The Decimated Defense, Part II: the Statisticating

Submitted by Seth on November 2nd, 2009 at 8:18 AM

[Editor's note: holy hell, man. This is like a PhD thesis.]

It hits you like a thousand knives stabbing you all over your body. You can't breathe. You can't think. At least, not about anything but the pain.


I'm searching for a metaphor.

Amidst the phantom flags and the Angry Michigan Hating Bounces and the dropping of babies on 3rd down on Saturday you could not possibly have missed a notable lack of competency in the 11 guys tasked with making sure the other guys score less than we do, otherwise referred to as "Michigan's Defense."

This is Part II of the afore-bumped diary "The Decimated Defense," a look at what has happened to turn Michigan's once vaunted defense into..

I don't have a metaphor...

Something that has a lot of really shiny beautiful parts, that ostensibly looks like something grand and wonderful, but like with some major defect or hole in it, from which pours in death and destruction...


In the wake of, well, that, I'm sure that you, as I, need to understand what happened to Michigan's defense, how we got here, will it get better, and can it be avoided again?

In the first of this series, I went through Michigan's last five classes to see if we could find where and what went wrong in defensive recruiting to lead us to a day when Jordan Kovacs was all that stood between the program and the bottom of the sea. We looked at the cheap rivets, the lack of safety training, and missing life boats, while Brian UFR'ed a really big iceburg.

It was long, and mostly stuff you already knew, and at one point you had to fix yourself a sandwich, but at the end we identified two factors that were very likely contributors:

  1. Small classes
  2. High attrition

Today we put that in context. I compared the current rosters to the recruited rosters of Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Penn State, Michigan State and Alabama, to see how each of these teams were built, and what was lost along the way, in order to understand why should so many other luxury liners and loveable tugboats and whatnot stay dry as we face a watery grave?

(Excel spreadsheet lives here.)

Recruiting: Quantity and Quality

Lon Horwedel | Ann

Rose: The fall alone would kill you.

Jack: It would hurt. I'm not saying it wouldn't. Tell you the truth, I'm a lot more concerned about that water being so cold.

Here's how Michigan stacked up in pure defensive recruiting from 2005 through 2009 (Rivals ratings used):

  Michigan Alabama MSU Notre Dame Ohio State Penn State
2-stars 2 8 24 1 4 9
3-stars 20 34 30 22 20 18
4-stars 23 37 10 19 32 23
5-stars 3 4 0 1 3 2
TOTAL 48 83 64 43 59 52

This counts every recruit that came in ready to play defense, except athletes who played their entire careers on offense. It also includes offensive recruits later moved to defense. It excludes walk-ons.

Many nuggets here. Let us bullet:

  • Notre Dame fans who blame recruiting for some of their woes have a beef. Their classes have been highly ranked, but even smaller than paltry Michigan's!
  • Bama LOL
  • Michigan and Penn State recruited pretty similarly. The big difference was that PSU brought in 7 more 2-stars.
  • Michigan and Ohio State both recruited 20 players of 3-star caliber, and 3 blue chips, but OSU had 9 more 4-star players during that time.
  • Michigan State clearly isn't in the same recruiting league as these others. They're basically averaging one lower star per recruit
  • ...but out of a respectable class size.
  • Even so, Alabama had more 3-star defensive recruits over this time than Michigan State.

Michigan's closest recruiting analogue here is Penn State, with the high-end (4-5 star) recruiting separated by one more 5-star guy for us. You can call Notre Dame basically a Michigan-light. If anything, the Fighting Irish have been even pickier about talent than U-M, OSU and PSU, except they haven't been as successful at reeling in the big fish as any of the major schools profiled.

For these schools, the distribution seems weighted slightly toward the top, but their bell curves are only slightly ahead of OSU and Bama. However, when placed beside each other, it's easy to see how large amounts of recruits can generate a much more sizeable talent pool from which to draw starters.
Figure 1
So recruiting tells a story, but certainly not the story. Certainly, Alabama and Ohio State recruited the most 4- and 5-star players, and subsequently have great defenses.

Michigan and Penn State should, just going by recruiting, have about the same level of defense, with maybe one more NFL-bound player in Ann Arbor, and maybe a bunch of 2-star guys backing up at Penn State instead of Michigan's walk-ons. Or it would be, if attrition was constant. We will see in the next section that it isn't. But you knew the problem wasn't just recruiting, anyway, since you know that Penn State's defense is legitimately good, and Michigan went into this season steering a pre-WWI luxury liner.

First, though, while we're on pure recruiting, let's look real quick and see if it's actually the age of the recruits that matter. Since they should be theoretically the heart of a great defense, and since the distribution among all schools except Michigan State was fairly equal when it came to 4- versus 5- stars, let's just look at those two groups, and when they came in for each school (MSU left out to spare them the indignation of looking like Antarctica):

  Michigan Alabama Notre Dame Ohio State Penn State
2005 4 3 0 6 3
2006 6 5 2 6 8
2007 4 8 4 8 6
2008 7 15 10 6 4
2009 5 10 4 9 4
4-Star+ 26 41 20 35 25

[At this point I would ask everyone else to pause for a moment while we give Irish, who has been waiting patiently all this time, an opportunity to assign righteous blame on Ty Willingham. HE did this, precious!]

Okay, so other than an '05-'06 "Domer LOL," did we get anything out of this?

Penn State's great defense has a lot of high-rated juniors and seniors on it -- more than any other school. Michigan was kind of even, but actually should have had more upperclassmen than Bama or Notre Dame. Ohio State has been strong all the way through. Alabama is going to be really really good in a few years.

There's nothing here to suggest Michigan should be really bad. Not yet.

Moving on.

The Other Shoe, of Which Its Current Gravity Situation You Were Well Aware


Rose : Don't you understand? The water is freezing and there aren't enough boats. Not enough by half. Half the people on this ship are going to die.

Cal: Not the better half.

Cal, if you make it off that ship, and if that whole heir-to-a-robber-baron thing doesn't work out for you, you might make a fine SEC recruiting coordinator.

What I'm talking about is Alabama's over-signing strategy, which has been covered many times on this blog. In short, the Crimson Tide under Saban have recruited more guys than they have scholarships for, expecting enough will find reason to get themselves expelled or booted off the team before the count becomes official. The ultimate effect is that Saban has a strong incentive not to keep troubled players, particularly less talented troubled players, in school.

I bring it up now because:

  Def. Recruits On Roster On Roster %
Michigan 48 28 58.33%
Alabama 83 52 62.65%
Michigan State 64 45 70.31%
Penn State 52 40 76.92%
Ohio State 59 46 77.97%
Notre Dame 43 36 83.72%



  • Michigan has had higher attrition from 2005 to 2009 than Alabama.
  • Let's rephrase: Michigan has had higher attrition than a team that has been TRYING TO SHED PLAYERS.
  • If Ohio State is pulling a 'Bama, there is zero evidence for it here. They have a reasonable number of recruits, and very low attrition.
  • Penn State, as I mentioned before, is a much older team, and therefore has had a lot more time to lose guys to graduation and leaving early for the NFL and whatnot. In that light, their retention rate is pretty darn good.
  • Michigan State and OSU ended up with about the same number of recruits on their respective rosters, while Bama was just a bit higher.
  • Notre Dame's team is much, much younger, hence the high retention rate.
  • Attrition has generally been higher for the teams with coaching changes in the last few years.
  • Michigan's 28 scholarship athletes on defense may work on your pre-2005 EA Sports video game (which had a 55-player limit) but is way, way below the competition.
  • 58.33 percent, as it turns out, is in fact quite putrid.

Attrition is going to normally be between 60 and 80 percent, for any team.

The 2005 class isn't expected to leave very much for 2009 -- those are the current 5th year seniors. Guys play early because of their great talent, or because of [Position] Armageddon, or because you're Michigan State and know that 4-star prospects come along so rarely that when you get one you can't wait to rip open the cover and see if you won a Golden Ticket!

For the bigger programs, NFL Early Entry takes its toll from the junior (2006) ranks. Sophomore classes are generally mostly transfers. Freshman attrition has a lot to do with the tough transition from The Hottest Shot in Home Town High to collegiate freshman (class breakdowns will be in another section).

Let's break this down, too, by talent. Because it's not just numbers, right? If you have 28 guys on the roster, but they're all highly recruited athletes who have shown they belong on an NCAA roster, you're still afloat.

  4*+ Recruits 4*+ Retained 4*+ Ret %
Michigan 26 16 61.54%
Alabama 41 30 73.17%
Michigan State 10 6 60.00%
Penn State 25 18 72.00%
Ohio State 35 27 77.14%
Notre Dame 20 20 100.00%

And so.

Among primo athletes, Michigan was slightly above Michigan State, which is our small sample outlier (MSU lost three 4-star player to injury or transfer from its 2006 class, and one 2005 guy graduated). Penn State, at a respectable 72 percent, was a victim of graduation and the NFL. Notre Dame still has all 20 of its blue and light-blue chippers, thanks to packing them into later classes. Alabama is about where Penn State is, but remember, the Tide packed their high-level guys in from 2007 on.

Still, for our purposes, the important thing to note is that we still have 16 4-star defensive athletes on the roster, which is just two less than Penn State (but 11, i.e. a whole 'nother defensive unit, behind Ohio State).

While we're at it, let's see the 3-stars:

  3*- Recruits 3*+ Retained 3*+ Ret %
Michigan 22 12 54.55%
Alabama 42 22 52.38%
Michigan State 54 39 72.22%
Penn State 27 22 81.48%
Ohio State 24 19 79.17%
Notre Dame 23 16 69.57%

Now we see the difference.

Retention rates are down across the board here, as this group is more likely to be hit harder by the transfer-due-to-playing-time bug.

Michigan State, you can see, built their city on 3-stars, with retention rates similar to that of 4-stars for the big schools.

Bama dropped almost half of their 3-stars (evidence of the Saban Stratagem working harder on the less-pedigreed?), ending with the same amount of 3-star guys as Penn State, but of course from a march larger pool.

Of course, our 3-star retention rate sucked too, except ours came out of the more meager Penn State/Ohio State/Notre Dame budget. All told, we lost 10 guys: Quintin Patilla, Johnny Sears, Brandon Logan, Quintin Woods, Artis Chambers, Chris Richards, Carson Butler, Chris McLaurin, Adrian Witty (who may make it onto the 2010 haul) and Marrell Evans. Most, but not all, of those guys transferred when they saw playing time disappearing. All but Witty (who may end up not counting) were pre-Rich Rod guys.

But this ship can't sink!

She's made of iron, sir! I assure you, she can... and she will. It is a mathematical certainty.


To help put Michigan's attrition in perspective, let's look at it by class:

  AVERAGE Michigan Alabama MSU Notre Dame Ohio State Penn State
2005 33.33% 0.00% 36.84% 30.77% 37.50% 54.55% 33.33%
2006 67.95% 63.64% 53.85% 61.11% 90.00% 76.92% 69.23%
2007 77.42% 66.67% 60.00% 90.00% 85.71% 72.73% 100.00%
2008 87.50% 62.50% 85.71% 90.91% 100.00% 81.82% 100.00%
2009 88.24% 90.91% 73.33% 91.67% 100.00% 100.00% 81.82%

Here's what the attrition looks like next to two of our three annual rivals:


I postulated in the opening diary that not having any old guys around was hurting us. It seems our competition did much better. Ohio State still has over half of its 2005 on the roster as 5th year seniors. We have none. Other than us outliers, everyone else has about a third of their oldest class around.

Of the seniors, we are blessed with 63 percent, which looks good against Bama's mass exodus (under 54 percent), but is sub-par nonetheless. Notre Dame still has 90 percent of its 2006 class.

The one place where Michigan is up against the average is in true freshmen, the one spot it hurts the least to lose guys. Our 2008 class stands out for premature desolation -- that is something that could likely hurt us down the road.

You can be blasé about some things, Rose, but not about Titanic


So before we start ripping into Michigan recruiting and retention, and assigning blame (yes, I will do this before we're done), let's get an important thing out of the way:

There is still talent here, and will still be talent here.

Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren are about as great of players as you could ever ask for, and Mike Martin and Craig Roh are on that same path. Ryan Van Bergen has been everything expected. Steve Brown has come a long way to be effective at a position nobody may have ever imagined for him. 4-star recruits Jonas Mouton and Mike Williams have shown themselves to be prone to mistakes, but are effective players (usually) when protected from having to play defensive quarterback.

The point is, most teams, as we shall see, don't get Grahams and Warrens and Martins and Rohs and Van Bergens. They have to pray their precious few blue chips end up more like Warren and less like Jonas Mouton, while waiting for their legacy 3-stars (Woolfolk) and athlete fliers (Ezeh) and a cascade of JT Floyds to get competent.

Michigan isn't "most teams." We can recruit with the big dogs. When times are good, we can reasonably expect most of the defensive positions to be filled with upperclassman 4-star talent or better, with young 4-stars and maybe a few diamonds in the rough pushing them for playing time.

However, as we shall see, you cannot reasonably expect your 4-stars to all pan out. You need backup plans. You need the dudes.

So...What Happened?

A horrible confluence of events:

  1. Michigan had generally small recruiting classes
  2. Those defensive recruiting classes were about on par with Penn State anyway, and well below those of Ohio State
  3. Michigan had exceptionally high attrition from its 2005 to 2008 classes.
  4. Attrition disproportionately attacked our higher-rated players.
  5. Attrition disproportionately attacked our older players
  6. Of Michigan's 3-star recruits, a disproportionately few ended up as contributors

This all resulted in a generally young defense with a good but well-short-of-the-competition retention of high-end talent, and pretty much zero in the way of backup talent.

When the attrition is cut out, we are visibly deficient next to our competition. Of the guys we've kept on, every one that is a true freshman, or didn't work out, cuts further into our ability to field a team. In fact, let's run that same thing again with just upperclassmen (classes 2005 to 2007):

  MSU Ohio State Alabama Penn State Notre Dame Michigan
6.1 0 1 0 1 1 2
6.0 0 0 2 1 2 1
5.9 1 3 3 6 3 2
5.8 2 9 5 4 6 2
5.7 2 2 3 2 4 2
5.6 3 1 3 2 2 2
5.5 5 5 4 4 0 2
5.4 3 0 0 1 0 0
5.3 0 1 1 0 0 0
5.2 5 1 0 0 0 0
5.1 2 0 0 0 0 0
5.0 1 1 2 1 0 0
Total 24 24 23 22 18 13

And there you have it: the guys that Michigan has left are good, but there are only 13 recruited upperclassmen left on the roster, spread out evenly between middling 3-star and blue chip. Note that every other comparative school has a great big chunk between 5.7 and 6.0 -- that's high 3-star to just-below-a-blue chip. Everyone but Notre Dame has another hump of 3-star guys as backups. The next closest rival is Notre Dame, which is considered an incredibly young team. Everyone else has over 22, i.e., enough scholarship athletes left on the roster in the junior years or above to fill the two-deep.

The one thing we have on everyone else: two 5-stars. That's Graham and Warren. Indeed, we spared no expense in a luxurious 1st class cabin, but our ship is visibly lacking in the hull department.

Who's to Blame?

If you want a short way of saying it, we had Alabama-level attrition from Penn State-sized classes. We lost the bulk of our upper classmen to injuries and Clearing House snafus and sad lack of talent, and couldn't recruit or hold onto anybody for depth. We missed opportunities to find diamonds in the rough while looking for new coaches. We didn't recruit a safety for a decade.

No one solitary factor caused this. A small recruiting class is fine if you still get highly rated players who stick around and pan out (Notre Dame, Penn State), or if you have a lot of 3-stars behind them from which you can draw le creme (Michigan State, Alabama).

And (except for musing along the way) I failed to even touch on several other very important factors, such as the fact that Michigan had four different defensive coordinators over this period, or that it seems an inordinate of our recruits ended up overrated.

But that doesn't mean everyone's absolved. There were a number of points along the way when, without hindsight, a better job probably should have been done:

On Lloyd, and his staff:

  • Someone should have recognized the weak depth at safety back when Marlin Jackson had to move there for a season. Lloyd let the positition go unaddressed in recruiting for years, which killed us in 2005 (burning Brandon Harrison's redshirt in the process).
  • And then he came back with Jonas Mouton and Stevie Brown, two outside linebackers, meaning in the recruiting year immediatly after "Safety Armageddon" we got ZERO defensive backs.
  • Ron English had (still has) a strange belief that Johnny Sears was a great future cornerback, even after The Horror.

On Rich Rodriguez, and his staff:

  • 2008's defensive recruiting was a page right out of Notre Dame: a spattering of 4-stars, but no "diamonds in the rough" discovered, no guys brought in for a certain scheme. Two never made it to campus, and a third has been kicked off the team. I have to believe there were enough 3-star speedy defensive backs who would leap at a Michigan offer if we put in the research. The coaching change, and then RR's focus on the (even more depleted) offense didn't allow that to happen.
  • Shafer. We spent a year with a defensive coordinator who was dismissed at the end of it, meaning we were right back where we started, minus a (rather paltry) graduating class, at the start of 2009

Is There Any Hope?

Michigan's Obi Ezeh, top, and J.T. Floyd, right, team up to bring down  Michigan State University wide receiver Mark Dell after a short gain during first quarter action of Saturday afternoon, October 3rd's clash between the in-state rivals at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing. 
Lon Horwedel |

Not for this year, no.

And not for next year either.

That is to say that there's no hope in this study for Michigan's current defense to suddenly turn into a Top 15 defense that Michigan has traditionally thrived on. There isn't even an endless cupboard of 3-star guys from whom one or two could emerge to fill holes (a la MSU). We're basically down to walk-ons who can tackle, and praying nobody runs by them at this point.

Basically what this exercise shows is that we got triple-whammied by relying on too few highly rated guys not to bust, relying on a normal number of recruits to stick around to graduation, and having some upperclassmen around who could surprise late in their careers as contributors. You can't plug iceburg-sized holes and fix years of mistakes and bad luck with one slick move.

Based on what's left on the roster, in 2011 we may end up being better (but not deeper) than Penn State and Michigan State, but not by much, and almost certainly not better than Ohio State, Notre Dame, or Alabama. However, if our attrition rates come down from their ludicrous highs (which can be expected), and we get ourselves some nice classes, there is great hope for 2012. Also, I expect Notre Dame's silly-high retention rate to drop once people give up on Weiss, or players next year decide they don't fit into Tenuta's schemes, though I can't deny they have the basis for a pretty solid team.

For the rest of this year, I recommend, no matter who the opponent may be, the strategy we take into every game starts with a burned ship and ends with Tate Forcier throwing jump balls deep down-field. The offense has shown it is quite capable of awesome. No more Lloyd ball -- not in 2009, not in 2010.

We are a team that can get torched by Illinois and Indiana and Eastern Michigan, thus our strategy must be to always torch more.

As for the future, well, another class full of defensive backs and linebackers can't hurt. This kind of bad is the kind that seeps deep into next year, but at least in 2010 we should have what's left of the 2008 class and some of the 2009 class ready to contribute, and also that rare second year under the same coordinator. Roh and Martin and Van Bergen are a defensive line we can bank on. The defense will lag behind the offense by a year, but the situation isn't actually as desperate as it was there. On the other hand, there's no Rich Rodriguez/Calvin Magee schematic/coaching advantage for the defense to coax greater early returns, or promise future greatness.

In the long term, defense is solved by lots of recruiting. I suggest going for lots and lots of fast guys, using the carrot of early playing time.

Screw the look of the deck. Screw the extra 3rd class cabins. I want bulkheads that go all the way up, and close up tight, and reinforced steel second hulls, and lifeboats, lots of lifeboats.

We need the dudes.


As Delta Tau Chi men Lawrence Kroger, John Blutarsky and Kent Dorfman illustrate above, there are two ways of making sure your House always has enough good brothers to stay strong:

  1. Bring in lots of fellas. "Pinto" and "Flounder" may look like pretty useless guys, but you never know: one of them might have access to a car that, when modified and matured, will save your whole fraternity.
  2. Keep 'em there. "Bluto" here is a 7th year senior. While the NCAA frowns upon 7th years for guys who aren't Mormon quarterbacks, you can get away with being choosy in your class selection if you can stay true to your mission and keep "Otter" from chasing tail outside your doors, or "Boon" from listening to his girlfriend, or "D-Day" from riding off into the sunset. The young guys are the future of your program but it's the oldest guys who make the house.

In Michigan terms, this means if you find yourself with only a few quality guys and not much else, the entropy of the recruiting-to-player process will kill you. You don't just need enough 4-stars to fill the roster spots, but enough also to cover injuries to good players, and the inevitability that some guys won't pan out, or will get injured, or will transfer.

I said there would be hope. So here it is: Rich Rod seems to be way ahead of me on this. We are in on a lot of defensive back prospects, including 4-stars aplenty. Not only this, but starting last summer, RR packed a cannon with scholarship offers and has been shooting them into every high school defensive unit in America. The result has been an odd recruiting year, with guys jumping onto the board with high interest at crazy times through the year. If it's dudes we need, it seems RR and GERG are already on it.

Advice for Further Study

I posted a copy of the Excel spreadsheet above. I would love it if someone would add more teams to the study, or qualify the recruits by creating a new category for later-career ranking. In that, I mean find some way to reassess each player based on his performance thus far against what we should expect from a player of any given Rivals Rating. I'd like to see how Michigan stacked up in picking up guys who would come above versus below expectations.



November 2nd, 2009 at 9:32 AM ^

I agree on the depression. It is hard to remember that each year brings new guys stepping up and that next year may be better just because of having the same D-Coordinator.

The scariest part to me is that Kovacs is starting over Vlad. They are both freshmen I think, and Vlad is yet another highly rated recruit that may not pan out.

Michigan is at least 3-4 years from another top 20 defense IME. Some upgrades at position coach might help a lot (ahem, Hobson) but we really need GERG to work out. He is in a bad spot too. If next year's defense is as bad as it looks to be, fans are going to be calling for GERG's head. If we have to go to another new defensive system after next year our defense may not be good again for a decade.

I am begging the Angry Michigan **** Hating Gods to lay off next week. A win and a bowl bid will put this team's development back on track at least.

Number 7

November 2nd, 2009 at 1:00 PM ^

Nice analysis, but recognize that it's coaching neutral. Is it possible that we'd have fared a little bit better -- either in terms of panning out or in terms of retention -- if our positional coaches were better?

Related to that: the signature defensive flaw of the past 2 (and maybe 4) years are safeties and LBs who either read the play poorly or overcommit even if they've read it right. Thus the vulnerability to big plays the last two years, although I think I first noticed this with none other than Brandon Harrison himself back in his Freshman year, and remember thinking to myself -- he'll get better with that sort of stuff, but he's just young now. He didn't.

So, same problem, multiple years -- cutting across multiple DCs. Has position coaching been any more stable?

West Texas Blue

November 1st, 2009 at 11:40 PM ^

Damn, that was one hell of a research job. So here's an interesting question: should we oversign and heavily reduce the number of 5th year scholarships given out in order to boost our defensive numbers? I don't like Saban's way of doing things (hope kids will fuck up or at first sign of trouble boot them), but I'm not totally against not giving 5th year scholarships to players who won't be making on field contributions. What do people think about these guys?

1) Greg Banks - Really hasn't contributed much. Guess I could see us keeping him for depth purposes, but that's about it. Looks like Roh, Van Bergen, and Martin will have the DL positions locked down.

2) Patterson - see Banks

3) Dorrestein - the right side of the line has been a seive all year long, and Dorrestein hasn't impressed when he's played. With all the big OL recruits hopefully ready to play (Omameh, Mealer, Lewan, Washington), would it better to get another defensive recruit in at his expense?

4) Ferrera - From DT to OL, I don't recall seeing him on the field this year. With the big OL recruits ready, I rather build for the long term instead of playing a 5th year senior who isn't that good.

5) Ezeh - This is prolly a very debatable one. I have never been sold on Ezeh. Ever since his first action in '07, I've not been impressed. He's an old school Big Ten LB in an era of spread offenses which require LBs with alot of speed. Ezeh makes poor decisions, is slow, and doesn't look like he's improved at all in 3 years. With Leach replacing him for all of the Illinois game, I wouldn't be surprised to see Leach start for rest of the year. Hope that JB Fitzgerald or an incoming LB recruit grabs the ILB position next year.


November 1st, 2009 at 11:47 PM ^

I'm guessing they'll be back mainly from a depth issue. They rotate in the second stringers a good amount so I'm guessing they will want to make sure they have enough bodies in case the injury bug would hit the dline.

Also, I don't think UM is using all 85 of their scholarships and don't think they'll be there next either. If UM was using all 85 scholarships, then Banks and Patterson might not be back. But as things stand now, I'm guessing they will be.


November 1st, 2009 at 11:33 PM ^

First off, great job on these two pieces!!!

What gets me though is the lack of fundmentals that our defense shows (and has shown for years now) - bad pursuit angles/not staying in lane on pursuit, poor tackling, etc. Even with the setbacks on defense with recruiting and attrition, if the defense had 11 guys who were solid fundamentally we probably wouldn't be having this discussion, or least to the extent/depth that we are.

When I watch some of the teams that have really solid defenses, I see players who are fundamentally solid. They aren't missing to many tackles, they aren't taking bad pursuit angles. Are there some mistakes in these areas by the really good defenses - yeah, but not often. You don't need a defense of 11 studs to be good. You need 11 guys who are fundamentally solid. If you've got a group of guys out there who are solid fundamentally, you're probably going to have a good defense. If you've got a defense that is fundamentally solid and happen to have a few studs and guys that are real athletic (quick and fast), you're probably going to have a really good to great defense.

winged helmet

November 1st, 2009 at 11:33 PM ^

Do you have any data on the number of recruits who made it to the NFL or are most likely bound for the NFL (either as Juniors or Seniors)?

Also, did NFL-bound players add to your attrition numbers?

Again, Thanks for an incredible diary.


November 2nd, 2009 at 8:04 AM ^

Yeah, NFL-bound players added to the attrition.

I had a whole deleted section about different kinds of attrition, but it would have taken a lot more research. I Google stalked a lot of the " NOT ON ROSTER " contingent, but not all of them.

Basically, I figure that attrition is going to hit teams regardless, and not all of it is the fault of somebody. So instead I compare them against each other.

The only team hit inordinately by this kind of attrition seemed to be Penn State -- and that only because they had some great classes in 2005 and 2006 that sent guys like Justin King away.

In an earlier Michigan, by the way, I think Lloyd gets Justin King. We used to dominate Penn State in our head-to-heads: Henne, Marlin, Breaston, McClintock, et al. Now they pull great linebackers out of Birmingham, MI.


November 1st, 2009 at 11:50 PM ^

This diary makes me feel better about Rich Rodriguez, but dear God, it does not make me feel good about the immediate future. Ohio State has eleven more four star guys on defense than we do. An entire defense worth. That is a sobering statistic


November 2nd, 2009 at 12:01 AM ^

from which to pick 11 starters. Depth and rotation notwithstanding, let's say it takes 4 recruits to provide one starter for such competition. If Michigan was recruited with a similar expectation for starters (that is, you recruit 4 to get 1), they'd have 7 starters available based on the 28 currently on roster. Somewhat coincidentally, I think that you could probably form a consensus around the problems on defense being mostly the fault of Mouton, Ezeh/Leach, Williams, and Kovacs. If that ratio is useful, then the implication is that any position that doesn't go 4 deep with scholarship players runs serious risk of being MAC level but with less experience.

Also, I'd expect in general far less attrition from teams with lower caliber recruits. Experience and age are far more valuable when you're choosing among basically similar athletes (if the difference between an 18 and 22 year old football players is anything like baseball, then it can mean a world of difference in terms of performance). Teams at a talent disadvantage need to rely on cultivating veterans to make up for the fact (presumably) that it takes more recruits to gain a Big Ten starter. This also means that Michigan is potentially handicapped when it comes to facing lesser talent because of the sheer numbers problem; the lesser talented but well coached will have a significant well of older players. In sum, it seems like our best talent on the field is as good as anyone's...but so too are our worst on as bad as any.

...I'd still want to see the rest of the Big Ten done, though.


November 2nd, 2009 at 8:13 AM ^

Thanks, colin

That's a pretty good summary.

Except it's not really 4 to 1. Alabama is throwing of your numbers. I think it's more like 3 to get 1. I really want to see someone go through and do that further analysis. Then we could see things like "80 percent of senior 4-stars work out" etc.

What I'm saying is that if we knew how to change expectation (rivals rating) into a progression of contribution expectation, and used the averages above for typical attrition, we could start guessing how good future defensive units would be!


November 2nd, 2009 at 6:49 PM ^

I got the starter info from the bentley library site. It does not include special teams starters or recruits. g-doc:…

In any given game in any given year from '02-'08, Michigan started on average:

True Frosh - 1
RS Fr/Tr So - 3
RS So/Tr JR - 6
RS Jr/Tr Sr - 7
RS Sr - 5

The '08 numbers don't really skew Lloyd's averages significantly, so you can extrapolate that as what Lloyd did without missing anything. By contrast, the starters by recruiting class according to the depth chart for Purdue:

'09 - 2 (Tate, Roh)
'08 - 3 (Koger, Odoms, Martin)
'07 - 5 (Warren, Woolfolk, Van Bergen, Williams, Hemingway, Huyge)
'06 - 9 (Minor/CBrown, Mathews, Graham, SBrown, Ezeh, Mouton, Schilling, Dorrestein)
'05 - 2 (Ortmann, Moosman)


November 2nd, 2009 at 12:14 AM ^

Great post man. Also...

Jack: "Rose?"
Rose: "Jack?!?"
Jack: "Rose!!" (wash, rinse, repeat for 3 hours)

In the Titanic metaphor, RichRod seems like Jack, and Carr seems like Rose. Considering Jack dies at the end, this probably doesn't bode well for Rich's future.

MMB 82

November 2nd, 2009 at 1:25 AM ^

Come back! COME BACK!

In a gestalt sort of way, I had the general feeling that the defense was playing better than last year's, but with the sudden deflating of the offense over the last two games to 2008 levels of production, I was wondering if the added strain of having to now try to carry the team is also a factor? I believe we are starting to see too many 3-and-outs on the offensive side of things now. Last year thru the first 7 games UM was averaging 18.6 points/game, and thru the first 7 this year 37.3; Suddenly over the past two games we are barely into double digits, and scoring only one (1) touchdown/game. The defense doesn't fail as much when they have more cushion and less time on the field.


November 2nd, 2009 at 1:43 AM ^

I feel like a cheap tipper trying to slip out the door at a fine restaurant, for all I can offer you for this great compilation is a humble +1. Please accept it, for it is all that I have to give.

Wolverine In Exile

November 2nd, 2009 at 8:26 AM ^

That the MMB now needs to do the "Titanic" halftime show again?

Seriously, great work. Once again we now know:

1) As much as we make fun of JoePa, there is something to be said for continuity and consistant coaching. I think that is a HUGE factor in the number of 3-stars sticking around for 5 years and providing quality depth.

2) Saban is EVIL. Not just run of the mill Ravishing Rick Rude or 'The Natural' Butch Reed evil, but no-holds-barred Undertaker sacrificing no-name jobbers EVIL. And he's really good at it.

3) Our DefCoor rotating wheel of death has KILLED us. And it won't get better for 2-3 years. Notice this started when we let go Jim Herrman- no I'm not saying Hermann ("OMG A QB that can run! How do you defend that? Paul McGuire says that's the hardest thing to defend against!") should have stayed, but before that Hermann was there since 95/96 I think. We are now in the position of hoping/praying a walk-on D player blows up all Stuart Schweigert on us (sorry I was having a hard time coming up with walk-on defenders who turned into good college level defenders who sniff the NFL with the 'hard work makes me a good player' mantra. I don't even know if Schweigert was a walk-on)

10th yr Senior

November 3rd, 2009 at 12:47 PM ^

Actually, Schweigert wasn't a walk-on, he was pretty well recruited just like Charles Rogers was. They were high school rivals and some recruiting analysts were intrigued to see if they would go to the same school or to different ones to continue facing off against each other. Sorry, no link.


November 2nd, 2009 at 10:24 AM ^

But then again, all it did was show how we got here, not the actual here. As always sir, I tip my cap to you and beg that you keep up the good work.


November 2nd, 2009 at 10:59 AM ^

I re-read it this morning and realized a big section of the "So...What Happened" section (the most important part of the whole study!!!) somehow got cut out.

It's back in now. Weird.


November 2nd, 2009 at 11:12 AM ^

The colorful charts have the 3rd grader in me happy whereas the adult realizes that, while colorful, these same cool charts are telling me my favorite team sucks on defense. One more win please.


November 2nd, 2009 at 11:22 AM ^

Great work.

It appears the grim reality is this is not a problem that is going to be fixed overnight. Likewise, it is something that will likely linger on a few seasons. Hopefully the pieces are being put in place to have a championship defense again. But our recent defensive recruiting has not been very stellar so far. If we finish strong though, we could be in place for a tremendous defense in a few years.