EMU Postgame Presser Transcript: Brady Hoke

EMU Postgame Presser Transcript: Brady Hoke

Submitted by Heiko on September 17th, 2011 at 10:26 PM

[players tomorrow]

Brady Hoke

Are you glad you scheduled San Diego State? "Uh ... no."

How did this game turn into running Denard 25 times? Was that part of the game plan? “Uh, no, we don’t want to get him beat up. We’re going to play in a pretty physical league, so we have to make sure we get it out of the way. I thought Vince and those guys did a nice job. Vince and Touss’, did a good job running the football. It takes a toll on your body. He’s not the biggest guy in the world.”

How much of defensive struggle in the first quarter was them outscheming you vs. them winning the battle up front? “I think that the jet sweep, which is part of their offense -- it hasn’t been a huge part depending on different things that you watch game-wise, but I thought that was really where they hurt us early in the football game. But after the guys settled down and got used to where they tried to leverage you, they played pretty well.”

Can Vincent Smith be the lead back? “He ran the ball pretty well today. Until you analyze it, look at it, and really evaluate it, I would hate to say that.”

Thomas Gordon made two big plays. Talk about him, please. “Thomas had a really good summer, and it starts there [with] what he did with his weight and how he reported to camp. I think his attitude and Michigan football being important to him, and his teammates being important, and just the way he’s come to practice everyday, I’m really proud of him for doing those things. It’s paying off for him and paying off for us.”

Did the team seem flat early? “No -- [Eastern Michigan’s coaches] are good coaches too. I think they had a good plan. I think a lot of the movement and some of those things, they’re a little bit unconventional as it is from that standpoint. I thought they did a good job.”

What can you do to get passing game going? “I think we just have to be better with our feet. Setting our feet on some of our throws. That’s usually where it starts with our quarterback. We need to do a better job there. It would have helped with some possessions early in the ballgame, if we make a couple first downs.”

This is the third game you started slow on defense. Is there a way to combat that? “If there was, I think we would have tried to do that. We just have to execute some things better. There’s not a real answer to it besides we have to keep working on it and keep playing hard with it. Guys have to do a great job in practice, which they have. That part of our team has really made some good strides. It’s coming along.”

Can you talk about in-game adjustments to shore up defense? “You always have the things that you want to run from a defensive perspective. And there’s also things that may be on the fringe. We were pretty vanilla and pretty base today. But there’s a couple movements Greg called that helped us. A couple adjustments coverage-wise that helped us. More on the run support than the actually coverage.”

When it was 28-3, did you think about giving Devin some snaps? “Not really. I’ve been around this game a long time, and I never feel real comfortable until it’s :00 on the clock. We wanted to down and put the ball in the endzone, and unfortunately we didn’t.”

Assess how the defensive front did today. “I felt them a little more this week. I felt Mike, I felt Craig, and Ryan. I felt those three guys than I have.”

Running game -- what started clicking for you, and how big was it to have Vincent Smith to complement Denard? “It’s huge. I’m not going to sit here and tell you it’s not. The offensive staff came in at halftime, and said, ‘This is what we liked, this is how we’re want to align it formationally, this is how we need to tweak the blocking of it,’ and it went pretty well. Vince did a nice job. He made one cut too many on one run, but he did a nice job with his vision, and I thought Fitz did also.”

When you get a tailback going, what does it do for confidence of running backs as a whole? “They’re all very competitive. I also think they all want to play. But I think they also are very supportive of each other.”

Jibreel made a difference out there. Talk about him. “I think Jibreel’s played pretty consistent the last two games. I just didn’t feel him as much as I felt those other guys.”

Another big play by Kovacs on fourth-and-one. What happened? “It was a man coverage situation, and he was locked on that guy, and he did a tremendous job of beating the guy to the edge, to be honest with you. It’s something that Curt Mallory had worked with those guys all week.”

You’re off to a 3-0 start. This happened the last few years, too. Tougher opponents ahead. Cold shower? “Tougher opponents – I think they’re all tough. Believe me. College football – they’re all tough. Every game is such a from-the-neck-up football game. We’re a different team. I mean, yeah, we’ve been there, but we have to improve so much tomorrow when we look at the film and see, maybe we got out-leveraged here on this and why. There’s some urgency things when you’re setting up front, and guys getting lined up and all those things. Not getting technical, but we’ve got to go to work. I am not the funnest guy in the world like I am today, but Sunday to Friday, we have work to do.”

Second week in a row Gallon’s done some good things. Talk about him. “Well I think Jeremy’s another one of those guys who really, you could sense some things in his demeanor. Change in the spring. He had a really good summer, and good fall camp. He’s earning respect because of how he’s coming to work, how he’s playing.”

Denard had some problems passing. What do you want to see from receivers to help him out? “That one interception, that was kind of a bang-bang deal. I think Junior – if he comes back a little bit more, he maybe could have bodied the guy more and been in a better position. We’re pleased with our quarterback and I’m glad he’s at Michigan.”

You talked about Denard setting his feet. How hard is it to get him to set his feet when he loves to run so much? “I think it always is [hard] when you have a guy who can make multiple plays because of his athelticism. There’s no doubt that it’s a little more difficult. It is, and he’s done a nice job, and we just have to keep working, and he’s got to keep working on it and focusing and concentrating on that improvement in his game.”

Are Herron and Cam Gordon close to coming back? “Cam is real close, and so is Herron. I would think they’d both be ready next week.”

We didn’t see a lot of power runs today. A lot of spread instead. Is this by design or just playing more to Denard’s strengths as the game goes along? “It’s kind of what we’ve been since we started in the spring, to be honest with you. The quarterback power is still the power play, the read zone a little bit, and a couple things how we’re blocking that a little bit different depending on front. When we got I-backs today -- and Phil Snow’s a tremendous defensive coordinator, the guy has a tremendous pedigree -- he was going to load the box. That’s when we had a couple opportunities with some throws, because it’s all man coverage. You connect on those and the game changes a little bit.”

Thoughts on next game? “A guy from San Diego would ask that, wouldn’t he? I tell you, we have our hands full. That’s a very good football team, and a wel- coached football team, and a talented team. We’re going to try and get by the next 12 hours and then focus on that one.”

Glad you scheduled them? “Uh … no.”

Craig Roh got some stats today. Talk about him, too, please. “I thought he played more physical today. I thought he played with a little bit of a different mentality. He was aggressive. And you can really tell how he prepared all week he was going to do a great job for us today.”

Michael Schofield made an appearance -- what happened with Ricky Barnum? “His shoe came off. He’s got big feet. To get a big shoe on a big foot, sometimes it takes time.”

The way you guys end the game isn’t how you always start the game. What’s the deal? “I think it’s a little bit of both. I think both units, offensively and defensively … their respective coaches do a tremendous job of gathering information during possessions during the first half and coming in there as a group and each other’s room, taking some things out, putting some things in, making some adjustments, and relaying them to the kids so they can understand it. We [as coaches] can understand it all we want, but it doesn’t do us any good. If they understand it, then you’re going to make progress.”

When Denard struggles in the passing game, do you actively give him more carries to get him into rhythm? “I don’t know if we do that. I think your comfort level that you always want your quarterback to have is important, because he and the center and the only two guys that will touch the ball every play. Al looked at where we were and what we needed to do, and because we have worked on both styles so much, it’s easy to revert back and forth.”

Preview 2011: Five Questions On Defense

Preview 2011: Five Questions On Defense

Submitted by Brian on September 2nd, 2011 at 11:00 AM

Previously: The story, the secondary, the linebackers, the defensive line, the offensive line, the receivers, the running backs, the quarterbacks, special teams.

1. How does the shift back to the 4-3 under fit the personnel?


left: stack no blitzy. right: 4-3, though an even 4-3, not the under

Better than the 3-3-5-type-substance but it's not going to be a huge difference. Fits:

  • BETTER: Roh (LB/DE to WDE), Demens (MLB to MLB with guys in front of him)
  • SAME: RVB(DE to SDE/DT), Martin (NT to NT), Heininger (DE to SDE), Gordon (spur to SLB), Jones (WLB to WLB), Gordon (FS to FS), cornerbacks
  • WORSE: Kovacs (bandit to SS)
  • Craig Roh and Jibreel Black were men without a position last year. Though Roh actually help up pretty well when he moved to the DL late, he was still miscast as a DE in a three-man line. Black just got crushed. This year both will be playing weakside DE, where they can get after one tackle.

Kenny Demens will be shielded by two senior defensive tackles, allowing him to flow to the ball like he did against Iowa. Michigan set of small, quick WLBs is better suited for the 4-3 since it will be harder for opponents to get a hat on them.

The major negative is not finding a way to keep the two safeties near the LOS. Both are effective blitzers who are a little dodgy in a deep half.

2. How big is the coaching upgrade? Will the transition hurt more than it?

The Mathlete's numbers suggest a coaching change is a drag on the improvement of very bad defenses worth about eight spots. It seems flabbergasting that that could be the case for this specific situation, however. dnak438 found a GERG effect of approximately negative 30(!) spots. While you should take that with a grain of salt because the sample size there is extremely small, each grain adds to a pile threatening to eclipse the Schwarzschild radius. Going from Greg Robinson not running a system he knows to Greg Mattison teaching exactly what he's taught for a zillion years has to be a positive even in the short term.

What causes that drag? Probably a system change. How long has Michigan been running its current system? Six games. They've probably got more experience running the under than the 3-3-5.

Then there are the position coaches: Adam Braithwaite was a grad assistant promoted to LB coach without the usual stops at East Nowhere State. Tony Gibson was reputed to be mostly a recruiter. Bruce Tall seemed pretty good but in his place Michigan has Hoke, Mattison, and Jerry Montgomery. That's an upgrade across the board.

3. Why is everybody so suicidal when the personnel doesn't look entirely doomy?


doug karsch interviewing popular perception about the defense. via firstbase

Slap me for saying this but the starting lineup isn't that scary save for two spots: SDE, where walk-ons Will Heininger and Nathan Brink are backed up by Nobody At All, and WLB, where four cats are fighting in a sack. You know what they say about WLBs: if you've got four you don't have any.

The rest of the line is Martin, Van Bergen, and Roh. Demens is promising at linebacker and they've got a couple of good options at SAM. And the secondary isn't awesome but Avery/Woolfolk/Kovacs/Gordon looks like it could be below average, which will seem like heaven. This year's edition of "Are You Experienced?" sees Michigan move towards average. There's still a gap, but it's narrowing. The Decimated Defense series also sees its Michigan number creep towards sane.

So why is everyone, including myself, afraid of going 7-5 this year with just about everyone back everywhere?

Well, there's depth. Once you get past those starters its scary. There are three backups I wouldn't wince upon seeing enter on the field: Black, Jake Ryan, and Carvin Johnson. I guess Brink fits in there as well but only because he'd be spotting another walk-on. Everyone else on the line has been beaten out by Brink and Heininger, I have little faith in JT Floyd, and even if Marell Evans was injured at Hampton he's done little in four years of football. When injuries happen the dropoff will be severe. It won't even take injuries for the defensive line to wane in effectiveness. Modern football rotates the DL. Michigan has a choice between tired starters and ineffective backups.

Even so I still can't work up the same sense of bowel-crippling panic I had last year when I believed the secondary would tread "horrible, polluted, razor-blade-filled, despair-laden water." Let's poke around at


2010: Black, Gordon, Gordon, Johnson, Avery, Talbott
2011: Maybe Ash


2010: 4-3 under, 3-4, 3-3-5
2011: 4-3 under


2010: Third year running
2011: Hell no


2010: Rubbing a stuffed beaver in your face
2011: Navy SEAL tridents

Michigan wasn't just rocking an underclass two-deep, they were rocking a freshman-heavy two deep. This could work out! For a given definition of work out!

4. What is with Will Campbell? Isn't the situation at SDE just horrible?

Man, I don't know about Campbell. Maybe his center of gravity is just too high. Maybe he'll never learn technique in the same way Mike Cox can't remember to run into the hole.

The situation at SDE is caused by whatever it is with Will Campbell and will not be encouraging. Heininger was already a non-entity in the passing game and that was 28 pounds ago. And who the hell knows about Brink? I'm guessing Mattison is just trying to get that spot to hold up against double teams in the run game and will rely on Roh/Martin/Van Bergen to get the pass rush. If they can do that it's a win.

Can they do that? Why do I ask myself unanswerable questions? 

5. Well?

Michigan will be much, much better this year. How much better depends on:

  • The health of key, irreplaceable pieces. These are Martin, Demens, Van Bergen, and the starting corners.
  • The improvement of last year's freshmen. Avery, both Gordons, and Black all have the potential to leap forward Darius Morris style.
  • Nathan Brink. If Michigan's unearthed something here that not only makes SDE acceptable it means the guys he beat out are potentially serviceable.
  • Craig Roh. He could be anything from Tim Jamison to James Hall.

The first bit is unknowable but I can hazard guesses on the latter three: two of the four freshmen above will be startlingly good. Two will be meh. I'm guessing Thomas Gordon and Avery are the former. Brink will not be as bad as everyone feared but that SDE spot is going to be averaging +2 for the season, which is bad. Roh will be in the 75th percentile of his range, a fringe All Big Ten guy.

When I wrote that the D should improve but "not enough" I didn't account for a GERG/RR effect that is real. They'll be better than 82nd in advanced metrics this year by a long shot.

Now, behold the greater-thans and less-thans!


  • senior Mike Martin with ankles > Mike Martin
  • junior Craig Roh playing his actual position >>> linebacker Craig Roh
  • junior Demens >> sophomore Demens/Ezeh
  • sophomore Cam Gordon > freshman Gordon/Gordon/Johnson
  • Woolfolk >>> Rogers
  • sophomore Avery >> freshman Avery/Floyd
  • T. Gordon/Johnson >> Gordon/Vinopal


  • senior RVB == junior RVB
  • Kovacs == Kovacs
  • Heininger/Brink == Banks


  • Jones/Hawthorne/Herron/Morgan << Mouton

It's going to take two years to dig out of this hole completely but I think the defense will rebound more effectively than stats and conventional wisdom suggest.

Last Year's Stupid Predictions

Fumbles recovered double to ten.

Michigan recovered seven.

The secondary is actually better than last year's secondary because long touchdowns are less frequent. It will still be very bad.

First sentence: false. Second: true.

Mouton is much better, leads the team in TFLs and sacks, and is still incredibly frustrating.

Very accurate. Mouton led the team in tackles (117), was in a three-way tie for TFLs (8.5, Kovacs and RVB tied) and had two sacks. RVB (4) and Banks (3) beat him but not by much in a pathetic year for sacks.

Mike Martin is great and should get first-team Big Ten recognition, though he probably won't.

This might have actually transpired if he hadn't gotten laid up with high ankle sprains. Before he was chopped down against MSU he was playing very, very well.

Mark Moundros holds on to the starting MLB job all season.


Michigan manages a modest improvement in yards allowed, getting up to the 60-70 range nationally.

Not so much: Michigan dipped to 110th.


More accurate than anyone thought possible.

This Year's Stupid Predictions

  • Courtney Avery busts out. Going into next year people are talking about him as an All Big Ten performer.
  • Kenny Demens leads the team in tackles with Northwestern-MLB-type numbers.
  • Brink is a legitimate player, better than Greg Banks was last year. The biggest source of pain on the defense is the WLB.
  • Craig Roh leads the team in sacks with eight.
  • Sacks almost double from 1.4 per game to 2.4. That would be a move from 98th to around 30th.
  • Turnovers forced go from 19 to 27.
  • Michigan noses just above average in yardage allowed. Advanced metrics have them about 50th.

Unverified Voracity Took A Daguerreotype Of Greg Mattison

Unverified Voracity Took A Daguerreotype Of Greg Mattison

Submitted by Brian on August 18th, 2011 at 1:13 PM


regression + old-timey Greg Mattison = ?

Let it breathe. So how about that diary this morning? Man. I'm heartened by the idea that the admittedly rough model contained in it thinks Michigan's defense will bubble up to 71st even though it asserts changing coordinators/coaches is a worth an eight-spot hit to your final rankings.

In this case you can—are compelled to—argue that if anything it will swing the other way once Michigan decides to run one sane defense instead of a mélange of incoherent ones. Regression to the mean is our most favorite friend:

Top Underperforming Defensive Years


Predicted Finish

Actual Finish


Michigan 2010



New HC

Florida State 2009



New HC

Washington 2008



New HC

Northwestern 2010




San Jose State 2009



New HC

Not only are we bad and expected to regress upwards, we were much worse than expected. Expectations will deflate but even so they will come in well above our finish last year.

The main argument against this is the impact of Michigan's recruiting rankings on the model (quite positive) versus their impact on the field (not so much). The list of the departed is depressing and extensive: Boubacar Cissoko, Brandon Smith, Taylor Hill, Justin Turner, Vlad Emilien, Cullen Christian, and Demar Dorsey are a big chunk of Michigan's four and five star defensive recruits; none are around. Will Campbell and JB Fitzgerald, two of the thin remainder, are badly underperforming expectations. Attrition from the underclass has also hurt.

The numbers point towards a two-year project. Like the 2009 offense, the 2011 defense should be worlds better than its predecessor. Unfortunately that will only get them to average, which isn't that average for a BCS team that will play cupcakes who can't compete with it.

The other interesting thing from the model was a quantification of how important the quarterback is: getting a returning starter there is more than four times more valuable than an average non-QB offensive starter. Guess who's got a returning starter at QB for the first time since 2007? Michigan. You can even argue that 2006 was the last time Michigan really got to use a returning starter to his full capabilities—Chad Henne missed big chunks of 2007 and was never fully healthy until the bowl game.

Oh snap. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is itching for a duel. His statement on Larry Dee:

"If the allegations prove true," he said, "the words irony and hypocrisy don't seem to go far enough."

These corrupt NCAA functionaries would do their cause a favor if they at least required some caricature before they looked like Thomas Nast cartoons. I, mean, seriously:

thomas-nastpaul dee

That Junker guy That Junker guy also looked like a walking editorial cartoon. This is not helping their public image.

Oh snap part II. I was going to make this comparison myself but Grant Wahl beat me to it:

FIFA and NCAA are almost exactly the same in their complete inability to police themselves.

When you can compare an organization to FIFA with little, if any, hyperbole and don't have an obvious breaking point in 2014 there is trouble.

Yahoo continues strafing runs. It's a good combo they've got going at Yahoo: Charles Robinson flies over in the B-52 dropping the big bombs while Wetzel swoops in to pick off any survivors with a machine gun. This time Wetzel's plinking away at the whole damn system:

Guys wanted to party on a yacht. Guys wanted to drink free in a VIP section of a nightclub. Guys wanted some cash, or a mansion to hang out in, or some extra money for a big hit, or maybe even the wildest of parties.

It’s not abnormal behavior from 20-year-olds.

Except in the mind of the NCAA, which is so far backward, it’s wasting time arguing over whether offering players a minor monthly stipend will cut too far into the adults’ gravy train.

Would it be so bad if this stuff was okay? Not the prostitutes, but just hanging out maxing all cool with guys who want to be your pet ATM? I guess that's not in the Spirit of Amateurism but even the Olympics have given up that ghost. Adam Jacobi asked much the same question at CBS, and the only objections I have to it are purely selfish: I don't know if Michigan boosters can dole out the rewards with the same kind of élan other schools can.

I've advocated something less holistic in the past in regards to basketball: let kids enter the draft whenever they want, let them play summer ball with teams, let them sign with agents, let the NBA teams sign them—and then let the kids go back to school and play if the NBA doesn't think they're ready. Where's the harm in that?

The NCAA continues to pretend like it's 1955, and that there wasn't rampant cheating in 1955, and that everyone has the morals of 1880. They could go a long way towards making the system fair without unbalancing it just by acknowledging that pro leagues are not evil. The last people to have that notion rode bicycles with one enormous wheel and one tiny one and thought Irish people were basically livestock. They also looked like Paul Dee—ohhhhh. I get it now.

But it's not so they must burn. A bit more on Pryor getting paid by Sarniak:

Pryor said he and his mother received cash and assistance with car payments from Ted Sarniak, a businessman in Pryor’s hometown of Jeannette, Pa., sometime before leaving school in June, lawyer David Cornwell told ESPN.

Cornwell, who is representing Pryor in his bid to be declared eligible for the NFL supplemental draft, said Pryor informed the NCAA and provided documents in May. As Pryor was being recruited in 2008, the NCAA told Ohio State that Sarniak could not provide anything of value to Pryor once he enrolled.

It's Big Brother-y, but NCAA teams can view the bank accounts of their players, which is probably why AJ Hawk and friends had three thousand dollars in cash on them when they got robbed that one time. Smart people keep their booster money in hard currency. Terrelle Pryor put it in a bank, one that OSU had access to, after his controversial recruitment found that he had received extra benefits in high school from Sarniak. Sarniak was in frequent contact with not only Tressel but the head of compliance at Ohio State. Pryor had lots of suspiciously nice cars. At no point did anyone in the compliance department add two and two together.

Brace yourself for this bit of spin:

Phone records also show that Ohio State compliance director Doug Archie stayed in regular contact with Sarniak.

“It’s expected that a compliance officer is calling constituents involved with the athletics department,” Lynch said. “It speaks to the compliance department’s thoroughness in monitoring such matters.”


Available for viewing at the cube. Three Michigan commits made the NTDP U17s: Evan Allen, JT Compher, and Tyler Motte. This was already known, so it's a bit disappointing a couple of the other guys didn't slide their way onto the team. Three is still a good number. No other school has more than two.

Also, the U17 team is an indication of how much college hockey recruiting has accelerated. Only four of the twenty skaters are uncommitted. These guys are 2013 commits with two years of junior in front of them—that's like 80 of the top 100 guys in Shane Morris's football class already being committed.

By that time Michigan will be in the Big Ten, so you can ignore the Miami guys on the list. The only player from the U17 Michigan will see down the road is Michigan State commit Mike McCarron.

Waiting it out. Michigan would very much like to add U18 defenseman Jacob Trouba, one of those weird guys who waits it out. Trouba is a potential first rounder in next year's draft and has yet to make a decision because he plans on sticking to it:

"That's sort of why I haven't (committed), because I don't want to make a commitment and then back down from it," said the 17-year-old on Wednesday. … "My family and I have always been like that -- my parents have always told me that if I make a commitment, that I have to stick with it, at least until the end of the year and then I can do whatever," said the 6-foot-2, 193-pound blueliner. "So, I'm going to wait until I know for sure what I want to do and then I'm going to choose."

Michigan is "in the equation" along with Notre Dame and the OHL's Kitchener.

Etc.: A third oh snap: Braves and Birds defines Clay Travis by calling him "embarrassingly self-congratulatory." Also he demolishes the silly argument about lawsuits he's making in re: Texas A&M to the SEC. (Remember when people cared about that?). Rock M Nation/Football Study Hall/Football Outsiders guru Bill Connolly is profiled by Vox Magazine.

Dear Diary, The Worst is Over

Dear Diary, The Worst is Over

Submitted by Seth on July 20th, 2011 at 9:17 PM


A whole lot of "defense will be better" diaries this week. Rather than steal their thunder, HIT PLAY to listen to my favorite song off my favorite album of all time, and once the strings and charts come in, start clicking things. (Mp3 courtesy of band's official page)

Dear Diary,

Your gentleman caller

Well, he's been calling on another
He loves his forbidden fruit

And as it dribbles down his chin
He cries:

"Baby I've been drinking with some friends now how about a little kiss"

Bad boy
Rub his nose in it, what a mess

And he's playing dumb
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo

I'm not looking for a lover
All those lovers are liars
I would never lie to you


You say you wanna get even
Yeah you wanna get your bad man good
Well, are you in the mood?

You bad girl
Does it feel good
Being bad? and get worse
do do do do do do do do




But in the morning
On the sober dawn of Sunday
You're not sure what you have done


Who told you love was fleeting?
Sometimes men can be so misleading
To take what they need from you


Whatever you need to make you feel
Like you've been the one behind the wheel
The sunrise is just over that hill


The worst is over.


Whatever I said to make you think
That love's the religion of the weak


This morning we love like weaklings
The worst is over.


Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo

The worst is over.


Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo

The worst is over.


The worst is over.

How Much Should The D Improve? Not Enough

How Much Should The D Improve? Not Enough

Submitted by Brian on July 12th, 2011 at 12:17 PM

Let's take some small sample sizes and extrapolate wildly. It will be fun. Here's Bill Connolly breaking down expected improvement from teams that return varying numbers of defensive starters:

So Cincinnati returns 11 defensive starters. That's probably a good thing, right? But how good? And how much can a bad defense improve in one offseason just because of experience? Let's take a look, shall we?

Average Change In Def. F/+, Last Three Years
N Avg Chg in
Def. F/+

1 1 -12.4%
2 4 -10.9%
3 10 -8.4%
4 32 -2.1%
5 53 -1.1%
6 69 -0.5%
7 85 1.1%
8 56 1.5%
9 37 4.2%
10 9 6.0%
11 3 5.4%

So basically, if you return between five and eight starters, you are likely not going to change much, but three or fewer is a problem, and nine or more is a good thing.

F/+ is Connolly's advanced metric; it's play-based instead of drive-based like FEI. Don't be fooled by the % symbol—the metric is percentage based and from context it's clear the difference is meant to be added to the score, not multiplied. Since the best defenses are around +17% and the worst around –13%, 6% is about a fifth of the entire scale.

Michigan is, unsurprisingly, right at the bottom of that scale at 115th. They were 12% worse than an average defense down-to-down. The good news is they return 9-ish starters, losing Greg Banks, James Rogers and Jonas Mouton while reacquiring Troy Woolfolk. (They also lose Ray Vinopal and Obi Ezeh, but Ezeh had been replaced and Michigan should get JT Floyd back so let's call it a wash.)

The numbers are thin at both ends of the spectrum but, hey, extrapolating wildly from small sample sizes. Doing so says Michigan's defense will storm forward from 115th nationally to…



I have no source for this, unfortunately.

But wait! Our sample sizes are not small enough and our extrapolation is not making out with other nubile young extrapolations in front of a television camera. Bill added a second factor, the previous year's defense, and finds that a defense with an F/+ under –10% that returns nine starters should expect (for a given confidence level that is not high at all) to improve by 8.6%, which would see them get to…



You might be able to argue that Mike Martin wasn't right and the team was even younger than the average team that returns nine starters and GERG is rubbing stuffed animals on the faces of other stuffed animals at a tearful tea party and for the first time in a long time they'll just run one damn defense per year and that they should expect to improve even more. You're probably setting yourself up for disappointment. Like installing the spread 'n' shred, digging out of a hole this big is a multi-year project.

Coaching Clinic Notes: Mattison And The Defense

Coaching Clinic Notes: Mattison And The Defense

Submitted by Brian on April 20th, 2011 at 2:12 PM

A guest post from Craig Ross, who took in the coaches' clinic this year, as he does most years. If you're not sure what "technique" means or the basics of cover X defenses the UFR FAQ should be of some assistance.


greg-robinson-fail032911_SPT_UM Football Practice_MRM

Greg is not impressed, GERG

On a personal level Mattison is charismatic and impressive. I can’t imagine that he won’t be a absolutely great recruiter. His enthusiasm is manifest. He isn’t a defensive personality (I don’t mean football defense) in the slightest. Media guys kept asking him about his salary (incredibly rude, I thought) and he just said he didn’t want to talk about. Not mean. Not tired. Not nasty. Just matter of fact. But after the second “no,” these reporters got it.

Unlike GERG he has patience with questions, especially football questions. GERG wanted little to do with the press and had no patience with anything resembling a football question. [I asked whether he would be playing “one or two gap” a couple of years ago. He looked at me like I was crazy (maybe I am/was, probably the question was idiotic) but he responded (and repeated himself) with “Let’s just say by the end of the season you’ll be happy with our defense.” Uh, well, not exactly.

I don’t want to beat on GR. The media can be pretty awful and he had a right to some disinclination to talk about anything other than superficial sound bites. But even in coaching clinics he seemed loathe to talk about defensive structure, which he perceived as overrated (maybe he is right). His obsession was technique, notably tackling technique—stunning given what our defense did the last two years. But Mattison is a whole different deal. He gives smart questions their due. He gives sloppy questions more thought than they probably deserve. And, yeah, he isn’t above the ordinary sound bite to the ordinary sorta-non-question.

Mattison's Philosophy

The Ravens were a 3-4 team until Mattison took over the defense. In 2009 he changed the Raven to a 4-3 look and there is every reason to believe he will attempt to mimic the success he had in Baltimore. Mattison’s overall philosophies are

  1. stop the run,
  2. take away the offense’s best receiver (I assume this means the D may tend to roll a bit to the best WR’s side of the field), and
  3. keep the defensive formations stable but mix pressures and coverages.

Mattison will run a 4-3 with some nickel as a primary defense*. He was adamant about four things.

  1. Martin (or any NT) will never play right over the center, zero tech, that he will be shaded into the A gap, even if slightly**.
  2. He always wants four guys down. Always. He said “If I have to limp in there we are playing 4 guys on the line.” (A couple of times in the spring game it looked like we had three guys down. Reviewed this. On play one he had Big WC at NT and Mike Martin standing up on the edge. Denard breaks the play for 55 yards. Of course, we did have 4 DL in the game so he didn’t violate his abstract principle. Also, as noted, against spread looks he went with three DL. [Ed: my impression was that these sorts of games were reserved for passing downs, when run soundness goes out the window and you're just trying to hassle the QB.])
  3. GM prefers (strongly) that the defense generally have the same look. He stated that his defense will not “stem” into different looks. That said, he wants the defense to have variations out of the singular defensive formation.
  4. As every coach on the planet says and means, he wants the D to pressure the QB.

Mattison stresses that he has been left with attentive kids. He talks about their seriousness, that they have behaved and been supportive of each other. Unlike Borges, who spent a lot of time looking at last year’s offense, Mattison claims he did not watch “one minute” of last year’s tape. (I wish I hadn’t.) There are two reasons for this. First, he didn’t want to bias his impressions of the players. He preferred that he and his staff make their own valuations, as opposed to those that accrued in a different system. Second, he was going to run a different system anyway. Looking to last year’s model wasn’t going to provide any information likely to have value.

This is a treacherous judgment—my understanding of the lingo may hamstring my perceptions—but it looks to me like Mattison will to use a 4-3 under as his base defense. The NT will be shaded into the A gap toward the TE, the defensive end in 5 technique but slightly shaded to the outside, and the SAM lining up near the LOS outside of the tight end, assuming there is a TE on the field. On the weak side the tackle will be in 3-tech and the rush end will shaded slightly outside of the offensive tackle***.  Basically this:


Via Jene Bramel

I think Michigan will look like this a lot but the black “elephant”—the rush end for UM [ed: around here we called it Deathbacker when Greg Robinson was trying to use that guy as in coverage more]—might be a bit closer to the tackle. Mattison’s drawing also had the Mike (Middle LB) and Will (Weakside LB) slightly more shaded to the TE. In the diagram above the Mike has the strongside B gap and Will the weakside A gap. The Will just has to make sure his gap isn’t threatened and then can flow to the ball.

Coverage: The field (wide side) corner and safety will often play “quarters,” while the other safety will be responsible for half the field. [ed: This is also known as quarter-quarter-halves. It's a cover three that splits the field unevenly. Hit up this Smart Football post for more detail—look for the first diagram with color in it.] If there is a receiver to the boundary (short side) that corner will squat, but if there is no WR he may have a “fire” read, rushing the passer or having weakside run support.

A couple variants: A primary variation of this will be the DL all slanting to the weak side of the formation, the Mike and Will dropping into hook and curl coverage, with the corners and weakside safety splitting the field into thirds and the strong side safety having responsibility in the flat. Note that this comes out of the same 4-3 under look. I assume, on this choice, the Sam (Strongside LB) has edge integrity and the Mike and strong safety have primary run support to the play side.

Mattison didn’t mention the 4-3 over but they definitely played a bit of that in the SG. In that the NT shifts to a shade into the weakside A gap and the linebackers are more balanced. I have to look back at the tape some---pretty sure they played a bit of it, at least late in the SG.

It also looks like they will play some “Bear” defense, bringing the Will down into the gap between the End and the SAM. In such instances he said they will always be in man defense, they won’t try to zone. Mattison also stressed that “setting an edge” to the defense is always important and on their base defense that’s up to the Sam on the field side. He said this was “a huge deal.”


In terms of personnel note that Troy Woolfolk and JT Floyd were out in the spring, as was Kenny Demens. In a surprise Marrell Evans started with the ones (I didn’t know he was on the team until 10 days ago) in the Spring Game. Herron was there, too. Herron was shucked by Cox on his long run. I thought Evans played pretty well.

Tony Anderson and Avery both played pretty well at corner (or was this just the weakness in our passing game?) so with Floyd and Woolfolk healthy in the fall, there should be a lot of competition there.

In a huge surprise to me, I saw some really good play from Greg Brown—at corner—in the last Saturday scrimmage [ed: ie, the Saturday before the spring game]. This was mentioned by the coaches, so it is not a secret or my insanity. Brown did give up the TD near the end of the spring game but he was in great position and just misplayed the ball. Right now Carvin and Kovacs are running with the ones at safety, but Marvin Robinson is going to be a monster if he can learn the D. Parents of a player mentioned this to me, that Marvin had the chance to be awesome, once he steps up his understanding of the playbook. Josh Furman made a couple of plays but I didn’t focus on him so I can’t evaluate his play yet. Marvin made numerous big plays in the last weekend scrimmage.

The DL looks set with Van Bergen at DE, Roh at rush end, Big Will at the three tech and Martin at NT. However, Martin was moved around a bit in the SG so I have to look at the tape of that. Depth is thin, but I saw some good play from Black (inconsistent, but flashes), Wilkins (big plays in the SG) and the other Will (Heininger) who has been moved inside to NT.

The LBs were Jones (Will) and Cam Gordon (Sam) and I thought they did OK. Jake Ryan just stood out on the last scrimmage (with the 2s)—he made play after play—and he did the same thing in the SG. He was a way under the radar recruit but he really looks like he will be a player.

This was the worst defense in the history of the galaxy (maybe not universe, there may be a planet where some team was worse) last year so I am surprised by what I saw this spring. It was a more ordinary spring--- the UM defense making the offense struggle to get any run game going (except for Denard), though maybe two big plays were broken by the RBs. I predicted before the SG (based on the prior week’s scrimmage) that this would be an average or above average defense. I still think that. Something in the back of my head thinks it might even be an “almost good” defense but I suspect this is delusional. Now the coaches seem nervous. Mattison was unhappy after the SG but they sure seem ahead of anything I have seen for a few years.


*[Editor's note: given how much we saw Thomas Gordon in the spring game I'm guessing the nickel will be the base defense against spread looks.]

**[During the spring game it seemed like were pretty close to a zero technique at times, something he seemed to disavow. From the endzone, where I sat, there always seemed some shade. But on the Tivo of the game (from the side) of course, it seemed like we had a NT in zero tech every now and then. I reviewed it. Seems like this was when the offense was in a spread, when GM went completely odd with a 3 man front—as George Halas suggested against the single wing.]

***[Mattison is concerned that too many rush ends tend to get too wide as they attempt to speed rush the tackle. He thinks this is too easy a mark for an offensive tackle unless the end is a blur. He wants him closer to the tackle. He especially wants Craig Roh to not get too wide, allowing him to probe in either direction.]

Hello Again, Old 4-3: Linebacker Sorts

Hello Again, Old 4-3: Linebacker Sorts

Submitted by Brian on February 16th, 2011 at 1:43 PM

The 4-3 is back, like it never sort of left and then really really left against Purdue and then came back and then altered into a slightly different version of itself and then mutated into a bizarre thing that was like the thing against Purdue but wasn't really because the person doing the mutating spent all his time watching his "Best of Just For Men Commercials" DVD. It will not suddenly be replaced by things that start with the number 3 and end with razorblades and pain. In the long term, this is delightful.

In the short term… eh… there might be some issues. This series is an attempt to fit Michigan's noses, ends, spurs, bandits, spinners, deathbackers, doombackers, dipbackers and frosting-covered gnomes into their new homes.

The defensive line appeared last week. This post covers linebackers, hybrids, safety-type objects, and, you know, whatever. There will not be a post covering the secondary since it shouldn't change much [Ed-M: he means in their job descriptions -- back away from the ledge...].

What we were forced to watch last year

God, who knows? Let's go back to that Wisconsin screenshot from the last post:


So. You've got Kenny Demens, the MLB, lined up about a yard behind the nose tackle. The nominal SLB, here JB Fitzgerald, is actually lined up to the weak side. The nominal WLB, Jonas Mouton, is lined up to the strong side and gets to line up a little bit deeper. Michigan compensates by drawing cornerback Courtney Avery into the box as a sort of Bieber-backer and half-rolling Kovacs down into the box. You can see Cam Gordon's feet to the top of the screen, covering the slot receiver.

Questions immediately pop to mind: why? what? argh? This was not really a 3-3-5, at least not one as run by Jeff Casteel. This was covered in an extensive picture pages after Penn State obliterated Michigan's defense in the game that was the beginning of the end, but it seemed like Michigan was keeping Demens in the same place in all formations. Here's 4-3 and 3-4 alignments:



Demens spent his year a yard or two back of a nose tackle, shaded to one side. Casteel MLBs lined up 5-7 yards deep and ran like demons to wherever the play is going; Demens got swallowed by unblocked guards through no fault of his own and left Michigan vulnerable to counter after counter.

And then in addition to the 4-3, 4-4, and 3-4 looks above we also got some glimpses of something that actually looked like a 3-3-5, except with two deep safeties and the MLB still too close to the LOS:


So the answer to the strangled yelps of misery was "Michigan ran everything… terribly."

Outside of Demens, Mouton spent the year as the WLB (apparently unless teams were putting twins to one side), where he ran down stuff, plowed fullbacks at the line, crushed blocks to make great individual plays, and lost contain over and over. The SLB was some combination of Craig Roh, JB Fitzgerald, and Obi Ezeh. All were confused, slow, prone to get lost in space, and ill-suited for the spot.

Further outside yet, Carvin Johnson, Thomas Gordon, and Cam Gordon split time at the spur with the larger Gordon seeming to lock down the position after his move from free safety(!). Yes, Michigan's starting free safety ended the year as essentially a strongside linebacker. Jordan Kovacs's role as a tiny weakside linebacker was actually more safety-ish than people thought it would be, but he still rolled down into the box plenty.

What we were forced to watch the year before

Michigan was a 4-3 under similar to the one above. Here's that shot from the 2009 Iowa game again. While the line isn't undershifted it does provide a canonical example of what the linebackers usually do in the system:


Now we're looking at the linebackers so note that Stevie Brown is lined up right outside of SDE Craig Roh, ready to take on a tight end. The other linebackers are at the same depth (five yards) lined up over the guards. Michigan's rolled SS Mike Williams into the box. Iowa ends up running a zone stretch right at Brown; he keeps contain and allows Mouton/Ezeh to flow over the top of Roh, blow up the fullback, and make a TFL.

There wasn't much else as far as the linebackers. Brown hung out around tight ends and slot receivers all year and the two MLBs were pretty much just MLBs. There weren't dudes at different depths, dudes moving all over the place, dudes playing 4-3 on one snap, 3-3-5 on another, 3-4 on another. The LBs lined up five yards deep over the guards, end of story*.

*[of course this is not literally true, but on the vast bulk of snaps this occurred.]

What can't possibly be quite as bad next year

Again, the assumption here is that Michigan is going to be running a 4-3 under similar to what they did in 2009. This assumption is an easy one to make since the head coach said it point blank. Details on what that means for the line—the "under" bit—can be found in the first post in the series.

As for what that means for the associated linebackers, look above. Against pro-style teams one linebacker will roll down to the TE side of the LOS and the other guys will hang out about five yards off the LOS.

What you need at each spot

To refresh your memory, here's an aerial view of a 4-3 under:


The strongside linebacker needs to be a magical athlete made out of beef and lightning who can take on a TE effectively, contain runs, and move out into the slot to cover little buggers. Oh and if he's an awesome pass rusher that would be cool too. So Lamarr Woodley except faster. Maybe Shawn Crable or Prescott Burgess. Failing that, teams pick one of two paradigms and make do:

  1. Lumbering quasi-DE sort of like Roh who can take pressure off the SDE and do more than just force running plays inside of him when matched up against a TE.
  2. A sort of super strong safety who may not be able to take on TEs except by setting up outside of them but is a fantastic tackler in space and a guy who doesn't have to come off the field when opponents go to spread formations.

When Greg Robinson wasn't denying its existence, the "spinner" was obviously concept #2. Stevie Brown had an excellent senior year doing that. Johnny Thompson was concept #1, and that burned Michigan badly. With passing attacks so effective these days most teams are moving towards #2. If you worried they'll go with #1, don't be: they don't have anyone on the roster who can plausibly be that guy.

The middle linebacker is a middle linebacker. In the under he has to expect more blocks since usually the bubble in the line is the guy lined up directly over him, so he has to be smart about where his help is and funnel guys back inside. Quick decisions and the quickness to get on the side the OL doesn't want you on are at a premium.

The weakside linebacker is a weakside linebacker. He's protected by the three and five tech, usually gets a free run at someone or another, and has to be an athletic tackling machine plus blitzer. Mouton, basically.

Or at least that's the book. In reality it's nowhere near that neat. The Iowa play linked above that shows Ezeh charging downhill at a zone stretch, getting outside of the fullback, and allowing Mouton to tackle is a canonical example of the responsibilities these guys have:

Everyone says the MLB is going to deal with a blocker and the WLB is going to have the play funneled back to him. This is what happens here. But in truth I think the differences between the two guys are overblown. On the losing contain play it's Mouton who needs to deal with a blocker and funnel back to his buddy. Plenty of times throughout the year it was Demens picking through trash to get to ballcarriers or Mouton thundering into a fullback at the LOS.

I think of the 4-3 under as something halfway between a 4-3 and a 3-4. The SLB and WDE are kind of versions of 3-4 OLBs—playmakers who can drop into coverage or blitz. The one-tech DT is sort of a version of a 3-4 NT. He doesn't need to control two gaps, but he's a big guy who needs to eat up two opponents. Etc. In a 3-4 the MLBs are interchangeable. That's not quite the case here but the two MLBs are more alike than different in the under, especially with all the shifting and motion teams employ in an effort to get you off balance and maybe force that WLB to take on a block or that MLB to run. Playing SLB is a different world entirely.

And since it seems silly to break out another post for one position that's changing, the strong safety wants to be Jordan Kovacs running a 4.5 at 220 pounds. What Kovacs did with Michigan last year will be about what the strong safety does next year—the "bandit" thing was overblown. Kovacs played plenty of deep half zones over the course of the season. He also rolled up to the line and blitzed, covered tight ends in man, etc. He was a strong safety on a team that was aggressive with its safeties.

Who goes where


Kenny Demens is the middle linebacker. Attempts to replace him with Obi Ezeh will be thwarted by a pucky band of kids ripping off the Mattison mask, etc.

On the strongside Cam Gordon is the clear leader after finishing the year as the "spur" in Michigan's 3-3-5. That is a very close analogue to the SLB in a 4-3 under. The guy next to you is still a strong, run-defending DE with a little more pop than a 3-4 end. You're still taking on tight ends against run and pass… unless you're getting dragged into the slot. Gordon's got the biggest frame of any Michigan linebacker, ballooning and buried Isaiah Bell aside, and can put on a lot of beef over the offseason to help him in his dual roles as tight end defender and roving punch-the-slot-in-the-face guy. He's got a season's worth of starting experience. He'll have to fight for it but he's got the edge.

This is where the linebacker who wasn't Demens or Mouton probably ends up competing, so seniors Brandon Herron and JB Fitzgerald are tentatively slotted as the competition. Neither has done much so far. Other options here include the other two freshmen spurs, but Thomas Gordon and Carvin Johnson might be needed elsewhere.

Michigan has a surfeit of options on the weakside, where Michigan's attempt to move to the 3-3-5 has left them with a zillion kinda-sorta safeties who can run and maybe, hopefully tackle. Pick any underclassman listed at strong safety on the depth chart by class and there's a 50-50 chance you'll see him competing at WLB in spring. Mike Jones was Mouton's primary backup and seemed to be the leader in the race to replace him, but one season-ending injury later he's just another guy with no experience. He joins Josh Furman and Marvin Robinson in that group. Also, this could be the landing spot for the little Gordon or Johnson.

Some of these guys are ticketed for safety, but we won't know which ones until spring. Robinson and Johnson bounced back and forth as freshmen; Thomas Gordon spent his redshirt year there before getting the call at spur last spring. If you put a gun to my head I'd say Johnson and his tackling win the job, but this could be any of a half-dozen guys.


At strong safety, heroic efforts will be made to dislodge Jordan Kovacs. They will fail. The effort will be provided by some combination of Robinson, Thomas Gordon, and Johnson.

Awkwardness Rating On A One To Rodriguez-Interviews-Hoke Scale

Like the defensive line, operating in a 4-3 makes fine sense for Michigan's personnel. Ironically, it's the exotic wing guys with funny names who fit most neatly in to the new scheme, since they'll be doing pretty much what they were doing before. The biggest adjustment will be from the two middle linebackers, except the two middle linebackers did just fine as 3-4/4-3 guys—Demens, in particular spent two years playing MLB in 4-3 under schemes before last year's experiment.

Really, anything but the 3-3-5, especially the Robinson version, should be better. Michigan had their best day as a rush defense against Iowa when they replaced Ezeh and ran—drumroll—various 4-3s and 3-4s most of the day. Iowa couldn't get anything Jibreel Black being a freshman or Jonas Mouton losing contain didn't give them.

When they went to the bizarre non-stack it allowed Evan Royster to go from massive disappointment to massive disappointment with his usual billion yards against Michigan. In doing so stripped Kenny Demens of the ability he showed in previous games and put a ton of pressure on Mouton to do the contain thing he doesn't do so well. I don't think I'll ever understand it.

After a year of being "multiple" and cratering Michigan needs to establish a baseline defense that might be predictable and medicore but at least gives everyone on the team an idea of what they do, and if Gordon develops they should be fine in the front seven save the scary lack of depth on the DL.