landing spot. will be interesting to see how he does.
11/1/2008 – Michigan 42, Purdue 48 – 2-7, 1-4 Big Ten
As you might have noticed from such posts as "Brian goes to Auburn-LSU," I have an Auburn friend in town. You also might have noticed that Auburn sucks exactly as much as Michigan does this season. In general, this is some small comfort to both of us.
However, this friendship has caused me to pay more attention to Auburn's fortunes, such as they are, and write things about Auburn's botched hiring of spread guru Tony Franklin, and this is where the uncomfortable comparisons start.
If you missed the story, a précis: Auburn fires offensive coordinator Al Borges in December last year, replacing him with Troy State OC Tony Franklin. Franklin's newly implemented "Spread Eagle" racks up 423 yards against Clemson in a Peach Bowl victory. Auburn had eight days to practice it. Clemson was the #6 defense in the country. Woo!
Expectations are high coming in to 2008, whereupon Auburn implodes spectacularly, has an internal hissy fit, and fires Franklin midseason. A couple weeks before the firing Tommy Tuberville starts saying things that make it clear he's not really on board with this spread noise; Smart Football notes that whatever Franklin is running at Auburn isn't the Tony Franklin System(tm).
Underperforming unit, head coach focused on the other side of the ball but with a tendency towards one particular system the coordinator does not run, midseason philosophy shift… it's hard to avoid the parallels between Auburn adopting a shotgun formation and then running tank-sized power back Ben Tate on ill-fated zone stretches and Michigan's bizarre decision to adopt a 3-3-5 stack that, as far as I know, Shafer has never run before. Michigan proceeded to give up 48 points and 559 yards to a 2-6 team starting its third-string quarterback. Said quarterback was a running back three weeks ago.
This is where fail picture goes.
We have two unpleasant choices here: Shafer elects to pull Will Johnson, one of his better starters, for a freshman Boubacar Cissoko and having the move backfire spectacularly, or Rich Rodriguez dictates that change from above. I prefer Door #1 because then the 3-3-5 against Purdue is just an idea that really didn't work, not a sign of internal strife. Internal strife is bad.
So now everyone's guns are trained on Scott Shafer, coordinator of the Worst Defense In Michigan History and designated scapegoat for all (well, half) of Michigan's ills. Arguments will rage between the Fire Him Now and the Probably Fire Him Next Year camps, and interwebs blood will be spilled and people will be virtually roasted alive and it's going to be very dramatic on the message boards and so forth and so on.
Already the inbox is filled with emails asking whether Shafer needs to go. My answer is "probably not," but just like the guy who was asking whether Stevie Brown is shaving points I can no longer say so for certain.
- Hey, at least MINOR RAGE was back in good effect; on one of his touchdowns he ran through a couple tacklers like a giant parade balloon version of Mike Hart. I don't think anyone was surprised when he left the game injured; the only surprise is he didn't have to have a limb amputated and actually returned.
- The other standout was Martavious Odoms, obviously, who was the king of variance on special teams: touchdown, ridiculous punt muff providing someone else a touchdown, etc. I'm pretty sure Purdue's kick coverage team was horrible, but any progress from the return units is welcome, and several times Michigan was one guy away from busting a touchdown.
- As the year progresses I am increasingly skeptical Threet is a long term solution. I don't know if the elbow injuries had anything to do with it, but he refused to keep the ball on the zone read despite Purdue selling out to stop the running back. (If you go back to the liveblog you will see several "keep the [email protected] ball, Threet!" requests from yrs truly.)
His accuracy was also spotty, especially on screens and the like, and if that doesn't improve I don't see how he can maintain a long-term grip on the starting job. For his sake I hope the elbow injuries are a major drag on his performance; otherwise it's Forcier/Beaver time in 2009.
- They futzed around with the offensive line some but eventually went back to their normal starting configuration, I think. Molk definitely got back in there, and I believe Ferrara got booted. I'll check the film on UFR.
- Did Michigan really burn Justin Feagin's redshirt on some kick coverage? WTF?
UFR coming tomorrow; I tried downloading a big file that didn't get down in timely fashion.
It's grim. You know it's grim. The "Michigan 2008 = Notre Dame 2007" equation that Michigan fans—and this blog—scoffed at in the offseason appears to be nearing QED MFer status. A smart person just emailed me something that suggests death would be a more pleasurable alternative than the six games that loom over the next month and a half. The sky hangs low and ominous, all slate-gray clouds and distant rumbles and the sweaty prickle of unnatural humidity.
So, obviously, blame must be assigned! Assign blame, media! ASSIGN BLAME
Think West Virginia would return the buyout and take back Rich Rodriguez?
No. Of course, this guy's big idea…
Clearly, before this debacle reached a 2-4 boiling point, with the rugged part of the schedule yet unplayed, Rodriguez and his staff should have installed a second offense.
…worked out great last year when Charlie Weis installed the spread option for a single game against Georgia Tech instead of indicating that his offensive linemen might want to block someone. He says "Saturday's game almost isn't worth reviewing," and it's clear he didn't: Michigan did sort of install a second offense, deploying a Moundros-fronted I on several occasions and running isos up the gut. Unless he thinks a new offense is magically going to make Steven Threet a junior or Nick Sheridan physically capable of running a Division I offense, this is complaining just to complain.
Meanwhile, Mike Rosenberg continues proving that he's lost his mind over Rich Rodriguez. After doing the usual disclaimer bit ("Rich Rodriguez may yet restore Michigan to Big Ten supremacy") in an attempt to ward off the obvious riposte—SIX GAMES—he goes into the usual array of misrepresentations designed to cast Rodriguez in as unflattering a light as possible.
Here's one of many:
“We’ll adapt. I like winning too much not to adapt a little bit to our personnel.”
Has there been any sign that he will adapt?
Rodriguez says that every spread offense is different, but his scheme looks exactly like the one he ran at West Virginia, even though his players don’t fit the scheme.
Yes, exactly like the West Virginia spread:
- WVU, 2007: 26% pass, 74% run.
- Michigan, 2008: 46% pass, 54% run.
This only looks "exactly like the West Virginia" spread if you have literally no memory for play proportions and sequencing.
I won't belabor you further with the column; it's a pastiche of the usual unrealistic complaints like "Rodriguez ran off Mallett!" that remain as wrong as they were when Rosenberg brought them up earlier this year and I fisked it. I only bring it up to highlight the weirdest criticism leveled at Rodriguez this season: leaving a semblance of Lloyd Carr and Mike Debord's pro-style offense would have been an improvement.
This is preposterous in the following ways:
Last year the Michigan offense was bad. Injuries had something to do with it, sure, but Mallett played less than half the year, and the other half of the year they had a senior Chad Henne. Mike Hart played about nine games. The #1 pick in the NFL draft was the left tackle, and Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington were standout wide receivers.
With all these advantages, Michigan finished 68th in total offense, 10th in the Big Ten. Can you imagine what the offense would look like with freshmen everywhere and nothing resembling a competent quarterback? Yes, you can, it looks like last year's Wisconsin game minus the 97-yard Manningham touchdown. Or last year's Ohio State game. This isn't exactly the Greatest Show On Turf we're ditching.
You cannot make a good offense out of these parts. The best quarterback was a freshman so shaky in camp that a guy who would look out of place on most I-AA teams got the starting nod; he has been wildly inaccurate downfield and is charting horribly in UFR. This would not improve in a different offense. Different offenses do not make it easier to throw accurate passes, especially when the screens have been problematic.
There is one returning OL starter and six plausible starters, one of whom (Schilling) seemed destined for a career as anything other than a backup before massive attrition forced them into the starting lineup. The tailbacks are freshmen, injured, or fumblers. The wideouts are probably the worst crop since… uh… Michigan started throwing?
Meanwhile, Cory Zirbel, Carlos Brown, Mark Huyge, Mark Ortmann, Carson Butler, Martavious Odoms, Junior Hemingway, Steven Threet and Greg Mathews have all missed time with injury or stupidity (Butler's punch; whoever decided Sheridan was a plausible starter). A walk-on saw time at left tackle.
Nobody on the team even knows the Carr offense. Your skill position starters are five freshmen (Odoms, McGuffie, Threet, Koger, Stonum) and a junior.
…except the linemen, who are pretty much doing the same thing anyway. There are slight differences between Michigan's zone stretch this year and its zone stretch a year ago; their main problem is not being unable to understand the scheme but being unable to execute it because they are bad at football.
To be fair, you wouldn't know this if you watched the game on Saturday and then spat out a 600-word column about it without putting in the time review the tape or learn about football.
Rodriguez hasn't run a pro-style offense in two decades. How is he supposed to teach something he doesn't know very well? How is he supposed to run an offense completely divorced from his own? What is the point of hiring Rich Rodriguez?
So you've got one of two options here:
- Decide to run an offense you have zero experience with that finished just above 70th with an enormous slate of NFL talent in the vague hope you make a crappy December bowl game if it's even an improvement, which it probably won't be, or…
- Get on with the process of building your program.
Here's door #1: Auburn decided to bring in a spread guru, implement half his offense, and force him to call a lot of dumb plays he didn't want to. The result? Fired offensive coordinator with sad box and sad beard:
Meanwhile, Auburn blogs are considering whether or not Tuberville should get a sad box, too. This is the Great Solution proposed by Michigan newspaper columnists.
I pick door #2, as should everyone except evangelicals who think the world is ending before next fall.
With Vandy no longer undefeated, that seems a small risk.
(HT to Ron Cook at the PPG)