Previously: Podcast 9.0A. Podcast 9.0B. Podcast 9.0C. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive End. Defensive Tackle. Linebacker. Cornerback. Safety. Special Teams.
1. Are we still in love with Harbaugh's offense? It was a bit inert last year.
The last couple years this post has led off with a high-level look at the things Jim Harbaugh has done to keep his dinosaur-lookin-ass offense on the cutting edge. These have mostly focused on Harbaugh's little run tweaks that keep the opposition unbalanced: traps, offset draws, gap plays with zone principles, various ways to clobber people on the edge, and formations, formations, and more formations.
In UFR I try to have a reasonably low-level listing of all the plays Michigan runs. A typical game could have 15, 18, or even 20 runs different enough for me to name them separate things—and I'm sure there are subtleties I'm missing. Harbaugh's offense is a world away from any I've charted before. Everyone tweaks; everyone presents a moving target. (Except Late Carr-era Mike Debord.) The sheer blizzard of stuff Harbaugh throws out, with the offense adding new stuff almost weekly, is fun and effective.
But it wasn't the flashy tweaks and run schemes Harbaugh's resurrecting from the Fritz Crisler days that really stood out a year ago. It was Michigan's prep. When Athlon pinged Big Ten coaches for anonymous takes on their compatriots, the Harbaugh mania stood out:
"The team is starting to reflect Jim — you could see it more last year."
"They want to outwork you. That was the whole satellite camp thing last offseason. He wanted to send a message to the SEC and other schools that he will outwork you to make up for any advantage you might have over Michigan."
"They’re scouting opponents better than anyone in our league. They’re at Alabama’s level of prep and analysis, and as they’ve started to fit talent you’re seeing the effects. It’s hard to surprise them."
This was clearest in the Michigan State game. As mentioned in the section on Mason Cole, Michigan comprehensively defeated the double A gap twist blitz that had annihilated Michigan for going on a decade. They didn't just defuse it, they ripped it:
The biggest tactical takeaway wasn't the existence of something but rather its absence: MSU's double A gap twist blitz. You may remember that blitz from Spittle Flecked Rich Rod Rant and Spittle Flecked Al Borges Rant way back when, because Michigan ate it over and over and over again for TFLs and stuffs and sacks. No longer. They still run it. It's not working.
Michigan's opening first down was a double A blitz that got Bullough through, but to do so he had to go so fast that he overran the play:
Michigan got the other guy; Cole probably biffs on Bullough but he doesn't compound the mistake by turning upfield. It's his block that makes the room for the Smith cutback, and then it's Godzilla versus the fishing village time. ...
This was even happening when Speight was your shotgun quarterback. Smith's six yard TD late in the second quarter was another double A blitz that Michigan had the answer for:
By this point it seemed clear that shotgun snaps got double A blitzed a lot, so Michigan might even have gone with the gun here specifically because they wanted the gut of the D to be linebackers instead of DTs. McDowell rips outside and finds air. ...
The trademark MSU defensive playcall was comprehensively beaten. Finally. All of these plays feature the extreme aggression of the MSU linebackers being used against them, something that Michigan hasn't been able to do in forever. Can't block 'em? Run right by 'em.
Michigan won't let that stuff happen to them for a decade straight anymore. So they've got that going for them.
Harbaugh continues to morph his offense, adapting it to the players at hand. Sometimes this backfires when his players can't imbibe the firehose he puts in front of them—see the departed OL. There's a reason that Harbaugh's offense developed so quickly and cromulently at Stanford, where his only asset early was a bunch of nerd brains. This year Michigan's OL makes most of the shift to the Harbaugh generation. The exceptions are Cole, an OL nerd brain if there ever was one, and Kugler, the son of an OL coach in his fifth year.
This might be the year Michigan can really start making some hay by out-smarting the opposition. To date they've given some of that back with blizzards of missed assignments. Now they've got a shot at really paying off on that diversity. So, yes. Harbauffense for real.
[After THE JUMP: Pep effect, and running a dang stretch]