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 1:47 PM ^

I would say that it was a little of everything.  The depth chart and experience level was obviously less than ideal.  This problem was exacerbated by Borges not having a base run play and sticking with it so the young O-Line could focus on learning one thing.

I think if they had stuck with a base run package they could have become competent enough  to force the defense to respect it, which in turn takes pressure off Gardner, which allows deeper routes, which prevents the shorter routes from constantly being jumped, which opens up the run game, which....

You'd think that Hoke and Mattison would have seen this coming.


February 18th, 2014 at 1:17 PM ^

I searched, but couldn't find the number. I assume it was better than this.

That means we fell a bunch of spots, with 2 returning senior tackles. 

The Denarding

February 18th, 2014 at 6:46 PM ^

Hey Brian,


   Is there a possibility that you have a regression to the mean (or in this case a drift upward)?  I recongize it is linear but scheme makes a difference, experience makes a difference, and running the ball in particular in the middle makes a difference.   I guess same personnel is more likely to head to the mean than a personnel change but if you can regress downward aggressively or progress upward (changing from 19 to 70 or 83 to 2) then you would think that a 30 point upward drift would be feasible especially with a scheme change?

   I think most of these stats rely on a consistency of variables and therefore on a population basis may have a definable end point.  But statistics fail many times because though they normalize for populations, they don't factor variable changes in individual cohorts.  I feel that the same can be said here.  It also explains our defensive line (that and how experienced they were but again there you have a variablity in the cohort - Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen being older and wiser).



February 18th, 2014 at 1:24 PM ^

Call me an optimist, but I have to think that next year may be a rising tide raises all ships type of situation.  Yes, the line will be young, but perhaps it will be slightly better because most of those guys at least saw some field.  And unlike I'm guessing most of the teams on that list, they were highly-regarded at some point or another.  That's a situation unlike virtually every other team in that area save Florida at 102nd.  So UM isn't going to roll out a bunch of upperclassmen, but at least these younger guys have the skills and potential to make that leap to competent, whereas if you are Tulane I'm not sure what is going to change for you year-to-year.  

And maybe the Arizona jump is illustrative.  Sure, Nuss isn't going to open this team up to a spread attack, but what RR's first year showed is that you can get better results with a change in philosophy even if the talent remains about the same.  Maybe instead of slamming one's head into the line dozens of times, there will be enough flexibility with the offensive playcalling that some of the misdirection and "opportunity yards" you see with a different offensive system.  I'm not expecting a massive jump, but net them 16-ish yards and you are MSU, which (sigh) would be a nice flow next year.

Ron Utah

February 18th, 2014 at 1:25 PM ^

As bad as the season was, and as bad as these stats are, let's not forget how close we were to 11 wins.  If Nuss' can improve these stats in a meaningful--even if it's not spectacular--way, then we could easily finish the season with 10 or 11 wins.

I don't think we'll be in the top 20 next year, but I think top 75 is realistic.


February 18th, 2014 at 1:55 PM ^

Nothing - NOTHING! - seemed to work.  We couldn't run, our defense seemed to be OK, though not great, Devin was an interception machine for large portions of the year, the coaches were terrified of Devin  being an interception machine for (different) large portions of the year and therefore limited Devin, Devin got hurt and couldn't run as well after MSU ... 

It goes on, and on, and on.  Yet, still, we were 11 points from 11 wins.  I ... just ... how????  Other than Gardner, Funchess, Gallon, and a reasonable defense, what kept this team from "Wolverine-quest"?  


February 18th, 2014 at 2:06 PM ^

Keep spinning it that way while fans in Akron and Storrs tell themselves that had they won their coin-flip game with us, maybe they would not have been seen as one of the worst teams in college football last season. Which they were.

It was a shit year on a shit schedule. Period.


February 18th, 2014 at 3:43 PM ^

1 goal line stand away from losing to Akron

1 D Morgan INT away from losing to UConn.

9 points from a 5-7 record and no bowl game.

I'm generally a glass half-full kinda guy, but last season was a tire fire and no amount of mental gymnastics (other than simple, depressing math) gets me to see us as an 11 win team that just came up 11 points short at the wrong moments.


February 18th, 2014 at 5:14 PM ^

I think the 11 points from 11 wins thing, while factual, is silly.  Saying Michigan was 9 points away from going 5-7 and missing a bowl is just as factual and I could argue was more representative of the season.

EDIT: Going to that two hour meeting before hitting save really makes this comment look stupid now that the other posts have...posted.


February 18th, 2014 at 1:29 PM ^

I just picture Brian pouring over these records while blasting Meat is Murder over the loudspeakers over and over while embracing a life-sized cutout of Hoke and saying "it's not your fault" like Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting.


February 18th, 2014 at 1:30 PM ^

A statistical analysis of total failure.

Let's be clear: you cannot sugarcoat the disaster that has been Michigan's OL. It is not acceptable to say that the line is inexperienced, particularly since it was also pretty bad in 2012 with experienced guys in place. It is not acceptable to say that they are "building."

Incompetence on this level should NEVER occur at a program of this caliber.

That Hoke made the establishment of a tough, run-first identity a cornerstone of what he would do as Michigan coach only makes the failure worse. RR produced an awful defense, but at least nobody expected it to be his calling card; Hoke's entire philosophy is built around winning the trenches, and they cannot.

I'm glad Nuss is on board. I actually think they can make great leaps this year, since I believe the failure is almost entirely on the backs of the coaches (not just, or even mostly, Borges, but the change is nonetheless crucial).

But another year of this, with a lousy record, should be grounds for firing.

Frankly, unless things turn around, Michigan is looking at a second decade of mediocrity.


February 18th, 2014 at 1:44 PM ^

2 reasons.  Our raw talent across the lines is too good to be mediocre in 2015.  Assuming the powers that be allow Hoke to stay the course we are likely only a year away.  You say we can't say we're building, but how else do you describe it?  As stated ad nauseum it's a bunch of RS FR and SO and a former walk-on.  The up-side of all these guys playing so young is, with luck, their excellence in 2016 going forward.  None of us are that patient, but 2015 and 2016 will come and it is a bright future.

Also, I'm thinking Nibali has a chance to push Froome this year.


February 18th, 2014 at 1:49 PM ^

is it possible that lewan and schofield weren't nearly as good at run blocking as we though.  we all seem to believe that it was 2 good tackles and total mush in the middle.  what if, as applies to the run, it was total mush in the middle surrouned by two ok run blocking tackles?

Zone Left

February 18th, 2014 at 3:01 PM ^

Lewan basically murdered people on run plays. On pass plays, the guy lined up on him tried about 25% of the time. As much as we like to make fun of NFL scouts, they know what they're talking about regarding offensive linemen. Lewan was an elite player for several years.


February 18th, 2014 at 2:16 PM ^

This is 100% spot-on. Hoke and RR had pretty identical Year 3s in terms of record, morale and being otherworldly bad on one side of the ball. The difference is that RR had his favored identity (fast players, fast pace, spread 'n' shred) going in the right direction while Hoke's ("Tough. Man's. Game") is in shambles.



February 18th, 2014 at 3:47 PM ^

RR's offense was not a complete failure.  His offense was #6 in FEI +/- so it was excellent but the defense held them back because they don't get the ball much due to opposing offense holding onto the ball for a long period of time.

Check this out: http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/fplus2010

RR's record has improved from 3 wins to 5 wins to 7 wins which is a progression.  Hoke went from 11 wins to 8 wins to 7 wins which is a regression. 


February 18th, 2014 at 4:33 PM ^

Total offense went from 108 to 58 to 8. At that rate, there is no reason to believe that they wouldn't have significantly improved against the good Big Ten teams in the near future. Arizona had several big offensive games this year against quality opponents and he was only in Year 2.



February 18th, 2014 at 1:31 PM ^

Unfortunately, I have very little faith in this coaching staff anymore. The complete lack of development, well, pretty much anywhere except the DL is concerning. The fact that Funk was not even considered to be part of the problem (judging from Hoke's comments that any offensive staff changes when Nuss came aboard were not an option), is also scary. I just really really hope Borges was the offensive GERG.


February 18th, 2014 at 1:41 PM ^

Objectively, where have we "lacked development" anywhere besides the OL? Replace the 2013 OL with the 2011 OL and I think that we win 10 games in 2013. The rest of the team was competent to pretty darn good. The OL just overshadowed everything. We had a dangerous QB/WR combo that didnt always show through because of the OL. Our defense was pretty good until asked to stop drive after drive on short fields. If the OL last year is even average, Michigan is a top 15ish team in all likelihood.


February 18th, 2014 at 3:59 PM ^

Replace the 2013 OL with the 2011 OL...and you still get a sub-par offense.  The 2011 OL couldn't do crap with the MANBALL type running game Borges wanted.  It was only until after the MSU game, well really the Iowa game, that they went spread, and the cracked 100 yards.  Fitz had 333 yard across the first 7 games; then post MSU he got the rest.  Hell, post Iowa he averaged 150 in the half assed spread until VT destroyed said half-assed spread.  So I don't think the 2011 OL would have helped unless Borges would have changed his entire offensive philosophy around (which he wouldn't). 

As for the rest of the team...ok, that is probably a bit of an overreaction on my part, but I still think it's somewhat true.  The corners, while not bad, are still inconsistant despite, Taylor in his 3rd year starting, Countess in his second, and showing a ton of promise his freshman year (ACL tear big caveat).  Furman still couldn't do anything at safety, the coaches seemed to not have a ton of confidence in either Gordon or Wilson, despite Wilson getting significan playing time last year, and Gordon being the most experienced defender on the field.  Yes, safety is hard to play, and I don't think either were bad...but man, neither were apparently good enough to get aggresive in coverage.  And the coaches clearly wanted Dymonte Thomas to play a significant role this year, and he couldn't see the field.  None of the young corners difinitvely seized their opportunities during the season either.  

Boldon plays like he's still in high school (despite also being an early enrollee), and neither he nor Ross can play pass coverage well.  Morgan has exceeded expectations, but he's just athletically limited to being elite.  The coaches have done a wonderful job with Ryan and also Cam Gordon to be fair.  

The TE's still can't block anything.  The RBs can't pick up blitzes, nor have we seen an RB actually develop in front of our eyes under Jackson in a long time.  The WR's have been good in my opinion. 

And to top it all off, the QBs have shown consistent regression under the staff (well specifically Borges).

So yeah, I think there are concenrs about development all around the team.  Yes, the sample size is small, it's only year three (even Narduzzi had a terrible D in year three) and it's still an incredibly young team, but it's definately something I'm concerned about going forward.


Magnum P.I.

February 18th, 2014 at 8:31 PM ^

List of opening-day starters who did not show improvement last season from September to January:

  1. Devin Gardner
  2. Fitzgerald Toussaint
  3. Drew Dileo
  4. Devin Funchess
  5. Taylor Lewan
  6. Michael Schofield
  7. Kyle Kalis
  8. Jack Miller
  9. Keith Heitzman
  10. Quentin Washington
  11. JIbreel Black
  12. James Ross
  13. Desmond Morgan
  14. Blake Countess
  15. Raymon Taylor
  16. Thomas Gordon
  17. Jarrod Wilson

I probably could've thrown Graham Glasgow (18), Frank Clark (19), Cameron Gordon (20), and Jeremy Gallon (21) on there, too, but I wanted to be fair. Jehu Chesson (22) seemed to get a little better as the season went on, though, I guess.

Disagree on any of these? 


February 19th, 2014 at 8:55 AM ^

he wasn't doing loop-de-loops in the backfield and throwing picks into his own endzone anymore.

Lewan and Schofield had already maxed their potential pretty much, so it would be hard for them to improve.

The others...pretty much stagnated.  Especially the people on defense.  I expected the secondary to be much better and they were pretty bad.  I expected more from Thomas Gordon especially; huge dropoff from Kovacs.  Quinton Washington -- I don't even know what happened to that guy, he just didn't play at the end of the season.  The CBs weren't fantastic, maybe they had little faith in their safties and played tentative.  People are rightfully harping on the offense, but it wasn't a banner year on defense, either.