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,

greg-robinson-fail

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.

Comments

imafreak1

January 21st, 2011 at 1:27 PM ^

I presume Borges is just throwing Vick's name around because he is someone obvious that people know. It is easy to say "Vick" and "West Coast offense" and make people shut up. I do not necessarily take it as an road map for how he intends to use Denard. If it is, I hope he skips the dog killing jail part of the process.

I am an optimist, however.

mGrowOld

January 21st, 2011 at 1:33 PM ^

Plus 1 for the Avitar.  I'm so hooked on Dogfish 60's (90's when i'm feeling naughty) I think i need to join a support group.

I'm still hunting for the mythical  bottled 120's.  I have heard tales of sightings at a remote liquor store in Montana but so far no confirmations.

STW P. Brabbs

January 21st, 2011 at 2:06 PM ^

More liquor stores in MI would undoubtedly carry Dogfish if EVERYONE WASN'T SO GODDAMN STUCK IN THEIR GOLDEN NOSTALGIC FANTASIES OF WHEN MACROBREWED LAGERS COULD JUST GUARANTEE YOU GETTING LAID 10 TIMES A  YEAR LIKE CLOCKWORK.

Let's just tell ourselves that Stroh's is fucking great and have a big ol' circle jerk about it.  Fucking lemmings.

/Boom Dudeness'd.

STW P. Brabbs

January 21st, 2011 at 3:48 PM ^

I wasn't making an actual argument about beer there - just trying to imagine how Dudeness might respond to this conversation.

I personally love Dogfish IPAs.  Their seasonal Apri-Hop is pretty good too (just a hint of apricot.)

When I'm trying to be cheap, tall boys of Narragansett fit the bill.

Vasav

January 21st, 2011 at 1:27 PM ^

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.

I agree that this offense's ceiling is lower with the coaching change, but the defensive ceiling just shot up. And I'm a firm believer that defense wins championships - yes even Auburn's this year (see: BCS Title Game). Like you said, Rod did a lot wrong. Offense wasn't one of them. But that offense wasn't worth that defense. I'm optimistically banking that Hoke's D is worth his O.

M-Dog

January 21st, 2011 at 3:32 PM ^

was awesome.  It completely shut down the vaunted Oregon spread offense . . . this the offense that was so potent teams were faking injuries just to slow it down. 

Denefse does indeed win championships.  The Auburn D is the reason they won the NC.  $180,000 worth of Cam Newton alone was not enough.

Sign me up for some of that D.

TheMadGrasser

January 21st, 2011 at 1:28 PM ^

to the fact that most people want Denard to be "the offense" because essentially, that's what happened last season. Without being more versatile offensively, this team will never be great. I really do think this switch will take the pressure off Denard to make a play every single snap.

That being said, I hope they do have some designed runs or at least read options for Denard to take off. When he goes through his reads and nothing is there, his first instinct now should be to take off downfield. With more vertical routes, this should allow him to gobble up tons of yardage on scrambles without getting punished and subsequently injured every game.

saveferris

January 21st, 2011 at 1:29 PM ^

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.

Put me down for Rosenburg after the Western Michigan game.  Michigan will probably have won in comfortable fashion and looked OK doing it and the praise of the coaching staff will be effusive.

Bonus points are assured as Rosenburg is only capable of writing shallow, detailess columns.

dahblue

January 21st, 2011 at 1:30 PM ^

It's seem the doom & gloom post has overlooked a couple of important considerations.

First, RR was and will be a "system coach".  Think of how many times someone said (or wrote) that RR "just needs his Pat White".  Hoke is not so tied to one system and is not known for needing one player to make his "system" work.  That is a huge positive when transitioning styles.

Second, when rehashing the "bare cupboard" argument, you omitted the fact that RR had an NFL caliber QB and two NFL WRs on the roster when he took over.  They all left.  Was that RR's fault (or were they leaving anyway)?  We shall never know.  But we do know that Hoke has inherited some talented skill players on offense (including a QB and a couple of WRs).  The only player to leave the team did so because of academics; not a coaching change.  That is a positive thing.

So, instead of panicking that little baby jesus (aka RR) is gone, I'm optimistic about the upcoming season.  We have a coach who has never been tied to a "system", the players have stayed on the team (despite the screaming warnings sounded on this same board prior to the RR-firing) and Greg Robinson can no longer be the scapegoat.  

One final reason for optimism...SDSU's scoring offense was better than Michigan's in 2010.

dahblue

January 21st, 2011 at 3:02 PM ^

Brian brought up (yet again) the "bare cupboard" argument, not me.  It's a positiive that our new coach has retained all of his players (sans one for academics).  It's ok for things to be positive.

As for pro v spread...please note that there are more than 2 styles of offense in the world of football.  The offense at SDSU seemed to incorporate multiple styles.  That is also a positive thing.

bouje13

January 21st, 2011 at 3:50 PM ^

RYAN MALLETT WAS GONE NO MATTER WHO THE COACH WAS. MITCH MUSTAIN WAS A 5* IN THE SAME CLASS AS MALLETT AND PULLED THE TRIGGER TO GO TO ARKANSAS.  WHEN MUSTAIN TRANSFERRED TO USC MALLETT WAS GONE.

 

GONE

GONE

GONE

GONE

GONE

dahblue

January 21st, 2011 at 3:57 PM ^

WOW!  YOU MUST REALLY MEAN IT!

That being said, if you read the rants on mgoblog, it seemed a lock as well that Denard was GONE, GONE, GONE after the RR firing.  Then, Hoke came in and immediately said he would focus on re-recruiting Denard.  Contrast that with RR's, "I only talk about players that want to play for Michigan".   It could be that he was GONE, but a public effort to keep him couldn't have hurt.

InterM

January 21st, 2011 at 5:06 PM ^

Rodriguez talked to him three times to try and get him to stay -- which, coincidentally, is exactly what Rodriguez said he did (in a Jim Rome appearance, if I remember correctly).  I would post links to verify this (as I've done before), but what's the point?  That would only be facts, and that would get in the way of the idle speculation that many seem to prefer.

dahblue

January 21st, 2011 at 5:10 PM ^

Yeah.  I guess I forgot when he said that in the press conference when he talked about how much he was going to work his offense to suit the talents currently on the team.   

Anyway, you're right about facts...RR's resume at Michigan speaks for itself.

InterM

January 22nd, 2011 at 9:43 AM ^

So, you're saying that Rodriguez's statement at his press conference was BS, or at least not fully accurate?  Hey, maybe Brian should write a post about coaches saying things like that at pre-season press conferences, and then the coaches instead sticking with what they know.  In the meantime, I can't wait to see the spread elements Michigan incorporates into its offense next season to "suit the talents currently on the team" -- I have no doubt the current guy will do that. 

psychomatt

January 21st, 2011 at 1:49 PM ^

Hoke is not so tied to one system and is not known for needing one player to make his "system" work.

The problem is that Hoke is not known for anything other than that once upon a time he was an assistant coach at Michigan. That is the only reason he is now Michigan's head coach. If Brady Hoke had not been an assistant coach at Michigan, he would not only never have been hired to replace RR but he never even would have been on the list of potential candidates.

King Douche Ornery

January 21st, 2011 at 4:21 PM ^

You say "assistant coach at Michigan" as if that's a bad thing. BOO FREAKING HOO. So he's connected--so FREAKING WHAT? He also enjoys a very solid reputation nationally. Even if the whiners and crybabies here don't think so.

Besides, if Rodriguez could coach as well as his supporters whine and hold their breath til they turn blue and demand the whole world acknowledge, there would have been NO NEED FOR HOKE IN THE FIRST PLACE.

funkywolve

January 21st, 2011 at 3:07 PM ^

Jim Tressell.  In 2004 when Justin Zwick was the QB they were running what was pretty close to a pro style offense.  Later that year when they installed Troy Smith as the starter, they started calling a lot more running plays that were designed for Troy Smith to run the ball (something they almost never did with Zwick).  As Troy Smith progressed as a passer throughout his career, they cut back on how many times he ran with the ball and relied upon his arm.

Urban Meyer:  the offensive that they used to win the NC when Chris Leak was the starter was quite a bit different than the offense that they ran when they won the NC with Tebow as the starter.

Huntington Wolverine

January 21st, 2011 at 4:58 PM ^

re: OSU.  Tressel still had Troy running a mostly pro-set offense, it's just when he took off on a designed run he made it further down field.  This is where the Tressel-ball memo begins (you have an explosive player and reign him to control the ball longer) and what allowed Tressel to recruit Pryor so effectively (look what I did with Troy, I can mold you into a pro QB too... and here's the keys to a corvette)

 

Florida is probably a good example but I would contend that Urban had Leak come off the field when he wanted to run spread plays with Tebow as a change of pace. 

the_dude

January 21st, 2011 at 1:35 PM ^

Yeah I have no doubt the raw numbers for the offense are going to drop.  Denard isn't going to put up the insane numbers he would put up if Rich Rod was around for year #4.  With that being said the one disappointment with the Rich Rod era was that we never developed a Steve Slaton or Noel Devine.  Perhaps Dee Hart would have been that back but there's a good chance he ended up in the SEC, so that's something we'll never know.  Borges had DeShaun Foster (1,000 yard rusher two seasons), Kenny Irons (1,200 yard rusher), Carnell Williams (two time 1,000 yard rusher) so he's had solid running backs in two good conferences.  If we can develop a 1,000 yard rusher other than Denard that will be a big help.

If the defense isn't complete fail and can do this thing I've heard about called forcing turnovers it could also help out the offense by giving them shorter fields and/or more possessions.  So while the offense will probably drop off I still think 30 PPG is a realistic goal.  We also have a former elite 11 QB on the roster and whenever Devin Gardner takes over he'll probably be at least as good as Jason Campbell was guiding the Auburn offense.

The Rake

January 21st, 2011 at 1:36 PM ^

I think this is just a soft transition and hire by Brandon to go back to the Michigan of old where we accept being a ranked team that occasionally wins a game that counts against OSU and good bowl teams.  I don't long for the past, I long to see us become a Nat'l Championship contender, not a team that competes in Conference regularly. I've seen one co-Nat'l Champ team in my time and the way things are going, am not likely to see another. Most of us who have been around the program for years are in the same boat...Bo won a lot, but never won an NC. I think RR could have had this program in contention year in and year out if he was given more time. I don't want to see the pro-style offense with a passer that sits in the pocket and a predictable offense for the rest of my life. I am angry and bitter...#goblue

MileHighWolverine

January 21st, 2011 at 2:08 PM ^

He lost 1 MNC to Texas and the spread game and it took TWO heisman trophy winners on his team to win.  How often does that happen.  In more recent history, the spread seems to be the dominant Offense when it comes to NC's.  Flordia (2x), LSU, Auburn with Alabama being the only outlier.

funkywolve

January 21st, 2011 at 3:02 PM ^

With the possible exception of Auburn, I'd say a great defense was just as responsible for those teams winning their NC's as a spread offense. 

Florida's first NC was more of a passing spread.  Rarely did they call plays where Chris Leak was expected to run.  Tebow was brought in for short yardage in goal line situations.

MileHighWolverine

January 22nd, 2011 at 2:26 PM ^

Just like I attribute our loss in the Rose Bowl to VY and Texas to losing to a spread team.  We put up 35 or 38 points that game and even Lloyd said:  "38 points should have been enough".  That seems to imply that their Offense was too powerful to stop.  And the very next year they beat one of the best USC teams ever....playing a spread.

How else would you attribute the win?  It is not always a great D that wins the championship for you...

Jasper

January 21st, 2011 at 2:31 PM ^

He had us within three points of ... what?  Very possibly a bad whuppin', SEC-style.  Look at what happened to OSU that year.

I think Michigan had the horses to play a decent game with Florida, but it's a reach (putting it mildly) to say that UMich was *this* close to a championship that year.

Tagg

January 21st, 2011 at 2:57 PM ^

There is no sure thing but Michigan did get pounded by the 4th best team in nation in the Rose Bowl that year. The fact that is was even as close as the score show is because USC played it's 2nd and 3rd stringers in the 4th quarter.

I would argue that Michigan was closer to an NC this past year than in 2007 as well. That dream was dead after the first game and buried by the second.

Tagg

January 21st, 2011 at 3:46 PM ^

Michigan was at least in the BCS title contention for more than the preseason this past year than in 2007. You don't win a national championship with two losses and they were 0-2 after their first two games.

To get to the championship game in the Big Ten you must win all of your games including non-conference games. For the 2010 season, through 5 games they did just that. I'm not saying that the Gator Bowl was/is better than the Capital One Bowl because neither matters in a nation title debate. They are both consolation games in that respect. In the end yes, the 2007 team was better then the 2010 but they were not any closer to contending for a nation title because of the losses to Appilachian State and Oregon.

After you lose two games it doesn't matter if you win out the rest of the year. You are not in the converstation to play in the BCS title game. The title talk was about the same in 2010 as it was in 2007, non-existant.