I had to watch an entire game with Dan Orlovsky('s idea of what ESPN viewers think passes for) analysis, so let's start off with the worst of it:
Nope. Maybe it's because I spend a lot of time watching Don Brown defenses play, or because last week I broke down a Bronco defense that thinks bringing six is light and a safety at the 1st down marker is too deep. But after watching SMU-TCU, then checking the Texas State* film to make sure it wasn't just some one-game adjustment to the Frogs' highly inaccurate freshman QB, I'm pretty sure this is the most soft-batch, weak-kneed, yellow-bellied, pansy-ass, puts-milk-in-their-coffee, stand-around-confused wuss-puss defensive scheme we've seen in Ann Arbor since Greg Robinson's (idea of what what Rich Rodriguez meant when he said to run a) 3-3-5 left town. Softer, actually, because they also apparently think Quarters means actually sitting back in a Cover 4 all day. At least GERG took his coffee coffee-flavored.
*[not the one with the beautiful kicker]
Personnel: My diagram (PDF or click image for larger)
I could not fit every rotational player, let alone every listed co-starter in SMU's game notes on this sheet despite adding six spaces because some legacy future oil company marketing director in the SID department really likes his or's. Most positions had multiple starters on the depth chart, often not just two. They do in fact rotate a ton: I counted five guys who got significant run at DT, and SMU only uses one DT! The third LB saw as many snaps as the starter. Both backup HSPs had as many events as the guys they're behind. If it seems like I can't get a handle on who's playing on that defense it's because neither can the Mustangs. Nobody's expecting much from them this year, so defensive coordinator Kevin Kane seems to be trying everybody and seeing what sticks.
[Back up gently and let THE JUMP come to you for the rest of the breakdown]
We’ve been writing under the assumption that our readers were all around for the early Rich Rodriguez years, and bought the edition of HTTV where Chris Brown described how Rodriguez-era West Virginia DC Jeff Casteel’s version of it worked. Now that it appears to be Michigan’s base defense (at least versus spread and option teams), maybe it’s time for a refresher.
Here’s the most common offensive play in football, Inside Zone, getting straight-up murdered:
The idea here is there’s always (mostly) a linebacker blitzing to be the 4th DL. Functionally McCray is a lineman, but if you’re the offense you don’t know that. Watch the right guard, #74, get totally discombobulated at this discovery.
My drawing here shows the run fits and the Don Brown version of the terminology. This particular play had a few variants:
The two ends are a little offset and Winovich motions inside on the play: that’s because those guys are both taking interior gaps.
The CB blitzed.
Only the first thing is interesting for understanding a 3-3-5. This defense, at its heart, is a one-gap, 4-2-5, except it trades the beef up front of a 4-man line for never knowing who’s in what gap or even who’s going to be the 4th lineman.
[Hit THE JUMP for a very short explanation of the jobs]
After the injury to Ryan Glasgow Michigan has struggled to stop zone running. Indiana and Penn State tore the defense to shreds on stretch or outside zone, until Penn State decided the thing that got them two huge gains in three attempts wasn't worth using again (please keep James Franklin forever kthx). I drew that up last week and found Michigan was still trying to defend runs by shooting the DL upfield and dominating one-on-one matchups up front, as opposed to soundly preventing guards from releasing onto the linebackers.
With Urban Meyer, one of a few true masters of modern running attacks, doing the planning for the Game, we knew Michigan's defensive coaches would have to pull something out of our butts to stop it. Here's what we found in our butts:
Under: NT on the center, shaded to strong. DT on a guard. (aka Weak, 50)
Over: NT on the center, shaded to weak. DT on a guard. (aka Strong)
Even: DL are lined up over guards, none over the center. (aka Split)
Okie: Center is covered, guards are not. (aka 30)
Bear: Center and guards all covered. (aka 46, Eagle, Double Eagle)
These can be split into "Odd" (under/over) and "Even" (Even, Okie, Bear). It is usual for just about any defense to come out in multiple fronts over the course of a game, though Bear and Okie are more rare than the other three.
Anyway that's what that means. By putting guys over the guards it makes it tougher for them to release to the next level. Michigan State used to love their even fronts back when Bullough was their best run defender, and that tells you something about the design of this defense. Tweaking your defense is about making life hard on your better players so things are easier for the rest of your players. "Even" makes life hard on the MLB, since that center is getting a free release unto him.
There's nothing 100% unsound about this defense. Depending on the offense's play, one LB is likely to get a center on him but the other is often a free hitter. If your LB eating the block is good at beating those consistently, or your free hitter is a ninja who sniffs out the play and attacks ferociously, or your unblocked guy is coached to play aggressively against an option you can defeat a basic run play regularly.
Those Van Bergenian thighs. That Clarkian pass rush. That responsible chin…[Fuller]
Final reminder to settlers along Lake Erie: We're coming to your Cleveland on Monday to talk about…I dunno…basketball or kickers or something. We've now added "Big Ed" Muransky to the lineup. Here's some footage of Muransky (#72 right, sometimes left tackle) as a sophomore against MSU, courtesy of WH. The rest of "we" are Brian, John U. Bacon, [huge gap in how much you care] and myself.
We've got the area reserved behind the bar through 11, and there's about 100-120 people coming, which means when the Ohio State fans show up later to watch the national championship game there'll be this wall of Michigan fans to greet them. And a bearded blogger guy rooting loudly for Oregon…while standing behind Big Ed Muransky.
OT don't care SVG is boss: The Pistons cut their best player then ripped off a seven-game win streak. To win #6 they had to preserve a 1-point lead from the defending champions on the road, so Van Gundy used the last rasps of his weakening voice to demand the stones "Just form a [bleep]-ing wall." So I formed an effin' t-shirt.
If you hate this one you're all fired. My "IT'S H4PPENING" shirt is gone now but we've got several other new offerings if you haven't been on the store lately:
Not this again! New coaches mean new schemes to learn and WMUKirk did an amazing job in two diaries of showing how Durkin likes to play chess. Part 1 got into the base stuff and Part 2 was about how he mixed those to stay one step ahead of Jameis Winston's reads. There's this from Part 1:
What I've noticed is he doesn't deviate from 4 basic coverages. Quarters, Cover 3 Press, Cover 1, and his favorite blitz is the Fire Blitz from the QB's blind side. He hardly ever runs Man Under, Tampa 2, or Cover 0. He values speed and isn't against running a 3-4 with 3-3-5 personnel.
Florida's 3-3-5 was lifting one of the middle linebackers for a safety/spur/hybrid space player dude, and looked thusly:
The WDE is a pass rusher type and is standing up. On 1st and 15 this is Xtreme speed.
That's a 3-3-5 but not a Casteel stack; it's more like one of Mattison's okies except the MLB is a LB, not Mike Martin.
Wot it sez up dere^. Despite the blowout nature we got a good look last Saturday at the various positions that Michigan will rotate this season. So I charted who was in at what spot for every play. The results (link to Google doc):
Here's your starting defense, with everybody in their base 4-3 under spots. I want to self-congratulate the MGoStaff for nailing the starting lineup in HTTV with the exception of free safety, since Avery, though out of the lineup, was nominally ahead of Wilson on the depth chart.
The corners lined up to the field or boundary; the line was usually aligned to the formation but then CMU usually aligned to the boundary anyway. The safeties were always lined up to the formation. They split who ended up the deeper guy; usually it was the field guy, and usually that was Wilson.
There was heavy rotation in the front four, an almost even three-man rotation in the linebackers, and the secondary stayed put until it was time to empty the bench. It was rotation, not platooning; guys would go in for a certain number of plays then come out. I charted 44 non-garbage (before 14:59 of the 3rd quarter) plays; rotations as follows:
I know what you were thinking. When spring practices meant there was actual FOOTBALL to pay attention to for a moment, you immediately sought the defensive back depth chart because:
You are aware that the original X-hating god resides in our backfield
You are aware that Jordan Kovacs isn't back there being your banky anymore
You remember how you felt about things before Kovacs became your banky
You remember we recruited a 5-star (to at least one service) this year and that he's enrolling early.
You can't really name all the various Cass Tech dudes so you kinda have to check in every once in awhile to figure out which you actually have to learn.
This is likely when you discovered the aforementioned 5-star was at nickelback and you did a double-take because you read Dymonte's scouting report, and "is a cornerback" wasn't in it. I am supposing further that you think "nickelback" equals "cornerback" because by golly you've played that game with Woodson or Desmond or Denard or a handful of less important schmucks on the cover, and know that nickelback is the guy you put third on the cornerback depth chart who comes in on passing downs. Right Inigo?
Back when your grandpa was playing NCAA '06 or whatever, base defenses were 4-3 or 3-4, backfields had four dudes, and teams would cordially run on 1st and 2nd down and if it was still long on 3rd down they'd put another receiver on the field, you'd put another cornerback on the field, and because this was a 5th defensive back you called him the "nickel" and everything was nice and sense-y-make-y.
So. Michigan got a nice play from Will Campbell to turn second and three into third and one despite kind of conceding the first down, then saw Kenny Demens blow upfield as soon as he saw Venric Mark block a blitzing James Ross. He hewed down a Colter scramble in the backfield. Now it's fourth and two, and all the timeouts have been taken.
Michigan comes out in… this. I guess. Whatever this is. Weird is what it is.
Please note that Northwestern has also brought their share of weird to the party. They're in a two back set with all three WRs to the field, which means one of those slots is covered up. Michigan is seven on eight in the box, with a safety—Gordon—hanging out deep. If Northwestern can get guys blocked they should have a guy running free. As we'll see, they don't.
This has been mentioned before, but Michigan came out in this weird formation on fourth and two in an attempt to bait Northwestern into a handoff up the middle, which they successfully did.
As a bonus, the bait here is compounded by Northwestern confusion. It does not matter what Colter does here. They're dead.
Part The First: Black Surge
Jibreel Black is shaded playside of the center above and immediately shoots upfield of said center.
This is easy for him. Just go straight upfield. It does two things:
Invites Colter to hand off. That looks dangerous to him because if he's forced to pitch early by a Black surge then Roh is likely to contain the back.
Forces the dive back to the backside of the play, where there are two Northwestern OL and three Michigan defenders.
In the wider view you can see three Northwestern OL releasing, with the fourth dealing with Clark.
Part The Second: Handoff Away From Strength
That looks un-promising. But here's what they'll do:
The option provides blocking strength to the front side of the play because you're letting the end go to option him; on the backside you're blocking him. Here Northwestern burns that strength as two confused guys go after Ross. A third has to cut Ryan, and there's no one for three separate Michigan defenders.
At the mesh point Colter is looking at Roh on the edge and Black surging through, which seemingly puts acres of space between the NT and backside DE. There are acres, in fact.
Part The Third: Free Train With Purchase Of Handoff
ACRES OF PAIN WOO
Everyone run around and do things! Be happy! And then play the dog groomers song and kill everyone's buzz. But those first 5 seconds were rad.
Things And Stuff
This was dead in every way. If Colter decides to keep he is probably going to get pushed wide by Black, maybe even have a pitched forced by him a la Mike Martin last year. If he does not…
…it's Mike Trumpy in space against Jordan Kovacs with Roh pursuing from the inside-out. We've seen how that story ends, against this team even.
That was forth and inches, this is fourth and two. I'll take my chances there.
This play seems specifically designed to defeat the option. The Black surge is going to do one of two things. One option is what it did. The other is for the playside G to block Black, likely with help from the center, and leave one guy for Ross. If those guys can combo Black a keep meets the same fate you see in the frame on the last bullet. If those guys can combo Black and the C manages a release to the second level, then you are possibly in business as you hypothetically have enough guys to block the LBs.
I don't see how that happens though given what Black does here. No one is coming off that guy fast enough to be useful. The only option that gets yards is a check.
Nothing else? Just a check? The only other way in which this might eke out the first down is by letting the backside end go, too, and having that tackle hit Demens. This may or may not work and exposes the back to Clark coming down the line; at least if he's hit by Clark it's from behind. Really, though, there's nothing.
Demens! This isn't the hardest play in the world for a linebacker but even so you can't do it any better. There's no drama after this:
No spinning out or grinding forward or sliding off. The guy just goes down, backwards, game over. That's one of them form tackles.
Cat and mouse. This play followed a series of timeouts. Michigan showed the formation they ran before the first one:
Northwestern called TO, and came out with their covered slot formation. Michigan again showed the 3-3-5 alignment…
…until everyone in the front seven yelled at Ryan to get on the LOS…
Roh had to do a ton of pointing and talking to get this to happen
…and then Michigan called timeout before a false start. As a bonus, unless the slot receiver moved after the camera took him out of the picture, Northwestern only had six on the line of scrimmage and would have been hit with an illegal formation.
So they went to it, got a TO, showed it, got rid of it, called a TO, and then ran it. The dance of doom.
A gimmick defense for gimmick times. Yeah this could get gashed by stuff other than what Northwestern ran; Michigan knew their comfort zone and had a plan to blow it up. They had plenty of problems in this game, and I think Mattison is going to have to make some adjustments to slow the Wildcats down in future years, but at the end it was Michigan who got the last stab in after a knock-down, drag-out fight.
Note: no UFR today, as the torrent got down late Monday and I couldn't do the first half then. Hopefully both halves tomorrow.
You'll have to forgive the picture quality on this one—both of these are low-quality torrents. Just like Michigan's defense. AMIRITE!
So in the game column this week I complained about the alignment of the middle linebacker in this bastardized version of the 3-3-5. Michigan has him maybe a yard behind the nose tackle, like so:
This creates a major vulnerability against misdirection, as we'll see. This play is a first and ten on Penn State's first drive. They've driven it into the Michigan half of the field because of depressing things, and more depressing things will happen. This isn't one of them. Michigan shows a two-deep with six in the box, but moves Kovacs down late to add a seventh guy, which gives Michigan the formation above versus Penn State's ace 3-wide.
At the snap the offset fullback heads inside the tackle to his side. You can see the handoff is going to be made to the right side of McGloin. Linebackers start scraping as each and every DE attempts to take on two blockers:
Here's the handoff point. The fullback is hitting the backside B gap, which makes me think this is a called counter play. Where's Demens?
Demens has taken a step towards the line of scrimmage and has hit a guard. Now… he hit the backside guard, the one that PSU is cutting towards. He read the play, but he's a linebacker two yards from the LOS meeting a guard with a free release who's much bigger than him. Momentum means that the best he can do is bounce off it and attempt to flow down the line. (This is much more apparent in the video below.)
The play cuts back as designed. Roh has attacked a frontside gap. Martin and Demens are caught up in the wash on the interior, and Mouton, who was scraping along well back of everyone else, is going to eat the fullback four yards downfield:
The saving grace here is Kovacs, who sifts through the blockers and makes a mediocre ankle tackle that the RB (Royster, I think) steps through:
Demens and others finish it off but after four yards:
Michigan got away with this by putting an extra player in the box late. When Penn State was not caught in a bad playcall, counters like this gashed Michigan all night.
Here's the video:
I don't have an exact replica of this from Rodriguez's WVU days but here's an inside zone Rutgers ran in their 2007 game. Rutgers was no joke on the ground in '07. Ray Rice was around and the Scarlet Knights finished 26th nationally.
The first thing that's obvious is that the MLB is six yards off the line of scrimmage, not two. Also despite playing against a bigger set—Rutgers has a tight end on the field instead of a third wide receiver—West Virginia maintains two deep safeties:
At the snap WVU has shifted to an aggressive look with the OLBs and the spur at the LOS; the MLB has moved up a yard:
At the snap six players attack the line, giving all but one WVU DL a one-on-one matchup:
This is a similar setup, really: inside zone. Main difference is that there is an inline TE instead of a fullback on the backside, but they block the backside end above. The playside end is about to beat a Rutgers tackle to the inside. Note the MLB two yards away from the LOS now—where Demens started the play—after the handoff. He's scraping to the hole. A Rice cutback would be somewhat problematic for him but he's not likely to get a lineman in his face:
MLB has now engaged an OL at the LOS. Rutgers tackle is totally beaten and forces Rice to start cutting:
There are four WVU guys in the area:
And Rice goes down shortly after he crosses the LOS:
On the day Rutgers would get 183 rushing yards, but Mike Teel completed under 50% of his passes and threw two interceptions on a 128 yard passing day because WVU left the safeties back the whole time. West Virginia won 31-3. Their rushing defense was 18th nationally.
It seemed like Michigan was using Jonas Mouton like WVU used their MLB in the 3-3-5. Except Mouton was four yards off the LOS, not six, and not aligned in the middle of the field. So if he's going to get to anything on the frontside he has to run hard, which means he is susceptible to cutbacks.
I don't think Demens ever had a prayer of dealing with a cutback or counter because of his alignment. One step to the playside and he's a yard away from the LOS about to get swallowed by a guard.
Michigan plays Demens at the same depth in their other line alignments. 3-4:
Paired with the disconnect in WVU's 3-3-5 this signals shoehorning to me. Demens should be at a certain depth in more conventional sets and putting him six yards back would confuse him in pass drops, run fills, etc, but in the 3-3-5 he takes one step and there's a lineman releasing free into him. In these sets he's got a chance to scrape without dealing with an unblocked OL all the time. So…
Michigan's deployment of the 3-3-5 isn't really a 3-3-5. I don't know what it is, but that whole attacking from everywhere, making different fronts, blitzing, getting guys through the line unblocked thing is something you can see on a fairly typical WVU play above. There are six guys on the LOS threatening and a dedicated cleanup guy behind them with the space and time to get anywhere along the line. Michigan is a passive three man line with guys you can easily single block (but get to double if you want) and linebackers who are living a nightmare. It's incoherent, and Michigan going back to it after having a fairly solid day against Iowa basing almost exclusively from traditional fronts is a miniature version of what happened against Purdue in 2008. Michigan's 3-3-5 is a 3-4 with linebackers in places that don't make sense.
Michigan only escapes the above play by outnumbering the offense. No one on the defense beat their counterpart. Everyone was blocked out of the play, which means you can't win unless you've got an extra guy, which means you can't play two deep without getting smashed.
I have no idea what Greg Robinson is trying to accomplish. This puts me in the same situation as Greg Robinson.
I Will Eat Them Up: Remix. Boyz in the Pahokee wanted to parody hype videos. He failed, but in doing so succeeded:
Sit under the Banyan tree and ponder this.
As long as we're pondering the above, yeah… I thought this was slightly premature after UConn but, like, dude:
Yeah… kinda. Offer still stands with the Brock Mealer shirt, by the way: buy a Brock shirt, donate to Brock's continued rehab, get five bucks off another MGoShirt. "onepercent" is your magic word.
Old school. Did you know Bump Elliott was on "What's My Line?" With his brother? Who was Illinois' coach at the time?
Different world when you could have the head coaches of Michigan and (I guess) Illinois on a TV show and people had to guess as to who they were instead of saying "what's the deal with hiring that rube from Southern Miss, eh?" FWIW, Michigan went 6-3 in the 1961 season, defeating 0-9 Illinois 38-6 but losing to both Michigan State and Ohio State by lots. Minnesota was the other loss.
"I will probably be chastised for telling this story: At a Big 10 AD meeting I proposed an amendment to allow bands to be miked and it was emphatically turned won. I kept pushing it and tried to convince the other AD's that it was about distributing the sound throughout stadiums better and not amplifying the sound on the field. Using my persuasive powers, we eventually got this amendment passed and now we've got the band miked. Now to head off any questions about the recorded music, we are planning on there being less recorded music now that the band can be heard better. "
Adios, Ron. #87 Ron Kramer, the last Michigan player to have his number retired, died on Saturday. Since he played 20 years before I was born I don't have much to say that's not in a press release, but the News's Jerry Green does:
Ron Kramer lugged the wooden brown box into the saloon close to the University of Michigan's campus in Ann Arbor. "Give me two Scotch-and-waters," Kramer told the bartender.
Kramer placed the brown box atop the bar. The guy behind the bar looked at Kramer with deep curiosity. Ron was alone, accompanied only by the box.
"What do you want two for?" the bartender asked Kramer.
Another ground game worth 12 PAN [Ed: Points Above Normal, IIRC], just like last week. My database goes back to the 2003 season and during that time there have been a total of 107 games where a player has recorded a PAN of 12 or higher. Of those 107 times, there are 10 players who have done it at least twice (4 have done it three times). The only players to have put up a dozen on the ground twice in one season versus BCS teams, Denard and two others, Jerome Harrison at Washington State vs Stanford and UCLA in 2005 and Chris Barclay at Wake Forest vs Clemson and Maryland in 2003.
So if he does this again in the Big Ten season he will have done something unprecedented over the last seven years in college football. Also, the Mathlete calculates that Michigan's penalties cost them a full touchdown and the kickers are not good, but you didn't need math for that last bit.
Penn State hockey: engage. INCH is reporting that Friday will see an official announcement of Penn State hockey, something that will likely be followed by the CCHA extending a membership offer as soon as whichever official is drafted to make the statement finishes the syllable "ho—". This is win for the CCHA, for the Big Ten Network, and possibly for a Big Ten conference I'd be behind as long as it can be accomplished without seeing any existing programs fold, whether that's by scheduling guarantees from departing clubs or whatever.
At a meeting late last week, WCHA coaches discussed the potential of a Big Ten hockey league starting in the near future, and how that would impact their league, sources said. … Sources indicated that the hot topic of speculation at the WCHA meeting was that the 2014-15 season is a potential start date for the Big Ten in hockey.
At this point I doubt anything other than Minnesota blanching can prevent the Big Ten Hockey Death Star from forming. Wisconsin ended the College Hockey Showcase because it explicitly wanted more games against Big Ten opponents; it seems like they'd be willing to jump. Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State aren't attached to the CCHA closely enough for tradition to override dolla dolla bill ya'll. That would be a brutal six-team conference on paper but of late State and Minnesota have struggled to consistently make the NCAA tournament, and Michigan came within a whisker of whiffing for the first time in twenty years. Still, PSU hockey would be in for a rough ride to start.
I don't think the impact on CCHA members would be too hard since a six-team Big Ten leaves at least 14 nonconference dates for conference members to fill and it will make economic sense to spend most of those playing Ferris, Western, Lake State, Northern, et al. Michigan might schedule regular trips to Alaska because those get exempted, as well. The WCHA will be fine; all of those programs are established.
Versus the Inside Zone, I want to either avoid double teams (pretty tough in a 3-3-5 Defense) or or split double teams. By slanting our Defensive Line against the Zone blocking, we have the best chance to split those doubles.
As long as we’re still working to split the double, the Offensive Line can’t get off to get to the Linebackers, and this is where I believe we stop the Inside Zone. If you have 3 Linebackers that are able to run free (not including the Outside Linebackers a.k.a. Overhang Safeties here) you should have no trouble stopping the play.
Thus far it's been a lot of power (pulling linemen, not sliding double-teams) but we'll run up against zone teams in the Big Ten schedule, most prominently Illinois. Since Michigan ran a ton of inside zone against UConn I'd hope they're proficient at it.
How have some of the guys responded to the new 3-3-5? “It is not a true 3-3-5. Again, there is as much as we were doing last year as there is new stuff from the spring. We’ve tried to keep things a little simpler, added a few new things simply because of the youth on defense and we need to play a little faster. ”
…with views of the defense in spring and fall in which Craig Roh hardly ever plays with his hand down. A quick review of Devin Gardner's time in the spring game—which I picked since it was mostly against the first team defense shows 17 snaps on which there's a three man line (a couple of these do have Roh as a standup DE, FWIW) and just six on which he is in a three-point stance, two of those plays where the offense is backed up on their own goal line and the D is expecting a run. In more open play the ratio is a striking 17/21. It certainly looks like Craig Roh is a linebacker who moonlights at defensive end a la Shawn Crable. It looks like a 3-3-5.
Maybe that's an artifact of playing a spread offense and in games against beefy, power-heavy teams Michigan will go to more of a traditional look, but I don't think that'll happen either. Michigan deployed a formation USC calls "Double Eagle" more and more as the year wore on, debuting it against Iowa and deploying it extensively against Ohio State:
This was responsible for Michigan's excellent interior run defense when Ohio State did it's usual DAVE SMASH plays. It was also fundamentally unsound when OSU went unbalanced, but hopefully they fixed that. Either way, only Ohio State has the ability to run it down your throat and switch to a spread n shred—the other beef machine teams in the Big Ten feature pocket passing QBs.
With Ryan Van Bergen and the Sagesse/Banks platoon at defensive end, Michigan's line is four guys who would or could be 4-3 defensive tackles. It seems natural to tuck people inside and and run this thing you've clearly been installing for over a year.
The verdict: it's a 3-3-5 base with four-man lines a "multiple" look Michigan will run for a curveball. The coaches can say it's not a "true" 3-3-5, but to everyone but a football coach it will look like one. Craig Roh is a linebacker, mostly, and Jordan Kovacs is a tiny linebacker. I expect three-man lines to be present on 60-70% of Michigan's snaps this year.
…last year was very thin – one or two guys recruited at each level. All told, 11 recruits, meaning if everybody played up to their hype (which never ever happens), we would have had an upperclassman team with some really good players and some really mediocre players. This year, there's a little more play but it's not all that different. Specifically, the tradeoff in upperclass talent is a likely Brandon Graham (6.1) and Renaldo Sagesse (5.6) for two likely Ryan Van Bergens (5.8) and an Obi Ezeh (5.5).
Straight-up, it's probably not a difference, meaning the performance level that Michigan's defense gets from its upperclassmen in 2010 will probably be about what it got from its upperclassmen in 2009. It is still well below that of Ohio State, and like last year, is drawing from a significantly smaller but significantly more talented pool than Michigan State.
Comparing Michigan's defensive upperclassmen not only to Ohio State, Penn State, and Notre Dame, but to the rest of the conference as well...
Ohio State - 22 Northwestern - 21 Indiana - 19 Illinois - 19 Michigan State - 19 Penn State - 19 Iowa - 18 Wisconsin - 18 Minnesota - 17 Purdue - 15 Notre Dame - 15 Michigan - 12
The rest of the Big Ten averages 50% more upperclassmen on defense. We are dead last in the conference by a wide margin in terms of experienced defensive players.
Michigan's number in 2010 was scheduled to be a still really crappy 14 before Brandon Smith transferred (and subsequently washed out at Temple), Donovan Warren entered the draft, and Troy Woolfolk exploded. Michigan is down to 11 upperclass defenders, 12 if you count James Rogers, 13 if you count Steve Watson. They've gone nowhere.
The sudden fall attrition has hurt matters, especially since it's been concentrated at the position at which Michigan was most vulnerable, but this was always going to happen.
3. Is there any way the secondary is not a giant flaming disaster area?
operates both as solace and a thousand words on the position
The solitary hope is that Michigan was so bad at safety last year that even though they've lost two competent cornerbacks and replaced them with green players they will improve simply by playing bend-don't-break and forcing opponents to put together touchdown drives instead of touchdown plays. That could make the secondary a rickety cart balanced on the edge of a volcano, which sounds pretty good right about now.
How realistic is that? Somewhat, actually. After last season, Jon Chait had a post at the Wolverine with evidence the Woolfolk move backfired badly:
Michigan played six games with Woolfolk at safety -- Western Michigan, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, Indiana, Michigan State, and Ohio State. (I'm ignoring the Delaware State game because the competition level was so abnormal.) Michigan played five games with Woolfolk at cornerback, which forced Michael Williams into the starting lineup and Jordan Kovacs to move out of his more comfortable position. In those five games, Michigan played Iowa, Penn State, Purdue, Illinois and Wisconsin.
You can probably figure out where I'm going with this. In the six Woolfolk-at-safety games, Michigan's opponents gained 380 yards per game. Those six opponents averaged 374 yards on the season overall, which means that Michigan allowed its opponents to gain just a bit more than they did against the remainder of their schedule. This is a poor result, though not an absolutely horrendous one.
But in the five Woolfolk-at-corner games, Michigan gave up 445 yards per game, against opponents who gained 382 yards per game on the season overall. That is a horrendous result. That is a sieve of a defense.
The scoring numbers are even more stark: Michigan went from giving up 23 points a game to 37. Is it really possible that bringing in Mike Williams and moving Jordan Kovacs deep resulted in two extra touchdowns ceded per game?
Well… not quite. The Woolfolk-at-safety games include two MAC opponents, three approximately .500 teams, and Ohio State. The Woolfolk-elsewhere games are much tougher on average because the bulk of the MAC stats were racked up against other MAC teams. If you hack those out this is what it looks like:
[Note: MSU's overtime period was removed to keep everything even.]
Against teams that didn't play a segregated, much easier schedule Michigan was about 20 yards worse than average in yardage and even on scoring. So moving Woolfolk only cost Michigan about 40 yards and nine points a game. That still overstates the effect since MSU did score a touchdown in their overtime period and Ohio State was Tresselballin' it like a mofo, only putting Pryor in the shotgun once Michigan became vaguely threatening. So let's knock our estimate down to 30 yards a game.
What's thirty yards a game in terms of national averages? Kind of a big deal. Michigan would have leapt from 82nd in total defense to 57th—basically average—if they'd just maintained their Woolfolk-at-safety pace.
Plugging the enormous hole at safety would be great, but even if you make the reasonable assumption that Gordon/Kovacs/Robinson is going to be way better than Williams/Kovacs, the massive downgrade at corner means you're probably just treading water. Treading horrible, polluted, razor-blade-filled, despair-laden water.
4. GERG: Brilliant? Terrible? What's Going On?
THAT WAY GO THAT WAY OH GOD OH GOD
Punt. Punt punt punt. I have a tendency to get bitchy about coordinators doing things I see as strategically weird and slammed Scott Shafer over the course of the '08 UFRs for transparently nonsensical decisions like hardly ever playing senior nickelback Brandon Harrison (even against spread teams! In favor of Johnny Thompson!) and pulling one of his senior defensive tackles on downs like third and one. The end result:
The picture painted by the above is, in retrospect, one of huge incompetence. Last year Michigan regularly removed functional veteran players in favor of crappy ones that made no sense given the down and distance situations or the offense on the field, and those things only got fixed (-ish) once Shafer was removed from the decision-making process. It's not like the position guys covered themselves in glory with that 3-3-5 against Purdue but at least they pulled their heads out of their butts afterwards and put in the defense Michigan should have been running from day one against spread teams.
I didn't find that kind of complaining much when I went back over the UFRs for '09. The worst thing I found was after the Penn State game:
Why are you such a grump? Iowa put up 30 points and 367 yards of offense to Penn State's 35 and 396 , and Michigan managed to escape that game with way better numbers.
I think it was that all the stuff Penn State was doing came so easy. The Zug touchdowns, the Quarless touchdown, all the long handoffs: all of those plays required nothing more than Penn State not screwing up with wide open receivers. To Clark's credit, he hit all those guys. He then laughed about the primitive defense that Michigan was running, and on review I totally agree: Michigan telegraphed their now-predictable third and long redzone blitzes and got killed. They showed the long handoff was there and got killed. They put Obi Ezeh in man coverage on the edge against Evan Royster and got killed.
That's what the big minus in RPS is there for: I think Robinson got owned by Penn State's offensive brain trust (which is Galen Hall, not Jaypa). This game was slightly reminiscent of the Purdue game a year ago where Michigan switched to a new system and got their brains beaten in by it.
This was mitigated by the situation, obviously:
I don't know. I am sort of mad at Robinson for making it easy by not breaking tendencies with two weeks to prepare. But when you've got Kovacs as your deep safety, what can you do? Kid's smart and can be an effective player in the box but obviously lacks the athleticism to be a deep safety in the Big Ten.
Tactical complaining is absent in other UFRs, though if I'd actually manned up and done the Ohio State one I would have cited the Buckeye Football Analysis link above, in which the guy said he was surprised at how fundamentally unsound Michigan's scheme was, as another negative.
On the other hand, I've been pumping up GERG's work with Roh and Brown constantly and citing his move to linebackers coach as an indication the rest of the staff thinks he's the best option to undo the damage wrought over the past couple years. And, really, what can you do when you're handed the material he was given last year? This has been documented incessantly: given the personnel situation it is totally unsurprising Michigan's defense cratered last year.
So I punt. I'll be looking at the development of Roh and Mouton and seeing if the defense can get off the mat somewhat despite facing down a personnel situation that isn't much better, if it's better at all, than last year's. We'll have a much better idea about Greg Robinson in November.
There were many complaints when I started the preview series off with the secondary and linebackers. People were depressed. They found me depressing. Someone posted something on the message board wondering if I was okay. People of Earth: it is not my fault the back seven on defense is depressing. It just is.
Is there hope? Is there anything resembling it? Maybe. After the Iowa game this is how I diagnosed the D:
On the podcast this week I called the defense "competition-invariant": they have talent and do well when they use it but when they make an error it is so huge that even Indiana can exploit it ruthlessly, so the defense kind of plays the same against everyone.
Maybe GERG can reduce that tendency. Maybe Cam Gordon will 1-0-1 the season. Maybe the linebackers will get less frustrating, and maybe Michigan will give up an annoying number of long drives but not so many awful, really short ones. But here's the greater-thans and less-thans:
Junior Mike Martin > Mike Martin
Sophomore Craig Roh >> freshman Craig Roh
Senior Jonas Mouton with competent coaching > Junior Jonas Mouton with headless chicken tendencies.