Around suppertime Monday my synapses kicked in again, and I could think about anything from that game other that GURGLE GURGLE, BAWWHHHH, and 'WHHAAAAT?'. The first thing that came back was the 77-yard pass to Hemingway while wearing Kapron Lewis-Moore as an ankle bracelet. Then the rest of the memories returned, and I remembered I was getting aggravated earlier about how ridiculous it was to be using Denard Robinson like John Navarre. Chris Brown's Twitter feed wasn't helping:
…and neither was watching Henne and Brady demolish each others' defenses from under center on Monday. Of course Denard is Denard and makes magical unicorn rainbows, so hell why not have the best rushing QB in history sit in the pocket then lob an end-zone fade to a 5'9 receiver? I'm not being totally sarcastic: the guy may be 6'0 but he can also stand outside the pocket with a 300-pound defender hanging on his legs like your sister's kids after dessert, then chuck a perfect zinger from his back shoulder to a receiver behind the coverage. By this point any other QB would be eating turf; Ben Roethlisberger would be eating turf.
Magical Denard is magical and is actually capable of throwing perfect spirals with a rusher in his face from a 7-step drop if you ask him to, and he is getting better at doing so. He's obviously still learning the technique—Hoke in the Monday presser:
He was the first one to come off the field after one [bad play] and say, ‘My footwork was bad.’ So that’s good to see.
I think we can safely extrapolate this was after the first interception. To actually say the I-form is responsible for any more than that (and that flimsy) we're gonna need to dig a bit deeper. And since memory of formation beyond that and the "Shades of Aaron Shea" fullback pass betrays, let's just look at all the plays run under center vs Notre Dame (mega thanks to Boyz n da Pahokee, who gets a long overdue points bump for his Every Snap Videos):
"DRV" = which play in that drive, so 3 is 3rd play, etc.
|1||3||M33||1st||10||RUSH||Hopkins, S.||2||MANBALL 1|
|2||1||N45||1st||10||RUSH||Hopkins, S.||2||MANBALL 2|
|3||2||M29||2nd||10||RUSH||Hopkins, S.||3||MANBALL 3|
|3||4||M43||1st||10||PASS||INTERCEPTION||0||Footwork was bad.|
|4||2||N45||2nd||15||PASS||McColgan, J||15||1st Down|
|4||3||N26||1st||10||PASS||INTERCEPTION||0||Why? Why did you throw this?|
That's 8 plays where bad things happened (<4 yards to turnover) from under center, and 7 where good things happened (counting Hopkins getting stuffed and fumbling as a "good thing"), and accounts for about 35% of the offensive plays yet 100% of Michigan's scoring plays on the day (WHHAAAAAAT?). Those six in microcosm:
- Jump ball to Hemingway in single coverage. Is short (that's good) and Hemingway makes a play then dives for the pylon. (GOOD)
- Denard rolls out, finds nobody, magically picks his way through a forest of ND defenders to get to the 1. (LUCKY…that we have Denard)
- Goal Line. Hopkins runs straight into leaping linebackers, fumbles, Denard picks it up and accelerates into the end zone.* (LUCKY)
- Perfectly executed Incredibly Surprising Waggle that finds McColgan open on a wheel, and brings back memories of Aaron Shea. Then again if Carr did this on 2nd and 15… (GOOD)
- Drops back, has to loft ball over collapsing defenders, Gallon goes up to get it, and Gary Gray becomes the Stevie Brown(-3) of Notre Dame. (LUCKY)
Perfectly executed fake-bootleg screen. Smith makes this happen by out-accelerating a tackle then slipping through a few more before 'Tree can get the last block. Note: this was out of ACE Twins. (
LUCKYEDIT: GOOD--I hear you board. This is the kind of under-center play that plays to these guys' strengths)
- Smith motions out of the TB spot to split end and…Ah hell, you deserve to relive it. (Ufer style)
Let me know when your synapses are functioning again. Actually, don't. Watch that a few more times.
When you've woken up and convinced yourself all over again that this is indeed real life and the score will be like that forever, I see 15 plays run under center of which eight did nothing and at least four or five only did something only because a fumble bounced right to Denard or Gary Gray can't cover. The touchdowns are red herrings. Wonderful, magical, sapphire herrings.
Not counting goal line, kneel downs, 3rd and long/short, and times when we needed to get 80 yards in 30 seconds or whatnot (i.e. the last two drives), Michigan ran 61.76% of its plays out of the shotgun. So this is still a 60% spread offense. When you break out the yardage on the remaining plays, it's easy to see why:
|Formation||PASS YPA||RUSH YPA||TOTAL YPA|
(the one sack was from the shotgun, and counted as passing yards)
It's early in the season and Denard is still learning how to run this offense and by "this offense" I mean like 40% of the offense, with the rest being the stuff mostly similar to what he did last year. It does seem his recurring accuracy problems are related re-learning dropback QB footwork but except for when he says so directly it's hard to see how that affects the efficacy of formations.
The big thing is the rushing! Small sample and all but against our first real competition (and ND is a good rush defense) Michigan put up better-than-Rich-Rod numbers out of the gun and was broken-Hart-vs.-mid-aughts OSU out of the I. The staggering difference in rushing yardage out of the I versus shotgun may be as simple as Denard's rushing ability versus that of the RBs: had Hopkins found the cutback lanes in his two rushes under center perhaps that I-Form rush YPA is up around a Lloydball-ian 3.5. That's still a huge difference. Denard in the gun means Denard as a rushing threat. Notre Dame mostly chose to play the rushing threat and force him to pass (and this worked pretty well), and yet he still got 7.46 YPA because one guy in the hole is never enough.
Two games into a new staff, got the W, very limited sample, receivers are the receivers, his legs are his legs, not likely to face a better MLB than Te'o, caveat caveat caveat caveat, but at this point (caveat caveat) I don't think lining up under center is working.
* It was watching this play that I realized I had seen enough of Denard running that I can recognize his unique style…like you know how you could pick out a Mike Hart moving silhouette with no other clues? I think I could do that with Denard now.