Offensive System v Players

Submitted by iawolve on October 26th, 2009 at 4:32 PM
There have been a number of points spinning around that when taken together create some thought provoking questions:
1) RR’s own previous assertion (while still the coach of UWV) that Pat White had an unusual ability to make split second reads in the offense along with other posters correctly noting RR’s W/L increased dramatically with White at the QB.

2) An offense that is 70% installed (last RR quote) with counters to counters to counters to that defensive counter (as noted by Brian’s post after ND) which should always find some defensive mismatch.

3) A freshman QB that is 10 months into a system and arguably the most college ready QB (based on his personal training before college) that we have ever seen or will likely see. (He is a far cry from some kid showing up in the fall for practice).

Now take this all together and combine it with a comment Norm Parker, the Iowa DC, made which was recanted during the IA/MSU game “Ferentz is similar to Dantonio in that the system is not about them, it is about the players” (shortened paraphrase where my initial reaction when the comment started was "wow, KF likes to drink puppy tears" disappointed with the rest of the quote).

The reason this is more interesting is watching some of the offensive struggles we have had lately and really an inability to really adjust mid-game (thinking the dline twisting at Iowa in the second half that kept killing up) that is really confusing. We have 70% of an offense, we possess counters for most schemes, we have an offense (minus the signal caller) that has been in the system for a year now and I wonder when it all begins to click. I make the comment about Tate being “college ready”, but yes, the kid is being thrown into it and will undoubtedly struggle. However, with his abilities, why aren’t we getting a bit more production though? He has a number of strengths and definitely no slouch, B10 coaches would kill to have him on their teams. Is the offense too complicated for a younger guy or a backup to run? When White went out at Pitt, his backup was terrible and he should have been a groomed player in the system. Have we created a system that can really run with only a very special type of player? Why does it seem that we are unable to exploit our current strengths better to take advantage of our talents?

This not an indictment on the program or the system, just a conversation. It simply seems curious why, with the adaptability in the scheme why we have not been able to find a bit more consistency or more regularly exploit some gaps in a defense. We continue to come back to needing to execute, one and a half years into it, I had hoped to at least see some continual progress regarding execution. It is simply more of a head scratcher when you watch it not have some steady foundation where you say "we need 3 yards and will run x play, because dammit it will work".

My only real bitch is with the receivers not getting open. I do not buy into the fact we do not have talent. Again referring back to the IA/MSU game, I was seeing IA receivers get open on crossing routes and I would not trade those two WR corps. We have to bring a fresh look to our routes to give these guys a chance or take a look at what Dews is doing from a coaching standpoint.



October 26th, 2009 at 4:57 PM ^

First, even if Forcier was groomed for life to play QB and enrolled in the spring, he is still a true freshman. There are limits to what you could realistically expect, no matter what offense he was in. Remember, Pat White redshirted his first year.

Second, Forcier is surrounded by a higher percentage of freshmen and sophomores than you would have on a team with normal depth. When Chad Henne started as a true freshman, he had a more veteran supporting cast around him than Forcier does.

Third, injuries are killing Michigan. Neither Carlos Brown nor Brandon Minor has been at 100% for the last month, and I don't need to explain what happened to David Molk.

Fourth, and most importantly, people read too much into the Notre Dame win. At this point, the Wolverines aren't under-performing. To the contrary, they're exactly where they were expected to be. Let me explain:

They've won every game in which they were favored, and only one of those was close (Indiana). In games where the opponents were favored, they beat a highly suspect Notre Dame team, and fought both MSU and Iowa down to the final moments. They were blown out by probably the 2nd-best team in the Big Ten.

For a team coming off of 3-9, this is exactly what you'd expect. The Notre Dame game, great as it was, made people too giddy. Dreams of 9-3 or 10-2 were never very realistic, even though Rodriguez had pulled off similar turn-arounds in the past. A 7-5 season (still quite possible) is about the kind of rebound you'd expect after 3-9.


October 27th, 2009 at 11:10 AM ^

Thank you for having perspective--this view of things seems pretty accurate to me.
But one point from the OP that I also wondered about was the lack of bread and butter plays. I suppose I thought it would be possible to know a couple short gainers so well that you practically can't execute well--and that this would be a priority even if it means delaying the installation of the offense. I wonder if there's simply not an emphasis on this sort of (admittedly very Bo-biased) mentality or if factors like the best center out for the year and very raw athletes are too much to overcome for pure, simple execution.


October 26th, 2009 at 5:10 PM ^

I think your assertion that we aren't "clicking" (or wondering when we will) is not totally on the mark. I would argue we didn't "click" at ALL last year against anyone (except for one lone exception at Minn) whereas this year we ARE clicking but only against mediocre teams (see offensive performances against WMU, Eastern and IU and Del St.) When we play the "good/decent teams" we still struggle (see MSU, Iowa, and PSU).

Like it or not, I'd say that is progress...albeit not lighting fast progress.


October 27th, 2009 at 4:33 PM ^

I left ND off as sort of an anomoly but good point there. As for Iowa, I wouldn't call 4 offensive turnovers "clicking." Also, for this offense I think having big, open space, long TD plays is fundamental and there weren't any against Iowa.


October 26th, 2009 at 7:20 PM ^

It is only a year after a 3-9 season with no depth. They are now potentially a 7 win season with still not much depth and mostly underclassmen. I don't understand how people can expect soo much of this team. They need at least another year to develop. If we lost a game like this next year, then we can start to question things. But this is what you get with a VERY young team in just the second year of a completely different style of football. Make your comparisons on players and schemes and what not if we are losing badly next year. Ugly games are what you get with freshman and sophomores littered all over the starting depth chart.


October 26th, 2009 at 7:39 PM ^

You have some very interesting points and I partially agree, but I think there has to be something said about player performance as well.

Here are some plays that stick out in my head that seemed to really have a huge affect on our last 3 losses that really didn't have too much to do with the offensive scheming:

-Complete inability to establish any presence by the OL against a mediocre DL
-a series of dropped balls that killed any rhythm we had early on
-good preparation by MSU's D (maybe too much right?)

-5 yd penalty on first offensive drive making it 2 and 11 from the 20 instead of 1st and 10 from the 35 (killed momentum -> lead to a Tate interception)
-Several turnovers (4 by the offense)
-Bad day for Tate

-5 yd formation penalty (on a 20 yd minor run, KILLED our momentum->drob int 2 plays later)
-Dropped snaps
-SO many dropped passes on important downs
-More avoidable turnovers

You can say the penalties were pretty bogus, but that also has nothing to do with scheme. The turnovers can be attributed to not holding onto the ball correctly and bad reads, and that could a coaching issue but that really has nothing to do with offensive scheme. Dropped passes are again not a scheming issue. OLine getting out-played physically and mentally is also a coaching issue, but scheming doesn't seem to play into to it so much.

Don't get me wrong, I think RR has made some questionable moves (eg. Last game rolling the offensive line into a sack on 3rd and 3 when we were running great). The Indiana game was also a bit shady. But I think the offensive system clicks pretty well given the personnel (as you said).

The key to this offense rests on rhythm. Another way to put it is the yards gained on first and second down. Third and long situations seem next to impossible for us against good teams like Iowa and PSU at this point. The reason I point out the things above is that they were huge rhythm killers and they can't be attributed to the offensive scheme. If you take out all of those things, I believe our offense looks wonderful. Take out half and it's clearly competent. Obviously it's speculation that we would've marched down the field had it not been for so many momentum killing plays, but if you look at our sustained drives through the season we can move the ball quite well when we don't make unforced errors.

You may be right that this offense takes a special player at the QB position, but I think it's unreasonable to assume that it doesn't change with the players. For example, Pat White's high pass attempts for his career was 25 passes. Tate already has 3 games of 30 or more. Also with Ms recruiting advantage over WV's, the backup QB should at least be reasonably fit to run the offense.

I think this team has a lot more growing to do. And it is definitely clear that RR and his scheme need to and will grow. As they say, Rome wasn't built in a day.

STW P. Brabbs

October 27th, 2009 at 8:56 AM ^

That your rhythm comment explains a lot - this is an offense that right now is struggling mightily on obvious passing downs. I never have any confidence that we are going to convert on third and more than 7 - it seems that it will either be a wild Tate improvisation (which might end up in a sack or a turnover) or an incompletion.

To me, it seems like the issue is that Tate is very uncomfortable in the pocket still, which makes sense considering his lack of experience. Hopefully, once he settles down and learns to make progressions quickly, our passing attack will catch up with the running game and we can overcome penalties or busted plays on first and second down.


October 26th, 2009 at 7:57 PM ^

The offensive struggles I think are due to three things (mainly):

-Lack of experience/youth
-Poor decisions

Note that they're all (though not in all instances) linked. For example, Molk gets injured, the O line underperforms, thus Tate makes bad decisions because he is inexperienced and has a fire-breathing LB coming at him.


October 26th, 2009 at 8:00 PM ^

The more I look back at last Sat.'s debacle, the more I get the sense that the players were just trying too hard. They were pressing to make a play after a catch, only to drop the ball. The offense was trying to score too quickly to compensate for the defense's shortcomings. There were too many sellout blitzs because the defense wanted to create a turnover to change momentum. All of that contributed to the loss. When you aren't clicking, the results can be ugly. Part of the reason why that's the case is the simple lack of talent and depth at key positions. There's been no continuity on the line and the RBs have been hurt. No receiver except maybe Odoms has really assumed leadership. There aren't any reliable players on offense you can count on in any situation, so that hurts when no one is playing well and everyone is pressing. We do have two players on defense, Graham and Warren, who do play well in all situations but the problem there is the total lack of production from the other positions. It's like what RR said in the post-game presser, the defense tried everything but failed to stop them. Sell out blitzes were way too slow to develop and coverage over the middle was not there no matter how many safeties were back there. Everyone is trying to overcompensate because of lack of production elsewhere. The team just needs to relax, forget about great success and just perform to their capabilities. Just accept reality. I have.


October 26th, 2009 at 11:55 PM ^

Chad Henne was a 5-star recruit and an overall top-10 QB coming out of HS. He was surrounded by upperclassmen and he has a seasoned Braylon Edwards to bail him out.

Tate is surrounded by inexperience and youth in a system that has yet to be mastered by the rest of the offense, much less himself. Tate has NO deep threat wide receiver. Mathews is the closest thing we have to a deep threat and he can't seem to get open down field.

Henne had a veteran Oline that didn't have the plethora of injuries and shuffling that the '09 line is experiencing. Losing the center is a huge blow to this line, as a result three guys shift spots and Molk was the leader of that line and the emotional leader as well.

There have been, is, and will be more growing pains for Tate and this offense this season and possibly next.

Sextus Empiricus

October 27th, 2009 at 1:06 AM ^

Northwestern out shot us and Appalachian State reigned in the upset with less talented teams. They used a spread derived from ideas popularized by Rich Rodriguez. We don't need a wizard to run the Inside/Outside Zone - we just need to execute.

We do need an experienced QB however. We need receivers to catch the ball. We need ball security.

We have enough talent (on Offense and at QB) - the scheme is missing.

Bottom line turnovers have killed us, not lack of talent.

We can't exploit our strengths if we don't execute the plays as drawn out.


October 27th, 2009 at 10:26 AM ^

But basically everyone rejects the "Rich needs a super-ocular freak like Pat White to be successful" theory. I don't think Pat White is really more amazing at making reads than any other upperclassmen quarterback who redshirted. But he did have experience and Forcier doesn't. Maybe that's what was meant.

"Turnovers are killing us" came up a lot. Some of those are the interceptions based on bad reads by our QBs. Forcier admits he's not making all the reads in his interview where he takes some blame for the PSU loss.

So yes, the offense is a little too complicated for a freshman, because it requires perfect yet quick thinking, and behind a shoddy OL, that can't happen. The mirage that was the early season was caused by prevent defense allowing easier shorter throws--and even then, many many yards came from uncalled scrambles, not called throws.

But we can't simplify the offense because of more than one of the following reasons:
A) the receivers aren't beating the coverage - I think Tate has the arm and the eyes to make a throw to someone running dead straight downfield, if the guy had two steps on his man
B) the OL and assorted blocking backs cannot run with authority against seven or eight in the box, which the defenses can do when they don't have to double cover receivers
C) Rich believes in uploading the system into the kids as fast as possible because the complicated stuff gets more yards than the fundamental stuff that we are running now

It's still progress. It's a little ugly right now, that's all.


October 28th, 2009 at 6:37 PM ^

(Mostly in reply to your first paragraph)
If you really want results with this offense, you need a runningback at quarterback, and I believe that's why Denard is still getting meaningful reps, despite his being 18 years old-fresh out of a compltely different world of football. Granted he generally runs a QB Isolation play or something of the such, but when they do give him a read and he hands off, the runner generally gets a lot of yardage, and it has to do with the fear of Denard running. They're loading the box and flats because his passing doesn't scare them now, and they're still getting yards. Looking back at WVU run cut ups (Some guy did them on youtube, the OU game is the only RR team/McGee offense) the plays they have Denard run (plays where he literally runs) is basically what they had Pat White do, and they're both as effective as the other. Once he evolves he can run the offense Pat White did, they never really asked Pat White to perform as a passer, even though he could. He just had to manage the run game and throw the ocassional pass.
I think that as Denard learns how to play in this offense, he should overtake Forcier. I think Forcier is near maxed out physically, and can only build on his knowledge, which carried over from HS. Denard has an extremely high ceiling, he might have a more powerful arm, and is a track star with point guard quickness, once the mental side of his game comes around, i dont know how you can keep him benched.


October 27th, 2009 at 9:57 AM ^

“Ferentz is similar to Dantonio in that the system is not about them, it is about the players”

Could someone tell me what this means? I haven't noticed a tremendous change in philosophy over the years at Iowa or MSU. Sure, they change their run/pass ratio but what else exactly?


October 27th, 2009 at 10:03 AM ^

...are all UM needs right now. Forcier is at seventy percent at best, but there is no truly viable backup for him. The offense looked great when Molk was in on Saturday. IIRC, UM was 4-0 when both Forcier and Molk were healthy. Also, they need a good two-deep roster on defense, especially in the secondary. For that matter, they need a good starting roster on defense.

There is talent there, but too many underclassmen this year. When you have predominantly freshmen and sophomores playing against predominantly juniors and seniors, the older team will usually win if everything else is equal. They have more years of physical growth, more time spent in conditioning programs, and more experience with whatever scheme they are using.

I still hope for nine wins this year, but there is a good chance that the possiblity will have been done in by injuries to crucial players and not quite enough talented, experienced bodies to replace those who were injured. All in all, this has still been a good year, and should continue to be. We really should be looking at 7-3 going into Wisky.


October 27th, 2009 at 11:26 AM ^

At most schools, at most positions, there is going to be a noticeable drop-off between first and second string. For instance, look at Oklahoma with out Sam Bradford. It's every coach's dream to have two guys equally ready at every position, but it's seldom achievable. You just hope and pray that injuries won't be too debilitating, since obviously you can't prevent them entirely.

Forcier has been a different QB since he injured his shoulder, and the loss of Molk has been devastating. Almost any team would suffer if that happened. It's especially tough when you aren't very deep to begin with.


October 27th, 2009 at 12:09 PM ^

I think a huge part of the "inexperience" of Tate has to do with the area of making reads, specifically from the perspective of the rushing aspect of our offense.

I played in a triple option offense in high school (Wish-bone!) on the O-line and it takes time for a quarterback/running back to get comfortable in understanding what the other can do. Add in the mix that Tate is facing different defense fronts that are probably way more athletic than anything he faced in high-school. In addition, the shuffling and under performance of the offensive line has also played a role.

I really feel like his ability to make the right read will improve as he continues to gain experience into his Soph/Jr/Sr years.

Of course, this will always be dependent on the OLine's ability to make the blocks.

Which brings up another question... does anyone else feel like we haven't seen a "dominant" O-line at Michigan in like the past 4-5 years? This may just be a function of the way things have been during the rebuilding phase of our offense under RichRod, but it seems even during the last few years of the Lloyd era, other than Jake Long, we haven't seen a Michigan team in quite awhile where the O-line was actually a strength of the team. Of course, injuries always seem to be a factor along the line as well.

Though Molk has definitely been very effective when he's been healthy. Arghh... Angry Michigan Offensive Line Hating God!

Can someone please hurry up and perfect the Adamantium infusing bone technology so we can use this on our players?! Come on UofM Medical Center!


October 27th, 2009 at 11:26 PM ^

Remember...this has always been a BIG PLAY offense.

1. When using the formation with Brown and Minor in the backfield, we should try running a burner in motion. In essence, we have FOUR running options plus the ability to throw screens, slants, even try a max protect long bomb (with both RBs staying in to block). Defense can look all they want but only everyone on the field keeps his assignment, we will strike at them eventually.

2. Semi-Wildcat formation, with both Forcier and D Rob in the backfield. Can run and pass out of that one.

It will still come down to HOLDING on to the ball and CATCHING a pass that hits your hands, but showing different formations with the same personnel makes the work of the Def. Coordinator that much harder.


October 28th, 2009 at 3:46 AM ^

RR has said many times over the past couple weeks that we just need better execution and i agree. you dont need three superstar receivers to run this offense. you just need everyone to run the right route and for the QB to make the right read on the defense. i think the latter is where we're lacking. we have plenty of talent but little experience, therefore, inconsistent results. we will see improvement.

prediction: next years QB's #1 Forcier, #2 Gardner(assuming he signs), Denard will move to slot and become a percy harvin type receiver