Mailbag: Rugby Returns, Ridiculous Ticket Waitlist, Oregon Pined For

Submitted by Brian on October 18th, 2011 at 2:31 PM


[Guh. Google image search for "rugby punt" and one of the first images is Zoltan making his very bad decision against Michigan State. Thanks for nothing, BWS.]

Rugby punt responses.

Yo Brian,

What do you think about having an up man for punt returns when we play against a rugby style punter?  How many times have we seen 25 - 30 yard punts turn into 50 yard net results because it was impossible for one man to cover enough ground to catch the ball.  If we had an up man he could immediately start moving toward the side that the punter runs toward and would be in position to fair catch many of these 30 yard floaters.   I actually like a two man return set up for all punts but it certainly seems to make sense against the rugby style.  My nomination for up man is Drew Dileo - great hands, dependable and seems to have an unflappable field presence.

All the best,
Jerry in Ibiza

Against traditional punts putting a second guy that far back could be an invitation for the opponent to run a fake. You could get away with it for a few games but once opponents plan for 9-on-11 you're asking for trouble.

That problem doesn't exist with spread punting*. Fakes there are invariably the punter taking off after he sees the opponent bug out downfield, something the returning team can prevent with three or four guys. So… yeah, I've been in favor of a second returner for a while now. The combo of spread with rugby style punting means returns are infrequent and the best you can hope for is to field the thing on the fly and hope to get lucky—having a guy a closer to the roll side who's 30 yards deep could save you dozens of yards of field position.

In the last year of the Rodriguez regime we actually saw something like that in the open practice. Michigan came out with three returners, one at normal depth in the middle of the field and two guys outside of him closer to the line of scrimmage. Never actually saw it in a game, though, and the punting was so terrible in that practice that we never even saw it return in practice.

I doubt Michigan ever does something like this—using the old-style punting is indicative of a regime that's not particularly innovative on special teams.

*[Rugby punt googling also turns up a coaching video on the thing calling it "shield" punting and enumerating its many advantages:

The traditional punt formation has only two gunners. Everyone else is tasked with protecting the punter until the kick is off, which means they lose time they could be using to go after the returner. The basic shield punt formation allows for much better coverage by spreading out seven gunners on the line of scrimmage with three defenders protecting the punter.

The shield punt is a simple formation that results in your opponents giving you fewer looks and allows you to minimize practice time spent on punt coverage. Your athletes have limited assignments which translates into quick learning and fewer reps in practice.

Seven gunners, man.

BONUS RANDOM Australian team logo:


Is that a location or a description? ]

One of about a dozen emails about why we couldn't do anything against MSU.


Denard, Borges, and the o-line are rightfully getting a lot of heat after Saturday's loss. How much of the blame should go on the wide receivers? MSU loaded up the box and dared UM to beat them through the air. They manned up on the wide-outs and sent the house. I remember a few plays Denard missed open guys, but on most passes the receivers were blanketed. On one pass over the middle, Denard stepped up into the pocket and threw a bullet to Roundtree. The pass was slightly to Roy's left, but instead of sliding his feet, he just reached for it, and the ball glanced off his hands. The best way to stop a team from blitzing is to beat man coverage. On the Roundtree TD, it took a near perfect throw to fit the ball in there.

Clearly MSU didn't respect our wide-outs' ability to beat man coverage. This is the first game I think we missed Stonum's speed. He had that huge catch and run to jump start the team 2 years ago against State. He also got the offense over the hump last year vs. (gulp) UMass. Hemingway is a good position guy, crafty after the catch, great on jump balls, but he's no burner. What impact do you think Stonum might have had on Saturday's game?

Thanks, Mike

PS - why no more bubbles? On the Denard pick 6, UM had 3(!) on 2 and didn't throw it. I don't think we're stretching the field enough horizontally anymore.

I have many of these arguing that various things were wrong with the offense, so if this isn't yours, apologies for not replying—I did read it and will go into UFR looking for it.

As for the wideouts, it seemed like the wind was also screwing with them. Michigan State suffered a half-dozen drops to go with Roundtree's. That's more evidence passing was not the best idea on Saturday.

Did they get open and if not was that their fault? It's hard to tell. While the WRs weren't open on that disastrous three-play sequence in the second quarter, other players were. If the QBs throw to the hand-wavingly wide open guys we're not having this conversation. On other plays they may not have been open because Michigan ran three guys deep into cover three. There was a shocking lack of short routes to exploit MSU's constant double-A-gap blitzing.

Just last week the WRs brought in seven iffy passes from the QBs against Northwestern, and while they aren't Edwards, Avant, and Breaston issuing those guys the blame when they hardly got a hand on the ball is goofy. The QBs and Borges were the main issues.

RE: bubbles. I don't know, man. Argh. They looked open all day. That's a symptom of a larger issue: lack of constraints in general. The base didn't do anything in large part because MSU was cheating it and Michigan had nothing to punish the cheating. It's possible they did but couldn't execute it—Meyer thought the pick six was a slant that a WR did not run.

Ticket wait list: not so good.

So I decided after many years to get my own tickets, expecting to go on a waitlist for end zone seats, maybe take a couple years or more for my name to come up.

I read the online info and sent an email to the ath dept to clarify. 

To sum up what I learned, I'm told that I have the opportunity to make a donation of $500 to be on the interest list for this year.  Key points:  500 minimum donation, but no guarantee of getting tickets.  $500 puts me on the list for this year only.  If I don't get them this year, then I need to cough up another $500 to try again next year.  Or just donate a large enough amount move higher up the list.  It's all about points.  More points move you up the list.  My degree is worth 5 points, which I could buy for a mere $500.

I told them to tell pass along my dislike to DB. 


This is bizarre given the many stories floating around on the internet stating that over the past half-dozen years or so you could jump the season ticket wait list with a donation of $100, $150 at worst. To reiterate, this is next year's home schedule: Air Force, UMass, Illinois, MSU, Northwestern, and Iowa. You could pay $500 for the privilege of being on the wait list, or you could take your 500 bucks, scalp every game, and have enough for a Wii left over.

I'll be fascinated to see how this works.

Ideal offenses.

Hey Brian,

Since there has been much criticism and analysis of the various systems deployed by current and former coaches, I am just curious: what is your ideal offense? As in, if you were to become an offensive coordinator, what would the personnel look like and which current system would it most resemble?


Oregon. Oregon has the whole toolbox: power, inside zone, outside zone, constraints on all of those, the zone read, and a downfield passing game that is often a blitheringly open touchdown factory. There are a number of other systems that I wouldn't mind—I like Oklahoma's "have an NFL first round QB throwing to NFL first round wideouts" strategy—but the tiebreaker for me is Oregon's ability to manipulate the tempo of the game in their favor.

Oregon can play lightning fast when they have the opponent off balance, which keeps the opponent off balance. If they were to hypothetically be behind in a game, the up tempo nature of the system helps them there, too. If you're trying to kill a game it's nice to have a rushing attack well over seven yards a carry. And finally being really good and playing fast makes you less vulnerable to weird stuff because you're putting more possessions in the game.

Oklahoma's air-raid derived passing spread is also quite lovely but seems more vulnerable to vagaries in quarterback talent. Oregon made Jeremiah Masoli an all-conference player.

We will make an exception this time.


I graduated from UM Law in 2006 and consider myself to be a huge Michigan fan. I went to Yale as an undergrad and was in an a capella singing group (I know, I know) called the Baker's Dozen. Through some weird circumstances, I found out last year that from the early '60s until the late '80s, my group sang and recorded "Hawaiian War Chant." 

As you would imagine, or, I would hope, can at least understand, I freaked out and immediately found and purchased a copy of an album from the 80s that contained the song.  In the meantime, an alum of the group sent me the attached mp3 which is a recording from the Baker's Dozen's 1960 album. 

My wife's about to have twins, so I figure the only logical thing to do is to send the girl to Michigan and the boy to Yale where he'll join the same group and revive the song.  That's not a weird plan, right?

Go Blue.

Tyler Mann

Here is one without the other:

Direct download link

Someone in the readership will no doubt find a 60s a capella version of Temptation now. This is what the readership does. It is a machine.


MI Expat NY

October 18th, 2011 at 2:43 PM ^

The Pick Six seemed to me to be on Vincent Smith.  MSU sent the house, the corner backed off, and it seemed to me that Denard read a hot read of an easy quick slant.  Smith looked in, should have seen the blitz, proceeded with his route which included a breaking down/stutter step move before turning in.  By the time Smith turned, the ball was in the defender's chest.

Now, the pass could have still been innacurate, but you can't tell that when the receiver doesn't run the right route.  I also question whether we should look to our RB to make the correct hot read. 


October 18th, 2011 at 3:52 PM ^

This what it looked like to me also. If Smith and Denard are on the same page this is a huge play.

The clinching play of the 95 Super Bowl between the Cowboys and the Steelers--same play. WR misses the hot read slant on a big blitz and O'Donnell threw it right to Larry Brown who was just hanging out.


October 18th, 2011 at 2:52 PM ^

If most here knew how absolutely magnificantly the Michigan Rugby mens team once performed and how highly we were ranked nationally (and internationlly) back in the day they might hurl chunks.  Then it got Title Nine(ed) by the politically-favored the Forfeit Queens in the interests of so-called gender recognition and fairness.  

Please do not invoke rugby in the MICHIGAN (mens) context lightly.  Rugby never departed the University of Michigan.  Even Berkeley once appreciated us.  We will be back in the lead soon enough.

/Old Boy 'Obie Wan'

Blue in Yarmouth

October 18th, 2011 at 3:10 PM ^

but what do you mean by internationally? I am from the UK and have followed Rugby my whole life (though not as closely as I would like since moving to Canada) and for 37 years the USA has garner exactly no international acclaim where Rugby is concerned. I am just curious when UM was internationally ranked and by whom? In all honesty I never knew college rugby was internationally ranked and can't even begin to fathom how a college from a country that is barely ranked in the top 20 countries in the world in rugby could have had an internationally ranked college team....


October 18th, 2011 at 3:18 PM ^

You perceive some of the slop that existed in my cranked-out post.  We had individual players who were ranked abroad but took timeouts from union to acquire their grad degrees at Michigan and/or apprentice with the auto manufacturers while taking classes through the U.  We got mention in the worldwide rugby press due to those guys.  There was a nurturing aspect in favor of the U.S. by the Europeans/Africans back then.  At the U.S. collegiate level, Michigan (mens) was ranked #2 after U. Berkeley back in the day.  Now I turn up cable tv and watch Texas and Arizona when that could have been Michigan and it sucks.  0.02

Blue in Yarmouth

October 18th, 2011 at 3:31 PM ^

I misunderstood what you were saying. Rugby is a great sport and I often wonder why some of the kickers in rugby don't switch to american football (where the pay is almost certainly better). You look at NFL kickers who have virtually stright on kicks all the time and still manage to miss kicks quite often and then watch some of the best rugby kickers  who can stick it through the uprights at incredible angles and  distances without much problems at all. I have a lot of respect for those kickers, they are amazing.

J. Lichty

October 18th, 2011 at 5:08 PM ^

To expand on fellow olde boy, Obi Wan's post,  Modern M Rugby Club was constituted in 1959 as the Ann Arbor Rugby and Cricket Club, although Rugby at UM predated gridiron.

Until the late nineties or 2000's collegiate players played on the club with the men's club.  That is, with the exception of certain collegiate-only tournaments, on any given saturday you were as likely to be playing next to an undergrad classmate as you were a surgeon at M hospital, a grad student from New Zealand, an alum living in Ann Arbor or even Oakland county or someone entirely unconnected with the U of M but who lives in the area.  EMU undergrads also represented the M club as they did not have their own club.

Although there was a big ten tournament each year, Michigan RFC played in the Michigan RFU (rugby football union) which was a sub-union in the Midwest RFU.  In addition to playing against school clubs like MSU, Notre Dame and Miami of Ohio, the league schedule was typically comprised of club teams from Grand Rapids, Detroit, KZoo, Flint, Ft. Wayne etc.  In the late eighties we made the jump to Div I (pre- Super-league) against teams like Scioto Valley in Columbus, Cincinnati Wolfhounds, Milwaukee RFC, Chicago Lions, whom we also played in friendlies outside the context of league standings before we were in league with them.  In the early nineties, Michigan RFC went back down to Div II and  won a national championship at that level in 1995 when the mens and collegiate sides were still combined.

The Michigan RFC (Rugby Football Club) has boasted a handful of players who have earned caps with the US Eagles (John Hartmann, Dave Horton and Rich Shurfeld are the ones I am aware of) and scores of others who played for the Midwest Territorrial represenntative side.  Other players have reached acclaim on foreign shores.


Mitch Cumstein

October 18th, 2011 at 2:55 PM ^

Something this topic made me think of, in addition to the semi-recent flurry of "do we punt in + field territory" topics.   Brian Griese being able to punt in '97 was probably a huge schematic advantage, and in general having a QB that can punt would be great for those situations.  You'd hamstring the other team into not putting on a return, and at the same time be able to make them pay if they did sell out for the punt return. 


October 18th, 2011 at 2:59 PM ^

LOVE the random Manly Sea Eagles reference.

Two of us lived in Manly and made it to several Sea Eagles games during our time there. Even tried to get a MAIZE OUT going - too bad we only had one MAIZE OUT shirt with us in OZ.



October 18th, 2011 at 3:31 PM ^

What about paying money constitutes something being a "wait" list. If you are on the list and you keep waiting, nothing will happen. According to the site your tickets are based only on the number of points you have. The only way to get points are being an alum, having a varsity letter, donating money, or already having season tickets in the first place. I realize that there are a limited number of seats, but over time all this will do is fill the stadium with more and more wealthy people, and leave everyone else outside scalping tickets to get in to one or two games a year. 


October 18th, 2011 at 10:47 PM ^

Schools will reserve some seats (the lousy ones) to be sold as single game tickets, both for opposing fans and the less affluent masses. Often, these tickets are bought moment of sale by very weathly people to be resold at a profit, but a school isn't going to sell only season ticket packages. They'd never fill the stadium.

This year, Michigan offered their single game tickets mostly in multi-game packs. You could buy an OSU pack, a Nebraska pack, or a Notre Dame pack. Each pack contained tickets to less noteworthy games, such as SDSU, EMU and Minny. It's a good way to help sell out the games people aren't thrilled about while still making plenty of tickets available to the general public.

In the event that M can't sell enough season ticket packages, they'll offer more single game or partial season packages rather than reducing the season ticket donation requirements. It's a roll of the dice, but for most of us, that's the way to go.


October 18th, 2011 at 3:34 PM ^

While Oregon's offense is really awesome to watch when it is working (which I will admit is most of the time), why does it seem to completely stumble in certain games?  For example, last year Oregon scored 15 against Cal and 19 against Auburn.  Neither were great defenses.  Auburn gave up 24.5 pts on average and Cal gave up 48 pts twice and 50 pts once. Is there something about the spread that is more inconsistent?  I feel like RR's West Virginia teams were the same way.  Score tons of points most weeks, such as 66 against a good UConn team and then all of a sudden score 9 and lose to a mediocre Pitt team the next week.  I know all offenses stumble certain weeks but it seems that a top notch Pro Style is more consistent than a top notch Spread.  But I could be totally wrong.  Thoughts anyone?


October 18th, 2011 at 3:49 PM ^

I'd add Ohio stopping Oregon in the Rose Bowl to your list, also Iowa stopping Georgia State last year is similar, although not the spread. Same idea. 

If the OL can't block the DL, you can't run it. That applies to any offense, including the Oregon (Rodriguez) spread.  Auburn, Ohio, Iowa all had dominant defensive linemen.

Tell me again the offense that isn't inconsistent compared to Oregon?


October 18th, 2011 at 4:08 PM ^

I think you can say that about most offenses. Sometimes it's just not your day for whatever reason. Oregon did put up 450 yards in that Auburn game, it's just that their field position was terrible. 

Drive starts: 16, 19, 47, 29, 7, 1, 38, 19, 27, 16, 14, 45. That's a recipie for a lot of yards without many points, especially when you throw two ugly picks. I have no explanation for the Cal game.

I should point out that Wisconsin, last year's apotheosis of manball, was held to 20 against ASU, 19 against TCU, and couldn't crack 300 yards against MSU. No offense is immune to bad games.

El Jeffe

October 18th, 2011 at 4:08 PM ^

If the spread were 100% guaranteed to score a billyun points every game, everyone would run it. So yeah, sometimes teams have bad games.

Your question is interesting and requires a second-moment regression to see what the determinants of scoring variance are. It might have more to do with the upper bound than the lower bound. That is, perhaps your typical pro-style offense is not geared to putting up 75 on a team (though see Bucky), as opposed to your typical spread team being more likely to put up 10.


October 18th, 2011 at 6:34 PM ^

Only is the spread being called a "decided schematic advantage". People who view the spread as better than pro-style  think more or less in these terms. So when the spread doesn't work in a certain situation (against a good defense, or on a bad day), the natural inclination is to wonder why it didn't work and why it stalled.

To me, the bottom line is each offense has its good and bad details. The spread seems more explosive, but really only against inferior competition. Against a well-prepared defense with good  athletes, both styles of offense are equally prone to failure.  Ultimately, you need the right players to run your system, and you need to execute it consistently.

BTW, I am no means a spread hater. I like it a lot. I just don't think of it as any sort of schematic advantage over the pro-style. Both work just fine in their own ways, and both really depend on the playcaller and personnel you have. 


October 18th, 2011 at 5:12 PM ^

The spread probably has a much higher upper bound normally as the offense can score very quickly, thus getting more offensive possessions per game.

Thus, a Pro Style offense would be more consistent than the Spread but only because the Pro Style offense scored less in the runaway games.


October 18th, 2011 at 4:37 PM ^

I think sometimes defensive coaches come up with really good gameplans.  Cal sees this offense every year.  They did a great job in the first half of the game this year, but then fell apart in the second.  Ditto with Pitt seeing RR's offense every year. 

It's one thing to see a certain type of offense once every 3 or 4 years.  It's another to see it and gameplan for it every year.  The spread has become a popular offense in the college game.  Teams are probably game planning for some type of spread offense and spread offense plays multiple times throughout the year now.

That being said, if you're going up against a team with a ton of talent on offense, you better have a pretty talented defense to go against it. 

Zone Left

October 18th, 2011 at 3:40 PM ^


Isn't the have a first round NFL QB throwing to first round receivers system what Michigan ran for about 20 years? Personally, if you can get the players, that system puts a lot less of the onus on a single player (QB) than Oregon's system. In Oregon's system, the QB has to be awesome at making the zone read decisions, a good or better runner, and good enough at throwing to keep everyone honest and hit the really open guys downfield. In Oklahoma's (Michigan's) system, the QB just needs to be able to read defenses really well, throw a decent ball, and stand still. 

Also, I think the importance of having great interior lineman is under appreciated in the spread. A first round d-lineman can basically destroy an entire Oregon offense by himself if the center isn't correspondingly awesome. The spread necessarily leaves lineman sort of on an island in a way that only left tackles used to be, uh, left alone. Now that teams are much more familiar with the spread, that's become a significant detractor. It seems easier for a straight passing spread like Oklahoma to deal with the presence of one elite player on the other side.

Basically, I'd prefer elite level players playing in a passing spread or traditional pro-style to elite level players in a run-first spread. Howeva, all of that is situationally dependent. Chip Kelly does some serious magic.

Zone Left

October 18th, 2011 at 6:59 PM ^

True, but Oklahoma really hasn't either. I think Sam Bradford was the only one (Landry Jones may or may not be).

However, you could make a serious case that Michigan did a better job of developing actual NFL QB talent than anyone from the mid-80s on. Consider this, every single regular starter since Elvis Grbac through Chad Henne has gone on to start at least one game in the NFL. Hell, even Scott Dreisbach and Matt Gutierrez went on to play in the NFL.

Michigan certainly did have the other high level draft picks at every position outside of QB too--if we weren't busy running zone left or that damn counter with the fullback shuffle every play, we might have had great offenses.

Eye of the Tiger

October 18th, 2011 at 3:41 PM ^

Two excellent offenses.  Oregon's in particular is frustrating--this is what I thought RR would institute when he came in 2007.  But when you watch Oregon, you see something different from either last year's or this year's incarnation of our running-based spread offense.  

Everyone on Oregon's offense goes full tilt on every play.  Running backs and quarterbacks don't hesitate or wait for things to develop when they run--they attack the hole at full speed.  The O-lineman do the same thing, moving much much faster than our O-line is capable of.  That's the first thing that impresses me about them.  

The second is that, when they run the zone read, both the RB and the QB sell the fake completely, at 100% speed.  Oftentimes cameras can't even figure out who has the ball until the carrier is 4 yards beyond the LoS.  When was the last time we saw that?  We didn't see it last year and we don't see it this year.  Smith, Toussaint and Shaw are all fast. Maybe we don't have the sheer speed of Oregon at the O-line, but our RBs and QB can do this.   But don't.  

As for Oklahoma, that's another good one.  But I don't think it's really an Air-Raid offense.  It's a hybrid that combines elements of that with elements of a traditional pro-style offense.  Reminds me more of the offenses the New England Patriots have run since 2007 than anything Mike Leach put together.  

Speaking of, I did love his Air-Raid offenses at TTU.  

Eye of the Tiger

October 18th, 2011 at 4:51 PM ^

Oregon also has Nike money, which is huge.  

As for Rich Rod, you don't know that at all.  He did bring in Denard, and our 2011 recruiting class did have one really promising player for his offense--Dee Hart.  But what about the O-line?  That's the most impressive thing about Oregon's offense, and I only see one RR recruit for us at O-line who's even marginally exciting (and of course, he's more than marginally exciting)...Lewan.  There is as much reason to doubt that as believe it.   

The best you can claim is that he might have been able to do that, something we'll never know at this point. 

...but since this is about Rich Rod and Oregon, I'd like to point out that Mike Bellotti had his spread-option offense in an eerily similar place to where ours was in year 3 by year 2 (2006). And by eerily similar, I also mean the late season collapse and bowl game embarrassment.

They did show significant improvement in 2007, but that also has a lot to do with defensive improvement.

While I do think our offense would have improved from 2010 to 2011, I don't see any indication our defense was going to.  There were just too many deeply embedded problems there.  





October 18th, 2011 at 7:26 PM ^

about players looking like they know where to go and doing things without hesitating.  Obviously we don't know if they would have been as potent as the WVU offenses.  But you can easily assume players would be more comfortable in an offense they've seen run efficiently by upperclassmen when they were freshmen.


October 18th, 2011 at 3:46 PM ^

A slightly different take on the question, and one that might be more of a surprise-


I am just curious: what is your ideal defense? As in, if you were to become a defensive coordinator, what would the personnel look like and which current system would it most resemble?


October 18th, 2011 at 4:06 PM ^

In my limited football knowledge, I think I would go with the 3-4 if I had to pick one. Obviously you have to recruit specially to it, but I've felt the games you can play with your blitzes are just way more creative than the 4-3 and it matches up slightly better with the spread offenses that are popping up everywher(again my caveat about my limited football knowledge applies)