that is nice bonus change
I can honestly say that, deep inside, I haven’t entertained the idea that Rich Rodriguez should be replaced this year. And, as you all know, Meeechigan Dan was routinely consulted by Bill Martin and, quite frankly, is on David Brandon’s speed dial. It’s a heavy responsibility that I shoulder for all of you.
Last year, firing RR occurred to me more than once during the slide because his offensive genius was theoretical. This year, it is fact. In September, I formally acknowledged this genius, and the lack thereof on the other side of the ball. Fortunately, for the rational, there is perspective…
One of my favorite features is This Week in Schadenfreude (TWIS). When any of my teams is winning big games/playoff series, I gluttonously partake in the ‘freude, trolling competitive sites, rarely commenting, but soaking in the complaints about officiating, lucky bounces and questionable coaching decisions like Thomas Covenent in Andelain. Let’s face it, the ‘freude is what it’s all about; it is “Little Brother” and 2-10-1; it is watching damefan1’s videos and was Manningham’s catch against Penn State; it is the coin in which fans are paid for their loyalty.
For schadenfreude to have gravitas, a team must dominate over time. Red Wings schadenfreude is classic example; the spitting hatred of the unwashed directed at a dynasty is a fine wine to be enjoyed. Conversely, is such a thing as Lions schadenfreude even possible? No.
MSU currently enjoys a certain cheap ‘freude, like a bad pool player who pockets the nine ball on a lucky combination; no one with a larger view of the contest expects the less-skilled player’s luck to hold up and his “Nyah, nyah, nyah!” will soon be forgotten, decorum will return, and order restored to the universe. On the other hand, OSU has become a stuffy commodities firm trading in an endless supply of Michigan schadenfreude by the container car, moving it from train depot to seaport to FedEx hub with a certain dry efficiency; all we can think about is that, being first to the buffet table of decade long dominance, we didn’t extract our proper, sustaining share of the ‘freude in the 90s and now it’s gone forever, to be quietly laughed at by any Buckeye fan hearing our plea.
I tip my hat to the author of TWIS for obvious reasons, but Mr. Cook deserves subtle credit for something more: TWIS emphatically argues that RR should be retained.
From the narrow view of a football fanatic, the stupidity of the coaching staff always seems like a reasonable proposition and the coaching change “fix” that is universally talked about in TWIS a GPS-equipped life raft floating off the bow of the Titanic. One fanbase’s coaching complaint appears to be justifiable rage and frustration. Collectively, the sameness of fans’ contempt for coaches that had been formerly praised is bipolar.
Look at the last dozen or so national champions:
Stoops, Meyer, Brown, Miles, Bowden, Fulmer, Carr and even Tressel. I don’t have the dedication to journey back to those championship years and catalog the glowing quotes describing the brilliance of Urban Meyer and Bob Stoops, the seasoned wisdom of Mack Brown and Bobby Bowden, the eclectic genius of Les Miles, but they exist. And while they have yet to lift the ugliest trophy in sports, we’ve all breathlessly heard about rising stars Brian Kelly, Greg Schiano. Mark Richt, Randy Edsall, Jeff Tedford and, yes, Rich Rodriguez. Glowing comments about brilliant coaches at the peak of their skills.
Urban can't be happy and he can't reload the spread option with a prostyle quarterback. He can't go prostyle with an offense built for the spread option with speed backs. He is stuck in a mediocre second tier hybrid offense. If Urban can't fix this, I expect he will leave. Does anyone see a solution for this year or next year?
This year’s performance is not just the worst job of coaching we have seen in the Mack Brown era, it is without any real question at all one of the very worst coaching jobs in modern football history. I can’t think of a single instance in which any coaching staff has done less with more talent or inherent program advantages than this staff has accomplished this season.
A combo here!
Is Les Miles a better college football coach than Bobn Stoops?
When Bob looks into the mirror tonight, he will see a glimpse of someone who quit
I hate you, Brian Kelly. I hate your fucking lesbian golfer visor. I hate your fucking offense that looks like Oregon’s offense on quaaludes and holds the ball for 2.5 minutes a game. I hate your fucking Dance of the Backup Quarterbacks playcalling system. I hate your fucking Baaaaaahston accent as you blame the players and get high on the smell of your own fucking farts.
(All quotes above taken from the TWIS weekly column.)
And more. From 30,000 feet, I gaze upon the sameness of serious football fans suggesting that once brilliant men have lost that brilliance and become Gerry Faust overnight. William of Occam might suggest that, if a successful coach remains the same and the players change, it’s the players that are responsible for the change in fortunes. Particularly when great players are replaced by young or less talented players.
About mid season, TWIS was a slap in the face for me, a realization that definitely proven coaching commodities do not become dumb overnight. Yes, perhaps there are structural reasons for hard times (the game passing you by [Bowden, Carr], personal issues [maybe Meyer], selecting bad DCs [RR], etc.) and those are fair game; RR’s fate ultimately hangs on his management of the defense, which is, I hope for my mgopoint total, ironic. But RR was a proven coach at WVU authoring one of the most revolutionary performances against Oklahoma, and he has duplicated that offensive success under duress at Michigan. Yes, his decision-making on defense concerns every one of us, but he is responsible for Jeff Casteel (not vise versa), and should have another two years to figure that out.
Gotta go. Brandon is calling.
The upcoming Michigan - Michigan State game has a certain life all its own inside my brain right now. There are weird images (a feral MSU linebacker with no facial features except glowing eyes gnawing on Denard's bad knee after a tackle)...
...uninformed thoughts (why doesn’t GERG use press coverage when blitzing?), stark colors (radiant maize, cerebral blue, chyme green and an ink cloud of black despair waiting to descend, hovering just out of view), graphic sounds (Fight Club quality bone crunching, the Victors after the winning touchdown, a cartoon whoosh whoosh whoosh sound in my mind that accompanies every Denard breakaway), numbers (200/200, 120, 0.73663, 480, 9-3, 877, 16, 4) and a whole lot of emotions; quite honestly, more bad ones than good ones. All this wraps up into an ill-defined knot inside me as I both anticipate and dread the opening kickoff.
It occurred to me that 25 years ago my impressions of Saturday's contest would be so different as to be unrecognizable. I was just as big a fan back then. Yet, today, my love of Michigan football has so many more data points as to render my 1980s fandom a primitive, low-tech thing resembling Ken Mattingly in Apollo 13 sweating inside a simulator with a flashlight between his teeth trying to figure out how to splash down a spaceship on 20 amps of power.
All this data has, I think, distorted our view of the game. We have analyzed our way into believing that Michigan State is an emerging power that inevitably must eviscerate a statistically helpless Michigan defense.
I say hogwash.
Two decades ago, I would be moving about my week calmly expecting a Michigan victory, because two decades ago it would be the résumé that mattered, not hyper-analysis of data that promotes fear and generates such concepts as RPS-3, Chappellbombing and PAN. My understanding of the team would be that we have a great offense with a great quarterback and a schizophrenic defense, but that we were still winning. I would never have tried (and failed) to figure out a Cover-2 zone or known our national pass defense ranking or even known where Greg Robinson had coached before.
But I would know the résumés, and based upon the résumés, I would have concluded that an oddly unbalanced, uncharacteristic Michigan team nonetheless possessed the strongest résumé of any team in the Big 10.
Say what?! Prove it.
No numbers; we are in a variable-free zone and channeling both 1985 and common sense at the same time.
Michigan Wolverines Résumé
Michigan has beaten two major teams back to back, the second one on the road. The first was a beatdown of a bowl winning team from the year before with almost everyone back. The second was an always talented and very emotional Notre Dame team at home with an unexpected bonus: a competent coach. Michigan won its first Big 10 game, an away game against a serious offense. A shaky squeaker against a good FCS team mars the résumé.
- Ohio State? Four home games with a solid win against a charitable Miami team, three cupcakes, and a lackluster win over a bad Illinois team. Fail.
- Iowa? Not bad, but they lost to Arizona. Fail.
- Wisconsin? Three cupcakes, a squeaker and a beatdown. Fail.
- Northwestern? Five cupcakes with extra icing, cherries, sprinkles and a cream filling. Fail.
- And Michigan State? Five home games, three cupcakes, a less impressive win against a common opponent at home, and a solid win against an overrated Big 10 “power.” Fail.
If preseason polls were outlawed and this year’s Big 10 teams, like 11 sprinters in the blocks, were off at the sound of the gun, Michigan would be in the lead. That’s what I would have known.
I am going to finish my week calmly expecting a Michigan victory.
Is hard to look at.
...however, happens to be so good-looking as to compensate for her ugly friend.
Now, this is not just a bad analogy or an excuse to look at a picture of Melissa Theuriau [Ed: Who needs an excuse?]; this is relevant to football.
In a previous post immediately post-UMass, I said:
3. It can't get any worse. Now, many of you may laugh at the implication that Wisconsin and OSU can't outperform UMass on Offense, but they pretty much can't. UMass dominated TOP - which will be the number one anti-Denard potion going forward...They employed the perfect beat-Michigan formula...
…and this came to pass on Saturday. Those who want to split hairs might argue that our defense against Indiana was worse than it was against UMass, and I am guessing some might argue the other way around. I would suggest we are debating insignificant differences in horribleness.
Where is the optimism in a defense that has twice in the last three weeks performed at or near its worst? They are called victories. Our offense has been sufficient to score more points than our defense at its worst has given up.
Why do I keep suggesting that this defense can’t get any worse? I, myself, was in a state of near gibbering panic at the thought of what Wisconsin and Michigan State might do against our defense. Then I laughed (I swear alcohol had nothing to do with it). This fear is grounded in the nightmarish unreality of a game without a clock. As of last check, we still have one of these at every game:
Quite simply, UMass and Indiana have both plumbed the depths of the worst case scenario that Wisconsin and MSU can hardly outdo, but may duplicate. They pretty much squeezed in as much offense as the 120th ranked Bend-Don't-Break pass defense is going to allow in a sixty minute game.
Both UMass and Indiana:
Dominated TOP as a mechanism to keep Denard and the Michigan Offense off the field (edit: AND limit the number of possesions). This is relevant in that it accentuates the horrid stats that our defense puts up.
Opponent TOP Michigan TOP UMass 36:67 22:22 Indiana 41:47 18:13
Specialized in long, clock-consuming, play-engorged series at the most damn inopportune time.
UMass 11 plays 53 yards 9 plays 67 yards 9 plays 79 yards 15 plays 70 yards Indiana 11 plays 77 yards 13 plays 99 yards 10 plays 72 yards 12 plays 50 yards 13 plays 80 yards
- (I cannot recall as many long drives as Indiana had in all my years of watching college football. They relentlessly attacked the fundamental weakness of the Bend-Don’t-Break philosophy: take what is given. These opponents, as gracious guests, ate from the buffet set out by our caterer, GERG Special Events.)
Had superb success in drive scoring percentage. I don’t know what the national average is here, but I am willing to bet that those batting averages are all-star worthy. A little help from the Mathlete here would be nice.
Score/Poss Scoring % UMass 6/11 55% Indiana 5/12 42%
So, in order for better teams to do more damage to Michigan than UMass and Indiana, one of the following things must happen:
- Better drive scoring percentage.
- Better defense against our offense.
- Intangible success (turnovers, special teams, injuries, etc.)
…all the while Michigan does not have an appreciable improvement in defensive performance or tactics.
Now, it is possible that a couple teams will score more frequently than did the two teams above, and it is probable that Denard and company will be defended better. And we know that the intangibles, our enemy in past years, will bite us sometime soon. But the prospects are not as grim as you might believe for a couple reasons:
- Chappell’s passes were surgical. I was astounded at his gutsy and precise activity over the middle. I would suggest, based upon propensity for interceptions, that NONE of the remaining QBs possess that level of precision. In other words, our zone passing defense that invites 65 attempts will likely extract more errors out of Cousins, Stanzi, Bolden, Tolzien and Pryor.
- Last year demonstrated that RR’s offense could be defended effectively without the “Pat White” prototype QB that stresses defenses. I have finally seen, like a child slowly realizing the truth about Santa, the RR offensive philosophy embodied in that magical, wide-open slant after Denard fakes a QB iso. Does any defense so ridiculously abandon their zone responsibilities to cope with Sheridan, Threet or even Tate? Of course not. I don’t think any defense that we will face will more calmly react to Denard than the first five have. Oh, most will do better, but marginally so. That includes Norm Parker and Iowa (I predict we shred them).
In the end, I am not predicting that we will finish 12-0 or even 11-1. What I am suggesting is that there is a point where defensive ineffectiveness reaches a saturation point in a Bend-Don’t Break strategy that debunks a dark fear in all our hearts that teams will score more and more and more. Teams will score, but the scoring will look pretty much like what UMass and Indiana scoring looked like. As long as Denard stays healthy, we will be in every game.
The proof will be coming shortly - I will return to mgoboard to take my beating these next seven weeks if this prediction doesn't come true: no Big Ten offense will score more than 40 points on Michigan (OK, maybe one in a perfect storm game).
And the final consolation I take is in the offensive line. Last year, our OLine was horrifying. This year it is a source of strength. Assuming (a big assumption) that RR knows both sides of the football, I see a parallel in our secondary that should possess real depth next year and show similar improvement.
Right before the UConn game, I made some incendiary remarks about this coaching staff’s ability to coach. Clearly, my emotional state contributed to much hyperbole.
Now, with the standard disclaimers in place (the Big 10 season hasn’t begun, we started 4-0 last year, etc.), I offer an interesting development on Rich Rodriguez’s coaching ability.
In three years, RR has transformed an ungainly, Benny Hill offense into one of the best in the country. Some perspective on this is useful. He inherited offensive personnel as mismatched to his system as…well…words fail me:
The Borens, Malletts, Threets and Arringtons fled at the prospect of playground, Chinese fire drill ball that required a level of fitness beyond their experience and surely would destroy NFL aspirations like Taylor Lewan destroys donkeys. Three years later, it is safe to say that there is not a defense in the land that wouldn’t be gibbering in fear at the thought of playing Michigan this coming Saturday. Project yourself into the film room in Bloomington and imagine the discussion they are having.
Given his exploits at WVU, all of us wondered what RR would do with a higher level of talent. I think we are getting a sense of that. Yet, would anyone have said, after Tressel pulled in this class…
…and after Threetsheridammit debuted that RR would have passed Tressel two years later?
I touched upon the tantalizing potential of RR finding diamonds in the rough like Denard, Omameh and Odoms in my McBean series (to be continued in the off-season), and it appears that, both as a unit and player by player, Michigan has a superior offense to Ohio State. (For comparison, I am using Rivals Ratings [RR] for a finer comparison.)
Is the blossoming of the Michigan personnel heredity or environment? If the former, RR knows talent. If the latter, RR makes talent. If a combo, even better.
Some might say that more than one offensive line position would be up for debate. However, living in Ohio as I do, I had the pleasure of listening to some Buckeye postmortem radio show about three hours ago, and several callers complained that Ohio State's offensive line could not get a push against Eastern Michigan. Complaining about underperformance of offensive lines is an October ritual in Columbus. As a unit and especially considering backups, I wouldn't even look twice at Ohio State's offensive line, pedigree or no.
Quarterback? In my opinion only, I think Pryor is a very good quarterback with enormous potential to implode. Their backs? Eh. Their receivers; yes, a couple are very nice, but how can one be discontented with Roy and Clark Kent and the Billy goat?
What's the point of all this? Besides being stunned at how deep RR's reclamation project runs on the offensive side of the ball, it has not translated to the defensive side of the ball, which is why OSU would be a double digit favorite if we played THE game tomorrow. Our purpose is not the rehash the trail of tears that has been the defense, but to ask a more pointed question (and I ask sharik directly):
- How is it possible for a coach with such a sophisticated understanding of offensive schemes to not have an equally sophisticated understanding of the defenses most effective at stopping those schemes? In other words, can he do for our defense what he has already done for our offense, or is he a half of a coach?
There has been spirited debate about the angles that Ohio University LB Rufus took in tackling the OSU RB Brutus during last Saturday's game. Does increased head mass require a higher tackling angle, or should traditional non-encephalitic technique be employed?
It is early in the game, with OSU lined up in a 1-1-9. The RB is parallel with the fat dork carrying the flag. The OLine of nine band weenies is clearly off the line of scrimmage in an illegal formation, but this doesn't get called; we're in the Horseshoe, after all.
Unblocked, Rufus arrows towards Brutus demonstrating, at first glance, excellent technique with arms wide to wrap up the opponent.
But here the question of angle v. encephalitis comes into play. What can’t be seen at this angle is that the RB’s momentum is carrying him past the impact point targeted by the OU LB, exposing why a traditional, lower attack point is desired. The OSU RB pulls away with a little, mincing gesture with his forearm and clocks the fat dork (FD) in the head with his opposite elbow. By the way, WTF is with that running OSU dude on the left side of page? I’ll tell you what it is: too many men on the field.
At this point, it looks like the unblocked OU LB will tackle for a decisive TFL.
But then we see the consequences of hitting the OSU player too high: with help from the OSU FD, Brutus maintains his balance and stands up Rufus.
If Rufus hits the OSU player just above the knees, then there is no opportunity for Brutus to recover. The OLine here is still in pre-snap formation revealing that this is a trick play.
Rufus begins to slip as the RB deflects his momentum…
…and loses contain letting the RB into the secondary with a convoy of blockers...
The RB makes a mistake: he slows up and begins to taunt the OU sideline. Rufus cuts between the WR and the TE in pursuit...
Notice the poor blocking on the part of the OSU WR running with Brutus downfield. How can you let Rufus approach your RB untouched? Again, the OU LB takes waaaay too high of an angle at the goal line. Seriously, what is this? Who tackles a player this high? Shame on the RB for walking into the end zone. Typical OSU classiness.
Rufus hits high...
...and already in the end zone, the OU LB commits the personal foul with unnecessary roughness…
...yet still demonstating why it is important to hit the player low; he still can't get him down. Bonus: notice the abused, defeated expression on Brutus's face...
This is not football; it is more reminiscent of Bogs in Shawshank. The infamous punch that got Rufus suspended from the OU team leaves Brutus a shell of mascot.
Teammates hang their heads in shame.
Takeaways: Even large-headed mascots must maintain proper tacking angles. They should not compensate for higher mass distribution with a higher attack point. Paradoxically, the higher mass point makes mascots more vulnerable to the classic leg tackle.
Also, there is no place in football for the kind of personal foul witnessed at the end of the play. Even when the other team is execrable as OSU, keep it clean. Don't sink to their level.
Edit: Special thanks to a friend who took those pictures in the endzone (I pulled the link so that we stop overloading her server).
We have seen a number of Board posts about how struggling against UMass was a wake up call and therefore not such a bad thing. By the fifth one, it was tiresome. So naturally I decided to elevate the discussion to the diary.
The reason is that several elements have been missed:
1. If UMass were the first game, overreacting to the defensive performance would make sense, but we have two other data points that, while this defense may not have the ability to make you forget the 97 D, they have ability to function adequately. Is Sparty lamenting their D this morning? No. There is obviously a distribution of performances forthcoming from any team, from Appalachian State to Florida in Lloyd's last year for example. If you take our Florida performance that year and install it against ASU, they would still be gathering body parts of walk-on Mountaineers. If you take our ND performance and install it against UMass, we score 60+ points with the extra TOP and win by 40.
2. It has reinforced a meme that Michigan can't play D, which is a very good thing for the Sparty game. My guess is that we give up some points to BG and Indiana, too. Such a young and thin D will have a wider standard deviation in performance with the peak performance coming during high motivation games. Having Sparty thinking Michigan's D is tissue paper will only help, whether it is tissue paper or not. Sparty's D last year, if you read Brian's preview, was tissue paper, and Sparty deviated in a high-motivation game to kick our offenses ass for three quarters.
3. It can't get any worse. Now, many of you may laugh at the implication that Wisconsin and OSU can't outperform UMass on Offense, but they pretty much can't. UMass dominated TOP - which will be the number one anti-Denard potion going forward - and gashed us with 1st down rushing. They employed the perfect beat-Michigan formula, which we allowed due to a deviant performance on D. I would argue our D against top opponents will perform closer to the ND data point than the UMass data point. So even a superior team may only rise to the productivity of UMass on Saturday. In other words, Wisconsin can, I would argue, at best hope to duplicate UMass's result. That would be bad, of course, but then...
4. Open the playbook that was closed for much of the UMass game (except for panic time) and the Wisconsins of the world will be contending with a different offense. All in all, probably a push.
5. Finally, the most commonly made point: it is a good kick in the ass for anyone and everyone who was starting to believe a little too much hype.
Would we feel that much better or know that much more about our team if Michigan won comfortably against a horrid team? I will take the W knowing that they mailed it in and still won...and that they learned a lesson. There's a lot of kids playing meaningful miuntes on D who have no frame of reference like Toledo and Appy State.