Even before Brady Hoke started answering questions like this…
Q: How will Denard Robinson fit in this offense?
A: This is Michigan!
Q: What do you think about the goings-on in Columbus?
A: Though we have great respect for the Akron State Golden Bobcats, this remains Michigan.
Q: What kind of off—
A: THIS IS MICHIGAN TREMENDOUS
A: TREMENDOUS VAN OUSTANDING RIVER
/teaches journalist about Mad Magicians
…he expressed a certain disdain for fancy things like zone running, which is neither fancy or new or soft and has been used by teams from the Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos to, you know, Michigan under Lloyd Carr. He swore up and down to everyone who attended the coaches' clinic that "A-gap power"—three yards and a cloud of dust, think Jehuu Caulcrick—would be Michigan's signature play. He has expressed a certain approach to offense that sends spread friendly folk like yrs truly and Braves & Birds into twitchy fits. His stated approach is neolithic.
San Diego State passed on 63% of its first downs. In tight games* SDSU passed on 79% of first downs. This was not a catchup effect. Missouri led by more than one score for all of 41 seconds; against Utah SDSU ran out to a 27-10 lead before bleeding it away down the stretch. This has something to do with Ryan Lindley and some all-conference receivers but SDSU was very slightly run biased in 2010 (51%), managing a respectable 4.8 YPC. In 2010, especially when it counted, San Diego State passed to set up the run.
Where the hell is A-gap power? Why the hell did The Mountain West Connection write this about Hoke's candidacy for the job?
Hoke would bring in another non-traditonal Big 10 offense to Ann Arbor. It would be a spread offense, but instead of having an offense where there is a dual threat quarterback he plays three, four and five wide receiver sets.
Where's the manball?
*[Missouri, BYU, Air Force, TCU, and Utah. CSU excluded because the narrow scoreline was due to a touchdown with 2:43 left.]
Is the manball in previous teams?
Hoke's previous SDSU team threw even more but was not very good. They were especially un-good at running, so numbers from that season reflect necessity instead of philosophy. And Hoke only had two years in San Diego, so maybe he wasn't able to mold his team into the A-gap power six fullback monstrosity he yearns for.
Hoke's first downs under Stan Parrish were also pass-biased. Again, Nate Davis had something to do with that but Ball State was significantly more run-biased than 2010 SDSU: 520 rushes to 405 passes, with those rushes picking up 5 yards a pop. A team that ran 56% of the time threw on 55% of first downs.
HOWEVA, that's not a huge difference from late-era Carr behavior. I know this surprises you. I clicked the link three times just to make sure it wasn't having fun, but in 2007 Michigan passed on 54% of first downs despite playing Ryan Mallett for significant chunks of the season. They also ran on 56% of all plays. That may be an artifact of Michigan not being able to run very well (4 YPC; insert infamous stretch against OSU here). In 2006, a monstrously run-biased outfit (62% at 4.3 YPC while the passing game was averaging 7.7) was 50-50 on first down.
Is the manball in the offensive structure?
Meanwhile, Chris Brown has the most interesting single factoid in Wolverines Kickoff 2011. It's about SDSU's bowl game, the one after which Ken Niumatalolo said "that's as good of an offense as we've seen." In that game, the Aztecs ran more zone-blocked plays than gap-blocked plays en route to a rout. Here's an inside zone:
A few plays later the Aztecs would bust out their first power of the night. Notably, it was a "constraint" play—one designed to keep the defense honest. They lined up in a pro set and handed it to the fullback for the second time all year. On third and two they manballed up. Result:
Starting running back Ronnie Hillman averaged 8.1 YPC without any distorting 80-yarders (long of 37) and finished the day with 228 yards. San Diego State's defense did not appear to have a stroke while watching this.
When asked recently about the influence of Oregon’s offense, Hoke subtly revealed his disdain for the tactical shift Michigan experienced under Rodriguez. He is convinced that modern spread option offenses can be counterproductive to the core values of smashmouth football and are, therefore, to be avoided.
“Right, wrong or indifferent, when you’re zone blocking all the time -- when you’re playing basketball on grass -- you practice against that all spring, you practice against it all fall and then you’re going to play a two-back team that wants to knock you off the football,” Hoke said. “I don’t think you’re prepared.
It… like… doesn't. Unless Hoke just wants to have some power around so his defense doesn't turn into a bunch of lily-livered ninnyhammers and doesn't actually care how much it gets deployed in actual games. This would be good for the next couple years when what Hoke wants and what Hoke has will be severely mismatched.
Is the manball curling up in the fetal position with a narrow lead?
Unfortunately for manball-is-just-talk theorists, that above-mentioned close-ish Colorado State game featured an event familiar to Michigan fans. After Colorado State scored with about three minutes left to draw within five, SDSU ran three times for two yards and gave the ball back to the Rams having run only 53 seconds off the clock. They ran on 2nd 7 and 3rd and 9. Very MANBALL.
The way the Aztecs lost the Missouri game is also terribly familiar. They picked off Blaine Gabbert with 1:47 left, ran 25 seconds off the clock, and punted on 4th and 8 from the Missouri 35. It took the Tigers two plays to score the winning touchdown. To be fair, freshman Ronnie Hillman caused coaching blood vessels to explode when he ran out of bounds on the first play of the drive and the Aztecs did throw on third down. To be ruthless, that throw was a screen or something equivalently conservative (it lost a yard) and once it was completed the situation was 4th and 8 for the win or a 20-yard punt. Hoke chose the punt. He chose poorly.
Against Air Force the Aztecs faced a 4th and goal from the two with about nine minutes left. They led by eight. Hoke called for the field goal team. That's not indefensible*; it is conservative. Hoke watched his kicker Broekgibbons it anyway.
On the other hand, in the Utah game San Diego State kept firing after leaping out to a big lead (obviously). There's no evidence they ever put the scoring offense away except in a couple of end-game scenarios.
*[It's probably the right call. Going from 8 to 11 forces the opponent to score two TDs to win instead of one and a two-point conversion. Getting the touchdown gives you a tie in the unlikely event an option team with 12 points so far gets two touchdowns and a conversion in the final nine minutes. A failure does leave the opponent on its own two.
As it happened, Air Force did score two touchdowns in the final nine minutes. Unfortunately for the Falcons, sandwiched between them was a one-play SDSU touchdown drive and they lost anyway.]
The things that are said contradict each other
Hoke says he wants the team to act in a certain way—toughness toughness toughness—while simultaneously saying he will not futz with Al Borges. Al Borges has shown a predilection for lots of vertical passing and apparently does not care one way or the other about gap vs zone blocking. Hoke says he dislikes zone running and uses it plenty. He's recruiting large men to squash men who are not quite as large but has maybe 1.5 tight ends and Denard Robinson right now.
What Hoke wants is clear, and what he has is not what he wants. The record implies that he'll be relatively flexible. Michigan will still see a drop in yardage/fancy metric performance because they're spending time revamping instead of refining, but if under center isn't working they'll ditch it. Hell, against Navy SDSU's first drive formations looked like this:
They even ran a zone read. It went for a yard, but by God they ran it. When push comes to shove I think Michigan will go with what works, whatever that is.
I think this quote has been incorrectly interpreted
"“Right, wrong or indifferent, when you’re zone blocking all the time -- when you’re playing basketball on grass -- you practice against that all spring, you practice against it all fall and then you’re going to play a two-back team that wants to knock you off the football,” Hoke said. “I don’t think you’re prepared."
I bolded the key phrase, and Hoke's likely correct, that 100% zone blocking leads to trouble and doesn't correctly help prepare a defense. I think we all can agree with that. That doesn't mean that he hates or never wants to zone block, just not zone block 100% of the time.
I don't agree. Blocking is itself tough, it matters not a bit whether it's zone blocking or man IMO. Sure there is technique difference, and the play goals are different, but in the end it is all about beating the man you are assigned to, or the man in the soace you are assigned to.
"We can't overestimate the value of computers: yes they are great for playing games and forwarding funny emails, but real business is done on paper. Write that down."
You are just figuring this out? Hoke's main objection, which I agree with; Michigan defense was softer than Charmin. All this Manball crap is just Hoke's way of saying Michigan is going to be a tough physical team again. To which I say Hallelujah
I hate the "soft" label people throw around. The defense was bad last near, not soft. It was bad because the players had poor technique, the coaches didn't know what they were doing, the had bad schemes, they were young, etc. But you can't tell me that guys like Mike Martin, Jonas Mouton, Brandon Graham, etc. were "soft" players. I know there are differences in various blocking schemes, but UM got rolled last year because they had young players starting when they shouldn't have been, but because of talent deficiencies they were out there. You had a guy at DC who rubbed stuffed animals on players' faces but couldn't trot out a formation to stop the run or pass consistently. You had a coach who recruited reasonably well but had trouble turning decent recruits into good players, and a team decimated by injuries and defections on the defensive end literally running on fumes at the end of the year.
UM's defense was bad because the players and schemes didn't work, not because they didn't have enough "grit" or were "soft." And it is idiotic to believe that practicing against offenses with different blocking schemes would have changed that.
The youth was in the secondary. Other teams' RBs were getting to the third layer of defense without being touched. I'm sure if technique was perfect, this may have happened less often, but let's face it, getting blown off the ball on every play has a lot to do with softness and lack of confidence.
I think you are mistaken in the "first down" breakdown, Brian.
That chart is not a chart of what San Diego State did on first down, it is a chart of how San Diego State obtained first downs.
For example, in the TCU game, San Diego State obtained 7 first downs, 1 by rushing and 6 by passing. San Diego State had many more than 7 first down plays during the game, of course, because the first play of a drive is also a first down. The actual breakdown in that game is that San Diego State ran 10 times on first down and passed 11 times.
You are correct. Logically, if for instance, SDSU ran seven first-down plays against TCU, that would mean they ran no more than 28 total offensive plays for the entire game. I checked the box score- SDSU picked up seven first downs that game, so it would seem the data does, in fact, correspond to plays gaining first downs, not plays occurring on first downs.
Out of curiosity, I looked at the play-by-play and, in that particular game, not counting a kneel-down before halftime, SDSU passed or was sacked on 11 first downs and rushed on 9. Of course, they were also trailing throughout- much of that was a furious late comeback.
I did the same for the SDSU/Utah game and had the breakdown at 12 rushes and 25 passes. So Brian's conclusion might be correct, in spite of the misinterpreted data.
Ann Arbor: no longer the permanent home of the Little Brown Jug
I'm of the opinion that Hoke was pandering to the masses and emphasizing his differences with RR in all of his manball discussion. I watched a number of SDSU games last year, including the bowl, and saw little manball.
Plus, he said "zone blocking all of the time" and to me that can simply mean having an OL that only knows how to zone block leaves an offense suspectible to defenses that excel at blowing up zone blocking. He wants a flexible offense, one that can adapt to defenses and that's what Borges provides.
There will be manball, there will be spread. Hoke doesn't like an exclusively spread-based offense with only zone blocking. He wants his manball and he wants it spread. Whatever way he can get it in the end zone is what Hoke wants.
If you're playing AGAINST zone blocking ALL THE TIME in practice, you're getting used to guys trying to guide you out of the lanes and way, and trying to go around them or positioning yourself, and you're not ready as a defense when someone just wants to punch you in the jaw and knock you on your ass.
I think this is the key point in the MANBALL discussion. Hoke wants his defense used to defending against power, and that requires the offense to run it well enough to practice against. We're having the entire conversation from what turns out to be the wrong perspective. We all want to know what offense Hoke will run, and parse his talk of MANBALL from that perspective. But what Hoke is really talking about is the defense, and how they'll be ready when MANBALL is thrown their way. Which, in turn, means the offense will know how to run power A-gap plays if only for practice's sake. And in learning those plays (both how to run them and how to defend them), Hoke can instill the accompanying MANBALL attitude. But all of this is a long way from reflecting on playcall selections on Saturdays.
Football allows the intellectual part of my brain to evolve, but it allows the emotional part to remain unchanged. And this is all I want from everything, all the time, always. --Chuck Klosterman
Because that's what media and fans do. They care about offense. I never really cared whether we ran a spread, or west coast, or MANBALL. They can all work. I wanted to see a return to hellacious defense. People whine about Lloyd's offense, but we threw a lot, and scored a lot of points. It was the decline of the defense from great to meh that really cost us. You look at who's winning National Champions, and you can find a variety of team offensive styles (spreads, pro set, conservative), but other than the outlier last year, they pretty consistently had great defenses to go along with it. Offense makes good copy, and is fun to talk about, but get me back to a defense that will come out and just stuff people, and then you'll hear the Stadium rocking again.
There were also extremely conservative aspects of Lloyd's offense that were upsetting toward the end. The biggest thing I hope Hoke instills is that killer instinct. I want to win by 40 points a game. I don't want to punt from 4th and 3 on the opponent's 30 after running 5 minutes off the clock. I don't want to start every single game with a run to the left. I don't want to call a screen on third-and-eight.
Denard has spent the offseason working really hard and smiling at people.
I just think the first step to doing that is to not give up 40 points a game. Illinois last year isn't any better than winning 10-7. I want the 1999-2000 offense, with the '97 defense. It's a lot easier to win by 40 47-7 than it is 80-40.
Amen! This is what I remember about this thing we call "Michigan Football." Defense. My fandom came of age during 1997, and what made that team fun to watch was not the offence but the defense. Killer D...Toughness...that is music to my soul.
"We will be a swarming defense however we line up" -- Greg Mattison
but have no problem admitting that Michigan teams in his era always seemed to get blown up by athletic quarterbacks (especially on a broken play).
My hope is that Hoke and company wil bring balance on offense of smashmouth and spread ball, and the defense will be improved against both.
Note: Didn't mention RR era since, well, there were issues beyond just the not ready to play the smashmouth teams. Just pointing that we might get to both Carr level defenses, with a possible added bonus of preparation against teams with athletic QB's.
"Be excellent to each other and...party on dudes!." -Abraham Lincoln
One of the big things about RR bringing in the spread was that the defense would get a chance to practice against a competent spread offense and hopefully be better for it. Obviously, the defense was bad no matter who it was up against, but hopefully Hoke does not bring us back to the days of having solid defense full of big slow dudes who get lost against a QB who can run a little (Drew Stanton, Troy Smith, Armanti Edwards, etc.).
Based on the recruiting so far and the experience Hoke has had in the decade since he was last here, I think he knows enough to prepare the defense well. It can't get much worse.
"The trouble with quotes on the internet, is that it is often difficult to discern whether or not they are genuine" --Abraham Lincoln
I guess I offended someone with my comment, but if we were to find one flaw in Carr's defenses, it was susceptability to athletic QB's (list you mentioned). As Mwolverine mentioned, playing against smashmouth prepares you for smashmouth. Playing against both smashmouth and spread prepares you for both.
Again, not quite sure what was contraversial about my original statement. Open to hearing where I went wrong.
"Be excellent to each other and...party on dudes!." -Abraham Lincoln
This is an honest question (no snark) - do we know whether or not the team only practiced against zone blocking last year? I mean, the offense definitely tried to run some "manball" offense last year during games, and I imagine that during the build-up to games against run-heavy teams like Wiscy and MSU, there was a focus on defending against those types of offenses. To always practice against one type offense eclusively seems incredibly dumb, and a mistake a coach with 100+ CFB wins would not make.
wow, now I don't need to leave the seat up or drink straight out the the OJ carton.
is that chest hair?
“True loyalty is that quality of service that grows under adversity and expands in defeat. Any street urchin can shout applause in victory, but it takes character to stand fast in defeat. One is noise — the other, loyalty.”
I don't see the inconsistency here. Some starting premises:
1. Hoke does not call the offense - he says this straight out - Borges calls the offense, with very little imput from Hoke.
2. Hoke has expressed a distaste for running zone blocking "all the time". He never said that he didn't like zone blocking as part of his offense. Just not all the time.
3. Manball - Hoke has said that he prefers running a power game. That does not mean that he is going to run exclusively a power game. Sadly, we have been through a coach who stubbornly clung to onyl one system, and the results were not so very good. I think that while Hoke likes power running, he is going to run what works best for his personnel. See, SDSU, where the best RB on the team was a speedy guy, and Hoke ran with that.
4. Manball 2 - As said by a few postes upthread, Hoke's expression of Manball love seems more directed at a mindset. He wants a tough team that can run it up the gut for two yards when necessary, and that can stop others from doing the same.
5. Manball comparison - I don't think that it is entirely fair to look at SDSU as a proxy for what Hoke will do here. SDSU played in a weak conference against smaller defenses. I think that Hoke gets that what worked in out west may not work against the beef machines of the B10. If the past three years have demonstrated anything it is that what works in one conference may not work in another. I think that Hoke understands that and his desire to run manball may be a result of him realizing that manball works in the B10, especially when a school like Michigan has the ability to recruit manball sized players that SDSU could not. That said, as Borges has acknowledged, they are going to play to the strengths of their roster, and will probably not impliment MANBALL in full until the 2012 recruits work their way into the starting spots.
Yes, it's good to test and revise a viewpoint. But I think all readers of this blog know that "MANBALL" is, or has become, something other than a dispassionate, discursive hypothesis - somehting like 'Hoke's teams run on 1st down more than 55% of the time.'
Even if Brian didn't intend it, MANBALL has risen into the realm of ideas. It is worth asking if the idea meaningfully exists. If it has little basis in reality, why make it the basis of a hypothesis at all?
Well, it was in the realm of ideas from the beginning, what we may be witnessing is the transition of "MANBALL" from description to signifier.
In its earlier stage, it was coined to describe, sardonically, sarcastically, skeptically, the offensive philosophy that Brian believed Hoke had ("we'll run that power play," etc.) FWIW, the spring game seemed to suggest that description was accurate.
Now, investigation of Hoke's past and his apparent deference to Borges seem to indicate that the actual offensive philosophies of Hoke's teams do not correlate to that description. Language and practice do not perfectly match. And yet Hoke continues to use similar ways of talking about offense.
At this point, Hoke's language of "MANBALL" seems more of a broad discursive signifier about ways to play the game that reach far beyond offensive philosophy to almost an epistomology of football (toughness and strength are values that we hold dear) targeted both at the team, at the media, and the fans. It is a language created within time and place (the end of the RR era as fans lament the seeming loss of those values within their program) for a particular purpose (to reassure fans that those values had returned). Hoke himself became merely a vehicle for fans to fill with their own ideas about the program and its future. And Brian's use of "MANBALL' to describe Hoke, at this point, could be read as reflecting less skepticism about Hoke's offensive philosophy than the broader discursive field within which Hoke's explanation of Michigan football as a whole takes place.
Now, the question remains, as the signifier and signified grow increasingly farther apart, whether MANBALL becomes completely evacuated of meaning and will just be thrown about, willy nilly, to describe anything Hoke says.
Or it could just be about making the defense better when they face OSU and MSU.
It's not even internally consistent. Brian is somehow accused of blind love of the spread and for using "Manball" to make money. It's possible that both are true, but it seems pretty unlikely. (Sidenote: It's okay for the MIchigan Athletic Department to make money but not Brian?).
My favorite part, though, is the phrase "this is how it appears on the surface." So you embrace superficiality? Go read ESPN then.
in that there is no thing, much less something Hoke promised, called Manball. This has to be something like the 4th post Brian has written obliterating a straw-man MANBALL offense argument no one actually made.
Brian is not ESPN or the FREEP or some other major sports network bringing in millions of dollars by writing "controversial" articles with catchy headlines. In fact, oh ya that's right I am on this site FOR FREE!!!
Also, you criticize Brian for being pro-spread but anti-modern athletic department as if those things are mutually exclusive.
What exactly does the type of offense someone prefers have to do with RAWK music, a french fry mascot, and night games?
It seems to me you are trying to paint people with a rather large brush. Either you are old-fashioned and like MANBALL (ha! I said it!), noon games, and only male cheerleaders. Or you are modern/progressive and want games played on Thursday nights because of the ESPN prime coverage, think we should ditch the marching band completely, and make the big house 500,000 seats.
To me, trying to lump people into one of two categories is stupid, not to mention impossible.
So Brian likes what he saw on offense last year. So he's skeptical of going back to some Carr-like conservative decisions, he's worried about killing Denard's career, he dislikes the RAWK music, is tentatviely ok with a night game but hates the jerseys. All those things are possible simultaneously and do not make him a hypocrit as you seem to be suggesting.
I didn't neg you, but boy are you dumb, not to mentiion full of ridiculous animosity. Talk about "on the surface"-- it's apparent you don't really understand his opinions--to you it all reads like "RR GOOD--HOKE BAD."
To be clear, I am not responding because you disagree with Brian--that's all good. I'm calling you out because A- you are being a dick about it, and B- you clearly don't understand his POV
"We can't overestimate the value of computers: yes they are great for playing games and forwarding funny emails, but real business is done on paper. Write that down."