Tuesday, 25 October 2011

At the Mountains of Madness

So obviously I haven't posted in awhile.  Maybe you thought I had given up after the first loss of the season or just decided to get out of the bloggin' game.

Bloggin' ain't easy yo.
(Note: not actual photo of me.  Those shoes are terrible.)

But no my friends.  I was angry.  Angry at everything.  Angry at the coaches, the players, Dave Brandon, Mark Dantonio, dirty MSU players, refs, God, everyone.  Each time I began a post it devolved into a ranting, paranoid plot scrawled on walls and floors in ink written with a sharpened ostrich feather, Dave Brandon, Mark Dantonio, the Bilderberg Group and Cthulhu setting in motion a vast conspiracy to unmake the universe as we know it and reshape it into the image of a vast golden Spartan with striped shoulders and a disembodied voice screaming "NUMBER FOUR!  NUMBER FOUR!  NUMBER FOUR!  NUMBER FOUR!" until madness takes you for eternity.  Special K RAWK as the soundtrack to a giant idol of Will Gholston that a galaxy of clown faced things worship as a God.  Of a tiny dreadlocked bolt of lightning moving too fast to comprehend flailing his arms as he fires pebbles at men who weep as he misses them by a span of miles.

Like this, only less Jim Carrey.

I was slightly annoyed is what I'm saying.  So since that wasn't working out I thought it might be a better idea just to hit on some key points.  It's probably safer for everyone.

I'm not sure Michigan can win consistently with Denard Robinson at quarterback: Perhaps I should clarify.  I'm not sure this iteration of the Wolverines can be great with Denard at quarterback.  To be fair, I'm not calling for Devin Gardner.  I still think Robinson gives Michigan the best chance to win games.  He could be a fantastic piece on a more complete, less flawed team.  A team with a top 10 defense, a great offensive line that can open holes even when the defense has eight and nine in the box, and a great running back that can turn two into eight and ten into six points.

But Robinson simply doesn't throw well enough to make teams respect the pass.  From now on Michigan is going to be facing eight and nine man fronts regularly.  If he can't make teams pay, it's going to be tough sledding.  I understand the thought proces of people calling for the coaches to spread the field more width wise, and I don't disagree.  But that still doesn't actually back people out of the box.  Sure teams like Oregon, Oklahoma, and RR's West Virginia teams spread defenses across the field.  But they had/have  quarterbacks that were capable of beating teams over the top.  They are able to spread teams out vertically and horizontally, and that is what makes them so dangerous and effective.

I think we can take a look back and see at least some evidence of this.  Over the first six games against BCS opponents in 2010 (UConn, Notre Dame, Indiana, Michigan State and Iowa) Michigan averaged 5.9 YPC as a team.  Denard Robinson averaged 7.4 YPC and threw an INT every 37 passes.  Over the last 5 games Michigan averaged 4.3 YPC and Robinson averaged 4.6 YPC and an INT every 20.8 passes.  I realize Michigan face better defense in those last five game.  However, the average total defense ranking of the first six was #35 (346.8 YPG allowed in 2010) and the final five were ranked #43. (353.7 YOG allowed).  There's not a whole lot of difference there.  OSU at #4 was an outlier in the final five while Indiana was an outlier in the first six at #90.  Take those two out and you're looking at #42.3 for the last five and #42.4 for the first six.

Regardless I don't think better defenses alone can explain that large of a production drop.  Teams figured out they didn't have to respect the threat of the deep or even intermediate level pass.  And you ended up with eight guys in the box all screaming downhill at the first sign of a run.  And while I haven't done the research yet, I'd wager that the bubble screens and other short throws become far less effective as well.  And the same thing is happening this year.  The offense will likely be somewhat inconsistent against better defenses unless Denard Robinson shows that he can hit a few of those deeper throws on a somewhat regular basis.

The defense is actually pretty decent: So far this season Michigan has held every opponent under their season scoring average (to date) and five of seven under their season total yards average.  Compare that to last season when the Wolverines only managed to hold a team under its average points scored four times all season (UConn, Notre Dame, Purdue and Ohio State).  The defense ranks 8th in the nation for total takeaways with 19 and points per game allowed with 14.7.  They are in the top 30 in pass defense (!) and total defense.  The rush defense is squarely in the middle of the pack.  Obviously it's pretty early and the second hald collapses of the last couple years could still return, but if you don't know, now you know:  Greg Mattison is pretty good at his job.

MSU is one of the dirtiest teams I've seen:  Seriously

I actually have no real reason to be mad: I got mad over one game but only because it was MSU.  I miss the days when Michigan State was a guaranteed 6-6 and their fans could be tolerated until basketball season.  But before the season I figured Michigan would be 6-1 at this point and finish 9-3.  Granted I thought they'd lose to ND and beat MSU, but still. 

The defense has been vastly improved.  While the offense sputtered last week, they've been pretty explosive and average 34.6 points per game.  Recruiting has been great.  The team really seems to be building something.  At this point I'm quite pleased and still think 9-3 is a very realistic goal.

Authors note:  About the Denard section.  Before I get a comment telling me I don't understand statistics or my logic skills need work, and before I get fisked by another Michigan blog, I thought I should address something.  I realize that correlation does not equal causation.  The statistics only show the decline of the run game, not the cause (in fact defenses started disregarding the pass as early as MSU last year).  I'd be better off picture paging some things to show people what I'm talking about.  I left the numbers up in case anyone wanted to use them for anything. 

I stand by the statement that not being able to make teams pay deep when they cheat the run hurts the run game, which duh.

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