Mailbag! With Birds!

Mailbag! With Birds!

Submitted by Brian on December 17th, 2010 at 1:26 PM


This could be you!


Is it possible that Rich Rodriguez's style of offense doesn't give his defense enough time to rest between drives?  Using numbers from, I calculated the following "time per drive" stats for Michigan and three other Big Ten teams:

Michigan: 2.18 (minutes per offensive drive)
Michigan State: 2.73
Ohio State: 2.83
Wisconsin: 2.95

Defenses for the latter 3 teams have about 30% more time to rest between drives.

I thought of this because, after the Washington Redskins fired offensive guru Al Saunders, some defensive players said he had a bad tendency run his offense without any concern for the effects on the defense.  Maybe Michigan's defensive woes aren't entirely a product of bad defensive coaching and youth.

My edition of Windows Live Writer automatically links to a post discussing how I hate time of possession whenever I type the words, so I'm probably not the guy to make this argument to. While it is possible that Michigan's lack of rest between drives contributed to the terrible defense,the goal of Michigan's varying tempos and generally quick pace is to place stress on the opposing defense. Arguing that short drives stress the defense is one side of the coin; the other is that they contribute to the offense's success.

The actual difference in rest is lower, too. The 45 seconds on game clock Michigan's isn't running isn't much when you account for TV timeouts and stoppages for first downs and incomplete passes and reviews and etc etc etc. I'd guess the difference is considerably less than 30%. Amongst the many factors that led to the defense's demise this year, "tiredness because the offense has short drives" is well down the list.

Hi guys,

I'm a lifelong Michigan fan and moderate supporter of Rich Rodriguez.  Here is my question...  What can happen with the D coordinator position?  We know Robinson should be fired, who are some good candidates to replace him if they stick with RichRod?  Also, with all the unknowns regarding RichRod, does this mean that Robinson won't be fired until there is a firm decision about Rodriguez?  Do we really have to keep him until New Years?  Thanks guys,

Faithful supporter,

The answers change significantly based on what defense you want to run. If Michigan is sticking with a 3-3-5 they should get someone who knows how to, you know, run the defense. The old and proven version of this coordinator is San Diego State's Rocky Long*, the former New Mexico head coach. He had a fairly successful decade-long run before running out of energy a couple years ago. The younger and not so proven option would be someone like Louisiana-Monroe's Troy Reffett, who's about 20 years younger than Long and has bounced around smaller schools, coordinating 3-3-5s at UTEP, New Mexico, and now ULM. ULM was seventh in the Sun Belt in yardage when he arrived and has finished 2nd and 3rd in his two years as the coordinator.

I don't think that should be a factor, though. From the outside it looks like they brought in Robinson, let him do his thing for a season, realized he was Greg Robinson 2010—not 1997—and tried to triage as best they could. This went not so well. The best thing to do is learn from your mistakes like a human, bring in a guy with an actual track record of success and let him run the defense. The less wacky the better. This means changing the D for like the fifth straight year, but we're doing that whether or not Rodriguez is retained so you might as well get used to the idea now.

As for who those might be:

  • Randy Shannon was discussed in a previous mailbag. As an unemployed guy with a recent barrage of defenses somewhere between good and great, he's obviously appealing. He'd help Michigan's Florida recruiting while running a defiantly Big Ten-style "this is our 4-3 cover two we run every play, try to beat it please" defense. Downsides: he's never done anything but coach at Miami and may call the fire marshal when he sees an actually full stadium, and other cultural whatnot. He may hold out for another head coaching job, or leave if he gets offered one.
  • The other interesting unemployed college DC is Pitt's Phil Bennett, a 52-year old who was SMU's head coach before June Jones came in. In three years at Pitt he posted FEIs of 27th, 26th, and 31st. His SMU years were moderately successful until the 1-11 crater that cost him his job; before that he was the K-State DC from 1999 to 2001, during which time the Wildcats finished in the top five in total defense every year. All K-State stats under Snyder should be taken with a heavy pinch of salt, but that's still a pretty good record for an available guy.
  • Mike Trgovac is the Michigan Man/chaperone option most commonly presented. He was the Panthers' DC for six successful years before turning down a contract extension and leaving to be a DL coach at Green Bay, which is bizarre but whatever. He's 50—the coaching sweet spot—but hasn't coached in college since 1994.
  • Another option is throwing scads of cash at a guy whose existing school can't afford to keep him. This might bode unwell for our bowl game but Manny Diaz's maniacal maniacs at Mississippi State are 14th in FEI this year. He's working under an offensive-minded head coach and is obviously the motive force behind that ranking. Diaz is young and fiery. This is an upside, but the downside is he has only one year under his belt in the SEC. At Middle Tennessee his last three defenses were 44th(hey, pretty good for MTSU), 103rd, and 84th (not so good).

Depressingly, a scan down the FEI defense list for good units at schools Michigan can drown in 100 dollar bills doesn't hit much of interest past Diaz until you get to #34, which is Syracuse and Scott Shafer. Everyone else is either not happening, dodgy because the head coach is the defensive mastermind, or TCU's Dick Bumpas, who's probably not happening.

*(Savor long and deep the irony of the quintessential "Michigan Man" candidate running a 3-3-5.)

Do you and Tim have a pretty good idea of the total number of recruits we can sign this year?  I've heard people say about 18-19, but with all of the unexpected departures (Vlad, Turner, LaLota, White, Rogers, Dorsey, CJones, Kinard) that last year's class was a lot smaller than originally thought and that there are more roster spots available.

The Depth Chart By Class shows 77 scholarship players, ten of whom graduate. I'm assuming that Jordan Kovacs is now on scholarship but Will Heininger, Kevin Leach, Seth Broekhuizen and the various fullbacks are not, at least not until Michigan ends up with fewer than 85 scholarship players. That would leave a class of 18. In addition, I think it's unlikely Steve Watson and Mike Williams get fifth years, bringing the total to 20. They've currently got:

  • QB: 0
  • RB: 1
  • WR: 0
  • TE: 0
  • Slot: 1
  • OL: 3
  • DE: 2
  • DT: 0
  • LB: 2
  • CB: 4
  • S: 0
  • K: 0

That's 13, leaving seven slots for a kicker, a safety, a DT, a guard, and then three slots that could go to whoever they want. Chris Bryant is likely to be the guard, and two of the wild-card selections seem likely to be DE/DT Anthony Zettel and WR/LB Kris Frost. There are no likely options at DT right now and the safeties Michigan is in on seem like longshots, though it's possible Greg Brown ends up at FS. I'm also guessing Cullen Christian moves to FS this spring.

Are you a student? Do you like costumes?


After watching the dissapointing Bball attendance, myself and another remote alum and bball fan would like to help support the team but unfortunately are too far to make it to the games. We'd like to sponsor tickets for 2 students for the remainder of games provided they wear Big Bird costumes and Blake McLimans jerseys or T-Shirts.

The problem is, we don't know where to start finding 2 students willing to go to the games dressed as Big Bird and take our sponsored tickets. After reading the blog, I feel like this is a project you could get behind.


Behind it I am. Email me if you're interested in being the Blake McLimans fan club and I'll send your information along to Dave. Anyone else interested in exchanging money for shots of someone looking silly at a basketball game should contact me immediately.

Mailbag, Because I Have To

Mailbag, Because I Have To

Submitted by Brian on December 2nd, 2010 at 1:26 PM



It is mailbag time, and this necessarily involves talking about the various job securities of the various coaches on the staff. Apologies in advance for this.

I've followed the program pretty closely for the last few decades through friends, family, and former players. Wondering if your general opinion of Brady Hoke's competence as a head coach continues to reflect your 2007 assessment?

Go Blue,
Andrew Steketee

That 2007 assessment was a "Profile in Cronyism" at the dark point of the coaching search when reasonable options were thin on the ground and names like Hoke and Jim Grobe were getting thrown around, and it laid out the case that no reasonable Big Ten program, let alone Michigan, could possibly consider Hoke for a head coaching gig. At the time he was 22-36 at Ball State and had just finished his first winning season, that a 7-6 campaign. "Evidence suggests Hoke is outclassed in the MAC," I said at the time.

So of course Hoke immediately ripped off the best season in Ball State history, finishing the regular season before inexplicably losing to Buffalo in the MAC championship game. San Diego State hired him away, whereupon former Michigan offensive coordinator Stan Parrish took over. Parrish wasted no time impressing his indelible stamp on the program by losing 45-13. Hoke took over a 2-10 program; in his second year they're 8-4. Since the four losses have come against Missouri, BYU, TCU, and Utah and the biggest deficit was five points against TCU(though that game wasn't nearly as close as all that), his resume is now a plausible Big Ten resume…

…at Minnesota, where he's a rumored candidate. I know the emailer wasn't suggesting that Hoke would be considered for the Michigan job, but it's worth mentioning that Michigan's coaching search got so desperate in 2007 that a guy who put up a 12-2 season and has turned around San Diego State but still doesn't have a reasonable resume was getting kicked around.


I know you briefly alluded to this on TWIS, but what are the chances that Randy Shannon could possibly come and be our defensive coordinator? There are SO many great reasons why:

- He graduates players (I believe he had one of the highest APR rates for a BCS school)
- Pipeline to the South, especially Florida, so we can get their recruits
- Much better than GERG
- Able to relate to all sorts of players with different backgrounds
- Players stayed out of trouble

The only thing is whether or not Rich Rod would be willing to forgo the 3-3-5 or if Randy Shannon can coach the 3-3-5.

Speaking of which – isn’t that the hinge question? Do we want someone who can actually coach the 3-3-5 or do we want someone to switch to the 3-4 or 4-3?

Jin Shi

I made a joking reference to Shannon in TWIS without thinking much other than "this is a defensive coach who is not Robinson," but… yeah, seriously. Unlike Robinson, Shannon has a track record of recent college success. His current team is 16th in total D and 22nd in scoring, seventh in sacks, first in TFLs, and third in pass efficiency D. FEI has them third nationally*.

Downsides: they got bombed by Florida State and gave up 31 to Virginia Tech—both games featured rushes of over eighty yards, and Shannon's had access to the steady stream of insane athletes that just hangs out at Miami Northwestern so his defenses probably should be pretty good.

Still, Wikipedia sayeth:

During Shannon's six years as UM's defensive coordinator, his defenses ranked as follows in total defense nationally:

Dang. Once he got the top job at Miami there was some dropoff, as Shannon's Ds finished 33rd, 28th, 29th, and 16th in yardage. FEI has the Shannon defenses, 41st (2007),  65th (2008), 18th, and 3rd, which is really interesting since the conventional measure hardly differentiates between Shannon's first three years.

That's a full decade of defenses somewhere between bludgeoning and decent, mostly bludgeoning. And as anyone who's watched a Miami game in the last four years can tell you, Shannon is a great guy with a heartbreaking life story who graduated his kids and kept them out of trouble. He should help Michigan's Florida recruiting even further, as he's a guy respected across the state. If Michigan changes DCs again they could do much worse.

The 3-3-5 issue shouldn't come up. Shannon's spent his entire career playing and coaching Miami's basic 4-3 cover two; asking him to run anything else would be as nuts as hiring a guy who'd driven Syracuse into a crater and asking him to run a defense he doesn't know, and one of the preconditions to keeping Rodriguez around should be "no more transparently nuts decisions, okay?"

*(Guess who's #1: West Virginia. FFFFFFFUUUUUUUUU.)

On the inefficiency of the offense:

So I found out why we suck.  Turns out it isn't our defense.  The reason we cant win is because of the offense and whatever kicker we trot out there to kick FGs.  Look at the comparison between yards/game rank vs. points/yd rank among the top 30 offenses (total offense by total yards, not yds/game).  We rank #6 in yds/game but #26 in pts/yd.  So we move a ton of yards without getting much in return.  Well, i should say we don't get enough in return.  You'd think or expect our yd/game rank to be in the neighborhood of our pts/yd rank....but we have the worst differential among the top 30 offenses (total yards).  Who knows where we'd rank if I went to all FBS teams.

What's also interesting is who is at the top.  Teams with a high negative delta (pts/yd rank minus yd/game rank) get more points than they should be expected to.  This can be because of a number of factors--they don't turn the ball over, they don't miss field goals, and/or their defense forces turnovers and provides shorter fields for the offense.  In any case we now know why such a boring Wisconsin offense scores so many fricking points.  They are #1 in pts/yd.  OSU is #5.  Neither of these teams are prolific, but they are extremely efficient and they don't screw up.  Oregon, Boise State, and TCU are just fricking awesome all around.  Stanford is another team that makes the most of its chances.  Michigan's delta goes in the other direction (yd/game is awesome...pts/game not so much).  Obviously we need to move the two numbers closer together. 

Oh, if we scored .0868366 pts/yd, which is what NIU got at #6 in pts/yd rank (and closer to where we should be) we would have scored about 110 more points this year.  If we had Wisconsin's, we would have scored 167 more points this year...hopefully all against OSU, WISC, PSU, Iowa, and MSU.

In summary... our defense can continue to suck and there will still be hope.  Our offense needs to perform on 8 cylinders all the time and we need to get a kicker...have we tried the women's soccer team?

Wisconsin 450.2 43.3 0.096 1 18 -17
Oregon 541.7 50.2 0.093 2 1 1
Boise State 525.5 46.4 0.088 3 4 -1
TCU 491.5 43.2 0.088 4 7 -3
Ohio State 448.8 39.4 0.088 5 19 -14
Northern Illinois 452 39.3 0.087 6 17 -11
Auburn 490.1 42.1 0.086 7 8 -1
East Carolina 445.5 38.2 0.086 8 22 -14
Stanford 467.3 39.8 0.085 9 14 -5
Oklahoma State 537.6 44.9 0.084 10 2 8
Southern Miss 458.2 37.6 0.082 11 15 -4
Nevada 536.9 43.3 0.081 12 3 9
Nebraska 424.3 33.8 0.080 13 27 -14
Alabama 435.6 34.4 0.079 14 25 -11
Hawaii 487.8 38.3 0.079 15 10 5
Houston 480.5 37.7 0.078 16 11 5
Tulsa 503.5 39.3 0.078 17 5 12
Oklahoma 480.1 37.5 0.078 18 12 6
San Diego State 448.5 35 0.078 19 20 -1
Arkansas 489.3 37.3 0.076 20 9 11
Kentucky 437.3 33 0.075 21 24 -3
Air Force 437.4 32.3 0.074 22 23 -1
USC 427.9 31.1 0.073 23 26 -3
Texas A&M 447.6 31.7 0.071 24 21 3
Texas Tech 452.6 31.9 0.071 25 16 9
Michigan 500.9 34.2 0.068 26 6 20
Baylor 478.5 32.6 0.068 27 13 14
Southern Methodist 422.8 27.9 0.066 28 28 0
Miami (FL) 422.6 27.1 0.064 29 30 -1
UAB 422.8 26.8 0.063 30 29 1

This is the thing about looking up at halftime and seeing around 250 yards and ten points in chart form: hoooo boy was Michigan bad at converting drives into points this year.

A chunk of this is on the kickers. I don't think Michigan made any calls a David Romer obsessive wouldn't regard as broadly correct because of their field goal situation, so all of the disadvantages going 4 of 13 provides should be encapsulated in FEI's kicking stat, in which Michigan has proudly reclaimed their crown as the worst in the nation. They're giving up an astounding 1.15 points relative to an average team every time they line up to kick. Pretending they're average closes the gap between themselves and puts them in a tie with A&M and Texas Tech; something in the 30s gets them slightly past.

Turnovers are another chunk. This one's not quite as easy to quantify. Michigan's 27 lost turnovers is 109th nationally. I'm going to take a wild stab at how much of Michigan's deficiency here is due to the huge TO rate that should be generally correct but vulnerable to a lot of niggling details, so bear with me. Michigan's drives last year excluding end-of-half situations that did not result in points:

  • 43 punts
  • 57 TDs
  • 13 FGAs
  • 27 turnovers

The national median in turnovers lost is 20. If we wave a wand and pretend this is Michigan's distribution, and leave the spread unchanged otherwise we get another 2.7 punts, 3.5 TDs, and eight tenths of a field goal. That's another two points a game, which gets Michigan up to… 22nd.

So then the rest of it is starting almost every drive at their 20 or worse thanks to a terrible defense, no punt return game, no kick return game, and everything else that goes into Michigan's average starting field position, in which Michigan ranks 92nd relative to the opponent.

If we're assigning blame, the the offense appear to be about 25% responsible thanks to those turnovers with special teams taking 50% and the defense 25%.

We have done this the last two years but it's worth noting that West Virginia was consistently positive in TO margin after Rodriguez's first year, so it's not like this is an artifact of the system. I know I keep saying this in defiance of persistently agonizing triple digit rankings. Maybe next year, when Rodriguez has an upperclassman at QB for the first time?

Do you weigh the fact that Harbaugh probably is available only this offseason in your calculation to retain RR for a fourth year?  Does the presumed availability of a top-tier candidate with deep UM ties change the analysis of whether RR should be retained?  It has to in my mind--I'm not sure what conclusion it leads me to--does it in your mind?  Or do you challenge my assumption about only this offseason?

I'm not sure I agree with the premise. I can see Harbaugh sticking around for another year at Stanford if he knows he's got a shot at the job next year, or leaving his team a la Al Groh to coach his alma mater, or not actually getting a pro job offer for whatever reason. (Let's stipulate that there's no college job Michigan couldn't poach Harbaugh from and no college program is likely to be foolhardy enough to test that.)  But it is accurate that Harbaugh is available now and might not be in the future.

Does that change the calculus? Yeah. Without Harbaugh sitting there with an 11-1 Stanford team he built by hand from the finest recruits known to Stanford, I don't think the conversation about Rodriguez's job security is anywhere near as intense. Who's the next hot guy? Patterson and Peterson seem married to their current schools, Chip Kelly isn't going anywhere. The two guys next on everyone's lips are Dana Holgorsen and Gus Mahlzahn, two offensive coordinators who have never been head coaches.

Sans Harbaugh, Michigan would probably take a look at the available options, glance back at Denard, and say "well, one more year probably can't hurt." With him, it's a choice between as-probable-as-it-gets long term success and an awkward fit with the Big Ten offensive player of the year, or hoping that someone can finally turn Rodriguez's defense at Michigan into something other than doom. There are worse spots to be in. There are better.