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 11:38 AM ^

If all goes well, the ninja wielding spread n shred should start putting up tons of points starting next year. Hopefully this means that we have a lot of early leads and teams have to become one-dimensional and pass pass pass against us. The t-shirt gun of offer letters to defensive back needs more ammo I think...

Amazing job on the diary btw! Great stuff and really puts into perspective where we are as a program on the defensive side of the ball.

Sgt. Wolverine

November 2nd, 2009 at 12:46 PM ^

I nominate this post for the Best Worst Graphs Ever award. Best Worst because they're extraordinarily visually appealing, but only until you look at the information they contain -- then they're (mostly) terrible horrible no-good graphs.

Seriously: I do want this post to win some sort of award. This is great, great work. Very fascinating to read.


November 2nd, 2009 at 1:41 PM ^

It provides some great justification and reasoning for our current predicament. But the one issue that continues to bother me and raises questions about Coach Rod and his leadership, is the lack of improvement as the season has progressed.

We knew the cupboard was bare, we knew they were what we thought they were...but are we seeing progress this season from wk 1 to wk 9? I don't think so and that's what is raising the flags and alarms for reasonable fans and staunch supporters of the program through thick and thin. I don't care if we start 5 walk-ons and get rolled to a 3-9 season, if i see improvement. I am not seeing improvement and that's alarming.

The other concern i have is that Coach Rod wears his feelings on his sleeve. He's an open book and there is a genuine appreciation for this type of personality and openness. But it is not always the best demeanor for a young, inexperienced and highly impressionable football team. His brooding over the missed oppty to score from first and goal from the one, carried over to the team in my opinion and it snowballed from there. It seems pulling aside the O and D and hammering into them that they re-group and rise to the challenges immediately would have done a lot of good. I could see even burning a timeout after Illinois got the first first down from the one yard line or at the next TV timeout. We all know the psyche of 18-22 year olds is a very fragile balance of confidence, doubt and momentum. Coach Rod knows this much better than all of us and yet he didn't seem to do anything about it in Champaign.


November 2nd, 2009 at 8:14 PM ^

I think the part about RR's demeanor is exactly right. During the game when that happened I was thunking to myself that many of what we consider the top coaches would have been pacing the bench, yelling and encouraging the team to get back in it. Players often feed off of their coaches, and I think when we get down we often see RR get down too. I'm not sure that is the right approach.


November 2nd, 2009 at 2:47 PM ^

the difficulty of JC tranfers into M means there are no quick fixes on the horizon. Thanks, Misopogon, for your data collection effort, graphing expertise and storytelling wizardry.


November 2nd, 2009 at 3:33 PM ^

Phenomenal post, which utilized sound statistics to discover the story, and then support the findings only when all things pointed to the result. I know we have some other good excel guys on this blog, but I find their logic and methodology isn't as zoned in as what you used.

The sad news is the end finding. Nothing we can do about this for 2-3 more years. We are going to be a mediocre team who has to win with points. My only fear is that we won't stay the course and all these issues will be further exasperated by a coaching change that we cannot afford.

I was not a Rich Rod fan at the onset, but I think we have seen some good things. I feel he and his coaches are trying to lead the right way, and we must give him time to make the changes and get the recruits to be successful. Brining in any other coach will just result in what we had last year when we attempted to put square pegs in circle holes. While I was cautious early on, I think the prescription for the next 3 years, is "All In," and trust that we'll get the results we all hoped for with his hire.


November 2nd, 2009 at 4:06 PM ^

An ON NOTICE board and everything! You really pulled out all the stops on this one. (Whatever happened to those, by the way? And is Spain still in the doghouse? Inquiring minds want to know.)

Not much else to day, except damn, that's depressing. But +53 for the research.

Tha Stunna

November 2nd, 2009 at 4:39 PM ^

Great post; easily worthy of front page inclusion and the best diary I've ever seen on this site (even surpassing your first one).

I do have one question. The line on GERG when he was hired was that he can coach a good defense with good talent and coaches a bad defense with bad talent; is he really the right DC for us? Would it be worth yet another transition to find someone who can manage a defense that's lacking talent? Preferably someone who can coach a decent secondary this time around, otherwise Shafer would have looked pretty good.


November 2nd, 2009 at 4:49 PM ^

A new DC won't help that much. It will just lead to more inconsistency and uncertainty. Look at the point of the post and its predecessor. The cupboard was nearly empty. As the old saying goes, garbage in, garbage out (please note - not referring to all players as garbage).

We just don't have the players right now, so even if we got a premiere defensive coach, he would still likely have problems. The players (or lack thereof) are the problem right now, not the coaches/schemes. Yes, coaches can coach up certain players (of which we have seen a few I'd argue in Stevie Brown), but they can't make up for an overall lack of talent.


November 2nd, 2009 at 6:03 PM ^

This, laid out in cold, hard facts, is why this program isnt elite now and hasnt been elite for quite some time.

I think there is a word for that. Anyone?

We had a great group of defenders leave in 2006. We had nobody waiting in the wings to replace them. We had another set of defensive players, albeit a smaller set and less talented overall, leave after 2007 and had nobody on the roster to replace them.

This should be required reading.

It amazed me this weekend how many comments here, at other places and on the radio were made saying that you cant use a 'lack of talent' argument to explain what's been happening with the team's performance.


blue note

November 2nd, 2009 at 6:07 PM ^

Wow, excellent work - this is definitely the best piece I have ever seen on this site.

Not to be all I-told-you-so, but I know I'm not the only one who absolutely saw this coming. Anyone remember the spring game? We couldn't field a defensive 2 deep of scholarship players. Vlad was starting at safety... and he wasn't even a freshman yet.

For me, (probably) the worst news of the entire off season was that Brandon Smith was done at safety and stuck at linebacker. Everyone said he was a mega talent and I thought he could blossom with Warren helping back there. I thought that was a huge blow.

Also, to me, one of the worst signs for a college team is when seniors and 5th years who are terrible are getting tons and tons of reps, even late into the season - that is what happened with Harrison and Stewart last year. That was a big time sign that there wasn't much talent waiting in the wings at safety. And bingo, a year later we have a walk on freshman at safety.

So I feel like while this sucks, we saw it coming, probably like ND fans saw it coming when Ty was signing players who only had offers from Northern Illinois (I'm actually giving credence to the excuses my ND friend used to throw out....sigh....).

The FannMan

November 2nd, 2009 at 6:22 PM ^

I was in awe when I saw the first side by side graph. This is incredible work.

I just noticed Brian's editor's note about this being a PhD thesis. Too right. You should now be referred to as "Dr. Misopogon." Feel free to bitch slap "Dr." Lou Holtz anytime. (No really, do it.)

As to your conclusions - there is no way to argue it. Shit, shit, shit. Please score 40 points a game, please.


November 2nd, 2009 at 7:44 PM ^

trying to get defensive recruits to commit to Michigan. It doesn't help that they have 3 different DC in 3 years plus the lack of success on the field as of late.

Offensive recruits committing to Michigan are easier to find because of RR's reputation and his success as a coach in coaching offense.


November 3rd, 2009 at 6:52 PM ^

I would hazard a guess that the reputation and success of the University of Michigan is every bit as sparkling as RR's rep as an offensive coach. It's never been a problem, in my lifetime anyway, to get talented players to come to Michigan. Offense or Defense. The lack of talent on defense is startling and a serious issue.


November 2nd, 2009 at 7:37 PM ^

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!

Vindication :)

The only issue I thought might crop up from your stats was relying on star ratings too much but the more I read the less I thought it was an actual issue. Very interesting, learned a few things I hadn't noticed before.


November 2nd, 2009 at 7:37 PM ^

+1,000 cocktails to you sir.

From what I'm also getting off of this series: people need to stop bitching about 3* players. They may not be highly rated, and yeah, you'd like to see 4*+ players, but damnit, we need all the warm bodies we can get at this point.

Also: Graphs are pretty. I like them.


November 2nd, 2009 at 8:00 PM ^

I think a peripheral conclusion we can draw from this study is that the consolation we take in a scholarship opening up when a backup player transfers isn't much consolation at all. With our rate of attrition the player that came in the transferring player's stead hasn't had an overwhelming chance of sticking either. Unless the player is Cone-like buried, there really is no positive in this. Artis Chambers and Cobrani Mixon type players are the backbone of successful teams.


November 2nd, 2009 at 10:32 PM ^

What. Are college athletes unionized? Find a way to cut non-producers. Allow athletic failures to continue their educations at Michigan by objective academic criteria and at their own expense but not on our dole. You want to keep a scholarship, kid, then you had best step up and deliver the goods. That is exactly what I dealt with as an athlete on a non-scholarship athletic situation at Michigan. I swept the floors of Crisler to pay for travel expenses. Spoiled brats. Do or do not, there is no try. Ditto for coaching staff. Loyalty goes only so far in this world. Earn it athlete and coach alike.


November 3rd, 2009 at 12:03 AM ^

the ship's stern rose high into the air like a skyscaper? A dude near the top lost his grip, and on his way down, he struck a railing or other hard object with a sickening smack.

On Saturday, I felt like that guy.

I agree with Brian that Coach Rodriguez should get at least four and I would say even five years. The excellent work in this post demonstrates that he inherited problems that will take time to fix.


November 3rd, 2009 at 2:07 AM ^

We need more posts like this and less negativity on this blog. Please. This post lays out exactly why we have issues and laying blame on a second year head coach needs to stop. It is utterly obvious that there is a huge depth problem on both sides of the ball. It is also utterly obvious that there has been some huge improvements over last year. I expect there will be further improvements next year. That doesn't mean we'll be up there with OSU or USC, but we'll see more consistency and growth as this team continues to add depth and experience. Let's get some perspective here and let the coaching staff do its job.

We've all had to deal with enough negativity from other sources and I don't think we need to here it here too.


November 3rd, 2009 at 2:39 AM ^

Does anyone know of players that were athletes coming out of HS that became solid defensive players? I know with our recruiting in Florida we should be able to target athletes (really offer them a false promise of playing WR/RB and then ask that they switch to CB/OLB/S) and fill holes on the d-side. My question though is 1. will that/has that work(ed) and 2. will this only fill the backfield and the S. Brown spots and leave open the d-line and LB spots?



November 3rd, 2009 at 7:06 AM ^

This is some grade A info on why the Defense is so bad. Nice work, now I have to figure out how to summarize this for when one of my buckeye friends ask's me. "what's wrong with Michigan?"

Oaktown Wolverine

November 3rd, 2009 at 10:13 AM ^

Though I think this is all very nice, and obviously the work of a very dedicated fan, I think we should not put too much emphasis on the star rating of recruits. According to, since 2005, I don't see Cincinatti, TCU, Boise State, Houston, Utah, Wisconsin and South Florida with ANY top 25 recruiting classes, yet are currently in the BCS top 25. Iowa had a #11 recruiting class in 2005, Miami and Arizona had two top 25 recruiting classes, and Pittsburg had one top 25 recruiting class, also since 2005.

The reason people play the game is that you do not win it paper. Sure, Alabama might kick Kent States ass 99% of the time, but then a team like Cincinnati, with an #94 recruiting class in 2005, #102 in 2006, #89 in 2007, #67 in 2008, and #60 in 2009 can get a capable coach, and all of a sudden they are undefeated against mediocre teams.

steve sharik

November 3rd, 2009 at 10:44 AM ^

The upstarts you mentioned, however, are competing against teams w/similar talent (in terms of star ratings). Cincinnati, TCU, Boise, Houston, Wisconsin, and USF aren't beating teams with superior star-rated recruits on a weekly basis.

Why are Ohio State and Penn State regularly at the top of the Big Ten? Florida, Alabama, and LSU at the top of the SEC? USC owning the Pac-10? Texas, Oklahoma and the Big 12? It's largely correlated to the star ratings of their recruiting classes.

While it's easy to point to 2-star recruits like Jerry Hughes of TCU who was a diamond in the rough, in the big picture, recruiting rankings matter.

And that's why GERG is going to have to hit the recruiting trail hard himself and sell himself and his system. His assistants just don't have the credibility.


November 3rd, 2009 at 11:21 AM ^

Which was also why MSU was included in the analysis. The point wasn't about whether stars were the end all be all the point was that other teams who have had good defenses have lots of bodies on defense (especially older guys). We have no old guys, and we have no bodies period. This was something that RR inherited and the only thing that will fix this is recruiting.

This isn't some quick fix, a coach or a scheme isn't going to change this and be able to be a miracle worker. This is going to take years to undo and it can only be done with recruiting not just 4/5 stars but recruiting for both talent and depth.


November 3rd, 2009 at 10:18 AM ^

Great analysis although I might disagree with a few points for the most part this is a home run. As you indicate, part of the problem with the D-fense is purely continuity. Possibly, our attrition rate would not be so bad if RR hadn't run Ron English out of town and if we were not on our third DC in 2 years. I don't have stats to back it up or to look at when we lost that 46% of the recruits on D. I don't and never have bought into the theory that our recruits were over hyped. To me the rankings out of high school are a rough barameter of talent, but that the real work comes from developing the players in college. That is why I think one of our biggest issues is the lack of continuity at DC. As bad as we are on D-fense I shiver to think that we might lose another DC after this year and start over again. If he had to do it over again, I wonder if RR would have kept on Ron English. All RR should need once his offense is in place and working as expected is a servicable defense. At this point we are a rudderless ship on D and I'm not sure when this will be fixed.

Huntington Wolverine

November 3rd, 2009 at 11:27 AM ^

While I agree that continuity with English would've been great I think it might be a little rosy to think that English would have been willing to stay under the guy that took the job he wanted.

It's been mentioned before on the blog but just from a basic transition/leadership framework, there would've been a lot of tension if English has stayed (and yes I'm aware there was tension anyway with Shafer and the staff).