Mailbag: Ceilings, D Mitigation Attempt Rejected, Lineman Buffer Zone Comment Count

Brian October 23rd, 2013 at 3:42 PM

10370587676_72b4b73b35_z[1]Ceiling issues.

[ed: sent after PSU game. Eric Upchurch photo @ right.]

Something that has been gnawing at me for a while is what we have really  reached Hoke’s ceiling in terms of coaching? I wonder if only a generational player like Robinson was able to change that the past two years. I don’t doubt Hoke is a terrific person that will be able to recruit due to his personality, I just don’t know that there is depth regarding football strategy as well which is required to be elite. I otherwise just can’t explain such a discombobulated state going into a third year of a coaching staff even with a younger o-line.


I don't agree with that premise. It looks like Hoke is bringing in a large number of NFL talents on both sides of the ball and if those guys do work out, the philosophy of the staff will be in line with what Michigan can do. Hoke is working with a decimated senior/redshirt junior class that provided his team Gardner, Ryan, Black, and zero other starters. The class after that one was constructed during the chaotic final days of the Rodriguez administration and suffered further when Hoke was given only three weeks to add ten guys.

There is no comparison between those two classes—which should be the heart of the team—and what Michigan will begin to have when the 2012 and 2013 classes, which have lost one of their 52 members so far.

This is not the ceiling. Michigan loses Quinton Washington, Courtney Avery, and Thomas Gordon after the year, and no one else from their two deep (if Cam Gordon is now the third-string SAM.) They bring in Jabrill Peppers and probably DaShawn Hand, either or both of whom could be generational players. They can go from a good defense to an elite one. On offense… I don't know, man. I'm on the Art Briles side of the fence

"We do not try to go to the body to set up the knockout shot," Briles said at a recent coaching clinic. "We try to score on every snap."

…and some of the stuff they've tried to do with personnel ill-suited to do it sets your teeth on edge. Once they have those guys in place, though, things should be smoother, if somewhat old fashioned.

This 8-4 lookin' Gator Bowl outfit is not the ceiling. The minimum reasonable expectation for that is "not able to beat Urban Meyer much."

[After THE JUMP: maybe the D wasn't that bad? (It was.) And linemen running amok.]

Defense mitigation attempt.


Mattison DOES NOT APPROVE [Bryan Fuller]

Brian -

Much like with the offense versus some of the crappier performances this year I'm trying to wrap my head around what happened with the D on Saturday.  Something I wonder about is whether we would have a totally different opinion of the game with a few small differences: 

  • If Taylor actually completes the Pick-6
  • If Stribling intercepts instead of giving up a bomb
  • If Michigan's offense gets the FG without being blocked or Gallon doesn't drop the crossing route in space that could have been another 50 yards.
  • Fitz doesn't hand them the ball inside the 20 on his fumble.

My thinking is that the D still struggled giving up yards, but that's been their plan all year.  What if they had four turnovers instead of just two and the scoreboard read that Michigan was up by 3+ scores thanks to the pick-6, the FG, and possibly another long Gallon run? 

You know - after typing this email I think you're right- we can't learn anything from this game.  It all comes down to MSU in two weeks on both sides of the ball. 

Gurnee, IL

If is a big if for all of those things to happen, and Michigan scored on the drive featuring the Gallon dig route drop anyway. The pick six Taylor did not make should be added to our pile of knowledge about him*, and ditto the Stribling yoink. The Taylor play was also followed by Indiana completing a 33-yard pass that Wilson took a bad angle on. Right now we have a guy who's in position to MAKE PLAYS but who does not, another guy who runs hot and cold, and a safety who's pretty good but still just a sophomore. All of these things are based on the events that actually happened

Yeah, there were some swingy things that went against Michigan. I still have to sadly reject your premise. There are times when it's not as bad as it looks in terms of points and yards (see: defense vs Penn State); here it was that bad. It may have been worse, as Taylor was beat over the top late on the Gordon INT that Sudfeld left way short and Roberson's dislocated thumb probably caused him to massively overthrow an open guy. The mitigating factors above are offset by exacerbating ones.

I will say that the stress Indiana puts on opponents was something Michigan was obviously unprepared for. This is bad—they are unprepared—but also good since no one left on the schedule is quite Indiana in the tempo department. The problems seemed more like a mental thing than a physical thing when Stribling wasn't getting outmuscled for a ball.

*[In the aftermath of the Penn State game there were some comments that the tackle over stuff was met with something other than a flamethrower after the Minnesota game, so it should not be flamethrowered after PSU, when we got a lot more data on it that demanded a flamethrower. Weird take.]

Packaged problem.

Hey Brian,

This play clearly looks like “ineligible receiver downfield” on Lewan.  I feel like the Rich Rod offenses got away with this all of the time.  Do refs not emphasize this anymore?  Is this an unfair advantage to spread teams?  It seems like it should be an easy call and I think IU did get called for it.  Any thoughts on this?


Marc – Cincinnati

Refs generally give the offensive line a two or three yard buffer zone, which is enough for these packaged plays to come out without drawing flags as long as the throw is made immediately. If you remember, earlier in the year Lewan latched onto a defender and drove him downfield, drawing a flag that a lot of people thought was surprising. Hoke:

"He had taken the guy about 5-7 yards," Hoke said. "But he's got to remember (the play) was a 69 Naked, the ball is getting thrown."

5-7 yards implies that buffer zone.

These days things are pretty fuzzy in that department. Last year Air Force had two(!) offensive linemen release 5-6 yards downfield with one of them actually cut-blocking Kenny Demens…


…and didn't get called for it. It's time to make that a point of emphasis with the refs.


Voltron Blue

October 23rd, 2013 at 4:01 PM ^

Due to the fact that we scored a TD on the drive, Gallon's aforementioned drop near the end of the second quarter did us a favor.  Does anyone think Indiana wouldn't have scored a TD instead of FG at the end of the half with more time?

To Adam's point, I think you have to look at the turnovers.  In fact, our team has been really proficient at not just turning over the ball, but turning it over in really high leverage spots (i.e. that either directly lead to points for the other team or directly take points off the board for us).  Change those types of turnovers and Akron, UConn, and Indiana all look much different.  



October 23rd, 2013 at 4:08 PM ^

I definitely don't think that our ceiling is at 8-4 especially in what appears to be a rather weak Big Ten going forward. We are recruiting so well on defense (a place where you often see stronger correlation between stars and success than offense) and we have a great defensive staff in place. I even think that Borges when given the right pieces is an above average OC.  The problem is that it'll take a once in a generation stars lining up for us to win a National Title, but then again that's not any different from the Bo/Mo/Lloyd eras. We should consistently compete and hopefully win some Big Ten Titles. 


October 23rd, 2013 at 4:29 PM ^

It implies that we are actually better than people otherwise think, and thus will also be able to beat NW and/or Iowa on the road.  I tend to agree with him.  What I don't see is us winning the game.  State's D will very predictably stack box, shut down run lanes and blitz Gardner, leave our receivers in 1 on 1's, and dare Devin to beat us with quick decision throws, and I'm not holding my breath on Borges, the stubborn bastard, adjusting.  He'll play conservative, turn over free ball, and we'll be lucky to get 40 yards on the ground, and we'll lose a close one as we watch MSU's offense take the chances we should've taken.

Ty Butterfield

October 23rd, 2013 at 7:05 PM ^

I agree about the MSU game. Gardner will have to have am amazing game for Michigan to win and I don't see it happening. The fact that Michigan barely beat MSU last year and could not even score a TD is depressing. The trend of Hoke not being able to win a big road game needs to end now. I don't care about lack of recruits etc. No more excuses.


October 23rd, 2013 at 6:55 PM ^

We beat our Lil Sister Spartans next weekend for sure. There offense is horrible and off course they have a good D like usual. I honesty think Mattison fixes the D and we run the table the rest of the way in the B1G. Some of you fans have ridiculous comments about Hoke, I guess you all would rather have DickRod still here.... The only other coach I honestly wanted besides Hoke was Jim Harbaugh but I new he was going to go to the NFL. I didn't want Miles, plus he wasn't going to come with Carr was on Gary's staff Miles had an affair with Gary's wife. Carr stopped that immediately because he loyal to his previous coaches. I agree Al and Funk need to get the boot, get Cam in from LSU to run the O. As far as a line coach there are plenty of good candidates, bring in Jon Jansen or another big time offense linemen that played for the M block.


October 23rd, 2013 at 7:09 PM ^

Why would Cameron leave LSU for Michigan? Because he coached he before? The man is a friend of Miles and in case you are unaware of this but Hoke comes from the Carr coaching tree. Miles and Carr aren't exactly friends on Facebook.


And Jansen as OL coach  with no coaching experience? What a remarkably stupid idea. Just because someone played the position at this level that does not mean they can coach it.


Oh and the "DickRod" is juvenile. The man did not do well here, but he doesn't deserve your childish and unimaginative insults.


October 24th, 2013 at 12:39 PM ^

Some of you fans have ridiculous comments about Hoke

Whereas you have ridiculous comments about....everything else. Questioning the team's progress under Hoke in mid-season 3 when fans were already buying Rodriguez a bus ticket at the same point of his tenure at Michigan isn't unreasonable. Granted, I think an 11-2 inaugural season, a Sugar Bowl win, and victories over Ohio and MSU automatically keep Brady's seat cool until at least next season, but questioning our progress and the quality of our coaching is warranted.

Having a young team made of up talent not completely suited to playing football according to the gameplan desired didn't placate the critics during the Rodriguez era, so I don't know why it passes muster now.


October 23rd, 2013 at 6:42 PM ^

Keep in mind 2 of our losses last year were to teams that literally played in the NC game, a 3rd probably would have played if they were eligible. Even with the 4th, we were in good shape until we had to put our back up QB in who clearly wasn't ready. Even so, we were in each game until the end except to the team that *did* win the NC.

Also, we're 6-1. Again, we were in good shape (only 6 teams have come back to win from the same situation) and then missed 3 game winning FGs, 2 that were chip shots. Shit happens, we've been on the other side several times and now we were on the receiving end finally.

We obviously have some issues and I do think 8-4 is possible, but it seems awfully premature to be asking if the head coach is the right guy for the job, especially with the recruiting hole he's dealing with from 20010.

Space Coyote

October 23rd, 2013 at 4:09 PM ^


"No originally ineligible receiver shall be or have been more than three yards beyond the neutral zone until a legal forward pass that crosses the neutral zone has been thrown."


October 24th, 2013 at 7:05 AM ^

I wonder why that's illegal.  Increased risk of injury?  If you're pass blocking you're still grappling the guy in front of you.  Deception?  They're ineligible so it's not like it'd mess up a read, and if that was a concern then faking handoffs would be illegal.  Concerns of O-linemen blocking smaller guys?  They do that combo-blocking run plays all the time.

Did I miss something?  What exactly is so damaging about an offensive lineman being downfield on a pass play?  This is an honest question; I don't understand the rationale.  For a game that already has more rules than any other sport, it seems rather superfluous.

Space Coyote

October 24th, 2013 at 10:32 AM ^

You're not exactly just reading numbers when guys are running down field. In the heat of a play you are probably at least thinking about covering someone in a different color jersey when they are down field. It's also because you can essentially "block" a defender when an offensive player is running a route. If you could run a screen pass, but that screen starts 7 yards downfield, that seems a bit unfair.

So it's less a rule about safety and more about a rule of necessity for the game to have some balance. There are some safety that is involved with it (you're not blocking guys that aren't actively trying to engage in shedding blockers), but it's mostly that it would just be nearly impossible to stop offenses that were allowed to throw their OL anywhere they wanted.


October 23rd, 2013 at 4:09 PM ^

"The minimum reasonable expectation for that is "not able to beat Urban Meyer much.""

Perhaps I'm reading this incorrectly, but if this is our minimum reasonable expectation, then we certainly have lowered our standards and clearly deserve to be a second rate B10 team. 

If this is the best Hoke can do, then we need to change now. 


October 23rd, 2013 at 4:16 PM ^

I think the point there (and I'll admit it was weirdly worded) is that UM's floor is basically the last couple Carr years where the team has a good deal of talent but can't quite beat the elite-ish teams consistently because they shoot themselves in the foot a number of times.  I think Brian expects UM to be competitive and beat OSU a fair number of times, but anyone who expects a 10-year War to be anything other than 4-6/5-5/6-4 either way is higher on the program than history and ability would imply.


October 23rd, 2013 at 4:20 PM ^

Urban Meyer is the second best coach in the country, behind Saban. Going over .500 against OSU will be hard, no matter what coach we have. I will be happy if we go 5-5 with OSU over the next 10 years(Which is very possible I think). Meyer isn't likely to stay at OSU for long time anyway. 


October 23rd, 2013 at 4:50 PM ^

Ok. So I did read that wrong.

Howeva! If going 5-5 against Ohio (no matter the coach) makes you happy, then you have set the bar a little too low IMO.

With the resources and tradition that Michigan has, then you should be able to hire a coach that beats Ohio more years than not. This SHOULD be minimum expectation to keep your job. That just, like, my opinion , man.


October 23rd, 2013 at 6:51 PM ^

Provided OSU continues playing at a high level, I think .500 against them is about what you can expect.  Beat almost everyone else in the league, duke it out with OSU and half the time we're in the Rose Bowl or the national championship.  A handful of the other times we're in another BCS bowl.  No team save Alabama has been better than that over the last 20 years, maybe a small stretch of Miami or USC in there.  


October 23rd, 2013 at 4:25 PM ^

Are people really blaming Fitz for the fumble on the pitch? It was low and fast, generally you want to make pitches as easy as possible because a drop is disastrous. It's been coming all year with the way Devin pitches. 


October 23rd, 2013 at 5:22 PM ^

I'm glad someone mentioned this. The pitch was a duel blame situation, IMO (yes, Fitz should of handled it, but the pitch made it much more difficult than it should have been). In addition to being low and hard, it also came out spinning like a pinwheeel.

I'm not a fan of running pitch plays at all unless you run them at least a few times a game. It looks easy, but it takes experience to get it right, and you just can't replicate the speed and pressure of game-days in practice.

El Jeffe

October 23rd, 2013 at 4:41 PM ^

I agree that was a bit of a dopey way to ask the question. I would have asked it more this way:

"If M ultimately wants to be Alabama instead of OSU/Oregon/Baylor, and assuming recruiting continues the way it has been going, then in 3-5 years how close will M be to Alabama, given that (1) it seems like Hoke might not be as good as Saban and (2) Alabama under Saban will probably always at least meet if not exceed M in terms of recruiting?"


October 23rd, 2013 at 4:53 PM ^

Thats much better.

And to be honest, we don't even have to be as good as Alabama or exceed them.   We play in the Big Ten.  If we get as good as, let's say LSU (which I think we will be in 2 years) that's plenty good to win the B1G and get into the Play Off.

From there anything is possible, including Alabama losing to someone other than us. 

Regardless, any question at all about Hoke's Ceiling can only be answered after his 2012 class graduates. 


October 23rd, 2013 at 5:20 PM ^

That's really the question. I don't mind having a loveable figurehead coach and brilliant assistants--and unlike other people here I think we have achieved at a reasonable level, even about our heads so far. But I do think Hoke on the sideline may mean an extra loss or two here or there, as at PSU. And I don't think anyone can persuasively argue that the jury is not still out. Start coming up big next year and the year after and all is well. . . 


October 23rd, 2013 at 5:05 PM ^

As much as it is abundantly clear that Saban is the Devil's spawn, it's also true that he will go down in history as one of the best college football coaches of all time (my money is that Beelzebub had conjugal relations with a descendent of Knute Rockne). So, to compare anyone to Saban - let alone Hoke - is unfair. There haven't been that many coaches of Saban's caliber in the whole history of the game (though one could argue U-M has had the benefit of two: Yost and Crisler). As much as we all admire Bo Schembechler, even he didn't have that level of success despite his two-plus decades at the program's helm.

El Jeffe

October 23rd, 2013 at 5:27 PM ^

Agreed. I was just trying to pose the question in terms of ceilings. Is Hoke's ceiling 90% of Saban? 95%? 75%? Not sure what that translates into in terms of wins and B10/NCAA championships, but just as a way to think about what Hoke's ceiling is.

OTOH if M-Wolv is right and M aspires to be Stanford, then it seems like that's a pretty reasonable goal and Hoke could be the man for that job.

MI Expat NY

October 23rd, 2013 at 5:16 PM ^

I think that's a fair question.  In the olden days, when offensive and defensive systems were simpler, to be a great team you simply needed the best players and a coach with sufficient motivational ability to get the most out of those players.  I don't think its that way any more.  Now, to reach truly elite status, you have to have the horses and elite coaching.  Sure, you can luck into a title by buying a Cam Newton or winning in a year where 2 loses gets you into the BCS title game, but if you look at the teams with multiple titles in the BCS era, they've all had elite coaching (Alabama, Florida, USC).  I don't think our current staff is constructed that way with Borges as the OC.  And I think it's a legitimate question of whether we can ever have an elite coaching staff with a guy like Hoke who isn't a big x's and o's guy.  That's not to say that Hoke can't have a Les Miles like ceiling, which is pretty high, and I think we'd all take that in a hearbeat.  


October 24th, 2013 at 12:56 PM ^

With the new playoff format coming into effect next season, you don't need to be Alabama.  You just need to be in a good position to win the conference championship and most times that should be good enough to earn you a slot in the playoff.  That said, while Hoke is not Saban, he's clearly a solid recruiter and I like his willingness to take risks during the game.

The difference I see between Hoke and the Saban's and Meyer's is his coaching staff (on the offensive side anyway) is an inability to make adjustments during the game.  Brian and Ace have been harping on this for a few weeks now, but it's frustrating to see Michigan stubbornly continue to try and do things on offense that our personnel is clearly not good at doing.  The fact that we aren't adjusting at this point of the season, when a Saban or a Meyer would have is concening.


October 23rd, 2013 at 4:38 PM ^

Is that Shane Morris behind Mattison's right shoulder in the picture above -- the guy wearing khaki pants and a headset?

Perhaps this was the "injury" many alluded to when they said that we might try and get him a Medical Redshirt?

Or I'm dumb, and it's just not him and its some GA or team manager...


October 23rd, 2013 at 4:48 PM ^

The footnote on Raymon Taylor refers to tackle-over stuff:


The pick six Taylor did not make should be added to our pile of knowledge about him*



*[In the aftermath of the Penn State game there were some comments that the tackle over stuff was met with something other than a flamethrower after the Minnesota game, so it should not be flamethrowered after PSU, when we got a lot more data on it that demanded a flamethrower. Weird take.]



October 23rd, 2013 at 5:24 PM ^

if only because Hoke was relatively unproven compared to Harbaugh, or Miles or even Rodriguez - or outside of our own search Meyer and Saban. The hiring of Greg Mattison significantly improved the picture in most people's minds. However, we really have to wait and see if we have the "nice guy" head coach who can bring an Alabama or Stanford caliber team. The other guys seem all to be of the type A egotistical prototype.


October 23rd, 2013 at 5:32 PM ^

vociferously is totally de rigueur? Especially after PSU? I admire Hoke's persona, but his lazy and monosyllabic answers never suggest intellectual rigour to me, nor do his slow responses on the sideline. And why is it not appropriate to ask what his ceiling is, or whether it is rounding into view? I'd say that's exactly what's happening to it, and that the next two years will absolutely tell. There's every possibility, as Brian says above, that theirs is a somewhat antiquated philosophy and can only take us so far. . . kind of what a ceiling is.