Mailbag! With Birds!

Submitted by Brian on December 17th, 2010 at 1:26 PM


This could be you!


Is it possible that Rich Rodriguez's style of offense doesn't give his defense enough time to rest between drives?  Using numbers from, I calculated the following "time per drive" stats for Michigan and three other Big Ten teams:

Michigan: 2.18 (minutes per offensive drive)
Michigan State: 2.73
Ohio State: 2.83
Wisconsin: 2.95

Defenses for the latter 3 teams have about 30% more time to rest between drives.

I thought of this because, after the Washington Redskins fired offensive guru Al Saunders, some defensive players said he had a bad tendency run his offense without any concern for the effects on the defense.  Maybe Michigan's defensive woes aren't entirely a product of bad defensive coaching and youth.

My edition of Windows Live Writer automatically links to a post discussing how I hate time of possession whenever I type the words, so I'm probably not the guy to make this argument to. While it is possible that Michigan's lack of rest between drives contributed to the terrible defense,the goal of Michigan's varying tempos and generally quick pace is to place stress on the opposing defense. Arguing that short drives stress the defense is one side of the coin; the other is that they contribute to the offense's success.

The actual difference in rest is lower, too. The 45 seconds on game clock Michigan's isn't running isn't much when you account for TV timeouts and stoppages for first downs and incomplete passes and reviews and etc etc etc. I'd guess the difference is considerably less than 30%. Amongst the many factors that led to the defense's demise this year, "tiredness because the offense has short drives" is well down the list.

Hi guys,

I'm a lifelong Michigan fan and moderate supporter of Rich Rodriguez.  Here is my question...  What can happen with the D coordinator position?  We know Robinson should be fired, who are some good candidates to replace him if they stick with RichRod?  Also, with all the unknowns regarding RichRod, does this mean that Robinson won't be fired until there is a firm decision about Rodriguez?  Do we really have to keep him until New Years?  Thanks guys,

Faithful supporter,

The answers change significantly based on what defense you want to run. If Michigan is sticking with a 3-3-5 they should get someone who knows how to, you know, run the defense. The old and proven version of this coordinator is San Diego State's Rocky Long*, the former New Mexico head coach. He had a fairly successful decade-long run before running out of energy a couple years ago. The younger and not so proven option would be someone like Louisiana-Monroe's Troy Reffett, who's about 20 years younger than Long and has bounced around smaller schools, coordinating 3-3-5s at UTEP, New Mexico, and now ULM. ULM was seventh in the Sun Belt in yardage when he arrived and has finished 2nd and 3rd in his two years as the coordinator.

I don't think that should be a factor, though. From the outside it looks like they brought in Robinson, let him do his thing for a season, realized he was Greg Robinson 2010—not 1997—and tried to triage as best they could. This went not so well. The best thing to do is learn from your mistakes like a human, bring in a guy with an actual track record of success and let him run the defense. The less wacky the better. This means changing the D for like the fifth straight year, but we're doing that whether or not Rodriguez is retained so you might as well get used to the idea now.

As for who those might be:

  • Randy Shannon was discussed in a previous mailbag. As an unemployed guy with a recent barrage of defenses somewhere between good and great, he's obviously appealing. He'd help Michigan's Florida recruiting while running a defiantly Big Ten-style "this is our 4-3 cover two we run every play, try to beat it please" defense. Downsides: he's never done anything but coach at Miami and may call the fire marshal when he sees an actually full stadium, and other cultural whatnot. He may hold out for another head coaching job, or leave if he gets offered one.
  • The other interesting unemployed college DC is Pitt's Phil Bennett, a 52-year old who was SMU's head coach before June Jones came in. In three years at Pitt he posted FEIs of 27th, 26th, and 31st. His SMU years were moderately successful until the 1-11 crater that cost him his job; before that he was the K-State DC from 1999 to 2001, during which time the Wildcats finished in the top five in total defense every year. All K-State stats under Snyder should be taken with a heavy pinch of salt, but that's still a pretty good record for an available guy.
  • Mike Trgovac is the Michigan Man/chaperone option most commonly presented. He was the Panthers' DC for six successful years before turning down a contract extension and leaving to be a DL coach at Green Bay, which is bizarre but whatever. He's 50—the coaching sweet spot—but hasn't coached in college since 1994.
  • Another option is throwing scads of cash at a guy whose existing school can't afford to keep him. This might bode unwell for our bowl game but Manny Diaz's maniacal maniacs at Mississippi State are 14th in FEI this year. He's working under an offensive-minded head coach and is obviously the motive force behind that ranking. Diaz is young and fiery. This is an upside, but the downside is he has only one year under his belt in the SEC. At Middle Tennessee his last three defenses were 44th(hey, pretty good for MTSU), 103rd, and 84th (not so good).

Depressingly, a scan down the FEI defense list for good units at schools Michigan can drown in 100 dollar bills doesn't hit much of interest past Diaz until you get to #34, which is Syracuse and Scott Shafer. Everyone else is either not happening, dodgy because the head coach is the defensive mastermind, or TCU's Dick Bumpas, who's probably not happening.

*(Savor long and deep the irony of the quintessential "Michigan Man" candidate running a 3-3-5.)

Do you and Tim have a pretty good idea of the total number of recruits we can sign this year?  I've heard people say about 18-19, but with all of the unexpected departures (Vlad, Turner, LaLota, White, Rogers, Dorsey, CJones, Kinard) that last year's class was a lot smaller than originally thought and that there are more roster spots available.

The Depth Chart By Class shows 77 scholarship players, ten of whom graduate. I'm assuming that Jordan Kovacs is now on scholarship but Will Heininger, Kevin Leach, Seth Broekhuizen and the various fullbacks are not, at least not until Michigan ends up with fewer than 85 scholarship players. That would leave a class of 18. In addition, I think it's unlikely Steve Watson and Mike Williams get fifth years, bringing the total to 20. They've currently got:

  • QB: 0
  • RB: 1
  • WR: 0
  • TE: 0
  • Slot: 1
  • OL: 3
  • DE: 2
  • DT: 0
  • LB: 2
  • CB: 4
  • S: 0
  • K: 0

That's 13, leaving seven slots for a kicker, a safety, a DT, a guard, and then three slots that could go to whoever they want. Chris Bryant is likely to be the guard, and two of the wild-card selections seem likely to be DE/DT Anthony Zettel and WR/LB Kris Frost. There are no likely options at DT right now and the safeties Michigan is in on seem like longshots, though it's possible Greg Brown ends up at FS. I'm also guessing Cullen Christian moves to FS this spring.

Are you a student? Do you like costumes?


After watching the dissapointing Bball attendance, myself and another remote alum and bball fan would like to help support the team but unfortunately are too far to make it to the games. We'd like to sponsor tickets for 2 students for the remainder of games provided they wear Big Bird costumes and Blake McLimans jerseys or T-Shirts.

The problem is, we don't know where to start finding 2 students willing to go to the games dressed as Big Bird and take our sponsored tickets. After reading the blog, I feel like this is a project you could get behind.


Behind it I am. Email me if you're interested in being the Blake McLimans fan club and I'll send your information along to Dave. Anyone else interested in exchanging money for shots of someone looking silly at a basketball game should contact me immediately.



December 17th, 2010 at 1:47 PM ^

Brian, you said it in your own post earlier, don't perpetuate the myth.   We don not run a 3-3-5.   WVU runs a 3-3-5.  We are a multiple defense with 3 man line packages. If RR wanted to run a 3-3-5 he would.  He always says he wants to be multiple to be able to match up against any offense and not be put at a disadvantage like when we had C. Graham and J. Thompson trying to guard slot receivers.   Good in theory,  but to pull off a Bellichick or Saban defense you need smart, good,  experienced players of which we had very few.    Obviously this has not worked and we would have been much better running just 1 scheme this year,  but it could pay off in the future regardless of scheme because they have been exposed to just about everything.

Tell Oregon about how much they are killing their defense by scoring too fast.  TOP is stupid.   Just to drive the point home,  they just showed a stat yesterday that Oregon is the best defense in the country in the 4th qtr.   End of debate.


Rant over.


December 17th, 2010 at 2:42 PM ^

OK...I have heard the argument about TOP, but how about the number of plays?  Are you saying that wouldn't make a difference.  It would seem to me that once you get beyond some average number of plays, there has to be a diminution of a player's ability to perform..  I have not checked the stats, but in the NFL at least, it seems like many RB's seem to start gaining yards in big chunks in the fourth quarter as D's wear down.


December 17th, 2010 at 3:44 PM ^

is that with a lead greater than a certain amount, there's a corresponding reduction in both a) the ability of the opposing offense to execute its preferred game plan and b) the likelihood of the other team coming back even if you do have more trouble stopping them.

Yes, in a close game, it's possible that a team with a quick-strike offense could face a challenge from a more patient team, but that could happen in pretty much any situation, and number of plays doesn't necessarily translate to success. Michigan is 19th in I-A in terms of plays per game, at 72.9, and 22nd in points per game (overall points), 34.3 PPG. The 20th team in plays per game is Louisiana-Monroe; they averaged just under 21 PPG. (To be fair, there's not a lot of variation until you get to the ends of the bell curve: there are more than 50 teams within 5 plays per game of Michigan.)

Warning: amateur statistician. The correlation between points per game and yards per play is much stronger than that between points per game and plays per game. There is a lot of noise in the data, though: of course high-scoring teams tend also to be winning teams unless they have bad defenses, and near the ends of games, even quick-strike teams tend to run more plays (because they're running the clock out, unless they're coaching Wisconsin), so conversely worse teams end up running fewer plays.

Teams with 10 or more wins are scattered throughout the table: Oklahoma ran 87 plays per game to lead the country, but that team in East Lansing ran only 63.3 plays per game, tied for 103rd with a couple of Pac-10 teams (Cal and Oregon State). LSU, Utah, Central Florida, Virginia Tech, and Hawaii all were in the bottom third ranked by plays per game.

As far as RBs and fourth-quarter yards, well, how much of that is the team with the lead simply grinding the clock out? Football Outsiders did some research into "establishing the run" and "padding rushing stats" (warning, the article is from the 2002 season), and they found a much stronger relationship between fourth-quarter carries and wins than fourth-quarter yards and wins. (This makes sense when you think about it, especially if you've played Madden or NCAA or both and done it yourself: you'd almost rather get fewer yards per carry in the fourth, as long as you're getting first downs, so you can take more time off the clock.)

Overall, though, you'd be surprised. Rushing yards are very consistent for the NFL as a whole by quarter: rushing yards decreased slightly by quarter throughout the league, with 15,264 yards in the first quarter down to 14,635 in the fourth. (Plays canceled by penalty are not included.) YPG was roughly the same in each of the first three quarters, from 4.45 in the third to 4.51 in the second, but dropped to 4.29 in the fourth ... if there are RBs who are breaking down defenses, they're offset by teams who are running the ball to run clock and don't care about production.

The teams with the best yards per carry in the fourth quarter were varied: Chicago, Green Bay, and Tennessee averaged more than 5 yards, while Cincinnati, Oakland, New England, and San Diego averaged less than 3.6. (Data courtesy of Football Outsiders; eventually I'll drop it into SQL Server and do some fun things with it. You can get data for each of the last five seasons, but it costs: $30 for 2005 through $50 for 2009.)

That's a very, very longwinded way of supporting the initial point: time of possession is nice for announcers to discuss, number of plays keeps people occupied, wearing down a defense does have its advantages, but the ultimate goal is points. Score enough of them and it doesn't matter who you do it.


December 17th, 2010 at 1:50 PM ^

"after the Washington Redskins fired offensive guru Al Saunders, some defensive players said he had a bad tendency run his offense without any concern for the effects on the defense."

Using the Washington Redskins as an example of anything other than greed or comedic incompetence is just not a winning argument.



December 17th, 2010 at 1:57 PM ^

My wish list includes someone analyzing whether the way we run our offense puts the defense in unfavorable positions. That includes putting the defense out there without rest, increasing the number of plays the defense must defend, and potentially even a field position analysis (I'm wondering if our offense is so feast-or-famine that we often don't move the ball before punting?).

I'm not saying that it's necessarily the case, but I'm very curious to know if some of our gaudy offensive numbers are coming at the cost of the defense, or if the defense just sucks completely indepently of the offense.


December 17th, 2010 at 2:09 PM ^

Turnovers compromise your defense, so in that respect yes the offense put the defense in a bad position, other than that the argument is silly.  

Each team gets a turn, nomatter how long you take the other team gets a turn.  If you score with your offense it doesn't matter.

If you are talking about rankings nationally I'm sure having so many possessions in a game negatively effects your scoring ranking because of the extra possessions, but it does not effect the actual usefullness of your defense.


December 17th, 2010 at 3:56 PM ^

Teams alternate possessions. Scoring is what's important not yards or TOP.

Going three and out is bad regardless of your offensive scheme. Scoring quickly may mean the defense is on field longer but you also have more points. And again, the points are what matter.


December 17th, 2010 at 3:57 PM ^

Time of possession itself doesn't make your defense give up yards and points. Being bad does: if your yards-per-play is high enough, you'll give up more points, even if the opponents don't run as many plays.

Texas A&M was fourth-worst in opponent plays per game, but was 27th in points allowed per game. Oklahoma State allowed more opponents' plays per game than anyone else in the country and still went 10-2.

East Carolina was 114th in plays against, 118th in points against, 120th in yards against ... sure, plays had something to do with it, but it was more likely because their defense just isn't any good.

Blue Blue Blue

December 17th, 2010 at 2:20 PM ^


your "column" is still the guts of this site, and when you capture the essence, you sniff it, snort it, rub it on your face and lick it off.

your observation:   "Depressingly, a scan down the FEI defense list for good units at schools Michigan can drown in 100 dollar bills doesn't hit much of interest past Diaz until you get to....."  showed the kind of attitude and insight that makes this site what it is......not M Go points.

UFR is awesome beyond belief, but this site is just a bunch of ranting wolverines without that attitude.


December 17th, 2010 at 2:38 PM ^

My seatmates and I, in discussing Michigan's solid start to the season, coupled with our penchant for nicknaming Michigan players, whether they take or not (ie Matt "Rust Never Sleeps" or going back a ways Greg "Coffee is for" Croziers.)

Anyway, in that spirit: Start calling Evan Smotrycz "Mr. Smot'z" and draw him in sunglasses a la


December 17th, 2010 at 2:39 PM ^

I'm still wondering what DC with a proven track record wants to come to Michigan to become our fourth DC in five years knowing that the head coach is on the "hot seat" and the entire staff is likely to be dismissed if 2011 results disappoint.  I think the problem is further complicated if the theoretical new DC doesn't have the ability to select his own position coaches.

I'm on board with giving Rodriguez another year, but I agree that something needs to change on the defensive side of the ball, and I'm not convinced we can hire a known commodity at DC.  That leaves us rolling the dice with some unproven DC or pulling someone off the scrap heap.


December 17th, 2010 at 3:16 PM ^

if Brandon sticks with Rodriguez let him make the call. I am just as disappointed in the defensive performance over the last three years (special teams too) as the rest of the mgoblog faithful but I still think that if Rodriguez is the head coach, we have to let him choose (or at least participate in the decision).

After all, its his job that is most at stake. I know I am in the minority with this opinion. I look at this year on defense much like Rodriguez's first year on offense though. The personnel issues outweigh most of our coaching problems I think. Next year should be better no matter who the defensive coordinator is.


December 17th, 2010 at 2:45 PM ^

From GR Press arrticle on Desmond Morgan comittment:

Morgan said he wasn’t bothered by the swirling rumors regarding Rodriguez’s future.
“I’ve talked with coach Rodriguez and the rest of the coaches and they’re pretty confident he’s going to be there after the season,” Morgan said. “I’m pretty confident as well. No matter what happens, Michigan’s a great football program.”

kind of a big deal

December 17th, 2010 at 2:50 PM ^

If the D could stop anyone, they'd get off the field sooner.  They couldn't stop ANYONE and were therefore on the field all game long.

Just as an offense can score quickly, some Defenses actually force these amazing things called 3 and outs, where the opposing offense has to use a player called a "punter", and your offense gets to go back on the field with the ball, allowing your Defense to go to the sideline.


December 17th, 2010 at 3:31 PM ^

There are so many hundreds upon hundreds of CC threads..... way too many to read (without getting fired from my job anyway).... so I'm sure this must've been said somewhere.  But it hadn't occurred to me until I read the mailbag about who's available for DC:

DB is not "waiting" to make a decision about RR at all. It's about the DC. He's waiting for the coaching carousel to fling a few DCs off its horses when HCs get the axe or leave of their own accord. Pitt's Phil Bennett wasn't an option 2-3 weeks ago. Bill Stewart has been given the option to stay another year at WVU, but frankly if I'm put in that place (with, as publicly announced, NO confidence from the AD), I'm out the door.... which, Casteel.

So yeah. RR's going nowhere. It's all about waiting for the DC thing to shake out.

/speculative CC nonsense supported by zero facts


December 17th, 2010 at 3:11 PM ^

in simple terms: isn't the Offense they are facing just as "tired", given they're on the field for literally exactly the same amount of time? 

If Denard scores so fast that our D doesn't have time to catch a breath, well neither does the other team's OL/QB


December 17th, 2010 at 4:04 PM ^

If Denard scores ...

This is key and most people really do not appreciate it fully.

The reality is an up tempo offense puts pressure on both teams' defenses. And whether it benefits the up tempo team or the other team more depends largely on which team can handle the pace better. This is partly a question of preparation and experience playing at the higher tempo, but it also is a question of personnel (quality and depth).

If the up tempo team is extremely effective at moving the ball and scoring (e.g. Oregon), it is very difficult for most opponents to keep pace in the race for points. On the other hand, if the up tempo team simply goes three and out faster than it would with a more conventional pace (e.g. UM in certain games this year), the higher pace accomplishes little more than returning possession to the other team sooner. Even worse, if the other team has a relatively more effective offense than the up tempo team (e.g. Wisconsin), this actually works in the other team's favor.

UM's problem this year was (a) too many turnovers, which severely reduced the effectiveness of its offense, and (b) the general ineffectiveness of its defense against the better B10 teams. The combination of (a) and (b) was devastating against the better competition and UM's up tempo offense only made the situation worse. The flip side, however, is that another year or two of experience should go a long way to fixing (a) and (b), because increased experience among the offensive skill players should reduce unforced turnovers and increased experience and better skill players on the defensive side should make that unit much more effective. It is not too far-fetched to think UM 2011 and UM 2012 could look much like Oregon 2010.


December 17th, 2010 at 3:23 PM ^

I realize that basketball and football (or even hockey and football) are two entirely different sports but there are different approaches to the same. To suggest that football's TOP is more important than attack time in hockey or basketball's TOP is pretty foolish to me.

You have teams in basketball that run and gun or are dependent on the fast break and they win, a lot. You have teams in basketball that run half court offenses that slow down the game and try and limit the possesions of the other team and they win, a lot.

In hockey you have the wings who control the puck nonstop and are always on the attack and they win a lot. but then you have the edmonton, calgary, etc type teams that dump and chase and don't control the puck a lot but still score and win a lot.

They are different approaches to the same end and they are all viable. Its ultimately down to execution. You win running a fast paced offense (hey 2000 era STL Rams) or a ball control style (hey Pittsburgh Steelers). The way this offense and defense will improve to championship level is to execute whatever scheme they're in an limit the opponents ability to score based on their mistakes. When you turn the ball over at alarming levels (08, 09, 10 all fit that mold) I don't care if you have the '85 bears defense or Michigan's '97 defense you'll lose. See: Chicago Bears last year vs. this year. They stop turning the ball over (as much) and they win, a lot more...not rocket science.

This offense is not ENTIRELY to blame for the defense's struggles and the philsophy behind uptempo and speed offense has nothing to do with the defense being better or worse.  


December 17th, 2010 at 4:11 PM ^

Amongst the many factors that led to the defense's demise this year, "tiredness because the offense has short drives" is well down the list.

If it's a significant factor, then you'd expect to see scoring by Michigan's opponents clustered in the 2nd and 4th quarters. That happened in 10 out of 12 games (compared to 5, 6 and 8 games for MSU, OSU and Wisconsin, respectively).

Ziff72's point about Oregon led me to check their stats. Time-per-drive is 2.08 (even lower then UM), and they gave up more points in the 2nd/4th quarters in only 5 games. Bad news for my theory unless Oregon's defense is composed of mutants who get stronger the longer they're on the field.


December 17th, 2010 at 4:56 PM ^

I was amazed that Brian's top mailbag question today was something I had just looked at for my own curiosity.  I didn't find a significant result, so I hadn't planned on posting it.  However, given that the question has apparently come up enough for Brian to address it, I've posted my quick-and-dirty analysis in a diary: CC/OPC: ToP v. Defense


December 17th, 2010 at 5:07 PM ^

Brian -- look a few spots past Syracuse/Shafer on the 2010 DFEI rankings and you'll find Navy, which fields consistently excellent defenses under coordinator Buddy Green. I've been banging the drum for Green for a while now -- see this post.  My idea is to copy the success Texas A&M had in overhauling their defense this year by bringing in Tim DeRuyter from Air Force.

I'm sure Navy is a great program to coach at, but I would think UM could show Green enough "scads of cash" to convince him to come to Ann Arbor.

kevin holt

December 17th, 2010 at 5:56 PM ^

How the hell is Rocky Long the quintessential Michigan Man coaching candidate? Maybe I'm stupid, or maybe you put the asterisk next to the wrong name, but I'm pretty sure he never played at, went to, or has been affiliated with Michigan. He played at some shitty minor league football team near Detroit apparently, but that's all.

And I know, Michigan Man doesn't mean "played at Michigan", and Yost is from WV, and etc. but I'm still in the dark about why Long would be. Yost wasn't a "Michigan Man" when he started firstly because the term didn't exist before he coined it and secondly because he just wasn't yet. The term means someone who praises and supports our University far and wide and above anything else. Yes I get sick of people using the term to degrade certain coaches without knowing the actual history, so don't accuse me of it.

I'm against eliminating Michigan Man from the vernacular, but I am very pro-eliminating it as a CC buzzword.