Mailbag! Featuring Inadvisable Halloween Costumes!

Submitted by Brian on November 2nd, 2010 at 11:50 AM


The diary on poor tackling got me thinking about Rich Rod's coaching philosophy.  It's obvious that he recruits speed and athletes on offense at not only the skill positions but also the o-line where he likes guys who can get out and block in space.  These are the guys who get all the attention and the playing time.  They are "the game breakers" and the guys who can make a big play at any time.  How can that not transfer over to the defensive side of the ball?  So, in the spring, we heard rumors about Cam Gordon having a great camp because he probably delivered some big hit kill shots to 4th string RBs instead of learning how to play assignment football with fundamentally sound tackling.

Am I way off here?  Every yard after contact I see Michigan allow, I can't help but think how much better a (I can't believe I'm saying this) Jim Herrmann/Ron English defense was at stopping the run.  We can chart how few upperclassmen we have on D until we are blue in the face but you have to concede that something is fundamentally wrong with the program's defensive attitude and philosophy.  I think it just may be the constant search for "big time players" rather than smart football players who can read and react quickly.

What do you think?

Go Blue!

-Jim Dudnick
BBA '01

Well… yeah, I guess, but like everything else on the defense the lack of depth and experience makes it hard to tell whether we're just seeing what would happen if Virginia Tech threw out a secondary full of underclassmen or if there's a long-term talent development problem. Is it a recruiting issue? Don't know. Rodriguez recruits at Michigan are all freshmen or sophomores, and if none of them are very good there's a pretty obvious reason why. Very few can "read and react quickly" as underclassmen.

Something is wrong with the program's defensive philosophy. That much is obvious. To me that problem is an incoherent coaching staff that either forces the coordinator to run a scheme he doesn't understand or forces the position coaches to do the same. Why is it so important for the position coaches to know what the defense is doing instead of getting JT Floyd to exist? I don't know, but those meddling kids have put Michigan in some goofy variant of the 3-3-5 for three years running and it hasn't done anything but implode because the defensive coordinator isn't really on board.

The problem with Michigan's philosophy on D appears to be the lack of one.

Not defense:


While i think there are many things wrong with the Michigan football team right now, it seems like either the play calls or the reads have been restrictive in nature.

Last year, it seemed like on the read-option, there was a third option to pass to a receiver at the line of scrimmage that could catch and run for an easy 5 yds. Has this been replaced by the receiver running a skinny post?

Also, it seems a major component of any spread offense is the quick screens/pass to the slot receiver with the outside WR blocking down. The offense featured this last year but hasn't at all this year.

I believe the plays are in the offense's playbook. When Tate is in, there is a more even run/pass distribution. (ie- look at the easy 7 yds michigan could have had at the end of the Penn St game when Denard threw to Junior Hemingway and he dropped the ball)

The main point of all of this... It would seem that passing on the edge would open up the defense to make running in the middle a little bit easier.

Thanks for you coverage of Michigan. It makes my work day more enjoyable.


Opponents have been taking the bubble away by alignment. Iowa put a linebacker over him and managed to keep two-deep coverage. Penn State moved a safety down. When opponents have gone away from these schemes it hasn't taken Michigan long to hit the bubble for a nice gain, at which point they go back to taking it away. When Iowa started blitzing off the edge in the second quarter Michigan hit a couple bubbles and Iowa reverted to its previous scheme. Smart Football dubbed the bubble a "constraint play" way back in 2008, defining the concept like so:

What if your offense is based only on bubble screens and then you just run the ball or throw the ball as a counter to your bubble screen offense?

The difference is that the bubble screen is a play that really only works when the defense has made a structural choice or is out of position. Most commonly, you'll run when the bubble only when the defense has but two defenders to cover three receivers. You thus block the two defenders and the receiver has free yards. If the defense puts a third defender there they can take the play away, intercept it, or make the tackle.

Conversely, a well designed dropback pass play, a triple option play, or certain base runs will work every time you face a normal defense. The only time the play stops working is when certain defenders cheat on their assignments, either by alignment or aggressiveness.

You're right that the edge passing opens up the interior running, but it's already a reason Michigan's ground game has been so effective, and a reason that things like Kevin Koger 60 yard touchdowns happen.

The bubble option after a zone read keeper is still being run but it's not being thrown. I imagine they've de-emphasized it because when it has been thrown it's not usually getting more than a few yards and if that's your upside you might as well let Denard carry it. The equation changes radically when he's running the ball instead of Forcier.

More defense:


Chip Kelly said a week or so ago he has nothing to do with his defense, he just leaves that side of the ball to his defensive coordinator.  GERG has championship rings on multiple levels.  Why can't RR just let him do his thing?  It seems to me that if Rich Rod just worried about the offense and let GERG do the D, Michigan might be better off.

Simon Kay

The other side of the complaint about Rodriguez not being involved enough in the defense. This is an unanswerable question. I'm not sure why there was an insurrection against Scott Shafer in 2008—well, okay, I have some idea since Michigan refused to put Brandon Harrison on the field—or why the 2009 defense spent most of its time in an eight-man front or why Michigan decided to install every front imaginable this year.

It's clear, however, that the position coaches are forcing the coordinators to adapt to them (again, this is exactly what happened in Tommy Tuberville's final year at Auburn) and the results are dismal.

Whether or not turning the defense over to Greg Robinson would help any is debatable. He has never built an effective college defense. After getting fired from the Chiefs he had a single year at Texas during which he turned in the same level of performance the DCs before and after him did. Then he went to Syracuse and could not field a minimally competent unit after his first year—the team went backwards fast and stopped in the triple digits. While he got a rep for being a good position coach last year it's obvious that the linebackers we can actually compare across '09 and '10 did not progress much over the offseason. Ezeh was the same, Mouton is a little better but still prone to the same mistakes he's made throughout his career. No one else has never seen the light of day before this year.

At this point there is no case for keeping him around. There is no reason to expect anything but failure from him; some good NFL defenses with the Broncos are now a decade old. All the reasons the defense should be bad are still valid, but the only way to salvage Rodriguez's job is to bring in a defensive coaching staff with proven recent success that cannot be undermined by whatever the deal is with the current assistants, whichever of them stay around.


Good Afternoon,

In response to your recent post about the blood drive where you said: “I should put up a ticker that says 1343 DAYS SINCE OHIO STATE BEAT MICHIGAN AT BLEEDING. Ain't got no other tickers to put up” there is indeed a slightly more noteworthy streak that is still intact. Michigan’s Mens rowing team has beaten OSU’s mens rowing team 14 consecutive years at their annual dual race. According to the team’s website this streak is the longest continuous streak for Michigan over OSU in any sport ever (at least where head-to-head meetings are applicable). The matchup takes place right before the annual football game (with the first win coming in November 1996), so in my approximation this streak is at about 5,085 days or so and counting. Thought you might like that nugget of info.

Go Blue!


Woo! Also, sincere congratulations to the rowing team.

And at least no one broke this guy's nose:

I dressed up as everyone's favorite defensive coordinator for Halloween this year!


One guy I never met before came up to me and told me how much he hated me and how badly he wanted to punch me in the face.




November 2nd, 2010 at 12:18 PM ^

has been with Rodriguez since Glenview State.  He's not going anywhere, but I'd like to see him in some other capacity.  Bill Casteel was the real defensive brains at WVU and who Rod is really missing.

I think Casteel being so good is what is actually causing Rodriguez problems now.  Bill allowed him to forget about the defense and build his offense.  He needs to find another version of Casteel if he can't get the man himself.


November 2nd, 2010 at 12:18 PM ^

Yeah I agree, but either way I think GERG needs to go or something because he is not putting the defense together like it should be. Something is not working and that is apparent. Whether it is the DC or the position coaches, something needs to be done to fix the problems. Yes, experience is a big problem for our defense, but the coaching personnel is not helping.


November 2nd, 2010 at 12:19 PM ^

While the defensive side of the ball has taken the brunt of complaints in the aftermath of the PSU game, for the 4th game in a row, I am going to complain about lining up Vincent Smith in the I-formation and running him between the tackles on 3rd and 1. I just don't understand how that is the best choice for picking up a yard, with Denard, and Hopkins as options. Furthermore, we eliminate Denard as an option (save a bootleg) and our line's splits become tighter, which takes away our edge. In every way, it dramatically decreases our chances of getting a yard. I would love to see the success rate of getting 1 yard when Denard runs a qb draw versus Smith running as the deep back in I.

As mentioned before, we have to look at first downs as imperative, for no other reason than it keeps our defense off the field that much longer.


November 2nd, 2010 at 12:37 PM ^

I screamed this in the bar... then everyone looked at me..then I suddenly remembered why I should only watch Michigan games at home. 

I loves me some vincent smith, but right now he seems to be most effective in a receiver capacity.  At least this year.  Maybe he gets completely over the ACL injury next year, but right now, I like Hopkins as our primary back.  Shaw.. get well soon!  Toussaint.... I'd love to see what you can do too.


November 2nd, 2010 at 1:06 PM ^

Agree, agree, agree.  Whenever I see a 3rd and short come up, and its at a critical point in the game and you really, really need to get the first down, I'm of the mindset that you run your best play with your best player.

Just looking back at the UFR's for Iowa and MSU, Robinson ran the QB Lead Draw 14 times.  Only once out of those 14 did it go for negative yards, and I think that was on an all out blitz.  Plus there's always the option to fake the draw and throw to the receiver.

The Squid

November 2nd, 2010 at 12:32 PM ^

I think it just may be the constant search for "big time players" rather than smart football players who can read and react quickly.

It seems to me that the existence of Jordan Kovacs, starter, obviates this question.

The Squid

November 2nd, 2010 at 2:46 PM ^

I'm trying and failing to remember Ezeh ever delivering a big hit. His tenure at MLB was mostly marked by being in the wrong position or getting knock backwards by one-legged MAC 2nd-stringers. I do wish that we knew more about Demens' early season absence from the playing field. I can only conclude that it wasn't because he couldn't play because in comparison to Ezeh, he looks like DAVIDHARRISSMASH.

Vinopal is a desperation move, IMO. When your free safety is a converted red-shirt soph WR who really ought to be a strong safety or LB, trying to draw a full house by going with a slow, undersized true freshman who was a huge recruiting reach seems like a reasonable thing.


November 2nd, 2010 at 2:47 PM ^

I think the tackling issue is kind of a red herring.  Outside of the really good years, 1997, etc., I remember plenty of defenses under Lloyd where the guys had some sort of deep-seated aversion to wrapping up.  I think it's more of a product of suspect coaching of fundamentals at the high school level and the "huge hit will get me on SportsCenter" mentality rather than something specific to this team.  The youth just exacerbates that.