The Tin Age Of Gold

Submitted by Brian on January 21st, 2011 at 12:51 PM

Tommy Tuberville, 1/11/2010:

"We're going to air it out," Tuberville said. "We're going to keep the Air Raid. I think it's something that Tech has hit upon that gives them that identity to recruit."

Rich Rodriguez, sometime in 2008:

“We’ll adapt. I like winning too much not to adapt a little bit to our personnel.”

Brady Hoke, 1/14/2011:

"I think you'd be remiss as a coach if you don't know your personnel, and you try to implement something that maybe you're not quite ready for. There's a way to grow to it. So we're not going to try to put any square pegs in round holes."

Midway through Rich Rodriguez's first season it had become clear that Michigan was spectacularly bad at football for the first time since the 60s, and the blame started to go around. A large portion of it was directed at Rodriguez shoehorning Michigan's pro-style personnel into the spread offense, and it was all dumb. Very dumb. I wrote a post explaining how dumb this was called "The Golden Age of Tin." In brief:

  • Despite having NFL talent up and down the roster Michigan was about 70th in offense in 2007. All of that talent left.
  • Michigan had moved to a zone running game two years before Rodriguez arrived and he changed very little on the line.
  • Four of the five starters skill position starters were freshmen who had never played in a pro-style offense. (Brandon Minor would later return from injury/discontent/quasi-suspension and play pretty well.)
  • The run-pass split was almost 50-50 a year after WVU ran 70% of the time.
  • The quarterbacks were bad in any system.

A couple years later, Nick Sheridan is a grad assistant, a redshirt junior version of Steven Threet has a 18-16 TD-INT ratio for a 6-6 Arizona State team, and Michigan's spread offense is one halfway decent turnover margin/defense/kicker from being awesome. Rich Rodriguez did a lot of things wrong in his time in Ann Arbor, but installing the offense he'd been running for 20 years wasn't one of them.

Because of all the things he did do wrong, however,


he's in a sad car with sad child. Al Borges is now in charge of Denard Robinson, a bunch of slot receivers, tailbacks no one except Fred Jackson thinks much of, and… well… a pretty decent set of pro-style outside receivers, tight ends, and (probably) offensive linemen.

Borges is going to do the only thing he can do with this personnel: coach a pro-style offense with a vertical passing game. This is not going to be as good for Michigan as continuity would be, but the person to blame for that is the athletic director, or Rich Rodriguez, or some of the things Rich Rodriguez did wrong. Al Borges has not spent the last 20 years figuring out how to get mileage out of quarterbacks who double as drag racers in the offseason. He's spent it saying "no, I'm not Jeffery Tambor" and passing to open up the run.

Coincidentally, the best example of what happens when you replace a Rich Rodriguez-type coach with a more passing-oriented guy is when West Virginia replaced Rich Rodriguez with Jeff Mullen. Mullen was the QB coach responsible for turning Wake Forest into a miraculously effective offense through 2007 and arrived in Morgantown promising more balance in the Mountaineer offense. He got it:

OC Year Runs Passes Run%
Rodriguez 2007 628 265 70%
Mullen 2008 517 305 63%

Unsurprisingly, passes got less effective as they became more frequent. The thing that dropped WVU from a national title contender to just another top 25 team was that despite rushing less, rushes also got less effective.

OC Year YPC YPA Pass Eff
Rodriguez 2007 6.2 7.8 11th
Mullen 2008 5.3 6.4 28th

If you're thinking Steve Slaton's exit for the NFL may have had something to do with that, replacement Noel Devine actually rushed for 6.3 YPC. What happened? Burgeoning Wolverine Star has a table of its own that highlights the severe drop in productivity from quarterback legs that started as soon as Rodriguez left. Pat White's rushes were exactly as frequent—down to a tenth of a percentage point—as they were in 2007 but his productivity dropped alarmingly. White averaged 6.7(!) YPC under Rodriguez and just 5 under Mullen.

While it's possible the schedule was tougher and the team weaker after Owen Schmitt and a few others graduated, Devine's numbers suggest the most likely explanation for that huge drop is that Mullen didn't know what the hell to do with White.


So. Michigan fans wishing to protect their soul-tingly-bits would do well to regard quotes like these from Borges as gentle untruths created for public perception: 

"I've been doing this for 24 years. I'm no genius and I do not pretend to be one, but I have a hell of a lot of experience with a lot of different types of quarterbacks."

But when Borges goes on to compare Robinson to Michael Vick and what he's doing with the Eagles…

"They said Michael Vick couldn't be a West Coast-style quarterback, and he's one of the top five quarterbacks in the NFL. Why? Because they put him in situations to run and throw. Denard is 6-feet tall, like Michael Vick. He can run and he can throw and make things happen. If Michael Vick can do that with the Philadelphia Eagles, why can't Denard Robinson do that at Michigan?"

…he suggests that "a lot of different types of quarterback" boil down to guys running NFL offenses with various scrambling add-ons. This is not a fluke. Borges has an array of quotes along those lines. It's also not very realistic. Vick's long and winding journey to becoming a good NFL quarterback took ten years of intensive coaching. When he was three years out of high school (like Denard will be next year) he had a 9-7 TD-INT ratio; VT ran 74% of the time. Their offense was a grab-bag of spread 'n' shred mixed with pro-style that featured a heavy dose of option and even more "Mike Vick makes one read on seven-step drop and starts running." It was pretty effective, but it was even more run-heavy than Rodriguez's Pat White days and took the most outrageously athletic player in the last two decades to make it go.

I'm not sure Denard is quite that, and if we're talking about putting Denard in positions to run or pass that just sounds like a lot of rollouts. And here's the weird thing about Robinson: the guy hates running the ball when he's not explicitly directed to. When he got to the edge this year he invariably chose to throw even when it was third and three and there wasn't a guy within six yards of him.

run run run run run nooooooo okay [ninja stuff] wooooo

Maybe that's because Michigan's offense revolved around Denard running 25 times a game and he didn't want to put any more tread on his tires, but seriously, how many times did you scream "run!" at the TV or field last year?

Maybe this will work out. Maybe Michigan will run four verticals at opponents until their safeties scream for help, whereupon Denard will be able to enact one-read-and-scramble. It would be easier to imagine this happening with Braylon Edwards on the outside, but Michigan did have some success throwing deep in the bowl game and I'm guessing Denard's going to spend most of his offseason throwing fly routes.

But if it doesn't, there's no alternative. Coaches are old and crotchety and just are who they are. They have a very specific, gradually moving corpus of knowledge and when they deviate from that performance suffers. Borges is an effective coordinator with a certain sort of offense. Without it he's probably going to be a version of Jeff Mullen. This is no one's fault, really, just like it wasn't anyone's fault three years ago when Rich Rodriguez surveyed his offensive personnel and felt the crevasse beneath him inch open for the first time.

Tommy Tuberville, 12/27/2010:

"I still believe in running the football," he said. "More than what they did in the past. That's the biggest difference. We want to be a bit more physical and be able to run the ball, which will help throwing it down the field, too."

RIP, air raid. RIP, spread 'n' shred.

BONUS: we should put together a pool for when and where the first column approvingly citing Borges's ability to adapt relative to Rodriguez by comparing their first seasons shows up. Bonus points will be awarded for the most irritatingly shallow glossing over of the difference between junior Denard Robinson with seniors around him versus freshman Threetsheridammit surrounded by fellow freshmen.

DISCLAIMER SECTION: I expect these things next year: Denard is a better thrower, turnover margin is a lot better (fourth year running, that prediction), all yardage metrics drop, scoring drops slightly from 25th but is better distributed across the schedule, FEI plummets. Improvement from the defense and, god willing, kicker will mask a drop in offensive power.



January 21st, 2011 at 1:21 PM ^

if you think scoring offense is a good measure of offense, but it isn't really.

That may be true, but is yards gained a BETTER metric of offense than points scored? I don't think so. In reality, you have to look at them together.

Part of my frustration (and a lot of people's) with last year's offense was that while we moved the ball well, we DIDN'T score enough, and struggled in the red zone. The objective of the game is to score the most points. If we score more often and consistently this year but do it while accumulating less yards, you're going to be hard-pressed to argue that the offense isn't as good as it was last year. And I'm not sure there would be anybody unhappy with that result.

I was a big RR fan and I loved his offense and thought he deserved another year, but the insistence that our offense was unstoppable simply because of its high FEI ranking seems to willfully ignore the fact that we struggled on offense quite a bit.


January 21st, 2011 at 1:32 PM ^

I guess we'll have to agree to disagree.  At the end of the day, understanding there are variables, I'd much rather have an offense that consistently scores a lot of points than gains a lot of yards. 


January 21st, 2011 at 1:47 PM ^

is that scoring a lot of points is a function of being good at gaining yards.  An offense that moves the ball really well will score a ton of points (as someone noted above by saying we were the only top 10 team in yards per game not in the top 10 in points).  


January 21st, 2011 at 1:55 PM ^

How does an offense consistenly score points without gaining a ton of yards first.

You cant really have a consistent scoring offense with a offense that doesnt gain a ton of yards to begin with.

It's just too bad we didnt get to the half this year in a lot of 14-10, 14-14, 10-10 type of games. I dont think we'd be having any of this conversations if we did. For example, there is nothing wrong with just 10 points at half at a place like Happy Valley. It's the giving up of 28 that killed our teams chances.


January 21st, 2011 at 2:05 PM ^

How does an offense consistenly score points without gaining a ton of yards first.

You cant really have a consistent scoring offense with a offense that doesnt gain a ton of yards to begin with.

You're right, which is why in my earlier response I said that you have to look at yards/game and points/game together to truly gauge an offense's effectiveness. My only point here was that I don't agree that yards/game is in and of itself a BETTER metric for judging the quality of an offense.


January 21st, 2011 at 3:33 PM ^

The offense's job is to score points up and down the field.  It doesn't matter if it takes a second, a minute or 10 minutes.  IT DOES NOT MATTER. 


Frankly I'm pissed off about going back to the "old guard dinosaur" football.  Let's just run it right into them.  They know what we are going to do and we are just going to out execute you.  The USC players have it right "we knew exactly what they were going to do." 


Our offense will not be as good.  Period.


January 21st, 2011 at 3:39 PM ^

I'd be more inclined to look at points per yard as a measure of efficiency.  Or points per possession.

Or, for that matter, anything that provides some insight into the offense's ability to achieve its primary goal, which is to score.


January 21st, 2011 at 1:22 PM ^

In yards per game, Michigans offense was #9 in that nation (I have no idea what statistic was used to make it #2 as you claim above.)

In points per game, Michigan fell to #29. They were the only team in the top 10 of YPG to fall out of the top 11 in PPG.

I think that says something.

Your RBI analogy, on the other hand, makes no sense.


January 21st, 2011 at 2:43 PM ^

How many times in the last half of the season did the offense drive 50+ yards and then fail to score? How many games might have been more competitive if the offense could stick in a touchdown on the opening drive? The yardage was great, but the red zone success on opening drives in the last six games--to my memory--was not high. I think vintage UM football--crushing blocks, power running--works better in the Big Ten. Games are won and lsot by points scored--not by scintillating scampers between the 20 yard lines.

Where have you been Boutros? Are you out recruiting 270 pound fullbacks and 320 pound tackles?

Greg McMurtry

January 21st, 2011 at 1:09 PM ^

We're going to have to find out who is going to be the #1 RB. We have data on Smith and a bit on Shaw and Hopkins, but that's about it. Someone is going to have to step up and take that role and replace Denard's rushing numbers. I have faith that someone will do that, but who that will be I have no clue.


January 21st, 2011 at 1:13 PM ^

is precisely my own thoughts on the matter.  All the talk about stuff Borges could do to maximize Denard's potential is so much wind.  Al Borges is going to do what Al Borges knows how to do, and Denard is going to have to adapt or sit the bench behind Devin. 

That's not a knock on Borges, that's just the way it is.  Coaches are not universal computing machines, they're human beings with strengths and limitations.  They will coach what their past experience tells them will work, and will not try to invent a completely new scheme out of whole cloth in a couple months.

I hope Borges has enough tricks in his bag to take good advantage of Denard's running abilities, but there's precious little evidence to this point that those tricks exist.  I will be quite pleasantly surprised if some appear.


January 21st, 2011 at 1:23 PM ^

Maybe Borges route schemes will lead to more passing lanes and possibly more running lanes for Denard when he does scramble.  I think that was one of the knocks of RR's offense was his basic route combinations. 

Also Denard throwing it once he go on the edge might have been a product of coaching, but who knows. 

I too hope Borges can take advantage of his running.  The thing is Borges has never had an athlete as dynamic as Denard.


January 21st, 2011 at 2:07 PM ^

How long would Borges, or Hoke for that matter, last by benching Denard? Maybe the fact the Denard is sticking around should tell us that Denard knows what's best for Denard. I'm willing to consider that's he's as intelligent - as he is fast.

Maybe, just maybe, Denard likse the  M. Vick analogy and sees Borges as a path to the NFL. By invoking M. Vick what if the wiley ol' coach wasn't just placating the fans, but maybe he knew what DR needed to hear. Does it strike anyone that DR doesn't seem all that freaked out by RR leaving. Maybe DR aspires to be more than a ninja track star?

 I'm going to suggest that if playing on Sunday is the goal, Denard is better off under Borges. I'm not sure he would have made it out alive under RR - maybe there's something to the convential wisdom about the beating a running QB will take in the B10.

MI Expat NY

January 21st, 2011 at 2:14 PM ^

I have two hopes which might lead to Denard still being Denard in Borges' system.  1) He's never had a running quarterback, we don't know what he'd do with one.  2) That hole not running unless explicitly told to can be taught out of him.  Show him a highlight real of every throw where he didn't hit his first or second read, or even threw late to his first read.  I bet there will be a lot more of the bad plays like the interceptions against MSU than the successes like the Illinois pass.  Make the scramble part of the progression, and I think he'll figure it out.


January 21st, 2011 at 1:41 PM ^

Looks like #94 is about to peel off his block and make life a little miserable for Denard before he breaks contain.....until Lewan comes in and gives Denard a clear path to run and see.

It was a pretty good, heads up play.


January 21st, 2011 at 1:18 PM ^

"Rich Rodriguez did a lot of things wrong in his time in Ann Arbor, but installing the offense he'd been running for 20 years wasn't one of them."

If wonder if Brian thinks that Michigan would have been WORSE than 3-9 if they had used a more "traditional" offense in 2008.  I have nothing against the spread but the transition was a disaster from the beginning and most of that falls on RR. 

Lots of teams adjust the offense to the QB without a two or three  year implementation period.  Cincinnati mixed it up with Pike and Collaros (same season).  OSU did it with Boeckman and Pryor (same season).  PSU went from Morelli (pro style) to Clark (Spread HD) in a one year span.

All I'm saying is that the transition could have been handled a lot better and Michigan didn't have to go through a 3-9 season.


January 21st, 2011 at 1:28 PM ^

All I'm saying is that the transition could have been handled a lot better and Michigan didn't have to go through a 3-9 season.

That may be true, but to what end? A 5-7 season? The talent on that 2008 team wasn't particularly good, and given that was the case, RR was better served coaching up the kids in a system he knew, in the hopes that doing so would provide more of a long-term benefit. The offensive line rapidly improved over his tenure, and I have to think that some of that is due to the fact that he implemented his system, and they learned it, right away.

RR made plenty of mistakes during his tenure. I just don't think not running a pro-style offense (which he's never run before) with Steven Threet was one of them.


January 21st, 2011 at 1:35 PM ^

RR made plenty of mistakes during his tenure. I just don't think not running a pro-style offense (which he's never run before) with Steven Threet was one of them.

Please note that there are more than 2 offensive styles in football.  It is not limited to "pro" and "spread".  RR, however, is a system coach and his inflexibility was a large problem.  Perhaps, Hoke's flexibility is a reason that he kept all of the players whereas RR lost a number?


January 21st, 2011 at 3:14 PM ^

You're saying that RR had to run his "system" because thats what he knows (an argument raised endlessly here to defend RR's lack of adjustments on offense).  If that's the case, then all the talk about flexibility is/was bullshit.  RR, if what you're saying is correct, never had the ability (or possibly intent) to adjust to his players.  

In any event, he's gone.  We have a new coach that retained every academically eligible player and has already begun a positive buzz about Michigan football.  I'd much rather be excited for that future than continue any talk about RR's scapegoat.

Huntington Wolverine

January 21st, 2011 at 4:40 PM ^

If that's the case, then all the talk about flexibility is/was bullshit

Yes! It's coachspeak, just like what we're hearing now.  That's the point!  Tailoring "it" to your players doesn't mean running a different system, it means moving the pieces around and seeing how they fit in YOUR system, not building a new system to fit the parts you have. 


January 21st, 2011 at 5:08 PM ^

C'mon now...Just above you said "coaches running systems they've never run before" doesn't work well.  That was about "systems".  Now you say that "doesn't mean running a different system"?   RR might not have been flexible, but you're bending your argument like Beckham. 

Huntington Wolverine

January 21st, 2011 at 5:52 PM ^

RR (or Magee as OC really) is inflexible and only coaches his system, though he may make tweaks along the way.

Hoke (or Borges as OC really) will be just as inflexible in installing the system that he wants to install, though he may make tweaks along the way.

Both will look at a fast roster and think of ways to use it best, which may mean position switches for some players (making them fit in your system but not changing your system to fit them). 

Part of the confusion about expectations, I think, is that none of these systems are "pure" systems anymore.  People in this thread point to the capital one bowl as an example of how a pro-set can win but ignore that it was a spread attack that defined our O in that game. 


Thanks for the Beckham reference though


January 21st, 2011 at 1:40 PM ^

I still think that the 2008 team had enough talent to go 6-6 at a minimum.  They should have been able to beat Toledo, Purdue and Northwestern (quite possibly Utah...if Sheridan hadn't thrown the pick right before haltime).  6-6 gets them into a bowl game and RR's start is a little more accepted.  There wouldn't have been much complaining at all if they had gone 7-5 given the circumstances.

Do you really think that different utilization of the 2008 talent would have set them back from the 5-7 record in 2009 (or the 7-6 record in 2010)?

I understand that a coach needs to run a program as he sees fit.  RR had every right to do what he did.  Conversely, he's has to be accountable for his results on the field.  That's why we're where we are today.

I look forward to seeing how Brady Hoke utilizes the talent that he's been given.


January 21st, 2011 at 2:03 PM ^

I couldn't disagree more.  6-6 only looks good in hindsight because the we know the actual result was 3-9.  In 2008, a 6-6 finish is still the worst finish for a Michigan team in 25 years and the anti-Rich Rod faction of the fanbase is still howling in protest.

I don't understand how people believe that there was an achievable result in 2008 that the masses would have accepted and not start fanning the flags of discontent for Rich Rodriguez.