I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
Tales from the Dorkside: Rochambeaued Yourself
[EDIT: Updated to include sacks as failed pass attempts. Also corrected calculation error in success tallies. Text edited accordingly]
A basic premise of offensive football is that the single most important objective is to get to the next first down. A good offensive coach will Rochambeau his way to meeting this objective over and over again until either the scoreboard explodes or time expires. Coach Rodriguez has devised an offensive scheme that allows his teams to do just that and we have witnessed its power despite what we all witnessed last Saturday. But, was last Saturday’s performance due to poor execution, poor play selection, or was Penn State’s defense impenetrable?
First Things First
We need some definition for what a successful play is. Like others before me, I think it makes sense to characterize a play’s success based on the requirements at hand. A reasonable proposal is to use a Rolling Stones approach—get what you need. In essence, select plays that have a high probability to help you reach your next first down. Holding another basic premise that fourth down should be avoided the goal schedule by down is 33% on 1st down, 50% on 2nd down, and 100% on 3rd and 4th down; Regardless of the distance to go before the play starts. So, 1st and 10 requires 3 yards, 3rd and 1 requires 1 yard, 2 and 15 requires 8 yards, and so on. There are other ways to do this but, this is simple and fair. Sacks have been counted as failed pass attempts.
Turnovers are counted as a double fault, -1 for the unsuccessful play itself and -1 for the opportunity cost of losing the next play. I thought about an escalator here since presumably a turnover on 1st down is more costly than a turnover on third down, but there’s nothing to say that you won’t turn the ball on the next play, so a successful play only guarantees you the opportunity for one more play. A fumble is faulted regardless of who recovers since recovery is random and the mere opportunity to lose possession is not sexy at all.
Here’s what the breakdown going back to the beginning of the season looks like. Go Go Gadget Chart!
The Cartman column is the Rochambeau Verdict. Thumbs up means I think the play mix made sense as reconciled against the given success rates and thumbs down means I disagree with the play mix. I know, I know…I’m not a coach, but the data speaks for itself. I won’t spend a ton of space explaining everything else as hopefully the chart is fairly easy to understand. So for the reading impatient, I’ll roll straight into bullets.
- The running game is fine; even without David Molk.
- Between a talented freshman QB, a raw and athletic QB, and receivers who have lapses in concentration, the passing game is not ripe.
- A 50 % success ratio as described above seems to be adequate for offensive efficacy. When one phase of the offense dips too far below that Michigan needs to have the other step up or we look like the offense that we’re all trying to forget (2008).
- Going into the season, everyone “knew”* that we should expect Tate to play like a freshman a lot if not most of the time. He’s basically done that for four straight games. I’ll give him a pass on EMU because the running game was so damn dominant that it didn’t matter and he only passed 13 times (the fewest of the season).
- A 2-to-1 run to pass ratio is where it’s at. Again we “knew”* that we should depend on the running game going into the season, you know, because we were going to start a freshman QB and all.
- WMU/ND. Team came out on FIRE. All cylinders firing and no film for opponents to study. The low R/P ratio during ND was ok since both phases were getting it done. ND was a glimpse into the future.
- EMU. We were just better than them. Beat ‘em with one arm tied behind our back.
- INDIANA. First signs that Tate is indeed a true freshman. Passing success rate of 33%. Obviously, he pulled a rabbit out at the end but, uhh…a little close for comfort. Hence green meh-ey face.
- MICHIGAN STATE. They came in with a good game plan…at the expense of a bad game plan;*cough* WISCONSIN *cough*…Whew! ’Scuse me! The slowed down the run significantly and forced the pass offense to execute which they didn't do for most of the game.
- IOWA.Despite Tate’s struggles, the offense was effective and Michigan earned an opportunity to win. The running game was on point and the play mix was run heavy, which made sense. The game came down to a coaching catch 22 where only a victory bails you out but a loss leaves you with some ‘splaining to do. Hard to feel too pissed about losing that game…so long as you’ve finally gotten over the turnovers. I have. Hence, red meh-ey face.
- PENN STATE. Wuh-woah, Cartman wants to kick RichRod in the nuts. The passing game was not sharp, at all, but the R/P ratio was still pass heavy. At least for an instance where the pass game was not sharp and the running game was highly effective.
*scare quotes used because many of us seem to have forgotten that Forcier is a true freshman.
The problem last Saturday was that the scissors weren’t sharp, the paper was soggy, and the rock was…uh…not used enough. Zooming in a layer to the quarter by quarter break down of the Penn State game gives us this chart.
The play calling in the 3rd quarter was, unfortunately, too pass heavy. I suppose that was somewhat understandable being down 15 after the opening possession of the second half. But, there was a lot of time left to make up two scores and the running game was doing well and running is the scheme’s bread and butter and the passing game hadn’t been doing well and you have a true freshman QB. Does that mean Rich Rod sucks? Of course not. It just means that Rich Rod needs to hire a platoon of geeks to crunch data during TV time outs and half time.
In all seriousness though, it felt like we weren’t running the ball enough on Saturday and that’s what prompted me to dig into all this noise. I do have the benefit of hindsight, but even the data available at half time was enough to say that we should have come out running. Whatever, RichRod doesn’t need to explain himself to me and I don’t need or want him to. All coaches will have a lapse in judgment at one time or another and the players also need to be able to execute the plays that are called, regardless of play mix.
Critical and objective observers of last weekend’s game vs Michigan State undoubtedly realize something sucky for Michigan—State was able to put together lessons learned from the previous four games to completely shut down the offense; crappy secondary and all. State showed the rest of the schedule a good first draft blueprint on how to beat Michigan: play keep away (only 10 possessions all game) and stop our bread and butter (the run).These aren’t novel observations and its said before every game, but now it has been done. Opposing Coordinators now only have to implement/tailor a proven game plan. So the imminent question now is, can Iowa execute this plan, and more importantly, is there anything we can do about it?
This is a pretty straightforward proposition and right in Iowa’s wheelhouse: out execute and play ball control offense. The never-ending story of a drive in the first quarter vs. MSU was absolutely huge., soaking up about 2 drives that Michigan and MSU’s opponent normally have in the 1st qtr. A lot of that had to do with exploiting the weaknesses of our defense. At QB Cousins is better, but Stanzi is probably adequate. In the running game Iowa definitely gets the nod; especially when you factor out Cousin’s scrambles last game. Stanzi can at least match what Cousin’s did on the ground against us. MSU probably has better overall receivers, but against our secondary that doesn’t matter much. Boil it all down to: yes, Iowa can play keep away from our offense if we let them.
Iowa most definitely has the ability to shut down a running game. Our guys did not have their best game on Saturday and Iowa has routinely made opposing running backs under perform this year. I adopted a rating CollegeFootball13 came up with in a previous post (like a pass efficiency rating for RBs) then tabulated the relevant data for each of the FBS running backs Iowa has faced. Its basically a clumsier version of what the Mathlete has been doing in his By The Numbers series. I split out the data into two groups, vs. Iowa and vs. others.
Each of the four FBS running backs Iowa has faced this year have under performed against Iowa as compared to their games against other opponents. What’s more is when rated in this way, Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor aren't necessarily better than Reggie Arnold (Ark. St). Ouch.
As for our most recent performance, the most obvious culprit was overall offensive execution through three and a half quarters. MSU’s defense definitely played well against us but our guys did plenty to make them look better than they are. The O-line was out played for sure and State was able to take away the running game. But, when we switched to the passing game our guys were dropping balls left and right, thus preventing any kind of momentum from getting started. Once we started catching balls and built up a head of steam at the end of the game, State had no answers. Again, I’m not saying State didn’t play well just that we didn’t. I’m taking it for granted that the offensive execution and concentration errors that killed us last game will be improved or eliminated for this week’s game.
As for Iowa most impressive victory, I think they benefited from things that are unreliable such as the blocked punt for TD and TERRIBLE QB play (Darryl Clark: 38% completion, 3 INTS). Penn State had four turnovers in the game. This is not to say that we can not possibly turn the ball over; just that turnovers are useful for the opposing defense.
So can we do anything about it? I think there are several things we can do. First, we can play defense like we did against MSU, but with better tackling. The second half specifically look more inspired to me. The play Graham made to force the field goal after the Ruby Punt Fiasco comes to mind. Also Kovacks‘s late game run stopping. If the D plays like that again, we’ll be in good shape.
The second thing we can do is short circuit the keep away strategy by coming out of the gate ridiculously aggressively. If we win the coin flip, we should take the ball then go for the jugular on the first play like Penn St. did vs. Iowa in week 4. How ‘bout opening up 5-wide shotty with Stonum, Hemmingway, Roundtree, Mathews, and Brown in the slot? Boom, Forciered. Then dial up a squib on side kick like MSU did vs. Notre Dame in week 3 on the ensuing kickoff. A failed recovery puts pressure on our D to come up with a stop from mid field, but I think they can handle that pressure especially if they know it’s coming early in the game. If we lose the coin flip, sell out for a quick 3 and out then execute the plan as previously stated. The overriding objective is to force Iowa into a shoot out and take the air out of Kinnick before anyone knows what hit ‘em. Getting Stanzi into a shootout would be a great start to the game.
The last thing, better execution on offense. No eff ups on snaps. Minimize ineffective blocks (see Huyge v.Jones @5:17 in the 2nd Qtr vs MSU). No dropped passes. None if this is magic and its all stuff we're perfectly capable of and have done before.
I think we have what it takes to beat the Hawkeyes, and we've done it before against reasonably comparable competition (Defense v MSU; Offense v Notre Dame). We just have to put it all together in a cohesive package of win.
After putting together the data for the Point per Field Position post I put up earlier, I realized that I could Frankenstein the data into a projection for the game score. What follows is method and result. I'll skip the gory details because they're boring.
Nothing spectacular, going with equal parts offense and defense. So if Michigan’s Offense scores an average of 2 points per possession from a certain sector and State’s Defense gives up 3 points per possession, the expected value used would be 2.5 points per possession. The result of this operation is Michigan scoring at an aggregated 2.7 points per possession and State at 2.2 ppp. Expected Number of possessions
Michigan has been averaging 14 possessions per game where as State has been averaging 12 possessions per game. Same idea as the method to generate performance expectations; using 13 possessions in a 4 quarter game.
Giving State a home field advantage of 3 points we end up with this: Michigan 35, Michigan State 31. This lines up pretty closely with Brian's and The Mathlete's projections so it'll be interesting to see how it turns out.Hmmm
There is another way of assembling the numbers that has beating State by 10 (38 -28)based on performance during drives not starting via a special teams play such as fumbles, interceptions, missed field goal attempts, and turnover on downs. But, I dont know if doing what I did was fair so I'm just tossing it out there for fun. WEE!
For obvious reasons, field position is critically important to the success of a football team. This is a timeless fact. Teams starting with poor field position have a tougher time scoring because they must move the ball further to get into scoring position. Football geeks wearing green eyeshades and helicopter caps such as myself talk about an obscure stat related to this; I’m not sure it even has a name. I’ll refer to it as points per field position, meaning the average number of points a team has scored (or allowed) from a given starting field position. I thought it’d be interesting to look at this week’s matchup through this prism. For this analysis I’ve split the field into 25 yard chunks for simplicity’s sake and also to boost statistical significance. I’ve excluded Montana St. from MSU’s dataset since they are an FCS opponent and therefore not worthy of analytical scrutiny. I keed…not really. Onward
Advantage: Push with a nod to Michigan. The reason I say push is that the overall averages of both teams are within 0.1 points of each other. I don’t pretend that this analysis is able to reliably detect this level of separation. However, closer scrutiny of the data reveals an apparent advantage for Michigan. That is, in addition to being awesomer.
Starting in their own territory, both offenses perform about the same. The separation comes when the offenses start drives in enemy territory. There are only 2 drives available for MSU, which I take as evidence that their offensive special teams (the return teams) are not sweet, but there’s nothing to say that more data will necessarily improve their average rather than hurt it. So, for now, I’ll believe my flimsy 2 drive average of 3 pts per possession. For equal filed position, Michigan scores an average of 4 points per possession. Hence they get the nod for having demonstrated proficiency in enemy territory. Also from what I’ve seen on the field I think Michigan does show more offensive prowess and schematic advantage than does MSU. Also I’m a homer. Plus we have the Force. And I have a chart…go go gadget CHART!
Advantage: Michigan. This is probably better characterized as Michigan having a lower disadvantage than Sparty because I think it is safe to say that both defenses are pretty damned bad. Think of it as having a lower handicap. I’m actually surprised at Michigan’s overall average of 1.8 points per possession…it felt like it’d be higher. Sparty on the other hand is basically allowing as many points as its scoring, 2.8 points per possession. Again, see the chart.
Advantage: Michigan. Here I’ve split special teams play into coverage and return units with each establishing defensive and offensive field position respectively. The numbers here reconcile nicely. Michigan’s coverage units and State’s return units have both ended up at about the same field position to date; at about the 26 yard line. On the flip side, Michigan’s return units and State’s coverage units have also ended up at about the same field position; at about the 31 yard line. These are just averages so, presumably, Michigan will have a few more drives starting in sector 2 and State will have a few more drives starting in sector 1. No chart here, just a table.
Obviously Zoltan is a huge asset for establishing defensive field position and Darryl Stonum is doing a kick ass job at establishing good field position for the Offense. What’s kind of aggravating is that the woes of last year seem to have the coaching staff content with simply holding onto the ball, which, yeah duh. But damn, we should be able to improve our average field position on punts if Mathews or some satisfactory replacement would be allowed to attempt a return. If the staff insists on not attempting a return then, why not skip even putting a guy back there altogether and sending 11 every time for a block? I know catching the ball stops the roll but, I wonder how much of a difference it makes overall. I dunno, it’s just annoying that we forfeit better field position simply because we’re scared of dropping the ball.
This work is based on past performance and doesn’t account for key injuries, personnel changes, and what not. Another issue is that of unequal opposition. Obviously playing weaker opposition (such as FCS caliber Montana St.) would inflate a team’s numbers so strength of schedule has something to do with the numbers. However, Sparty’s opponent record to date is 5-2 where as Michigan’s opponents are 6-3, and I've already thrown out MSU's game against Montana State so I think the relative strength of schedules are pretty even.
This analysis indicates that Michigan has performed better in all three phases than Michigan State has so far this year (as if the respective win-loss records didn't already say this). What’s not shown here is that both defenses have given up about 100 points so far this year but Michigan State has done it in about 30% fewer possessions; Yowza. Our offense has been more efficient at hitting pay dirt and our special teams have done a good job at setting up field position. These three things should at least neutralize Sparty’s home field advantage. All of this data includes possessions ending in turnovers so, barring another Notre Dame 2008 type scenario, that shouldn’t be a concern.
While analyzing the past is neat, synthesizing the future is what everybody is really interested in. I’ve got a little sumpin sumpin cooking on that but that’ll have to wait until later tonight because I’m tired of writing and you all are probably tired of reading.
The Michigan Man does exist despite what drivel you may have recently read; He's just not what everybody thinks he is. ‘They’ think a Michigan Man is some kind of prototype forged in the mold Bo Schembechler. Bo’s famous quote seared into the public perception an awesome and tenacious image that resonated within the Michigan community and throughout the sports world to this very day, a generation later; the very definition of a meme. As the man who coined the phrase and undoubtedly a Michigan Man himself, he himself is said image.
A closer Look at the context of the quote reveals the true definition of Michigan Men. Bill Frieder accepts a job elsewhere and leaves Michigan behind. As soon as that agreement was made, it was determined that Frieder was not a Michigan Man. At that moment he was no longer the right man to lead Michigan.
So, the definition of a Michigan Man is simple: He who is unequivocally devoted to Michigan. A Michigan Man stands for what he believes is right and has the grace to acknowledge and correct his errors. A Michigan Man loves Michigan and represents her with courage, valor, and passion; to his grave. A Michigan Man respects his adversary but will never fear him.
Unfortunately, many within the Michigan community do not understand this simple definition. This is not to say that they do not love Michigan, but they fail to see what it was about Bo that made him a Michigan Man. Gerald Ford. Bob Ufer. Those who stayed in ’69. Gary Moeller. Tshimanga Biakabutuka. Lloyd Carr. Tom Brady. Brian Cook. This list never ends.
Bo and Lloyd were clear-cut Michigan Men but they do not encompass all Michigan Men. What I saw on August 31 was stark contrast to what I would expect to see from any of the afore mentioned men, but make no mistake…I saw a Michigan Man.
What we’re dealing with in this episode of evolution is the unknown. It is scary to not know what to expect and it’s OK to be critical of what you see. But it’s not OK to reject someone because you don’t understand him and are so attached to the mystique of what has come before that you won’t take the time to get to know him. That’s not Michigan.
Do you love a mystique or do you love Michigan?
I swore to myself that I wouldn’t be one of those guys who diaried about the state of the program but, God Damnit…a few recent diaries have sent me over. People waxing poetically about the good ole days when Michigan won because our helmets had wings, and our atmosphere was just fine because our boys knew we loved them. About how all this shit with App St, 2008, Boren and Wermers and Feagin is hurting the Michigan legacy, and, by golly… its just not fair!
Listen closely, Michigan is still, and forever will be, Michigan. Feilding Yost, Fritz Crisler, and Bo Schemblecher would go Woody Hayes on us if they saw us wilting like this. Snap out of this Goddamned stupor
It needs to take more than a few punches to the face to shake our faith in and love for Michigan. We’ve had a football program for 130 years…think about that for a second.
Before the #1 jersey, winged helmets, and the Little Brown Jug; there was Michigan Football.
Before Climate Change, cathode-ray tubes, and unnatural flight, there was Michigan Football.
Before there were 38 stars on Old Glory, there was Michigan Football.
We’re to let one game (App. St.), one season (2008), a little uncertainty, and a slow march through the gauntlet of rival jeering call that legacy of excellence into question? Yeah, all of those things have been tough to take and humble pie taste like shit but our fan base needed a little adversity. We had grown luke-warm. “You’re asking me to pay how much to watch a D1AA opponent?” Carr's losing his touch. Moeller was this, Bo never got it done….How ungrateful we’d become.
These experiences, as shitty as they’ve been, have amplified my love for Michigan rather than diminished it. Going to a game has always been awesome but, honestly, where it used to be a luxury for me, its now a necessity. I used to be blasé about losing MSU. The clock guy is a dick. The ref sucked. That was pass interference … no more. Fuck those guys. Let them do what they do, but when they play us, we must win. I mean, look what happens to the economy when they beat us straight up for Christ’s sake…hell, the country needs us to win.
Every once in a while I catch myself shading a tad jealous of these old timers that had front row seats to the 10 year war, Anthony Carter, and others memories I’m too young to have first hand knowledge of. I realize now that we are the ones to be envied. We have the honor of bearing witness next great era in Michigan Football. Whether coach Rodriguez is the next Bennie Oosterbaan, Bump Elliot, or Bo Schembechler, Michigan will still be Michigan. And it will always be great to be a Michigan Wolverine.
Eff…now I’m waxing poetic….