This Week’s Obsession: Back FROM the Future

This Week’s Obsession: Back FROM the Future Comment Count

Seth December 17th, 2015 at 4:00 PM

The Question:

Taking an old question in reverse: Choose one current Michigan player whom you'd like to take back in time and have him play for a former team?


The Responses:

David: I think I would put Zach Werenski onto the 2010-11 Michigan Hockey team. 

After Brandon Burlon's injury before the tournament run, freshman Kevin Clare was pushed into Michigan's 3rd defensive pairing...which ended up turning into playing mostly just five defensemen.   After the Tiny Jesus show against North Dakota in the National Semifinal -where Hunwick made a whopping 40 saves- Michigan was just gassed going into the Title Game.  It showed as M took twice as many penalties as Duluth did.  Hunwick played amazing again, but the team was chasing play most of the time.  If you put another NHL first round defenseman on that team and Clare isn't forced into action that might have been a little above his head -or if thy could have rotated through 6 blue-liners more confidently (Clare did have 2 of M's penalties)- Michigan might have been able to stay out of the box more and conserved energy, etc, etc.  Not to mention adding Werenski's offensive prowess...he already has 4-8-12 in half a year, this year.  Would it be a slam dunk?  I don't know...but I would take another shot at that game if I could get it...

Option #2 (if its allowed): Trading Senior LeVert for Freshman LeVert in 2012-13.

Option #3: Adding Peppers/Lewis to the '06 football team...but would either of them (or anyone, for that matter) keep their feet on that hideous Columbus sod??


[After THE JUMP: we debate which team would most benefit from #HoverPeppers]


Hump Hypotheses: A More Aggressive Greg

Hump Hypotheses: A More Aggressive Greg Comment Count

Seth September 28th, 2011 at 3:55 AM

kovsacks2.4 Kovacsack
Screen grab / TONY DING

Title note: Since Brian moved this column to Wednesday morning, "Museday" is now "Hump Hypotheses," until that name also becomes stupid. New format, same old Miso soup.

Question: Against SD State we finally got to see Michigan play a full game against a pass-oriented offense. Against this Michigan usually sent four rushers, occasionally more. Last year I seem to remember this being three (out of a base 3-3-5) more often. I wonder if the extra rusher is making MattisonMichigan more effective against the pass this year?

Declaration of biases: Eeeeee Mattison.

Research: Thx Brian for adding rush stats to UFR since ND 2010. Yoink. Since it's not available yet I had to do my own SD State charting. From this I took out anything that looked like an end-of-half/4th quarter prevent, plus all of the runs, big play-action, waggles, and any plays from inside the 10, which make it hard to gauge if there were any late blitzers. I also excised last year's game against Purdue because that was played in a monsoon against Perry the Torn ACLephant.* Then I went about determining if each of those plays was a "Win" for the defense, defined thusly:

  • 1st down: If the offense gained less than 1/2 of the yards for a first down (so 5 yards from 1st and 10) that's a "Win"
  • 2nd down: less than 2/3 of the yards to first down=Win
  • 3rd or 4th down: if the offense does not get the 1st down
  • Turnovers are obviously Wins.

Incompletes go for zero yards—if the pass went to Tacopants, well it's results-based charting. Have at it.


*Michigan spent the whole day rushing three and this worked pretty much 90% of the time.


Hypothesis: We were right to be saying "Michigan sends 3 ARRRGGGHHH!" last year. Sending four this year is helping the defense improve.

Let's test that: In case your eyes haven't  picked this up already, Mattison sends more guys after the passer. He's averaging about 4.5 rushers per pass play, versus GERG's 3.9 among those we count from last year. Here's a tendency chart:Heat

Rushed: 2 3 4 5 6 7
2010 (GERG) 0.4% 41.3% 36.9% 12.3% 7.5% 1.6%
2011 (Mattison) - 6.1% 50.0% 29.8% 12.3% 1.8%

This is not just a difference of a 4-3 defense versus a 3-3-5. Mattison has called a lot of zone blitzes where a DL backs into coverage, and the 3-3-5 is designed to often have one or two guys coming. Michigan's defense in 2011 is more aggressive than it was last year. Using the W/L formula above, let's see how much more effective it is because of that:

GERG in 2010:

Rushed: 2 3 4 5 6 7 Total
Win 1 61 43 18 10 3 136
Loss   43 50 13 9 1 116

Contrary to my memory, Robinson's 3-man rushes were kind of effective by this simple win/loss method. Everything else was flipping a coin.


I counted this as sending five; Gordon was covering the RB and
stepped up when he saw his man was in pass pro.

Mattison in 2011:

Rushed: 2 3 4 5 6 7 Total
Win - 2 27 20 8 2 59
Loss - 5 30 14 6   55

He's definitely sending more guys. Effectiveness seems to be..wait, down?:

Rushed: 3 4 5 6 7 Total
GERG 58.7% 46.2% 58.1% 52.6% 75.0% 54.0%
Mattison 28.6% 47.4% 58.8% 57.1% 100.0% 51.8%

AAHHHHHHH this isn't right. This can't be right. Well for one Mattison barely ever sends three. He did it once versus SDSU, and that when Michigan was up 28-7 with 5 minutes left in the 4th quarter. It went for 15 yards. However when I look at the wins and losses when the game is within 8 points it's still way favoring GERG:

Coach Win Loss Total
GERG 100 77 177
Mattison 18 29 47

AHHHHHHH. This is literally not what I expected. Maybe my Wins and Losses thing is just stupid. Let's do this by simple yards per play when Michigan rushes…

Rushed: 2 3 4 5 6 7 Total
GERG 5.0 7.7 9.1 6.2 8.3 2.3 8.0
Mattison   11.3 5.2 5.4 5.2 - 5.5

Yards v Rushers

And there you see it. I may have found what's throwing me off here. The Pass/Fail nature of my system was not showing that when GERG's defense failed, it failed BIG. Look what happens to yards per pass when I only count the "Loss" plays:

  Rush 3 Rush 4 Rush 5 Rush 6 Rush 7
GERG 16.5 14.8 16.6 19.3 19.0
Mattison 13.6 10.8 12.7 11.8 -

When the 2010 pass defense failed, it didn't just give up the first down, but often a good chunk afterwards. The 2011 defense is still 50/50 to get the job done on any given passing play, but at least they're living to see the next series more often than not. That means more chances per drive for a turnover.

Last bit, just to see if this is changing running stats:

  Rush YPC Rush YPG Rush TDs/Game Pass TDs/game
2010 (All of it) 4.4 188.9 2.6 1.6
2011 (4 games) 4.7 156.0 0.5 1.0

Er. My expectation here was that Rushing YPC would be way down due to an extra rusher being around when a running play is called, but they're actually up a good bit. However the TDs given up are way way down. That combined with not once have we seen a freshman corner vacate his zone in dime, and this defense looks like it's already at mediocre and learning things that might make them good.


Holding this to 15 yards maybe should be a win.

Draw a Conclusion: Mattison hasn't even faced the best teams on his schedule yet so I can't claim anything is better or fixed. What I can say is the theory that the huge flip in turnover margin this year and/or improved defensive back play is probably having a bigger effect on Michigan's apparent defensive improvement than line scheme/aggressiveness. The data are way too close and inconclusive to draw anything for certain, and four games is not enough to assess, especially considering it's the first four games with this defense. But it is kind of interesting to see that rushing the extra guy seems to be doing a better job of keeping down the big plays than having eight men in coverage. That was really unexpected, though again it probably has a lot more to do with the efficacy of the specific defensive backs in coverage more than scheme.


Bonus: here's how they do on each down:

  1st 2nd 3rd 4th
GERG 50.57% 56.47% 57.53% 28.57%
Mattison 48.98% 48.65% 57.69% 100.00%



Preview 2011: Five Questions On Defense

Preview 2011: Five Questions On Defense Comment Count

Brian 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 Is Twitchy About 3-4

Unverified Voracity Is Twitchy About 3-4 Comment Count

Brian May 24th, 2011 at 11:47 AM


Internet: frighteningly comprehensive. Don't ask about Rule 54 here.

Update on a deceased fellow. I made some offhanded reference to Horace Prettyman, how ridiculous a name that was, and how it was obviously a few guys on the football team having a laugh a couple days ago, but a reader points out one Horace Greely Prettyman has his own extensively researched wikipedia article detailing a life full of accomplishments. Specifically, he scored the first-ever touchdown in Ann Arbor:

In 1883, Michigan resumed a schedule of intercollegiate football, and Prettyman played "forward" for the team. The team played its first ever home game at the Ann Arbor Fairgrounds in March 1883, a 40-5 win over the Detroit Independents. Prettyman scored the first touchdown at the Fairgrounds at the 14-minute mark of the "first inning" and went on to score a second touchdown before the end of the inning.

The team played its remaining games as part of an Eastern trip in November 1883. The trip consisted of four road games in eight days at Wesleyan and Yale in Connecticut, Harvard in Massachusetts, and Stevens Institute in Hoboken, New Jersey.

The trip cost $3,000 and was arranged "to both represent and advertise the college among the Eastern cities and universities."Prettyman was placed in charge of the trip, and The Michigan Argonaut praised his management: "All the boys are most hearty in their commendation of Prettyman's excellent management of the financial interests of the trip and his success is seen by the fact that every expense of the trip has been paid to the last cent."

If Prettyman hadn't died in 1945 there's a good chance he would have tracked me down—he was the local postmaster for a long time—and strangled me.

And as long as we're looking up very old photographs of football players, here's Yost with a killer mustache in 1896:


Mustache Wednesday? Come on, baby.

Er, well then. Yesterday's post on Full Cost Of Attendance—apparently this year's conference expansion— made a large assumption: the change would be localizable to certain athletes. Adam Rittenberg says this is wrong:

If the proposal is adopted at the NCAA level (more on this later), it would affect every athlete on a full scholarship. A women's soccer goalie would have the same scholarship structure as a quarterback. "What we're talking about is not limited to football and men's basketball," Hawley said. The proposal wouldn't impact athletes on partial scholarships.

Or is it? The only "headcount" sports—no dividing scholarships—are basketball, football, women's tennis, women's gymnastics, and women's volleyball. Schools that don't wish to put the world on FCOA could just offer partial scholarships in sports that aren't the above.

But that still increases the burden of FCOA considerably, especially at football schools that almost universally feature volleyball for Title IX purposes. Jim Delany Machiavelli Rating: incremented.

Happening? Happening. Mike Slive is on board with this, by the way. SEC + Big Ten equals probably happening.

Good advice for anyone. Nate Silver is an interesting guy, and here's a speech he gave to a bunch of prospective journalists about what they should do in This Environment. The Big Lead contrasts this with Rick Reilly's "don't write for free" speech. The former is useful, the latter clueless.

This is good advice for anyone:

Learn how to make an argument. This is something that came naturally
to me as a former high school debater. One of the things that distinguishes (quote unquote) "new journalism" from some of its more traditional forms is that the reader is really going to be looking for analysis, meaning, context, argument. Unless you come across some really fresh and proprietary information ‐‐ it's great to get a scoop, but it won't happen very often ‐‐ it's not enough just to present the information verbatim.

One of the flaws of political journalism, in fact, is that a lot of what amounts to spin is given authority by being reported at face value.

Instead, the reader is going to be asking you to develop a hypothesis, weigh the evidence, and come to some conclusion about it ‐‐ it's really very much analogous to the scientific method. Good journalism has always done this ‐‐ but now it needs to be done more explicitly.

If you don't know how to make an argument you spend a large amount of time putting together statistics on how many college athletes get arrested only to find yourself widely ridiculed for not even bothering to provide context. In the past you could just say something and the worst that would happen would be a nasty letter to the editor from a crotchety old guy; now your arguments have to be bulletproof (or at least, you know, try a little) lest you get eviscerated.

Silver also suggests journalists learn what to do with numbers, which is something I harp on consistently.

APR bite. While football APR penalties have generally been restricted to the San Jose States of the world, small squad sizes and NBA departures have made the APR an actual toothy thing in college basketball. A couple years ago Indiana, Purdue, and Ohio State all got hit in the offseason. This year UConn feels the wrath:

The national champion Connecticut men's basketball program will lose two scholarships for the upcoming season as a result of a poor Academic Performance Rating from the NCAA. …

The rating puts the basketball program's four-year rating at 893, below the NCAA minimum score of 925. The score for the 2009-10 academic year is 826.

The NCAA's real minimum is 900 but it's interesting that UConn is failing where Kentucky is apparently succeeding. I wonder what they're doing differently in Lexington. The Huskies won't be getting off the mat any time soon, either: their score from last year is 844. Barring a miracle their APR is going to be under 900 for the next few years.

The full report is supposed to come out today; I'll get Michigan's scores up ASAP but probably not as quickly as the guy with the fastest trigger finger on the message board.

What's this oh those are my multiple defense hives welcome back hives I hate you I hate you I hate you aaaah. You may have noticed that Michigan has recruited a lot of linebackers. Farmington Hill Harrison's Mario Ojemudia, a high school defensive tackle who people are projecting as a WDE, wasn't supposed to be one of them but showed up at the recently completed Columbus Nike camp looking like a linebacker, and not one of those linebackers you can turn into a WDE. This may be the cause for another round of "are we moving to a 3-4" last featured in a mailbag here; this time it's a post at Maize N Brew detailing the various teams that moved to the 3-4 and how they mostly got a bunch better.

I don't think this is happening. As I mentioned in that mailbag post, moving to a 3-4 does not reduce your linebacker overage because a well-stocked spot—WDE—becomes a linebacker spot filled by—surprise—those WDEs. I think Mattison has explicitly stated he will run a 4-3 under at Michigan and only a 4-3 under even if I can't find the quote right now, and GOOD LORD LET'S JUST DO ONE THING FAIRLY WELL BEFORE WE START CHANGING AGAIN AAAAAAH—


Etc.: Yost Built profiles new defenseman Mike Chiasson, who does mean no Burlon next year. Unusually for Michigan, Chiasson is 20 now and will be one of those 24-year old seniors popular amongst teams that don't have a lot of NHL draft picks on their rosters. Chad Langlais was the most recent example at Michigan and that worked out well.