I Am So Confused (or Why Do My Four-Stars Suck?)

Submitted by Meeechigan Dan on September 28th, 2009 at 2:40 PM

Note: The data is from Rivals; I recognize that they have some different class (fresh, soph, etc.) info than I expected on some players, but for consistency, I used their data as published.

I am no Steve Sharik or gsimms, but after watching Iowa play defense Saturday night, I have to report back to Houston that there is a problem, and it’s not just our players. I just don’t buy Brian’s comment in his “Soaring” post that “Michigan's recruiting was wildly deficient in more than one area and will be an anchor going forward.” We may lack depth, but the guys on the front lines are supposed to be studs. Individually, many look like studs – Graham and Warren and Martin and Roh and even Brown this year – but put them together and Indiana shreds us.

Iowa's defense is better than ours. A lot better. This doesn't surprise anyone reading this, but the point I wish to make is not that they are better, but how in the name of Shiva the Destroyer is such a thing possible?

Let's look at the two defenses:

The Iowa defense is younger than ours overall and features a less-experienced secondary that averages 5.3 for a Rivals Rating, or a middle range two-star. Brian says about Michigan, “There is exactly one junior and no seniors at both safety and cornerback.” Iowa has less experience. Yet my gut tells me – with absolute certainty – Darryl Clark will have a far better day against our secondary. Who wants to take me up on that bet?

In general, their players are more lowly rated at every position (possible exception of one LB), often significantly so, with players converted from the offensive side of the ball (a TE turned DL) and one playing out of position.

Now one of two things is true.

  • All our studs coming out of high school were overrated and we can say things like Cissoko isn’t good and Van Bergen isn’t good and our LBs aren’t good with a straight face and a shrug towards our bad evaluation of talent over two coaches, or
  • Our coaching/scheme is flawed. The front line talent is there (no depth, I know), but they either haven’t been developed or the system hurts their performance.

Occam’s Razor makes it difficult to accept that our stud HS talent was pretty much collectively overrated, and Iowa’s meh HS talent was pretty much vastly underrated. Ferentz would have given a kidney to have Cissoko or Warren or Graham or Brown or Mouton or Martin. He doesn’t have enough organs to bargain with the devil to get those types of players with mega-hype coming out of HS, yet he easily is fielding a better defense that probably would have consumed Indiana whole without any sauce.

As for the “new system” argument – that switching from Shafer to Robinson has resulted in our guys being at the start of a new learning curve – I accept some of that, but not all. Now, I will defer to Sharik or gsimms to tell me whether a new system can transform studs into non-studs, but it would seem to me that stopping Eastern in the first half or stopping Indiana at all would frequently be possible with raw stud talent playing by instinct.

Please understand that I am not traditionally negative, and that I am really seeking an answer from people who know more about football than I do. Is our system/defensive coordinator sound? Are most of our players overrated?  Would Iowa's starters on defense playing for Michigan and GERG be playing at the same high level? Or would Brian be observing that an unrated player (a walk-on, I assume) was playing in the secondary?


His Dudeness

September 28th, 2009 at 2:46 PM ^

Remember when Warren didn't play well last year? Everyone thought he wasn't that good and turns out he was playing hurt. The same is probably the case for some of our defensive players this year. 4-0.


September 28th, 2009 at 2:49 PM ^

only gave up 10 points in the second half against Indiana.

Is Michigan 0-4 or 4-0?

I'll ask the question again:

Oklahoma went 11-1 last year by averaging a ton of points, but they also gave up a ton of points.

If Michigan were to go 12-0 this year by winning each game 41-35, WHO HERE WOULD COMPLAIN ABOUT THAT?


September 28th, 2009 at 3:01 PM ^

Did Dan complain about being 4-0? No. Did he question whether Oklahoma's defense was any good or not? No - irrelevant. Would he complain if we win the rest of our games 41-35? No. What if we lose the rest of our games 35-41? He is asking a specific question about the defense. With superior talent on paper, why are they under-performing compared to Iowa? It is a valid question, and one which I think deserves to be addressed directly - not dismissed because we are undefeated. (Unfortunately, I have no answers, but have wondered the same...)


September 28th, 2009 at 2:52 PM ^

...recruiting rankings are just guesses. Generally well informed guesses, but still guesses. Sometimes, people guess wrong. You should only take the meaning behind them with the smallest grain of salt, and sometimes it takes this kids a couple of years to come into their own in the college game. And sometimes, they just don't make it. Its just the way it goes man.

Like the dude said above me, we're 4-0 after a 3-9 season last year. There's a lot of promise on this team, but overall, we're really young. There's gonna be some growing pains. Get used to it.

Meeechigan Dan

September 28th, 2009 at 2:59 PM ^

Everyone please spare me the "we're 4-0" lecture. I understand. I am happy about that. The fascinating point to me (maybe not to you) is Iowa's defense as a point of comparison to ours - less experienced and less talented. Now, you may believe that we struck out across the board and they hit home runs across the board...fine. I think that is unlikely.


September 28th, 2009 at 2:53 PM ^

this is exactly where I am leaning. There is enough talent on D-fense that we should be better. I think a majority of the problems we see are due to underdevelopment of our talent. This is partially due to 1.) focus on the offensive side of the ball 2.) third defensive coordinator in 3 years. and 3.) ineffective position coaches.


September 28th, 2009 at 5:42 PM ^

If you go back to Dan's charts re: our defensive players vs. Iowa's. They have less experience and lower rated players. Straight forward.
The focus on offense shouldn't impact the defense this badly.
I will agree with position coaches. I HATE the fact that RR carries a bunch of assistants with him and makes his DC's use them.

I would love to see the DB coach go.
Hopson was supposed to be a very good position coach. But is sounds like he should be coaching DB's instead of LB's. Dunno

But there are obviously some issues on the coaching side if NOBODY is getting any better. Sounds like Gibson (Asst H.C. and DB's) should be let go. Maybe Hopson. Maybe.


September 28th, 2009 at 2:58 PM ^

Good post OP...Im just not that sold that the Iowa defense is all that great. Yeah they shut down PSU in the second half, during a very wet and sloppy game, and PSU imploded more than anything else IMO...Clark made huge mistakes and their OL is not very good.

That said, Michigans defense is clearly not good either... but I wouldnt say that Iowa's is all that great, heck they almost lost to Northern Iowa and only scrapped by on that blocked fg debacle.

Meeechigan Dan

September 28th, 2009 at 3:04 PM ^

That may be the answer. I was reacting to these low scores...

Sep. 5 Northern Iowa W 17-16
Sep. 12 at Iowa State W 35-3
Sep. 19 Arizona W 27-17
Sep. 26 at Penn State W 21-10

...and considering Arizona and Penn State decent BCS foes and noticed, too, that Iowa State has otherwise put up 30+ a game...

Sep. 3 NO DAKOTA ST W 34-17
Sep. 12 Iowa L 3-35
Sep. 19 at Kent State W 34-14
Sep. 26 Army W 31-10

Perhaps they are a paper tiger. Don't know.


September 28th, 2009 at 2:59 PM ^

is not a reason not to question our defense. I understand where this post is coming from but we have alot of young players who are just getting their feet wet. The defense will get better over time and once we get some depth. I do agree with jg2112 that OU won alot of games last year with a bad defense and hopefully thats what Michigan will do this year. I think the defense will make a good jump next season when we will have a real shot at winning the Big 10. This season is just a tiny shot of what great things are to come.


September 28th, 2009 at 3:07 PM ^

I'm at work and so can't even try to pull the stats, but do the numbers look at slanted if you go to the two-deep defense? I would think that there are substitutions that factor into this. Dunno, but definitely a good question to ask.

Durham Blue

September 28th, 2009 at 3:18 PM ^

Pass rush has been non-existent, but for good reason. Opposing offenses are either in max protect on long passes (Notre Dame) or they're getting rid of the ball quickly on three-step drops before our line can get to the QB. Why the quick drop? Because they know our D linemen are quick and talented and they also know the short pass is available courtesy of the linebackers. To put it bluntly, I believe Ezeh and Leach and to a slightly lesser extent, Mouton, are costing us major yards. On running plays, the LB's are getting sucked into the middle of the line way too often and it's allowing the runner to bounce it outside for nice big gashing off tackle runs.


September 28th, 2009 at 5:49 PM ^

This is exactly what I posted somewhere last night. Same as last year.
The play starts. We're on D.
It's a run.
The LB's NOT named Brown watch for a few seconds then LEAP forward into the pile. A second later, the RB pops out the line a couple players down.
After I see this, my baby daughter looks at me, the dog goes to bed, and the wife reminds me not to scream so loud the neighborhood hears (we DO live in Columbus, after all).

And this is the SAME as last year.
There has been no improvement in LB's reading holes and stopping players.

Then seeing Mouton hitting a RB with his shoulder then falling down (Mouton, NOT the RB)? Not helpful.

They may as well blitz with Mouton and Ezeh EVERY play because they aren't stopping anyone at the line and they aren't tackling anyone.


September 28th, 2009 at 3:23 PM ^

You say Craig Roh has been around for 2 years? Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton are also juniors, just Brown and Graham are seniors.
Also, you are overlooking a couple of things, first GR is the 3rd defensive coach in 3 years, how long has the Iowa DC been working there? also, SB was a Safety last year, now he is a LB, Graham was the only starter in the DL last year, with Martin playing some snaps, Michigan lost 3 DLman, 1 LB, 1 CB and i guess 1 Safety, so this is a young defense with lightweights, Mouton was recruited as a Safety, Ezeh as a RB, Floyd is a Safety and TW was a CB last year, so many changes, undersized players for their position, they'd had a better chance at stopping SEC teams than B10 teams if you ask me, they just lack the strenght, but it can be coached, and with a good team with offensive power in AA, good defensive recriuts should be easier to get, Cullen Christian 6'1", Tony Grimes 6'0", Dietrich Riley 6'4" i guess, Josh Furman would be a Crable clon, this defense is a work in progress and has the potential to be great in a couple of years.

Meeechigan Dan

September 28th, 2009 at 3:35 PM ^

Yes, I made a mistake on the Roh year, sorry. All the other data is from Rivals. I found some of it odd but didn't want to overrule a better source.

You make some good points, but isn't the lighter, faster player a prototype of this defense?


September 28th, 2009 at 3:45 PM ^

Thats for sure, but the whole game is going on the opposite direction of the B10 football, defenses in the B10 will start changing, UM putting almost 40 points per game will make them try to be faster on defense, that and all those bowl losses to "speddy" teams, UM is just one step ahead IMO, and if you check out all of our 4 LB's weren't recruited as LB's, Ezhe was a RB, Mouton was a Safety, Brown was a CB according to scout and Roh was a DE.

a non emu

September 28th, 2009 at 3:26 PM ^

Should count as 1 year in the system? Or are you saying that since he was an early enrolee he sorta counts as a second year player?

Also, rather than compare years in the system, I would like to compare years starting at the positions. Most 4, and 5 star studs aren't so hot their first year starting but start living up to their hype/potential as they get more time and experience playing. On the other hand, Obi Ezeh's stagnation/regression has been inexplicable. Every year it seems like he has an amazing first game only to slowly melt into oblivion as the season goes along...

Great post though... thought provoking.


September 28th, 2009 at 3:52 PM ^

Iowa did completely shut down PSU after the first quarter, but it looked like it was raining very hard in Happy Valley. That could have contributed to the strong defensive performance.


September 28th, 2009 at 4:05 PM ^

This decade, Iowa has had a superior scoring defense in '02, '03, '04, '05, '07, '08, and likely '09.

11.5 '09
13.0 '08
16.2 '03
17.6 '04
18.8 '07
19.7 '02
20.0 '05
20.7 '06
22.0 '01
27.5 '00

15.9 '06
16.8 '03
17.5 '01
18.3 '00
20.3 '05
20.4 '02
21.4 '07
22.8 '09
23.3 '04
28.9 '08

Magnum P.I.

September 28th, 2009 at 6:24 PM ^

This is a little misleading since Iowa (2000-08) runs significantly more than us, grinding down the clock and causing both themselves and their opponent to have fewer possessions per game. Fewer possessions naturally means fewer points. Our points allowed stats will forever be higher (than U-M squads of yesteryear) under RR given the speed with which the offense plays and the resultant extra possessions for both sides. Points per opponent's possession would be a better basis for comparison.


September 28th, 2009 at 4:16 PM ^

the inexperience in all areas of our defense

Safety - all in first year of varsity action and the heavy use of walk-ons makes this one pretty obvious.

CB - Warren already has been established as a stud; Cissoko-Floyd both relatively young so the upside is still there.

LB - Ezeh has not been good at football to date, Mouton and Brown both victims of position changes. When your middle linebacker play is below average it often trickles into the rest of the linebacking corps

DL - Obviously our strength on paper and full of highly rated recruits. Still Martin, Roh and Van Bergen relatively inexperienced. Lack of depth doesn't help.

So in every faucet of our defense is either going through a recent position switch or is still relatively inexperienced in terms of varisty action save Graham, Warren and Ezeh (who doesn't really have an excuse). Add in the lack of depth every where, especially up front and it isn't that surprising to me how poorly the defense has played.

Hopefully it will get better as the season progresses and the guys will start playing up to their rating level as they gain more experience, playing time and comfort in their new positions, and I haven't looked but I doubt there is as much happening at Iowa in terms of inexperience and position changes.

Maize and Blue…

September 28th, 2009 at 4:17 PM ^

PSU has not exactly been a juggernaut offensively this year. They have Clark and Royster back but, lost their top three WRs and are having problems with the O line.
Now for our D. Third scheme in three years results in players thinking first then reacting loss of a split second can be the difference between making a play and giving up a TD. Woolfolk first year starting and playing S instead of CB, Stevie Brown first year at LB, Craig Roh true freshman, RVB first year starting and playing a new position, BooBoo, Martin, and Williams first year starting. That's seven players either starting for the first time or playing a new position. How you figure Iowa has a less experienced secondary than us is beyond me as we only have one returning starter and they return their entire secondary from last year.
Iowa lost their two starting D tackles and returned everyone else off of last year's D. Advantage Iowa plain and simple.


September 28th, 2009 at 4:28 PM ^

He is the Iowa DC. He has been there 10+ years and is a grad of Eastern Michigan. I think having 3 DCs over 3 years has really put Michigan in a bad spot in terms of player development and is the biggest reason your chart looks so crazy. Great post and very informative, thanks!


September 28th, 2009 at 4:32 PM ^

Regardless of our current record, I think this is a good post. Just because we're 4-0 doesn't mean that posters should be banned from discussing potentially negative aspects of the team (at least, so long as it's not a troll post).

Personally, I have no idea. I think Iowa's defense might be worse than the numbers suggest. I only watched them against PSU, and it's my opinion that the rain played a large role:

- JoePa was very conservative in play calling

- Blame the rain or whatever, but Clark's throws were not very good

- PSU receivers were finding holes in Iowa's zone, but Clark wasn't getting them the ball. When he did, receivers were dropping the ball, or worse, tipping it up for interceptions.

I do think that if we can get Brown and Shaw matched up against their LBs, they could be in for a long day of chasing our speedsters.

Also, PSU wasn't moving the pocket at all, which subjected them to a lot of pressure. We'll be moving the pocket, either by design or through Tate improvising.

As long as we don't get caught in the rain, I think we can crack their defense.


September 28th, 2009 at 4:53 PM ^

Michigan's retention of recruits, and more importantly "development" of top notch recruits can only be characterized as a slow motion train wreck. Well, it's 2009 and we're all witnessing the fruits of complacency.

I do agree with you that it's infuriating. But there's something to be said about the earlier comment of the defensive coaching carousel at Michigan. 4 different DCs in 5 years (Herrmann '05, English '06-'07, Shafer '08, GERG '09) is a recipe for at least some hesitancy and maybe, just maybe some confusion.

Meanwhile, Norm Parker has been in Iowa City since they finished construction on Interstate 80.

Somehow I expected a slight downturn in defense for the Hawkeyes when they lost their leading tackler Matt Kroul to graduation. But what makes Iowa different this year defensively is all of the forced turnovers. They have 9 INTs after 4 games. This is unexpectedly good news or fantastic fortune. Their pass defense appears to be decent, but the Hawkeye run defense is about as spectacular as Michigan's right now (UofI 133/game, UM 142/game).

Alls I knows is Arkansas State beat Texas A&M on the road last year. And they peed on their freaking rug. The one that really tied the A&M room together.


September 28th, 2009 at 5:16 PM ^

As long as we can win games 52-50, things are fine. Seriously, it is hard to expect a lot when most of the guys on D haven't played much. The speed, the lanes, the angles for cutoffs are all much more difficult than what they faced as HSers. RVB, Floyd, Cissoko, Roh, Williams, Wolfolk, Fitzgerald, Brandon Smith, and even Martin have very little game experience.

Hopefully along the way, a couple of them develop some skills that help us shore things up.

Still a lot more fun than last year.


September 28th, 2009 at 5:27 PM ^

From '04 to '08, Iowa and Michigan performed about the same in terms of yards per play allowed and I'd bet the talent gap was greater prior to the past two seasons. Similarly, OSU's D has overperformed relative to their talent advantage over M. So I'm inclined to see this as part of Lloyd's legacy.


September 28th, 2009 at 5:42 PM ^

I'm not going to comment much on Iowa's defense because I'm not familiar with them. I will say that other commenters have played the schedule and weather cards for them already.

For Michigan, I think there are a few factors that play a role in here:

1. Recruiting Rankings - multiple players have switched positions on this defense, so you may question how valid their recruiting rankings are.

2. Coaching - I don't care who you are, having three different coordinators in three seasons is going to have a negative effect on your performance at least initially.

3. Scheme - As you recall from many MGoBlog posts last year, our offense was very limited in what plays it could run. They players weren't familiar enough with the system, talented enough, or deep enough to run most of the playbook. I assume that's part of the problem on defense. There are only so many coverage schemes or blitzes that can be called right now and thus the ceiling for the defense is lower.

4. Early Season - Each week you've heard a defensive player say that the opponent ran plays or formations they'd never seen on film. I would assume that trend decreases throughout the season (though I might be wrong). The more film you have, the less likely you are to see any new wrinkles. Especially once you're in the B10 and aren't just using your base offense to beat the cupcakes on the schedule.

Michigan has been good in the second half on defense. They are starting to find what players are better suited to playing. And i think they'll open up more of the playbook. Will it be enough? Who knows.

You have to hope that Warren stays next year and that they are able to improve the recruiting class in the LB and secondardy


September 28th, 2009 at 5:58 PM ^

I don't know how much you can look at point 3. Offense is supposed to be significantly harder to learn than D. The play book is supposed to be huge in comparison.
Don't know how much, but this seems to be the prevailing wisdom. I will agree that some of the coaching seems suspect.

Having said this, there is no substitute for experience. And we have little experince at particular positions and in the scheme.


September 28th, 2009 at 10:04 PM ^

learning the defense is actually harder than offense. on offense, you dictate - you execute what you're supposed to, with far less regard to what the opponent is doing. on defense, there is far more processing of what the opponent is doing - formations, constantly changing responsibilities, "options" that have to be processed post-snap, and so on.

simply put, learning the offense is more like memorizing whereas the learning the defense is more like understanding a concept.

p.s. the defensive playbook is not thinner. at all.