of this 3-star redshirt soph who plays exactly like that|
|NFL-ready junior guy||Current Infinite Safety Disaster, who is worse than the walk-on||Legacy who is halfway decent and was our FS until a few weeks ago|
|Dust mite true freshmah who was a running back until a few weeks ago||True freshman recovering from knee surgury who can't be that great if he hasn't seen the field||Redshirt freshman with clear talent deficiency to be serviceable|
(Where = Walk-on)
With Boubacar Cissoko's dismissal from the team, we now have a number that every Michigan fan might need to commit to memory:
Everybody got that?
Now, numbers without context are hard to understand. If it's a completion percentage, well, that's not horrible but it's not bad, right? If that's how many questions you got right on your Anthro-Bio mid-term, well, not so great.
The question we will try to answer in this Diary, is what does that number mean when it's the percentage of defensive recruits over the last five classes who are still on your team?
Really? 58.33 percent? How?
Defensive Recruits No Longer With the Team: 2005-2009
|Eugene Germany||2005||DE||****||6.0||Left team|
|James McKinney||2005||DT||****||5.9||Left team|
|Johnny Sears||2005||CB||***||5.6||Left team|
|Chris Richards||2005||ATH||***||5.5||Left team|
|Carson Butler||2005||DE||***||5.5||Moved to TE, left for NFL|
|Chris McLaurin||2005||DE||***||5.5||Left team (health)|
|Jason Kates||2006||DT||****||5.8||Left team|
|Cobrani Mixon||2006||LB||****||5.8||Left team|
|Quintin Patilla||2006||LB||***||5.7||Left team|
|Quintin Woods||2006||DE||***||5.6||Left team|
|Artis Chambers||2007||S||***||5.6||Left team|
|Marell Evans||2007||LB||**||5.2||Left team|
|Boubacar Cissoko||2008||CB||****||6.0||Left team|
|Marcus Witherspoon||2008||LB||****||5.8||Did not qualify|
|Taylor Hill||2008||LB||****||5.8||Left team|
|Adrian Witty||2009||CB||**||5.3||Did not qualify (may return)|
That seems really bad. Like really really bad.
Is it bad?
It's obviously no surprise that Michigan has faced a lot of attrition since RR came on board. Each case is it's own particular. But all told, it seems to me that we are seeing something here that is way out of whack. And I'm not sure it's RR's doing. And though that seems like a lot of attrition, I'm not sure that's the whole story.
I'm going to break down this list by class. Perhaps in the micro we can see what happened to the macro...
(or perhaps you are already poised to scroll to comments and write "tl;dr" -- if so, get a sandwich and meet the rest of us down at the very long sub-header)
Class of 2005
|Eugene Germany||2005||DE||****||6.0||Left team||no|
|James McKinney||2005||DT||****||5.9||Left team||no|
|Johnny Sears||2005||CB||***||5.6||Left team||no|
|Chris Richards||2005||ATH||***||5.5||Left team||no|
|Carson Butler||2005||DE||***||5.5||Moved to TE, left for NFL||no|
|Chris McLaurin||2005||DE||***||5.5||Left team (health)||no|
Nothing left. This isn't just age -- you'd expect at least a couple of 5th year seniors to stick around. This class was decimated early and often, leaving Terrible Taylor as the only major defensive contributor. Harrison, who would be very nice to have around today, burned his redshirt during Safety Armageddon. Logan was the only other graduate. For Sir Carson Butler's career at Michigan, consult the minstrels.
Moral of this story: losing the top two recruits on defensive line made things dicey. In the first attempt at refilling the cornerback cabinet, Carr picked up Harrison and a couple of fliers (Sears, Richards) who didn't work. [More after the jump!]
Things We Know This is obvious territory: the Spread's "Score whenever possible" mentality renders T.O.P. moot as a way to tell which team was playing better at the end of the game. Thing is, T.O.P. was never meant to be an in-game metric, or shouldn't have been. It's an IN-GAME metric. The idea isn't to show who's dominating the game, but what shape the defense is in. Its continued popularity on networks is likely due to the ease with which it's calculated. I think we can come up with a much better metric for that, and retire T.O.P. Good guesses:
- Offenses tire less quickly than defenses. Giving blocks is better than receiving them. Reacting to a play that you didn't call puts you at a disadvantage. Pushing past a lineman to the one place he doesn't want you to is more tiresome than shoving one (a lineman) back from the one direction you know he wants to go to. There's a lot of chasing involved.
- Players recover from being tired in real time (not Game Time)
- Fatigue is generated during plays, not between them
- Greater fatigue reduces the effectiveness of a defense because a) tired players can't react as well, and b) substitutions are inherently a reduction of the talent put on the field.
- While fatigue can be recovered from during the game, the more that is drained, the lower the maximum recoverable energy.
Things We'd Like to Know I want a metric that:
- Gives an approximate likelihood of the offense scoring based on defensive fatigue.
- Since the above would be very difficult, the metric should at least standardize defensive fatigue, to be used as a reference point
- Is fairly easy to calculate with widely available stats
Pure guesses (opportunities for me to look stupid):
- Energy is recovered at an exponential (logistic? Math majors help! -- i mean a curve that slows as it goes, or y=x^[fraction]) rate.
- More plays depletes a defense's performance
- More plays in progression depletes a defense's performance faster
- Available statistics allow us to create a metric for a defense's performance based off of these fatigue factors
Let's Talk Variables It's hard to count actual time during plays, at least for us laymen. However, number of plays per drive is easy to calculate. I would like to count plays that are replayed due to penalties unless it is blown dead. I'd like to count overall time elapsed since the last defensive play.
However, actual time is hard to come by. We have the time the game took to play. We have the in-game time. But short of having a DVR with a timer, I haven't been able to find any real time metric. If someone can find me a place where that is kept and freely accessible, I will use it. Otherwise, we're going to have to ignore regeneration based on real time.
The atom for all of this is going to be plays run from scrimmage.
Defensive plays from scrimmage increase defensive fatigue. Offensive plays from scrimmage decreases defensive fatigue. Since they use so many backups, special teams plays do not count.
The test for it will be yards given up, since scoring equates too much with field position. Why yards? Because we know that yards gained and winning are correlated. A defense that gives up more yards is more likely to be scored on.
Needs a name. For now: SCHWING.
Defensive SCHWING: How it Works What we will create is a basically running play counter:
- Higher number indicates higher level of defensive fatigue
- Defensive plays count for +3 for the defensive team
- Offensive plays count for -8% for the team on offense
- No team can go into negative.
- Commercial Breaks, Time Outs and Reviews count for -15% for both teams
- Half Time reduces all fatigue by 80 percent (rounded to nearest integer)
The Spreadsheet is here. Click on each image for full size
Michigan vs. Western Michigan:
Averages: Michigan 21, Notre Dame 17
Michigan vs. Eastern Michigan:
Averages: Michigan 21, EMU 14
Remember, higher is bad. It means that Eastern Michigan, over the course of the game, faced a Michigan defense operating, maybe at like 79 percent of its capacity, because of fatigue, while Michigan faced EMU's at, say, 86 percent capacity.
Keep in mind, it's impossible to be 100 percent the whole time. But notice how much better Michigan's defense was against Western, who's not much more talented than Eastern Michigan. There's a big difference in how well the Wolverines let the defense rest in Game 1, whereas they were considerably harder on the D in Games 2 and 3, whether by turnovers or quick scores.
So....Correlation?If Michigan's defense gives up more yards when its SCHWING level is high, that would indicate the metric works, right?
Notre Dame de South Bend:
The yellow lines are offensive plays. The ones sticking out below were negatives (or holding penalties).
Michigan gave up 236 yards (5.02 yards per play) to Eastern when our SCHWING level was 20 or higher. We gave up 61 yards (2.26 yards per play) when it was 19 or lower.
It was actually more drastic than that. A lot of short yardage was given up in the 2nd half against the backups in soft, clock-killing defense. The big plays in the first half were all during high-SCHWING periods. The 3-and-outs were during low ones.
Against Notre Dame, Michigan gave up 188 yards (6 yards per play) 2 with a SCHWING under 20. Not good. We gave up 294 yards (6.125 yards per play) when SCWING was over 20. Also not good. There wasn't as much SCHWING variance, however, against Notre Dame as there was against EMU. The Wolverine defense played much more of that game tired. If you take out the 27 yards on the last play, our SCHWING under 20 YPP goes down to 5.37 (161 yards). I think that just says ND's offense was pretty good (or held like bitches).
WMU was the opposite. With SCHWING under 20, the Broncos put up 81 yards (2.79 YPP). When SCHWING went over 20, they put up 222 yards (6.17 YPP). If I excise the 73-yard TD, it's still 4.26 YPP. But it shouldn't be excised -- that happened near the peak of Michigan's defensive fatigue during the game.
Here's what yardage against us looked like against WMU as SCHWING went up:
As the season progresses, I'll do more plotting to see if this sticks, but so far this seems a little bit correlative. If I had to guess, I'd say ND and their max-protect-bomb strategy caused the difference.
All told, when Michigan's SCHWING was under 20 this year, our defense gave up 330 yards (3.79 YPP). When it was over 20, we gave up 752 yards (5.74 YPP).
I'm sure we could play around with the factors, but as a very basic statistic, it seems to be fairly predictive. When the defensive fatigue rating for a given team is high, they are likely to give up more yards, in our extremely small sample of course. Feel free to plug in other games from years past.
Obviously, scores come after drives.
The thing to look at isn't the end of drives, but the start of them: what shape is the defense in as Team X gets the ball. For example, when Michigan put up three quick scores on Western, they got the ball each time with WMU's defensive deficiency rating already well over 20.
Similarly, EMU got the ball down 38-17 and had a magnificent drive (which should have been a TD), but every drive before that in the 2nd half, Michigan's D started under 10. The real backbreaker for them was when the QB buckled and fumbled -- that gave Michigan the ball back with EMU's defensive SCHWING over 20.
Couple things jumped out, though. The quick scores (Brown's long TD run, the kick return for TD against Notre Dame, Denard's existence) were answered with scores against Michigan, or long periods of scoring drought. Interceptions, too, created a fast turnaround. Look at Stonum's return: not only did it put Michigan back on the field after a tough stop (helped by Cheeseburger Charlie's inability to get a few plays called in*), but even more it helped the Domers' defense rest away the effect of that good early drive by Michigan.
Note how different this is from Time of Possession. By basically counting plays back and forth, we can see when one team or another is particularly likely to get scored on.
I think I'm gonna keep using this as the season progresses. It's pretty easy to calculate, especially if you have the spreadsheet handy. If it holds up as a decent indicator of expected defensive performance, maybe an addition to the UFR charting?
UPDATE 9/23:Bad news. I ran all of the plays from all three games (by ND, EMU, WMU and MICH) and there's such a small correlation it's almost not worth it:
Of course, it's not conclusive. Wait until we have at least 1,000 plays from scrimmage to analyze (we're at about 450 right now).
When SCHWING was 20 or over, offenses gained 1363 yards on 251 plays, and had 23 "big" plays (15 yards or more). That's 5.45 YPP, and 9.16% chance of a big play.
When SCHWING was under 20, offenses gained 984 yards on 175 plays, with 15 big plays. That's 5.67 YPP, and 8.57% chance of a big play.
Not exactly correlating.
One thing of note: Carlos Brown's 90-yard scamper came at a SCHWING level of 17. In fact, a lot of big plays took place around a SCHWING level of 17 to 25. I don't know that that means exactly, except perhaps that's early in drives but seldom right at the start of them. Or that 17 to 25 is the bell curve. This could simply be because early in drives there's more field to go, thus more space for big yardage.
Situationally, there was a small difference. With SCWHING under 20, 26.55% of plays from scrimmage resulted in a 1st down or touchdown. When SCHWING was over 20, that number rose to a 31.62% conversion rate. The touchdown ratio went way up: 7.11% over 20, and 1.69% under 20. But I can't tell you how much of that is field position -- the likelihood of scoring goes up when you get closer to the end zone, and SCHWING goes up the longer a drive lasts, meaning high SCHWING generally takes place deep in an opponent's zone. So the TD ratio means pretty much nil. Anyway, the average SCHWING level before plays that resulted in 1st downs and touchdowns was about 24; the level before plays that didn't convert was 22. Small difference.
I'm not giving up just yet, though. I'm gonna track a few more games, because I think I'm getting thrown off by big plays late in the WMU and EMU games, when backups and whatnot were in (high SCHWING is supposed to necessitate more backups, so if the backups go in when SCHWING is low, that changes things).
Here's the big plays with Low SCHWING this year:
|40||WMU||17||WMU||43||TD||(1st and 15) Robinson, D. rush for 43 yards to the WMU0, 1ST DOWN MICH, TOUCHDOWN, clock 03:57.|
|3||ND||6||MICH||24||1ST||(2nd and 9) ALLEN rush for 24 yards to the ND45, 1ST DOWN ND (Williams, Mike).|
|6||ND||15||MICH||24||1ST||(3rd and 4) CLAUSEN pass complete to RUDOLPH for 24 yards to the MICH25, 1ST DOWN ND (Williams, Mike).|
|24||ND||19||ND||40||1ST||(3rd and 12) Forcier, Tate pass complete to Mathews, Greg for 40 yards to the ND41, 1ST DOWN MICH (WALLS).|
|37||ND||19||MICH||19||1ST||(2nd and 6) CLAUSEN pass complete to ALLEN for 19 yards to the MICH22, 1ST DOWN ND.|
|86||ND||14||ND||24||1ST||(2nd and 14) Forcier, Tate pass complete to Stonum, Darryl for 24 yards to the 50 yardline, 1ST DOWN MICH (McCARTHY, K.).|
|100||ND||17||ND||16||1ST||(1st and 10) Minor, Brandon rush for 16 yards to the ND33, 1ST DOWN MICH (McCARTHY, K.).|
|129||ND||10||MICH||15||1ST||(1st and 10) PENALTY MICH pass interference (Cissoko, B.) 15 yards to the ND19, 1ST DOWN ND.|
|205||ND||11||MICH||27||1ST||(1st and 10) CLAUSEN pass complete to TATE for 27 yards to the ND47, 1ST DOWN ND (Floyd, J.T.).|
|9||EMU||3||EMU||30||1ST||(1st and 10) Brown, Carlos rush for 30 yards to the EMU21, 1ST DOWN MICH (CARDWELL, Marty).|
|51||EMU||10||EMU||26||1ST||(1st and 10) Forcier, Tate pass complete to Odoms, M. for 26 yards to the EMU43, 1ST DOWN MICH (MAY, Chris).|
|54||EMU||19||EMU||22||1ST||(3rd and 1) Shaw, Michael rush for 22 yards to the EMU12, 1ST DOWN MICH (SEARS, Johnny).|
|63||EMU||17||EMU||90||TD||(1st and 10) Brown, Carlos rush for 90 yards to the EMU0, 1ST DOWN MICH, TOUCHDOWN, clock 07:15.|
|156||EMU||18||EMU||36||TD||(1st and 10) Robinson, D. rush for 36 yards to the EMU0, 1ST DOWN MICH, TOUCHDOWN, clock 07:14.|
|175||EMU||11||EMU||24||1ST||(1st and 10) Cox, Michael rush for 24 yards to the EMU41, 1ST DOWN MICH (PALSROK, Tyler).|
Three of those plays are garbage time (205 ND, 156 and 175 EMU). One is Shoelace's incredible Yakety Sax Moon Run. Another is Carlos Brown's 90-yard run. Three more are big plays against EMU's defense. The rest are plays from the Notre Dame game, which, like, they have a great offense.
This isn't nearly enough to put SCHWING back on the map. But they're certainly opportunities for SCHWING to look stupid.
* Weis: "It's MMFFPHHHI-RIMMMFGHT MMMPHTWINS!"
Jimmah: "What coach?!?"
Weis: "I MMMFFFPHH SAID RUNMMMMPHHH ISO MMPPPHHH RIHMMMMPPHH"
Jimmah: "Coach, I can't hear you! Take the ham sandwich out!"
Weis: "I MMMPPHHFFF RIMMMPPHHHHHHFFF SPLMMMMPHHFFF DAMMIT!"
Jimmah: "Dammit, coach? What? What? Dammit -- TIME OUT"