11/17/2018 – Michigan 31, Indiana 20 – 10-1, 8-0 Big Ten
Indiana was defeated. It was annoying, as per usual. The method was different this time.
It's here, again. Football Armageddon. The last time I called a game Football Armageddon it was 12 years ago, when Michigan and Ohio State were both undefeated. Michigan ripped off a slick touchdown drive to start things off, and in the Ohio State student section I thought to myself "we're a third of the way home."
This was incorrect. Michigan's defense played three inside linebackers the whole game against Troy Smith, gave up 500 yards and 42 points, and blew an opportunity to get the ball back when Shawn Crable hit Smith in the helmet on a scramble. The 2006 defense featured Alan Branch, Lamarr Woodley, Leon Hall, David Harris, four guys with decade-long NFL careers. They whooped up on everyone, but within were the seeds of the past decade of Michigan football. Michigan had one cornerback: Hall. Morgan Trent couldn't change direction with a sail and a headwind, and when the starters got pulled against Ball State two weeks prior the Cardinals mounted a comeback that ended in Michigan's redzone down only 8.
The two corners who came in against Ball State were Chris Richards, the defensive coordinator's godson, and Johnny Sears, a kid from Fresno who'd never played a varsity game when Michigan offered him. They saw him at practice. (Practice! We're talking about practice!) Eight months later Michigan would field Sears as a starter in The Horror, in which a cut-rate Troy Smith exploited the same tactical naivete Smith had to hand Michigan the worst upset of all time.
Football Armageddon really was Armageddon for Michigan, not because of anything Ohio State did to them in that one game but because they'd fallen behind the curve out of their own arrogance. Michigan's recruiting was increasingly lazy, dependent on guys who bothered to come to camp and random, uninformed guesses about players based on not enough scouting. They'd get about half a class of well-regarded and then pluck random dudes out of the ether for the rest. They'd singularly failed to adapt to the prevalence of the spread across college football, kicking off the Ohio State dominance that extends to the modern day.
When Lloyd Carr retired he asked the athletic director to interview the two sturdiest branches on his coaching tree: his coordinators. One, Ron English, had never been a head coach and was the architect of the Horror. The other, Mike DeBord, was 12-34 at Central Michigan before quitting because he wasn't a head coach. These were the options to keep it in the family.
2006 Michigan was Indiana Jones on a rope bridge. Ohio State was the guy with the machete leering from the safety of land, but it didn't create the situation.
Incredibly, improbably, amazingly: Ohio State looks like it might be on a bridge of its own devising. Michigan's culture caught up to them in a slow-motion avalanche that took half a decade. OSU's got blown up in a week by Brett McMurphy and Urban Meyer's callous disregard for anything but winning.
Since Zach Smith was exposed, Ohio State's house has morphed from bricks to cards. Every week (except Michigan State) brings a new sordid depth to their defensive issues. With JT Barrett off to pick up YAC in the Estonian league, the offense frequently fails to convert buckets of yards into points. There was a fourth and goal wide receiver screen against Purdue. Not incidentally, a 5-6 Purdue team that's going into the Bucket game looking for a bowl berth boatraced OSU 49-20.
The nature of the series with Michigan has already changed in the post-Durkin landscape. Michigan lost by a literal inch the last time they were in Columbus despite Wilton Speight fumbling on the goal line and throwing two miserable interceptions. Last's game was 21 Michigan players outplaying the opposition and the third-string quarterback tossing up a 14.3 QBR. This isn't Michigan scrapping and clawing because "throw the records out" and we'll go for two at the end of the game because we know what's what. It's Michigan getting hit by a red shell rounding the last corner.
They're there. They're good enough. They're legitimately elite by any metric you want to poke. Now they just have to do the damn thing. The consequences of failure do not bear thinking about. It's armageddon, again. Ohio State is a rope over an abyss. Sharpen your knives.
you're the man now, dog
#1 Devin Bush. Michigan lined him up next to Gary for a blitz and that seemed unfair and also please continue doing that forever. Twelve tackles, one of them to destroy a fake punt, and one critical fourth down PBU. Run issues were mostly things he was trying to mitigate and not things that could be plausibly put on him. Update: still good.
#2 Shea Patterson. Another game of almost ten yards an attempt. There were some hiccups, but the interception was an open guy on an RPO and it sailed because he got clobbered. The Gentry throw in the endzone… not so much. But the one after escaping the pocket, yeah buddy. Also chipped in 68 yards rushing. Which is a lot of yards.
#3 Rashan Gary. Had half that sack mentioned above plus a thunderous speed to power rush; 7 other tackles besides when Michigan really needed DL to step up.
Honorable mention: Zach Gentry had two big receptions and got interfered with twice… but maybe probably should have grabbed that ball in the endzone. Higdon had a workmanlike performance with some key broken tackles on short stuff.
Nick Eubanks scores his first touchdown at Michigan. An important moment in the game, sure. But his reaction afterward was a prayer to his late mom.
Honorable mention: Post-game news about Edwards and Winovich is positive. Moody hits a field goal X6. Rashan Gary stops Indiana's last drive before it starts.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
Berkeley Edwards suffers the scariest injury in Michigan Stadium in living memory after a cheap targeting hit on a kickoff return. Edwards is probably going to be fine, per Braylon, and he's tweeting, so… that's a mixed blessing. But mostly good!
Honorable mention: Chase Winovich is knocked out after a different cheap shot and is maybe unavailable for next week. The end of half debacle.
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But yeah like he does sponsor us, which is even better. It's nice to have sponsors you can actually recommend with a clear conscience, especially because they have never paid a dime to the Larry Culpepper guy.
FORMATION NOTES. Air Force runs a 3-4, but it's not like that. Whereas your conventional 3-4 has big guys who two-gap, Air Force has little guys. It's a one-gap 3-4, if you will.
The NT almost always shaded between the C and G in a one tech, with four linebackers in the traditional 3-4 umbrella. Sometimes head up with the same umbrella, and check those safeties on first and freakin' ten:
Now, there are a ton of very obvious ways in which this is not at all the 3-3-5 stack Michigan runs. Air Force doesn't stack their linebackers, for one. They rarely insert an OLB between their DEs as anything other than a twist blitz; Michigan is constantly making Furbush an extra DL. AF just about always shaded their NT instead of running a zero-tech, and they had a clear weakside and strongside end, with the strongside end basically a DT. Michigan's DEs have run identical techniques for the duration of the season. Also there is not a withdrawn MLB like Bush; instead two ILBs.
These are the ways in which Michigan's defense is not at all like Air Force's, which is a one-gap 3-4.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES. The regular at QB and OL. Onwenu got pulled for the last three plays of the final drive, with Runyan coming in. Isaac was the starting RB and got the bulk of the work; Evans was pulled after his fumble until late, when Isaac went out with a minor injury. Mason one snap at FB, with the seniors going the rest of the way.
WR was Black, Crawford, and DPJ outside with cameos from Schoenle on running plays. That's getting into a major play tip zone, though Black's injury might change that. Perry got most of the run in the slot; McDoom had maybe a dozen snaps, and not all were jet stuff.
Tight end was the usual rotation of everyone, minus Wheatley. He had a ding that held him out. Also I might not have seen Eubanks? I don't think I saw Eubanks. Bunting is losing ground, BTW, to McKeon and Gentry.
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There is intimidation, and then there is "you lost to a cartoon gopher":
At least Alabama gives you the courtesy of just losing to a color and a number. This? This is horror, a beating served with an adorable smile on its face. This is potentially taking a beating from a cartoon rodent that only wants to serve you hot dish, and then crack the casserole over your head. Don’t lose to Minnesota when they’re wearing these helmets, is what we’re saying. The psychological damage alone could take years of therapy to undo.
Minnesota's ground and pound offense only makes this worse. Rodney Smith bounces off tackles. A lot of tackles. If he breaks your tackle and grabs a first down on carry #30 and pops up to yell "spew" you might disassociate from your body from sheer embarrassment.
Connelly brings numbers to the offense. It's not great:
Michigan has snapped the ball 88 times on first down. The Wolverines are averaging a not-completely-awful 5.3 yards per play, but of their 464 total yards gained, 211 have come on five plays. They have gained one yard or fewer 43 times. Success rate: 33 percent — 27 percent rushing and a much healthier 46 percent passing.
It gets even worse when the Wolverines generate scoring chances. Yards per play on first downs in the red zone: 1.1. They’ve gained zero or fewer yards in eight of 12 instances.
There's a lot of pointing and going THAT about Michigan's offense, which is fine in a post like Connelly's that is a stat post drawing some high-level contours.
To date I've seen little or nothing that goes any deeper about Michigan's redzone issues, if those even exist. "Redzone efficiency" clearly does not exist separate from general efficiency at the NFL level:
We went back and looked at the past five years to compare how teams did in the red zone during the first seven weeks of the season with how they played overall. Let's call this "red zone advantage." ...
The correlation of total offensive DVOA in the first seven weeks to total offensive DVOA in the final 10 weeks is .64. That makes plenty of sense: Teams that play well on offense early in the season are likely to play well on offense late in the season. The same correlation for defense is .48, a little lower but still fairly significant.
However, the correlation for "red zone advantage" is practically nil: .01, to be exact, on both offense and defense. During the past five seasons, at least, "red zone advantage" has done nothing to project how well a team will play in the red zone during the second half of the year.
College might be different if running QBs are a real advantage, and I'd buy that.
But unless you've got a magic potion that gives Wilton Speight dreads and a 4.4 40, talking about Michigan's "redzone issues" is a waste of time. The redzone offense being bad is just the stuff that makes the offense bad in general. There's nothing about Harbaugh's approach that makes Michigan inherently bad at scoring touchdowns—Michigan was 17th in S&P+'s "finishing drives" metric a year ago if you want a number—so this is just bad QB play and bad blocking, which are problems anywhere. There's no magic bullet other than getting better at footballing.
Sharks, like would-be credit card scammers at Florida, are not smooth. Florida's many suspended players might be done for if this comes to fruition:
The nine University of Florida Football players who are facing allegations of having misused school funds, could be arrested as early as the end of this week, sources have told The Read Optional.
Antonio Callaway, Jordan Smith, and one other player are likely to be arrested on charges of felony grand theft, with the possibility of further misdemeanor charges being tagged on, according to a lawyer representing one of the players. It’s anticipated that the other six players will also be arrested, but only three players have hired legal counsel thus far.
At the very least they would be suspended until those charges are resolved, a process that might last for the duration of the season. Compounding matters:
The nine University of Florida football players who have been suspended indefinitely by the school for misuse of school funds, are also under investigation for credit card fraud, by two separate police departments in the Gainesville area, relating to an additional credit card fraud allegation.
Jordan Smith, a freshman defensive end, was suspended from all team activates after a report from The Read Optional that Smith had used stolen credit card information to pay rent at an apartment complex — around $1,000 dollars. ...
The link between the misuse of funds investigation and apartment fraud investigation is now clear: Several of the players had the same stolen credit card information; the same victim.
It appears Florida's about as good at criminal offense as regular offense. McElwain's recruiting has given off a distinct whiff of desperation at times, with Florida picking up a lot of the highly-touted guys other schools back off of because of red flags. You may remember Guy Who Got Busted For Pot On An Official Visit To OSU; James Robinson signed with Florida. He was suspended against Michigan for... I mean, you can probably guess.
Pot is the most minor of all offenses, but if you're getting busted for it on a college campus while hanging out with a crew of folks who collectively can only be football players that's something else. Twice is another level of something else. I mean... Michigan's had some guys who were super into pot. But never citation-level. I imagine that among the very very bad credit card scammers are a couple guys Florida knew they probably shouldn't take but did anyway.
Florida's collected a large number of Malik McDowells because their head coach can't really recruit and felt the pressure. This bodes unwell for Michigan's strength of schedule. Also McElwain.
How much of a problem is a football coach being a dick? A serious question. The Indianapolis Star gets the story of former IU WR Coray Keel, who left Indiana after one year mostly because Kevin Wilson was a dick:
“It became kind of like a pride thing, once I started lining up, to be key players for the opposing team every week, when I would hear coaches come up to me and tell me I’m not (crap), I’m not this and that. It was Kevin Wilson and position coaches, but mostly Kevin Wilson,” Keel said. “Every day, it was a constant reminder of how much I wasn’t doing good, and how I was doing more harm as a scout-team player, not giving the team the right looks. I was the reason we were losing, the reason why we were not doing good.”
“As my time at IU extended, it got worse,” Keel said. “To the point where it made just being there uncomfortable. It made the overall experience of it, it was to the point where I didn’t want to wake up and go to practice.”
Keel says he wasn't forced out and that Wilson tried to convince him to stay when he decided to transfer. Keel transferred to a JUCO and gave up football after one more year. The Star cites several other players with similar issues.
All football coaches are dicks. At what point does it cross the line? Mark Mangino: over the line, I think everyone can agree. Mike Rosenberg thought Rich Rodriguez was over the line, partly because of Greg Frey, and now everyone's fine with Greg Frey because Harbaugh. Wilson's hiring at Ohio State was immediately after he got fired, and nobody seems to care.
"He's a third play guy. You guys have heard me talk about the third play, right? He's a third play guy."
Devin Gardner's ridiculous redzone efficiency last year has gone to ludicrous this year. The standard answer we've been giving for this is "well his legs and size" but there's been more to it. I grabbed this one play from the ND game because it shows several things that Gardner and Borges have been doing to defeat what should have been one of their toughest redzone opponents.
What you saw: Michigan gets a 1st and goal from the 2 yard line after a pass interference. They line up in…is that an unbalanced formation? Then Devin checks out of it, runs what seems like an option play, then dives through the whole thing suddenly for the score. Afterward we learn Hoke was trying to call timeout.
Play the First: Ace 2TE Twins Unbalanced HB Dive:
It is unbalanced: Funchess (on the l.o.s. just outside the left hash) is covered by Reynolds, and Schofield is an eligible receiver would be eligible if he had a non-OL number on. There's also some epic space between the end (Sheldon Day) and the linebacker to his side (Shembo).
The middle linebackers are seeing this and pointing. Let 'em; we're motioning to something else anyway.
The media trend of the last ten years is a demonstration of the power of hope. There are now three national networks covering recruiting, plus ESPN, plus a cottage industry of who-dat bloggers who get picked up by these national networks far faster than actual journalism majors get picked up by, you know, newspapers. (Michigan has no journalism major, which explains why you can't throw a rock at a sports editor without causing him to hire a Daily grad.) This site alone saw two guys snapped up and almost hired a third who was snapped up just a bit later. Meanwhile, newspapers continue to give us Drew Sharp and wonder why they're withering on the vine.
Here's all you need to know about recruiting sites: they can charge for content on the internet. Hope, man. Hope.
Because the next guy is always going to be The Guy. The Guy will rescue us from the purgatory of not being Alabama and deliver us unto glory. He may be a defensive back, or a running back, or a quarterback, or a defensive lineman. He is going to be Woodson or Adrian Peterson or Andrew Luck or Jadeveon Clowney—except Clowney's defense just got torched for 41 points and lost.
Jadeveon Clowney! Indisputably The Guy, and somehow still not. If Jadeveon Clowney can't be the guy, well… there's always the recruiting sites. It's college football. The next arrival is always just around the corner.
Devin Gardner turned in what I can confidently state is the worst play in the history of organized football—I have watched all of it from Pop Warner on up—and was still awesome Saturday night. Awesome. I do not mean this in the Spots-gave-me-extra-wings way. I mean this in the light-from-the-sky, tremble-at-the-power, bow-down-lest-we-all-perish kind of way. If I could use the words "yea" and "lo" genuinely, I would deploy them now. The numbers are amazing. The numbers do not do it justice.
Here's the thing about Notre Dame's defense: it's going to be just fine. Gardner ate plenty of defensive lineman Saturday, usually after delivering a perfectly-placed dart. Notre Dame blitzed him almost two-thirds of the time and got the one huge mistake and nothing else. Notre Dame defensive backs were, with rare exceptions, in position to make a play on anything other than a perfectly-placed ball. They could not make plays without committing pass interference, called or not, because Devin Gardner was spitting hot death all night long.
If you happen to rewatch that game you'll see did-that-just-happen surgical strikes even more impressive the second time around.
On third and goal from the 14, Drew Dileo screwed up his route. He ran next to Gallon, bringing a third defender into the area. Gardner fired a ball in between all three guys that hit Gallon in the hands instead of the chest because KeiVarae Russell was riding him like a horse. Earlier in the drive he'd tossed up that back-shoulder throw that he might have been attempting against Central Michigan when he got hit, and Gallon plucked it out of the air. Russell was there. He just couldn't do anything about it.
By the fourth quarter, Gardner and Gallon had become so proficient at the back shoulder fade that Notre Dame was actually sitting on it, which I have never seen before. There were a lot of things last night that I haven't seen before in a winged helmet, that have traditionally been the province of passing specialists like Texas Tech. They tried to man up Crab, once, and Texas Tech beat the #1 team in the country without a running game or defense. Michigan has at least one of those.
In the aftermath, Michael Crabtree looked a lot like you did at some point last night:
IS THIS REAL LIFE
Oh and Gardner led the team in rushing at 7.5 yards an attempt. He might be The Guy. Gardner hinted at this kind of thing over the last six games, and now he has delivered. You could feel it coming, maybe, but Michigan just graduated a guy who was The Guy, like Jadeveon Clowney is, and could not get over the hump, like Clowney. Even in the world where talent comes through it doesn't always end up steamrolling the opposition.
Devin Gardner just left Notre Dame a two-dimensional smudge in the rear view mirror, and now it's downhill for a while. Shovel on a little more coal, and let's watch old 98 roll.
Parkinggod has the Michigan stuff:
And Notre Dame has some things that Notre Dame did right:
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. How does a guy who threw four touchdowns at nearly 10 YPA and ran for 90 additional yards split this award? Well, to get the award by himself he has to be a separate entity from guy who caught eight of his passes for 184 yards. This does not appear to be the case. DevinJeremy GardnerGallon, come on down.
Honorable Mention. Thomas Gordon and Jarrod Wilson (invisible all game in a good way), Drew Dileo (THROW IT TO DILEO), Brendan Gibbons (your record-holder for kicking consistency /2009 version of your head explodes), Blake Countess (drifted off his man for critical INT), Brian Kelly (thanks for not running the ball).
SPECIAL NEW RULE. Doubling points from this game because I can.
Epic Double Point Standings.
1.0: Devin Gardner (ND), Jeremy Gallon (ND) 0.5: Cam Gordon (CMU), Brennen Beyer (CMU)
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. Since it featured Borges screwing with ND, an NFL dart from Gardner, a crazy spin move from Gallon, and Chesson The Destroyer reveling in the blood of the fallen, this is an easy pick:
Honorable mention: Countess's game-changing interception, Jeremy Jackson catching a long handoff for seven yards because ND is playing in the parking lot against Jeremy Jackson for some reason, Fitz Toussaint using a tackle attempt as an awesome juke to dart 20 yards when Michigan really needed something, either of Gardner's perfect back-shoulder throws to Gallon, Gardner nailing Gallon 40 yards downfield, and Gardner taking off on a zone read so open you'd think Stephen Threet was running it.
Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.
8/31/2013: Dymonte Thomas introduces himself by blocking a punt. 9/7/2013: Jeremy Gallon spins through four Notre Dame defenders for a 61-yard touchdown.
[After THE JUMP: offense, defense, and everything in-between. Plus incredible chicken gif!]
I didn't have the heart to remove Becky's photo from the top of the front page. Weird thing: the (presumed) student equipment manager is in shorts and a tee but Brady has both slacks and a jacket on. I clearly remember Carr was wearing just a white polo all game. Was Brady really jacketed while the other coaches remained unfettered? At 5:27 on the tape you can see long-sleeved Brady walking behind angry Lloyd trying to explain to SEC officials that hitting is allowed in football. Weird. Diaries.
This series examines the probable individual matchups Michigan would face against particular 2013 opponents on one of Michigan’s key running plays and one of its key passing plays, as well as defensively against a couple of the opponent’s key plays
So for example he'll take the play at right—the base 26 Power R, a common variation of Michigan's "Power O" (2 means RB carries it, 6 means they're going in the 6-hole, ie between the T and TE, and R means right)—and go through the personnel matchups on that play to see which team has an aggregate advantage. On the above Michigan's likely wins: Lewan on Prince Shembo. Things that seem to favor ND: Braden pulling to find WLB Dan Fox, down-blocks of Jack Miller on Sheldon Day, Kalis on Louis Nix, and Schofield on Tuitt, Joe Kerridge finding Danny Spond for a kick-out block, and Funchess executing a double-team on Tuitt then moving to the 2nd level to get to ND's middle linebacker. Advantage: Notre Dame, though I should point out a down block is one of the easier to accomplish since you start with leverage.
The Notre Dame one has three more plays: a PA pass from our offense, and then Michigan's D versus the Irish's base zone run and one of Kelly's favorite passing plays that we're guaranteed to see because it picks on Jarrod Wilson. Yesterday he posted a second one, which goes over UConn (M's power left and PA deep flood, and UConn's curls vs. Cov2 and 4-verts vs. Cov3). Again, these are things that schematically try to pick on Wilson. Part of that is there aren't many other unknowns on the defense, but I think it's becoming pretty clear where a lot of our attention is going to be early in the season. Prophesy: Wilson will look bad early in the season as offenses consistently do things that try to make him look so. In fact if he doesn't we may have something really nice there.
ESS-EEE-SEE! In people having fun with numbers you can find online, stopthewnbapulled January bowl data to show how the Big Ten has fared overall and against the SEC in all those virtual road games. It's not as bad as you might think, except when it comes to Rose Bowls (2-12 in the documented span) and times when a national championship is on the line or an erstwhile title contender dropped down into our range (USC vs. Michigan twice, MSU vs. Alabama). Something isn't right in his spreadsheet since I know for a fact that Northwestern isn't 2-and-anything in bowl games unless the data go back to the 1940s.
More interesting perhaps was maizeonblueaction's look at demographics since 1990 in Big Ten states versus SEC ones. In the comments EGD (man, that guy this week) suggested dividing the numbers by how many major conference (ACC/Big Ten/Big XII/Pac12/SEC plus Notre Dame) teams it has to support. So I did that, except I combined Indiana and Illinois since Chicago is really home territory for the Indiana schools. Result:
2012 Pop (est.)
Florida, Miami (YTM), FSU
Penn St, Pitt
Texas, A&M, TT, TCU, Baylor
Michigan, Michigan St
Illinois & Indiana
ND, NW, Ill, Pur, Indiana
Iowa, Iowa St
Ole Miss, Miss State
The demographic shifts matter but not as much as people seem to think: the part of the population that will disproportionately devote their lives to football isn't the part that recently moved to Atlanta or Nashville to work for an insurance company or relocated to Florida because the weather's easier on their joints. Mississippi can support more and better football programs than New Jersey can because life in Mississippi is more likely to suck so hard that people are willing to do anything to their bodies to get those bodies out of there. Not so much for recent Jersey/St. Louis/Philly transplants, but Ohio State's position in Ohio is a major advantage indeed.
This is bound to change now. LSAClassof2000 looked at red zone offense in the Big Ten since 2008: Michigan is second to last in overall success rate to the Hoosiers until you add Maryland and Rutgers, both worse. Less than a quarter of Michigan's red zone trips ended with a passing touchdown in that time. Our 2009 (converting just 2/3rds of possible points) matches Indiana's 2008 for most brutal ever. However this has improved dramatically every year since, and the 2012 team was really good at converting red zone trips into points (5.28 per drive), though getting there (3.54 times per game, about 40th percentile among data points) was a problem. In the comments I resorted the data to see where Michigan's teams fell. Wisconsin had the top three red zone teams. Michigan's 2012 was 12th out of 70. Suggestion for further study: I bet you this correlates to experience of the starting quarterback.
A long, long time ago now a Lloyd-Carr coached Michigan team was struggling through the 2005 season when they met Northwestern. A lot of throws to Tacopants (Jason Avant's 11-foot-tall imaginary friend) on both sides later, Michigan emerged with a 33-17 win and I embarked on one of the first of an endless procession of stat-nerd diatribes about the evils of punting.
You've probably heard it already: punting decisions have not kept pace with the increasingly offensive nature of the game, leaving coaches in a perpetual state of risk- and win-avoidance. Romer paper, Pulaski High, Mathlete chart. Etc.
In this particular Northwestern game, though, Carr went for it on fourth and five from the Northwestern 23, a decision I thought was too aggressive(!). When paired with a number of similarly aggressive calls from earlier that season, it seemed like a sea change for the old man:
In multiple cases he's made tough, correct decisions: going on fourth and goal from the one against Wisconsin, pounding it into the line twice against Michigan State, etc. Even when the strategy has backfired, he accepts the downside and persists in a more aggressive posture.
In context, the Penn State gaffe seems more like one last hit of that sweet Bombay Popsicle* snuck in-between rehab sessions than evidence of 1970s thinking taking hold. Lloyd Carr has checked himself in to the Betty Ford Center for Coaches Addicted to Low Variance. I wouldn't expect a flying-colors discharge any time soon, but he's made the first, biggest step.
*[I don't know either.]
That change lasted into the fourth quarter of that year's Ohio State game. Having acquired a two-score lead by converting a fourth and inches around the Michigan 40, Carr reverted to his primitive instincts at the crucial moment. With three minutes left from the Ohio State 40, he called for a wide receiver screen on third and ten. It gained six yards. With a two point lead, three minutes on the clock, no Ohio State timeouts left, and a fourth and four on the Ohio State 34, Carr punted. Ohio State drove for a touchdown; Carr would never again have the opportunity to kill a game against the Buckeyes.
In the moment, Carr choked. Six years on that single decision seems like the best way to explain why a lot Michigan fans found his tenure frustrating despite its high rate of success: the program was perpetually making poor decisions because a combination of fear and arrogance. Something could go wrong if you made a high variance decision, and Michigan could spit on expected value because This Is Michigan. See any game in which Michigan acquired an 18-point lead or the first half of the Orange Bowl for confirmation.
Carr coached like he had a kickass running game and killer defense no matter the facts, which was the difference between being a legend and a being a B+ coach who lost the battle with Tressel authoritatively. Hell, even Tressel blew games when he failed to adjust to the reality that sometimes his defense and special teams were not enough, and he ran roughshod over the Big Ten for nine years.
Part of the reason a segment of the Michigan fanbase (including the author) blew up at Hoke's hire is because it seemed to represent a return to that expectation-spurning 1970s decision-making.
Brady Hoke put a lot of those fears to rest by going for—and getting—the win against Notre Dame with eight seconds left. That decision was a no-brainer. If the field goal team had run out onto the field, I would have been livid. That was a test he passed, but it was one with a low bar.
On Saturday, Hoke sent out the punting team with about two and a half minutes left in the first half. It was fourth and two around midfield, and I was mildly peeved. It was not the percentage play, but I've watched a lot of football and it seemed too much to hope that even the rootin'est, tootin'est, eyepatch-wearingest pirate of a head coach would go for it. Needing more than a sneak and up fourteen in the first half, the world punts. My peevishness was directed at football coaches in general, not Hoke in particular.
And then an angel came down from the sky, and signaled timeout. Great trumpets erupted from the flagpoles, playing a fanfare as a golden staircase descended. Each of the steps was engraved with the names of World Series of Poker winners. Down from the clouds strode Doyle Brunson, clad in a jacket of hundred-dollar bills. And lo, Texas Dolly spaketh unto the people: "check-raise." Brady Hoke sent the offensive line onto the field.
This was a really, really good decision. Even if you don't believe the exact outlines of the Mathlete's calculations, it is not close: average offense versus average defense means the break-even line is around eight yards. This was not an average situation. Michigan had Denard Robinson against a pretty horrible run defense. And that number does not take into account the game situation. If Michigan gets the first down they are almost certainly robbing San Diego State of a possession. Punting gets you thirty, forty yards of field position. Getting the first down puts you in good position to score and is essentially another +1 in turnover margin. You need two yards and you have Denard Robinson.
stealing a joke from the internet: the guy on the right looks like he just looked into the Ark of the Covenant. via the News.
One speed option later Michigan was en route to the endzone and had essentially ended the game. Without that massively +EV decision they go into halftime up maybe 14, maybe 11, maybe 7 points. That ugly third quarter becomes the gut-check time most were predicting before the game. Maybe Michigan comes out on top (24-21, say). Maybe not. That didn't happen because when Michigan had its boot on San Diego State's neck, Hoke called Z 22 stomp right.
The Lloyd Carr example above shows we don't know that Hoke's going to do this consistently, that he'll stick to the non-pejorative MANBALL when the pressure is at its greatest, but so far so good. Even my doubts about Hoke's ability to math up in the waning moments of an Ohio State game are faint. When things go wrong he does not scowl or pout or throw headsets like Rich Rodriguez or Brian Kelly or Bo Pelini. He does not go on tilt. He calmly talks to guys about what in the hell they were thinking.
Hoke continues to leave best-case scenarios in the dust. Saturday night I watched Dennis Erickson punt on fourth and five from the USC 37 and thought "my coach would never do that." Then I watched Erickson chew out the punter who put the ball in the endzone because that's what happens when you punt from the 37 and thought "my coach would never do that."
That felt good. It felt invent-a-time-machine-to-assure-yourself-its-all-going-to-be-okay good. It feels like Michigan has finally learned how to gamble.
Boy do I want to play poker with certain people on the internet. Evaluating the decision has popped up on every Michigan message board. It's mostly been met with praise, but man, there are a lot of people who can't estimate and multiply out there. Maybe it's Carr Stockholm syndrome.
That's a great question. Just as our rationality leads us to a belief in an objective reality, Kant believed there is an objective morality we can locate from the same process. The Categorical Imperative is an absolute, fundamental moral law on par with Minnesota losing to teams from the Dakotas. Things are either right or wrong—there are no gray areas, and context does not apply. You could call him the BJ Daniels of philosophy*.
*[Ten-cent summary of Kantian philosophy cribbed from Three Minute Philosophy, which is terrific. Philosophers wishing to quibble with my paraphrase of a comedic summary are invited to consider the moral consequences of their actions and also jump in a lake. USF fans wishing to WOO BJ DANIELS can skip to the latter.]
And the internet eeeed Countess. When Troy Woolfolk headed to the sidelines, all Michigan fans everywhere winced. When Blake Countess replaced JT Floyd in the third quarter, all Michigan fans everywhere prepared for the deluge.
It never came, and as a result everyone from my uncle to the internet to thenewspapers are having little freakouts about Michigan's #4 corner. I am with all of you. The only thing stopping Countess from having a few PBUs or interceptions was Ryan Lindley's inability to throw the ball anywhere near the guys Countess had blanketed but Lindley targeted anyway.
For most of the third quarter I stopped watching the offensive backfield and started watching downfield coverage and while I won't be able to confirm this on the tape I think Countess was doing really well even when people weren't going after him. I'm with the rest of the internet when I suggest that Troy Woolfolk should take the Minnesota game off to recover from his multiple nagging injuries so we can see some more of the freshman.
I thought Avery did well, too. He had a third-down slant completed on him and was the DB victimized on the touchdown but in both cases he was right there tackling/raking at the ball. Is he doing something wrong I'm not perceiving yet? Because I think he's playing better than Woolfolk, who gave up some groan-worthy easy completions. (I don't blame him for allowing Hillman to bounce on one third down conversion because he was clearly held.)
Release the Martin. This week in the I-told-you-so files: Mike Martin is just fine. His good day last week was obscured by EMU never throwing and having quite a bit of success attacking away from him. Against SDSU he was nigh unblockable, bowling a veteran offensive line over backwards multiple times and drawing holding calls left and right. Craig Roh had two big plays and will show up doing little things when I do the UFR; Will Campbell had a couple of line-pushing plays. Hillman's YPC was still over five, so there are issues but I think a big chunk of them are localizable to…
Problems. So… everyone's talking up Jake Ryan, too. I'm with everyone in a general, long-term sense but a little less enthused about his performance on Saturday. One of the results of the first few weeks of UFRing/picture paging is that whenever the opponent tries to get outside I immediately focus on Ryan. Result from last week: three "aaargh Ryan" screams that no one in my section comprehended. He's still giving up the corner way too easy.
Also, there are two caveats to an otherwise encouraging performance from the secondary. One: Lindley and his receivers were flat bad as a group. Drops, bad routes, and bad throws artificially boosted Michigan's efficiency against him. Some of that was caused by pressure. Some of it was just a crappy opponent. Two: I wonder if Michigan's familiarity with the SDSU offense allowed them to beat the Aztecs' favorite routes into Michigan DBs heads.
Still, 5.3 YPA and actual depth at corner. +1 Mallory.
Offensive construction bits. Another week, another confirmation that running Denard is the offense. While I still groan whenever they line up under center, snaps from there were limited. I would really prefer it if they never ran I-form power on first and ten again, though. They've mixed in some inexplicably effective short play action so far; if they can't run that will probably dry up.
Things I liked: That screen to Smith. The essence of an RPS+3 is when three offensive linemen have no one to block for 30 yards. And then the much-discussed speed option debuted. I'd gotten a couple insider emails telling me it was part of the offense but thought it would be extremely bad form to publish that, so I'd been waiting. It was quite a debut.
I'm hoping we see Borges add wrinkles at the same rate Rodriguez did. He'll have to to keep the run offense ahead of the wolves. He's off to a good start.
Tailbacks. I'm suddenly happy with Michigan's tailback situation after Vincent Smith made a lot of yards on his own, including the above touchdown where he kept his balance at about the five and managed to drag a safety into the endzone. There was also the zone play where he squeezed through a crack in the line it's possible literally no other D-I back would have fit through.
Toussaint, meanwhile, didn't have the yards Smith did but ran hard on the inside; I still like him best but understand if they're going to split duties between the top two. I feel bad for Shaw—maybe it's time to put him on kickoffs? He's got speed Smith does not.
The Denard question. So they did run a curl-flat. Denard went to the curl way late and threw his first interception. Not sure if that was schemed or just bad execution by the offense. If it's the latter that might be attributable to not running it over the offseason as Borges attempted to install his route packages, route packages that now seem like things Denard just can't do.
A three-point plan in an attempt to get Denard back on track:
Stop throwing on the run.
Provide some easy throws early—all hitch, snag—in an effort to get him calmed down.
Develop some sort of counter-punch to the opponent getting all up in Denard's face on the rollout PA. A shovel pass?
Bending but not breaking. Michigan's giving up a lot of yards but not a lot of points. Frankly, some of this is luck. They are acquiring turnovers at an unsustainable rate. Not unsustainable for a mediocre defense, unsustainable for Michigan 1997. When the well dries up they'll do some more breaking.
The other thing is the secondary. Michigan's newfound ability to make plays on deep balls and Jordan Kovacs being stone-cold reliable (so far /crosses self) have erased cheap touchdowns for the opposition. WMU's touchdown came on a 15-play drive. ND touchdown drives went 7, 10, 7, and 4 plays. San Diego State's took six plays but started from the Michigan 38. The only quick drive Michigan's given up all year was ND's desperation drive, on which Michigan gave up chunks on purpose because of the time situation and then tried an NFL-style defense they weren't ready for and blew it. The longest touchdown other than that was the 16-yard pass Lindley hit in the third quarter.
Opponents have ripped off chunks on occasion, but they have not been handed free touchdowns. Michigan's at least making them earn it. That's a necessary first step on the road away from completely awful.
The next opponent. When Minnesota managed to hang with USC on the first weekend of the season they seemed like they might be more intimidating than your average Minnesota team. Then they lost to Not Even The Good New Mexico and North Dakota State and seemed even less intimidating than your average Minnesota team. Compounding matters: Jerry Kill is again out of commission with his seizure issue.
I did not VOAV this week for reasons of being spooked. Boyz In The Pahokee provided the usual bounty if you are jonesing.
Matt Wile. Wait, let me try that again. MATT WILE!!! Yeah, I think he was properly pumped up to play his Dad's team. Net yards per kickoff were 50 for SDSU and 49.2 for UofM. To be even on kickoffs is a win for us. Net yards per punt were 34.7 for SDSU and 43.5 for Michigan. To gain almost a full first down per punt is huge. Two punts were inside the 20, and two were 50+ yards. #82, Terrance Robinson had 2 ST tackles and did a great job as the gunner on punts.
Wile's just lost his punting job; if that allows him to improve his kickoffs and compete for the field goal job, Michigan's kicking could be one of those strength things by midseason.
Michigan needs Hagerup back. Maybe Hagerup isn't the only answer. Wile's kicks are improving it would seem, both on KOs and punts, possibly because his nerves are settling down. Kickoffs regularly made it to the goal line and only 1 of 4 punts was returned for much while they averaged 49 yards per with a long of only 51(!).
After the Notre Dame game, I tweeted very simply: "And the singing, Captain?" "Let them sing." The moment was too good to start worrying about the future. But at some point, the future arrives and you need to deal with it. How well prepared you are for that future plays a large role in how well you're able to handle it when the moment arrives. The non-conference schedule, particularly one played as four games at the start of the season should, theoretically, be a nice combination of challenges and the working out of kinks. Before the mission starts, you must know the capacity and capabilities of your crew.
Fifth-year senior defensive tackle Ryan Van Bergen caught Hillman from behind inside the 10-yard line and knocked the ball loose for the second fumble.
Try reading it this way: a 288-pound defensive tackle caught the nation’s second-leading rusher from behind in the open field — 30 yards away from the line of scrimmage.
Van Bergen got a block from fifth-year senior defensive tackle Mike Martin, but most of his help came from practice.
“But when it comes down to it, we have the most explosive player in the country in our backfield,” Van Bergen said. “We get to play against (junior quarterback) Denard (Robinson), so we’ve learned how to take angles at guys who have speed.
“I took off on my horse just thinking, ‘I’ve almost caught Denard before, maybe I can catch this guy.’ ”
“They were very emotional after the game, depressed, disappointed, upset, however you want to say,” said Long, whose team dropped to 3-1 after Saturday’s 28-7 defeat. “It was a very emotional locker room after the game and not in a good sense.”
They probably would have done a “poor job” of answering questions, Long said, so he kept them behind closed doors. “It’s my job to protect them,” Long said Sunday. “This is not pro football.” …
"The defense got shocked by the speed of especially one guy (Robinson),” Long said. “They got shocked by the strength they had up front and the speed of quarterback early in the game.”
• Offensively, Michigan is 13-for-13 on red-zone opportunities. It is one of 13 teams in the country to have scored on every trip inside the 20-yard line this year.
• Even better? The Wolverines have scored touchdowns on 12 of those 13 trips. That 92-percent touchdown rate trails only Texas Tech nationally.
One of the main arguments made in favor of Shotgun Forever is that red zone efficiency is not a stat that shows much repeatable skill year to year and that the huge chunks of yards Michigan picked up without, you know, scoring in 2010 would turn into points if you just left the damn thing alone (and got a kicker). The early returns are excellent.
- Michigan 28, San Diego State 7. Brady Hoke’s new team faced his old team, and I’m still not sure, despite their 4-0 record, that we know anything about this Michigan football team. The defense seems to be improving under DC Greg Mattison, but they’ve been using so much movement and motion to cover up their talent weaknesses it’s unclear how the defense will fare against a polished opponent. And while the offense has found a better rhythm running a Rich Rodriguez-lite Denard Robinson attack — including Denard’s long TD run on the speed option — his passing line was abysmal: 8 of 17 for 93 yards, no TDs and two interceptions. He’s obviously uncomfortable in the new offense. He looked like a more polished and comfortable passer last year. I chalk some of this up to the fact that the very techniques he’s using are new, but he’s going to have to improve for UM to have success. That said, given Michigan’s favorable schedule — no Wisconsin and the easy part of the Big 10 schedule up next — we may not learn anything about Michigan until the last three weeks of the season, when they play Illinois, Nebraska and Ohio State.
No one else bothered. A couple weeks after puntosauring himself into a loss against Iowa State, BHGP documents Kirk Ferentz opening Iowa's game against ULM in a shotgun spread, demonstrating the Carr thing above perfectly.
In re: shotgun + Denard + site obsession with Denard in shotgun, Football Study Hall put up a post with interception rates that highlights one of the many problems Michigan had turning yards into points last year: Denard's interception rate. Amongst a sample of 100 D-I quarterbacks* he finishes 84th. The only BCS quarterbacks to do worse were Garrett Gilbert, Stephen Garcia, Jeremiah Masoli, Steven Threet, BJ Daniels, and Jacory Harris. This is not good company. Harris and Garcia are 1-2 on this list…
THE ZESTY INTERCEPTION WATCH.
1. Jacory Harris. The nation's leader in zesty interceptions won't let being benched stop him. If it gets too bad with new boss Al Golden, he'll just go throw 'em in the street if he has to, because swag like Jacory's never sleeps, and when it does it lands wherever it wants.
…and the omission of BJ Daniels, who either throws an 87 yard touchdown or three interceptions every play, must have been an oversight thanks to South Florida's ability to fade into the background.
Denard's interceptions weren't zesty. They were like—and I say this in all seriousness—watching the cutest puppy in the world fly headlong into another puppy's head, killing both. The defense was like watching the puppy blood run into the gutter. This is the most precise analogy ever made. Also the field goal kicking was like watching the deceased puppies reanimate just so they could poop all over everything. The Rich Rodriguez era: defined.
Right. So forwards into the endless and admittedly pretty pointless discussion about the best thing to do for the team the next couple years when they have a 5'11" dreadlocked bolt of lightning at quarterback. My position is blindingly clear: Shotgun Today, Shotgun Tomorrow, Shotgun Forever. For the next two years, at least.
Objections raised from the comments largely revolve around the idea that last year's turnover and redzone performances were flukes that should be expected to magically repair themselves. An example:
I think its a pretty big reach to say there's any "evidence" to suggest that the offense will revert to the mean. College Football red zone offenses are not random occurrences within a normal population. Oregon and Auburn weren't so good in the red zone because they got randomly lucky. Michigan wasn't terrible because we weren't randomly unlucky.
The offense was terrible in the red zone because:
1) Nobody could make a FG longer than 25 yards (this isn't something that will revert until someone can kick the ball)
2) Our offense simply didn't work as well in the red zone (I don't know why---playcalling, B1G defenses, nerves, but it isn't something that happened because of random chance)
There is no guaranteed regression to the mean in nonrandom circumstances, like football. Michigan was terrible in the red zone because being terrible in the red zone WAS the mean for Michigan in 2010.
You hope #1 will be solved by the addition of Matt Wile. We are all gunshy about this but highly rated kickers—which Wile was by the end of the year—usually do well. That actually turns out to be irrelevant, about which see this long footnote**. The redzone issues come down to two things: turnovers, about which see above, and giving the ball back on downs.
Michigan did the latter four times last year, all of them late in already-decided games (one against Wisconsin and OSU, two against Mississippi State). They missed one field goal. They failed to score eleven more times because they straight-up turned the ball over.
As far as #2, the whole reason people do these study things and use stats is to have something to argue against people who use the word "simply" as their conversational gambit. Oh, it's simple to you, is it? Well, fine then. I guess you and your galaxy-spanning intellect win. It is possible that NFL football is so different than college football that studies do not cross over, but it is extremely unlikely, and that FO study showed really good redzone teams one year are almost precisely average the next.
In Michigan's case they should expect more than randomness to work in their favor. The common thread of Rich Rodriguez's tenure at Michigan was young or terrible quarterbacks. Three years of Threet/Sheridan, Forcier/Denard, Denard/Forcier should see you give away turnovers like they're candy. There are no upperclassmen on that list except the walk-on; there's only a few confused snaps from a hopelessly raw Denard preventing that list from having any sophomore starters.
The spread 'n' shred in general and Rodriguez in particular haven't shown they are turnover-prone. On the contrary, being able to run 70% of the time and have a good offense should cut down on turnovers since passes are inherently more risky.
And that is what this comes down to. Common sense. Your eyes. If your eyes are telling you that you're watching a turd of a football game, well... you are. If your reaction to the Wisconsin Michigan game was that Michigan just got completely curb stomped by Wisconsin in the first half, mounted a minor comeback when Wisconsin took a third quarter nap, and then still got blown out by 20 points at home, well... that's what you saw. Perhaps the stats tell a different story. Maybe. But while the stats say that Michigan ran up an astounding 442 yards against Wisconsin they don't relate what actually happened at the game.
I try to back up my opinions with statistical evidence because the use of tools is the thing that separates bloggers and chimpanzees from other primates like newspaper columnists and sports talk radio hosts not on WTKA.
If you want to go on your gut, I can do that too: Michigan has a 5'11"-ish quarterback who ran for 1700 yards last year and an offensive line that's now 100% recruited to zone block all day. They don't really have a promising running back. I feel, like, not good, man, about Michigan in the I-form.
Or I could say that "common sense" suggests that Wisconsin was not trying to let Michigan score in the third quarter and that the overall results should be taken in appropriate context, but then we're back to feelings, man.
What Is The Core?
I just don't see how the spread offense is responsible for turnovers except insofar as it puts an erratic Denard Robinson on the field instead of a finely-polished artillery piece, and who wants to fix Michigan's issues by replacing Denard Robinson?
/Munn Ice Arena
/people stapling each other's hands to their sides just in case they have a hand-raising seizure
Not having Denard drop back from center does not make his throwing mechanics worse. If anything it allows him to ignore a complicated facet of football—NFL coaches are constantly bitching that college quarterbacks no longer know how to execute a five-step drop—and focus on throwing it to the guy who's really open because you're not running the ball.
Meanwhile, the run game was kind of good last year despite having the worst set of tailbacks at Michigan since at least that year BJ Askew got half the carries. This is directly attributable to putting Robinson in a position to run, something an I-form doesn't.
There are quarterback draws and waggle plays, yes. Opponents will be all over them because those are constraint plays—not your base. Smart Football on how you build an offense:
The idea is that you have certain plays that always work on the whiteboard against the defense you hope to see — the pass play that always works against Cover 3, the run play that works against the 4-3 under without the linebackers cheating inside. Yes, it is what works on paper. But we don’t live in a perfect world: the “constraint” plays are designed to make sure you live in one that is as close as possible to the world you want, the world on the whiteboard.
Constraint plays thus work on defenders who cheat. For example, the safety might get tired of watching you break big runs up the middle, so he begins to cheat up. Now you call play-action and make him pay for his impatience. The outside linebackers cheat in for the same reason; to stop the run. Now you throw the bubble screen, run the bootleg passes to the flat, and make them pay for their impatience. Now the defensive ends begin rushing hard upfield; you trap, draw, and screen them to make them pay for getting out of position. If that defensive end played honest your tackle could block him; if he flies upfield he cannot. Constraint plays make them get back to basics. Once they get back to playing honest football, you go back to the whiteboard and beat them with your bread and butter.
The argument here is about the core of the offense: in the I-form that's Denard dropping back to pass or handing off to someone else. In the shotgun it's the zone running game. As the core of the offense you can't remove Denard from the game. You cheat and then there's a guy wide open. While Denard's legs are a terrifying constraint, Michigan has to force the opponent to cheat to use them.
I'll believe these tailbacks and this offensive line and this almost total lack of fullback and tight end can do that running power up the middle when I see it. If they can't you've just taken the most dangerous weapon in college football*** out of the game. You shouldn't do that. It's common sense.
The other seven fourth-down attempts I am dividing into two groups: (1) FG is the likeliest option and only a riverboat gambling coach or a team without a FG kicker would go for it, and (2) FG is only a possible option, either because it'd be very long, or because there was only 1 yard to gain for a first down so going for it is a viable option.
Bottom line? If we had tried FGs on all seven of those drives last year, even if we had Adam Vinatieri circa 2002 and he went 7-for-7, the most UM could have scored was 21 points.
As it was? UM got 27 points out of those drives. Six more points.
This is only one half of the equation, though, because Michigan did attempt a bunch of field goals and they went like this:
All that red in the Michigan zone is value earned by the offense that was lost by the kicker on obvious kicking opportunities. So on the field goals Michigan tried last year, we threw away 16 points, versus the six this study shows M getting back by being forced to do a statistically correct thing that teams don't usually do because their fans don't trust statistics.
Misopogon threw this behind a jump on Sunday.
Nonnair turns out to be right: the field goal kicking did not have much of an impact on the red zone efficiency because Michigan's misses are all clustered just outside. However, the statistically correct behavior Michigan engaged in also had no effect. Six of the seven attempts were outside the red zone and the one that was inside it, a fourth and one from the Penn State 13, was converted and led to a field goal anyway.
So we're down to just the massive turnovers. I hope this section has highlighted how goofy red zone efficiency is.]
Almost nothing drives me more insane than someone who proclaims certain numbers to be bad because these other numbers are better without suggesting a mechanism that would make this true. Via Slate, Murray Chass provides the canonical example:
The stats freaks who never saw a decimal point they didn't worship were ecstatic last year when Zack Greinke won the American League Cy Young award while winning only 16 games. Felix Hernandez, who won 19 and whose 2.49 earned run average was second to Greinke's 2.16, would have been my choice, but the stats guys "proved" that Greinke was the correct choice because of his statistical standing in formulaic concoctions in which we mere mortals do not imbibe.
—Murray Chass, murraychass.com, May 9, 2010.
This makes me clench and unclench my fists helplessly. It seems impossible that you could be this venerated New York Times baseball writer without picking up on the fact that AL pitchers have no control over how many runs their team scores. The fists clench and unclench because attempting to model an argument with Murray Chass about this quickly leads into a cul-de-sac where Chass says something condescending about something he doesn't understand and repeats it ad nauseum as if he believes "no blood for oil" or "drill, baby, drill" is a coherent, self-contained, impregnable point of view.
Presenting Jonah Lehrer, who actually manages to write for Wired despite being able to compose the following:
Consider the case of J.J. Barea. During the regular season, the backup point guard had perfectly ordinary statistics, averaging 9.5 ppg and shooting 44 percent from the field. His plus/minus rating was slightly negative. There was no reason to expect big things from such a little player in the playoffs.
And yet, by Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Barea was in the starting lineup. (This promotion came despite the fact that he began the Finals with a 5-for-23 shooting slump and a minus-14 rating.) What Dallas coach Rick Carlisle wisely realized is that Barea possessed something that couldn't be captured in a scorecard, that his speed and energy were virtues even when he missed his layups (and he missed a lot of layups), and that when he made those driving floaters their value exceeded the point score. Because nothing messes with your head like seeing a guy that short score in the lane. Although Barea's statistics still look pretty ordinary — his scoring average fell in the Finals despite the fact that he started — the Mavs have declared that re-signing him is a priority. Because it doesn't matter what the numbers say. Barea won games.
It doesn't matter, though. These articles always have a tautologically number-negating logic. The argument goes:
I don't understand statistics*.
People who understand statistics don't understand intangibles.
Therefore my understanding is superior.
Now let's talk about Denard Robinson and last year's offense.
*[This lack of understanding can be many things but is always at least this: statistics are a suggestive tool, not math gospel. To be fair, some people use statistics like they are a golden hammer. These people are very annoying and should be yelled at. Just don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. ]
Y WE NO SCORE GOALPOINTS
This came up a lot in the aftermath of the Spring Game, when the quarterbacks strove to make themselves indistinguishable from walk-ons and quite a lot of people put finger under collar and went "uggggghhh." This was met with a round of backlash largely consisting of people pointing at select—sometimes hilariously select—statistics from last year's team in an effort to prove the offense wasn't really that good.
The favorite was a focus on the first halves against good opponents, when Michigan did not score points. This did not escape notice even around here:
The Ohio State game has the power to make whatever happens in it seem like Michigan's season in microcosm, and so the overriding theme of the 2010 season is looking up at the scoreboard at halftime to see Michigan on pace for about 500 yards and about twenty points. Michigan had 238 yards and seven points this time around and instead of a competitive game we got the usual.
Michigan was frustratingly spectacular at getting to the half with almost 300 yards and something like ten points on the board. But using points to evaluate the output of an offense is like using wins to evaluate a pitcher. Events outside the entity you are trying to evaluate have so much impact on that number, it is only a fuzzy explanation of the story.
I have engaged in message board fights and observed many more about whether the Wisconsin game was a failure on the offense's part. At the half the score was 28-0 Wisconsin and the game was as good as over, whereupon Michigan came out of the locker room and scored three straight touchdowns against the UW defense. This would have made the game interesting if Michigan could have forced the Badgers to pass, ever.
My fists do the clenching bit whenever anyone tries to claim the Wisconsin game was evidence Michigan should move away from the spread. The Michigan offense's entire first half:
Michigan drives from their own one yard line to the Wisconsin their 35 before punting.
Michigan drives from their 28 to the Wisconsin 13; Seth Broekhuizen misses a 30-yard field goal.
Three and out from the 36.
Three and out from the 40.
(There was also a meaningless two play drive at the end of the half.) That's not a great four drives. It is a great seven drives if you consider the next three. Meanwhile, the final touchdown against UW is often dismissed as "garbage time" but Badger tacklers on that drive include JJ Watt, Patrick Butrym, and Aaron Henry—all starters—and Michigan hit Roundtree three times for more than 20 yards on a three-minute march. That was not Wisconsin's goal. Even if you still dismiss Michigan's last couple drives as garbage you have to acknowledge that the defense's inability to make them meaningful robbed the offense of opportunities to impress for real.
But you're sitting there and your fists are clenching and unclenching and everything is black and doom and blacky black doom, so maybe it's hard to tell.
Transistors don't give a damn
This is the disconnect. While what seems like a fairly large subset of the fanbase saw wholesale collapse in the Wisconsin game, computers saw two units failing immensely and an offense that put up 442 yards on a defense that gave up 321 on average, scored 31-ish points (computers will credit the offense with acquiring the field position for the field goal and deduct the miss from the special teams; if they deduct from the garbage TD they will use a lower denominator when trying to figure out expected points) on a defense that gave up 21. Statistically, Michigan's offense was at least a standard deviation above the mean against the Badgers.
While the Wisconsin game is the biggest outlier between the offense's actual and perceived performance, it's instructive. It is often lumped in with the crap from last year along with Iowa (tenuous case indeed there), MSU, OSU, and the bowl game. There is no reasonable case it should be. This is why statistics are useful, because meat-emotions often overwhelm our capacity for reason.
These are the questions I think we should be asking in our most robotic voices:
What aspects of last year's performance project most strongly to next year's?
There are three reasons for the gap between points and yards: field position, field goal kicking, and turnovers. The latter two combined to see Michigan's redzone scoring rate rank 109th nationally. The first two are almost entirely out of the offense's control. The latter was a huge problem all three years under Rodriguez. However, turnovers notoriously do not correlate year to year, are heavily dependent on quarterback, experience and saw Rich Rodriguez consistently in the black at West Virginia.
Michigan's turnover issues aren't fate, should improve naturally, and are not related to the spread. Most of Michigan's other issues at turning yards into points are not really the offense's.
That leaves an inherent flaw in the spread offense as a potential culprit that has the potential to repeat next year. Point in favor: Michigan was even worse in the redzone in 2009, finishing with just 49% of available points. Point against: Auburn and Oregon finished in the top ten last year. Further point against from a Football Outsiders study of the NFL:
We took … 20 overachievers and measured their performances the season after said overachievement; while their DVOA [ed: something value over average, a fancy stat they have designed to smooth out noise.] in the red zone that initial season exceeded their total offensive DVOA by an average of 33.3 percent, in the following season, their DVOA in the red zone exceeded their total DVOA by an average of 1.3 percent. In other words, the teams' performances in the red zone mirrored how they did outside it, implying the overachieving was a fluke.
We also can measure this by using correlation coefficients, a way of measuring the relationship between two variables that results in a number ranging from minus-1 (at which the two variables have an exact inverse relationship) to plus-1 (at which the variables have a perfectly positive relationship). The correlation between a team's performance in the red zone and its overall offensive performance, year to year, is 0.08 -- essentially nil. Teams simply do not exceed their performance in the first 80 yards once they get to the final 20 on a regular basis.
The evidence suggests Michigan's red zone struggles should revert to the mean; the things that made the offense less than the sum of its yards last year are all small sample size outliers.
What's left that does correlate, or at least correlates better? Everything else. On a play by play basis Michigan's offense does well in standard and advanced metrics, and returns ten starters. If they should be better but weren't (because of things that should revert) and can expect similar performance next year (because of all the returning starters), then what should happen is that the expected and actual meet somewhere south of #2 nationally but well within the schwing range.
Is it better to play to Al Borges's strengths or the offense's strengths?
In 2008 this was easy since the offense had no strengths. In 2011 it's a difficult question. Michigan's transition demands that Borges or Denard (and, importantly, the OL) leaves his comfort zone. This is necessarily going to be suboptimal for someone.
The spring game suggests it will be vastly suboptimal for Denard if Borges gets his way, and it seems a lot easier to change playcalls than turn Denard into Jon Navarre. Unfortunately, it's not that easy. The last few years I've documented the ever-evolving Michigan run offense. Rich Rodriguez kept ahead of the curve by constantly adding new wrinkles to the ground game. He was able to do this because of his vast experience with the spread 'n' shred. Al Borges is a smart guy with a lot of experience but his history suggests his inventiveness may be more oriented towards the passing game. If a good chunk of offensive effectiveness is staying ahead of the game, Borges might be able to do that better from a pro-style offense.
Shotgun formations are generally more efficient than formations with the quarterback under center.
Over the past three seasons, offenses have averaged 5.9 yards per play from Shotgun, but just 5.1 yards per play with the quarterback under center. This wide split exists even if you analyze the data to try to weed out biases like teams using Shotgun more often on third-and-long, or against prevent defenses in the fourth quarter. Shotgun offense is more efficient if you only look at the first half, on every down, and even if you only look at running back carries rather than passes and scrambles.
With an offense outright designed for the shotgun featuring a quarterback whose main asset is his legs, the cutting-edge effect would have to be absurdly important to make the offense more effective from under center.
Does I-form pro-style help you win in ways undefined by conventional statistics?
This is Brady Hoke's theory when he denigrates the zone-heavy spread offense as an impediment to having a good defense. A quick glance at the top defenses in both conventional and fancy measures suggests this is unlikely. TCU, Boise State, and West Virginia were the top three teams in yardage defense. WVU, Missouri, Oklahoma, Auburn, Oregon, and Mississippi State are all in the top ten in defensive FEI. There appears to be little if any problem with having a top defense opposite your spread 'n' shred offense as long as you account for the increased pace of the spread.
Is it worth sacrificing effectiveness down the road for immediate results?
Unknowable, but there's no better way to quickly put the question marks on Brady Hoke's resume to rest than by having a breakout first season.
I was wondering if you could give me some insight on why we haven't taken the leap in going Varsity with our lacrosse programs. We appear to have one more women's sport than men's at the varsity level (women's rowing is varsity, men's rowing is club), so would that make it easier to add a men's sport under Title IX? If Lacrosse were the next sport to go varsity, would we also take the women's program?
Title IX compliance isn't based on the number of sports but the number of participants, which gives football a big overhang and usually forces everyone to carry at least one more women's sport than they do men's. For some reason, even rostered walk-ons count in Title IX calculations. Here's an ESPN article about K-State's 124-member football team that takes the stance that the problem in this scenario is lots of walk-ons and not the stupidity of counting a player who's not adding anything more than the cost of his pads to the athletic department's expenses.
Adding lacrosse as a varsity sport will necessitate the addition of a women's sport. I am not aware of any that have the organization or success that lax does, but some club team is going to get lucky.
Title IX, at least as it applies to college athletics, seems outdated to me. When 57% of college students are women the gender to be concerned about has switched, and when a sport like football takes in millions of dollars it seems like it shouldn't count at all. It's supposed to be about equal support, and football doesn't require support in many places.
Have you ever determined, if it's even possible to determine, how many national championship games Bo would have coached, if the BCS system existed while he was a coach?
It will depend on what crazy mixed up BCS system you want to adopt. Since the Harris Poll didn't exist when Bo was around, you can't replicate the current system. Since that current system is the final expression of "the voters are always right," though, we can just use the AP poll as a proxy. If we're going by that, Bo would have played in the national title game in 1976, when Michigan was #2 and had eight first-place votes. They would have played #1 Pitt.
There were a ton of close calls, though: 1989 (#3), 1986 (#4), 1985 (#5), 1978 (#5), 1977 (#4), 1974(#4), 1973 (#5), 1971 (#4 despite being 11-0). With many of those votes close and between teams will wildly varying schedules, the computers might have been able to swing Michigan into a title game in one of those years.
this thought was spurred by your mention of Boise St potentially being included in the Mtn West. Do you think that if Big 10 expansion steals Missouri & Nebraska away from the Big 12, it might lay the groundwork for TCU & Utah (maybe Boise, as well?) to step in to fill those vacated spots? Given these recent bits I've read about the Pac 10 and Big 12 working together to seal the deal on TV contracts west of the Mississippi, it seems to make sense that both leagues might be up for welcoming in the hot non-BCS schools out there. In fact, maybe the PAC-10 opens it's doors to Boise??
I know you've been critical of teams like Boise rising into the spotlight, due to strength of schedule issues. I definitely see where you're coming from, but I think it's great for the game to have teams like that step up. I do think this kind of seismic shift/realignment/expansion is an opportunity for these non-BCS teams to come to the table with the big boys and really prove their worth. Funneling teams like Boise, Utah & TCU into the 2 major conferences on the left side of the country really would make things pretty interesting, and, IMO, ends the possibility of BCS-busters, at least for awhile. Boise St joining the MWC really just continues the problems that already exist, even if the conference moves toward an automatic bcs bid. I think I'd rather have the good teams from the MWC sucked out into the BCS conferences, and have the remainder of the WAC & MWC relegated into a B-league with little chance of bursting the BCS bubble. What do you think?
Will be interesting to follow, for sure.
The way the current system is set up there is almost nothing a team like Boise State can do to actually deserve placement in the national title game. Any team from a BCS conference with one loss and a decent nonconference game or two is going to vastly exceed Boise's worthiness. One or two games against Pac-10 teams a year does not make a viable candidate when the chances of you, or any other serious national title contender, losing against the remainder of the WAC is close to zero. That's my only problem with Boise. Move them to the Mountain West and now maybe we're talking.
If we're talking about my ideal version of college football, it would be seven setups like the Pac-10 has now: ten team conferences that play a round robin. This would never happen, of course. Personally, I'd rather have the MWC as a second Big East than jamming more and more teams into big conferences with no clear winners.
Attached is a spreadsheet showing our redzone efficiency since 2003. I have tracked various stats from the 2003 season forward and this happened to be one of them. This is % of points scored based on 7 pts per trip. Before the Illinois game we were right about average on offense and much better on defense (about the only thing the defense had consistently done well, thank God, otherwise things could really be ugly). I couldn’t find the national numbers prior to 2007 so I used an average of 2007-2009 (to date). The national numbers are assuming no 2 pt conversion and no missed xps. At that sample size I can’t imagine the other years straying too far from this figure.
National average: 69%
2009 (wo/ Ill)
2009 (wo/ Ill)
What does this say? I'm not really sure other than maybe Red Zone efficiency isn't incredibly important. The horrible 2008 offense was not that far off the average and actually better than the 2004 and 2005 teams; the beyond horrible 2009 defense was actually considerably above average.