The Ohio State Situation

Ever since Maurice Clarett's freshman lifestyle hit the news, fans of programs that compete with Ohio State on the field and on the recruiting trail have been accusing Jim Tressel of being a wolf in sheep's clothing, a corrupt leader of a corrupt program, but with enough rhetorical and sartorial flair to make people believe he is fundamentally a good guy. And as multiple star players were found to have run afoul of NCAA rules (first Clarett, but also Chris Gamble and Troy Smith), none but the first generating even a hint of controversy, the conviction of OSU's detractors grew, while Tressel's supporters wrote off such complaints as "sour grapes".

So how did we get here?

In retrospect, one could argue that the first salvo in the media effort to unearth the problems at Ohio State came not with the release of information about the "Tat 5", but with an article written two years ago by the Columbus Dispatch. 

Hiding behind the seemingly political headline Oversight vs Privacy at OSU this article suggested strongly to the detractors to that everything they suspected about Ohio State was indeed true.

The article documents Ohio State's stunningly long list of "secondary violations". To OSU fans, it is a non-story, just evidence of what they've always said. Ohio State's compliance department is very aggressive about finding and reporting every little infraction. To critics, it appears to document three things that they have been alleging for years.

1. Ohio State is committing a lot of violations. By the Dispatch's count, more than any other school in the country and more than the rest of the Big 10 combined.
2. Ohio State has a tremendous ability to see each violation as "isolated and incidental", and never draws any kind of conclusion about a pattern from these violations. 
3. Ohio State pushes some fairly serious violations through a reporting process that was created largely for minor and often unintentional violations.

For those who don't follow infractions very closely, a brief primer. Major violations are actions that were either systematic or intentional, and which create an advantage for the school. Secondary violations are typically items that are isolated (not part of a systemic or administrative problem) and incidental (impart no real competitive edge). For example, if coaches are allowed to call recruits on the phone once a week,  a coach may schedule a weekly Saturday morning call with a particular recruit. If the coach is sick one Saturday and calls on Sunday instead, that week he ends up calling on Sunday and again on Saturday. Twice in one week. That's a secondary violation.

Into that same heading, Ohio State has pushed multiple instances of improper benefits provided to Terrelle Pryor when he was a recruit. It feels like a different thing. The phone calls are obviously incidental. The benefits appear (especially in retrospect) to have been part of a pattern.

Secondary violations are usually "self-reported". This means that the program sends the NCAA a report indicating what they have found and what corrective and/or punitive action they have taken. The NCAA usually accepts the school's findings and files the report. This is to some great extent on the honor system. Think of it like a time sheet for an hourly employee. The employer expects that you will honest in filling it out, and they don't have the resources to check every hour that you have put down. But they file the time sheets, and if there ever comes a time for them to question your honesty, they will pull the time sheets. And if they find any irregularities on them, that dishonesty will come to haunt you.

Then note that as a standard procedure, when a team appears before the NCAA's infraction committee, they have to report their recent history of secondary violations.

The Dispatch article also lays out an interesting fact that has come back to play a significant role in the way this story has evolved. OSU appears to be extremely aggressive (one might even say creative) in their use of privacy laws as a reason for not disclosing information and not complying with Freedom of Information Act requests.

But lets skip forward a year and lay out a quick, rough timeline on Act 2 of this story.

April 2010: A local attorney Chris Cicero e-mails Jim Tressel to notify him that the DOJ is investigating a local businessman who appears to have been dealing memorabilia provided by active OSU football players. Tressel does not inform the AD, compliance or the NCAA.
December 2010: The DOJ contacts Ohio State about the memorabilia, and OSU turns around and reports the issue to the NCAA. Jim Tressel does not admit to prior knowledge. The NCAA suspends the players for the first half of 2011, but allows them to play in the Sugar Bowl. After delivering a lecture on how disappointed he is in his players, Jim Tressel extracts a pledge from each of them that they will return, as a condition of letting them play in the Sugar Bowl.
Jan/Feb 2011: Ohio State finds out and then informs the NCAA of the April 2010 e-mails from Cicero.
April 2011->:
A Columbus Dispatch article claiming that a local auto dealer (Aaron Kniffin) has written up so many car sales for Ohio State players and (even out of state) family that it looks suspicious.
A report that numerous Ohio State football players have been ticketed around campus driving cars with dealer plates or cars not registered with the athletic department (as is required).
A Sports Illustrated article quoting unnamed sources, saying many many more Ohio State players were involved in the tattoo parlor's memorabilia ring than previously believed.
An ESPN report (and other follow ups) that indicating that a local memorabilia dealer and professional photographer (Dennis Talbott) has provided illegal benefits to multiple OSU football players going back at least 2 years and has given Terrell Pryor tens of thousands of dollars in cash, much of this happening after multiple people called to tip Ohio State off to potential shady dealings involving this businessman.

At this point, the gamut of opinions on what this means for Ohio State runs from "This is worse than USC and Alabama" to "No big deal. Tressel's already been fired and Terrelle Pryor is gone. What more does the NCAA want?" And the big question out there is "what about Lack of Institutional Control?" which is the RICO Act of the NCAA, the one they can hammer you with if they don't have a smoking gun on the underlying violations.

So let's try to get to those questions ... what does this mean to OSU?

First of all, the OSU fan belief that the school's compliance department is top notch is non-starter at this point. We have found out that they weren't monitoring athlete's vehicles, that they never really investigated Terrelle Pryor's loaner cars, that they never looked into Aaron Kniffin's relationships with players, that they never acted on information about Dennis Talbott, et al. 

And regarding the tattoo Parlor, Rife and the original violations, the NCAA is going to see that Ohio State had 3 opportunities to get to the bottom of this:
1. When Cicero e-mail Tressel.
2. When the DOJ contacted OSU. 
3. When e-mails from Cicero to Tressel surfaced.

And at no time did OSU's compliance department or athletic department turn up any evidence that had not already been handed to them or discover any new depth or breadth to the case beyond what was handed to them already (by Cicero, the DOJ and their own internal legal team). Meanwhile, SI, ESPN, Yahoo and the Columbus Dispatch can't do a U-turn in downtown Columbus without finding more to the story.

The second line of defense, that this is all about Jim Tressel and 5 players, is also a non-starter, as this now appears to involve the compliance office and at least one assistant coach (one of the people who was notified directly about NCAA violations involving Talbott in 2009).

A third line of defense, or deflection, is the belief of some Ohio State fans that no program could withstand the scrutiny they have been subjected to without such problems surfacing. But a widely believed to be extremely corrupt Southern Cal program was subjected to just such scrutiny, and 3 major violations were found (2 involving Reggie Bush, one involving basketball player OJ Mayo). Michigan faced a hostile local media that first spent months investigating the academics of our football program (and found no academic fraud, no eligibility problems and no NCAA violations), and then our practice habits. Combined with the scrutiny of the NCAA, they turned up evidence of practices that ran 15 minutes over and of Quality Control assistant coaches exceeding their allowed job descriptions. 

No scandals. No players suspended. No coaches forced to resign. No covers of Sports Illustrated.

So when you get past all the defenses that don't seem to defend, what you are left with is:

a) multiple different batches of violations
b) each involving multiple players
c) two cases involving figures (Talbott, Rife) who were known to people within the athletic department, who did not act
d) others of which (unregistered cars) would have been noticed by compliance if they were doing the monitoring that they are obligated, by rule, to do
e) the complete failure of Ohio State to get to the bottom of these situations, despite numerous opportunities and, apparently, a community of tipsters who try to let the coaching staff know what is going on
f) at least 2 seasons during which Ohio State used multiple star players whose eligibility they had reason to question
g) repeated "unethical conduct" (NCAA catchphrase) involving Jim Tressel.

What you don't have is

a) the involvement of coaching staff in arranging benefits
b) improper inducements to recruits
c) the involvement of high profile or heavily connected boosters

What should we expect to see?

OSU fired Tressel (or asked him to resign, politely) but this came months too late. What OSU thought they were heading towards from December to April is a mystery to most. Other than that, OSU has basically taken no corrective action to indicate to the NCAA that they understand why these situations arose or that they mean to prevent them in the future. It will be up to the NCAA to "reform" OSU, while also punishing it for past transgressions. 

So what should we expect?

First, I think the big 3 "cultural" findings will all be there. Lack of Institutional Control (for the failure to notice the pattern of behavior and failure to properly investigate when issues were raised), Failure to Monitor (for not being on top of items that are supposed to be systematically tracked, like auto registration) and failure to create an astmosophere of compliance (for Tressel's infectious see-no-evil attitude).

And on remedies

1. A show cause finding that prevents Jim Tressel from coaching again any time soon is almost a given at this point
2. A significant probationary period. 4, maybe even 5 years.
3. A significant loss of scholarships. Maybe not the 30 that USC got (though that will depend on which all accusations the NCAA believes and how wide and deep they believe the culture of violations is).
4. A multi-year post-season ban. 
5. OSU will be forced to vacate the 2010 season and quite possibly the 2009 season as well.
6. OSU may be forced to dissociate themselves from Terrelle Pryor (as well as Talbott, Rife, et al).

The question of a television ban keeps coming up. The NCAA has not ruled out television bans, and in ruling on USC specifically noted that they very seriously considered it. They also noted the logic behind a TV ban, that it is meant to counteract the gain in stature that a program received from cheating. A period of not being on TV,  of children (future fans) and high school players (future recruits)  not being able to see you play, designed counteract the years of good press that winning generates. 

But it is a very broad brush. Keeping the Ohio State - Michigan game off the air not only punishes Ohio State, but Michigan as well. So though they will discuss it again, and while it will be in their arsenal, it seems unlikely that they would impose such a sanction on Ohio State when they did not impose it on the perfect test case for it (USC).

For now, those 6 items I listed above would be the starting point.

And I'd add a few notes of clarification:
The NCAA will not go on the record and say this, but it is my firm belief that if they can prove enough facts to register the LOIC (and I am certain they can) any further allegations that they honestly believe but cannot prove will be left out of the report, but will be implicit in the harshness of the penalty handed down for LOIC. They do not have to have a paper trail on every allegation in order to say there is a culture at Ohio State that needs to be changed.

The fact that Terrelle Pryor will not testify can be helpful to or extremely harmful to Ohio State. If it means that the NCAA cannot get questions answered and runs into investigatory dead ends, that may help Ohio State. But if the accusation is made and if the accusors will speak to the NCAA, Terrelle Pryor's refusal to sit down and refute the allegations will be seen, effectively, a plea of no lo contendere. As we saw with Reggie Bush's non-compliance, they will say that if Pryor refuses to mount a defense, the preponderance of evidence shows that he is guilty.

At this point, no matter how many people refuse to speak, the NCAA has proof enough of varied enough violations that the hammer is coming down on Ohio State.

Posted at 03:45 PM     Read More  

I Am Not Blogging

This is a one-off. I am not blogging. Please do not expect regular bloggingl; you will just be disappointed.

And one other disclaimer: this is not a highlight reel. This is not a collection of the best or most interesting plays from from Saturday's game, rather a collection of plays that which serve as examples of something I saw, thought I saw or need an explanation for. You aren't going to see Hemingway on a fly pattern beating a DB because I think we all pretty much know what happened there; Hemingway is fast and Forcier throws an accurate deep ball. No story.
So ...


Lots of good things evident, like this: Tate Forcier to J.R. Hemingway for the TD. It looks really simple ... the CB comes up when he sees Forcier scrambling and Hemingway beats him over the top. But what is really encouraging about this is that Hemingway breaks long because Tate Forcier tells him to. The true freshman in his very first drive as a college QB is directing traffic and generating big plays. Just one example of the fact that he sees the field better than you would expect a true freshman to.
Speaking of which, here's a play I could use some insight on. A nice run on the read option. Forcier appears to make the right read when the DE crashes (the DEs for WMU seemed to crash inside a lot, which is probably why Forcier kept the ball so often). Forcier makes a nice move on the DB and picks up good yardage. The question, I guess, is why was this so much work? Forcier made the right read and yet we were outnumbered. Did Webb make the wrong call by going downfield instead of blocking the DB (#28)? Was it just a really good read by 28? Or was WMU coming with a DB run blitz of sort?
Obviously, the other big positive from the QB play was Denard Robinson's big play ability. Yes, there are a lot of nice moves there and some flat out speed, but what I'd really like to draw attention to is Martavius Odoms. Presumably, he was the intended ball carrier here, on the end around. Or at least he was an option. But when Robinson dropped the ball, Odoms didn't miss a beat and took off like a missile to block the outside DB who could have stopped this play for a relatively short gain. Nice play by Odoms.
For the one bad note: this is going to happen, but Forcier did have a moment or two where he looked like a freshman. On one play early in the game, He missed a sure touchdown. If he throws this to the outside, to Daryl Stonum, there isn't a Bronco within 2 miles. Trust me on this, that is not a case of a DB breaking off coverage because the ball was thrown elsewhere; there was no DB with a play on Stonum. Forcier just didn't see it.

Speaking of WRs

We saw two good things out of the WRs that we did not see last year. (1) They did not drop passes. That was epidemic last year. Instead, we saw 0 drops and a couple of great grabs (Kelvin Grady early, and Koger's one hander late). (2) The blocking on the perimeter and downfield by WRs was vastly improved. There was mention of Odoms above, but another great example was Daryl Stonum, on Kelvin Grady's end around. He knocks one guy off balance, then turns and takes another guy out of bounds, allowing Grady to pick up a 1st down despite Western having numbers in the open field.

Defensive Line

Brandon Graham had a great game, getting after the QB repeatedly and making Western's line (and RT in particular) look very much like a MAC line. But that was expected. What was nice to see is that the true freshman Craig Roh joined him in the backfield on numerous occasions. Here, he blows up a draw play by taking an inside move on the RT. Here, he gets a sack just going through the RT. The nice thing about that ... true freshman, and he's getting it done multiple ways. He's not just going around the corner and trying to use his speed to beat the RT every time. And while it's tempting to say maybe the Western RT is just not very good, While Brandon Graham blows up the RT, here's Roh using a 3rd method of getting into the backfield, a spin move this time. Focus on the DL this time. That's nice versatility from a freshman DE. And that versatilty is a key part of the spinner position, because he'll be called on to do things like this. Dropping into coverage from an LB spot, and getting good depth (and width, I guess) on his drop. While Graham blows up the RT again.

Defensive Backfield

Probably the single most exciting thing to come out of the defensive performance yesterday was the tackling and hitting, particularly by the secondary. Very few missed tackles, and some solid hits. It's hard to give examples of things that don't happen, but some gratuitous "nice hit" video never hurt. Donovan Warren (though he didn't really jar that ball loose - reverse angle shows the guy dropped it even before Warren hit him). Boubacar Cissoko.

Read Options?

I don't think we've seen the whole playbook yet. There's a lot going on that maybe the freshman QBs aren't ready to use yet, but is there because it will pay dividends down the line. Two examples:
We seem to have a simple "QB keeper / quick flare" option, where the QB takes few steps on a sweep before deciding whether to run or throw to the WR. We saw it a couple times, mostly in the form of a pass play. I don't know if it was a real option, as we ran it (or whether the QBs were instructed to throw), but it will certainly be an option down the road.
Far more intriguing, I think, is the triple option that we showed but didn't use. Watch how wide open Kelvin Grady gets at the top of your screen. This is setting up. The QB reads the DE and if the DE crashes (pursuing the RB handoff) the QB keeps. And as he starts to run, if he sees the CB peeling off his outside coverage to shut down the run, he pulls up and throws to the now abandoned slot receiver. It's not the easiest read, to pull up from a run and throw the ball as the traffic is headed your way. A late read makes it a dangerous throw, so it's not surprising that Forcier never attempted the pass, but at some point this season Forcier will feel comfortable enough to make a corner pay for coming up to take away the run.
Posted at 02:19 PM     Read More  


To go with all those predictions, let me finally publish the rankings and some of the other data.
Rather than dumping the whole thing, I'll just put up a few highlights.

Top 10 teams (Rating)
1. Texas 8-0 (1.52)
2. Alabama 8-0 (1.33)
3. Boise State 7-0 (1.30)
4. Penn State 9-0 (1.25)
5. Utah 8-0 (1.23)
6. Texas Tech 8-0 (1.23)
7. Ball State 8-0 (1.17)
8. Tulsa 8-0 (1.15)
9. Georgia 7-1 (1.09)
10. Oklahoma 7-1 (1.09)

Keep in mind, this is *not* a power rating and it's not suggesting that Boise State would beat Penn State or that Tulsa would beat Oklahoma.

The power rating stuff is more the offense/defense factors, and as such

Top 10 offenses (rating)
1. Oklahoma (1.927)
2. Florida (1.798)
3. Missouri (1.677)
4. Texas (1.624)
5. Southern California (1.582)
6. Oregon (1.562)
7. Oregon State (1.556)
8. Penn State (1.526)
9. Tulsa (1.520)
10. Georgia (1.508)

Top 10 defenses (rating)
1. Southern California (0.259)
2. Boise State (0.425)
3. Florida (0.467)
4. Texas Christian (0.493)
5. Penn State (0.532)
6. Iowa (0.550)
7. Texas (0.552)
8. Ohio State (0.556)
9. Alabama (0.564)
10. Wake Forest (0.619)

If you crudely calculate a power rating as offense/defense, that gives you Southern California with the highest power rating, followed by Florida, Texas and Penn State. Washington State comes in last.

Some other thoughts of note
Michigan has the 75th ranked offense and the 61st defense, and overall is ranked 100th!
The worst team in 1-A is North Texas.
The worst offense is Washington State and the worst defense is Idaho.

Posted at 07:25 PM     Read More  

Instant, Disposable Classic

That game against Wisconsin was something else. And whatever it was, I'm not sure I ever want to see it again. I can't really think of a coherent thing to say, so I'll just dump some thoughts. 

1. That was the worst half of offense I've ever seen Michigan play. I honestly found myself thinking that 4-8 was a possibility. 

2. Part of the problem was the playcalling. If Mike Debord had a game plan where we ran on almost every single 1st down, even though it was not working, and where the big changeup when we didn't run was a swing pass to the RB, he would be skewered. I love the Rodriguez offense and it will work, but the one thing that will, guaranteed will frustrate fans at times is the playcalling. There will be times when fans throw their hands up and say "Another swing pass?!?!?!"

3. The defense was exceptional. IIRC, and I don't care to count, Wisconsin had 5 possessions in the first half that started in Michigan territory. At one point, they had 3 consecutive possessions (due to a Michigan fumbled punt followed by a fumble on the ensuing Wisconsin kickoff). The defense did not wilt. 21 minutes of field time is a lot to ask of a defense.

4. The defensive line was outstanding. Brandon Graham got the stats (3 sacks and 2 forced fumbles, I believe), but Jamison kept constant pressure on, while the DTs (including freshman Mike Martin) controlled the middle. Martin is a tremendous surprise: no freshman DT is supposed to be that good. We have two talented senior DTs and Martin is forcing his way into the rotation nonetheless.

5. Attempting to throw the ball with 0:04 left in the 1st half was silly, and I have witnesses that I said so before the play unfolded. I believe I even turned to my father and said "Wisconsin is more likely to score on this play than we are" (or maybe I said that to the Wisconsin fan sitting next to me).

6. Wisconsin also helped us. Dropped passes, a missed field goal and some really cautious playcalling. They should have been up 28-0 or 31-0 at the half.

7. It is troubling that we are in Game 4 and are having open auditions for the kick return spot. It just seems to indicate that not much time was spent settling that in the off-season. Mathews, Trent, Horn and several other candidates were in Ann Arbor in spring, even, so there's been plenty of time. But whoever is back there, our kick returns are awful. Guys can't get out to the 20. Harrison stopped at the 10 on one, as if surveying the blocking that wasn't laid out in front of him. Just put your head down and barrel forward for what you can get if there's no seam.

8. On replay, Threet was not as bad as I first thought or as bad as the stats made it look. The first pick was partially on Odoms, who hesitated on his route (though the pass was still too high). Mathews dropped a TD. The bomb to Minor was dropped before the hit by the safety. On another play, Threet rolled out and made a heads up play to throw a bomb down the sideline for Mathews. Mathews was slow to react and head upfield, and the ball came up long as a result. He had some bad throws, too, but he was undone by poor receiver play repeatedly. Threet is a reasonably good freshman QB. We are used to really good QBs.

9. In the second half, the big plays on offense started rolling in. The 25 yard TD to Koger. The 35 yard run by Minor. The 60 yard run by Threet. Some, yes, was improved execution, but some is just stuff we weren't in position for in the 1st half. That Minor run doesn't exist until you start throwing a bit on running downs to force the defense out of the middle.

10. Also in the second half, the defense went from damage control to inflicting damage. They got after Evridge, who consistently held the ball too long. They dropped Hill at the line repeatedly and forced Wisconsin into 2nd and long situations.

11. Mesko's punts look horrible, but none ever get returned, so the net is fantastic.

13. The best 2-back pairing, based on limited data, seems to be McGuffie and Grady. Grady is the only guy who can turn a 2-3 yard run in when there's no hole, the guy who can keep the defense honest and free up other things.

14. Losing because of a misalignment on the 2 pt conversion is a brutal way to lose.

Does this game raise or lower my expectations for the year?
My expectations are to be totally erratic, and that's exactly what we were. A half of very good defense and the worst offense you will ever see. A half of decent offense and exceptional defense. That shows the potential is there, but it would be a mistake to take every development as a trend. We are erratic, and the 2nd half may have been just a good half. 
But it was a game many expected to lose that we won, so that has to up our expectations for the season by a half game or more, right?

Posted at 10:39 PM     Read More  

Late, Deliberate Thoughts on ND

Go something like this.

It's never okay to lose to ND. It's never a game that you can toss away or trade away, saying "I'll take a split with ND and Wisconsin," or anything like that because there's always a measurement being taken. It's not between this team and their team, it's between the programs. For example, Michigan owns the all-time head-to-head series with Notre Dame with a several game margin, but Notre Dame fans like to point out that since the series resumed in 1978, they have the edge. That was one of the little things Michigan was playing for on Saturday, to even up the "modern day" series. Now Notre Dame has a 2-game edge again (curse Lou Holtz!).

And as I suggested before the game, a measurement was being taken between the 2008 Michigan team and the 2007 Notre Dame team. There was an element of incompetence on display from Michigan this Saturday that was reminiscent of the 2007 Notre Dame. The fumbles, the dropped snaps, the kick returners looking around, asking themselves "what just hit me on the head? Oh ... the ball!"

But this is where the measurement becomes complicated.

Is it possible to lose to Notre Dame, but somehow feel better about the team than you expected to feel with a win? That may be where I am. I went into the game expecting a bad display of football from two teams, anemic offenses, and a humorous Michigan victory that gives no indication that we are any closer to achieving the offense we set out to achieve. I came out of the game embarrassed at the fumbles and dumb penalties, but feeling very heartened by the performance of the offense.

Steven Threet demonstrated that he has decent arm strength and good accuracy. Where this was in spring and against Utah and Miami, I do not know, but there was promise on display against Notre Dame.

Sam McGuffie looked excellent. I caution against reading too much into any performance against the Notre Dame defense, especially one where the linebackers may be the weakest link, but McGuffie demonstrated quickness, vision and tremendous acceleration (although watching a Michigan lineman accident redirect McGuffie into the lane that led to the endzone was a fittingly silly way to score a touchdown).

The offensive line performed better than expected, although Notre Dame's defense is not exactly a wrecking crew against which reputations are made. Very little pressure got to Threet and running lanes existed, although more often outside the tackles than between.

The WRs performed well. Gone are the days when Notre Dame's secondary was looked like professional ushers, showing WRs their way into the endzone, so the ability of Greg Mathews and others to get open down the field against ND may mean something.

These are all things that we really hadn't seen much previously. Given the option between (what I expected) points off short fields and turnovers, with the occasional big play thrown in or (what we got)The offense, in putting up nearly 400 yards, moving the ball consistently and dropping it unprovoked with alarming frequency, I will take the latter. The latter gives some hope that the offense is further along than previously suspected, that we actually have a Big 10 level QB and that by the middle of the season we will be seeing exactly what Rodriguez has been drawing up. The fumbles will not recur. It's that simple; the fumbles will not recur. A few here and there, sure, but teams will not come up against Michigan thinking "All we have to do is land on the ball when they drop it and we'll be fine."

Disappointing along the way was the defense. The defensive line is an easy culprit for not getting the pressure on Clausen that we were expecting, and some may even fear that the ND offensive line has gotten its act together, but I would caution about reading too much into that, too. ND went into max protection much of the game, and hit one long pass when the safeties both got sucked up too close to the line of scrimmage, and hitting another when two players missed tackles after 10 yards and let the fastest ND wide receiver get to full speed on the sprint. These were fundamentally failures in the secondary. The defense *did* get after Jimmy Clausen, forcing throw aways and dump offs, then bailing him out with an unnecessary PI in the back of the endzone on one such scramble.

Secondary was supposed to be a strength of the team. Steve Brown was supposed to be a breakthrough player, and instead he is turning out to be the player that so many people accused Ryan Mundy of being. Morgan Trent was supposed to be Michigan's best CB, and instead he's turning into the eerily ND-like burnt toast generator that his detractors said he was.

So why doesn't this concern me? Why wouldn't I be happier with the defense playing lights out, keeping us in games, and the offense making understandably slow progress with the 9 new starters and freshman everywhere? Why am I not upset that the one thing we should be able to hang our hat on seems to have failed us when we needed it so badly?

For two reasons: 

1. The defense will not be here in 2009. If Tim Jamison and Will Johnson are blowing everything up at the line of scrimmage and Morgan Trent is shutting down half the field, that may help us get to a bowl and have a respectable 2008, but it doesn't give me anything to hang my hat on for 2009. When the 2008 defense departs, and all that's left from this season is an offense that sputtered its way to 7-5 despite the dominant defense, where does that leave my optimism? No, I'll take the offense making great progress, allowing me to quote my favorite statistic, the one that had me telling people all spring that 2009 was going to be a great year ... the *only* player on Michigan's offense who  won't be back in 2009 is Mike Massey (barring  early departures). If this offense looks decent this year, in year 1, with 9 new starters, it will be outstanding in 2009, in year 2, with 11 starters returning.

2. The defense may be where we expected to earn our wins in 2008, but this may be the last time in the Rodriguez era that we say that. Rodriguez is an offensive coach. Just seeing flashes of what he can do on offense lights up the Michigan fan base in a way that has relevance not just to the rest of the year and into 2009, but to the entire Rich Rodriguez era.

Posted at 09:50 PM     Read More  

Why this game is more important to ND

For the second straight year, the Michigan - Notre Dame game looks to be a matchup between two down and out featherweights. Last year, both teams stumbled in at 0-2, coming off blowout losses (Michigan's to Oregon, Notre Dame's to Penn State). This year, both teams come in off anemic victories over 2nd rate opponents, lined up as cannon fodder by AD's scheduling in better times.

San Diego State, fresh off a loss to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, a game in which they surrendered 260 yards rushing and 29 points, held Notre Dame to 100 yards rushing and 21 points (prompting Chuck Long to say that it would "tough" to decide who was better between Cal Poly and Notre Dame).

Miami, having lost by 17 to Vanderbilt, pushed Michigan into the 4th quarter before falling.

There's a temptation to say that both teams are likely to be similarly bad, to have similarly bad years, and that the game is no more meaningful in the grand scheme than last year's laugher. And I say that from Michigan's perspective, that is sort of true. Yes, it would be nice to beat Notre Dame, and there's the added feeling that every win we can get is a critical win, as we try to get 7 wins and assure ourselves a bowl berth and a non-losing season. But nothing that happens on Saturday really reveals much about the future of the Michigan program under Rich Rodriguez. This is not a signpost game or a turning point. This is not the barometer.

For Notre Dame, it is. For Notre Dame, this game might as well be a referendum.

Last year, as Notre Dame stumbled to 3-9, Notre Dame fans clung to the explanation that Tyrone Willingham's last two recruiting classes had left Weis nothing to work with. And to some extent, it would be disingenuous for a Michigan fan to disagree; I was there on the boards when 2005 started well and Michigan fans cautioned "he better win big now; year 3 will be a mess."

Weis was trying to get a bunch of highly rated but very green freshman and sophomores to understand his scheme. Some felt he spent too much time on scheme and not enough on practice, not enough on fundamentals, and the failure showed every Saturday. But now, he's got three full recruiting classes, from the juniors on down, and they were excellent recruiting classes. They've had a full season and the ensuing off-season to drill the fundamentals and the scheme.

Meanwhile, in Ann Arbor, Rodriguez is arguably trying a bolder, faster overhaul than Weis ever dreamed of. He has greener talent than even Notre Dame 2007. Sam McGuffie, Michael Shaw, Daryl Stonum and Martavius Odoms, all true freshman, are cornerstones of Rodriguez's offense right now. The offensive line has 1 returning starter, and the 2nd string consists of a walk-on, a guy who has been playing OL for 3 weeks and 3 true freshman. The quarterback, too, is a freshman, having just replaced a walk-on. And Rodriguez's scheme overhaul, from Carr's pro-style to the spread, is a far more ambitious project than Weis turning Willingham's "West Coast offense" into a pro-style attack. Rodriguez didn't even have a single WR on roster ideally suited to man the slot as defined in his spread, forcing him to use a true freshman (Robinson, now injured) backed up by a true freshman (Odoms).

If Michigan can beat Notre Dame, it forces Notre Dame fans to ask "Why is Rodriguez, in week 3, ahead of where Charlie Weis is in year 4." If Rodriguez can get anything approaching competence out of this collection of Not Ready for Prime-Time Players, why is it that Charlie Weis can't? With three years to recruit into his system and a full season of playing experience under their belts, the Notre Dame offense should be night and day better than what Michigan rolls out on Saturday, all other things being equal. 

But are all other things equal?

Posted at 07:51 PM     Read More  

That Sucked Slightly Less

What Went Right

The running game improved tremendously. Whether the players were more confident in their assignments and more decisive in their action, or whether Miami just isn't nearly as good as Utah we don't yet know, but both the blocking and running looked good. McGuffie got the corner and showed good moves in space. On a few carries, Minor and Shaw showed some burst. And Threet showed at least passable skill as a ball-handler, giving himself gaping holes to run through on the read option (including on the 9 yard TD that opened the scoring). I think it's tempting to understate Threet's contribution there, to look at how open he was on the TD and think Miami was just that bad, but his ball-handling left them chasing McGuffie et al on some of those plays, and he actually showed some decent speed and movement.

The short passing game finally showed some of the juke and run, big play potential that this offense is supposed to have. Martavius Odoms got loose on a 50 yard run to get us out of the gate quickly, and McGuffie had a 25+ yard catch and scamper later. When the offense is struggling, those plays become the key to victory; that is how you score points with a shaky OL, inaccurate QBs and good skill position players. And that is why McGuffie and Shaw are starting, because Minor and Grady may be better between the tackles runners, but I doubt Rodriguez has confidence that we can sustain drives. Minor cannot move around the lineup and give us the 50 yard play potential that Shaw and McGuffie can.

Also, both the long runs and long catch and run passes are an indication of erratically improving blocking from the WR/TE group. They aren't there yet, but they are also (largely) freshman and sophomores. The ability to turn 2 yard passes into 50 yard plays is dependent on the ability to block the secondary pursuit.

The defensive line again controlled the line of scrimmage, continuing the good work from the 2nd half of the Utah game. And behind them, the LB corps was vastly improved all around.

What Went Wrong

The intermediate to long passing game continues to be awful. Steven Threet missed multiple wide open deep plays, missing by so much that WRs did not even have the chance to make plays on them. Seam routes and TE/RB releases downfield are similarly off-target. In fact, not one intermediate or long pass was completed last week.

On defense, the safeties continue to be abused down the field, though Miami failed to complete the passes they were poised to give up. Trent got beaten deep, prompting a quick call from a friend with whom I've debated the merits of Morgan Trent as a player. Morgan: shape up, man ... you're killing my credibility.

Looking Forward in General

QB: I'd like to see Rodriguez pick a QB. I can understand a QB rotation in a situation where the QBs present different looks, but that only works if the different looks are the result of the QBs being able to do different things. The biggest difference between Sheridan and Threet isn't what one can do that the other can't, but what reasons we have for why they both can't do the basics. Sheridan appears to simply lack the arm strength to put balls 20+ yards down field, except on the safest passes, the sideline fly pattern (which turns into a jump ball). Threet has ample arm strength, but absolutely no accuracy. Either way, the passes are incomplete.

I don't want to second guess Rodriguez so early in his tenure, but I do not see the advantage of a rotation. I do see the potential advantage of letting one QB (I would say Threet) take the starters snaps in practice and all the snaps in the game. The game experience could settle down a QB who obviously has it in him to be better than this.

RB: I think we have seen where this is going. McGuffie and Shaw have both shown exactly what they were brought in here to do, and I don't see Grady, Brown and Minor pushing them aside. Sharing some carries, yes, but not replacing them.

WR: It's very hard to asses the WRs when the QBs cannot get them the ball. Stonum, Hemingway, Butler, Mathews and Clemons are not at full production if we have to rely on short passes. The attention turns almost solely to Martavius Odoms and (when he returns) Terrance Robinson. Hopefully, Threet just has the "yips" and can get himself under control. There is talent in this WR corps.

OL: With the loss of one more OL (this time it's Mark Ortmann, starting LT, to a dislocated elbow), Michigan is literally in a position where every single returning, healthy offensive linemen is starting. The 2nd string consists of a fall position switch (Ferrara) and freshman (O'Neill, Barnum, Omameh, Khoury), while two starters (Ortmann and Zirbel) and a prime backup (Huyge) watch from the sidelines. 

DL: is dominant, and all players are contributing. Jamison has been special. Graham and Johnson have been very good and Taylor has shown flashes. Van Bergen, Sagesse and Martin have been good in relief. This unit is the strength of the team.

LB: The rotation has tightened, as the RR staff made some of the same kinds of personnel move mistakes in Game 1 this year that LC's staff mad last year. Chambers and Panter did not play much against Miami, giving way to John Thompson and Jonas Mouton. Mouton is excellent off the blitz and has some natural cover skills (having moved over from safety). Thompson is a hit or miss player who is physical and tough in pursuit. It was a much improved game, and I don't expect the rotation to go back.

DB: Discussed above. It has to improve. 

Special Teams: Warren has been nothing more than a good ballboy on punt returns, and he  may have to cede those duties to someone more fearless back there. The kick return unit looks solid and may bust something soon.  Coverage has been very good.

Posted at 07:13 PM     Read More  

That sucked 

What Went Right
In the second half, the defense was utterly dominant. Facing three straight possessions starting in Michigan territory, they surrendered a combined three points, keeping Michigan in the game. Then in the fourth quarter, they forced a succession of short possessions, giving the ball to Michigan's offense deep in Utah territory twice (on the blocked punt and the fumble).
More specifically, the defensive line was every bit as good as we were hoping it would be. Johnson is a mobile and evasive QB, but was regularly run down by defensive linemen, who were still chasing hard in the 4th quarter of a game where the defense had been on the field for more than their share of snaps. The corners also were solid, leaving Utah only the middle of the field to work with in the passing game.
Lopata only had one opportunity, but if that is indicative of a greatly improved range, it could be a major assett for Michigan. In fact, the special teams as a whole were very good, covering punts and kickoffs well, making no major blunders and coming up with two big plays leading to 14 of Michigan's 23 points (the blocked punt and the first quarter fumble). 

What Went Wrong
The defense in the first half was lousy, surrendering approximately 300 yards to go with the 22 points. The single biggest problem was the pass coverage down the middle of the field, which is where Utah converted several 3rd down plays, including one killer 3rd and 19. The touchdown before the half was also on bad coverage down the middle. More on this later.

On offense, what didn't go wrong? First, and not surprisingly, the quarterbacks were awful. Threet had one beautiful throw to Hemingway, but also was lucky (with incompletions and pass interference) on some badly thrown sideline passes, threw an impossible pass on the two point conversion and missed a wide open Daryl Stonum on what could have been a game saving 4th down play. Sheridan, sadly, had no bright moments at all (save for a pass interference call that saved him on a badly thrown pass that was intercepted). His interception at the end of the first half was as bad a pass as you will see in college football, and was really evidence of his lack of arm strength. He has to throw his whole body into the throw, as if, like John McEnroe serving in the early 1980s, he can make up in torque what he lacks in conventional arm speed.
With that in mind, it's understandable that Utah sat on the short routes and made it impossible for the supposedly shifty Martavius Odoms, Michael Shaw and Sam McGuffie to get loose in the open field. However, the receivers had trouble getting any separation down the field, save for J. R. Hemingway on a couple of shots. It has been said numerous times that the QBs will have to prove they can hit something down the field to loosen up the coverage, but if the WRs cannot get separation, that will eat a hole in our offensive gameplan.
Also, you could see at times some of the cracks in the pavement that accompany using so many young players. A sweep to McGuffie undone by Michael Shaw as a lead blocker not picking up a block. The soph QB throwing to a covered frosh RB to set up a pitch play, and the frosh RB going down to end the game.

On special teams, there were three concerns. There is no excuse for multiple delay of game penalties when bringing on the punt team. The kickoffs were going nowhere near the endzone, and that's a field position hit this team can't afford. And our punt returns were nothing better than fair catches.

The Five Killers

1. The 3rd and 19 Utah converted to help cut it to 7-6 (see below).
2. The interception thrown by Nick Sheridan near the end of the first half (see below)
3. The ensuing touchdown throw by Utah (see below)
4. The fumble by Michael Shaw when it looked like we actually had some offense going.
5. The missed 2 pt conversion.

Visual Evidence

Three clips to illustrate some things.

One, to show the problem with such an extreme lack of arm strength. It's not that Sheridan can't throw the ball far enough, it's that in order to put the extra zip on the ball he is using a motion that is not reproducible. The less reproducible your mechanics are, the more erratic you are going to be with your accuracy. Tennis fans see the same thing, that (with the exception of the kinetic Andy Roddick) the big servers are usually the guys with the most fluid motions, not the ones with the biggest muscles.

The second and third to show off what went wrong with first half coverage, and hopefully it is being corrected (though I have no idea how one corrects these things). The first clip is of the 55 yard pass on 3rd and 19 that led to Utah's first touchdown. It looks at first blush like Donovan Warren has been beaten on this play, but I don't believe that's what happened. First the clip, then the talk.

It looks like the WR took an inside move on Warren and was gone. But when you look at the route combination at the top of the screen, you can see that the WRs covered by the OLB (Chambers) and by Warren cross. Chambers is chasing and is beaten down the sideline. Warren is forced to pick between the slot receiver going up the sideline or the outside receiver cutting in. It happens off screen, but based on Johnson's read (throwing to the inside) it would appear Warren was leaning to the slot receiver. And that is probably the right thing to do, as the inside throw could have been taken away by Steve Brown. The responsibility there would appear to be Brown's, but he has lost the inside position can  neither discourge that throw nor make the tackle to limit the damage. I suspect that in the film room, Brown will be the guy catching flak for this one.

The touchdown pass at the end of the first half also, to my amateur eyes, appears to be on the safety. It's a really nice throw by Johnson, between the two men dropping and the safety in the endzone, but the gap between the dropping OLB (Chambers) and the deep safety (Stewart) is simply far too large. In a contain and prevent situation, Stewart sitting that far back in the endzone isn't preventing anything except a touchdown celebration. And it's hard to imagine how or why Chambers, really a safety playing LB for passing downs, could be beaten that quickly and by that much.

What does this mean

Some things presumably can be fixed. I expect to see a lot more Steven Threet against Miami. Sheridan was the more consistent and reliable QB, the one who was supposed to play point guard and let the others make something happen. Based on one game's results, Michigan may need to take a higher risk, higher reward approach, and that could mean Threet. I also expect to see more 1st down runs to try to keep down and distance manageable. This offense is not designed to pick up 3rd and 10, but to stay out of 3rd and 10. 1 yard completions on 1st down don't help. I expect the problems on offense will prove very difficult to fix quickly, and the offense will have more games like this. 

On defense, it's hard not to be optimistic based on the 2nd half performance. One sometimes sees a defense look good with a big defecit, due to an opponent that is running out the clock, but this does not appear to have been the case Saturday. The defense was relentless and dominant, and that at least bodes well.

Posted at 01:55 PM     Read More  



Michigan: 27 - Utah: 10

Posted at 07:03 PM     Read More  

What We See 

Just to get this out of the way - players who may not play against Utah
Corey Zirbel (out - knee)
Terrance Robinson (out - knee)
J. R. Hemingway (questionable)
Kevin Grady (questionable - suspension?)

With that out of the way

What You Might See Against Utah

Quarterback: Nick Sheridan starting, but Steven Threet getting significant snaps. With Sheridan, the game plan is to get the ball out of his hands quickly and to players who can make things happen in one on one situations. The risk is that the opponent covers well, tackles well and our offense sputters its way to several punts. The game plan with Threet is to take more chances down the field, to hope that our wide receivers and tight ends can make plays by getting seperation, and then getting them the ball. The risk is negative plays - sacks and interceptions.

Runningback: At least four will play; Minor, Brown, McGuffie and Shaw, and not necessarily in that order. They will move all over the field, especially Brown and Shaw. They will be used in 18 different ways, some of which people who have only watched Michigan will have never seen before. There will be more confusion and misdirection than has been seen in Ann Arbor since the Mad Magicians of 1947. Expect to see any combination of two in the game at a time, not with one masquerading as a fullback but with both being legit RB and or slot receiving threats. Mark Moundros will get the bulk of the snaps at FB.

Wide Receiver: The short game will feature Greg Mathews, Toney Clemons and Martavius Odoms and be complemented by running backs lining up in the slot and catching passes out of the backfield. The downfield game will feature Mathews, Clemons and Daryl Stonum, and be complemented by tight ends Carson Butler and Michael Massey. With the exception of Greg Mathews, it will be hard to tell who is 1st string and who is the backup. Look for the tight ends to be blur the line between tight end and receiver. Both Butler and Massey will line up wide, away from the line, and try to create opportunities by dragging linebackers away from the box.

Offensive Line: Ortmann-McAvoy-Molk-Moosman-Schilling? Maybe the single most important thing to watch. Expect to see lots of movement on the OL and lots of substitution. Herd the opponent the wrong direction instead of trying to bull them out of the way. Zirbel was reportedly the best bull on the line, and he's not there. Expect some bad snaps and QBs diving on the ball, too. We appear to have a good stable of promising guards, but no shotgun centers. Don't be surprised if some backups get meaningful snaps subbing in one or two at a time. Some teams like to play units on the o-line and reserves only get snaps in garbage time. At least early this year, Michigan may not do it that way.

Defensive Line: Graham, Johnson, Taylor and Jamison starting with VanBergen, Martin, Sagesse/Kates and  Banks/Patterson. Here, there's a clear 1st vs. 2nd string delineation. It will be interesting to see how much rotation and rest Shafer and Tall go in for. The 1st to 2nd string dropoff could be enormous.

Linebackers: Starters still up in the air. Panter and Ezeh will start. Maybe Evans at WLB and Panter at MLB. Maybe Thompson at WLB and move everyone around? Mouton and Chambers will get snaps at the WLB spot, almost turning the 4-3-4 into something halfway to a 4-2-5 (Mouton is 100% LB, but still in the "almost a safety" mold). All the players mentioned will play significant minutes, though Mouton's and Chambers's minutes may be scarcer against Utah than other opponents for matchup reasons.

Defensive backs: Trent and Warren with Woolfolk and Cissoko both getting ample chances to play as the #3. They'll play press, and look to see if Trent is more physical this year than he was last year. It's all that is standing between him and an All Big 10 caliber season. Harrison and Brown will start at safety, though you could see quite a bit of Stewart as well. Brown could be the wildcard and key to the prognosis of the secondary. 

Return Game: I don't have a name, but look for big names. Don't discount the possibility of starters at return jobs, potentially Donovan Warren, Morgan Trent, Steve Brown, Brandon Harrison ... basically, the entire starting secondary.

Posted at 10:05 PM     Read More  

So Far

The season is close enough that we can actually start putting some stock in the various practice reports that are floating around (after we set aside 30 seconds to take in the fact that it seems like, with this new regime, everyone except for me has an open invitation to visit practice whenever they feel like it).

It Sounds Like

Quarterbacks: Not where we expected, and our expectations weren't realistic. Yes, Threet was a 4* QB coming out of high school and we should expect him to be a productive quarterback. Some day. He is a sophomore who has never played a down of college football, and he is in effectively his 3rd offensive system since leaving high school (Georgia Tech for a semester, Lloyd Carr's pro-style attack and now the spread). That he's struggling with his timing, that he's having difficulty with pressure and having trouble keeping up his confidence is not surprising. Sheridan catching him is either bad news (that Threet didn't seperate) or good news (that Sheridan's improving), depending on how you look at it. There's been lots of talk that Sheridan has an edge on Threet because he is a bigger threat running the ball, something that Rodriguez's offense is almost built around, but equally important is how quickly the QB can set his feet and deliver the ball. The Rodriguez offense features a lot of quick timing passes, and a QB who takes his time getting set will struggle. Edge Sheridan, and it may not be ephemeral. But no matter who starts, all we can realistically ask of the QB position this fall is that it not cost us games. If either QB proves capable of actively winning us games, that would be an unexpected bonus.

Runningbacks: Right where we expected, and our expectations were optimistic. For all the recruiting hype and flashes of excellence shown by our top three returning backs, Grady has had a disappointing career to date and Minor has never had a good game against a good team. And fans were expecting a lot out of two true freshman in Sam McGuffie and Michael Shaw. And so far, of those 5 backs mentioned, 4 have delivered what the optimistic fans expected. The only exception is Carlos Brown, who hasn't shown much due to injury, but who is also (in a way, at least) the most proven of the backs. Look for all five to play, as they give Rodriguez the ability to present lots of different threats to the opponent. Look for us to feature 2-HB formations (and not just with Grady or Minor lining up at FB). Look for McGuffie, Shaw and maybe Brown to move all around the lineup.

Wide Receivers: Right where we expected, and our expectations were optimistic. Mathews is what he should be, on his path to being Jason Avant, perhaps. Hemingway has been dinged up and Clemons has been cross-training at various positions, but the news has been the freshman. Stonum lit up the spring practices and continues to do so, way ahead of schedule for a true freshman. The very early returns on Robinson and Odoms are exactly what one would expect, that they explosive and elusive, though a bit inconsistent. Roundtree's name has yet to surface much, but we'll see. Verdict? We should easily have 4 credible WRs ready to go (Mathews, Hemingway, Clemons, Stonum), with the only problem being that none of them is truly the speedy midget-slot that Rodriguez seems to like, which is why the progress of Odoms and Robinson merits watching. If they aren't consistent enough, Clemons will have to make use of those hours at the slot position.

Tight Ends: Better than we expected, maybe even. Better in two ways. We expected Butler to be a freak, and he appears to be freaking as expected. But Massey has apparently worked his way into a 2-man TE rotation, and maybe just as importantly, it appears that Rodriguez was very serious about modifying his offense to incorporate a TE if he can find a mismatch to exploit. Butler can certainly provide a mismatch.

Offensive Line: Who knows? There are some very positive reports, but those reports may be a reaction to some pretty modest expectations. When you say your LT (Ortmann) is looking good and your LG (Zirbel) has had a breakthrough off-season, but both still need work in pass protection, that's a bit of a mixed signal. We also seem to have a couple of promising, steady centers who would both rather be playing guard (Molk and Moosman). Schilling is the one all-around given on the line. And those who were down on his play last year, please keep in mind he was in his first year starting, being asked to play two positions, and playing tackle at times next to a rotating guard corps. Not easy. Oh, and none of the guys I mentioned can afford to get hurt. We have 1 or 2 backups ready for meaningful snaps (Molk and maybe Dorrenstein) but after that it's true freshman offensive linemen, and that's scary.

Defensive Line: Better than expected and our expectations were optimistic. Every projected starter on the line has drawn raves for some time now. The only question mark in spring was whether Taylor would buy into the workout routines, and he has done so entirely. Graham and Jamison are noticably fitter and Jamison looks exceptionally quick in the little footage we have seen. Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen have impressed in backup roles, and if Jason Kates keeps up with the routine, he could answer the one question that had him rated as a 2* recruit at one site and a 4* at the other. Quality starters, any of which could be All Big 10, and some quality depth. Can't ask for more.

Linebackers: A bit better than our modest expectations. Better in that Austin Panter, who was the star of spring, is still fighting for a spot, and not becaue he's regressed. Better in that Ezeh has the makings of a star and Evans is way ahead of schedule. A bit behind in that many were hoping Mouton would be an early contributor and a star, and he may not factor that much if he can't beat out Evans. In the end, all we are asking of the LBs is that they be steady and good, not great and not the heart of the defense (that will be the D-line), and they look up to it.

Cornerbacks: Better than expected, and we expected a lot. Warren and Trent are right where they shoudl be, and Cissoko is as expected. The nice bonus is that Troy Woolfolk appears to be ahead of schedule, not at all the track star project that some thought he might be. We have two very good corners, a potentially good nickelback (Woolfolk) and depth (Cissoko). Along with d-line, this should be the strength of the defense.

Safery: I don't know. I have not heard, read or seen much about the safeties. Little scraps ... that Steve Brown is on target, that Harrison looks quick and has taken to the defense. But not much, good or bad.

Bottom Line
Position by position, we are ahead of where we (the consensus as I read it) expected us to be, but that has to be taken with a grain of salt. Replacing basically the entire starting offense, both safeties and much of the LB corps, we were expecting many of the players to struggle, and for Rodriguez to be the guy to figure out how to win despite that. And the faith in Rodriguez to get that done was probably unrealistic. If the OL really struggles in the way 4 new starters often do, and if the QB position performs the way first year QBs often do, the offense will be poor with or without any schematic advantage Rodriguez brings. Rodriguez can only do so much; the players need to do the rest, and so far it sounds like they are ahead of schedule there.

Posted at 09:31 PM     Read More  

 Stat of the Week

Since 1969 ...

Why 1969? Because I'm a Michigan fan, and 1969 is very important to Michigan fans. Anyway, since 1969, the programs with the least variance in year to year results (as measured by winning %age) are

1. Michigan (var = 1.1%, mean = 77.6%)
2. Ohio State (var = 1.7%, mean = 76.6%)
3. Nebraska (var = 1.8%, mean = 80.0%)

(for the statistics novices, variance is a measure of how close individual points in a dataset are to the mean of the dataset - so a basketball player who scores 20 points each and every game has zero variance, while a streak shooter who scores single digits one night and 30+ the next has a very high variance)

Not surprising results; you've got three programs that have been consistent winners over that time frame, and consistency = low variance. When you go 39 years without a losing season, only one .500 season and only one perfect season, you're posting the most consistent results in football.

But what do you make of ...
4. Michigan State (var = 2.0%, mean = 51.3%)
Consistently mediocre? Perennially average?

For the record, the highest variance belongs to K-State (var = 7.0%, mean = 46.7%). The lowest variance for a sub .500 team, call it "the most consistent loser in 1-A", belongs to Vanderbilt (var = 2.5%, mean = 30.9%). Keep in mind, re: Kansas State in particular, this is not variance against a trend line. Kansas State may not be "high variance" as much as it may be changing its profile, from a perennial cellar dwellar to a respectable program.

Posted at 09:48 PM     Read More  

Random Stats

This could become a recurring feature here, stats that don't seem to be prompted by anything and don't seem to be headed anywhere. Today, returning to something I look at on occasion, the top 10 programs in college football history. That's not a subjective statement, just taking the top 10 in winning percentage, from Chris Stassen's webpage and James Howell's database.

In particular, a new and improved statistic, a revisited and revised version of something I've posted before. It's a quick look at how the top 10 teams in cfb history have done, head to head, against each other. It's new and improved in that I spent the 20 minutes researching games that were not included in James Howell's database (presumably because Howell does not consider the teams to have been "major college football programs" at the time the game was played).

As shown at the link above, the top 10 teams in cfb history, sorted by winning %age, are

1. Michigan
2. Notre Dame
3. Texas
4. Ohio State
5. Oklahoma
6. Alabama
7. Southern California
8. Nebraska
9. Tennessee
10. Penn State

Against each other, again sorted by winning %age:
1. Michigan: 96-70-8 (57.05%)
2. Texas: 81-61-6 (56.8%)
3. Notre Dame: 99-80-8 (55.1%)
4. Alabama: 67-62-10 (51.8%)
5. Southern California: 72-67-8 (51.7%)
6. Oklahoma: 91-111-10 (45.8%)
7. Penn State: 45-55-1 (45.0%)
8. Nebraska: 61-76-6 (44.8%)
9. Ohio State: 69-87-7 (44.5%)
10. Tennessee: 47-61-8 (44.0%)

And ordered by total games played:
1. Oklahoma: 214 
2. Notre Dame: 187
3. Michigan: 174
4. Ohio State: 163
5. Texas: 148
6. Southern California: 147
7. Nebraska: 143
8. Alabama: 139
9. Tennessee: 116
10. Penn State: 101

The list includes the following games not included in James Howell's database:
3 wins by Michigan over Notre Dame in 1887 and 1888.
3 wins by Texas over Oklahoma in 1900 and 1901.
A tie between Alabama and Tennessee (date unknown)

I have not yet confirmed the 'completeness' of James Howell's figures for:
Alabama vs. Southern Cal: 5-2
Alabama vs. Texas: 0-7-1
Southern Cal vs. Texas: 4-1

Like I said, this isn't going anywhere. Yet. It will eventually.

Posted at 10:12 PM     Read More  

May 20th Miscellany 

Rodriguez Speaks

Responds to Charlie Weis's 'excuses' comment by saying, and how can you not love this, "I'm not worried about winning a rally. I'm not worried about winning a press conference." Oh, and he also did a mea culpa on the #1 jersey and after getting an education about the history of the jersey, will be giving it to a WR next year.

Matt Pargoff of The Wolverine dug up an article from August (yes, August: I was busy in August) which documents the number of Feb 2007 football commitments that did not end up enrolling at their program of choice in August. I'm sure it was discussed. But I'd just like to point out once more Oregon State: from 2004-2007, they brought in 133 recruits. The official limit / year is 25. 25x4 = 100. They "oversigned" by 33! If I had been recruiting against Oregon State, I would have printed that article out and shown it to every kid, saying "if you sign with Oregon State, there's a 25% chance you won't make it to campus. They won't even have a spot for you." 

By the way - tally - SEC 43 players who never signed. Big 10 ... 4. The *average* SEC team has as many such kids as the entire Big 10 conference. Keep that in mind next time you are looking at composite recruiting rankings.

And this may have been shown and linked before, too, but I'd like to share it again. From orangehammerfilms

At times shows, at times speaks to some of the things that made him special. 2nd clip - takes the massive hit, stays on his feet, keeps moving forward. Head-shaking. The catch against Indiana ... no other receiver I've ever seen stays on his feet after that hit at the 25.

I have no idea who was #1.

Posted at 06:53 PM     Read More  

 Rodriguez explains his offense

With video! And a white board!

It's nice having a coach who has an offense that's actually worth diagramming on the white board. So take a look (it's about 10 minutes long - thanks Victors' Cap for the link).

A few quick thoughts: 

Some folks may think "Damn, he's letting all his secrets out!" Not a big deal. Not only can any coach worth his salt figure much of this out from game film, Rodriguez has been open about running camps and meeting with other coaches to show off his offense. Both Jim Tressell and Charlie Weis have made that pilgramage to Morgantown to learn from Rich Rodriguez (that's a fun fact to remember when the ND fans talk to us about their offensive genius).

I like some of the small tidbits in here. I like that he considers the QB a blocker. Why? Why not. I like that he is willing to discount a safety in the box because he just doesn't think that's going to stop his RB.

Keep in mind, he is talking primarily about the run part of the game here, so even when he's talking WR alignments and coverages, he's looking at how they affect the run game. One can only imagine what he has in mind for a WR corps that should be better than any he worked with at WVU. 

But in all, the video only lays out what we already know; this offense more than anything stresses two things - the ability to read the defense and find the open area, and the speed to attack the weak spots before the defense can recover. Nothing revolutionary, but interesting.

Thoughts on Manningham, Arrington and Mallett will be coming soon.

Posted at 06:20 PM     Read More  

 Wow: All Nine Assistant Coaches Gone

Rodriguez Fires Michigan Assitant Coaches

That per Angelique Chengelis of the Detroit Free Press. Which ones? All of them. Every one of them. Shocking. Almost everyone assumed 2 or 3 assistants would be retained, with the most likely being longtime UM assistants WR coach Erik Campbell and RB coach Fred Jackson, and possibly QB coach Scot Loeffler. But it looks like Rich Rodriguez has cleaned out the cupboard.

The first question many message board types will ask is "what does this mean to our recruiting class?" To which the obvious answer is "Who cares?" Okay, we all care to some extent; it would be nice to have Sam McGuffie and Boubacar Cissoko and all come to Ann Arbor next year, but the composition of the coaching staff is much more important in the long run than a single recruiting class.

The bigger question to me is "why?" If this is because Rodriguez has some coaches in mind that he thinks are better than Jackson and Campbell and Loeffler, we have to give him that chance. I personally think that Campbell and Loeffler are among the best in the country (Jackson has never impressed me, as we never have multiple backs ready and our backups are always fumble prone), but Rodriguez is the guy getting millions to make these decisions and he's the guy coming off 32 wins in 3 years.

But, if Rodriguez is firing these guys just out of a desire to start fresh or because he wants to keep the guys from WVU he is familiar with, then that is cause for concern. Only time will tell, of course. And time may bring a couple back (don't be *too* surprised if after firing all 9, Rodriguez sits down with 1 or 2 and brings them back).

Posted at 08:16 PM     Read More  

Richard Rodriguez to Michigan 

All but official now, as Rodriguez has met with his team and told them he is coming, and has apparently started recruiting for Michigan already.

No comment yet - presser later today - but this one is being widely reported and seems more than just credible.

There have been bumps in this road. Les Miles seemed like a no-brainer choice, and somehow it did not happen. And the irony is that the Pitt win over West Virginia complicated our pursuit of Les Miles but made it easier to get Rich Rodriguez. But it's hard to be upset with the way this turned out.

Casting a glance back to my original short list from before Carr announced, we made a play for #3 (Les Miles) and it didn't work, we made a play for #2 (Greg Schiano) and he turned us down and we went after #4 (Rich Rodriguez) and we got him.

That's not to say that all concerns over the search were unfounded; sometimes mistakes can be salvaged, and it's possible that the intervention of Mary Sue Coleman and the rumored involvement of a professional search team gave Martin the assistance he didn't think he needed. Either way, it doesn't matter; we got ourselves a great coach and hopefully we won't be in a position to do this again for a long time.

Posted at 02:09 PM     Read More  

I give up  

Misdirection, Smokescreens and Wild Goose Chases

I don't know anything. 

And neither do you.



Posted at 01:06 AM     Read More  

Open Letter to Bill Martin

Dear Bill Martin,

This is the most important decision you will make in your tenure as the athletic director at Michigan. The stadium construction, the basketball search, even balancing the budget ... none of those compare to the head football coaching search.

And now, with the job open 2 weeks, what are we hearing? Brady Hoke. Mike DeBord. Ron English. An interim coach for a year and try again in 2008. 

None of those decisions is acceptable. They are not just uninspiring, they are unacceptable. Any one of them would be seen as an abject failure on the part of the athletic department and the athletic director. Michigan is one of the top programs in the country and the job opening here is a dream opportunity for many, to take over a national powerhouse at a prosperous time, not in the middle of a decline. The right hire could launch Michigan into a truly fantastic era for this program.

And yet we hear that we may be considering Ron English, Mike DeBord and Brady Hoke.

Whatever your fears are with respect to Les Miles, they cannot outweigh the simple reality, the proven reality, that Mike DeBord and Brady Hoke are not good enough to warrant handing over the Michigan program to one of them.

There is no perfect candidate. Every candidate presents some danger, some fear. The fear that Schiano was a flash in the pan. The fear that Tedford can't recruit. The fear that Miles will embarrass the program. The fear that Stoops looks the other way on NCAA compliance. Ditto Tressell. Ditto Carroll. Meyer is a negative recruiter. 

There is fear with every coach. There are negatives on every coach, and an element of risk. But with some candidates, there is a reward behind that risk. Les Miles is such a case. He has never been investigated by the NCAA. He has never said anything that would offend the fans or the population. He has never done anything to embarrass his university. Has he done something to offend Lloyd Carr? Assuredly yes, but as much as Carr has contributed to the program, his word cannot outweigh the collective thoughts of dozens of dyed in the wool Michigan faithful, ex players, ex coaches and alumni, who know and respect Les Miles and want to see him in Ann Arbor.

You have a committee of advisors. You have dozens of respected Michigan football alumni who will weigh in. When they say Les Miles is good and Les Miles can be trusted with this program, respect the opportunity that he represents, not the fear.

And faced with the choice of Hoke, DeBord, English and interim or Les Miles, the decision cannot be hard.

Posted at 10:43 PM     Read More  

Undone by Uncertainty  

With the abrupt and unexpected announcement that Les Miles has extended his contract with LSU, an announcement made at a press conference in which he was widely expected to announce he was leaving LSU for Michigan, the obvious question was "What went wrong."

I went around insisting that it had played out exactly as I had expected (see next blog entry down), except that Miles hadn't waited out LSU's bluff, that when Miles held all the cards and could have told LSU he would negotiate after the season, he buckled in, bought their bluff and announced he had agreed to the extension.

Now word is filtering out that there is a much bigger issue at work here, one that comes as a huge surprise to many of us who thought we were tuned into this search. Bill Martin is just not sold on Les Miles. How he could not be sold, I have no idea. I said months ago, before this job was even open, that Martin had to make the call on Miles' character before anything else, and not even put Miles on the list if he didn't feel comfortable with it. But on the field, there is no question on Miles. He wins consistently. He is in the national title game. There are no questions on Les Miles the football coach.

But Bill Martin isn't sold.

And Les Miles, with a team headed to the title game, and with a 10 year, $35M contract extension from LSU on the table in front of him, has no interest in taking chances on all of that just so that he can be part of a search headed by a guy who may not choose him in the end.

If Bill Martin had called Les Miles today and said "Les, 5 years, $16M," I am confident that Les Miles would have sheepishly walked to a podium next week, wiped the egg from his face and announced he was coming to Michigan. But Martin, who has had since September at the very least to conduct the background on this search, and who can lean on the experiences of literally dozens of people who have coached with or played with Les Miles, still wasn't sure.

And so Michigan's best chance at landing a true home run head coaching candidate has disappeared.

There is no way to spin this except as a tremendous screwup by Bill Martin. This is not the time to start doing background checks. This is the time to be making offers.

Posted at 09:53 PM     Read More