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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

I do a lot of Carr apologizing on this site... or at least I think there is a definite subset of Michigan fans who would think so. Never fear, hardened cynics, for there are things Lloyd Carr does that make me want to tear his spleen out. (These fits are usually brief in duration and followed by regret. (Please no sex jokes at my expense.))

So, I *DEMAND!!1!* that the following changes be implemented in the next week or so:

Stop running defensive players on and off the field after every damn play.Jim Herrmann seems to have the belief that a more complicated defense is a better defense. Part of this is a substitution scheme that sees four or five defensive substitutes enter the game after most plays, look back to the sideline, and then scurry off. I believe this system initially was created to combat Joe Tiller's 15-guys-in-the-huddle offense. It was a good idea at the time. Now it's just thoroughly annoying and confusing.

The Jim Herrmann Playbook
The useless run-on-run-off thing is also a microcosm of Jim Herrmann's fatal flaw: excessive complexity. I despise watching the Michigan defense attempt to line up before the snap, especially if someone goes in motion. Instead of simply adjusting to the situation presented to the defense, there is always hurried pointing. Then either three players or no players cover a particular wide receiver until some more pointing is done, at which point (hur hur) someone completely different takes the guy, who then scores a 58-yard touchdown. Every time. And then people say that Michigan's defense is easy to interpret! Why is it that Michigan's defense is so incredibly simple to dissect but difficult to actually play?


I have to stop this section now before I shatter my monitor and electrocute myself to death. Puppies. Puppies. Heart love candle puppies. Okay. Better.

Not a common sight.
Throw the ball with backup wide receivers in the game. Michigan used to have a nasty case of formation/down-and-distance predictability. Michigan fans could tell you that a second and long was going to be an unsuccessful draw 80% of the time. Certain formations were guaranteed runs, others guaranteed passes or unsuccessful third and long draws. Terry Malone and Scott Loeffler the Boy Wonder have largely excised this failing from the Michigan offense, but there remains... er... a remnant of the bad old days. Michigan will often substitute out its badass first string wide receivers for younger or scrubbier players in the midst of the drive. This is fine. It usually happens after a couple of completions, it gets the first-stringers a blow and the superstars of tomorrow some experience. The only problem is that the only experience the young players get is blocking, because 90 percent of the time a play run with backup wide receivers is a run up the gut.

I kid you not: if Jermaine Gonzalez was in the game in a base formation last year there was a 90% chance of run. If Gonzalez and one of Carl Tabb or Adrian Arrington was on the field, there was a 99% chance of run. There are going to be a lot of times this year when younger wideouts are on the field. Throw them the ball, yo.

Go for it more. This is a principle familiar to all NCAA 2005 players. Fourth and two on the forty? Go. Forth and inches on your own three? Eh... go. Fourth and twenty from the thirty yard line and your kicker wears a helmet on the short bus home from the game? Go! It's also a principle that has been proven to be mathematically correct according to game theory. When you have a makeable fourth down in enemy territory, you should almost always go for it.

Run a fast-paced offense. Michigan will be the clearly superior team in almost every game this year. Ohio State is a wash. Iowa is close. Everyone else fits in the category of "should win due to general superiority." For years now Michigan has adopted a methodical, ball control style that has been generally successful save for about one game a year where the plebians revolt, storm the Forum, gut Michigan's national championship hopes, and leave them streaming in the wind.

Why does this happen? Because you play with your wing wing too much. Uh... I mean, it's partially because Michigan's style of play gives the underdog the advantage. A possession in football is much like one in basketball. You get the ball, you try to score, they try to stop you. Football has some very significant added state in the form of down and distance and field position, but the two situations are analogous. What do underdogs do in basketball? They slow the game down. Witness Michigan's near upset of Illinois last year. Michigan took the shot clock under ten during every possession before even looking for a shot. This is a reasonable strategy as you are looking to increase variance since you are the underdog--reducing the number of possessions in the game increases the variance. (Do you think the Illini would have ended up 39-2 if each game consisted of one possession per team?)

Michigan's football team finds itself in the opposite situation. They are expected to win and win often because few teams can match the talent they march out on the field. They want to reduce variance. (If you buy this, you can also buy that Lloyd's conservative coaching style makes some sense... but there are situations in which the expectation he gives up far outweighs the reduction in variance that he gains by, say, punting from the 35.) An excellent way to reduce said variance is by increasing the tempo of the offense.

Not to mention that Michigan's plethora of offensive talent--three deep at almost every skill position--should have a greater advantage late versus a defense that's tried to tackle Hart, Martin, and Grady all game. Running a speedy offense will reduce variance and highlight Michigan's depth advantage. Also there will be more touchdowns, and touchdowns make you feel goooooood.

Play extremely aggressive defense on first down. This suggested strategy also derives from the desire to increase the number of drives in a game. On first and ten I would rather see Michigan in a defense that produces a large number of second and longs and a few 15-20 yard plays against than a defense that concedes 3-5 yards before the ball is snapped. Bending and not breaking is for teams like MSU who are just hoping to get a stop maybe okay just this once please.

This isn't something you can do all the time or you'll get burned--there's that game theory again--but Michigan should regularly attempt to punch opposing offenses off the field after three plays. The best way to do that is by inserting someone's helmet into the opposing quarterback, preferably so far it takes a quarter to remove.