The nutty Michigan coverage isn't so much about Harbaugh as it is a signal to the Big Ten that Fox wants to party.
the conservative revolution
I keep reading about how new RR's offense is, and this is true, but really only kind of. Actually, it is more football coming full circle as defenses adjust their personnel to "new" offenses. Another thing people tend to say is that it is these inventive (sometimes even called "gimmick") offenses are creating more parity in college football. Well, of course they are. But it's not because they're new at all- and it is not the technique itself that creates parity- it's simply a change in strategy. It's because clever coaches are reinventing old techniques. The spread option itself does not create parity any more than the West Coast, or the power option. It's the change in strategy that creates parity, or indeed, if a good team stays ahead of the curve, hegemony. If in 1986, you had said you thought the "next big thing" would be Pop Warner, I think there's a chance that people would have given you a funny look and said that you were wrong. Any technique used well creates parity- that's what it's for. It's not exactly a new thing for smaller underdog teams to develop a new strategy or reinvent an old one to give them an advantage. That is what RR is doing. People probably think that the power option that Bo ran will never be "the next big thing" again. That is wrong. It is wrong as surely as Pop Warner is alive and well again.
In the early part of the century, Pop Warner popularized what was called the Carlisle, or single wing offense.
Helpful wikipedia refresher article:
I think anyone studying this will be surprised how similar it is to the read option of RR. The qb doesn't block as much in the modern game, but many of the runs and formations AND READS are surprisingly similar. Don't the diagrams in the wikipedia article look surprisingly familiar? This works well with talented athletic players- Jim Thorpe, and more recently Slaton and White. It's not even really true that the modern read option necessarily throws much more. (remember when Pat WHite had to pass against Pittsburgh? It was worse than watching Bo's teams throw.) A popular misconception is that "old" offenses didn't throw much, which is sort of incorrect- Bo' s offenses didn't throw much (or at least not often). Jim Thorpe was prolific with the "forward pass" and it wasn't until later that less "creative" power offenses became popular. The beauty of the spread, as Rodriguez has already shown with Shaun King and Pat White, is that it is versatile and can accomodate a wide variety of skilled player- and it's not necessarily only for running the ball. So why was it "abandoned"?
Simply, defenses adapted. And coaches began to look for a new way to get past them. They developed the T (full house) and later the power option. The versatile defenses that adapted to combat the single wing were vulnerable to getting the hell pounded out of them. Large backs became more useful to run over linebackers good at pursuing the wing. Eventually, that's Bo and Woody. They actually threw less than previously- it wasn't that no one knew how to pass, it's simply that the new offense was less dependent on it. The passes that they did throw were deep, meant to punish defenses that came too close. Go back and watch a Bo game from the late 1970's or early 80's, you'll be surprised how often they go deep- much more than Lloyd Carr did. What they hated was the medium passing game- it just didn't accomplish their objectives.
Defenses adapted again. They developed big tackles to occupy blockers, and big blot-out-the sun linebackers that could better take on linemen and fullbacks and stop the run. Fast ends were for pass rushing and holding the outside, and safeties were for run support. This system used fast corners to cover the pass, but the linebackers, especially inside backers, weren't invlolved much in pass coverage, and even the safeties mostly just had deep responsibilities. This is the now-dreaded read and react, which was actually a good defense- just not against medium passing offenses that were already in place by the time my generation saw it.
The solution to that, as mentioned, and we discovered in the 80's and 90's, was the intermediate passing game, manifesting itself in a number of variations, including the "West Coast" and eventually what Carr adopted- a "pro style" offense that relied heavily on medium passing. It's not an accident that Carr's quarterbacks had so many more attempts than Bo's- but a much lower average-per-completion rate and -not surprisingly- not that many more touchdowns, since Bo was always going for a touchdown when he threw. A Bo quarterback would go 6 for 13 with 180 yards and two scores. A Lloyd one might get the same but take 25 attempts to get there, and complete a much higher percentage of passes along the way. These new offenses tried to isolate players vulnerable from the power option system. They used pass catching backs and athletic tight ends to isolate big clunky linebackers, and long middle routes to isolate safeties that were to slow or not very adaptive. Routes had more eligible receivers to isolate slower players.
Defenses responded to that in a couple of ways. One was the Tampa Two and its derivatives. Safeties and linebackers have much more pass responsibility. Middle linebackers were smaller and faster to be able to do well in pass coverage, even downfield. Tackles are much more dynamic and are expected to be active in the pass rush. The read and react defenses became pressure and pursuit defenses. Well, of course there's a way to repond to a pressure and pursuit defense. Safeties became linebackers, linebackers became defensive ends, and they all ran real fast.
One is to take advatage of its smaller size and run right at it, a la the team from Columbus, and also Wisconsin, which still are successful despite having very "conservative" offenses. They are using a superior running game to control the ball and come right at the more pursuit oriented linebackers. Another way is of course misdirection. The read option misdirects or avoids the active pursuing defense. So this isn't really new- it's a rediscovery of older tactics to combat modern defenses. It's really coming full circle. Actually, it's Carr's offense that was willing to throw to backs (Bo notoriously hated screens) and to the tight end that was different from "Michigan football". It just appears to have been the same because 1. Carr still preferred to run when he could and 2. his offense was still "conservative" compared to other offenses of the time. But his offense really wasn't much like Bo's anymore. RR is actually going back (WAY back, to even before Bo) to the good old days of the wing. He has wing players. His pint-sized athletic receivers are perfect for the wing- they're extra backs, they catch short passes and they're really fast. But they're not going to go deep much, but that's not exactly the point.
So, actually, RR is a conservative revolution. He's not ending the days of Bo, he's going back to before Bo.
Eventually, in the future, the pursuit defense will settle down a bit to cope with the read offense. And when it does, mark my words, somebody is going to re-invent the power option or the T. And everyone will talk about how revolutionary it is. And it will be- to some extent. It will be another conservative revolution, just like this one.