What the Deuce: November 2007

Monday, November 26, 2007

Defense Knows Offense

Even Charles Woodson recognizes that Michigan needs to change it's philosophy on offense. If it's true, too bad Bill Martin has not. At worst, Michigan will hire someone who will teach players how to tackle.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

What the Deuce Says Think Rationally

All the speculation of Les Miles having to coach LSU in the National Championship Game while fending off questions about the Michigan job is now moot. No two loss team has ever played for the National Championship and it's highly unlikely that one will this year. Although Bill Martin can now call Miles after the SEC Championship game next Saturday, should he?

The anti-Miles crowd had plenty of evidence in its favor after yesterday: Miles' giving the Razorbacks bulletin board material after mispronouncing "Arkansas," his questionable clock management at the end of regulation, and his failure to recognize an unfavorable defensive alignment in overtime. The missteps, combined with the perception that LSU has underachieved this year, were reason enough to pass on Miles. Even Ivan Maisel thought so.

Whatever happened yesterday should not change anything. It's been reported that Miles is top candidate for the Michigan job, and if he isn't, he should be. While I can't comment to the former, I agree with the latter.
Yesterday wasn't Miles' finest moment, but it wasn't so egregious at the eliminate him from being a candidate.

I read the message board over at MGoBlog after the game and I came away with the feeling that people are looking for a candidate that just doesn't exist - the perfect one who doesn't make mistakes. At some point, whoever comes to Michigan is going to make a bad playcall, burn a timeout unnecessarily, and lose games. The key is whether Michigan's next head coach makes those same mistakes over and over.

The fans' confirmation hearing of Miles has turned into a which-conference-is-best debate. Evidence used in favor of Miles can be used against him. The close wins against Alabama and Florida show that Miles is not conservative and aggressive. On the other hand, these games show that LSU has wasted its talent and has underpeformed - thus, Miles is Lloyd Carr all over again. People need to realize that the truth is probably somewhere in between and, like I've said before, no matter who comes to Ann Arbor, Michigan isn't going to win every game.

While I don't think Michigan should be married to Miles or hand him the job because of his Michigan ties, I do think the anti-Miles crowd is being overly critical. Simply, out of all the other coaches people want Martin to consider, none is flawless. I'll even go out on a limb and say that none is head and shoulders better than Miles:

"Uncle Pete" Carroll: Although he's won 2 National Championships and regularly pulls in top recruiting classes, he isn't without flaws with the most obvious being the Reggie Bush situation. Carroll, from what I've been told by a friend who loves SC, isn't the greatest at strategery. It's been said that USC isn't the force it used to be after losing Ed Orgeron, Norm Chow, and Lane Kiffin. Thus, it appears that Carroll relies heavily on his coordinators and assistants, just like Miles is perceived to do. You can't knock Miles for this while not recognizing that Carroll does the same. Also, let's not forget that SC was criticized for sleepwalking through games and playing only when it had to as it went for its third consecutive National Championship. Finally, based on these comments by Chow, Carroll could be difficult to work with.

Bob Stoops: Also has a National Championship to his credit but has also had problems with players getting into trouble off the field. Has had, considerably, three average years after losing to SC in the National Championship game. Lost to Texas Tech and Colorado this year.

Greg Schiano: Although he is a defensive minded coach (he's also the defensive coordinator) who turned around a terrible Rutgers program, his coaching leaves something to be desired. I went to the Rutgers-West Virginia game this year and saw a vanilla offense.
Didn't like Schiano's decision to stick with Mike Teel even though Teel's injury prevented him from throwing downfield. Also didn't like the predictability of the offense - when Rutger's backup quarterback, Lovelace, came in, it was an obvious run. Even with the game out of hand in the fourth quarter, Schiano opted to go with Teel instead of giving Lovelace an opportunity to get game experience with the entire offensive playbook. Sound familiar?

Jeff Tedford: Brought Cal football back to prominence. Can be argued that his teams have consistently underperformed ranging from getting worked over by Texas in the 2004 Holiday Bowl to losing to Oregon State at home this year. Has only two ten win seasons. Also, there is a perception that Tedford's teams are defensively deficient and finesse.

Brian Kelly: Had tremendous success at Grand Valley State and Central Michigan (although it was with Mike DeBord's players...DeBord has to get some credit for recruiting guys that someone else would coach up, right?). Because he's only coached in the MAC and Big East, his detractors point to lack of big game experience. Also, there were the racially insensitive comments about the murder at CMU.

Chris Petersen: I really don't know much about Petersen, so I looked at his bio. Argument can be made that he's relatively green, like Kelly. Also, his success, minus the Oklahoma game, has come in the WAC.

I could keep the list going, but I think the point is made - every possible candidate has a question mark, or worse, a cause for concern. Simply, an argument against a specific candidate can be made very easily and that brings me back to my original point - the perfect candidate does not exist. Unless someone has mystic powers like Parvati, the option of sculpting a coach from dirt and bringing him to life is not an option. If we, as a fan base, keep focusing on the negatives, we're never going to agree on a coach (thank God this isn't a popularity contest with everyone getting a vote). Instead, it's important, in my opinion, to focus on the positives of each candidate and when that's done, Miles is my choice.

This is a guy who wants to be at Michigan and loves the school like he loves his family. He's coached in Ann Arbor and has ties to the Midwest. He's had success at Oklahoma State and LSU. He's coached in the NFL. He's wise enough to see his weakness and hire coaches who minimize them. He's an aggressive playcaller. He cares about his players.

I think we can all agree that we want someone in the mold of Lloyd Carr, at least, off the field. Miles is that guy. I think we can all agree that we want someone not in the mold of Lloyd Carr, at least, on gamedays. Miles is that guy.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Ask Not What Michigan Basketball Can Do For You, but What You Can Do For Michigan Basketball

A quick follow up post to my in game blog of Michigan's loss to Butler in the Great Alaskan Shootout. After having a day to review my observations, here's what I think.

Like I said during the game, the difference between this year's team and last year's is telling. Although last year's team had more talent and more experience, I prefer the way this year's team plays:

- Players hustle the entire game. I remember one sequence where Michigan made a solid defensive play under Butler's goal. A Butler player managed to get the loose ball near the basket and the Michigan defender was out of position. Still, DeShawn Sims came over and played help-side defense which resulted in a block. As the ball was going out of bounds, Kelvin Grady chased it and saved it to a teammate. Michigan ball.

- Confidence. In the first half when Butler went up 28-11 and Michigan's offense went cold, the players still looked confident. They managed to make a few baskets, get a couple of offensive rebounds and stops at the defensive end. Halftime score: Butler 40 Michigan 32. Last year, the team would have fallen apart and the halftime differential would have been close to 20.

- 1-3-1 Zone. Kept Butler from easy baskets inside the three point line. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs made a record setting 17 three pointers. The zone keeps the defenders active and pushes the opponent's offense away from the basket.

- Rebounding. On defense, when Butler missed a shot, at least 3 guys were on the glass. On offense, Udoh and Sims were terrific at using their height to get rebounds and tip-ins.

- Three point shooting. Last year, there were maybe 2 guys I wanted taking shots from the perimeter. Epke Udoh was not one of them. Not this year. Udoh looked confident from the perimeter and his shot looked fundamentally sound. When was the last time you heard a sentence about Michigan basketball with the words "fundamentally sound" in it?

- Player development. Yeah, it's early but Sims and Udoh look a lot better than they did last year. Sims looks confident with this back to the basket and has developed a nice little turnaround move. The easiest way to describe "player development" is this: When guys are out on the floor, they look like they know what they are doing and what their roles are as opposed to last year where Michigan basketball looked like a bunch of five year olds playing organized basketball for the first time in their lives.


- Depth. Very little depth on the team but that was to be expected. I will say that Beilein is getting the most out of the guys who do play. Depth will be an issue during the Big 10 season and I'm interested to see how Beilein manages the game when the starters get into foul trouble

- Offense. It's obvious that not everyone has grasped the offense and that its a work in progress. This was expected and we've heard stories about how some players at WVU took at least 2 years to fully understand Beilein's offense. The big problem Michigan had against Butler was getting the ball inside (when Butler was playing a zone). I think part of the problem was that the players are young and the other part was that players aren't completely comfortable in the offense. Right now, in the half court, the offense looks good when it leads to open threes. Otherwise, Michigan looked tentative. Bottom line is that this team needs to really make use of the fast break to compensate for the stretches where the offense goes cold.

- Turnovers. Not a good showing. Eight turnovers at the half. Once again, I think it was a function of the unfamiliarity with the offense. I'm hoping as the season progresses, the offense will look sharper and the execution will be better. Seeing the improvement in this team under Beilein, I would not be surprised if the offense looks 100% better than it did today as Michigan heads to the Big Ten Tournament.

For those of you who gave up on Michigan basketball after Ellerbe and Amaker, I don't blame you. I don't blame you if you don't want to watch this team for another year as this year is going to have its ups and downs. Still, I urge you to watch and even see a game at Crisler. Even if Michigan doesn't win, I guarantee you will be impressed with the way this team plays.

On a personal note, Michigan basketball was what got me to Michigan. It was the Fab 5. Until then, I cheered for Michigan and State. To see the basketball program hit rock bottom was disappointing. Now, under Beilein, I'm very excited and have great hope for the future. Be patient. I know it's hard after waiting for a winner for so long. But most of all, go support Michigan basketball. I promise, it will be worth it.

What the Deuce?! Arkansas 50 LSU 48

You are free to come home, Coach Miles.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Michigan v. Butler at the Great Alaskan Shootout

11:29 EST Michigan coming up next on ESPN 2 against Butler in the Great Alaskan Shootout. It's great to see Michigan playing in a Thanksgiving week tournament. I can't remember the last time this happened.

11:36 EST Debating whether to make a cup of coffee. When I was in college, staying up to 1:30 to watch a game wasn't a problem. Now that I'm working, it is.

11:38 EST Wow! The Great Alaskan Shootout is having its 30th anniversary this year! Manny Harris is Michigan's star for Star Watch. Um, probably not good when you're star is a freshman.

11:40 EST All of Butler's starters are seniors. Definitely not good. I need a program for the Michigan team.

11:42 EST Day-shawn Sims hits a 3! First Michigan turnover comes at the 18:10 mark.

11:43 EST Third time the picture has cut out. Apparently its also the 30th anniversary of ESPN's video technology.

11:45 EST 10-5 Butler. Goddamn picture keeps cutting out. Grady, Sims, Udoh, Harris, and Coleman for Michigan. Grady hits a 3. Michigan 2-2 from 3.

11:50 EST Butler can't get the ball inside because of the 1-3-1. Unfortunately, Butler is hot from 3. Campbell is 3-5 from 3 for Butler.

11:51 EST 3 Turnovers now for Michigan. 13:52 to go in the half.

11:54 EST 2nd "carry" call against Michigan. Butler with a quick screen and roll. Michigan can't get the ball inside. So far, the only close range attempt was on a missed fastbreak layup.

00:00 EST 26-11 Butler. Offense is colder than Alaska in November. Aaand another turnover.

00:03 EST Ron Coleman hits a three to snap the Bulldogs' 10-0 run. The offense looks terrible - players just don't look sure of what they are supposed to do. John Beilein said that at the beginning of practices there was a 3 second delay on offense and now its a 2 second delay. It shows.

00:07 EST Dane Fife is a head coach at the D-1 Level? I'm going to have to investigate this. Another turnover for Michigan.

00:08 EST Some guy named CJ Lee hits a 3 for Michigan. Udoh for three?!! No. It's a 2. 19-28 Butler.

00:09 EST Great box out by Day-Shawn Sims on the offensive glass. Tip in!

00:10 EST Coleman pulls up in transition for 3. 24-31 Butler. 5:13 in the half.

00:12 EST It seems that any time Michigan tries to do anything inside the three point line, it results in a turnover.

00:16 EST Not only is it Day-shawn its now Day-shawn Simpson. Good job ESPN, good job.

00:18 EST 7-11 from 3 for Michigan. 27-37 Butler after an Adam Graves 3.

00:19 EST Kelvin Grady looks nothing like Kevin Grady. First free throws for Michigan with 1:56 in the half.

00:24 EST Great defense by Michigan. Grady came from the dribbler's blindside and almost stole the ball. Scramble for the ball, double dribble call against Butler.

00:25 EST Halftime. Michigan 32 Butler 40. Positives: Shooting is a lot better than last year, but that's not saying much. The defense is aggressive and there are always 2-3 guys hitting the defensive glass. Negatives: the offense is clearly a work in progress. Unless there is a open three, Michigan has struggled. Until about 2:00 in the first half, Michigan did nothing inside the three point line.
Oh, one more complaint - too many turnovers. The zone is preventing anything inside but Michigan isn't taking advantage of its height. Let's see how Beilein adjusts at the half. Honestly, this team looks completely different, in the way it plays, from last year. It's not just the strategy, its the way the team carries itself. Even when Butler looked like it was going to turn the game into a blowout, Michigan played tough and cut the lead. Had the offense not gone cold in the middle of the first half, the difference would be 4 points, maximum. I wouldn't be surprised if Michigan were to pull this one out and win.

00:36 EST Yep, Dane Fife the head coach at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne. He got the job at 25 and his blog can be found at www.danefife.com. Of all the Fifes, I prefer Dugan. I think Dugan played football too...or could have.

00:40 EST Michigan fans in Alaska have signs re: Les Miles. I still think we should go with Kirk Ferentz.

00:41 EST 8 Michigan turnovers in the 1st half. And now is Duh-shawn Sims.

00:43 EST 2 consecutive turnovers for Butler. Defensive is very active early in the 2nd half.

00:44 EST Harris drives....And 1?!!! No. At least two free throws coming up for Harris. 39-40 Butler.

00:45 EST Campbell for 3 again. Guard him. Now.

00:49 EST DeShawn Sims is going to be good. He looks confident playing with his back to the basket.

00:50 EST Fucking guard Pete Campbell!

00:51 EST Campbell gets the 3 off but misses and picks up a blocking foul on defensive end. Oh, Shaun Alexander is out for Sunday. What a waste of an early fantasy pick.

oo:52 EST I'm hate the Bud Light commercials. They are just stupid. Well, except for the Opera one. It's kind of funny.

00:54 EST Great defensive recovery. Blown play on offense but Sims with help that leads to a block. Save by Grady.

00:55 EST Grady misses in transition...Butler with the rebound...Michigan ties it up! Jump ball. Well, possession arrow...and it goes to...Butler and Graves hits a 3.

00:57 EST Pete Campbell game MVP. Graves hits a another 3. 48-60 Butler. This after Michigan had cut the lead to 48-54.

01:00 EST What the hell was that mascot? Looked like Chewbacca.

01:01 EST Really liking how Michigan is attacking the boards on both offense and defense

01:05 EST Flipping to another channel. I'm tired of the Nissan Rogue labyrinth commercial. And the stupid song in it.

01:07 EST Michigan just dominating on the glass. Too bad they are leaving guys open for 3s which Butler is making with ease. 50-66 Butler.

01:08 EST Another 3 for Butler. The ball movement is killing Michigan. 16 made 3s for Butler.

01:11 EST Butler up 72-50. That's the 20 point rule. Good night. Wrap up thoughts coming either later today or Friday.

01:12 EST
Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

What The Deuce? No Bread and Butter?

There are two Michigan opponents that I always worry about - Ohio State and Michigan State. It doesn't matter how good Michigan is or how bad either of these teams are, I'm always going to worry. I even had a dream where Michigan lost 32-28 after a Chad Henne pass on the last play of the game fell incomplete. On Saturday when I sat down to watch the game, I said to the Editor "I'm really worried." She said, "I know, but why? Aren't you guys a lot better than them?" I explained to her that even though Michigan was better, they'd probably putz around allowing State to keep it close. Because the game was in East Lansing, something fluky would happen and Michigan would lose. And it almost did.

When she came back from running errands, she asked me what was going on. I told her that Michigan had fallen behind 24-14, come back to go up 28-24 and State was driving with about a minute and a half to go. She said, "Wow! You were right."

We all know how the game ended. Thankfully, Michigan won. I am ashamed to say that I doubted this team when it got the ball with a little over 7 minutes to go in the 4th. In fact, on the MGoBlog open thread, I wrote: "Whoo Hoo! 10 points in 7:40? Possible? I'm holding out hope." Just like I knew that Michigan would squander an early lead, I should have known the Wolverines would score in minimal time, giving them an opportunity to win the game. The defense did a terrific job getting the ball back and Manningham etched his name in Michigan history when he caught the game winning touchdown. Still, I am of two minds of this win.

Obviously, I'm elated about the win. Six straight wins over Michigan State and a big eff you to Dantonio afterwards. I'm impressed with the team's poise during the last three drives of the game (2 offensive and 1 defensive). I'm happy for Chad Henne, a guy who gets way too much blame and not enough credit. Henne played a great game even though he was playing with shoulder and knee injuries. He walked off an ankle injury, led the team to a score, which ultimately put them in a position to win the game. I will say this with all the confidence in the world: Michigan loses is Mallet was forced to finish the game. Hopefully, yesterday's performance, especially on the last two scoring drives, will change the minds of the anti-Henne crowd. Unfortunately, I doubt it will.

What infuriates me about yesterday's game - in fact, the whole season, save Purdue - is the offensive playcalling. Once again, during the Lloyd Carr era, talent trumped sub par coaching, especially on offense. What troubles me about wins like yesterday's is that people will point to this game as why Carr and his staff are good. "They pulled it out in the end." "They did what they had to do." "DeBord is undefeated when the defense gives up less than 30." I don't care and never will. It should have never come down to the last 2 drives. The game should have been out of reach at halftime.

Michigan has had one quality offensive performance this year - one. In ever other game, the offense has gone cold for long stretches or the playcalling has been overly conservative, which in turn allowed the opposition to stay close. Even last week against Minnesota, Michigan didn't pull away until after halftime.

I know DeBord supporters will say that Michigan's had to deal with injuries and I will gladly concede that point. Injuries are hard to overcome but they shouldn't cripple a team. I'll also concede that Mallet isn't ready, but I don't think he's been helped any by the coaching staff calling run-run-pass. No waggles, no short outs, no quick slats, no bubble screens. No nothing. No simple throws to build his confidence. To me, it doesn't make any sense.

Similarly, to me, the playcalling yesterday didn't make any sense. In fact, its made no sense to me all year. Maybe I'm an idiot, but I think what's killed Michigan this year is that there is no identity when it comes to the passing game. Until the last 2 weeks, the offense rarely stretched the field. Yesterday, for a period that extended from the middle of the second quarter to the fourth, it appeared like the only pass play Michigan ran was the streak to Manningham. No short passes. No intermediate passes. No nothing.

A commenter on the MGoBlog thread said the reason for this was the press coverage on the receivers with doubles on both Manningham and Arrington. I call shenanigans. I can't believe that MSU's linebackers and secondary improved so greatly in the last week where Michigan couldn't attack this defensive scheme. Assuming Michigan came out 3 wide and State countered with 5 DBs, Michigan would have the advantage. Somewhere there is a mismatch. If 2 DBs are occupied with Manningham and Arrington, that leaves 1 to cover Matthews or stay back and help. If he stays back and helps, the Matthews is on an LB. So, I'm supposed to believe that Michigan kept throwing deep, even when Manningham was supposedly doubled because Matthews couldn't beat a safety or LB one on one?

Look, I'll be the first to admit it was great to see Michigan try to stretch the field, but why not try something different when it wasn't working? In fact, it appeared as if the long developing routes ended up leading to more pressure on Henne. So instead of countering the pass rush with short and intermediate routes, DeBord tries to keep going deep when his QB has no time to throw? Brilliant!

I'll make one last point before ending this thing. I want to touch a little bit more on this offensive passing game identity thing. I think because Michigan doesn't run a consistent passing game plan from week to week, more pressure is put on the run to succeed. Even as a casual football watcher, I know that the passing game requires timing between the receivers and the quarterback. I just don't see that with Chad Henne and his receivers and I think its because there is no consistency in the playcalling as it relates to the pass.

What makes Tom Brady so successful is that there is a philosophy around New England's passing game. It's premised on Brady getting the ball to his playmakers and them racking up YAC. The deep ball is mixed in with this general philosophy giving defenses something else to worry about. I guess the best way to put this is that Michigan doesn't seem to have its bread and butter in the passing game. Until they do, I'm not going to expect this offense to hum like it should.