The dorm room has a shrine to Fred Jackson they call "Like Borobudur but more majestic"
Seth, doctor of blogging, is acting residential advisor for South-of-South Quad Residence Hall, Floor 1. Having heard reports that the occupant of Rm. 219, registered as "Michigan's Running Game" has 'not been himself' lately, the good doctor attempts to ascertain the source of his charge's recent morosity. He knocks on the door…
So, hey Michigan's Running Game.
Alright if I come in?
You've been kinda quiet this semester.
… Look, I haven't known you to be the kind of dude to go into a shell. Not since you broke up with DeBord, anyway. Um, you okay there man?
Oh you know, things.
|Year||Rush YPC*||Rush S&P+||Rk|
* (Called running plays when Denard is QB, no short situations. 2012 stats are through Nebraska because this is from my UFR database and Brian hasn't UFR'ed Minnesota yet. S&P+ is a
Fremeau EDIT: Bill Connelly (they're all football outsiders) stat that measures success based on down, field position, and strength of opponent. Higher is better. FWIW these stats have been screwy this year but I think rushing yardage is the part that's actually working.)
That's…that's not so bad man, 5.77 YPC is pretty respectable.
Yeah but I'm supposed to be much better than 'pretty respectable.'
Cause Denard and Toussaint and most of the line back?
That and I'm MICHIGAN fergodsakes. Plus I think a lot of that 5.77 is Denard shooting off long runs against Air Force and Purdue. Here's a table so you know what I mean.
I see. Wait, what the hell is that?
A table of all the runs charted in that stat. So like that gray peak is the 2010 offense getting lots of 4-yard runs, and the yellow peak is the 2011 offense getting stopped for just 2 yards a lot. And the lines at the bottom are polynomial trend lines.
Poly—? Dammit man, I'm a doctor, not a physicist.
See how the yellow and gray lines follow the same trend but the blue one doesn't? The 2012 offense is ripping off big runs more often, but not getting those 5- to 12-yard runs with the same regularity.
I understand. I'll see if I can find what's going on. You mind if I ask some questions?
[After THE JUMP: Is it for want of play calling, tougher competition, or Molk?]
1. Is it the other kids?
Michigan has now played the #2 (Alabama), #18 (Notre Dame), and #31 (MSU) rushing defenses by straight-up YPC. If you want to believe Fremeau's S&P+ for defense, Alabama has the top rushing defense in the country, Michigan State's is 2nd, and Notre Dame's is 6th (we're 17—Mattison all the points). Here's how that stacks up next to last year's (ordered from toughest to easiest)
|Team||S&P+ Rk||Team||S&P+ Rk|
I put that parenthetical exclamation next to UMass because that's 124 out of 124. Ultimately this is pretty even, if more dispersed. Note too that the remainder of the schedule is comprised of opponents who tend to be stiff against the run. MSU and the three losses are the only teams better than those coming up, though that's a big gap between Iowa and ND. Anyway there has been ample opportunity to face non-scary run defenses and make up the damage they've wrought—everybody left on the schedule should be more like Nebraska than Purdue.
2. Maybe you're in the wrong major?
This has happened to friends of mine in the past. You meet a nice new coach who points at you, and he and his staff seem uber competent at running a football program, and well gosh just look what they've done with the defense, and all of a sudden you're signing up for all these West Coast Offense and MANBALL classes because that's how they got there. But you gotta be doing what's best for you and your skills.
Yesterday was the fist anniversary of the 5th of November Manball Treason and Plot against Iowa. We still remember. We still keep a detailed database. Let's see if I-form ISOs have been sneaking in when we're not looking (just the called runs):
|O-Form (s)||2008||2009||2010||2011||2012||4-yr AVG|
Nothing untoward here. I mentioned earlier in the season that Borges has come to Denard more than the other way around, and you can see some of that in the completely Rodriguezian formation selection we choose to run out of.
And we can check the yardage while we're at it:
|O-Form (s)||2008||2009||2010||2011||2012||4-Yr AVG|
It's climbing down. Notably the Ace seems to have lost its novelty. Denard Jet was replaced by Gallon Jet out of the shotgun. When Michigan's gone I-form, it's often in short-yardage situations, or as a "conservative" measure, e.g. the first half of Minnesota, and when Bellomy first came in.
The part that's probably more on Borges is running into stacked fronts, which has been a topic ad nauseum 'round here. Here's Al Borge's inaugural RPS chart.
2011: +65/-89/-24, = +1 on 14% of plays and a –1 on 19% of plays.
2012: +14/-24/-10 = +1 on 5% of plays and –1 on 8% of plays.
I don't know if that's Brian giving out RPS for fewer plays this year, or if this is evidence that Al's not kidding about "playing conservative" at several points this season. Running into a stacked box 24 times in 9 games feels like a lot to have lived through. What I think we're seeing is he's just been less willing, as the defense has proven it doesn't need as many points to win, to not gamble as much. Again, the UFR numbers are interesting but not canon—the greater evidence is his own comments.
3. Is it just that you miss Molk?
Last year Michigan had the best center in the country. They even gave him a shiny Rimington Award to recognize that fact. The drop-in replacement for the Rimington winner is Elliott Mealer, the guy whom I thought (as of the pre-season) had a good chance of getting replaced by a former walk-on (Burzynski) or a freshman sometime this season. Hoke recently mentioned they're considering this. Mealer's 2012 in UFR Charting:
|Alabama||1||4.5||-3.5||Now a lot more worried about Molk transition after flip|
|Air Force||4.5||2||2.5||Seems like a decent player.|
|Umass||9||1||8||Mobility in space a pleasant surprise.|
|Notre Dame||8||6||2||Big time struggles early, did better, also bad snap.|
|Purdue||5.5||5.5||0||Can't seal like Molk against big time competition.|
|Illinois||9||6||3||Got blown up pretty good a couple times, otherwise okay.|
|MSU||8||6.5||1.5||Around even usually, which is meh.|
|Nebraska||5||5.5||-0.5||Also also crappy pass blocking.|
That's a +50/-37/+13. In an average 2012 game, Mealer will do five really good things and four bad things. Mealer is also consistent—he fared okay against everybody except Bama, be they Louis Nix or Kawann Short or Akeem Spence or Baker Steinkuhler, or Double-A Gap-blitzin' MSU (I know he'll come in for at least one big minus from Hageman this week, but it seemed he started faring better in the 2nd half). As for Molk's 2011, I'll save you a chart and tell you he totaled a +130.5/-38.5/+92. On a per-game basis that's 11 good things and three bad, a major difference-maker. These are subjective and not at all scientific. But they do kind of wink at a story, wherein Mealer isn't any kind of problem so much as Molk was an extraordinary human being who cannot be replaced.
He was also a four-year starter, and if there's a Molk effect going on, it's possible, though hard to judge (Heiko maybe you ask Borges at presser?) without direct knowledge of huddle goings-on what kind of difference it makes that a new starter and new center is in charge of calling out blocking assignments pre-snap as opposed to a guy in his fourth year doing it. I don't remember the coaches saying anything to this regard, but the football players I lean on for this kind of dope are mostly offensive linemen, and one thing they all seem to value more than John Q. Fan is the wisdom of the center.
This is going to be a gross misuse of UFR data but here's the average CHART data for run blocking this year versus last:
The Mealer thing yes, but there's regression across the board. And while Schofield is within the margin of error for treading water with Huyge, the boost that Koger lent to the running game is gone too. As for the returning guys and their apparent regression, maybe that's not having Molk around? No way I can say from this. But it's as good an explanation as any. Feel better?
That depends, how's Denard's arm? Because:
|2012 Michigan Rushing YPC when...|
|Denard is QB||Someone else is|