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 4:21 PM ^

Man, nobody can seem to stop beating the dead Rodriguez.

He's gone. What does it matter how good or bad his offense or defense was, or what he did when he took over. It's done. And irrelevent.

Ann Arbor Cardinal

January 21st, 2011 at 8:43 PM ^

I've heard enough about Bo the last two coaching searches to suspect that, regardless of how well you make the argument, it's just not true: former coaches are relevant because people make them relevant. Rodriguez isn't Bo; Carr isn't Bo; I'm actually pretty confident the Bo we hear about every coaching search isn't even Bo. But they're all part of the path we took to get here, so they're going to be discussed, your frustration notwithstanding.


January 21st, 2011 at 4:21 PM ^

Man, nobody can seem to stop beating the dead Rodriguez.

He's gone. What does it matter how good or bad his offense or defense was, or what he did when he took over. It's done. And irrelevent.


January 21st, 2011 at 6:43 PM ^

The hatred runs deep I guess. If Hoke struggles the first few years its going to be a constant b!tch-fest about how RR ruined the program and every loss is his fault because Hoke is a Michigan Man, has toughness and points at stuff but RR liked sappy music and cried too much. We all should just move on and deal with Hoke and the current staff.


January 21st, 2011 at 4:31 PM ^

If you dont think Denard Xavier Robinson can be a good quarterback with Al Borges as his head coach, then, to be honest, in your heart and soul, you just dont think he should be a quarterback.

Since, I think he is a pretty good QB right now, bring on the West Coast offense.

He's going to be fine. And, perhaps with better play calling and game management (I know, those 2 are bad words to all you noveau game theory type), we will actually see an offense whose yards actually equal points.

But, more than anything, the Hoke/Mattison led D will be a stark improvement from a year ago and that will help the offense more than anything.


January 21st, 2011 at 6:11 PM ^

It's not a matter of thinking that Denard won't be a good quarterback in other systems. It's thinking that he won't be _as_ good a quarterback, which I think is a reasonable concern. Look, there's plenty of good quarterbacks in college football. There's only one, ever, that's run for 1500 and passed for 1500 in a single season. Why is the prospect of converting the latter to just another good quarterback at all appealing?


January 21st, 2011 at 7:36 PM ^

I dont know even know what to say here.

Who said anything about converting him into just  another good QB. He's already a good QB. On his way to great. It's pretty foolish and short sighted to think only one coach in the whole country could help him go from good to great. Or that that coach has to be an allegedly renowned offensive genius.  Besides, the coach you're thinking of doesnt have a great history of tutoring millionaire QBs anyway. And Denard has that potential. Obviously, so does Devin.

Maybe he ends up with more passing yards in a single season than Henne or Navarre ever did. And, adds a bunch of yards on the ground to boot, just not anything close to his ground production this year. Nobody is going to be sad panda, daydreaming about the magical 1,500/1,500 season on 2010 when something close to that happens. Maybe he really contends for the Heisman in the future with a Troy Smith type of season.

Rest assured nobody will say, man we turned him into just another good QB.





Maize and Blue…

January 22nd, 2011 at 11:39 AM ^

the West Coast is all about decisions.  WRs have various options on routes depending on what the coverage is.  Their decision and the QBs must be the same or results can be disasterous (see Bill Callahan- Nebraska).  While I love Denard, decision making isn't necessarily one of his strongest suits.  His best pass pattern was the fake draw hit the slot in the deep seam over the on rushing safety.  There won't be as big of a threat of Denard running in this O (See Jason Campbell rush yards under Borges to this year at Oakland) which may make that play irrelevant in the new O. IIRC Bill Walsh who created the offense said it takes three years to fully understand the system.

I hope Denard stays as he has said, but wouldn't blame him if he changes his mind after seeing what the offense is really going to look like in the spring.

By the way, how many millionaire QBs has Michigan had? If my memory serves me correctly that list would start and end at Tom Brady or maybe you could add JH.  Elvis Grbac was successful for a while and others have hung around the league.  How many successful NFL QBs has Borges tutored?  I will hold off judgement on Jason Campbell for now, but that number would be zero.  McCown was a huge bust.


January 22nd, 2011 at 5:38 PM ^

Don't you know that recruits and players read this blog!!!  You're going to kill our recruiting and player retention!!!   Kidding.  Sorry, it's just fun to say after hearing it so many times.

Anyway...there are a number of "millionaire QBs" from Michigan:

Tom Brady
Brian Griese
Chad Henne
Jim Harbaugh
Elvis Grbac
John Navarre (maybe) 
Drew Hensen (although his millions came from baseball)

"All Pro QBs", which is maybe what you're really thinking, we have not as many.   Anyway, why be so negative about Denard:

I hope Denard stays as he has said, but wouldn't blame him if he changes his mind after seeing what the offense is really going to look like in the spring.

Maybe it'll look like one that scores a lot of points (rather than just gaining a ton of yards).  Maybe it will look like one that can get Denard to the next level and expand his skill set.  You say that "decision making" isn't one of Denard's strong suits, but wasn't the RR offense all about "making the proper read"?  I'm excited to see Denard in a new offense.  Maybe we'll find that we can have a potent offense and feared defense...all at the same time.


January 21st, 2011 at 4:36 PM ^

Just to echo Chitownblue (and, natch, post some Dead) Richard J Rodriguez Esquire is Gone, And Nothing Is Gonna Bring Him Back. Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile I guess


January 21st, 2011 at 4:44 PM ^

I agree that the defense will be better because it would be incredibely hard for them to be worse.  Even if they aren't coached well (which they will be) with another year under their belts and the law of averages, they will be better.  Kicking?  Depends on the personnel.  Denard...I think he is being underestimated.  His problem last year ultimately was that he had trouble making quick decisions on the fly while under pressure.  Thats the result of being a first year starter.  That will improve.  When he was not under pressure, he could throw as good as any pro-style quarterback, just maybe not as far.  Here is what I wonder about the Borges offense in 2011...what's he gonna do with all those slot receivers? And who will be the power running back...Hopkins?...maybe.  Actually, I am looking forward to all this, and hopeful.


January 21st, 2011 at 5:10 PM ^

Everyone is using the points scored on Wisconsin and Iowa....didn't we score these points in the second half after getting blown out in the first half?  They were probably not being as aggresive as they would have been in a tight game.  Rich Rod lovers just always have an is so sad.  Our offense didn't score when they needed to.  How many times this year would the offense have a chance to go up by double digits after the defense made one of their few stops and failed.  Rich Rod FAILED here..come on people...FAILED!


January 21st, 2011 at 5:11 PM ^

This is a great post.  No coach is going to come in and say something outrageous like "I refuse to adapt to my talent."  But every coach is going to focus on what he knows how to teach and believes in.  I could never understand why people got so excited with those Borges quotes.  The guy's going to run his system, with a few tweaks here and there.  That's that.


January 21st, 2011 at 8:44 PM ^

The one thing about Borges' system that gives me hope is that he was the OC at UCLA during the 1998 season when the UCLA offense was REALLY good.  Cade McNown was a playmaker, but not an especially efficient passer and Danny Farmer/Brian Poli-Dixon/Freddie Mitchell had their positives but weren't world beaters at receiver and there was a stable of backs who could get what the offensive line gave them, but didn't necessarily strike fear in the hearts of defenses everywhere as Deshaun Foster was in his freshman year and hadn't developed yet.  I'm hoping this sounds familiar.

The West Coast does not fit Denard to a T, but given that he accomplished last offseason I think he can have a similar evolution in this new system.  The offense won't be quite as exciting but it should be more consistent and really that's what we need.


January 21st, 2011 at 5:26 PM ^

we don't know what to expect at all at the beginning of the season. 

RR year 1: Will it be Threet or Sheridan?  Uggh. 

RR year 2: Tate the freshman? Good to Uggh.

RR year 3: Denard or Tate? Great to Uggh.

Hoke year 1: Denard in West Coast modified hybrid offense that may or may not have flashes of Vick scrambling for a 1st down? Huh?


January 21st, 2011 at 5:42 PM ^

This is why I think next year's offense has the potential to be as good as it was this past year: Yards Per Point. I'm typically not huge on stats, but to me YPPT is an important one because it's a measure of efficiency. This past season we were 8th in total yards and 11th in yards per play, but we we were 82nd in YPPT (in this case the lower the YPPT the better). In other words, for as good as we were at moving the ball, we were simply not good at putting points on the board. Field goal kicking (and our insistence on not playing for 4 downs) was certainly a large part of this but so were inopportune drops and turnovers.

I by no means expect the offense to be as prolific in terms of yards, YPC, etc. with the coaching transition (and likely down the road in the Borges era), but I believe these losses here will be offset by the gains in efficiency. These gains should stem from us returning practically everyone on offense and hopefully improved kicking. FWIW I think RR's offense would have also improved significantly in YPPT, which would have allowed his offense to reach it's true potential.


January 21st, 2011 at 9:12 PM ^

As long as they can stop somebody and look semi competitive against good teams. If Borges doesnt leave the defense hanging and have 80 second three and outs I think that may be a start.

skunk bear

January 21st, 2011 at 9:29 PM ^

If they improve the defense it will improve the O.

If the offense can hang onto the ball and give the defense an occasional break it will improve the D.

Improving the special teams will improve field position and lift some of the pressure off of both the O and the D.

It is all interrelated.


January 21st, 2011 at 11:24 PM ^

Maybe this has been said, but I didn't have the patience to search through 300 comments.  I largely agree with Brian's predictions about how our offensive numbers will change next year.  That's assuming Denard is the starting quarterback and admittedly, it's hard to envision that not being the case.  However, from my own observations, I think Devin is a more natural thrower; he throws a gorgeous deep ball.  IMO he is probably the better pro-style quarterback too.  I think the coaching staff will be in a tough position because they will see Devin fit the future of what they are trying to do more so than Denard, but how do you demote a player who averaged the second most all purpose yards per game in the FBS?  Denard is "special" and we can be successful with either, it's a good problem to have.

I also see it as a unique opportunity.  Are there offensive schemes that we could draw up that incorporate both of their throwing and running capabilities on the field at the same time?  Plays that would involve backward throws down the line and then another throw vertical?  If we learned to execute something like that, it would be something nobody has ever seen... I'm just dreaming and it's not something I would realistically expect this staff to try but it's a nice thought in the offseason.

I think one positive that could have been emphasized more is the talent we have at tight end in Moore and especially Koger.  I think Koger is NFL talent.  Would be nice to have Webb's for another year, but I think it would be good if we got the tight ends more involved in the passing game.