Borges Disease And You Comment Count

Brian May 2nd, 2018 at 12:35 PM


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



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.



May 2nd, 2018 at 12:47 PM ^

Could the 2 coaches and running 2 different schemes cause the confusing terminolgy and excessive complexity of the plays? (Or so it felt like that was some of the underlying tone of this unless im way off). Its doesn't have to be a mass amount of confusion and excessive terminology to be able to run a meriade of different plays. 


May 2nd, 2018 at 1:00 PM ^

Before I ask though I MUST point out three things:


1. I love having Jim Harbaugh as our Head Coach in football

2. I dont want him to ever leave

3. I'm very glad he's taken steps to address and presumably fix the problem

But dammit Jim how could you not see this was happening while it was happening and not after the fact? 

I dont understand how the CEO of Michigan football could miss this.



May 2nd, 2018 at 1:04 PM ^

They did shift the mix of plays back to primarily power, so he kind of did see it happening. But after you have wasted a whole offseason and a the beginning third/half a season trying to do something else, it's a bit too late in a season that's just 12 games and with limited practice time.

Maybe he should have seen the potential disaster of bringing in Pep and Frey without getting rid of Drevno, but that's easy to say in hindsight.


May 2nd, 2018 at 1:10 PM ^

This isn't some sunk cost equation. Realising the line was going to be bad at something, took giving them enough time to get good at it. Once recognized to be consistently unsuccessful it was basically abandoned but the cost was already incurred.
I'm not sure how soon he would have had to realize before shutting it down wasn't costly.


May 2nd, 2018 at 1:13 PM ^

He did see it at the time. Drevno moved downstairs (that's a big, big deal) and Frey-to-FSU rumors were swirling in Tallahasee by mid-season. 

Frey was never going to be the guy that would be the sole OL coach under Harbaugh. Drevno wasn't good enough to be an OC but had a title and a salary that was inappropriate for an OL coach (which is, at most, all he was qualified for, and perhaps not even that) and was dropped. But it's pretty clear that the changes were already afoot by the MSU game.


May 2nd, 2018 at 1:47 PM ^

I will continue the discussion.  You dont think the initial set-up of OL responsibilities was doomed to failure before it began?  I remember many discussions about the bifurcated line responsibility here on the blog and posters who voiced strong reservations about the set-up being told to trust Harbaugh.

And the complexity of the play calls - that wasnt something that our HC couldnt have seen before midseason?   I mean our in-state rival's HC sure noticed it (and called us out on it) after the game but Jim couldnt see this beforehand?

FYI I had this debate earlier today with Ace on twitter after reading the article and told him (before Brian's post) that it was difficult for me to understand how Jim could miss this but that questioning his decisions was not something the board took kindly to so I wasnt going to create a post about it.  


May 2nd, 2018 at 2:24 PM ^

The complication of the offesnse is really the item hard to swallow personally. It's pretty easy to look at and see that its exceedingly complicated, the players are having issues with it, and just can't seem to grasp excessive amounts of terminology.

I can understand some of the other issues and giving it a longer amount of time to see if they develop the ability to run zone, especially if they seem to do really good at points when they are in practice (I have no idea if they did or not). 


Ghost of Fritz…

May 3rd, 2018 at 9:57 AM ^

offensive "complexity" is being overblown by some in this thread.

The offense in 2016 (the year Michigan set a school record and lead the Big Ten in average per game scoring) was more complex in 2016 than in 2017. 

2016 had a lot more pre-snap shifts, number of creative plays installed each week for specific opponents, greater variety of offensive sets and plays, etc., than we saw in 2017.

The idea that complexity on offense is inherently bad and/or cannot work in college is wrong.  A more complex offense worked in 2016.  The most complex offensive game plan of 2017--the OSU game--was also the best offensive game plan of the year. 

The real problems in 2017 were coaching staff dysfunction, youth, and less than outstanding QB play that could not paper over the youth and staff dysfuncution problems.

To the extent that Warinner can somewhat simplify the blocking calls, terminology, and assignments, for the o-line, that is fine.  Just having one person in charge of o-line coaching itself will make things easier to understand, install, and execute. 

But if people want to see JH abandon the concept of a playbook that is complex enough to keep opposing Ds unable to guess what is coming, then you are solving the wrong problem.

I mean really, who would not want to see the 'complexity' of the 2016 offense, but with Patterson as QB?  Bring me that.  




May 3rd, 2018 at 10:24 AM ^

"The offense in 2016 (the year Michigan set a school record and lead the Big Ten in average per game scoring)"


The offense in 2016 was the #40 ranked S&P+ offense in the country.


You pretty much need a top 20 S&P+ offense (and a top 20 S&P+ defense) to win a national championship.


The 2016 offense scored a record number of points... by running up the score on really bad teams.


"But if people want to see JH abandon the concept of a playbook that is complex enough to keep opposing Ds unable to guess what is coming,"


I don't care whether opposing Ds know what is coming - I care whether they can stop what is coming.

Ghost of Fritz…

May 3rd, 2018 at 11:46 AM ^

Of course it was not an outstanding offense by S&P+ metrics.  But 40+ ppg is still a Michigan record and lead the Big Ten. 

And it was done with Speight as QB and a supporting cast that had no real super stars.  That is why I said give me the 2016 offense with Patterson as QB. Put it this way:   The 2016 'complex' offense, but with a Patterson level QB, makes the playoff fo sure.  Narrow Iowa and OSU loses would have been 10+ point wins. 

A simple offense is not the way for M to have a top 20 offense.

You really think JH will have a better offense this year is he goes back to the Lloyd Carr 8 plays in the playbook (at least actually used in games) approach?  That is a great way to squander Patterson's talent.  

True that the 40 ppg in 2016 had a big variance, with lots of points scored against average and bad opponents.  2016 offense was not great against Iowa and against OSU.  But it is not the fault of 'complexity' that Speight was generally inaccurate and threw picks against Iowa, pick 6 against OSU, and fumbled at the 1 against OSU. 

Again, complexity was not the among the main causes of the terrible 2017 offense. 


May 3rd, 2018 at 12:45 PM ^

"A simple offense is not the way for M to have a top 20 offense."


OSU has had 3 top 10 offenses (and 5 of 5 in the top 25) the last 5 years.

Complexity only has value if it improves results - there is no real evidence that "simple" college offenses are any less successful than complex one, and a good bit of evidence that complex offenses are less consistently successful.


"You really think JH will have a better offense this year is he goes back to the Lloyd Carr 8 plays in the playbook (at least actually used in games) approach?  That is a great way to squander Patterson's talent.  "


Ole Miss ran a "simple" offense compared to Michigan. They were the #13 (2016) and #9 (2017) S&P+ offense in the country with Shea Patterson.


"Again, complexity was not the among the main causes of the terrible 2017 offense. "

A complex offense exacerbates the effects of youth and inexperience.

Ghost of Fritz…

May 3rd, 2018 at 2:32 PM ^

has plusses and minuses.  True that if you a complex system it is tougher on a young roster.  But the complexity we saw in 2016 in fact was simplified A LOT for the young 2016 group.  The complexity issue was not the root problem last year.  The root problems were staff dysfunction, youth, QB play. 

I am open to the idea that a good part of the o-line problem in 2017 was due to a kind of 'complexity' in terms of terminology, trying to do both gap and man schemes, different coaches for interior vs. TE/OTs, etc.

But 'complexity' in terms of play calls, formations, pre-snap read and shifts, etc.--sorry but I am not convinced that was a major source of the problem in 2017.

And you still have not really answered my points.  1.  The more 'complex' offense in 2016 was comparitively much better.  2.  The most complex offensive game plan of 2017 (OSU game) was the best game plan of the year. 

JH is not going to get OSU level talent (at least not every recruiting cycle) until he starts beating OSU/makes the playoff at least once.  And until he can match OSU on talent, he is going to have to have an offense that can bridge a (hopefully not huge) talent gap by doing more with less.  He is going to have to win the chess match against OSU's DC.  Hard to do that with a simple play book. 

Again, with a Patterson level QB in 2017, M's game plan against OSU wins by 10. 

And OSU's sucess with a 'simple' offense?  OSU has done it with superior talent.  And even Meyer knows that his offense has to evolve and become more 'complex' (Wilson hire).  In fact OSU's simple offense was held in check by M's D in both '16 and '17 games until late.  Eventually too many 3 and outs by M's offense eventually lead to...we all know what happened. 

As for Ole' Miss having a simple offense...  Maybe.  But they also had Patterson (and some pretty good receivers).  I wonder if they would have been an even better offense with a bit of the 2016 Michigan offense 'complexity.'



May 3rd, 2018 at 3:26 PM ^

"1.  The more 'complex' offense in 2016 was comparitively much better."

It was much "older"... and it still wasn't good enough to compete for national championships.


"2.  The most complex offensive game plan of 2017 (OSU game) was the best game plan of the year. "


The game plan for OSU broke tendencies a lot more than many other games - but the offense was no more or less complex.


"He is going to have to win the chess match against OSU's DC."



" Hard to do that with a simple play book. "

Not necessarily.




May 2nd, 2018 at 2:33 PM ^

If you watch the Spanellis interview (I linked it below) it sounds like the problem was more overcomplicating each play (Micro-Borges) vs. having too many plays (Macro-Borges), though they may have had too many plays as well. 

I don't necessarily think that's the result of having two OL coaches working together generally, but it was the result of having those two particular OL coaches. 

Coaches are always trying to find the right balance of demanding football IQ and simplifying enough where everyone gets it. They blew it on that last year but I can see the mindset behind how it happened; something along the lines of we just have to get the players smarter then everything will be great.



May 2nd, 2018 at 2:40 PM ^

RE paragraph 1:

It's not clear to me that this was doomed from the start. We have a rather limited perspective here, since we just watch the Michigan coaching staff and maaaaybe our rivals. "Doomed to fail" would suggest that there's no precedent for such arrangements working, and we do not know that that is the case.

I saw on twitter (perhaps you did, too) a remark that some of this may have to do with Harbaugh's NFL experience. It's quite possible that having an OL coach multitask was fine in the NFL because the OLs have more experience & knowledge, and Harbaugh erred in trying to bring that down to college with Drev. 

There's very little that's totally new, though. I doubt hiring an OL coach who runs zone to work with a guy who has both OC and some OL responsibilities is something that's totally unprecedented, certainly not at the NFL level. And if there's some example of such a thing working (one off the top of my head? New England uses hybrid DL schemes based upon the strengths of their personnel, so they have run both 1-gap and 2-gap and occasionally both at the same time) then doing it here isn't necessarily "doomed to fail." 

But it did fail here, which is what matters.

RE paragraph 2:

I think we're just talking about complexity of the line calls, right? And it's not that the individual call was complex, it's the volume of different terminology and schemes. I think the first response in the thread is probably right, that we have two schemes mated to each other and the coaches were asking true sophomores to know all of this while facing exotic stunt blitzes that Michigan was proven to be vulnerable to. 

At any rate the remedy seems OL-specific, as Warriner is the one making the cuts. So we're talking just about OL calls. Remember, though, this is offseason coach-speak stuff, so someone is always "simplifying the scheme" or "adding wrinkles" or "letting players play." We'll have to wait for the results on the field. 

Seeing this beforehand? I guess Jim should have seen that trying to run two schemes would be problematic. But he isn't stupid and he must have had some reason for believing that having the OL use both gap blocking and zone blocking could work. I'm guessing there are teams that do this successfully (Ohio State, perhaps). 

Jim saw, beforehand, that there was a coaching deficiency over the OL, and took action to remedy it. Something Hoke never did and the sort of thing that took Carr years to do. When the fix didn't work, Harbaugh didn't marry himself to it--he made significant changes midseason (the kinds of things people are always clamoring for and complaining never happen, when they did in fact happen) and then a significant offseason overhaul that included firing his friend in such a manner that his friend may never get a job of this caliber again. 

Your preface to your original comment makes it clear that you like Harbaugh and you're just calling balls and strikes here. I think that's fine, and while I might not have as strong a position as you, I don't find your opinion or expression of it to be intrinsically bad. And since you aren't calling for Harbaugh to be defenestrated, I think there's little material difference between you focusing on the initial decision and me focusing on the aftermath.


May 3rd, 2018 at 6:01 AM ^

experience that hasn’t been brought into this yet is everything Jim was likely going through personally. A new, and premature, child born in January must have drawn a fair amount of his attention all of last season. Many have observed here how different and distracted Jim seemed last year. While some of that have been the result of a calculated change on his part, some was also perhaps him coping with everything he had on his plate last year. I give Jim credit for such a strong set of moves to fix things. I think good things are ahead for us for this year. Go Blue!


May 2nd, 2018 at 3:49 PM ^

It's crazy how some elite college offenses hold up a sideline sign of Mickey mouse, Arnold Schwarzenegger, grumpy cat, and Steve Urkel to get a very fast, correctly executed play in and our offense is either (pass) 'Double egg salad gun twist motion right waggle max pro l.m.n.o.p prison break on two' or (run) 'Stretch power alpha dog triangle cowbell carry the 2 smashmouth all star' and if Harbaugh decides he dislikes the above mentioned play then he calls 'Y hot slip bingo fish tits over easy megadeath doofensmirtz playinator' ready break! And then repeat again next play. One of the two systems seems much more friendly for teenage kids to learn and one seems like it will take a few years to master. Not to mention which system gives enough time to audible out of something you don't like versus burning a timeout or handing off to a tight end. I'm not saying I want the character card offense but I do want an offense that is simplified enough to keep our best talent on the field without having to make them overthink consistently.


May 2nd, 2018 at 4:03 PM ^

It's also deadly accurate.  The key phrase being "how some elite college offenses hold up a sideline sign".

The goal of any offense is to score points right?  And four panel posterboard play-calling is kicking the ever loving SHIT out of our secret nuclear launch code offensive play call sets we employ.

That in itself speaks volumes about which method works better.


May 2nd, 2018 at 4:42 PM ^

Not to be reductive - especially in a discussion about the value of simplicity, but what it boils down to is this universal truism: that smart people have blind spots and make mistakes.  Sometimes even the same mistake twice.  That's not to say we should accept or tolerate it, but it happens no matter how many safeguards you put in place.

I do think back of a pretty damning observation Brian made a few years back when comparing what the cooler-poopers do:  generally, they identify a few things their offensive players consistently do really well and tell them to do those few things.  Whereas we made our players do multiple things in the hopes that one of those things would work out.


May 2nd, 2018 at 4:45 PM ^

So, prior to this off-season I feared JH was too stubborn to admit Drev wasn't working out, and it both ticked & worried me. But... it has come to pass.

NOW I'm concerned he'll never admit the 4-panel poster boards are clearly a WAY more effective way to communicate a play in to the QB & OLine than the "nuclear launch codes."

Hopefully I'll be wrong again...

Ghost of Fritz…

May 3rd, 2018 at 10:09 AM ^


It is not really a valid argument to observe two things happening at the same time and then conclude that one caused the other.

The 'play codes' were complex.  The offense was bad. 

You are really quick to conclude that the former was an substantial cause of the latter. 

But based on...what?

Offense was really great at scoring in 2016.  And the 'play codes' were just as complex as in 2017.

Moreover, there are plenty of schools using big cards with pictures on them that have bad offensive production. 



May 3rd, 2018 at 11:05 PM ^

Michigan won quite a few conference championships and a National championship calling long play names,

The benefit of the picture thing is quickness. You don’t need to huddle, you don’t need to substitute. There are certainly advantages to that.

But learning the play calls is not difficult. I’m fact, those pictures symbolize a play that is probably pronounced “Red right orbit Nebraska chili (leopard) on two.” So the players still have to learn the plays the same way. The only difference is the method of transmitting it from sideline to field.


May 2nd, 2018 at 6:20 PM ^

If you recognize our OL's inability to do - just about anything - imagine how practice must have gone during August against our defense.

There's no way our offense ever moved the ball an inch during preseason practices.

If this didn't raise a huge red flag, what would have?

Or were they so enamored of Don Brown's defense - sort of understandable - that they took their failure to move the ball an inch all August was "aok"?


May 3rd, 2018 at 3:03 AM ^

I lightly chuckle at this and admit that you have a point. At times, the offense appeared so out of sync, I wasn't sure if the play would work during a walk-through. So how they could have been executing it successfully enough to satisfy our coaches during practice at anything close to game competition is a good question.


May 3rd, 2018 at 9:03 AM ^

My guess based on the same information was exactly the opposite. It seems to me it's entirely plausible that they did an okay (or at least, as good as could be expected considering our awesome defense) job blocking against our defensive scheme.  After all, they had months to learn how to do it.

But then when the season started and they had to face a difference defense every week, the glaring holes became apparent.  Because they only had the blocking schemes learned just enough to look like they knew what they were doing against one defense -- the one they never actually played in a game.