Popular Misconceptions Regarding Michigan Football

Submitted by Space Coyote on November 1st, 2010 at 5:38 PM

The past couple days there have been some popular misconceptions that have been sprouted from a murky lair that was once shut out of mgoblog, but has suddenly been brought to light: that lair being the “Rich Rod should be fired” gang.  There are also many popular misconceptions that had arisen prior to The Happening in Happy Valley.  This isn’t about if Rich Rod should be fired or not, it’s about misconceptions going around the board.


1.  The 3-3-5 doesn’t work

This is an absolute lie.  The 3-3-5 works, the 4-3 works, the 3-4 works, the 4-2 works, hell pretty much every defense you’ve seen talked about in the past decade works in modern football.   West Virginia has run the 3-3-5 with success.  Yes, it’s in the Big East, but they have typically done well out of conference too.  IIRC, Florida has spent time running it as well, and their defense has done alright in recent years.   It's less about scheme then it is about fundamentals, talent, and coaching.


2.  The 3-3-5 is the reason Michigan's defense isn’t doing well

Not true.  This defense has played 3-3-5, 4-2-5, and against PSU, started in a 3-4.  I don’t like the fact that the defense is switching up formations regularly, and I would still prefer 4 down linemen, but the fact remains that the defensive formation isn’t to blame with the bad tackling, and even worse coverage we’ve seen.


3. That the offense is consistent

It isn’t.  And no, I’m not expecting Michigan to put up 60 points a game, and I’m also not saying the offense is bad.  The offense is obviously good, look at the stats, but it isn’t consistent.  The first 5 drives against PSU consisted of:

 The first was a 3 and out, which, ugh, Vincent Smith in the I formation.  The Second was an 80 yard drive for a touchdown, the third was when denard got hurt and a false start turned a 3rd and 5 into a 3rd and 10, the fourth saw a holding play on second and goal lead to a FG.  The fifth came after Gallon derped it out at the two.

That is a quote that I got in response to claiming the offense was inconsistent, and I’m not disagreeing with anything that was said there.  The problem is that people are looking at this and seeing consistency when it’s not.  The first drive was still a 3 and out.  If the ball was given to Smith out of the I-form that’s still our offense that did that.  If we had a false start and Denard got hurt and we didn’t convert third down, that’s inconsistent.  If we stalled in the red zone (which we did more often against MSU and Iowa), that’s still stalling and not converting for TDs like Michigan should, which is still inconsistent.  If we go three and out again, for the second time in 5 drives, regardless of starting field position, it’s still another 3 and out, and it’s still inconsistent.

When we have scoring opportunities and miss open receivers or someone misses a block or we have a penalty and don’t score because of it, that is still inconsistencies in the offense, regardless if “the play was there” or not.  It doesn’t matter if the play is there or open, it matters that Michigan executes and finishes the play and scores touchdowns.  Any way you slice it, Michigan had 10 or fewer points in the last three games at the end of the first half.  This offense isn’t consistent.


4.  The offense is good and the defense isn’t on RR

This is very wrong.  Magee is the OC, his offense is doing good.  Is the spread RR baby? Yes.  He deserves a lot of credit for recruiting offensive coaches and spending lots of time perfecting his offensive craft.  But as a head coach, he isn’t an “offensive head coach.”  He is the head coach, in charge of the whole team.  RR is the one in charge of the whole team, only one person is above him, DB.  RR isn’t just responsible for one part of the machine, he’s responsible for the whole thing.  He has been very effective recruiting personnel that can coach on the offensive side of the ball, but he needs to do that on the defensive side of the ball too.  You can’t claim “he doesn’t have time to be everywhere at once so the defense isn’t his fault.”  The reason he has other coaches is so he doesn’t have to be everywhere at once.  When the defense doesn’t work you can’t claim it’s not on RR because the whole program is on RR.


5.  “But Denard is just a first year starter”

True, he is.  But a lot of teams have first year starters, about one ever 2.5 years.  Denard has started his fair share of games and has been in the program over a year.  This thought is vastly overstated.  Denard is a damn good football player and will still improve, but the meme that all of Michigan’s offensive problems will be solved when Denard has more starts is greatly overblown.


6.  That the spread does't work in the Big Ten

I said above that the offense still had inconsistencies.  That does not mean that the offense doesn't work.  Obviously the offense is still putting up points and doing well, they just need to be more consistent in the first half.  This goes back to my point I made about defensive schemes, they are extremely overrated.  A pro style can work to great success in the Big Ten (JH could run a no huddle pro-style and there is a chance it could be just as successful for example) and the spread works.  Florida's offense (at least with Tim Tebow) would work in the Big Ten, as would Oklahoma's spread, as does Ohio State's 2 TEs and everything in between.  The offense depends on executing, regardless of system.  It depends on putting your players in positions to be successful with their skill set and teaching them how to play the game with the tools you have.  That can be said for offense or defense.  I think the 3-3-5 is closer to the 4-3 then the spread is to two TEs, but in either case, the scheme can be successful with the right players and the right tools, and the right coaches teaching the players effectively.



There are obviously subjective ones that can be included, such as the “Cupboard was empty” and the “you can’t claim the cupboard being empty is a problem anymore.”  I have my feelings on both of those, but any way you put it, it’s debatable, and this isn't the tread for that.

There may be more misconceptions out there, these are the main ones I’ve seen or at least that I have put up a fight against.  I guess to a degree they are a bit debatable, but these aren’t as debatable as I think a lot of people are making them out to be.  I think in both cases, whichever side of the RR fence people are on, they are using extremes to try to prove their points.  This is a product of loving Michigan and being passionate about the product, and I don’t have an issue with loving Michigan football.  But there needs to be balance in how you view things, there needs to be reasonableness in arguments, and there needs rationality not to over emphasize things or skew ideas just to favor your objective.  The offensive consistency is an easy one to skew, because you look at the stats and you look at the possibilities that are there and think “we are so close to being unstoppable.”  This is a very good offense that is very close to being nearly unstoppable, but just because it is very close doesn’t mean it is.  It still means that it’s just very close.

I know I'll get some "you're being hypocritical" comments, but I've tried to make this as objective as I could.

If there are other memes that aren’t easily debatable I’d be glad to hear them and add them above.  I don’t want this topic to degenerate into a RR should or should not be fired thread, there are a ton of those already.  This tread is kind of closer to a Jay Z song, because there’s like 99 threads about firing, but this ain’t one.

Also, I feel information like this is board worthy, not diary worthy.  It's long, but that doesn't, IME, give it what it needs to be diary worthy.  Just because it's long doesn't mean it brings diagrams, lots of hard work, etc. to bring to life.  New members (this isn't a bash on you), but I think this is a pretty fair example of "just because something is long and has something new, doesn't mean it's a diary."  That's just my little interpretation that I have as far as board/diary lines that often get murky in the gray area.



November 1st, 2010 at 5:47 PM ^

I especially liked the point about the 3-3-5.  To hear some people tell it, our problems would be solved by running a 9-1-1 (humor intended).  They seem to think that the middle three guys are playing 20 yards off the line.  Nonsense (as you noted) -- the 3-3-5 is tough against the run with the appropriate personnel.

Roh's effectiveness on the line vs. "in space" is a separate issue.


November 1st, 2010 at 5:50 PM ^

I like what you did here... may I ask though... how would you measure consistency?  You can't score on every drive... I mean if that's the metric, then no offense is consistent.  As far as PPG, YPG, etc. I'd say Michigan is pretty consistent... It's not like one game we score 7 pts and another we score 60.  Just taking our last 3 games total yards and pts:

MSU - 377 yds, 17 pts  (Turnover central!)
PSU -  423 yds, 31 pts
Iowa - 522 yds, 29 pts

I don't know, but I'd say our offense IS consistent.  Maybe i'm thinking too simplistically (e.g. total yards, and points, but I'm at work and can't get too crazy...) but I think this offense is pretty consistent.

Space Coyote

November 1st, 2010 at 5:58 PM ^

But within specific games it isn't as much.

From game to game this is one of the most consistent offenses I've seen (as far as stats are concerned).  But there needs to be fewer penalty killing drives, there needs to be better conversion in the red zone.  There also (and this is when it can start to be considered more than what other teams measure consistency by) needs to be some longer, more sustained drives and not the three and outs.

The reason I say this is because the depth and youth of the defense lead to that same defense needing longer breaks to rest and more time to be coached and adjustments to be made on the side line.  When they are older and there is more depth it won't hurt as much because they will be able to understand their problems and better understand how to change to better the unit, and if they don't the depth will be there to pull them off the field for at least a few plays.  


November 1st, 2010 at 6:25 PM ^

As I just pointed out in a much too long post that surely deserves some TLDRs, there may be consistency in the final numbers, but the game situations where we are putting up those numbers is inconsistent.  The offense is working most effectively when we're way down.  When it's close, we're just not getting it done.  Maybe Rich Rod needs to hire a hypnotist who can convince the team we're down 21-0 when the game starts.


November 1st, 2010 at 6:54 PM ^

The turnovers and three-and-outs seem to disproportionately occur when the score is close.  We execute better after we've fallen behind.  Are they pressing too much when it's close and then figure they've got nothing to lose when we're way behind?


November 1st, 2010 at 7:51 PM ^

I feel that they do play tight, especially after the D gets worked early, like they feel they have to do it just right and everything. When we're behind, maybe they're thinking, fuck it the D has already screwed us, lets go out there and ball.

I dont know, but there is way too much pressure on this offense right out of the gates in games to perform

Plus, I think Rich's concept of running plays to see what the other team is doing is at play here. He's said he runs plays early just to see the response of the D (he must have a parlor bet with Calvin on how many MGoUsers he can piss off on third and 1. That's a response, right?)......except, cereal coach dewd, we need to score on every possession. Lets stop with the exploratory shit and run our best stuff asap. plz?

Space Coyote

November 1st, 2010 at 8:13 PM ^

Magee doesn't know what his best plays are until he knows what the defense is doing against him.  He needs to run plays to see how the defense reacts so that he can pick and choose the plays and adjust his play calling to best help the offense.  I think basically every team that runs a script is running a combination of what they do best and what helps them get a read on the defense so that they can see what works best throughout the game.


November 1st, 2010 at 5:52 PM ^

I agree with everything except #5. How many of those first year starters lead offenses to as many yards as we do? It's not just mistakes in general. I see it as mistakes made that time can and hopefully will fix.


November 1st, 2010 at 5:55 PM ^

I see all the yards we've been putting up, but at the same time our offense has not been trading punches with opponents, but rather we're constantly picking up yards in deficit situations.

Also, for someone who a few extra minutes - I'd like to see the starting field position that we're giving our opponents. With all the stats that have been thrown around in recent threads, I think that one has been left out.


November 1st, 2010 at 6:40 PM ^

I started looking at this over the last three games but sadly realized ESPN's drive chart is wrong where starting field position is concerned.  As best as I can tell, though, it hasn't been as bad as I thought it might be.  

I may be wrong, but I don't think MSU started any drives in Michigan territory, and their average starting field position was their own 25.

I think Iowa started two drives in Michigan territory (48 and 49), and their average starting field position was their own 33.  

I think Penn State started three drives in Michigan territory (37, 49 and 28 after we went and failed on 4th down in the 4th quarter) and their average starting field position was their own 37, although the last drive skews that a bit.

Looking at it a different way, the four TDs MSU scored were on drives of 84,78, 68, and 93 yards.  Iowa's five TD drives went 84, 49, 48, 63, and 60 yards.  Penn State's were 71, 56, 74, 37, and 80.

Space Coyote

November 1st, 2010 at 6:03 PM ^

And that one may, admittedly, lean a bit towards the debatable end.  Offenses are typically better with QBs with experience, that is true and can't be proven not to be (if you can prove it then you should be a lawyer or accountant).  I guess more what I'm arguing against is that the leap from first year starter to second year starter is as great as the freshman to sophomore jump.  He's still had time in the system and knows the system at least fairly well.  I think the argument that he is limited is over emphasized if anything, and isn't true to the degree people wish it to be.

And to answer your first question, hardly none (discounting Oregon).  That's part of what is amazing about Denard, and mistakes can be corrected and his throwing mechanics will get better, again, I just don't think this is the same as "starting a true freshman" which i feel a lot of people want to believe it is.


November 1st, 2010 at 8:49 PM ^

I agree with you. I don't think knowing the system is the problem at all. If it were, I would think there was less room for improvement because it shouldn't take this long to learn it. I am talking about execution. Things like throwing a ball on a line when it needs a littl air under it. Things like chucking it into coverage when nothing is there. I do wish he would take off and run more. He doesn't scramble much. If he get's to the point where he is completely comfortable sitting back and reading then sees the seam to run he becomes much more dangerous. By next year I think his decision making and his mechanics/knowing what type of ball to throw will improve. I think they have improved throughout the season. On the long TD pass he just threw it where it was an easy catch. It didn't have to be on a line. I think 2 months ago he trie to throw a dart there instead of just making sure it could be caught. I don't think it's the same as starting a true freshman, but like RR has stated, Denard needed a RS. Our situation didn't make it possible. It's one thing getting reps at practice but game experience is a whole different animal.


November 1st, 2010 at 5:53 PM ^

What really ticks me off the most about Rodriguez not working out here are the folks who will say, see we told you that wouldnt work in the Big 10.

The offense is really good. In fact, finding a consistent groove is one thing it lacks. Our D is so bad that the O needs to be perfect, let alone just consistent, for us to win.


November 1st, 2010 at 6:00 PM ^

It drives me crazy to see people say that defensive or offensive scheme doesn't work because it's either gimmicky or doesn't work in a certain conference.  They simply don't understand the X's and O's so they have to resort to saying that it doesn't work.  When the play doesn't work, they'll say, "see it just doesn't work' when they convientently ignore the big plays that the offense/defense have produced earlier in the game.


November 1st, 2010 at 6:07 PM ^

I agree that while the offense is putting up numbers it is still inconsistent. i think part of the problem there is guys waiting to see if Denard is gonna make a play. You know the whole "lets wait to see what our star can and will do next because we don't want to miss it either!" attitude. I feel like i remember a thread about Stonum wanting to wear the #1 jersey next year and the first thing that came to my mind was dropped balls in crucial situations. I believe he dropped a 3rd down pass that would've given us a 1st early in the game against PSU. It would've been a tough catch but that is exactly the kind of play you make when your team needs you no matter what point in the game. It's not all about long TDs and highlight reels. moving the chains and keeping the offense on the field is just as important. I think he is far too inconsistent to even be thinking about the #1 jersey! I'm not saying he isn't talented enough to wear it mind you.  Big time players make big time plays and at the skill positions on offense we still only have Denard making most of those type plays. It certainly does not help that our most consistent skill player on offense besides Denard is Odoms who is out with a broken foot. Keep in mind I am not saying nobody else ever makes a play nor am I dogging anyone. I'm simply discussing consistency and we still don't have much of it despite our apparent depth at the skill positions of slot, wr, and rb.


November 1st, 2010 at 6:22 PM ^

It took me all day to figure this out (which means I've been even less productive than normal today).  

It started in the thread saying the offense is a juggernaut and the defense has to be better next year.  I pointed out that offense, while #4 in total yardage, is only #19 in scoring offense.  Granted, #19 is good, but it's not juggernaut level.

Then Brian suggested the offense is amazing but is hindered by the defense and our inability to kick the ball through the uprights.  That prompted me to look at some more stats.  I was looking for the "aha!" moment but didn't get it.  Michigan has scored TDs on 42.4% of its offensive possessions this year.  That's not Nevada, TCU, Boise State, or Oregon level -- all of them are over 50% -- but it's solid.  We attempt field goals on only 9.8% of our possessions, which could suggest a bad kicking game, but Arkansas, Oregon, Oklahoma, Houston, TCU, and Nevada all attempt fewer field goals per possession.

I thought red zone might be the key,.  UM does rank only 44th nationally in red zone efficiency, but that is *definitely* on the kicking game.  Michigan is actually #6 in scoring TDs in the red zone at 76.5% -- well ahead of juggernauts like Boise (71.8%),, Oregon (66.7%), Auburn (63.6%), and Hawaii (54.3%).

I finally decided to concentrate on only the three losses.  Michigan has had 33 drives in the last three games.  The TD percentage has dropped to 30%, which is bad.  The TO percentage has also been bad -- 21%, or nearly as often as we score TDs.  Where I think the numbers really speak, though, is if you look at game situation.

In the last three games, Michigan has started 2 drives with leads (and a chance to go up by two scores).  Both of those drives resulted in punts, and both were 3-and-out.  Zero first downs when we had a chance to take a large(ish) lead.

Michigan has started five drives with the game tied (and a chance to take a lead).  One of those drives led to a TD, one led to a FG, 2 resulted in turnovers, and 1 resulted in a punt (and again was 3-and-out).

Seven drives have started with Michigan trailing by a single score (and a chance to tie it up or take a lead).  2 resulted in TDs, 1 a FG, 2 missed FGs, and 2 punts, one of which was again a 3-and-out.  One TD saw Michigan take a lead, and the other tied it up.  The field goal and two missed FGs were all when we were down by 7.

11 drives have started with Michigan down by two scores.  2 led to TDs, 5 were ended with turnovers, 1 ended with a failed fourth down conversion, and 3 ended in punts (2 of them 3-and-outs).

To this point, we're looking at 25 drives.  The TD percentage is only 20%, which is a recipe for losing.  The turnover percentage is 28%.  Punts ended 32% of those drives, including the 6 (24%) where we failed to move the sticks even once.

Finally, we see where the offense has shined.  When Michigan has started 8 drives trailing by more than two scores.  5 have ended in TDs (62.5%), one ended in a failed fourth down conversion, and 2 ended in punts (frustratingly, both after 3-and-outs).

The offense has put up some decent numbers, but we've scored as many TDs when the game was out of control as we have when we were in the game.  When we've been down two scores -- with a chance to get back in it -- the offense is turning it over more than twice as often as they're scoring, and that includes 4 consecutive drives down 21-7 against Iowa which went punt, punt, fumble, interception.

Plus, three of the five TDs we've scored in those blowout situations was when Forcier was at QB, which means we've managed only 7 TDs in the last three games when D Rob was taking the snaps.

So, no, I don't think the offense has been consistent.  We've sputtered terribly except for when we've been in desperate comeback mode.  8 3-and-outs in 33 drives also seems sort of feast-or-famine-esque to me, although I haven't done the analysis yet to determine if that's really unusually frequent or not.

I think some people will continue to be frustrated with our offense (which moves the ball a lot and still scores a fair number of points) until we take advantage of an opportunity to extend a lead or show more aptitude putting the ball in the end zone when we're still in the game.  As I said in an earlier thread, I think this offense is fun to watch, but I'd like to see some more of the fireworks when we're not mounting a desperate comeback.

Space Coyote

November 1st, 2010 at 7:08 PM ^

And probably deserves its own thread.  I mean, the fact that I agree with it is largely because it supports my argument, but it's also data and stats that lead to facts, which lead to absolutely solid conclusions.  I would say make this it's own thread personally because there is a chance people miss it here, and this is new information that is meaningful and helpful to people's understanding and extends beyond anything I've personally said.

+1 to you sir.

Edit: and by own thread I should have said diary, because if you put this information together well enough it would be a very solid diary as well as the person below me stated


November 1st, 2010 at 6:34 PM ^

This is precisely the type of offensive analysis I've been looking for.  Did you find a site with these stats or figure them yourself from drive charts?  You should put some of these numbers in table so it's easier to read and make it into a diary.


November 1st, 2010 at 7:09 PM ^

Some of the data was directly consumable from ncaa.org.  Some of the data was taken from there but required some manipulation, and some of it was obtained from espn.com in "raw" format.  I like to think that somebody somewhere has an enormous college football data warehouse (more detailed than http://www.cfbdatawarehouse.com/), but I haven't found it.

I agree the format isn't good for mass consumption.  I was just wracking my brain trying to understand why I felt the need to disagree with other UM fans who are insisting our offense is spectacular, and this is what came out.  


November 1st, 2010 at 8:16 PM ^

The offense has been consistent enough to win regular football games. But, it hasnt been consistent enough to win the type of football games created by our defense.

I think if you look at those possessions in these games where the O had it and the game was still tied or UM ahead, you will find peculiar play calling, inopportune penalties and, frankly, good plays being made the other D. And, it is a sign of inconsistency. But, I think all of it is something more maturation and seasoning will solve. We were much better in the red zone last week, for example, and I expect that to continue. Hopefully with one less FG attempt.

Indiana Blue

November 1st, 2010 at 6:50 PM ^

how we need to spend time analyzing these details, because for some of us  -  it actually helps. 

I guarantee Oregon and Auburn fans don't give a shit about these types of stats !   Hopefully very soon we won't be worried about this either !!

Go Blue !


November 1st, 2010 at 8:36 PM ^

Very well thought out post.  The only thing I would comment on is Denard's youth.  He has only had one spring practice and he played QB in a pro style offense in high school.  He is not comparable to many first year starters in CFB. 


:Edit: ....tf......tight work.