Tales from the Dorkside: Guernica in Maize
[Editor's note: bumped. At this rate I'm going to be a spectator around these parts soon.]
Herein lies data. For those readers who prefer to skip my right brained musings in a tenacious fit to resist all culture and proceed directly to the left-brained portion of the show proceed to the So, How Goes It? section. Ahem…
The fallout from Michigan’s catastrophic failure against Illinois has left in its wake a fan base wretched in suffering. And anger. And chaos. And despair. A veritable Guernica in Maize. Pablo Picasso’s renowned painting might as well have been painted in the aftermath of last Saturday’s loss. The centerpiece of the painting features Michigan’s Defense (the horse) in the throes of death complete with Juice Williams as javelin gashing it right up the middle, exposing the gaping wound that is Michigan’s defensive barracks.
All of the major players are shown:
- Terrorized souls engulfed in the inferno of buyer’s remorse (far right).
- Horrified and confused onlookers (center right).
- Dismembered soldiers , also known as The Legend of Tate Forcier: Heisman Freshman ;complete with shattered sword (bottom).
- Grieving mother clutching the lifeless corpse of her child (read.: hope; far left).
Even the Eye of Mordor (read: FreeP) is represented (top). Not to mention that weird looking bull thing with fire coming out of it’s butt (left). I guess that’s Brian?
Anyway, Such a scene makes the reasonable observer wonder—what is up the suck? Misopogon has thoroughly sifted through the immediately obvious symptoms of poor defensive play and walk-on starters to provide tremendous insight into the plight of the defense. He has emphatically demonstrated the task Rich Rodriguez and his man Greg Robinson have in front of them if they are to their save their jobs and save Ann Arbor from burning: fix the defense. Accomplishing this will not be easy and it will test Rodriguez’s mettle as a head coach. And it will take time.
So how goes it?
I think reasonable people would agree that it’s not yet time to render a final verdict…at least as far as the defense is concerned. So let’s focus on what is reasonable to evaluate Rodriguez on at this point in time: offensive production. He’s had ample time to demonstrate core competencies in his area of expertise. He’s recruited his guys, has a reasonable amount of talent depth (inexperienced or not), and has had a reasonable amount of time to install his system.
The prototype I’m using as the model of what the performance of what a good offense should be will be the unit RR replaced, 2007 Michigan. That team had the requisite talent and experience at every single position: an offensive line that featured two three time lettermen (Jake Long- RS Sr. and Adam Kraus-RS Sr.), a three time letterman at QB (Chad Henne, Sr), a three time letterman at RB (Mike Hart, Sr), and three 2-time letterman at WR (Mario Manningham, Jr; Adrian Arrington, Sr; Greg Mathews, So). That’s as good a squad that a coach can ask for.
While the schemes employed by that offense are drastically different from what is currently being used at Michigan, the differences are irrelevant. Either is suitable for executing the mission: move the ball down the field and score points.
For the sake of thoroughness, I’ll stack them up against 2006 Michigan as well. Largely the same cast of characters but with fewer injuries. Reasonable or not, this level of production is what all Michigan fans desire or expect.
To evaluate the units I’m turning to very basic and universal categories.
Plays per Drive
This is a tempo-neutral possession metric. Evaluating Rich Rodriguez’s offense by time of possession is misleading since his philosophy is explicitly unconcerned with that metric. However, all offensive schemes seek to run as many plays as they can until they score. So, this metric also allows us to evaluate execution at a base level as well. Plays-per-drive allows us to compare different schemes to each other.
The calculation of average and standard deviation for this metric omits the highest (yellow) and lowest (red) game averages since yards per drive are highly correlated with the strength of the opposing defense. The presumption here is that one good or bad game is a fluke. Games against markedly inferior competition (blue) have been omitted regardless of game outcome. Ahem.
What we see here is that Michigan 2009 has in fact improved over 2008 in this particular metric both in average plays per drive as well as in the standard deviation of this metric. However, 2009 lags 2006 and 2007 a little in regards to average but matches the 2006 campaign in terms of consistency. The average part is not very surprising.
The benchmarks have significant advantages over 2009 in terms of personnel and experience. However, the consistency part is a bit of a surprise. This year’s team, freshmen QBs, botched snaps, and miscellaneous turnovers included is as consistent as the 2006 unit and more consistent than the 2007 unit. Anyone who has had to improve a process knows that you get rid of deviation first, and then you shift the mean. In this case, there is the good fortune of the mean shifting on its own via player maturity.
Yards per Play
This is a category of raw production. This is more in line with offensive strategic objectives such as controlling field position, getting into scoring position, and so on. Again, the high, low, and inapplicable data points have been omitted from the calculations of average and standard deviation.
Through the games played so far, the 2009 offense has improved significantly over the 2008 team and matches the production of the 2007 team. It is also the most consistent offense captured.
Points per Drive
The bottom line. Is the offense pulling its weight in the “outscore your opponent” equation? Again, the high, low, and inapplicable data points have been omitted from the calculations of average and standard deviation.
Once again, through the games played so far, the 2009 offense has improved significantly over the 2008 team, which was consistently bad, and beats the production of the 2007 team in terms of drive average and consistency. 2009 lags 2006 in terms of average but again, 2006 is a stout benchmark.
Despite its glaring and soul dong punching deficiencies, the 2009 offense stacks up surprisingly well to arguably the best offensive unit Michigan has seen in approximately two decades, probably more like four, and maybe even six. DECADES(!). And significant low hanging fruit remains (turnovers).
Regardless, after games like last Saturday’s we are right to break out the compasses and maps and graphing calculators to reevaluate just where the heck are we, exactly?
Here's where we are:
- Tate Forcier is a FRESHMAN who has played in EIGHT games.
- The rest of the offense are de facto true sophomores who have only shown signs of effectiveness in about 14 games.
- The defense does not have the breadth or depth of personnel necessary to meet the Michigan standard.
Recognizing that we have a major vulnerability in defensive personnel is in no way a slight against the Lloyd Carr stewardship. It is simple root cause diagnosis. And, maybe RichRod can tweak a thing or two or three, here and there and over there. But, to suggest that the team has made no progress is simple ignorance at best and dubious ignorance at worst.
There is a big difference between excusing and explaining…that difference is responsibility. RichRod is responsible for his record, but its only fair to give him more time to hold him accountable as well. Forging the program into a consistent winner requires Rodriguez to demonstrate the full gamut of the requisite core competencies needed to be a successful chief executive in an elite college football program: excellent recruiting, excellent motivating, and excellent personnel evaluation(coaches and players), and excellent focus. If he succeeds, he will have vindicated Bill Martin decision and earned the respect of many. If he wins it all, he will be the next Bo Schembechler.
Godspeed, RichRod. Godspeed.
[Editorial take: I don't think things are quite as sunny as the numbers suggest; in the comments it's noted that adjustments were not made for outliers like turnovers and special teams items. Michigan's gotten great production out of Olesnavage and Stonum this year. Also, Michigan has yet to face the #65, #21, and #6 defenses so far this year and will likely see their to-date respectable metrics continue to dip below the okay production of the 2006 and 2007 teams. The 2006 team was pretty good but only 38th in total offense and 26th in scoring. It may have been arguably the best collection of talent at Michigan, but it wasn't exactly set free to roam the plains, its majestic rippling muscles trampling over mascots that dare oppose it. Michigan is approaching the mediocre numbers put up by Mike DeBord.
Even considering that the progress made from year one to year two is obvious.]