Yes, I know, we've lived this transition the past two years that says that the transition from Pro to spread/option is not easy. However, why really was it hard?
Let's consider 3 types of recently successful college offenses and some of the requisites for these to be successful:
Running spread/option (Oregon, West Virginia, Michigan)
- An athletic QB that can be a legitimate running threat
- Faster, quicker RBs
- Speed at reciever
- Athletic linemen who can execute zone blocking schemes (so some brains in those sacks of meat), but still strong enough to win blocks in the run game
Passing Spread (Notre Dame, Texas, Texas Tech)
- Atheletic linemen who can keep up with dynamic pass rush
- Quicker RBs that can run out of the shotgun, but are competent in pass protection
- Quicker recievers that can quickly hit routes and get open
- At least one big downfield threat
- A QB that doesn't fuck up a whole bunch and throw stupid interceptions, and can quickly go through the progressions of recievers to find the open target
Pro (Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Lloyd Carr)
- Big, powerful offensive line that can open holes on the inside of a defense
- A strong RB that can take the big hits in between the tackles and hold on to the ball
- Good TEs that can block for the run game and still catch passes
- Absurdly talented WRs that are big enough to pick up blocks downfield while being fast enough and talented enough to win 1-on-1 matchups and vertically stretch the field
- A QB with good knowledge of football, big enough to see over linemen, strong armed enough to stretch the field, and smart enough to not throw interceptions.Ideally one that could also play in a passing spread, as the ability to drop back into the shotgun and drive the offense down the field in pressure situations is often the difference between a championship team and a 'good' one.
So really, there are some big differences but still a lot of commonalities.
Now, the big thing that hurt us was the transition at QB. We didn't have the QB to provide that alternate run-threat that opens up the running spread. Our offense didn't produce. With the QBs in 09, the offense performed way better. Really, out offense was beginning to click pretty well last year and a lot of its struggles were a combination of freshman mistakes and injury. Realistically, the transition was made with only a 1-year megavoid.
Let's take a look though at that 1-year void.
As a coach, ideally you want to win with the players you would dream to have, but every coach knows he only has the players available to him. Simply enough, he didn't have a good run-capable QB on the roster to work with. That's to be expected, as can be seen above, a run-capable QB isn't on the docket for a Pro-style offense.
However, RichRod didn't have ANY sort of servicable QB. For whatever reason, Ryan Mallett bolted. Nobody remaining could even reliably complete a pass. If we at least had that, 2008 wouldn't have been the disaster it was. The o-line wasn't spectacular, but if you had even a solid pro-style QB at the helm, the passing threat could have at least opened up a little bit of run game, and the offense could have looked maybe more like a passing spread. Instead, 08 was an offense essentially without ANY sort of functioning QB, which would doom any offense, no matter the system change involved.
Long story short, I don't think it's fair to blame the failures on offense in 08 and - by extension - the failures on offense in 09 - on the offense change itself.
Why discuss this? I'm going to make the argument that - if the season goes poorly and another coaching change was necessary at the end of this year, or for that matter at any time in the future (say richrod retires) - we aren't 'stuck' in this system and don't need to necessarily see another 08-09 stretch once michigan moves on from Rodriguez one way or another.
Let's first tackle the movement from a Running Spread to a Passing Spread.
A lot of the players you want in these offenses are similar. Your linemen will be especially atheletic in both, and you'll have a quick RB and quicker recievers. Having speed at QB won't be a liability either, and will let you make up for potential deficiencies in a pure passing sense. In fact, having speed at the QB position can make a passing spread more dangerous, as it can open up coverage holes when you send 4 and 5 guys downfield. This on the whole would be a pretty easy transition - your RBs might be a bit of a liablilty when blocking, and everyone would have growing pains, but the transition wouldn't be on the whole too hard.
Now, back to pro.
A little athleticism never hurt anybody. A lot of your people would be undersized, but you'd have some quickness to make up for it. Up front, you'd have guys that might be a bit smaller than you'd like, but they'd have good technique if they have been well coached. You might not get a ton of brute-strength push, but you will have guys that know how to think along the line, letting a coach replace that need for brute strength with offensive gameplanning.
The reciever position is a bit tricky. You'd have a bunch of awesome slot guys, but you might struggle with having that ultimate WR threat that you really like to have on the outside of a run-heavy pro set. Still, once again, this isn't the end of the world as you can design routes to take advantage of speed to make up for this.
The big thing would be RB - running between the tackles isn't the sort of job you want to have a lot of your standard spread-option backs doing. Steve slaytons of the world are fast and explosive outside, but I wouldn't want one of those guys getting obliterated by a charging LB going full-bore towards a gap. See: Florida vs Michigan, 2008 Capital One bowl. Fatalaties are a big stain on a football program. You basically have to hope that your fast guy is also a tough son-of-a-bitch like Brandon Minor and anticipate your first year or two might be a little more pass-happy.
As for the QB? Ask Ohio State how convenient it is to have your pro-system QB capable of running and juking defenders. In most cases it's a luxury, but could be relied on in a transition year to keep a team together.
So, for all the people who scrolled past all that (I don't blame you), here are the core points I'm trying to make:
- There is nothing inherrent about an offense change that would force seasons like the past two we've had. The driving forces behind that were not having ANY sort of qb whatsoever, passing or otherwise (2008) and then having only true freshmen that make freshman mistakes and get injured doing dangerous freshman things (2009).
- Changing offenses post-rodriguez (be it retiring or firing) should not necessarily result in another 08/09 type year on offense simply because the new coach might bring in a new type of offense
- Because of all this, fuck you to all naysayers to Michigan football, stop pretending that in any way the past two years means long-term problems for the winningest program in history. Eat a dick, sparty.