A Pit At The Bottom Of The World Comment Count

Brian February 18th, 2014 at 12:57 PM



Bryan Fuller

This isn't actually a column, though it is titled like one. I just, I mean, you know… Bill Connelly at Football Study Hall has these metrics that attempt to rate offensive lines by massaging the available stats in a way that attempts to remove outside influences.

It's difficult, of course, to evaluate the coordination and strength of five to seven guys with crude tools like rushing yards. It's like bashing your XBox with a rock in the hopes it will interpret that as a desire to open Netflix. But no matter how crude the tool, Michigan's 2013 offensive line stands out as the pinnacle of inky blackness.

The stats:


A yards per carry mark modified to hack out long runs and emphasize getting across the LOS. Yards 0-4 are counted 100%, 5-10 50%, and yards past eleven dropped; TFLs are magnified by a factor of 1.2. So a four yard run is worth four points, a ten yard run is worth seven points, a twenty yard run is worth seven points, and TFLs are all 20% worse than they are in the normal stats.

MICHIGAN'S RANK: 118th of 126.

WAIT, THERE WERE WORSE SAD SACKS? Yes. Miami (Not That Miami), SDSU, Cal, FIU, CMU, Akron, Sothern Miss, and UMass. Just above Michigan were WMU and Buffalo. This is the company we are keeping. If you look further and further up you find West Virginia, Virginia Tech, South Florida, and Purdue. Looking up at Purdue.


IE, not passing downs. Hold on to your butts.


GREAT GOOGLY MOOGLY. Michigan acquired 2.19 yards per attempt in this metric. #125, Florida International, was at 2.25.


Give up and punts.


THAT SOUNDS PRETTY GOOD! They had a lot more practice at this activity than other teams.


A stat with a dumb name that is a straight percentage of carries going for at least five yards. Ohio State was #1 with 56%. That sounds impossible.


ARE ANY OF THESE GETTING OUT OF TRIPLE DIGITS? Nope. And here's the thing. I am about to give you the number here. 34.5%



Third/fourth and short conversion rate on runs. "Short" == one or two yards. Includes goal line carries.




LIES. Probably.


Percentage of runs going for zero or fewer yards.


I TOLD YOU NOT TO TELL ME. 30% of Michigan's runs didn't get past the line of scrimmage.


This one is rather complicated. From Football Outsiders:

Sack Rate represents sacks divided by pass plays, which include passes, sacks, and aborted snaps. It is a better measure of pass blocking than total sacks because it takes into account how often an offense passes the ball. Adjusted Sack Rate adds adjustments for opponent quality, as well as down and distance (sacks are more common on third down, especially third-and-long). More here.

MICHIGAN'S RANK: 112th. With two tackles about to be drafted.


You knew the above things in your heart. The above things are a gremlin sitting on your heart, giving it noogies when your thoughts turn to football. I should not have brought them up without a reason.

Here it is: unless Al Borges was as incompetent as Greg Robinson running a 3-3-5 defense he didn't know anything about, there isn't much chance that Michigan gets into a place that would allow them to have a definitively positive season next year unless the defense is capital-E elite. I took Connelly's data dump and looked for big shifts in adjusted line yards to the positive.

It's not a good look. There are approximately 842 year-to-year transitions in the document; 70 of them are leaps of 50 or more spots. (One of them is a hundred-spot leap from 119th to 19th at… sigh, Arizona in 2012.) Amongst the truly weak, improvement is expected… barely. Teams ranked 80th or worse from 2005 to 2011 saw an average increase of 7.3 points in this metric. That would take Michigan from 118th all the way to 101st.

While this is still bashing something with a rock that is a pretty grim baseline to attempt to deviate from. Michigan's particular circumstances do not scream deviation, meanwhile. They lose two really good tackles. The depth chart at that spot is now flat-out scary, and the interior line looks like it will still be composed entirely of underclassmen and a former walk-on. In fact, Graham Glasgow is probably going to be the only upperclassman anywhere on the line.

So pray that every nasty thing said about Al Borges here was true, because it looks like the only hope for a Mattison-like bounce is an equal level of coaching malpractice from Doug Nussmeier's predecessor. Otherwise, digging out of this might take so long that Michigan changes coaches again.



February 18th, 2014 at 1:07 PM ^

Gardner had good runs in many games.  What would happen to these statistics if you limit it to analysis of running backs only.  I think Gardner's runs were more or less independent of the blocking of the offensive line.  In other words, I am wondering if Michigan was even worse than these extremely poor numbers indicate.


February 18th, 2014 at 1:31 PM ^

Adjusted Line Yards take every carry by a running back and apply those percentages. (We don’t include carries by receivers, which are usually based on deception rather than straight blocking, or carries by quarterbacks, which are almost always busted passing plays unless they involve someone like Tim Tebow or Cam Newton.) Those numbers are then adjusted based on down, distance, situation, opponent and whether or not a team is in the shotgun. (Because defenses are generally playing pass when the quarterback is in shotgun, the average running back carry from shotgun last year gained 5.36 yards, compared to just 4.16 yards on other carries.) The adjusted numbers are then normalized so that the league average for Adjusted Line Yards per carry is the same as the league average for RB yards per carry (in 2011, 4.31 yards).

Everyone Murders

February 18th, 2014 at 1:12 PM ^

Is this a bell curve with a chunky middle, with "awful" and "elite" a relatively small slice on the periphery?  If so, maybe those numerically small incremental improvements could yield tangible results.

If not, Imma buy some canned food and head down to the cellar once the B1G season starts.

Everyone Murders

February 18th, 2014 at 2:19 PM ^

Recognizing your question as rhetorical, I'll still make an argument to make us feel better (although I'm not sure it's correct):

Overall, one would expect these metrics to remain relatively stable at the majority of programs, because on a year-over-year basis offensive systems tend to remain stable and year-over-year schools tend to recruit the same sorts of linemen.  And there are reasons for that this stability in rankings may not control w/r/t Michigan.

Look at Wisconsin (as an example of a school with historically good line play).  They are going to recruit the same offensive line candidates from the same basic pools of talent year-over-year.  They are following the same figurative recipe, with essentially the same ingredients (outliers like Joe Thomas notwithstanding).  So we would not expect a lot of movement.  And being at the bottom of these listings does not necessarily mean coaching heads will roll.  Akron, UMass, CMU - they'd not admit it aloud, but they are lining up about where they should expect to.  So with the same staffs coaching the same sort of athletes, we'd expect relatively stable rankings at the lower end too.  That there are not a ton of quantum leaps seems intuitively correct.

Now look at Michigan.  We have had generally depleted line classes since Carr's exit, for various reasons.  Now, at last, we have some retention of linemen.  And we have an OC now who we can expect to have a consistent philosophy and not "Borges" our line by tinkering and slavishly trying complicated schemes that don't work.  All those factors suggest a fundamental change that does not exist in many of the other low-performer's programs.  While the Arizona example stings, it also is a data point involving a significant change of offensive philosophy and approach resulting in a big jump. And the quality and size of our line recruits continues to improve.  Essentially, we have a new (simpler) recipe, with better (and more mature) ingredients.

See - that should make us happier. 

(Pay no attention to the fact that Schofield and Lewan have left the team, so our tackles are a huge question mark.  And to the fact that Butt is hurt, so TE help will be scarce.  Oh Jebus, where were those canned goods?)


February 18th, 2014 at 4:37 PM ^

How about this as well:

A marginal improvement in the offensive line may still have resulted in wins vs PSU, Nebraska and Iowa.  Yeah, it sucks to lose to our two biggest rivals but 10-2 has a much different feel than 7-5.

In other words, this could still translate to 9-10 wins next season, especially as the defense progresses naturally.


February 18th, 2014 at 7:52 PM ^

"While the Arizona example stings, it also is a data point involving a significant change of offensive philosophy and approach resulting in a big jump."

This is all we have to hang our hats on.  That a simpler Nuss system that is a better match to the player's skills and experience will be enough to show serviceable improvement.  

I think this will happen, but it won't be enough to realize the dream of lining it up and playing manball.  Borges was right about the "We're a couple of years away" thing.  

What to do until then?  Spread 'em out and let Devin be Devin.  Thank god we have one last year of a running QB.  Next year this won't be an option.    


His Dudeness

February 18th, 2014 at 1:15 PM ^

"One of them is a hundred-spot leap from 119th to 19th at… sigh, Arizona in 2012."


[comment brought to you by CoCo Puffs]


His Dudeness

February 18th, 2014 at 3:20 PM ^

It has to do with the offense. So it has something to do with the offensive line.

To be fair, I'm not yelling. I'm at work right now.  I am thinking about what I'm going to write moments before my fingers hit the keys on my computer. Definitely not yelling. Although if I did yell what I actually thought it would be extremely awesome in every way except for my bank account.

I like Fig Newtons. Not that shit strawberry newton garbage either. The orignal Fig Newton.

[comment brought to you by Image Comics]

Forgive me.

February 18th, 2014 at 3:57 PM ^

and I suspect this won't be too well received either, but here goes:

The thing that really scares me is that SDSU is pinned down deep in our world with an O-line that was recruited by... well, you know.

I'm just hoping that bears AB's signature rather than his former boss's.


February 18th, 2014 at 1:16 PM ^

I fear the O-line coming into the season. However, there is reason for hope.

Our guys were highly regarded during their recruiting. It's not a matter of talent, it's clearly a matter of coaching and their learning curve, which is closely related to coaching.

Nussmeier can't afford to preside over an offense that was as disorganized on O-line as ours was last season if he wants a head coaching future. Hoke clearly has confidence in the guy, at least enough to dump a good friend and colleauge to make the change in coordinators. So if the line isn't getting it done, I would expect that Nuss will insist on a change in line coaches and whatever else he thinks needs to be done, quickly.

It's interesting that the Arizona O-line jumped 100 spots (!) when RR went there, but I'd guess that has something to do with his read option and blocking schemes that really do make the most out of talent on a roster.


February 18th, 2014 at 1:26 PM ^

I'll add on to this:

Nussmeier also had to deal with some less than ideal circumstances on the offensive line last year and produced a very good season (though the deficiencies were not on the level Michigan faced). I think he'll be better than Borges in this regard. 

Looking at our line, while this year sucked, at least we have a bunch of guys with game experience. Glasgow, Kalis, Magnuson, Bosch, Miller, Bryant and Braden all saw time (though some of it was garbage time). So we won't be going into this season with only two guys who have ever played a down of meaningful football (Lewan and Schofield) like we did this year. Actual experience probably matters more than star-rankings or class, as lines like UCLA and Alabama had several guys with lower rankings/class but had at least played before. 

I imagine Michigan will not experience the lows they did this season, though I think things will still be less than ideal. 

I Like Burgers

February 18th, 2014 at 3:25 PM ^

Is game experience really a benefit to the OL?  It was all awful experience.  The kind that should give them nightmares.  If you're a young MMA fighter that's gotten beaten to within an inch of his life in a few outings in the ring, does that experience make you any better than someone that's never been in the ring?  Or say you were an "experienced" architect that's had 4 of his 12 buildings collapse.  If anything, I would think that experience would make you worse since your confidence would be super low and you'd be expecting bad things to happen.

Developing/rebuilding some sort of confidence is going to be job #1 for this OL in the offseason.


February 18th, 2014 at 3:07 PM ^

Good friend notwithstanding, if the 2014 season is remotely close to what last season turned out to be, Hoke could be looking at Ann Arbor in his rear view mirror. Hoke had no choice in getting rid of Borges.

The problems, from my perspective, are in all areas.  offense, defense and special teams.  I keep telling myself it is the youth movement, but there was so little improvement over the course of the season last year, that I am starting to worry about the team and coaching staff are going in different directions.

Not every recruit turns out to meet expectations, but something just seems wrong.

When we almost lose to Akron and Connecticut.....

SC Wolverine

February 18th, 2014 at 1:17 PM ^

Well, this is what the off-season is for.  Yes, if the players don't get better, if the OT replacements aren't competent, and if a revised scheme under Nussmeier doesn't bring things together, then we are in for a rough 2014.  But any of these working out positively could have a big impact.

I have the most confidence in the impact of the OC change.  Remember screaming at Borges (that is, the tv) during games last year?  Not a small amount of our incompetence was Borges doggedly running into stacked D's, while refusing to dump balls to not-covered slot receivers.  Take our worst games last year and imagine not merely competent but even good play-calling, and things would have been a lot better.  I think this year's OC change would have swung at least a couple of games last year.  So if we have a +2 shift just on the OC change, if the guards + center are decent in a much-simplified running attack, if the new OT's are decent, and if the defense does take a step forward (also a reasonable expectation), then we could have a good season.  I think this is more likely than your worst case scenario, and I swear that I am sober.

The thought that OL immaturity causes a head coaching change is truly a nightmare, but I think we can count on DB not to do that.


February 18th, 2014 at 1:38 PM ^

My wish is for Nuss to do two things:

1. Install a base run play that we can execute effectively to gain 2 yards almost every time and

2. Allow DG to audible at the line of scrimmage. Last year might have been profoundly different if DG were allowed to switch running plays to pass plays when there were 9 in the box and uncovered receivers.


February 18th, 2014 at 1:17 PM ^

Who is this on Brian?  Is this simply the fallout from Rich's lack of offensive line recruiting, players leaving the program, Hoke/Borges/Funk - who?

If your analysis is correct we're pretty much fucked next year which may lead to a regime change which may lead to more instability in recruiting and so on and so on and so on.  Who owns this problem in your opinion?

And would things have been different at all if we had not changed coaches in 2011?  Would Rich be dealing with the same shitstorm that Hoke now has on his hands?

no joke its hoke

February 18th, 2014 at 1:24 PM ^

its four years later, you can't still put all the blame on RR. Hoke and this staff have as much to blame. the numbers or lack there of in 2010 did hurt a lot, but Hoke is Mr. Line and the recruits have yet to play to their rankings. hopefully that changes this year. if I had any confidence in this university to find a head coach I would be willing to take a bad 2014 if a coaching change would happen.


February 18th, 2014 at 1:40 PM ^

I mean, this is a "down the rabbit hole" situation. 

What if Lloyd Carr hadn't recruited so abysmally in the secondary that Rodriguez would be forced to play all sophomores and freshmen in 2010, which was the single biggest cause of that defense's awfulness, thus paving the way for the mess that was the following coaching change? (Its funny how the youthful O-Line in year three of Hoke is all Rodriguez's fault, but the youthful secondary in year three of Rodriguez is...well also all Rodriguez's fault). 

What if Rich Rodriguez had recruited more than one offensive lineman in 2010? 

What if Dave Brandon had decided to keep Rodriguez in 2010, thus landing us a guy like Fischer and anyone else RR might have pulled in avoiding what we saw in 2013?

What if Dave Brandon had fired Rodriguez at a reasonable time, thus allowing Hoke time to recruit several offensive linemen? 

What if Hoke had pilfered several three star linemen from the MAC or lower parts of the Big Ten like he did with Bellomy, Carter, etc. after he was hired, thus giving us some more experienced depth this year? 

What if Hoke had capitalized on his magical 2011 and managed to bring in Kozan, Diamond and Garnett? 

What if guys like Bryant and Pace hadn't gotten hurt? 

What if Al Borges hadn't wasted time on things like Tackle-Over in the offseason and during the season? 

What if the coaching staff had realized that Magnuson was one of their best five linemen?

What if they'd realized interior experience was important and decided to place Schofield back at guard?

What if they'd realized Miller was too small to play center and started Glasgow there from the beginning?

What if they hadn't re-arranged the line a half a dozen times during the season? 

Throw in Borges' mediocre playcalling and you can really just see we were in a potential perfect storm of misery going into last year. Everything that could go wrong with the O-Line (save most of the recruiting in 2012-13 and Lewan staying) did go wrong. And thus the results you see above. 



February 18th, 2014 at 3:32 PM ^

What-if Carr had hired Harbaugh when Jim wanted to be QB coach at Michigan back in the early 2000's.  It would not have been hard to imagine a scenario where Harbaugh moves up to OC for a couple years before taking over as Head Coach when Carr was ready to retire threby resulting in an uptick in play-calling and recruiting prior to 2008 and none of the transition turmoil we saw with RR.


February 18th, 2014 at 1:39 PM ^

The thought process inside the athletic department is this is a result of RR, not Hoke's doing.   You can't skip 2 years of offensive line recruiting and expect everything to be business as usual.


We are still paying the price for RR's incompetence while he was here.   Probably won't fully recover from that human death penalty until 2015.


February 18th, 2014 at 1:43 PM ^

Except that RR has a track record of success with young guys (Lewan and Omameh) and had a top recruit who also played young (Fischer at Oregon) lined up going into 2011. So if he were the coach, the O-Line would likely have been in much better shape. 

If we're going with whose fault this is recruiting-wise, its entirely on Dave Brandon for not firing Rodriguez early enough for Hoke to put together a better class.