Mailbag, Part Deux! Comment Count

Brian November 5th, 2009 at 11:05 AM

Super mailbag week because the mails, they come in. Side note: I try to be good about answering most of the emails that hit the inbox. This has been untenable over the last week. If you sent something and didn't get a response, try again after the Ohio State game.

At some point expectations of Rodriguez's success at Michigan can't be based solely on his performance at WV and other places. Aren't we getting to the point where we can base expectations of his success at Michigan on his results at Michigan?

Several coaches who were successful at non-power conference schools have been unsuccessful at power conference schools. Dennis Franchione and Dan Hawkins come to mind along with Billy Gillespie and Matt Daugherty in basketball. What have we seen based on what has happened at Michigan that would allow us to place RichRod closer to the Urban Meyer/Mack Brown path than the Franchione/Hawkins path?

Well, I think you're seeing the first serious discontent leak into non-lunatics after the Illinois game. As I said in the game column, that was a game-changer. If Michigan beats Purdue and then goes on to take either of the last two games of the year, the Illinois game melts away and Michigan fans go into the offseason fairly content presuming a decent bowl performance, but the performance of the team to date says this is not a  likely outcome.

I don't think we're to the point where Rodriguez's performance at Michigan is the only factor to take into account; when you're thrashing around with freshmen quarterbacks and walk-on safeties in year two, things that happen on the field are not necessarily all your doing.

The only relevant conversation to have here is "at what point is it reasonable to let an under-performing Rich Rodriguez go?" Anyone who says "now" is an idiot. I usually mince words to play nice here but I'm exasperated: if you think Rich Rodriguez should be fired before next season you wear floaties when you go swimming and enjoy Ow My Balls(!).

Not that the emailer thinks this. But I have talked to people who do.

A follow up to the last mailbag's "Woodley or Graham" question:


I saw in the most recent mailbag that a reader addressed the Graham v. Woodley topic. I'd thought about that about 3 weeks ago and checked out the UFR's. Here they are:

Woodley 2009 - 11 games (bowl game wasn't UFR'ed), +85 (total)
Graham 2009 - through 8 games, +84

Soooo, yeah. Numbers point strongly toward Graham having a better senior season.


Graham picked up a +8 in the last game, too, though it should be pointed out that I've given him +6 for punt blocks. Defense-only contributions have not quite obliterated Woodley as thoroughly. Also, Woodley lived in the era before half-points and may have gotten shorted a few times. Graham doesn't pick up many half-points, though, he mostly eats rocks and breathes fire and picks up +2 or +3. It's splitting hairs between the two defensive ends on the All-Decade team, but IME Graham is #1.

And a follow-up to the Michigan Drinking Song Q:

Hi Brian,
  The University of Michigan Men's Glee Club has recorded all of the Michigan Songs. There is actually a hardcover Michigan Songbook that every incoming Glee Club singer receives. If Andy goes to the Glee Club official site he can contact the glee club to find out which cd has the specific Michigan song he wants, if in fact the song in question is a Michigan song. Hope this helps.

Sean Panikkar

On Tate scrambling:

As the season has gone on, I’ve noticed that Tate hasn’t been scrambling around a lot like he used to. this is probably because the of the coaches, but is it possible that that’s just the kind of quarterback he is? It might mean having to deal with some of those stupid grounding penalties and terrible Favre throws, but that’s what he was doing early in the year, and his stats have been regressing. Just something to keep in mind?

I think this is more about the defenses Tate is going up against than anything else. Early in the year when Tate hadn't done anything of note, teams weren't emphasizing rush lane maintenance more than you normally would. After Notre Dame, every team on the schedule knows the importance of keeping Tate in the pocket and as a result opportunities to get the edge have been rare. Another factor: Molk's loss has hurt the pass protection so badly that Forcier often has a second guy in his face when the first guy comes and just has to run around and die instead of run around and kill.

Forcier's got to diversify his game so that the scrambling is a portion of his game, not the whole. It's too easy to cover half the field and too risky to look at one read and take off. But mostly he's just got to get better protection, and recognize when he's got that protection better.

On whatever that was:

Hi Brian,

Long time reader, first time emailer.  I was at the game this weekend at have two questions for you. 

Why does Juice Williams play so well against Michigan and so poorly against the rest of the world?  My two thoughts are coaching and terrible linebacker play, and I want to believe it is mainly the terrible linebacker play. 

From what I saw, you are correct. Both of the last two years Michigan blew assignments with regularity, and when that happens against Illinois you get Juice running through your secondary. Illinois is the team that punishes you most for those sort of errors because their offense is designed to read a bunch of guys post-snap on every run play. There are a lot of opportunities for unblocked guys to screw up mentally against Illinois, many more so than a typical Iowa offense will provide you.

Why is our red zone offense so bad?  It seems as though we could move the ball at will until we got inside the 20, and then we were helpless.  Is poor red zone play a common symptom for spread offenses?  Is it poor coaching/playcalling?  My take is that the main issue might be that our lack of a big play WR makes it tough to call plays in the red zone and makes us more predictable.  Thoughts?  Have you seen any data on how spread offenses do in the red zone in general?  It seems to me that a spread offenses with some great WRs would be scary in the red zone. 

Paul Gustafson, Class of '04

That question requires more research than I can do for an in-season mailbag—maybe after the season—but I didn't think the redzone issues were particularly acute until the Illinois game and most of those were turnovers, which Michigan makes all over the field and don't indicate anything more than Michigan turns the ball over a ton, which is a problem but is also another show.

A rough estimate: Olesnavage has attempted six field goals from within 40 yards. For a slightly shady definition of red zone—which is arbitrary anyway—that's six failed attempts at touchdowns. Add in the goal-line stand against Illinois and you've got seven trips in eight games that didn't work out for reasons other than turnovers. Okay, maybe that goal-line stand should count triple, but the point is that Michigan hasn't been failing to punch in an inordinate number of touchdown opportunities except when they've turned the ball over, which has been all the time. I don't think redzone turnovers are much different than other sorts of turnovers.

And for anyone who wants to see a worse, if potentially more entertaining, football game than Saturday's:

Hey Brian,

My name is Jordan Klein. I am an avid follower of your blog as well a staff writer for The Michigan Every Three Weekly humor publication. We are having our annual football game against our arch-rivals, The infamous Michigan Daily, this sunday Nov. 8th at Noon at Elbel Field. We thought that since you were a part of the E3W in its infancy we cordially invite you to come witness the Fighting Threes take down those who think they pass as writers at The Daily! Tempers will be flaring and things will get dirty. There promises to be Dong-knocking and Eye-gouging aplenty in what is shaping up to be the most intriguing matchup of the weekend! We are trying to get a decent sized crowd out for the game so we hope you can join in watching a game Michigan can't possibly lose!
Jordan Klein and the rest of the E3W Staff  

I mention this mostly because I have a beef with the E3W, which ditched the long-running "Daily + 1 Years Of Something Funny" tagline and the dumb joke staff box pictures this year for no apparent reason. You do know that the tagline and staff box pictures got people into the New Yorker, right? And the Onion? That was their entire CV: "One Hundred And Eleven Years Of Capuchin Monkey Herpes Vaccination Riots." Bam. Job.


Clarence Beeks

November 5th, 2009 at 11:51 AM ^

I don't have the numbers in front of me to back this up, but my recollection (from following Pitt and WVU when I lived in the Pittsburgh area) is that WVU had difficulties in the red zone as well.


November 5th, 2009 at 11:52 AM ^

I grew up on the west coast rooting for Boise State and all that, but did someone just straight-faced-ly compare the Big East of the early 2000s to the WAC?

Which I guess ties into my recent raging anger at the terming of the RichRod tenure an "experiment", as if Michigan is somehow on a higher plane of existence than the rest of college football. Last I checked, the man pantsed good BCS teams with regularity at WVA. Calling a highly successful coach an "experiment" when a school deigns to grace him with a position is the kind of oozing-with-arrogance verbiage I'd expect to see coming from Notre Dame.


November 5th, 2009 at 12:33 PM ^

I was struck by the comparison as well. West Virginia is in a BCS conference, right? Franchione did do well at Alabama and wasn't fired but resigned after learning sanctions were coming against them because of the previous coach. His stint at A&M wasn't amazing but it wasn't horrible. Hawkins has struggled at CU and now has "his guys" so we could say that hasn't worked out but Franchione didn't flop and the parallel of RichRod and Hawkins is too much of a stretch.

Ive been sitti…

November 5th, 2009 at 1:49 PM ^

Franchione was 32-38 overall, 19-21 in conference at Texas A&M and he was fired. How is that not a flop?
Hawkins is 15-30. Both coaches were taking a big step up after sustained success at 2nd tier schools and did not replicate their previous level of success. The point that RichRod not being successful at Michigan would not be unprecedented is a valid one.

los barcos

November 5th, 2009 at 4:04 PM ^

i think its interesting to note that west virginia hasnt fallen off the college football scene since rr left, despite what many of us thought . they've had a good season thus far and seem to be getting the attention of some highly rated recruits.


November 5th, 2009 at 2:10 PM ^

Yeah, he did mention Meyer, who was MWC, as a success, and could have just as easily used John L. at Louisville, which is in the same range as WVU, especially post Miami et al. Big East. Mack Brown was ACC, if bad ACC. The general point he was making is everyone promoted into a good job was doing at good job at a smaller school (but for rare exceptions), if they weren't assistants already. And more of them fail than succeed.

So the point is that success at a prior school is no guarantee for success at the big time. And we're basing a lot of Rich Rod's "success" on a tiny school that has really no relation to major college football; some real success as a coordinator at a small school, and another moderate school; and then two big bowl wins, both against teams that didn't want to be there, one a regular underachiever, the other against a team that can't seem to win a bowl game against anyone anymore (that he wasn't even there to coach for).

So the writer, and Brian's point, are well taken. It's not THAT overwhelming a past record. (But to be fair, Utah went undefeated under Meyer, and was good before that, but THAT'S not a record of automatic success either. You have to be real good too).

What I hold out hope for, even though on field may not reflect it yet, is unlike a lot of those other coaches I or others have mentioned, who were yes, all considered good coaches, Rich Rod has this - a LOT of the coaches out there, and a lot of the really GOOD coaches out there, think of Rich as a really good coach and an innovator. And obviously they know who's a fraud or not better than anybody. Doesn't mean they can't be wrong and he's a good offensive mind but not a good program manager on a big time level, but the odds are in their favor that they know what they're talking about.


November 5th, 2009 at 7:58 PM ^

Not even arguing with you at this point. I get that you just have a "wait and see" approach with respect to Rodriguez, but I think you are seriously discounting his prior accomplishments by nitpicking the bowl wins (against the SEC and Big 12 Champions, respectively).

Lloyd Carr won two major bowl games in 13 years at Michigan. One came against football powerhouse Washington State (and epic bonehead Ryan Leaf) and the other came on a missed extra point in overtime against Alabama. Rodriguez did as much nationally in half the time at WVU as Carr (a guy I think was a pretty damn good coach at the end of the day) did at the winningest school in the history of the sport. On top of that, he has multiple impressive stops as a coordinator and the reputation in the field that you mention. Outside of winning a national championship at West Virginia (in which case he would maybe be the best coach ever and likely would never have considered leaving), I don't see what more he could have done before he got here.


November 6th, 2009 at 11:39 PM ^

If you're not even arguing, why are you even typing? Yes, I think wait and see seems more prudent than blind faith. Even Brian has questions at this point, and he's certainly all in for Rich Rod.

I love how you complain about me "nitpicking" his bowl wins, then do the same thing with Lloyd's. (I mean really, are you old enough to even remember '97 with those remarks? Ryan Leaf was a hell of a college player).

But I don't want it to turn into a Lloyd vs. Rich thing...because that's not what I'm going for...the endless need of Rich Rod supports to tear down Lloyd and vice-versa...I want them both to succeed. So going on about what Rich HASN'T done is pointless. I just wanted to say that the other poster didn't deserve ridicule by saying, SHOCK, a lot of coaches have a level of success in their jobs and still don't succeed when they take on another. No one was asking for a MORE qualified coach. Just that really qualified coaches sometimes fail. Lets hope not in this case.

But if you think a National Championship is the only thing keeping Rich from being the best coach ever, your reality of the college landscape is so far removed, there's no point in continuing. Beyond all the great coaches out there, as backwater as WV is...they've had some pretty good team before Rich too.


November 5th, 2009 at 7:37 PM ^

Regardless of the strength of the Big East or WVU as a program historically, Rodriguez won two BCS bowl games while he was there. By comparison, Michigan hasn't won one since 1999. If he doesn't have a long track record of success, then what the hell did the last guy in the job have?


November 5th, 2009 at 11:57 AM ^

In my opinion, the spread CAN pose problems in the red zone. The spread succeeds by putting players in space, space being the critical asset that creates running lanes, soft spots into which to throw the ball, etc. In the red zone, the amount of space decreases dramatically. Holes close faster on the running game, and passing lanes become much tighter. So, physicality and precision become more critical for the offense. With a good team capable of physical play, it doesn't much matter - you'll still score. But if you're not great at precision pocket passing or of opening up big holes and moosing linebackers, you'll struggle. We'll get there in time, but I think that while our scheme is allowing our younger players to succeed in plenty of space, the experience/strength/talent deficiencies are magnified when space becomes a premium.


November 5th, 2009 at 12:00 PM ^

i don't know if there will be a statistical way to figure this out---but doesn't it seem that a system designed to get fast guys in space would have trouble when there is less space? [dbs can play closer when little room behind them]. and if we switch to a "power-i-qb-under-center" set, do we run that as well as the "normal" set?


November 5th, 2009 at 12:07 PM ^

Nice double, jsimms. We were probably close in time. Anyway, whoever suggested having the great receivers would help is spot on. If the fades are a threat, that opens up space. The rollout/run option game is also key, and can work well. Hell, we've done it with success. But, to do it well, your QB MUST be a good decision-maker, as he's dealing with crowded horizontal zones. Tate's made some great decisions in those situations, has gotten away with murder in others, and has hurt us badly in still others. That will get fixed in time, too. But, it's the same theme - execution must become more precise in the red zone, but if it does, the spread can be just as effective there as anywhere else, and any other offense.


November 5th, 2009 at 12:49 PM ^

As we try to figure out whether RichRod will be successful at Michigan, it seems to me that everyone only thinks about 5 of his 7 seasons at WVU: '01, '02, '05-'07. The first two because we were hoping to see the same thing happen at Michigan and the last three because of how good their offense was and how close he was to leading them to the BCS Championship game in '07. In '03 and '04 they were 8-5 and 8-4 respectively with '04 being Pat White's R-Fr year. If we make a bowl game but go 8-4 and 8-4 the next two years after that are we okay with it? Or are we only happy with bowl game this year, 9-3 next year, 12-0 the year after? The team has not played a good game yet (as RichRod said Monday that the first 4 games weren't all that different from the last 5, they just won the first 4) with only 1 really bad game (PSU) and then a 2nd half meltdown, which probably would not have happened had one of our 1st-half FG's gone for a TD and we punch it in to start the 2nd half. At which point the game is 24-7 (or 20-7) and now IL has to throw, which we know Juice can't do. He's dangerous when he can run first and they were able to do that. I really hope for everyone's sake they can go out and beat Purdue on Saturday, be bowl eligible and then we can all breathe a sigh of relief.


November 5th, 2009 at 1:07 PM ^

I prefer "points per appearance" over the NCAA's ranking by scoring percentage, which equates field goals and TDs. Here are a few notable teams with their current ranking and points per red zone appearance.

3. Wisconsin - 5.83
9. Cinci - 5.68
14. Oregon - 5.60
22. Oklahoma - 5.43
23. Texas - 5.37
35. USC - 5.13
53. Iowa - 4.89
92. Michigan - 4.26
96. Ohio State - 4.22
97. Alabama - 4.18
101. Florida - 4.11

I'm not sure what these numbers tell us regarding offensive style and red zone efficiency. I wish our numbers were better, but we seem to be doing better than Ohio State, Alabama, and Florida. Of course, I also wish we had their defense.


November 5th, 2009 at 1:15 PM ^

I just read an article in the Ann Arbor News about experts saying that Michigan lacks talent. This supports what RR is saying and also should bring some back to reality. At the start of the season, I thought that 6-6 was realistic goal. The Big Ten Network preview of UM supported that view with the prognostications ranging from 5-7 to 7-5. DiNardo consistently referenced lack of talent, small D-line and slow secondary. I remember him commenting that UM will have more talent than 4 opponents and then will need some luck and strong play to beat a team or two with equal or better talent. I was euphoric after the ND game, and wishfully thinking we were back. Obviously, we're not. Stay patient. RR knows how to coach and recruit.


November 5th, 2009 at 1:43 PM ^

While I understand the concerns and am frustrated as well to see TD drives turn into FG drives, I have to respectfully ask folks what Michigan have they been watching all these years?

In my 30+ years of fan, Michigan is the king of settling for FGs.

It's nice to see Rodriguez extend a Michigan tradition.


November 5th, 2009 at 7:29 PM ^

Minor hasn't been healthy all year. When you are missing your best running back and (quite possibly your best) offensive lineman out of an already thin group, not to mention another of those linemen is banged up, your team will normally struggle running the ball in short yardage and in the red zone.