Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Analyzing Michigan's 2018 Passing Attack

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Analyzing Michigan's 2018 Passing Attack

Submitted by Ron Utah on November 28th, 2018 at 1:08 PM

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Losing to your archrival sucks.  Getting blown out by them in a year when you were favored to win in their stadium?  That causes some fans to lose their shit.  Unfortunately, with their shit often goes their perspective, and heated debates about WHAT WENT WRONG?!?!?!?!! ensue.

Your opinion of Harbaugh: what went right, what went wrong, and what's next?

Your opinion of Harbaugh: what went right, what went wrong, and what's next?

Submitted by Caesar on June 4th, 2018 at 6:50 AM

I think the program is where most thought it would be, at least in terms of overall records: 10-3, 10-3, and 8-5 were pretty much expected outcomes. Below, I've included things that I think are reasonably within his control

I'll start things off.

The Good

  • Don Brown, Ed Warinner, Ben Herbert, and Chris Partridge--generally awesome hires
  • Solid recruiting--tailing off a bit right now, but that probably gets fixed with a good season
  • Generating buzz--added some pizzazz and visibility to the program 
  • 2015-2016 playcalling

The Bad

  • Tim Drevno & OL--Not sure how Harbaugh could've seen that coming with Drevno's history of results, but in the end, he put program loyalty over personal loyalty and made a change
  • 2017 offense playcalling--I know that the OL was rough, but Harbaugh successfully schemed ways around those kinds of weaknesses in previous years; this is probably an artifact of QB play

What's Next

  • 2018 is going to be a rough year, especially in dealing with the fanbase, given the schedule. Harbaugh will probably survive but not thrive. However, plenty of excellent video games and chess will take place during the year, so there's that. 
  • But 2019 is looking very Natty-like, especially with the OL/QB/fully weaponized WRs. ND, Michigan State, Ohio State at home. South Africa. Non-chaos Indiana before The Game. Tasty.

 Edit: Army is better than I remembered.

Persistent Underachievement, Part I

Persistent Underachievement, Part I

Submitted by Ron Utah on October 23rd, 2017 at 7:06 PM

This is a two-part diary.  Part I explore the problem.  Part II explores solutions, because my college professor taught me that it's okay to complain if you offer ideas and effort to improve the situation.  There is a TL;DR at the bottom.

We live in a world that seems to be dominated by absolutists.  Many folks out there brand you a traitor if you criticize the person/group you supposedly support, and others believe that once something goes wrong, it's okay to abandon your alliances.  Any mistake is worthy of permanent banishment and disassociation.  Any constructive commentary is tantamount to an attempted coup.  To all these people I say:

This next part is important, because I'm going to be attacked by both sides of the ridiculous spectrum.  So please, read this even if you ignore the rest: I support Jim Harbaugh as our Head Coach.  I support the University of Michigan and its football team.  I am a fan, and I am not abandoning my team, my coaches, or my players.  I am fully aware of the challenges and limitations our roster presents, and don't expect this year's version to be Michigan's most successful team.

I'm also a rational human being.  There are deep, systemic problems with our offense that go way beyond youth and inexperience.  For those of you saying, "just wait until we have experienced players in our offense, we'll be fine," you are ignoring the data, the eye test, and the reality that if we are not careful, medicore is going to start to look pretty damn good.  Here's your picture:

Misery Comparison

When things are bad, perspective is important.  Are we really the bowler-hat-dog sitting in hell, or are we just irrational fans?  To this end, hard data helps us uncover bias.  Data is never perfect, but it is a good place to start to see if we can trust our eyes.

Michigan's offense is currently ranked #85 in S&P+.  For comparison's sake, Buffalo is one spot ahead of us.  Nebraska is #73.  Purdue #69.  And here's my favorite: Flordia is #81.  Our offense is worse than Florida's.  Please let that sink in.

Don't like fancystats?  I can sympathize.  Those damn things never seem to predict accurately.  So how about this statistic: our yards per play (5.17) is Michigan's worst performance since 2008.  Yep, the 2014 sludgefart mustered 5.32.  Borges cranked out 5.44 YPP in his final season.  And we have yet to face the #6 (Wisconsin), #7 (Ohio State) S&P+ defenses.  Granted, we've already done battle with #3 (Michigan Staee) and Penn State was #9, but we also had the pleasure of facing #93 (Cincinnati) and #109 (Air Force) defenses--the lowest ranked future opponent is Maryland at #77, and everyone else is #33 or higher.  It's not going to get easier.

Our rushing game is bad.  The current 4.08 YPC is our lowest since 2013--the 27 for 27 year (which wasn't even our worst rushing performance).  We are ranked #41 in S&P+ in rushing.

Our passing game is much, much worse.  We are #74 (which feels high) in S&P+ and convert only 32.4% of our third downs.  Guess when we last had a lower conversion rate?  Yep.  2008.

But what about the youth argument?  Well, we are ranked 99th in returning offensive production.  Let's give ourselves even more handicap since we lost our starting QB, and let's compare with our peers.  West Virginia is ranked #123 in returning production.  Their offense is #5 in S&P+.  Ohio State was ranked #122 last year, their offense finished the season at #23.  Clemson is #121 this year.  Heck, even Nebraska is ranked #127 in returning production, and is out-performing our offense.  Getting the picture?

It's impossible to argue that Michigan performing up to the level of their talent, and that is what is troubling.  It's not that our offense is "not great," we are horrible.  And no, saying that does not mean I'm not a Michigan fan.

If we want to build a strong, successful program, we need to make some radical changes on offense.

Specific Objections

Hopefully, the previous section has at least convinced you that there is a problem that goes beyond the simple and lazy explanation of youth.  But what about other quips from the lemmings that say our problems are all the result of inexperience?

  1. Harbaugh has a proven track record.  This is 100% true, and it's why I still want him to be Michigan's coach.  That said, he's never been this bad.  His third year at Stanford--with considerably less talent--his offense was #6 in S&P+.  Did he get lucky with some recruiting hits?  Yes.  But it's a long, long, long way from #6 to #85. In fact, he was even better in his first year at Stanford--#83.  That was with a roster that only compares to this year's Michigan roster in that they had the same number of players.  At the 49ers he led the #18 most efficient offense his first season, #5 his second season, and #8 his third.  Even the year that got him fired, 2014 (LOL 49ers), his offense was #16.  Middle-of-the-pack.  And that's with the parity of the NFL--he has huge advantages over most competitors at Michigan.  It's also worth pointing out that his offenses have looked very different as his OCs have changed--the argument that it's "his offense" is only very partially true.  Stanford played the same brand of manball they're currently playing, and the 49ers ran a different version and adapted to their QB.  Michigan's offense that past two years was very different from this season's version.
  2. We are a pro-style team.  This is simply false.  If you mean that we operate largely from under center and use TEs and FBs, I guess that's true.  But there is not one team in the NFL running an offense that even remotely resembles Michigan's constipated turd.  If you're making this claim, do you even watch the NFL?  It's largely a spread league now, and even the more manbally teams use more misdirection, more spread/match-up concepts, and more quick passes than Michigan does.  No, we are not a pro-style offense, unless your definition stopped keeping up with the league in 1997.
  3. There is nothing we can do with this roster.  This is another absurd assertion.  No one was expecting Michigan to win the CFP this year (well, almost no one) but everyone should expect a competitive offense, no matter how young we are.  We are making basic strategic blunders.  Our pass protection is bad.  It is known.  And yet, we persist with 7-step drop passing plays with deep and slow-developing routes as our only options.  We leave RBs that can't block in the backfield to block, instead of turning them into hot reads and safety valves.  We max protect with our TEs--our best match-ups in the passing game.  We hardly ever run slants.  We don't isolate our athletes in space.  Our version of misdirection is 1980's play action--we don't use motion, deception, or gadgetry even as much as we did the past two seasons.  Yes, the roster is limited.  No, it's not nearly as bad as its #85 ranking.  And let's remember that last year's loaded roster only produced the #40 offense.  And it's scheme was miles ahead of this year's version.  Which brings me to...
  4. Our scheme is fine.  First question: what scheme?  Try to tell me this team's identity.  Try to identify the carryover plays from the previous two years.  College football is a vastly different game than the NFL.  The hash marks allow offenses to create mismatches in an entirely different manner, and misdirection and trickery are far more effective.  Our offense seems to ignore those principles, opting for plays that require 11-man execution instead of match-up plays.  Penn State did not run an innovative offense on Saturday--they ran their offense with minor tweaks.  They ran the same plays over and over and over again, with repeated success.  And their plays created mismatches, allowed the QB to get rid of the ball quickly (even the fade routes were thrown early), and maximized their talent.  This year's Michigan team has no scheme.  We run zone and power in the ground game, and neither looks polished.  The passing game makes no sense.  Our constraint plays are 20-year-old play action fakes.  There is no imagination, and there is nothing to hang our hat on.  

TL;DR

This offense is dramatically underachieving.  Having better players would help, but being a year better will not take us from inept to elite, and that's the jump we need to make.  Part II will explore ways out of this mess.

Where Did Jim Harbaugh Go??

Where Did Jim Harbaugh Go??

Submitted by JWG Wolverine on October 8th, 2017 at 3:45 PM

Disclaimer: To be completely clear, I think anyone even thinking about Jim Harbaugh's job status is beyond insane. He is our coach, and no one could be better than him. This is just a post with a small concern that I think is emotionally hindering this team and need to be solved.

In December 2014, when rebuilding our program from an absolutely catostrophic scenario, our interim Athletic Director Jim Hackett did the impossible and made IT H4PPEN.

What followed that was the reignition of our program by the wildest and gif-yiest head coach in College Football who attacked each day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind, and certainly showed that every week on the sideline.

I could go on forever, you should get the point by now.

I don't know if you guys have noticed, but this version of Jim Harbaugh that we've known and loved has become almost non-existant this year. Instead, we find him pacing the sidelines, with a very stable amount of enthusiasm, not even close to enthusiasm unknown to mankind.

Michigan players have always (and sincerely) loved playing under such a coach, and I think that his activity on the sideline keeps a spark under the team and is a factor in their performance, as well as their positive opinion on him.

So where has he gone? Where is this Jim Harbaugh that we love? Where is the QB that guaranteed a win over OSU? Where is the coach who has a more honest and meaningful press conference, unlike his Hoke-like bland coachspeak we saw out of him last night? Where is his attacking of each day with an enthusiasm unkown to mankind?

I thought that this loss would be a breaking point and a huge wake-up call for him, where he realizes (and says) that this game was unacceptable, that at Michigan, you can't have such a losing record to your rivals. Followed by improvement back to the old, active, enthusistic sideline Harbaugh. Amazingly, we didn't see this. Instead, we heard the infamous "We're on to Cincinnati" approach.

Now, I've realized that he has still kept up his enthusiasm on the recruiting trail, and from what we've seen in practice, and that this seems to be strictly a sideline problem.

I have two ideas what the cause of this may be:

Number One: Tim Drevno needs to be on the sideline. Having a coaches in the press box decreases the ability to manage your team on a personal level. Our offense has sucked, and Drevno has been in the press box, our defense has flourished, and Don Brown has not only been on the sideline, but has looked more Harbaugh-like than Harbaugh has.

Number Two: Fear that the refs may call less favorably due to his antics. After the "technical in basketball" incident at OSU last year, I think he may have a fear that if he reacts too much to bad calls, the refs will tend to have calls go Michigan's way less.

Obviously, we have other problems that should be on our mind, and this isn't a direct factor to winning and losing games, but I think it does have an affect on how these guys play on the field, and if they show energy, passion, hope and care or not. With Don Brown pumping up the defense, they have stepped up, faced adversity, and delivered. With Harbaugh pacing the sideline and talking to Drevno up in the box, our offense has showed less emotion, and as a result, less success.

Has anyone else noticed this? Any thoughts? What needs to be done?

Florida sportswriter on Harbaugh: 'All sizzle, no steak'

Florida sportswriter on Harbaugh: 'All sizzle, no steak'

Submitted by Mgrad92 on August 25th, 2017 at 9:42 AM

Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times dismisses Harbaugh for Gator fans: 

"Whether it's because of the spike in enthusiasm or the antics themselves, Harbaugh has boosted Michigan's recruiting. From 2006-15, Michigan signed only two classes ranked in the top eight; Harbaugh has done that in back-to-back years — which, of course, he celebrated with celebrity-studded Signing of the Stars extravaganzas.

And that leads to the problem with Harbaugh. He's been almost all sizzle and no steak, unless you count the viral image of him with a hunk of red meat and a glass of milk."

Also, UF's Jim McElwain is just as good: 

"Harbaugh is 20-6. McElwain is 19-8 and would have a 20th win, if UF didn't have to cancel the Presbyterian cupcake because of the Hurricane Matthew fallout. Although Harbaugh has the head-to-head victory (a 41-7 demolition in the Citrus Bowl), McElwain has two division titles; Harbaugh has only finished third in the top-heavy Big Ten East."

Also, these roster hijinks are outrageous

If you need a reason to shake your fist at your screen this morning, read the full column here

Three Plays against MSU that show Wilton could lead Michigan to a Big Title.

Three Plays against MSU that show Wilton could lead Michigan to a Big Title.

Submitted by Brandon_L on October 30th, 2016 at 7:14 PM
Wilton Speight has proven throughout the first eight games of this season that he has the tools both mentally and physical that are needed to win at the highest level of college football. Wilton Speight has shown three tools that some of the best NFL QB's possess and what scouts look for in a QB at the highest level. 
 
Yesterday against MSU Speight worked the pocket in three ways that NFL QB's like Tom Brady, Big Ben, and Andrew Luck do on a regular basis. One of the three is pocket awareness. Speight has a good feel for the pressure around him and how to sidestep that pressure. This is all about the coaching both Harbaugh, and Fisch has provided over the last two years with both Speight and Rudock. 
 
In the embedded video below Speight shows his pocket awareness as well as one of the other two intangibles to be discussed, deep accuracy.  
 
The play Michigan calls displays a lot of backfield action with pre-snap jet action from Mcdoom. Michigan lines up in a double tight, one back set (12 personnel). They call a jet motion from Mcdoom and fake the jet action and a quick fake to Evans on the counter. This action freezes the linebackers and allows for Speight to roll out of the pocket. MSU is bringing six on this play including the weakside (will) backer who was picked up nicely by #95? The corner who did not follow Mcdoom on the action blitzed uncovered and had a perfect angle on Speight. Speight slides and rolls to the right of the pressure before setting up to launch a bomb. I would bet a paycheck that most quarterbacks (including the three MSU QB's that played yesterday),  could have eluded an unblocked corner like Wilton Speight. 
 
Speights ability to keep his eyes downfield as he avoids the oncoming pressure, sliding outside of the blitzing corner, setting his feet and throwing a bomb over the top of a cover two look is as impressive as it gets. The play itself had both Safeties peeking in at the backfield action allowing Darboh to get behind the two frozen safeties and the man coverage. Speight puts the ball right on target showing that he was completely aware of Darboh downfield even after he was under pressure. Speight never lost his downfield focus. 
 

Here is an example of why the above play worked so well. Michigans first TD of the game was set up by this play. 

If you cannot view the embed click the Dooooooooooom below.

Dooooooooooooooom on the jet sweep. Doomed if you do, doomed if you don't.

The next play  we are going to take a look at involves Wilton Speights deep ball accuracy. Speight has been deadly accurate this season. In the next embed, he displays this accuracy by putting the ball only where Jake Butt can get it. 

The play is a 12 personnel look (one back 2 TE). This is also another 1st and 10 like the play above. The play shows twins left. MSU rushes four and brings the left side backer on a delayed blitz. Michigan sends both WR's deep toward the middle to draw the safeties attention, while Butt runs a deep post corner toward the void over top of the MSU DB playing zone and underneath the deep safeties.

I cannot recognize fully what the MSU coverage is, I would like to guess they are running Quarters coverage with the two safeties occupying the deep middle between the hashes and the two corners covering deep outside the hashes. Regardless the play call was perfect and this kind of a call only works if you have an accurate deep ball. 

Michigan also runs play action off of this and speight (two years now under Harbaugh) knows exactly where he is going with the ball on the pre-snap. Speight could have taken the easy way out and threw to his open outlet Deveon Smith in the flat for a nice gain, but his confidence throwing the deep ball allows for him to put the ball only where Butt can catch it. This is another display of Speights great deep ball accuracy.

Link below for those who cannot see the embed.

The result of this play is Michigans second consecutive scoring drive. 

The last play I want to review involves Speights ability to drive the pocket. He can get back quickly into his 3, 5 step drops and drive into the pocket while keeping his eyes upfield. 
 
This play shows the confidence Harbaugh and Fisch have in Speights ability in the one-minute offense. Michigan lines up on first and ten at the MSU 40 with 13 seconds left in half. Michigan lines up in 11 personnel (one back, one TE with Butt in the H-back position). 
 
The play is out of the Gun. MSU is in a Nickel (5 DB) defense. MSU looks like they are playing cover one Man with a safety playing over the top on the wide field side. MSU disguises coverage and pressure on this play. From what I can recognize, I see #9 getting deep on the wide left hash at safety, with Man coverage everywhere else. I also noticed they have a robber underneath. Speight has to recognize this at the snap. Msu pressures with six including a delayed A-gap blitz through the middle of the pocket. Darboh runs a deep-in route at the top of the screen on the left hash. Speight delivers a rocket on the money to Darboh.
 
The key is Speight drives the pocket off of a 4, 5 step drop with pressure on the way. His two steps back into the pocket with pressure shows his ability to keep his eyes up the field and not down at the line of scrimmage. The offensive line also does a fantastic job, and the blitz pickup by Deveon Smith was A+. 
 
Speight has shown all three of the above-reviewed intangibles throughout the first eight weeks. Pocket awareness, deep ball accuracy, driving the pocket. Speight has only gotten better as the year has progressed and I expect to see more improvement as the season progresses. 
 

Now for an example of what not to do. 

Harbaugh: "No Debauchery!"

Harbaugh: "No Debauchery!"

Submitted by Hugh White on July 7th, 2016 at 2:24 PM

First: an obligatory "Bleacher Report" apology. However, this interview is just too good not to share. The interviewer has exclusive access to John Harbaugh, but clearly wishes he had gotten Jim because the best questions and answers focus on Ann Arbor.

Highlights:

* Dad once made the brothers dribble basketballs all the way from their home to his office, alternating hands along the way;

* Jim reciting Shakespeare;

* "No apologies in football" (I hearby retract my earlier BR Apology)

* "No Debauchery!" apparently includes late-night kissing rituals.

 

Link: http://m.bleacherreport.com/articles/2648739-john-harbaugh-qa-theres-no…

Leach beats Harbaugh in HR Derby

Leach beats Harbaugh in HR Derby

Submitted by UMichStudent2019 on May 5th, 2016 at 10:05 PM

Apparently, Leach won the Derby with 1 Home Run. Also, the event raised over $150k, setting a record. Overall, seemed like the event was a huge success.

Here's the article: http://www.detroitnews.com/story/sports/college/university-michigan/wolverines/2016/05/05/leach-outdistances-harbaugh-hr-derby/84002096/