There are two main metrics by which I look at an offense, with different philosophies emphasizing different elements. I look at how well an offense does at converting first downs ([# of plays gaining a first down]/[# of first downs started]) and how good an offense is at stretching the field with explosive plays (Any yards gained beyond the first down line).
Below are the season numbers for each of Doug Nussmeier’s seasons alongside of the last 11 Michigan seasons for reference:
Blue=Michigan Red=Alabama Purple=Washington Gray=Fresno St
The top right quadrant is the Oregon zone. Offense that are really good at both. They consistently generate first downs but also produce big plays. The lower right quadrant is feast or famine. Lots of big plays, but can’t consistently convert first downs. The top left is probably where Brady Hoke wants to be, not consistently pushing the tempo or the big plays, but able to grind out first down after first down. The bottom left is for offenses that can’t do either well.
The Washington Years
As noted by Brian, in 2009 Nussmeier took over a tire fire of an offense. If there was a dot for 2008 Washington, you wouldn’t see it because it would be even lower and left of 2008 Michigan! His first year the offense improved along both dimensions and moved to bad but not awful. 2010 saw a bit more explosiveness but in year three the offense took a major step forward along both metrics.
Consistent improvement over three years is a very good sign. In fact, if you compare 2008-2011 Washington and Michigan, every year but 2010 is very similar and demonstrate a lot of positive improvement.
The Alabama Years
For a reference starting point, 2011 Alabama was most similar to 2004 Michigan. That was the team that beat LSU in the national championship. You can have an offense like that when you have a defense like that allows 37 bonus yards/game and an absurd 42% first down conversion (MSU was 59% this year).
In his first year turned the mediocre 2011 offense into a very good chain moving offense in 2012. For 2013 the moved further in that direction. The 82.7% first down conversion in 2013 was the third highest number since 2013. Some of that was due to the overall regression of defenses in the SEC in 2013. Texas A&M actually set the record this year with 82.9% conversions.
This does seem to be the coordinator who can do the things that Borges can’t while still fitting into Hoke’s desire for what his team’s offense looks like. Where Michigan has spent the last three years moving backwards, every single Nussmeier coordinated offense has shown year on year improvement. There aren’t going to be fireworks or a spread offense, most likely, but there should be a lot of first downs and hopefully consistent improvement.
From a watchability standpoint, this won’t be the fun offense many of where hoping for. It is a system that in the presence of elite talent and great defense can do everything you need it to. I have a working hypothesis that if your goal is national championships this is the way to go. Great defenses seem to have lower variance than great offenses. Put a team together around an elite offense and you get 10 amazing games and 2 games where the wheels fall off. Build it around a great defense and you are probably in all 12 games. Elite offense is great for making the leap from bad to good but if you want to get good to great, it has to start on defense. I’ll be pulling some more data this offseason to test this out.