Playcalling

Submitted by shorts on October 6th, 2008 at 5:41 AM

I was going to post this as a comment on another thread, but it got long enough that I decide to separate it into its own entry.

I've heard quite a bit of criticism about our playcalling against Illinois, and I think some of it is warranted - on the surface. But I think there's something that most people aren't thinking about.

As Michigan fans, we are used to competing for Big 10 titles on an annual basis. It has been a long, long time since our team was in analysis mode. What I mean by that is that this year, it's not about competing for the conference. That's a nice goal, sure, but the true aim of the coaching staff should be implementing the system that they believe will make us the most successful, and with as many freshmen as we have, that's going to take A LOT of teaching.

But back to the playcalling topic ...

Are the coaches being stubborn and running a lot of plays that probably aren't going to be successful? Sure, I don't think most of us will argue that.

But I think RR has made it more than clear that no matter how ugly it is, he's throwing us full-bore into the spread offense. He's not going to half-ass it this year and run a tiny section of the playbook, or a simplified version, in an attempt to go 8-4 instead of 6-6. We're going balls to the wall - he's finding out who can do what, what works and what doesn't, and he's not going to ignore the possibility of doing something just because it doesn't seem to fit our personnel.

I think RR knows that realistically, Threet isn't going to be successful as an option QB. So why are we seeing option pitches from him to McGuffie (two of which have resulted in fumbles)? Simple: He's finding out if Threet can prove him wrong. You might as well see if a player can do something before you dismiss it out of hand. He's already proven more effective as a runner than any of would have expected, and if RR believes that those plays are going to help the offense reach its maximum effectiveness (and obviously he does), he MUST find out if Threet can run it. Why is Shaw in as a lead blocker? Why is Moundros flaring out into the flat as a receiver? These are things that these guys have never been asked to do, at least not at the college level. Putting them in that situation isn't likely to result in anything positive - not right now, anyway. But what's the worst that can happen on that option play? We fumble, the other team recovers, and maybe it costs us a touchdown. The flipside? What if Threet shocks us all and runs the option beautifully? We've suddenly added an entirely new dimension to the offense, not just for the rest of this season, but possibly for the next four years. Again, as a coach, you find out if those guys can make those plays, because if they CAN ... well, then you're starting to figure out how to make your offense the best it can be.

If there's one thing that RR's track record demonstrates, it's that his transitions are ugly but ultimately successful. Go back and look at his first year at each school. Then look at the years right after.
Glenville College: 1-7-1 the first year, 5-5 the next, national title the fourth year. As OC at Tulane: 7-4 the first year, 12-0 the second. As OC at Clemson: 6-6 the first year, 9-3 the second. At West Virginia: 3-8 the first year, 9-4 the second, Sugar Bowl in his fourth year.  There will be adjustments, but the coaches have to figure out what they have - and what those guy can do - and that takes TIME. 

I'm not saying that I won't question anything we're doing strategy-wise. Like I said, there are clearly some things that have raised eyebrows, mine included. But you have to realize that each playcall, each substitution, etc., is not done in a vacuum where the only thing that matters is end result of that play, or winning that game - which is what most of us have become accustomed to. RR is thinking long-term, and there are going to be some very ugly situations and questionable (on the surface) decisions that are done with a lot more in mind than the average fan realizes.

 

Comments

Bielfeldt's Calves

October 6th, 2008 at 8:02 AM ^

Shorts

You're exactly right. I think that is why (up until this week) we've been so successful after the half. Given the adjustments that have been made and the success we've had witht he pass, there is no reason why we wouldn't just be chucking the ball all over the field.

This year is asking us to do what none of us want to do which is have patience.

ts

October 6th, 2008 at 8:40 AM ^

I understand why everyone is so focused on coaching and the transition but I think 90% of our struggles on offense are due to personnel issues. It's not just that RR doesn't have the players to succeed in his system, he doesn't have the players to succeed in any system right now. Both Hemingway and Stonum being out this week killed us. Can you imagine if we had AA and MM? Threet would probably be a Heisman sleeper. Last time I checked our '09 class was 6th in the nation according to rivals. Be patient people.

Brewers Yost

October 6th, 2008 at 10:13 AM ^

My only problem is that we run too much on first down and we end up getting zero or losing yards. This puts Threet and our OL in horrible third and long situations that are difficult for experienced players to execute.

Also the zone stretch plays are not working. Our OL has trouble blocking for this play.

ts

October 6th, 2008 at 2:26 PM ^

I would be interested to see what Threet's completion percentage is on 1st down vs. 3rd down since so many of his attempts have come on 3rd and long. I'm not sure where you got 45% but it's wrong. Threet was 18/35 on Saturday and is 60/121 for the season, not to say that's much better. BTW,

Threet: 5.4 yards per attempt

McGuffie: 4.29 yards per carry 

Lordfoul

October 6th, 2008 at 10:33 AM ^

But we also could keep going with what is working. Our first quarter was excellent and it appeared that we went away from what was working for us. I don't doubt that RR will be successful down the line. I just hope that the thrust of your post is incorrect and that RR is not using important game situations as just an opportunity to evaluate players' abilities. The bowl and non-losing-season streaks are realistic to keep alive this season and a lot of M fans hang their hats on tradition like that. To not care about them would make RR much like Callahan became to Nebraska fans. That being said, I really think that RR is just trying to win games now and really believes that his play calling is the best means to that end.

Lordfoul

October 6th, 2008 at 2:16 PM ^

I do give a shit though, and I would hazard a guess that a great many Michigan fans do as well.  In my mind 7-5 would be a great season and 6-6 (keeping one of two streaks alive at least) would be satisfactory.

jamiemac

October 6th, 2008 at 4:47 PM ^

Actually, not so much about going to a bowl game, but I really want to see this team do no worse than break even or hopefully (and I still believe it can) go 5-3 in league play.

Its important that the program does not get kicked like a can by everyone in the league. I don't think 5-3 is out of the question either....keep alternating wins and then get on a mini streak when the PUs, NWs and Minnys with average, almost MAC-like defensive talent......i think the team can do it and I am seeing enough improvement where its not outlandish.

A winning league mark, given all the transition and bascially 11 new starters on offense, would be an accomplishment worthy to write home about.

I think its doable, and I dont care what bowl we land as a result.

 

mth822

October 6th, 2008 at 11:23 AM ^

When a Threet incomplete pass nets zero yards and it then becomes second and ten. And a Sam McGuffie run nets 0-2 yards. And then it becomes 2and9 or 2and 8. One can come to the logical conclusion that neither are substantially succesful. The next question to naturally follow would have to be. What could potentially net me more yards from conception to tackle? I think a passing play would. The question of clock control, and this is the big issue you guys are not seeing with the play calling. And that is this, if your defense is getting smoked like a dutch hash pipe, you are gonna need to slow the game down or score points. That's why they ran the ball. But I think in any case Michigan's offense can no longer sleepwalk for zero yardage running plays. It's sleepwalking and fictional to think it is going to work. It has not consistantly worked. You might as well load up the musket at that point and fire down field. Sorry. It's the question of what's worse between two broken realities. :(

Dix

October 6th, 2008 at 11:43 AM ^

As long as it doesn't hurt the recruiting. If RichRod can keep bringing in top 10 classes or a top 5 class then I won't begrudge him these losses because you're right, what he's doing is teaching the kids and laying the foundation for the seasons to come. But, if some of these games were winnable with a modified strategy and we threw those losses away to adhere to the spread, and it costs us the players down the road that we need in order to compete, then I'm going to be disappointed.

chitownblue (not verified)

October 6th, 2008 at 12:15 PM ^

Guys, this isn't a puzzle with a define solution, it's just not. Michigan is not a good team. There is not a gameplan we can adopt that makes this not so. We can't run. We can't pass. So what do you want? What's the point of arguing play-calling when neither option works? Accept that we have 2 offensive players with college experience, and realize that there is no tweak or overhaul of personell or play-calling that would have more than a marginal gain.

mth822

October 6th, 2008 at 12:58 PM ^

I have completely accpeted that we have little offensive depth. Or key seasoned players where they are needed. That is the biggest part of the equation here. My logic is, if you really really cant fricking run. And you pass so-s0, pass the fricking ball. You know Threet is not a black mark on this season. To date he has to be the offensive MVP. If that dude goes down and gets hurt, the back up guy throws pics like brandon minor fumbles the rock. W/out Threet Michigan is a highly probable 0-5 and even more screwed.

mth822

October 6th, 2008 at 3:40 PM ^

Chhhhiiillll! I am just throwing out options cause nothing is working. The dilemma Michigan  and RR are facing is WILL they ever get the perfect combo of guys where they want them? No. You go with what you got and make it work. This season the pass works. Then the run follows. 

wolvrine32

October 6th, 2008 at 3:55 PM ^

There is no way that RR is somehow "sacrificing" 2 wins (or any wins) with bizarro, substandard playcalling to somehow install his offense in a bid for future glory. He, and every other coach and player, are trying to win the game in front of them, period.

If they are running plays that don't work in games, they most likely worked in practice. And he would run a Wisconsin ISO based offense if he thought it would win more games, which he obviously doesn't. (Even the play with Mathews lined up ineligible has some purpose in RR's mind, otherwise he wouldn't use it.)

Look, if something doesn't make sense to us, I guarantee there's still some reason for it. Might be a bad reason in our minds, but there's a purpose behind it in the coach's mind. And the purpose is always, always, always to win the game. Never to set up some future thing on the possibility that might help you later.

bsb2002

October 6th, 2008 at 3:48 PM ^

guys were missing blocks and missing throws and screwing up patterns. points were there to be had.

utah really was the only game where i had a problem with our playcalling. it's an execution and talent issue

mooseman

October 6th, 2008 at 4:11 PM ^

People (and RR in particular) began running the spread for a reason. When you are a small or historically poor recruiting team, you cannot line up and run over better/bigger teams. The spread allowed schools with a few fast skilled guys to get the ball in space with a man to beat helping to even the playing field (think App St). Since that time, the spread has become more prevalent, obviously.

Unfortunately, right now we are that team. Our line cannot dominate either to line up in the I and run over people or to protect for the Henne to MM vertical game. Also unfortunately, we do not have the pieces in place (QB) to run the spread optimally. We will continue to be inconsistant at best in the short term. Our line would suck no matter what system we used anyway.

I plan to trust that the system will work once the pieces are in place and that RR knows what he is doing. I also plan to drink heavily in the short term.

lhglrkwg

October 6th, 2008 at 9:35 PM ^

i didnt bother to read the article or any of the comments so here goes nothing: it seemed like in the second half almost all drives went as follows.
1st down: mcguffie sweep for -1 yard
2nd down: incomplete pass
3rd down: threet attempts to throw streak route along sideline only to throw it high and behind the receiver

hat

October 6th, 2008 at 9:43 PM ^

Threet's not the most accurate passer, to be sure, but asking the guy to make most of his downfield throws on 3rd and long is an obvious receipe for failure. We've got to mix things up. When he's been allowed to throw on first down, he's generally had more time to throw, and I would bet that his completion percentage then is considerably better than it is on 3rd down. I'm not saying that every first down should be a throw, but we should at least be aiming for about 50-50. As it is, defenses are cheating up and making the stretch play useless. It usually takes a great effort by McGuffie just to get back to the line of scrimmage.

hat

October 6th, 2008 at 10:23 PM ^

To follow up, let's take note of the fact that McGuffie was vastly more successful against ND than against everyone else we've faced. Against ND, he rushed 25 times for 131 yards (5.2 avg). Against our other four opponents, he rushed 59 times for 188 yards (3.2 avg). Why was he a full two yards better per carry against ND than against everyone else? ND was the one defense that played a base nickel. Everyone else is playing with seven in the box and trying to outnumber us at the point of attack. Against ND, actual holes were opened up because there were enough blockers to man up on everyone. Against the rest of the schedule, we're getting outnumbered at the line and McGuffie keeps meeting an unblocked defender in the backfield.

Our OL is struggling enough as it is. Asking it to take on stacked fronts is too much. It has shown again and again that it can't. If defenses are going to cheat up to stop the run on first down, it makes no sense to play into their hands.

chitownblue (not verified)

October 7th, 2008 at 9:47 AM ^

And when we tried to throw over their "stacked front" after the first quarter, we were 12/28. So, again, our "median gain" was zero yards. So what do you propose?

chitownblue (not verified)

October 7th, 2008 at 10:40 AM ^

To use some math: Saying that we averaged 5.6 yards per called pass play and 2.9 yards per called rushing play is misleading.

Only 18 of our 39 passes netted positive yardage - in other words, more than half our passing plays resulted in no benefit. If your goal is to avoid "2nd and 10", this, more often than not, would not have been successful.

We ran 31 times, 11 times of which we netted zero or negative yardage (again, pretty crappy). However, more than half the time, these plays advanced the ball. So, if your goal is to gain yardage on first down, despite both options being horrific, running the ball gave you a better chance.