1. Is Michigan about to be on the wrong side of history?
When Rich Rodriguez was hired at Michigan, Gary Danielson infamously predicted Michigan would be the last major program to move to a spread offense. Five years later, Michigan is shedding the spread as the NFL adopts it en masse. I am a spread zealot, no foolies, and while I may be influenced by factors like…
Associating pro-style offenses with Mike DeBord, "the expectation is for the position," and opponents saying they knew exactly what was coming game after game.
Psychic scarring from things like Donovan McNabb, Carlyle Holiday, The Horror, The Post-Apocalyptic Oregon Game, Northwestern 2001, and even Braylonfest.
…I've also watched an awful lot of football over the past eight years and there seems to be no substitute for the defense-wrecking ability to run with a guy who can throw, and give him the ability to make that decision after the defense commits.
'bout to get yards'd
These days the thing that's all the rage is packaged plays that give the quarterback the ability to pick from a number of simple options based on the alignment of a couple players, and not just on the college level: Doug Marrone and company got scooped back up by the NFL largely because they ditched a complicated pro-style offense for quick decisions that make the defense wrong every time. Tavon Austin is a 5'8" wide receiver who went 8th overall in the NFL draft. The Great Satan in Columbus has Denard but tall at quarterback.
Meanwhile, the idea that Michigan needs to run a rough-and-tumble offense to cope with the rough-and-tumble Big Ten is total horseshit. If you haven't noticed, the Big Ten sucks at football, Michigan is recruiting a billion times better than anyone except Ohio State, and Ohio State is a spread option team. If we accept the fact that you have to run power to defend power, isn't the corollary there you have to run the spread to defend the spread? Clueless spread outing after clueless spread outing through Carr's career certainly suggests that. I mean, Michigan was fortunate to escape a home game against Northwestern last year because they gave up 248 rushing yards and 10 YPA.
Add in Michigan's stubborn adherence to the increasingly archaic huddle and it does seem like there's a little bit of dinosaur in the program even if Brady Hoke is hip to Romer. Arguments in favor of the huddle include feelingsball arguments like "it helps your quarterback be a leader"; arguments against include Nebraska lining up with 25 seconds on the play clock and checking into an RPS +3 play once they saw Michigan in a man to man alignment:
Where did they get that call?
From the sideline after they got lined up with 25 seconds on the clock and Michigan showed man coverage with one high safety. That was not aww shucks luck. It's using the extra information the defense gives you to exploit it. Michigan, meanwhile, is usually still in the huddle with 18 seconds on the playclock and often scrambles to the line with no other option than running what's called no matter what the D shows.
It kind of sucks that Michigan doesn't seem to want to do similar things. You'd think every coach would love the opportunity to get whatever information they can before making a decision.
Michigan's not using these newfangled offensive innovations. They suck so much at varying tempo that you, reader, have screamed "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" more than once in two-minute drills the last two years.
I love everything about Brady Hoke, but this is the one thing that makes me fret at night when I forget about Jabrill Peppers.
[After THE JUMP: DeBord is not Borges, Borges is not DeBord. Gardner confirm. Interior line muttering.]
2. But the pistol?
Yes. It is Michigan's great fortune that their upward-looking coaching staff* has just seen Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin and Colin Kaepernick obliterate NFL defenses with spread elements. Borges's mindset was made clear when he talked to Sam Webb about the pistol, mentioned those three quarterbacks in the NFL, didn't reference a single college, and emphasized the fact that Griffin got hurt:
"Now this has really been kind of a recent development with the quarterbacks running the ball more and it’ll be interesting to see here over the next few years how that holds. A lot of things come and go in the NFL. RG3 got hurt last year and don’t think that didn’t get some people’s attention."
Everyone's who's tried to analyze the correlation between QB runs and injuries has come back saying there doesn't appear to be one. A Slate analysis actually found a slight negative correlation, and a guy who went into his study with "a pretty strong conviction that there would be a positive and significant relationship between number of hits and injury" ended up concluding the same thing Slate did.
This is not to argue that Michigan should have Gardner take off 15 times a game; I mention it because that seems to be a good insight into Borges's state of mind. He finds the spread distasteful at best and is willing to marshal crap arguments against it. Nothing about it was worthwhile until the NFL finally tried it out last fall. Now it is an Innovation and using it no longer makes you an untouchable.
"Devin was recruited to run the spread," coach Brady Hoke said last week at Big Ten media days in Chicago. "Philosophically, we’ll be much more downhill running team. Philsophically, we’ll be under center more.
"But the spread will still be in place, keeping some people honest. So that will still be part of it."
…and drips of information from the inside confirm that they continue to practice the inverted veer—a play so successful for Michigan that they just can't dump it. Pistol read option is obviously in line as well. Borges wants to throw everything at a defense, always.
SO THAT IS THE GREAT RELIEF in our worry. I fully admit that my paranoia is rooted in the belief that Lloyd Carr's Michigan teams rarely lived up to their talent because of milquetoasty what-might-go-wrong approach that saw them do things like run into the line against Alabama until they were down two touchdowns when they had Tom Brady and David Terrell facing off against a horrible secondary. Or make Michigan fans think "oh no, not again" when Michigan scored to go up 18. Or install a zone strech running game that (almost?) literally had no counters built into it.
The lack of imagination and exile to NFL position coach Siberia for Terry Malone for taking tentative steps towards changing that were second to safety play as far as late Carr frustrations went. I think everyone had a bit of dread that was coming back.
It's not. Al Borges is emphatically not Mike DeBord. While he's not a fan of spreads, he's got "CHICKS DIG THE LONG BALL" tattooed across his chest (trust me) and has led aggressive, efficient offenses when handed anything other than Tommy Tuberville's sclerotic quarterback recruiting to work with. He is an inveterate tinkerer. He just hates the spread. So, okay. I think Michigan won't be taking advantage of everything they might, but as long as they go for the jugular we'll be okay.
*[What I mean by this: Michigan prefers to look at the NFL for ideas, instead of other colleges. Carr did the same thing. in contrast, Rodriguez would go anywhere and look at anything from D-III on up for ideas. You can see this not only in the offense but in Michigan's refusal to run the spread punt formation adopted by every school more forward-thinking than Iowa. The spread punt is not legal in the NFL: only the gunners can be more than X yards downfield before the punt gets off. Therefore Michigan does not run it.]
3. Is Gardner really going to be all that?
Uh… yeah. Literally everything that has reached my ears this offseason about Gardner has been something between positive and rapturous. The public stuff has been in this space: Manning camp, spring game, Whitfield, teammates. The insider stuff has been just as positive, if not more so. At the Mott scrimmage Gardner spun the ball with authority, altered trajectories and speeds, and looked in total command of the offense. The only thing we lack is sample size.
We'll start getting that tomorrow. But I'm telling you: you guys. Gardner's arm, running ability, improvisational skills, and dedication to getting better are all there. You know how Michigan was talking up Brian Cleary's quantum leap and then like two days later Shane Morris was installed as the clear backup? To me, that's Michigan's coaching staff having a pow-wow and deciding they need to have Morris ready because Gardner is a major threat to depart for the NFL after the season.
He's going to be good. Very good.
4. The interior line—why would we not die this year after dying last year?
Can Glasgow play?
The offensive line section's comments featured a dude ranting at me for being excessively optimistic after giving the interior guys a two and saying that "mediocrity would be a win" at the center position. People are punchy about the offensive line.
While it doesn't look good coming off a year in which I should have given the interior OL a zero, there are reasons to expect improvement. Kyle Kalis should be an upgrade for Omameh for what Michigan wants to do. Omameh got picked up by the Niners as a free agent and was moved to tackle, a spot he never played at Michigan. Thus went Omameh's ability to pull. While Omameh was easily the best interior OL a year ago, he was an undrafted guy recruited to run zone stretches. If Kalis is mentally ready he opens up great possibilities, like, say, pulling to Lewan.
The other two spots are dodgier, but at least this year there is some plausible competition that gives Michigan a bullet or three. Braden was bashed out to tackle by Chris Bryant's emergence, and the walk-on is a guy you can believe in more than the 6'1" dude last year. We will know a lot more in a few games. If Glasgow can play—like, really play—things immediately become much sunnier there. I think he can and that Jack Miller is the guy with the shakiest profile, but that's admittedly an opinion based on circumstantial evidence as thick as vapor.
Meanwhile, last year it was Barnum or Mealer, Mealer or Barnum, and the starting center was a last-second switch because the other guy couldn't get the calls right. At the very least, Miller should be able to do that.
I'm not high on these folks this year, but take it from someone who had to UFR the Nebraska game: it just cannot be worse.
Also, some of the derision heaped on the OL rightly belongs to the tight ends, who were freshmen last year and are now sophomores. Kerridge also moves from a redshirt freshman to his sophomore year. A sizeable advance from the three primary blocking-type skill players is likely, and that will help the offensive line look better too.
Last year's implosion was ugly and not particularly relevant to this year since the offense changed dramatically when Gardner was the quarterback and the interior line has graduated.
So: I believe in Gardner, and Toussaint, and that the overall blocking will be improved not only by the new guys on the line but also the maturation of the new generation of blocky/catchy guys. I think Al Borges will be much better equipped to take advantage of Gardner's skills than Denard's, and I can't really find a spot on the offense that I think will be meaningfully worse than last year:
not having Denard Robinson to paper over rushing issues <<< having that
Oh, right… except for that guy who ran for 7.2 YPC last year. Michigan can overcome that if Gardner is superman.
Last Year's Stupid Predictions
Devin Funchess exceeds last year's Koger production.
Koger had 23 catches for 244 yards and 5 touchdowns; Funchess had 15 for 234 and 5 touchdowns. So no; "matches" would have been close.
Roundtree, Gallon, and Gardner are all in an undifferentiated heap around 30-40 catches and 400-700 yards.
Gardner got moved back to QB midseason after accumulating 16 catches for 266; Gallon's crazy chemistry with Gardner got him up to 49 for 829; Roudntree was right in the middle at 31 for 580. If Robinson hadn't gotten hurt this would have been about on point.
Denard has about the same production rushing, gets his INT rate down to better-than-sophomore-year levels-but-still-not-good (3.4%!), and ends up in New York for the Heisman ceremony. He does not win.
Uh, no, for a lot of reasons.
Overall rushing YPC goes up slightly thanks to Borges having more of a grasp on what works and Rawls improving the productivity of the third-tier carries. Playing Alabama without Fitz may have a distorting effect on this.
Barnum isn't Molk but acquits himself well at center and gets drafted late after an honorable mention ABT-type season.
Oh god. To be fair we didn't know about the Mealer switch at this point.
Kyle Kalis waits for most of the year, unable to redshirt because of minor injuries; Mealer does hold the LG job.
Kalis did redshirt but this was basically right… somehow.
There is no Iowa game where they try to go under center for most of it.
Gardner changed this. Robinson games… yeah.
Yardage moves up to 20th; advanced stuff is about the same but things feel better because the offense is less prone to wild swings (58 vs Minnesota, 40 vs Ohio State, bupkis vs VT, etc.)
Yardage collapsed to 78th, as did advanced stuff.
Not a good performance.
This Year's Stupid Predictions
Gallon and Gardner chemistry is a real thing that propels both of them way up statistical charts. Gallon challenges Braylon's single-season receiving record.
Gardner is not quite as statistically amazing as he was last year but is clearly the best throwing quarterback in the Big Ten. His legs are a side asset.
If healthy a month into the season, Bryant moves into the starting lineup. Glasgow displaces Miller at center. The interior line struggles early before rounding into an acceptable unit.
Toussaint goes over a thousand yards at over 5.0 YPC. He gets the lions share of the carries. De'Veon Smith emerges into the #2 back by midseason.
Funchess blows up thanks to Gardner and the Darboh injury. He's the #2 receiver on the team.
I complain about Dileo being underutilized at some point.
Michigan splits its snaps about equally between shotgun, pistol, and under center.
The offense rebounds from the ugly numbers a year ago, in part because Alabama isn't on the schedule and Michigan doesn't spend half of the Nebraska game with the backup QB (knock on wood). Passing offense skyrockets from 94th to top 20.
Rushing remains basically static (41st, 4.8 YPC) as an improved line and Toussaint can only do so much to keep pace with Denard's missing 7.2 YPC. YPC will actually drop a few tenths.
Borges seems like a much better coordinator when he's not trying to work with pieces he'd never have recruited.
I am one of the bigger RR fans around when it comes to his tenure at UM, and I definitely feel he got a raw deal and that his offense would have been revolutionary if given time. That said, I don't think I've ever disagreed with Brian as much as I do about this fascination with the spread as the unstoppable march of progress on offense. It's a system that worked for a couple of teams in the NFL for, what, 1 year? Not even really that unless you presume RGIII (who was never a major runner in college) was a major reason Alfred Morris had 1,600+ yards last year. Let's give it a year or two before we christen it the wave of the future, because I fully expect to see defenses compensate and, I suspect, some of these QBs getting hurt during the year if they keep trying to hold the ball on run options. I'm not saying the mobile QB will disappear, but let's see if Russell Wilson and Kapernick are running over guys to the SB before we look for torch passing.
All that said, there is no "better" offense than another; Air Force runs a f'ing Veer and can Falcon their way up and down the field against basically anyone. OSU running the spread well is a combination of having a Tall Denard, skill+ players at most positions, and having an (admittedly) easy schedule this year and last. Alabama has won numerous titles with a pretty vanilla offense punctuated by great line play and talent at skill positions, and LSU nearly won the title with an injured seal at QB. The one consistent theme of all these teams is that they have an identity on offense that they follow through with; what killed UM under RR was his inability to hold true to this on defense, and it didn't matter how good his offense was moving the ball. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, offenses are not rock-paper-scissors; X never beats Y every time. It's all about executing your system better than the guy trying to defend against it. It isn't "gamefeelings" to huddle; it might be players being unfamiliar with the offense or an OC afraid or unaccustomed to doing it. And while offenses can benefit from seeing what formation the defense has adopted, the defense can also make last-minute adjustments when the offense is audibling and, possibly, wind up in a better situation than they were when the team got to the line.
I'm not fan of Borges, but his offenses have been at least as efficient as the best spread ones when filled with his players. I'll miss Denard and watching this offense score at will against Illinois or run ND off the field; I won't miss seeing teams putting 8 in the box and seeing Denard overthrow a slot receiver or lob a hail mary on third and 15 because he didn't read the end correctly.
I totally recognize that. That's actually a point in favor of RGIII not being the sole driver of that offense's growth; he had a very good running game and a team designed to maximize the talents of everyone in the backfield. But if you listen to see people in the NFL, they look at RGIII and think he made Washington a playoff team all by himself.
RGIII was pretty clearly a big reason Morris got those 1,600 yards last year. Griffin would spring out in the opposite direction of Morris on the typical zone stretch, creating the threat that he could take off around the end for a homerun on any given play. Teams had to stay home on the backside because of this, and Morris benefitted...Morris was also pretty great, though, and I don't want to take that away from him.
I think when we talk about the spread that we're sometimes conflating the spread with having a mobile QB. I don't see how anyone can argue that having a mobile QB isn't a good thing, though of course you don't have to have it.
The one thing I think you can say for the spread that is hard to argue with is that spacing out the defense is always a good thing, just as it is in basketball. You don't have to run the spread to space out the defense, and you don't have to space out the defense at all to win, but spacing is a good thing, and the spread gives it to you.
"All of the doughnuts have names that sound like prostitutes."
I won't argue that RGIII didn't help the Redskins offensively and that his play helped open up lanes for Morris, but Shanahan has been a savant of sorts running the ball with his schemes, and RGIII's rushing totals definitely tailed off toward the end of the season while Morris's pretty much stayed the same.
I agree with your other two points, though "mobile QB" can be misleading. Manning is a very "mobile" QB in the pocket, but he isn't going to run away from guys. By comparison, we've seen slews of guys come into the NFL with athleticism to spare who can't throw a spiral through a window and flounder as a result (Vince Young and Tim Tebow are recent examples, but there are others). In the NFL, you don't want a statue back there who can't move, but usually by the time you get to the NFL you are good enough at whatever you do to stay alive that it isn't an issue.
Opponents saying, "We knew what plays were being run" is grounds to fire the co-ordinator immediately. The incremental gain from limiting your formations and plays to get real good at them diminishes and falls far short of the gain from requiring defenses to be prepared for more and having to guard the whole field. A half-way decent co-ordinator's job is to come up with something a bit more surprising that nonetheless is easy enough to teach college guys with limited practice hours. Sure, a Wisconsin can run over an RR defense on occasion but that's not a recipe to win against quality competition.
I agree with BC who said once that modern offensive college football is messing with the safety. It seems like you can do that with a spread-n-shred, an option-based attack or an evolved passing game (air raid, west coast, multi-tight end, basic pro). Particular schools might prefer one over the other due to peculiarities to their recruiting bases. There might be something to arguments that one form should be preferred due to flexibility of coming back vs. running out the clock, etc. but I'll need some anaylsis to decide one way or another. Otherwise, it's just an opinion on what you like more. And I don't give a sh** if you like chocolate ice cream more than rocky road.
Not huddling and looking to the sideways for an audible will quickly lose its effectiveness. I don't know why defenses can't change too, even bait the coach into calling an RPS -2 to the point that it's no longer correct to call it RPS.
I find the criticism of the Carr offensive philosophy under
DeBord as somewhat interesting. The view is based more on entertainment value than achievement, per se. I mean it's hard to argue with an offense that helps you win a national championship and five Big Ten titles in 11 years. And Moeller won three conference championships in five years. Each of the starting quarterbacks that Michigan
It blends in with the late career contention that he and his staff failed to deliver the kind of recruits that made Rich Rod's job tougher.
The interesting thing is, that Bo Schembechler was a guy who never got caught up in offensive style as an enduring principle in winning football games. He changed his offense repeatedly over his 21 seasons at Michigan based on getting better results, and the philosophy blended with the talent recruited.
If you had Harbaugh, you passed and ran option sometimes. If you had Demetrious Brown, Rick Leach or Dennis Franklin you played an offensive style that suited their abilities and made the team successful. But even when Michigan had Anthony Carter, they still ran more than they passed.
When Carr became head coach after Moeller's stint (and Moeller basically recruited Lloyd to Michigan from Eastern Michigan in 1980) Michigan's offensive philosophy moved from option tendencies to pro-style offense. Lloyd was a quarterback in college. So he later adopted the traditional offense and pro-style and recruited to it.
In his first game against Virginia, Michigan played Scott Driesbach most of the game, winning on his final throw in the corner to Mercury Hayes. Dreisbach and every qb who started for Lloyd got a shot in the pros. Now, if you are recruiting to offensive style and you want great passers, this is a good way to attract them.
Moeller and Carr were different in the same way that Rich Rod and Hoke are different in applying leadership and philosophy. But most of what happens at Michigan today within the football program is based on the Schembechler way.
Denard was special like Desmond and Carter, and you could say to a certain extent that the Michigan offense they ran didn't always maximize their ability and production, translating into greater success and wins. But style, entertainment and success aren't a straight line path even when they mesh with our full appreciation.
And each coach brings his own stamp to how he does things. So, if Michigan has now gone back to old school tendencies on offense, just make them work. And win baby, win.
"Sometimes one pays most for things one gets for nothing."Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
It's interesting how all the hatred about the manball offense, huddling, etc. is seemingly all directed at Borges. Why isn't Hoke coming under fire? Hoke is the one who hired Borges. Since they coached together at SDSU, I'm pretty sure Hoke knew exactly what he was bringing to UM in the way of Al Borges. Borges is probably mainly responsible for the gameplan and even more so for the play calling but with regards to the offensive philosophy, I'm guessing Borges and Hoke pretty much see eye to eye.
In the last couple of weeks there was a post here discussing the offense which contained a link to a article about the introduction of the spread into the NFL. It discussed how the NFL would adapt to the spread. One of the points was that even if you didn't have eactly the defensive makeup to handle the spread directly, the spread makes ot legal to hit the QB even if he nolonger has the ball. So most of the defenses would simply hit the QB on every play that allowed it until the offense stopped running the QB to protect him. (Caveat - I do not understand exactly when the QB may be hit in a spread offense when, in a tradition pro-style, he otherwise may not. No party in the article disputed that the spread would expose the QB to more hits when not the ball carrier. If anyone could clarify this please do so.)
While it appears to be statistically correct that the is a slight negative correlation with QB injury and more runs, one must consider that if the defenses are able to start pounding on the QB even when he is not the ball carrier, that could very well change.
From what i've seen, which is admittedly much less than Brian, the Air Raid offense (like what Texas Tech ran under Leach) is more able to tear up good defenses than is the Rich Rod style spread. Then again, I may just be biased by the nightmares I have of our one-dimensional offense stalling against the likes of MSU, OSU, and Miss St.
I don't care what kind of offense Michigan runs. As long as Hoke and Borges can figure out how to wed talent and success I will be happy. Too many times Michigan has not lived up to the talent they have.
"It's good to be in something from the ground floor. I came too late for that and I know. But lately, I'm getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over." Tony Soprano
I wonder if there is something unique about Alabama. If you want to test the "theorem" show me Alabama vs. Spread Alabama. I guess there was that Cam Newton fellow... bah, what am I thinking, that doesn't count.
The Alabama phenomenon damn near prooves that Jimmies and Joes >>> X's and O's. It says very little about the superirity of one scheme over another, a superiority that doesn't actually exist btw. There is no offensive scheme devised that can close that kind of talent gap. And, oh yeah, nevemind that winning games requires a defense too.
How has Power Stanford done vs. Spread Oregon? Not to mention the "broken wing" shenanigans that Stanford has resorted to in order to slow the game down.