Mailbag: OL, OL, and Also OL, Third Quarter Two Point Conversion, Wide Receiver Precision, Fancystat Preferences Comment Count

Brian October 10th, 2017 at 1:55 PM


[Bryan Fuller]

Struggle. There is only struggle. We can ask the how and why of it but the pale fact remains that all around us is struggle. Eat At Arby's.

Brian -

I've put Drevno on my personal hot-seat given the continued struggles with the OL both on the field and in recruiting, not to mention the hiring of Frey.  With that being said, however, isn't this year different than the last two in the way they're struggling?     

I feel like our OL struggled mostly with run-blocking the past two years (pulling, ID'ing, push, leverage, etc.) while this year we're struggling primarily in pass-blocking (stunts, twists, blitzes, etc.). 

Would that indicate it is more of a player-related issue or schematic issue this year rather than an OL coaching issue? 


These questions are always in the "I don't really know" zone since they require insight into the inner workings of the program I'm not privy to. Michigan faces twists, stunts, and blitzes whether they run or pass, and the ground game has been a struggle.

There's a clear personnel hole at right tackle, where Ulizio just got yanked for Juwann Bushell-Beatty, a redshirt junior who still managed to lose his job to Ulizio. The results have been ugly so far, far uglier than last year even after Ben Braden was forced to kick out to LT:

That's Ulizio through five games, turning a motley collection of defensive ends into Brandon Graham Voltron. Ulizio's struggled less on the ground but has not exactly been good. That is a definite player-related issue, and a Grant Newsome-related issue. But as I noted in the game column Michigan has a severe issue at tackle in part because Michigan airballed at the spot in their first recruiting class.

Michigan also attempted a change in philosophy. It seem like the addition of Greg Frey caused them to go heavy inside zone, trading surprise for execution. They did not execute, so they just gave up their surprise. Michigan did go back to something that looked more like last year's diverse run game against MSU. Despite the uninspiring numbers it's been their easiest run performance of the season to look at so far in UFR. I would say there is a schematic issue caused by that change in philosophy, which may or may not end up sticking. Survey says: probably not.

[After THE JUMP: will you be more likely to click if I say the Star Force Alfisode B trailer is behind the link? It's got a funny lookin' animal in it!]

Where is the roster patch on the OL?

So one of the most promising things that happened when Harbaugh arrived was him grabbing O’Korn, Rudock and O’Neill.  Safe to say he looked at the roster, saw the holes, and moved immediately to address it.  Highly competent roster management.

Given that, and the fact that offensive line has so many more scholarships dedicated to it overall, how have we ended up in this place?  It’s not like there haven’t been tackles available to grab.  It’s baffling how the same guy who snagged an asset at punter failed to somehow in 3 years have a viable right tackle.  I understand the Newsome injury was extreme bad luck, but injuries happen and roughly 15-20% of your roster is offensive line.  Frankly, that’s the position group most likely to be able to withstand an injury.

I’m baffled.


If you're talking about 'croots, I agree with you. Transfer OL, however, have a dismal track record. Remember Chad Lindsay, the Alabama transfer who we were pining for who ended up at Ohio State? He failed to win a starting job, got hurt in fall camp, and quit the team midseason. Clemson transfer Jake Fruhmorgen was at Florida for a cup of coffee, quit the team, retired, and is now at Baylor. USC transfer Khaliel Rodgers also retired briefly after moving to UNC; a few weeks later he's getting a shot at a starting job only because two starters are out on a horrible team. Not coincidentally, UNC's horrible offense was starting UF grad transfer C Cam Dillard. Closer to home, David Dawson didn't make it past June at Iowa State. I bet a dollar that Texas transfer Jean Delance also flames out.

Michigan poked around the transfer market for OL and came back empty; chances are whoever they acquired wasn't going to help them. At all. OL take so long to develop and have so many starting spots available that 1) anyone who's actually good isn't blocked on his way to the field and 2) anyone who gets the impression they should leave early in their career is probably a very long way from being a top-end contributor.

A guy like Ryan Ramczyk is an exception: overlooked in high school and established at a particular level, transferring up, is a totally different world than a guy who can't get on the two deep at a Power 5 school. And guys like Ramczyk are exceedingly rare. I can think of only Ryan Ramczyk.

Transfer OL don't help.

Preferred fancystat?

Hi Brian,

I'm arguing with an awful ND friend of mine about the virtues of Football Outsiders versus ESPN's FPI (FPI likes ND more than Michigan).  Is my troll accurate as to the Football Outsiders guys' metrics being better than ESPN's?

I'm an LSA grad, so don't have the quant skillz to prove my point.  But I know somebody who does - everyone's favorite MGoBlogger.   Any ammo you have would be appreciated.

Anyway - love the blog and Go Blue.

John [ed: a different John]

I don't know anything about FPI since it's proprietary. Also I don't look at it because it doesn't say anything interesting. It has grades for offense, defense, and special teams and one overall number and that's it. When a Mississippi State blog looked at it a couple years back it won 53% of the time against the spread in a 55-game sample, which is probably within the coin-flip error bars. S&P+ is in the same range:

Each year at Football Study Hall, I have posted weekly S&P+ picks as a way of affirming the ratings’ validity. I use my S&P+ system as a complement to most of my analysis, and the picks are a way of showing it generally knows what it’s talking about.

S&P+ tends to hit between 50 (meh) and 54 percent (great) against the spread from year to year. It isn’t always the single best performer, but it holds its own. And beyond picks, it goes deeper than any other set of college football analytics on the market. You can go into granular detail regarding team strengths and weaknesses in a way that no other set of ratings allows. (See the annual team statistical profiles as proof.)

So: I don't know which one is better, and I don't know which team is better, and probably nobody does. I like S&P+ because it tells you a lot of different things and seems no better or worse than any other ranking versus the spread.

Game theory item.

In the last game, Michigan scores a touchdown to make it 14-9 and decides to kick the point after instead of go for two. Why not go for two and make it a field goal difference (14-11)? As things turned out, if the two point conversion was successful, it certainly could've impacted the outcome of the game.

I'm probably just missing something obvious here as this wasn't addressed in either the broadcast or the "game theory stuff" section of the podcast.



This did not occur to me at the time but I think you're right. Normally the middle of the third quarter is too early to start thinking about end-game states. Michigan had six(!) possessions after their TD, five of them unencumbered by the clock. Usually the play there is to kick the extra point instead of going for the lower-percentage play.

With rain approaching and Michigan having just two scores most of the way through a game the equation shifts. Even at the time Michigan scored it felt like they'd need another short field to do it and that another MSU TD would be game over; in that circumstance you probably should try to get within a field goal. Another reader with the same question noted that a 54-yard field goal was on offer for Quinn Nordin if Michigan was down 14-11.



Wide receivers.

A question for your next mailbag: what is the difference between a receiver who runs good routes (Grant Perry) and a receiver who doesn't (DPJ)? Is it the ability to run a route that is accurate to the play's design, or is it more in the realm of taking what the defense gives you? By contrast, what makes it difficult for many younger receivers (e.g. DPJ) to run accurate routes? Thanks!


Routes, with a few exceptions, are broadly irrespective of the defense that is run against them. Those exceptions include underneath "stick" routes on which the TE or RB breaks away from the closest defender, four verts concepts on which sometimes interior WRs do sit down if they recognize coverage, and tweaks on crossing routes when you see zone coverage and sit between two defenders instead of continuing to run into one. You might also see a guy anticipate a back shoulder throw when he's got a guy over the top of him.

But mostly you're running an out or a fly or a post and that's just what you're supposed to do. And getting that down...well, there's a lot of stuff, just like anything. Precision is the most important thing: the QB is often throwing to a spot at a certain time and you have to be there, and not a yard off or a second late. Perry is consistent at this; others not so much. Getting off of press coverage is another thing; a couple times in this game we saw WRs get shoved so far into the sideline that they had no shot at a catch. Setting up your guy with a double move is a third dark art, one that Perry has and Crawford, amongst others, seemingly does not.

Young guys have a tough time with route precision because they've mostly been able to overpower and outrun anyone they come across in high school, and precision is often made worthless by bad coverage and bad quarterbacks. DPJ, who played in a rudimentary passing offense, was a guy who was always going to have a transition period.



October 10th, 2017 at 2:04 PM ^

I'll take the Jean Delance bet. He played a bit as a true frosh and he was expected to start at RT. He didn't transfer because there was no path to playing time. No one really knows why he transferred. Anyway, still a different situation than a grad transfer, and I'm in agreement there.


October 10th, 2017 at 2:33 PM ^

I assume you're referencing a particular article or something, but I follow UT football and as I recall, the expected RT went down for surgey and at the very least Delance's name was in a position battle ala JBB/Runyan/Ulizio. There's definitely not a clearer path to playing time at UF than UT, which is why UT fans were pretty puzzled. In fact, his clearest path to playing time would have been here as a transfer. Maybe we didn't pursue him at all though.


October 10th, 2017 at 3:37 PM ^

I'm still not following your logic here. Delance was passed up by two players at RT alone and was butting heads with the coaching staff because he was 3rd string but felt entitled to playing time since he played as a true freshman. And you think the 3rd string RT from a team that's 3-2 would help us next year? It's not like he'd be helping this season while sitting out his transfer year.


October 10th, 2017 at 3:44 PM ^

Basically, I don't believe your narrative. I imagine you pulled it up from one random article after reading this post, but as I understand the situation from my perusings of burnt orange nation and r/cfb over the summer he was in a good position to start this year, and if not this year he could RS and then once again have a good shot at starting in 2018 with departures.

He was recruited by Strong and Strong is gone. As you said, maybe he wasn't eye-to-eye with Herman. That happens. He was a big recruit, played as a true freshman, maybe didn't like a coaching change. Hardly the same as a grad transfer OL who has one year of eligibility and lookign for a shot to see the field. My guess is he would currently be our starting RT if he had came here originally.


October 10th, 2017 at 4:47 PM ^

Dude, I'm only relaying what I heard from booster-type alumni. I'm not saying your wrong, but I've heard the same story on Delance from multiple different people.


I really doubt he would have transferred from Texas if he was in line for significant playing time, especially when the original reason he went there was because his family wanted him close to home.


October 10th, 2017 at 2:07 PM ^

Putting a call in, again, for a WR coach who can help these guys along. Also, body control: DPJ's great high school playoff game winning catch aside, he doesn't yet know how to high point a ball and get a foot down inbounds. Even if his routes are bad, if he were able to do that he would be a consistent target for the QBs.

He'll learn. Guys like Braylon didn't have that early in their careers either, and nobody remembers any highlights of, say, Desmond Howard in 1989. But I'm hoping some extra coaching can help him along.


October 10th, 2017 at 3:52 PM ^

was thrown out of bounds.  It wasn't 8 yards out but it was out.  If the route and throw were such that he could have gotten to the spot, planted his feet inbounds and fallen out of bounds to catch it, it could have been done. 

But since it was a jump ball he had to jump and therefore land out of bounds.  Physics.  Just keep it inbounds and let DPJ go up and get it like he did and let him land inbounds.

I Like Burgers

October 10th, 2017 at 2:22 PM ^

I think part of that is what the various broadcast teams keep saying: when you’re running a route along the sideline, our WRs are sticking to close to the sideline so by the time the ball is there, there’s no room for them to make a catch and the DB has them pinned.

Sounds like the WR should stay closer to the numbers, know the ball is going to the sideline, and then veer at the last second. That way you’ve got space to get away from the DB and get a foot in bounds.

Bertello NC

October 10th, 2017 at 5:15 PM ^

True, but on the other hand OKorn should have thrown it closer to the numbers and let DPJ run in and under it because there was no deep safety there for help. Watch it again. If that ball is thrown out in front and in the field of play more(closer to the numbers) DPJ has a chance to adjust, not lose much in stride and have a chance at a huge play. But if the ball was to never be caught by DPJ i almost guarantee it would have landed OOB or damn close to it. As it stands the throw took DPJ closer to the sideline than he already was which was already close and it was under thrown. The cb was running like hell because he was beat with his back to everything. If you’re going to under-throw it, throw it more in the field of play. He didn’t give DPJ much room for error or adjustment on that pass.

Bertello NC

October 10th, 2017 at 10:20 PM ^

Absolutely. I think what a lot of it boils down to is our WR’s are young and are still trying to get adjusted to the D1 game. And after losing Black, who was the most cerebrally and physically ready wideout of all of them, it’s left us with very young guys trying to figure out how to be physical and get separation, run crisp routes, and still be able to make big plays. To expect our young 18/19 year old receivers to step right in and suddenly be manchilds who can’t be covered is a little unfair. You can see flashes of DPJ’s becoming great. But we can agree to disagree about the fact that the balls thrown to him have not allowed him to do much with. Why use the sideline as an extra defender. Especially in one on one coverage. The long pass in the Purdue game, if it’s thrown a little more out in front and doesn’t break stride it’s probably a TD. The long pass last Saturday- under-thrown and too close to the sideline. Now I’m sure OKorn not having the reps has a big effect in his touch and chemistry with those throws. But nonetheless whomever our QB is needs to give these young guys a chance to make a play.


October 10th, 2017 at 2:18 PM ^

I wondered about those two points, too, again as they came down the field on that last drive. They could have been looking for field goal distance with the best kicker in the country. 


October 10th, 2017 at 2:26 PM ^

That's just not a call a coach is going to make at that point in the game. It's easy to look back and say that we should have gone for 2, but if you fail and msu gets a fg now you're down 8 and are forced to go for 2 if you score just to tie the game. Too many unknowns at that point in the game.


October 10th, 2017 at 3:35 PM ^

conservative football coaches.

Even in your scenario, the 2-pointer is the right way to go.  The math has been done here a number of times.

Let's assume the other team does tack on a FG and Michigan does another TD with a chance to tie it.

Scenario 1, Michigan goes for 2 pt conversion to try to get to 11.

45 percent chance of success: Michigan gets the 2 pt conversion for 11 points (let's say there's a 45 percent chance of that happening).  They then win the game 18-17 when they score another TD.

55 percent chance of failure to stay at 9 points. So here Michigan would be at 15-17, needing the two point conversion to tie.  With a 45 percent chance of getting it, you're right back where you'd be anyway.

Overall, your probability of improving your chances of winning (compared to kickging the extra point) are 45 percent.

Probability of having the same chance of winning: 0.55*0.45 = 24.75 percent

Probability of having less chance to win: 100-45-24.75 = 30.25 percent.

In total you've increased your chances of winning by going for two.  Not even considering the weather, with your offense (bad) and your kicker (really good), going for two was definitely the right call.


October 10th, 2017 at 3:52 PM ^

Sure -- if you assume that there's a 45% chance that they'll hit on their two-point conversion play, and if they have a second play that's equally viable.  If they have a 30% chance of converting, the math is entirely different:  30% better - 21% even - 49% worse.

45% is approximaetely the average success rate, but, the offense is defintiely below Power Five average.  (It might be above average across all of D-IA, but, then, so is MSU's defense).

I thought about it at the time and was ambivalent about it.  The second-half adjustments seemed to be working, but the offense still looked poor; Michigan stil had the wind advantage for 8 minutes of game time, and the interception-fest hadn't started yet -- but holding MSU scoreless through the remainder of the game was well within the realm of possibility.  There are arguments on both sides, and I'd say it was a defensible decision either way.

However, there is no guarantee that Michigan could have advanced the ball inside the 40 on the final drive if the score was 14-11.  MSU was happy to trade yardage for time in a way that they wouldn't have been at 14-11.  And, Nordin has a great leg -- but that hypothetical 50+ yard field goal would have been directly into the wind,

The better game theory question, to me, is whether or not Michigan made the right choice by taking the wind in the 3rd quarter.  MSU deferred, then elected to receive (standard), meaning Michigan got to choose the direction of the second-half kickoff, and they chose to take the wind in the 3rd and cede it in the 4th.  It worked -- they don't get that punt muff, resulting short punt, and touchdown drive without the wind -- but I sort of felt that it might be better to have the wind in the 4th anyway.  Whether you need to make a last-second kick or defend one, you'd rather have the wind in your favor.


October 10th, 2017 at 4:13 PM ^

that the rest of the game would have played out exactly the same had it been 14-11 vs 14-10.  MSU would have played it differently.

But the fact remains that it is significantly easier to get into Quinn Nordin's FG range than score a TD from whatever starting field position we had.

Even for our iffy offense, I think 30 percent is way too low for a 2 pt conversion.  Plus, if you think we're that bad in the red zone, isn't that all the more reason to leave yourself only a FG instead of a TD?

The odds favored going for two there.  It's still not that big of deal though.  I definitely wouldn't say it cost us the game.  Just cost a couple additional percentage points of likelihood to win.  No telling if it would have swung the other way if we had done that.


October 10th, 2017 at 2:18 PM ^

Mekhi Becton is the starting RT for UofL; Devery Hamilton getting PT at Stanford.  Both frosh that we recruited and missed on.  Meanwhile our RT situation is a train wreck and Chuck Filiaga was higher rated than Becton.  I'm blown away that this guy isn't getting a snap.  Clearly this is a decision to RedShirt and not likely based on performance.   

That we also whiffed big time on Isiah Wilson and Tedarell Slaton is a separate issue.  My biggest criticism of this staff has nothing to do with play calling or game management.  It's RECRUITING STUPID.  How do we continually miss on quality OT when they are the most  necessary component of a Harbaugh offense?  Jesus.  


October 10th, 2017 at 2:23 PM ^

Louisville's OL is trash and a big reason why they are struggling so much this year with the returning Heisman winner at QB.

There was some shady shit going on behind the scenes with Wilson's sudden commitment to Georgia and the timing of his flip from near lock couldn't have been worse for Michigan.

Slaton was never coming here whether it was his grades or personality.


I'll give you Hamilton, though. That was a huge loss for this staff.