At press time, Harbaugh had sent Michigan’s athletic department an envelope containing a heavily annotated seating chart, a list of the 63,000 seat views he had found unsatisfactory, and a glowing 70-page report on section 25, row 12, seat 9, which he claimed is “exactly what the great sport of football is all about.”
Watching the videos from the Illinois game, and then going back to the Michigan State game, have confirmed something for me: Denard's mechanics have broken down a bit over the course of the season. This is, in a way, good news. It is good news because it can be accounted for in the play-calling, and because it is fixable.
Denard throws with quite the rotating motion of his upper body. This is not unusual, and is more common with QBs with more of a sidearm delivery. Because of this technque, however, Denard often releases the ball with his chest rotated past the point where it is directly at his target. This can lead to inaccuracy.
To see where this is a problem, watch the Michigan State interceptions. Both were on patterns where the receivers crossed from Denard's right toward the middle of the field. He rushes, and doesn't quite rotate his body enough, leaving the ball behind the receiver.
It is important to note that QBs rarely have their chests perfectly pointed at their target. The target changes slightly even in the moment between when a QB begins his throwing motion, and when the QB releases the pass. So, QBs make small, usually unconscious adjustments with their arm and shoulder - their feet, hips, and chest are already set. THis is not a big deal when a QB is well-squared to his target, but when his technique involves an overrotation of his chest, it makes it more difficult for a right-handed QB to adjust his pass further left. On the other hand, adjusting further right on a throw is easy.
To see this, watch the last two TDs Denard through to Roundtree. Both were routes moving from Denard's left to right - the better route for him. On the shorter, Denard was able to adjust the throw a bit behind the receiver - but still catchable - to avoid a safety. On the longer, he threw one of the prettiest touch passes of his career. I submit that these throws - and any other crossing routes, posts, or slants coming from his left to right - are well-suited to his technique and likely to be accurate.
This is a very common technique problems with a young QB. The fact that he had better technique at the beginning of the year means that he was well-coached in the offseason, but that it hasn't become permanent yet. These technique issues take quite awhile to perfect. But they'll be even better next year, and the year after...
This year, this suggests the play-calling can be done in a way to maximize Denard's effectiveness. Throw posts, slants, and crossing routes to receivers to the left. To the right, throw outs, curls, gos - anything vertical or to the outside. Those are going to be the money plays for the next three games.
Looking at some of the video from practice, seeing Carlos Brown pitching the ball, and considering things I've seen RichRod run elsewhere, I wonder if there's a "quad option" in the playbook (this is probably a poor name for it).
What I'm envisioning this this: Sheridan in the shotgun with split backs, Minor to his left, Brown to this right. WR split to each side, with Shaw (for example) in the slot to the right.
On the snap, Brown crosses in front of Sheridan in the traditional zone read scheme. If Sheridan hands to Brown, Brown heads off tackle left, with Minor in position to take a pitch. This essentially greats a speed option left.
On the other hand, if Sheridan keeps it, Shaw stutters into a slot option position. So now you have a slot option right. With the right WR on a curl, slant, or other hot route, you also have a quick pass option for Sheridan should need or opportunity arise.
Maybe I need to get more sleep or play less Xbox, but I think this could be coachable and fundamentally sound. When you think about, the QB has no more reads than he would on a typical zone-read triple option, and Brown only has a simple read - keep or pitch.