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.
You can be a no huddle team without running the spread or running a fast tempo. The defense argument is invalid to me because the spread teams that have poor defenses are usually defenses that would suck regardless (whether due to coaching, personnel or execution). There are several up tempo teams with good defenses, especially when you use the points per possession metric. Just because you give up more points and yards overall doesn't mean your defense is worse, especially when you are defending 4-6 extra possessions a game.
If Borges is consistent with Fitz I think 1000 is attainable as well. HOWEVA...I simply think circumstances will dictate guys like Smith and Green getting more touches as the season progresses...and that's a bit hopeful, of course, but I think they're both going to excel.
I'm with you on Smith. In the admittedly small sample size of video he looks just like the awesome pro-style back he appeared to be in his recruiting film. Authority.Balance.Power.Will. Me like him.
And I will be completely thrilled if you are right about the balance between shotgun, pistol, and under center. Amazed. But thrilled.
All through your predictions I kept thinking, "Imagine what this is going to read like next year.... But I think we may be selling this team short . There are questions, but if they have decent answers there are alot of real strengths to this team. And Jake is coming back.
"Football is happening at Michigan... we have that savoir faire." Dhani Jones
thank you...i was waiting for someone to say it. I think Bama, as well as USC of mid-2000's, Stanford now, LSU, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Iowa of mid 2000's, Georgia of mid 2000's have proved that good-great talent, good sound defense with a d-line pass rush and run support, smart QB decisions, and a proven running game/o-line play = lots of wins. No need for frills. Florida is the only spread team i can think of that won the MNC, and they had Meyer before Saban figured him out, Tebow (powerful up the middle runner) and Harvin as well.
Oregon is another example...look at 2009 against OSU, 2010 against more powerful Auburn, 2011 vs. LSU, 2012 vs. Stanford.
Manball+Defense+execution and poise = lots of wins..
Manball+Defense+execution and poise+great talent = Bama
Spread+execution+fitting players+marginal defense (the best possible scenario for the defense considering how much the offense is on the field) = Oregon or RichRod WestVa = no championships/not as good as current Stanford or most definitely Alabama or LSU.
Auburn was most certainy a spread team that also won the BCS. So that's three spread champions.
It's funny that when comparing Stanford and Oregon, you didn't mention Oregon absolutely trashing two straight top ten Stanford teams. Or that they beat Wisconsin in a rose bowl. Or that Wisconsin lost another Rose Bowl to spread team TCU. Or that the mighty Georgia teams of the mid 2000's got destroyed by WVU.
Currently 6 of the top 10 are spread offensive teams: Ohio State, Oregon, South Carolina (not sure why you claim they're not, maybe because you can only equate beastly line play with pro-style systems), Texas A&M, Clemson, and Louisville. Spread systems and ideas are here to stay. It doesn't mean you can't win doing other things. But lets not pretend that because LSU and Alabama have had far and away the most talented rosters over the last decade, that their offensive systems must be the "right" way to do things.
the teams you've mentioned were all physical while still having spread aspects accept Oregon who has not won a championship...and Oregon got beat last year by a much more physical Stanford team(not to mention Stanford was nobody for about 40 years and had to build a team from scratch, Oregon was a few years ahead may explain the other beatings they put on stanford), and they also got beat by a much more physical LSU team. I think the real truth is, the top physical specimen type players will almost always lend themselves better to a pro-style offense which is why the best recruits tend to go to LSU or Bama. Think huge olinemen, running backs, and receivers, plus your entire offense isn't built around a running QB, but instead a strong O-line. I like our chances waaaaaaay better as a power pro-style team who stretches the field vertically and establishes the run than as a totally hit or miss spread team who either goes 3 and out taking 30 seconds off the clock or has a really quick scoring drive....not to mention spread teams struggle more in red-zone situations as they don't have as much field or space to work with.
the perfect team would be good at both spread and power, but we know that is near impossible. The closest thing was probably Urban Meyer's great Florida teams, but even they were stopped eventually....BY A POWER TEAM!
Half the teams you originally mentioned have never won championships. Standford, Wisconsin, USCe, Iowa, Georgia are all on the level of Oregon when it coes to success.
As far as as the ass whoopings Oregon's offense laid on Stanford, those didn't happen in '05, '06 when Stanford was garbage. He's talking about the two games in 2010 and 2011 when Stanford was in full Harbaugh/Andrew Luck/Top Tenn Team/BCS Bowl swing. Both years they put up 50+
And as far Florida being "stopped" by a power team. While they were good they went 1-1 against Bama before Meyer bailed. So the power team didn't stop the, they had an incomplete match
If you're doing nothing, how do you know when you're finished?
You missed 2010 Auburn and 2005 Texas as spread MNC winners. Since 2005 when the spread started becoming really prominent, 4 MNC winners have been spread (Texas, Auburn, Florida x 2) and 4 have been pro (LSU, Alabama x 3).
I'm not necessarily saying one is better than the other, but spread teams have won plenty and have done fine on a national level. And it's hard to make the argument that "Alabama is doing just fine' or "USC was doing just fine" when those teams recruited at a nuclear level that we are not at, even recently.
is all those spread teams had absolute studs at QB - Vince Young, Cam Newton and Tim Tebow. The one exception might be Meyer's first UF team when Tebow was a freshmen but even then Leak was pretty good and had started for a few years.
The pro style teams didn't really have 'stud' QB's. They were all decent to pretty good.
I agree completely--actually, I think the single best argument against the spread offense is that it requires a unique athlete at QB that you can't always get, and this leads spreads to be a little bit more feast/famine than drop-back offenses. But I think a spread offense with an excellent dual-threat QB tends to be more deadly than a pro-style offense with an excellent dropback QB.
On the flip side, you can say that all the pro-style teams that won the MNC during that period had outrageously loaded, talent-laden defenses helping them as well. I'm sure if you tallied up the yardage and point totals of those spread defenses, they were less effective than the LSU and Bama defenses. And vice-versa for the offenses.
...they would've dominated in the middle of the 00's.
“True loyalty is that quality of service that grows under adversity and expands in defeat. Any street urchin can shout applause in victory, but it takes character to stand fast in defeat. One is noise — the other, loyalty.”
Last check Bama uses the huddle and that seems to be working out well for them.
Stanford uses the huddle and that seems to be working out well for them.
I think too much emphasis is placed on huddle, non-huddle, pace, etc. The best teams are the ones with the best talent and their ability to execute, not the ones that solely rely on a gimmicky type offense. Defenses are quick to adjust...just look at the "wildcat."
Ideological crap like "have better talent and execute better" ignores the point of this entire discussion. That stuff only takes you so far. What if you don't have better talent than your opponents? Look at Northwestern. They can't recruit like some other schools in the Big Ten, so they find ways to compete. They're doing a pretty darn good job.
Listen, you can have spread concepts in a pro style attack (zone read on a short down to go play, spread the field in a red zone situation, etc.). Even the Patriots run that. But at the end of the day, it really does fall on execution, sound offensive line play and a QB that doesn't suck for an offensive team to be successful.
I don't get your comment. My point was that the pro-style will typically work moreso than the spread. That said, If you want to incorporate spread tactics in the pro style, there's a time and a place. But to think that the most successful offenses shouldn't be one big RichRod / NW jet, spread offense, is totally ignorant.
Nobody should say the spread is a "gimmicky" offense because the only gimmick offense I know is the one run by the Globetrotters. The point of football is to score points, and so whatever system lets you do that more than your opponent is not a gimmick.
That said, Brian's love of the spread is based on personal preference, but I don't think it should go as dogma that it will be on the "right side of history" when it is all said and done. As noted, many successful teams run other kinds of offenses; Wisconsin has been a Rose Bowl representative for years with a thoroughly predictable offense that still puts up obscene numbers, and Stanford, Georgia, and Alabama look to be some of the best teams in the country without much in the way of spread formations. It's like the argument between 3-4/4-3/3-3-5/Cover-2, etc. on defense - you pick an ideology that works for you and then maximize its potential. Football isn't rock-paper-scissors; you can beat anyone with anything if you do it better than they counter. Saying "X is always better than Y" is just fanboy drivel.
look at Iowa from 2002-2010, look at MSU from 2009-2011, look at Wisc. the past 20 years...all had recruiting classes not much better than Northwestern, all have had success equal to or great than Northwestern. Execution, good line play, and defense.
That statement is fairly laughable. Up until the last couple years Northwestern was pretty much always in the bottom 2-3 of Big Ten recruiting. The others were right in the middle of the pack, some years topping off just behind the heavies, and once in a while dropping toward the bottom. To deny that Northwestern hasn't had a significant talent deficit since pretty much ever is just being ignorant to try and prove a point.
Northwestern has not had some metoric rise...they were a bowl team for a few years running and are finally seeing the fruits of an older roster and good coaching...I never said the spread doesn't work...it just seems stronger teams that control the tempo of the game by running the ball and forcing 3 and outs tend to be better....I think the spread can get you to a certain level, but the tempo always seems to leave defenses gassed. You can call my arguments antecdotal if you want, but fact is, there are about 3 or 4 outlier spread champiosnhip teams (Auburn, Florida, and Texas all had Tankasuarus running QB's that they almost lived and died by) in the BCS era...the rest have been pro-style teams. I personally think the most important aspects to success is a great powerful and physical O and D-line that can dominate a game on both sides...call me old school, but I think Bo and Brady would agree with me. Hell, Urban Meyer would probably agree with me.
They've been a bowl team almost entirely because of their spread offense. But whatever, when you dismiss completely valid counterpoints (Florida, Auburn, Texas all won championships, drawign the best and biggest players into their system and not a pro-style system) because of flimsy excuses and dismiss one of the most succesful programs of the last 5-8 years because they haven't won a championship, you are close minded and it's not worth arguing with you.
Line play has always been the key to football. But there's absolutely nothing that says you can't run a spread and have great line play. Urban Meyer's teams have always proven that, and South Carolina is turning the trick this year. Just because you can't wrap your mind around that fact, and witnessed three years of awful defensive play, doesn't mean spread and up tempo offenses aren't working all around the country.
You mention execute in your quote then ignore it completely. You blow off execution in favour of just running a spread.
I say 100% WRONG.
It is ALL about execution. Doesn't matter your scheme if your execution of that scheme is terrible.
And you focus ONLY on offense. If your defense can't stop anything but others can stop you due to your execution, you lose. Running a spread offense does not guarantee wins. I cannot remember an example of such...
Hmm... spread offense, worst defense in school history, winning close games losing in blowouts. Hmm... Probably can't happen if you are running a spread offense.
Wasting away in Ohio, a Wolverine in a sea of red and grey