Well written, great analysis, and I love the side-by-side of the Rivals Ratings.
I have some opinions on the "does this knowledge of offensive schemes translate to ability to coach defenses", but for now I'll defer to the experts...
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):
Well written, great analysis, and I love the side-by-side of the Rivals Ratings.
I have some opinions on the "does this knowledge of offensive schemes translate to ability to coach defenses", but for now I'll defer to the experts...
Don't you believe it's unfair to judge RRs ability to "find talent" or "make talent" on the defensive side of the ball, in light of all of the attrition he has faced there?
I agree he may be partially to blame, regarding how many d players had trouble qualifying, however, it certainly isn't all his fault. Keep in mind, we have RS and true freshman and walkons playing significant roles on defense. Not to mention a defensive depth chart depleted by a rash of injuries.
It seems to me, we should monitor his future recruiting for non-qualifiers and we should give him some time to completely stock the defensive depth chart, before labeling him an ineffective defensive coach.
You didn't ask me, but I think it's a tough question. Rodriguez isn't a defensive coach, although as the head coach the buck ultimately stops with him. And the amount of blame Rodriguez deserves for the jaw dropping attrition remains an open question. As of now, the prudent answer to that is "more than none, less than all".
Further complicating things is that we still don't know how good the defense is this year and probably won't know until we get to the heart of Big Ten play.
With those caveats, it's clearly unfair to do this, but if we were to look strictly at what Rodriguez inherited, the state of the defense in year three can't be seen as anything other than a huge disappointment. People seem to forget that to the extent Carr left the cupboard empty, it was on offense. In '08, aside from Brandon Minor, our offense was a barren wasteland. Defensively, our future looked relatively bright and I'm sure at the time, if we'd been asked, we'd have nearly unanimously thought a top 4 Big Ten defense in year three to be a fair or, more likely, pessimistic goal. Part of the gap in where we'd thought we'd be and where we are is because of the Scott Shafer fiasco, a whole lot of it thanks to attrition, and since we can't know how much is bad luck, the balance has to be accounted for in scheme, recruiting and player development.
But let's be more fair, even a bit generous, and give Rodriguez the benefit of the doubt for all the attrition and non qualifiers. Giving him the benefit of the doubt on that, but not on the Shafer thing or the disappointing development of the linebackers, what would be a reasonable expectation for our defense in Rodriguez's third year. Consider the level of experience: The front 3 (Banks, Martin and RVB) has spent and average of 4 years in the program; The 3 linebackers (Ezeh, Mouton and Roh) also average 4; the back 5 average 2.5*. The defense is young, but not as shockingly young as we sometimes make it out to be.
So assuming the attrition and the resulting young lineup and lack of depth are not his fault, but cutting him no slack for the wasted time in the Shafer hire and the slow progress of the linebacking corp-- what is a reasonable expectation for the defense in year 3? I'd say the generous low end expectation should be for us to be mediocre to below average- if you made me put a finger on it, I'd say we should rank at least 8th in Big Ten play. Anything less and I think Rodriguez should have to shoulder a great deal of blame. Again, this is being generous, and I don't think it would be unreasonable, even under the conditions listed above, to expect us to be at least squarely average- around 6th in Big Ten play. We'll see how it plays out. If I had to guess I'd say our defense finishes around 7th.
*counting Kovacs as 2, because he didn't spend his redshirt year in the program and counting the Johnson/TGordon duo at 1.5 since it's unclear who the starter is at this point.
People seem to forget that to the extent Carr left the cupboard empty, it was on offense. In '08, aside from Brandon Minor, our offense was a barren wasteland. Defensively, our future looked relatively bright...
Excellent observation. Also, the mismatch of personnel applied far, far more the Offensive side of the ball.
Take another look at the UFRs. The apparent bewilderment with which Ezeh, in particular, plays his position, is astounding. Mouton is hit-and-miss, (pun fully intended). Fourth and fifth year players who are regularly out of position, can almost be counted on by opposing defenses to blow an assignment, and are frankly slow, are neither the fault of RR, nor GERG. One can look at Hopson for some blame, but at some point, its on the guy playing the game. It can't all be coaching.
I couldn't disagree more. All that you can expect of the players is that they give their best effort and there's no reason to think they haven't. More pointedly, it seems foolish to point the finger at the players, saying that the blame should be on them for "not getting it", when their backups (Fitzgerald, Demens, Bell and Jones) all came in with pretty good reviews and, to this point, don't seem to get it any better than they do.
My intuition is that Hopson was just a really bad linebackers coach. My experience in coaching (not football) is that it's harder and it takes longer to instill good habits in someone who's had a lot of experience being coached by a poor coach than to do someone who is essentially a blank slate. I think Sharik/Magnus/AAL might have more to say than me on that subject. But if the battle between Ezeh and Moundros was even slightly competitive, I'm tempted to say that tells us all we need to know.
Here's a breakdown of all the defensive (including position switches) players that would be eligible from Lloyd Carr's tenure, sorted by their still being here and their recruiting ranking; they also make up the entirety of the upperclass:
As you can see, there are only 7 remaining players in the upperclass that would be considered high-level (4-star and up) recruits. 1 is responsible for DB horror (Williams) and can't play anyway because of concussions. 3 are starters (MAN BEAST, Mouton, and Van Bergen), and 3 are the back-ups behind these starters. That's it. We have high level upperclassmen recruits at 3 of the 11 defensive positions.
The rest of the defense:
Obi Ezeh - 3 star RUNNING BACK
JT Floyd - 3 star starting CB
Kovacs - WALK ON
T Gordon - 4 star athlete, first year DB
C Gordon - 4 star athlete, first year DB
Roh - 4 star man beast, 2nd year DE/OLB
J Rogers - 3 star athlete, 1st year CB
And the players that we lost:
4 graduated or went to the NFL, 3 are gone because of personal reasons (witherspoon/hill had academic issues; Cissoko is now in jail), and 2 transferred because they couldn't handle Barwis and RR's style.
Yes, RR hasn't been a perfect coach, but our D is severely lacking in quality, experienced players. He's doing the best that he can with what we have.
7 upper classmen on defense who are 4 stars or better should be enough to field a D that ranks 8th or better in the Big Ten.
This post is in no way labeling him ineffective anything; I am really curious if offensive genius in one side of a coin called "football genius" and on the other side of that coin lies our hope for the D.
Perhaps its not so much his inability to coach up his defense to stop the spread as it is his inability to recognize defensive talent/ identify potential player issues that has lead to the disparity between our offense and defense.
Are you really an M fan going to school down in Columbus??
Don't get me wrong, I believe will will achieve a higher level of defensive play. I also think, with success, we'll fill coffers on both sides of the ball with better players.
However, since you draw the comparisons to talent/performance at WVU.... Yes they had some years with good D numbers, but how many BIG games (i.e. chief rivals, bowls etc) do you remember them pulling out due to the D side of the ball? They were always in blowouts with the likes of L'ville etc. It was a last team with the ball affair many times, last punch landed wins.
Now, I don't have a problem with a coach being somewhat one-sided... I think most good ones are tilted towards one side of the ball. I DO think it's important for such a coach to find the right fit in his staff on the other side of the ball, who can adapt his units' gameplan to fit the "keep them from outscoring us" mentality.
I think he's got THAT guy. I can't wait to see the next couple of years.
BTW, for comparisons sake to Tressel, I think you could say the same thing since Troy Smith left. His D has far and away carried that team, giving their O the ball too many times for the opponent to beat them. It has come back to bite them largely in big games when they go up against more balanced teams.
(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?
I'd bet that he does have that understanding.
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?
These are hard questions to answer because I don't know the man well and I have never coached with him. (Man, that would be a blast, though.) I have met him a couple times at clinics (I'm sure he has no idea who the F I am) and he is a very likeable guy as well as an offensive genius.
Ironically, he played safety at WVU.
I really shouldn't speculate, but I can't resist. I believe that Coach Rod loves offense and wants to run a program and coach offense at the same time. I believe that he was overly concerned about installing his offensive system when he got here more than building a total program. You can see it in practice priorities and you saw it in recruiting priorities, and I believe you saw it in hiring defensive assistants.
I believe that the most successful head coaches are managers, not coordinators who completely delegate one side of the ball. To make the next step from great coach to Hall of Fame coach, I believe Coach Rod needs to let go of the offense and let his excellent assistants (McGee, Smith, Dews, Jackson) run that show.
I believe he needs to be more involved with the defense. I believe he should have done the talent analysis that Misopogon did, except he should have done it when he got here. I believe one thing that made Bo and Mo great (good not great under Carr) was surrounding themselves with great assistants at every position. Bo learned it from Woody. ("You win with people.")
So, to answer your question, I absolutely think he can do for our defense what he's done with our offense. The real question is, will he? More simply, does he want to? If he wants to, he can write his ticket to the Hall of Fame. If not, he may find himself searching the want ads in 2015.
I was both encouraged and felt a chill ripple up and down my spine. Please, Rich, choose the Hall of Fame.
Hire an experienced DC, who is very unlikely to become a HC anytime soon and almost give him control of the D? I think that can work as well, as long as RR gives equal priority in recruiting and practice emphasis to the D, it should be OK.
1. We've already seen a lack of continuity b/w the DC and the rest of the defensive staff, as well as with Coach Rod. The DC needs more authority in terms of who the assistants are. Usually the assistants are chosen to fit with the DC, not vice versa, which seems to be the case with Coach Rod. I predict if Stewart gets fired at WVU, Casteel will be on his way here and GERG will be out.
2. It will be "OK," but when has being just okay on defense ever won the Big Ten? If you recall, M has never won the Big Ten w/o a great D, and I believe whoever has won the Big Ten has had a great D.
What is being said about Stewart? Is he on the hot seat? Not to give up on GERG, but why wouldn't Casteel be a leading candidate for replacing Stewart?
Casteel will likely get the HC job at WVU, and won't come here.
Who worked for a guy who didn't work out. They'd go inns new direction. Hell Michigan fans wanted nothing to do with our coordinators as successors (as can be evidenced by their success in other places)
It was four consecutive terrible performances by Carr's defense (OSU '06, USC Rose Bowl, The Horror, and the Oregon Debacle) that produced "his" decision to "retire." When I read the optimism about all of the returning players on that side of the ball, I wondered what people were talking about. They had most of the defense back, but they helped produce one of the most embarrassing four-game "streaks" in Michigan history.
The cupboard might have been full, but the drawer labelled "sleek, strong, modern players" had too many slow, bulky 1970's Big Ten-style players in it. Besides, nobody really stops a well-executed spread. Consequently, the definition of a "good defense" is constantly changing.
This team will be fine this year, and great next year. The defense is evolving from weak to average; when it gets to "above average," which could happen as early as next year, it will be enough to win a lot of games.
'08 was easily our best defense of the last three years.
I had heard rumblings that he wanted to retire before it was announced and I don't think it was a secret he didn't like the media. Since his job had incredibly become dealing with the media, do you maybe not think he didn't enjoy his job as much?
Not that I don't support RR, but I think Lloyd had some traits it would have been nice to see in Rich.
you have just been hired to coach at perhaps THE best-pedigreed school in the country. You have maybe a year, two years before the jackals bite. What do you concentrate on building, to show that you are FO REAL--an offense or a defense?
What, meanwhile, do you do on D, given what you inherited? Well, you do what you can. You may even make some mistakes here and there. I'm not at all convinced by GERG, but here's one thing I do know:
GIVE HIM SOME GREAT PLAYERS AND THE D WILL PERFORM BETTER.
That's why, absent some mind-blowing breakdowns that are obviously his strategic fault, I'd hang onto the guy after this season. The players do not need to endure a fifth D strategy in five seasons.
Also, we're seeing some tweaks to the bend-don't-break that I, personally, like. Getting four on the line at times, blitzing more--letting the bulls do some gate-crashing, all help to rev up the crowd, get some stops and, if they fail, get the O back on the field. If there is one thing GERG cannot be accused of it is inflexibility.
Then there's all that good stuff about chemistry, etc. My insight about that is that RR is in fact NOT a huge egotist and would be perfectly happy to have GERG succeed and be covered in glory. I'll bet these guys actually get along. And GERG has been there and done that enough times not to get too hung up, either.
In two years we may be saying we have an ideally suited bunch at the helm, set to move us forward for a decade. And stability, wow. . . ask Texas.
Wow, Ohio State must really be interesting if they can score 73 points while their offensive line is being blown into their own backfield.
Believe it or not, OSU fans are some of the most doomsday fans around. That was an actual call...they have a complaint segment on their call-in show where they get 20 seconds to bitch. Every week calls roll in about the O Line.
Something I'm curious about: what is the Zeitgeist in the western Cleveland burbs regarding tOSU & UofM this year? Do they assume that because of our defense, OSU will walk all over us? Do they think that our Offense will be shut down by their D? Are they smug in their supremacy? Or are they beginning to feel disquieted, concerned, unsure?
They have achieved a sophisticated level of disrespect that I could never have imagined. And it makes me burn on molten fire with hatred and a desire for victory in December so great I would engage in unspeakable bargains with nefarious entities to ensure victory.
They ignore us. I have experienced the truth of the adage that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. In their pregame and Buckeye show, they will actually say something like this: "The Buckeyes can't expect to play special teams like that against the better teams in the Big 10 like Penn State, Wisconsin and Iowa. Those teams will make you pay." Or: "I only see one, maybe two, trap games this year - Iowa and maybe Wisconsin. No other teams should pose much of a challenge to the Buckeyes."
Whether this is by design or apathy about a team that has lost too often, I don't know. But, boy, does it ever work.
Those mother effers "Little Brothered" us.
As for the hyper-arrogant OSU fans, I know a few like this, too. We are an afterthought. So I just don't get into it anymore. Because I know the mighty always fall. Maybe - probably - not this year. But next year, yes. And because they are now so, so certain that Michigan is not even a consideration, it will be a HUGE letdown when it happens. Suicide will be considered by some OSU fans after that game.
Or, they may be quiet because deep in their icky, classless souls, they know it's coming. And it's coming sooner rather than later.
"Or, they may be quiet because deep in their icky, classless souls, they know it's coming..."
Even more astounding, they never talk about Denard in any capacity.
I got crap for my M scrub cap. This past week, its all been about Denard when someone says something. Even if they' re not willing to admit it, I think they are envious and afraid of Denard and Michigan's offense. Most even agree it looks like Denard is a better qb than pryor.
That's in columbus, at least.
Yes, fans will talk all the time, usually to describe how Denard will shatter into a million shards after a Homan or Rolle hits him. I was referring to Buckeye talk radio/shows.
Clearly, they are scared. Pretend DRob doesn't exist and maybe that will be the case. You know it burns them to no end that our quarterback is suddenly - and virtually out of nowhere - stealing Pryor's thunder. And he's not containable. And he just seems to get better every game. They're scared. Enjoy it.
I don't have any answers for you, although I think if the team is winning, the D will get better through recruiting. I would also say that I agree with you completely that the "empty cupboard" excuse is overblown. I feel like thats just something that the "never say anything negative about Rich Rod or die" crowd uses as a crutch every chance they get. The talent Carr left on D wasn't much worse than it is now, if not better.
I think the way to look at this question is simple. Coach Rod has been spending his time on the biggest change he needed to make: getting a precision high-performance offense into place. He has now finally gotten the offense to this point. If he had spent more time in the last few years on defense, my guess is that there wouldn't have been much of a difference there - the talent isn't quite there yet - but offense would have suffered as a result of his paying less attention to it.
Now that the offense is more in place, it will be less work for Rod and his staff to maintain it at a high level - the players understand pretty much what they need to do. And Coach's attention (my guess, in this offseason) will shift a little more to the defense, and we'll see even more improvement there. And of course, in recruiting too.
My further guess is that this entire process is pretty well understood by Coach Rod. This isn't his first rodeo, after all.
I think I share the same sentiment and will attempt to put it into my own words (heads up, this could be disastrous---I'm on a lot of cold medication).
If RR knows offense so well and can exploit just about any defense put in front of him, why can't he "reverse engineer" our defense. You can't create a potent offense without explicitly knowing how defenses will react. Ergo, he's gotta know what schemes would work against an offense.
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)
I'm all for finding diamonds in the rough, but, I'd be happy with a 5-star linebacker and safety right about now. How would you feel about a "Tressel-like" class with 4 5-star athletes on defense for next year?
As to your question:
1) I think the RR does what most people would do. Do what you do best. Change the offense to your liking. It's something he's most comfortable with and we've seen some (obviouis) real improvement there. A lot of people talk about the QB, but, I'm as impressed with the OL as anything.
2) As for the defense showing the same amount of improvement, I hope they do. However, it seems as if (given his track record at other schools) he hires defensive coordinators to carry the water on that side of the ball schematically. I just hope that Robinson is the right guy to do that for UM.
Great diary. Thanks for posting.
i think Ross Fulton's diagnosis of the OSU offense over at AtO is right on point. In summary, he sees the first four games as OSU taking what the defense gives them. And they've been giving them 8 sometimes 9 man fronts and OSU has simply been throwing the ball instead of fruitlessly grinding along. here's his summary of the OL (note that he's saying he doesn't feel like putting up the video and going play by play, not that he hasn't watched them closely):
Instead, I see an issue where teams are scheming to take away the run by putting numbers in the box and aggressively shooting gaps. OSU has countered by taking advantage of it and have Pryor attack through the air. If OSU cleans up the issue of picking up the linebackers shooting underneath, that will also make a difference moving forward.
Since it is very difficult to individually assess offensive linemen without going back and viewing tape, I'm going to give my brief synopsis of where each stand. Some of this may be nit-picking, as I've been impressed with this unit.
The OL isn't the problem. They've decided to be dependent on Pryor making reads and throwing or taking off as appropriate. It may turn out he can't do the former as well as they'd like and that means, perhaps, that Michigan's offense is better. But I want to see what we do versus a big time defensive line first. We haven't seen a defense as good as Miami. Pryor passed that test to the tune of 47 plays for about 7.4 yards per, with the only downside his completion rate. About which Ross said:
As a passer, Pryor's performance was uneven. It was perhaps a step-back from his Marshall performance. Perhaps he was overly-concerned about the Miami pass rush. In the short, timing-based passing game he did not get his feet set and often drifted too far up in the pocket, preventing him from stepping into throws. He then began trying to force balls into Posey to the one-receiver side rather than work the spacing and snag routes. But Pryor didhad some great throws such as the two featured above. Unfortunately, the inconsistency caused several OSU drives to sputter.
What was impressive, though, was how Pryor continued to command the game despite some passing game hiccups. Last year he would tend to not overcome such adverse situations. Against Miami, he took over the game with his legs and continued to move the offense. As noted, Pryor's big rushing day was the backbone to the OSU victory. What he can do on third down is backbreaking to a defense and makes the offense dynamic. As Oregon and Miami have shown, teams are concerned foremost about the OSU rushing game and game plan to take that away. But the beauty for OSU is that they can counter that and make teams play[sic] by getting to Pryor to the edge. It's a deadly inside-outside combination that will keep OSU's offense moving against a variety of fronts.
I'm not sure that Tressel's scheme is as advantageous to Pryor as Rodriguez's would be, but it's still well designed. And from the sound of it, it sure would be nice if we could come up with a corner or two for Posey and commit the rest to Pryor. As it is, we're probably going to spend a decent amount of time sending three.
4am? When the post is off the first page? A dedicated mgoblogger!
I agree that OSU's line is sold, even very, very good. I still don't think I would swap lines, as much because our guys are trained to a system and vastly younger as a two deep. Still, it's not going to be easy against them...
only 3 am central.
and Boren is a total ass.