Five Star Temptresses And Variance Hating

Submitted by Brian on December 15th, 2011 at 12:53 PM

Two pretty much unrelated things in one post. I blame everything.[1]

Vince Young; Garrett Gilbert

Cautionary tales?

A Braves and Birds post on the recent downfalls of Texas and Florida spurred responses from Blutarsky and Smart Football about the role of various schemes as your talent level waxes and wanes. The B&B theory:

…we can criticize [Texas] for not learning the lesson of the Vince Young era.  Apparently, the lesson that Brown took was “recruit five-star quarterbacks from Texas,” when he should have concluded “recruit quarterbacks who can run.”  In short, Texas was seduced by the prospect of a local five-star pocket passer and shifted their offense away from what worked for them when they were upsetting USC in the game of the decade.*

One can look at Florida and see the same mistake.  Urban Meyer has always won with mobile quarterbacks. … Nevertheless, Meyer was seduced by the same siren that causes Mack Brown to jump off the deck of his ship and swim to his doom.  He had a five-star pocket passer – John Brantley – living one hour from campus, so Meyer committed his post-Tebow Gators to Brantley.  Meanwhile, Meyer did not offer Denard Robinson a chance to play quarterback in Gainesville.

Brantley and Gilbert imploded, the team went with them, and the guys coordinating them left. Michael goes on to say this is a "cautionary tale" for Brady Hoke, whose most successful prior year was with Nate Davis. Davis is claimed to be mobile.

I'm not in agreement with his police work there. Hoke's offensive coordinator at Ball State was Stan Parrish, not Al Borges, and dubbing Nate Davis "mobile" is stretching the term. Davis averaged 3.7 non-sack carries per game in 2008, i.e. he had some scrambles and QB draws. For his part, Borges had great success with statue Ryan Lindley* (-57 rushing yards this year) at SDSU, Davis-ish scrambler Cade McNown (a couple hundred yards per year) at UCLA, and only-secretly-athletic Jason Campbell (30 rushing yards in 2004) at Auburn.

Michigan's long-term trajectory on offense should not expose them to the same problems Texas and Florida experienced. Hoke is a defensive guy who famously goes sans headset and Borges's successes have come with throwers at QB. That some of the throwers have been able to move a little doesn't make a difference. The offense is still not predicated on the QB's legs; instead the legs are a bonus that keeps some plays alive and gets you some yards on scrambles. In Michigan's case they are moving towards their OC's expertise, not away from it. (At least insofar as Greg Davis had any expertise. He and GERG should start a cover band.)

Variance: super teams hate it.

After passing through Get The Picture's digestive system the above post spurred Smart Football to offer some thoughts on the difference between a pro-style offense that is intent on putting up points and one that's intent on not blowing it:

For the truly elite-level recruiting teams, I think the agnosticism of pro-style treats them well because they basically recruit incredible players and then figure out the system and scheme later. Moreover, spread offenses, option offenses, and really any pass-first offense (including West Coast attacks of which I’d put Georgia in the category) require very good quarterback play. Alabama and LSU are basically designed to win in spite of their quarterbacks; Nick Saban does not want to return an all world defense with a bunch of five-star playmakers and lose because his QB was a junior and had some “growing pains”, which absolutely happens at every level. …

For everyone else having an identity and being somewhat contrarian helps a lot because it allows you to focus your recruiting on guys that can help you, and in many cases it means you don’t have to compete with some other teams for those guys. … Moreover, because you have a system with specific skills required, you can develop those skills. There are many examples, but think about how those Texas Tech teams under Leach always had four guys who could contribute and were open, even against the best Big 12 teams, because they’d worked on those skills every day for two years before they got in the game and had countless reps.

The former is what Ohio State did for years under Tressel, managing games with Krenzel and Boeckman and Zwick and Belissari and even most of the time with Troy Smith and Terrelle Pryor. They massaged enough safe points out of their offense to let the reliably crushing D win games. Sometimes—usually against Michigan—they went full-throttle. This happened when they feared the opponent more than variance.

The latter is why hiring Paul Johnson was a good idea for Georgia Tech but would be a bad one for Georgia, why Leach is a great hire at Washington State, and how Rodriguez made West Virginia into a power with rag-tag recruiting classes and some duct tape.

Michigan was in the former camp, but after Bo they accomplished their goals less successfully than OSU. This goes back to the Mo era, when Michigan would show up for the game with three or four losses and inexplicably beat—often thump—John Cooper's national title contenders. To me, Michigan-OSU in the 90s will forever be a fourth quarter exchange between some ranting Buckeye fan and a snot-nosed teen version of yrs truly:

MAN ADVERTISING BEER ON HAT: You have four losses! We're ranked in the top five! We're a national title contender!

That was fun as far as it went but playing spoiler ain't no way to live. For Michigan to not be a second banana in the league they either had to

  • recruit and execute better
  • get an identity that allowed them to perform better than their recruiting rankings

Rodriguez was an attempt to do the latter. Hoke is an attempt to do the former, or at least he seems like it. Borges is a wildcard. Maybe he's content to ramp his offense down into Tressel/Lloydball territory once the defense is truly locked in, but maybe Michigan will morph into a team with an identity on offense, even if that identity is the Boise State and Stanford have used lately.

When to put the toys in the box

    There is a point at which it makes sense to trundle through games as safely as possible. That point is when you have the LSU/Alabama/OSU massive talent advantage over all comers. If Hoke's recruiting continues at the level it has, Michigan may achieve that. More realistically, a lack of oversigning and/or culture of rampant barely-punished extra benefits will leave them short of that, leave them in the same 8-10 range they usually inhabited under Carr.

    That will mean they'll have to have something to rely on on offense other than don't-screw-it-up-ball if they're going to be nationally relevant more often than they have been in the past 20 years.

    The early returns here are inconclusive since Borges is biding his time with Denard while recruiting Shane Morris. But they are encouraging, both when it comes to Hoke's game theory aggression and Borges's tendency to keep the pedal depressed when it makes sense to. Buried deep in his own territory up 17 against a Nebraska team that has struggled to move the ball, he'll run-run-punt; staked to a three point lead against Ohio State second down is for moving chains.

      Michigan's not going to be that super-talented dreadnaught year-in, year-out that allows them to play crushingly boring football and win. I don't think that's Hoke's plan; even if it is he's spent a lot of time learning about what happens when you don't have that as an option.

      *[Lindley's implosion this year—he's now 80th in passer rating—suggests Borges is a plus playcaller/schemer. SDSU returned much of their offensive line and has Ronnie Hillman; while their WR situation was bound to drag the numbers down it shouldn't have been that severe.]


      Seattle Maize

      December 15th, 2011 at 1:41 PM ^

      We have a top 3 recruiting class this year and are starting strong for 2013.  I think people are underestimating the talent that we are bringing/ are going to be bringing in in the future.  There is no law that says there are only two ways to win: with a boring O and fantastic D, or with a mobile qb.  I think that the upside for Michigan under Hoke is to become similar to what they were under Bo and an elite top 5 program year in and year out.  I know it sounds overly opptimistic but I belive that Hoke is a special kind of leader who will always have a great staff and win big here.


      December 15th, 2011 at 1:52 PM ^

      What does it say that a thought provoking post from Brian has 5 responses but Mattison visiting P. Brown has 100?    .

      I think you are implying that Paul Johnson, RR, Mike Leach and other "system" coaches are better suited for smaller programs.  If that is indeed true, I disagree.     I look at Urban Meyer as the test of scheme and elite talent and it netted 2 NC trophies.   I still think RR was on that trajectory.

      I think the reason most scheme coaches seem to meet a ceiling is the lack of elite talent on the dline not because of too much variance with their offense.   Often times when a team like Oregon loses a game like to LSU they are quick to blame scheme.  The fact is Oregon and WVU moved the ball against LSU better than  other teams and would have been in great shape if not for inferior talent on their defenses and  turnovers.

      If Chip Kelly landed in Alabama I think he does awesome. 


      Blue boy johnson

      December 15th, 2011 at 1:59 PM ^

      What it says when Brian's thought provoking post has 25 responses  but Mattison visiting P Brown has 107, is one thread has been up an hour and the other 6 hours.

      DB would disagree with you about dropping Chip Kelly into Alabama and him succeeding. We now know unequivocally DB knows a thing or two about hiring a football coach.


      December 15th, 2011 at 4:08 PM ^

      Recruit stars and run a bland system was an original argument in the links that I don't think carries a lot of weight.  You want to recruit the best guys, and run a great system. Florida did both. Whether we were just running a great system, or getting guys who are great, or just guys who fit the system is a debate that doesn't really interest me anymore. Ideally, you get the talent, and fit the system to the talent.  Because I'll take the talent over the system any day.

      Which speaks to the D-Line. It's not what offensive system you run that works or's those elite D-lines that blow up everything. That's why I like where we're headed. Recruiting, maybe even excessively, on defense. Sure, you need offensive talent too. But to match the talent level of great southern D-lines, we're going to need more bodies to offset less sure fire prospects. Terrorize them up front, and everything else will fall into place.


      December 15th, 2011 at 1:50 PM ^

      To me it's a gamble either way, but I guess maybe less so one way over the other. It's a question of 1)get the best pieces to fit my system vs. 2) get the best pieces possible and plan a system around them. Either way, guys can be a bust, so that's a wash. 1 is a gamble in that you have fewer recruits to work with if you must get ones that fit, and therefore may end up settling for lower rated players. 2 is a gamble in that you might be forcing together a rag-tag group of superstars that will either mesh and dominant or clash and fail.

      Smash Lampjaw

      December 15th, 2011 at 1:51 PM ^

      If Brian were to put his leisure time to use, and make the most of all he has learned about spread football by starting another blog, I would be happy to study it for free several times per day, along with MGoBlog. I would even enjoy an occasional ufr of a game out in the desert, coached by he who must not be named, and other prominent spread gurus.


      December 15th, 2011 at 2:07 PM ^

      Wouldn't it also be fair to say that the best coaches can adjust and adapt to their talent? We saw that approach clearly this year where the prior three years we didn't. Who is to say that the current staff aren't advanced beyond our collective eyes in adjusting season to season, game to game, and even play to play, based on the small variances in their current players and situations.?  

      So far, they have proven they can.

      Plus any discussion on where Michigan is headed has to include elements working together we haven't had around here in a long time, if ever: a high energy elite staff compensated at elite program levels, competitive facilities, continuity of culture, continuity of off-season program and playbook, excellent recruiting on both sides of the ball, and relative peace and lack of negativity among all factions, former players, and alumni. We've had parts but not the working whole of all these factors since I started watching in 81. Maybe the Bo years but the facilities were starting to erode and we have always been low on the assistant pay scale.

      Point is: we'll have to wait and see and pigeon holing on what we will be is a really hard chore.

      Re the offense: Pro style generally makes sense because you will always have access to the best of the best recruits who want a path to play in the NFL. Pro Style shouldn't be equated with dull or conservative though.  That's more a function of approach and coaching ability.


      December 15th, 2011 at 3:51 PM ^

      enlighten us all about the gamechanging offensive "talent" Rodriguez spent 3 years not adjusting & adapting to; other than you know, the ones HE BROUGHT HERE.

      and I don't mean the outgoing Ryan Mallet.

      This topic has been discussed ad nauseum, yet some people insist on perpetuating this.

      It's really this simple:

      Michigan hires spread guru.

      Spread guru installs spread offense (after discovering there is no one worth adapting an    offense to) 

      Spends 3 years building explosive offense  (while simultaneously helping to turn D into a raging tire fire)

      Spread guru is ultimately found wanting, and is fired.

      New coaching staff arrives and with differing tendencies, but finds wealth of seasoned, specialied spread talent (particularly the most important position on the team).

      New coaching staff wisely adapts and has joyous 10 (soon to be 11) win season.

      If you want to argue that Rich Rod might have squeaked out an extra win or two in 08 by keeping a pro style offense fine, i'll argue that delaying the transition would have ultimately cost us an extra game in 10.

      I'm glad he's gone, and love the current staff; but that "RR failure to adapt" meme is a cannard.

      I generally agree with all your other points.


      blue in dc

      December 15th, 2011 at 8:25 PM ^

      The way to squeak out probably more than one extra win was actually focus on the defense. And yes, I get that our offense was thin, but no points againt Toledo in the second half, that's an offensive genius?


      December 15th, 2011 at 2:14 PM ^

      I think talent has a lot to do with it.  Look at Harbaugh and Luck's offenses at Stanford.  They scored a ton of points while often using 3 tight ends.  If you have a trancendent talent at QB like Luck, Young or Tebow, the offense is going to be unstoppable, and everyone is going to think that the scheme that QB is in is the best to use.  Clearly, if you have exceptional talent at the QB, your team is going to have a huge advantage regardless of your scheme (as long as it matches the talent of your QB).


      December 15th, 2011 at 2:20 PM ^

      To a certain degree I'm really sure if I buy the ability to turn the offense "off" or over to "neutral" is a bad thing.  When say your starting QB goes down in camp and suddenly you're starting true freshman Chad Henne, you need a game plan that allows you to survive without scoring points en masse.  If basically every year you're planning to field the next Vince Young, that plan is going to get destroyed when:

      • You have an injury
      • Someone gets caught with some weed
      • Suspension for team rules issue

      There are times we have to play "don't screw it up ball" and let the defense go murder Brady Quinn to win.  As you so though we also need to be able to floor the pedal like we did in the Gator Bowl.  

      As for the "Braves and Birds" post, I'm not sure if I buy the "recruit a guy who can run" logic.  You run the risk of having a situation where you chase after Beaver, Newsome, etc and at the end of the day they don't come.  Suddenly you have a small little dude named Forcier and a guy who everyone though should play DB.  We got lucky in the fact that Denard was the real deal (and then some) but if you whiff on recruiting you're going to suffer.  You sell out going after the next Vince Young, miss out, and end up grabbing some project QB.

      It's better to take Morris (the almost sure thing in recruiting) and embrace the transition.  You have a guy who everyone thinks is the real deal (thus reducing the odds of a recruiting bust hopefully) and you have him locked up cold so suddenly its not signing day and your fax machine is dead silent.  

      Basically embrace what you have access to.  Don't go dicking around down in the South and suddenly have no DTs come signing day (and be on your second or third choice for QB because of decommits).  If some local feeder high school is going to drop the next RoboHenne in your lap, grab it and go pick Mike Leach's brain.  If you have Gardner down at Inkster go find the option playbook on your shelf.

      Consider Threet if you will, horrible here.  Actually not that bad at ASU.  Not great, but not bad.  I'd argue the issue comes when the coach things that "4* or 5* means I can mold this athlete into anything, so I'm not changing my scheme."  Whereas say with Denard and Forcier, RR was smarter.  Forcier ran more of a passing spread and Denard was more of a run first guy.  Tailor your scheme to the guy.  Basically I'd argue that Florida and Texas didn't stall out because they had a pocket QB, they stalled out because the coach never realized Tebow graduated and was too lazy to rework the fundamentals of his playbook.  Also you likely need to plan ahead and recruit WRs based on the QB you grabbed up.  You know blocking mountain goats vs guys you can send on post routes all day.  

      Also as Magnus said, recruit linemen.  Keep in mind early on when Pryor was still going through growing pains, Tresselball was all about running Dave.  Not some kind of murder machine of a QB coming out of the backfield.  It was fairly basic "don't screw it up" running.  Figure that worst case: 3.5 yards a carry time 3 downs = first down.  The trick was Tressel always managed to set it up so come the Michigan game he could floor the pedal.  Lloyd was still trying to push the clutch in.  


      December 15th, 2011 at 4:12 PM ^

      Make the system fit the players. If you have Denard, spread them out. If you have someone with a canon for an arm, wing it.  If you have a great back, let him carry the ball. Don't limit who you recruit at all.

      And make sure it starts on the line. Great line, you can run, you can pass, no matter how mobile your QB is or isn't. Great defensive line, and your'e going to make the rest of the defense's job easy.

      Get Talent. Put them in the best position to succeed. Then do so. Profit.


      December 15th, 2011 at 6:40 PM ^

      I think you're falling into exactly the trap the Braves and Birds poster was talking about, which is to simply put all your eggs in one basket and tailor everything around him.  That's pretty much the implication of what you said about getting the sure thing recruit.  I disagree completely.  You're taking out a fundamental component of sports (or anything) really, which is competition.  You need to have competition at every position in order to succeed.  The system should be greater than one individual part.  

      Blue boy johnson

      December 15th, 2011 at 2:55 PM ^

      Would it be wrong to say USC was the best team in the first decade of the new millennium? I don't think so. I don't remember a mobile QB playing for USC in Pete Carrol's tenure.

      I think M is at an advantage going after the best pro style QB's (be they mobile or not), because M has the pedigree to get them. Most schools have no chance to land a Drew Henson, Chad Henne, Ryan Mallet, Devin Gardner or Shane Morris. Michigan can and should recruit these kids, and it appears as though Hoke and Borges will be more than willing to take advantage of their skills.


      December 15th, 2011 at 3:24 PM ^

      Something I've been thinking for a while.  Thanks for putting it into words.  I think we'll look back at this point in a year or so and will be able to draw better conclusion about the direction that Michigan is going.

      Away Goal

      December 15th, 2011 at 5:21 PM ^

      They lost their top 2 WR's to the NFL and the next 2 - 3 guys in line got hurt before the season.  The top receivers this season were a CB last year and a slowish slot.  It would be as if Michigan went in to this season with Courtney Avery as our #1 and Dileo as the #2.

      SDSU was well stocked at TE, but I'm just saying, receivin' was weak.  And yes, they did have Ronnie but Lindley really looked out of sorts and frustrated most of the year.  Lots of dropped passes and poor routes.


      December 15th, 2011 at 11:24 PM ^

      I clicked on the story hoping to see temptresses; instead I get a photo of Vince Young.

      Edit: On a second read, I see where Brian got the idea to throw "temptresses" into the mix and make fun of the allusion in the following:

      "Nevertheless, Meyer was seduced by the same siren that causes Mack Brown to jump off the deck of his ship and swim to his doom."

      Still was hoping to see photos of temptresses though....


      December 16th, 2011 at 3:31 AM ^

      Talent along with great coaching will go along way in building a great team. Every great team has a great defense. Looks as if Hoke and Greg will have our defense top notch within a few years.

      I'm excited about our QB's. DROB will have a great senior season and Borges will tailor the offense to have more of spread component. When Gardner takes over in his senior season I'm sure there will be more of a pro set to the offense...but having Gardner mobile will continue to pose a threat to opposing teams. Shane Morris looks like he has a cannon of an arm and I can't wait to see him hitting open receivers down the field. But I also like watching a great back running down-field with the ball as well. If Borges continues with more of wide open offense I'll be happy even if he adjust the offense to maximize the talent of the starting QB.

      I'm optimistic about the future of our program. We may have a slight set back...may be 8 or 9 wins next season due to the tougher schedule...but I think after year 3 we will see a long stretch of BCS bowls games with a chance for the NC BCS bowl game.