Michigan Museday: Revisiting the Decimated Defense
Note: During the season I plan to post this kind of stuff on Tuesdays but since Aug. 30 set a new MGoRecord for total words on the front page, I waited.
On Monday Brian posted the secondary preview for 2011. It had its share of woe, and the "Never Forget" poster again. But among the now-usual fits of "this can't go well" at FS, tiptoeing around Kovacs's Ecksteininess, and general radioactive fallout from when having a pulse put you on the cornerback 2-deep, there were things that are not so familiar: a capable senior cornerback rescued from a bunker, returning starters, a few guys here and there playing positions that suited them.
Attrition was hell (see: Google doc) but the unit has begun the slow climb back:
|Team||Recruited||Diff v '09||Retention||Diff v '09|
The retention % is that of total defensive recruits '07-'11 still on the roster. Under two thirds is still bad but it's not worse than a team which signs five guys for every four available scholarships, like it used to be. Also when I first did this Michigan had lost 2 of 5 guys from a starting position more like Penn State. We needed dudes. As the secondary depth chart says, we now have dudes.
That's not to say everything's hunky dory in Hiroshima '46. Most of the casualties were upperclassmen and Michigan's more highly rated players.
|Team||Best 22||Best 22 left||Diff.|
I'll explain what these are in a second but you're meant to read it thus: imagine the two-deep of each team is made up of all upperclassmen with the above rivals ratings. So attrition has taken Alabama from a team full of Top 100 guys to a team of Top 250 players.
This is my attempt at taking the noise out and looking just at how much performance loss is caused just by attrition itself. It's a hack combination of Rivals Rating with the value of underclassmen adjusted down so that a 6.1 (5-star) is worth 5.7 (= a high three star) as a freshman, 5.9 as a sophomore, 6.0 as a junior, his full ranking thereafter, and on down. Then I just took the highest 22 scores for each team before and after attrition. It's a cheap formula that rates a player 80% by his rivals rating and the rest on account of his age but the image at right shows the concept works: the higher up the depth chart, the higher the ratings.
The thwack that Michigan took is more visible when you look at it from a depth chart perspective:
Click that to get it readable if you can't see it all from a glance. Also note the scales are a bit off; Bama goes up to 6.1 but OSU and ND stop at 6.0, PSU and MSU at 5.9. The visual here is you want your secondary color (attrition) to the left (see the devastation wrought on Bama 3-stars) and your starters to the right.
Bama took some big hits to its 4-stars but retains the highest value among starters. Michigan meanwhile seems like we were facing that guy with the unlimited airstrikes hell bent on killing any worm named "Safety*".
The result is a two-deep that doesn't really have options until the 3-star level whereas the other guys only have a few odd dudes who weren't heavily recruited on the field:
(Again, click = big). That's not…terrible. Given the players who've made it far enough to likely see the field, even with all the attrition Michigan could be expected to field a defense not so different from that of MSU, who should be…okay. Okay is better than we're predicting now. Then again, don't confuse this year's young MSU defense with last year's Greg Jones-inclusive defense:
Yes that's Michigan (demonstrating perfect pad level) with more 5th year seniors than anybody save Penn State, whose starting 11 have been around long enough to remember when their coach built the pyramids. And that's MSU starting a lot of sophomores and true freshmen. Bama, OSU and ND are mostly upperclassmen (ND is weird about redshirting still). Michigan leans much more sophomoric. This is a huge improvement from last year when the seniors were few and the freshmen were legion. Young means high variance—some days may go very well, others very not well.
..and there's the cheap flight. You can't blame Kovacs; I took out the walk-ons for this specifically because his walk-on-iness isn't the glaring problem. Sophomore 3-stars are. Now guess where Michigan was hit the hardest by attrition?
That shows the sum total of the projected value of middle-3 stars (5.6 to rivals) and higher recruited for each position. The primary color bits are the guys who are still around; the maize those who are gone. The Ohio Bobcats' colors are green and peach I think.
Unlike some other peoples' versions, my N.F. poster has Cullen and Vinopal on it!
Did we learn anything here, other than that you can print a chart to pdf in excel? Well yeah: attrition was a great big nuclear blast that will take years to recover from. Even if the talent on hand doesn't regress or get hurt, thus exposing further weaknesses, the starting point for this Michigan defense is that of a Same old Spartans unit.
Blame is a bit less easy to assign, though some of the flameouts and underclassman transfers in '09-'10 were either directly or indirectly pinnable on the old staff.** Two years of recruiting after bad years (2008 didn't seem to have the same effect) and some resulting recruiting holes at MLB and WDE make any climb back among elite D's a long-term project—probably not until 2015.
Yet there is hope all over the place, thanks to there being dudes. To some degree players retain most of the traits that went into their rating (Jordan Kovacs can't develop into Marcus Ray), but there will always be 3-stars who grow into defenders more than capable of playing, as Hoke/Mattison call it, "Michigan defense." The chances that 2/3 of Christian/Talbott/ Avery would be capable last year of said 'Michigan defense' was near nil. The chances that one or two decent players emerge opposite T-Woolf among five 3- and 4-star-ish freshmen, two 3-star sophomores and a 5th year walk-on is much higher. Eight shots in the dark (several after practice shots) are better than three.
And next year more dudes arrive. Hugely hyped, turned-down-offers-from-all-of-the-above dudes at defensive end and middle linebacker, and a smattering of the same at the other spots so that 2014 gets a nice selection (MOAR DTs please, kthx).
And though the odds be against us, you never know: Michigan could not have its best two defensive players knocked out by injury this year. Maybe (a planetary version of) Heininger or Brink will be the next Kovacs. Maybe Greg Mattison is a wonderful teacher who, like Pelini in '08 and Dantonio in '07, gets a few lights to go on from previously unheard of sources.
* Pro Tip: Don't name your worms for Michigan Heisman winners unless you want your MSU alum opponents to gang up on you (as if Desmond hasn't had enough harassment from that ilk!)
** Things you can blame on RR & Co.: 1) Not getting enough interior linemen after the two soft guys flipped in '09, 2) Recruiting four guys (Witty, Dorsey, D.Rogers, and Kinard) who couldn't get past the NCAA Clearinghouse or M's higher standards, 3) sucking so hard that by the Class of '11 the top regional recruits were looking elsewhere, and 4) A string of the worst LB coaches in M history and a manic concept of positional switching so that the guys on hand were hardly given opportunity to improve at any one position in one defense.