Mailbag: Offense Year One, Harbaugh Goes To 11, Official Star Wars Take Comment Count

Brian February 24th, 2016 at 4:21 PM


Offense impressions, year one


I attended the DC event you did over the summer where you talked about what to expect from a Harbaugh offense. Now that there is a season's worth of data, do you have any plans to revisit and do a compare and contrast on that? I'm curious what new wrinkles can be attributed to Fisch, opponent specific stuff, or just flat out integrating plays he likes, as a way of understanding how he evolves his approach.


That's a conversation for next year. It will be interesting to see how Michigan's philosophy changes going forward; right now I the only things I have to compare it to are NFL offenses in a vastly different competitive environment and a five-year-old Stanford team with a largely different braintrust.

Meanwhile it'll probably take another year before the Death Star is even vaguely operational. You could see the outlines of the things Harbaugh wants to do, but it's always much easier to see what the shape of a thing is when it works as intended. Michigan's ground game didn't do that enough to get a feel for the shape of he whole thing.

One thing that did stand out was the week-to-week diversity of formations and plays. Michigan had a T-formation package last seen in college football decades ago; they had a week where they ran a handful of zone read; they fiddled with some diamond formations. While the wrinkles didn't always add up to much in year one, they do speak to Harbaugh's philosophy: he wants to constantly show you things that make you uncomfortable and get you to bust a run fit.

It's mostly the same for the offensive line. They get a call and they execute the call. Those calls are almost always standard power, inside zone, or outside zone. The only things that Michigan did that they didn't do much under previous staffs were quick trap pulls.

Harbaugh puts a bunch of window dressing around it and uses his blocky/catchy types to spring the surprises. Going forward I am guessing you are going to see a high priority put on RB/TE/FB types who are highly intelligent, because the bulk of the week-to-week changes are on them. I think that's a major reason Michigan's PWO class is heavy on high-academic blocky/catchy types—there might be an Owen Marecic lurking in there.

[After THE JUMP: extensive takes on the envelope pushing and overall grades for Hoke]

Rules, how do they work?

Harbaugh has done probably a dozen or more rule-bending or tradition-bending moves in the first year of his reign, and while we've seen plenty of other programs complain about or copy these moves, I don't believe I've seen much about others "innovating" in the same way.

I've heard things about Saban making big waves like this when he began at Alabama, other than that not much. Are there others doing these sorts of innovations?  Does is just seem like a bigger deal due to all of the publicity around the man and the program?

It was actually James Franklin who first started the satellite camp business, but he's been lower-key about it. Michigan took that idea and blew it up into a big deal thing, because that's what Harbaugh does.

Other programs do these sorts of things but take an opposite approach, playing them down so that they don't get the kind of pushback Harbaugh is getting. Harbaugh is Harbaugh, for one, and attracts attention wherever he goes no matter what he's doing. For two, Michigan is clearly implementing a public relations strategy geared toward maximum volume.

You are starting to see other schools get in on satellite camps; OSU recently announced they'd be down in Florida. They were down there last year, too. If they exist others will take advantage of them. To the extent Harbaugh does? Probably not.

Nothing that Harbaugh has done has seemed ground-breaking, or at all out-of-the-blue, so why aren't others doing nearly as much?

The IMG trip is unprecedented, I believe, for football players. Obviously other sports have done similar things—every four years basketball teams can take an international trip, and Michigan fans are now very well informed about that Vanderbilt baseball trip over fall break—but those have been less explicitly about recruiting. Yes, Kentucky taking a trip to the Bahamas is about recruiting, but indirectly because there aren't any croots there.

Harbaugh doesn't have a political bone in his body and thus makes everything explicit, which bothers good ol' boys who like the system the way it currently is.

Now that Michigan is quite clearly on an increasingly upward trajectory on the field and in recruiting, who do you think will be the next coach or program to copy this sort of aggressive overall management strategy?


Well, they'll try to ban everything no matter how hypocritical it is. Greg Sankey clearly isn't bothered that his arguments against the stuff Harbaugh is doing are preposterous on their face. They will Think Of The Children and try to ram legislation through that prevents these things from continuing, whereupon Harbaugh will look for other loopholes, etc., etc.

Saban was and is the same way. He got shut down after pushing the envelope with in-school "bump" visits; several years later they had bowl practices at a high school with some big-time recruits and just happened to give them enough money to renovate their field. I never really had a problem with any of that; the problem was when that willingness to push any edge resulted in Alabama going into a summer needing to shed 7, 8, 9, 10 kids.

I'm not sure how much of a difficulty it will be for the SEC that whatever legislation they'd need to pass would be clearly self-serving and without merit otherwise. It could be that there are enough schools interested in satellite camps that those stick around. It could be difficult to craft legislation that demands all offseason practices be held on campus without hitting a bunch of other sports. Or these things could sail through since people don't want to add yet more work to their plates.

But, just like Michigan's IMG trip doesn't add time but merely moves it, they won't be subtracting time from Harbaugh's efforts, merely relocating it.

Grading coaches, seed, Star Wars

Hey Brian,

Three questions:

1. I remember you wrote a few years ago grading Bo, Mo, Carr and RR on recruitment, player development and deployment. I think you gave Carr grades of A, A and C. So how would you grade Hoke along with the first year of HARBAUGH now?

I don't remember that but I'd more or less agree with those grades. Hoke is difficult to judge when it comes to the former because he was an excellent recruiter with a vast critical flaw: he let Al Borges acquire quarterbacks. Hoke's recruits formed the backbone of a 10-3 team that was top ten in a lot of advanced ranking systems, but if Harbaugh hadn't patched the QB recruiting hole how much worse do they end up? Much, much worse. You have to give the guy a B even so.

Player development, D, deployment, F. His QBs got worse over time. His OL got worse over time. He tried to ignore Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner's lower appendages. He converted his defense to press man after a coaching shakeup that saw a linebacker who had never coached in the secondary land at CB coach, and then watched Blake Countess die over and over again trying to do something he simply could not. He carried multiple coaches with no business in the Big Ten, let alone at Michigan, and their landing places afterwards—Florida Tech, Wyoming, San Jose State—demonstrate that a refusal to fire guys who weren't pulling their weight.

The one bright spot when it came to development was the defensive line, where Hoke turned a number of untouted players into draft picks and all-conference level performers.

It's too early to say anything definitive about Harbaugh. Early I'd say A, A, B, with the B for "deployment" 100% because of DJ Durkin's disastrous non-plan for the OSU game. You might ding Harbaugh's recruiting for an iffy showing at OT in the last cycle, if you were inclined. But, like, Gary.

As far as development goes, Jake Rudock, Jehu Chesson, AJ Williams, Jourdan Lewis, Willie Henry, Ryan Glasgow, and Chris Wormley all took huge steps forward in year one. The number of guys to run in place was correspondingly much lower—Bolden, maybe Kalis.

2. What does your instinct tell you the MBB team's NCAA seed number and which round they'll come furthest to?

At this point they look like a ten seed that maybe pulls off a mild first round upset before going down to a mean team with post players.

3. How would you rank the latest Star Wars among the previous six?

Thanks a lot,

ann.arbor.lover [at] mgoblog from Indianapolis

I got so depressed about Episodes I and II that I haven't ever seen III, so in front of those. I would put it behind the original trilogy since VII had exactly zero new ideas. It felt like JJ Abrams was as upset about the prequel trilogy as I was and decided that he was just going to Make Star Wars Okay Again. I guess he did that, but making the bad guy into Gamergate is not an innovation in my book.



February 24th, 2016 at 4:35 PM ^

Episode VII suuuucked.

It was so deriviate of IV-V-VI that I actually missed the prequels a little.  A few scenes in the beginning were fun, but overall it's not much better than III, and certainly more disapointing.


February 24th, 2016 at 9:11 PM ^

Episode III is like astrology for me. It's a touchstone. As in, you meet someone for the first time, if you find out what they think of it, that tells you a whole lot about that person.

I think the hate for "derivative" movies is benighted and ridiculous. No doubt near 100% of the people who complain about VII being derivative have watched and enjoyed any number of Spider-Man, Batman, Star Trek, Shakespeare, Homer, John Hughes, Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, etc. re-makes and re-boots and derived-straight-from-book-says-so-on-the-tin movies. And then they complain say they don't like VII because it's "derivative." SMH so hard y'all, so hard.

I didn't see anyone list their preferred order. Mine is









February 25th, 2016 at 8:13 AM ^

Episode III was better than I or II...but only because 1) it contained the wanton slaughter of children, 2) it signalled the end of the prequels, 3) less Jar-Jar, 4) Hayden Christiansen got fucked up.

Ok, it sucked.

What's NOT forgivable is copy/pasting Hayden Christiansen into Return of the Jedi at the end, instead of adult Anakin. May George Lucas rot in hell for his crimes.

Gucci Mane

February 24th, 2016 at 4:51 PM ^

Episode 7 is the best Star Wars when looking objectively. Nostalgia for the original trilogy clouds the truth. Kylo Ren has potential to be the best character in the entire franchise. I have only seen it 4 times so far but I'm hoping to make it once more before it leaves theaters.


February 24th, 2016 at 4:56 PM ^

For the life of me I just can't understand the love for Kylo Ren.  What is it born out of?  He wasn't intimidating at all.  I know some people talk about his outbursts as scary because he has the potential to snap at any moment, but it didn't come across as scary.  To me it was like a whiny little teenager.  I felt more like he could be defeated by anyone because he lacked control more than he was to be feared.  I hope he does pan out, but I just seriously struggle to understand the praise for the actor and character.

I didn't dislike Episode VII, I am in the camp that was hoping for the next installment and got the identical story again.  It was really well done, just dissapointing from a plot perspective.


February 24th, 2016 at 5:18 PM ^

This is exactly how I felt about the whole thing.  Episode 7 was episode 4 with a bigger Death Star and an inept/inexperienced/unintimidating villian prone to temper tantrums.  I mean the guy was defeated by a girl who just learned how to use the force and had no training with a lightsaber.  Fin even gave him a run for his money for a minute there.

I too wanted a new story and got the same one with a few new wrinkles.  I wouldn't say I'm mad or frustrated, just disappointed.


February 24th, 2016 at 6:02 PM ^

Yeah, Kylo Ren was so much different than the "worse than Darth Vader" reviews I read, I kept waiting for the real villain to show up. Who did his hair, 1980 Bruce Jenner? I'm not sure what demographic actually finds him anything than a spolied whiny kid with anger issues.

I also didn't care much how they wrote Rey. I like the character, I just think they tried to do too much with her. Essentially she was Han Solo + Luke, whereas Fin was just Chewbacca who spoke.


February 24th, 2016 at 6:47 PM ^

There is no denying that Kylo Ren comes across as a "whiny little teenager."   But Luke Skywalker started Ep. IV as an equally petulent child.  It is easy to complain about his immature personality, but bear in mind that this is a trilogy, not a single movie.  There is plenty of time for this character to develop; it should lend some interesting juxtaposition to watch two novice Force-users learn and grow while following different paths (Light vs Dark sides)


February 25th, 2016 at 12:16 AM ^

Having rewatched all of the Star Wars movies since the release of The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren had way more character in his first movie than Vader did. Vader does next to nothing in A New Hope and just comes off as a tool for the Empire. I think the potential for Kylo Ren and the Knights of Ren in the sequels is fantastic.


February 25th, 2016 at 10:59 AM ^

I actually didn't compare him to the old one at all. Never even mentioned Vader in my post.  A villain can be analyzed without comparison, as I did.  The overal plot was a rehash of the original three, but I don't want Vader again.  As I said in my post, I was looking for the next installment.  I want someone interesting that I am intrigued by the potential moving forward. What I got was a whiny child who not only appeared beatable, but actually was by both a storm trooper and another teenager who could some how woosah her way into the force without any knowledge of it prior.

Kylo Ren could have been scary if his temper tantrums resulted in doing something more than throwing a fit and breaking a few things.  I like the idea of the outcast that isn't fully feared by anyone, including his own men, but it has to be done in a way that shows you why you want to see him get to that point.  I didn't even hate him for killing Han, that's how hard they failed at making him hateable, which all good villains are.  Whiny teenagers are not interesting, intimidating, or scary.  They are annoying. So if their goal was to make an annoying character, then success.  I imagine they were going for interesting and intimidating, and they missed.


February 24th, 2016 at 5:12 PM ^

Episode 7 is the best Star Wars when looking objectively . . . Kylo Ren has potential to be the best character in the entire franchise.

This is objectively incorrect.  The best Star Wars, when looking objectively, is The Empire Strikes Back.  And Kylo Ren was pretty cool, but c'mon.  Darth Vader cut his kid's hand off.  That's hard core.  (What Kylo did doesn't compare, because kids are supposed to be dicks to their parents.)


February 24th, 2016 at 6:33 PM ^

I agree, but not because #7 was that great. The original trilogy were full of great ideas, but weren't great movies because George Lucas is a hack who cannot direct actors at all. Those movies are full of actors spouting terrible dialogue pretty much against their own wishes. My God, the acting is utter shit.

At least the new one features actors who believe in their roles and the things they are made to say.


February 25th, 2016 at 12:44 AM ^

Totally agree. I've rewatched all of the movies since the release of Episode VII. Anybody that thinks Kylo Ren doesn't have enough character development at this point needs to rewatch A New Hope. Vader has about as much character in that movie as Darth Maul in Phantom Menace. People just unfairly put anything from the original trilogy on a pedestal.


February 25th, 2016 at 8:51 AM ^

is a hero's journey. Part of the hero's journey is showing their struggle as they attempt to overcome obstacles. The struggle is often caused directly by the villain. Up until the interrogation between Rey and Kylo Ren, The Force Awakens established Kylo Ren as a cold-blooded villain with intense grasp of the force (anger issues aside), more menacing than Vader in A New Hope. Afterwards, Kylo Ren was reduced to an emo teenager that gets bested by the hero, an untrained savant, in every way. Sure he was shot before the end light saber fight, but the decision to fight the heroes anyway is another weakness of the villain.

Now the audience has to root for the villain to become stronger such that the hero can experience hardship to overcome. Really, it's not the character Kylo Ren that I have a problem with, but his failure to provide the hero with a meaningful struggle. In the case of A New Hope, the villain's interaction with the hero was limited, but the direct challenges provided by the villain (killing the mentor and nearly shooting down the hero) were both meaningful obstacles to overcome by the hero.


February 25th, 2016 at 12:00 PM ^

If I had one beef with the movie, it was that Kylo should have been stronger against Ren and Fin.

I still loved the movies.  Ithought all of the characters were great and believable. I'm sure nestalgia played a part, but I was pulled into the movie from the get go.  My wife was not excited at all about seeing it, and ended up loving it.

I have a strong sense that the next movie will be very good, ala, episode V, as the trilogy allows for the second movie to be darker and left with more dispair for the heros. I'm fine with people not liking it, however, I am suprised that anyone would consider any of the prequels to be on a similar level to the Force Awakens, based on whole lot of things. To each his own though. 

Tim Waymen

February 24th, 2016 at 4:50 PM ^

Episode VII was awesome. It was thoroughly enjoyable, the characters were awesome, and their conflicts were meaningful. So some ideas felt like retreads; it's been over 30 years since the last real movie with some shit sprinkled in between, so yeah callbacks are to be expected.


February 24th, 2016 at 5:14 PM ^

Brian breaking the no politics rule (or tempting others to do so)? I'm not even sure where Brian's going with the phrase "turning the bad guy into Gamergate".

Kylo Ren is like a "Gamergater" and this is lame? Somehow the film was too political? Gamergate was a dumb controversy and Kylo Ren is all sound and fury signifying nothing? Brian really wants to say "Kylo is an emo nerd" but that's been done to death already?

Could go a lot of ways, and I'm confused.

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Space Coyote

February 24th, 2016 at 5:04 PM ^

The original trilogy is classic, so you can't really compare them fairly to other things. Given when they came out, the technology, etc. they really just can't be compared. They are on another level completely.

Episode I and II were probably average movies from the eyes of a child that have grown increasingly worse with anti-hype and hate. They aren't good movies by any means, but did a recap of all the Star Wars movies prior to the release of Episode VII and the main conclusion (which I agreed with) was that even the prequals had a lot of really good ideas that were pretty terribly executed. That is until Episode III, which I thought was a good, albeit flawed movie. It was not very good, it was not great, but it was above average, and enjoyable to watch.

Episode VII I thought was really good. While it repeats a lot of the original stuff, sometimes a bit too much, the dialog was pretty spot on, the characters all felt fleshed out, real, and worth rooting for (or against). The chemistry between characters was there. And overall, it was extremely entertaining if you allowed yourself to not just sit there and look for things you didn't like. Very, very few movies can be that. That makes it an excellent movie, in my book.


February 24th, 2016 at 5:12 PM ^

The prequels did have good ideas and individual scenes (Yoda kicking ass in II was great) but the real problem (apart from terrible writing and dialog) IMO was they were the story of an unlikable boy who grew to an unlikable teenage boy who became an unlikable supervillian. In other words, no one to root for. 


February 24th, 2016 at 5:25 PM ^

Episode I was basically all fluff - yeah it sets up the conflict in II and III but episode IV and VII accomplished the same thing in the title crawl.

And a lot of the fluff was garbage. Jar Jar was lame, little kid "Ani" sucked, Qui-Gon was okay but not really necessary (seriously, replace "Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan" with "Obi-Wan" and you don't lose much except a couple quips), Midichlorians were stupid, the bad guys were uncomfortably racist caricatures and also really dumb and way to easily dispatched, and somehow Lucas managed to turn Portman and McGregor into terrible actors.

The only good parts were Darth Maul and the pod race. But Maul was criminally underused, dies (I am aware he was resurrected for the cartoon), and is never heard from again. And the pod race requires a truly convoluted setup and kills the pace of the movie.

II was okay, would have been much better with like 90% less Senate at 100% more Anakin and Obi-Wan buddy-cop bad assing. And a human being to write love scenes.

III was decent, but still weighed down by a terrible lead actor and atrocious dialogue.

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Space Coyote

February 24th, 2016 at 5:50 PM ^

But I thought each one had elements that would have been good. Just the pacing and execution for most things was awful. The idea of Anakin going from kid, to anguished teenager, to Darth Vader should be awesome, and a lot of the ideas regarding that are in the movies, but the acting, dialogue, and overall execution hold each of those ideas back. If you looked at a summary of the ideas though, there are good movies to be had.

Here are the io9 articles