Mailbag: Uptempo Effect On D, Next Year On O, Personnel Bits

Submitted by Brian on November 28th, 2012 at 3:46 PM



Reading your 11/26 post about "The Game", I noticed you made mention of the question of whether huddling is necessary anymore.  As a high school coach and former small college player who has used both the huddle and the no-huddle, my first reaction is to disagree with your point that the huddle is archaic and a bit of a dinosaur.  But I am also intrigued.

My overall response would be that there are obvious advantages to both.  Points and tempo are the obvious gains, but tempo is also a negative from the no huddle (as we learned circa 2009-2011) when an offense has too many three and outs and a team's defense bears the brunt of it all.  In short, it's hard to praise a defense, especially an overachieving bunch like our boys, while touting an offensive style that so often seems to lead to a loss in defensive production.

In short, what data is out there to suggest that the no huddle would not obliterate our defensive gains?


There are two issues here being conflated here. Not huddling is not necessarily synonymous with going at a high speed. Ohio State runs the same no-huddle style as Oregon but does not push the pedal down nearly as much:

Team Offensive Plays Defensive Plays Total % Plays on offense
Oregon 989 915 1904 52%
Michigan 738 791 1529 48%
Ohio State 837 849 1686 49%

Oregon games had 24% more plays in them than Michigan games; Ohio State games had just 10% more, and I'm guessing the difference there is more Michigan being exceptionally slow than Ohio State being fast: decidedly MANBALL Wisconsin games featured a little over 1600 plays this year. If OSU is over the national average for plays run it's not by much.

The benefits of getting to the line immediately are the same whether you're going fast or slow: the defense is hampered in its ability to substitute and you can see how they align as you make your playcall. You can sprinkle in tempo plays when you have an advantage without cracking the whip up and down the field.

The other issue is how a high tempo affects your defense. This is the reason people invented tempo-free basketball statistics: how fast you go can distort how your offense and defense look. A high-tempo approach artificially inflates the former and deflates the latter.

Take the most extreme possible example: Oregon. The Ducks are are decent but essentially mediocre in yardage statistics. They're 47th in rushing, 60th in passing, and 46th in total D. But they faced 915 plays. Michigan's defense faced 791, and in there is a large part of the gap between the two defenses. Michigan is still better on a yards-per-play basis, but there's no question that Oregon played more good offenses.

Advanced stats that try to account for tempo look a lot more favorably on Oregon's defense than conventional ones. The Ducks are eighth in FEI*, one spot in front of Alabama. They're 21st in S&P, which I don't like as much because it's play-focused instead of drive-focused.

As this year's Michigan team proved against Nebraska and OSU, a three and out is a three and out and you're in trouble no matter what if that's what your offense is doing. In games you can win, the price you're extracting from your defense is going to be similar to the price you extract from the opposition.

And, like, I don't think it would have mattered if a Greg Robinson defense played opposite the Lombardi Packers. They were cooked.

*[A note on FEI: that ranking looked pretty strange on offense last year; this year it passes any sanity test you want to give it with Florida/ND/Stanford/MSU as the top 4. It seems to be overrating some small schools but that's inevitable.]

Are we running the Air Raid next year?  Taking out Denard, Michigan had a pretty atrocious rushing offense this year.  It's obviously going to look different next season without a primarily rushing QB but even still, with a starting RB coming off a serious leg injury, and replacing 3 or 4 offensive lineman, this looks bleak right?


Look on the bright side: at least Borges has shown to be more willing to adapt to a throw-first mentality than Carr-era coordinators. And the interior line literally cannot be worse! Woo!

It does look bleak. Michigan has to hope that Mike Schofield can hold up at left tackle (I think he can against non-elite pass-rushers and will probably be a Stenavich-level player) and then fill in the rest of the line with n00bs. There are some assets:

  • Extremely fast QB.
  • "College-ready" five star Kyle Kalis at guard.
  • Guy who has played center all the way, Jack Miller, at center, presumably making much better line calls.
  • Enormous guy Chris Bryant
  • Enormous guy Ben Braden

It… yeah, it looks grim-ish. While any of the above could work out Michigan is still working through the disastrous RR OL recruiting and will have a similar problem to the one they had this year: few, if any options to turn to if the starters are not performing. Things are little better at tackle, where Erik Magnuson is available to back up instead of nobody, but on the interior you've got a redshirt freshman on the 3/4 star borderline (Bars) and Joey Burzynski, who is still 6'1".

But there's a bunch of hype for the freshman class and Bryant was reported looking good before the leg injury. Michigan may have to go with more Gardner running than they might want. I certainly hope they don't ditch the veer, for one.

Hi Brian,

First of all, I'm very surprised by Hoke's prediction that Devin's redshirt will go through, given his history of never saying anything specific, ever.

With that in mind, do you think Devin is a good fit for Borges' style of West Coast offense?  Or will we still be "making due" with some Frankenoffense for the next two years, give or take, until Shane is ready? 

Like most fans, I've been pleasantly surprised by Devin over the past month, but I don't know enough about Borges' dream offense to know how well his QB skills translate.


I was surprised, too, and assume he was told by the people who had talked to the Big Ten that they would get it. Which hurray, one less argument about how dumb Rich Rodriguez is and extra year for starting QB.

Gardner is clearly a better fit for what Borges wants to do than Denard was. He's tall, he can stand in the pocket, and he has an excellent deep ball when he's not being asked to throw it on the run for some strange reason. He also tends to run when he should run, thus rescuing various plays that aren't going so well.

I am actually hoping for something of a Frankenoffense, though. Running big epic "play action" from an I-form that is really just a max-protect setup doesn't use Gardner's legs particularly effectively, and we've seen that when you get a guy who can run and throw trying to stop both is super hard. Hell, run-and-kinda-throw is pretty hard. I'd like Michigan to still run most of its offense from the shotgun and use Gardner's legs to mitigate some of the problems that will arise on the offensive line. With Morris backing Gardner up you won't have to be as overcautious as it seemed Michigan was this year.

Maybe the OL will surprise and DeVeon Smith or Derrick Green will show up as a grinder and it will work. If a traditional manball running game isn't in the cards, though, the Frankenoffense may be the best one available.


Do you think Hopkins gets a long look in the spring back at tailback with Fitz's status up in the air?

Seems like they have some depth now at fullback with Kerridge  and Houma.  I know he has ball security issues so maybe he has to walk around campus all spring, summer and fall carrying a football. Could he have the potential to be a Leroy Hoard-type in 1988, '89 as a featured, ball-carrying back?


While that's a possibility I doubt it will amount to much if they do try it. Hopkins may be marginally better than Rawls if he doesn't fumble, he has. Rawls hasn't done much but he also has not fumbled.

A Hoard-back requires Hoard-blocking, and more speed than Hopkins brings to the table. If Derrick Green ends up committing he's the early favorite to get a plurality of carries.

Any chance that Michigan starts Pipkins and Washington in a similar way that they used Washington and Campbell this year?


Probably not. Nose tackle is a draining position staffed by enormous men and requires that two people play it. Michigan probably wanted to use Pipkins more than they did a year ago; they couldn't because he wasn't very good. Michigan will probably stick with him as the backup nose in preparation for a two year starting run. Big guys take some time.



November 28th, 2012 at 5:05 PM ^

not quick enough to be the 3T?  It seems like he his.  Black moves back to SDE (except on passing downs or other Mattison playcall alchemy)

I'm not particularly high on him, but Ash would be back-up nose.  We saw very little of QW his RS Sophmore year, then he started.  Maybe Ash does the same.   6-3, 300, and he's from Pahokee.


November 28th, 2012 at 5:07 PM ^

I think its funny you picked the oregon auburn game since it had two high scoring teams struggle against mediocare defenses but yeah I'm not sure huddles are nescessary either.


November 28th, 2012 at 5:08 PM ^

Ohio didn't really go "uptempo" and snap the ball before our D could get set, they just ran up to the line of scrimmage and stood there for 20 seconds or so to prevent Michigan from substituting players while getting the next play from the sideline and calling it from under center. Or at least I should say, they didn't go anything remotely like RR/Chip Kelly uptempo. Only way Ohio had 2 minute drives was when Michigans D was forcing 3 and outs.


November 28th, 2012 at 5:10 PM ^

As the Grantland article about Oregon said a week or so ago, its not the up-tempo offense precisely that is such an advantage, but the fact that they can slow and speed up at will in response to the defense. If you can "trap" a favorable defensive lineup on the field, go super fast to deny them the chance to substitute. If you are not having a lot of success, slow down a take a little more time at the line. It still gives you the opportunity to see the defensive lineup before you call your play.

A higher tempo also means more plays in limited practice time. True, less time to teach, but I think more reps is generally the best thing for improving at practice. It can help conditioning. And, as Kilgore says above, running practice at a high speed will help the defense be prepared for opponents who run the no-huddle.


November 28th, 2012 at 6:03 PM ^

I didn't see everything, but this season I almost never saw one of our RBs run through a defender.  Even a cornerback one-on-one.  Or make a linebacker or even lineman miss.  I kept thinking Fitz lost a step, and he was still the best we had.  I don't recall him making something from nothing at any point this season; he'd do it at least once a game last year.  In almost every case it only took one shed block or free hitter to get to the RB, and once the RB was hit he went down.  We're NOT talking about ye olde Walter Payton or Barry Sanders.  They transcended the "free hitter" concept because a DB had no chance of stopping Payton one-on-one and a D-lineman had no hope of catching Barry.  You HAD to gang-tackle them and that forced a lot of tough backfield assignments.  Yes yes I understand the game has changed since the late 80s (get off my lawn), but at the college level -- where talent disparity is more of a thing than the NFL -- a talented RB can be expected to not need perfect blocking because they can always make the first guy miss (if he's shifty) or blow him back (if he's strong).

Our RBs, with very few exceptions, did neither.  And with the disappointment of Rawls, I don't see anyone we have or up-and-coming who'll force the defense to commit at least two free hitters to stopping the run.   I know it's a tough job so I'm not saying this to be mean, but our RBs can't do RB-like things you might as well give the ball to our biggest available lineman and see what you get out of a push-a-thon.  At least then it would take more than a single safety to stop a short-yardage dive.


November 29th, 2012 at 4:19 PM ^

As you say, no burner, but when I watch his video he reminds me a little bit of Emmitt Smith. (Don't get me wrong here, I'm not saying he's gonna end up the NFL's career rushing leader !)  As a Cowboys fan I watched Emmitt's whole career, and on film DeVeon has a similar running style -- no blazing speed, but great vision, quick and decisive in his cuts, runs low and keeps his feet moving, does well at picking his way through the trash at the line of scrimmage, and never goes down on first contact.

If he blows up and becomes a great back at Michigan, you heard it here first!


November 28th, 2012 at 7:23 PM ^

I really think that running over people comes at the end of a good run. The ! at the end of a sentence. The problems the rbs had was that they spent half the time looking for possitive yards when there was not any. If they ever got to the second level or picked up five yards I am sure they would love to lower the boom, be the hammer not the nail, and other sporting phrases.

Blue since birth

November 29th, 2012 at 3:49 AM ^

You guys are crazy if you think the jury is in on a Soph RB who had the blocking Rawles did this year. Could it be that Fitz also suffered greatly/primarily because of the same?... Wild stuff I know.

My money says that even if we get a big time RB in this class that they'll redshirt next year or at the very least be 2nd or 3rd on the depth chart.

BTW- Yeah, I seen Rawles run through some guys this year. I also seen Fitz make some nice moves and do some hard running. Only to lead to them consistently getting swallowed up anyway. I hate to bash the O line any more than they've already got... But I have a hard time being too negative on our RBs considering what they were tasked with this year. I'm certainly not writing anyone off this early in their careers.


November 28th, 2012 at 8:25 PM ^

All of this talk about Gardner "possibly" getting a medical redshirt is making me wonder, what about Shane Morris his Sophomore (redshirt freshman) year? Given that he lives up to the hype, does he give Gardner a real run for his money and possibly start over him? With that, does Hoke sacrafice wins in order to stay loyal to Gardner?


November 28th, 2012 at 8:51 PM ^


Sometimes I think you have all these great statistical ideas and theories but they just don't jive with what wins.  For example:  TOP.  it is an adage that controlling the clock, and consquently the game tempo simultaneously wears down your opponents defense while keeping your Defense fresh.  

Thesis:  I think TOP and turnovers determine winners and leavign turnovers aside, since this is a tempo article, I want to focus on some examples of successful teams that run no huddle..

When you watch the New England Patriots, or San Franciso 49ers run a no-huddle rarely do they actually snap the ball quickly (more often if they snap the ball early it is because the defense is not set, which of course is an advantage);  what they are doing is lineing up the line and letting the quarterback read the defense (you know, put people in motion, change formation, etc.).  I don't think a college quarterback is, or ever will be, experienced enough to read at the line like them.

When you watch Oregon it is a play bonanza.  Which is fine, but how many championships have they won?  And what have they done outside of the PAC against elite teams (see lsu last year, Auburn two years ago,  OSU/boise two years ago..  you ahve to go back to ok st. three years ago)?  I am not sure oregon is who you want to be.  I will go so far as to say that ORegon is only successful in a conference that doesn't play defense and values offense...


Just a couple thoughts of mine...


November 28th, 2012 at 10:56 PM ^

The top 10 teams nationally in TOP
1. New Mexico (4-9)
2. Rice (6-6)
3. TCU (7-4 pending game vs Oklahoma)
4. Michigan St (6-6)
5. SMU (6-6)
6. Florida (11-1)
7. North Texas (4-8)
8. Ga Tech (6-6)
9. Western Kentucky (7-5)
10. Wisconsin (7-5 pending game vs Nebraska)
Now I picked 10 because that's a round number, but I will note ND (12-0...ugh) is at 11.
Also this seems to be a poor year for those at the top of this stat. Most years are half cream puffs and half really good grinding out/MANBALL type teams(Alabama/Stanford/Wisconsin). In essence you CAN win with this style, but it is by no means necessary. Also before picking on Oregon, go find me a more succesful UM period than they've had the past 4-5 years. You'd probably have to go back to the 70s.


November 29th, 2012 at 10:20 AM ^

Hey guy, how about using facts to support your arguments instead of trying to use cute, little one liners. If I'm "fitting this to my reality" then surely, with some minimal research, you can prove me wrong. Or you can decide how you feel without using data and fit reality to YOUR preconceived notions.


November 29th, 2012 at 12:23 PM ^

Teams with Least TOP:

1. Houston
2. Kentucky

3. Indiana

4. Baylor

5. Miami

6. N Illinois

7. BC

8. Arizona

9. UNC

10. Tennessee

I'll take the top 10 teams in TOP vs the Bottom ten teams in TOP any day.  

And if that Sample Size isn't large enough, Let's do the top 25 teams in TOP.  They happen to include:  Alabama, ND, LSU, Stanford, Kansas State, Florida

Stop thinking Brian is the end all be all in football discussions.  EGRAPHS DO NOT TELL THE WHOLE STORY. 


November 29th, 2012 at 11:14 AM ^

How about you eliminate the Mid Majors and stick to BCS teams.   Almost all of those Mid Majors played BCS schools out of conference...  

If you do not think TOP is a major factor in success then you've never played the sport.  

Stick to Egraphs Brave.  They tell the whoooole story...

You would have TCU, MSU, Florida, Wisconsin, Notre Dame... 

That looks like a pretty solid list of teams to me.

Now, take the top 10 BCS teams with Least TOP and compare them.  I bet it's eye opening ;)

Sac Fly

November 28th, 2012 at 9:20 PM ^

My brother is a freshman at Prairie Ridge in Illinois, he said that somebody from Michigan was there today to see 2014 OL prospect Shane Evans. He's not ranked yet so this wasn't big news, but I didn't see anything anywhere so I figured I would see if there was any truth to it.


November 28th, 2012 at 10:14 PM ^

              if you think that defense is more taxing to play than offense (or more particularly, if you think playing defense is more taxing for your team than playing offense is for the other team), then tempo could hurt your defense because increasing the number of plays is going to put the defense at a disadvantage by tiring them.   But this may be counterbalanced if tempo is equally hurting the opposing defense, since the harm to the your defense if offset by a gain to the your offense (I'm ignoring other advantages tempo may have for your offense).   However, if the opposing defense is better conditioned or something, then you could harm your defense without an offsetting gain. 


Still, you have to consider the marginal value of the gain for the offense.  If your offense is much better than the opposing defense then the added advantage of them facing a tired defense might not be worth much as you're already going to dominate.   If you're a big bully offense with a shit defense, then holding the ball looks like a good idea.


Of course, the main theoretical advantage of a ball-control offense is using the clock to limit the opponent's number of plays.  It's not clear how well that works in practice, as Michigan was under 50% of plays on offense.  However I can think of factors that might be skewing that data. 


All that said, most of the top-ten defenses even on FEI are not up-tempo teams, Oregon could just be an anomoly.    So I can think of some reasons in theory that might make uptempo offense hurt defenses and point to some data that uptempo offenses don't generally have top-tier defenses, but that's far from conclusive.