Michigan's ground game stopped being effective in 1995.
I'm not sure if Jon Chait was reacting to the latest MANBALL quote from Brady Hoke or not, but when an article titled "You Can't Go Home Again" pops up the day after Michigan's new head coach says this:
"Once we get the power play down, then we'll go to the next phase. You know, because we're gonna run the power play."…
"We don't have a lot of fullbacks." Hopkins works out well at FB "for a lot of the old 49ers stuff" with split backs. Hoke wants fullbacks to block so hard they "come in at about 6-3, and leave the program at 6-1." …
It's hard to think otherwise. Of course, even ESPN folk have picked up on Hoke's love affair with the word "toughness"—the article could have been spurred by anything Hoke's said over the last three months. There are consistent reports that Hoke makes condescending comments about the spread at alumni events. Manball? Manball.
Some people love this. In my mind they all look like this…
yes, that's the Beckmann aficionado
…and could be coaching Purdue. I would not want to get in a conversation with any of these people because they would have very strong opinions about things they know nothing about. They would repeat inane aphorisms as if those were the final word on any subject, and they would regard any dispute as evidence of a diseased mind. I have talked to these people on the radio some. It's not fun. I close my eyes and imagine the exact dimensions and color of their mustaches. They are boringly consistent.
My hope is Hoke is a brilliant, innocent-as-snow delegator or a con man. He's got a quarterback who was an All-American as a true sophomore last year because of his legs. He's got an offensive coordinator whose track record suggests he prefers to air it out and that things get desperately bad when MANBALL advocates push him away from his mad bombing ways. He's got a set of running backs best described as underwhelming, a center who can teleport his way into tough reach blocks, and a guard who can block Manti Te'o twenty yards downfield. If the offseason could be spent fixing whatever it is that causes Robinson to turn the ball over willy-nilly, Michigan's offense would be insane. According to statistical things it already is.
Switching to an actual pro-style offense would be doing exactly what Michigan did last year when it installed the 3-3-5 despite the total unsuitability of its personnel for the scheme. It would be exactly as stupid. It can't be as bad statistically because instead of true freshman two star Ray Vinopal backed up by a duck, next to a walk on, and vaguely in front of more freshmen you have ten returning starters and Denard Robinson, but it would be just as dumb. If Hoke's bravado about being a bunch of tough bastards who love grinding out four yards on a power play is true I'm worried for the immediate and long term future of the program in the same way I was when hiring Greg Robinson caused me to dig out a picture of Tweek.
On the other hand, Beckmann aficionados love that stuff, and so do the newspapers that are no longer read by anyone other than Beckmann aficionados. English has developed lingo to distinguish words meant to be true from words meant to produce inoffensive newspaper blather: the latter is coachspeak. Rich Rodriguez was beyond awful at coachspeak. Hoke is a grand master. When IBM develops "Jim" and challenges Hoke to a duel, Watson-style, Hoke will destroy his opponent so badly smoke will come out of its nonexistent ears like that robot asked to rhyme something with "orange" in a story I read when I was eight. Hoke will lament Jim's lack of toughness.
This is a real skill the last three years have shown is way more important than you'd think. It's a relief when every press conference is Hoke being gently tickled on the belly and fed peeled grapes, and telling everyone you're establishing a mindset of toughness is fine. It's something that will help the program in the long run.
As long as you don't believe yourself. It won't help as much as winning a crapton of games, and even if the defense gets vastly better the best way to do that next year is to have an offense that puts up points, and the best way to do that is to very gently shift the offense towards your long term vision while still keeping Denard in the Heisman race.
This isn't 2008, when Michigan was screwed no matter what offense they put in. Getting Michigan's offense to go from explosive but inconsistent to world-destroying is a matter of getting a kicker, finding a good running back, working on Denard's reads and accuracy, and leaving everything else the hell alone. Michigan can't reasonably do that because they've got new coaches, but how hard is it to run a QB lead draw and follow that with QB Lead Oh Noes? The secret of Michigan's 2010 offense is that the zone read was hardly used. The other secret is it was a power running offense, one more effective than anything Michigan's run in at least the last decade and probably a lot longer.
Michigan YPC Career Leaders Since 1949 (min: 100 carries)
Michigan YPC, Team, Since 2001
Borges should install his passing game immediately and Michigan should start running power schemes more frequently—power did feature occasionally last year—if they want to, but lining up under center to hand it off to Vincent Smith isn't going to be any better of an idea in 2011 than it was in 2010.
You can run a "pro-style" offense, but run it from the shotgun and run downhill using Denard Robinson as one of three primary tailbacks. You can't get rid of the scare quotes because he's Denard Robinson. If you do run a no-scare-quotes pro-style offense he's not Denard Robinson anymore. He's the guy handing off and you're walking back into the days where Michigan averaged less than four yards per carry and ran 65% of the time.
I think Borges knows this, but Hoke's coachspeak is going to make this the most terrifying spring game of all time.