Disclaimer: I played Fullback for a D3 college team so I represent the offensive position this blog distains most. This also makes me a Walmart Wolverine so I'm actually the two most distasteful things combined, almost as if Brandon wanted to troll Brian by hiring a German Marketing Intern nickleback fan that wins Karaoke contests singing Creed while advocating for all-maize uniformz and inverted helmet colors to be worn at the next edition of The Game as his big “revenue generation” project.
At any rate, on the football stuff here is what I think:
What ails team 134 - you're all somewhat right and all a little bit wrong:
Criticism #1 YOUTH -
M Coaches= you can't overcome a young Oline, y'all don't understand
Everyone Else= that’s no excuse, you suck at coaching definitely the Oline coach sucks, this is unacceptable
WWF take:You're both right; back when I was in school and we ran the offset I because I was usually too slow to block the POWER from the normal I. Actually I take that back, it was outside zone where I was too slow to get to the corner from the normal I.
At any rate, we had a 198 lb freshman center forced into action; the kid belonged in a Chem lab not on a football field but at any rate he was all we had after an injury. Kid got blown back every play but he was a quick study and by the end of the season he was semi-servicible. By the end of his senior season he had put on about 15 lbs of muscle and we could even run an ISO to the back side B gap without me having to block the D lineman running through. The C is critical for all the reasons you point, out communicating the front so the QB can get the right check with me play and the line calls. It's a lot for physically challenged guy to do (thinking of Miller here) and even worse a young one. We at least had experienced guards who helped a lot, but if the call was wrong then it blew up from there.
My junior year we lost both of our senior tackles and had to replace them with a sophomore and a freshman. Total disaster similar to MSU+Nebraska - no run game, multiple sacks etc. guys would get confused in protection especially against blitzes. Luckily for them I was a "lineman in the backfield" and could take on a D end from my now well-rehearsed ability to run POWER.
The other issue here was we kept trying to MANBALL when we were usually on average 20 lbs lighter, weaker and .3 slower than our opposition (obvs not a problem at M). The issue here was not only that but actually "playing fast" when you are accustomed to the system, know all the checks and responsibilities, then you have a seasoned and strong offensive interior a la Stanford.
At our best, we had a situation where we could manball, despite our physical shortcomings, because we could be variable. We had a play (outside zone) with a constraint, counter where backside G/T pull and slow fullback blocks the backside D end out of same offset I used to run outside zone. We also had a play action bootleg off of the counter. We ran Power, we ran ISO. We used to have a game with the RBs and Oline where we guessed each other’s assignments in Pass Pro by play and defensive formation. Whoever won made the other group run an extra sprint at the end of practice. This game was played by upperclassman/starters usually and the underclassman stayed silent lest they raise their hand, be wrong and the reason everyone had to run which got you an Incognito. The freshman center guy was annoyingly good at this. When the two tackles went down this game was no longer played and we went back to reviewing everyone's responsibility thrice.
What I described above is a situation where any coach would struggle... but this; this is a desmadre completa. The fact that we are playing true/RS frosh over basically anyone else on the interior is certainly a sign of bad recruiting but, even worse, a sign of bad planning and indecisiveness by the coaching staff. It seems they thought they could get away with a two platoon team, one being the more Devin/Toussaint friendly RR transitioners that would be the lead (ND Offense) and then MANBALL1 piloted by Derrick Green or some serviceable mishmash of the two. Instead we got transitionballnegative63 and the passion of the Gardner. In light of this I have a task for the MgoBlog team - maybe Heiko - get inside an oline grading session and figure out if Glasgow or Miller has a worse incorrect line call to missed assignment ratio. If Funk is playing the "mentally worse" of the two he is probably more of a “tough guy” Oline coach than cerebral one who is going to figure out what to do with a line that has the least experience of any in his career and thus merits all of the criticism meted out by the unwashed masses. Just a guess here.
Criticism #2 Coaches are stubbornly sticking to what they want to run vs. what works -
M Coaches= we are calling what works in practice that suits who we want to be and what we think we can do limited by our limitations
Everyone Else= you suck at coaching
WWF take:Agree with the fans. Another awesome analogy was when I was pressed into service as an overweight out of shape freshman that had only seen ST and mop up duty. Starter gets injured. Coach calls me out in front of team, I get nervous, get crushed on first block where they send me out on POWER to block 275 lb DE. Does not end well. Coach pulls me over on the sideline and says, "We will run Power till we bleed"!
When we lost yards the next time we called that play when I was pancaked by said DE and I ran off the field to apologize and that was met with, "Tell that to the 33 other guys you just let down" Harsh lesson in reality that did nothing for my confidence. Not sure that the plays or the calls are putting the players in the position to succeed or gain confidence.
Insert demands for short passing game here. Here is another great possible analog to this year from bad D3 coaching. We were winning against a team that we had probably been outscored 107-3 by over the last two meetings with a "dink and dunk" slant approach antithetical to MANBALL where we ran our 2 min drill to start the game. We the players were happy with said success, but somehow it was deemed by the HC that we were not running enough ISO and POWER! Sadly, we reverted to that and the result was predictable 7-0 turned into 63-7.
Also this created a rift in the team with older players not recruited by that coach but by the previous one who ran a split back, run and shoot type approach. They felt they had been more successful with the previous style and wanted more similar plays called.. Anyone for a Shotgun-5 wide slant to Tay Odoms?
This should be the easiest thing for Borges to revert to, put Fitz/Norfleet in the slot with Dileo and Gallon and Funch/Chesson/Butt on the outside or Flex TE. Put some of these “incompetent” defenses in the Nickel and see if their Dbacks can get home. Pull a Tressel 2006! Make the Blitzer(s) run farther and give the Oline more time to target, easier checks and leave Devin with simple instructions. Three seconds, three decisions: 1)Throw at blitz if open, if not look to receiver 2, if not throw away. Out of this, run a QB draw, motion slot into a RB draw/QB lead draw once the D is burned badly enough via short passing to back off on the blitz. Bad pass blocking/Blitz pickup complexity are somewhat mitigated and simple hot routes have a better chance of succeeding against a competent D.
It seems like the coaches are asking a first year computer science student to execute stored procedures without teaching them to write a "Select" statement first - (Yes I come from the 90s). For me this is the worst indictment of Borges’ lack of adaptation and to a lesser extent, Hoke's own identity crisis - how many times in the pre-season did you hear Lewan say "We're a downhill team now". I like the comment from a post that read something to the effect of "Borges seems like a guy who knows 4890 plays but only uses 12." Also, Identity is great when you have a seasoned program like Stanford, but when you have a bunch of little wolverine cubs that you want to grow into polar bear killers, you have to know they are blind and feed them mothers' milk, not expect them to go hunting on their own in the big bad forest. Rodriguez actually gave Borges a blueprint for success here where he could slowly mix in ManBall plays using the same basic blocking schemes. I think we should've stayed on the "Denard-special" O for one more year, more for the program’s success, than the development of the line as a MANBALL LINE and also for Devin and the young skill guys to have success early, remembering that Devin is developmentally a soph QB after the PSU game – not sure which game was his 12th start.
Criticism #3 Borges is tipping his calls w/formation and calling to tendency-
M Coaches= we are limited because of our youth; we need to execute better
Everyone Else= you suck at coaching and chess and Rochambeau and Life
WWF take:Agree with the fans and the coaches. When you have problems 1 and 2 working together the tendency issue then can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even good constraint plays or formation changes can be anticipated if you run essentially the same type of play with the down and distance and/or tip with formation and personnel. The coaches want to keep the game plans simple so that the players can execute what they presumably showed they were capable of in practice and other games. The issue here is about balance between the two. This can be avoided with better game planning as well as better in game calls, not just passing on First down, but doing something completely different like running a lead draw on first down out of a formation that you had primarily passed successfully from the week prior, but if your line can't execute then that you don't have that option.
We had a play where instead of blocking the will on the outside zone I'd run a wheel route. We ran motion before it for the QB to determine if Man/Zone, if man we called the run (I was slow and wouldn't beat most Will in pass coverage) if zone we called the wheel route and Id catch it in the hole between flat and safety for a first down almost every time. This is the opposite of what most teams would expect. Then we reversed that in a particular game and I caught the only 30+ yard pass of my career when I used my 4.99999 forty speed to smoke the Will (if only it had been from the 30 yard line going in, damn you Wild Bill!) This was during my Junior/Senior year when most people were seasoned and knew their responsibilities and also against a sucky team.
On the other hand when we were starting in our youth, these plays were a gleam in the OCs eye. We were too busy figuring who to target on outside zone, ISO and power given the different fronts and blitz packages you would see from the different teams on our schedule. Most of them knew that based on down and distance if they saw offset I it was either counter or rollout off the counter. The rollout worked early on (See Borgess PA from Ace) but as teams caught on, our sure fire first down on that play was shut down. We varied it by running the same two plays against tendency and then finally put in an iso and iso play action out of the same formation which worked for one game.
Strangely, though we were able to execute better when we ran the two minute offense because we had less time to think about all of those variables and remember the playcall if a run (it was one of three) and inside-out for pass pro as a general rule. We were adjusting to a new scheme with old personnel, young in critical positions and outcoached on a number of occasions. This resulted in a bad season by even our mediocre standards. For M it's a situation where Borges' hands are tied but I think the effect is magnified by his reticence to go away from unsuccessful play calls/formations.
I think a little of all of this is what is ailing our (not so) beloved Team 134 and while it's a huge stretch to compare one person's 15 year old experience in D3 college football with the sports' most successful program, however I believe there are some parallels 1) young players' reaction to pressure and complexity 2) Coaches failing with over-reliance on system vs. personnel 3) those two combining to exacerbate game planning and play calling problems that are probably going to crop up in a less obvious but more impactful way (OSU 2012) because well, people are people and they have channels burned into their neurons. I'm not sure that Al is fresh enough at this point to adapt and barring an unbelievable turnaround and the biggest upset in the history of The Game, which will have everyone apologizing and calling Hoke, the BO REDUX, I think Brady and DB need to act quickly to minimize disruption with recruits like Speight, Malzone and all the other stud offensive guys that will be following Hand to Alabama.
Finally, as fans the best thing we can do is not to boo the players and whine and complain on message boards that they and their parents read, but rather support them so that they feel that in the end, despite the challenges, it was worth it to come to Michigan because it's Michigan and regardless of what happens on the staff they will have stability in their playing career and get a quality education. Ultimately, the likes of Kerridge and Houma should be able to come back to AA, have someone buy them a beer and hear stories about how much that 2013 season sucked, or how terrific the turnaround was but that they love M regardless for what it is and the impact the experience had on their lives. That is the Michigan Difference. If we can add “winning football games” to that statement then you have the recipe for a badly awaited return to relevance. If you want to complain about building a program and recruiting issues, look at yourself first; fans now play a critical role in recruits’ perception of a program. If you want to represent a team and school whose motto is "The Leaders and Best" then don't whine like a little bitch when the going gets tough; do what you would expect the players to do: miss a block, learn from it and move on - and yes I'm targeting this message to myself (COACHTV guess what - they can't hear you) as much as everyone else.
But then again I'm just a Walmart Wolverine Fullback so what the fuck do I know...