Mailbag: Slowing Down Offenses, Henry At NT, Smith Vs Green, #1 Jersey, Onside Piracy Comment Count

Brian December 10th, 2013 at 12:58 PM



As I sit here watching Missouri and Auburn roll up and down the field, with the only defense being turnovers, I'm wondering what can be done to curtail the wave of offense in football so that defenses have a chance again.  Maybe people are fine with all of the offense, but it seems like it is so tough to play defense (get held on nearly every play, called one in 30 times) that I would love to see something to help even things up without drastically changing the game (such as 3 downs instead of 4 or having to go 15 yards for a first down instead of 10, etc.).  I think I figured out a simple change that may help:  with offenses spread out to make one on one match-ups all over the place, what if there is a rule that all of the offensive players have to line up between the numbers?  This wouldn't be such a drastic change and it would allow defenses to be a little less spread out at the snap.

What do you think?

A loyal reader,

Despite the attempt to not seem drastic, that seems kind of drastic. That would affect a lot of teams from spread to, uh, concentrate. And I'm not even sure what the impact would be. If teams just stack two guys up at the numbers is that better or worse? It doesn't seem to have a huge impact. Apologies, but thumbs down.

If we're going to change football to slow down the offenses, my suggestion is to simplify and liberalize pass interference by making it a (nearly) arms-only offense. I can't stand it when a defender gets nailed for the WR trying to run through him; some of these back shoulder things are basically prayer ducks relying on the fact that the DB isn't looking and hoping he'll run over the DB. In the hypothetical world where I am king, whiskey is free and pass interference is a thing that can only happen when a defensive back uses his arms in an unfair fashion or blows a guy up early. No more of this stuff where the DB is running in a direction and the WR changes his path such that the DB is now impeding the WR. You have a right to your momentum. In exchange, offenses can have full NFL penalties for flagrant you-tackled-that-guy offenses.

Not that any of this will do much to slow down Auburn, which just runs and runs and runs and runs. They beat Alabama and their QB threw for 97 yards. They got outgained by 100 yards, but they also ran for 5.7 yards a carry against Alabama. It boggles the mind.

Moving Willie Henry?


OK, there are many candidates to play the DT next year, but few candidates to play NT if Pipkins doesn't come back strong after injury. You and others are very high on Henry at DT, but I haven't seen him mentioned at a possible NT. His weight and height look fine, but is there something about his build that makes him not well suited to play the nose?


Henry is a very plausible NT with his size and strength. Michigan lists him at 6'2", 306, which is about ideal NT size, and we've seen him throw away more than one OL this year. In an ideal world, Pipkins is full-go by late spring and playing well in fall camp, allowing Henry to continue doing his thing at three-tech.

But if that's not happening I bet we do see Henry slide over to the nose. Michigan's other options there are Richard Ash and redshirt freshman Maurice Hurst Jr, which doesn't sound too appealing. At three tech, Strobel, Poggi, and Glasgow are returning and Michigan has the option of bumping either Godin or Wormley down from SDE with Beyer the projected starter there.

A Henry move is 50/50 right now.

[After the JUMP: Smith vs Green, annual #1 jersey speculation, and evaluating a potential onside kick in The Game.]


Green was getting more PT for a reason. Was that recruiting hype? [Fuller]

Green or Smith?


Am I the only one who saw De'Veon Smith as clearly better than Derrick Green?  Smith ran harder, broke more tackles, and was more decisive than Green.  Green was billed as a power back, but rarely did we see that power.  Green had far more opportunities than Smith and never got going.  There are several examples, but his goal line carry against Ohio State was especially soft.

When these two came out, Green was the higher rated player but that seemed to be more based on his size and speed combination than his film. Smith played in Ohio, a higher level of competition than Virginia, and was more productive.  Remember Kevin Grady a few years ago, 5 star recruit, lots of hype.  Remember who played over him all those years?  Mike Hart, 3 star recruit.  I think we have a similar situation on our hands, where the lower rated guy is actually the better player. 

Jon from Cincinnati

It's hard to tell based on just a handful of carries for each that didn't get snowed under at the snap because of OL/blitz issues. We're basing this on not much more than De'Veon Smith running through a couple of bad tackle attempts from Ohio State and Green not doing so. The jury is still out on both.

That said, I tend to agree. Smith has a Hart-like leg drive that will serve him well in the YAC department and Green does seem to go down on first contact almost all the time. Smith's run through more tackles in fewer opportunities, and if you'll remember that was his calling card as a high schooler. At this point I prefer Smith.

That doesn't mean Kevin Grady should be invoked here, though. Green's already shown better vision and quicker feet than Grady ever did. Green's been able to find backside creases and get to them; Grady just blasted forward every time he got the ball no matter what was in store for him. He's shown some promise and if he can enter fall camp at the same weight he played as  a high school senior, good things could be in the offing there. This kind of offensive line is the worst situation for power backs to be in.

We'll get a more definitive resolution next year when the two figure to platoon for about 90% of Michigan's tailback carries.



Always enjoy reading your game theory bits, but I was wondering about something my friends and I discussed in the stands. Do you think Michigan should have gone for a surprise onside kick after they tied it at 35 with 5 minutes left? I guess it's possible that OSU was expecting it. But the success rate on those tends to be high, we couldn't stop them, and even failure gives you the ball back down 7 with 4 minutes left instead of 2 (plus the same red zone defense opportunities you'd have in either situation).

Or would failure have led to leaving the OSU offense too much time after Michigan potentially tied the game again at 42? I was just curious what you thought since you're always on top of the math on these decisions. Keep up the good work, Go Blue.


This did not occur to me at the time but does seem like a pretty good idea. We saw MSU attempt an onside kick in the Big Ten championship game, one of those sideline popups. MSU almost certainly should have recovered it but balls bounce funny and the thing managed to get out of bounds at the OSU 41. In exchange for at least a 50% shot at a bonus possession, MSU gave up 16 yards of field position. That is a quality gamble.

If Michigan had something like that in their back pocket, and chances are they do, that would have been an excellent spot to pull it out. You seize the initiative late on success; on failure you haven't given up much and actually increase your chances of getting the ball back for a final possession. Maybe you give yourself time to try to force a field goal once OSU gets in a goal-to-go situation.

You decrease your chance of holding OSU scoreless, yes, but what were those chances? With both offenses moving up and down the field—especially given OSU's ability to hand it to Hyde for 7 yards whenever they wanted—field position becomes much less important than who's got the ball. I say put on the eyepatch and board that kick return team. Hyyarrr!

Number one.


Do you think there's any chance Funchess wears #1 next year? I'm not sure if this has been covered elsewhere. I'd say it's time to bring the jersey out of retirement--and I think Braylon Edwards might agree.

Go Blue,
David Cassleman

It would be tough to change Funchess's number two straight years after he's become a prominent member, especially since he's got a legends jersey. Or at least you'd think so. I thought it would be tough to change Jeremy Gallon's number from 10, or Jordan Kovacs's number from 32. I was incorrect about both of those.

Even if they decide to stop Funchess number rotation they should just hand the damn #1 out now, though. Give it to someone, and stop with the semi-retirement of the thing. Darboh or Chesson or…


…yeah. For real. I may have an irrational attachment to short guys.


Monocle Smile

December 10th, 2013 at 1:17 PM ^

I absolutely loathe the hipster love for Smith over Green that's been present since both committed. It's backup QB syndrome on steroids. I'm admittedly more impressed with Smith than expected, but he has zero burst and no extra gear. Green definitely has a higher ceiling and appears to be the more complete back...and the increased playing time hints at that.

Also, it's fairly laughable to claim Smith's level of competition was higher than Green's. That's just pure ignorance of regional strength within states. Smith played against a bunch of little white dudes WHOM HE COULD OUTRUN(!), while Richmond produces a pretty decent amount of talent.


December 10th, 2013 at 2:18 PM ^

can produce regardless of the OL. Doesn't have to be Barry Sanders nor Adrian Peterson. Green was the #1 back in the country coming out of HS, he should be producing yet he's just okay which is concerning. Didn't have flash of greatness.

Mike Hart was a great back because he consistently produces behind poor run blocking OL.  He would produce behind the current line.


December 10th, 2013 at 3:45 PM ^

Mike Hart made them look a lot better than they really are.  Only Jake Long was a stud, but the rest were mediocre at best.  I can't find the picture but the play where OSU DL were in the backfield already on a running play that isn't a screen play says it all about Michigan's OL.  Mike Hart made the OL.


December 10th, 2013 at 9:08 PM ^

So what you're saying is, a better running back could avoid getting decapitated by Jadeveon Clowney, and those type situations because that's what our backs faced all year- getting smothered behind the line by seemingly unblocked defensive linemen.


December 10th, 2013 at 2:31 PM ^

You have to have at least a solid offensive line to produce at RB, unless you're Barry Sanders. Sorry, but it's true.

Hart's OL throughout his career:

2004: Stenavich, Baas, Bihl, Lentz, Long
2005: Stenavich, Henige, Kraus/Bihl, Lentz, Riley/Long
2006: Long, Kraus, Bihl, Mitchell, Riley
2007: Long, Kraus, Boren, Ciulla/Mitchell, Schilling

There are mediocre guys in there (Ciulla, Mitchell, Riley), but for the most part, those were pretty darn solid offensive lines. And let's remember that Toussaint was a "good" running back when he averaged 5.6 yards/carry, went over 1000 yards, and had a better line back in 2011. Then the line went to Hell and he averaged 3.5 or whatever it ended up. Hart didn't excel behind a poor run blocking OL, and he wouldn't have produced much this year, either. He probably would have produced 3.7 yards/carry, which still isn't anything special. The running game goes as its OL goes.


December 10th, 2013 at 4:15 PM ^

Oh yeah, totally.  I mean, I totally forgot about the "Different School" fighting Humans and their star back Running Back.

Seriously, nobody is going to argue that the backs have been unspectacular, but you are seriously grasping for strawmen if you are able to make a clear determination on the abilities of either of these freshmen after limited and disjointed first seasons.


December 10th, 2013 at 4:27 PM ^

but RBs are one position where you expect them to make an impact because it's their running ability that will always be the same for them regardless of the level.  The best RBs in the country are the ones who make an impact in their freshman year.  If you don't produce, there's a good chance that they're not a good RB in the future.

Space Coyote

December 10th, 2013 at 4:35 PM ^

RS Junior RB for MSU, did absolutely nothing worth noting (not even in garbage time) his first three years. Had 8 straight games with 100+ yards running to end the year and finished with over 1300 yards rushing on the season.

Is that normal? No. Would he have come close to doing that last year? Absolutely not. OL makes a huge difference, and age often makes a difference too. There are different types of players for different types of offenses that are better at doing different types of things. Neither Langford, Green, or Smith are types of back that will make a lot out of nothing (because that RB hardly exists). They also aren't the types that will make good out of nothing (that's few and far between as well). But neither would Ron Dayne, neither would Chris Perry, neither would most of the many great college backs. All those guys were better than others once they got into the 2nd level, Mike Hart included, and that's what made them better than most.

Maybe Green and Smith aren't that type, but it's way to early to come to the conclusion that they aren't.


December 10th, 2013 at 6:12 PM ^

Never saw the field as a freshman, he did as a sophomore racking up just 200 yards.  Neither did Butch Woolfolk nor Billy Taylor see the field as freshmen.  Or what about Rob Lytle, he had a grand total of six yards on three carries as a freshman.  Gordon Bell, didn't really blossom until he was a junior sharing time with sophomore Rob Lytle and still only started three games.  


December 12th, 2013 at 12:37 AM ^

I agree that the assertion was dumb, but I just don't think your argument is very compelling.  It's very possible Biakabutuka was quite good as a freshman, he just didn't have the stats to back it up because of other good players.  I think his point was that if a RB isn't already good as a frosh, that he won't be good later, not simply if he doesn't have stats for any reason.   Your example doesn't prove or disprove anything.  


December 11th, 2013 at 9:52 AM ^

He's also a true frosh who hasnt had time to learn the playbook and is also a large man.  You cant tell me that all 240lbs of his roster weight is good weight considering he's been on campus for 6 months. 

Lets give him a year in the weightroom and another go at the RB spot before we go all he-sucks-and-is-a-bust. 


December 10th, 2013 at 1:23 PM ^

Watching first-year players, I'm always looking for flashes of greatness, something to portend consistent greatness in the future. I didn't see any such flashes from Green this year. Frankly, I thought he looked slow. Deveon Smith had one great run against OSU, and as far as I'm concerned, that's one more great run than Green had all season. My hope is that Green slims down and speeds up in the off season as he stares down the real possibility of being the go-to guy next Fall. 


December 10th, 2013 at 11:40 PM ^

either a RB has balance or they don't when it comes to running with defenders around him. If it's easy to teach, Carlos Brown wouldn't get tripped by grass.

I'm not talking about standing still and balance on one leg. It's about maintaining running while getting hit.


December 10th, 2013 at 3:16 PM ^

IMO, it has more to do with cutting ability and (as a few posters have stated) balance. He does seem to get taken down pretty easy when he appears to be just bumped. and how often have you seen him actually make someone miss? Like, never. Those are two attributes that (again, IMO) every good running back must have, along with vision. He seems to have very slow feet, and more times than not, just runs straight into the defender.

Monocle Smile

December 10th, 2013 at 3:22 PM ^

There comes a point where I wonder if everyone's watching the same games. Green's footwork is excellent for his size, he sees and takes cutback lanes consistently, and later in the year he stopped going down on first contact. A big chunk of this thread is a meme-fest of "Smith breaks a billion tackles and save puppies" and "Green goes down when someone sneezes on him and hates America" neither of which have been particularly true since the start of Big Ten season.


December 10th, 2013 at 3:41 PM ^

Did I say a single positive thing about Smith? I watch all the games and try to watch as many CFB games as I can in general. At this point, I think both Green and Smith are average B1G running backs. There are prob 5-7 others I would take over them in a heartbeat. Although at this point, I like Smith over Green, (not by much) because of his ability to break a FEW more tackles. Nobody "breaks a billion tackles and saves puppies," and nobody "goes down when sneezed on and hates America." If Green's footwork was "excellent" he would be making people miss, he doesn't. Also, I didnt have anything negative to say regarding Green's vision. Had you actually read my comment, you would know this. 


December 10th, 2013 at 3:57 PM ^

Holy cow you're getting too worked up about this. Thinking Smith is better than Green is not that crazy. I was more excited for Smith than Green before they got here, and based on the results this season it's not very clear either way. Green got more carries early on, but at the end of the season it was much closer.

There's no doubt Green got more touches than Smith. Is that because the coaches thought he was better, or because he picked everything up the quickest? There's also little doubt that Smith did more with the carries he received than Green did. This could be a sample size thing, or it could mean Smith is better. But suggesting it's the latter isn't so crazy that you should be getting this worked up about it.