"Support The Troops" Is Not An Argument

"Support The Troops" Is Not An Argument Comment Count

Brian September 15th, 2014 at 12:26 PM

9/13/2014 – Michigan 34, Miami (Not That Miami) 10 – 2-1

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Jake Ryan did a good job of not blowing up Hendrix for penalties [Eric Upchurch]

Michigan Stadium was a roomy place on Saturday, somewhat full of cranky people waiting for an opportunity to vent their ire. They held their fire after a Gardner interception; they held their fire when Michigan was tied 10-10 with a team that hadn't won a game since 2012 midway through the second quarter.

This was a bit of a surprise. Hell, the 1997 team(!) got booed at halftime of their game against Iowa when they went into the locker room down 21-7. (This was definitely performance-related, exacerbated by a late Tim Dwight punt return touchdown. The tenor of the boo was WE KNOW YOU ARE BETTER THAN THIS LET'S GOOOO and when they came out of the locker room the corresponding cheer was much louder than it usually is. But damn we used to have some expectations.)

In 2014, after seven years of mostly unrelenting failure, on the heels of a humiliating shutout in the Last Notre Dame Game, I was expecting more audible grumbles. Michigan fans held off, possibly too stunned by last week to do anything but meekly absorb events in front of them.

Then Michigan took a delay of game penalty (after a timeout!) and decided to punt from the Miami 37 with a minute left in the half. This was pure coaching malpractice that reminded a grumbly Michigan Stadium of last year's Penn State game. The boos rained down. It was loud. It was grumbly. It was statistically accurate.

--------------------------------

As the game rolled along and Michigan proved themselves about as superior as you'd think they should be, this game receded from the hateful constellation of lower-level matchups that turned into stomach-churning wins or even losses.

When you end up giving up fewer than 200 yards to an opposing offense you've established that they are very bad and you are not. Eventually Michigan's ground game kicked in and put up similar YOU ARE BAD numbers. Erase some pretty random turnovers (deflected pass at the line, redshirt freshman pop-up kickoff fumble) and this is 45-0 or thereabouts.

I know you don't believe turnovers are random, person on the internet who I am anticipating a "LOL" comment from, but even you have to admit that when a throw goes from probably on target to directly in the chest of an opposing player because it glances off a fingertip that's just life giving you the middle finger, and not—oh you just said MAKE PLAYS in seriousness on the radio nevermind this sentence. Players make plays. Etc.

Anyway: in retrospect I am not stressing about this game.

I was in the second quarter, like everyone else, and while I didn't actually boo—I am in the too-shocked-to-do-anything club—I agreed with it. What's more, I deeply appreciated that the people still mad enough to let someone know about it waited for  the perfect moment.

-------------------------

When Pat Fitzgerald was asked about Northwestern fans being upset in the aftermath of the Wildcats' 0-2 start, he responded thusly.

"No shit."

This is a press conference answer to get behind. It is brief, quotable, and addresses the situation. Fitzgerald is not surprised that fans are upset; he is upset (he called the team "an embarrassment to anyone that ever put on the purple and white"); fans should be too.

When Brady Hoke was asked an open-ended question about his message to the fans, he said this:

As far as the fans that watch from the outside and see some of the similar issues that they saw last season, what would you say to them and how concerning is it as a coaching staff?

"If they’re truly fans they'll believe in these kids and what they've done and the hard work that they've put in. If they’re not, they won't."

To the great misfortune of someone whose words are repeated verbatim on the internet, he would later claim to be misquoted. At least he has been told that knocking the fans who pay his salary and are currently leaning towards "tar and feather" over "put FOR SALE signs on front lawn" is not great, Bob.

But he has succumbed to the post-9/11 Godwin's Law: eventually someone in charge of the troops is going to tell you to support the troops, because he thinks that's the best argument he's got left. You think knocking over tinpot dictators halfway across the world with no real hope of installing anything that won't collapse the minute you leave is a bad idea? Support the troops, buddy. Why don't you support the troops?

So kudos to Michigan Stadium for holding its fire until the guy on the sideline with the timeout blundered his way into a fourth and eleven punt that went into the endzone on the fly. It was 1000% clear who was and was not supported at that moment.

Michigan is at least tolerant of the troops even when they're struggling against Not That Miami. Michigan is pissed off at the guys in charge. No amount of deflection will hide that fact.

Highlights

Awards

brady-hoke-epic-double-point_thumb_31[2]Brady Hoke Epic Double Points Of The Week. #1 is Derrick Green, who was often the recipient of gaping holes but hit them and even made some yards himself.

#2 is Jourdan Lewis, who turned in excellent coverage all day and came up with an excellent interception.

#3 is Brennen Beyer, because it is impossible to really distinguish between the various guys whipping up on Miami's OL but Beyer got a sack.

Honorable mention:

Epic Double Point Standings.

6: Devin Funchess (#1, APP, #1 ND)
3: Derrick Green(#1 MIA)
2: Devin Gardner (#2, APP), Willie Henry (#2 ND), Jourdan Lewis (#2 MIA)
1: Ryan Glasgow (#3, ND), Brennen Beyer(#3 MIA)
0.5: Kyle Kalis (T3, APP), Ben Braden (T3, APP)

Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week.

For the single individual best moment.

This was a one yard run but let us sit and savor the fact that even against a terrible defense Michigan had a touchdown that looked like this.

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[Upchurch]

Honorable mention: Jake Butt shakes free for a fake screen(!) touchdown, something we haven't seen since Hoke's arrival. Jourdan Lewis runs a guy's fade for him, picks off a ball thrown too far inside. Dennis Norfleet and the KO unit execute a right-sided return on a kick to the left out to the 50. Derrick Green breaks backside and breaks a tackle for a 20-yard gain.

Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.

AppSt: Derrick Green rumbles for 60 yards.
ND: Nothing.
MIA: Derrick Green scores a goal line touchdown without being so much as touched.

imageMARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.

Worst. Event. Ever. This Week.

Devin Funchess standing on the sideline because Michigan threw him a bubble screen halfway through the fourth quarter of a 31-0 game.

Honorable mention: Delay of game ack ack ack, Gardner interception (deflected, FWIW), kickoff mishap, Darboh fumble, various early runs that didn't go anywhere.

PREVIOUS EPBs

AppSt: Devin Gardner dares to throw an incomplete pass.
ND: Countess nowhere to be found on fourth and three.
Miami: You did what to Funchess now when?

[After the JUMP: getting it together, strangling the opposing offense, and goodbye gun.]

Comments

Mailbag: Uptempo Effect On D, Next Year On O, Personnel Bits

Mailbag: Uptempo Effect On D, Next Year On O, Personnel Bits Comment Count

Brian November 28th, 2012 at 3:46 PM

oregon_auburn_zone_read_rollout_1a[1]

Brian,

Reading your 11/26 post about "The Game", I noticed you made mention of the question of whether huddling is necessary anymore.  As a high school coach and former small college player who has used both the huddle and the no-huddle, my first reaction is to disagree with your point that the huddle is archaic and a bit of a dinosaur.  But I am also intrigued.

My overall response would be that there are obvious advantages to both.  Points and tempo are the obvious gains, but tempo is also a negative from the no huddle (as we learned circa 2009-2011) when an offense has too many three and outs and a team's defense bears the brunt of it all.  In short, it's hard to praise a defense, especially an overachieving bunch like our boys, while touting an offensive style that so often seems to lead to a loss in defensive production.

In short, what data is out there to suggest that the no huddle would not obliterate our defensive gains?

-chewieblue

There are two issues here being conflated here. Not huddling is not necessarily synonymous with going at a high speed. Ohio State runs the same no-huddle style as Oregon but does not push the pedal down nearly as much:

Team Offensive Plays Defensive Plays Total % Plays on offense
Oregon 989 915 1904 52%
Michigan 738 791 1529 48%
Ohio State 837 849 1686 49%

Oregon games had 24% more plays in them than Michigan games; Ohio State games had just 10% more, and I'm guessing the difference there is more Michigan being exceptionally slow than Ohio State being fast: decidedly MANBALL Wisconsin games featured a little over 1600 plays this year. If OSU is over the national average for plays run it's not by much.

The benefits of getting to the line immediately are the same whether you're going fast or slow: the defense is hampered in its ability to substitute and you can see how they align as you make your playcall. You can sprinkle in tempo plays when you have an advantage without cracking the whip up and down the field.

The other issue is how a high tempo affects your defense. This is the reason people invented tempo-free basketball statistics: how fast you go can distort how your offense and defense look. A high-tempo approach artificially inflates the former and deflates the latter.

Take the most extreme possible example: Oregon. The Ducks are are decent but essentially mediocre in yardage statistics. They're 47th in rushing, 60th in passing, and 46th in total D. But they faced 915 plays. Michigan's defense faced 791, and in there is a large part of the gap between the two defenses. Michigan is still better on a yards-per-play basis, but there's no question that Oregon played more good offenses.

Advanced stats that try to account for tempo look a lot more favorably on Oregon's defense than conventional ones. The Ducks are eighth in FEI*, one spot in front of Alabama. They're 21st in S&P, which I don't like as much because it's play-focused instead of drive-focused.

As this year's Michigan team proved against Nebraska and OSU, a three and out is a three and out and you're in trouble no matter what if that's what your offense is doing. In games you can win, the price you're extracting from your defense is going to be similar to the price you extract from the opposition.

And, like, I don't think it would have mattered if a Greg Robinson defense played opposite the Lombardi Packers. They were cooked.

*[A note on FEI: that ranking looked pretty strange on offense last year; this year it passes any sanity test you want to give it with Florida/ND/Stanford/MSU as the top 4. It seems to be overrating some small schools but that's inevitable.]

Are we running the Air Raid next year?  Taking out Denard, Michigan had a pretty atrocious rushing offense this year.  It's obviously going to look different next season without a primarily rushing QB but even still, with a starting RB coming off a serious leg injury, and replacing 3 or 4 offensive lineman, this looks bleak right?

Brian

Look on the bright side: at least Borges has shown to be more willing to adapt to a throw-first mentality than Carr-era coordinators. And the interior line literally cannot be worse! Woo!

It does look bleak. Michigan has to hope that Mike Schofield can hold up at left tackle (I think he can against non-elite pass-rushers and will probably be a Stenavich-level player) and then fill in the rest of the line with n00bs. There are some assets:

  • Extremely fast QB.
  • "College-ready" five star Kyle Kalis at guard.
  • Guy who has played center all the way, Jack Miller, at center, presumably making much better line calls.
  • Enormous guy Chris Bryant
  • Enormous guy Ben Braden

It… yeah, it looks grim-ish. While any of the above could work out Michigan is still working through the disastrous RR OL recruiting and will have a similar problem to the one they had this year: few, if any options to turn to if the starters are not performing. Things are little better at tackle, where Erik Magnuson is available to back up instead of nobody, but on the interior you've got a redshirt freshman on the 3/4 star borderline (Bars) and Joey Burzynski, who is still 6'1".

But there's a bunch of hype for the freshman class and Bryant was reported looking good before the leg injury. Michigan may have to go with more Gardner running than they might want. I certainly hope they don't ditch the veer, for one.

Hi Brian,

First of all, I'm very surprised by Hoke's prediction that Devin's redshirt will go through, given his history of never saying anything specific, ever.

With that in mind, do you think Devin is a good fit for Borges' style of West Coast offense?  Or will we still be "making due" with some Frankenoffense for the next two years, give or take, until Shane is ready? 

Like most fans, I've been pleasantly surprised by Devin over the past month, but I don't know enough about Borges' dream offense to know how well his QB skills translate.

Jerry

I was surprised, too, and assume he was told by the people who had talked to the Big Ten that they would get it. Which hurray, one less argument about how dumb Rich Rodriguez is and extra year for starting QB.

Gardner is clearly a better fit for what Borges wants to do than Denard was. He's tall, he can stand in the pocket, and he has an excellent deep ball when he's not being asked to throw it on the run for some strange reason. He also tends to run when he should run, thus rescuing various plays that aren't going so well.

I am actually hoping for something of a Frankenoffense, though. Running big epic "play action" from an I-form that is really just a max-protect setup doesn't use Gardner's legs particularly effectively, and we've seen that when you get a guy who can run and throw trying to stop both is super hard. Hell, run-and-kinda-throw is pretty hard. I'd like Michigan to still run most of its offense from the shotgun and use Gardner's legs to mitigate some of the problems that will arise on the offensive line. With Morris backing Gardner up you won't have to be as overcautious as it seemed Michigan was this year.

Maybe the OL will surprise and DeVeon Smith or Derrick Green will show up as a grinder and it will work. If a traditional manball running game isn't in the cards, though, the Frankenoffense may be the best one available.

Brian:

Do you think Hopkins gets a long look in the spring back at tailback with Fitz's status up in the air?

Seems like they have some depth now at fullback with Kerridge  and Houma.  I know he has ball security issues so maybe he has to walk around campus all spring, summer and fall carrying a football. Could he have the potential to be a Leroy Hoard-type in 1988, '89 as a featured, ball-carrying back?

Chris

While that's a possibility I doubt it will amount to much if they do try it. Hopkins may be marginally better than Rawls if he doesn't fumble, he has. Rawls hasn't done much but he also has not fumbled.

A Hoard-back requires Hoard-blocking, and more speed than Hopkins brings to the table. If Derrick Green ends up committing he's the early favorite to get a plurality of carries.

Any chance that Michigan starts Pipkins and Washington in a similar way that they used Washington and Campbell this year?

Daniel

Probably not. Nose tackle is a draining position staffed by enormous men and requires that two people play it. Michigan probably wanted to use Pipkins more than they did a year ago; they couldn't because he wasn't very good. Michigan will probably stick with him as the backup nose in preparation for a two year starting run. Big guys take some time.

Comments

Mailbag: Center vs Shotgun Fight, Punt vs Kick Return Fight, Let's Be Nebraska(?)

Mailbag: Center vs Shotgun Fight, Punt vs Kick Return Fight, Let's Be Nebraska(?) Comment Count

Brian September 14th, 2012 at 3:46 PM

Unbalanced stuff, Denard under center.

First, in this pic from the Air Force Defensive UFR:

image

The slot receiver would be eligible if he took a step back and the WR at the top took a step forward, correct?  So what is the advantage to having this alignment vs. having two players be positioned less than one yard differently?  I can’t quite grasp what would compensate for losing an eligible receiver.

Normally, yes. Here Air Force is going to send the WR to the top of the screen in motion until he ends up behind the two guys in the backfield. That makes life easier for Air Force if they want to run to the short side because they've effectively blocked the corner to that side by putting him on the other side of the field.

Defenses can react to this by shifting but it's unnatural for them to do this. Sometimes they mess it up, especially when you're going at speed like Air Force does. The disadvantage created by making that WR ineligible can even be mitigated by sending him on a crazy route that takes him behind the QB. Is the offense going to use this? Probably not. Is the defense going to totally abandon defending this guy? Probably not.

Second, I saw the ESPN article about Denard’s passing from under center being pretty fantastic.  Given that, and Denard being Denard, why wouldn’t we run a basic QB draw from that setup on the regular?  Or is the passing being so good a result of defenses making sure to take that away?

Wolvrine32

The numbers here are relatively small—Rothstein charts 62 attempts from under center under Borges, which is two or three games of data. He's done well with those attempts, obviously. I have no idea why, and if you go all Gaussian on things it's clear that there's a lot of jitter in there. Via The Power Rank:

Denard_Robinson_completion_percentage[1]

Rothstein does acknowledge the sample size issues. But just because your data is not big enough to be authoritative does not mean it isn't suggestive. Given the numbers, the chances that randomness explains all of the difference is a mere 6%. It's worth figurin' on.

There's a pretty obvious mechanism that makes Michigan's running game more effective from the shotgun—hi my name is Denard's legs. What is the reason Denard's only throwing interceptions from the shotgun? Nothing leaps out. The routes? They're probably the same. The drop-back? In the NFL, the shotgun is a more efficient formation (even accounting for down and distance) despite running quarterbacks being largely absent. Run paranoia? It seems hard to  believe that's more of a factor from under center.

Three things do seem like potential mechanisms:

  • Pressure. It's easier to max-pro when you've got a couple TEs or a couple backs. Also, it's easier to not tip your snap count against MSU. Denard + pressure == doom. If Denard is getting better protection from under center that would be an obvious way in which under center was really better.
  • Situation. Michigan's more likely to go under center in short-yardage situations, making those passes more profitable as the defense expects run. Also a potential factor in "situation": Michigan may run more under-center stuff against easy Ds and default to shotgun when they think they're up against it.
  • Luck. Sample size here is small enough that it probably explains some of the difference. It's hard to think TD/INT splits of 12-1 (under center) and 11-17 (shotgun) are totally explainable by luck.

The problem with throwing from under center is that sometimes you have to run it from under center, and that's burning downs at this point.

Seth has all this in a UFR database and will address it in more depth on Tuesday.

Punt versus kick return, fight.

090812_SPT_UMvsAF_MRM_34_display[1]

AnnArbor.com

Hey, Brian. I hoping you might be able to shed some light on a question. What is the difference between kick returner and punt returner? Why does Norfleet return kicks and Gallon return punts? Is it to limit their exposure to 11 special teams defensemen running downhill at full speed with the intent of breaking the returner's back? Or are there different skills involved? (Because who wouldn't like to see Norfleet returning punts, too?)

Thanks,
Brandon

Kick returns are the junior varsity version of punt returns. As a kick returner you have a high-arcing kick travelling 60-70 yards before you camp out under it. If you fumble the thing, the nearest opponents are 20 yards away. You pick it up, you lose a few yards in field position, and no one has a panic attack. Either that or it's a touchback. BFD.

Screwing up a punt, whether it's by fumbling it or failing to field it, has much direr implications. A fumble is almost guaranteed to be a turnover, and we just saw Jeremy Gallon cost Michigan 25 yards by not fielding an Air Force punt. Additionally, punts can come in at all sorts of angles, generally much faster than kicks. Ever seen a kickoff fielded on the run? Maybe if someone is making a terrible decision on one that's going out of bounds. Otherwise, never. On punts it's not uncommon.

In addition to that, there are some different skills involved. Punts often involve dodging guys with little or no opportunity to get up to full speed. On a kickoff you're generally going to have the opportunity to get your motor humming before you have to make a cut. So a guy like Darryl Stonum made an excellent kick returner thanks to his top-end speed and ability to make a shallow cut at speed, but wouldn't have made much of a punt returner.

Gallon and Norfleet both have skills that make them a good fit for both positions. The coaches are currently more comfortable with Gallon back there, but if he keeps bringing out 2010 Gallon and Norfleet proves capable in practice, a switch won't be long in coming. Either way, at least Michigan won't be running a Greg Mathews out there.

Option MSU?

Brian,

I haven’t seen any film on last year’s game between Nebraska and MSU, but I have to believe that Nebraska had a relatively effective day on offense judging from the score and offensive numbers. (24 points and 190 yards on the ground) So with that being said and knowing that Michigan and Nebraska run similar offenses, can Michigan look at that the game film and implement some sort of parallel schemes against MSU that Nebraska executed and have a likewise outcome?

Thanks,
NFG

That game was won by Nebraska's defense, which limited the Spartans to under 200 yards. While the Huskers racked up 190 yards rushing it took 58 carries for them to get there—3.3 YPC. Unless Michigan can do the same thing to the Spartan offense they're not likely to win with that kind of rushing output.

Meanwhile, an offense with pitches like Nebraska's is one you have to dedicate yourself to. It's not something you can implement for a single week. You can change your blocking schemes, routes, protections, and playcalling, sure, but when you start asking a guy to make split-second decisions about whether to fumble a ball in the general direction of the running back you're asking for trouble.

FWIW, it does seem like Michigan is at least allowing the center to get his head up and survey the landscape before he snaps the ball these days.

Comments

Preview 2012: Five Questions On Offense

Preview 2012: Five Questions On Offense Comment Count

Brian August 31st, 2012 at 11:51 AM

Previously: Podcast 4.0, the story, quarterback, running back, wide receivers, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, secondary, Qs on D.

1. We're clear about this shotgun thing, right?

denard-nebraska

The number one question about last year's offense was how much it would play to Denard's strengths and how much it would settle into Borges's comfort zone. The answer was mostly the former. While the first real test against Notre Dame was a rocky one and Michigan's under-center experiment against Iowa—against a Hawkeye defense that had just been plowed for a game-winning touchdown by Minnesota—was an outright disaster, those were outliers in a season that saw Michigan hardly budge from its shotgun-oriented ways under Rodriguez. The Sugar Bowl was a big fat raspberry at the end of things, granted.

What they ran from the shotgun was a lot different, but when it came down to the most important game in Brady Hoke's career to date—Ohio State—Michigan's primary gambit was the single most prominent spread play in the game today: the inverted veer, which marries power blocking to spread principles and gets you a lot of carries where Denard is charging hard upfield. The result was 170 rushing yards, a 167 yard, 14/17, 3 TD, 0 INT day passing, and 40 points against Oho State.

That seemed to work pretty well, right?

This blog tracked Michigan's success in various formations all year, and it wasn't even a debate except when the opposing defense was entirely theoretical (think EMU). Against mediocre defenses, the shotgun was far superior. Against good defenses, the shotgun was far superior. Various examples:

  • Michigan averaged 10.6 YPC from the gun against WMU, 6.8 from under center. (Note that all these numbers excise goal line and short yardage carries as distorting.)
  • It was 7.5 gun, 2.3 under center against ND.
  • It was 6.4 gun, 3.4 I, 2.3 ace against Iowa.
  • It was 5.8 gun, 3.9 under center against Illinois, and before two garbage-time runs from Toussaint Michigan had –1 yards on 8 carries from under center. The blocking on those wasn't even good: "On the first he cut to the backside of the play on a power, which rarely goes well; on the second he had to dodge three tacklers on the backfield on an iso and bounce all the way to the sideline before finding open grass."

You get the idea. For the season Michigan averaged 3.9 YPC from the I and 6.7 from the gun. While ace (not that Ace) actually bested the gun's performance at 7.4 YPC, less than ten percent of Michigan's snaps were from that formation and they were heavily biased against good Ds—no ace snaps against ND or MSU, big chunks against Purdue and Iowa. One 59-yard Fitz run against Purdue explains most of that number, and that was some pretty inexcusable D combined with Fitz being awesome.

When the I worked it was usually due to opponents screwing up

power-works

Three defenders to the left of center vs four blockers plus a FB = 8 yards

…or the tailback making chicken salad out of chicken despair, as in the clips from the Illinois game above.

Anyway.

SHOTGUN SHOTGUN SHOTGUN SHOTGUN SHOTGUNNNNNNNNN. Consider the line: Lewan, Mealer/Kalis, Barnum, Omameh, Schofield—all Rodriguez recruits who can move save the LG. Consider the QB: Denard. Consider the RB: Fitz Toussaint, space jitterbug. Consider the TEs: 404 file not found. Consider the FB: Stephen Hopkins, a guy who can reprise some of the MINOR RAGE if attention is drawn away from him and he's free to run straight at one guy. You've even got leftover RR slots in the WR corps. Just let it ride, man.

Next year is the year you flip over to your multiple pro-style whipsaw offense, next year when Denard is gone and maybe Toussaint heads for the draft and Kalis/Miller/Bryant is your road-grading interior OL and you've got TE depth and a panoply of different rushers for different situations. This year, stick with it and refine what works.

The spring game, which was almost all RR-at-WVU déjà vu 3WR 2RB shotgun set, indicates that's what the coaching staff thinks, too, as does the buzz I've gotten from The Fort. Now about using it a little more smoothly.

[after the JUMP: Borges fusion cuisine, yet more on DG at WR, stupid predictions.]

Comments

Funes the Manballious

Funes the Manballious Comment Count

Seth December 1st, 2011 at 7:51 AM

alborgesJorge%20Luis%20Borges%20small

Borges/Borges

"Without effort, he had learned English, French, Portuguese, Latin. I suspect, nevertheless, that he was not very capable of thought. To think is to forget a difference, to generalize, to abstract. In the overly replete world of Funes there were nothing but details, almost contiguous details."

---Jorge Luis Borges, Funes, the Memorious

The above reference is to a short story my 11th grade English teacher (Hi Mrs. Bruton!) would be very proud I remembered. In it a fictional JL Borges speaks of conversations with a young autistic savant named Funes. Funes is so mathematical he invented his own way of counting. Then he dies of congestion of the lungs. So it goes.

The other pic is from an early M presser with Al Borges when he was asked how he would use Denard. There were contiguous details: You gotta use him. We'll think up some ways to utilize those legs. We're going to run our offense. The voice was sharp, mocking.

And through the season the thoughts of the young Borges were realized:

fritz

The Fritz.

denard-jet

Denard Jet.

They were ways, but not the way.

We have all moved on from the last three years. We have t-shirts and memes and a competent defense and a win over Ohio and a new spiteful way of referring to our rival. Yet until Shane Morris is zipping DOs to myriad tight ends in the flat there is going to be a Godwin's Law*-ishness about discussing the offense that best fits the offensive personnel at Michigan because we fired the guys who invented it.

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* Technically it's a corollary.

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First a note that advanced users can skip: I'm using formation because each formation comes with a set of strengths and weaknesses selected by the guy calling the plays. Once the ball is snapped all hell breaks loose and it's way harder to judge decisions or coaching. Of the relevant formations, the I-form is great for running because you get two backs (one usually a lead blocker) immediately moving toward the line of scrimmage and your play's chosen point of attack, but not great for passing because either you're committing two eligible receivers and precious QB time to a run fake, or you're immediately showing pass when the RBs are bailing out of the QB's drop line. The Ace is basically I-form but you swap the FB for a WR or TE. It's a compromise formation, slightly better for passing, not great at either.

Formation Plays YPA
Shotgun 259 7.2
I-Form 58 4.2
Ace 36 11.4*
Denard Jet 12 3.3
Fritz 7 9.3
Pro-Set 2 2.0
The shotgun is the best for passing because the QB starts having completed his drop sequence, but bad for running because the RB is starting way in the backfield with no momentum. Unless you can run from it, lining up in the gun is an invitation for defenses to key on the pass.

The shotgun's fundamental running flaws can be somewhat mitigated by: 1) Zone Blocking, which lets the runner scan for creases like a QB instead of hitting a certain spot ASAP, 2) Backs who can see and accelerate quickly into those gaps, 3) A run-threat QB who can keep the defense from teeing off the tailback, 4) Spreading receivers out so that their defenders are too far away to help the inside running game, and 5) Optioning and the threat thereof, e.g. Rich Rodriguez's zone read.

These are kind of very specialized things to get, and you need like three or four of them just to get shotgun running on par with the natural advantages of I-form running. If you can run out of an I against eight in the box you are indefeatable; if you can run out of a shotgun AND your running QB can pass you are indefeatable. So it's not like the way is the only way. The reason your friendly bloggers are always yelping "shotgun! shotgun!" is because by the above rationale, a team with Molk, Toussaint, and Denard, and which used to have Rodriguez himself coaching them, should be pretty awesome at running from the shotgun, which is still the best passing formation.) /tutorial.

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*Yes, 11.4 YPA from the Ace. Some of the biggest plays were broken this year from that formation, along with a healthy diet of throwback screens to Gallon good for 20 yards a pop (that play also worked just as well out of the I and the Fritz, going to Smith). However you can see this was mostly a change-of-pace formation, and not a base offense. You can mentally put it with Denard Jet if you like. I believe it would not have been as effective if opponents weren't preparing for Denard in the Gun runs.

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Because nobody but a small nest of holdouts is going to say "we really should get a spread guy up in here," the great hope around the Arbor-y parts this year was that Young Borges the Savant would run what worked. Did Older Borges gain this perspective that Young Borges sought? This we must answer the MGoBlog way:

Chart of formation tendencies (pass & run)

Excised: Plays when the score differential >16, 4th quarters, plays inside the M or opponent's 3 yard line.

Opponent Run% Plays Gun I-Form Ace DR Jet Fritz Pro
Western Michigan 55.6% 27 70.4% 22.2% 7.4% - - -
Notre Dame 42.9% 28 75.0% 25.0% - - - -
Eastern Michigan 68.4% 38 84.2% 7.9% 7.9% - - -
San Diego State 62.1% 29 82.8% 13.8% 3.4% - - -
Minnesota 54.5% 22 68.2% 4.5% 9.1% - 18.2% -
Northwestern 55.9% 59 76.3% 10.2% 6.8% 6.8% - -
Michigan State 39.2% 51 88.2% 11.8% - - - -
Purdue 60.0% 50 48.0% 22.0% 18.0% 4.0% 8.0% -
Iowa 56.0% 50 46.0% 28.0% 18.0% 8.0% - -
Illinois 70.0% 50 80.0% 14.0% 6.0% - - -
Nebraska 64.3% 56 83.9% 7.1% 5.4% - - 3.6%
Ohio State 70.2% 47 85.1% 4.3% 6.4% 4.3% - -
Grand Total 58.8% 507 74.0% 14.0% 7.7% 2.4% 1.6% 0.4%

The games where Michigan was 25% I-form were, as predicted, at the beginning of the season. The Fritz took its place against Minnesota and then it was all shotgun ru…

hokelol[9]Okay so it was inexplicably becoming a team that passes 60% of the time in a trash tornado against MSU and then two game-plans which look absolutely identical. Because Purdue's defensive ends were pliant this worked brilliantly against Purdue as Borges called mannish plays to the end. The thing is for some odd reason he didn't stop I-forming the Purdue game away until it was the 4th quarter of the Iowa game.

Here's a weird thing though: when I run the same numbers for '09 and '10, Rich Rod was way I-Form against Iowa as well. 20% I-form in fact, when he was 96% gun all other games combined. He did it both years, and only for Iowa. Is there some Lloyd-Ferentz pact to run substantially more I-forms versus each other every year?

Anyway it went away. Illinois looks like an intermediary step but 7 of the 8 plays from the I were during that interminable 14-point lead after the defense had established itself as 2006-ian. Following that game it almost disappeared from 1st downs (chart in excessive charting area post-jump*). It's the same story just more dramatic. Red Zone is more so, as the I-form was largely abandoned in the red zone during relevant plays of the last three games of the season:

Redzone

So it is at this point where Funes the Manballious makes his impression on the young Borges, or vice versa, and the rational meets the abstract, and the result is sublime.

Denard Scores

Gregory Shamus|Getty

Comments

Mailbag: Safety Strategy, Double Banner, Shotgun For Real, Mancrushes

Mailbag: Safety Strategy, Double Banner, Shotgun For Real, Mancrushes Comment Count

Brian September 22nd, 2011 at 4:44 PM

zach-banner-bballsafety-signal

Zach Banner! Safeties!

Are coaches too conservative on the goal line? This was something I wondered on Monday. The Mathlete did some research into it. Survey says:

This one was a bit surprising to me as I dug in. Turns out coaches call this one about right. Existing playcalling from the 1 is worth on average +.10 in expected value. Going to a base playcalling set reduces that slightly to +.06. The difference is entirely in the magnified value of lost yardage. The 2 point loss weights negative yardage plays so strongly that the 11.2% of plays for loss on normal downs drive the value too low compared to the 2.1% of plays that go for a loss from the 1. I think the bigger takeaway is once you get a couple yards away from the 1. Once you have a little bit of space you might as well open it up but at the 1 or 2 you do have to be very careful.

All that being said, the numbers are fairly close and depending on score and time opening it up, even from the 1 could be a good decision.

In this instance, the conventional wisdom seems to be right. The next time your coach calls for a two-yard dive on first and goal ten from the one, grit your teeth and know it's the percentage play.

Let's wonder about Zach Banner playing everything for us.

Hi Brian,

It seems that Zach Banner really enjoyed his visit, so why not get ahead of myself and assume for a minute he's going to go Blue... If that happens, and if he wants to play hoops as well, how does that affect our basketball scholarship situation? Would that fill the last spot that we are praying is filled by Mitch McGary?  (I would assume that a 2 sport scholarship player counts as a scholarship against both sports, doesn't it? If not, why wouldn't schools start over-signing and stashing players on the water polo team.)

Thanks,
Daniel

Anyone who plays football counts for football if they are on scholarship. Banner would be a walk-on for basketball, as a few MSU football players have been in the recent past. You can keep up your dual Banner/McGary fantasies. Yeah… that's the stuff.

Mancrushes of the author.

Hey Brian,

With all the talk about best games for the under thirty-two crowd (i'm 31), I started thinking about a ranking of players that the under thirty two crowd adores.  Your MANCRUSH with Denard led me to think that he's one.  But who are the rest of your top five?  Hart?  Graham? Woodley?

Thanks,
Ron

It's hard to tell with Denard's career barely more than a third completed, but it's equally hard to deny that he's #1 with a bullet right now. Strictly in terms of the amount of EEEEEE I would feel if put in a room with a current or former Michigan football player and was expected to interact with them:

  1. Denard. Obvious.
  2. Brandon Graham. Essentially Denard as a world-crushing defensive end. The combination of his performance, the defense he was on making that performance more difficult, and his ability to work through all the crap he had to deal with during the transition makes him an easy #2.
  3. Mike Hart. Equally obvious.
  4. David Harris. He looked like Worf and played like Worf. I have a special affection for him because I was very high on him in the UFRs and his pro career has borne that out.
  5. David Molk. Also I guy I loved very early, and then he drops f-bombs and says things like he'll "try to be nicer to the media" and is perfectly blunt.

The thing about a list like this is I want to extend it to a top 25 because hey, I left out Charles Freakin' Woodson. It's apparent that the guys I've reviewed every play of are higher up on my list.

Hello Brian,

On your podcast, you said that Denard is a pretty accurate quarterback. I have a suspicion that might be wrong.

As I think you've astutely pointed out, Denard racked up completions to wide open receivers because of his running ability. This likely props up his completion percentages without requiring him to be all that accurate. I distinctly remember last year's Michigan State UFR, for example. You made a comment about Denard's difficulty fitting the ball into tighter spaces.
This just might just be my lexical confusion about 'accuracy.' In any case, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

Respectfully,
caesar

This was discussed in the first couple offensive UFR and I agree to some extent. Denard was helped by a lot of screens, short throws, and blitheringly wide open seams. His major issue last year was missing wide receivers by miles; his major issue thus far has been missing wide receivers by miles, and a lot of his completions have been on deep punt-type things where underthrowing the guy is a good strategy but not a particularly difficult one.

That said, he at least seemed more accurate last year. Was that because he was rarely throwing in to tight coverage? That's probably some of it. If Denard's in a favorable down and distance and Michigan runs convincing play action his INT against EMU is a first down because there's no defensive back to intercept; I mark the exact same throw CA.

All the more reason to go back to the Denard or die offense.

Roh + Black plz

Hi Brian,

I was wondering what is so different about the responsibilities of the 2 defensive end spots in this defense that we cannot play Roh and Black at the same time?

In most defenses that I'm familiar with the two DE spots are relatively interchangeable. My limited understanding is that you generally want the better run defender on the strong side because teams often run that way because they have an extra blocker, and you generally want your faster, quicker, pass rusher on the weakside to make it easier to sack the QB.
Besides those minor differences, I don't understand what is so gravely different about the 2 positions in our defense that we wouldn't want our 2 best DEs (Roh and Black, counting Van Bergen as a DT) in the game at the same time?

I suppose that if Will Campbell man's up and takes over at DT, and we slide Van Vergen back out to DE, this question is moot, but I still would like to better understand the major differences between the two positions.

Thanks for clearing this up,
Daniel

In a 4-3 even the two DE spots are relatively interchangeable. In a 4-3 under they're significantly different.

The strongside defensive end:

  • is essentially alone next to the strongside G and T
  • takes a lot of doubles
  • has to hold up
  • doesn't get many opportunities to get a speed rush off the edge
  • is kind of a defensive tackle but not quite unless you've got a really good one

The weakside defensive end:

  • almost always gets single blocking
  • rarely, if ever, gets doubled
  • can speed rush all day on passing plays
  • often drops into short zones on zone blitzes
  • is kind of a linebacker sometimes

There are players who are great at both of these. Brandon Graham flipped back and forth and was still Brandon Graham. But in general they are meaningfully different players.

HOWEVA, as mentioned in the defensive UFR I'm advocating both of those guys on the field at the same time, especially against spread formations where the relative lack of bulk won't be too killer. Someone's playing out of position on this line and maybe it's time to try an extremely slanty DL featuring no real anchor but four fast guys (or three fast guys and average Ryan Van Bergen) who can one-gap into the backfield all day. It's not ideal; it's still worth a shot.

denard-shotguntom-brady-shotgun

Denard / Tom Brady, first and goal from the two: shotgun

I have a different conventional wisdom.

Hi Brian,

Assuming perfect execution and the right personnel, why is it widely accepted that operating from under center is superior to the shotgun?  Are the physics such that the extra downfield head start of 2 yards for a RB that much more effective in a running game as a base set (with shotgun draw type plays serving as the offbeat counterpoint)?  What about from a passing perspective?  I would think that the shotgun allows the QB (any QB) to see the field better at the outset of the play...so does it all come back to the running game?

Posed another way, given <insert current top tier NFL QB>, why is under-center better than shotgun?  I'm trying to remove Denard from the argument to get a sense of what we'll be trying to do with Gardner/Morris/et al.

Hope this question makes sense - would appreciate any thoughts (or links to others' thoughts) you've got.

Go Blue!

-V

I think it may be accepted, but that acceptance seems to be shifting in the NFL. For one, see Tom Brady. The league is just now dealing with the injury faking brought on by no-huddle spreads. Shotgun plays are generally more efficient than plays under center even there, though the main reason there is passing, not running.

I mentioned this on the podcast, but the NFL scouts' constant whining about the spread killing the footwork of college QBs has always seemed like a selling point for the shotgun. If footwork is so important and so deficient in a spread option system that seems like a lot of time spent working on something else. This goes both for little ninjas like Denard and artillery pieces like Ryan Mallett, who spent no time under center in high school and couldn't even take a snap half the time as a freshman in college. If footwork is really hard, stop doing footwork. Just start where you're going to be.

This thinking is now becoming popular since a bunch of spread QBs have been instantly successful. Don Banks:

"People have kind of gotten away from the stereotypical thinking we used to see about the spread. I remember when [Florida State's Heisman winner] Charlie Ward came out and they said, 'Oh, he plays in the shotgun.' There were all these different reasons why he couldn't succeed, and it just baffled me. I said 'Do you see what the guy is doing? He's making plays to win games. He's making decisions, he's throwing the ball, he's on target, he's moving away from the rush, all the things you have to do in the NFL. Taking a snap from the center is the easiest thing to learn, all those other things are hard. But I think we've kind of gotten away from that kind of thinking, and we're looking at what these guys do positively. They can make decisions, they can throw on the move, and they can get out of the pocket. So you say, OK, let me build off of what their strengths are.''

Spread zealotry is catching. This, from Football Outsiders, was written four years ago:

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.

Clearly, NFL teams have figured the importance of the Shotgun out for themselves. Over the past four seasons, the average team has gone from using Shotgun 19 percent of the time to 36 percent of the time, not even counting the Wildcat and other college-style option plays that have become popular in recent years. Before 2007, no team had ever used Shotgun on more than half its offensive plays. In the past two seasons, five different teams have used Shotgun over half the time. It is likely that if teams continue to increase their usage of the Shotgun, defenses will adapt and the benefit of the formation will become less pronounced.

Under center has a few advantages: it does not tip plays based on the position of the running back (unless you're shuffling the fullback argh). The tailback can run north and south more easily. If you do not have a running quarterback it is hard to get safeties to massively misplay play action based on a shotgun running game. And that's all I've got.

So… the answer to your question is "people have not caught up with the new reality."

Comments

EMU Postgame Presser Transcript: Brady Hoke

EMU Postgame Presser Transcript: Brady Hoke Comment Count

Heiko September 17th, 2011 at 10:26 PM

[players tomorrow]

Brady Hoke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glad you scheduled them? “Uh … no.”

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

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

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

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

Comments

Tuesday Presser Transcript 9-6-11: Coordinators

Tuesday Presser Transcript 9-6-11: Coordinators Comment Count

Heiko September 6th, 2011 at 10:01 PM

News (and other important items) bullets:

  • Hopkins will be major contributor, can compete for starting position at RB
  • Borges wants to use less shotgun -- Saturday wasn't representative
  • Mattison does not plan to put any one cornerback on Michael Floyd all game
  • Woolfolk is healthy and practicing at full speed
  • Woolfolk will remain on special teams
  • Barnum will be back this week 
  • <3 Kovacs

Al Borges

Coach, you look great. “Well, thank you.”

How would you assess Denard’s performance? “He managed the offense very well first time out. He had very few errors. A couple of deals, but nothing catastrophic, which is really all you ask for the first time out. He didn’t create the big plays that he’s used to, but our tailbacks did. So as long as somebody does, we’ll be fine. Eventually that part of his game will surface.”

Did you get use enough plays on offense you wanted to? “Oh, it wasn’t even close. We ran 39 plays. I mean, we didn’t even scratch the surface. There was so much left in the bag, just the way the game went, which is kind of good. Didn’t even begin to approach our menu.”

The one play where Denard scrambled and almost threw a pick, did you use that as a teaching moment? “Of all the plays he had, that was the only play that was a little higher risk. After the fact, he realized he should have probably checked the ball down to the tight end in the flat, but he got a little greedy on that one. But for the most part his decision-making was fairly accurate, other than a play or two.”

Is it hard to get a gauge of your offense with only 39 plays? “Yeah, a little bit. But you have 39 to judge, [so] judge and go from there. It was incomplete in so many ways. But it was a win, and we’ll take it, and we’ll go from there. We got another week to practice.”

This horse isn’t dead yet. Let’s beat it some more. Fitz vs. Shaw? “Both of them showed up. We ended up playing them both, probably Fitz a little more than Shaw, but Shaw did some nice things.”

Can you comment on Notre Dame’s defense? “They’re legitimate. Their third-down percentage -- [USF] got two or three third down conversions on them. If you look at their numbers, South Florida didn’t move the ball very well on them. And just because of the circumstances of the game, they lost, but the defense, I thought, was outstanding. Te’o the linebacker was as active and as physical a player I’ve seen in a while, and that’s quite a statement. He is a good football player. They get pass rush with only four guys. They don’t have to blitz, which is disconcerting. They’re good on the back end -- Harrison’s around the ball all the time. Ball hawk, physical, well-coached. They use their hands real well up front on the line. They’re good.”

What do you see in Harrison Smith? “I think he puts himself in position real well. He doesn’t get out of position a lot. He’s got a feel for where the ball’s going. It looks like he plays smart. He’s physical. He’s just one of those guys I’m sure they count on.”

Passes were distributed pretty evenly between receivers against Western. Is that going to be how you do it for the rest of the season? “Not necessarily, no. I think there’s going to be games where you’ll see one guy catch a bunch of balls, and the other guy won’t catch as many, and vice versa. Once you get into the battle, you don’t know how it’s going to go, so you’re never sure exactly who’s going to get it. Now you design certain plays to go to certain guys, but because of the nature of the defense you’re not going to get it to those guys. You always want a degree of distribution, but I’m not obsessed with [the idea that] everybody needs to catch x amount of balls. I could care less about that. What I care about is taking what the defense gives you, and if that means one guy catches ten passes, then so be it.”

How did Denard do under center going through his reads? “I thought he did a pretty darn good job. For his first time, his under center play was really good. His shotgun play was -- that’s kind of his power zone, and that’s why we’re going to use that and do that stuff. His under center play was solid. His mechanics in terms of exchange, tracks and things -- had a couple of errors on some tracks, but for the most part was pretty reliable.”

Only two of Denard’s runs were scrambles. Were you pleased with patience in pocket? “He did a nice job on one scramble particularly. I think he got a first down. He came off one of his receivers a little quick -- but for the most part, what you have to understand is you want him to give the pass a chance, but you don’t want to be so obsessed with him always wanting to check the ball down, because he is the best checkdown you could have. So what could be perceived as impatience is sometimes a little more designed than you might think.”

Talk about that NFL pass to Grady? “That was the second option. That was a good play. They jumped the slide play, and he threw the ball. That was a nice play by him. He reset his feet, got his hips set, and he hit [Grady] right in stride. That was totally designed. And no scramble there.”

How would you assess O-line play re: Schofield vs. Barnum? “Mike had a good game. Mike did a good job. He was very solid in there. And now this week, we’ll see how the thing goes [between Schofield and Barnum]. It’s nice to know [Schofield] can, if that makes any sense.”

Is Barnum back in the lineup for Notre Dame? “Oh yeah. Absolutely.”

Talk about going for it on fourth and one. Whose call is it? “It’s my playcall, but it’s [Hoke’s] decision.”

Do you coach Denard on his scrambling or do you allow him to improvise? “When the protection breaks down or the pocket gets pushed or for some reason he can’t see, he has to go to an improv mode. All our improv has structure, but Denard does a lot in there that I don’t draw on the board. The one thing you don’t want to do is inhibit a playmaker. A guy that can do some things, you don’t want to make him so that he’s so robotic he’s not doing what he’s capable of doing. Yeah, there’s structure within our improvisation, but his ability to create -- I always talk about create without doing something stupid. He’s living by the law pretty good, knock on wood.”

Would you have gone completely vanilla if there had been a fourth quarter? “Had we scored on the last drive, we probably would have gotten a little more physical. It’s hard to say, but when we get ahead, we like to run the football if we can without being too conservative.”

Is the ratio of shotgun vs. under center what you’ll stick to the rest of the season? “No, no … no. The game had no balance to it with regard to that. If we had played a fourth quarter, we would have been right about where we wanted it.”

Would Devin Gardner have gotten some snaps? “I don’t know. We’ll see. I couldn’t tell you. That’s up to Brady.”

Is Hopkins going to have a role this week? “Oh, absolutely. You bet. He was in the fold big time. Before he couldn’t play, but now that he’s back, he’s going to be a factor. He’s a good player. He brings something to the table. He’s a big back that you like to have.”

Is he competing for the starting job? “They’re all competing still. I’m not counting him out of the mix.”

(more after the jump)

Greg Mattison

A photo of the elusive Greg Mattison in his natural habitat.

Can you share what it’s like to have coached on both sides of rivalry? “It’s a great rivalry. I mean, you’re talking about two of the greatest schools in college football in athletics. I don’t think there are any better when you look at the whole package of it. I know it’s a huge rivalry for everybody involved in it. It’s Michigan. It’s Notre Dame. That’s what it is.”

Was it weird when you went from Michigan to Notre Dame? “Yeah, it was hard. I can tell you that was hard because it was Michigan … you know, I can’t honestly say if I even really knew what a big rivalry that was. I never grew up being a Notre Dame fan. I’m a Lutheran, not a Catholic. When you do that decision based on family, once you’ve made that decision, you kind of go, ‘Whoa.’ But I had a great eight years there. Got to see my family through school and my daughter in collge there, so that made it a really, really good deal.”

Assess defensive performance early in the game and how you adjusted later? “The thing that happened is what you kind of worry about happening when you have so many guys that haven’t played a lot of football. You probably got the toughest scenario you could get because it was a very fast paced -- they were switching personnel groups in and out without us really being able to see what they were, and you got defenses that you’re playing for certain personnel groups that you hadn’t against a different group. This young group needs to see everything.

“Then it goes down to when a team hurries like that and speeds up the pace, communication is everything, and that’s something we’ve been harping on. With a young group of guys and young linebackers that haven’t played a lot, the communication is the first thing -- when it all happens -- it goes. [During] that [first] drive, there was a number things that we weren’t aligned correctly on. And we’re not good enough to do that. We’re not good enough to not be perfect at what we’re doing. Once they came off the side and we settled them down, and we just said, ‘Hey listen. There’s a whole ball game ahead of us. If we get these things corrected we’ll be fine.’ And then we get the interception, and [we] let them pick back up again.”

Hoke wasn’t happy with D-line play. “Neither was I.” What stuck out to you? “I wouldn’t just single out the defensive line. When we looked at that tape, I knew what I would see. That is not how we want to play defense. Our whole thing is stopping the run. Some of those runs were me -- I’m calling pressures to try to get after the quarterback and he runs a draw, and we didn’t fit our gaps right. That kind of thing happens. Others they weren’t. We have to be able to stop the run. Anytime a team runs the football on your defense, you can’t have a great day. I think a lot of our fits, our backers fitting, our defensive line knocking them back, playing real physical every snap, all those things have to improve.

“The one positive thing in the entire game, though, was we kept the ball inside and in front for the most part. We can’t allow a big play [to become] a homerun play, and that quarterback is a big time quarterback, and that wide receiver is a great wide receiver. So our guys did keep the ball inside and in front, so we could get more guys on the tackles.”

Rees vs. Crist? “Well, I think that they’re both very good quarterbacks. The one thing that you have to understand with Rees is he was the starting quarterback the last four games [of 2010] and they won all four. And then he goes in this game in a half and throws for 300-some yards or whatever. So obviously he’s a guy that when he goes in ball games, he does a great job. I think both of them are very talented. You wouldn’t be at a school like Notre dame or Michigan if you didn’t have talent. I think they both have good arms, and they both appear to be very intelligent, and they both have a great wide receiver."

How do you get D-line up to where you want it to be? Will you keep blitzing as much? “It depends if a team is going to throw as much as [Western Michigan] threw. It all depends on what the team does. We won’t sit back and play zone coverage until we have the ability to get a rush with a four-man front. And that comes from technique -- that comes from a lot of things. It’s not fair to that secondary and it’s not fair to that underneath coverage to let a quarterback like that hold it. I’m not going to say I’m a guy that’s going to blitz every down, but when it dictates it, then I think you have to.”

Do you need to get more production out of Craig Roh? “Definitely. He has to play better. One of the things we addressed is that we had too many players in that defense that did not get production. We have a big chart up in our hallway [where] you get points for tackles, for assists, for caused fumbles, all those kind of things, and then you also get minus points for missed assignments, missed tackles, that kind of thing. [Ed-M: Mattison keeps a UFR!!!] On our defense we had too many guys that didn’t have a lot of points. You had one guy that had 47 points: Jordan Kovacs. So we gotta get more guys get production. And Craig’s one of those guys. We’ve gotta get more out of him. I think he knows that, and he understands. He saw the film himself. He understands he’s a better football player than that.”

What makes Kovacs so special? “He’s a football player. He’s a Michigan football player. If you had a team of eight of those. I’m not going to say 11. Eight of those. You might sit on a lawn chair and watch the game. That hit that he came on one of the pressures -- you all saw the picture. It was what you tell and what you coach. Put your face right through his chest. Wrap him up. Eyes up. And he put his helmet right through the football. The thing that people didn’t see on that was he was in the endzone almost the same time as Herron after he had caused a fumble and made the hit. That’s what Michigan defense is about. The same thing happened that was a positive -- Jake Ryan on his tipped [pass]. He hit the gournd after he tipped it, [and] he was the first guy down there next to Herron. And that’s what we’ve been talking about. That’s a great sign. Now we gotta keep doing that all the way through a ball game.”

Did Herron just happen to be in right place at right time or was he actively doing things right? “He was where he was supposed to be. He executed the defense and good things happen. Thank goodness he’s fast. He never looks like he’s running that fast, but not many people catch him.”

Kovacs said he expected to have fewer tackles in this new scheme. But he led the team in tackles on Saturday. At what point is that going to change? “I hope soon. You hit it right on the head. When your safety is making a lot of tackles, that’s not a good thing. It’s a good thing we have Jordan Kovacs, but that’s not a good thing [for him to be making all the tackles]. That happened a number of times -- if a linebacker were where he was supposed to be, he would have made that tackle. The great news though is Jordan was where he was supposed to be, and I think at times when I’ve watched, he’s been up in there too far, because he’s been trying to make [the tackle], and all of a sudden if he misses the tackle, [the other player] is gone.”

Does having a guy like Kovacs allow you to do more with the defense? “Well it allows you to call it without wincing. No no … I have confidence in the entire defense. I wasn’t pleased with our performance. I was pleased with the win. I was pleased with the turnover margin, but as a defense I can’t say I was pleased because I really, really believe in my heart we can be much, much better than this. And we have to be. We have to play better defense than what we did. “

How do you defend Michael Floyd? “You better make sure, number one, that you’re playing with great technique on him. If you don’t -- in the back end -- if you don’t play with perfect technique, you’re going to get exposed. I think the second thing is you can’t allow the quarterback all day to throw to him, and I think you have to give him a number of different coverages so he doesn’t know all the time what you’re getting.”

Are you going to play one cornerback on him the entire game? “No.”

Was Woolfolk on pace for Kovacs’ level of production before he left the game? “He made some very physical hits on those bubble screens, which was great to see. I would love to see him play that game. He needed that. I would have loved to have that thing go four quarters. We needed it. We need every second of playing under pressure that we can get. But I’m glad that we got out of there like we did, and we got a victory, and now we just got to improve more.”

Was Woolfolk going full speed in practice today? “Uh huh.”

Will you lobby to keep him off special teams? “No. No I won’t. honestly, I will not … special teams play is a huge, huge part in our defense -- if you saw where we started on defense after a number of those kickoffs. There’s three equal parts to the game, and I’ve seen too many coaches that will say, ‘I gotta have that guy.’ Okay then put another guy [on special teams] that doesn’t do as well and you’ll see how fast that ball comes back. We really believe in that here.”

What do you and Hoke talk about on headset? “He doesn’t have it on, does he?” But he said he did! “Oh I don’t even know. I tell you what, to be honest, he probably can hear everything I’m saying without the headset on, so I don’t know. Brady is -- he is tremendous on the sideline. After that first drive -- because he’s a great defensive coach -- He was over there saying the same things I was saying to those guys. A lot of head coaches might not have reacted like he did. And that pays dividends, because we trust these guys. We believe that they’re going to try as hard as they can. Now we gotta get their tehcnique better, we gotta get a lot of thigns better as coaches, but they’re going to try it, and they’re going to do it. Just like today’s practice. There was a whole bunch of mistakes … but you know what? They went hard. And we’ll get those corrected. We just gotta keep on eliminating those mistakes.” 

Comments

Beating The Shotgun Horse

Beating The Shotgun Horse Comment Count

Brian July 7th, 2011 at 2:14 PM

MGoBlog: where no sleeping dog is left to lie, and no dead horse is to remain unbeaten.  -Blue in South Bend

beating-a-dead-horsedenard-shotgun

left via

In re: shotgun + Denard + site obsession with Denard in shotgunFootball 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.

2. Stephen Garcia. With confidence. With verve. With GARCIA.

…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.

SO, ANYWAY

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.

From Maize 'n' Brew:

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?

/crickets

/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.

------------------------------------------------------------------

*[I'm not sure why there were 100 quarterbacks instead of approximately 120 + a few injury replacements, so keep that in mind.]

**[Long aside on Michigan's historically awful field goal kicking goes here. Nonnair posted a diary asserting that the lack of field goal kicking was not a factor in red zone efficiency because Michigan actually scored more points than they could have if they kicked it:

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:

awful-kickin

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.]

***[Other than Charles Robinson.]

Comments

Shotgun Yesterday, Shotgun Today, Shotgun Tomorrow, Shotgun Forever

Shotgun Yesterday, Shotgun Today, Shotgun Tomorrow, Shotgun Forever Comment Count

Brian July 1st, 2011 at 1:12 PM

denard-shotgun

via flickr user larrysphatpage

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.

A man who writes for Wired ascribes JJ Barea's value to "nothing messes with your head like seeing a guy that short score in the lane." Fists clenching and unclenching due to impossibility of refuting argument that stupid. Plenty of other people have tried to do so. Some guy at Deadspin who pointed out that the Mavs are amongst the most stat-obsessed teams in the league. A Baseball Prospectus guy tore apart Lehrer's introductory car analogy, in which car buyers who focus on a couple of barely relevant but easily understandable numbers instead of the important, hard-to-quantity data are Bill James, not Joe Morgan.

It doesn't matter, though. These articles always have a tautologically number-negating logic. The argument goes:

  1. I don't understand statistics*.
  2. People who understand statistics don't understand intangibles.
  3. ???
  4. 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

y-u-no-easydenard-fumble

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:

  1. Michigan drives from their own one yard line to the Wisconsin their 35 before punting.
  2. Michigan drives from their 28 to the Wisconsin 13; Seth Broekhuizen misses a 30-yard field goal.
  3. Three and out from the 36.
  4. 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

CLOUDcrying-buckeye

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.

But the following is true even in the NFL:

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.

Extensive Conclusion Section

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MOAR SHOTGUN PLZ

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