TOO MANY COOKS [Bryan Fuller]
Today's hot topic is a statement from President in waiting Grant Newsome on last year's offense:
The offensive line? Players talked about how much new position coach Ed Warinner made simplifications this spring, mainly because he had no other choice. Grant Newsome told reporters Tuesday that Warinner stripped down the complex language and overall concept because it was overwhelming.
"He said he was even confused by the amount of terminology and different plays we had in the playbook," Newsome said.
The internet's talked a lot about the excessive complexity of Michigan's offense in the aftermath, and I feel like I have to interject. Michigan's OSU gameplan wins the game if it doesn't draw the worst QB performance in living memory. Michigan's ability to tweak and screw with people's heads has been a trademark of Harbaugh's best offenses. It can and should be Michigan's approaching going forward for the same reason RichRod shouldn't have run a pro-style offense in his first year in Ann Arbor.
I'd like to separate out the offensive approach in general from a particular problem on the offensive line that Newsome highlights above. Michigan's 2017 OL, and by extension the team, suffered from a terminal case of…
Borges disease is when you try to do everything without doing one thing well and everything falls apart in a morass of beautiful-on-paper plays that are executed with the balletic grace of a drunken donkey crashing his ex-wife's wedding.
Borges's special power was containing all bad-idea multitudes within himself. Michigan created their own version of this by importing former Indiana and RichRod OL coach Greg Frey for a single disastrous year. This wasn't Frey's fault; he remains a well-regarded OL coach and jumped to his alma mater FSU before a serious inquest could result. Because Frey's hire was a half-measure on Harbaugh's part, it blew up in his face.
Publicly, Michigan split OL duties between Frey and a still-extant Drevno, handing Frey the tackles and TEs while Drevno coached the interior line. I'm not sure that's the way it actually worked, because Michigan went from a power-based run offense in Harbaugh's first two years to an inside zone team with some power sprinkled in. Then they went to a 50/50 split, and finally they returned zone to an occasional constraint play, because they were immensely bad at running zone.
So not only did Michigan spend a bunch of time trying to get good at IZ and burn a bunch of snaps grabbing two yards a pop, they retarded their growth as the mashing power team their personnel certainly pointed to. Post-MSU UFR, which was in the 50-50 phase:
Michigan ran 11 zone plays versus 14 gap-blocked plays. (FB dives, crack sweeps, and the reverse are excluded from this analysis.) That is a significant shift away from zone. That still remains a part of the playbook, obviously... but a crappy one. Those 11 plays gained just 25 yards. Michigan suuuucks at zone.
There were costs to the returning diversity. Michigan had a couple of plays on which it looked like someone busted an assignment. Onwenu appeared to be running a trap on a play that was not a trap, and either Hill or McKeon busted on this Isaac TFL. Michigan blocks a big cavern in the middle that has an unblocked LB, and then Hill runs outside. Isaac follows him, because follow your fullback:
I gave that to Hill but that could be what he's supposed to do; in that case McKeon needs to be doubling on Cole's guy and leaving the force player for Hill. YMMV. Either way it's a mental mistake that turns a promising play into a TFL.
When Michigan focused on becoming the mashing team they were always supposed to be, the results were good. Despite wasting a bunch of time, their S&P+ breakdown stats paint the picture of a bunch of maulers:
- Power success rate: 7th
- Adjusted line yards: 20th
- Rushing explosiveness: 29th
- Overall rushing S&P+: 14th
A #47 stuff rate, #79 success rate, and #90 opportunity rate look like a lot of missed assignments in that context, missed assignments created by Michigan's failed attempt to adopt Frey's approach on the ground.
That is dysfunction. Michigan masked it fairly well by pushing the abort button halfway through the season and having a couple good running backs and some Large Adult Sons. But since those Large Adult Sons came coupled with serious pass protection issues, there was no Plan B for the other half of the offense.
There the disconnect between Drevno and Frey was easily seen every time Michigan failed to pick up a stunt, which was about every other stunt. Michigan looked like the worst-coached offensive line in the country last year. I started wondering if Patrick Kugler's inability to get on the field until his redshirt senior year was because he couldn't make a line call to save his life. And here's where the Newsome quote comes in. Michigan clearly couldn't execute their pass protection system.
An outsider can't know whether that's because two different guys were teaching it, or it was an unholy combination of two different approaches, or it was just plain bad because Drevno is bad and should feel bad. But it all goes back to Michigan importing an offensive coordinator (Pep Hamilton) and an OL coach without telling the guy who thought he was both to hit the bricks.