There were two ways that the Michigan offense’s inexperience showed with disadvantages in the snap count. No, I’m serious. They were something of opposites: 1) Early in the year, we saw the Infamous Frozen Line play, in which Michigan tried (sometimes successfully, though the referees didn't necessarily see it that way) to draw offsides calls by snapping the ball whenever an opponent crossed into the neutral zone. 2) Opposing defenses were really, really good at jumping Michigan’s snap counts last year.
Exhibit A, from the Utah UFR:
I don't get it. So Sheridan does the normal hand-slap thing to indicate he wants the ball but this time there's a pause before Molk snaps it. In the interim, Utah jumps offside because they've been timing the snap. Okay, super. Then Sheridan rolls out as the offensive line remains motionless and heaves one downfield to a blanketed Mathews, who leaps and makes the catch. Why not just run a play there? More later. (DO, 1, protection N/A)
The first time this play was run, Michigan got a hopeful jump-ball completion to Mathews. Michigan gets Utah again here, except the refs don't call the obvious offsides. Thanks, guys. Threet hurls the usual sideline route to Stonum. It's accurate but well-covered and broken up. (CA+, 1, protection N/A)
The second time was a drive-killing 3rd down incompletion (which, if the offsides had been called adequately, would have been a free first down).
So, Michigan got somewhat hosed by the referees on one of those, and got lucky on the first one. However, later in the year, we saw a similar occurrence against Minnesota. Defense jumps offsides, ball is snapped, pass is basically a hopeful jump ball downfield. The difference is that, like, the offensive line blocked, and it looked something like an actual play. This adjustment to the “free play” play showed, at the very least, growth by the coaching staff over the course of the year. More likely, it showed that Michigan will run an effective play when a flag is down for offsides.
On to exhibit B, from the Michigan State UFR:
MSU jumping snaps
Okay, Michigan State's crappy cornerbacks are going to press our crappy receivers all day and not get hurt by it, which will be a major factor in the bubble screen's ineffectiveness. Anyway, on this play State is slanting right to the direction of the play, robbing Schilling of any angle to block a DT lined up inside of him. Also, MSU appears to be timing the snap, as will become relevant later. The DT beats Schilling to the spot and Minor is tackled at the LOS.
Hated formation with a WR covered up. On this play the entire State DL pushes the entire Michigan OL into the backfield; it again looks like they're timing Molk's snaps. As a result, Minor has to cut back behind everyone and does well to get back to the LOS.
Again State jumps right at the snap; this one looks onside. Moosman has something of a tough time with the early-mover, who ends up lunging at Threet just as he throws, knocking this open post route off. (BA, 0, protection 1/2, Moosman -1)
Argh. This goes for a first down but Molk(-600000) holds on a bubble screen, partially because State is again jumping the snap count. (CA, 3, screen)
In the wrapup sections the matter came up again:
This actually came up in a mailbag earlier this year, at which point I said this…
“I’m pretty sure Michigan isn’t using no snap count whatsoever, it’s just that the count is silent. DEs don’t have license to time the snap with impunity. There will be variable pauses between the clap and the snap.”
…and promptly forgot about it.
As we now know, there weren't really variable pauses between the hand clap and the snap, which allowed Michigan State to jump the snap count time and again to mostly good effect. They picked up a few offsides calls, but they also got incompletions, stuffed runs, and sacks because their guys were moving before Michigan's OL could even get out of their stances. They were offsides on another two or three plays, but didn't get called for it.
But! It's clear Michigan State was very well prepared to play this edition of Michigan; they scouted out all the wheels and such and timed the snap counts and exploited Michigan's tendencies on offense wickedly. (On defense, OTOH, Michigan broke tendencies and largely played well save for four enormous errors turned in by Stevie Brown and Boubacar Cissoko.)
Aside from varying the snap count a little and picking up those offsides calls, Michigan could do little about it.
There was a little something Michigan could do about it, which David Molk took care of a couple times:
State has obviously been jumping the snap; this time Molk lifts his head and waits, drawing a DT offsides.
Michigan’s snap counts were all the same last year, much to the delight of opponents. This year, with a more experienced offensive line, might we see a little more variety in the snap counts, despite the likely starter at QB being a freshman? I would presume yes. Michigan’s coaches are a smart bunch, and they did what they could last year with limited talent, experience, and prep time. All of those things are an entire year better in 2009, so some variety will be mixed in. I’ll go back to Brian for the grand finale, this time from the Penn State UFR:
My theory: Michigan is implementing portions of a whole gameplan trying to find something that works. They then practice the hell out of their plan and break it out, finding early success.
However, I, and I think a lot of other Michigan fans, thought "I really hope they have a curveball coming up" in the second quarter; they did not. Once you get past the game plan, Michigan has no backup. So we've seen teams adjust to the offense and have success stopping it.
When does the backup plan come in? Well, 1) when Threet's elbow gremlins step off, and 2) when these guys get past the training wheels stage and have a base they can fall back on.
Now that Michigan’s offense will have the training wheels off (and hopefully Forcier can be a non-gremlin version of Threet), there will be more variety in multiple aspects of the game.