Mailbag! Comment Count

Brian November 3rd, 2009 at 12:33 PM

Brian,

Not sure if you've addressed this, but what's your take on Brandon Graham vs. Lamar Woodley as seniors?  Graham has been putting up Tacopants-esque numbers in UFRs and has to deal with some blatant holding no-calls on a regular basis.  I know Woodley was similarly beast-like, but how do they compare?

Steve

I've been thinking about this myself: I think Graham is better. I haven't gone over the UFR numbers yet—slightly busy this time of year—but I know Graham set a record against Michigan State earlier this year and has been owning offensive tackles all year. Woodley set standards by being consistently around +8 or +9 with forays up to 12; Graham's baseline is around 12 and ranges up to 18. NFL backup: at this point he's probably going to be a higher pick than Woodley, who managed to fall to the second round, was.

Graham's numbers are going to end up better than those of Woodley, who finished his senior year with these stats:

Recorded 36 tackles (28 solos) and led the team for the second straight year with 12 sacks for minus 119 yards and 16.5 stops for losses totaling 131 yards…His 119 sack yards are the most ever by a Michigan player in a season…Also recovered four fumbles, returning one 54 yards for a touchdown…Tied the school season-record with four forced fumbles.

With three or four games left, Graham has 44 tackles, 17(!) TFLs, and 6.5 sacks. He'd have more sacks if the secondary ever covered anyone. He's spent large sections of the year battling double teams. He's not playing next to Alan Branch or in front of David Harris, Shawn Crable, and Prescott Burgess, so teams have far more leeway when it comes to blocking him, and he's still regularly crushing plays in the backfield. He makes a ton of plays that don't even show up in the stats, too.

If we're just going on senior-year production, I think it's Graham. At some point during the Penn State UFR I fired off an email to Dr. Saturday that was basically "Brandon Graham is an All-American; the rest of the defense makes me cry." Dr. Saturday might listen; no one else is going to pick out a player on a terrible defense for post-season awards, no matter how richly deserved they are.

Brian –

I think one of the reasons we all suspected a decent turnaround this season was that there was no way the team could repeat as having the worst TO margin in the country.  At this point in the season that has not happened, and it is stunning to me.  I wanted your thoughts on the subject.

Look at the infamous drive from Saturday.  Regardless of how that turned out, the play calling at the goal line, the inept OL play at the goal line, whether the refs got it correct on the reviews*, or how it turned out Michigan fumbled the ball THREE TIMES on that drive.  Forcier fumbled and Moosman recovered.  Roundtree fumbled and was ruled down.  Minor fumbled and was ruled down.  How can three different players fumble the ball on the same drive
???   That isn’t random luck, that’s a systemic problem, isn’t it
?? 

  • I can understand why our defense isn’t creating take-away opportunities, because they suck.
  • I can understand that freshmen QB’s are going to be turn-over prone and that Robinson is responsible for a ton of those.  (However, if you would have told me that the Forcier/Robinson pair would have been as inept as the Threet/Sheridan pair I would have slapped you in the face.)
  • I can understand to some extent that Brown and Minor would never be mistaken for Mike Hart. 

But something is broken here.  Is it talent?  Is it coaching?  Is it something else? 

I mentioned this in a bullet at the end of the game column yesterday, citing a diary post that put Rodriguez's pre-Michigan numbers in a nice table so you could see them:

WVU

INT

FL

Tot

Opp Int

Opp FL

Opp Tot

TOM

2001

19

13

32

11

13

24

-8

2002

9

6

15

19

15

34

+19

2003

8

12

20

21

15

36

+16

2004

11

11

22

16

9

25

+3

2005

7

10

17

17

14

31

+14

2006

8

9

17

16

8

24

+7

2007

6

15

21

16

18

34

+13

Average/Game

0.8

0.9

1.7

1.3

1.1

2.4

+0.7

Here are the Michigan numbers:

U/M

INT

FL

Tot

Opp Int

Opp FL

Opp Tot

TOM

2008

12

18

30

9

11

20

-10

2009 (8 Games)

10

8

18

7

4

11

-7

Average/Game

1.1

1.3

2.4

0.8

0.75

1.55

-0.85

So we've got three negative teams here: Rodriguez's 3-8 opening season in Morgantown and the last two at Michigan. You could argue that the turnovers caused the crappy records of those teams, but a quick glance at the yardage for and against—not so good—suggests that the relationship is the inverse: the crappy teams' crappiness is exacerbated by lots of turnover issues.

The defense sucking is apparent: 20 turnovers last year and on pace for maybe 17 this year, numbers lower than any Rodriguez had at West Virginia and approximately 60% of the WVU average. The offense is running at a 40% higher  turnover clip, too. It is a wholesale failure.

The emailer ran down three reasons, all of which I think apply to the situation, and left one out: poor pass protection. Turnovers are pretty random but not entirely so, and the one thing that consistently causes them is pressure on the quarterback. See: Kirk Cousins in the MSU game, who turned the ball over three times because he got hit as he threw or was stripped as he was sacked. Quarterbacks naturally turn the ball over more than anyone else, but only if they're getting pressure. Michigan's combination of freshman quarterbacks and a leaky offensive line is murder for TO margin, especially when those quarterbacks are as raw as Robinson or as moxified as Forcier.

Rodriguez does not have a history of lots of turnovers on offense so the assumption here is that the last two years of butterfingers are a talent issue, not a coaching one. Michigan's failure to acquire turnovers is obviously a talent issue, too, but could have some coaching components to it since Jeff Casteel stuck with WVU. It's too early to tell in Robinson's first year.

Hi Brian, long time reader and listener,

Seems to me the Oregon team looks a lot like Michigan is supposed to.  Chip Kelly, who studied under Rodriguez, isn't even in a full year and has a team that looks cohesive and fully engaged in the spread system.  I know they were a spread team before, but it still doesn't make sense that there is no comparison between the two teams. 
I guess my question is, hasn't Rodriguez had enough time to recruit those fast players, even if the team is not yet complete enough to win like Oregon?  Michigan has all these smaller guys but still seems as slow as it ever has. Why the glaring differences?
Nick

Chip Kelly is in his third year at Oregon. Mike Bellotti brought him in as offensive coordinator before the 2007 season after Kelly's spread 'n' shred at New Hampshire tore up I-AA defenses. Bellotti had also been an offensive coordinator elevated to head coach when Rich Brooks left Oregon in 1994. Oregon set up a smooth coach-in-waiting transition and avoided any unusual attrition in the changeover.

As far as the offense: in 2005, Oregon moved from a traditional passing attack with Joey Harrington under center to a spread 'n' shred when Bellotti hired Gary Crowton. Only redshirt seniors were recruited with a different offense in mind..Oregon is in year five of a transition period that had its ugly moments, like a 38-8 loss to BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl, and never had the sort of black hole at quarterback Michigan did. Jeremiah Masoli was a third-string sophomore JUCO transfer; Michigan's third string quarterback is Nick Sheridan.

So, yes, Chip Kelly is a first-year head coach but this was essentially an internal transition for a team already set up to run a spread 'n' shred.

Q: Has an RR offense ever featured running back screens? I know we do the bubble stuff and the RB wheel routes and flats, but what about a more traditional screen? It seems like Abundance of RB Talent Relative to WR Talent + Opposing Defenses Knowing They Can Overwhelm the OL With Blitzes should = Let’s At Least Try a Few Screens and Maybe One of Them Will Go to the House.

Yours,

Willie Beavers

I don't think so. Michigan's used a flare screen several times this year—Carlos Brown scored a 60-yard touchdown against Indiana on it—but the traditional drop-back-and loft-it-over-a-zillion-guys screen is not a staple of the offense. I'm not sure why, but I get the impression that it wouldn't work very well because it would be easy to scout: oh the tailback is running in this direction, which is unlike any of the directions he usually runs because it's not a stretch play it's probably this thing we saw on film and is not very disguised.

Yep these are my readers, I steal from Simmons, go:

It's not the city of trees, but 17 trees and counting are missing branches of various length in New York City.

RAGE!

For those wondering what this means, I promised to rip a branch off every tree in Ann Arbor if we lost.

Comments

steve sharik

November 3rd, 2009 at 12:54 PM ^

Just thought you'd like to know...

There is a boot screen in the offense. You zone read fake and then boot away. The QB boots away for a few steps, then throws a screen back to the TB. We ran it at Milford a few times with great success, especially since we ran the boot frequently.

bml

November 3rd, 2009 at 2:07 PM ^

for the illumination. follow-up: what element of a more typical pro-style offense does the screen counter (or provides a counter to the screen)? brian's point that OLs and an RB running out wide are a pretty easy defensive key makes sense, but what are the pro-style plays that counter this key? I.e. what looks like a pro-style screen but then is not. I guess you do sometimes see the QB fake a quick slant to the side opposite the screen (or the opposite, where he fakes the screen and then throws a bubble screen or some such to the opposite side).

kman23

November 3rd, 2009 at 11:32 PM ^

If the DE on the WR side drops back or doesn't rush the QB the ball goes to the RB. The WR, in the tunnel screen, runs to the middle of the field so that side DE can make the tackle behind the wall of blockers. The RB runs to the sideline so the DE doesn't matter since 99% of the time he can't catch the RB (unless the RB is stuck waiting for his blocks).

zlionsfan

November 3rd, 2009 at 5:09 PM ^

I'm not sure there are too many plays that look like pro-style screens and aren't, particularly not the jailbreak screen (where you don't have time to do anything other than the screen). I think pro-style screens are intended to counter defensive pressure rather than provide alternatives to another play from that formation.

Bubble screens might be one possibility, but the deception there would be entirely in the routes.

NCAA 10 has a couple of slip screens in Michigan's playbook, where the OL and RB wait a second or two before slipping out to the side. Good side: you can have them remain in normal pass protection and run normal routes from the same set. Bad side: a heavy pass rush can hold up the RB and neutralize the screen.

crum

November 3rd, 2009 at 12:54 PM ^

Just spoke to Joe Tiller, after he spit out an ice cube he told me that Rich Rod has the equipment staff put snake oil on the footballs before each game, the last two seasons they got to the wrong teams ball bags.

Ziff72

November 3rd, 2009 at 12:54 PM ^

We have a true freshmen at qb!!! Oh and how fast did Oregon look in week 1 against Boise when they got shredded and looked completely inept. Oregon's situation has no relevance to Michigan. Now if someone wanted to look at Cincinatti then you might have an argument, though I'm still sticking with RR.

jamiemac

November 3rd, 2009 at 12:55 PM ^

Did I just read that a reader thinks Forcier/Robinson are as inept as Threet/Sheridan.

Head Asplode.

So much so, that there is not any head left over to asplode at the whining about why we aren't Oregon right now.

Hey! Chip Kelly was all but in charge of the offense that ripped our "great" 2007 to shreds. He's not having issues in year one because the system and the players he needs to run his system, were already in place by the time he became OC, let alone head coach.

The situations could not be more different....not to mention, Oregon has had the better football program since at least 2001.

Tater

November 3rd, 2009 at 12:58 PM ^

The reader who was comapring RR to Kelly actually made a point opposite of the one he was trying to make. When RR has the system in place long enough, he will be able to beat teams like USC. It's been a long time since UM has done that.

Arizona Blue

November 3rd, 2009 at 3:08 PM ^

your post implies that the spread offense is superior to a more traditional or a pro-style offense. Unfortunately, your assertion fails to address the fact that USC has hammered Oregon (overall) since its adoption of the spread. Scheme is just one aspect of success.

Blue in Seattle

November 3rd, 2009 at 1:30 PM ^

to the emailer who asked,

"Look at the infamous drive from Saturday. Regardless of how that turned out, the play calling at the goal line, the inept OL play at the goal line, whether the refs got it correct on the reviews*, or how it turned out Michigan fumbled the ball THREE TIMES on that drive. Forcier fumbled and Moosman recovered. Roundtree fumbled and was ruled down. Minor fumbled and was ruled down. How can three different players fumble the ball on the same drive
??? That isn’t random luck, that’s a systemic problem, isn’t it"

I offer this, it was neither, it was situational context. Roundtree was doing everthing he could to get the ball in the end zone. In the present state of the game, and how the officials have been reviewing goal line calls, everyone knows that once the ball breaks the plane it is a touchdown and everything after is dead. So one of the safest things you can do when in the grasp of a player with now one else around is to fall forward and stretch out everything you have. Since if you don't break the plane, the other safe guard is that the ground cannot cause a fumble.

Now in response to envoking the name of St. Hart, let's all remember a certain bowl game against a certain Florida team where the sticky handed St. Hart lost not just one, but TWO fumbles at the goal line.

The difference for Mike Hart in that game though, was that he extended at the goal line in the middle of Florida Defensive strength. In one case 2 Florida defenders were available to slap the ball out of his hands.

I wanted to slap him as he ran back to the sideline with that grin plastered on his face and shrugging at the beatified Coach Carr.

Because St Hart was always about the ego and, for that bowl game, he was no longer the star, Henne and the spread out receivers were the glory that day.

So why didn't that well coached young man just do what he had always done for four years, hug the ball inside that little body of steel and take the yards that were there?

Ego was his situational context,

For this 2009 team against Illinois on that one breakthrough drive, it was desparation. For Roundtree reasonable desparation,

For Coach Rod's play calling, Coach Jackson's belief in his running backs, and for the players themselves on those 4 failed attempts at a touchdown (didn't the ball come out on like 3 of the 4 attemtps after the player was down?) it was desparation.

even the best coached stable minded players in the game, will sometime give in to their emotions,

and follow the path of the dark side...

jeag

November 3rd, 2009 at 1:46 PM ^

But if turnover margin is nearly random, and Rodriguez at WVA had an unusually high turnover margin, wouldn't that suggest those teams were unusually lucky, and he might not be as good a coach as he seemed?

Not that he...well, you know.

KBLOW

November 3rd, 2009 at 1:56 PM ^

I have to join the chorus and express the ridiculousness of Nick's question as to why the glaring difference between Oregon and Michigan. For a "long time" reader he seems to know very little about the spread or, clearly, Oregon's situation. Besides that fact that Chip Kelly didn't need to do any program wide rebuilding, his Defensive Coordinator, Nick Aliotti, has also been a part of the the Oregon program, on and off, for 20 years.

maxr

November 3rd, 2009 at 3:22 PM ^

What's also telling is Brian's response that Oregon is in the 5th year of their "rebuilding" since adopting the spread. It's been parroted here before, but bears repeating: it'll probably take 3-5 years for the M offense to be fully up to speed. And I'm considering this year to be Year 1, since we've got a new QB.

It sucks, but I don't expect the team to be a BCS contender for another 2-3ish years.

wile_e8

November 3rd, 2009 at 3:31 PM ^

FWIW this is kinda a bad analogy since, despite attempts by most of us to forget it completely, Oregon was a BCS contender two years ago until Dennis Dixon's ACL gave out. But he was a senior who suffered serious growing pains the previous years while all our quarterbacks will still be true freshmen and sophomores.

BostonWolverine

November 3rd, 2009 at 2:44 PM ^

"roundtree fumbled at the goal line and was ruled down."
"minor fumbled and was ruled down."

I saw those plays. Neither of them were fumbles. You know why? Because being down means you CANNOT fumble. In both cases, their knee/elbow hit the ground before the ball came out. That means there was only one fumble on the drive. Not three.

Yes, there are fumbling issues - but let's focus on the ones that ARE fumbles. There are enough of them to dissect.

jlvanals

November 3rd, 2009 at 3:15 PM ^

You're right that they were down, but when a player loses the ball so close to the end of the run that it necessitates video review, the difference between that and an actual fumble is milliseconds. I disagree with the proposition that just because a player is technically "down" he did not fumble, for the purposes of this analysis. Call it whatever you want, but when a player loses control of the ball without purposefully giving it up, whether he was down or not, this is a bad thing. Holding on to the damn ball applies just as much when your knee is 2 inches from the ground as it does in the split second it hits it. The only difference is that in the former you're playing with fire and in the latter the fire is blowing up in your face.

This is not to say we haven't been unlucky these last two years, just that the difference between an fumble when a player is down and a fumble when he's 2 inches off the ground (or whatever the case) is negligible.

jsquigg

November 3rd, 2009 at 3:03 PM ^

While some turnovers might be considered random, I think turnovers aren't random as a general rule. Great coaches emphasize creating turnovers as well as protecting the ball. I'm not saying this as a referendum on Rodriguez's coaching because I know what he's working with, but I also know that given the circumstances it shouldn't be this bad.
It might be just me, but I think that other spread teams seem to have more creative play calling, although I'm sure that has to do with better/more established line play as well as more experience as a general rule. I've heard people who think Rodriguez should dub down the offense for that reason, but I actually think that puts the offense in a more vulnerable situation.
Just beat Purdue for God's sake....

Captain

November 3rd, 2009 at 5:23 PM ^

Isn't one of the emailers this week a recruit appearing on Sam Webb's "Dandy Dozen"? Pretty stellar OT out of Southfield Lathrup if I recall correctly. If so...awesome, glad to have the contribution.

Or maybe there are two Willie Beavers, in which case...also awesome.

kman23

November 3rd, 2009 at 11:20 PM ^

While Branch often ensured Woodley went 1 on 1 with the left tackle I also think Branch took a lot of Woodley's sacks and TFLs. All in all I really have no clue if Branch net helps or hurts Woodley's stats.

I really think the key to the RR defense is having a Branch at NT. Having some who can 1. stop runs up the middle (and thus allowing the LBs and Safties to move to the outside without worrying about a 75 yard run past Kovacs) 2. get a pass rush from up the middle, not just outside and 3. not letting the QB step into his throws without being killed (Anthony Morelli) or throwing into the NT's arms.

SouthU

November 4th, 2009 at 10:44 AM ^

The Oregon offense pre-Chip Kelly wasn't exactly a traditional passing attack. I have a vivid memory of being in Autzen Stadium in 2003 while the Ducks ran an array of unconventional spread-like plays to confound the Michigan defense with blaring jet-engine-like crowd noise for four hours (and that was just my ex-girlfriend sitting next to me, but seriously). I realize Bellotti went deep into his bag of tricks for that game, but he was always a bit of wildcard offensively, which is probably why he liked the cut of Chip Kelly's gib to begin with.