Rich Rodriguez became head coach at Michigan on December 17, 2007. National signing day in 2008 was February 6th. The first recruiting class and roster/recruit evaluation period that Coach Rodriguez had was all of one game and 2 and a half months. [Ed-M: I put current starters in bold, regular contributors in itals].
Defensive recruits in that first class were:
- Cissoko - got in lots of trouble, now gone
- Demens - got in some trouble, now starting and possibly good
- Fitzgerald - behind Roh on the depth chart, possibly a career backup
- Floyd - starting but ideally would not be
- Taylor Hill - transferred immediately
- Martin - beast
- Brandon Smith - transferred
- Marcus Witherspoon - didn't make it to campus, went to Rutgers, washed out
I tend to look at this class as a bit of a lost class due to the coaching transition. Most players committed to Michigan for Carr, stayed despite the change even though they didn't know the new staff much (and that new staff didn't know them well either), and some left for whatever reason.
2009 - First Full Rodriguez Class
- Isaiah Bell - possible career backup
- Will Campbell - now on offense
- Vlad - transferred
- Cam Gordon - starting safety/spur, redshirt freshman, former wide receiver
- Thomas Gordon - sometime starter, sometime back up at spur, plays regularly, redshirt freshman
- Brandin Hawthorne - special teams
- Mike Jones - backup linebacker, true sophomore, regular backup snaps before season ending injury
- LaLota - transferred
- Roh - pre-Beast on the line, a bit lost as pass defending linebacker
- Justin Turner - transferred
- Witty - never qualified
Another class of mixed results, some guys playing regularly, even starting, others non-factors thus far, and a couple of guys who are no longer on the team.
- Ash - redshirting (long-term project)
- Avery - former high school quarterback playing regularly as a nickelback
- Black - regular in the defensive end rotation
- Cullen Christian - regular in the cornerback rotation
- Dorsey - we know how that ended
- Josh Furman - redshirting
- Carvin - starter at spur/safety when healthy
- Kinard - did not qualify, may be in 2011 class
- Paskorz - redshirting
- M-Rob - recently moved to linebacker, saw snaps v. PSU
- Davion Rogers - left school (academic)
- Jake Ryan -redshirting
- Talbott (DB) - in the regular cornerback rotation
- Talbott (DT) - redshirting
- Ray Vinopal - played sparingly before starting last week
- Ken Wilkins - redshirting
Now let's look at the guys who are playing on this year's defense:
Roh - prebeast Fitzgerald - backup Van Bergen - solid Big10 player Watson - career back up Martin - beast Patterson/Sagesse/Banks - average guys, probably wouldn't start or even play on good defenses Washington - switched to defense last week Black - true freshman Demens - new starter, doing ok, not much playing experience Ezeh - average at best starter now backing up Mouton - talented but inconsistent
Here's where it gets really bad: Gordons - redshirt freshmen Avery, M-Rob, Carvin, Cullen, Talbott, Vinopal - all true freshmen Grit Kovacs - redshirt sophomore former walk on Rogers - senior career back up at wide out and corner Floyd - redshirt sophomore, ok, probably not ready to be a starter
What does it mean? Seven true freshmen and two redshirt freshmen play regularly on defense, most of them in the secondary. The veterans (which I define as guys older than redshirt sophomores) total nine guys, about six of whom wouldn't be playing on a good defense. The defense is bad. This was likely to be the case even if Woolfolk's ankle hadn't blow'd up real good in fall camp. This may have even been the case if Donovan Warren had stayed.
What's the point? The players on the defense that are attributable to Coach Rodriguez and staff are primarily true and redshirt freshmen. I don't have some great metric or link that details the benefit of age and experience on defense but I think we can all agree that relying so heavily on first- and second-year players is a recipe for disaster. It's also one that we would be seeing even if nobody had transferred out or failed to qualify in the Rodriguez era.
Rodriguez Defenses at WVU (database at cfbstats.com only goes back to 2004)
2004: 339 ypg, 36th nationally, 20 ppg, 3.6 ypc, 107 opponent passer rating, 20 turnovers forced
2005: 311 ypg, 15th nationally, 17ppg, 2.9 ypc, 116 opponent passer rating, 21 turnovers forced
2006: 336 ypg, 62nd nationally, 17ppg, 3ypc, 125 opponent passer rating, 16 turnovers forced
2007: 302 ypg, 7th nationally, 18ppg, 3 ypc, 114 opponent passer rating, 24 turnovers forced
Michigan D 2010: 440 ypg, 106th nationally, 30ppg, 4 ypc, 141 opponent passer rating, 9 turnovers forced
So what's my point?
1. Expectations before the season were for a below-average defense even with a healthy Woolfolk. Then he got hurt, Jones got hurt, Demens may have missed the first half of the season due to off-field issues, now Martin is dinged and there is a parade of freshmen in the secondary. For those who are in the Penn State was the final straw camp, what changed in those three-ish hours from the previous 2 months of the season?
2. Coach Rodriguez has a resume that suggests he can build good defenses. At this point he has 2 and a half recruiting classes at Michigan. They won't be any good on defense if they have to rely on this many first and second year players. If you want to focus on the talent that was here when Coach Rodriguez took over, check out Misopogon's Decimated Defense series: http://mgoblog.com/diaries/decimated-defense and http://mgoblog.com/diaries/decimated-defense-part-ii-statisticating [Ed-M: and more recent followups where I said this year would suck, and then said this year does suck because half of the guys who were on the team when I said it would suck have either left, got injured, or just plain suck].
Nobody is happy with these results. Few people want to hear or have the patience to continue to hear, "its early," "they're young," "give him time." But this is simply the truth of the situation at this time. Look at the offense: mostly made up of guys who have been starting/playing significant snaps for all three years of the Rodriguez Era. They are putting up over 500 yards and over 30 points per game, and that's still with two sophomore quarterbacks. I still believe that Rodriguez will be great here but it will take until next year for the defense to be anyware close to average and 2012 for the defense to be above average, because by then he should be operating with mostly upperclassmen on D.