"Without effort, he had learned English, French, Portuguese, Latin. I suspect, nevertheless, that he was not very capable of thought. To think is to forget a difference, to generalize, to abstract. In the overly replete world of Funes there were nothing but details, almost contiguous details."
---Jorge Luis Borges, Funes, the Memorious
The above reference is to a short story my 11th grade English teacher (Hi Mrs. Bruton!) would be very proud I remembered. In it a fictional JL Borges speaks of conversations with a young autistic savant named Funes. Funes is so mathematical he invented his own way of counting. Then he dies of congestion of the lungs. So it goes.
The other pic is from an early M presser with Al Borges when he was asked how he would use Denard. There were contiguous details: You gotta use him. We'll think up some ways to utilize those legs. We're going to run our offense. The voice was sharp, mocking.
And through the season the thoughts of the young Borges were realized:
They were ways, but not the way.
We have all moved on from the last three years. We have t-shirts and memes and a competent defense and a win over Ohio and a new spiteful way of referring to our rival. Yet until Shane Morris is zipping DOs to myriad tight ends in the flat there is going to be a Godwin's Law*-ishness about discussing the offense that best fits the offensive personnel at Michigan because we fired the guys who invented it.
* Technically it's a corollary.
First a note that advanced users can skip: I'm using formation because each formation comes with a set of strengths and weaknesses selected by the guy calling the plays. Once the ball is snapped all hell breaks loose and it's way harder to judge decisions or coaching. Of the relevant formations, the I-form is great for running because you get two backs (one usually a lead blocker) immediately moving toward the line of scrimmage and your play's chosen point of attack, but not great for passing because either you're committing two eligible receivers and precious QB time to a run fake, or you're immediately showing pass when the RBs are bailing out of the QB's drop line. The Ace is basically I-form but you swap the FB for a WR or TE. It's a compromise formation, slightly better for passing, not great at either.
The shotgun's fundamental running flaws can be somewhat mitigated by: 1) Zone Blocking, which lets the runner scan for creases like a QB instead of hitting a certain spot ASAP, 2) Backs who can see and accelerate quickly into those gaps, 3) A run-threat QB who can keep the defense from teeing off the tailback, 4) Spreading receivers out so that their defenders are too far away to help the inside running game, and 5) Optioning and the threat thereof, e.g. Rich Rodriguez's zone read.
These are kind of very specialized things to get, and you need like three or four of them just to get shotgun running on par with the natural advantages of I-form running. If you can run out of an I against eight in the box you are indefeatable; if you can run out of a shotgun AND your running QB can pass you are indefeatable. So it's not like the way is the only way. The reason your friendly bloggers are always yelping "shotgun! shotgun!" is because by the above rationale, a team with Molk, Toussaint, and Denard, and which used to have Rodriguez himself coaching them, should be pretty awesome at running from the shotgun, which is still the best passing formation.) /tutorial.
Chart of formation tendencies (pass & run)
Excised: Plays when the score differential >16, 4th quarters, plays inside the M or opponent's 3 yard line.
|San Diego State||62.1%||29||82.8%||13.8%||3.4%||-||-||-|
The games where Michigan was 25% I-form were, as predicted, at the beginning of the season. The Fritz took its place against Minnesota and then it was all shotgun ru…
Okay so it was inexplicably becoming a team that passes 60% of the time in a trash tornado against MSU and then two game-plans which look absolutely identical. Because Purdue's defensive ends were pliant this worked brilliantly against Purdue as Borges called mannish plays to the end. The thing is for some odd reason he didn't stop I-forming the Purdue game away until it was the 4th quarter of the Iowa game.
Here's a weird thing though: when I run the same numbers for '09 and '10, Rich Rod was way I-Form against Iowa as well. 20% I-form in fact, when he was 96% gun all other games combined. He did it both years, and only for Iowa. Is there some Lloyd-Ferentz pact to run substantially more I-forms versus each other every year?
Anyway it went away. Illinois looks like an intermediary step but 7 of the 8 plays from the I were during that interminable 14-point lead after the defense had established itself as 2006-ian. Following that game it almost disappeared from 1st downs (chart in excessive charting area post-jump*). It's the same story just more dramatic. Red Zone is more so, as the I-form was largely abandoned in the red zone during relevant plays of the last three games of the season:
So it is at this point where Funes the Manballious makes his impression on the young Borges, or vice versa, and the rational meets the abstract, and the result is sublime.
Notes and Errata:
1st Down formation tendencies: (same excises)
|San Diego State||15||80.0%||20%||-||-||-||-|
This is the same story from above but more dramatic as 33% of the offense is whittled down to nothing by OSU week. Again, the dramatic shift after Iowa.