Defensive Upperclassmen -- Big Ten (+1) Teams

Submitted by jokewood on November 10th, 2009 at 10:23 AM
Much has been made of our lack of numbers on defense.  While I greatly appreciate all of the hard work that has already been done, what really interests me is not why our defense lags behind the national elite but reasons why our defense lags behind the rest of a mediocre conference. 

Veteran players are the foundation of a solid defense.  Teams like TCU and Iowa are frequently able to produce stout defenses without the advantage of elite recruiting because they redshirt and retain their players.  Meanwhile, in the 2007 Capital One Bowl, Michigan shredded an extremely talented but very, very young Florida defense.  

I consider veteran players to be players in their 3rd, 4th, or 5th years on campus, or JUCOs in at least their 2nd year on campus.  These players are more physically mature and *should* have a better understanding of the game (that players like Mike Williams, Obi Ezeh, and Jonas Mouton are utterly clueless has a lot to do with coaching).  So, my criteria....

-- scholarship players (no walk-ons) from classes of 2005-2007
-- (or) JUCO 2008 or earlier
-- started on or moved to defense during first year of college

Comparing Michigan's defensive upperclassmen not only to Ohio State, Penn State, and Notre Dame, but to the rest of the conference as well...

Ohio State - 22
Northwestern - 21
Indiana - 19
Illinois - 19
Michigan State - 19
Penn State - 19
Iowa - 18
Wisconsin - 18
Minnesota - 17
Purdue - 15
Notre Dame - 15
Michigan - 12

The rest of the Big Ten averages 50% more upperclassmen on defense.  We are dead last in the conference by a wide margin in terms of experienced defensive players.   Purdue and Notre Dame - the two teams closest in terms of youth - also have terrible defenses, against which Michigan averaged 35 ppg this year.

Unfortunately, those numbers are not going to improve significantly next year.  3-4 upperclassmen depart - Graham, Brown, probably Patterson, and maybe Warren.  But only 5 players become upperclassmen - Demens, Fitzgerald, Floyd, Martin, and Smith.  While our overall defensive numbers will improve in 2010, we will still be hanging around in the basement of the conference in terms of experience. 

Here is the breakdown of defensive upperclassmen numbers for past and future Michigan teams...

2011 (17) -- approaching normal... if no attrition (ha!)

1) DT Mike Martin, Sr
2) DT Will Campbell, Jr
3) DE Ryan Van Bergen, 5th-Sr
4) DE Craig Roh, Jr
5) DE Anthony Lalota, RS-So
6) LB Brandon Herron, 5th-Sr
7) LB JB Fitzgerald, Sr
8) LB Kenny Demens, RS-Jr
9) LB Mike Jones, Jr
10) LB Isaiah Bell, RS-So
11) LB Brandon Hawthorne, RS-So
12) S Mike Williams, 5th-Sr
13) S Vlad Emilien, Jr
14) S Thomas Gordon, RS-So
15) CB JT Floyd, RS-Sr
16) CB JT Turner, RS-So
17) CB Teric Jones, RS-So
***Rogers and Watson not counted due to late move

2010 (14) -- still low if Warren stays

1) DT Renaldo Sagesse, Sr
2) DT Mike Martin, Jr
3) DE Greg Banks, 5th-Sr
4) DE Ryan Van Bergen, RS-Jr
5) LB Obi Ezeh, 5th-Sr
6) LB Jonas Mouton, 5th-Sr
7) LB Brandon Herron, RS-Jr
8) LB JB Fitzgerald, Jr
9) LB Kenny Demens, RS-So
***Watson moved to DE late, so he doesn't count
10) S Mike Williams, RS-Jr

11) S Brandon Smith, RS-So (S or LB)
12) CB Donovan Warren, Sr (please, please, please...)
13) CB Troy Woolfolk, Sr
14) CB JT Floyd, RS-So
***Rogers moved to CB late, so he doesn't count

2009 (12) -- painfully low

1) DT Renaldo Sagesse, Jr
2) DE Brandon Graham, Sr
3) DE Greg Banks, RS-Jr
4) DE Adam Patterson, RS-Jr
5) DE Ryan Van Bergen, RS-So
6) LB Steve Brown, Sr
7) LB Obi Ezeh, RS-Jr
8) LB Jonas Mouton, RS-Jr
9) LB Brandon Herron, RS-So
10) S Mike Williams, RS-So
11) CB Donovan Warren, Jr

12) CB Troy Woolfolk, Jr

2008 (15) -- still low

1) DT Will Johnson, 5th-Sr
2) DT Terrance Taylor, Sr
3) DT Jason Kates, RS-So (left team in mid-Nov)
4) DE Tim Jamison, 5th-Sr
5) DE Brandon Graham, Jr
6) DE Greg Banks, RS-So
*****Patterson RS-ed in '08, so he doesn't count
*****Butler moved to DE late, so he doesn't count
*****Criswell moved to DE late, so he doesn't count
7) LB John Thompson, 5th-Sr
8) LB Brandon Logan, Sr
9) LB Austin Panter, Sr
10) LB Obi Ezeh, RS-So
11) LB Jonas Mouton, RS-So
12) S Charles Stewart, 5th-Sr
13) S Brandon Harrison, Sr
14) S Steve Brown, Jr
15) Morgan Trent, 5th-Sr
*****Dutch moved to CB late, so he doesn't count

2007 (12) -- painfully low again (The Horror!!!)

1) DT Will Johnson, RS-Jr
2) DT Terrance Taylor, Jr
3) DE Tim Jamison, RS-Jr
4) LB Shawn Crable, 5th-Sr
5) LB Chris Graham, Sr
6) LB John Thompson, RS-Jr
7) LB Brandon Logan, Jr
8) S Brandent Englemon, 5th-Sr
9) S Jamar Adams, Sr
10) S Charles Stewart, RS-Jr
11) CB Morgan Trent, RS-Jr
12) CB Brandon Harrison, Jr
*****Dutch moved to CB late, so he doesn't count

2006 (20) -- hmmm...

1) DT Alan Branch, Jr
2) DT Will Johnson, RS-So
3) DT Marques Walton, RS-SO
4) DE Rondell Biggs, 5th-Sr
5) DE Jeremy Van Alstyne, 5th-Sr
6) DE Lamarr Woodley, Sr
7) DE Tim Jamison, RS-So
8) LB Dave Harris, 5th-Sr
9) LB Prescott Burgess, Sr
10) LB Shawn Crable, RS-Jr
11) LB Chris Graham, Jr
12) LB John Thompson, RS-So
13) S Willis Barringer, 5th-Sr
14) S Brandent Englemon, RS-Jr
15) S Ryan Mundy, RS-Jr
16) S Jamar Adams, Jr
17) CB Darnell Hood, 5th-Sr (moved to CB before RS-Fr season)
18) CB Leon Hall, Sr
19) CB Charles Stewart, RS-So
20) CB Morgan Trent, RS-So

2005 (16) -- lowish... and coaching heads roll
1) DT Pat Massey, 5th-Sr
2) DT Gabe Watson, Sr
3) DE Rondell Biggs, RS-Jr
4) DE Jeremy Van Alstyne, RS-Jr
5) DE Lamarr Woodley, Jr
6) LB Pierre Woods, 5th-Sr
7) LB Scott McClintock, 5th-Sr
8) LB Dave Harris, RS-Jr
9) LB Prescott Burgess, Jr
10) LB Shawn Crable, RS-So
11) S Willis Barringer, RS-Jr
12) S Brandent Englemon, RS-So
13) S Ryan Mundy, RS-So
14) CB Grant Mason, 5th-Sr
15) CB Darnell Hood, RS-Jr
16) CB Leon Hall, Jr 

2004 (18) -- normal numbers 

1) DT Alex Ofili, RS-Jr
2) DT Pat Massey, RS-Jr
3) DT Gabe Watson, Jr
4) DT Larry Harrison, Jr  (caught in December before Rose Bowl)
5) DE Rondell Biggs, RS-So
6) DE Jeremy Van Alstyne, RS-So
7) LB Roy Manning, 5th-Sr
8) LB Pierre Woods, RS-Jr
9) LB Scott McClintock, RS-Jr
10) LB Lawrence Reid, RS-Jr
11) LB Joe Sarantos, RS-Jr
12) LB Dave Harris, RS-So
13) S Ernest Shazor, RS-Jr
14) S Willis Barringer, RS-So
15) CB Marlin Jackson, Sr
16) CB Markus Curry, Sr
17) CB Grant Mason, RS-Jr
18) CB Darnell Hood, RS-So



November 10th, 2009 at 10:38 AM ^

Thanks for pointing this out. Hopefully, a lot of the angry posters will calm down a bit.

This also shows that M simply doesn't have a lot of options on defense. We have to play with the hand that we have been dealt.

West Texas Blue

November 10th, 2009 at 10:37 AM ^

Yep, it's all about depth and experience. Even if we had 11 5* star true freshmen recruits starting on our D, we would still struggle badly. Kids need time to learn the schemes, get developed in the S&C program, and work on fundamentals. Unfortunately we'll be playing alot of underclassmen in the secondary for the next few years, so that's really going to hurt us for awhile.


November 10th, 2009 at 11:02 AM ^

Mike Williams is in a slightly different category than Ezeh or Mouton. Williams is a year younger and a 1st year contributor for all intents and purposes, where as the other guys are in their 3rd and 2nd year with meaningful minutes.

blrargh, the defense.


November 10th, 2009 at 11:23 AM ^

I have higher expectations for Ezeh and Mouton than I do for Williams, which makes their play even more disappointing (and makes me angry at Jay Hopson). However, I do have an expectation of baseline competence for RS-Sophs and older. They do not have to be game-changing playmakers, but they should be able to diagnose simple plays (cover the RB on the wheel route!) and tackle ball-carries in front of them.

Banks, Sagesse, and Woolfolk are examples of players who meet my minimum expectations of 3rd-5th year players without greatly exceeding them. None of them are or will likely be stars, but all bring a baseline level of competence.


November 10th, 2009 at 11:05 AM ^

and very easy to understand. Brian should bump this to the 1st page.

I don't know how easy this was to do, but you may be able to correlate the performance (maybe yards/ game, scoring D...) to the # of upperclassmen.


November 10th, 2009 at 11:11 AM ^

The bright side is it can only get better - and I imagine it will. That is encouraging. We've see flashes of good play this year - I expect to see more of it as the players gain more experience.

If we were playing defense this poorly with as many upper classmen as Ohio State or others, I'd be worried.


November 10th, 2009 at 11:18 AM ^

Well done.

Michigan not only shredded an inexperienced 2007 Florida defense but the Michigan offense had a number of upperclassmen headed to the NFL. It was a total experience mismatch on that side of the ball.

Experience can be underrated vs. "talent" per recruiting rankings. Teams that keep players four years have a big advantage. Fewer mistakes, better positioning, better can narrow a talent gap.

Good post, thanks.


November 10th, 2009 at 11:57 AM ^

I was trying to do something similar, from two deeps, but haven't had the time. Using your criteria, I come up with 11 guys on the 22 available slots on the two deep depth chart:

DE 1 B Graham
2 W Heininger
DT 2 G Banks
NT 2 R Sagesse
OLB 2 B Herron
MLB 2 O Ezeh
WLB 2 J Mouton
SLB 1 S Brown
LCB 1 D Warren
RCB 1 T Woolfolk
FS 1 M Williams

Did I overlook someone?


November 10th, 2009 at 12:10 PM ^

I know we've had similar posts in the past, but this was a simple and elegant analysis.

I agree the next step would be results of a regression (or perhaps just a graph) showing relationship between defensive stats (e.g. points allowed) and seniority on D, for the football programs mentioned above.


November 10th, 2009 at 1:12 PM ^

but I did go in and look at the numbers of upperclassmen for a few teams that are in the top 10 in both scoring and total defenses...

Florida - 22 (#1 scoring, #2 total)
Ohio State - 22 (#4 scoring, #6 total)
TCU - 21 (#3 total, #5 scoring)
Bama - 18 (#4 total. #6 scoring)
Texas - 17 (#1 total, #8 scoring)

Florida... has arguably the best defense in the country, which should not be a surprise given their high levels of both talent and experience.

Alabama and Texas... have a little less experience, but compensate with elite talent and elite defensive coaches.

TCU... lacks top end recruiting (though probably under-appreciated), but compensates with experience and top-notch coaching.

North Star

November 10th, 2009 at 12:48 PM ^

It would be interesting to take a sampling of past M defenses and compare the experience level - I wonder if M has had decent defenses in the past w/ comparable experience levels, or if we are truly dealing w/ an outlier (in terms of experience) this year.

No doubt experience level is a very important factor this year, but it does not explain why players like Ezeh and Mouton have performed worse this year - shouldn't we expect an uptick based on experience? Shouldn't we expect that a great coaching staff could get someone ready to play at a reasonable level at one of the safety slots?

Bobby Boucher

November 10th, 2009 at 9:03 PM ^

I always figured that, if talented enough, a lower classmen could still be productive enough to make an impact. But, when your playing with this much inexperience your bound to have problems. I think next year will still be a big problem. No doubt Warren will go to the Draft next year, and with the loss of BG the D will be without its chief playmaker. I'm just waiting until 2011 when the experience of all these young athletes starts to pay dividends. Hopefully, Rich Rod has some snakeoil left to pull off another good recruiting class on the defensive side of the ball.

Sextus Empiricus

November 11th, 2009 at 1:59 AM ^

I don't care what kind of workout you do, you can't put true freshman up against upperclass talent and expect them to succeed for the most part (there are exceptions, I know - but in general older guy beats younger guy.) I think this speaks to a long view wrt the Barwis effect.

RR was very complimentary toward Roundtree's workouts and physical development since the start of the year post the Purdue game. I'm curious to see a true strength and conditioning edge when we get more upperclassmen (like I think I saw in the WV/Oklahoma game - the WV line more than held the field in that game at least - they dominated that game.)