Mailbag!

Submitted by Brian on October 27th, 2008 at 2:07 PM

While the end of Michigan's bowl streak is disappointing in and of itself, there's more than pride at stake.  Specifically, I haven't heard anything about the value of the month's worth of extra practices that come with a bowl bid.  It seems as though a team such as Michigan, with all of its youth and inexperience, would benefit quite a bit from the extra practice time.  Any thoughts on this and if it sets back Michigan a bit?

Jeff

There is indeed some value in the extra practices that would come from a bowl bid, but quantifying that is impossible. I don't think the effect will be huge; these days college football is a year-round activity and the hours the players don't spend in supervised practice will be spent doing some other sort of football-related activity. Any effect there will be small.

Have you ever seen Raiders of the Lost Ark?  At the end of the movie the bad guys open the ark and everyone that is looking at it is melted (or something along those lines).  I'm convinced that this will happen if I ever watch Michigan's offense again when Sheridan is in the game.  Is there a way to watch this that will not cause me to go blind/die?

-Deryl Garland

Suggestions:

  • Drink. Bob Huggins has actually seen the face of God 46 times with no ill effects.
  • Blind yourself now. This will prevent you from having to do it later.
  • Bet on Michigan's opponent. This is called a "hedge," and works great in the financial industry!
  • Remember that football is just a game, and that you have a beautiful wife and children and a job you love and that your life is going to be okay just as soon as the game is over. If you don't have the wife/kid/job thing going for you, there's always disassembling and re-assembling pens.
  • Look into Buddhism, which teaches you to let go of earthly cares other than three-man lines on potential running downs. Even Buddha hates that.

A three parter on the future:

Brian,

Given the generally mediocre play of our offensive line this year, I was wondering if you had any inside information that you could share with your readers about some of the freshman who are redshirting. Are any showing great promise in practice? Given the performance - or lack thereof - of our O line, I am concerned that some of the freshman may be even worse than those who are currently starting and playing.

The two names that keep coming up are Ricky Barnum and Patrick Omameh. As far as I can tell, most insider expect Barnum to be starting at one of the interior line positions—most likely left guard—next year, and for four subsequent ones. Omameh is a surprise name, as he was one of the last additions to the class and was by far the lowest-rated, but he saw a senior-year growth spurt that got him offers from State, Michigan, and (eventually) Ohio State; there's obviously some potential there.

Rocko Khoury, meanwhile, got some buzz earlier in the year as a guy who was doing well and might actually step in at center if Molk struggled. (This, of course, is the tantalizing possibility of a Moose and Squirrel combo on the interior OL.) He could push for time next year. Dann O'Neill has a great frame and should be very good eventually, but came in needing significant work with technique and strength; next year might be too early from him.

I haven't heard much about Mealer or Wermers. Mealer had a shoulder injury that kept him out much of fall practice, so his absence from the whispers is understandable; Wermers has no such mitigating factor and would appear to be slightly behind.

I am hopeful that that is not the case and that the coaches are letting them develop slowly to help next year when, in all likelihood, we'll have a new starting QB. Similarly, our linebackers have been inconsistent, at best, and not particularly effective. Fitzgerald was a prized recruit, but is only playing on special teams. Any word on him or anyone else who may be redshirting?

Linebacker is going to be rough. Redshirt freshman Brandon Herron hasn't seen the field at all despite playing behind a motley crew and appears on his way to Brandon Logan "oh, yeah, that guy" territory. We saw Marell Evans briefly, and then not again. And two of the true freshmen linebackers are already gone. So, the only guy on the roster we'll see next year is Kenny Demens. Demens is a WLB, though, and Mouton appears to be turning into serviceable player, so he might have to wait a couple additional years before seeing playing time.

Everything relies on extensive improvement from the two starting sophomores and Fitzgerald panning out in a big way; Michigan has no margin for error here until the 2009 recruiting class is ready to play.

I've heard pretty good things about both Demens and Fitzgerald, FWIW.

Other than BooBoo, I cannot think of any freshman DB who can be counted on for high caliber help next year. Let's face it. This year is dismal. Id rather think about the future. While I'm hopeful that we'll continue to recruit well and bring in new talent, I wondering about some we already have. No one seems to be reporting on it.

Thanks, Ron

Well, Brandon Smith and JT Floyd are both redshirting and may be of some assistance; also Michael Williams is working himself into some playing time and doing sort of okay.

Hi Brian,

In the aftermath of another 3rd and long -> disaster scenario, I'm wondering if Shafer has any proven track record against the pass.  Does his scheme actually work, or does he just rely on pass rushing to cover up for a weak secondary?  Although our safeties are obviously questionable, our cornerbacks should not be, and the pass defense seems porous at best.  When Shafer was hired at Stanford, people assumed the major drop in pass defense was just due to an improved run defense, but could there be a systemic flaw here?

Matt N.

There is another possibility: Michigan's pass defense last year was overrated by the numbers. Opponent pass efficiency ratings in groups (I consider 60 to be bad despite being "average" because all BCS teams these days inflate their statistics in the nonconference schedule):

  • The Good: Oregon (#42, but Dennis Dixon was #3 when healthy), Florida (#2)
  • The Eh: Appalachian State (#6 but in I-AA), Purdue (#48), Michigan State (#44), Wisconsin (#40)
  • The Bad: Penn State (#74), Northwestern (#66), EMU (#85), Illinois (#80), Minnesota (#76)
  • The Horrific:  ND (#113)
  • The Not Applicable: Ohio State (#12)

(Ohio State, of course, got a small lead and entirely stopped passing, so their #12 is meaningless.) By my count here every common opponent to date save Wisconsin is better this year as all return quarterbacks or replace Anthony Morelli with Not Anthony Morelli; trading Dennis Dixon for Brian Johnson isn't that far off.

Meanwhile, at Michigan out went the two starting safeties. And how much of Michigan's tragic fall in pass efficiency defense is due to the near-total incompetence of their replacements? A hell of a lot. How much of that is the fault of the new staff? 10%.

I'm beginning to get as disillusioned with Scott Shafer as all the rest of you are, but it is way, way too early to draw any definitive conclusions.

However: yeah, Michigan's insistence on bringing an extra safety (or two!) on the field in nickel situations instead of a corner is mystifying, as is their inability to keep four DL on the field in that package. Michigan fans were told Shafer was a blitz-happy, man-to-man guy; this year we've gotten almost all zone coverage and a lot of three-man rushes. I don't get any of that.

Comments

West Texas Blue

October 27th, 2008 at 2:28 PM ^

Fitzgerald's redshirt is burned; start playing more him at LB.  Nothing to lose.  Don't burn any other redshirts though.  Other DL should get more playing time to prep them for next year: Sagesse, Kates, Patterson.  Hell even Artis Chambers needs more PT.

Barnum will replace McAvoy next year; count on it. Will Schilling ever move back to his natural position of RG? Looks like Rich Rod and staff did an excellent job of immediately recognizing our weaknesses and recruiting alot of OL and LB toward end of 2008 signing day; sucks that we lost both Spoon and Taylor Hill.  We should only use our remaining scholarhips on defense and the OL.

 

msoccer10

October 27th, 2008 at 3:05 PM ^

I'd like to see more of Fitzgerald to get him some experience, but I think, if he's not better than Thompson, you shouldn't play him yet. I think it would be a horrible insult to the team and the few seniors to completely give up on this season. We can still improve. Still get wins. If we only beat OSU (I know its not going to happen) then I might still consider this season a success. So I don't think we should play Fitzgerald over someone else if the someone else is better at this stage. It just sets a really bad precedent. I totally get why its tempting, but I think it is just as important to show the team that you NEVER give up no matter what.

papabear16

October 27th, 2008 at 2:37 PM ^

I'm in my third year of Campus Legend on NCAA 08.  (I'm, of course, Michigan's Heisman Trophy-winning QB running first the spread-option, and now Missouri's variety.)  Anyway, Brandon Logan is like a 98 overall and a stud.  Stuff like that just cracks me up.  Oh, and Boren is the best lineman on the team.

 About as realistic as a short, fat, legally-blind attorney winning the Heisman as a sophomore.  Ah, fantasy.

Michigan Arrogance

October 27th, 2008 at 3:00 PM ^

Remember that football is just a game, and that you have a beautiful
wife and children and a job you love and that your life is going to be
okay just as soon as the game is over.

no really, try it.
 

Enjoy Life

October 27th, 2008 at 6:37 PM ^

If this works for you, you must not be a real M fan!!!!!!

I've noticed that a lot of M fans are a tad bit testy these days. In fact my neice commented that her cousin was "in a F'ing bad mood" at the tailgate BEFORE the game.

BTW, I am one of those that is a tad bit testy.

chitownblue (not verified)

October 27th, 2008 at 3:04 PM ^

 Michigan fans were told Shafer was a blitz-happy, man-to-man guy; this year we've gotten almost all zone coverage and a lot of three-man rushes.

Just to play devil's advocate: when you have 3 LB's incapable of playing zone, much less man-to-man, a horrifically over-rated Trent, and a hobbled Warren, do you want to play man-to-man? When you keep 7 guys back to stop the pass, and still can't cover them, where do you blitz from?

Jay

October 27th, 2008 at 3:25 PM ^

Chitown,

 Not to be a prick or anything, but, it seems as though yours and the rest of the WLA's sole purpose is to absolve Rich Rod and the rest of the coaching staff of any blame whatsoever. The fact is that this defense returned 8 starters from last year. Ron English had his faults for sure, but, he also squeezed more out of the talent that he had to work with than Schafer and the rest of the defensive staff have. They have to shoulder their fair share of the blame. Its not like MSU has much to work with defensively, either, yet, they perform much more fundamentally sound than we do.

colin

October 27th, 2008 at 3:33 PM ^

"Nate Robertson is about league average" ?  As for everything else, you do realize what WLA purports to be right?  The adopted trope features a lot of tongue-in-cheek dogmatic insistence on the goodness of Rodriguez.  In any case, Brian is considering revising his thoughts on the pass defense last year.  Maybe you should too.

chitownblue (not verified)

October 27th, 2008 at 3:35 PM ^

Small quibble, but it's seven starters. One of which (Ezeh) isn't that good, at all (yet). Another of whom (Trent) seems to have regressed. A 3rd of whom (Warren) is barely capable of running, it seems.

Look, I know the defense isn't doing well, and I agree that the staff has some accountability here. But look Shafer blitzed like mad every stop in his career. Here, not as much. You think he just decided to stop? Got tired of it? Or do you think, maybe, he does it for a reason?

You complain about the 3-man front - we ran it twice all game Saturday.

Jay

October 27th, 2008 at 3:41 PM ^

One of the two times that Schafer ran the dreaded three man front was when Javon Ringer ran for the 60 plus yard touchdown run. Obi Ezeh played okay last year for a freshman. Why isn't he progressing? Why has Morgan Trent regressed? Could it be the coaching/scheme?

 

Just wondering.

chitownblue (not verified)

October 27th, 2008 at 3:45 PM ^

Ezeh did play OK for a freshman. And he's playing OK for a sophomore (as is Mouton). That's the point - with adequate LB recruiting, these kids would be cooling their heels on the bench at this point in their development - not being counted on as the linchpins of our defense. Lloyd, overall, recruited well. LB is one area that he has not, for awhile.

colin

October 27th, 2008 at 3:56 PM ^

compared to 2005 better or worse?  And why?  Whose fault was it?  You have to allow for fluctuation and small sample size to work their way out. 

And Ezeh was terrible last year.  There may be no layman who watched his tape last year more than I did and I was a lot more skeptical about Ezeh's improvement than was Brian.  When you don't have anyone qualified to play a particular position (i.e. not even replacement level), you can't assume that the guy you stick there is part of the population you apply your normal expectations to.  What Gsim will tell you is the same thing I believe: there's only so much you can coach and the amount of impact a coach can have is a lot less than the quality of players he starts with.  The factors responsible for performance are probably something like 50% Talent 30% Coaching 20% Luck.  Probably more weight should be put on talent, actually.

Yinka Double Dare

October 27th, 2008 at 3:42 PM ^

I think the idea is that getting to the QB quickly could mask some of the coverage problems.  Blitz, say, one of the safeties who sucks at coverage or a linebacker who sucks in coverage and have Cissoko on the field in coverage.

It could result in big plays, but those are already happening without the upside of the big defensive play (i.e. the sack)

Yinka Double Dare

October 27th, 2008 at 3:56 PM ^

Right, but it isn't like there's a pro QB back there for the other team.  If you get pressure there's a very good chance he screws up the throw even if the guy is open, if he even recognizes the open man in the first place.

I can understand the D not going hard after the QB when it's a highly mobile guy, but when it's a statue like Hoyer, sitting back and letting him find an open guy with a crapton of time really doesn't make a lot of sense.  Even a guy with his lousy comp % is usually going to find the open guy(s) if you give him all day back there.

Especially since, in hindsight, it wasn't like our defense wasn't giving up huge gains even with all those guys in coverage.

The Squid

October 27th, 2008 at 4:05 PM ^

IMO this whole argument is 6 of this, half a dozen of that. The defense hasn't exhibited much ability to stop the pass in a traditional nickel or in a 3x3x5. It seems to me that going with the 3x3x5 is just Schafer picking his poison.

The *real* area of criticism here, IMO, is not that the 3x3x5 is used at all but rather that it's used in down and distance combos like 3rd and 1. 

colin

October 27th, 2008 at 3:29 PM ^

Lloyd did in 2005, which was similarly dire wrt man cover.  And his safeties and corners just suck too epically for it to work.  If you drop 8 covering 4 and still can't prevent a 10 yard pass, you're not going to win. 

West Texas Blue

October 27th, 2008 at 3:34 PM ^

Okay fine, say we dump Shafer at the end of the year.  Who are we going to get? Muschamp? Nope, he's going to get a head coaching job

Tenuta? Nope, he'll be staying at ND and he's basically the DC, only not in name

R English? Why would he comeback? Besides, he's on track to getting a head coaching job at a mid level program in a few years

There are no high profile DCs out there that I'm aware of us being able to have a shot at getting unless we get Casteel from WVU, which I think is a bad idea

Shafer has made mistakes, but much of the problems are not not his fault; players aren't executing and poor recruiting and development has caught up.

tbliggins

October 27th, 2008 at 3:51 PM ^

I was told that JB is a MLB and that Ezeh is playing out of position (no pun intended) there these past 2 years.  Can anyone confirm this?  That would give at least a little bit of optimism if Ezeh could be more effective at WILL/SAM.

caup

October 27th, 2008 at 4:38 PM ^

Shafer did NOT sit back and give Hoyer all day. Christ, we had FIVE sacks and numerous other QB hurries.  But when it's 3rd and 16, and 3rd and 19, and 3rd and 9 and you're back seven STILL blows coverage? FUCK.  Teaching proper zone drops isn't rocket science, so one of three things must be happening:

1. After 8 games, the kids aren't "quick learners." (I don't buy it.) A big part of being a GOOD football player is being a SMART football player.

2. The coaching isn't effective (this would be primarily on Jay Hopson, NOT Shafer.)

3. The new defensive scheme is compounding any confusion because the kids are experiencing information overload, due to EVERYTHING having new terminology, etc. Sometimes things can't be analyzed in a vacuum.  Thompson, Harrison, Stewart, and Trent are under their THIRD defensive coordinator in the last 4 years. Maybe it's really hard to keep learning new schemes and de-programming your brain from remembering the old schemes under the fire of live football in front of 100,00 people?

Enjoy Life

October 27th, 2008 at 6:30 PM ^

Last time I checked, the coaches call the defensive plays.

You tell me (I'm on the road and can't check), how many times the 3 man rush resulted in first downs on 3rd and long versus how many times it worked.

Even a broken watch is right twice a day -- the fact that the 3 man rush works about 10% of the time while allowing first downs on third and long 90% of the time, does not make it viable.

BTW, I would love to see the same statistic for all colleges that use this ABYSMAL defensive call.

 

West Texas Blue

October 27th, 2008 at 4:51 PM ^

If I was a betting man, I'd bet on Shafer being fired at end of the season.  I like Shafer and think his schemes will work given time and recruiting, but fans and alumni are going to want a scapegoat for this season.  There's just too much heat on Martin and Rich Rod right now as the season has become a nightmare. 

caup

October 27th, 2008 at 5:28 PM ^

Stay out of the casinos. Nobody is getting fired. PERIOD.

If you look at the current personnel sitaution you might be surprised by the incredible amount of inexperience, injuries, transfers, ineligibility, etc, etc, that has Michigan scrambling to find kids who can tackle and properly execute their zone drops.

West Texas Blue

October 27th, 2008 at 6:26 PM ^

Caup,

I'm aware of the situation.  I don't want Shafer or any other coaches fired.  I'm just saying that alot of heat is going to come down on Rich Rod and Martin this offseason and people will be clamoring for blood.   Things are about to come out about the coaching search which are going to make alot of boosters and fans mad; there will be blood.

WolvinLA

October 27th, 2008 at 7:39 PM ^

Is Michigan Football a publicly traded company?  Do these fans that are clamoring for blood have any power or influence to make anything happen?  Most of the big boosters are quite knowledgable when it comes to football.  Some will be angry, but that doesn't mean that they want to fire someone just for the sake of firing them.  And if any major booster is so fickle that they stop giving just because Michigan has one bad season, then they will be fickle enough to start giving again when we are back to being successful in a season or two.  I doubt Bill Martin or RR are too concerned about this "blood."

Jay

October 27th, 2008 at 8:12 PM ^

WTB,

 That's interesting that you would say that. Somebody told me the same thing last week about some of the, shall we say "ugliness", that went on during the coaching search would leave egg on a number of faces. I'm interested as to what, if anything, will evetually be made public....

uofmdds96

October 27th, 2008 at 9:59 PM ^

Wow if you didn't read the NCAAFooball.com link about that, you need to!

Schafer should have been able to stunt Graham more late. He was kicking the R tackle's ass until they gave him tight end help.  I smelled stripped ball on Hoyer late, but Graham got shut down.

Trent, Trent, Trent.  Oh how it is bad that he is the best we've got.  I wanted to slap RR when he put him in kick return.  He gets burned more often than passed out Irish spring breakers in cancun!  He did have a mighty fine tackle on the swing pass/ buble whatever it was. I was shocked that a Wolverine could actually wrap their arms on a tackle and not just try to bump the guy down.  But, I was impressed to see that he did not play every down and we rotated in someone who could play less thant an 8 yd cushion.

Was it not Trent who had the illegal block/hold on the genius move of returning the short FG?  WHat sense does it make to try to return a FG 10 yds deep, when the kick was from somewhere around the 30? ( sorry was there and don't recall, because of the small bit puke that came up in my mouth as I watch ed the ref step back the penalty.  And realized that we needed to reutrn the ball 40 YARDS!!!!! just to get back to where we would have had the ball!!  Or is it that the ball comes out to the 20 on missed FGs, then we only needed 30 yds(whatever).  Yes it would have made sports center and maybe bumped UT's PICSIX as play of the day if he went 110 yds, but come on.

Maybe Feagin can play DB?

 

ARRGH! Thanks GOD for alcohol!

jb

October 27th, 2008 at 10:04 PM ^

Guys, the defense isn't that bad.  We are not a GREAT defense!  We are a decent defense with solid players at DL and average (at best) linebackers, and as far as I can see one corner who is still learning.  The thing that stands out to me is that our defense has kept us in games through the third quarter.  The problem is that our offense receives a kickoff at the 20 yard line or worse and then runs three plays earning on average 2 yards for a quarter and a half.  HOW MANY DEFENSES can play with their backs to the wall for four quarters without the help of their offense and still be considered a solid defense.  Don't blame Shafer or the defensive kids - without a quarterback to lead our offense out of our own redzone - we're screwed in the cornhole anyway.

 JB

Lumpers

October 28th, 2008 at 7:27 AM ^

Not saying its gonna happen, and don't necessarily agree, but 2-10 or
3-9 heat on RR will demand some changes from the old school M
supporters.....outside of a good recruiting class, the other change
would be DC.  I agree with WTB on this, there will be a scapegoat.  You
may not have noticed, but Stanford's D is better statistically this
year than last year with Shafer's sink or swim D there that had so many
sacks but gave up a ton a big plays.  Harbs coaching em up has helped
and their offensive improvement has helped as well, so this is far an
indictment on Shafer, but don't tell me Stanford's talent on D is
better than M's this season.

But I am a big fan of H.R. Pufnstuf.  Granted, they may not play
the same caliber of competition every week, but his D's are always
sound and always up there in the D rankings every year.....another good
recruiting tie to the state of Texas.

STW P. Brabbs

October 28th, 2008 at 9:51 AM ^

Hire H.R. Pufnstuf.  Immediately. 

 I don't care if TCU's defense gives up 500 yards a game.  If you've got even a remote possibility of getting a first ballot hall of fame comedic name like H.R. Pufnstuf, you go for it.

 The fact that TCU's defense seems to be pretty good is a bonus.