Babysitting: Michigan's roster compared to the big boys

Babysitting: Michigan's roster compared to the big boys

Submitted by Ron Utah on November 26th, 2013 at 3:55 PM

This might be the worst t-shirt ever

I still remember the first time someone asked to see my ID.  I was a junior in college, and walking into a casino.  I proudly withdrew my Michigan driver's license and handed it to the bouncer.  He looked at me, saw my beaming face, and chuckled.  He knew what I didn't: that I would start to hate being asked for ID after it happened approximately twice more; by then I just wanted to get where I was going or buy what I was buying without having to reach into my pocket and pull my ID out of my wallet.  Leave me alone, man.  I'm old enough.

Of course, these days, I take more pleasure in being carded.  It rarely happends, but when it does, I'm pleased to reveal that I have been older than 21 for...a long time.

This diary will examine the experience of our overall roster.  I decided I wanted to go beyond the O-Line and look at the whole picture.  This concept basically occurred to me when I realized I was no longer completely committed to BRADYHOKE4EVER.  I love the guy, and think he can be successful, but our offense is approaching the ineptitude that our defense achieved under RR, and that is indefensible.  But I want the facts before I judge.

I'm wading into some dark waters here.  Some people are going to see this diary as an effort to indict (again) Rich Rodriguez.  Right here it says that's not what I'm doing--in fact, RR is a great coach, and I wish he had succeeded at U-M.  Others will see it as an apology for Al Borges; NO.  Al Borges deserves no apologies.  After Saturday, I am no longer in favor of giving AB another year.  Don't get me wrong--I'm not calling for him to be fired, but I'm not against him being put out to pasture.  If he's replaced, however, it better be with someone who has a similar philosophy, because, as this diary shows, transitions can SUCK.

Here are the raw numbers for Michigan:

Yr # of players % Walkons Scholars %
1 36 31.6% 9 27 32.1%
2 35 30.7% 11 24 28.6%
3 18 15.8% 4 14 16.7%
4 14 12.3% 4 10 11.9%
5 11 9.6% 2 9 10.7%

On their own, these numbers seem almost self-evident: RR and The Process left us with a roster that is almost completely useless for Hoke's philosophical brand of football.  But how do they compare with other schools, and how do they compare with other schools that have recently undergone a coaching staff transition?

Because I have a life and lots of work to do that I can only justify avoiding for so long, I only studied the data of five other schools (because they were easy to find with the Googles): Wisconsin, Nebraska, Texas A&M, Ohio State, and Florida State.  All of these programs have had coaching changes since 2008, and they are all relatively strong programs that compete for conference championships.  Here are their breakdowns:

Yrs Wisconsin Nebraska TAMU Ohio FSU
1 23.2% 24.7% 33.8% 30.3% 13.0%
2 13.4% 14.1% 6.3% 23.7% 23.4%
3 18.3% 18.8% 22.5% 23.7% 19.5%
4 23.2% 20.0% 22.5% 13.2% 24.7%
5 22.0% 22.4% 15.0% 9.2% 19.5%

This is just for the scholarship players.  While there is some variance across these five programs, there are some stark differences when comparing any of them to the Michigan roster.  Only Texas A&M has a higher percentage of first-year players, but their second-year percentage is tiny.  Ohio State is the only school to have more than two-fifths of their roster devoted to first and second year players, but at 54%, they are still 6.7 percentage points (12.4%) below Michigan.  Here are the averages for the five, including the totals for players in their first two years and players and in their last three years:

Yrs Sample Five 2/3 totals
1 25.0%  
2 16.2% 41.1%
3 20.6%  
4 20.7%  
5 17.6% 58.9%

Not surprisingly, players in their first and second years compose roughly 2/5 of the roster, with players in their third year or later accounting for about 60%.  For Michigan, though, these numbers are drastically--and alarmingly--different.  Over 60% of our roster is composed of guys who have been with the program for two years or less.  Our roster is upside down.  Here are the deltas for our roster versus the average:

Yrs Delta % diff 2/3 delta % diff
1 7.1% 28.4%    
2 12.4% 76.5% 19.6% 47.7%
3 -3.9% -18.9%    
4 -8.8% -42.5%    
5 -6.9% -39.2% -19.6% -33.3%

Basically, we have almost 50% more youth and one-third less experience.  We will require baby-sitting for another year.

What's even more striking is our dearth of experience on defense: we have just eight scholarship players in their fourth or fifth year in the program.  Mattison has turned us into a competent defense despite lacking seasoned veterans, and next year he'll once again have just three fifth-year players.We have, on average, 28.4% more first-year players and 76.5% (!!!) more second-year players.  The third year is the least significant difference, where we are about 19% behind the average.  In years four and five the difference is vast, but nothing like year two.

Conclusions and Error Sources.  We are ridiculously young.  Our proportionally gigantic second-year class will be helping to even things out next year, but we'll still be real short on fiftth-year players.

For me, this gives me hope for Hoke.  I like Brady; I think he's a genuine, good-hearted man with a teacher's heart.  He's a strong recruiter, and he doesn't make the public misstatements that so often tripped-up his predecessor, but he must get this offense turned around or he'll face the same fate.  To be honest, I'd rather have a good man as our head coach than a douche who can win games.  The trick is finding both, and both you must be if you want to satisfy perhaps the most demanding fanbase in all of college football.

Obviously, youth alone is not enough to tell the story.  But it obvious that Hoke inherited a roster that was ill-equipped to handle his demands.  I belive that must be a factor when judging his performance.

The obvious error source is the small sample size of the average.  That said, Wisconsin has a brand new coach, Ohio and A&M have second-year HCs, and Jimbo started at Florida State in 2010.  Only Bo Pelini has more than four years on the job (started in '08).  I suspect, if anything, these rosters are more youth-slanted than average, especially when you consider the impact of Ohio State's switch to the spread-no-huddle.

TL;DR - Michigan is extremely inexperienced, and only next year will we have a roster of normal proportions.  Greg Mattison has made it work anyway.  Hoke has a valid reason for under-performance so far, but starting next year that begins to fade.  At this point, even accounting for youth, I can't stand behind Borges anymore.

Formation Chart

Formation Chart

Submitted by Ron Utah on September 27th, 2013 at 1:40 PM

"I'm unhappy because we sucked." - Al Borges did not say this, but was thinking it.

As we continue our transition to "MANBALL," I was curious to see, statistically, how that transition is going.  The questions I'm trying to answer are: "What is this team good at?  What are they bad at?  What is the logic behind the play-calling?  Are we ready to be a MANBALL team?"

What follows is a chart (based on Brian's UFR) of all the formations used against UConn, the type of plays that were run, and the averages.  It's a big chart.  It's also copied from my post in the UFR thread, as are most of my comments below it.  A few notes:

  • Plays that had a pre-snap penalty or penalty other than pass interference are not counted.
  • Pass interference is counted, since it is assumed the play was successful enough to draw a penalty
  • Sacks are rightfully categorized as passing yards
  • Yes, I'm aware that this analysis has limited variables and misses important data points.  If you want to add something, please do.

Chart?  Chart!

Formation Run Yds Avg Pass Yds Avg Plays Yds Avg
Ace 1 3 3.0 2 2 1.0 3 5 1.7
Ace 3-wide 1 10 10.0 1 0 0.0 2 10 5.0
Ace H 1 0 0.0 1 6 6.0 2 6 3.0
Ace H twins 1 0 0.0       1 0 0.0
Ace twin TE 2 17 8.5 1 0 0.0 3 17 5.7
Ace twins 4 14 3.5       4 14 3.5
Ace twins stack       1 0 0.0 1 0 0.0
Ace twins twin TE 2 16 8.0 1 -16 -16.0 3 0 0.0
ACE (Totals) 12 60 5.0 7 -8 -1.1 19 52 2.7
Goal line 3 20 6.7       3 20 6.7
I-Form 3 8 2.7 1 0 0.0 4 8 2.0
I-Form Big 4 -5 -1.3 1 12 12.0 5 7 1.4
I-Form twins 1 4 4.0       1 4 4.0
I-Form twins stack       1 2 2.0 1 2 2.0
I-FORM (Totals) 8 7 0.9 3 14 4.7 11 21 1.9
Pistol 3-wide 1 7 7.0 1 10 10.0 2 17 8.5
Pistol FB twins 1 -1 -1.0       1 -1 -1.0
Pistol trips 1 -2 -2.0       1 -2 -2.0
PISTOL (Totals) 3 4 1.3 1 10 10.0 4 14 3.5
Shotgun 2TE twins       1 9 9.0 1 9 9.0
Shotgun 3-wide 5 51 10.2 5 17 3.4 10 68 6.8
Shotgun 3-wide jet 2 14 7.0       2 14 7.0
Shotgun 4-wide       1 0 0.0 1 0 0.0
Shotgun 4-wide tight       2 14 7.0 2 14 7.0
Shotgun double stacks       2 20 10.0 2 20 10.0
Shotgun empty TE       1 6 6.0 1 6 6.0
Shotgun trips 2 19 9.5 4 21 5.3 6 40 6.7
Shotgun trips TE       5 27 5.4 5 27 5.4
Shotgun twin TE       1 0 0.0 1 0 0.0
SHOTGUN (Totals) 9 84 9.3 22 114 5.2 31 198 6.4
TOTALS 35 175 5.0 33 130 3.9 68 305 4.5


While it doesn't take into account some easy missed plays and some heroic efforts to make something out of nothing, the chart does show that we seem to be much more successful when we're not under center.  We ran 35 of our 68 plays from the pistol or shotgun, and the shotgun was our best bet.

I agree with Brian's conclusions that this team benefits greatly from being in the gun.  I'd love to see more MANBALL out of the Pistol, but the under center stuff didn't work for most of the game.

That said, the Ace formation gave us critical rushing yards during our comeback.  I believe it was effective because UConn feared we might actually pass when we were behind in the 4th quarter.  When they know we're going to run, the under center stuff just doesn't work.

For those of you calling for more simplicity--you have a point.  We used 26 different formations for 68 plays.

Some interesting data points:

  • We are really efficient in the goal line set.  That's because DG is running, and he's good at it.
  • The Ace set worked fine for running (mostly late), but the passing ruined it.  Some of that is on DG, so this set might improve.
  • The I-Form was generally bad, and the Big set was terrible.  A big play on a PA pass was missed by DG though, so it's not quite as bad as it looks.
  • Shotgun was our most common set with 31 plays.
  • Not much Pistol at all, and from the plays we did run, it doesn't look like we're practicing this much.

How bad is it?

How bad is it?

Submitted by Ron Utah on September 25th, 2013 at 3:21 PM

Running for our lives...against UConn

2013.  The season of Manball.  The season of Devin Gardner.  The thumping of CMU.  The return of Ol' 98.  The full bucket of KFC after Notre Dame.  The...WTF just happened?

Brady Hoke appeared poised to repeat the third-year success of past Michigan coaches with more of his recruits taking the field and the full installation of his offensive philosophy of MANBALL.  An easier schedule meant 9 wins was almost a worst-case-scenario.  Ohio at home was going to be the most significant edition of "The Game" since 2006.

Is it time to throw all of that away?

Michigan is 4-0 heading into its first bye week, but never has undefeated felt so much like a funeral.  CMU went as expected, Notre Dame was pure joy; now there is an anxious certainty that armageddon is just around the corner.

You know it's bad when the gif is from The Shining

But I thought, "Maybe it's not as bad as it looks.  Maybe there is some semblance of hope in the numbers that I'm just not able to see now."  So I set out to find solace in statistics, in search of some great white buffalo to sooth my soul.  

Let's start with Akron.  We're talking about a team that has picked-up only 17 recruits ranked above two stars on rivals in the last five years.  To put that in perspective, Michigan had 17 players with FOUR stars or better in the 2013 class alone.  Saying there is a "talent gap" is like calling the Grand Canyon a pothole.

Maybe a chart will make me feel better:

Date Opponent Surface Result Rush Yards Pass Yards Plays Total Yards Yards/Play
08/29/13 @ UCF Grass L 7-38 134 116 60 250 4.17
09/07/13 James Madison Turf W 35-33 69 287 57 356 6.25
09/14/13 @ 18 Michigan Turf L 24-28 107 311 79 418 5.29
09/21/13 La.-Lafayette Turf L 30-35 134 321 70 455 6.50
  Totals     444 1035 266 1479 5.56

This is Akron's offensive output through their first four games.  UCF held Akron to 168 fewer yards and 1.12 fewer yards/play.  How bad is 5.29 yards/play?  Last season, only Alabama, Northwestern, Ohio State, and South Carolina averaged more yards/play against us.  All of those teams finished the season ranked #17 or higher.  UMass averaged 3.92 yards/play; Purdue 3.49; Illinois 2.53.  Even Nebraska only posted 5.02, while Air Force managed 4.63.  

Not since GERG has a cupcake been able to move the ball so effectively against Michigan, and even the 2008 defense had a better average yards/play than 5.29.  So yeah, that's really bad.  I'm not feeling any better yet.  Maybe another chart?

Date Opponent Surface Result Rush Yards Pass Yards Plays Total Yards Yards/Play
08/31/13 Central Mich. Turf W 59-9 242 221 68 463 6.81
09/07/13 22 Notre Dame Turf W 41-30 166 294 72 460 6.39
09/14/13 Akron Turf W 28-24 177 248 62 425 6.85
09/21/13 @ Connecticut Grass W 24-21 192 97 72 289 4.01
  Totals     777 860 274 1637 5.97

That's better.  Our offense cranked out 6.85 yards/play vs. Akron--even better than we did against CMU.  Sure, there were some negative plays and the MANBALL didn't really get going until late, but you can't argue the offense wasn't productive when it piled-up 425 yards on just 62 plays.  The real problem was the 62 plays--a number indicative of bad defense and turnovers.  If we get to 70 plays--roughly our average in the three other games--we're looking at about 480 yards of offense.

But there was something in that chart that bothered me...

HOLY $#!%!!!  We only managed 4.01 yards/play agasint UConn?  The only game we did worse than that in 2012 was Nebraska.  We put up 4.80 yards/play agasint 'Bama, 5.26 against MSU, and even managed 4.53 against ND.  Only MSU and VaTech held us under 4.01 yards/play in 2011 (3.73 and 3.54, respectively) and NO ONE kept us that low in 2010.  In 2009, Penn State held us to 3.42.  Three teams did in 2008--but those three teams had a combined seven losses.  In 2007, Penn State allowed just 3.91, while Ohio didn't let us move: we averaged just 1.49 yards/play.

What do you notice about all those teams?  They're good.  Most of them were really good.  I am not willing to go back further than 2007, but I seriously doubt Michigan has ever had such a poor offensive performance against a cupcake.  We averaged 6.22 in The Horror.

I need more chart.

Date Opponent Surface Result Rush Yards Pass Yards Plays Total Yards Yards/Play
08/29/13 Towson Grass L 18-33 81 206 55 287 5.22
09/14/13 Maryland Grass L 21-32 25 349 79 374 4.73
09/21/13 18 Michigan Grass L 21-24 47 159 57 206 3.61
  Totals     153 714 191 867 4.54

UConn managed just 3.61 yards/play against us.  That's basically what MSU and VaTech did to us in 2011, and it's far better than Towson or Maryland fared against the Huskies.  It's even better than the 3.68 yards/play we allowed to CMU.  Only Purdue and Illinois were held to lower yards/play in 2012, and only Illinois in 2011.  Miami (NTM) and Delaware State were the only teams held under that average in the RR era, and in 2007 we held Minnesota to 3.50 and Notre Dame to...1.44. bad?

In the Akron game, the defense was really, really bad.  Against an opponent whose players barely make the Rivals rankings.  In the UConn game, the offense was even worse.  While UConn's 40 three-star recruits (and one four-star!) in the last five classes make Akron jealous, they're hardly a football powerhouse.

The good news is that only one side of the ball sucked in both games (although special teams certainly haven't helped much).  That kept us from a second-coming of The Horror.  The bad news is that we are capable of playing at historically bad levels on both sides of the ball.  Elite teams don't do that.

Based on the last two weeks, it's hard to look at any of our remaining games and feel totally secure.  We're not playing anyone as bad as Akron or UConn the rest of the way.  If our offense plays like they just did, Minnesota could beat us.  If our defense plays like they did against Akron, Indiana could beat us.  I just threw-up in my mouth thinking about that.

If we can get the team to play to its potential on both sides of the ball, we could definitely still get to double-digits in the win column.  That's a big "if".  For now, I'm revising my 10-2 prediction to 8-4.   We could easily lose four-out-of-five in November, or Penn State could trip us in October.

It's frustrating that I am this nervous/anxious for the Minnesota game as a measuring stick.