Michigan: OL U?

Michigan: OL U?

Submitted by massblue on June 18th, 2014 at 11:26 AM

There is a post below about UM being a QB U.  Well, ESPN has this article that UM is almost the OL U.  The only school above us is Alabama.

The article says:

"If any program was going to threaten Alabama’s claim on the top spot, it was Michigan, which has enjoyed a ridiculous run of success along the offensive line. Four first-round picks (Jeff Backus, Steve Hutchinson, Jake Long and Taylor Lewan) include one (Long) who was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. Throw in five consensus All-Americans, two national award winners and 21 All-Big Ten selections. The 2000s were truly a great time to be a Michigan offensive lineman."

 

Here is the link (not sure if it is behind a paywall)

 

Five-star offensive linemen: a brief history

Five-star offensive linemen: a brief history

Submitted by Yeoman on November 21st, 2013 at 1:54 PM

I thought it might be useful to have some information on the trajectory of highly-touted offensive line recruits, so here's a table of all HS o-line recruits rated five-stars at Rivals from 2003 to 2011. (I didn't include recruits getting five stars out of juco.)

Some questions on my mind as I put this together:

  1. A lot of recruits are touted as "college-ready", but how many actually are?
  2. Is there a point in a career where the writing is on the wall?
  3. What's the eventual hit rate? How many are drafted? How many never even become starters?

First the table, then some comments. And I welcome corrections--it wasn't always easy to get good bio information.

Player

Year 1

Year 2

Year 3

Year 4

Year 5

Draft

Cyrus Kouandijo, Alabama

played in 8 games

starter at LT

starter at LT

x

x

x

La'el Collins, LSU

played in 7 games

starter at LG

starter at LT

x

x

x

Seantel Henderson, Miami

9 starts at RT

2 starts after offseason back surgery

7 starts after suspension and preseason car accident

started 5 of 10 games

x

x

Robert Crisp, North Carolina State

started first game, then mostly played special teams

2 starts at RT

7 starts at LT, injured back

2 starts at LT

x

x

Mason Walters, Texas

played one game, medical redshirt

starter at RG

starter at RG

starter at RG

starter at RG

x

Bobbie Massie, Mississippi

5 starts at RT

starter at RT

starter at RT

entered draft

x

4th round

Mike Adams, Ohio State

played in 5 games

4 starts at LT

starter at LT, all-conference

7 starts at LT

x

2nd round

Baker Steinkuhler, Nebraska

redshirt, moved to defense

2nd team DT

starter at DT

starter at DT, injured late in season

x

undrafted

Matt Kalil, USC

redshirt

1 start at RT

starter at LT

starter at LT, all-conference, AP all-American

entered draft

4th pick

Mike Brewster, Ohio State

starter at C

starter at C

starter at C, all-conference

starter at C

x

undrafted

Matt Patchan, Florida

1 start at DT

played 4 games at OT, then injured

medical redshirt

7 starts at RT, then injured again

transferred to Boston College, starter at LT

x

Tyron Smith, USC

backup LT

starter at RT

starter at RT, all-conference

entered draft

x

9th pick

Stephen Good, Oklahoma

played 7 games at T

7 starts at LT and RT

2 starts at G

backup G

x

undrafted

Tyler Love, Alabama

medical redshirt

played 6 games at T

played 5 games

played 2 games

x

undrafted

Jermaine Johnson, Miami

redshirt

played 1 game

played 4 games, left team midseason

x

x

undrafted

James Wilson, Florida

redshirt

played 10 games

4 starts at LG

1 start at LG, injured knee, medical redshirt

starter at LG (and again his 6th year)

undrafted

Tray Allen, Texas

played 9 games

played 11 games at T

played 11 games at G

redshirt due to foot injury

6 starts at LT

undrafted

Ryan Miller, Colorado

7 starts at RT

4 starts at RT, broke fibula, medical redshirt

starter at RG and RT

starter at RG

starter at RG

5th round

Kristopher O'Dowd, USC

3 starts at C

starter at C

started 7 games at C, injured knee and shoulder

starter at C

x

undrafted

Bruce Campbell, Maryland

1 start at LT

7 starts at LT

starter at LT

entered draft

x

4th round

Sam Young, Notre Dame

starter at RT

starter at RT and LT

starter at RT

starter at RT

x

6th round

Andre Smith, Alabama

starter at LT

starter at LT, all-conference

starter at LT, unanimous all-American

entered draft

x

6th pick

Stephen Schilling, Michigan

redshirt

starter at RT and RG

starter at RT

starter at LG

starter at LG

6th round

Carl Johnson, Florida

redshirt

played 11 games

8 starts at LG

starter at LT

starter at LG

undrafted

Eugene Monroe, Virginia

played as lineman on PATs and FGs

6 starts at LT

starter at LT

starter at LT, all-conference

x

8th pick

Reginald Youngblood, Miami

played 8 games as backup LT

7 starts at LT, injured ankle and knee

occasional starter at T, injured

injured (if anyone can find career stats, I'd be grateful)

x

undrafted

Alex Boone, Ohio State

3 starts

10 starts at LT

starter at LT

starter at LT

x

undrafted

Jeff Byers, USC

4 starts at LG

hip injury, redshirt

back injury, medical redshirt

starter at LG

starter at LG, and again for 6th year

undrafted

Jorrie Adams, Texas A&M

backup defensive lineman

arrested, dismissed from team

x

x

x

undrafted

Ofa Mohetau, BYU

8 starts at G

transferred to juco

transferred to Texas Tech, occasional starter at LG

left school, became MMA fighter

x

undrafted

Derek Morris, North Carolina St.

transferred from Ohio State

5 starts at RT

8 starts at RT

10 starts at RT

entered draft

undrafted

Martin O'Donnell, Illinois

redshirt

10 starts at LG

10 starts at LG

starter at LG

starter at LG

undrafted

Justin Blalock, Texas

redshirt

starting RT

starting RT

starting RT, all-conference

starting RT, consensus all-American

2nd round

Nathan Rhodes, Washington

injured, never entered school

x

x

x

x

undrafted

Brandon Jefferies, Tennessee

redshirt

did not play.

transferred to North Carolina State, did not play

juco

starter at D2 Newberry College

undrafted

 

 

What's the eventual hit rate? How many are drafted? How many never even become starters?

Of 35 players, there have been three all-Americans and two others were consensus all-conference. I'm guessing we might be adding Kouandjio and Collins to that list soon.

39% of the players that have reached draft age were drafted.

Four of the 38 never started an FBS-level game. Three started early in their careers but for varying reasons fell off the depth chart.

 

A lot of recruits are touted as "college-ready", but how many actually are?

Six of the 35 started more than half of their team's games their first year. It's an interesting group: there's one future all-American (Andre Smith), three quality 4-year starters (Brewster, Young, Miller), one checkered career but the jury is still out (Henderson), and one that gave up football for mixed martial arts (Mohetau).

Except for the over-representation of four-year starters (well, duh) this doesn't look all that different from the overall results.

There doesn't seem to be any significant long-term difference between the players that redshirt and those that don't, either. Ten of the 35 redshirted--of those, three were busts, two became all-Americans, the other five were all quality starters (one on defense). One of the busts was a medical redshirt and the injury seems to have been the reason his career didn't work out. The Jefferies redshirt may have been related to the eventual reasons he never played, too.

 

Is there a point in a career where the writing is on the wall?

I think we can safely say that if you aren't starting by your third year in the program, there's cause for concern. A couple of players were able to recover from injuries (Byers, Patchan), but otherwise there are only two players on the list that weren't regular starters their third year and ever made it to the top of the depth chart: Tray Allen got a few starts his senior year; the one success story here was James Wilson, who had five starts in four years including a second redshirt but then was a starter for his 5th and 6th seasons. Maybe he should be included with Byers and Patchan though.

An interesting pair in this respect are the two '08 USC recruits, Tyron Smith and Matt Kalil. They were competing against each other from the start, and Smith won the early rounds, getting playing time his freshman year while Kalil was redshirted and starting ahead of Kalil their second year. But the next year they competed for the LT slot and Kalil won, with Smith moved to RT. And it was Kalil, not Smth, that became an all-American. Of course we're talking about the difference between the fourth pick in the draft and the ninth....

Twelve of the 35 had double-digit starts their second year. Andre Smth was all-conference; he was unique. All of the eventual draftees got at least one start their second year, though in Kalil's case it was precisely one.

Kalis's early career is very much in line with this list. I don't see any particular reason for alarm at this point. If he doesn't win a job next year I'll be worried; I'll also be excited about whoever has beaten him out.

Offensive Line Experience: Short Ride in a Broken-Down Machine

Offensive Line Experience: Short Ride in a Broken-Down Machine

Submitted by Yeoman on November 16th, 2013 at 1:56 PM

[Ed: BUMP]

A moment comes when you first start listening to minimalist music—for some people it comes quickly, for some people it never clicks at all—when your perception of time changes. As a musician famously described his first exposure to a Philip Glass opera; his initial boredom was transformed as...

I began to perceive...a whole world where change happens so slowly and carefully that each new harmony or rhythmic addition or subtraction seemed monumental...

...he said as the rhythmic woodblock...no, it's Adams not Glass...the woodblock crack of the pulling Stanford guard's pads as he thumped the Oregon SAM out of the hole play after play after play after...

NO! I will NOT spend my Thursday evening in an altered state of consciousness. So I started using the media timeouts, and then the time between plays (well, at least when Stanford had the ball, which thankfully was just about always) to work on a project I'd started a few days earlier during the Gameboy diaries, pulling participation reports for all 125 FBS teams and pulling roster/bio information to get the classes of their starters on the o-line.

And some of you people think huddles serve no purpose.

Honestly, the Horse Wasn't Dead When I Started

The results are here, usefully tabled in a spreadsheet to save some work for the next sap that starts on one of these projects.

Of course, as I sat down at my computer to do some regression analysis on the data I opened the blog and saw Gandalf's diary covering most of what I was planning to do (and doing a better job of it I might add). But I was taking a slightly different tack and found a couple of wrinkles, so for the sake of the eight of you that are still interested I'll continue on....

First a couple of comments about the dataset (feel free to skip the rest of this section, but it might be important if anyone uses the data for further analysis). Gandalf took his data from depth charts at the ourlads.com scouting site; mine come from the starting lineup listed in each school's participation report in the official game stats for their most recent game against FBS competition (sometimes coaches play with their lineup for games they're treating as exhibitions, give a start to a loyal walk-on for example, so if the most recent game was against a Delaware State I pulled the lineup for the week prior).

The official reports have the virtue, or defect, of being precise accounts of who was on the field. Sometimes that was a problem because everyone doesn't actually use five offensive linemen all the time. Idaho started a game with four, presumably spreading the field with covered, ineligible tight ends and wide receivers. Somebody else came out heavy and listed six. There were also some schools that simply listed their linemen as “OL” without assigning specific positions.

Where possible I straightened those situations out by using the schools' published depth charts. When that didn't work either I looked at third-party depth charts and did my best to reconcile them with the actual starters. It's possible there are a couple of players out of position here, but I don't think it's material.

For teams, usually pistol teams, that flop their line, I assumed the tight end would line up to the right and assigned the quick tackle and guard to the left side and the strong tackle and guard to the right.

For obvious reasons, service academies don't redshirt players. If an academy lineman's bio showed a year in which he didn't see game action, I counted that year as a redshirt and subtracted the year from his class. The point after all was to look at experience, not remaining eligibility.

Additive and Multiplicative Measures of Experience

 

My starting point was two proposals in the Gameboy diaries. Gameboy himself proposed assigning a value to each player (one point for each year, half a point for a redshirt) and adding them (well, averaging them, which of course is the same thing but for scale). That average appears in the spreadsheet as the GLEM (Gameboy Line Experience Metric).

In a comment to one of the diaries reshp1 suggested an alternative: assigning a value to each player based on experience (conceived as the probability that the player in question will successfully carry out his assignment) and multiplying those values and subtracting the product from one to get the probability that an assignment will be busted on a given play. That probability appears in the spreadsheet as the RBI (Reshp Bust Index). It's basically the weakest-link theory with the additional recognition that anyone might turn out to be the weakest link on a given play.

I focused on the latter metric because conceptually it makes sense to me and because it wasn't treated in Gandalf's diary. Reshp1 pulled the probabilities out of the air, or his hat, or somewhere, but the analysis doesn't seem to be sensitive to the particular choices here. The values are in a lookup table on page 2 of the spreadsheet if anyone wants to play around with alternatives.

Before I go on, a sanity check on Reshp1's metric—a list of the ten youngest lines:

  • UCLA (7-2, 4-2)
  • Idaho (1-9)
  • California (1-9, 0-7)
  • Wake Forest (4-6, 2-5)
  • Eastern Michigan (2-8, 1-5)
  • Western Kentucky (6-4, 2-3)
  • Tulane (6-4, 4-2)
  • Maryland (5-4, 1-4)
  • Arkansas (3-7, 0-6)
  • Michigan (6-3, 2-3)

Not a list you want to be on; those are some bad teams right there, combining for a 16-37 record in their respective conferences and that's flattering because it leaves out independent Idaho, who's probably the worst of the lot. (You can point to UCLA if you like as proof that, if everything goes right, you can survive starting multiple freshmen. Arkansas fans are probably pointing to Michigan and saying the same thing.)

The Running Game

 

Sanity check #2 is to redo Gandalf's work, but with Reshp's metric. Here's a graph of yards per carry vs. RBI:

chart 1

That looks familiar. R2 is .058; the correlation coefficient is -.24 (these coefficients will all be negative because RBI is smaller for more experienced lines). And if we strip out the tackles and just look at the interior?

chart 2

R2 is .084, the correlation coefficient is -.29, and it's not a coincidence that this looks an awful lot like Gandalf's chart using “youngest interior lineman”.

Weakest link, check. Experience matters more on the interior than at the tackles, check.

Offensive Efficiency

 

But what I really wanted to do was to look at the impact of o-line experience on an offense as a whole. To do that I've used the offensive component of the Fremeau Efficiency Index, which looks at all offensive drives (except for clock-kills and garbage-time drives) and compares the results to expectations based on the starting field position. By its nature it's pace-adjusted and independent of the effect of the team's defense; they also apply a strength of schedule adjustment.

Here's the chart:

chart 3

R2 is .026, the correlation coefficient is –.16. The effect’s not as large, but a young line impacts the whole offense, not just the run game.

It made some sense that in the running game experience would matter more in the interior than at the tackles since it's an interior lineman that makes the line calls and the assignments tend to be more complicated inside. It wasn't so clear that this would still hold when the passing game was added in:

chart 4

but that's what we find. The correlation is greater when we only look at the interior. R2 is .048, the correlation coefficient is -.22.

It's on the interior that experience really matters. And Michigan's interior RBI ranks 123rd of 125 FBS teams.

How Large an Effect?

 

A lot was made in Gandalf's diary, and especially in the comments, about the low R2 values here, which were seen as a demonstration of the relative unimportance of experience vs. other factors, like coaching.

I see it differently. This is an extremely diverse universe of teams we're looking at here. There are differences between Michigan and Eastern, or between Ohio State and Ohio U., that can't ever be overcome by something as simple as inexperience on the line. A lot of the scatter in these charts is just a matter of big programs being big and small programs being small. Given those enormous differences in baseline levels of the various FBS teams it's amazing to me that we could see anything like 5-8% of a performance difference being credited to any one team demographic, especially when the difference is measured using an SOS-adjusted metric like Fremeau.

And the slopes of these trend lines aren't small. The expected oFEI difference between 2012 Michigan and 2013 Michigan is .32; the actual difference is .197. The expectation, just correcting last year's performance for the youth on the field this year, was for a worse offense than we've actually seen.

Put another way, if you use that trend line to adjust for this year's lack of experience, add the missing .32, Michigan's offense goes to 19th in the nation, right behind Stanford and Louisville. UCLA turns into Oregon. Eastern becomes Bowling Green and maybe English keeps his job. Everybody's happy.

 

Good Teams are All Alike, Every Bad Team is Bad in its Own Way

 

I thought I'd try to get a handle on that by comparing each team's performance to the baseline they've established historically. I've averaged the oFEI's for each program for the five-year period from 2008-2012, then calculated the deviation of this year's performance from that average.

Basically, we're now looking at year-to-year deviations in performance within each program.

On the one hand, this gets rid of the scatter due to the vast discrepancy in baseline performance expectations from the top to the bottom of the division.

On the other hand, this also filters out any effect from programs like Wisconsin whose strength largely comes from the fact that they always field powerful, experienced lines. There's not much year-to-year variance there—they're always old, always good.

So it's possible we won't see any bigger correlation here than before...

chart 5

...what happened? R2 is .009. Two-thirds of the effect is now gone. (A result, by the way, that's consistent no matter what metrics I use for line experience.) Apparently, only a third of the effect we’re looking at is a matter of one-off bad seasons due to a young line; most of the effect is systematic, inherent in particular programs. It's almost as if there were a correlation between poor past performance and current youth, and that's because there is:

chart 6

There's the missing two-thirds. Historically (well, over the last five years anyway) bad teams are on the left, good programs on the right. There's less current youth (lower Bust Index) as you move right.

A look back at the teams listed earlier provides a clue. It's a mix of historically bad programs like Eastern, struggling FCS converts like Idaho, and programs that have suffered some sort of recent calamity, the kind that makes you decide to hire John L. Smith to be your substitute teacher for a year. Some had horrible recruiting, some had retention problems…each one has had its peculiar issues but every one of them is a program in disarray—some recovering, some not. Teams don’t field multiple freshmen because they want to; they do it because things fell apart.

We'll know more if someone does the study suggested in the comments to Gandalf's diary, looking at overall roster depth instead of just the age of the starters, but I think what's happening here is that the Wisconsin effect is the dominant effect in the study. Good programs don't suffer from youth on their lines because (a) it doesn't happen to them and (b) when it does, it's not a sign of weakness. When Andrus Peat finds his way to the top of the depth chart as a sophomore it's because he's beaten out multiple upperclassmen and won the position. When Kyle Bosch find his way to the top of the depth chart it's by default; the juniors and seniors he's supposed to be competing against aren't on the roster.

I think the next thing I might try, if I were of a mind to keep flogging this, is to do something so straightforward and blunt as to look for a correlation between offensive efficiency and the number of scholarship upperclass o-linemen on a roster (more telling than the percentage, I would guess).

Best and Worst: Akron

Best and Worst: Akron

Submitted by bronxblue on September 15th, 2013 at 11:36 AM

I know you feel, John…

 

Worst:  Totally Meta

To let you in a bit on how the sausage is made with one of these posts, I usually sit down with my laptop during the game and play around in the liveblog while taking some really cursory notes.  While I’m sure I could figure out how to watch lineplay and defensive adjustments intricately in order to make really astute observations about particular players, there are lots of people here at MGoBlog who do a great job with that level of detail and, frankly, I doubt I’d be able to add much.  No, the Best and Worst is all about a layman’s observations of a game, with (I hope) a bit of humor, some fun long-form ideas, and insufferable references to wrestlers and 90’s television shows. 

Well, usually my notes take on a bit of a narrative as a game progresses; I inevitably start ordering comments into Offense, Defense, Special Teams, Coaching, etc. buckets, so by the end I’ve got my talking points, as they are, laid out.  Given the opponent, I figured they’d be succinct and pretty general; it’s hard to derive too much from a blowout. 

Well, by the last 4 minutes of the game, my notes spanned 2 pages typed and, if my keyboard was both sentient and possessed the necessary funds to file documents with a court, would be Exhibit A of a battery suit brought against me.  People joke about how typing “OMFG” or “ROFL” negates the emotion you are attempting to convey, like telling someone how funny something is instead of actually laughing.  But part of the reason you use these shorthands, though, is because “nfsakjf528095353u55b25jewrnijrggrehjigh3u04u-421” followed by your dog fleeing the room is hard to convey in words.  So yeah, based on my notes…

 

 

 

Worst:  Goliath has Fans Too

I’m usually not one to complain too much about announcers except if they go full Spielman and openly root for one team over the other, but the announcers were extremely excited about the possibility of Akron beating UM.  And that got me thinking; seemingly everyone loves the David vs. Goliath matchups that end with David victorious.  At first blush, it totally makes sense; David represents the everyman, overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds with character, ingenuity, and guile.  To root for David is to root for the human spirit and the impossible dream.  Rooting for Goliath is like rooting for the house in blackjack.

But here’s the thing; being “Goliath” is not free of context, nor is it purely a “you vs. them” dynamic wherein everyone agrees how the story should end.  In other words, Goliath has fans too, and in most cases they don’t view themselves as the bully, the victor, the unstoppable force OR the immovable object.  Goliath is just a guy who is blessed with some physical advantages that he honed with rigorous training and passionate loyalty to a cause.  In the eyes of Goliath, he’s entering into fair combat against another warrior who just happens to be smaller than him and who wields a slingshot.  He’s not Razor Ramon or Vince McMahon, “heels” personified who want nothing more than to ruin the face’s day.  No, He’s not the “bad guy”, unless “being tall and strong” and winning most of the time are dastardly traits.  He is the Big Bad because the only lens used to view him is as the seemingly unattainable or antithesis model, the personification of David’s shortcomings.

So saying you love David vs. Goliath games is really saying you like to see the big guy lose not necessarily because you have a rooting interest in David or against Goliath, but because you don’t want to be reminded that not everyone has David’s problems.  On some level, you hold Goliath’s strengths and accomplishments against him, believing something must be cosmically wrong to explain his winning ways, and that a loss will somehow right this off-kilter universe. 

But that really isn’t fair to either party; Akron is just a bad FBS program trying to find its footing and UM is the winningest program in college football history.  UM has all of those wins because, for most of its existence, it has fielded talented, well-coached teams that beat other ones on the football field.  Akron, not so much, but that isn’t because of something UM did.  And, humorously, the tables are turned in the other “football”: Akron has been one of the best college soccer teams for years now while UM is the “upstart” that scored a major 1-0 upset over the Zips a couple of years ago during an otherwise poor season.

I’d say millions of people partook in today’s game in some way (live, TV, radio, internet, etc.), and a significant number of them are probably fans of UM football.  They wanted to see UM win for any number of reasons, and few if any thought Akron winning would be a “good thing”.  Russians certainly didn’t think losing to the US at the Olympics was a good idea, nor are Phi Slamma Jamma fans clamoring for Lorenzo Charles (RIP) memorial jerseys, and I’m guessing Lloyd Carr isn’t sending Armanti Edwards holiday cards.  Had Akron pulled off the win, it would have been heralded as a huge upset both for the year as well as historically, and people who “like” upsets would have another moment to cheer about.  But for the fans of Goliath, David is just the guy who got lucky, and no amount of culturally-endorsed schadenfreude will change that.

Today’s game ended with Goliath winning, though it was obviously closer than expected.  The narrative is that Akron gave UM all they could handle, and that in a game of inches UM got lucky that Akron came up a bit short.  But it was a game that both teams had a chance to win, and this time Goliath benefitted from a missed opportunity; history hasn’t always been so kind.  I’m certainly not going to complain.

 

 

 

Worst:  It’s a Win? (as said in the voice of Ron Burgundy)

Yeah, I’m not going to be one of those people who says it would have been a better “learning experience” if they had lost; I’m a results-based grader so a win is always better than a loss.  That said, this is up there with narrowly beating Indiana and Illinois under RR and a turrible 10-7 win against 5-6 Utah in 2002 (a game I attended and apparently blocked from my memory until now).  And unlike those games where you could at least point to one element of the performance being a positive, it isn’t really hypoerbole or “ESPN talking head”-ole to say UM was beat in all three phases of the game.

Best:  It’s a Win

But it’s a victory for UM, and 3-0 is 3-0.  Just ask MSU, whose offense finally eclipsed the defense is scoring 3 games into the season.  Teams have bad games, and for all of the hell the players are likely to have rain down on them by the coaching staff this week, it would be immensely worse if Saturday’s game had ended with an “L” on the schedule.  This game probably ratchets down the expectations a notch if you saw UM as a top-5 outfit, but otherwise it was a close shave for a team with top-15 talent.  Given the number of massive upsets this year, it could have been far worse.

I know the Internet is the ultimate echo chamber for cynicism, and this blog’s particular composition only accentuates that property, but just like was a need to pump the brakes a bit after the ND game, this game doesn’t not necessarily mean you need to stock your panic room quite yet.

Best:  I don’t want…your life!

One of the more underrated moments in Varsity Blues is the “hungover” game played by the West Canaan Coyotes after Mox, Tweeder, Billy Bob, Wendell, and Lance spent a night at the Landing Strip Gentleman’s Club*.  Hungover and clearly off their game, they lose in embarrassing fashion and Bud Kilmer turns to threatening Mox about his scholarship to Brown if he doesn’t shape up and fall in line.

In no way am I insinuating that UM’s play against Akron was caused by every starter heading off to Deja Vu in Ypsi Thursday night, but it clearly looked like a team that was out of sorts from the outset.  UM did force a 3-and-out on Akron’s first drive and followed it up with the long TD by Funchess, but for most of that first half the offense looked lost and the defense held tough but couldn’t generate much of a pass rush.  And once the 2nd half began and Akron made some adjustments offensively, the defense struggled to keep them off the field.  Plus, Gibbons missed his first kick since Purdue and Matt Wile shanked a couple of punts, resulting in an average of 33 yards per kick despite “booming” one 54 yards.  As a couple of people noted (including Ace), if it was against any other team but Akron, UM probably would have been run off the field.  But still, just a disorienting performance. 

Of course, Notre Dame also had a pretty off performance against Purdue, so who knows where everyone was last night.

* I know this is saying a great deal in a movie where James Van Der Beek is a Texas QB, literally every play is either a bone-shattering tackle or a 50-yard TD (seriously, watch the clip and you’ll see 4-5 NFL Blitz-style flying tackles), and a HS team is allowed to basically coach itself once Jon Voight leaves at halftime – you’ll notice no assistant coaches take over or are even on the screen, but the most unbelievable part of that movie is a HS health teacher moonlighting as a stripper in a city of, oh, 10,000 people in Texas and NOBODY notices until some HS kids see her act.  I mean, that club looked packed on (I’m guessing) a weekday night, and early on the movie establishes that Miss Davis must be making decent money from her dancing in order to afford a Mustang convertible, so it is clearly a popular place.  Yet her double life remains a mystery both before and after this night.  Simply unbelievable.

Worst:  Tell me lies, Tell me sweet little lies

UM averaged 5.5 ypc* and 8.3 ypa** while holding the Zips to 3.6 ypc*** and 6.3 ypa**** which look good on paper, but as the astute reader might have picked up, those little *’s aren’t just looking for a party to crash; they are massive caveats.  First the rushing: Gardner averaged 10.3 ypc on his 103 yards, showcasing the game-breaking speed that can turn a collapsing pocket into a 36 yard TD.  Fitz recorded 71 more yards on 19 carries, but didn’t crack 4 ypc against the #80 rushing defense in the country.  And while I initially thought he was the recipient of some bad luck out there due to penalties on runs, the only one apparently was a holding penalty by Gallon on a 3-yarder.  Of his 19 carries, 7 were for losses and 8 were for minimal gain (though one was the TD).  He recorded 65 yards on 4 other carries, and added a nice 27 yard reception to goose the numbers up a bit.  On most runs he was engulfed in the backfield or had trouble locating holes either because they weren’t there or a momentary hesitation closed them too quickly.   I’ll get into my feelings about the line play later, but this was not a banner day for a guy who has played reasonably well this year given the obvious issues in front of him.

As for that 8.3 ypa, that is .7 ypa below Akron’s 114th-ranked pass defense, and came with a 53% completion perctange and 3 INTs, including a horrible screen-ish pass that was returned for a TD.  Nobody other than Gallon caught more than 2 passes, and while Funchess had a nice day on paper with a TD and 65 yards on his two catches, one was a 48-yard TD run that was aided by some poor angles and tackling by Akron, a theme they continued on Chesson’s only catch (and first of his career) on the day, a 33-yard TD where he was pinballed toward the endzone by an Akron defender.  Criminally underused Drew Dileo was held without a catch, so hopefully this week Brian will be able to release that particular Kraken.

The defense did marginally better, holding Akron to about their season average rushing and about a yard less passing, but those numbers were put up against UCF and the zombified remains of the 4th President of the United States, er, eponymously-named FCS James Madison University.  And Akron had 4 drives longer than 45 yards, including two 11-play drives that ended with a TD and the final drive, as well as a 5-play drive that ended with Wilson’s INT in the endzone.  UM could not get Akron off the field in the 4th, including giving up a number of long completions and “they only need 5 yards for the first down, let’s give the slot receiver a 10-yard cushion” plays. 

So yeah, statistics should be trusted only as far as they can be thrown, which against UM’s defense today is apparently both quite far and with minimal coverage. 

Okay, okay, that’s a little mean.  But it was pretty bad out there.

Worst:  Push it!

So you know how earlier I mentioned that statistics sometimes lie?  Well, a big reason why UM’s running game struggled was the continued inability of the offensive line to consistently block for anyone.  Against Akron, Fitz had 15 carries that resulted in either lost yardage or minimal gains, and a significant number of them were because one or more Akron defenders were in the backfield rather quickly.  It remains a team that is strong on the edges (though both Lewan and Schofield missed a couple of blocks) and “maturing” or “weak” (depending on your viewpoint) in the middle.  Akron didn’t seem like it was doing anything special defensively, yet they always seemed to have the number’s advantage at the point of attack.  And while they only recorded a single sack, Gardner was harassed most of the day by the line without excessive use of blitzes or disguised coverages.  I’m not expecting major changes on the line next week, but this is a team that can’t consistently get 4-5 yards a pop on the ground without the QB getting involved, and that is not a sustainable situation during the conference season unless Devin remains healthy throughout, which would be a minor miracle.

As for the defensive line, to say the “Right to Rush 4” mantra needs to be redefined would be an understatement.  A unit with a decent amount of hype heading into the season failed to register a sack on 49 attempts, though the defense was credited with 8 QB hits.  Still, it took an all-out blitz to get pressure on the QB to end the game (reminiscent of the Points-a-Palooza some years back), and when your undersized tackle (Black) is your most consistent pass rusher against a MAC team, that isn’t good news.  I guess the jury is still out on Frank Clark, but at this point the judge expects to hear a verdict by the end of lunch.  It certainly didn’t help that Mattison seemed reticent about using more than 4 linemen to get pressure, and as a couple of people noted in the Liveblog the stunting was glaringly obvious, but again you shouldn’t have to overly gameplan for a team coming off a 1-11 season. 

Best:  Times are Changing

Now, I know I just spent a couple of sections dumping on Akron and minimizing their influence on today, but they deserve quite a bit of credit for playing UM to a standstill.  Maybe 25-30 years teams like Akron are just happy to be playing in the Big House and are overwhelmed by the moment, but in today’s college football ecosystem everybody believes his team can beat anyone else.  For even with Akron’s fallow history, it is still an FBS team with D1 players on it, and given the exposure and resources available to virtually all such programs nobody should be surprised they didn’t just wilt as soon as The Victors played.  Terry Bowden may have looked like he ate his daddy Bobby before the game, but he’s still got a career record of 142-75-2 (including 47-17-1 while at Auburn), and certainly knows how to beat teams like UM.  They played solid, largely mistake-free football and took advantage of UM’s miscues.  They played like a major college football team, and this game should be yet another reminder that “MACrifices” isn’t a reality in today’s football landscape.

Best:  Tackling, and the Lack Thereof (part deux)

Last week I mentioned how refreshing it was seeing the other team (in that case, ND) miss some crucial tackles while UM largely wrapped up quickly.  Well, count both Funchess’s and Chesson’s TDs as beneficiaries of some dodgy tackling by the Zips.  By comparison, UM typically tackled guys at contact, though Jourdan Lewis had a pretty bad “tackle” of Pohl as he rushed for a first down late in the game.  There were also the coverage issues with the corners and linebackers, especially in the middle of the field where D’Orazio was seemingly open all day.  This definitely felt like a gameplan limitation, at least initially, but it was troubling that late in the game receivers were able to get open in the secondary with players trailing them by 2-3 yards. 

Worst:  Hitting Reset

Last week I waxed poetically about Gardner being a modern-day unstoppable video game QB, UM’s answer to Michael Vick circa Madden 2004.  He was like UTG Trevor Siemian crossed with a mongoose, and it was glorious.  Like Vick in the game, it just felt unfair to have him on your team, and to talk about him in front of your vanquished opponent is to welcome scorn and possibly some shoving.

Well, against Akron people saw the other side of the videogame analogy: when the computer “cheats” and everything that could possibly go wrong does.  Suddenly, your all-world QB can’t complete a pass except to the other team, your RB can’t get a yard beyond the line of scrimmage, you are getting called for penalties on any positive play, and even digital Texas’s GERG thinks you are playing too soft defensively.  By the time a defensive end houses an interception off a screen pass, you’re diving for the reset button while cursing Alan Turing and his stupid face. 

Of course, in real life that’s just the third quarter of the game, and you still have to watch and hope that somehow, someway your team figures it all out enough to pull out a victory.  Against Akron, Gardner and the offense did just enough in the end for the win, and on a seemingly snakebitten game they can lick their wounds and give it another shot.

Best:  Even YMRMFSPA had Bad Games

So the Vince Young analogies have been trotted out for Devin since his game against Northwestern, and with his improvisational skills, strong arm, and galloping strides it is hard not to see a bit of the college star in him.  Unfortunately, Gardner also showed the same characteristics that drove Texas fans crazy early on in Young’s career, with 4 turnovers, including a TaINT, and some happy feet that resulted in missed receptions and poor throws.  If you check out Young’s gamelog from his first full season, you’ll see the same tantalizing mix of promise and growing pains: 5 TDs against no turnovers against Texas Tech following 8/23 for 86 yards against Oklahoma and 3/9 with 2INTs against Missouri.  After those games, people we calling for Chance Mock to play at QB, and if that name doesn’t ring a bell it’s because he didn’t do anything to make people forget about Young.  People in A2 forget this because of the game Young had against the Wolverines in the Rose Bowl, but Young finished with a 12:11 ratio on the season and had some tough performances even in wins.  The next year he emerged as a breakthrough player and led Texas to the title. 

I’m not saying Gardner is going to do that, but this game was a reminder of how fickle and infuriating the maturation process can be at times, and that the same player can have a stinker like today AND a performance against ND without there being anything wrong with him.  I suspect he’ll play better next week, but regardless of his performance it won’t change this past game or how the future plays out.  Every game is another data point, and sometimes you don’t realize there are outliers until time and distance it provides have given you some perception.  Gardner wasn’t a Heisman winner after last week and he’s not a bum after this one, but instead a work in progress like the rest of the team.

Worst:  Feelingball

I’m wheeling out my extra-tall soapbox now, so if you don’t want to hear my complain about fandom in general and UM followers in particular, feel free to skip to the next section.

What has always driven me crazy about the fandom in sports is the moralizing and dime-store psychoanalysis people place on players’ motivations.  A team plays well and people lionize the “heart” shown by the winners while questioning that of the loser.  Every down and distance becomes a Greek tragedy played out with a pigskin, and we want to equate higher meaning with 3rd-down conversions and missed blocks.  But that’s the thing – it’s just a game, and teams win and lose, players play well or poorly, for reasons that have nothing to do with their moral fiber or ability to “lead” men.

Both during and after the game, there was a contingent of fans who tried to make the game a referendum on these players.  They questioned the leadership displayed by Taylor Lewan apparently not getting the line “up” to block, as if Kalis, Miller, and Glasgow would have held their blocks if only they had cared more.  Gardner threw INTs not because he made a bad read or had a bit of bad luck, but because he wasn’t a leader out there and his receivers didn’t have confidence in him.  And in the postgame, when both Lewan and Gardner said they promised a better effort next week, people on the blog questioned their motives and suggested they had “heard this before” and UM still lost, proving that fans shouldn’t operate heavy machinery following a game because their blindness will undoubtedly cause accidents.

Sports were oftentimes used as stand-ins for battle both in real life as well as in narrative devices; we speak of “warriors of the gridiron” and its bond with iconography of good vs. evil and right vs. wrong is hard to ignore.  But in the end, sport is just a game, with winners and losers according to the rules of the contest.  To try to derive some greater meaning from it, to look deep into a man’s soul on a 3-yard run at the end of the game and hope to identify his humanity, is a foolish exercise.  I know people will continue to act this way long after I’m cold and in the ground, but I still hope that one day sports will be treated as the athletic contests they are, not the day of reckoning some yearn for them to embody.

Best:  Quick Hits

A couple of points that aren’t really worth their own sections:

  • I thought the secondary played okay, though the middle of the field was open seemingly for days at a time.  They also seemed to line up yards off receivers that didn’t seem able to really beat them in a race.  And to Akron’s credit, a couple of long receptions were the result of good throws; the one where I believe Taylor was beaten down the sideline in the 4th quarter by Smith was a great throw as much as any failure by the coverage.  That said, surprised Lewis got the nod over Stribling out there, especially given the size differences.
  • Al Borges called a decent enough game in my opinion, though he seemed afraid of running the veer too much early on even though Akron had no answer.  The inability of the line to run block certainly didn’t help; when UM needed yards late in the game they ran directly behind Lewan, which was obviously a positive but not great news for your inside running game.
  • I remain puzzled that Hoke did not go for it at 4-and-1 on UM’s 45 early on in the 4th quarter.  The numbers say putning is the right call, but one yard with Gardner in the gun seems quite doable.  I’m not a big fan of “momentum”, but getting a yard there gives UM a fresh set of downs and doesn’t put the ball on the foot of your admittedly-skittish punter who proceeded to shank the ball anyway.  Plus, I believe this was right after Akron nearly blocked the last punt.
  • Norfleet appears to have lost return privileges at least on punts, with Dileo back there in the second half.  That feels about right; I know Norfleet has shown great potential, but he continues to make the routine catches scary and still doesn’t seem to have a great sense of how to handle returns.  And with Dileo back there, it allowed the BTN announcers to talk about how he can run in space.  Because if there is one element of Dileo’s game we can ALL agree on, it is his blazing speed in space.

Best:  Release the Hounds

    The good news is that the UConn Huskies are an absolute tire-fire and UM should be rather motivated heading into the Cabella’s parking lot er Husky Stadium next week.  I hope for everyone’s sake it is a short game and next week’s recap is “Best:  Everything.”

OT: Air Force O-line

OT: Air Force O-line

Submitted by blueheron on July 9th, 2010 at 7:44 AM

Is there a D-1 team with a smaller offensive line than Air Force?  The starters weigh an average of 259 pounds.

http://collegefootball.rivals.com/content.asp?CID=1100816

I'd guess that the service academies would have smaller players, but even Army's line is quite a bit larger:

http://collegefootball.rivals.com/content.asp?CID=1096256#95

Going 5-3 (even in the MWC) with that size is impressive.