Offense 2008: Five Questions, Five Answers

Submitted by Brian on August 27th, 2008 at 1:41 PM

Who are these guys?

No, seriously. What the hell is going on? Where's Henne? Hart? Long? Is that a running back taking snaps? Do they know you're allowed to take a snap from under center? Who stole my football team and replaced them with Valdosta State?

Exciting new kids in order of projected use this year:

  1. Martavious Odoms. He’s the only healthy slot receiver and is the Chad Henne of WRs: a starter from day one in high school. He’s ready-ish to play and will be counted on heavily; may return kicks.
  2. Darryl Stonum. Michigan needs someone to put the fear of God into opposing safeties and Stonum’s the guy with that rep. Early enrollment means he’s not as clueless as your average freshman; hell, he’s got just as much time in this system as anyone on the team.
  3. Michael Shaw. Slightly ahead of McGuffie because I think they’ll use him in th slot a bit.
  4. Sam McGuffie. Run, annoyed man. Run.
  5. Terrence Robinson. Injury sets him back, obviously, but once he’s back he’ll rotate into the slot.

Quarterback ack.

basanez

It is possible this ends well. Michigan will surround Sheridan with a deep and varied set of receiving targets, and the spread ‘n shred can turn a wobbly-armed but heady passer into Zak Kustok or Bret Basanez. It doesn’t demand the precision howitzer Carr’s pro-style system did. The physical limitations (and senior year injury) that forced Sheridan to walk-on somewhere don’t have to be fatal.

But if we’re being honest with ourselves there’s little chance it starts well. The note of distress coming from practice observers and press conferences is clear, and the scary thing is a lot of the reported problems are things like “throws bubble screens backwards.” (Michigan fans are going to find out how spoiled Chad Henne’s unerring accuracy on screens made them.)

Though practice reports got less alarmed as fall camp progressed—there was even video evidence of Sheridan completing passes farther than six yards downfield—Michigan's best hope here is for something functional, a guy who can throw a bunch of screens and keep the offense moving.

This offensive line can’t be as bad as Notre Dame’s, can it?

clausen-michigan

This was going to be a “definitely not” until the Zirbel injury and John Ferrara’s move from defensive tackle to potential starter. Now it’s just “probably not.”

There’s a fair quantity of talent slated to start. Schilling, of course, was an OMG shirtless recruit waylaid by injury. He should be much better this year. Moosman and Molk were both four-star sorts. That’s three of your starters with guru approval, and the guys who didn’t get it are both redshirt juniors who’ve seen a series here and there.

Plenty of teams have gotten away with worse outfits. Georgia and Auburn both started multiple freshmen last year and that worked out pretty okay; just because the nearest and dearest line to go through a painful youth movement became Most Extreme Epic Disaster Challenge does not mean this is Michigan’s fate. Whenever it’s dark out and your thoughts turn to Notre Dame’s 2007 season replicated in winged helmets, just remember that Charlie Weis spent fall camp installing a spread option look for one game against Georgia Tech and neglected things like technique or pads. It was coaching malpractice on an unprecedented scale; Michigan won’t go down the same road.

HOWEVA, there are some major concerns. We know these things about Mark Ortmann:

  • He was not a big time recruit.
  • The coaching staff thought he was clearly worse than a guy (Schilling) who was not ready to play last year.
  • He’s the starting left tackle virtually by default.

Unless we’re lacking some critical piece of information like an undisclosed, lingering injury or Ortmann’s sudden improvement, that looks a lot like a recipe for blindside hits galore assuming Michigan ever tries a pass longer than ten yards. Which they may not. But that’s another question.

And then there’s Zirbel injury, which puts Michigan one ligament away from starting a true freshman or a guy who was playing defensive tackle two weeks ago. Even if the line stays miraculously healthy, the lack of confidence in Molk is troubling.

If a couple of guys don’t pan out or, worse, get injured, darkness threatens to warsh over the dude at quarterback.

Will Rich Rodriguez and Calvin Magee be inherently better than Carr and Debord?

magee

Michigan fans have complained for years on end about the predictability of Michigan’s offense. Whenever Michigan replaced its starting receivers, it was a guaranteed run. Whenever a tight end lined up at fullback, it was a guaranteed pass. Fullback shuffles were 90% runs to the side of the shuffle, and the few times it wasn’t didn’t justify the expense in yards and downs expended to launch the surprise.

This differentiates them from zero fanbases nationwide. Hell, West Virginia fans had a field day decrying the “predictable” offense Rich Rodriguez ran after his departure. Seriously:

“i will be glad whenever mcgee is officially gone. his 'i will only call 4 different plays' mentality can suck up in michigan right now for all i care.”

In a way, it was predictable: you run 70% of the time and a hefty chunk of the passes are bubble screens. In another way it obviously wasn’t. Touchdowns don’t score themselves.

Anyone who’s read this blog for a while knows my opinion, and it was best summed up in the aftermath of the Horror:

If every Michigan fan can tell you certain things obviously tip Michigan's plays, what are the chances opposing coaches don't know this? Zero. Everyone knows what Michigan is going to do. This is something we've heard every time a bowl opponent is asked about us for the past half-decade and probably longer. It's an arrogant waste of expectation because you expect that you won't need to fool the other team. It's like playing poker without ever bluffing.

This opinion is apparently shared by many, including current members of the team. This is perhaps the most damning quote I’ve ever read on the topic, and it comes from Brandon Graham:

“Everybody knew exactly what we were going to do. That was like the arrogance of being at Michigan. ‘Our players are better than yours.’ That’s how it was. That kind of got to (players) when it stopped working. The big games, like Ohio State, we would want to show them something we didn’t do during the season. But we’d go out there and do the same thing.”

This thinking is ancient, dating back to Bo and the days of unlimited scholarships. Michigan assumed it was inherently better than its opponents and every game was an exercise choking out the variance so that superiority could show.

It is also the complete antithesis of Rich Rodriguez. This was an opinion expressed earlier:

Rodriguez comes from a wholly different background than Carr, coming up through the ranks at NAIA schools and Tulane and Clemson and West Virginia. Until Pat White showed up he never had a significant talent advantage against the vast majority of opponents. He never, ever had the luxury of lying back and thinking to himself "if we out-execute the opponent we will win," and it shows. He invented a whole new offense and used it to exploit inefficiencies in recruiting. To seal the Sugar Bowl against Georgia he called a fake punt, exploiting inefficiencies in fourth-down playcalling. For the past seven years he has played Moneyball at West Virginia.

To me, the exciting thing about Rodriguez is not necessarily his system but his mindset. He's looking to squeeze out every ounce of expectation, make every resource stretch as far as he can, and now he's been provided resources few other coaches have.

This is the Coal Spoon theory, and it answers this question simply: yes.

Well?

You know, I get emails from time to time complaining about how negative I’m being, but not in a “you’re just incorrigible” way. They mostly complain about the depression induced.

What can I say? For the first time, Michigan is violating several of the preview heuristics: don’t switch a guy at the last second and give him playing time. Don’t completely change your system—not that the change is bad, but it will be painful in the short term. Don’t start a walk-on at quarterback. Have something other than crippled goats backing up your offensive line.

These things are nigh insurmountable obstacles in the quest for a non-ugly offense. There’s just too much that can go wrong (or already has) for the offense to function at an aesthetically pleasing level.

It shouldn’t get anywhere close to the radioactive mess Notre Dame was, or even be the worst offense in the league. The Rodriguez system doesn’t demand that much out of either of the shaky position groups. It does demand that the skill position players be able to beat their guys one-on-one in the open field, and Michigan should have the athletes to do this with regularity.

I think we’ll see an offensive of extremes this year: good or better against teams with shaky athleticism, bad or worse against A-level opponents. Scanning the schedule I see only three or four of those.

One major caveat: the situation at quarterback and on the offensive line is extremely fragile. If a guy goes down or just doesn’t pan out the dropoff as you go back is severe; there is a small chance a couple guys implode and the offense makes a short trip off a cliff.

Stupid Predictions

  • People are very excited about Martavious Odoms going into 2009, like Steve Breaston excited.
  • Sheridan starts off the starting quarterback, is replaced at some point, but ends the season as the guy.
  • Junior Hemingway establishes himself a starter midseason.
  • The running back situation involves a mess of players; Minor, Brown, McGuffie, and Shaw all see 100 carries. Brown has the best YPC.
  • Michigan has a better offense in-conference than they did last year. (Ninth.)
  • Ricky Barnum ends up starting five or six games.
  • Michigan is around 50th in yardage.

Comments

J. Lichty

August 27th, 2008 at 2:10 PM ^

I expect that the "starting" label will not mean much until one of the two outperforms the other on the game field (Henson Brady - but even more even)  Hot hands will stay, but will be a short leash.

 

NCWolverine

August 27th, 2008 at 2:31 PM ^

I think this offense with these players will score on many big plays, and that will be fun to watch this year and in the future.  The inexperience will rear its head on the 3-and-outs and lack of long drives.  UM's time of possession will be an issue for the defense.  Barwis.  The part that I am uncertain about is how long it will take for the offense to gain the consistency needed to be a factor in the Big 10 games. 

The games I am most looking forward to are Utah, Wisconsin, and osu.  Utah is a 'just win baby' kind of game.  The Wisconsin game opens the conference play after a bye week, against the second best team in the conference.  The osu game is against 'the best team ever' since like 1969 or something, and they have TP to wipe up the leftovers.

I can't wait!  GO BLUE!

Tim Waymen

August 27th, 2008 at 5:33 PM ^

I am very intrigued by this game. I mean, of course it's the big Michigan-OSU game.  Although I don't think that we'll win, I don't think that we'll get blown out either, unless the D isn't as good as we thought it would be and OSU's offense is better than we think.  Beanie Wells is incredible and may very well wear down the defense and/or move his way around it, but I think that the defense will be strong and the offense will have some sort of rhythm by then.  I think that it's also important that the Shoe now has artificial turf, giving the Buckeyes no advantage from playing conditions.  Don't get me wrong: the shoe is hell.  It'll just be really interesting to see.  Hopefully we'll beat OSU eventually.

ShockFX

August 27th, 2008 at 2:49 PM ^

If Ortmann was that bad, you'd have to imagine Schilling would be slotted to left tackle.  Not that Schilling is an ideal tackle anyway (supposed to have guard measurables right?), but I can't imagine this coaching staff being so negligent to put the worst player at LT then attempt 5 step drops against massive blitzing.  Also, and I'm not sure about this, but is the LT position mitigated by a shotgun formation.  The QB starts facing the line and doesn't have to turn and back up, so he should have better awareness of the blitzing right?

I also imagine the shotgun makes the entire field more accessible to quick reads.  I've rarely seen a right handed QB take a snap and fire across his body to the left on a quick slant because it would be a nearly blind throw.  Now, out of the shotgun, the QB should be able to see that receiver sooner and clearer in his periphral vision.

Anyway, it's my belief that the shotgun is the most flexible offensive set.  The only thing it seems to sacrifice is the ability to QB sneak or a quick handoff to a fullback in an I-Form, and perhaps an I-Form iso play would be hurt.  But you can always have a fullback in a 2RB/3WR shotgun set.  Or do a 2RB, 2TE, 1WR set, or 2RB, 2WR, 1TE.  It seems to me that anything that maximizes the QB's time to scan the whole field is optimal.   

baorao

August 27th, 2008 at 2:52 PM ^

I feel the same way.

maybe its a combination of the mystery at QB and my memory of the West Virginia offense, but I don't envision a lot of long drives down the field this season. I am thinking the occasional short play busted for a long gain, and (hopefully) some short field conversions setup by the defense.

BrnAWlrne

August 27th, 2008 at 4:12 PM ^

I really hope RR makes it so that the qb's don't have to do too much too early.  Maybe they should use the whole "Ryan Mallet" approach where we depend heavily on the running backs for the first couple games. 

Just give it to Sam so I can hear..."See Sam!  See Sam run!  See Sam hurdle!  See Sam score!

 Saturday is not coming soon enough

TorontoBlue

August 27th, 2008 at 4:35 PM ^

If our D can deny the other team drives, keeping them off the scoreboard and scoring a few TD's of their own - this will give the O time to gel.  Our O will be ruff in the first games, tenuous by the middle of the season, but much more solid late.  Key to getting W's will be the defense overperforming with stopped drives and a ridiculous takeaway percentage in the first half of the season. 

SFBayAreaBlue

August 27th, 2008 at 8:30 PM ^

I'm going with "youtube star, sam mcguffie" (which seems to be his official name now) getting the best ypc.

and I second the 'marvelous' tag for odoms.  sounds like a comic book character.

M-Dog

August 28th, 2008 at 1:00 PM ^

but I don't remember being this excited for the '02 Utah game. 

I dunno, something just seems different this time.  It must be the piping on the new uniforms.

Kal

August 28th, 2008 at 1:28 PM ^

I just picked up my tickets. They smell good. I might spoon with them tonight. The student section shirt kinda blows though. It could be alcohol coarsing through my veins, it could be adrenaline, but god damn I am excited.