Mailbag: The Fouling Question

Mailbag: The Fouling Question

Submitted by Brian on April 4th, 2014 at 12:35 PM


to foul or not to foul this stroke

Foul? An excessively long answer to an excessively long email.

Brain & Staff -

I'm a templar with high INT.

Here is my question - Would it have been a better move for Michigan to commit two quick fouls and put Kentucky on the line shooting 1 and 1 at the end of the game? After Michigan tied the game there were about 27 seconds left. After two fouls Michigan would likely have 20 seconds remaining to take the ball and make a game winning shot of their own.

Oh man, you are about to enter the final frontier of basketball strategy. For starters, this is never happening. John Beilein is a genius but he's not the kind of mad genius who would, say, leave his guys out there with two fouls in the first half even though they don't foul very much. This is a bridge too far.

But, yeah, I thought about it too. Let's look at it.

Here is why I think this is a superior strategy - please feel free to poke holes in it.

1) Kentucky was making 53.40% of their shots. Assuming this is a reasonable expectation for Kentucky's chance of success on its last possession and that they hold for the last shot, Michigan has a 53% chance of losing and a 47% of going to overtime. Michigan has no chance of winning (in regulation) under this scenario baring a huge mistake by Kentucky.

This is optimistic for your strategy. Last shots are bad shots, as Kentucky amply demonstrated. Ken Pomeroy frequently tweets out the fact that teams tied and in possession with the shot clock turned off win 67% of the time, which means they're hitting 34%. Last shots also usually don't provide much of an opportunity for a putback, and anyway that stat about winning the game folds all results in.

2) Putting Kentucky on the line for a one on one yields the following probabilities (assuming a 75% free throw shooter - which is higher than Kentucky's 54.5% average for the game):

56.25% chance Kentucky hits both shots = 2 points

18.75% chance Kentucky hits one shot = 1 point

25.00% chance Kentucky misses the first shot = 0 points

I'm assuming Michigan is able to grab any rebounds (perhaps a big assumption). The key here is that Michigan heads back down the floor with a 25% chance to win with a made shot and tie with a miss, an 18.75% chance that any shot will win the game. and 56.25% chance that any made shot will win or tie.

This is a bit pessimistic for your strategy. Hack-a-blank has been an infrequently deployed strategy throughout basketball history, and never has it drawn an intentional foul call. Michigan had two attractive targets: Alex Poythress, a 64% shooter, and Dakari Johnson, a 45% shooter. Johnson was on the floor. Hack-a-Dakari gives you the ball tied over half the time.

Well, about half the time. The rebound assumption is kind of a big one. In the NBA, about 14% of FT misses are grabbed by the offense. Michigan was giving up an epic OREB rate in this game, though that's somewhat mitigated by the fact that in our hypothetical scenario one of Kentucky's bigs is stuck on the free throw line and can't move until the ball hits the rim. But since your FT% assumption is high it's probably a wash.

3) Assuming we use Michigan's 47.8% field goal percentage in the game as a proxy for their changes of making a shot. I'm also assuming that the chance of taking a 2 or 3 mirror the game percentages as well.

Again, late shots are bad shots.


although sometimes they go in

The impact on Michigan would presumably be less since they're just running their offense looking for the best shot they can in about 25 seconds, so maybe the assumption about Michigan is on more solid ground. But then you've got a potential response from Kentucky and things get complicated fast.

I'm eliding the math based on this assumption in the email provided to cut to the chase, which is that fouling for a one-and-one against a 75% FT shooter looks like this:




This breakdown looks better to me than Kentucky holding for the last shot:



So, where am I going wrong OR why don't we see this strategy more often - especially with teams who have better free throw shooters (ie trading fouls at the end of the game would typically be a losing strategy for the other team).


Jamie (6th Generation - still have never posted)

The main thing that's off about this analysis is the assumption that Kentucky hits a shot at the same rate they did during the game; this is clearly not true otherwise teams would be winning closer to 75% of their games when they've got the ball with the shot clock off in a tie game.

The other thing that's off is that 75% assumption. Here's what the universe looks like if you foul someone you should foul:

Player Down 2 Down 1 Tied
Poythress (64%) 41% 23% 36%
Johnson (45%) 20% 25% 55%

Down one is worse than being tied but it's hardly worse than a coinflip. When Arizona got the ball back with 31 seconds to go against Wisconsin down 64-63 Kenpom gave them a 45% shot at the game. It's basically compressing overtime into one shot. Meanwhile, being down two means you're now in a lose-or-OT situation similar to the one Kentucky just had with win-or-OT, except you have the option of hitting a 3. Michigan's quite good at this.

Things get complicated fast, but there is a threshold at which the foul is the right move. I think that threshold was breached once Calipari put Johnson on the floor. Part of this is the fact that Michigan is a brilliant offensive team. If the game's coming down to a last shot I want it to be Michigan's. And part of it is the stark line in the table above. Even including a standard OREB chance of 15%*, about 70% of the time you send Johnson to the line you get the ball and any bucket wins. The rest of the time you have a shot to go to OT or win with a three. I'm taking that chance.

…in the long-delayed aftermath, anyway. This isn't (much of) a criticism of Beilein. It's more of a thought experiment. Most people who have brought this up have done so in the context of "I wonder what if…" and then scribbled out assumption-laden percentages. During the event I was just trying not to die. I'm not sure Michigan should have spent any time figuring out how to shift the odds a bit in their favor if this one particular situation came up.

But, yeah, I think if there's a 45% FT shooter on the floor and you have the opportunity to put him on the line for a 1-and-1 in a tie game you do it.

*[Given the way the game was going you may question this but remember that Johnson's at the line and Kentucky is unlikely to have anyone other than Randle as a post since a Michigan rebound would then put Kentucky in a very awkward place defensively. Also Michigan can put two bigs in and call timeout after. Seems fair enough.]

Mailbag: Sports Randomness Rankings, Important Holder Question

Mailbag: Sports Randomness Rankings, Important Holder Question

Submitted by Brian on February 4th, 2014 at 12:41 PM


anecdotal comparison demonstrates that the best basketball player ever, Michael Jordan, was considerably better than the best baseball player ever, a chimpanzee named Carl who led the 1883-1884 Erie Mudjacks with a .546 batting average.

Question about randomness in sports that evolved into a very long answer with rants about how to fix hockey.

Hey MGoBlog team,

I'm of the opinion that individual games in any sport are decided by a combination of four things: player athleticism, player skill, player/coaching strategy, and chance. If you want you could also pull refereeing out of the chance bucket to make a fifth. Do you think this is a valid and relatively complete model and if not how would you change it? A related question is which of the five major sports (football, baseball, basketball, soccer, and hockey) relies most on chance to decide the outcome of a single game? How does that affect the fan experience?

My answer is basketball and hockey as the most reliant on chance, which I think negatively impacts my ability to get too caught up in the outcome of those games. That could be because I'm relatively ignorant of the strategy and skill elements in those games though, which is why I seek your most esteemed opinions.


Those four things cover just about everything, though athleticism and skill are sometimes difficult to parse out from each other.

As far as randomnesss goes, basketball in fact seems like the sport least impacted by chance, especially at the NBA level. The best NBA teams win something like 80% of their games, and teams that good generally plow through four rounds of playoffs without issue. A whopping 14 of the 20* teams with the best regular season win percentage in NBA history went on to win the championship. Two that didn't (the 96-97 Utah Jazz and 1995-96 Seattle Supersonics) lost in the finals to teams ahead of them on the list.

Meanwhile, no baseball team in a much longer history has touched an 80% win rate and only five of the 14 teams that Wikipedia references made it through much shorter playoff structures. Also, eight of them played before WWI. Baseball is the king of randomness. They've done studies and everything.

And when you think about it, it makes sense. Basketball is structured as 60-90 random trials worth 0-3 points for each team. That's a lot of trials. Baseball has nine. Football has 10-12, though that's a bit different because those trials are a lot less independent of previous ones. Hockey defies this sort of categorization. But just think about the MAXIMUM THUNDERBOLT LEVEL possible in any particular sport as a proxy for randomness:

  • A man makes a three pointer and is fouled for four points out of 100.
  • A goal is scored!
  • A grand slam!!

Despite the high thunderbolt rating of the top football plays, the sport as a whole is less random than hockey and baseball, primarily because each play has an impact on the one that follows it in a way that doesn't happen in sports with less memory. You can load the bases in baseball and come away with nothing; ripping off a 30-yard run in football is always worth something.

Soccer also defies this analysis, as goals rank high on the thunderbolt scale but soccer Cinderellas are exceedingly rare. When Cypriot club APOEL made the final 16 of the Champions League a couple years back there was a veritable tizzy; they were immediately bashed out by Real Madrid 8-2.

And that makes sense, too. The structure of the game is such that good teams always have the ball and bad teams give up on the idea of competing on equal footing, instead preferring to pack everyone in front of their goal in hopes of a tie or a fluke goal. Outmatched teams regularly get outshot 10-1, compared to 2-1 in hockey. Hell, when Barca comes to town even teams backed by Russian plutocrats have a tendency to park the bus and hope for fortune.

Your randomness rankings, then, from least to most random:

  1. Basketball
  2. Soccer
  3. Football
  4. Hockey
  5. Baseball

It's a wonder they bother to play baseball instead of just guessing what color the ump is thinking about.


College basketball is quite a bit more random than the NBA, primarily because the game is shorter, possessions longer, and three pointers more readily available. Michigan just lost a 55 possession game in which the opponent went 8 of 13 from three primarily because one guy was unconscious. If that was an NBA game it would be the middle of the third quarter and they would have a chance to right the ship.

But overall, college basketball still spits out the "right" team enough that it's satisfying to me. The playoff structure very rarely sees top teams not reach the Sweet 16 and even more rarely puts a true interloper into the Final Four. Meanwhile, the single elimination nature of it makes any team vulnerable. March Madness straddles the line between unsatisfyingly random (baseball) and boringly rote (the NBA) almost perfectly.

I am with you on hockey, though. I find myself increasingly discontent with 2-1 games in which goals are mostly a matter of which plinko ball makes it all the way through the mass of bodies. Watching MSU and Michigan play in the GLI was illuminating, as Mickey Redmond took some time to compare MSU's defensive strategy of packing all six players in or near the crease to the current NHL vogue, then complain about how the game was better when people were checking guys on the points. The game has shifted such that save percentages added in with the number of shots that don't get to the goalie  means that maybe 1 of 50 point shots does anything useful.

Meanwhile, the single elimination format that works so well in less-random basketball is a complete disaster in college hockey. Hell, the addition of the shootout and the loser point in the NHL has made even the 82 game regular season(!) way less predictive than you'd think. This then bleeds into the playoffs, where 8 seeds beating 1 seeds is commonplace. While it's somewhat controversial, these days statisticians struggle to find meaningful differences between most NHL goalies.

As a result I'm in favor of rather radical changes that would help teams who dominate in shots and attack time win more games, starting with expanding the net by approximately as much as goalies have improved in the last 20 years. Nine of the top ten save percentage marks in NHL history have been posted in the last five years. The only guy in the top 35 to post his mark before 2000 was Dominik Hasek, who owns five seasons in that range. There isn't a season older than 1993 in the entire top 250. This kind of goalie dominance makes hockey unsatisfyingly random.

I prefer a world were everything that goes off the post now is a goal. This gets goalie save percentages back down to a place were .900 is pretty good, differentiates the goalie pool, and makes standing around waiting for a hail of rubber a worse idea. Then gradually introduce Olympic ice in new buildings, do something to fix the wreck that is the offsides rule**, and maybe futz with goalie pads so they're more like they were back in the day—heavier, harder to cover your five-hole with, more cumbersome.

Death to plinko hockey.

*[I'm setting aside the 1946-47 Washington Capitols from Wikipedia's list since that season was considerably shorter than a regular NBA season, and it wasn't even the NBA yet.]

**[Current position: allow play to continue as long as the offsides player immediately moves to tag up at the blue line. Any other action by the player brings a whistle. There's no reason for rushes to get broken up because a guy is one foot offsides.]


With Dileo departing, an overlooked change that will take place next year is at holder.  Who do you think will assume this role?  My preference would be Norfleet or Peppers since I could see them executing some razzle dazzle that would lead to me dumping marinara sauce on my head in joy.



I have bad news, Mike: it's almost certainly going to be Kenny Allen, the backup punter, with an outside shot of one of the backup quarterbacks.

Dileo was uniquely qualified to be the holder because he secretes a sticky substance from his fingers that gives him super catching powers. Peppers and Norfleet are unlikely to be in Dileo's class in that department, so Michigan will replace him with someone who takes a ton of snaps as part of his daily routine. This is the way of the world.

Yeah, that change will limit Michigan's ability to fake field goals. Michigan will probably just go for it instead, which is fine.


Was wondering if you could project who you think the starting CB will be next season. I may be in a minority but I was really impressed with Jourdan Lewis.

Peter F

It's going to be tough for Lewis to fight his way past either incumbent starter, especially with Jabrill Peppers arriving on a cascade of hype, torrent of praise, and all other water-related-muchness of thing.

First, the incumbent starters. I know both Raymon Taylor and Blake Countess had issues with Tyler Lockett. This puts them in good company, as everyone who played a healthy Lockett this year got shredded. Overall Michigan finished 47th in yards per attempt and in a big pile at 23rd in interceptions despite having a mediocre-at-best pass rush. Countess and Taylor acquired ten of the seventeen interceptions, nearly all of them great plays instead of fortunate deflections. The eyeball test was pretty kind to both when in non-Lockett situations. (Also non-Indiana-tempo'd situations, which are a problem but one of a different sort than not being able to cover dudes.)

Meanwhile, the freshmen behind the starters were game but did give up a ton of yards in big chunks, whether it was because they phased out of reality or irritated the wrong gypsy. I don't think either starter is getting passed.

Then: Peppers. Historically, guys like Peppers have a breaking-in period of about half a season before emerging into a starting job late in their freshman year. Woodson, Hall, Countess, Jackson: all followed this path. With Michigan short on boundary corner types that seems like the most likely path for Peppers as well, starting the year as the third corner and gradually displacing Taylor as the season plugs along.

This doesn't leave much room for Lewis or Stribling this year. Michigan's corner depth is such that 247 is reporting that redshirt freshman Ross Douglas has been flipped to tailback despite being 5'10" and 180—the opposite of the rough and tumble brawler Michigan seems to want. While I expect both sophomores to get spot duty, a breakthrough is unlikely this time out.

Devin Gardner and the Quarterback Holy Grail

Devin Gardner and the Quarterback Holy Grail

Submitted by The Mathlete on July 24th, 2013 at 4:36 PM


Since 2003 only two quarterbacks have been worth two full touchdowns, 14 points, above average* over the course of the entire season. Colt Brennan’s 2006 season at Hawaii was the first and Tim Tebow became the first major conference player to do it in his Heisman Trophy 2007 season at Florida (Michigan did their part to stop him, holding him to a season low +5.9 in Lloyd Carr’s final game).

*adjusted for strength of opponent’s throughout the entire study

Last year in five starts Devin Gardner’s PAN was, you guessed it, over 14 points. Gardner started out on fire, averaging +17.2 in his first three starts at quarterback against Minnesota, Northwestern and Iowa. Against Ohio State and South Carolina, he was still in double digits, but his final average ended at +14.7 for the season. Could this be the prelude to a world class 2013 season for Gardner or just a hot hand off of the bench?

The Other Hot Hands


To look into this possibility I looked for every quarterback since 2003 who has produced a five game streak (1AA games excluded) of at least +14 like Devin Gardner did last year. I wanted to understand how common a five game run at this level was and if there was any parallel between a great five game stretch and overall great quarterbacking.

In addition to Gardner, 28 other quarterbacks have accomplished the feat. The others on the list are a virtual Who’s Who of the last decade of college quarterbacks. Three players did it who are still in the NCAA. Johhny Manziel, Marcus Mariota and Tajh Boyd managed the task and are mainstays on preseason All-American lists. Of the 25 other players who have done it and have moved on with their careers, 13 have started an NFL game and 10 are projected starters for the 2013 season. I can’t think of any other college stat that could predict NFL starter status at an over 50% rate. The group of players who have done what Devin Gardner did last season includes the following NFL starters:

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay (Cal, 2003)

Alex Smith, Kansas City (Utah, 2004)

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh (Miami (NTM), 2003)

Cam Newton, Carolina (Auburn, 2010)

Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco (Nevada, 2010)

Matthew Stafford, Detroit (Georgia, 2008)

Philip Rivers, San Diego (NC St, 2003)

Robert Griffin, Washington (Baylor, 2011)

Russell Wilson, Seattle (Wisconsin, 2011)

Sam Bradford, St Louis (Oklahoma, 2008)

Denard Robinson, Andrew Luck, Christian Ponder and Mark Sanchez all just missed the cutoff with 5 game runs averaging +13.

Add to them first round selections and former starters Matt Leinart, Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn and you have an over 50% likelihood of becoming an NFL starter based purely on your best five game stretch.

Of the remaining twelve cases, only four came from a Big 5 conference school. Graham Harrell did it in 2008 for Mike Leach at Texas Tech, Nick Florence did it last year for Baylor, Zac Robinson did it in 2007 at Oklahoma State and former Michigan quarterback Ryan Mallett did it in 2009 at Arkansas.

Every player is going to have ups and downs but based on where the other players have gone that have accomplished 5 game streaks on par with Devin Gardner’s five game run as a starter, this is not a fluky performance accomplished by many. Those that have done it at major programs have a high likelihood of an NFL future.

How Good Will Devin Gardner be This Year

I honestly have no clue. I do feel confident that he should be pretty darn good. Quarterbacks who have had a streak of +14 have maintained very high performance even after such a streak so regression to the mean is still a highly positive outcome in most of these situations.

The hardest thing to get a grasp on how Devin Gardner projects is that his situation is so unique. On the one hand he was a five star quarterback coming out of high school stuck on the bench behind a Michigan icon. On the other hand he never looked great at quarterback until the five game stretch. He is more suited to what Al Borges is looking to do than Denard but is still more dual threat than Borges’ preferred traditional drop back style.

Adding to the uniqueness of Gardner’s situation is the fact that no other player made the list in his first five starts. There are hardly any that had a five game +14 streak in their first year as a starter let alone in their first five starts. Every one of the players on list did in the context of a full season as starter and of course none of them spent the prior eight games at wide receiver.

I do think Gardner should be one of the top couple quarterbacks in the Big Ten next season, at the very least. The big question that this raised is how high is his ceiling. After looking at the company and the challenges that came into it for Gardner I think it’s safe to say the ceiling is officially gone. I have looked at college football statistics every which way for years and no look has stood out to me as much as this one in its ability to translate to future success. Hopefully that bodes well for Michigan’s seasonand Gardner’s pro potential.

Unverified Voracity Shows Surgeons The Broom

Unverified Voracity Shows Surgeons The Broom

Submitted by Brian on May 3rd, 2013 at 12:55 PM


more like #gameofthrowns amirite

In ur pocket, disrupting ur mechanics. Bruce Feldman started tweeting pictures of some guy shoving a broom at Devin Gardner and I was like "er?" Turns out one George Whitfield is a famous quarterback-coaching guy. QB Yoda, if you will. The broom is an effort to break a quarterback's mechanics down:

I talked to some front office guys, scouts and coaches, and two AFC East teams did a study of pocket-passing analytics. Both teams found that 60 percent of the time the quarterback had to make some sort of adjustment or escape before getting a throw off. Only 40 percent of the time did he take the designated drop and make a clean attempt at a throw.

If that happens behind millionaire offensive linemen being coached by millionaire coaches in billionaire leagues, you don’t get any higher than that. Two in five plays.

The first thing we do with elementary-aged kids is start them throwing on the run. I don’t care about his three-step drop. You can really improve his football quality of life if you can teach that little guy how to throw on the run.

He's all about the many plays when things don't go quite right and the quarterback has to do something other than make a perfect step-up-and-throw. Gardner still has a tendency to float balls in these situations as he reverts to his wonky high school motion.

Kyle Meinke has a roundup of all the Whitfield-related stuff you may need. He seems to think Gardner is good at football:

Hopefully he'll need less of that than an average quarterback what with Lewan and Schofield keeping him clean.

Gold in them thar hills. Continuing a theme:

Sai Tummala has decided to decline the scholarship offer from Husker Coach Tim Miles and will instead go back home and play for the Arizona State Sun Devils.

Yeah, you vaguely remember Tummala as a guy who walked on at Michigan a couple years ago. He departed for a JUCO, blew up, and was a late signing who apparently had offers from a half-dozen schools including Pitt(!) and BYU(!). John Beilein can pick 'em, man.

In other news, Nebraska's taking a look at a Finnish power forward this weekend. This is now the other half.

I no longer prospect as much though, because the gold nuggets are coming to me. Baumgardner caught up with WI SF/PF Kevon Looney's coach:

"He's definitely interested in Michigan," Looney's AAU coach, Shelby Parrish, told "He likes Michigan's style of play, he likes coach Beilein -- he's very interested in him."

Looney is going to cut down to five and take officials from there. Scout has also been buzzing about potential Elite Camp visits by Devin Booker and Kameron Chatman. All of those guys are in the top 40; Looney is top ten.

UMHoops talked with 2015 C Stephen Zimmerman:

Zimmerman has also been in constant contact with Michigan — he said he’s been speaking with Michigan’s coaching staff about “once or twice a week for the past three weeks.”

“I’ve been talking to them a lot more recently,” Zimmerman said. “They seem like a great coaching staff and everything. It’s a great school.”

Maybe it's the product. Bacon has a different take on the languishing interest from students in showing up for football on time:

Getting mad at your paying customers for not liking your product as much as you think they should, then punishing them for it, is probably not something they teach at Michigan’s Ross School of Business. …

But if the athletic director didn’t ask the students what they thought about the new policy, or why they arrive late or not at all, I have a few hunches.  Because tickets are so expensive now, and games take so long, the current students didn’t go when they were kids – which is when you get hooked on watching the band flying out of the tunnel and the players touching the banner.  No matter how tired or hungover we were in college, we wouldn’t think of missing those moments.

Of course, our habit formed because we knew the game was going to start at 1:05, every Saturday, for years.  Now it could be noon, or 3:30, or 8 – and sometimes they don’t tell you when until a couple weeks before the game.

Why?  TV, of course.  Which is to say, money.

Back then, we also knew Michigan would be playing a solid opponent – every game.  In Bo Schembechler’s 21 seasons, they played 77 games against non-Big Ten teams.  How many were not from major conferences?  Exactly ten.…

When the students can show up for Michigan State, though…

I'm not sure exactly what the problem is, but Bacon is right that the product has lost some of its luster. An annoyingly loud ad is an an annoying loud ad even if it's for renting Michigan Stadium or field hockey; prices are higher; times are random.

It's over. It does not matter that MSU might have a slightly easier schedule than Michigan in the crossover games unless they can beat M and OSU in any given year, but here's a hilarious statement from Mark Hollis:

“You’re gonna have MSU playing frequently in Chicago (against Northwestern),” Spartans athletic director Mark Hollis said this week on “The Drive with Jack” radio show on WVFN 730-AM in Lansing. “Minneapolis is another market that’s important to us. We put all those out there and Jim listened to us."

I wonder why that might be.

Yes please. If Zak Irvin ends up an upgrade over Tim Hardaway it'll be with defense and rebounding—they have similar offensive games. Irvin seems more inclined than Hardaway to be an impact player on the other end of the floor:

He'll fight for minutes with Stauskas, Robinson and sophomore Caris LeVert -- and he'll do it from day one. But, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

"That's a good thing," he said. "Going against each other every day in practice is going to make us that much better. Defense is definitely going to be the difference-maker, though.

"Those of us who can play defense will be on the floor, especially at the end of games."

Coaches love to hear that.

"I'll play where they put me," he added.

He says his best spot is shooting guard, but he'll probably be a SF/PF at M. Not that there's much distinction in the offense.

Of course. Via WTKA's Ira Weintraub, Sirius is allowing you a chance to head out on the road with… POP EVILLLLL. And what better place to take in the second greatest-evil ever allowed into Michigan Stadium than the home of the first?

One winner and a guest will fly to Grand Rapids for a Pop Evil concert at the Orbit Room on May 17th where they will meet the band, then join them on the tour bus that night, heading to Rock on the Range in Columbus, Ohio for Rock on the Range on May 18th and 19th where they will have the chance to get on stage and intro the band! The prize also includes two nights’ stay in Columbus, OH and airfare home.

If you enter and win this, I will give you every MGoPoint that will fit in a 64-bit integer if you intro them as the worst thing to ever happen to Michigan football. This will get a great cheer from the crowd, and may not even be interpreted as an insult by the band.

Huh. Ace points out that in Football Study Hall's F+ rankings of the last few years of the Big Ten, Michigan's 2010 and 2011 offenses are in a dead heat near the top of the rankings:


Let the debates about whether Al Borges and Denard Robinson were a good fit rage in perpetuity. The 2011 crew made their hay with a ruthless devastation of OSU and the UTL fluketasm; they were maddeningly erratic, what with the trash tornado game and Iowa under center debacle. The previous year was fairly consistent until the grim end to the season, but never put the spurs to anyone of consequence.

Other notables: it will not surprise you to see the 2008 offense and 2010 defense on the awful lists; Michigan is in fact the only non-Minnesota/Indiana/Northwestern program to feature. Meanwhile, the two year-turnaround from the second-worst offense in the sample to the 4th-best is kind of amazing. Michigan has been the second-best offense in the league the past four years, but (surprise!) lags on defense.

Etc.: Denard is going to ditch Jags minicamp to come back and graduate. Stephen Ross called Jordan Kovacs personally when the Dolphins signed him. The SEC is chattering about nine conference games now. Also they're going to start picking which teams go to which bowls instead of vice versa. Glockner on the ridiculousness of the Lance Thomas thing from every direction. Michigan is going to be huge at WR/TE. Emmert still under fire.

The Recruiting Maps

The Recruiting Maps

Submitted by The Mathlete on April 17th, 2013 at 12:07 PM

Now that we’ve officially entered the dead period after Spring Ball and before Fall Camp, its time to start digging into some of the details. As always if you have something you want me to look into hit me up in the comments or on twitter.

Using some new software and my recruiting database, I wanted to see what the recruiting scene from the last 12 classes (2002-2013) look like on a map. Each BCS conference signee is shown  with a dot and scaled to represent the consensus rating of that recruit. The larger the dot, the more highly regarded the recruit was. Metro areas have tons of recruits piled on top of each and are difficult to distinguish, but I think there are plenty of interesting things to pull from the overall picture.

The National Overview


B1G=Blue, SEC=Black, B12=Red, P12=Yellow, ACC=Teal, former Big East=Pink

Unsurprisingly the recruits center largely around the geographies of the schools they are attending. Florida is a jumbled mess across all of the conferences but there are very clear boundaries by conference. It is also amazing that other than Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Denver and west Texas there are essentially no FBS football recruits between the Pacific coast and I-35. It will be interesting to see what happens with this as geographical boundaries continue to overlap with the ongoing conference expansion.

B1G and SEC Country


The B1G Footprint

Although the Big Ten footprint has largely stayed at home to play, there are regions that have had some pull from outside conferences. Iowa is naturally split and the Big 12 has pulled a few other players from Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The Pac-10/12 has scored a couple of big Midwest recruits themselves and Eastern Ohio/Western Pennsylvania is a natural ground for competition between the Big 10, Pitt and West Virginia.


Even excluding Florida, the SEC looks to have held their territory about as well as the Big Ten has. The most striking thing to me, is how much coverage the SEC has across its geographic footprint. In the Big 10 there are areas of high population/recruit density with a fair amount of space between them. In the Southeast there are black dots everywhere. It appears as if every county is generating major college football recruits, not just the major metro areas.

[After the jump, a cartographer's dream]

Stripped To The Metal, We Root For The Abstract

Stripped To The Metal, We Root For The Abstract

Submitted by Brian on November 12th, 2012 at 12:23 PM

11/10/2012 – Michigan 38, Northwestern 31 (OT) – 7-3, 5-1 Big Ten


Maize and Blue Nation

College sports are a rich-get-richer kind of operation. American pro sports reward their best teams with crappy draft picks and salary caps that make it hard to keep successful operations together. Yes, successful operations can keep their heads above water for periods, and the Lions can be awful for 50 years. A relentless gravity still pulls everyone towards .500.

In college, success adds to success. You can tell recruits they'll go to the Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl instead of, like, Nashville or wherever. Your pile of money is larger than someone else's pile of money and you can put up buildings where every brick is an XBox. You can point to some guy making millions in the NFL and promise recruit X will as well. You can tell recruits that you're not going to be fired and replaced by some guy from the Sun Belt, unlike every other school recruiting Derrick Green. The more you win, the higher your draft picks are.

Gravity has no place in college sports, just entropy. Entropy: the tendency of things to move from ordered states to disordered ones. Entropy: the gradual decline and fall of the Carr era. Entropy: Greg Robinson. Entropy: Northwestern football. With 18 seconds left there's a fifty-yard pass on the way, and things are about to get disordered.


I mean, what can you say when your glorious victory is so clearly a gift from the cosmic random number generator? I have seen many things in my time as a sports fan. None of them have been an opposing safety taking a pass that is about to sail into the turf 10, 20 yards further downfield and flailing at it in such a way as to send it into the arms of the Michigan receiver he'd battered to the ground, gently. Feather-like. After all of that… easy.

Meanwhile, that event had been immediately preceded by a Northwestern fourth-and-one conversion on which the ref had to make sure every chain was ramrod straight and get his nose down to the field level before awarding the Wildcats a first down they probably didn't get but could not be overturned from above. Fitzgerald Toussaint's only decent run of the day ended with a bizarre pop-up fumble. Trevor Siemian came in and tore Michigan's secondary to shreds.

I like it better when the randomness is under a nice ol' narrative. When it's in your face so spectacularly, it's like the gods of math are taunting you for daring to care about anything they have their fickle fingers in. Go home, get a pen, and root for Fibonacci psuedo-randomness, they are saying. What you are doing is the equivalent of rooting for 3, they say. The number. The literal number. Woo 3. Go 3. You are so much more prime than 4. That's so 3! Oh god those people who like 4 are just animals. They poop in coolers, you know, and drive trucks. They're so… divisible.


Stripped of the narrative bit the mind goes back to a game of partial information, high stress, and plain evidence that worshipping the gods of math gets you nowhere. Big stacks matter in tournament poker, too. With many chips you can lean on people, play with the numbers on your side, and force people to decisions for all their chips. You get to be the gorilla. You get the good recruits.

Back in the day when laws were unclear and jerks hadn't yet banned online poker by attaching a rider to a bill about port security, I played a lot. I was pretty good. I played online satellites until I'd gotten a buy-in to the World Series of Poker, and went. I made the second day in rough shape, and started repairing my busted stack by chopping off preflop raisers. While I'd risk more, I'd be in fewer hands, give off a tight image and get 5-6 blinds instead of 1.5. I would have no illusions about whether I should GTFO if someone played back at me. It was working, and I caught a couple hands. I was on my way to day three.

I'd done this to the guy to my right two or three times already, and his frustration was evident the last go-round. He raised preflop again, and I looked at kings. Long story short, we ended up all-in, he turned over aces instead of anything else, and I did not suck out. Short-stacked after, it was a matter of time.

Brady Hoke hasn't had kings, but he has sucked out, and sucked out, and sucked out.


Maize and Blue Nation

With 11-2 and a BCS win in the rear view, Michigan picked up the kind of momentum that saw them lock down a top-five class by March. Getting there took a series of desperate heaves to Junior Hemingway. This year the heaves have been a little less desperate but twice Michigan has had 18 seconds and needed big chunks of yards to set up do-or-die field goals and got them. They're not getting every break—see refs in all Nebraska games—but with a combination of skill and fortune Hoke is building quite a stack for himself.

The latest chip is a 2013 starting quarterback out of nowhere, a guy who had looked basically awful in any extended playing time before Denard's elbow injury forced Devin Gardner into the Minnesota game. And even if Saturday was too transparently chaotic to go down as an all-timer, it's another step through this rough patch as Michigan waits for the large, mean cavalry to arrive.

In the meantime let's all just stay here on the floor breathing heavily and slathering narrative over the terrifying randomness of the universe.


Football looks hurty sometimes, and by sometimes I mean all the time.



Also, here's Gardner chucking that TD to Funchess:



Brad at Maize and Blue Nation had a day with his shots. He's the guy who grabbed the shots that lead the post and then this is pretty great too:


Also, nightmare fuel!


Full gallery here.

The News got a great shot of Gardner:


David Guralnick/Detnews

That's Bryant in the extremely large track jacket BTW.

More videos posted by Thorin on the board. UMGoBlog shots. Favorites from Mike DeSimone's page.



Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. Roy Roundtree, come on down. Not only did you spawn a strange and likely short-lived meme when the Larrys, about whom more later, made a bizarre joke about how he would be better at catching the ball if his name was "Squaretree"—because square things are good at catching I guess—but you also put up 139 yards receiving, including the game-saving deep miracle. Also on 'Tree's docket: a beautiful corner route catch, getting run over on third and seventeen, and a critical hitch-and-run in OT.

Honorable Mention. Devin Gardner (at this rate will be Vince Young by next year, too bad about plateaus and such), Jeremy Gallon (hitch/bomb/punt return/let's ignore those other punt return opportunities), Kenny Demens (a close, close #2 with back to back OT TFLs).

Epic Double Point Standings.

3: Jake Ryan (ND, Purdue, Illinois) deytikerjerbs
2: Denard Robinson (Air Force, UMass)
1.3: Jeremy Gallon(Alabama, 1/3 Minnesota), Drew Dileo (Michigan State, 1/3 Minnesota), Roy Roundtree (1/3 Minnesota, Northwestern)
1: Craig Roh(Nebraska).

Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. NEW NEW NEW NEW NEW



This must be awarded to the play that spawned it, which is Demens decleating Northwestern to end the game. In the future awarded to the BOOM YES play of the week.

Honorable mention: Kenny Demens stones Northwestern on third and one too, Treezy to the rescue, Devin Gardner kind of balletically flings a ball way high except it's to Devin Funchess so it's on the money, Jibreel Black forces a Colter fumble, Jordan Kovacs implodes Colter's back.

Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.

11/10/2012: Mattison baits Fitz, Kenny Demens decleats Northwestern, game over.




you've probably never heard of me

Probably the one on the left. PROBABLY



Open contempt. Northwestern fans were pretty hype on Nick Van Hoose as the cornerback who might rescue their secondary from its overwhelming Northwesternness; Van Hoose did not play. The Northwestern secondary was overwhelming in its Northwesternness.

This manifested on second down after second down when Michigan generally followed up a one yard run by going with a 2TE I-Form set and throwing a hitch in front of a helpless cornerback, or a corner at a helpless cornerback, or a hitch and go well past a helpless cornerback. I get pretty irritated when Michigan, which cannot run from under center even a tiny little bit, goes OOPS POW SURPRISE PLAY ACTION on obvious passing downs, but in this game it worked because every hitch route came with either a first down or some YAC baked in.

I have no idea why Northwestern didn't just bracket Michigan's single WR hard and dare Michigan to make them pay by getting to the second level—something it seemed they were four or five blocks from on every play. But they didn't. So, yeah.



RUUUUUUUUUUUU—oh you are nevermind. IIRC, Michigan did not have any called runs for Gardner except the goal line rollout (and that did have a pass option). He got sacked once. That means his seven other rushing attempts were all scrambles. That's more than Denard has acquired in eight games. They were also effective—an average pickup of almost seven yards without any of those coming on fruitless third and longs.

Yeah, that is Vince Young-like. The combination of effective deep balls and a willingness to take off is potentially deadly. Covering four verts and containing Gardner seems hard, and add in dumpoffs to space players like Norfleet and Hayes, and that's a nice recipe. Hopefully Michigan explores that once they don't have to minimize QB impact at all costs.

[UPDATE: After checking out the Gardner errysnap video, Michigan did have another called QB run in a goal-to-go situation that went for five or six yards, so six scrambles.]


not always pretty, but so far so good / Upchurch

Air check. We should erase the desperation bomb to Roundtree, which was a throw Gardner had to attempt, missed, and got a miracle deflection to complete it. That excised, Gardner was 15 of 28 for 8.3 YPA, two touchdowns, and a turrible interception. Add in the scrambles and that's good in a vacuum. Your context: Gardner was playing a poor defense minus its best cornerback and on an offense that can't run the ball even a little.

Those probably balance out, leaving Michigan with a good performance from a guy who'd been playing WR two weeks ago and has eligibility next year. That is huge.

Unlike last week, I can't remember anything particularly outlandish that happened to alter Gardner's stats since we've already set aside the desperation heave at the end of the game. Gardner actually lost a long completion to Jerald Robinson, and there was nothing on the order of Roundtree, Dileo, and Gallon going all circus for their QB in the Minnesota game. When Gardner missed, it wasn't by much. Minnesota was some good throws interspersed with a lot of shaky ones on which the receivers were great; Northwestern required a lot less heroism from the WRs.

You'd expect rapid improvement from a guy getting almost his first extended playing time and transitioning back to reps at QB from reps at WR; Gardner leapt even that high bar.

Y'all be jumpin'. Michigan has now pulled opponents offsides five times in two weeks with Gardner under center, with Northwestern threatening to go three or four more times.

That's a credit to Gardner's hard count and evidence of how much more comfortable Borges is with an offense that operates from under center. To run those freeze plays you have to be under center quickly enough to try it and then try something else if it doesn't work, something that has not often been the case for most of the year when Michigan was struggling just to get plays in. Against Northwestern, how often did you think "GET OUT OF THE HUDDLE" to yourself? For me, it was zero times. That's down a half-dozen from most games this year.

SIDE NOTE: I've seen a lot of credit going to Gardner for having the awareness to fling those fades when guys go offsides. That's a misunderstanding of what's going on. The way it works is this:

  1. Gardner huts his hut real hard, and then waits.
  2. Guy jumps or does not jump.
  3. If guy jumps, Mealer snaps it, free play.
  4. If guy does not jump, Michigan checks into something else.

So if Gardner gets the ball he knows someone is offsides and he has a free play and just throws the fade. He only gets the ball if he has a free play. The credit should go to Borges and Mealer.

SIDE SIDE NOTE: Yeah, Michigan did try to do similar things under RR from the gun. Bizarrely, what seemed to happen is that Michigan would get a guy to jump but he would get back before Michigan could snap the ball, leaving Michigan to burn a down on a low-percentage play.



Hello, Fitz. Not that Fitz. Hey, three broken tackles en route to a touchdown on a nothing dumpoff: that is a play. I enjoy Fitzgerald Toussaint making plays. he also picked up a bunch of bonus yards on his 50-yard inverted veer give, and then fumbled. That's his first fumble, right? I guess he gets a pass for it. Even Mike Hart finally broke.

A tip, I say, a palpable tip. Did anyone else notice Michigan removing AJ Williams for Devin Funchess on the third and goal in OT, and think to themselves "rollout to Funchess's side"? Lo, it transpired, and Northwestern covered Funchess but had no one else on the edge once a playside LB tried to shoot inside Omameh and got walled off.

I require more Dileo. Michigan finally had enough of seeing punts hit the ground and put Dennis Norfleet back there in place of Gallon; Norfleet let the next punt hit the ground. Dileo fair-caught the next one. Meanwhile, balls are being tossed at the thus-far ineffective Jeremy Jackson and Jerald Robinson as Dileo watches from the sideline. I humbly request more targets for Dileo, who gets separation and catches passes, instead of larger receivers who do neither of these things



Maize and Blue Nation

Kenny Damn Demens. Remember when he was getting lined up two inches behind a nose tackle on a three man line and obliterated by guards releasing clean? Yeah. Demens isn't going to be a guy who makes every #25 in the future wear his name on the chest, but any time he walks into a bar for the rest of his life sporting that mustache of his someone is going to be like "CONSECUTIVE TFLS TO WIN 2012 NORTHWESTERN" and buy him a beer, and I love it when that happens. See also: Jerome Jackson, 2005 Iowa.

Demens did get beat by Northwestern's #1 WR on their last touchdown, but that's an RPS thing and a function of Michigan's LB slide plus Northwestern consistently gashing Michigan on the corners. Projected % of Michigan fans instantly reminded of Chris Graham against Anthony Gonzalez: 37%.

So sexy. Michigan came out with a a weird three man line featuring Jibreel Black as the NT that all but begged Northwestern to run up the middle on their fourth down, with the results noted above: Ryan gets cut off by the backside G, Black shoots playside of the tackle and forces a cutback on the handoff NW was baited into, BOOM.

That was exactly the plan:

“The last tackle there — number one, I like the call that (defensive coordinator Greg Mattison) made because it was one where it may have talked (Northwestern) into running the football because of some of the space inside,” said Michigan coach Brady Hoke. “And then Kenny just did a nice job of just working inside out to the ball, where maybe a little bit earlier he was maybe getting too far ahead of it.”

Michigan's defense finally got gashed, but man did they dial it up at the end.

Will it happen again? Ohio State is going to be checking out the Northwestern film quite a lot, but I'm not sure they have a Mark-like back to hit that edge. They've got a couple thumpers who will challenge tackling skills more than speed.

Linebacker switching. I didn't notice this live but a lot of people have said Desmond Morgan had a rough game, which seems logical since after a couple weeks of limited linebacker swapping we saw a lot of James Ross, including on the final two Northwestern drives. Ross was the guy who came an inch away from stuffing the Northwestern fourth and one. I'll get to the bottom of what went down in the UFR.

Pipkins comes on. Also receiving a lot more PT: Ondre Pipkins, who had a rough few plays against Minnesota before getting the hook. Again not sure why but probably based on Northwestern being one of those hurry-up outfits that puts a heavy demand on opposing defense's depth. Insert usual desire to be a team that puts that kind of pressure on the opponent.

Getting edged. Michigan's really got to do something about their option scheme, probably. I'll have to check it out to see if it was much different than what happened against Air Force.


Oblig. Kovacs number switch bitching.

Me = Dude (obvs)
Car = Kovacs
Flame = #11
Nihilists = Brandon (obvs)

He's still JKovacs32 on twitter, at least.

“I’ve worn No. 32 for quite some time, I think I’ll always be No. 32,” Kovacs said

Yes. Dammit that needs to be the walk-on-who-plays number. Does no one understand how to make things? /wireseason2

Oblig. game theory bit. Big points to Pat Fitzgerald for going for it on fourth and short with around three minutes left. That is a spot in which it's easy to go NFL and derp your way to shrugging postgame coverage, but the obvious play is going. One yard and you've got the other team trying to complete a 50-yard miracle to tie. Punt and even Michigan's languorous two-minute drill still has time to ease down the field.

Northwestern got it by a few molecules thanks to what seemed like a favorable spot, albeit not one that is ever going to get overturned by the Big Ten's milquetoasty replay officials. (After the Penn State TD debacle they are now the Rod Gilmore Memorial Big Ten Replay Officials.)

Fitzgerald gives back about half of those points on the punt. You hate variance if you are Northwestern punting the ball back with 25 seconds left. NW…

  1. took a delay of game penalty instead of using a timeout
  2. ran out their rugby guy to bash a line drive into Gallon's chest
  3. got a net of 11 yards as a result

Rugby punts are generally effective but tend to be more unpredictable than regular stuff: shanks are easier, and if the returners are positioned correctly they get an opportunity like Gallon got. The play there was to take a timeout and hang one in the air to force a fair catch. The upside of that is about equal to the rugby punt and the downside is nil.

Michigan didn't really face any major decisions. They could have taken a shot at the endzone after the Roundtree completion but chose to kick. The difference between that decision and the end of last year's ND game was one second on the clock and a timeout, which they had against ND but not here. The Roundtree completion took six seconds, and it's easy to see that last one slip off the clock for any number of reasons.

FWIW, Michigan played their TOs right by taking all of them immediately once they were facing do-or-die time on defense. 

Git R Done, for values of R that equal racism. If you don't follow me on twitter you missed the saga of the Larry The Cable Guy clan in my immediate vicinity, a group of redneck yahoos that said a lot of things like "LEZ GO CUMONG" and "GIT EM CUMONG," which was annoying when they did that really loudly after a four yard run—now my hopes are all up and it's second and six—but mostly harmless.

That ceased on a Norfleet kickoff return on which one of them screamed "run like you stole it" and I was processing the I am somewhat uncomfortable with the racial overtones that statement displays thing when one of them almost certainly dropped the n-word. I looked at the MGoWife, and she looked at me to confirm, and then I just really hoped that it wouldn't come up again because if that happens a second time, well… words will be exchanged and I'm trying to panic myself to death at a football game thanks, please let's not get in a screaming match.

It did not come up again. Hurrah. There's no real lesson here except it's not very fun to be surrounded by Larry the Cable Guy.

BONUS BONUS BONUS: a Larry next to me left after the Gardner INT, which lol. I moved over because there was a tall guy in front of me… directly into the path of a woman with four pom-poms whose thought process in relation to those was:

I bet if I shake these really hard they're invisible.

If only, lady. If only.


Inside The Box Score:

* NW ended up with 431 total offense yards. That's the same amount that Alabama, the greatest team ever assembled, a pretty good offense, had against us. I never would have guessed that Alabama and NW would be equivalent at anything. After the Alabama game, I wrote, "If we can hold everyone else under 431, I’ll be happy." NW didn't get more than 431, so I'm not unhappy, I'm just confused.

* Thomas Gordon led us in tackles with 11, not a good sign. Demens and Morgan were next with 9 apiece. Considering Mattison substituted freely with the LBs, that's a lot of tackles.

I bumped Best And Worst but in case you didn't click through:

…this week’s game definitely felt like the first one to showcase Al Borges’s “preferred offense.” It was a number of shorter passes, a dedication to running the ball with the RB, and play-calling that couldn’t fall back on a Dilithium-fueled QB if the first and second reads were not open.  Minnesota showed this a bit in the first quarter, but that game felt over at halftime and so I’m not sure what you could glean from it except that the offensive line still couldn’t get a push inside.

mGrowOld's kid meets Kovacs. MGoUsers of little faith.


Opponent stuff. The Northwestern blog POV includes an analysis of Northwestern's success on speed option pitches, misery, more misery, and misery. Lake The Posts:


Does it need to be said much more than that? Inches decide ball games, particularly close ball games. Against Nebraska inches separated Northwestern from a clinching interception and a devastating blown lead and loss. Against Michigan, those inches mattered even more.

You can slake your schadenfreude needs if you're weird and hold some sort of grudge against Northwestern at the SoP postgame thread.

Blog stuff. The Ann Arbor Chronicle has a photoessay documenting everyone recording the football game. Meta.


not actually photos of the Roundtree catch

Sap's Decals:

KENNY DEMENS – He didn’t play a perfect game but he did make the tackle of his life – TWICE! It’s a play and situation you dream of as a kid growing up playing Pop Warner Football. Demens not only made the big stop to win the game on 4th Down, but he also made the stop the play before on 3rd Down! OUTSTANDING!


Michigan struggled on defense in this game for a number of different reasons. Jake Ryan and Frank Clark both lost contain frequently which gave Northwestern big gains on the ground. In addition, and I think Mattison figured this out before the fourth quarter, but Michigan was defending the speed option in an unsound manner. The playside linebacker was always playing the quarterback, forcing a pitch to the running back who had nothing but blockers in front of him. I think Mattison assumed his corners and safeties could get off of their blocks on the outside the help contain the rushing attack, but Michigan's corners aren't very good at doing this. By the fourth quarter, Michigan started forcing the runs back inside.

I cannot agree with Maize and Blue Nation about this:

The running game. It showed signs of life this week. I think the more pro-style offense that Gardner runs suits Michigan better on offense. We're still trained to run the spread-option, but I don't think it's working for Fitz. He's a downhill runner. I really like that Rawls can come in and compliment Fitz...although, it might be the other way around, actually. I thought the line blocked better this week. Hoke stayed with the same lineup he's had all year across the line, so it was encouraging to see the interior especially, play better.

Michigan got a 50-yard gain on an inverted veer give—blocking not relevant unless you're a WR—and 41 yards on six Gardner scrambles. They also lost six yards on a Hayes jet sweep that's now scouted by opponents. Their other 23 carries went for 49 yards. Death. If Michigan finds itself trailing against OSU there's going to be a point at which it'll be time to run the quarterback from the shotgun even if it's Gardner and the backup option is Jack Kennedy. Michigan just can't move the ball on the ground without the numerical advantage provided by using the QB.


U-M Student Section Sucks

And I thought the key play nonsense was bad.


The empty seats are past the point of ridiculous now.  Michigan has been reduced to having its football players make videos begging fans (read: students) to show up on time for the games.  WTF?!  This isn't Ball State.  Bo's probably rolling over in his grave.

I'm not sure what more can be done since the athletic department already instituted the points system.  But seeing all those empty seats up there after the game starts is a slap in the face to Hoke and the Michigan players.

That should be "30% of the student section sucks." 70% of them are there. The solution is to give out t-shirts.

FWIW, the key play thing has not been done in probably ten years.


It wasn't a perfect day.  The Toussaint fumble was maddening, but a great play by the Wildcat defense. Special K remembered where "In The Big House" was on his hard drive.  There weren't enough holes in the offensive line to run through, things of this ilk.

But it was sunny, warmish for a November day.  Al Wistert got a tremendous ovation from the Michigan Stadium crowd, the MMB put on a funny show, Devin Gardner continued to look good, Roy Roundtree remembered that he's a heck of a receiver, Gibbons is still money, and in the end, Michigan was victorious,   Really, that's more than we should be able to ask for from the football gods.  After all, you need to stay humble.

Warmish? High standards over at the Hoover Street Rag.

Mud Bowl.

Recaps from Maize and Go Blue, TTB, MVictors, Holdin'  The Rope,

Mainstream stuff. Meinke on the division race. Wojo:

For Michigan, it's never over until the last pass is thrown, and tipped, and cradled, and caught. For Devin Gardner, same thing — it's not over even when others think it is.

Nothing is over for the Wolverines, and it's just getting started for Gardner. How many times can a game, or a season, or a young career twist? Gardner was a receiver a couple of weeks ago, hoping to be a quarterback again. Now he's directing a team contending for the Big Ten title.

The Daily on Brady Hoke's magic:

The last time Brady Hoke and Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald were at Michigan Stadium together was Oct. 7, 1995.

Hoke was a first-year defensive line coach on the home sideline. Fitzgerald was Northwestern’s burly junior middle linebacker, wearing a white No. 51 jersey and terrorizing Michigan quarterback Brian Griese.

With the Wildcats leading 19-13 and just 1:40 remaining on the clock, Griese and the Michigan offense were 41 yards from the end zone facing a third-and-15. Fitzgerald had ended the previous drive by tipping a pass out of harm’s way.

Nesbitt FTW; great great angle there. Hadn't even thought about it. Also Estes on not saying sorry.

Gardner saying the right things:

Gardner on Denard Robinson : "This is Denard's team, and this is always going to be Denard's team. He's done way too much for two games to change that."

Meinke has like another column—indefatigable! And another! Baumgardner numbers. Game story.

Mailbag: Fumble Rates (Again), Leave Penn State Alone, Can't Happen Here(?)

Mailbag: Fumble Rates (Again), Leave Penn State Alone, Can't Happen Here(?)

Submitted by Brian on July 17th, 2012 at 12:18 PM

On fumble recovery rates (again).

Hi Brian,

A sentence in Blue Seoul's recent Nebraska recap led me to re-visit
your claims that fumble recoveries are random. I got data from and drew a graph that you may (or may not) find
useful (see attached for 2012 opponents).

In addition, I estimated a simple linear model using fumble recovery
rate in year t to predict fumble recovery rate in year t+1. The model
also controls for the baseline recovery rate of each team by allowing
intercept shifts. Two things stand out. First, past recovery rates
explain relatively little variation in current recovery rates
(R-squared=0.13 in a model with lagged DV and team fixed effects).

Second, the relationship between recovery rates last year and recovery
rates this year is *negative* and statistically significant. If this
general pattern holds true in the case of Michigan this year, we
should expect the team to recover fumbles at a slightly lower rate
than its baseline for the 2002-2012 period (i.e. 61.57%). Obviously,
this is a ridiculously simple model, but it reinforces whatever
evidence you were basing your previous comments on.


The oft-repeated claim here that Michigan's fumble recovery rate in 2011 was a gift from the fickle gods of chance is not one that has gone down smoothly with many readers. The above lays out the numbers case. The previous year's fumble recover rate has very little effect on next year's and what relationship there is tends to take the rate back towards average.

But numbers don't seem like enough for whatever reason. I think I may have given doubters ammunition when I came back from the Glazier clinic reporting that Mattison told a room full of dudes that Michigan emphasizes turnover recovery:

Bonus: For those looking for a reason other than blind luck that Michigan recovered 80% of opponent fumbles this year, in practice all incompletions are live balls. Mattison credited this practice for getting players moving towards the ball at all times and being in position to scoop up live balls in actual play.

I thought this was not that convincing; several commenters seized upon it as a workable rationale why Michigan would be able to continue their fumble-procuring ways, Michigan's coaching does help them recover loose balls, but every other program in the country does something similar. Just because you work at it doesn't mean the results are predictable.

Blue Seoul points out RVB hustle that lead to a fumble recovery against Nebraska…


Ryan slaps the ball out. Check out how far away from the ball Van Bergen is. But he's got his head up, he's disengaged from his blocker, and he's pursuing the ball.


One funny bounce later and it's in RVB's hands. Brian keeps saying that fumble recoveries are just luck and 50-50 propositions. I would disagree and say the fumble recovery percentage is more of a function of the number of each team's players near the ball when the fumble happens. In this case, we were a little lucky because Nebraska had more guys near the ball. But if RVB isn't hustling and getting off his blocker, our chances of getting that ball go from slim to none. So yes, luck plays a part, but I don't believe it's JUST luck or that it will always regress to the mean..

…and Mattison did spend a slice of time describing his deep-seated hatred of "loafs." But so did the tweaked-out LB coach from Illinois who spoke in ALL CAPS. The tweaked-out LB coach from Illinois bellowed his distaste of loafs to three rooms, only one of which he was occupying, for about twenty minutes. The differences there are not great. They're certainly overwhelmed by the fact that these fumble recovery rates are across a sample of 15 or 20.

Here's a last stab. Look at those Alabama numbers, which stretch back to a time when they were run by incompetents. Now they're run by Nick Saban, collector of all first round draft picks and ruthless destroyer of offense. Saban's arrival has coincided with Alabama's fumble recovery rate going… nowhere, maybe getting a tiny bit worse. If coaching had a significant impact on fumble recovery rates, wouldn't Alabama be a perfect case study?*

I think that coaches think they have an impact here, but the things they do are all the same things: run to the ball and be alert. There's no technique and no strategy, so the impact they can have in this department is limited. Therefore Michigan's recovery rate last year was an anomaly and we should not expect it to repeat, or even expect it to be significantly above the 50.3% national rate.

Of course, I said the same stuff about this during the Rodriguez era and the thing stubbornly failed to turn around. If the universe is determined to make me look stupid at least this time I'm hedged properly.

*[I know one team's rate is a hopelessly small sample size but this argument is addressed to people who aren't going to take the numbers to heart.]

I'm not answering this guy's PSU question.


We're all tired of the Penn State tragedy that has been occupying the headlines since the fall. Some are talking about the conference removing the school as a member. While we've heard such an idea echo throughout the sports world, no one has actually talked about the criteria for the Big Ten actually removing a member. We've also been inundated with schools switching conferences over the past few years and the procedures for making such departures. So, by now, most of us can recite the hoops a school needs to jump through in order to swap conferences. My question is, what is the Big Ten's procedure for removing a member from its ranks?


I don't know if they even have one but I assume it's something along the lines of getting everyone together to vote on stuff, and then giving them a bunch of money for breach or just to prevent the inevitable lawsuit.

But… seriously? We're talking about removing a university with 40k people involved with it because of one very, very tragic event? I get that the Penn State athletic department had warped itself into a place where common human decency took a back seat to covering your ass, but the people responsible will be held accountable and the culture of the place will change radically. The unique situation PSU found itself in will not repeat. As long as they take the proper steps to assure that, let's just grimly recalibrate how we feel when we look at the Paterno statue and move on. A start: apply the same FOIA laws to Penn State that apply to public universities everywhere.

Annihilating the PSU program is pointless. Maybe I can see hobbling it for a bit, but when we start talking about booting universities from conferences or cancelling their nonconference games and forcing them to play on the road for two years or the death penalty or the NCAA fate worse than death, you lose me. While I've been pretty uncompromising in re: JoePa himself, at some point you have to think of the town, the university, and the program as things that aren't just JoePa. There's a massively damaged community out there whose only crime was to believe in Joe Paterno. They've been getting the 2009 Illinois treatment for going on a year now. At least give them the escape of a crisp fall day against Wisconsin, conflicted though it must be.

I'm all for the symbolic eviscerating of Paterno's record, and if you want to slap some other sanctions that erase the "one of two schools never to have been hit with a major violation" claim, fine. Burning down the program doesn't affect any of the perpetrators more than jail and death does.

It can't happen here?


What nags at me about Penn State is this: How far is the "Grand Experiment" away from "This is Michigan"? Obviously, I don't mean, "Do you suppose we've ever aided and abetted a predatory pedophile?" But let's face it: We've seen "the good of the program" used to defend some behavior we wouldn't countenance in another context.

I think in this case what allowed the culture to develop was the cloistered nature of Penn State, culturally and geographically. The main reason this most likely couldn't happen in Ann Arbor is there are a lot of people in and around Ann Arbor who couldn't care less about football. "This is Michigan" on an optic-yellow T-shirt might mean Bo or Desmond or Yost or Man-Ball. But "Michigan" means JFK and the Peace Corps on the steps of the Union, the polio vaccine, and Space, Bitches, Space. I'm not saying everyone in State College loved football; I'm not saying everyone affiliated with the Michigan football program "just lugs the damn refrigerator" as quietly as they should. I am saying enough people of non-athletic consequence pass through Ann Arbor for one reason or another that a sports coach who spends too much time saying "look at me" is going to get his comeuppance before a jury is hearing 48 counts of criminal sexual conduct against one of his assistants.

No one who puts any stock into the importance of "the program" is immune from having his perspective skewed a bit, of course; the Florida A&M band was big enough that they could initiate newcomers however it wanted -- until one of them got killed. But I feel like a cosmopolitan locale -- be it a state capital or a cultural center -- provides a deterrent on any one entity getting TOO big. In State College, there was no adequate deterrent. The Sandusky scandal was likely a perfect storm for which the ingredients will never again exist: Among other things, we've likely seen the last of the 40-plus year football coaching tenures. But I think the next time we're walking toward Stadium and Main on a Saturday afternoon and we pass someone walking in the opposite direction -- toward some library or lab or city hall -- hauling some figurative fridge we'd never care to bother with, it's worth thinking gratefully, "This is Michigan."


Mostly I just posted this so people could read it. Comment follows out of obligation.

Michael Weinreb described the strangeness of this event after growing up in State College beautifully for Grantland*. His piece tends to confirm your hypothesis. I believe that if we were to transport Bo into an anachronistic Whole Foods at the height of his popularity, at least half the people in there would wonder who the jerk making fun of the meat was. Any sports fan who spends a lot of time in Ann Arbor has had the sort of mutually jaw-dropping conversation with someone from the opposite pole of sports/art.

Meanwhile, the university itself is sometimes kind of sort of at war with the athletic department in a way common across the country. Rodriguez fought with the admissions department, sure, but so did Lloyd Carr. Lloyd Carr! And he lost from time to time. The local media is all up in Michigan's business. Carr (Lloyd Carr!) had to deal with the local paper bombing Michigan's practice of giving athletes easy classes, soon followed by the Free Press stretching the most minor of major violations into a leathery program condemnation. Unlike Penn State, Michigan is subject to open records requests. So, yeah, It can't happen here.

But it is an extreme outlier. It's easy to feel good about not having that be possible. Maybe we should take this as an opportunity to learn from what went on at Penn State and adapt to prevent things in the 1-5%-as-horrific range from happening here. Michigan complies with FOIA requests but charges outrageous prices to do so, blocking certain investigations. When the Daily asked for 400k employee purchasing card records they were quoted a price of "unspecified thousands of dollars"—the same records cost $200 from MSU, $181 from Iowa, and were free from Illinois and Ohio State. That is a pale shadow of the PSU secrecy that should be dispelled.

Other than that concrete suggestion, I'm not sure what actions Michigan could take, or even what the problem might be given that Michigan's coach has been around one year and probably won't make it past 15 before retiring.

*[Yes, he was sour about Michigan's team at some point over the last year. Let's get over it.]

Game Theory Bits Featuring Jim Harbaugh

Game Theory Bits Featuring Jim Harbaugh

Submitted by Brian on September 19th, 2011 at 3:46 PM


Three things of interest happened over the weekend to the Everything Is Agricola portion of my brain:

1. Michigan had it first and ten from their one. Q: what's the difference in overall value between sneaking it for two yards and just flat-out taking a safety? I'm thinking it's not very large. Michigan did that and threw incomplete twice and then had to use their no-blocky punt formation. The result was EMU getting the ball around the Michigan 30.

I wonder if it makes more sense to just act like you're on the ten or something. It seems like giving away that down makes your life much tougher when the alternative is 1) rare and 2) maybe not that bad. You're giving up two points but you're probably gaining half of that back in field position. The difference between a punt from the five and a punt without any rush from the 35 (since punters usually drop back 15 yards) is big.

[UPDATE: I asked the Mathlete. He responded thusly:

1st and 10 at your own one has an expected value of -1.71. The offensive value is +.79 and the ensuing opponent possession is worth 2.50.

At 2nd and 8 the offense drops slightly to +.76 but so does the opponent to 2.27, improving the offense's expected value by 0.2 to -1.51.

A post-safety kick off from the 20 yields the opponent an average of 2.09 points but forfeiting the offense's expected points, giving up 2 points and getting back only a slight benefit in defensive EV.

The play is worth -2.38 points on 1st and 10 from the one and -2.58 on 2nd and 8 from the 3. The only time you can make a case for it is on fourth down when the offense has exhausted its value and it's the fourth quarter and the 2 points on the scoreboard won't be a major swing, i.e. between 4 and 6 points.

So it's a big deal. I'm following up to figure out whether pretending you're at the 30 and just running your offense is a better play than the usual strategy.]

2. Jim Harbaugh did something stupid. The scenario: San Francisco has just kicked a field goal to go up ten with 11 minutes left. A 15 yard penalty would put the ball on the Dallas 22 with a first down up seven. Harbaugh declines the penalty and San Francisco blows the game.

This does seem like a huge, stupid error. NFL kickers are near automatic from within 40, you might get a touchdown, and even if you don't you've bled another two minutes off a clock that's significantly in your favor.

The NFL win percentage folk say this is no big deal, though:

The 15-yard enforcement on the kickoff ensures a touchback. By taking the 3 points, the 49ers have a 10-point lead with the Cowboys having a 1st down at their own 20. This gave the 49ers a win probability (WP) of 0.90.

Accepting the penalty for a 1st down gives the 49ers the ball at the Dallas 22, up by 7. This is worth a WP of 0.91.

The percentage play would have been to take the points off the board and accept the 1st down, but just barely. In the grand scheme, this is a very small error. The common punt or FG attempt on 4th and short in most game situations is usually more costly, and most fans and analysts hardly take note of them.

I'm not sure I agree. For one, this situation seems like a stat more like save percentage than anything else. When 90% is the baseline success rate there's a big difference between 90% and 91%. If you look at it from a chance of losing perspective, forgoing the penalty increases your chance to lose by 11%. In hockey that's the difference between an AHL goalie and an NHL one.

3. Before that Jim Harbaugh did something even dumber. But even if we put that aside, Harbaugh went maximum puntasaur just to try the field goal. It was fourth and one on the 37! Doing anything other than going for it is the beyond stupid. It goes into the realm of irredeemable. According to the WP folks, that decision swung SF's chance of winning from 87% to 83%, a 31% increase.

The moral of the story, as always, is that if you find yourself at a poker table with a football coach other than Bill Belichick mortgage everything you have.


This stuff just must be not that important. Recruiting and strategizing and fundamentals and all that stuff has to be about 98% of the job or the odd guy who's heard of expected value would instantly shoot to the top of the league. What league? Any league.

Brady Hoke will disappoint sooner or later; the best we can hope for is that he won't do it as spectacularly as some coaches do. /shakes fist at 2005 Ohio State game