Hokepoints Finds Nothing in Assists

Hokepoints Finds Nothing in Assists

Submitted by Seth on May 13th, 2014 at 2:00 PM


No Cam you don't get points for setting up Morgan's one-timer.

Still playing with the big spreadsheet of stats. Sometimes I glom onto something interesting and sometimes, like today, I waste a lot of time to realize a stat they track has no bearing on play at all, and then I have to write my article, and then Comcast manages to make me wish Greg Robinson was my internet provider and, well, that's my excuse.

While Ace was writing the MSU preview for this year's HTTV (you are welcome to pester Brian to start the kickstarter) I was feeding him various kill-me-now defensive stats that showed State was really good at defense last year. One thing we pulled up was a larger percentage of tackles that were assisted, something MSU seemed to share with other teams.

This does make sense if you think of plays that are good for a defense, e.g. a lot of bodies going nowhere at the point of attack, versus how long gains tend to end. Likewise you'd expect the position of the player to make a difference just because of the variance in amount of space between him and the next defender. A typical distribution of tackles was as follows:

Position Group % of Total % Solo
Defensive Line 24% 51%
Linebackers 35% 55%
Defensive Backs 41% 65%

Noise in the data: I built this from complete game stats, not play-by-play, so I couldn't separate special teams plays, etc. I did re-categorize a bunch of players listed at incorrect positions but I couldn't catch all of them. Tweener positions also throw things off: a WDE to a 4-3 under team is an outside linebacker to a 3-4 squad, 3-3-5 teams call the Spur a safety, Jake Ryan puts his hand down in the nickel, etc. There's tens of thousands of tackles in the above percentages but as we get into teams keep these inconsistencies in mind. FCS teams and stats accumulated against them were removed.

Who's doing the tackling? So in the above table defensive linemen have marginally more assisted tackles than linebackers, and both have significantly more tackles assisted than defensive backs. If tackle assists mean anything other than "more forward players are doing the tackling" we can see that by testing whether the % of tackles accrued by the front 7 or % of tackles assisted have a closer relationship to tempo-free defensive efficiency.

Tackles and assists

So yeah, it's where the tackle takes place, not some mystical ability of great defenses to get more people to arrive at the ball at the same time. And neither is that strong of a correlation. Sorry, every platitudinal defensive coach ever.

So how'd we do?

The Big Ten ranked by fewest yards ceded per play:

Team % by DL/LBs Rk % Solo Rk Def YPP
Michigan State 59% 8 48% 2 4.0
Iowa 64% 2 50% 4 4.6
Wisconsin 65% 1 63% 11 4.7
Maryland 62% 5 56% 6 5.1
Nebraska 58% 10 60% 9 5.2
Ohio State 56% 11 62% 10 5.3
Michigan 62% 4 56% 5 5.3
Penn State 60% 7 59% 7 5.3
Northwestern 61% 6 59% 8 5.5
Minnesota 54% 13 67% 13 5.7
Rutgers 63% 3 50% 3 5.7
Purdue 55% 12 71% 14 6.2
Illinois 52% 14 45% 1 6.7
Indiana 58% 9 66% 12 6.7

That Illinois and Michigan State are the top two teams at getting assists on their tackles says tackle assists aren't a thing. Rutgers was great at getting linebackers to the ball, but not until lots of yards had been accrued. Northwestern's a good study in this: in 2012 they had safety Ibraheim Campbell racking up Kovacsian solo tackle numbers, but in 2013 they had greater contributions from up front…with little increase in productivity.

I don't even see much in the way of stylistic preferences coming through. Michigan and Nebraska and Ohio State I believe (gleaned from what their coaches say at clinics mostly) are "spill" teams—they try to occupy blockers so a free hitter can make his way to the ball. Michigan State and Wisconsin and Penn State, are the ones I believe were "gap" teams—every defender has a gap he's responsible for closing.

So…okay, this stat means nothing. Good to know I guess.

Dear Diary Killed the Last Honorable Man

Dear Diary Killed the Last Honorable Man

Submitted by Seth on September 14th, 2012 at 3:07 PM

"That was the finest beating I ever took."

Define the scope of the problem. After the Bama game I texted with my best friend Tres. Tres lives deep in SEC country, where the only conversation anyone ever has about college football is about how the SEC is better at it. So of course big Michigan—the Michigan that tripped up Tebow and outscored Shawn Alexander—getting gutted by the Crimson Tide has made his life oh so pleasant the last two weeks. Tres suggested that game was like when Amsterdam first tries to kill the Butcher. Walking into Bill's great big Dallas party and chucking it long to Devin Gardner while not getting Denard lit up was always doomed to fail, and in such a way that not even a moral victory might be claimed. So was going toe to toe and talent for talent with Saban the Butcher. But it's also that point in the movie when you learn what it takes to beat Bill: recruit your own army and come at him from the front.

hokeandlloydHere's Ball State's old head coach talking to his players—among them mgouser IncrediblyBLUE—after "quieting the Big House" and losing…

He told us we needed to build on the positives, that we needed to use the energy we had taken with us to Ann Arbor and move forward to the rest of the season.  This my friends, is when Coach Hoke told us that "a moral victory is still a .... loss."

This is how far you need to get, and if you don't get there you lose. Let it be a lesson.

I've almost exhausted the amount of times I can be like "I met this football player once" but there's one last important nugget from when I chatted up MSU LB Chris Norman for an hour at an airport. This is about when they played Alabama in that Citrus Bowl a few years ago. It was a blowout but according to Norman it was the most important game they ever played. Paraphrasing, facing Bama showed them exactly how far they needed to get. Players don't care who was a 3-star and who in the Rivals 100—they get on the field with guys like Dont'a Hightower or Courtney Upshaw and see linebacking done right.

We now know how far Michigan needs to get to win Hoke a championship.

More problem solving after the jump

Mailbag! Featuring Inadvisable Halloween Costumes!

Mailbag! Featuring Inadvisable Halloween Costumes!

Submitted by Brian on November 2nd, 2010 at 11:50 AM


The diary on poor tackling got me thinking about Rich Rod's coaching philosophy.  It's obvious that he recruits speed and athletes on offense at not only the skill positions but also the o-line where he likes guys who can get out and block in space.  These are the guys who get all the attention and the playing time.  They are "the game breakers" and the guys who can make a big play at any time.  How can that not transfer over to the defensive side of the ball?  So, in the spring, we heard rumors about Cam Gordon having a great camp because he probably delivered some big hit kill shots to 4th string RBs instead of learning how to play assignment football with fundamentally sound tackling.

Am I way off here?  Every yard after contact I see Michigan allow, I can't help but think how much better a (I can't believe I'm saying this) Jim Herrmann/Ron English defense was at stopping the run.  We can chart how few upperclassmen we have on D until we are blue in the face but you have to concede that something is fundamentally wrong with the program's defensive attitude and philosophy.  I think it just may be the constant search for "big time players" rather than smart football players who can read and react quickly.

What do you think?

Go Blue!

-Jim Dudnick
BBA '01

Well… yeah, I guess, but like everything else on the defense the lack of depth and experience makes it hard to tell whether we're just seeing what would happen if Virginia Tech threw out a secondary full of underclassmen or if there's a long-term talent development problem. Is it a recruiting issue? Don't know. Rodriguez recruits at Michigan are all freshmen or sophomores, and if none of them are very good there's a pretty obvious reason why. Very few can "read and react quickly" as underclassmen.

Something is wrong with the program's defensive philosophy. That much is obvious. To me that problem is an incoherent coaching staff that either forces the coordinator to run a scheme he doesn't understand or forces the position coaches to do the same. Why is it so important for the position coaches to know what the defense is doing instead of getting JT Floyd to exist? I don't know, but those meddling kids have put Michigan in some goofy variant of the 3-3-5 for three years running and it hasn't done anything but implode because the defensive coordinator isn't really on board.

The problem with Michigan's philosophy on D appears to be the lack of one.

Not defense:


While i think there are many things wrong with the Michigan football team right now, it seems like either the play calls or the reads have been restrictive in nature.

Last year, it seemed like on the read-option, there was a third option to pass to a receiver at the line of scrimmage that could catch and run for an easy 5 yds. Has this been replaced by the receiver running a skinny post?

Also, it seems a major component of any spread offense is the quick screens/pass to the slot receiver with the outside WR blocking down. The offense featured this last year but hasn't at all this year.

I believe the plays are in the offense's playbook. When Tate is in, there is a more even run/pass distribution. (ie- look at the easy 7 yds michigan could have had at the end of the Penn St game when Denard threw to Junior Hemingway and he dropped the ball)

The main point of all of this... It would seem that passing on the edge would open up the defense to make running in the middle a little bit easier.

Thanks for you coverage of Michigan. It makes my work day more enjoyable.


Opponents have been taking the bubble away by alignment. Iowa put a linebacker over him and managed to keep two-deep coverage. Penn State moved a safety down. When opponents have gone away from these schemes it hasn't taken Michigan long to hit the bubble for a nice gain, at which point they go back to taking it away. When Iowa started blitzing off the edge in the second quarter Michigan hit a couple bubbles and Iowa reverted to its previous scheme. Smart Football dubbed the bubble a "constraint play" way back in 2008, defining the concept like so:

What if your offense is based only on bubble screens and then you just run the ball or throw the ball as a counter to your bubble screen offense?

The difference is that the bubble screen is a play that really only works when the defense has made a structural choice or is out of position. Most commonly, you'll run when the bubble only when the defense has but two defenders to cover three receivers. You thus block the two defenders and the receiver has free yards. If the defense puts a third defender there they can take the play away, intercept it, or make the tackle.

Conversely, a well designed dropback pass play, a triple option play, or certain base runs will work every time you face a normal defense. The only time the play stops working is when certain defenders cheat on their assignments, either by alignment or aggressiveness.

You're right that the edge passing opens up the interior running, but it's already a reason Michigan's ground game has been so effective, and a reason that things like Kevin Koger 60 yard touchdowns happen.

The bubble option after a zone read keeper is still being run but it's not being thrown. I imagine they've de-emphasized it because when it has been thrown it's not usually getting more than a few yards and if that's your upside you might as well let Denard carry it. The equation changes radically when he's running the ball instead of Forcier.

More defense:


Chip Kelly said a week or so ago he has nothing to do with his defense, he just leaves that side of the ball to his defensive coordinator.  GERG has championship rings on multiple levels.  Why can't RR just let him do his thing?  It seems to me that if Rich Rod just worried about the offense and let GERG do the D, Michigan might be better off.

Simon Kay

The other side of the complaint about Rodriguez not being involved enough in the defense. This is an unanswerable question. I'm not sure why there was an insurrection against Scott Shafer in 2008—well, okay, I have some idea since Michigan refused to put Brandon Harrison on the field—or why the 2009 defense spent most of its time in an eight-man front or why Michigan decided to install every front imaginable this year.

It's clear, however, that the position coaches are forcing the coordinators to adapt to them (again, this is exactly what happened in Tommy Tuberville's final year at Auburn) and the results are dismal.

Whether or not turning the defense over to Greg Robinson would help any is debatable. He has never built an effective college defense. After getting fired from the Chiefs he had a single year at Texas during which he turned in the same level of performance the DCs before and after him did. Then he went to Syracuse and could not field a minimally competent unit after his first year—the team went backwards fast and stopped in the triple digits. While he got a rep for being a good position coach last year it's obvious that the linebackers we can actually compare across '09 and '10 did not progress much over the offseason. Ezeh was the same, Mouton is a little better but still prone to the same mistakes he's made throughout his career. No one else has never seen the light of day before this year.

At this point there is no case for keeping him around. There is no reason to expect anything but failure from him; some good NFL defenses with the Broncos are now a decade old. All the reasons the defense should be bad are still valid, but the only way to salvage Rodriguez's job is to bring in a defensive coaching staff with proven recent success that cannot be undermined by whatever the deal is with the current assistants, whichever of them stay around.


Good Afternoon,

In response to your recent post about the blood drive where you said: “I should put up a ticker that says 1343 DAYS SINCE OHIO STATE BEAT MICHIGAN AT BLEEDING. Ain't got no other tickers to put up” there is indeed a slightly more noteworthy streak that is still intact. Michigan’s Mens rowing team has beaten OSU’s mens rowing team 14 consecutive years at their annual dual race. According to the team’s website this streak is the longest continuous streak for Michigan over OSU in any sport ever (at least where head-to-head meetings are applicable). The matchup takes place right before the annual football game (with the first win coming in November 1996), so in my approximation this streak is at about 5,085 days or so and counting. Thought you might like that nugget of info.

Go Blue!


Woo! Also, sincere congratulations to the rowing team.

And at least no one broke this guy's nose:

I dressed up as everyone's favorite defensive coordinator for Halloween this year!


One guy I never met before came up to me and told me how much he hated me and how badly he wanted to punch me in the face.