Monday, December 31, 2007

Citrus Bowl Preview

I realize it's now the Capital One Bowl, but I don't agree with corporate naming of bowl games so I'm choosing to go with Citrus Bowl. "You can't spell Citrus without U T" just wouldn't be the same any other way.

Lloyd Carr's farewell
The end of an era
Mike Hart and Chad Henne and Jake Long finish their Michigan careers
Urban Meyer pretends to be nice after badmouthing Michigan last year

There are lots of ways to look at this game. Normally, I'd break down all the statistics and come up with a pretty good guess of the outcome and Michigan's chances for victory. Not this year folks. It's not that I don't care. It's that I'm afraid of looking at the numbers. Michigan sucked this year. It started from the first game and continued the last game. I prefer to just look at some of the possibilities in this game and what they might mean.

For one, this is definitely the end of an era at Michigan and it actually saddens me quite a bit. Lloyd Carr is without a doubt one of the absolute best people in college football. His kids go to class. They graduate. They work hard. They develop as people. They contribute to the community. They come back year after year because they love the school and program so much. Lloyd is the last in a line going back to the day Bo was hired in 1969. It's an unbroken string of Big Ten championships and power football that dominated the Big Ten and culminated in a national championship in 1997.

Rich Rodriguez is going to usher in a new era at Michigan. That's exciting, but it's also a little scary. As long as I've been alive, the rest of the Big Ten knew what Michigan was going to do to them on Saturday and they were pretty sure that they couldn't do anything about it. Michigan also held their own against Ohio State in the greatest rivalry in college football, sometimes momentum swung one way (9-1-1) and sometimes it swung the other (current 4 game winning streak for OSU). There were Heisman trophies on offense (Desmond) and defense (Woodson). It's a hell of an era that is coming to a close. In the end, Lloyd Carr just refused to change a little too much in the changing landscape of college football.

So what do I expect from this game against Florida? Who the hell knows. It could be ugly. Florida has a lot of talent and scored a lot of points this year with their Heisman winning dual threat quarterback Tim Tebow. Michigan never fares well against mobile QBs and has quite the bowl losing streak going. Everybody expects Florida to win in a romp. Well, almost everybody. The guys wearing the Maize and Blue are going to fight tooth and nail in this one. And that's the last little bit of hope that I have left. I've seen them at their best and they can beat anybody. Whether or not they will is another story.

So what needs to happen for Michigan to win? Here are my keys to Michigan pulling the monumental upset:

1) Make Tebow one dimensional. Do not let him beat you running the ball. There is a huge responsibility to the LBs and DL to actually get Tebow on the ground when they get a chance. He's a big boy and hard to bring down and we've missed a lot of tackles on QBs this season. Shawn Crable and company absolutely have to come up big in this one.

2) Healthy Mike Hart. If Michigan Mike can stay healthy, he will churn out the yards. And nothing makes a Lloyd Carr offense more dangerous that a solid running game. You can pretty much pencil him in for 150 yards in the culmination of his record setting career if he can stay healthy.

3) Let Chad Henne air it out. They need the 2006 OSU gameplan in this one. The coaches have to know they need a lot of points and then to cut Manningham and Arrington and Mathews loose on the Gators secondary. This is no time to be conservative against a Gator D that is suspect against the pass and hasn't seen a group of WRs like Michigan will throw at them.

4) Special teams. Need a big game from the coverage units against Brandon James and it wouldn't hurt to break one themselves.


I can't do it. It's too painful to type what I expect to see happen. The only difference is that after this game nobody will be calling for the coach to get fired.


God that was sweet to watch in too many ways to count. The most obvious is congrats to Lloyd Carr for a wonderful career. I'll have many, many more thoughts on it at some point in the next few days.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Rich Rodriguez Runs to Victory

One thing that baffles my mind is the large number of college football fans that have a basic misunderstanding of philosophy and play calling when it comes to various styles of offense. The simple inability to differentiate between the spread option attack run by Rich Rodriguez and Urban Meyer from the spread passing attack run by Joe Tiller and Bill Belichick is crazy. The one and only thing they share is a shotgun formation (at times) and a 4 WR set. That's it. The spread option starts almost every play with either a handoff or fake handoff to the TB. Almost every single passing play is play action or misdirection. Many of the passes are wide receiver screens or short crossing routes and there is not much in the way of downfield passing.

What I want to do here is characterize Rich Rodriguez as an offensive playcaller in terms of run/pass balance at various places he has been. This will give us an idea of where Michigan might be heading in the future.

2007 West Virginia Mountaineers

166/246 passing for 1891 yards
589 rushes for 3515 yards

QB Pat White lead the team with 1185 rushing yards (on 177 attempts) and 1548 passing yards (on 197 attempts). The team as a whole ran the ball 71% of the time.

2006 West Virginia Mountaineers

149/233 passing for 2059 yards
590 rushes for 3939 yards

QB Pat White was second on the team with 1295 rushing yards (on 165 attempts) and lead the team with 1655 passing yards (on 179 attempts). This team as a whole ran the ball 72% of the time.

2005 West Virginia Mountaineers

122/193 passing for 1398 yards
625 rushes for 3269 yards

QB Pat White was second on the team with 952 rushing yards (on 131 attempts) and lead the team with 828 passing yards (on 114 attempts). This team as a whole ran the ball 76% of the time.

2004 West Virginia Mountaineers

149/259 passing for 1993 yards
589 rushes for 3019 yards

QB Rasheed Marshall was second on the team with 861 rushing yards (on 169 attempts) and lead the team with 1886 passing yards (on 242 attempts). This team as a whole ran the ball 69% of the time.

2003 West Virginia Mountainers

129/252 passing for 2034 yards
600 rushes for 2762 yards

QB Rasheed Marshall was third on the team with 303 rushing yards (on 101 attempts) and lead the team with 1729 passing yards (on 215 attempts). This team as a whole ran the ball 70% of the time.

2002 West Virginia Mountaineers

148/279 passing for 1753 yards
714 rushes for 3687 yards

QB Rasheed Marshall was third on the team with 666 rushing yards (on 173 attempts) and lead the team with 1616 passing yards (on 259 attempts). This team as a whole ran the ball 72% of the time.

2001 West Virginia Mountaineers

192/355 passing for 1811 yards
474 rushes for 1999 yards

QB Rasheed Marshall was second on the team in rushing with 210 yards (on 41 attempts) and QB Brad Lewis lead the team with 1339 passing yards (on 237 attempts). This team as a whole ran the ball 57% of the time.

2000 Clemson Tigers

159/296 passing for 2311 yards
557 rushes for 2600 yards

QB Woody Dantzler was second on the team with 947 rushing yards (on 172 attempts) and lead the team with 1691 passing yards (on 212 attempts). This team as a whole ran the ball 65% of the time.

1999 Clemson Tigers

252/423 passing for 3019 yards
497 rushes for 1812 yards

QB Woody Dantzler was second on the team with 588 rushing yards (on 146 attempts) and lead the team with 1506 passing yards (on 201 attempts). This team as a whole ran the ball 54% of the time.

1998 Tulane Green Wave

251/375 passing for 3495 yards
518 rushes for 2523 yards

QB Shaun King was third on the team with 633 rushing yards (on 156 attempts) and lead the team with 3495 passing yards (on 365 attempts). This team as a whole ran the ball 58% of the time.

1997 Tulane Green Wave

201/366 passing for 2608 yards
424 rushes for 2038 yards

QB Shaun King was second on the team with 511 rushing yards (on 124 attempts) and lead the team with 2577 passing yards (on 363 attempts). This team as a whole ran the ball 54% of the time.

A couple things jump out. For one, Rodriguez loves to run the ball. In the last 11 years, his lowest run percentage was 54% (in his first year at both Tulane and Clemson). He also tends to run the ball a lot more the longer he is at a school, which may be a product of recruitng more guys that fit his system the longer he is there. Even his record setting Tulane offense in 1998 ran the ball 58% of the time, despite being characterized as a wide open passing attack.

I think in the long run, Michigan will settle out running the ball between 60-65% of the time with Rodriguez at the helm. He should be able to recruit some dual threat QBs that are better passers than Pat White, but it's also plainly obvious that even when he has a future NFL QB he is going to run the ball a lot. Take a look at those West Virginia rushing yardage totals. When is the last time Michigan cracked 3000 yards on the ground in a season? Rodriguez has done it 4 straight years in Morgantown.

It's also worth noticing that QBs tend to rank very highly on the rushing list each year for Rodriguez. In 11 years since he left Glenville State in the NAIA, the worst a QB has finished in rushing yardage on his team is 3rd and only twice has he failed to have a QB rush for at least 500 yards on the season.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Rich Rodriguez

"Thank you all very much -- great crowd. It's an honor and privilege to be named the University of Michigan's head football coach. I will tell you, it was a very difficult decision to leave a place where I grew up, a program that we had built over the last seven years, to leave family and friends and a wonderful team with great young men. As I mentioned, it was a very difficult decision and in order to leave there, it was going to take a very special opportunity and a very special place, and I think that's what this is."

And with that, the Rich Rodriguez era in Ann Arbor got underway. I must admit that his name surfacing at the end of the coaching search came as a bit of a surprise to me. Honestly, I never thought he'd be in the mix as a candidate after turning down Alabama last year. I mean what was Michigan going to offer that Alabama didn't? They had a big contract at one of the true historical powers in the sport in a big time conference and he said "no thanks". Michigan came along offering a little bit more money and perhaps a little bit bigger of a name, but he decided to bite and for that the fans of Michigan should be greatful.

What do I make of the hire? Boy, oh boy, things are going to be changing in Ann Arbor. From the day Bo Schembechler was hired before the 1969 season until Lloyd Carr's last game in two weeks, it has been a long and continuous run of success at Michigan capped by the 1997 national title. Michigan has often been close but not in the national title chase, but has also been a bully in the Big Ten for 40 years. And they did it basically the same way. Sure, things changed a little over the years. But the people and the philosophy were the same.

What will 2008 bring? Fasten your seatbelts because this isn't your father's Michigan anymore. Rich Rodriguez favors a spread option attack that spreads the defense out and is always on the move. He also likes to go with a no huddle offense. He likes to score a lot of points. He is willing to take risks on offense. He isn't afraid to gamble at times. Gone are the days of Michigan sitting on a 10 point lead in the 3rd quarter content to let the defense close it out. Rodriguez will also likely be bringing about a change in the strength and conditioning program. Depending on who you ask, that might lead to big improvements in the explosiveness of players on both sides of the ball.

Beyond just a change in style, Rich Rodriguez has almost no prior connection to the University of Michigan. He is from outside the family. He is going to have to learn about what it means to be the head coach of the University of Michigan and everything that goes along with it. But he is a very good coach. He transformed West Virginia from a program that was usually on the fringe of the top 25 to a program that is looking for it's 3rd straight top 10 finish and was one bad loss away from playing for the national title. A common complaint from detractors is that he did it against a weak schedule and didn't have many quality wins. Well, I'd like to point out that he also did it with players at WEST VIRGINIA and almost no recruiting base. I'm confident that he can do big things at Michigan with all the talent that he will have at his disposal.

I don't know what his coaching staff will look like and I don't know how exactly how he will fit his offense around the talents of Ryan Mallett. What I do know is that he is a very good coach that he will figure out how to win a lot of games at Michigan. I look forward to seeing what he can do against Jim Tressel and the rest of the Big Ten.

Congrats to Bill Martin for another good coaching hire and apologies to West Virginia fans for once again taking one of your coaches.