A Pit At The Bottom Of The World

Submitted by Brian on 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 1:53 PM ^

UM had a bunch of upperclassmen and 5th year seniors in 2012. A lot of us, including me, thought that starting OL was good. It was so terrible that we were all saying "well it can't get any worse" about 2013. Even in 2011 with a Rimington winner at center the offense couldn't do crap on the ground (until they ditched the 'pro-style' late in the season), unless it was Denard being magical. This goes well beyond youth. I fully put Borges on exacerbating the issues to the worst they could be, but I have to put this on Funk as well. Where is the player development?


February 18th, 2014 at 2:33 PM ^

In 2011 both Denard AND Fitz broke 1000 yards, so there's that. 2012, in hindsight had all the makings for a bad OL, I'm kinda surprised people didn't see it coming. We didn't have a solidified starter line up until the first week, so no chemistry. Yes, they were all upper classmen, but Barnum and Mealer weren't exactly proven all stars. Neither had played much except in back up roles. Add in Schofield making a position change back to tackle and it wasn't pretty. This year was a wholesale change on the inside. Where's the player development? Well we didn't exactly have too many guys that had much time and opportunity to develop yet on the inside. It's been a revovling door for 3 years.


February 18th, 2014 at 3:55 PM ^

At the risk of brownnosing, I believe Brian specifically cited his position change heuristic with respect to the Mealer/Barnum switcheroo the week before the season opener as reason to believe the interior line was going to be a major concern.

I don't think it took hindsight to see that one coming.


February 18th, 2014 at 4:23 PM ^

What could we have seen coming in 2012? The entire offseason up until game week the coaches were running with a certain OL. And then the switch it because it wasn't working. How does that not fall in the lack if development category? Besides, Barnum was supposed to be at center, which was supposedly his natural position. And Schofield was switching to his natural position from a quite productive year at guard (of which saw the non-Denard running game actually work after Schofield entered and UM went more spready). If anything Schofield is probably one of the few feathers the coaching staff can put in their cap as far as OL development. I just fail to see how 'the OL configuration that we've been working on doesn't work' is NOT a player development issue. And then they didn't even get better as the season went on. But, this is just my opinion land there's still time for the staff to come through. I'm certainly hoping for the best.


February 18th, 2014 at 1:31 PM ^

My sandwich just wasn't as tasty as it should be reading through that pile of misery.

I vote that Borges was the "offensive GERG-ru" of complete blocking incompetence and Nussmeier pulls a Mattison out of his hat.  I am sure the blocking innovation known as "tackle over" is dead, right?

Yeah, that's the ticket!


February 18th, 2014 at 1:32 PM ^

1) Kalis  was likely more injured than was publicly known last season and we may see a significant improvement.

2) The entire line will be young, but not Freshman-young.  We may expect to see greater individual improvement jumps than we would expect from 4th or 5th year guys like the recently departing seniors.

3)  Nussmeier's zone blocking system may be better adapted to the size and strength we've been recruiting and may cover for some of our technical weakness.

4)  Of all these guys we've recruited, it strikes me as at least reasonable to assume that we have a young All America or two who may play well above his class designation.  LTT? Kugler?

5)  There are always the general prayers from the MGoBlog community - be they to God, gods, or Jobu.


February 18th, 2014 at 1:36 PM ^

I think a big part of the problem in 2013 was the lineup shifting, not to mention the tackle-over crap.  Starting Miller, trying Bryant, going with Bosch late in the season, these were coaching decisions that were akin to building a wood deck without measuring anything.  The thing gets built eventually, but it takes longer and costs more to get there.



February 18th, 2014 at 1:54 PM ^

The biggest thing I will watch for this upcoming season is how often these guys get beat. There were so many times when individuals on the O line just flat out got manhandled and blown back something like 4 yards.

I'm hoping another year of a college level strength and conditioning program can help increase the physicality of the line. 


February 18th, 2014 at 1:37 PM ^

I will say that one good thing about Nuss is that he's an inside zone guy, and Funk is a zone guy as well (from what I've read here). Comments from other players about Nuss is that they rep the inside zone over and over again until they can so it in their sleep. For a young line, picking a philosophy the whole staff is in line with, repping it into oblivion, and sticking with it is probably the best thing that can happen for the young line.


February 18th, 2014 at 1:40 PM ^

That Michigan's OL would probably suck in 2013, despite having two experienced and good tackles.  That guy is normally way wrong, but this time he got it.


So I get why FIU's OL played like crap, but Michigan with several bluechip players in the lineup had fewer excuses to play that bad.

Now Michigan loses that critical tackle experience and goes back to an OL of proverbial infants, I guess.

This is the part where it doesn't matter so much, and nothing in the world makes sense anymore after Michigan finishes 9-3 in 2014, 9-4 after bowl game.  Improved play overall from the year prior, but still pretty freaking far from championship level.

Also, Greg Mattison turns 65 this November.  Does he coach into his 70s at UM? Who is his prodigy/replacement?






February 18th, 2014 at 1:42 PM ^

Yep, the travesty we witnessed with the OL last year was far worse than any RR transgression.  RR delivered on what he was brought in for - a fun, record breaking offense.  It wasn't the Oregon type of spread that destroyed the world with better athletes that we were looking for, but it was a great ride.  And for all his idiocy, GERG was force fed a 3 3 5 from above.

Borges?  No excuse.  The best thing to happen to this team in the last 12 months wasn't Peppers, or any recruits, it was firing Borges and hiring Nuss.  Anything is an improvement.


February 18th, 2014 at 1:47 PM ^

do we know how big jump a team can make? Has there been a team that moved up from triple digit ranking to say 20-30?  I hope there are some examples.  Otherwise, it will be another long season.


February 18th, 2014 at 1:49 PM ^

My view is that Nuss seems 1 million times more flexible than Al.  I think he understands that there are great expecations on him and he will find the best way for these guys to block and be successful.  My question is, it seemed like our guys were getting blown up quite a bit (I can't remember whom or when) and has anybody heard anything about these guys getting bigger, stronger and nastier??? Anybody???


February 18th, 2014 at 1:55 PM ^

Amazing stats but reality was amazing too. It was actually unbelievable to watch last year how terrible the O-line was. There are times watching football when I tell myself that the O-line performance isn't THAT important as long as they are big and can get in the way, but last year just proved how wrong that was. And it can't be talent. I refuse to believe that it was talent-based. Or even skill based. Because you could have probably plugged any one of these guys into a really good O-line and they would have performed well, right?


February 18th, 2014 at 2:27 PM ^

I mean, I get what the stats show. But stats are not the end-all be-all.

Michigan has a brand spaking new proven championship-caliber OC and lots of OL talent and depth, despite their youth. Not to mention a senior dual-threat QB who could be in the Heisman talk if he stops throwing the ball to the other team so damn much. And lots of raw talent at the RB position, let's not forget.

And seeing that Arizona did such a dramatic improvement tells me that such a  jump is possible. It would be silly to expect a huge dramatic shift of 100 spots, but whoever said Michigan needed huge dramatic improvement on OL to become a Big Ten contender? They need improvement, obviously, but the question should be "how much"?

I mean, maybe I'm an unrealistic optimist about this sort of stuff, but I look at all those stats and the only thing I can think is "that was last year". Last year =/= this year. While also thinking "Michigan is in a unique position compared to most of those data points".


February 18th, 2014 at 2:31 PM ^

I don't understand why Funk is still coaching here. That more than 2013's W-L record has me profoundly worried about Hoke. There might be a good reason. But it's hard to see. Basically, you have to say that Borges was so horrible that he overwhelmed Funk's excellence. That's possible. How possible is that? Somewhat, I guess, but it seems like a longshot.


February 18th, 2014 at 2:45 PM ^

I just can't pretend to know how much of it is Funk's fault. Ultimately, this rests on Michigan thinking it was ready for MANBALL a year or two before we actually were, with that decision seemingly based on comfort more than anything.

Yes, it might appear insane for RR to only sign 3 OL in two years. But it was not his job to recruit for the next coach. He obviously thought that the future problems over the thinness/youth of the OL could be circumvented with his skemes and it's hard to argue with him given his track record. Pretty sure he knew that this unit would suck in 2013 if you told him they'd have to be a smashmouth outfit.

Brandon knew what the state of the roster was and he still chose to hire a coach who called the spread offense "basketball on grass."


February 18th, 2014 at 8:22 PM ^

One thing is for certain, Michigan is not going to be ready for Manball in 2014.  Can Nuss coach an improvised non-Manball offense for a year?  

Borges was actually pretty good at this.  He called a pretty good spread game when he decided he wanted to do it.  Of coures as soon as it started working, he would call something else as if it wasn't sporitng to beat your opponent with half your playbook.


steve sharik

February 18th, 2014 at 2:39 PM ^

I'm curious how much of this can be attributed to scheme; i.e., when you look at the leaps and craters, is there a correlation b/w those jumps/falls and switching schemes?


February 18th, 2014 at 8:44 PM ^

Borges, but Hoke oversaw this. Nussmeier's inside zone is the only ray of hope I see. We're going to pull off some wins because we've got a quarterback who would be a Heisman candidate at a strong program and talent dotted around the field. But I don't think Hoke gets out of '14-'15 as coach. 

EDIT: In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Dollar Dave is already seeing Brady as a lame duck, letting him get through the inevitable bad year we have in store next year before pulling the trigger.  

Zone Left

February 18th, 2014 at 3:11 PM ^

I'm optimistic that a switch to zone blocking will help quite a bit. That may be because I believe in zone blocking a lot more than I believe in man blocking, but I still think the scheme change helps us a lot. I don't think there is a single team in the country running a man-to-man "power" scheme anymore outside of Wisconsin that is able to run the ball very well.

This staff is insane if it doesn't implement spread running techniques this season. We can still move at a snail's pace, but we need to move the math in our favor to move the ball effectively.


February 18th, 2014 at 3:13 PM ^

disturbing the level of pessimism here.  I understand the numbers however choose to believe that new coaching and young talent will rise this year and overachieve expectation.  The comment about Phil Steele not being optimistic about Michigan, this past year at the beggining of the season Phil picked Clemson to win the ACC, Alabama to win the SEC-and the NC, Oregon to win the Pac 12, Oklahoma to win the Big 12 and of course the buckeyes to win the BgTn, Every one of those predictions was wrong of course.  Don't get me wrong Phil Steele is very knowledgeable and his synopsis of M was pretty much right on last year except he predicted Michigan to go 8-4 for the season.  



February 18th, 2014 at 3:22 PM ^

Everyone of those predictions were wrong...but they were also damn close. Bama lost to NC runner up in ridiculous fashion, otherwise would have been in the NC game, Oregon finished 11-2, OU won the Sugar Bowl, Clemson won a BCS bowl, OSU was in the B1G champ game and in a BCS bowl. Geez, it's not like Steele got his predictions crazy wrong. Even if UM fares better than the predictors to the same extent that Steele was 'wrong' about those predictions you pointed out...the result would still be not good.


February 18th, 2014 at 4:01 PM ^

what did they do the last 2 years in this running stat?...I think everyone on this site forgets that MSU was 7-6 two years ago...why? they played all of their games close and lost half of them (roughly)...I think we have done the same thing for 3 years. Played all (OK most) of our games close and only in the first year did we win more than ~ 1/2. That first year, we were lucky...but what happened to MSU the past year? I am willing to bet that this new running stat didn't change much yet they went 13-1!

How come? because QB obviously but I also think that a few other things happened - key positions had upperclassmen, several of their 3* guys turned into NFL players, their defensive system (which they have been using for 5-6 years) became cutting edge, etc...

In the end, football is played so much "tighter" than the old days (in terms of score). Yes, Akron and UConn should never had happened (I blame O coaching, OLine play, defensive "soft" play, etc.), but if you can improve one or two drives (i.e. stop 1 or 2 more or score 1 or 2 more) you became MSU from last year. Let's hope Nuss can change it one drive on offenese and Mattison grow some balls on defense.....


February 18th, 2014 at 4:36 PM ^

The difference is that MSU went 7-6 with an elite defense and a terrible offense. UM went 7-6 with a decent defense and a below average offense (for the terribleness of the OL, the pass game was still, at times, deadly considering Gardner's ability to pick up yards with his legs as well).

I point this out because MSU's solution was simpler. All they had to do was mediocre the offense and keep the defense at it's level and they would be very, very good. UM does not have that luxury. If UM wants to go 13-1, they need to improve both sides of the ball, not just one.


February 18th, 2014 at 6:54 PM ^

I'm still baffled that a team can manage to break school records for the best offensive game (Indiana) and the worst (MSU) in the same season. They were totally unpredictable. It seems the only hope is that Jabrill Peppers really is the savior that he's made out to be. 


February 18th, 2014 at 7:26 PM ^

I'm surprised the team won 7 games. Hopefully we bottomed out and will rise, I doubt we will get back to the top 30 but getting above 80 would be great. Nuss will play to strengths, so I think we will have a better conference record but 8-4 still looks like the target. 2015, there will be more depth and experience on the OL, so we should make a big jump. The key work is patients, things will get better in '15 and beyond!


February 18th, 2014 at 8:08 PM ^

The reason our defense of stats were somewhat poor was because our offense was that bad. That defense is on the field all day long. I just don't see how people really get upset with our defense of coordinator.