There is a myth that lives on this board that Denard was a better passer in 2010. This post is not meant to excuse Al Borges' playcalling, or bash Rich Rod, or elevate Lloyd Carr's run-run-run-punt strategy. It's just a look at the falsity that Denard was a better passer in 2010.
The unfortunate, painful truth that this diary reveals is that our passing offense is not much better than it was in 2010, when it wasn't very good at all (when it mattered).
Let's throw out the garbage games and focus on Michigan's games against opponents that had respectable defenses in 2010:
- Ohio (3rd in total yds)
- Iowa (16th in total yds)
- Wisconsin (23rd in total yds)
- Michigan State (32nd in total yds)
You might be wondering, "Where is Notre Dame and Penn State on that list?" Well, I'm glad you asked. They were 46th and 48th...behind powerhouses like San Diego State, Hawaii, and ILLINOIS!!! (the team we scored 67 points against). So they sucked. But we still lost to Penn State. Even though they sucked. Because our defense was, well, worser.
I don't need to lay out the stats from the ohio game. They trounced us, and Denard got pulled in favor of Forcier at the end of the game. We couldn't move the ball at all, and scored only 7 points.
Let's move on to Iowa...
Their defense was ranked 16th in 2010, and yet we were able to score 28 points. This is actually the best comparable for this weekend's Notre Dame game, since ND is ranked 17th in total defense right now. Yes, we lost the game by a score of 28-38, and those four TDs sure do look good...but only because you either don't remember what happened or judge a book (or score) by it's cover (or...score). Here are some relevant stats:
- Denard 13/18, 98 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
- Forcier 17/26, 239, 1 TD, 2 INT
But here's the most important stat: We only scored 7 points when Denard was on the field. Denard get could get yards (108 on 18 carries) but not points. Iowa was stacking the box, and all the offense could muster was a TD on a drive when Denard threw three passes: one was incomplete, one was for a 6 yd. loss, and the last was a screen to Smith for an 8 yd. TD. Denard got hurt in the 3rd quarter and in came Forcier.
It was Forcier that brought the team back in that game, and Forcier that sealed our fate with his INTs. It's worth noting that completing passes underneath when you're behind by 21 points is MUCH easier. In fact, that leads to lots of confusion about the effectiveness of Denard's passing and the 2010 offense in general: we got loads of "soft" yards because we were hopelessly behind and our opponents played softer coverages and lighter fronts.
Wisconsin has a similar storyline, except that Denard played much more that game. We scored exactly ZERO points in the first half (although we did miss a 30 yd. field goal). With a 24 point lead, Wisconsin converted to prevent defense, and allowed us back in the game. Denard stayed in this time, and racked up a nice, meaningless statline: 16/25 for 239 yds, 2 TDs, and, of course, 1 INT. The important part: Denard was 4/9 for 22 yds passing in the first half. When Wisconsin was playing their base defense, Denard couldn't pass. Only the gooey butter cake version of Wiscy's D allowed DR some meaningless passing yardage. Further proof of this came in the fourth quarter, when we had come back to make it a 21-31 game. Denard couldn't move the ball anymore.
The final example is, perhaps, the most damning. Michigan State had a good-but-not-great defense in 2010. Their success was largely a result of their schedule and some good defensive coaching. They lost badly to Iowa (and 'Bama), snuck by a pretty lousy ND team in overtime, and narrowly edged out a VERY average Penn State team. Their only quality win was against Wisconsin, and that game was played in East Lansing. Despite their easy schedule, the Spartan defense was still only ranked 32nd in total yds. Michigan actually had the lead twice in this game, up 3-0 in the first quarter and 10-7 in the second. Denard was 6/8 for 51 yds in the first quarter, but threw an INT in the endzone. In the second quarter, Denard shined again. He was 4/6 for 81 yds and a TD. At the half, Michigan was down 10-17.
The second half was a very, very different story. Denard was 7/15 for 82yds and 2 INTs. The same guy we saw against ND. Only against a defense that wasn't nearly as good. And we were at home. The 4th quarter TD was only scored after MSU had rung-up a 21 point lead.
So here's the bottom line: Denard has never been a good passer, or even an average passer. And against good defenses, we won't win until he's able to throw the ball somewhat effectively. Maybe that's why Borges keeps making him throw, especially before the B1G season starts.
So what's the difference between now and 2010? The defense. Because our Greg defense is not our GERG defense, we are in every game, and teams don't stop stacking the box against Denard. They don't stop blitzing. They don't play soft coverage. So Denard never gets to ring-up his stats, and looks even worse.
I certainly won't excuse Borges' playcalling on Saturday--it needed to be better. But the fact is that our only quality wins have come when Denard has been able to make plays in the passing game (or Hemingway was able to bail out Denard) and I expect it stay that way. If Denard can't pass, we're screwed, and 4 or 5 losses is our best case scenario.