Rare as in vintage, rare as in Lions win?
In less than 48 hours we have octupled the existing the visual evidence that the Lions were a) indeed good at one point, b) not that into analyzing the ypc effectiveness of their off-tackle runs.*
For a guy who counts Bobby Layne among his sporting heros (undies “22", and you can’t really make this out but my sig is the self-portrait of an Iraq war vet whose glass eye sports the Lions logo**) its nice to see more than the same 90 seconds of highlights repackaged and rolled out on the rare occasion he’s discussed. If NFL films/network runs a 3 minute piece on Bobby Layne you see the same touchdowns plays 5 times.
1952 Championship highlights
1953 Championship highlights
After watching those I suddenly want a Miller Highlife.
What a potential treasure trove Garrard “Buster” Ramsey has left the sporting world, particularly Lions fans with nary a sun lamp for reflected glory basking. You’re not going to find may pre-1957 tilts on ESPN classic or NFL channel’s “Game of the Week”. And major props to his family for taking the excruciating time to make these conversions of 16 mm to the net. Haven’t had a chance to review much of these yet but looking forward to it.
This isn’t an appropriate Diary topic, but I fiddled with me “create content” for awhile and couldn’t get to a place where I could post a forum topic. Perhaps that is somehow connected with the new points system? I haven’t kept up with those posts very well.
I don’t have time to read many of the forums or diary topics, but enjoy most of them when I do, and will make the time for certain posters or topics. I don’t know if there’s any sort of rift over OT posts choking out or obscuring M sports related user generated content, but my guess is that there is not. The core Mgoblog fan community came for football but has likely stayed and coagulated for just as many other reasons. Although, if there were room and formatting compatibility a separate “OT Forum” may not be a bad idea.
*I’m not even ½ way through the first segment before the first halfback pass sighting from Doak Walker. For all the ex-QBs Rod is bringing aboard, I’m I crazy for thinking there’s a lot of upside in making that a staple of M’s offense? Staple as in 2-3 per every couple games. I wonder if smart football or anyone else has ever looked at the risk reward factor of that play. Probably not enough sample data.
**How annoyed was he with logo change?
Full disclosure - this meanders. I’m posting as a diary since, at it essence, this is a fans’ wrestling over how deeply coaches can/should engage in the ‘chess match’ of this sport. Coaches are praised or scored based on the ability to minimize weakness and accentuate strengths. A special ire defends in those situations where a weakness is obvious to all, and (to the casual or untrained observer at least) no schematic/personal adjustments are made in response.
And by chess match, I'm not thinking of the analysis of coaching moves and decisions with a more game theory approach that (oversimplification coming) evaluates from a statistical probability and risk reward perspective. I'm thinking more of how coaches more their pieces, or don't move them, around the board to create or react to match-ups and relative strength of personal.
M faces a common defensive conundrum this year, maximizing the impact of a talented pass rusher surrounded by an otherwise pedestrian unit. Conventional sportscasting wisdom is that you move him around so the defense can’t zero in with double teams. Despite what could be all evidence to the contrary, I promise we’ll see the BG graphic flashed during introductions, and an announcer will tell us, "Michigan is going to try and move him around and let him get after the quarter back."
In my personal football watching experience, this seemly obvious theory craps out more often than not. For every Lawrence Taylor there’s a handful of Jeon Kearses who follow a gangbusters season with a mediocre one, prompting promises to move him around so the offense can’t key on him, which quickly fail and are scraped by the by the coaching staff.
BG is the unquestioned lynch-pin of the defense. The good news is that you couldn’t ask for a better lynch-pin than a pass rushing DE who can hold the point against the run. But preview after preview will tell you that defenses will double and triple (seriously? Triple? Me thinks not) BG to contain him.
This spawned my original question, "So what’s the best way to exploit an offense doubling the DE on passing downs?" If teams are bound and determined to double BG it stands to reason that should create consistent blocking weaknesses such that proper exploitation of the doubles themselves would have equal or greater effect than a singled up BG.
After some thought I abandoned this question, as the obvious answer is, "Depends on how they’re doubling him." I assume most offensive coaches won’t go into the M game planning that they’re going to put a TE to his, slide protection, or keep a back in all day. They’ll get the tackle help in a variety of ways.
Its then up to Greg Robinson or whoever to adapt and adjust on the fly. That is what we expect, right? Watching film to ID how the opposition’s coaches deal with similar problems against past opponents, evaluating that against how he’s being attacked in-game out of certain personal groupings/down and distance, then calling whatever is appropriate to take advantage of the extra attention (rush straight up, run a stunt, bring a delayed blitz behind him or on the other side of the guard to BG’s side, flooding BG’s side with more rushers than they can defense, flooding the other side with rushers, etc.).
But to what degree can coaches make consistently accurate pre-snap forecasts based on that data, and do so fast enough to dial up the proper defensive call and deploy corresponding personal?
Should we expect coaches to be that good? I say “no.”
So we’re back to the alternatives of a) gambling on moving BG around and being aggressive (ARRRHHH) to force their hand, or b) leaving BG at his position, don’t fuck with it too much, and hope the players around him can be taught to identify how he’s being attacked in situations and take advantage accordingly.
For my money, I think you’ve got to leave him be and hope he plays well enough to force those doubles. You evaluate the opponents history and what they’re doing in game, then try to make that perfect call once or twice a half where you ID a tendency early in the play clock and sell out to attack it. I would also say that in certain games, you flip-flop sides with BG for a game or a second half to try and murder a weak tackle.
Wow, that was a lot of words to get to that suggestion.
Couldn’t figure out if this was a diary or forum post. My line of demarcation has always been newsy items and specific/tangible observations for the forum, and long-view/personal/philosophical type items for diary. This is mostly specific observations but still felt more diary, so away we go...
When John Beilein took over, I would say that he stressed three things in no particular order: 1) shooting 2) conditioning 3) installing his offensive system. I believe he introduced his 1-3-1 defense but I do not think it became a point of emphasis for some time since they didn’t run it with any frequency last season (to my recollection) until ½ way into the big 10 season. Which makes sense because when the players’ heads are swimming with the offense, you’re at cross purposes trying to install an equally complex defense.
You can teach shooting and practice shooting but in the end, some guys are good shooters and some are never going to be better than o.k. Last night’s broadcast noted that M was prob the worst perimeter shooting team in the Big 10 last season. That’s like RR’s offense with Sheridan at the helm, almost impossible to be competitive offensively in many games if that 3 isn’t falling. The Wolves won’t be a good shooting team this year, but they aren’t going to be the worst shooting team in the Big 10 either.
JB got a couple of shooters in his freshman class that will have their ups and downs this year, but who a) seem to recognize good shots in this offense and will take them when there b) will prob shoot around 35% on the season from deep (respectable in a volume shooting system IMO) (c) are capable of getting hot and notching some 3/4 or 4/6 nights with some daggers, performances that are often the difference in tight conference games. Sims won’t be taking many threes after after hoisting around 150 and hitting less than 30% last season. Manny’s percentage may rise slightly on fewer attempts, and Grady’s looks like it will raise appreciably on about the same attempts. The one guy who could be a liability in this equation compared with last season is Wright, whose streaky shooting as a role player last season was tolerable, but who needs more consistency playing as a starter whose primary offensive weapon is the 3. He’ll be shooting around 5 a night and he has to hit better than 30% clip he’s at now.
How M shoots the 3, esp on the road in the Big 10, is prob going to be the diff between M as a bubble team or a 4th or 5th place finish in the Big 10, and tourney spot. If they can manage to be pretty good, I think they’re in.
On to the good news. Nothing has jumped out at me this year more than the team conditioning. Some of this observation is prob attributable to the fact that these guys are physically a year more mature, and they’re much more confident in every area which makes it possible to play faster. But I am impressed. Take Sims for example. A high flyer by no means, he took that Wright back door against UCLA after playing a lot of minutes in the second half and crammed the ball quickly without a dribble. That does not happen last year. He’s finishing with a lot more dunks this year and getting to oops he wouldn’t have last year. He’s also getting his hands on more rebounds.
As a team there is perpetual motion on offense. Guards are pushing the ball and people are running with them even when they don’t have numbers. As pointed out last night, transition defense has been exceptional. Then there is the 1-3-1 which requires quick close outs on shooters and close downs on post entries. M is executing all the way through the shot clock and all the way through the game. There have been breakdowns but almost exclusively due to good offensive movement and not a lack of rotations. They’re getting more steals and contesting more shots.
Rebounding. M is going to lose the rebounding battle this year, esp in the Big 10. Our center rotation is 6'10 (Gibson) 6'7 (Sims), and PF rotation goes 6'5 (Wright) 6'5 (Shep). JB expects to lose the rebounding battle and will try to compensate stylistically. But here’s the thing. I said above that 3 pt shooting will determine bubble or tourney, as where prior to the season I would have said 3 pt shooting will be the margin between bubble and NIT seeding, because M is going to get smoked on the Big 10 ball boards. I still think M will have a decided disadvantage, so where is the diff? It’s the way M is competing for rebounds, which goes back to conditioning. Along with having Manny at the 3.
As was (again) pointed out last night, having Manny at the 3 as opposed to the point puts him in position to hit the defensive glass where he is an above average rebounder for his position, and where he can even out-battle PFs and Cs from time to time. When a ball comes off the rim, Gibson and Sims are often surrounded by larger players and without a body on anyone thanks to the 1-3-1. Yet they are able to get up and battle, and both have shown marked improvement on their second jump. That second jump gives them a shot at the board or at least keeping the ball alive, and by that time our guards are getting down into the paint and fighting to dig balls out. Point is, M will still be on the wrong end of a lot of raw rebounding numbers, but in late game situations where an opponent is battling to grab the lead or visa versa, I feel good that our rebounding will hold up well enough to generate the possessions we need and/or keep them from imposing their will on the offensive glass for killer junk hoops and multiple shot possesions.
As far as installing the offense, I don’t know enough about how JB’s offense is supposed to look when fully operational other than that 3s rain down like fire. Or rain. I guess rain rains down far more frequently than fire, so you could say that the 3s rained down like fire last year.
But I do know this, the players clearly aren’t over-thinking out there any more. The perimeter passes are more decisive and with a purpose. They can actually look for open back door passes. The ball handling is a hell of a lot stronger, esp among the trio of Merritt, Lee and Grady. The players seem to have a better feel for what’s a good shot. What Kendall Gill may perceive as a bad shot may be a fine shot in JB’s system that just didn’t fall. Missing a shot is one thing, but if you miss a shot and in the back or your head are also wondering if it was a good shot or a bad one, that messes with your next one.
So, back to the prediction of M falling somewhere between bubble team, and solily in as the Big 10's 4th or 5th finisher. What is this based on, besides the above? Schedule. I believe M has shown enough this year to prove that they’ll beat the teams they should, with an exception of one or two, they’ll at least split in even-up games, and that they’ll steal one or two that they shouldn’t.
Last year they went 10-22 with Ls to West Kentuck, Haaaavad, Central, Minni twice, NU, and PSU. If M goes 6-1 in those games, you’re at 16-16. In 15 games against Butler, GU, BC, Duke, UCLA, Wisky, MSU, IU, Purdue and OSU, games in which UM was the decisive dog to one degree or another, they went 1-14. In more or less “toss up” games vs. IL and Iowa, they split. This year you move IU into the should win column and OSU into the toss-ups, providing another 2-3 wins and pushing the record up to say 19 Ws, bubble territory with a win over then #4 UCLA already on the resume. This year sub Duke #1 for Butler, Maryland for BC, Conn for GU, and keep Duke #2 for Duke. Keep the MSU, Purdue and Wiskey. Out of those 10 games in which M should be the decided dog, can they pull out 2? 3? If yea, in. If na, out.
How’s that for analysis? They need to shoot “pretty good.” Moving on.
1. Where and how will LLP fit in? M has a nice rotation going at the moment, and LLP
hasn’t played a game in over a year, plus this is his first year in JB’s systems (though he did get practice burn last year). Best case scenario is that he basically swallows Merritt and C.J. Lee’s combined minutes and provides they type of upgrade his talent and guru rankings suggest. Worst case is that he swallows Merritt and Lee’s minutes and presses too hard on offense (too many missed shots and TOs) , and doesn’t have the quicks to operate as the baseline defender in the 1-3-1, meaning he can only play with Grady on the floor.
2. What’s going to happen with Sims’ offense? I’ve watched about 3.5 games this season,
and seen approx 2 post entry passes to Sims. I think JB needs to make a concerted effort to call some plays for him on box, at least 2-3 per half. This is for a variety of reasons.
First, I think he’ll be relatively effective with those touches. As previously noted, he seems to have more lift this season. His first 2 years when he got entry passes in post position, he often got stuffed or had his shot altered because he’s a short PF and not a great leaper. This year I think he’s stronger/quicker too and will get more clean looks. Second, when he’s not involved in the offense, he takes a couple (at least) ill advised shots a half where the ball gets in his hands and he gives in an “Eff it, I haven’t shot in awhile, here goes.” Those almost never go in. Third, he also is getting a couple of open looks from 12-15 per half which he absolutely should shoot, and will hit more of if he’s had the ball in his hands more..
Finally, future recruiting. During JB’s tenure there are going to many good-to-great big men in the state of MI. They will all have a solid interest in M. Almost none of them will be high-post shooter/distributors. God bless the Pittsnoggles of the world, but if you’re looking to do serious damage, it’s a lot easier with a couple of 6'9-6'11 (ahem) “athletic” (wink, nod) bigs who can erase some of those rebounding problems and who can prevent teams like Duke from having their way with you in the paint. The price for reeling in many of those guys will be making a credible offer of post touches. Which, incidently, I do not think = death in JB’s offense. If Sims is forced to finish his career as an aimless rebounder/finisher, its not the best advertisement.
2a. Will Sims come off the bench all season? Like it or not, I think Sims has proven to be a
guy whose overall game rises and falls relative to his offensive confidence. He needs to be involved and get some shots to play his best. He also should be involved and get some shots because he’s a solid offensive player. Bringing him in off the bench has been a master-stroke by JB IMO. The first team offense is more unfettered without him, and I think it helps establish the offensive rhythm. They haven’t been killed (yet) with Wright at PF. When Sims comes in guys can look for him more comfortably because they’ve already established themselves to some degree, and Sims’ psyche should be uncluttered because he is playing a scoring role off the bench. I love it. But will JB get forced out of it at any point?
3. How are the freshman? To date, Stu and Novak appear to be JB specials. Good outside
shooters with high (esp Stu) ceilings in that dept, but not just pure shooters. Both have shown the ability to handle the ball well and make decisions beyond their years. Facing Duke’s ball pressure as a nice test. To date they aren’t complete liabilities on defense. Jury is out on Cronin due to his hip. I nearly feel out of bed last night when Tim McCormick listed running well amongst his attributes. Are you kidding? He looked like a 7 foot GI Joe figure with invisible hands moving the legs to simulate running.
Is that the hip or something more? On the plus side, he is 7 feet and showed the ability to do some of the things a 7 footer should do, abet while playing against a team that went about 5'9, 5'10, 6'0, 6'3, 6'8. My first though was “my god, they aren’t burning a red shirt year are they?” (IMO, I don’t think they did). But after awhile I changed my mind. Not because of anything in particular that he did, but because I’d trade the option of having Cronin available to steal 8 minutes in a big 10 game where our bigs are in foul trouble, for the opportunity to witness all of the 2012-2013 Ben Cronin experience. If JB can’t reload Ben Cronin by 2012 there are bigger fish to fry.
4. Will teams “figure out” the 1-3-1? Every defense gives up something that they have to
overcome. If you’re in man-to-man you give up match-ups. If you’re in zone there are various weak spots to mine. I would agree that you have a certain advantage over some teams with an exotic zone where they have one practice or less to prepare for it. But I would disagree that through practice and familiarity that the zone can be “figured out.” Dookie V posited that the Blue Devils “figured out” the 1-3-1 with the skip pass. They did? Yes, they did skip it and get some wide open looks, but those looks are only good if you can cash them in. Duke didn’t do much damage there. They did kill M on the offensive glass, and when they skipped it and flashed an active 7-footer or freak athlete into the lane who made the initial catch with C.J. Lee on his back.
Teams will make hay against the zone when they can flash bigs in the post, and those guys catch and finish before the rotation gets there (or can finish over the rotation). If UM remains vigilant in their rotations on the perimeter and down low they will continue to minimize the wide open looks and easy lay-ups. If teams are hitting mostly contested threes and baseline shots out of a double team, and if teams can continually crush M on the offensive glass, bully for them. But its not figuring out the zone.
5. Will Manny earn Big 10 POY? Manny has a shitload of flaws, but he’s a player most
people love (and probably over value slightly) because of the multitude of tools he brings to the table. He’s not a great defender, but he is an very active defender who can make things happen on that end. He’s a superb rebounder for his size. He’s not a great ball handler or assist guy, but he can take the ball end-to-end and finish or make a pass that brings you out of your seat. He’s an overrated finisher in the half court, but great at creating contact in the lane and converting Fts. He turns it over too often still and isn’t a great outside shooter, but good enough that the defender needs to show his J some respect.
I’m not sure where the kid’s ceiling is as a player, but POY is clearly within his range. He’s got the requisite preseason hype which he’s played up to. He’s the face of a team which looks resurgent and has a legit chance to dance for the first time in a decade. Put that next to an 18-7-4 stat line (he’s at 22-7.8-4.4 right now) in the Big 10 where the face of the conference is.....???..... (does Brian Butch still have eligibility?) and you’ve got a POY.
5a. Where does Manny need improvement to be full deserving of that honor? Voters aren’t
that interested in things like turnovers, offensive fouls committed, and 3 pt shooting percentages. From what I have seen so far, Manny has cut down on his out-of-control tos (though much of that is likely due to his move off the ball) but still tries to squeeze in some passes he shouldn’t, and throws away the occasional ball when he over-penetrates. I’m really not concerned with his tos actually. He has also shown flashes of brilliance with his court vision, I’ve been very impressed with most of his passes in traffic. I would like to see him tighten his decision making and passing on the break. For a guy like Manny, the second a doubt creeps in his head over whether to pass or shoot on the break, he should just put his head down and go for the layup and try to draw contact.
Manny’s rebounding is way up, also due to position switch, but wouldn’t be possible if he weren’t an awesome rebounder with an unteachable nose for the ball. His conditioning is superb, and the team responds to him as a leader. He recognizes his limitations as a shooter and balances them against his need to shoot threes in this offense. He makes enough and if he ever shoot 40% on a consistent basis look out.
Here is where I would like to see Manny grow as a player. He has the first step and handle to beat his man off the dribble with regularity. But if he wants to be a great Big 10 player and have a shot to make an NBA rotation, he has to improve what he does once he’s past the first wave. As stated, I see both growth and potential in his passing off the dribble. And when he draws contact, he’s a terrific FT shooter. But too often he is slightly out of control going into the lane. He commits a lot of offensive fouls, and a lot of the calls he does get are borderline. He doesn’t finish often enough when he’s not fouled (though he’ll often tip in his own miss) and when he is fouled. If he could finish at the rim with more consistency, and develop a reliable floater and/or pull up J, he would really be cooking with gas.
I doubt we’ll see those things materialize in-season, but are layers he could add for next year. If there is one.
WARNING: Very long and there is not much gold left to mine from this season anyway, but I'll break it in two since 1st part is most global and second more personal whatever.
Anyway, it was a perfect storm of crappiness this season. The coaches were nearly impossible to evaluate given what they were working with, and the same will prob be said for '09 too. I think RR's offense will be unstoppable once they have the right QB to run it, I think he'll get the right QB to run it post haste, but that QB isn't on campus yet. RR has continued to recruit well against an avalanche of negative pub dating all the way back to his WVA break-up, so that is a good sign, and RRs opening up a FL pipeline is prob the most underrated story of his tenure.
UM's biggest obstacle over the next 2 years will be guarding against allowing the losing to infect the team. This IMO is what has happened to the FSUs and Miamis (better examples than Neb or ND IMO for multiple reasons). They were consistently outstanding for so long due to talent and consistently high QB level. They run into a few years where QB recruits are getting tossed and/or not panning out, and the result is some losses they never would have suffered. The ship didn't right quickly and now both programs (despite elite talent) continue to not only post poor records by their standards, but suffer multiple head-scratching losses per season. Why?
In the HBO mini-series "Band of Brothers", in one of the episodes where Easy Company is Bastonge, the first sergeant comes across a private attempting to scratch out a foxhole in frozen ground with his finger nails. He gets that guy off the line immediately and to the rear, commenting that fear is something they all deal with but must be done so in their own way, its a delicate balance as that outward fear can infect even a hardened combat unit.
The analogy I draw here is how players and programs react to lossing. These players are going to have to live with this losing and all the negative pub and shit surrounding it for the next year. The coaches are going to be on watch for the type of bad attitudes that can infect the team, and those guys will have to be run off or not offered a scholarship for their final season. Most of the team is going to stick it out and stick together and work harder than ever so that it never happens again. Problem is, its probably going to happen again next year. Not 3-9, but 5-7 or 6-6. Losses to OSU and who knows, maybe ND and MSU too. They'll have to hear all the shit about "is UM dead? RR isn't the right guy. Dantonio" etc. They'll have to go through absorbing another 5, 6, or 7 losses. Who among these players will have the strength to keep that hatred of losing burning white hot when they've been forced to deal with it so often (esp the young guys), and who among them is going to subconsciously relax just that little bit? Who in 2010 will be saying "here we go again"?
This is RR's biggest challenge. Not the recruiting. He's good at that, its M, and players want PT. Its not implementing the system. You could see the offensive system implemented fairly well this year. But breakdowns in execution along the OL, and no passing accuracy in the short game, and no running QB = death for this offense. It maybe able to over come 1 of those 3, but certainly not all of them.
RR's task of motivating these players and keeping that fire is what will be his biggest challenge. And if he rides these guys the wrong way, at what point do too many of the player start to buck and the team is lost to him? The bottom line is that there is only so much RR can do, 90% of it has to come from within. There is only so much he can do and the rest is a crap shot, which doesn't exactly inspire confidence. The good news I believe is that the bounce a coach and program gets off a positive is much greater than the help other intangibles like tradition and coaching charisma can provide in bad times. Should these players pull it off over the next two years and bring home at least part of a Big 10 championship in 2010, I think things will be well on their way to being better than ever. Its just going to suck waiting for it all to play out.
Its times like these (Lions working on a 18 game loosing streak, UM 3-9 season with second worst loss ever to OSU and 5 game losing streak) when I like to step back and take a peek at the all time scoreboard.
Since I came in in '76, I've witnessed the following championship seasons:
Tigers - 1984
UM Hoops - 1989
UM Football - 1997
Pistons - 1989, 1990, 2004
Wings - 1997, 1998, 2002, 2008
Shock - 2003, 2006, 2008
(ok, for the purposes of this, lets take the Shock out of there). That's 13 titles. In addition, we've had the following finals appearances:
Tigers - 2006
UM Hoops - 1991, 1992
Pistons - 1988, 2005
Wings - 1995
So since the time I was 8 years old, my teams have generated a shot at the title every 1.2 years and delivered every 1.8 years. Not many can come close to that. NY I think has 10 or 11 titles and Boston I believe has 8 titles in that span.
Without that perspective this would be a soul crushing sports year (even with the Wings/Stones poised to do major damage), with UM posting its worst football season of all time and the Lions working on their worst of all time, and by definition, one of the worst seasons in the history of the NFL. The Lions jumped out to a 17 pt lead at home, then surrendered the next 38 in a 38-20 loss. They've lost every way imaginable this year. Blown out early, blown out late, running out of the back of the endzone for a safety in a 2 pt loss to the Vikes. Amazing.
UM was down 7-14 at the half v. OSU. They failed to get any points the early INT and Odoms about to field a punt on OSU's side of the field, which he instead fumbled to take our amazing field position and give it to OSU. Taylor was comically held on Wells' touchdown run. Jamison literally had his jersey ripped off of him without a holding call against OSU all damn day.
But even if all the things that could have or should have gone right did, it wasn't going to be M's day. The M defense was just called on to answer the bell too many times dealing with terrible field position. It goes back to 4 things that are going to kill ANY team:
1. Starting a walk-on QB that didn't even have a MAC scholarship offer. What would Alabama's record be starting Nick Sheridan at QB? This occurred because Henne starting as a Fr scared recruits, Forcier then transferred when Mallett came in after Mallett scared off all good QB recruits for 2 classes, then Mallett left. That left one Fr. who was a top 10 drop back passer in his class, but drop back passers are useless in this offense.
2. 9 baby offensive starters. Starting QB, RB, C, and WRs all FRESHMAN.
3. Freak turnovers out of the coaching staffs' control.
4. Horrible special teams with the exception of the punter. Too often UM was forced to go 80+ yards to score and that is insanely difficult given 1-3 herein. Inability to return KOs and punts resulting in poor field position. On sat. McGuffie got killed on on KO return after a couple yards, Cissoko muffs and only gets out to the 17, Odoms fields 2nd half KO at the 13 and gets only to 24, Cissoko fumbles KO in second half to OSU. They took a 2nd half KO back 80 yards. Toss in a missed chip shot field. All-in-all, your average day at the office for M special teams. How many games you gonna win with 2 TOs in the kicking game and a missed FG?
Knowing all this, what is the coaching staff's culpability here? Long view, they could have tried to keep Mallett around. Did RR and staff's arrogance hurt them there? Hard to say. Mallett was widely considered something between malcontent and team cancer last year, and LC's last year was country club compared to RR's first. Instead of kissing Mallett's ass and hoping for the best, RR choose to use it as a message to the team (if you don't want to be here we don't want you) and forced the decision early in an effort to get Pryor. Prob right move. I also think the special teams blocking on returns was horrible all season which you could put on the coaches. As far as the fumbles, they worked on it like crazy and rotated players (all of whom couldn't hang on). You can't coach catching the ball back there and when you go through everyone and they all suck, it can't be on the coaches.
Short view, UM couldn't run or pass in the first half v. OSU, but Sheridan was so awful. They passed too much. After he bounced the first 5 passes of the turf they should have just said "screw it" we're going to try and run it at them all day. In fact, they should have gone that route from the jump before watching his bounce-pass clinic. At least the run has a chance of getting some positive yards (and shortens the game), as were you knew Sheridan's pass attempts were futile or worse (sack, int). He's been god awful all season outside of the Minni game. And what was with all the rollouts? I understand they must be passes he completes well in practice because they called so many. But they were terrible (longest loop on a rollout you'll ever see, he had to throw 15 yards down field just to bounce it to the LOS). If I was RR, I would have gone 70% run, 15% swing/screen pass, and 15% deep ball. Grind the ball and some clock, try to keep the CBs rolled up, and try to hit some big plays over the top where a miscue is either a inc or deep int. Loosen the S a bit and give yourself a shot at more big plays. We may as well make our INCs 35-40 yards down field rather than 1-3 yards off the LOS.
Also, when M got that INT in the 1st quarter, what should they have done? I love aggressiveness, but you've got to get pts there (and consider your QB). Once Brown went out I was just praying for 3. Try run it in and you're either in or get the FG. Instead, Sheridan losses yardage on 2nd down. After that I said just run it toward the middle of the field to make it an easier FG. Instead, Sheridan throws INC and Loppata misses a 35 yarder from the right hash. I think that's on the staff (not that it would have mattered).
Its natural to question the man’s job security given worst defense in school history, etc. But to hear RR come right out and say that they’ve switched to the 3-3-5 stack for the rest of the year, I think you have to put the odds at Shafer returning at 25-30%. Shaf was questioned repeatedly about running that defense in the off season, and he consistently maintained that it would be incorporated because his defense would be multiple, but that he was a 4-3 base defense guy. RR handed the defense over to Shaf, but its obvious from the changing schemes and now RR’s comments, he has felt the need to step in an exert control.
To steal a point from Steve Deace who posted this at GBW, while RR hired Shaf from the outside and gave him a ton of autonomy, Shaf didn’t make a single hire for his own staff. He concludes that the result is that the defensive performance has widened the rifts between philosophical differences in the staff. He further concludes that Shaf has made concessions to those coaches calling for change by incorporating more of their ideas, but this has turned the defense into a grab bag as opposed to one with an identity which goes multiple to keep offenses on their toes.
I personally believe that the basis for the Shafer hire was sound, and one horrific season doesn’t make him a bad coach. His track record as laid out in detail by Brian is that yr 2 under Shaf brings the results he is looking for (more sacks, more Tos). IMO his resume should buy him another season, one in which RR and the other defensive coaches fully commit to his system or are replaced (the assistants, not RR).
But based on RR’s comments I don’t think that is happening. I’m not a coach, but I don’t think anyone would argue that our best defensive players go Graham, Jamison, Taylor in some order, with Johnson and Martin filling in two of spaces in the top 7. Based on offensive personal, the defense is probably going to need to play 5 defensive backs at least half the time. (Que broken record) would you rather take out one of our 5 defensive lineman to get Bobo or Williams on the field, or do you take out a Thompson or even Ezeh? On the surface it appears that going with the 3-3-5 stack from here on out is a build for the future concession, not something that is going to help us now.
A future I think its safe to assume would not include Shafer. Which brings me to this question, what effect does the scheme change move have on recruiting? I don’t think Shaf was any sort of a gangbusters recruiter, but if you’re a DL or DE, wouldn’t you much prefer to play the 4-3? There is one extra position so more PT. And is a guy Campbell going to want to play the nose in a 3-4, and play behind Martin? Or would he rather line up next to Martin and go after the QB while the OL tries to figure out who to double? Ditto for Jones who was already shaky. How are Roh and Lolota going to feel about fighting through more consistent doubles, while fleet Lbs race around them to pick up sacks?
And what about the Lbs and Dbs we’re going to need? Right now most of our LB recruits look to be playing somewhere between 225-235 in college. Not that our starters now are having a lot of success with this, but how many of those guys are ever going to be ready to stand up MSU pulling guards or Wisky Fbs in the hole? Now we’re going to need more Dbs. M isn’t exactly lighting it up with Turner, Gordon, and maybe Peace in the fold.
If Shaf goes it is yet another hit and negative pub against M. Maybe that doesn’t matter in the blizzard of bad pub already out there, who knows. I think it is safe to say that the move will hurt recruiting because everyone is being sold on one system, and now we’re changing. And even if it doesn’t, based on current players/recruits I don’t think UM is suited for the 3-3-5 scheme.
There is no shortage of legitimate value in sports fandom. There are probably ways in which these values could be plucked and rescued from the oceans of wasted time and otherwise productive energy upon which they bob. Oh how my life would improve! But when you’re a hopeless junkie with no will power it doesn’t matter anyway, so lets get on with it.
I thank the 2008 edition of M football since they have funneled 50% of this sort of sloth back into my general fund. The offense will have a ton of crappy plays, and few good ones, inexplicably lashed together into a couple long drives resulting in between 10 - 20 points. The ball will go onto the ground and affect the outcome based on which side picks it up more often than not.
To what degree will the defense keep M in the ball game and make those points count?
MSU wants to run first with a great back and solid run blocking offensive line. UM was gashed, horribly horribly gashed, by PSU. They also got gashed up pretty good by Ill. Toledo only rushed for 70, but they made little effort at est any type of running attack, frequently going shotgun no-back and rushing 22 times in 72 plays. Is there any reason Moo-U won’t line up and try to run down hill all day long?
Two, maybe three reasons. You can’t discount the threat of Ill’s and PSU’s running Qbs in their success running the football. Dufrene and esp Royster had success on what I would consider "strait up" running plays, or those which incorporated little to no option threat. But the mere distraction of having Juice or Clark in the backfield IMO disrupted UM’s entire run defense to the point where they were a factor on every single run play, save those out of a non-QB sneak I-formation.
Wiskey was last team to run downhill at UM*, to the tune of 158 yards. A good solid total but merely o.k. for them. If Lloyd’s goal out of the pro set offense was to get 200 on the ground and 200 in the air, you know Wisconsin is in trouble in any game where they notch 158.
But I digest. Point is, will MSU’s coaches discount M’s shit job against the Ill and PSU running attacks, give points to their solid performance against a traditional running attack in Wiskey, and consider dialing up more passes? Before answering my own hypothetical question which I've now posed twice, lets factor in the Toledo game and M’s performance against the pass.
M got lucky on various deep passes from Utah and Miami. The well ran dry [pun(?) intended? I’ve been contemplating the meaning of the word. Let’s go with it] pun intended, prior to the ND monsoon where the max-protect-throw-deep blue print was hatched to neutralize M’s greatest defensive strength (pass rush) and exploit its greatest weakness (executing deep coverage responsibility). Then Toledo and a man named Moore, a man who knows how to celebrate, road into town and took it the other way. Empty backfields and a bevy of receivers to flood M zones, or take extended handoffs in the face of 8-10 yard cushions. To summarize, M’s pass D has shown itself to be vulnerable deep and short.
MSUs rush offense was just stoned by OSU. MSU faced a lot of athletes on defense capable of winning one-on-one physical battles, and things didn’t turn out well. I’m not putting Ms defensive personal on par with OSUs, but based on the evidence you’d have to rank the D’s weakness thusly: 1) defending spread-option rushing attacks 2) vulnerable to deep balls or committing PI on same 3) Lbs who don’t defend their short zones and Cbs who leave big cushions to the outside 4) defending pro style rushing attacks. Is MSU fine with tempting fate by going strength on strength, or will we see a game plan which consciously looks to exploit these holes in the pass D at the expense of Ringer’s carries? [thrid time, its like I'm trying to talk myself into talking them into it]
Taking this all into account my guess for MSU’s offensive game plan is that they will run a lot, they will not stop even if stopped, and they won’t be afraid to run heavily on first and second down regardless of initial success. Reasons:
a) Wiskey is the biggest disappointment in college football. It will be super easy for MSU’s coaches to discount M’s performance against them, esp with fresh visions of Royster going hog wild last weekend.
b) MSUs personal isn’t conducive to exploiting the pass D they way Toledo did. It should go without saying that their QB and targets are on par with those of Toledo, but Hoyer is only completing 49.5% of his passes. Yet, somehow, his QB rating is 117.1 with a 6-4 td to int ratio. Without having watched a ton of sparty this year, those numbers and his 7.3 yards/attempt tell me he’s getting the ball down field well and I would guess play action has a lot to do with it. M’s backers are prob going to suck up on every snap, play action or no, and I see no reason why UM would pick this game to start playing aggressive man coverage to the outside to take away long handoffs and hitches. MSU would be wise to incorp a lot of easy pitch-and-catch outside and dump-offs behind the backers, but I don’t see that happening since its not a "stength".
c) MSU had 4 crucial TO against osu. Even though 3 were fumbles, putting in the air always carries more risk and there is no good reason for sparty to incorporate more risk into their plan.
d) Dantonio, god bless him, is pure football caveman. The paths to offensive success are execution, winning physical battles, and limiting big mistakes. He warms to the opportunity for emotion and bravado to overtake clear thinking, and something would have to go terribly wrong to shake him out of the chance to win this one in any fashion other than IMPOSING THEIR WILL.
What will it all mean? I personally think Sparty would have nothing to loose and a lot to gain by balancing their run-pass and taking advantage of a lot of wide open short stuff. So far they have 334 rush v. 214 pass, with a grain of salt taking the form of some statistic skewing blow outs and play from ahead wins. But take a look at the Iowa game. There, they ran 34 times for 91 yards (with no sacks) and passed 24 times for 184, eeeking out a 16-13 W at home. Although that one was of the come from ahead variety, they averaged over 14 yds a completion and 7/attempt, vs. 2.7 per rushing. At home you would think sparty may open up the pass a bit where they were having success with it and look for breathing room, but no sir.
This game will be a cock-off won or lost purely by UM’s rush defense against the pro set v. MSU’s ability to get consistent rush yardage on 1st down and mix in some big runs or long passes over the top. Assuming the M offense doesn’t turn it over 10 fucking times. M’s D has all the motivation they could ever want and an opponent that is going to do exactly what they want. The one thing Ms D has shown consistently this year is that no amount of motivation helps them to play any better.
This year theirs is bigger than ours, and the humiliations continue.
*I am banning myself from the phrase "line it up" and run down hill. After some consideration, running down hill "all day long" was spared.