Mailbag!

Submitted by Brian on November 11th, 2008 at 4:15 PM

Brian,

Does the fact that Shafer sits up in the booth play a role in the defense not making proper adjustments?  I understand a OC being up there to possibly change a play, and just being able to see "things" happen, but a DC, for me, should be on the field to communicate with players. 

I am sure this will get attention from you or other readers, but why go to a 3 man front against a running team?  OK, Purdue might be a passing team, but with a third string QB who is a RB taking snaps, the majority of the plays should have M with 8-9 guys within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, right?  That kills me especially when our best defensive players are on the line. 

How is Carlos Brown?

Here's to retaining the jug!

Tackling this in parts:

Re: Shafer in the booth. I don't think that's a major factor. There are hype guys on the sideline like Barwis, and having a guy in the booth is helpful. The problems, IMO, have little to do with motivation.

Re: the stack. I actually bought one of those coaching DVDs about the stack when I thought Rodriguez was going to import both Casteel and it; I'm slightly glad the purchase didn't go entirely to waste but would prefer it was in different circumstances.

Anyway, the 3-3-5 stack was conceived as a run defense for deployment against spread teams. Its base set has eight guys in the box, two of whom are safeties deployed as flankers to the six guys who make up the "3-3" in 3-3-5. And the numbers against Purdue weren't terrible if you excise the 61-yard fake punt, which wasn't run against the defense: Sheets averaged under four yards per carry. Siller had over five per on fewer runs. Those numbers aren't much worse than Michigan's output against various other schools to date.

IMO, where the stack really hurt Michigan was in the passing game, as mentioned.

Re: Brown. He has a sprained foot or something; at this point I think we've seen the last of him. I'd be really surprised if he doesn't transfer*; as of right now he's looking at a senior year behind at least Minor. He's got a redshirt year still, so he could go to another D-I school.

*(Note that this is not based on any inside info, it's just speculation given Brown's situation.)

Friend of Blog Craig Ross provides some sobering numbers:

Net YPPA [Yards Per Play Average] so far this year are remarkable. It is the only singular team quality measure that I have ever found. As I have mentioned, I think the number shows more about “how good a team is” than wins and losses. Plus 3 is a possible NC team. Plus 2 is a top 15 team. Minus 2 is a complete patsy. Now the NCAA is tough because they lump sacks with running yards----so I have adjusted for this. Plus, schedule variations are significant. Later on I will look at BT data only.

Team          O      D        Net

1. PSU     7.93   4.96       3.27

2. Illini  7.98   5.54       2.44

3. MSU    6.56   5.43       1.13

4. OSU    5.44   4.38       1.06  

5. Iowa    6.37   5.33       1.04

6. Wiscy  6.08   5.76       0.32

7. Minny  6.46   6.15       0.31

8. NU      5.46   5.18      0.28

9. Purdue  5.50   5.47       0.03

10 Indy    5.82   6.84      (1.02)

11. UM     4.65   6.58      (1.93)

A couple of notes. The foregoing just doesn’t imply that we are the worst team in the BT. We are. It implies the program may be at some risk. You can’t be a bottom 30 team (or worse, as the numbers here seem to indicate---even with adjustment for schedule) and not be at risk for a recession, at best. More about this later.

Second, most of the numbers above make sense. Aren’t Iowa, Minny and NU really the same team? Illinois looks a little bit high, but (a) their punting game (and punt return game) has been weak, the worst in the BT, (b) they are negative in turnovers and (c) my scan shows them to be last in the BT in net penalties. Perhaps they have just been unlucky. Off our games with these teams, I didn’t see much difference between PSU and Illinois.

Third, OSU. They seem a little low but they have, indeed, struggled at times. One thing I might postulate is that OSU astounding defensive numbers have covered some weakness. They have struggled against Ohio U, Wisconsin, Iowa (if I recall). And, of course, they lost to PSU and were hammered by USC. A second notion is that the offensive YPPA are a little low where a lot of passing plays end up with Pryor just scrambling around. Perhaps a true read retains his scramble yards, particularly where OSU is last in the conference in sacks, a false read of the cost/benefit. The most conservative view would be to eliminate sacks from the equation of OSU. Now they are 6.7 minus 4.38 or a plus 2.32, probably about right, with some of the softness retained from the pre-Pryor offense.

Craig sent this before the Minnesota game, FWIW, so the numbers are now less violently ugly. Also, Michigan played actual teams (Utah and Notre Dame) in the nonconference portion of the schedule, unlike many of the meh teams in the Big Ten, so their numbers will naturally be depressed relative to their peers.

Still: yeesh.

In that vein:

So After being a Michigan fan since the tender age of 5 I finally was able to take in a Wolverines game this weekend with a little cloud of doubt hanging over my head, ok, it was more of a huge thunderstorm of doubt if you want me to be completely honest about it. 

I walked into the Metrodome with the expectation of walking out disappointed with yet another Michigan let down.  After seeing Sheridan in week 1 against a Utah team that is better than I'd given them credit for and his few series against Penn State, seeing number 8 taking the first snap I was sure I was in for a long afternoon.  Then something crazy happened, Michigan moved the ball up and down the field and it was on.  Where did that come from?  So now what?  When Threet is cleared does he take back the starting job or did Sheridan's complete control of the offense do enough to take the starting job?  I was really expecting yet another 2 score lead to go down the toilet and the offense to lay down as it has in the Big 10 season.

I actually left the stadium excited about the possibilities of what could be...a possible 5-7 season seemed like a far fetched idea a few weeks ago but I'm cautiously optimistic now.  I think a win against Northwestern is completely within reach and an upset of an OSU team that isn't as potent as they've been in the past.  Am I crazy? 

Back to the Minnesota game though...how great is it that midway through the 3rd quarter we owned the stadium?  The sound Hail to the Victors echoing through the building...simply the best experience of my 26 years on this earth.

Matt Wiechman

Whoah, whoah, whoah. The Minnesota game was an extremely encouraging step forward for the program but it doesn't change the overall picture of the year much. With Northwestern flailing a bit of late—down their top two running backs and maybe their quarterback—a victory against the Wildcats certainly looks possible. Vegas has installed Michigan a 3.5 point favorite.

But… uh… Ohio State: no. I'll be fine with a relatively close loss there. You, my friend: crazy. Also, Matt: you should probably go to more Michigan games.

Brian,

Do you think a contributing factor to the Minnesota win might have been that the Gophers were looking past us or didn't take us seriously? Is it possible that one bright side of this whole debacle of a season is that, for the next couple of years, teams might not be as "up" to play us as in years past and we might not get everyone's best shot? Or, as I suspect, are you of the opinion that all of this kind of thing is just sportswriter cliche that has no basis in reality? Thanks, I'll hang up and listen.

Scott in Chapel Hill

I don't actually think the "up" thing is complete fiction, but I think it manifests itself more in preparation time spent against a particular opponent. For example: though Michigan tipped its snap count much of the year, no opponent exploited that until Michigan State did. They also pulled out a transcontinental, and did various other things that made it obvious they had spent a large chunk of their opponent-specific prep time on Michigan.

Whatever disadvantage came from being Michigan and "getting everyone's best shot" laid in trick plays and special surprise schemes and whatnot, stuff like that. And I do think that next year we'll see considerably less of that than Michigan would in a normal year. MSU and OSU will still do it, but I don't think we're going to get everyone's wacky halfback pass package.

As far as Minnesota not taking Michigan seriously, I think the prospect of acquiring the Jug for three years was plenty motivation for Minnesota to provide their best shot. As far as explanations go, I favor "Minnesota is a fraud created by awful scheduling and turnover margin."

Comments

erik_t

November 11th, 2008 at 4:27 PM ^

I'm going to argue that Minnesota's traitorous running-back-ACLs are at least as big a factor in their (to be clear: our) record as the soft-as-buttah schedule. I think that would have been quite a different game with Bennett in the backfield.

Alton

November 11th, 2008 at 4:45 PM ^

The "YPPA" seems not to be "Yards Per Play Average" but instead "Yards Per Pass Average"--with sacks counted as passing attempts (NFL-style) rather than rushing attempts (NCAA-style).

A rating based on Yards Per Play Average would make more sense to me than Yards Per Pass, though.

J. Lichty

November 11th, 2008 at 5:12 PM ^

I don't think that team is entirely a fraud, they are much improved and have been week in and week out better than us. I don't think that they were taking us lightly at all, we were just a better team on that day, and finally our edge in talent showed through. We have moved the ball against many of our opponents this year, the difference is that against Minnesota, we did it for four quarters and we only turned the ball over once. Makes a huge difference.

We are not as bad as our record, and Minnesota was not as good. The matchups also favored us. Our front four dominated their weak link (which is also ours) the offensive line. Weber did not play well and was lost without Decker out there (Picture sophmore Henne without Braylon).

Teams will always get up to play Michigan and especially want to kick us when we are down. We are hated more than OSU in the Big Ten, so I do not think that teams will take us too lightly, regardless of how bad we are. Teams get up to play Notre Dame in the same way. We would have to sustain a long period of suckitude to lose that.

Our front four's domination of the Minnesota inexperienced line, a MIA decker and subpar performance from Weber spelled doom for Minnesota's offense.

Our offensive execution was much better as wel

WolvinLA

November 11th, 2008 at 5:17 PM ^

Well, Minnesota missed Penn State and MSU from their Big Ten schedule this year, 2 of the top 3 teams. Plus they played no one out of conference. That's pretty soft. Had we played Indiana and Iowa instead of PSU and MSU, we may have 5 wins right now, and had we played their OOC teams, we could have 7 wins just like they have. Very probably, if not likely.

eric jay

November 11th, 2008 at 5:58 PM ^

Everyone is surprised to find out that a statistic tells us we are terrible this year. After managing to show up for one half each week... and before our first complete game on offense and defense. Sorry not concerned. What would be interesting is what this stat looked like for RR in the first year and then the successive years at his previous stops. That comparison might be enlightening.

Doctor Sardonicus

November 11th, 2008 at 8:11 PM ^

I have average per pass attempt data (granted, without sacks) going back quite a few years for U-M.

I really don't see any indication that a bad performance in a given year indicates some collapse of the program. Granted they've only had a negative number a handful of times: 1971, 1973, 1984 (the worst before now, -0.65), 2001, and 2002.

The correlation between the numbers in successive years is basically zero. The numbers are a good measure of a team's offense and defense in a given year, because yards per attempt are a very good measure of a team's passing offense (and defense).

U-M's worst year in this stat was 1984. 1985 was their third best year and 1986 was their best year. We know why that was -- because Harbaugh was healthy for all of 1985 and 1986 and the defense improved greatly after 1984 as well.

What I'm saying is that the numbers are revealing, but they are an effect, not a cause, and not a trend.

mooseman

November 12th, 2008 at 12:05 AM ^

I must have missed when Illinois cracked the top 15. Oh, it is explained away by a poor kicking game and turnovers (and maybe bad luck). Our similar lack of success against PSU and ILL justifies that they are the top two? What justifies the State ranking above OSU given their head to head results. "Iowa, Minny and NU are really the same team" but Iowa is significantly better than Minny and NU and actually is on par with OSU according to this stat.

"How good a team is" IS wins and loses. Special teams are called the third phase of the game for a reason. A poor schedule will pad the W/L record, but also inflate this number. This stat shows an offense that has struggled and a defense that has struggled and when that happens consistently a team will have poor results. I wouldn't decline season tickets for next year based on this stat.

mooseman

November 12th, 2008 at 12:14 AM ^

I would not bet my hard earned money on UM over OSU. We certainly should not win that game based on all available evidence. However, I have watched enough college football to know that it is by no means outside the realm of possibility. (App St. v Michigan. Stanford v USC. Hell, Michigan v Florida, etc, etc, etc)

wildbackdunesman

November 12th, 2008 at 6:08 AM ^

Didn't one of the announcers say that we had the youngest starting offensive lineup in the FBS (Div-1A)? Of the offense that took the field the last 2 games and scored 12 times against Purdue and Minnesota - only 1 person was a starter last year, a lineman. I'd say our offense will be much better next year and the following year. We really lose nobody offensively for next season..... My only worry is playing another true freshman QB next year if it comes to that.

Defense I will be more worried about, but we've seen some glimpses of greatness from young defensive players.

In 2 years I expect to be competing for BigTen titles.

msoccer10

November 12th, 2008 at 8:19 AM ^

competing for a big ten title next year. I would bet the winner of OSU/UM in 2009 is the champ of the big ten. (Unless PSU can put two good seasons in a row together)

Enjoy Life

November 12th, 2008 at 9:32 AM ^

Ah, ha -- you fell for Brian's trap!!

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics !!

Throw out all the non-conference statistics -- they mean nothing!

Lots of teams suck one year and rule the next (Alabama??)

If it weren't for bad luck, we'd have no luck at all -- M this year -- IT WON'T HAPPEN AGAIN NEXT YEAR !!

Not sure what 2009 will bring but -- 8 wins look realistic.