Shotgun Yesterday, Shotgun Today, Shotgun Tomorrow, Shotgun Forever

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

denard-shotgun

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, murraychass.com, 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. ]

Y WE NO SCORE GOALPOINTS

y-u-no-easydenard-fumble

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

CLOUDcrying-buckeye

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

denard-shotgundenard-shotgundenard-shotgun

MOAR SHOTGUN PLZ

Comments

antidaily

July 1st, 2011 at 4:33 PM ^

"The evidence suggests Michigan's red zone struggles should revert to the mean... "

This is what you said about turnovers every year under Rod. Just saying.

M-Wolverine

July 1st, 2011 at 4:33 PM ^

Always work. Bring up some statistical Rich Rod comparison, knowing he's not coming back, and the last 3 years aren't suddenly going to be good, get tons of clicks arguing over it anyway, because we can't help ourselves, profit.
<br>
<br>I expect one of these when the credit card bill for the honeymoon comes in.

blueblueblue

July 1st, 2011 at 5:22 PM ^

I have noticed this pattern over the years also. Brian posts something using ridiculous logic or casting flameworthy aspersions on former players or a particular former coach (not RR obviously) and then leaves the discussion, sits back, and just collects the clicks. It does not inspire the most respectful attitude toward him I must admit. 

ForestCityBlue

July 1st, 2011 at 5:37 PM ^

What would have been much prefered is an in depth look at SDSU's offence last year, perhaps a UFR of each game to get us up to speed.  Too much work perhaps?  Or is he saving that for the Maple City Press book so you have to pay to get actual good analysis and not "Lets re-live the good old days that were not really all that good but I have stats to prove they were better than you think and RR should not have been fired" article.

Bleh...I lose respect for Brian continually...the sad truth is there are not really any viable alternatives.  If there was, I would be there in a heartbeat.

gobluednicks

July 1st, 2011 at 4:44 PM ^

i absolutely love this website!  But...what i can't stand is when stats are used to decribe every single thing that happens.  First we started off with a short story about MLB which I couldn't possibly care any less about (isn't this a michigan football site?/where's the OT?).  When we finally get to the point of the story we have things like 'NFL teams are more successful out of the shotgun than under center' and then we pretend like a) we didn't know that and b) there isn't a real reason for that.  I could probably think of ten reasons why this is so and quite honestly thought there would be a bigger difference between the 2 numbers.  

Why don't we just get to the point and say 'we need to be in the shotgun more because we have Denard and a host of average running backs'.  I guarantee no matter what the stats may say, we wouldn't be hoping for more shotgun if we had Sheridan at QB and Tyrone Wheatley at RB.

ForestCityBlue

July 1st, 2011 at 5:00 PM ^

In the end there is only one stat that matters: wins and losses.  Brian's article has the feel of someone trying to use stats to convince himself that we were in fact a good football team.  We put up a lot of yards.  Sometimes we scored a above average amounts of points.  But none of that really matters if you don't win games.  You can have the coolest, funkiest, sabermetric/advanced stats friendly offence, but if you don't win games, none of it matters.

Rich Rodriguez failed because:

1. He sold himself and his system and not the school.  He was a nice ernest football buy, but in the end it was all about him.  He did not feel like he needed to embrace the school and sell the school and its traditions.

2. He was too loyal to his defensive assistants and to memories of WVU. 

3. He made two bad defensive coordinator hires.

4. We could not punch the ball into the end zone.  We were fast, but lack brute power when we the field tightened up and there was not the same space to spread the ball.

5. No kicking game.

6. We recruited sub-par athletes, especially when compared to the other spread teams Brian likes to throw around, Auburn and Oregon.

In the end, you cannot win with only a mostly awesome (putting up lots of yard) offense if you have no defense or special teams.

Again, other than wins and losses, a stat that we need to pay more attention to is passer effeciency rating differential.  In every game we lost last year that was a negative statistic.  We could not pass enough to win, or stop the pass enough to win.  Its quite simple.  Perhaps a better passing game would have led to better red zone efficiency too.

Its all about wins.  RR did not win.  Plain and simple.

shorts

July 2nd, 2011 at 7:40 PM ^

You guys completely missed the boat. This has nothing to do with RichRod -- Brian said himself that he thought RichRod had to go.

The ENTIRE FREAKIN' POINT is about what to do with the offense and how to have the best possible results given what we have on the team right now.

Nothing you posted here is relevant to the ongoing discussion.

ForestCityBlue

July 2nd, 2011 at 11:53 PM ^

Ummm...yes it has everything to do with RR.  The basic thrust of the article is MOAR SHOTGUN PLZ (see Brian's own conclusion).  Everything that is written up to that point is meant as support or evidence for the basic premise.  What is underlying this?  Borges has stated in a number of interviews, backed up by the plays they ran in the spring game, that is intent was for Robinson to take more snaps under centre.  Obviously this has Brian a little worried, hence this long staw man article where Brian proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that RR's shotgun run heavy offense was the end all to be all as is clearly demonstrated by FEI and other stats too complex for the average man to understand.  He also drags out stats from NFL teams in regards to those that take snaps out of the shotgun.  All this to support the conclusion that Borges is an idiot for thinking it is best to use Robinson under centre.  (I am overcharacterizing for sure, but that is a rhetorical divice used to make a point in its starkest contrast)  The article still feels like he is clinging to what was, rather that moving forward to attempt to come to a reasonable understanding of what is to come. 

gbdub

July 1st, 2011 at 7:38 PM ^

You're the one stuck in the past. Brian is not trying to answer the question "should we rehire Rich Rod". Nor is he trying to say "Offensive FEI says we should have won 10 games last year so nothing at all should be changed". He is trying to answer the question "how much should we restructure the offense if we want to win more games this year?" (or, more precisely, "should Denard ever line up under center?"). The win-loss record is not particularly enlightening in regards to that question.

You're throwing out red meat to the RR haterz but not engaging Brian on the merits. You make an attempt with your passer efficiency argument, but even there you neglect to mention that much of that differential was due to our terrible secondary rather than offensive failure. (Though it's an interesting argument - most Big Ten bluebloods would claim that possession and power running are the keys to success rather than a great passing game, so I hope you expound on that point).

Yes, wins are the most important thing, and if your goal is to determine why RR got fired it's the most relevant statistic. But if you want to predict our future success and/or determine what needs improvement, which is what Brian is trying to do here, you need a sharper tool. That is what advanced statistics are meant to provide.

ForestCityBlue

July 2nd, 2011 at 8:09 AM ^

This is perhaps the most annoying part of the article.  Brian, in his smug superiority, wraps himself in statistics to prove he is way smarter than Al Borges - an offensive coordinator who as actually won stuff.  I am sure Borges will read this, slap himself on the forehead and say, "Shit, that is what I have been doing wrong all these years!  Brian is sooo right!  I need to run plays out of the shotgun more and I too will be able to win like my predecessor!"  This is what makes the whole article so idiotic.  It is one more defense of RR pretending to be the key insight on how we whould evaluate Borges going forward, as if the shotgun is the THE magic bullet.

MichiganMan2424

July 1st, 2011 at 5:08 PM ^

 After Brian said the offense's inability to turn yards into points was the not the offense's fault. That's idiotic. The offense has one job, to score. If they can't do that, it's their fault. Yes, some of the blame falls on the kicking game, a lot in this case, but if you know you have a shitty kicking game, then try that much harder to score. The red zone issues are 100% the offenses fault, along with points in general.

markusr2007

July 1st, 2011 at 5:35 PM ^

There will at least be some variation in Michigan's play calling other than "run-run-pass-punt", shuffling FB crap that was Debord's famous MO.  

At SDSU Borges had a lot to work with in QB Lindley, TB Hillman and WRs Vince Brown and DeMarco Sampson.

At Michigan Borges inherits QB Denard Robinson, TB Michael Shaw, Vincent Smith, Fitz Toussaint and WRs Roy Roundtree, JR Hemingway, Martavious Odoms and maybe Stonum (?). That's a shitload more talent, experience and depth than he had to work with at SD State, and more along the lines of what was available to him whileOC at Auburn and UCLA. 

The position that stands the most to gain this year will be Robinson with probably 100+ more passing attempts than last year.  The other dude to gain the most will be whoever steps up and doesn't get injuried as Michigan's tailback. If Michigan's receivers don't perform well (dropsies?), then Michigan's backs will get a lot of catches in this new offense.

 

treetown

July 1st, 2011 at 5:55 PM ^

Interesting post.

Football in many ways doesn't really use the full statistical power available despite having a lot of data. We still use a lot of basic descriptive statistics and even then don't put in important parameters. We note the average yards gain rushing but not the standard deviation which might be more helpful about a runner. A RB with a high average but a distribution which is skewed heavily to the positive side implies: dependably gains yards, rarely gets caught for a loss and if he has long positive skew the ability to break away.

Two observations:

1. Any attempt to find a single statistic to predict victory or defeat is unlikely to ever succeed. Games are won or lost for more than one reason. Sometimes it is due to a single turnover or a single error on a crucial 3rd down play. An otherwise well played and well coached game can come down to one missed field goal or one mistake.

2. Any statistic when used must be discussed with respect to what are the norms in the conference or country. The Red Zone scoring percentage mentioned is a good one. A scoring percentage of 79% sounds good until you learn that the WORST of the D1 teams last year was around 66% (go the official  NCAA stats, http://web1.ncaa.org/mfb/natlRank.jsp?year=2010&rpt=IA_teamredzone&site…) The 104th ranked red zone offense in 2010 (six way tie with Miami of Ohio, West Virginia, Miami of FL, Tennessee, Rutgers and UCLA) was 75%. The UM was in a seven way tie for 82nd with 79%.

Were your statistics about the UM being 109th based on several years data?

Pibby Scott

July 1st, 2011 at 9:05 PM ^

Why is it politics to mention that RR did some right things? That he ultimately didn't do enough right things and that's why he lost his job? Isn't that what Brian is acknowleding?

 

Why does it have to be so uninterestingly framed? Why does it have to be like, "ah yeah, we've moved on, it's behind us" when you can look very easily at the stat sheet and see, Yeah, there was some good stuff happening on the offensive side of the ball. If Hoke and Co. see this, are able to take advantage of what Rich set down, I don't see the problem. More power to Hoke for not being a crazy and for seeing that the old boss could kinda do stuff that was neat/inventive/somewhat ahead of the curve in terms of Offense.

 

Also, is framing a post "science vs politics" deploying the same kind of empty rhetoric it's also deploring? Why couldn't you write good logic versus bad logic or try investigating "objectively" every angle of Brian's post, in order to tease out something less abstract and loaded than "science" versus "politics"? It seems unfair not to attempt to do the same. Moreover doesn't Brian explicitly caution against that kind of thinking when he writes that it would be asinine or delusional to think "no blood for oil" or "drill, baby, drill"  examples of "coherent, self-contained, impregnable point(s) of view". Again,  it doesn't seem like youre as flexible as Brian especially when you demand the utmost intellectual flexibility of Brian (that is, Brian should have just decided to "move on" and never mention Rich, that Brian should know every stat he likes is of course going to be a stat he likes because RR is somewhere behind it)

 

I think it's safe to say it's AT LEAST possible Rich did SOME things right. Acknowledging that isn't saying I wish Rich were still the coach. I don't. It wasn't working. But I don't think Brian is holding a silent whiny vigil for Rich either.

 

However, I'm aware a lot of people are on the record talking shit about Hoke, Brian included, and I'm aware that it is hard to try and see someone in a different light after they say something offensive. I'm thinking of Michael Richards here or something. No matter what he does or says or learns from the hours he's spent reflecting on his actions, some people are going to think he's racist. No matter what. & maybe he is racist. Maybe that was just one blip. I have no idea.

All I do know: when someone makes a statement on the record, any and all can hold that person forever to that moment of utterance. In this way, some writers arent seen as developing but are merely writing the same thing but using different words, without acknowleding that perhaps a change in diction is also a change in temperment. People lose sight of or simply do not acknowledge the tangled nature implicit in the relationship between "thought" and "writing". It's a shame, really, that some writers (in the very eyes of their most loyal readers) lose the power to be nuanced, as they refine old points and develop new ones. Discourse does not forget. And it's always happening right now. So I try to figure out the best way to always read things fresh. But maybe that's just a waste of time. Because maybe it's impossible to approach a piece of writing without approaching all the textual stuff that precedes it. And so with that in mind.. IF DICTION MEANS ANYTHING, THEN BRIAN IS TRYING TO SAY THINGS DIFFERENTLY and to want to try and say things differently means that, at least to me, he's perhaps approaching an old point somewhat differently, with a somewhat different mindset, perhaps from thinking somewhat differently.  

bo_lives

July 1st, 2011 at 9:25 PM ^

Philosophy is a continuous dialog. Therefore I don't think it's unreasonable that some people are assessing Brian's post based on what he said in the past.

I disagree with this statement...

"I don't think Brian is holding a silent whiny vigil for Rich either."

... because I think Brian has continuously been trying to legitimize the betrayal of Lloyd Carr and the Old Guard throughout the past three years.

I too used to be a Lloyd hater, but I have since repented of my sins and embraced the Schembechler ideology. Therefore whenever Brian makes an argument like this I cringe and hope that maybe one day he will at at long last see the light.

ryebreadboy

July 2nd, 2011 at 11:52 AM ^

Jesus dude, let it go. "the betrayal of Lloyd Carr"? Are you f-ing serious? Did you SEE the Horror? RR did have some success, it's stupid to say otherwise. Lloyd, conversely, had some failures. One of those was an extremely irritating tendency to sit on a lead in the second half and watch it evaporate. You talk about Bo like he was the messiah of football and you're a born-again Schembechlerite. Other schemes can work. There is no single best way to play football. In the end it boils down to: be good at what you do. Asserting that the I-formation is undoubtedly the best because your big guys can rumble on down and crush the opposition is like claiming the bigger wrestler will always win. There are ways to negate size advantages (namely speed and agility). In the end, I don't care what offense M runs as long as they are good at it. But I think that saying there was nothing of value in last year's offense is a bit of a stretch, and claiming that those who saw offensive promise last year are "tacitly apologizing for RR" by saying so is just ridiculous. I am actually personally offended by that.

bo_lives

July 1st, 2011 at 9:14 PM ^

Brian claims he is trying to argue that we should use the shotgun more this year because RR's offense was supposedly good, based on statistics (although when you look like at the argument as a whole, it looks a lot more like another attempt to legitimize the RR hire and the betrayal of Lloyd Carr). He ponders the question, "Is it better to play to Al Borges's strengths or the offense's strengths?" The real answer is to have Borges try as hard as he can to make Denard as useful as possible without slowing down the overall transition to a West Coast system. I HIGHLY doubt Borges will completely abandon the shotgun if Denard is having problems under center. But aside from this very obvious conclusion I really don't see the utility in Brian's overall argument. The Rich Rod era is over. There is no need to keep dwelling on the past. In the end, the only thing Hoke will be judged on is wins, not how well he was able to utilize a superstar quarterback he inherited from his predecessor's offense.

And as far as this question goes...

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

... it's worth noting that from 1969-2007, when we ran the I-form pro-style, we were the winningest college football program in America, and I don't recall us having a top 5 offense every one of those years. Clearly it is possible to win without the spread, so I wouldn't go about questioning Brady Hoke's football ideology just yet.

Brian will scoff at this, but I adhere to Bo's theory that controlling the line of scrimmage is one of the most important aspects of the game. It maximizes the amount of control you have over your own success. The spread depends a lot on the opposing team having mental breakdown. The entire goal is to trick them into making one huge mistake and then capitalizing on it. Problem is, when it doesn't work, there isn't as much you can do to fix things. A lot of the time you just have to walk off the field mumbling about how you were unlucky. Just look at what happened to Oregon's offense when they went up against Auburn's D-line in the NCG. A lot lot of good it did them having that top ranked offense, huh?

 With the I-form, everything is completely under your control. You don't have to worry about what the opposing team's defense is doing if you can just run them over. Unfortunately, this can't be argued using quantifiable statistics, so Brian will dismiss it and clench his fists. The one statistic that does seem to be associated with control of the line of scrimmage is time of possession; however, most stats-mongerers are convinced that this particular statistic is useless (how's that for subjectivity?) Never mind the fact that the last eight times Michigan has faced OSU, the team that has won the time of possession battle has won the game. Yes, it's worth pointing out that Michigan has lost 7 straight, a possible confounding variable, but doesn't it tell you something that every time Michigan has lost to Ohio State over the past 7 years, they also lost in time of possession? Shouldn't that mean that, like points yardage, time of possession does seem to have SOME effect on the outcome of the game?

BraveWolverine730

July 1st, 2011 at 10:24 PM ^

Oh boy where to start. Ok you are correct Auburn did beat Oregon because the controlled the line of scrimmage. It's difficult to play well when you are consistently being pressured with the front 4 and they can drop 7. 

As for everything else, it honestly tempts to me to post that extrememly tired Happy Gilmore youtube video. Listen, the spread is not 100% better than the I-formation. The I-formation is not 100% better than the spread. All that matters is talent and execution, although some players fit one system

.Florida did perfectly fine with their spread offense(two NCs if memory serves correctly) as did Auburn(seriously you scoff at the spread offense with your counter example being AUBURN?!?!?). Alabama did just fine with their pro-style offense and LSU won with their more mixed styles. Do you know what all of them had with the exception of Auburn? Top 10 defenses.

You miss the reason why RR actually failed here. It's not becaue his offense wasn't good enough(although yes a little more first half production would have been helpful), it's because he failed to build a top notch defense. So let's have Hoke and Mattison work on starting to build a top notch defense, start transitioning to the Borges offense, but let's keep a lot of the good stuff RR did. Let's use these guys that are talented and suited for the spread(Denard, Molk, Roundtree, Odoms, etc), work on the exexution and have a fairly awesome offfense AND a much improved defense. That's all people like Brian are saying and that's what I am convinced that Borges and company are going to do(see first play of sprng game).    

Also you are either new or dumb if you honestly don't think Brian supported Lloyd Carr. And you are an absolute football novice if you are convinced that UM ran the same offense from 1969-2007(and I was only alive for 16 of those years) I'm not going to touch the TOP argument because others can and have more elegantly argued that point already 

BraveWolverine730

July 1st, 2011 at 10:24 PM ^

Oh boy where to start. Ok you are correct Auburn did beat Oregon because the controlled the line of scrimmage. It's difficult to play well when you are consistently being pressured with the front 4 and they can drop 7. 

As for everything else, it honestly tempts to me to post that extrememly tired Happy Gilmore youtube video. Listen, the spread is not 100% better than the I-formation. The I-formation is not 100% better than the spread. All that matters is talent and execution, although some players fit one system

.Florida did perfectly fine with their spread offense(two NCs if memory serves correctly) as did Auburn(seriously you scoff at the spread offense with your counter example being AUBURN?!?!?). Alabama did just fine with their pro-style offense and LSU won with their more mixed styles. Do you know what all of them had with the exception of Auburn? Top 10 defenses.

You miss the reason why RR actually failed here. It's not becaue his offense wasn't good enough(although yes a little more first half production would have been helpful), it's because he failed to build a top notch defense. So let's have Hoke and Mattison work on starting to build a top notch defense, start transitioning to the Borges offense, but let's keep a lot of the good stuff RR did. Let's use these guys that are talented and suited for the spread(Denard, Molk, Roundtree, Odoms, etc), work on the exexution and have a fairly awesome offfense AND a much improved defense. That's all people like Brian are saying and that's what I am convinced that Borges and company are going to do(see first play of sprng game).    

Also you are either new or dumb if you honestly don't think Brian supported Lloyd Carr. And you are an absolute football novice if you are convinced that UM ran the same offense from 1969-2007(and I was only alive for 16 of those years) I'm not going to touch the TOP argument because others can and have more elegantly argued that point already 

bo_lives

July 2nd, 2011 at 4:33 AM ^

... so i dont' see why we are having it again since we clearly disagree.

However, I am compelled to address a few of your points.

.Florida did perfectly fine with their spread offense(two NCs if memory serves correctly) as did Auburn(seriously you scoff at the spread offense with your counter example being AUBURN?!?!?).

I will concede that the spread can work in certain situations. However it is not the unstoppable force that Michigan fans were lead to believe it was prior to 2008, and it is NOT the future of college football. I happen to believe it isn't even as good as the traditional method for reasons I have already explained but clearly we disagree on that point. And please do not, I was NOT assessing Auburn's offense when I wrote what I did. I was demonstrating that the high flying spread, even when executed to perfection, is not invulnerable to a good defensive line.

You miss the reason why RR actually failed here. It's not becaue his offense wasn't good enough(although yes a little more first half production would have been helpful), it's because he failed to build a top notch defense.

I agree with this statement, actually. You misinterpreted me. Clearly RR was not fired because of his offense. All I am trying to say is that despite what Brian says, his successes were overrated.

So let's have Hoke and Mattison work on starting to build a top notch defense, start transitioning to the Borges offense... that's what I am convinced that Borges and company are going to do(see first play of sprng game).   

Okay? Sounds fine. Isn't that what I said too?

That's all people like Brian are saying...

And why are they saying it, if not to sneak in a tacit apology for RR? We already had this discussion ages ago. *In other news, Obama needs to focus on the economy in order to improve his chances for winning the election.*

Also you are either new or dumb if you honestly don't think Brian supported Lloyd Carr.

Whoa, no need to bring out the personal attacks. My opinions on this subject are based on what Brian writes, nothing more. This...

"I’m happy that the empire of the fallen has finished its long slide into the sea. I’m happy it’s been replaced with something young and vivacious and very likely successful. But on Saturday something that lived for forty years sees the last shovelful of dirt on its grave, and I wish it hadn’t come to this." (Re. http://mgoblog.com/content/you-were-killed-bear-and-i-am-sad)"

... does not sound like an approval of Lloyd's tenure to me. Sounds to me like he was right there with those people who were trying to push Lloyd out circa 2007, and after the RR hire, hailing the arrival of a "young and vivacious" high flying spread offense. No, Brian does not demonize Lloyd, but he does not laud his accomplishments or praise him either, and he covertly apologizes for RR with posts like these.

And you are an absolute football novice if you are convinced that UM ran the same offense from 1969-2007.

Zzz.. Yes, by 2007 we had come a long ways since the "3 yards and a cloud of dust" days of the 70s. But our basic philosophy was still the same. How can you possibly dispute that?

I may have ranted a bit much in my original post, but part of that is motivated by RR's recent TV appearance, where he pulled out his "but the worst was behind us!" line once again. RR failed. End of story. I do not want to hear any more thinly veiled apologies. Is this too much to ask? I would much rather embrace the new coaching staff and hope Brady Hoke ushers in a return to our greatest tradition: winning the Big Ten. And I think we would ALL be happy with that.

BluCheese

July 1st, 2011 at 9:51 PM ^

The whole post is a rehash of the FEI and a plea to not abandon the spread.  Don't get me wrong, becasue I love the spread.  It's exciting to watch and when combined with the other elements of a winning team will win against anyone.  (See Georgia - Oklahoma).

That being said, no one knows what Borges's offense is going to look like so preseason whining about it is silly.  I happen to think Al is a experienced, resourceful guy and doesn't have that ego that says my way only.  He's smart enough to know he has a lot of tools in his kit to fashion a truly diverse offense.

And the goal is to fashion a winning team, not have a cool offense.

onlyblue1982

July 1st, 2011 at 10:36 PM ^

Each of which are important to having a successful season. But scoring more than your opponent is generally a good thing. And despite all the yards, Michigan averaged fewer points per game than its opponents. If we remove 65 against BG and 67 against Illinois (as outliers), Michigan was outscored considerably. Also, turnovers are part of the Offense as well. You just have to account for them. Don't believe me? Watch U-M vs. ND 1997. Ok, now that we've got that straight my point being: wins come from being better than one's opponent (duh). Michigan was obviously not in Special Teams and Defense, and  to suggest that the O was better than opponents in 2010 is dubious at best. The fact that we're arguing about it affirms this claim. Yards are nice, wins are better.

BraveWolverine730

July 1st, 2011 at 10:38 PM ^

But the offense WAS better than almost everyone else's we played last year. Any way you want to slice it up(points, yards, FEI, etc) it was a top 3 offense in the conference last year(meaning it was better than all but two offenses we played). The problem and why we lost 6 games was because the gap between offenses was dwarfed by the gargantuan gap between defenses and special teams, not because our offense was inferior. 

onlyblue1982

July 1st, 2011 at 10:48 PM ^

Don't get me wrong, but RR was a better O-Coordinator at Michigan than he was a head coach. And I agree with Brian that he didn't have much to work with on O in 2008. So yes, there's been marked improvement on the O through 2010. But defensively and on S-teams, there seemed to be no discernable plan. And when you spot the other team 28 (Wisc) then you have a problem that not even a good offense can overcome.

BraveWolverine730

July 1st, 2011 at 10:59 PM ^

Oh I'm not arguing that RR should still be coach, His horrendous record speaks for itsefl. I'm just sick and tired off seeing people trying to twist stats to make him look worse(he was 2-7 against our big 3 rivals, PSU was never really a more important game than ND to most UM fans and yet they are constantly substituted for ND to make it look worse). He failed to have a semi-respectable Michigan defense any year or find a good kicker the last two years(I remember 08 being decent in kicking but then again I have blotted a lot of that season out). and that's why he's commenting for CBS. But he built a pretty darn good offense. Let's take the meat(DENARD!) and throw out the bones(GERG) and let's go win us a lot of games this year. 

bronxblue

July 1st, 2011 at 11:32 PM ^

I am not going to able to read the entire thread (my guess is that it got a little testy), so I'm sure this is somewhat of a repeat.  But overall, I think the offense should be okay because of the returning talent and the fact Hoke understands he needs to win immediately, not install a dynamic offense for the future. So expect Denard in the gun along with traditional pro style, and expect him to scramble and design-run for 500 yards or so.  This team will still find a way to score about 27-30 points a game; the defense will just need to keep up.

But to the greater point about stats versus "feelings"/intangibles, I think both are necessary to evaluate a team.  Because baseball is by far the most compartmentalized sport out there, statistical analysis works the best and has the greatest correlations.  But at the same time, the fact people can make "definitive" statements about a player's abilities because of UZR or BABIP can obscure the reality that sometimes, yes, it is harder to hit or pitch when you are in the middle of a pennant race in a big market versus on the Royals in mid-August.  Stats help to clear up some of the lies our eyes don't catch,, but they also introduce noise where none should exist.

I guess this is a long way to say that while I do think the offense was better than some people say because of the large yardage/no score dichotomy, it definitely struggled when teams sat back and dared Denatd to throw into tight windows and had a good lb shadow him on the line.  Some of that was inexperience and some of it was good defenses and a tired star, but the stats probably paint a better offense than we saw.

 

goblueyou

July 2nd, 2011 at 1:40 AM ^

I agree that numbers should have a huge impact on determining the right side of a dispute. But the one thing that numbers don't show (or atleast yours don't) is fatigue. That is the basic flaw of the spread offense. Time of possesion is the key to winning football games because when your defense is on the field more they are bound to let up more points then if they are on the field less. And this is not because of the ammount of drives one team has (which will only vary by 1 drive) its because when you are on the field more you get more and more tired and you saw that last year. We used the 3-3-5 to stop big plays yet we were the worst team in the big ten on big plays anyway because of miss communications, and players being lazy which comes from being tired. We let up more touchdowns in most of last years games, then bo did in the first 10 games of the 1985 season! 

DustomaticGXC

July 2nd, 2011 at 2:33 AM ^

Fatigue is only a factor if you don't train for what you're doing.  If you condition like Wisconsin and try to run Oregon's offense, you're in trouble.  If you condition like Oregon and run Oregon's offense, well, you know the rest.

 

Time of possession is NOT "key" to winning football games.  Time of possesson *can be* key in certain situations and with certain matchups.  It isn't inherently important.

 

I find it very hard to believe anybody was tired at the end of a game with a full season of Barwis' conditioning under their belts.  Demoralized, sure.  But not physically exhausted to the point of not being able to perform.

ryebreadboy

July 2nd, 2011 at 11:32 AM ^

I completely agree. To assert that TOP is key is just ludicrous. If your offense scores "too quickly", your defense will find themselves on the field a lot. However, if your defense is good and can get three-and-outs (or at least prevent the other team from having massive offensive drives, which the M defense last year could not) that puts the offense right back out there. The only thing helpful about TOP that I can see is that it tires out the OPPOSING defense and permits you to score points more easily. If your primary problem is that you score too fast, this seems unnecessary. Our problem last year was not that the offensive possessions didn't last long enough, consequently tiring out the D. It was that the D was straight-up terrible and couldn't stop anyone.

UMgradMSUdad

July 2nd, 2011 at 8:23 PM ^

Yes, ToP can be a key element, and I would say it was important in 2010. When an up-tempo offense is scoring at will ToP isn;t all that important, but Michigan was not doing that last year.  That added pressure to a mediocre defense.  And fatigue is not just a factor physically--it is a mental issue, too.

Also, for all those trumpeting how great the offense was because it was moving the ball up and down between the 20 yard lines, remember some of what are regarded as Michigan's greatest defenses of the past 30 years.  I remember being driven nuts with the "bend but don't break" philosophy that often led teams to bettering UM in yards per game.  But guess what, at the end of the day, those defenses were regarded as superior because they rarely allowed touchdowns.  If we are going to brag about UM's offense for the yards earned, then we have to say most of the Big Ten defenses were superior to our offense.

bronxblue

July 2nd, 2011 at 7:27 AM ^

The problem with the whole fatigue argument is that football games feature so actual minutes of gameplay that I have a hard time believing that a defense is adversely affected by the offense scoring quickly.  See this link:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704281204575002852055561406.html

It says that an average football game has about 11 minutes of action total.  Even accounting for more defense/less offense TOP for a spread, we are talking, what, 7-8 minutes of defense total in terms of movement.  Yeah, I know they are out their longer than that, weather conditions, etc., but this isn't soccer or hockey where guys are flying around for most of the game.  Everyone gets a blow, and a defense should be able to recover most of their spent energy in the couple of minutes even a bad/quick offense is on the field. 

The problem with the defense last year was that they couldn't get off the field or stop anyone, not the offense scoring too quickly.  Those Carr, Moeller, and Bo teams had their fair share of 3-and-out/quick turnover squads, yet those defenses were dominant at times.  That is because they actually had established talent and coaching on that side, not like the hodge-podge we've seen the past couple of years.  Don't impugn RR's offensive brilliance beause of his defensive malfeasance.

JClay

July 2nd, 2011 at 11:48 AM ^

Yet another Brian post in which every cherry-picked statistic that supports RichRod is heralded as beyond contestation and every statistic that shows the flaws of the offense (turnovers, red zone scoring, first half scoring, etc etc) is either openly mocked or discredited? No thanks.

nella

July 2nd, 2011 at 12:10 PM ^

It would be interesting to see how the higher moments compare. These higher moments may help characterize an efficient offense. I imagine variance may be greatest out of the shotgun. Skewness may actually be higher from under center, due to more plays being stuffed at the line of scrimmage.

uminks

July 2nd, 2011 at 12:34 PM ^

The offense realized it had to score every time they were inside the 20. The kicking game was dismal but once the other team got the ball they were going to score.

I'm just hoping the defense improves dramatically this season.  I think DROB will make better decisions in the red zone this year, so we should see an improvement in scoring. And hopefully a decent FG kicker will emerge during summer practice.

Overall, I'm optimistic that Borges will keep a lot of the spread offense going this season with a potential go to RB...which may help DROB from running half the game.

CompleteLunacy

July 2nd, 2011 at 1:03 PM ^

After 3 years of RR, I'm not convinced the spread is anything of a schematic advantage...it's just another way to run your offense. Stanford has proved that traditonal offense can work just as well as the spread, if you have the right personnel and coaches. RR ran a great offense, but it had its flaws. It was predictable. It was very prone to early failure in a drive if things weren't "clicking" (all the 3 and outs). Lastly, good defenses were able to stop it. Of course, the caveat here is we'll never know its full potential because of its youth.

RR is clearly a great offensive coach, he was clearly building a top-10 offense at Michigan. It was going to dominate. Unfortunately, that's not all it takes to win. If we have to regress a bit on offense to get an all-around better team, then I'm all for it. It hurts, because I wanted to see what Denard and co. could do with RR's spread next year. Oh well...that ship sailed a while ago.

That is not to say I don't believe the spread works. But I do believe it is NOT the end-all-be-all of offense in college. Pro-style can work just fine. With the personnel we got, I want Borges to run a ton more shotgun too...but not because I think pro-style is inferior.  But because the offense needs to play to the personnel's (Denard's) strengths. It needs no further explanation than that, and we don;t need to rehash the RR era anymore for it. Why is it "shotgun OR Borges' style" anyway? Why can't it be both? Let's give Borges some credit here.