Dear Diary is Getting Better All the Time

Dear Diary is Getting Better All the Time

Submitted by Seth on November 7th, 2010 at 10:34 PM

Dear Diary,

I used to be mad at my school. The defensive play was not cool. But I can't complain.

Sports fans and pundits often make the mistake of treating the last contest as too exemplary of the current state of things. Michigan's offense isn't so good to typically put up 500 yards on an okay Big Ten defense by halftime. Maybe its defensive mean isn't giving up 65 points after three overtimes. We probably won't give up five turnovers, or leave receivers on our 1 yard line with acreage of openness like -- what was it, two, three times? -- in every game.

But I will say that yesterday's 67-65 triple-overtime victory over Illinois is Michigan 2010 in extremis: the defense isn't going to stop anybody; kickers will miss; and with Tate or Denard, our offense won't stop unless it stops itself.

Sgt. Barwis's Lonely Harts* Club Band

White Boy, if you're out there, GET HER BACK TO WORK! You're our only hope.

4th quarter, man! Remember when not too long ago we were rooting for a team that routinely struggled to hold a two-score lead in the 4th quarter**? If it's possible to overstate the transition from Massey-Eat-Pizza to Eeeeee Barwis!, surely this blog will get there without me, but how happy were you, when the rounds of this game starting piling up like a Rocky Balboa fight, that we were the guys with the wolf-man's conditioning program?

This is a Rich Rodriguez team: more deserving of admiration than awe. It's both by design, and a design flaw, because Justin Turner giving 80 percent is probably better than Ray Vinopal's 110% effort, and the going theory is that we don't have Turner because 80 percent of anything doesn't get to play for Michigan these days. It's inspirational, and maddening, and really young, and it apparently can beat an average Big Ten team 67-65 in triple overtime.

I don't need a reason to root for Michigan, but I like to have one. I rooted for Lloyd because a man who could coach football and speak intelligently about Emerson was unique and good. Rich Rodriguez's team earned their playing time not just be being better than the other guys, but trying better. They are the ones who went through Barwis hell. They are the ones who stayed.

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*   Cause they've all got HART, get it?
**  and when 7-5 was a "Year of Infinite Pain?"

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Beating Illinois 67-65 isn't an end, unless it is made so. We have a sophomore offense and a freshman defense, and regardless of what traspired yesterday or in the next month, we have very good reason to think we'll be better. Let me show why...

Do You Need Anybody?

This comes from a conversation this week in response to an excellent diary by I Blue Myself about the huge leap Michigan is expected to take next year, simply by returning most of what's already a very good offense, and the defensive starters being more than a few months from senior prom.

Allow myself to quote... myself:

Would you trade Schilling, Webb, Dorrestein, Mouton, Banks, and the backup NTs and MLBs for another year of experience for Denard/Tate, the entire RB corps., Koger, the entire receiving corps., the other three offensive linemen plus all of their young backups? Maybe.

Would you trade them for that plus a magic wand that gets Jibreel Black and Craig Roh 40 lbs. heavier, puts another year under (and within) the belts of the young and hyped linebackers, transforms freshman DBs into sophomore corners, and transforms James Rogers into Troy Woolfolk. Um, yes please.

This got me thinking about when the last time we expected such a leap. I know this place likes charts, so I made a big one (er...three) for other recent annual transitions. What it does is try to put a value of performance that Michigan attained from each position in the years 2006 to '10, and project that of next year.

The positions are weighted, so like out of 56 "points" of performance that the offense can attain, 8 are attributable by the quarterback, 6 by the running backs, 5 each for linemen, etc. A 100-percent score for any given position is what you would expect from a well-scouted 4-star upperclassman. Ryan Van Bergen is a 100-percent positional fulfillment. The thinking goes that a team getting RVB production at every spot is the kind that can beat any team in the country.

For guys like Brandon Graham '09, there's an extra point awarded beyond the positional weight. A team full of these guys would not only be able to beat any team, but would be favored to do so. But that's not our expectation, and I'm trying to create an expecation percentage. Think of it as the chance that a given team will be an average (Illinois) Big Ten team.

The full spreadsheets are here (same link) so you can see how I rated everybody. Tabs at the bottom get you to different pages. Feel free to argue my numbers. Below are the conclusions:

  2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Returning O%: 80.36% 62.50% 21.43% 73.21% 46.43% 91.07%
Returning D% 69.64% 48.21% 62.50% 33.93% 44.64% 73.21%
Offense: 83.93% 72.32% 38.39% 56.25% 77.68% 83.04%
Defense: 96.43% 80.36% 67.86% 57.14% 42.86% 73.21%
Total 91.96% 78.13% 54.91% 59.38% 62.95% 80.80%

The returning numbers are the weighted percentage of returning starters by position, so if a quarterback's coming back, that's 14% of the offense returning, whereas a returning fullback is 1.7% of an offense returning.

So if nobody gets hurt or transfers or makes a major regression, etc., we can look at the 2011 team and say they will about as good as the last Lloyd team. The point is that we're set up next year for a huge year-to-year progression:

  '06 to'07 '07 to '08 '08 to '09 '09 to '10 '10 to '11
Off. Change -6.5 -19 +11 +12 +4
Def. Change -9 -7 -6 -8 +17
Total -15.5 -26 +5 +4 +21

Chart:

And Rocking Horse People Eat Marshmallow Pies

Am I fooling myself? I'm certainly worried about  it. After all, this was said by Brian:

So… yeah. Michigan's defense improves in real, non-running-in-place terms. Maybe not much. But given the schedule they should claw their way to slightly above average, just like the offense.

...in the 2009 defensive preview. That preview projected improvements in BG, Ezeh, Mouton, Steve Brown replacing Thompson, Warren getting healthy, and Woolfolk taking over FS. It expected Mike Martin as a sophomore to be about as good as Taylor as a senior, Cissoko as a sophomore to be equivalent to Morgan Trent as a sophomore, Mike Williams to be on par with Charles Stewart, and then dropoffs from Will Johnson to RVB and Tim Jamison to Herron. How did that work out?

Better than expected: RVB being okay, and Roh being a better Jamison than Herron.

About as expected: Graham Beast Mode, Brown being good at linebacker, Woolfolk at FS when he could be a free safety, Martin.

Worse than expected: Ezeh>Ezeh, Mouton>Mouton, Warren>Warren, Cissoko=Trent, M.Williams=Stewart

Nothing in that preview mentioned a walk-on playing safety, Mike Williams being worse than said walk-on, J.T. Floyd as the best cornerback option opposite Warren, or the nuclear test site that was free safety.

I ran this again, using expectations as of the previous November, to see if this overrating of the future was endemic.

Offense:

  2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
O-Expected 75.00% 84.82% 52.68% 63.39% 72.32% 83.04%
O-Actual 83.93% 72.32% 38.39% 56.25% 77.68% 83.04%
Diff +10 -14 -16 -8 +6 0

Defense:

  2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
D-Expected 89.29% 75.00% 73.21% 69.64% 62.50% 73.21%
D-Actual 96.43% 80.36% 67.86% 57.14% 42.86% 73.21%
Diff +8 +6 -6 -14 -22 0

Total:

  2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
T-Expected 83.93% 81.70% 65.63% 68.30% 70.09% 80.80%
T-Actual 91.96% 78.13% 54.91% 59.38% 62.95% 80.80%
Diff +9 -4 -12 -10 -8 0

It is, especially the last couple of years. This is the result of all of the attrition and busts and whatnot. Each of these years we've been expecting Mouton and Ezeh to turn their respective lights on. We figured Martin would remain healthy. We figured the backfield this year would have a senior 2nd team Big Ten candidate (Woolfolk) opposite a sophomore blue chip (Turner) at corner, a 4-star sophomore (Emilien) or maybe a 5-star freshman at deep safety, and for Kovacs to be the worst, rather than the best, player in the backfield. Voila: minus-22.

Considering this exercise, I am starting to think the problem is not in our expectations for the future, but in a serious problem, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, to meet generally conservative expectations for improvement. Injuries to the defense's best two players can't be helped. Obi and Mouton should have some noticeable improvement. Your 4- and 5-star defensive backs (Cissoko, Emilien, Turner, Dorsey) should, as of mid-way through their sophomore years, be...I dunno...if not on the field, at least on the friggin' roster.

This:

has destroyed so much goodness in the world that it would take a herculean effort by incredibly talented, system-perfect, quickly trained and generally healthy offensive players coached by a football genius to make up for it. (more about that in a minute).

The point of this is to see whether we should expect such disappointments again next year, and adjust accordingly. Here's the things that I am expecting to go right:

  1. Mike Martin returns, is healthy and an NFL-ready beast (+3)
  2. Jibreel Black makes a sophomore jump (+1)
  3. Roh makes a Junior jump, and is used at DE instead of LB (+2)
  4. Two of Jones/M-Rob/Furman/Fitzgerald/Herron are as good as Mouton and Obi have been this year (hold)
  5. Demens improves as a junior, isn't Ezeh in Sept-Oct (+2)
  6. Gordons become sophomores (+1)
  7. Kovacs remains Kovacs-ian (even)
  8. Woolfolk replaces James Rogers (+4)
  9. Floyd/random sophomore 3-star project is the soft corner instead of, like, a guy who was a high school QB this time last year (+2)
  10. Dime and nickel backs are sophomores, exist (+2)

That's 17 improvement points, not including any surprises or freshmen playing. Most are some version of replacing a guy who has played his position for two months going to a guy who has been there a year or more. Injuries will knock that back some since we are thin all over the place. But if I even yank that down to 11, we're talking about the same improvement the offense had between 2008 and 2009.

(flip the disc for Side 2)