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

Tagg

January 21st, 2011 at 4:56 PM ^

It would be hard to argue that 2007 was a wild year and the exception given that in many years you end up with either an undefeated teams or at the most one loss teams playing.

Only one team had a perfect record after week 15, Hawaii from the WAC. Only two had one loss, Ohio State and Kentucky. Florida had 3 losses and were ranked 9th that year. The rest of the top ten all had 2 losses that year. Problem is one of their 2 losses didn't come to Appy.

The only way could have played in the title game in '07 would have been to win out and that wasn't a possibilty after week 2. No pollster would have never voted a team with a loss to a D2 school and a loss to an ok Oregon (finished 9-4) team a week later to play in the BCS championship game. Never. They may not have even have voted them with the just the App. St. loss.

blueheron

January 21st, 2011 at 1:37 PM ^

"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."

Yes.

SirJack

January 21st, 2011 at 2:00 PM ^

Yes, the offense is in better shape than it was when Rodriguez took over.

But remember that Hoke is inheriting the worst defense in Michigan football history. If we're able to win with this defense in 2011, Hoke deserves much credit.

caup

January 21st, 2011 at 2:49 PM ^

RR inherited:

Terrance Taylor

Will Johnson

Tim Jamison

Brandon Graham

Mike Martin

Stevie Brown

John Thompson

Jonas Mouton

Brandon Harrison

Morgan Trent

Donovan Warren

What the 2008 coaching staff accomplished with that very good array of talent is disgusting.

bouje13

January 21st, 2011 at 3:55 PM ^

TT was good

WJ um not good

TJ NOT GOOD

BG monster(but not amazing back then)

MM (did he even play?

SB safety playing STEVIE BROWN?  HE WAS NOT GOOD

John f'ing Thompson?  DINOSAUR

Mouton?  seriously?

everyone else on this list is not good except for D-Warren.

 

What Lloyd left for whoever was the coach in 2008 is a trav-a-sham-ockery.

King Douche Ornery

January 21st, 2011 at 4:17 PM ^

This is farking fantastic.  The Rodriguez leg humpers will not go quietly, I guess.

Hoke inherits some talent--but a LOT of it is from the '08 class which Lloyd left Rodriguez. Check the names.

Other than that, the people Hoke is inheriting have NOT proven they are good yet, In fact, the record under Rodriguez states they pretty much stink. Like people say, it's the Jimmies and Joes, right?

Every player that Rodriguez brought in has a LOT to prove based on how this team performed the last three seasons. EVERY ONE.

Huntington Wolverine

January 21st, 2011 at 2:48 PM ^

Thank you.  This defense, while epically bad in terms of performance this year, will rebound next year for a variety of reasons covered else where in depth (GERG out+Mattison in, Freshmen gaining a year experience, starters back from injury, etc). It would improve next year regardless of the coach but has a chance to take big steps forward with Mattison as D-coord.

DakotaBlue

January 21st, 2011 at 2:57 PM ^

but it should be better in 2011 no matter what just due to more experienced players who have another year of strength and conditioning and the return of Woolfolk.  Anyone reading this blog last summer knew the defense was going to be bad, and then Woolfolk got hurt to make matters worse.  

Hoke will get credit for any defensive improvement.  That's inevitable, but not entirely fair.  We will never get to see Hoke/Mattison coaching last year's defense or Rodriguez/new DC coaching next year's defense to make for a better comparison.

King Douche Ornery

January 21st, 2011 at 4:12 PM ^

Rodriguez had his chances and the team got progressively worse each year. His fault. How much more time should he have been given? Five more years?

Your point about a "better comparison" on coaching sounds like sheer rationalizing. The only comparisons that need be made are Rodriguez to Michigan history and Rodriguez to the teams he coached against in the Big Ten.

Rodriguez deserved nothing more than what David Brandon thought he deserved. He really, REALLY loused up Michigan football.

I fail to see why anyone calls a pro-style (and are they positive we are going back to that? Have Hoke and Borges said so?) boring. The pro style wasn't boring when it clicked--as in MSU in the Comeback games of Braylon and Manningham. And it wasn't boring against OSU in '06. Did Lloyd and DeBord make it boring with play calling that rivaled watching paint dry? Perhaps. But that was them. ANY offense that clicks iw beautiful to watch.

And the argument that the spread is so exciting? Sure--when it's working. But there is nothing that makes it better than any other offense or more fun to watch.

And the spread under Rodriguez at Michigan absolutely sucked.

AnthonyThomas

January 21st, 2011 at 1:44 PM ^

I know Denard and Pat White are always compared, but why, exactly? Denard has already eclipsed Pat White as a passer. Both are great runners and have similar builds, but Denard is by far the better passer. He'll more easily adapt to a new offense. West Virginia also lost four offensive linemen from the 2007 team, fwiw.

Also, Borges will employ a vertical passing game, but he'll also run spread-option looks and the like, just like he did at SDSU. The Tuberville comparison is hardly fair, as well. They've (Hoke/Borges) said they'll adapt, but they haven't come out and said, 'We're going to keep the spread. It's something Michigan has hit on.' Borges and Hoke have basically said in interviews that the players will have to play their way. I expect a vertical passing game, but running some spread looks wouldn't exactly be an adaptation for Borges. He's already run them before.  On top of all of this, it's easier to convert from spread to pro, rather than vice versa. The player's will have to learn a new system, but they aren't going to be put in situation where their skill sets can't be utilized. Ryan Mallett was never going to run the ball. Denard can throw it, though.

With all of that said, there will be growing pains and probably some transfers come Spring. Keeping the O-line that we currently have is the most important thing in my eyes, besides keeping Denard and Devin. I can't possibly envision the relative disaster we saw in 2008, though. Both attrition wise and performance wise. A kicker and a defense are oft-overlooked aspects of improving your offense's chances. We've seen firsthand the handicap that can be dealt if all three aspects of the game aren't addressed entirely. The improvement in those areas should help the offense.

readyourguard

January 21st, 2011 at 1:46 PM ^

I'd be interested to know how many of these "skilled players" played in a more traditional, pro-style offense in high school.  

The transition from spread to Pro-Style can't be as difficult as the other way around, can it?

the_dude

January 21st, 2011 at 2:44 PM ^

I'm pretty sure Denard played in a pro-style offense in high school, while Devin's offense at Inkster was closer to the spread 'n shred Rich Rod ran.  I think the key to Rich Rod's Michigan spread 'n shred was getting 10 hats on 10 defenders and letting Denard try and beat that one guy.  That's the only explanation for having Vince Smith as your running back.  It worked brilliantly until we played the team that had the talent on defense to dominate the line of scrimmage.

Will Denard ever run the ball like he did this past season?  No.  But we'll find out pretty quickly how he does as a pro-style QB.  I've said this on another message board but it'd be a good idea to get some pointers on a spread rushing attack from Urban Meyer, who is taking the year off and whose spread 'n shred is being dismantled at Florida.  His offense featured a lot of inside runs and play action off the threat of Teebow running.  It'd be a good halfway point of moving from the Rich Rod spread 'n shred to something closer to the running game Hoke and Borges probably want to develop.

champswest

January 21st, 2011 at 1:48 PM ^

until we actually see it.  We can't assume anything based on last year's accomplishments and having Denard back, until we see how he is going to be used.  He could actually run the ball less often in this new offense and be more productive, but that would probably require a better passing game and better running from the tailbacks.  Also, by running less he may stay healthier which could lead to better production in late season.

I am anxious for spring ball to get here so we can get a look at what we will be running, even if it is only the basics.

MaizeAndBlueWahoo

January 21st, 2011 at 1:51 PM ^

I've always had the theory that Denard's refusal to scramble was a coaching thing. Coaches are always telling their running quarterbacks not to let their feet be a security blanket, to keep making their reads instead of taking off at the first sign of trouble. It's a development thing. I think the old staff hammered that into Denard's head to the point where he would just never scramble. That's my theory, anyway. We'll see if that's true this season; if Denard still won't scramble, I guess the theory was probably wrong.

Geek

January 21st, 2011 at 2:00 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.

What, no prediction on TOP?  JK.  Don't tase me, bro.

I think this prediction is quite rational given our players, new staff, and the anticipated changes on offense and defense.  I also like that the expectation does not come with a statement on wins and losses at this point.  It's too early to tell.

Please add the "god willing" statement to any further predictions of turnover margin as well.  If we cannot improve in this category next year we will not be able to mask a drop in offensive power.

King Douche Ornery

January 21st, 2011 at 2:03 PM ^

A drop off in "offensive power"????

Mmmmkkkk...I gues that means the Big Ten ruffians are going to shut out Michigan completely this year.

I still really don't get this "offensive power" thing and don't understand why guys seem to still want to write epic love poems about RR's offense. Well, I DO get opposing Big Ten coaches not named Bill Lynch wanting to write love ditties about it, but I digress.

7, 10, and 7 points against OSU the last three years.

Tagg

January 21st, 2011 at 3:32 PM ^

Is anyone 100% in the last game of the season?

Regardless, they should have scored more than 3 points because Henne didn't play horrible, In fact he hit Mannigham in the numbers a number of times but he had huge drops and the right side of o-line got owned.

So I can't see injuries as any excuse for 3 points on the board. If it is the case that those two injuries were the reason for such a horrible offense that day then the horrible offense in '08 shouldn't have been a surprise.

OysterMonkey

January 21st, 2011 at 3:59 PM ^

Henne was in bad enough shape that they ran Mallett out there for a series or two, and it was obvious from the beginning of the game that Hart's ankle was going to keep him from being effective.

Tagg

January 21st, 2011 at 4:20 PM ^

However, the staff knew all of that going into the game that there were injury issues. Knowing that I would hope they would have planned a way overcome that because their injuries did not happen in warmups.

Again, a first quarter field goal with "all that talent RR inherited" should have scored more than 3 points.

OysterMonkey

January 21st, 2011 at 4:30 PM ^

your starting QB and starting tailback being too injured to play well. Maybe Mallett should have played the whole game, I don't know. Maybe Minor and/or Brown should have played TB. But if you can't run and you can't throw, what kind of plays can you call?

Not saying the 2007 team didn't underachieve, necessarily, but making that case based on only the OSU game distorts the issue.

Huntington Wolverine

January 21st, 2011 at 5:04 PM ^

I think that's the point in this exchange though.  In 2008, Minor (the stud on O) was hurt going into the Shoe.  In 2009, Tate was hurt and a freshman like Mallet.  In 2010, we had no punter because we couldn't gameplan on Hagerup violating team rules.  The numbers can tell any story we want them to if we don't set them in context. 

Tagg

January 21st, 2011 at 5:23 PM ^

I was just responding to SeanOrnery's comment where he specifically cites the last three OSU games as bad, leaving out the 2007 game. Regardless, a one point loss toe OSU sucks as much as a 100 point loss.

Of course hindsight is always 20/20 but I still feel that game could have gone better. Yes the conditions were brutal with the rain/snow mix but they really didn't play well over all. I was left soaked, cold, and hearbroken after watching it.

Could Minor and Brown have played? Maybe. (Not to be a jerk but there is a good chance Minor was hurt too!) Should Mallett have started? I don't think so because like I said, Henne wasn't horrible. Mario had a serious case of the drops in that game.

My issue is that things were not all rosy before Rodriguez like so many think they remember. Many wanted Lloyds head for years before he retired and when he did they many wanted RRs head before the ink was dry. Things didn't pan out, obviously with the the Rodriguez hire but I just don't see the "world of awesomeness" other see before he came here. I saw a good team but not an amazing or even excellent team and it certainly wasn't very deep compared to years past.

st barth

January 21st, 2011 at 4:09 PM ^

In retrospect, the horrible offense of 2008 should be obvious.  The team had little depth beyond the star players in 2007 and after they graduated, the M offense was primed to take a major hit.

Geek

January 21st, 2011 at 2:45 PM ^

In my book...

Offensive power = average output

Consistency = variance

Changes are measured across the entire season, not a single game.

I expect a lower average output and a lower variance for the season.   With less average output, we might see fewer average points, but we will also see less of a variation in points scored.  

For OSU game, I hope the impact of a variance improvement is more points scored as we close the gap between our maximum and minimum output.  I also hope an overall defensive improvement reduces OSU points scored for an outcome of a Michigan victory.

mgolund

January 21st, 2011 at 2:05 PM ^

I can't believe I'm bringing this up, but does everyone remember the 2008 Capital One Bowl?  DeBoard brought out a swanky new offense that left me (and I assume many other fans) wondering where the hell that was the last x years.  It was awesome.

Granted, this offense was just for one game, but if DeBoard can adapt, I'm willing to believe that Borges can at least tweak.

DakotaBlue

January 21st, 2011 at 2:44 PM ^

On the roster were three seniors and two juniors who would go to the NFL after the season ended: Chad Henne (finally healed up),  Mike Hart, Jake Long, Adrian Arrington, and Mario Manningham.  Meanwhile, Florida's secondary was young, consisting of two freshman, three sophomores, and one senior in the two-deep (that sounds familiar).

DeBoard did draw up an aggressive plan to exploit Florida's weakness, which is great but it served to illustrate how much this talent was usually held back by conservative playcalling.  It took a unique situation -- Carr's last game -- to unleash the horses.  This was a very, very talented team that underperformed due to lack of preparedness in the early season and injuries.

DakotaBlue

January 21st, 2011 at 4:03 PM ^

It may be the exception that proves the rule.  Brian's point is that, generally, coaches do not move that far from longstanding philosophy.  No matter how many times Carr might have heard complaints about boring play calling, the only time we see the offense really opened up is for a bowl game, when there were several weeks to prepare a specific game plan designed to utilize the team's talents against a opponent's weaknesses.

It was not Carr or DeBoard's bread-and-butter offense to be sure.  If they came back the next year, would they have adopted this style wholesale?  You know the answer.

Anyway, we can debate this all we want in the hypothetical.  We'll see what actually happens in the fall.  I would be happy if Brian were wrong.

grbradt

January 21st, 2011 at 4:18 PM ^

I believe this game was an indictment of the coaches, showing what the offense could do when not shackled by the usual conservative and predictable playcalling. Some on here feel it was necessary to bring in a spread offense to compete, I think this game showed otherwise.

DakotaBlue

January 21st, 2011 at 9:24 PM ^

I agree with you that the issue was coaching, but that's the point of the discussion.  Coaches rarely deviate far from their base offense.  Will Borges truly adjust to take advantage of Denard's unique talents? It's an open question.  

Clearly, aggressive play calling does not require a spread offense, but bringing in Rodriguez was clearly intended to bring a major shift away from the moribund, conservative offense that had been the norm.  I think it was working, but it was not all the way there yet.  We lacked a Steve Slaton to go with the Pat White, Denard needed a bit more accuracy in passing to avoid those interceptions that cost TDs, and there were still too many key fumbles.  What the offense would have looked like under a junior and senior Denard is something I would love to have seen.

gobluego

January 21st, 2011 at 2:08 PM ^

It's nice that our offense was so powerful last year scoring 7 points against OSU and 14 in the bowl game.  I'll take a less powerful offense that puts points on the board.

GoBlue007

January 21st, 2011 at 2:52 PM ^

The unfortunate reality is that we should not expect much more against tough D in 2011 as our current players do not fit the talent of Big Al's pro-style system.  I am worried about our O-Line adapting to new blocking schemes (except for Molk, he's an animal and very smart guy), our running backs getting broken like tooth-picks (they are better served in "open-space" schemes), and Denard fitting into the scheme (which he will not).

On the latter, the reads for a pro-style O are very different from the spread that we have been running, particularly RR's.  Shoelace is going to have his work cut out for him and the task will be very difficult.  He will persevere but I am concerned about the impact on him when he does not meet the expectations of the fans and media.  

Just trying to be pragmatic.  It will take another 3 years for our O to function like Big Al wants. I will be patient because in the end, like most of us, I could care less about schemes - I just want us to start winning again.

Go Blue.