well that's just, like, your opinion, man
In today's recruiting roundup, Sam Webb goes in-depth with Logan Tuley-Tillman and Laquon Treadwell, discusses new offers and visits, and takes a look ahead at a couple of 2014 prospects. Also, Derek Dooley whines about not being able to oversign. You stay classy, SEC.
ALEX KOZAN UPDATE
There is no Alex Kozan update. Please stop asking. When he makes a decision, you'll know. Do not disturb the tao of the vision quest.
Other 2012 stuff: Joe Bolden is already hitting the weights hard after enrolling early ($):
[Preparing for spring practice] includes making every voluntary workout session, hitting the books hard and preparing for Big Ten football. He and strength coach Aaron Wellman aren't best friends yet, but "getting there," Bolden said with a chuckle.
"It's strenuous, but good," he said. "That's one of the reasons I came in early, to get in and get my body in shape to play Big Ten football. I've gained three pounds (in a month), and I don't think it's fat."
Bolden came in at 225 pounds, so it sounds like he's well on his way to being physically ready to see the field this fall.
Touch the Banner posts Allen Gant's senior highlight tape.
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley rants against the SEC's new restrictions on oversigning over at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I really don't even know where to start; he thinks oversigning is "good for the student-athlete," complains that he can no longer greyshirt recruits who were injured as seniors—claiming that they could get just as good medical care at home as they would with the professional medical staff at Tennessee—and is mad he's no longer able to take guys who aren't academically eligible. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that such idiotic scumbaggery is coming from a guy who regularly wears orange pants and has a history of blocking legitimate transfer requests, but man... if he disappears in the near future, it's because Nick Saban decided Dooley wasn't a suitable spokesman for the SEC way of doing things.
Teach Me How To Logie
Peoria (IL) Manual OT Logan Tuley-Tillman and Crete (IL) Monee WR Laquon Treadwell both visited Ann Arbor last weekend—and, perhaps more importantly, brought along their mothers—getting a chance to take in the basketball game against Illinois and check out the Big House when it's not packed with 110,000+ people. After the visit, Sam Webb interviewed the recruits and their moms on WTKA, and video of the interviews is posted on Scout. Tuley-Tillman's is broken into three parts; part one is free, and parts two and three are behind a paywall. Logan confirmed that Michigan is definitely his top school—it was his "sixth or seventh" visit, and he's looking to come up again this weekend—followed by Alabama and Florida State. MGoUser WolverineInABag had a summary of the rest of the interview, which I'm reprinting below [emphasis mine]:
-Michigan remains his outright leader, by a long shot
-This was LTT's 6th visit to Michigan, 1st with his mother
-Has developed a great relationship with Coach Funk
-His Aunt living close to Ann Arbor is VERY important to him
-His Mother wants him to go to UM, and she seemingly stressed that several times in the interview
-His Mother calls him "Logie"
-He will take all of his official visits
-Loves the family atmosphere at Michigan
This was his mother's first trip to Ann Arbor with Logan, and she came away very impressed with the school and the coaches. While Logan plans on taking his time and seeing other schools, at this point it's difficult to see him not ending up at Michigan—he's already been inside Nick Saban's office and come out with the Wolverines as his leader.
Treadwell's interview is spread over two parts, again with the first part up for free and the second paywalled. Though Treadwell is also slowing it down and won't name a leader at this time, he did say that Michigan at one point held a big lead and they're now in his top group with Michigan State—where he also visited last weekend, and enjoyed it—and Notre Dame. He's been impressed with his recruiters at Michigan, Coach Montgomery and Coach Hecklinski, and so was his mother. One very interesting development is that Treadwell, Tuley-Tillman, and Joliet (IL) Academy RB Ty Isaac are in regular communication about their recruitments; they're considering all going to the same school and would like to visit Ann Arbor together. That would be one heck of a package deal.
Speaking of Isaac, Webb posted an excerpt from a full magazine feature in which he interviews the junior's father, Tyrone, and they discussed Isaac's visit to Ann Arbor in January. It appears that Fred Jackson is pretty keen on coaching Isaac in the future:
Sam Webb: What were some other things, aside from the genuineness, that kind of stuck out to you during your time on campus?
Tyrone Isaac: “One of the things that really stuck out was Coach Jackson. When we walked in there, he had a plan for him. No other place that we went had a plan. He had dates written down, and he had, ‘if you commit, you know, I want you to know all the plays before you ever get on campus’, you know? For me, you have to have a game plan. You know? Seriously, you have to have a game plan.”
Wyatt Shallman—another running back recruit, and that has been reiterated to him several times—visited this past weekend as well, and he reported that he enjoyed the visit and his talk with Jackson ($). Shallman is in no hurry to commit and won't name any leaders; right now he's focused on working out with his Catholic Central teammates after being hampered by a hamstring injury for most of his junior year (he says he's now back to 100%).
Offers, Visits, and Lists (Oh My)
A few new offers for class of 2013 prospects came in over the weekend. Jersey City (NJ) St. Peter's Prep CB Tre Bell received his offer from Curt Mallory on Sunday; I interviewed him yesterday and will have that transcribed and posted in the near future. The offers have been pouring in for Bell—a three-star to 24/7—over the last couple weeks, including ones from Florida, Nebraska, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
The Wolverines also offered 6'5", 295-pound tackle John Montelus, who hails from Everett (MA). He recently was named the #214 overall prospect in the Rivals250. Tremendous has a quick rundown of their interview with him (linked above), and I should be talking to him within the next day or so.
One of the top running backs in the country, Cypress (TX) CyRanch's Keith Ford earned his offer over the weekend. He's a highly-sought prospect with a current top five of Oklahoma, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Florida State and Alabama, and he holds offers from all five of those schools. It could be very tough to bring him in, though potentially not as tough as many Texas prospects—he's originally from Jacksonville, though that also makes Florida State a more intriguing destination.
Michigan also offered another running back, Cordova (TN) St. Benedict's Jordan Wilkins, who also holds offers from Tennessee, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Purdue, Arkansas and Memphis ($, info in header). Wilkins is still waiting to hear from some big-names schools, as well as visit the places he's been offered from, but he did name a preliminary top five:
"Right now I don't have a top list, but it was Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Alabama, Ohio State and now that Michigan popped in there that's probably my top five," [Wilkins] said.
Meanwhile, several top prospects have stated intentions to visit Ann Arbor. Four-star Pickerington (OH) Central DE Taco Charlton will be in Ann Arbor this weekend, and he mentioned the possibility of an early commitment to Scout ($, info in header) [emphasis mine]:
"It'll just be great to get a chance to talk to all of the coaches you know Mattison, Hoke," said Charlton. "I got a chance to talk to Singletary and Montgomery and Coach Smith just them right there was great, especially that they came all the way down to Ohio to see me. That just shows that they're showing love to me already."
The question now is how much of that love will Charlton reciprocate when he is in Ann Arbor next weekend. Might a commitment take place while he is on campus?
"It might be a little slight chance," Charlton said with a smile. "We'll see how things go after the visit, then we'll talk after that. I definitely want to enjoy the visit first."
Charlton has maintained throughout the process that Michigan getting in on him early was a big point in their favor. We'll have to see if he decides that's enough of a factor—along with potential early playing time, another priority—to end his recruitment early.
Running through the other players who plan on visiting and don't have set dates yet: Richmond (VA) RB Derrick Green, who wants to visit this summer and said Fred Jackson is "one of the coaches that’s going to keep it 100 with me," which is just a fantastic quote ($); Good Counsel (MD) CB Kendall Fuller, one of the top prospects in the country ($, info in header); Shaker Heights (OH) DL Donovan Munger, who's hoping for an offer soon and "definitely" plans on visiting ($); Cleveland Glenville S Christopher Worley—confusing, I know—who currently holds just a Bowling Green offer but has several big-name schools, including Ohio State, interested ($); Avon (OH) athlete Ross Douglas would "love to have that [Michigan] offer," and he's talking to Greg Mattison about taking a visit ($).
There are a couple happy trails: Tyrone (GA) Sandy Creek CB Shaq Wiggins committed to Georgia, while Austintown (OH) Fitch DL Billy Price chose the Buckeyes this past week. Also, four-star NJ CB Eli Woodard has set a decision date for Thursday afternoon, and—after coming off a three-day visit to Columbus—Ohio State is the presumed destination ($).
A couple of rising sophomore defensive linemen have expressed interest in Michigan recently. Allen Trieu has a free article on Detroit Loyola DE Malik McDowell, who's coming off a fantastic performance at last weekend's Elite Big Man camp ($). McDowell plans to camp at Michigan, MSU, and LSU, but he had a one-word answer when asked which school he rooted for growing up: "Michigan." Look for the Wolverines to be heavily involved in his recruitment, and also for him to be one of the top prospects in the 2014 class.
Another player who could earn that distinction is Thiensville (WI) Homestead DT Brandon Hines, who's recently spoke to Greg Mattison and has expressed interest in Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Boston College, and Arkansas early ($). I should be talking to Brandon this week as well, so you'll be hearing more from him soon.
2/10/2012 – Michigan 2, Michigan State 3 – 17-10-4, 11-8-4 Gongshow
2/11/2012 – Michigan 3, Michigan State 2 (OT) – 18-10-4, 12-8-4 Gongshow
Jake Chelios is actually older than his dad. LSJ
Sometime over the weekend one of the announcers mentioned that David Wohlberg and Torey Krug were teammates back when they were little kids and that struck me as odd because Wohlberg is a senior and Krug is a junior. However, a quick birthdate check shows that Krug is only a few months younger than Wohlberg and they could have been on the same teams.
Then you check Chris Heisenberg because one of your buddies asks you if State has anyone coming in next year worth noting and the birthdates leap off the page:
- Michigan: '94, '94, '94, '94, '94, '93, '91
- State: '94, '93, '93, '93, '93, '93, '92, '92, '91 (soph transfer), '90 (almost certainly a walk-on, also a junior transfer)
Michigan's always had a few overage kids scattered around the roster—Langlais and Chiasson are the most recent. Often they're depth guys picked up late when Michigan has a roster hole to fill. That '91 above is goalie Steve Racine, who's being brought in to back up NTDP goalie Jared Rutledge. That's inevitable when the NHL is signing guys every summer and every quality NHL-draft eligible player has been committed to a school for two years.
Michigan State has made them the rule rather than the exception, though. Two of eight underclassmen are the proper year for their class. Two of six juniors are as well. The seniors are the only class that looks vaguely like a team that recruits at a high level: five guys who came to college immediately after receiving a high school degree, four who didn't. The creeping Comleyization is clear.
And yet every game Michigan plays against them is a narrow, stomach-churning affair. This made all the sense in the world when they were coming off a November from hell. It makes less after they've gone on a run that sees them leap to second in the PWR.
Rivalry? I guess. After the Lee/Merritt defections blew up a basketball team it's hard to scoff at all clichés.
The thing about it is: while MSU has played Michigan relatively even this year, that talent distribution has lead to years in which the Spartans are awful alternating with ones in which they're decent. When they're decent they finish a few games back of the champion, make the Joe sometimes, and limp into the tournament as a three seed. Once they managed to spin this into a national title but no one thinks that was anything more than a few near-random games.
So unless there's a galvanizing event like Corey Tropp using Steve Kampfer's head for driving practice, games against State have to compete with those of ten years ago on their own terms. They come up flat most of the time. The best days of this rivalry are so long ago that Michigan State's players can remember them.
I couldn't have done it without your hatred of scoring chances, fun, and America
I miss the days when I loathed Mason's brand of suffocating anti-hockey. It's just not the same when you're beating Torey Krug and a bunch of guys who fondly remember Charles In Charge. When the Big Ten fires up I'll probably switch maximum hatred to Minnesota (because obviously).
The good news is that Heisenberg's page shows Tom Anastos's philosophy. State's got one 2013 commit, an NTDPer, and five 2014 guys. Four of them are '96es. Who knows if they're any good yet, but at least Michigan State is back to recruiting like a team that expects to be elite instead of Southern Northern Michigan.
It will take some time for the Comley geezers to clear the roster, though. We're looking at another five years of Michigan-Michigan State hockey being a cute regional showcase before there's any hope of violent, bowel-shaking clashes. And we're relying on a guy whose first year of coaching is this one. Ask again later.
Bullets that don't understand this newfangled grunge stuff
League status. Ferris State's resounding sweep of Notre Dame (ND's only goal on the weekend came after Ferris took a 5-0 lead Saturday) makes them a heavy favorite. Baseball standings are not super useful anymore but here they are anyway:
|2||Western Michigan||12||9||3||42||63-56||24||1 2/3|
|6||Ohio State||11||10||5||39||73-71||26||3 2/3|
|Northern Michigan||9||9||6||36||62-67||24||3 2/3|
|Notre Dame||11||10||3||36||60-62||24||3 2/3|
|11||Bowling Green||4||16||4||19||34-73||24||9 1/3|
If the Bulldogs take care of BGSU next weekend they've got it in the bag unless Western takes all six points in the final league series. Michigan is fairly secure for a first round bye and a second round home series, but the parity of the league is such that Michigan could play damn near anyone in the second round.
Aside: Ferris is now 20-8-4 and #2 in the PWR rankings. They are in position to turn in the best year in program history, and good for them. Bob Daniels's teams have always played an interesting up-tempo style of hockey and if they had a bastard or two along the way at least they were bastards who scored a ton of goals. (Chris Kunitz most prominently.)
I hope they can find their footing in the rapidly approaching new world order. If Michigan isn't going to continue "so-called rivalries" (Berenson's words) against Miami and Notre Dame they'd better be filling their nonconference schedule with Michigan teams. I'm not up for 14 Atlantic Hockey opponents every year.
Pairwise status. Michigan's weekend was as close to a nonentity as is possible: their RPI hardly budged and their record against teams under consideration got slightly worse. Teams move around them, however, and Michigan slipped. That's because Ferris surged forward after a sweep of a strong opponent and BC won the Beanpot.
The ballpark estimate from a couple weeks ago—that Michigan needed to go 6-2 down the stretch to have a one-seed when the playoffs start—is looking a little shaky at the moment after Denver swept Minnesota. That plus some dumb COP stuff gives them the comparison against Michigan despite a yawning RPI gap; you want them to lose a bunch down the stretch.
Teams you want to lose:
- Ferris State. Comparison is based entirely on RPI and Michigan will win if Ferris slips up down the stretch.
- Denver. Michigan can't do anything but hope Denver loses games against TUCs.
- Alaska. Michigan's only opponent near the TUC cliff. M's 1-1 record against them means they would like to see them drop out.
- Northeastern. See Alaska except M is 0-1 against them.
- BC. Michigan has that comparison at the moment but it's narrow and they'll lose it if BC beats them in RPI.
- Lowell. See BC.
It is still status quo: it will be hard to take comparisons against UMD and BU; everything else is fair game.
Treais. All of the secondary scoring is coming from AJ Treais, and he's doing most of it himself. There was a good cycle to get him a scoring opportunity on Saturday but the rest of it is just Treais taking shots from decent or bad angles and sniping it. Hope he can keep it up.
Lynches. Kevin got two this weekend but I was not surprised when Red said this postgame:
“I can tell you, there were times in the third period I thought about not putting him out in the overtime,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “That line got caught in their own zone and they got in trouble. And I thought, I don’t know if I can trust them in the overtime.
“I know that Kevin’s had a good record against Michigan State. I know he’s had a good record at Joe Louis. They got one shift in overtime, and bingo. So you never know.”
That's officially the fourth line, and it's scary when they get caught out there with the bottom pairing and can't clear the zone. Michigan seemed to carry play when that wasn't happening; that was happening far too often.
At least they scored, something you can't say for…
Nominal third line. I don't get it. They look somewhere from pretty to very dangerous when they're out on the ice but the Hyman-Moffatt-Sparks combo cannot put a puck in the net. Hyman has two goals on the year; Sparks hasn't gotten a point since he returned from the land of healthy scratches, and Moffatt has done a little bit of damage but on the power play IIRC.
But it looks like they will score at some point. Sparks is shoveling passes across the crease with regularity; someone is going to get a stick on one of them and put it into the net. Sparks also rang a post last weekend. It'll come. Maybe.
Rolling lines versus riding your horse. It seemed like Krug and Shelgren got literally every other shift both nights, didn't it? It was certainly a different approach than Red's determination to roll his lines and pairings pretty much evenly even when the back end isn't holding up their part of the bargain. Red has occasionally taken a sixth defenseman out of the equation but it seems like M would benefit from putting the big line out there more frequently.
Phoenix (AZ) Brophy Prep WR Devon Allen has garnered some major recruiting buzz after stellar sophomore and junior seasons. The 6'1", 190-pound junior had 60 catches for 915 yards and six TDs in 2010 and followed that up with 44 catches for 844 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2011; his performance earned him the #110 overall slot in the Rivals250, a three-star ranking on 24/7, and a spot on the ESPNU 150 Watch List. After picking one up from Michigan a week before signing day, Allen now holds offers from the Wolverines, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado State, Duke, Mississippi State, Oregon State, Purdue, Stanford, and Washington, and he's garnered interest from the heavy-hitters on the West Coast. I caught up with Devon last week to talk about his recruitment:
ACE: How's everything going with your recruitment and which teams are pursuing you the hardest right now?
DEVON: It's going pretty well. I've got a couple offers here and there. The schools talking to me the most right now are probably Washington, Ohio State, and a little bit of Notre Dame and Oregon.
ACE: I know you picked up an offer from Michigan recently. Who is the coach who's been in contact with you and what was your reaction to getting the offer?
DEVON: Coach Don Ferrigno. It was kind of surprising because I haven't really been in contact with Michigan, so when they just showed up I thought it was going to be just another coach coming to meet me and talking to me. I guess they had some interest and saw my highlight tape and they liked what they saw.
ACE: What are your thoughts on Michigan as a school?
DEVON: I know for sure that it's a great school. I've heard that it has a great campus, a beautiful campus. I know it's a big powerhouse football school, it's always been since a long time ago, so it would be a great place to maybe look at going, maybe attending Michigan.
ACE: Do you have any favorites early on in the process or is it too soon to say right now?
DEVON: Not really. I've only visited two schools, Stanford and ASU [ed. note: he's since visited USC for their junior day], so I kind of know what they're about right now. I'm originally from Washington, so I know the weather and the environment up at the University of Washington; those are the schools I know the most about. I'm trying to get around, maybe take some unofficial visits, go to some junior days here in the near future, just see what some of the other schools have to offer.
ACE: Do you have any of those junior day visits planned out yet?
DEVON: I think so. I should be attending the USC junior day this weekend on Sunday.
ACE: Going back to your junior year, how do you think you performed and what kind of numbers did you put up?
DEVON: I don't know exactly, I know it's a little over 800 [yards] and I know I scored 17 touchdowns, but that's about it. The season went pretty well. As a team we were young, so we have some growing to do still. We all wanted to win state, that was the main goal, so we were disappointed, but other than that I think if you ask my team we overall had a good year and we got to know each other. We'll just keep growing over this next year and we should be in contention for a state championship in Arizona.
ACE: If you had to scout yourself on the field, what would you say are your biggest strengths as a player and what are you working on to improve for your senior year and the next level?
DEVON: I'd say [my strengths are] definitely my speed and my route-running, my ability to make plays, my size—I'm a little over 6'1". I've been gaining some weight here lately because I've been working out, so I'm getting kind of on the heavier side, I'm 190 right now. Something I can improve on is definitely blocking, that's what all the coaches are looking at so I definitely take pride in that. I can always get better at route-running, learning the game and knowing what to do in certain situations—you know, a cover 2, how to beat that, if there's a press, how to beat that, learn all the receiver positions so I can play anywhere on the field.
ACE: Looking ahead in your recruitment, what do you think it's going to come down to when you make a decision, what are going to be the deciding factors for you?
DEVON: I really don't know 100% yet, but I think they'll be the environment, the program, and what they have to offer education-wise. But really it's up in the air right now, I have to get to know all the coaches, all the staff, and figure out what I want to be when I grow up, see what major I want to major in. It will be a tough process, but it should be a fun one.
ACE: In terms of a timeline, do you have any idea when you'd like to get things wrapped up?
DEVON: I think I definitely want to commit just right after football season. I'm not really into that whole hat-picking thing that all the players do, it'd be nice, but I think that's kind of disrespecting the other coaches, leaving it up to the final day to pick your school so if you don't pick their school the other team has to go and find a recruit to fill the spot. I'll probably commit maybe a month, a month or two before signing day and then I'll just sign.
ACE: Going away from football, what's one thing that you like to do away from the field that's something you think people would like to know about you?
DEVON: I run track, that's a big thing for me, I'll probably run track in college also. Also, I like to play music. I'm learning the piano right now and I'm getting pretty good at it. That's a hobby of mine. Then at track, I got second in the state at the 200 [meter dash], second in the 110 hurdles last year as a sophomore, so this year I'm hopefully going to be in contention for winning it.
ACE: What kind of music do you like playing on the piano?
DEVON: I like classical, it always sounds cool, but for my generation it's more the modern music, the music that's on the radio all the time. I'll just get some sheet music for that, look it up on the internet, and just play with it and see how it sounds and manipulate it to see if it sounds good the way you play it. It's fun to me to be able to play and people are impressed by it, so I always like to do that.
Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the I
Things of offense: Manliness, shotgun, impeccable timing, and options
Over the last few seasons we've talked a lot in this space about how shotgun formations and the spread are awesome, while anything else will steal your children. This is a myth—all offenses that score points are equal—but you could almost be forgiven for thinking that we are spread zealots when we have a tag called "i am a spread zealot no foolies." Most of the time we were saying "this is what Michigan should run right now," but to say most of the authors here haven't been partial to Oregonian offenses is an insult to your bias sensors.
Part of this is because I haven't always used the most correct terminology, or used sets and formation and personnel and philosophies as interchangeable when they're not. What we haven't said very much is talk about other offensive philosophies and why they are awesome too. What I'd like to do then is rectify some of that.
HUUUGE thank you to Tyler Sellhorn and Steve Sharik for looking over this stuff, then saying "omigod this is only like 10% of what offense is." Everything below that is correct came from them, but as you read I ask you only think of them as exasperated professors watching their theories butchered by a student presentation.
I. What's the Point of Offense?
Scoring is the point. How you get there is what we're talking about, and that's strategy. Offensive strategy comes down to a fairly simple concept: find a thing that you can beat a base defense with most of the time, then build in things around it to force the defense to defend you with a base defense. Anything can be adjusted to, but adjustments are usually unsound and thus make some other aspect easier than it should be. Where coaches disagree is on what that thing is, and whether to get so good at that as to be nigh unbeatable at it, or to get good at other things that beat base defenses too. What follows is a layman's oversimplification of offensive formations, and how they relate to offensive philosophies by a layman who needs to oversimplify it to get it.
* That link is to Chris Brown's "Why Every Team Should Apply the Constraint Theory of Offense" and you should read that.
When I started trying to make formations and philosophies into the same thing, two coaches I asked about it said don't do that because personnel groups matter more. A formation is two things: personnel (how many RBs and TEs vs. receivers are there) and set (how they line up). Common backfield sets are the words you're probably most familiar with: a. I-Form, b. Split-backs, c. Ace, and d. Shotgun.
But these words are only part of the set nomenclature. "I-Form" means the RB, FB, and HB are more or less in a line (though the FB is often shifted one way or another). "Split-Backs" refers to where the RBs are lined up, whereas "Shotgun" just means where the quarterback is lined up. What you know as "Ace" is actually referring to personnel, i.e. there is just 1 RB in the backfield. In the above examples both (c.) and (d.) could be called "Ace."
"Pro Set" is a specific alignment of the wide receivers, where one side has a receiver (the "flanker") plus a tight end, and the other side has just one receiver, the "split end."
The part defensive coaches are most concerned about when they're matching is not the set but the personnel. Football coaches express personnel in numeric terms you may have heard them yell at their wards but never understood: Twelve! Twenty! Twenty-One!, i.e. 12, 20, 21. These numbers, like "43" for a 4-3 defensive alignment, are combo digits where the first refers to the number of running backs out there, and the second to how many tight ends. So "12" means there's one running back and two TEs, "21" is two RBs and a TE, "11" is one RB and one TE. A third digit in the representation is the receiver count, e.g. 104 personnel means 1 RB, 0TE, 4 WRs.
So the four examples above are a.) I-form 21 Pro, b.) Split-backs 21 Pro, c.) Ace 11, and d.) Shotgun 11.
III. Why Set Matters
There are tradeoffs to how you line up your backfield, especially in the running game. A running back who starts the play behind the quarterback (a., b., or c.) will get the handoff a few yards behind the line of scrimmage with a running start in the direction you want the ball to go, but if the QB's getting a shotgun snap that handoff occurs six feet behind the line of scrimmage, and if the RB is moving it's not forward. This is a considerable disadvantage—one second after the snap a ball carrier about to hit his hole at full speed is far preferable to one at a dead stop far behind the line of scrimmage.
"Spread" has virtually lost its meaning but it's basically the opposite of bunching, the idea being to trade off some of the "I can put lots of guys at any point of attack on the line really really fast" for a measure "I can make your defenders pull apart to open up more space for my athletes to beat yours in space." I couldn't find a coach to back me up on this but I see horizontal spreading as a sliding scale between how much of the line of scrimmage in the box can you attack quickly with lots of guys (less spread) or how much of the line of scrimmage outside of the tackles can you attack quickly with one guy in space (more spread). Again, this is a tradeoff between things that are (specific talents nonwithstanding) equal.
Three of the four formations above are made to threaten this quick-strike downhill runner. Having the QB under center gives the RB in an Ace formation that head start. With multiple backs you threaten such quick attacks at multiple gaps in the line (think of two chess bishops next to each other), though when you go to 20-something personnel the defense will likely match.
I-form gets the added bonus of a fullback hitting that same hole even faster, either as a lead blocker or the main attraction. This is the key to such favorite I-form plays as SLAM! and WHAM! and BUHBUHBLAM!!! So long as the O-line can do its job the speed and power with which such an attack hits a base defense can make it good for 3 or 4 yards consistently. I've just described part of the base premise of Manball philosophy.
There are plenty more than this, but the four concepts that seem to cover most offenses you need to know are:
- Manball: My bigger- and stronger- and faster-than-you-are running back and his lead blocker are going to attack any spot between the tackles so fast your defenders won't get there until we're already in your backfield. Requires: Talent across the board. An OL who can't block 1-on-1 can screw up the play; an RB who loses all momentum at the moment of impact is giving up an extra YPP.
- Timed Passing: aka "West Coast:" A symphony of route design and timing that puts defenses into a progression of impossible choices, living and exploiting those precious seconds when your zone defender can't be in two places at once. Requires: Quick-thinking, –seeing quarterback with strong arm and laser accuracy, WRs with great hands for catching under duress, pass-pro OLs.
- Mesh/Read Passing: Spread, mesh, read, and gun, so on any given play, at any spot on the field, we can put it where you ain't by having QBs and receivers read your coverage and go right to the holes. Requires: Smart QB and receivers who can quickly read a defense, receivers with speed to open up those holes, incessant drilling so that QB and WRs are "in sync" or "on the same page."
- Option: Isolate an unblocked defender so that he's forced into a Catch 22; when he makes his decision, take the option he didn't. Requires: QB with running back skills, quicker OL, WRs who can sustain blocks.
All of these are unbeatable strategies if executed properly against a base defense. And it's important to note that none are restricted to any one formation. What was so cool about the Zone Read, which uses an option philosophy, is that it does so from the same formations NFL offenses normally use for their Timed/Read passing games, preserving all of those passing advantages for the constraint plays. At Michigan Rich Rodriguez ran a ton of QB Iso out of a shotgun spread, sending a lead blocker (at times the RB, an H-back, or a pulling guard) into the intended gap and having Denard Robinson (and Feagin before him), act as his own I-back. It's also key to remember that most offenses use many concepts, in fact most NFL offenses today, though they call themselves West Coast, all use concepts that are very Air Raid.
However the formations do have some relationship to the above philosophies. To way oversimplify, here's a matrix of base effectiveness for each common formation and the four above philosophies ("1" being "Most Effective, and "4" being "Least Effective"). Also I'm comparing the formations to each other; West Coast still works quite well out of the I-form I'll have you know.
|Shotgun Spread (11, 12)||I-Form (21, 20, 22, 23)||Split Back (20, 21, 22)||Ace (12, 13)|
|MANBALL||4. Can work as a changeup (e.g. the delay) against defenses keying on ZR or pass, or with a great rushing QB.||1. Multiple RBs and blockers quickly hit many points of attack with forward momentum.||2. Two RBs mean either can get the handoff and get outside the tackles quickly, but any lead-blocking plays are slow to develop.||3. Single RB hits the hole with momentum, but no lead blocker. Power is mostly a check against passing.|
|Timed Passing (West Coast)||3. RB can stays to help with protection and QB should have time to survey, room to step up into the pocket. But because it's a pass-heavy set the defense will be keying on it, meaning less time to throw.||4. Relies a lot on play-action, rollouts, and the running game being good enough to make opponents cheat on it. Works if D must respect PA.||2. RBs and OL are already set in pocket formation. Great formation for a good Pro-style QB/WR combo to let routes develop. Usually frees a TE or RB in the flat as an outlet. Lack of spread hurts.||1. Horiz. spreading helps, drop-back is timed with routes. PA, threat of screens, end-arounds, and pre-snap motion force D to play it honest.|
|Mesh/Read Passing||1. QB is immediately in position to see and throw, receivers are spread horiz and vert. However lack of running threat lets D tee off with 9-techs, etc. Most NFL offenses today are this.||4. RBs are mostly limited to flat routes that you can high-low and TE is only inside receiver, but D overplaying run should get WRs good space for curls and slants.||3. Two receiver options are RBs starting far behind the line so meshing routes is difficult. Threat of run establishes pass options.||2. Receivers can be arranged to spread horizontally or bunched to flood a zone, RB acts as center threat.|
|Option||3. Spread 'n Shred. It gives up ground and is slower to develop. Options btw dive and QB off-tackle; Option 3 is a pre-snap read (bubble screen). Speed option gives up the dive for Options 2 or 3.||2. Nebraska under Osborne. The triple-option is often run from this set since Option 1 (the FB dive) can happen super-quick.||1. The triple-option ("Houston Veer") was born from this set. The playside RB is the dive, and you can option off of multiple front 7 players.||4. One of your "backs" is a receiver so the way to run Triple-O is to put that guy in motion (think Denard Jet), which basically means you're converting to an I-form.|
No the formations are not created equal. Some are better at running, others passing. But the thing to remember here is the rule of constraints: if you can do something well from a formation that doesn't do it well, the things that formation does do well are now available to you. Oregon's offense works so well because running so effectively from the spread means defenses have to cheat against the run against an essentially passing formation. Meanwhile MANBALL offenses are best if filled with great passing pieces, e.g. Henne and Braylon/Avant, because if the safeties are backpedaling away from a 21 I-formation, well yipee.
When Brian complains about DeBord it's often because his playcalling was so predictable. The crime here wasn't anything to do with Manball as a Philosophy, but in not using the pass as a constraint, and in telegraphing which side the play was going—more often than not behind Long/Kraus because the other side was Mitchell/ Ciulla/ Schilling/ Ortman/ McAvoy/ Riley/ Whatever—by shifting the fullback to that side. Defenses would do the unsound thing, and there would be zero constraint. Conversely, when I was making yards-per-attempt cases from the UFRs earlier this year it again wasn't anything wrong with Manball the Philosophy, but because the offensive personnel's strengths were the wrong strengths for that philosophy. By 2015 I'm guessing that will have reversed.
Next Museday: a grossly oversimplified matrix of Rock, Paper, Scissors for each philosophy, and the RPS counters by defenses for each, then a long discussion of which philosophy I think Borges really believes in.
[Ed: Bump. Also see Brooks's lax primer.]
A historic moment for U-M seems to be getting a little bit of a short shrift - mgolicious shouldn't be the most notable place for a mention of the first varsity NCAA lacrosse game in Michigan history - so for those interested in the game but who couldn't make it out to Pontiac or watch the live feed, here is a recap. This will be kind of a cheap diary entry, since most of it will just be copying and pasting my updates (plus a few others from other folks) from the de facto game thread. In other words I'm basically just rounding up the thread and its comments in a more digestible form. This way you won't have to do as much scrolling and you can get the feel of the game all in one.
A quick primer: yesterday, the dynastic Michigan lacrosse team took its first step into a larger world with a game against the other instate D-I program, Detroit Mercy, and lost, 13-9. It was a very even, back-and-forth game until about halfway through the third period. The game was hosted by UDM but took place at a neutral venue in Pontiac, which appeared to be almost - if not totally - sold out.
Quasi-play-by-play recap follows, as C&P'ed and polished up a little from the game thread:
- First ever goal in UM Lax D1 history-Bryant. 1-0 UM
- 2-0, Michigan. It's been a pretty defensive game. Neither team getting many shots.
- 2-1, Michigan, UDM with a goal.
- UDM's man-up opportunity amounts to nothing because UDM took an early shot and failed to back it up, U-M ran out the rest of it but gave up the goal shortly after. 2-2 now.
- Michigan up 3-2 after one and looking good in spots. Nice feed for the third goal.
- 4-2 score now with U-M converting a fast break chance.
- Always with the scoring exactly as I'm typing. 4-3. This game started off slowly in the offense department but has a chance to be very high-scoring indeed. Just to drive the point home, 4-4 now with a quick UDM goal off the faceoff.
- U-M looking sloppy now. Failed clear follows three lost FOs in a row.
- Goal UDM, 5-4 Detroit. Short-stick middie got beat badly on a run by the UDM middie.
- Michigan ball now, nice save by the Detroit goalie but a poor clear puts Michigan back on the attack.
- 5-5 now with about 3:30 to go in the half.
- 43 seconds left in the half, Detroit calls timeout to set up one last shot. Tied at 5.
- Halftime and we're all tied up at 5. I would say UDM has the ground ball edge but Michigan is holding its own. (Note: This proved to be a false impression, as Michigan actually had the GB edge in the game, 29-23, with most of that margin coming in the first quarter.)
- UDM up 6-5, early in the 3rd.
- Michigan had a great chance on a fast break but Levell made another beautiful save.
- Goal Michigan, 6-6 now, almost halfway through the third period.
- 7-6 UDM with a Detroit goal from close quarters.
- Sudden scoring spurt - 8-6 Detroit now on a semi-fast-break.
- UDM backs up a Michigan shot and gets the ball, about 5 minutes to go in the 3rd.
- 8-7, Michigan goal, very nice defense behind the net led to getting the ball and a goal with about 3 to go.
- 9-7 Detroit on a hard-fought goal. Michigan wins the ensuing FO and has the ball.
- Detroit with a steal off a terrible pass and a fast-break goal to go up 10-7. 35 seconds left. A lazy, sloppy play.
- 3rd period over with a 10-7 UDM lead.
- 11-7 now on a bounce shot....UDM starting to open it up. 12:18 to go.
- Looks like a UDM EMO coming up. The boys are starting to get a little too desperate.
- And UDM scores on the EMO. Michigan had done a nice job on defense and got the ball, but couldn't hold on as UDM used the extra man to double up and get the ball back. 12-7 Detroit now.
- Michigan scores, 12-8 now. 8:17 to go, so there's definitely plenty of time.
- Looks like an EMO coming for Michigan now. Silly, silly penalty by UDM, which is known to be a little bit of an overemotional team.
- Again nothing doing on the EMO. Detroit ball and Michigan doesn't seem interested in playing aggressively to get it back.
- As soon as the penalty was over, UDM went on the attack again and Michigan got the ball back pretty quickly.
- Time-out, 2:22 to go. UDM holds the 12-8 lead.
- And UDM with what looks like a clincher at 13-8, eight seconds after the end of the TO.
- Michigan with a respectability goal to make it 13-9. 24 seconds.
- Detroit 13, Michigan 9 is the final.
And now for the editorial section:
- 1st quarter: Playing solid defense against what's supposed to be a solid UDM squad offensively. But you can also see why this team will struggle: faceoffs are about even against a team that's been absolutely worthless at the X, and the man-up chance didn't look good at all, no coordination or sense of urgency to attack.
- Halftime: Though only outscored by one, not a good half for Michigan. Only one goal on a settled situation, the other, IMO coming from taking advantage of mistakes that better teams don't usually make. Detroit exposed a weakness by attacking the SSDMs - didn't always score on it, but created chances. Part of the Michigan offensive slowdown came from improved defense by UDM, though, including one very, very nice save by Titan goalie Levell. Michigan got killed on faceoffs in the 2nd, though, which just can't happen against Detroit, by far one of the worst faceoff teams in the nation.
[Ed: second half and recap afte the jump.]
This from a Crain's Detroit interview with Dave Brandon got under my skin:
There was some chatter last year that the Ohio (State)-Michigan game could be moved in the future from its traditional spot in the schedule as the final game of the season.
Brandon dismissed such talk as gibberish.
"I think it's nonsense. I've never heard any talk of that," he said. "I don't think there's anything being contemplated as it relates to that. I think someone spewed something on a blog somewhere, and is usually the case by the time it gets told three times, people start to believe it. There's a pretty strong commitment on behalf of the conference that that game belongs as the last game of the season."
SAM WEBB: Would it be still be the tradition to keep that game [The Game] the last game of the season?
DAVID BRANDON: I think there's a distinct possibility that game will be a later game in the season, but not necessarily the last game of the season. …What you're really going to want is for that last game of the season to determine who's going to be the champion of that division and who is going to play for the Championship... Although I love playing OSU the last game of the year, I don't thinks it's necessarily a slam dunk.
That is all.
Freeroll part II. Late last year we had a Draftstreet freeroll for anyone interested in testing out their daily/weekly fantasy games, and they've given us the opportunity to run a basketball-focused one that kicks off Thursday. Purchase a starting five with a set salary cap [insert Ohio State joke here] and score more points than anyone else in the pool to win some money.
Enrollment is free and there's $150 up for grabs. Hit the link to sign up, or log in to your existing account.
App status update. I thought the apps were kind of a niche product that a couple twitter mentions and board threads would adequately handle, and in this I was massively wrong. That's good and bad news for me: it's good that we have that kind of engagement and bad because I've annoyed a bunch of people.
Anyway, our status:
- Android. The Android app works for reading. We are still working on getting logins going; hopefully that can happen within a week.
- IPhone. Pushing iPhone apps is a more involved process and we are a little behind here, but reads work on the development copy and a blocking issue with logins has been fixed. We should be able to get an update up within a week or two.
Again, this is my fault for not realizing the test server originally intended to be the place where these apps were developed was still pointing to the main database until it was too late. By that point I'd blown up the kludged-together existing infrastructure. I thought the best course of action was to quickly forge ahead with the new stuff instead of wasting time restoring a system I didn't want to keep around; unfortunately some login issues slowed us down. This is one of the downsides of being a totally independent entity, but the upsides are significant as well.
APR with teeth. Cynics everwhere are surprised by the NCAA's decision to uphold UConn basketball's 2013 postseason ban for crappy APR scores. Power conference basketball outfits have previously gotten hit with scholarship reductions—OSU, Purdue, and Indiana all suffered—but no one has gotten the nuclear bomb of a postseason ban.
High level players are likely to flee at the prospect of not getting to play in an NCAA tourney. With Jim Calhoun's health increasingly an issue, not keeping up with their books seems likely to bust UConn's program status down for years. The UConn Blog:
This would be devastating news for any program, but it is especially crippling for UConn. It will almost certainly encourage any NBA prospects on UConn's roster who had even the slightest doubt about staying to leave for the pros. Recruiting will certainly be hurt as well. Most importantly, Jim Calhoun, who is currently out on medical leave, would have to coach well into his 70s to get the program back to a position of strength. Realistically if he wants to hand off his program in anything close to its usually strong state it would probably require him coaching through the 2014 or maybe even 2015, at which point he'll be 71 or 72.
While that's painful for Huskies fans it does provide the NCAA ammunition for anyone who suggests they won't hurt a power program. Here they even retroactively applied new standards to existing scores, preferring punitive measures over perfect fairness.
The dates! Spring practice dates:
Michigan's spring camp begins March 17, according to a team spokesman, and culminates with a public scrimmage on April 14.
Goodnight, sweet prince. Mike Comrie is calling it a career:
TORONTO -- Mike Comrie, who twice scored at least 30 goals in a season, retired from the NHL on Monday after a third hip operation in five years.
The 31-year-old center announced his retirement two weeks after his latest hip procedure, saying in a statement he was no longer able to "manage the rigors of NHL play." Comrie was limited to 127 games over the last three seasons.
My first year at Yost was also Comrie's first and the magic he worked with the puck was a major reason I fell in love with both Michigan hockey and 5'8" puck wizards. Here's to Comrie lighting it up at an alumni game in the near future.
This is not 'Nam… let's make it more like 'Nam. The NCAA would like to slash out various bits of their rulebooks to pave the way for college town Taj Mahals:
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Bring back athlete-only dorms with unlimited food. Let coaches talk publicly about their recruits. Allow transfers in all sports to immediately play.
Those are among the ideas being discussed as the NCAA tries to produce a slimmer and more efficient rulebook, according to documents obtained by The Birmingham News.
While I'm generally for athletes getting more freedom and money from the NCAA, I dislike the near-free-agency immediate transfers create. I'd love it if kids who got Sabaned could transfer immediately; for everyone else the one-year sit out seems appropriate. Even coaches who are taking advantage of the grad-year transfer rule like Izzo seem to think it's icky.
Everything else, whatever. The parade of secondary violations distracts from actually important matters. In a world where everyone has Facebook communication restrictions on phone calls and texting seem like laws prohibiting whipping your horse.
Nein, Doc Sat, nein. Hinton's suggestions for a four-team playoff:
- Keep the BCS ranking system.
- Put the semifinals at bowl sites.
- Bid out the championship game a la the Final Four/Super Bowl, etc.
- Restrict the field to conference champions (or Notre Dame)
He admits the first is likely to cause a spit-take; I think all but #3. It's unfortunate that many years the Rose Bowl will serve as a consolation prize for the second-place Big Ten team, but that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make for the prospect of home sites with real atmosphere for semifinals both as a person who will watch on TV and one who would attend any time Michigan makes it, home or road.
this >>>>>>> bowl game
I've mentioned this before: I'm probably not going to Dallas this year because I can get a generic NFL stadium experience at many bowl games. If the game was in Tuscaloosa you could not stop me from going. If you shot me in the head, my zombie would rise up and hitchhike to Alabama. A playoff semifinal on the road in Austin or Baton Rouge or Tallahassee is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity far superior to any bowl game. And at home? Good god.
As far as conference champs only, I'm torn about that. Notre Dame remains a problem. If a one loss ND team gets in over a one-loss major conference team ranked higher than them because that team didn't win something ND doesn't even try to, that would be annoying. Given the state of college football it's a much lesser threat than, say, a team that didn't win its own division getting in ahead of an impressive one-loss conference champion.
Etc.: ESPN post asking you to vote on your most disliked Big Ten coach features Bielema, Dantonio, Hoke, and Meyer. If someone on that list seems out of place it's because three of them are likely to coach in a future Rose Bowl.
2/12/2012 – Michigan 70, Illinois 61 – 19-7, 9-4 Big Ten
Sports have their own distinctive rhythms, sounds and moments and rituals that worm themselves into the observer's subconscious after repeated exposure. Basketball is rife with them. The seismic thud of the ball hitting the floor is shockingly tactile from time to time, especially during your first game of a new season. Back-to-back TV timeouts are agony and boredom. And the interval between a three-pointer's departure and arrival, when three fingers are raised in slow motion and a long heavy intake of breath fills the lungs, is the sort of intermittent reinforcement that ends with people saying "but she loves me… she's just misunderstood."
When those rhythms conspire against you in a cosmically unfair (and usually deeply random) fashion, building-wide manias develop. Rattling post after post in hockey, an avalanche of seeing-eye singles in baseball, the clang of iron on open look after open look—these things turn crowds into scalded, nervous things. When the shot goes up, the reaction is something it would take Steve Buscemi to adequately convey.
Oh no, here we go again
Maybe this time basketball will love me
Maybe this time basketball will care
Basketball is just misunderstood
No officer I would not like to press charges against basketball
Maybe next time
Probably next time
Definitely next time
Basketball is just misunderstood
When Tim Hardaway Jr. got an open-ish look from three early, he passed it up. He faked, got past the closeout, and took an open look from the elbow. He missed. He got another midrange jumper a minute later, which he missed. A minute after that he got an open look from three, and the building kind of moaned.
It was a complex moan. It acknowledged the fact that this was a very good shot and that if you are Tim Hardaway Jr. and you're not going to take this shot you probably shouldn't be on the floor at all and while there may be some basketball teams who could afford to bench Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan is emphatically not one of them. It also loathed everything about the preceding sentence because none of it meant Hardaway was at all likely to make it. It was a richly subtextual moan. Given enough time and processing power, Ken Pomeroy could calculate Hardaway's shooting percentage from it. He would find it is not high at all.
Hardaway made it anyway. The building thought maybe basketball would bring it flowers.
It was the other one, though, that really got hearts open again, really open and ready for a surprising reversal that is in no way surprising. It wasn't a good shot, really, but when you're 6'5" and can jump really high there are few truly contested threes. This has been a foundational component of Hardaway's game and seemed brilliant when he was hitting 42% of them. When you're hitting 27%, not so much. Hardaway was hitting 27% as he made a token move to the basket and stepped back for a semi-contested three.
He'd hit one earlier and maybe the wincing wasn't quite as overt as he rose up. This one was perfect. It hit nothing whatsoever on its way through the hoop.
Hardaway didn't push it. There was no heat check, because sometimes a thing like making more than half of your shots in a game is a delicate one that must be shepherded through dangers.
Hardaway wasn't the only struggler to prop up fading hopes of effectiveness. Matt Vogrich had eight points on three shots, all makes, and Novaked himself a game-changing play* when his super-quick rotation on Meyers Leonard condemned Leonard to the bench for most of the first half. Evan Smotrycz hit a couple threes and managed 13 points; though he turned the ball over twice he was also credited with four steals. Michigan did not get blown off the court in the long stretches where a foul-limited Morgan wasn't on it thanks in large part to Smotrycz.
Both Vogrich and Smotrycz followed Hardaway's example and didn't push it. Between the three of them they took eight threes and hit six. As a team Michigan attempted just 35% from beyond the arc. It was a strange mirror of the first half against Nebraska, when Michigan took two thirds of its shots from three against the worst interior defense in the league. Here they took most of their shots from two against one a team much better on the interior than the perimeter.
Whether that was just what Illinois does—they're second in the league at preventing three point attempts—or Michigan treating their newfound deep shooting touch like a Faberge egg, the end result was a building that did not moan. Primed to believe long shots could actually go through the net, when Vogrich rose in the second half there was just anticipation.
Long may it last. It won't last. It might last. Basketball has been more into flowers lately.
*[Except of course if Novak had tried to do the same thing they would have called a block on him because referees hate Novak even more than opposing fans do.]
Bullets Will Drive Us Apart
As always, rely on MGoBlog for your super accurate predictions. In the preview I openly quailed at the prospect of Meyers Leonard going up against Michigan's undersized front line. At halftime I felt like the six-point lead was a missed opportunity that would bite Michigan in the ass after Leonard returned from the game-changing charge Matt Vogrich took on him for his second foul. Leonard's 7'1" frame sauntered onto the court and… scored one point in the second half. He had all of three FGAs, all of which IIRC were putback attempts (he had four offensive rebounds).
That's the game right there. I'm not sure how much of that was Michigan's doing and how much was Illinois drifting away from the early game plan (in short: "ALL OF THE LEONARDS") in favor of whatever it was they decided to do instead. It felt like Illinois didn't even bother looking inside much in the second half. When they did, doubles convinced Leonard to kick it out and active hands from Morgan and Smotrycz forced a number of turnovers. It's a tribute to someone on the coaching staff—maybe various someones—that this motely crew of iffy athletes and short guys finds itself an above-average Big Ten defense.
At least I was on point with the increased use of zone—plenty when Leonard was on the court—and the total uselessness of the backup center (zero points, two attempts both on offensive putbacks against McLimans in 14 minutes). Didn't see Tyler Griffey as the guy who would light up Michigan's sagging perimeter defense.
Player items. Hardaway, Vogrich, and Smotrycz are essentially covered above. All had efficient shooting days for a change; as a unit that put Michigan over the hump despite a 5 of 15 day from Trey Burke. It certainly didn't feel like a 5 of 15 day from Burke, but there it is.
Not much stands out from the boxscore except another game in which Michigan had the crap kicked out of it on the boards. Illinois rebounded 40% of its misses. Michigan is now significantly below average in both offensive (10th) and defensive (8th) rebounding. This is an obvious consequence of moving Douglass into the starting lineup after they cruised through the nonconference schedule seeming like a good to very good DREB team. Not that doing that was a bad idea.
The upside of that. Michigan got a ton of fast break and secondary transition points; in the second half when Illinois was crashing the boards hard anything that didn't end up getting rebounded by the trees fell to a shorter faster Michigan player and the resulting transition opportunity was often an odd-man break. I'd be interested to see a breakdown of Illinios points off of offensive rebounds versus points in transition when Michigan actually got the board. I'd guess it would be a small advantage to Illinois, but not one that outweighs the benefits of going small to Michigan's halfcourt offense.
Small sample size. Vogrich is 5/5 from three in his past two games. Result:
Prior to the Nebraska win, Vogrich was shooting 20.5 percent on the season. Now, after one solid week, he's up to 30.8 percent from downtown.
Big Ten… um… title? It is vaguely possible. Via UMHoops, the four contenders (I've taken the liberty of bolding games versus the top four):
|MICHIGAN ST. (9-3)||OHIO ST. (9-3)||MICHIGAN (9-4)||WISCONSIN (8-4)|
|vs. Wisconsin (8-4)||at Minnesota (5-7)||vs. OSU (9-3)||at MSU (9-3)|
|at Purdue (6-6)||at Michigan (9-4)||at N’Western (5-7)||vs. PSU (3-10)|
|at Minnesota (5-7)||vs. Illinois (5-7)||vs. Purdue (6-6)||at Iowa (5-7)|
|vs. Nebraska (3-10)||vs. Wisconsin (8-4)||at Illinois (5-7)||at OSU (9-3)|
|at Indiana (7-6)||at N’Western (5-7)||at PSU (3-10)||vs. Minnesota (5-7)|
|vs. OSU (9-3)||at MSU (9-3)||vs. Illinois (5-7)|
You'll note that Michigan is one of them and that their last game against the cream of the crop is their next one.
It will take either a huge closing run or a specific combination of results to get Michigan a banner; I'd say we can forget about it if Michigan loses against OSU. Unless OSU loses at Minnesota that would mean Michigan was two back with four games left.
If they managed the upset, though…
Illinois team practice. In games they headbutt each other and are eaten.
Weber watch. The vibe I get from the various Illini fans whose blogs I read or who I follow on twitter is extreme frustration with Bruce Weber. That makes sense after concentrating on Illinois's play. The Illini are like a pack of gazelles: breathtaking to watch run around but utterly incapable of passing the ball. Gazelles have hooves, and this fact explains things. Only two or three of the Illini have hooves. The rest of that is on Weber.
I mean, Brandon Paul should be an All-American. Instead he has a lower ORtg than literally every Michigan player with enough playing time for Kenpom to register save Vogrich. If they miss the tourney dollars to donuts Weber is having his hissy fits at home next year*. Because he won't have a job. I'm saying they'll fire him.
*[Seriously. Weber's fits might be worse than those of Bo Ryan and Tom Izzo. At least Ryan and Izzo seem to have a tangible effect on their teams. The only way Weber's message is getting through is if he's screaming "DRIBBLE AIMLESSLY AND THEN TURN THE BALL OVER." I mean:
Three of 22 pictures from the Detroit News gallery above feature Weber having a fit.]
Trillion watch. McLimans had a rare first-half trillion in four minutes.
Sold out? The game was technically sold out. Emphasis on "technically": large chunks of the upper-bowl endzones were empty the whole game. Who is buying those tickets and then ignoring them? I know they're not season tickets up there, so someone must be purchasing and then not using large chunks of the endzone upper decks. Strange.
Incredulous block/charge of the week. Brandon Paul's late first half clobberation of Trey Burke. Burke was set well outside the charge circle and Paul blew him up; this was an and-one instead of Paul's second. I haven't seen a replay but live it was a crazy call.
The only thing I can think might even vaguely justify the call is that Paul didn't hit Burke in the dead center of his chest. For some reason refs have a tendency to call blocks when a stationary defender takes an off-center or glancing blow from the offensive player. Why I don't know. In a situation like the Burke/Paul confrontation it seems like there are only two possible outcomes: a charge or a no-call. Referees disagree.
UMHoops recap. They went inside the play with some Jordan Morgan bunnies. The Crimson Quarry breaks down Indiana's deployment of the 2-3 zone. Michigan ran a lot of 2-3 in the second half yesterday and may resort to it at times down the stretch when they're at a significant size disadvantage (most of the time). Just Cover on the argument about 8-10 Big Ten teams making the tournament.
People are talking about seeding. A four, a five? There are distinct loci on the map of college basketball that Michigan now firmly occupies instead of the Purgatorial listlessness that once loomed over the program for over a decade. People are talking about Michigan's chances to win the conference title, regular season and tournament. That's not to say that Michigan will win either (the former hinges upon whether or not Michigan can beat the Buckeyes at home on Saturday), but people are talking about it. Think about how insane that is, as a concept and as a potential reality. A little over four years ago, Michigan was busy losing to an Amaker-coached Harvard squad, a moment in history that typifies the Universe's mischievous sense of humor.
It's worth noting that with Michigan's ninth win of the conference season they have permanently taken themselves off the bubble. For the first time since [REDACTED] Michigan's not going into Selection Sunday on pins an needles, even if they lose out. That was a preseason goal Michigan has met with authority.
St. Paul (MN) Cretin-Derham Hall ATH James Onwualu recently picked up a Michigan offer as the Wolverines joined Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Purdue, and Stanford among schools to extend him a scholarship. I interviewed Onwualu back in January, before receiving his offer, and recently got the chance to talk to him again now that his recruitment is quickly picking up steam. Onwualu told me prior to the interview that he planned on graduating early, so we discusses his accelerated timeline, new offers, and more:
ACE: You just got your Michigan offer recently. Who have you been talking to from Michigan and what was your reaction to getting the offer?
JAMES: I've mainly been talking to Coach Mattison, but also talking to Coach Hoke. Obviously that's a big offer for me, a big-time school. They're really making a lot of different changes and really coming up as a program. It's a huge offer for me. I was excited.
ACE: What's your impression of Michigan as a school and a football program?
JAMES: I think they're one of the best in the nation, personally. I think that their academics are extremely high, their business school ranks high, which means a lot to me. Also their alumni base ... is huge. Then I think everybody pretty much knows what their football traditions are, what they look to in every season.
ACE: You pulled in a few other offers recently. What other schools are showing interest in you now and how do the schools stack up in terms of your interest?
JAMES: I haven't really made a list of where I'm going to go yet, I haven't come up with a top ten list or anything. I'm just kind of pulling everything in. But Notre Dame continues to show a lot of interest, Stanford, Florida, Ohio State, Texas, a lot of big schools have been showing a lot of interest. I'm just keeping it open right now.
ACE: Do you have any plans in terms of taking visits to schools now that you've got offers coming in?
JAMES: Yeah. I'll definitely go up to Michigan. I haven't gone out there before so it'd be good to go out there. I'll probably go back down to Florida and go down to Stanford, possibly.
ACE: Coming from Cretin-Derham, that's a school that's obviously produced a lot of football talent. Do you ever talk to some of the guys who have gone D-I from there and got an impression of what going through the recruiting process is like?
JAMES: Yeah. Actually, [former Heisman winner] Chris Weinke is one of the guys who's kinda guided me through this whole thing, along with [former Notre Dame receiver] Mike Floyd, and also [Baltimore Ravens Pro-Bowl center] Matt Birk. Oh yeah, and also [Denver Broncos offensive tackle] Ryan Harris. Having people like that around me, it really helps being able to manage the schools and balance out what the coaches are actually saying and what I actually want in my future.
ACE: I know you did the Army All-American combine, but do you have any more plans for doing training or camps over the summer?
JAMES: Probably not. I train seven days a week with the best trainer in the nation, Ted Johnson. I don't really find the need to go to any more camps. I think that I can really start focusing in on what I want to do in college. I'm looking to be committed here so I'm going to be spending a lot of time with the school that I'm going to.
ACE: The last time I talked to you, you said you were looking to commit in the spring, and you mentioned the possibility of graduating early. Is that timeline still holding true right now for you?
JAMES: Yeah, as of right now, I think so. It may be pushed back a little bit into the summer, but as of right now, I think I'm going to get it done with and start focusing on what I have to do, like I said.
ACE: In terms of focusing, in terms of improving on the football field, what do you think are your strongest qualities on the football field as a player right now, and what are you looking to improve as you work towards the next level?
JAMES: I think the main thing I'm good at is really making a play after the catch. That's probably just because of my base in playing running back, being versatile all over the field. I really think that I'm going to start working on—there's so many different styles of play around the nation—just learning different styles of DBs and just getting more experience.
ACE: What position did Michigan offer you for? I know you're listed as an athlete. Do you know what position you'd play if you decided on Michigan?
JAMES: Well, as of right now, they just have me offered as an athlete. We haven't really talked position-wise. Since I've been talking to Mattison a lot of people assume I'm going to be playing safety or corner, but as of right now I don't really know.
ACE: Do you have a preference in terms of where you fit best on the field? Do you prefer offense or defense?
JAMES: I don't know, it could change. Next year I'm going to be all over. We've got a really good running back, [2014 RB] Blake Banham, who's going to be playing next year, so I'm not going to playing as much running back. We've also got a safety, [2014 S] Tim Gordon, so we're going to have to see, I might be playing corner and receiver.
ACE: Going away from the football field, what's one thing you want people to know about you that has nothing to do with football?
JAMES: That's a tough question. I'd say I like going and watching my friends play sports, like Cortez Tillman, I don't know if you've heard of him, but he plays basketball at my school, so I like going and watching him on the weekends.
Thanks to James for taking the time to do the interview. He made sure to tell me before we ended that I should be keeping an eye on his class of 2014 teammates—he sounds like a great guy to have alongside you on the team.
Warning, this post is meta-stat nerd.
What is Success Rate, and How Did It Come To Be?
The first question is pretty straightforward and the second I can only guess.
Success Rate is a measure is an attempt to measure how good a player or team is at the traditional concept of “staying ahead of the chains.” There are some slightly different calculations but for the most part a success is defined as at least 40-50% of yards to go on 1st down, at least 50-70% of yards to go on second down and first down achievement on third or fourth down. Typically the target is 50% success rate.
Although I doubt there is any recorded history on how this came to be (I believe its origin or at least its popularization comes from Football Outsiders) I have two theories. The first is that this is how football fans, players, and coaches have been conditioned to think, especially old school, grind-it-out football folks. You still hear it often among clichéd commentators: the offense’s number-one priority is to stay ahead of the chains, don’t put yourself in bad down and distance, stay away from obvious passing downs. All of these things are good things for a football to do.
The second reason I think it came to be is that advanced football stats came to be after advanced metrics for baseball had come a long ways. One of the key tenants of Moneyball/SABR revolution in baseball is that On Base Percentage >>> Batting Average. On top of that, one of the fundamental advanced baseball stats is OPS, On Base Percentage Plus Slugging Percent, a combination of Success and Magnitude. One paralleled by Football Outsiders* in their S&P metric.
*I want to be clear that this is not a critique of Football Outsiders. They do tremendous work and are at the forefront of advanced football analysis.
Why Football is Not Baseball
Good OBP is critical for baseball because you are dealing with a finite, irreplaceable resource, outs. You get 27 of them per game. Once you generate an out there is no way to get it back; you are 1 step closer to the end of your chance to score, and you only have 27 total steps per game. OBP measures a team or individual’s ability to forego outs when they come to the plate. Not getting out will always improve your chances of winning while getting an out will almost always decrease your odds of winning (this is not an article about the sacrifice bunt).
Contrast that with football, where the only finite resource is time. Even if the quarterback gets sacked and loses 10 yards, one play later the effect of that loss can be wiped out. In a sense a set of downs is finite, but not an individual set of downs. If there were a team correlation, first downs converted would be more appropriate and I don’t really see a true individual equivalent.
The Goal Is To Score Points
Consistently being in good down and distances is not a bad thing, but it’s not nearly as important for today’s offenses. Modern offenses have a much greater ability to convert unfriendly down and distances than offenses of old. Plus, the offense’s goal is to score points, not get first downs. Getting first downs obviously helps score points, but a metric like EV/PAN that directly accounts for how each play contributes to scoring is a much stronger measure, not just a complimentary stat like Slugging Percent. In baseball the complimentary stat is needed because of the finite nature of outs. In football, everything is a sliding scale and categorizing plays as pass-fail is simply too black and white for a sport that has more gray.
A couple of examples of how success rate can be misleading (first down gain, second down gain, third down gain):
4,3,2: This is a 67% success rate but is a three and out.
3,3,4: This is a 33% success rate but a first down, plus the first two plays are nearly identical but the first two downs of the first group are both successes and the second group are both failures. Over a large group of data some of these will iron themselves out, but why put such a black and white metric over something that is not. 2nd and 7 is almost the same as 2nd and 6, but 2nd and 1 is very different from 2nd and 6. Success rate completely misses the magnitude of plays.
This is why for football, an Expected Value model is much more valuable. With an enough data, you can get a pretty good description of the expected points based on all down, distance and yardline combinations. Once you have this you can evaluate the shades of gray for each play. A three yard carry on first and ten is nearly as good as a four yard one. A nine yard carry is even better. Expected Value can quantify the subtle and substantial differences between plays. The value difference between first and ten and the twenty and first and ten at the thirty will be the same whether it was one ten yard play or three runs totaling ten yards, although the value per play will justifiably be better. Success rates can vary wildly based on how you get from point A to point B, EV only carries where you start and where you finish.
What is Success Rate Good For?
It is an interesting stat and isn’t totally without value, I just think that it is unnecessary and shouldn’t be a fundamental part of team evaluation. There are lots of stats that fit this characterization. For a lot of teams it’s how they mentally operate, especially in the running game. Success rate does a good job evaluating running backs in traditional ground games. It might not totally align with scoring points and winning games, but it does align well with accomplishing a team's offensive objectives. Running backs often get tightly bunched near the mean in an EV model but success rate can be a way to further separate individual backs. Success rate will hold up between the tackle pounders but knock down the home run threat. EV may consider them the same (or more likely the home run threat will be higher) but the consistency of the old school back will be valued better by success rates.
I don’t think success rate has much value for the passing game. Completion percentage and YPA are more than adequate to indicate both explosiveness and consistency.
Coming Next: The Wisconsin Case Study and Optimal Offense and Defense Response
The underlying context of “ignore success rates” is that the traditional running game is overrated. If your main goal as an offense is to avoid bad third downs, and you are good at it, you will likely end up with a lot of third and short or third and manageable. Even if you they are all “good” third downs, each third down is a chance for the defense to take the field. We all remember the classic drives with multiple third down conversions, but we forget all the ones that could jump the odds and failed after giving the defense one too many chances to get off of the field. Explosive plays are essential to a productive modern offense and unless you are running a Chip Kelly or RichRod style ground attack, explosive plays are much more likely through the air than on the ground.
Next week I will follow up with a detailed look on the relative values of Russell Wilson and Montee Ball to Wisconsin’s 2011 offense. Ball had the TDs and the hype and Wilson was considered a quality second option. I’ll dig deep into the numbers and show why Wilson was the real threat of the Wisconsin offense.
Following that, I’ll have the final article in this series looking at how offenses (and maybe moreso defenses) can effectively maximize their expected points for and against through a better perspective on managing offensive output versus managing each down’s success or failure.