Shotgun Yesterday, Shotgun Today, Shotgun Tomorrow, Shotgun Forever

Submitted by Brian on July 1st, 2011 at 1:12 PM


via flickr user larrysphatpage

Almost nothing drives me more insane than someone who proclaims certain numbers to be bad because these other numbers are better without suggesting a mechanism that would make this true. Via Slate, Murray Chass provides the canonical example:

The stats freaks who never saw a decimal point they didn't worship were ecstatic last year when Zack Greinke won the American League Cy Young award while winning only 16 games. Felix Hernandez, who won 19 and whose 2.49 earned run average was second to Greinke's 2.16, would have been my choice, but the stats guys "proved" that Greinke was the correct choice because of his statistical standing in formulaic concoctions in which we mere mortals do not imbibe.
—Murray Chass,, May 9, 2010.

This makes me clench and unclench my fists helplessly. It seems impossible that you could be this venerated New York Times baseball writer without picking up on the fact that AL pitchers have no control over how many runs their team scores. The fists clench and unclench because attempting to model an argument with Murray Chass about this quickly leads into a cul-de-sac where Chass says something condescending about something he doesn't understand and repeats it ad nauseum as if he believes "no blood for oil" or "drill, baby, drill" is a coherent, self-contained, impregnable point of view.

Presenting Jonah Lehrer, who actually manages to write for Wired despite being able to compose the following:

Consider the case of J.J. Barea. During the regular season, the backup point guard had perfectly ordinary statistics, averaging 9.5 ppg and shooting 44 percent from the field. His plus/minus rating was slightly negative. There was no reason to expect big things from such a little player in the playoffs.

And yet, by Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Barea was in the starting lineup. (This promotion came despite the fact that he began the Finals with a 5-for-23 shooting slump and a minus-14 rating.) What Dallas coach Rick Carlisle wisely realized is that Barea possessed something that couldn't be captured in a scorecard, that his speed and energy were virtues even when he missed his layups (and he missed a lot of layups), and that when he made those driving floaters their value exceeded the point score. Because nothing messes with your head like seeing a guy that short score in the lane. Although Barea's statistics still look pretty ordinary — his scoring average fell in the Finals despite the fact that he started — the Mavs have declared that re-signing him is a priority. Because it doesn't matter what the numbers say. Barea won games.

A man who writes for Wired ascribes JJ Barea's value to "nothing messes with your head like seeing a guy that short score in the lane." Fists clenching and unclenching due to impossibility of refuting argument that stupid. Plenty of other people have tried to do so. Some guy at Deadspin who pointed out that the Mavs are amongst the most stat-obsessed teams in the league. A Baseball Prospectus guy tore apart Lehrer's introductory car analogy, in which car buyers who focus on a couple of barely relevant but easily understandable numbers instead of the important, hard-to-quantity data are Bill James, not Joe Morgan.

It doesn't matter, though. These articles always have a tautologically number-negating logic. The argument goes:

  1. I don't understand statistics*.
  2. People who understand statistics don't understand intangibles.
  3. ???
  4. Therefore my understanding is superior.

Now let's talk about Denard Robinson and last year's offense.

*[This lack of understanding can be many things but is always at least this: statistics are a suggestive tool, not math gospel. To be fair, some people use statistics like they are a golden hammer. These people are very annoying and should be yelled at. Just don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. ]



This came up a lot in the aftermath of the Spring Game, when the quarterbacks strove to make themselves indistinguishable from walk-ons and quite a lot of people put finger under collar and went "uggggghhh." This was met with a round of backlash largely consisting of people pointing at select—sometimes hilariously select—statistics from last year's team in an effort to prove the offense wasn't really that good.

The favorite was a focus on the first halves against good opponents, when Michigan did not score points. This did not escape notice even around here:

The Ohio State game has the power to make whatever happens in it seem like Michigan's season in microcosm, and so the overriding theme of the 2010 season is looking up at the scoreboard at halftime to see Michigan on pace for about 500 yards and about twenty points. Michigan had 238 yards and seven points this time around and instead of a competitive game we got the usual.

Michigan was frustratingly spectacular at getting to the half with almost 300 yards and something like ten points on the board. But using points to evaluate the output of an offense is like using wins to evaluate a pitcher. Events outside the entity you are trying to evaluate have so much impact on that number, it is only a fuzzy explanation of the story.

I have engaged in message board fights and observed many more about whether the Wisconsin game was a failure on the offense's part. At the half the score was 28-0 Wisconsin and the game was as good as over, whereupon Michigan came out of the locker room and scored three straight touchdowns against the UW defense. This would have made the game interesting if Michigan could have forced the Badgers to pass, ever.

My fists do the clenching bit whenever anyone tries to claim the Wisconsin game was evidence Michigan should move away from the spread. The Michigan offense's entire first half:

  1. Michigan drives from their own one yard line to the Wisconsin their 35 before punting.
  2. Michigan drives from their 28 to the Wisconsin 13; Seth Broekhuizen misses a 30-yard field goal.
  3. Three and out from the 36.
  4. Three and out from the 40.

(There was also a meaningless two play drive at the end of the half.) That's not a great four drives. It is a great seven drives if you consider the next three. Meanwhile, the final touchdown against UW is often dismissed as "garbage time" but Badger tacklers on that drive include JJ Watt, Patrick Butrym, and Aaron Henry—all starters—and Michigan hit Roundtree three times for more than 20 yards on a three-minute march. That was not Wisconsin's goal. Even if you still dismiss Michigan's last couple drives as garbage you have to acknowledge that the defense's inability to make them meaningful robbed the offense of opportunities to impress for real.

But you're sitting there and your fists are clenching and unclenching and everything is black and doom and blacky black doom, so maybe it's hard to tell.

Transistors don't give a damn


This is the disconnect. While what seems like a fairly large subset of the fanbase saw wholesale collapse in the Wisconsin game, computers saw two units failing immensely and an offense that put up 442 yards on a defense that gave up 321 on average, scored 31-ish points (computers will credit the offense with acquiring the field position for the field goal and deduct the miss from the special teams; if they deduct from the garbage TD they will use a lower denominator when trying to figure out expected points) on a defense that gave up 21. Statistically, Michigan's offense was at least a standard deviation above the mean against the Badgers.

While the Wisconsin game is the biggest outlier between the offense's actual and perceived performance, it's instructive. It is often lumped in with the crap from last year along with Iowa (tenuous case indeed there), MSU, OSU, and the bowl game. There is no reasonable case it should be. This is why statistics are useful, because meat-emotions often overwhelm our capacity for reason.

These are the questions I think we should be asking in our most robotic voices:

What aspects of last year's performance project most strongly to next year's?

There are three reasons for the gap between points and yards: field position, field goal kicking, and turnovers. The latter two combined to see Michigan's redzone scoring rate rank 109th nationally. The first two are almost entirely out of the offense's control. The latter was a huge problem all three years under Rodriguez. However, turnovers notoriously do not correlate year to year, are heavily dependent on quarterback, experience and saw Rich Rodriguez consistently in the black at West Virginia.

Michigan's turnover issues aren't fate, should improve naturally, and are not related to the spread. Most of Michigan's other issues at turning yards into points are not really the offense's.

That leaves an inherent flaw in the spread offense as a potential culprit that has the potential to repeat next year. Point in favor: Michigan was even worse in the redzone in 2009, finishing with just 49% of available points. Point against: Auburn and Oregon finished in the top ten last year. Further point against from a Football Outsiders study of the NFL:

We took … 20 overachievers and measured their performances the season after said overachievement; while their DVOA [ed: something value over average, a fancy stat they have designed to smooth out noise.]  in the red zone that initial season exceeded their total offensive DVOA by an average of 33.3 percent, in the following season, their DVOA in the red zone exceeded their total DVOA by an average of 1.3 percent. In other words, the teams' performances in the red zone mirrored how they did outside it, implying the overachieving was a fluke.

We also can measure this by using correlation coefficients, a way of measuring the relationship between two variables that results in a number ranging from minus-1 (at which the two variables have an exact inverse relationship) to plus-1 (at which the variables have a perfectly positive relationship). The correlation between a team's performance in the red zone and its overall offensive performance, year to year, is 0.08 -- essentially nil. Teams simply do not exceed their performance in the first 80 yards once they get to the final 20 on a regular basis.

The evidence suggests Michigan's red zone struggles should revert to the mean; the things that made the offense less than the sum of its yards last year are all small sample size outliers.

What's left that does correlate, or at least correlates better? Everything else. On a play by play basis Michigan's offense does well in standard and advanced metrics, and returns ten starters. If they should be better but weren't (because of things that should revert) and can expect similar performance next year (because of all the returning starters), then what should happen is that the expected and actual meet somewhere south of #2 nationally but well within the schwing range.

Is it better to play to Al Borges's strengths or the offense's strengths?

In 2008 this was easy since the offense had no strengths. In 2011 it's a difficult question. Michigan's transition demands that Borges or Denard (and, importantly, the OL) leaves his comfort zone. This is necessarily going to be suboptimal for someone.

The spring game suggests it will be vastly suboptimal for Denard if Borges gets his way, and it seems a lot easier to change playcalls than turn Denard into Jon Navarre. Unfortunately, it's not that easy. The last few years I've documented the ever-evolving Michigan run offense. Rich Rodriguez kept ahead of the curve by constantly adding new wrinkles to the ground game. He was able to do this because of his vast experience with the spread 'n' shred. Al Borges is a smart guy with a lot of experience but his history suggests his inventiveness may be more oriented towards the passing game. If a good chunk of offensive effectiveness is staying ahead of the game, Borges might be able to do that better from a pro-style offense.

But the following is true even in the NFL:

Shotgun formations are generally more efficient than formations with the quarterback under center.

Over the past three seasons, offenses have averaged 5.9 yards per play from Shotgun, but just 5.1 yards per play with the quarterback under center. This wide split exists even if you analyze the data to try to weed out biases like teams using Shotgun more often on third-and-long, or against prevent defenses in the fourth quarter. Shotgun offense is more efficient if you only look at the first half, on every down, and even if you only look at running back carries rather than passes and scrambles.

With an offense outright designed for the shotgun featuring a quarterback whose main asset is his legs, the cutting-edge effect would have to be absurdly important to make the offense more effective from under center.

Does I-form pro-style help you win in ways undefined by conventional statistics?

This is Brady Hoke's theory when he denigrates the zone-heavy spread offense as an impediment to having a good defense. A quick glance at the top defenses in both conventional and fancy measures suggests this is unlikely. TCU, Boise State, and West Virginia  were the top three teams in yardage defense. WVU, Missouri, Oklahoma, Auburn, Oregon, and Mississippi State are all in the top ten in defensive FEI. There appears to be little if any problem with having a top defense opposite your spread 'n' shred offense as long as you account for the increased pace of the spread.

Is it worth sacrificing effectiveness down the road for immediate results?

Unknowable, but there's no better way to quickly put the question marks on Brady Hoke's resume to rest than by having a breakout first season.

Extensive Conclusion Section





July 2nd, 2011 at 11:51 AM ^

But because of his fixation on the MANBALL meme, he has stopped looking at the actual data and has this parinoid fear that somehow Borges is an idiot who will completely screw up an awesome machine like offence that can move the ball at will ( the red zone or the first half agains Wisconsin) and replace it with some stupid outdated version of the off tackle run. 

So Brian has concocted some statistacal mash that seems to offer insight but instead sets up a number of straw men to knock down.  Rather than offering actual football insights they tell us more about Brian's love for the Rodriguez run first spread offence and his paranoia that failure is imminent if we deviate from what was working so well under Rodriguez. 

Truth is: it wasn't working.  We could move the football between the 20's but could not punch it in the end zone because...wait for it...we were not "tough" enough on the O-line, nor did we have a running back who could buldoze into the endzone, nor could we pass well enough, a la Tom Brady darts, to score consistently inside the 20.  You can call this flamebate all you want, but its the truth.  Personally, I am excited to see what Borges will do with the players he has on offence.  I think his resume should give him the benefit of the doubt.

Frankly, if Brian had done a UFR like look at a number of SDSU's games last year and come to some horrifying conclusions, I might be willing to listen.  But this bit of tripe that he has written says more about Brian's psyche and how he is dealing with the coaching transition (poorly, but we all know that) than it offers any real meaningful football insights about what we should expect in the upcoming year with a Borges led offense. 

When Rodriguez was hired we had several months of explanations of how the run spread worked, the zone read, zone blocking, one cut running techniques and so forth. It was informative and insightful and filled with the kind of research heavy material that Brian built his reputation on.  Now we have been given nothing, except fear and loathing about what might be when Borges comes to town.  No in depth looks into the west coast offence and how it is run and what Borges has done over the years to adapt it to different personel.  We have gotten a lot of whining and pouting and articles like the above: MOAR SHOTGUN PLZ.  Give me a break.  It is superficial, facile and lazy.  Brian has become what he used to criticize in others.  He needs to move on and start providing real football analysis like a professional.  He is no longer just some engineering student in his pajamas writing for a lark.  He needs to stop pouting, grow up and start acting like a professional.


July 2nd, 2011 at 2:20 PM ^

Maybe the reason he does less analysis of SDSU is because he spends all his time refuting arguments like yours which essentially boil down to:

1) I like Brady Hoke and hate Rich Rodriguez

2) Brian says too few positive things about Brady Hoke and too many not negative things about Rodriguez (or in this case, his offense)

3) ...

4) Brian is in love with RR / hates Michigan / I know better than he does what should go on his blog

Seriously, try rereading the post. This time, stop psychoanalyzing it based on the assumption that Brian is plotting the return of Rodriguez and read the actual words. You'll note he makes no negative statements regarding Borges other than that Borges has never run a run-first spread offense with a QB like Denard. Which obviously. The post was an attempt to determine where the balance between Borges and Denard should be, not to imply that Rich Rod was way better than Hoke or anything like that.


July 2nd, 2011 at 7:39 PM ^


"The post was an attempt to determine where the balance between Borges and Denard should be "

I am not sure what that means, but ok.  I stand by my words.  Go look back at the articles from when RR was hired and the type of analysis we got was far superior, better researched and more objective that MOAR SHOTGUN PLZ.  He actually UFRed a Rutgers v. WVU game to show us what to expect from the offence.  All we have gotten so far are bogeymen and snide "Manball" references.  My only conclusion from this and other pieces of recent vintage is that Brian honestly believes that Borges is going screw up Denard and ruin the best offence in football.  All the obscure stats are not going to erase the fact that we could not win football games.  Being the most offense ever between the 20's does not a winning team make...MOAR SHOTGUN or not.


July 1st, 2011 at 2:50 PM ^

I'm going to throw my opinion around in here as well.  Very slow day at work.

Denard is special.  Ridiculously special.  Nobody expected Denard to do what he did to start the year--and neither di the opposing defenses.  If we had played UConn or Notre Dame later in the year, opposing teams would've had MUCH more to look at in terms of our playcalling and been much better prepared for the Denard Offense.  The key to stopping Rich Rod's offense was stopping Denard.  That was IT.

With a pro-style system, it will take a lot off of Denard's shoulders and place it on the running backs.  This may or may not be a good thing:  Good if we have a running back that can step up and fill the void left by not running Denard 20+ times a game, bad if we don't.  I'd also be a fool not to point out that running Denard that many times a game IS going to wear him down.  We constantly saw Tate's mandatory drive or two every game because of this.  However, Borges would be an idiot to not notice what Denard brings to the table.  Denard will be incredibly successful this year if he can make better decisions throwing the football.  Simple as that.  If the opposing defense can't put 8 in the box because Denard is destroying them through the air, Denard will then have a much easier time just taking it himself for huge gain after huge gain.  That's what the dual-threat quarterback can do for you.

We may not know what to expect out of the offense this year, but here's the kicker:  neither do opposing teams.  The only plan they will have is "OMG DENARD RUNS STOP HIMMMM", which, if Borges exploits effectively, will win us every game up until the NW or MSU games. 

This season, I see it this way:

-Denard stays healthier due to fewer runs, but his runs are still effective.

-We try our damndest to establish a running back.  Expect this a LOT in the WMU game.

-Denard struggles early on, but as he masters the playbook and the new offense, his productivity climbs to end the year.

-Our offense becomes more efficient.  We gain fewer yards per game but finish more drives.  This is hugely dependent on field goal kicking.  Like, srsly.

-We have the best chance out of any school in the nation to march down the field with 2 minutes left.  This will win us one game this year (BKFinest?).  These kids aren't just going to "forget" a spread offense overnight, and it could definitely throw the opposing defenses out of whack initially (less-so if Borges bends more to Denard's skillset earlier in the year, more-so if Denard bends more to Borges's offense)

-This is going to be one of the most unpredictable seasons in Michigan football in a long time, as so many things depend on so many people--but it's not unrealistic to think many of them can be met.  6-6 to 10-2 is what I'm looking at.


July 1st, 2011 at 2:52 PM ^

What % of under center plays are runs? passes?
What % of shotgun plays are runs? passes? Is it possible that the statistics are skewed because shotgun is used more often in passing situations than running? That information seems like an incomplete statistic based on the assumption that the same number of plays are run out of each formation, and with the same frequency of each. I don't buy it.


July 1st, 2011 at 2:55 PM ^

I don't buy the baseball analogy. A pitcher's job is to keep the other team from scoring, which is why ERA is such a great stat. Obviously, the pitcher can't control the offense, because the pitcher is on defense.

An offense does control how many points their team scores, because they're the offense.

You can't say that an offense not scoring points isn't the offense's fault. Thats literally the entire point of having an offense (to score points). Obviously, its not that simple (field position factors in, as does having a kicker), but your taking it too far, imho.

Bonus: Some people are writing off turnovers as a reason the offense didn't perform, but aren't counting them against the offense. Wha? I get that there is high variance in TOs, but they are definitely the offense's fault.



July 1st, 2011 at 3:07 PM ^

in fact, it's a pretty poor stat for evaluating pitchers. Here is the fangraphs reasoning, which is better than I'd be able to explain it:

Brief interlude: for those that are unfamiliar with the concept, you may be asking yourself, “Why do we need to separate pitchers from their fielders? Doesn’t ERA account for fielding because it only counts earned runs?” Yes and no. ERA accounts for some fielding, disregarding runs that are the result of an Error in the field, but how many times have you seen Carl Crawford make a fantastic catch out in leftfield that turned a double into an out? If the Rays had any other outfielder out there in his place, those balls would fall in for hits and the Rays’ starters would most likely allow more runs to score. Like umpires, defense is invisible to the casual fan unless its really, really good or really, really bad, but it can have a large impact on a pitcher’s results.

This is why we use stats such as FIP, xFIP and others to evaluate pitchers.


July 1st, 2011 at 4:48 PM ^

Interesting point but spectacular defensive plays that: a) would not be made by the majority of major leaguers at the position and b) directly affect the score of the game, are not common enough to discount ERA or to call it a "poor" evaluation stat.




July 1st, 2011 at 5:30 PM ^

a spectacular play is just an example. Here's an example using normal looking plays. Some fielders don't make many errors but have very poor range. They APPEAR to be good defenders to the casual observer, but they let singles get through on ground balls that even an average defender would turn into an out. For example, Derek Jeter is a very poor defensive short stop. He doesn't make errors, but he has very poor range. (So poor that it more than cancels out his lack of errors. For his career, he is 70 runs below average in range, while he's only 32 runs above average in errors). On the other hand, you have a short stop like Rafael Furcal who makes errors, but has the range to cancel that out.

Point is, ERA doesn't factor in a defensive teams range. Teams with poor range let more hits drop in. ERA already factors in for errors.

If you were wondering, by the way, Detroit exhibits all the qualities of a good defensive team.


July 1st, 2011 at 4:07 PM ^

Things a football offense cannot control:

1) where they get the ball

2) how good their field goal kicking is

3) how good the opposing defense is

4) how many points / time their defense gives up

All of these things will affect offensive playcalling and effectiveness, and none are reflected by "points" which is why they are a poor stat.

Likewise, "runs given up" is an incomplete stat for a pitcher, because the pitcher can't control the quality of their fielders or the quality of their opponent's lineup.

I'd say "points" is a better measure for a football offense than "wins" for a pitcher, but not as good as ERA, which is still incomplete when compared to say DIPS.


July 1st, 2011 at 2:55 PM ^

While it is true that the pitcher cannot control how many runs his team scores, a pitcher who is on the mound with a comfortable margin isn't worrying about shutting a team down and will groove more pitches, leading to a higher era.  With a big lead, the last thing a pitcher wants to do is walk someone.


July 1st, 2011 at 3:09 PM ^

a pitcher wants to do with a lead is let someone on base. But if it's an isolated incident (i.e. the pitcher has good control but just happens to walk a batter randomly), then giving up a walk is literally the least harmful way you could possibly let somebody get on base.


July 1st, 2011 at 2:58 PM ^

While it seems logical to compare the efficiency of shotgun offenses in the NFL to the NCAA, it doesn't really work because they don't play by the same rules. NFL pass defense rules make their offenses more efficient, where you can still lay a hand on a guy in the NCAA. 

An argument could also be made that the NCAA shotgun offenses are by and large much more run oriented than in the NFL because NCAA offenses use the quarterback as a running option much more than in the pros. 


July 1st, 2011 at 3:17 PM ^

disliked the spread and shred strategy. 

I live on the west coast and was fortunate to catch a lot of the Oregon and Mountain West games.  I attended the Cal-Oregon game. I think Oregon's offense with Darron Thomas, his backs and receivers was more entertaining and explosive to watch than anything I've ever seen before, other than perhaps A 11 offense at the H.S. level, which is ridiculously fun.  And to hear Autzen Stadium erupt in boos from all of the the feigned injuries? That was awesome, man.

To me it's a real shame that this aspect (no huddle, run-centric spread option) will be likely departing Michigan football for good.

Teams like Nebraska (w/ Martinez), Northwestern (w/ Persa, Watkins) and Illinois (w/ Scheelhaase) have no prejudices against the spread option offense and intend to proceed with it in the Big Ten next year.   I predict those three teams will do quite well next fall in conference play doing so.

The best thing about SDSU games was the offense, however.  They have a great QB, Hillman was a durable, productive RB and the SDSUreceivers were great (thankfully not returning this year). The OL was huge, like the old UM lines of the late 80s early 90s.  And Borges really mixed it up with shotgun formations, I, split backs, and even some zone read plays out of the shotgun last fall, surprisingly.

I will be disappointed if Michigan doesn't keep some zone read plays in the offense this year for Robinson.




July 1st, 2011 at 3:56 PM ^

Before you go about using stats to construct our reality, you should gain some familiarity with the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness. Stats give us abstractions, and they necessarily work with entities that have been artificially detached from the many factors impacting them in the actual world (from the process of ongoing reality). Stats rely on simple location, a fallacy embedded in science by Newton and Descarte. 

Take this statement:

"Meanwhile, the final touchdown against UW is often dismissed as "garbage time" but Badger tacklers on that drive include JJ Watt, Patrick Butrym, and Aaron Henry—all starters—and Michigan hit Roundtree three times for more than 20 yards on a three-minute march. That was not Wisconsin's goal." 

Your argument is based on the fact that these players were simply located on the field, separated from what play was called, what plays were previously called, how the plays previously called played out, and 2.5 previous hours of hard work kicking UM's ass. Did you consider that they weren't playing to their full potential? You have sliced out all the relational aspects of their existence then and there on the field. This where your statistics belie something that all of us watching knew - those drives you describe as evidence in favor of the offense's ability were not meaningful in terms of the whole game in which we saw a vastly superior team in UW than what we saw in UM. THere was no mistaking that, I don't care what stats you try to use to say otherwise.   

Which leads to perhaps the most important thing your stats leave out - the whole. You can analyze an offense separate from a defense, separate from special teams, but you will always miss the whole. YOu are always abstracting, you are always simply locating. You are always misplacing the abstract for the concrete. You will always give us less than the whole we witness while watching the game. 

A final example. You state, "There are three reasons for the gap between points and yards: field position, field goal kicking, and turnovers. The latter two combined to see Michigan's redzone scoring rate rank 109th nationally."

Not to be rude, but this displays a real lack of understanding of logic and causality. You named factors (field position, field goal kicking, turnovers) in a nexus of events on their way to certain outcomes. You again abuse abstractions - you abstract from a string of factors, and pretend like those factors are THE causes. You gave element, factors, NOT reasons. YOur reasons are themselves outcomes of other more important causal factors. I am not saying take the analysis to the far reaches of causality, but stopping at these three factors only gives us more things that need explaining. Field position is a grand abstraction and tells us very little in terms of a 'reason' (e.g., there is the offensive players, play calling, the defense, defensive play calling, and so on). The same with turnovers. Field goal kicking is the less abstract of the three, but come on man. 


July 1st, 2011 at 4:15 PM ^

"They were still trying...the starters were in". Because pulling the starters against WhatsamattaU is the only sign of how seriously a team is trying. Not the plays that were called (prevents, conservative, less blitzing...or, you know, running every single play in a half), or how much effort a player gives when desperately down, or comfortably ahead waiting for the clock to run out (you don't have to have played a sport on any high level to know one coasts a bit when up big; which is where comebacks stem from). If Wisconsin was going to try and stomp the daylights out of us at that point, their tact on offense would to be keep passing, play-actioning us for big plays and scoring 80. If they decided they didn't need to do this on offense, it's not unrealistic to think they did the same on defense.

Mitch Cumstein

July 1st, 2011 at 4:15 PM ^

To piggy back on one of your points, you jogged my memory a bit.  I remember a game a few years ago when the Tigers lost to the tribe in a really shitty game (for the Tigers).  I don't remember the score but it was a blow out.  After the game, one of my friends said something along the lines of "Well we lost by 9 runs, but we out hit them.  We actually didn't play that bad". 

I just remember thinkg well I'm sorry, but I sat there for 3 hours watching us get our asses kicked leaving guys on base all day and giving up a million runs.  We did play that bad.  Just b/c you can find stats to say otherwise, doesn't make it reality. 


July 1st, 2011 at 5:11 PM ^

I do want to say that I don't think that stats can't tell us anything. They are useful at times. But the problem comes when they are misused as an attempt to re-construct the multitude of events, variables, processes, factors, that took part in what we saw in whatever game we watched - in the whole of our experience. It will always be a fallacy of mistaking the abstract for the concrete. The major fault in Brian's post is that he tries to take the abstract, which is used through stats to make generalities, and reconstruct the particular. He tries to take generalities and reinterpret the specifics. It will always fail. 


July 1st, 2011 at 7:04 PM ^

You're the one being too simple. You look at a really complicated thing, like the Wisconsin game, and declare "we sucked". Brian is attempting to understand some of the complexities underlying the binary nature of win/loss and points/no points. Ultimately, the goal of this exercise is not to reconstruct the whole from a specific stat, e.g. "the offense was good so we really scored like 50 points". Rather, the goal is to understand the impact a single piece (the offense) had on the whole, and the impact the whole had on the single piece.

An analogy. Let's say you have a drag racer. You lose a race (a complex, multi-factor event). Do you say, "well, the car is bad, better buy a new one", or do you say, "let's find out what part of the car is underperforming, and get a better one of those". This is essentially what Brian is arguing here: the gear ratios are fine, but the traction is lousy. We shouldn't tinker with the tranny too much, we should just get better tires.


July 1st, 2011 at 8:54 PM ^

Is this a joke? Where does Brian try to understand the impact the whole had on a single piece? Where does he analyze coaching? playcalling? motivation? endurance? How does he construct those into a whole which he applies to the single piece? He isolates the offense, cuts away many important factors, the most important factors - coaching, if you ask me, and then tries to reconstruct what we saw in the UW game. You can buy it, but more discriminating minds do not.  Dont use make-believe to make your arguments.

And my conclusion was not the simple "we sucked"; rather it was the more complex "our coaching sucks", yet I have no delusions that some stats will explain all that complexity to me. But you know what does suck? Your analogy. It makes no sense. 


July 2nd, 2011 at 2:26 PM ^

So show me why "our coaching sucked" or endurance or whatever is a more compelling reason for why our offense had poor efficiency than field position, turnovers, and field goal kicking. Maybe you're right. Show why Brian's numbers or stats are less descriptive, don't just say they are. Declaring "I'm right and you're a joke" is not a testable argument.


July 3rd, 2011 at 11:20 AM ^

You really just cant get my argument can you? I am saying that Brian's and your pretense of being scientific, using a high abstraction, will never replace my experience of watching the game, my experience of being able to see all the many many factors that shaped my experience and ultimate understanding of that game. It's not a testable argument, nor did I construct it to be.

Are you really a scientist? Because a scientist should be able to tell what is given to being 'tested' and what is not. If you think that science, especially that which is based on numbers, which are abstractions, can give us a fuller picture of experience, then you are basically arguing from scientific religion - you are no longer arguing scientifically. If you cant understand that statistics will always be less descriptive of our ongoing experience than our ongoing experience itself, then there is nothing more to be said. Statistics might give us a deeper understanding of one aspect of the game, as Brian has attempted, but statistics cannot replace our experience of the game.

Let me give you one example to illustrate the point. A red cardinal flies past my window. The meaning of the red on that cardinal is something given to experience, which is beyond what is given to science. Science, or what you like to call 'statistics', can never analyze all the factors what what the red means in the whole of my experience - all the variables, their interrelations of that moment, their relationships to similar variables in my past, and their potential for variables and relations in my future.

The same goes for watching a football game - it is a weltering nexus of past, present, and potential variables and relationships that no science, or again as you say 'statistics', can capture. It does not mean that we do not try to abstract and understand some slice. But the outcome of that analysis cannot replace the whole of my experience, no matter how I characterize that whole of my understanding of that experience, which I may very well characterize as 'this team sucks' of 'there goes a cardinal'. That is a shorthand is due to the interminable complexity of expereince. Brian can compare aspects of the team from game to game, staying on the same level of analysis, but he cannot re-construct that aspect of the team in that particular game as it was embedded in a welter of variables and relationships in that game. 

And if you cannot understand that Brian's approach was statistical but NOT scientific, then you have got a lot to learn, and argue more from scientific religion than science. And thus I can't take this argument any further. 

03 Blue 07

July 3rd, 2011 at 9:42 PM ^

Isn't the "red" you see constructed by scientifically explainable things (light, angle of viewing, etc) as viewed/"picked up" by the rods and cones in your eyes and translated by the neurology of your brain? Isn't that inherently scientific or no? Except the part/idea that of course I can't ever know what that "red" looks like in your brain, nor you in my brain, etc because of the limitations of being able to know how each other's brain views any certain things? I'm not trying to be dense, I'm trying to better understand the analogy and am trying to figure out what I am missing.


July 1st, 2011 at 5:21 PM ^

Over the last eight years (I figure that easily covers 'a few') The Indians have dominated the Tigers (by looking at the score) where the Tigers actually racked up more hits just one time. It was an 8-2 game in 2008. The Tigers, as a whole, did not play that badly, but the game was over within half an hour because Willis absolutely shit the bed. The bullpen wasn't responsible for any runs, though they did allow a couple inherited runners to score, and the offense got a couple runs on 8 baserunners in 5 IP off the untouchable Cliff Lee, in what was his shortest outing of the season. You were right in that it was a blowout, as the Indians put the game away very quickly, but I wouldn't be so easy to dismiss your friend's line "[the team] didn't play that bad".

I think that's a similar situation to what we're looking at here. A couple events for Michigan's offense went horrifically wrong, regardless of the levels of bad strategy, bad execution and bad luck. And theres a significant amount of disconnect between each viewpoint. If you have to perform five tasks to accomplish a goal but consistently are excellent at four and poor at one, I can easily see the arguments at both ends of the spectrum about your ability to reach that goal. But we have to work towards that middle ground somehow.

Mitch Cumstein

July 1st, 2011 at 5:47 PM ^

Actually, I was wrong, we didn't outhit them, my friend's comment had something to do with the number of baserunners or scoring opportunities or something.  This was the game.  It was hot as hell too, which didn't add to my enjoyment.


That being said, the main points of your post remain and I appreciate the comments and agree. 


July 1st, 2011 at 3:59 PM ^

I don't know what stats to trust, and about 98% of posters know more about the technical aspects of the game than I (and that may be underestimated), but I do know that when Miss State linebacker KJ Wright said post-bowl game:

"I knew from watching film they were real predictable with what they were doing.  I just looked at the formation and before the ball was snapped, Chris (White) and I knew what they were doing."

Mich's offense wasn't as good as I thought.  Don't know if the answer is more shotgun with more wrinkles, more I-formation, whatever, but Mich has some work to do before we can start assuming jauggernaut status.  Just sayin'.


July 1st, 2011 at 4:21 PM ^

"Rich Rodriguez kept ahead of the curve by constantly adding new wrinkles to the ground game."
<br>Someone didn't tell MSU (ntMSU) about the wrinkles they were seeing...must have slipped by me too, because our offense seemed to show less variance over 3 years (read-option, anyone?).


July 2nd, 2011 at 7:30 PM ^

There were a variety of wrinkles, even if we didn't show enough of them against Mississippi State. Watch any three games at random, and REALLY watch the run game -- the blocking schemes, use of the tight end, etc.

Or, failing that, just read the UFRs from those games.

Don't say "Someone didn't tell MSU (ntMSU) about the wrinkles they were seeing" since you're taking the smallest possible sample size (one game) in a circumstance in which we only had one available QB and obviously didn't want to risk getting him hurt.


July 2nd, 2011 at 9:15 PM ^

And don't need made up analysis like UFRs to tell me what to think. There may have been tweaks, but not a variety of plays used. And if he was fixing it along the way, he was failing, because we got worse. One game is a fine example when it illustrates the whole. And had extra time to institute those changes. If anything, having one QB makes for all the more reason to have a variety of plays that don't constitute QB sweeps. But it's moot at the point you're down 30 and can try anything, because it can't get much worse.


July 1st, 2011 at 7:50 PM ^

H sad thing is that the MSU (bowl) guy saying that we were predictable was not the first instance of an opposing player making that claim. Some MSU (brah) player and someone else (an Iowa guy I think) said the exact same thing.
<br>Sorry Brian, no matter how many excuses and stats you throw at this, our offense was not that good last year. We kicked ass against sub-par teams, and couldn't score consistently against decent or good teams.
<br>When the games are decided by yards and not points, I will go with your arguments about the spread. Until then, sorry, happy to see us return to a pro-style set.


July 2nd, 2011 at 3:22 AM ^

that Iowa, a top 25 defense, thought the Michigan offense was predictable, yet they just what....let Michigan have those 500+ yards and 29 first downs? What did they wanna just make the game interesting by letting Michigan move on purpose or something?


July 1st, 2011 at 4:16 PM ^

How does the superior condescension of Murray Chass gather Brian's ire before that of George Will?  At least Murray can write.  Get George talkin a little baseball and next thing you know you've got guillotine designs rattling around within the pounding discomfort behind your eyes--- and you don't know whether you want his neck exposed or yours.

If all goes well Denard will run for around 40 yards a game on about 5 planned runs and another 80 yards on scrambles (which will save an additional 20 yards in sack yardage.)  120 rushing yards on top of a "regular" running game behind a good line should result in a respectable season.


July 1st, 2011 at 4:23 PM ^

Let's start with the red-zone offense: Brian is absolutely right. Michigan's TD percentage (TDs per red-zone attempt) was 8th in the nation (

They were 120th in FG percentage (out of 120 teams). The offense struggled in the red zone because they turned it over down there and because they couldn't kick a FG . . period. It had nothing to do with the scheme.

As a side note, there seems to be a belief that you have to have a strong power running game to score TDs in the red zone (Wisconsin for instance or the flexbone-type teams). Teams that also run the QB can do well down there as well. Oregon was much better in red-zone percentage in 2009 with Masoli than 2010 with Thomas. Defenses struggle to account for the QB, especially inside the 10.

I would say that the Michigan offense OVERALL however is slightly overrated. They were 10th in yards per play (SDSU was 7th by the way). They only had 57 red zone attempts (ranking them 23rd). They were 22nd in first downs / game. And the thought must be they must have had a lot of explosives (big plays) and they did ranking in the top 10 in plays of 30+ yards (although back in the 20s for plays of 20+ and 10+).

You can weight what you want and find what you want in any statistics. I would say Michigan fielded a top 15 offense in the nation last year--maybe top 10, especially if you just want to overlook the turnovers (which I wouldn't do). I do think the belief that this was a top 5 offense just isn't accurate. They were very, very good and I find it hard to believe anyone would argue that they weren't. That being said, there are teams with a lot less yards who were much more efficient. Alabama certainly comes to mind.


July 1st, 2011 at 4:37 PM ^

Brian is the inverse of the arrogant, insulated writers he referenced at the beginning of this post.

His insistence to cling to the statement that the offense last year was totally awesome, bro is just sad. I've never seen someone treat anything in sports as preciously as Brian treats Rodrigeuz's spread option offense.

The pitcher/wins analogy was truly moronic. Yes, there are x-factors outside of the offense when it comes to point totals. Yes, some of the critics' points were frustratingly simplistic. But offenses absolutely DO have a good measure of control on whether they score or not on a given drive, time permitting. Pitchers have literally zero control of their team's offensive production or the bullpen results. I honestly can't believe what I just read.





July 2nd, 2011 at 7:36 PM ^

His point wasn't that pitchers' wins = Michigan's offense. That's the most dense, argumentative way to read it.

The point was that both stats have a lot of factors beyond their control that needed to be accounted for before you say, "x > y." It's not that cut and dry.

Michigan's efficiency in points per drive or points per yard (or whatever metric you want to use) was not as good as it could have been, but the point of the post is that we shouldn't blow the offense up just because there are a couple of select stats/periods in which the offense didn't excel.