to play football, not to play trumpet
Denard Robinson is the most spectacularly explosive quarterback in college football today; I think few would disagree with that. Dilithium, Shoelace, Judge Dreads, Sonic, or whatever you want to call him-- the kid has got moves. Given the impressive results of the season so far (875 yds. of offense in TWO games!), critics seem to have only one refrain left to fall back on--
Yeah, you have a great QB, but with 28 carries a game he'll never survive through the Big Ten portion of the schedule. [side note: the Wall Street Journal wrote a textbook article summing up this objection today]
The point of this diary isn't necessarily to refute this argument, though it's relevant to the main question at hand, which is this: Is our offense incomplete without a home-run-hit running back?
ON THE QUESTION OF CARRIES:
Last year we had a 4-headed rushing attack (Minor, Brown, Smith, Shaw), of whom only two rushers returned, Shaw and Smith. Although they split carries, it is worth noting that in the entirety of the 2009 season, neither Shaw (42 attempts) nor Smith (48 attempts) had as many carries as Denard has had in two GAMES, a total of 57.
While Denard is not the first incredible dual-threat quarterback in recent years to rack up yards on the ground and through the air, his carries are pretty far out there. Vince Young and Pat White both never averaged more than 16.5 carries a season while playing for Texas or WVU, respectively. Tim Tebow did manage to net an impressive 18 carries a game during his senior season, often in battering-ram, short-yardage plays, but even then, a pretty far cry from 28.5. Again, this isn't to say "ZOMG INJURIES" but more so to note that even the most successful dual-threat quarterbacks of the past decade have had far more balanced offenses that relied on fewer QB rushes than Michigan has thus far.
These numbers should come with the caveat that Denard will be getting far fewer touches against UMass, Indiana, and Bowling Green. Furthermore, with regard to risk for injury, he is being tackled mostly be second-level defenders, as opposed to getting gang-tackled by linemen, as is more often the case with dedicated running backs. That being said, as before, this is not a question of risk of injury (though that is relevant), but rather:
Why Are We Not Relying More On Running Backs?
Well, the answer isn't too difficult to see at the moment. Thus far this season, the numbers are underwhelming for both Shaw and Smith:
In the Notre Dame game, our non-Denard rushing attack was a paltry 30 yards. On the season, both RBs are averaging 3 yards per carry for about 10 attempts a game. These are underwhelming numbers.
Yet that's pretty surprising that for an offense as capable as Michigan's of producing jaw-dropping 87-yard rushing touchdowns on any given play when Denard touches the ball. And it is also puzzing that behind a very competent senior-laden O-Line, the longest play for scrimmage for a running back thus far this season is 15 yards.
I submit to you that this doesn't mean that we should rely on Denard more, but rather, that Rodriguez needs to dial up more run plays to establish a rhythm and determine where our RB attack is going to come from this year, because right now, that's pretty unclear.
Obviously these numbers can be expected to go up, and yes it is only 2 games, but at the moment, the Michigan offensive identity is basically all Denard Robinson, all the time. If he can't get the ball into Roundtree's hands or seems stymied on the ground at some point in a close game, what are our other options? Is it balanced to put that much weight on one player's shoulders? How successful have we been in establishing a rhyhthm running the ball with our RBs, or even discovering reliable homerun-threat running plays? Even Pat White could hand off to Steve Slaton every once in awhile when the pressure was on:
If past history is any precedent, a balanced offense and healthy QB play necessitate fewer carries by Denard and higher-level RB play. People keep saying "Rodriguez has finally found his Pat White-style quarterback," but they forget that effective Rodriguez offenses also had unbelievable stud running backs like Steve Slaton and Noel Devine lining up in the backfield, too. Amazing as our offense is, I really don't think we're that close to the ceiling, yet.
As we are only seeing the beginning of the Denard Robinson era, hopefully the current offensive balance is just a part of the growing pains and we'll be able to keep terrified opposing D-Coordinators up at night fearing runs, throws, or QB keeps equally.
Time will tell how this NCAA violation story plays out, but I think that the stormclouds are beginning to break a bit, given the backtracking of the Freep following RichRod's emotional press conference, as well as the beginning of Martin's investigation. Realistically, this was a tempest in a teacup, and hopefully the team captains and coaching staff will work this all out, but we really won't know until the season is in full swing.
It's a shame that this non-story has been sucking away so much attention from the talented young corps of players that will take the field for the Maize and Blue this season-- but that will soon be remedied. In spite of it all, the season ahead remains bright and begins anew Saturday, when all the punditry and editorials will become meaningless with the first BOOM of kickoff at 3:30.
If it's true that who you keep as enemies says at least as much about you as who you keep as friends, it's nice to know that OSU and Michigan at least have significant respect for each other off the field, even with both devoted to such a vicious rivalry. I firmly hope that we can bring some respect and parity back to our end of this rivalry and annihilate them in November, but I'll remember their comments this week as I root for us to do so. I hope ya'll do as well.