Incompetence on a level that Michigan unlocked against Michigan State and Nebraska cannot be achieved by one man or even one team (MSU is good at defense, and hey, Nebraska did some good things). There's still the possibility that Borges and his charges are sabotaging themselves, but since that's impossible to prove let's permit that they do in fact wish to progress the ball forward, and parse out how much responsibility lies in the various inadvertent factors.
I thought I'd take us back through a timeline of the events that led to the state of the offensive roster, picking up blame on the way.
I wish we could blame this whole thing on the old coach. Wouldn't it be the most ironic thing if the great guru of offense was really at fault for Michigan's offensive woes? There are really three things I think we can lay at his feet, in order of importance:
- Hired DCs he couldn't work with and made them run defenses they didn't understand, thus dooming Michigan to another coaching transition.
- Recruited just one OL in the 2010 class.
- Didn't recruit a single tight end or fullback, nor a running back who can block except Smith, whom he didn't redshirt.
|Michigan's 2009-2011 tight end recruits.
Tight End, Briefly
We've had #1 out, and #3 is debatable: Y U NO RECRUIT THE BREAD AND BUTTER OF BORGES'S OFFENSE, GUY WHO INVENTED THE OFFENSE THAT MADE BORGES'S OFFENSE OBSOLETE? I can't blame him for skipping fullbacks or running backs who can block since he had a track record of developing fullbacks from the walk-on program, while his backs, e.g. Toussaint, were recruited to operate in space. I wish he'd redshirted Vincent Smith, or gotten a medical for him.
But I do think he could have seen the need for tight ends even before the abilities of Koger and Webb opened his eyes to that. Rodriguez ignored the position for two years, and when he started looking again it was for the 2011 class that was devastated by Rosenberg and The Process: Hoke and Borges went on the hunt for last-minute TEs in 2011 and came back with Chris Barnett, a vagabond of the type that Michigan typically stays away from. Barnett transferred almost right away; I put that on having just a few weeks.
Tight end is another position that typically requires a lot of development, but Michigan knew by mid-2011 that its 2013 starters would be, at most, true sophomores, and knew a year later that neither of their 2012 recruits were much for blocking. At this point any sane human would not have made the ability of their tight ends to block a key component of their offense.
Offensive Line, Longly
|Rodriguez put all of his eggs in the 2011 OL recruiting basket, and Michigan ended up with all their eggs in a project recruit's basket.
As for the OL, the failure to recruit just one offensive lineman in 2010 is the centerpiece of modern bitching. Is that fair? Here's a line from Brian in Mike Schofield's recruiting post, dated June 2009:
"Michigan didn't need a huge offensive line class one year after taking six big uglies and graduating zero, but you never want fewer than three and you always want quality."
So yes it is established MGoPrecedent that fewer than three OL in a class no matter how much meat you have stacked for the meat god is not cutting it.
Offensive line recruiting happens a bit earlier than most other positions. Since they're unlikely to be starting for several years (even redshirt freshmen are pretty rare) OL recruits rightly look for coaching stability more than early opportunity. The 2009 class was narrowing down their lists before the 2008 season, and so on. With that said here's a timeline of Michigan offensive line recruiting:
2009 (recruited in early 2008): Tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, and guard Quinton Washington. This despite a huge/mixed haul from 2008, when RR added Barnum and Omameh to Carr's class of O'Neill, Mealer, Wermers and Khoury. For the record O'Neill left the team in June 2009, and Wermers was gone in July (though his World of Warcraft account was presumably active), so the coaches wouldn't have adjusted to either of those departures at that time. Meat for 2013 Meat God: three redshirt seniors, one a potential Jake Long 2.0, can't do more because there's still six guys from the previous class.
[Fail leaps atop fail, after the jump]
2010 (recruited in 2008-'09): Center Christian Pace and air. Of all Michigan's injuries over the last four years the one to Pace is probably the least talked about yet the most damaging—yes even more than Molk's knee and Denard's elbow, and there's a case to be made for Woolfolk's ankle. The coaches wound up with a proto-Molk who went from zero to ludicrous off the ball. And…nobody. NOBODY! The feeling at the time, just so we're not deluding ourselves into thinking we were content then to rest on the 2008 class and get the 2013 kids in 2011:
Needs: Moderate. Michigan will have nine freshmen on campus this fall, but Moosman, Ortmann, and McAvoy graduate and Michigan should endeavor to keep the numbers on the line at about the current level. Two or three are likely; only one tackle is needed so there might be a slight emphasis on the interior.
Translation: need three, got one. That the one lost his career to injury is the No. 1 reason that center has been Mealer/Miller-or-Bust the last two years. Note that QWash didn't make the move to DL until 2010 but Meat for 2013 Meat God: just four dudes—Lewan, Schofield, Washington and Pace. Even if they all work out you're expecting the 2011 haul to net you the starting guard and all of your depth.
Michael Rosenberg and The Process Murdered the 2011 Class
Having pulled in just four players in the last two classes, Michigan was expected to get a good five quality options, the carrot being a clear path to a starting job by 2012 or '13, when the RR machine should be humming. Here's where that gamble met the instability of the program to produce a black hole.
|Ultimately the biggest effect of Rosenberg's vendetta was a year of negative publicity for Michigan, and a recruiting down year that stemmed from it.
Few schools can point to an alum in the media who did so much damage to their program with so little. Practicegate calculatedly began with the 2009 season, and the threat of "major violations" atop the mounting losses as the year progressed helped to kill off the Rodriguez program's momentum.
Its most tangible effect was on recruiting the 2010 and 2011 classes, since it made sure the phrase "major violations" could be tacked on to any mention of Michigan to a recruit for that whole year. Recruiting is a world where kids are shown 10-30 different heavens and end up choosing one on factors as marginal as the color of the angels' (or helmets') wings, so a little thing like "their coach is under investigation" can matter a great deal, no matter how tiny the a molehill it started with.
Before that, Rich Rod was in on several 5-star types who'd wind up in the SEC, as well as Aundrey Walker (four-star from Glenville), James Elliott (went to Kentucky), and Andre Yruretagoyena, a spread-tastic OL from Roh/Lewan's school. They were also recruiting Zettel as a guard, and looked in good position for Tony Posada, provided Miami (YTM) didn't get too involved. Jordan Walsh was that year's annual Chicago-Guy-Who-Likes-Michigan-Then-Commits-Elsewhere except he chose Iowa instead of Michigan or OSU or ND. At least in-state spread-tackle Jake Fisher was in the fold, and they reeled in Ohio developmental project Jake Miller, who was rated by everybody as a DE at the time.
Other than Fisher, Practicegate killed off any chance of any Plan A targets coming this way. By this point they were also looking at Tyler Moore (went to Nebraska), Ryan Nowicki (went to Penn State), and various other names that would pop up in TomVH posts then disappear as quickly. Chris Bryant first showed up on radar as a guy fishing for an offer.
By the time the investigation concluded in fall 2010 there were only a few months left to 2011 signing day, and the appearance of program instability was replaced with the real program instability of the 2010 win-or-die-and-oh-yeah-do-it-without-a-defensive-backfield season. During the season Pace's career was lost to injury and Washington was swapped with Will Campbell—no they couldn't tack a redshirt on him then so hypothetical Will Campbell: 2013 guard was never going to happen.
The Process finished the job, since nobody was going to commit to Rodriguez if he could be fired, and Michigan spent the last few crucial months of the 2011 recruiting cycle leaving that completely in the air. The final firing chased Fisher off to Oregon. Bryant got his offer from the new staff and committed, and Posada committed but lasted all of a few months. The new staff focused their few weeks of recruiting on a few defensive prospects—the more immediate fire—and didn't add any last-minute Omameh-types. Meat for the 2013 Meat God: Schofield and Lewan, and two fliers in Miller and Bryant.
The Lizard Brain Strikes
You have to give tremendous credit to Hoke and Borges and Funk for the offensive line recruiting they pulled off in 2012 and 2013. They inherited a major problem and addressed it on the recruiting trail exactly as well as you could hope for. Imagine if Rich Rod had brought in ten four-star-or-better defensive backs in the 2009 and 2010 classes, and held on to all of them. Most programs would have supplemented that with some JUCOs but Michigan's transfer requirements make that not an option in Ann Arbor. Anyway as long as they can get these guys to stick around (hardly guaranteed) Michigan ought to have five good linemen going into 2015 and '16.
With those guys so young it's hard to evaluate their development. They've had Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden and Erik Magnusson and Blake Bars for a year and change, and you'd expect only Kalis, probably, to be better at this point than we've seen. Jack Miller's lack of development under this staff is more worrisome, but it's hardly unheard of for a project recruit to not pan out. I give Bryant a total pass since he was a project and he's been too injured to practice. And while we're we're hardly the only school to be starting a true freshman mid-way through the season (Notre Dame is already playing onetime Michigan target Steve Elmer) I treat any contribution from 2013 guys as a bonus.
Where I find Hoke and Borges and Funk culpable is:
1. Changing up/not knowing their personnel. Schools do this, but it comes with a cost. When you see players missing assignments and doing a terrible job on combo blocks this year, a big part of that I bet is they're not used to playing with each other. Brian wishes they'd just kept rolling with Miller, whatever his problems with blocking, because Glasgow's snapping deficiency is costing them a drive per game, and you're not getting much better blocking out of the guard replacements, and meanwhile you've thrown out any experience they gained by playing together since spring. I tend to agree, with the caveat that I completely understand at least one shuffle after Akron and UConn.
|We did see plenty of problems with Miller and Kalis early on, and there's little guarantee that they would have fared any better than their replacements. But OL do tend to improve the more time they spend next to one another.
This goes doubly for the non-OL positions. It took them half the season to stop pretending Funchess is a TE on most plays, and they still go back to that at times. They also keep going back to A.J. Williams as a key blocker. And Toussaint or Green. It's unfortunate that the backs can't block, but neither should their coaches be making their blocks the only thing between Denicos Allen and Devin Gardner's midsection. Sacks caused by non-OL still make the OL look bad.
2. Changing up/not knowing their offense. We still don't know who they are or what they're trying to accomplish. They burned a bye week on the tackle-over gimmick that's so dead now the fans boo it when they see it, and so scouted that opponents immediately jam nine in the box when they do. They went to an almost Tiller-level passing spread for Notre Dame, and they broke out the run-from-the-gun/PA max protect passing offense against Indiana which worked against Indiana, but once that was scouted and opponents realized how much this puts on the backs and young OL to pick up complex blocking assignments we went two games in a row with negative rushing yards. No matter what they're good at, they won't commit to anything long enough to get good at it.
3. Giving up the offense's advantages. You've heard the complaints about how the play-calling isn't cohesive, and the last two games have demonstrated just how much of an easy scout this makes them. The one thing offense has on defense is they get to dictate the play. Defenses will do unsound things to mitigate that—for example Michigan State's deep coverage was weak by alignment—but when Michigan's only got one or two plays they run from a given look, they just hand this right over.
The result is the offense practices a lot of plays but gets good at none of them, and few things are ever simple, even for the guys you need to make things simple for.
4. WTF. Schofield is a 5th year senior and three-year starter who missed a slide protection. On an offense that's doing well that could be chalked up as a fluke, but people are talking about it because it's not the only time this year that one of the offense's working parts inexplicably broke down. Here's Space Coyote in that thread:
Those two plays were the most angry I've been at the OL this year, FWIW. So that explains how bad both missed assignments were. Michigan's staff is simplifying the pass protectin scheme to a high school level and the players still aren't executing. That screams coaching issue at the position level to me, because you can't dumb down the pass pro anymore.