Mailbag: More Sad Football Things, All Caps Sad Football Section Comment Count

Brian November 15th, 2013 at 11:59 AM

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Bryan Fuller

Hi Brian,

I don't pretend to know the intricacies of football but during the Nebraska game it seemed that Toussaint, in pass protection, would wait for his blocking assignment to come to him before engaging the player. Seeing as Toussaint is significantly smaller then the LB or lineman he's been assigned to block this usually resulted in Toussaint getting pushed backwards (physics and all). Is this how RBs are typically coached to play pass protection?

Thanks,
Jack C.

I mostly stay away from the how of any particular technique failing; more of a "what" guy since I didn't play the game, etc. But to me Toussaint's blocking issues stem from three problems:

  1. Michigan's line has to resort to slide protections that often expose him to a pass-rushing DE. This is a bad matchup for anyone.
  2. He's part of that need to resort to slide protections since his recognition isn't good; when he is tasked with identifying guys to pick up he often catches them. Vincent Smith and Mike Hart would find guys and then get some momentum before making contact.
  3. He hits guys too high sometimes, which makes it easy for them to shed him and attack. Smith and Hart got low, or in Smith's case existed in a perpetual state of low-ness.

3 is his problem, 2 is part his and part a holistic inability to pick up blitzes, and 1 is not his fault.

What's different about this year?

Greetings –

Regarding the offensive line, I saw some comments that intrigued me that intrigued me the other day and I’m curious your perspective.

Borges indicated that another variable in the mix this year is that it’s “the first year in the scheme we’ve wanted to move to.”  Based on your work therefore, do you conclude that:

1) There is a significant difference this year in scheme, protections, and what the offense is asking of the o’line?

2) That experienced lines would be impacted by such a scheme change?

3) That inexperienced players would unimpacted (i.e. just as inexperienced)?

4) That therefore the years experience/games experience would also be negatively impacted from a production standpoint.

So that in conclusion – there’s actually hope bc the ones that are young are young and the ones that are supposed to have experience have less experience than one would otherwise understand to be true.

And – that next year or the year after really will be better!

Keep up the good work.

-Andy

Unfortunately, I'm not seeing a whole lot of evidence for that rationale.

Borges's comments make no sense. This year started out with Michigan running a bunch of stretch plays, which was a departure from what they'd done the first two years… and a staple of the Rodriguez offense. If that's what he meant, he could have just, you know, kept running the stretch.

Instead Michigan was almost exclusively an inside zone and power team their first two years here, and the differences between running those things from under center versus the shotgun are minimal. There has been a more concerted effort to run plays from under center, but that shift was even more pronounced late last year after Gardner took the helm of the offense.

If anything's changed this year from last year in terms of blocking it's that Denard isn't around to bail it out. Borges trying to use him to cover his ass by claiming he somehow couldn't run the schemes he wanted to be cause the guy running behind them was also the one taking the snap is a weak excuse that throws Denard (of all people!) under the bus.

[After THE JUMP: WHY WOULD YOU THINK THAT MAKES ME FEEL BETTER]

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Eric Upchurch

Brian,

I know you were disappointed about the Hoke hiring as was I. However, I subsequently became impressed with his recruiting and the staff he put together, though skeptical about Borges. In retrospect, was there anyone available at the time that Michigan had a realistic shot at that they should have hired?

Peter from Horsham, PA

I am in the same boat with regards to staff and recruiting and would also like to throw his level of aggressiveness (Penn State excluded) as unexpected positives.

As to your question: probably not. If we are taking the narrowest possible view of "realistic"—simply would coach X take the job if offered—then there are some guys out there who look attractive to me, but not many. Gus Malzahn was still Auburn's offensive coordinator at the time; I did like him. Kevin Sumlin was out there but had not yet led Houston to a 13-1 record and was much less of a hot commodity. Charlie Strong had just finished his first year at Louisville and it would have been a tough sell on both ends to pull a Todd Graham. I can't think of anyone else who seems like a man-that-guy kind of hire who was remotely plausible.

And then if you make realistic include the fact that Michigan was coming off a disastrous foray into modernism and had a program culture that had derided Rich Rodriguez as a hilljack from about the moment he showed up, that closes off various possibilities. Would Malzahn get the RR treatment? Maybe, maybe not but after RR he was politically unviable.

So it was either Hoke or some other swing in the dark at a guy less likely to make Dhani Jones happy, and now that everyone's happy Michigan has at least stabilized their roster and recruited very well. Anyone else was going to be facing this crapstorm on the OL, too, and they'd be far less likely to have the capital to power through it. And right now Michigan just needs to have a guy in for five years and see what happens.

One of the lessons I hope we've all learned from this: never wait until after the bowl game to fire your coach (and then don't do so in with a bizarre three-day "process" and don't take another week and a half to hire the new guy). By waiting, Michigan turned one crap recruiting class into two and missed out on various other coaches who would have been available earlier in the year, like Jim Harbaugh. If rumors that Dave Brandon's mind was already made up before the bowl game are true, that's a huge blunder. It's one thing if the program insurrection is his fault, another if he was a known dead man walking.  But we'll probably never know the truth there.

I have been just as frustrated by the recent offensive output as anyone and have been struggling with what should be done against the blitzes and the in our headset defenses.   

What does a team like Alabama or Stanford do that does not allow the same types of defensive strategies to work?  Is it the better offensive lines, use of counters, more coherent scheme, consistent coaching, or a combination?  As an example, Stanford against Oregon seemed "predictable" in running power but continued to be successful regardless of the defense.  Or I would imagine Alabama could run tackle over stuff against Penn State and obliterate them.

I pick those schools as they seem to be the model for what we strive to be. I want to understand the solutions to our woes.

Thanks,
Scott

First, sanity check. FEI rankings for their offenses (please keep in mind that as a schedule-adjusted system, being 34th is really being 34th out of the 50-60 teams playing serious football plus whatever Boise State or NIU may happen to exist in a particular year):

Year Stanford Alabama
2013 17 13
2012 34 5
2011 6 11
2010 5 3
2009 1 5

So… yes, Stanford and Alabama have generally had elite-ish offenses over the past five years, with Alabama being more consistent.

Stanford's success can be traced back to having Andrew Luck. for 2009, 2010, and 2011, and Alabama is just an NFL factory of five-star linemen and back after back after back plus the occasional Julio Jones.

With anything there is a certain level of talent that brings with it the ability to impose your desires on the defense. When you can run something against a defense playing straight up and get five, six, seven yards, the defense then has to cheat to stop you and that opens up other possibilities. Against Oregon, Stanford lined up with tight line splits and made it so that blitzers would not find gaps and they could just roll over the lighter Oregon defense. Their predictability was not an issue because they had the horses in that particular matchup, as Alabama tends to do against anyone.  And when you can be predictable and still get some yards then teams have to start freaking out about thing X and overplay it, which opens up other options.

Michigan obviously lacks the talent to do that sort of thing. They might have the talent to make their thing deep passing, but Toussaint (and the OL against MSU) have prevented that from happening. They have nothing that they can rely on. That is the fundamental issue. They don't have a go-to play.

That is part talent, part wishful thinking about what this team could do (if we had similar wishful thoughts that is more understandable because we weren't watching practice daily), part midseason OL changeups that have at least partially backfired, part wasting three weeks with a tackle over gimmick, and part Cheesecake Factory offense that in fact allows teams to cheat like a mother to things like the inverted veer without ever worrying that Gardner is going to put a throw on their face once they see veer handoff action.

brian,

i loved your site and the informative analysis you brought to the table. now, it has become a useless forum to spread anger and hate and you are the leader. every week you write about and talk about (on wtka) how displeased you are with the michigan offense. you basically heap all of the blame on borges, even though they have a line that can't block, backs that can't hit a hole or pick up a blitz, a qb that locks on one receiver, throws ill advised passes and bails the pocket too quickly and receivers that can't get open and don't come back to the qb when he is scrambling.

if you have all of these issues with coach hoke and coach borges then why don't you attend their press conferences and ask them questions? why send a lackey to do your work for you? simple answer. you are a coward.

if you are so dissatisfied with what the coaches are doing, go root for arizona. that is where your heart lies anyway. you and rich can cuddle while listening to josh grobin.

dom

Putting aside the ridiculous assertion that I haven't pointed out the various flaws in the personnel all year when offensive line UFRs come in speckled in vomit and a purple-green substance I don't even want to get into, I don't go to press conferences because these are my options:

  • asking about which kind of horse is your favorite horse (A: "I like 'em all.")
  • trying to bring film cut ups and walking through certain things I don't understand, taking 10 minutes, getting cut off, getting a BOO THIS MAN from rest of assembled press corps
  • trying to do that verbally, doing unspectacular job, getting are-you-an-idiot cocked eyebrow from coach, more BOO THIS MAN
  • sarcastically huffing at every response, asking "why are you the dumbest dumbass in the history of dumbasses?"
  • listening to a bunch of questions about horses

Also I have other things to do, like put out 20k words in two posts on one game. I prioritize that over asking about horses and Heiko does a great job—a much better job than I would do—of representing the blog at the pressers. He does not ask about horses.

If Al Borges wants to hear it directly from me, my email address is at the top of the page. Until such time as he asks for it I'll forgo telling him to his face that I think he's screwed the pooch this season, because who does that help? I don't pretend to imagine that Borges gives two craps about what I think. And I don't care what Borges thinks about what I think, because it can only be one thing: "why are you the dumbest dumbass in the history of dumbasses?"

ALL CAPS SECTION

I HOPE YOU'RE WELL?!?

Brian,

Can he pull a Russell Wilson and go play his senior season elsewhere? If so, any potential destinations? The thought of him going to the desert and playing for RR would be quite juicy.

Hope you're well,
Jordan

I'M A LOT LESS WELL AFTER GETTING THIS EMAIL, JORDAN

I'M GOING TO BOLIVIA MYSELF

I'm itauditbill on mgoblog. I didn't want to actually post this for the real possiblity of be bolivia'd. However the thought struck me last night in a flu addled state. What are the odds that Applachian State is already working on the A Gap Blitz? (or whatever blitz it is that teams have been doing to Michigan the past few games, I will profess my understanding of football only comes from MgoBlog and it's not as in depth as others)

Yes, I've moved on from this season into worrying about the Nightmare 2.

AAAAAHHHHHHHHHH

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I ONLY TALK ABOUT COACHES WHO COACH FOR MICHIGAN

Gentlemen -

Thank you for the outstanding work despite trying times.

Maybe I'm just making this worse, but I'm a little concerned about the (understandable) existential crisis swirling in the the six-inch space between Brian's ears.

What if one of the other guys does the Michigan offense UFRs for the balance of the year, and Brian UFRs the Arizona games?  I can't be the only person who became entranced by the spread option after Denard Dilithium met Brian's UFR analysis, and am intrigued at the developments taking place in the parallel universe down in Tucson.

I understand that Brian's name probably needs to be attached to the Michigan's UFRs, but I think we're all better off in the long run if he stops for the balance of the year.  Why not take the opportunity to build bench strength in the mGoStaff?

What's going on now ... it's not your fault:

-Scott

DO YOU THINK THAT WOULD MAKE THINGS BETTER

DON'T YOU THINK THAT WOULD BE LIKE WATCHING YOUR DYSFUNCTIONAL EX-GIRLFRIEND HAVE SEX WITH A HOBO

AND FEELING JEALOUS

Comments

biakabutuka4ever

November 15th, 2013 at 12:18 PM ^

Cheesecake Factory offense that in fact allows teams to cheat like a mother to things like the inverted veer without ever worrying that Gardner is going to put a throw on their face once they see veer handoff action.
This a thousand times. I noticed this, and the fact that the linebackers turn into backfield seeking missiles when the veer is deployed leads me to believe that other coaches have to. Also, the utter lack of screen passes allows the defense to be ultra aggressive and in turn makes our line look worse than it is. It's not like teams are simply beating us with the 4 man rush. They are committing extra linebackers to the rush, which leaves a weakness that can be exploited. IMO, we haven't been calling the plays to do this. Would this solve all of our problems? No. But we would look a heck of a lot better and would be more productive.

HipsterCat

November 15th, 2013 at 1:36 PM ^

we throw screens, middle screens to funchess, comeback reciever screens to gallon, throwback screens to fitz. teams are beating us with 4 man rushes and with the blitzes. Borges is trying everything he can to slow down the pass rush, max protect doesnt work, going 4 wide works some times but gardner still gets pressured or nobody gets open. 

B1G_Fan

November 15th, 2013 at 11:30 PM ^

 It's funny you say this because Borges calls the offense he runs a west coast offense but the more i see of it the less it looks anything like a west coast offense. West coast offense uses short passes mainly to set up deep passes and the run. Borges uses the run to dig us in a hole and throw 20-30 yard bombs and only seems to use an occasional slant and screen maybe 1-2 times a game.

Magnus

November 16th, 2013 at 10:29 AM ^

Yeah...we run a few screens...and teams keep blitzing. So what do you do? Do you say "Well, we ran screens to try to stop them from blitzing but they keep blitzing so I guess we're screwed" or do you say "Jeez, these guys just don't get it...okay, Devin, run the middle screen to Toussaint. Run the tunnel screen to Chesson. Then run it up the middle. Then run a throwback screen to Funchess." Eventually, defenses will get the picture.

PurpleStuff

November 15th, 2013 at 2:28 PM ^

Teams are sending extra guys and playing recklessly on run plays, but they aren't biting at all when we run play action passes.  If they are sitting in coverage they don't even flinch toward the line.  If they are blitzing they ignore the RB. 

We didn't run a play action pass off the inverted veer until the Nebraska game last year (and Denard got hurt shortly after that), despite it being probably our most commonly run rush play that year.  Have we run one this year?  Other teams certainly don't seem to be worried about us doing so.  The same is true for our under-center run game.  Nothing we do in one facet of the game looks like anything we do in another facet.  We only run a limited number of plays from each look.  It is not hard to see why opposing defenses have figured this out.  They may not know what is coming, but if they know it can only be X, Y, or Z, and none of those letters look alike, you are just as screwed.

akim

November 15th, 2013 at 12:22 PM ^

This mailbag might be the best thing to come out of the past 2 weeks of football.  I laughed at the last two items.... and then I cried because they were probably true.

BILG

November 15th, 2013 at 12:42 PM ^

I think the mailbag has gotten progressively worse.  Instead of responding to the more interesting nuanced questions about the program and random thoughts, they now select the most generic (what's wrong with the blocking) emails to respond to.  We've had countless threads and bitching and opining about these topics throughout the weeks....Why recycle the same shit that is already being regurgitated on the board.  For a fanbase and blog complaining about the progarm being old-stale-generic-boring-average-trite, its ironic that the blog would go down this path as well.

BILG

November 15th, 2013 at 2:44 PM ^

I don't want to go on and EMO rant.  I just can't take much more.  I'm fucking tired.  It's been a decade of OSU chaches eating our lunch.  I want some fucking glory for our team and it's like we have some shit Karma just hovering over us.  So I come here to bitch, even though I know I will see the same shit from all the other fans, who while its pathetic and depressing, at least I know I'm not insane.  I'm tired, and fucking exhausted of expecting more and being constantly disappointed over the past 10 years.  I'm fucking tired of "wait till next year" and have lost all patience and faith.  And yes, maybe Michigan football is too important to me and I need to get some perspective, but it's still my alma mater and I can't walk away from it.  So the emails-response entries just feel like a restirring of shit water thats been stewing all week.

AriGold

November 15th, 2013 at 2:51 PM ^

I am also tired of losing and not retunring to glory...but I feel that most of us come here to complain/bitch to other like-minded fans who understand the incredible frustration we have endured over the season/decade (as you suggested)....I don't think anyone here enjoys talking about the failures, but if we can't vent on the internet/a blog dedicated to the community of Michigan fans, then i don't know where else to go!

We're all in it together, don't forget we win as a blog and lose as a blog! haha, just trying to bring some comical relief into the shitty football season (by Michigan standards)

akim

November 15th, 2013 at 2:28 PM ^

well I was speaking in reference to entertainment value.  There have been several great educational posts/diaries on football recently in addition to the crap that has been around.

JimBobTressel

November 15th, 2013 at 12:28 PM ^

I think Dom regularly watches a few too many soap operas.

You're a coward brian and I don't like you and no one ever has. Your father preferred your younger brother and yoru mother wished you were a girl. you are a failure and everyone in high school no never secretly liked me must have felt the same way about you. I take myself extremely seriously and I live my life with existential angst bubbling beneath the surface.

Erik_in_Dayton

November 15th, 2013 at 12:32 PM ^

I'd like to add the following:  Brian has a best friend who is drug addict but who has a heart of gold.  He has a sister who has two young kids whose father doesn't come through for them, leaving Brian to pick up the slack.  He has a neighbor who is socially inept but sometimes surpringly wise, and the neighbor spends most of his time in his basement working on homemade rockets.  Finally, Brian has a dog whose the thoughts the audience can hear that sometimes cocks its eyebrow as if to say, "WTF?" 

coastal blue

November 15th, 2013 at 12:36 PM ^

A question on the offensive line recruiting in 2011: Obviously, Hoke only had three weeks to recruit and that isn't enough time to achieve what you'd like to in trying to fill out a class. But in those three weeks, he did nab 10 recruits and lured away quite a few of them from smaller schools. Did he attempt to do this with offensive linemen? I counted 20 3-star OLs among the bottom 5 recruiting classes in the Big Ten that year, plus another half dozen in the MAC. There's literally no way Michigan could have pulled away a couple of those guys? 

Its an interesting question, because if he didn't, he was banking on the fact that he would be starting freshmen and sophomores by his third year, which means he thought Al Borges and Darrell Funk were up to the task of having freshmen and sophomores ready to play. Which would now appear to be shortsighted and a woeful judge of coaching talent. If he did and no one flipped, well, whatever. 

Anyway, it'd be something I'd like to know if anyone had an answer. 

Edit: I guess, technically one could make the case he was hoping that Miller, Posada and Bryant would all pan out as at least average players and that while 2013 would be a lean year it wouldn't be what it is today. 

Indiana Blue

November 15th, 2013 at 12:42 PM ^

that Denard, and Denard ALONE, made us think that Broges knew anything about an offensive gameplan.  And Denard was simply an "ad lib" player.  In 2 years - Borges never made Denard a better throwing QB ... if it wasn't for Denard's ability to make plays on his own, we would have seen this "disaster" earlier.

I am truly convinced that Borges has ZERO ability to call plays to our strengths.  He simply calls plays ... if they work it is DUMB luck.  Why ... because he has shown us that he is indeed DUMB.

Go Blue!

AriGold

November 15th, 2013 at 1:00 PM ^

that Denard would have helped out more as a Percy Harvin type player (offensive weapon, if you will)...but Borges' MASSIVE flaws are now out in the open...Devin is a damn good QB and tough as nails, without him scrambling and making plays this team would be under .500 and heads would certainly be rolling come December...Shane Morris will be good, but he would have been destroyed (along with as lot of other QB's) if he were the starter this year (or next)

nickb

November 15th, 2013 at 1:05 PM ^

nor are the players. The standard is set by the head coach. Hoke should have recognized before the first game his OL was not up to the job and instructed Borges to make the appropriate scheme adjustments to mask the deficiencies. 

The same for the defense. He should have recognized early on that the defense though adequate is not up to defending certain type of offensive sets and instructed GM to scheme over his defense weakness.

Good coaches anticipate and initate. Bad coaches react to crisis.

Hoke is the problem and sadly there is no easy way to get him out. 

PeteM

November 15th, 2013 at 1:11 PM ^

Brian says that delaying hiring Hoke meant that "By waiting, Michigan turned one crap recruiting class into two."  I understand that by not giving Hoke more time the 2011 class was negatively impacted, but I had thought that the following year's class was highly rated. I guess I don't understand how it created two crap classes.

 

greenphoenix

November 15th, 2013 at 1:33 PM ^

The Michigan Jimmies and Joes in this final recruiting class will have far, far more star power than Arizona. Michigan will have a top fifteen class at worst.

Arizona's talent profile is more like Michigan State. In theory if you were just looking at talent profiles in the Big Ten the only team that should even have an outside chance to beat Michigan is Ohio State. This will remain true when Rutgers and Maryland slouch in next yer.

I didn't say all that to be mean.

HOBO LEVERAGE

FrankMurphy

November 15th, 2013 at 1:27 PM ^

As much as I dislike Brandon, I have a feeling that he was hoodwinked by Harbaugh into waiting until after the bowl game. My theory is that Brandon had sent feelers in Harbaugh's direction and recieved strong indications that Harbaugh would take the job after Stanford's bowl game. So Brandon waited, but Harbaugh changed his mind when the 49ers job opened up after Christmas. At that point, Brandon was left holding the bag and had to save face by coming up with some cockamamie reason why waiting until after the Gator Bowl to make a decision on Rich Rod was preferable and claiming that Harbaugh was never actually offered the job (yeah, right).

Of all the chatter from back then, the rumor I tend to believe is that Harbaugh indicated he wanted to come to Michigan but then either changed his mind or was never genuinely interested: http://mgoblog.com/content/world-held-hostage-day-two. Seems like something Harbaugh would do.

M-Wolverine

November 15th, 2013 at 1:47 PM ^

But in any case, he wasn't leaving Stanford for Michigan BEFORE the bowl game, so I'm not sure where the advantage of an early firing is. Recruiting if you hire Hoke immediately, but if you do that before seeing what Harbaugh does everyone is dead in the water. The fact that a coveted NFL job opened up right at that time in a place his wife wouldn't even have to move was more of a factor than anything else.